Ben Buchwalter

Racist vs. Racial: Which One Was Joe Wilson?
January 10, 2010, 8:55 pm
Filed under: Barack Obama, Mother Jones, Race, Republicans | Tags: , , , ,

September 17, 2009

Last September, the furor among Republicans against President Obama and his perceived agenda was almost tangible. But the public’s response to Obama, since he launched his historic campaign for president at the beginning of 2008, has veered dangerously close to subtle racism. But clearly, not all criticism of the president and his agenda is racist. And bringing up the topic of race doesn’t automatically make someone a racist. In the midst of the speculation of widespread racism among the Republican party and other anti-Obamaites, I tried to clarify the difference between racist and racial in MoJo:

If you define a racist as someone who feels animosity toward someone of another race, then most political and media confrontations aren’t racist (Limbaugh and Beck aside). More often, we see politicians being racial, acting or speaking with the clear awareness of race. Though outdated and perhaps ignorant, Bush calling Obama “this cat,” is not racist. It’s racial. Similarly, pointing out the problematic racial views of some white commentators is not racist or reverse racist. It’s racial.

The Joe Wilson case is different. Calling out “You Lie!” is not, on first glance, racial or racist. Wilson actually thought Obama was lying. But the question is whether some members of the GOP harbor a more subtle racism in trying to put Obama in his place. Last week, for example, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said that President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, should show some “humility” while delivering a speech on health care reform to congress. And during the campaign, many red state voters couldn’t quite put their finger on why they didn’t like Obama. There was just something about him. Last August, former Reagan and Clinton staffer David Gergen said that the McCain campaign deliberately pushed the message that “he’s uppity, he ought to stay in his place.”


Conn. Sen: Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon Enters the Fray
January 10, 2010, 5:45 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Congress, Mother Jones, Republicans | Tags: , , ,

Since former WWE CEO Linda McMahon jumped into the GOP’s primary to challenge embattled Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, I wrote a few blog posts on her candidacy and how it shakes up the race. First, came the supposed shock that McMahon and her husband have supported Democrats in past elections. Next, I asked if the candidate’s bombastic (and some might say crazy) husband WWE Chairman Vince McMahon could hurt her primary and, luck permitting, general election chances. As McMahon continued to hemorrhage her own funds on the campaign and became a serious contender to the state’s establishment, Conn. GOPers started to attack the newcomer. But as I wrote for MoJo, I think this was a risky move in the solid blue Lieberman-loving state:

“I think it’s very unusual [for a Republican to contribute to a Democrat]. These are big numbers. These are big dollars,” said Simmons, the race’s current front runner. But attacking McMahon’s bi-partisan past is a risky move, considering that Connecticut is predominantly Democratic and many state Republicans supported democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman over his Republican opponent in 2006. Moreover, since McMahon is campaigning on an anti-establishment platform, her past contributions could be helpful if she makes it to the general election next fall.

Dimming the Palin Spotlight
July 14, 2009, 12:35 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Republicans

Ezra Klein brings up a good point about Sarah Palin’s new op-ed in the Washington Post challenging President Obama’s cap and trade proposal to slow the effects of climate change.

But that’s not all that’s missing. The term “global warming” is absent. So is “climate change.” It’s a bit like an op-ed that attacks firefighters for pointing pressurized water cannon at everything but never mentions fires, or a column that condemns surgeons for sticking sharp things into people but never mentions illness.

You could no more argue with this op-ed than you could drive a car made out of candy. Though it looks like one thing, it’s actually another. And that other is a declaration of political intent: Palin is going to spend the next couple of years trying to act as leader of the opposition. She’ll start with what she knows: Drill, baby, drill. And she’ll start where she knows. In the media.

I want to make another point about the op-ed. She begins by lamenting that “many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges.” Oh really, Sarah? You don’t want the media to focus on the personality behind political figures? That’s a pretty tall order for someone who made her entire political reputation by smothering the media with winks, “you betchas” and other stalwarts of down-home colloquialism. And that was before (!) she decided to resign as Governor. In only a few weeks, Palin will be entirely without political standing, and will rely only on her personality to grasp onto whatever media spotlight will continue to pay her attention.

Let’s hope it’s dim.

Racial Terms as Alphabet Soup

I think we can all agree that it’s a little odd how steamed honkies like Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh are getting that President Obama nominated a Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court. As a white man, I can attest that it is terrifying that we not only have a black President, but he wants to increase the representation of women and minorities throughout government! Can you imagine anything worse?

The most frustrating aspect of the racially motivated pushback against Sotomayor is the way that some of these wingnuts define terms like “affirmative action” and “reverse descrimination.”

Today on MSNBC, Pat Buchanan told Norah O’Donnell that the pick amounted to nothing more than affirmative action because the Obama administration hinted throughout the process that they were looking for someone who would make the Court more representative of the country as a whole. See the video:

I guess that brings up the question of how we define affirmative action. And if it was affirmative action, is that a problem? It’s definitely possible, though unlikely, that there were no white men qualified for the Supreme Court. But the overarching fact here is that the Supreme Court, currently with one woman (Ginsburg) and one minority (Thomas) does not represent the American people as a whole. So in my view, adding a female voice is valuable. And adding a Hispanic voice is valuable. And if that is affirmative action, I am fine with that. But I don’t think it is. Sotomayor is a great pick because in addition to being incredibly smart and having a thick resume, her confirmation will bring the Court much closer to being representative of its constituents. That is a qualification, not a crutch.

Rush Limbaugh was also (not surprisingly) spewing some crazy Tuesday. On his radio show, Limbaugh called Sotomayor a “hack,” a “racist,” and a “reverse racist.” Matt Yglesias tries to understand Limbaugh’s outrage and apparent confusion about the difference between racism and reverse racism.

Being a “reverse racist” can’t be similar to being a “racist,” it needs to be the reverse of being a racist. Limbaugh clearly just thinks Sotomayor is a racist. She hates white people. For a Latina to hate white people isn’t “reverse” racism, it’s racism. Reverse racism would be if you had a white person who hates white people. It would be like racism, where you hate people of other races, but in reverse.

It seems there is a war brewing over Sotomayor between ultra-conservatives in the Republican party and GOPers who actually want to get something done. It will be interesting to see where the battle lines a drawn and how far this racial rhetoric will go. So far, the media director for the Republican National Committee, who will supposedly be part of the efforts to rebrand the GOP, has enlisted on the ultra-conservative side… through Twitter.

Soaring Toward Confirmation?
May 27, 2009, 2:02 am
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Republicans, Supreme Court

My first reaction to Obama’s decision to nominate Sonia Sotomayor to fill Justice David Souter’s Supreme Court seat was “this guy has balls.” Conservatives consider her very liberal (though she’s actually not) and she has been on record saying that federal judges make policy, which some could say is a clear indication that she would be an activist judge.

But so far the nomination looks like  a clear win for Team Obama.  Oddly enough, if a white man with the same voting record who had made such comments on the record were up for the spot, he would probably face more opposition. But the GOP is doing so poorly with women and minorities, that they might not be able to risk opposing Sotomayor in fear that those demographics would abandon them entirely in 2010 and 2012.

Brian Beutler notes that none of Obama’s appointments have so far been successfully blocked by Republicans. That reasoning is a little sketchy because even though Daschle and Richardson withdrew for “personal reasons,” it seems pretty well accepted that they would have faced long confirmation battles and damaged Obama’s political momentum. But Brian’s point emphasizes the fact that Obama remains an incredibly popular President who has yet to make a serious mistake. Opposing his nominee would be politically dangerous no matter who it was.

I was definitely gearing up for an all out offensive from the GOP against Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, but it looks like Team Obama made another politically shrewd choice by daring the GOP oppose Sotomayor. It’s also worth noting that seven current Republican Senators voted to confirm Sotomayor when she was nominated by Bill Clinton as a federal judge in 1998.  So if all the Democrats support her in addition to those seven Senators who liked her a decade ago, she would be easily above the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. So hard-line Conservatives in congress could have little to no sway over Sotomayor’s confirmation.

So unless we learn that Sotomayor once killed a man or is secretly a terrorist, it seems that we will be talking about Justice Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, before long.

Simma Down Now
May 3, 2009, 3:48 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Republicans | Tags: , ,

I want to weigh in on something I’ve been debating with myself for a while. There is a movement picking up steam within the left wing of the Democratic party to kick out all of the moderate representatives in Congress in favor of more consistent liberals. For the most part, I support this movement and hope it succeeds (read OpenLeft). But we need to be careful about implementing this strategy to avoid scaring people away.

At the height of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan welcomed moderates under his “big tent.” With that strategy, the success of the Reagan years resounded all the way through the Bush years and is only dying off now. During Bush’s first term, the Democratic party seemed so irrelevant and disorganized that it seemed conservatives would hold on to power for a very long time. At the height of their power, Republicans alienated moderate senators like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. With little support and opposition from Toomey’s Club for Growth, Chafee lost to Sheldon White House in 2006 and, as you know, Specter is now a Democrat. Once they abandoned the big tent philosophy, conservatism floundered because it looked vindictive and close minded.

The more powerful the Democrats get (and I think they are going to get a lot more powerful), the more tempting it will be to excommunicate moderate Senators and Congressmen like Evan Bayh of Indiana. But we need to be careful. Even if they don’t vote with Democrats 100 percent of the time, it is better to have moderate Democrats in Congress than moderate or conservative Republicans.

That said, it’s not the case for Specter. It seems so clear to me that Specter’s decision to switch parties was not based on his own ideological change, but on a desire to keep his job for another six years. And to his credit, Specter has been pretty transparent about that reality. So as I’ve said already, let’s get rid of Specter in favor of a Joe Sestak or Allyson Schwartz.

But in terms of securing a lasting Democratic majority, we need to think twice about excommunicating the more moderate Democrats who, in reality, vote with their party the vast majority of the time.

Is Party Affiliation Important? For Specter, Absolutely.
March 25, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Congress, Republicans

Things are looking bad for Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Club for Growth Chairman Pat Toomey  said recently that he would challenge the moderate Republican when he’s up for reelection in 2010, and a Quinnipiac poll released today showed Specter trailing the ultra-conservative wingnut by 14 points.

Right wing aside, though, Specter is very popular in Pennsylvania and was expected, until recently, to win reelection pretty easily. That is, if he survived the Republican Primary.

So this raises the question: should Specter follow in Joe Lieberman’s footsteps and run as an independent? Lieberman was forced to do this when he lost in 2006 to Democratic challenger Ned Lamont in the primary. Lieberman’s popularity in Connecticut carried him through, though, and he won the general election easily.

What’s the benefit of staying with the Republican Party as opposed to becoming an Independent? Well, for a popular incumbent in a solid blue or red state, the benefits are negligible. The GOP candidate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger, never had a chance and even failed to get a strong endorsement from the Bush White House.

But Specter’s situation is nothing like Lieberman’s. As we know from the “battleground state” moniker often bestowed upon Pennsylvania, statewide elections are always close, making way for moderates like Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, a Democrat. Democrats will always get a lot of votes, and Republicans will always get a lot of votes. So for Specter to remain a viable candidate as an Independent, he would have to keep 90% of his supporters even while losing funding and support from the Republican Party.

So I’d say that it’s Republican Party or bust for Specter. He’s screwed unless he finds a way to cuddle up with Pennsylvania conservatives some more. This explains why he said yesterday that he would vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, which he has supported in the past.  Expect to see Specter lurch dramatically to the right a lot more in the next year and a half.