Friday, April 20, 2018

Cruising the Web

Greg Weiner, a former aide to Senator Bob Kerrey, has written an interesting column in the NYT about the difference between being a liberal and a progressive and the detrimental effect this has had on our nation's politics. Democrats used to be liberals, but now they call themselves "progressives."
Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs. Of course, liberals and conservatives believe that their policies will result in positive outcomes, too. But it is another thing to say, as American Progressives did, that the contemporary political task was to identify a destination, grip the wheel and depress the accelerator.

The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. Nothing structurally impedes compromise between conservatives, who hold that the accumulated wisdom of tradition is a better guide than the hypercharged rationality of the present, and liberals, because both philosophies exist on a spectrum.

A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it. Like conservative fundamentalism, progressivism contributes to the polarization and paralysis of government because it makes compromise, which entails accepting less progress, not merely inadvisable but irrational. Even when progressives choose their targets strategically — Hillary Clinton, for example, called herself “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the implication is that progress is the fundamental goal and that its opponents are atavists.
If you believe that your ideology is leading to a better tomorrow, then you believe that anything that impedes that progress is not only wrong, but bad.
The critic of progress is not merely wrong but a fool. Progressivism’s critics have long experienced this as a passive-aggressive form of re-education.

Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents. This is evident in progressive indifference to the rights of those who oppose progressive policies in areas like sexual liberation.

This is one reason progressives have alienated moderate voters who turned to Donald Trump in 2016. The ideology of progress tends to regard the traditions that have customarily bound communities and which mattered to Trump voters alarmed by the rapid transformation of society, as a fatuous rejection of progress. Trump supporters’ denunciation of “political correctness” is just as often a reaction to progressive condescension as it is to identity politics.

Where liberalism seeks to ameliorate economic ills, progressivism’s goal is to eradicate them. Moynihan recognized this difference between Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he always supported — as exemplified by his opposition to Clinton-era welfare reform — and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which he sympathetically criticized. The New Deal alleviated poverty by cutting checks, something government does competently even if liberals and conservatives argued over the size of the checks. The Great Society partook more of a progressive effort to remake society by eradicating poverty’s causes. The result, Moynihan wrote, was the diversion of resources from welfare and jobs to “community action” programs that financed political activism.
Since progressives think that their path is the path to a better future, they want to get there as quickly as possible and don't care so much how they get there. Woodrow Wilson was so sure of the rightness of his desired policies that he disdained the checks and balances in the Constitution. He considered that structure to be outdated and preferred a strong executive in order to implement those policies.


Here is a powerful column about Barbara Bush's efforts to send a message to the American public about showing affection and consideration to victims of AIDS in a time when people feared that the disease could be transmitted by touch. She made sure to hug babies with AIDS and then to hug adults to communicate a message of love. Tom Rosshirt, an aide who had helped coordinate that visit, told Mrs. Bush's press secretary that the man she had hugged that day was dying and suggested the First Lady write a letter to that man. She did. The message she sent is one that could be echoed today after her death.
A few days later, I went to see Lou in the hospital. As soon as he saw me, he reached beside his bed with a slow and shaky hand and pulled out a letter: “Look what I got,” he said.

The letter was unflinching and full of love. She didn’t duck the issue that Lou was dying. She used it as a pivot to say, “Well-done.” At the bottom, in her own hand, she wrote to Lou that his life mattered, that he had made an impact.

That was a long time ago. But some things you don’t forget — and shouldn’t. In a time of ignorance, her wise touch eased the sting of exclusion for my friend and many others.

Thank you, Mrs. Bush.
Yes, her life mattered and she made an impact.


Mary Katharine Ham revisits the 1990 address that Barbara Bush gave at Wellesley College. If you remember there was protest at the time by some students at the school because they felt that Barbara Bush had accomplished little on her own and was just known as the spouse of a famous man. Ham points out the irony of Wellesley students criticizing Barbara Bush because she "gained recognition through the achievements of her husband" in contrast to the message they receive at Wellesley given that their most famous alumnae, Hillary Clinton, would not have achieved anything notable if she hadn't been married to Bill Clinton. But then Ham points out how civil the whole episode was at the time. It's a real contrast to how things are done these days.
What’s most striking about the controversy, looking back from the vantage point of modern outrage politics, is how mature it was. Protesters were “outraged,” but did not ask for the university to rescind Bush’s invitation.

The college president acknowledged their concerns, coming to the reasonable conclusion that a generation gap and the quickly changing role of women in American society means “[f]eminism is very hard to pin down.” She said the discussion was worth the public dust-up and, notably, never wavered on the invitation to Mrs. Bush.

Bush handled the situation with characteristic grace, even conceding some of the differences she had with Wellesley’s students.

“They’re 21 years old and they’re looking at life from that perspective,” Mrs. Bush said. ”I don’t disagree with what they’re looking at.” But she added: “I don’t think they understand where I’m coming from. I chose to live the life I’ve lived, and I think it’s been a fabulously exciting, interesting, involved life. In my day, they probably would have been considered different. In their day, I’m considered different. Vive la difference.”

And, when she took the stage, Bush talked about just that. She was not interrupted or shouted down or no-platformed. She acknowledged the controversy cheekily — “I thought it was going to be fun — I never dreamed it would be this much fun.” She spoke of embracing diversity, saying it requires “effort to learn about and respect difference, to be compassionate with one another, to cherish our own identity … and to accept unconditionally the same in others.” She talked of having the courage to be a “mermaid,” cutting a different path in a world of “giants, wizards, and dwarves.”

The majority of Wellesley students who didn’t object to Bush got one of the most-often referenced college commencement addresses of a generation. She told them to “believe in something larger than yourself … to get involved in some of the big ideas of our time.” If you hadn’t heard that quote before today, you’ll certainly hear it plenty this week.

She admonished them in a passage made more poignant by her passing hand-in-hand with her husband and surrounded by generations of family: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”

....At a time when too many show “too little tolerance” to have a “worthwhile conversation,” the Wellesley commencement speech of 1990 is instructive. Bush was invited to speak. Protesters had their concerns heard loud and clear. College administrators backed the invitation, valuing free speech over the heckler’s veto. And in the end, Bush was heard, too. Her words have inspired many since then, and should inspire all of us with the possibilities of putting in the effort to be truly tolerant. You never know what you’ll gain.

As the First Lady said, it is worth your while.
I remember thinking at the time how shortsighted those students were to complain about having the First Lady give their commencement address as if there were nothing to learn from a woman who had been a model wife and mother as well as living with her husband when he was ambassador to China and at his side as vice president. It seemed so insulting to women who make a different choice in their lives as if only those women who seek professional lives are worthy of respect and admiration. It shows how bad things are today that we look back fondly on this protest against having Barbara Bush come speak at Wellesley.


Mollie Hemingway reminds us of some of the lesser moments of Robert Mueller's professional history such as the mistakes he'd made going after the anthrax killings and supporting the appointment of a special counsel about the leaking of Valerie Plame's name even though they already knew that Deputy Secretary of State RIchard Armitage was the leaker. He was also instrumental in the railroading of Senator Ted Stevens, a case that the U.S. District Court Judge had called "the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he'd ever seen."

I'd forgotten about this other story.
As aggressive as Mueller can be about pursuing the wrong man, he showed surprising leniency and laxity when it came to the case of Samuel “Sandy” Berger, a Clinton White House national security adviser. In the run-up to testifying before the 9/11 Commission that sought to examine the failures that led to those terrorist attacks, Berger visited the National Archives to review classified documents with his notes on them.

But instead he intentionally removed and destroyed multiple copies of a classified document the commission should have reviewed for national security purposes, and lied to investigators about it. He was found to have stuffed the documents in his socks and otherwise hidden them. His punishment was that he was allowed to plead guilty in 2005 to a single misdemeanor. He served no jail time but had to give up his security clearance for three years.
That's quite different from how Scooter Libby was treated. It's amazing how different the approach was when the culprit was a Democrat.


What if we applied the Hannity standard to other media figures?
CNN’s Jim Sciutto is the network’s chief national security correspondent who also serves as a fill-in anchor for Jake Tapper and Erin Burnett. He has quite the prominent role considering the fact that he’s a former Obama administration official. You can’t even find Obama’s name in Sciutto’s full bio on CNN’s website. Isn’t he obligated to tell his viewers that he had served in the previous presidency, which has its animus towards the current one?

Then there’s also the face of ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, who famously served as White House Communications Director for President Bill Clinton. But no one seems to think it’s a “conflict of interest” when he interviews people like Hillary Clinton or former FBI Director James Comey.

And we can’t forget all those reporters who were exposed aiding the Clinton campaign in John Podesta’s hacked emails during the 2016 election. Glenn Thrush, who at the time worked for Politico, sent Podesta drafts of Clinton puff pieces for him to approve and even referred to himself as a “hack.” And what happened to him? He got a better job at The New York Times. NYT reporter Mark Leibovich emailed Palmieri to ask permission about what portions of an interview with Hillary Clinton he could use. Was he ever suspended? No. CNBC’s John Harwood, who co-moderated a GOP primary debate, asked Podesta what sorts of questions he should ask Jeb Bush during an interview. Did anyone call for his firing? Of course not.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but this double standard is overwhelming. Hannity makes his pro-Trump, pro-Cohen bias clear. Meanwhile, Jim Sciutto, George Stephanopoulos, Glenn Thrush, Mark Leibovich, and John Harwood pretend to be neutral players despite their ties to Democrats. If Hannity is going to face such scrutiny, so should these so-called “objective” journalists.


The outrage over what supposedly happened in the Philadelphia Starbucks seems to be just people embracing an opportunity to cast a corporate giant as hopelessly racist and then get themselves all up in a lather about it. Kyle Smith does a great job of dissecting the outrage machine in action over Starbucks. When a manager asked two black men to leave because they weren't buying anything and then called the police when they refused to leave, the immediate assumption was that she was being racist. There's a whole lot of background that we just don't know.
Does the manager also routinely call the police on white people who loiter in the shop? If a white manager called the police on two white guys hanging around a coffee shop, it wouldn’t make the news, much less become a national obsession. Was the manager new on the job and unfamiliar with the generally lax policy at Starbucks when it comes to allowing nonpaying customers to hang out? Did the manager have some reason we don’t know about for disliking the two men?
Smith expresses sympathy with the burden that blacks bear dealing with racism and the sense that people are discriminating against them in their everyday interactions.
We know racism exists, it inflames our sense of injustice, and so we’re eager to punish it. But it can be frustratingly difficult to prove that a given incident is an example of it. Firing any employee who demonstrates race bias would seem to be a fair punishment and would also serve as a warning to other staffers that racism won’t be tolerated. But at this point we don’t even know whether that Starbucks manager was fired. (“We can confirm that she is no longer at that store” is all the company had to say about the unidentified worker.) On the other hand, if Starbucks has found reason to believe that the employee isn’t prejudiced, firing her would appear to be unwarranted. But how would someone demonstrate that anyway? It’s hard to see into someone’s heart.
But people don't want to wait to find out what actually happened. It's much more gratifying to declare that the entire corporation is bigoted. And Starbucks certainly played into that by declaring that they are going to shut all their stores to give their students implicit bias training. It's as if they're admitting that they are indeed bigoted.
Only via frazzled, race-drunk thinking can a (possibly) racist act on the part of one out of 238,000 Starbucks employees somehow become the fault of the whole company. Starbucks as a corporation is comparable to a midsize city: larger than Richmond, Va. Would you boycott Richmond because one person there had committed murder, much less because one person there was shown to be a racist? Unless it turns out that Starbucks’s training materials include the admonition, “Call the cops on any black people in your store who don’t buy anything,” I doubt the company as a whole is to blame.

That this particular corporation has been at pains to publicize its concern with race tensions — at one point in 2015 even encouraging employees to write “race together” on customers’ cups while sponsoring a series of anti-racism articles in USA Today — has caused some chortling among conservatives. The lesson there is that no matter how loudly you declare yourself one of the good guys, it’ll be forgotten when the mob assembles. Any money spent buying indulgences in the church of racial enlightenment buys you no insurance against cries of racism.

When that cry goes up, everyone wants in on the action. So, on Monday, a mob of protesters shut down the Philadelphia Starbucks in question for more than three hours. Any nonracists in the mood for a cup of Starbucks java had to go elsewhere. Why punish them? Why harass all the good people at that location for the actions of someone who doesn’t even work there anymore? And if it’s the arrest that’s the most bothersome part of the story, why train your fury mostly on baristas rather than cops?
Smith is right that the photo of a protester yelling at a barista that has gone viral encapsulates our outrage culture today.
In ironic juxtaposition to the viral video of the two black men being confronted by police was a picture taken during the protest at the Philadelphia Starbucks Sunday by the Inquirer’s Michael Bryant. It captures Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif standing in front of a staffer, identified on his apron as Zack. Zack is not the employee who called the police last week. Khalif is yelling into a bullhorn despite being maybe three feet away from poor Zack, who is standing with his hands folded, patiently absorbing abuse for something he had nothing to do with. “Today, this space is now secure, secured by the people” was among the announcements Khalif thought it necessary to make through his bullhorn.

That photo, shared widely on social media, is the perfect American tableau for our demented political moment, when one guy feels entitled to yell through his bullhorn at another guy for an incident that didn’t involve either of them. In 2018 America, it’s as if just about everyone is either Khalif, absurdly overreacting to the latest news, or Zack, getting dragged into somebody else’s political controversy. At the Philadelphia protest on Monday, one man shouted to his fellow demonstrators, “What do we want?” The crowd responded, “Liberation!” “When do we want it?” he cried. “Now!” they answered. Sorry — Starbucks may be a great place to get a venti macchiato, but it’s not able to offer anyone liberation.