First of Many Disagreements to Come

19 12 2008

In picking Reverend Rick Warren deliver the invocation at the inaugural, President-elect Barack Obama earned the ire of the liberal left. It’s a reaction that surely team Obama must have foreseen, but one that may be difficult to quell, at least in the short term.

Joe Solmonese, President of Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay rights group, called the  invitation “a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.”

At The Nation magazine Sarah Posner writes, “… the choice of Warren is not only a slap in the face to progressive ministers toiling on the front lines of advocacy and service but a bow to the continuing influence of the religious right in American politics.”

Greg Levine of Firedog Lake worries that the President-elect is being too accomodationist to a figure who deserves no olive branch, “… if Barack Obama wants to invite different voices to a discussion, fine, but that is very different from having a known homophobe give a speech at what is likely to be one of the highest profile events in recent US history. That’s not a dialogue—that’s a signal.”

Rev. Warren has been an outspoken and vigorous supporter of banning gay marriage, compared abortion to the Holocaust, thinks evolution is a fiction, and is an ardent foe of anti-stem cell research. To many on the left, he is a culture warrior in the mold of James Dobson or Pat Robertson despite the best-selling author’s support for such causes as global poverty reduction, containing the spread of AIDS and HIV, and combating climate change. All of which are areas where Obama will more than likely want to enlist Warren’s support.

But liberals, many of whom are willing to work with evangelicals on those same issues, do not want any progress of those nobel causes  to come at the expense of the right to marry, sexually reproductive rights, or scientific freedom. While inviting Rev. Warren to deliver the invocation will not automatically usher in the dark ages, it does suggest something that Obama is a little too conciliatory toward the very same people who will try to tear him apart in a few months. Some even worry that its an indication of the very conservative instincts that many fear Obama has thus far managed to conceal.

Other political observers see a stroke of opportunistic genius involved. MSNBC First Read said, “As for the pure politics of this, when you look at the exit polls and see the large numbers of white evangelicals in swing states like North Carolina, Florida and Missouri, as well as emerging battlegrounds like Georgia and Texas, you’ll understand what Obama’s up to. ” As plausible as that may sound to some, I think that’s a tad too cynical.

For his part, Obama said on Thursday at his press conference:

Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue, I think, is a part of what my campaign’s been all about, that we’re never going to agree on every single issue. What we have to do is create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans. So Rick Warren has been invited to speak, Dr. Joseph Lowery — who has deeply contrasting views to Rick Warren about a whole host of issues — is also speaking.

During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that’s how it should be, because that’s what America’s about. That’s part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated. And so, you know, that’s the spirit in which, you know, we have put together what I think will be a terrific inauguration. And that’s, hopefully, going to be a spirit that carries over into my administration.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable might not cut it with after the fallout over Prop 8, a measure banning same-sex marriagea, in California. Too many feelings are still raw about that lost, and not enough has been done to mend divisions between communities. Plus, given how there are thousands of activists about to descend on DC on January 20th, we could see spontaneous protests take place just as we saw in around the country in the aftermath of the passage of Prop 8. Thus, creating an undesirable subplot to what would otherwise be a much more grander narrative about the dawn of an era.

Most people who voted for Obama assumed that they would not agree with him on every single issue, but they do hope to be on the same wavelength on certain big issues that have a certain visceral dimension to them. And when that is not the case, the President-elect should expect a barrage of intense and persistent criticism, which I am sure he will be able to handle. He’s a big boy.

So simply attributing criticism as mere difference of opinion, especially when its describe as noisy and such, probably will strike many his supporters as dismissive. As David Corn noted on CQ, “…Warren’s opposition to gay rights is more than a mere policy dispute. It is an act of bigotry. Sure, Warren does not believe he is being discriminatory. But that’s what it is.”

By the same token, liberals have to understand that the culture wars don’t mean as much to Obama as they do to his Democratic predecessors. He thinks those issues frames are designed to keep Democrats in the losing column, electorally speaking. So, he will not hesitate to aggressively court evangelicals on issues where they and liberals share common ground.  Doing so, will probably involve at least some symbolic gestures before effectively prying lose the white knuckled grip Republican’s have had on that segment of the voting population as he fulfills his quest to redraw the political map and maintain widespread support for his agenda.

In the final analysis, however, I am not sure if having Rev. Warren at the inauguration is worth the political headache of angering the liberal base. I realize that the favorability ratings are high and that Obama feels as if he could take at hit now, but I would be reluctant to spend hard won political capital among supporters on something that would pose the most activist and partisan segment of my base against me on the last day of the honeymoon.


Humming Coming at Ya

16 12 2008

From Haaretz:

Shoes hold a special place in the Arab lexicon of insults as a show of contempt – effectively saying, you’re lower than the dirt on my shoes. Even sitting with the sole of a shoe pointed at another person is seen as disrespectful.

The hurling of shoes at Bush on his last visit to Iraq as president made an ironic bookend to one of the first images after the 2003 U.S. invasion, when Iraqi opponents of deposed leader Saddam Hussein toppled one of his statues in Baghdad and hit it with their shoes.

Al-Zaidi attained instant hero status around the Arab world. At one Baghdad elementary school, a geography teacher asked her students if they had seen the footage of the shoe-throwing, then told them, All Iraqis should be proud of this Iraqi brave man, Muntadhar. History will remember him forever.

In Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City, thousands of supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and called for the release of al-Zaidi, a 28-year-old Shiite who works for the private Iraqi TV station Al-Baghdadia


“I’ve watched the video over a dozen times on You Tube and was excited very time I see him [al-Zaidi] standing up and calling Bush a dog,” said Tamer Ismail, 23-year-old art student in Cairo. “But I felt so bitter when he missed.”

Among other things, al Zaidi will be charged with “insulting the Iraqi state” even as he is celebrated as a hero in Iraq and throughout the region. But another irony here involves the fact that such laws continues to exits in what Bush insists on calling a democratic and free Iraq.

On a slightly related note, a friend of mine noted in an email recently that al Zaidi “has excellent aim.  I can’t imagine that this was a spontaneous because he was throwing the shoe from 15 feet away with many heads obstructing his view, and got so close to Bush’s head both times.  He must have practiced with various size shoes for years on end for this one moment with various distractions in the background. ”

Its all worth another look.

Using Blagogate to Spread Rumor and Innuendo – Part 2

14 12 2008

Thinking they smell blood in the water Republicans have released this internet video squarely aimed a conservative bloggers. Unsurprisingly, the main messages in the vid are since Obama and Blago campaigned together, they must be co-defendants; any contact that the president-elect or his people had with Blago must be suspect; since the Obama team has been less than forthcoming so far, they must be hiding something and therefore are guilty of something.

Perhaps, the RNC does not realize this is, but the presidential campaign is over. Its been over for more than a month. In fact, the nominee of your own party, the very same candidate that Obama defeated had this to say about the ad earlier today On ABC’s “This Week”:

I think that the Obama campaign should and will give all information necessary. You know, in all due respect to the Republican National Committee and anybody — right now, I think we should try to be working constructively together, not only on an issue such as this, but on the economy stimulus package, reforms that are necessary. And so, I don’t know all the details of the relationship between President-elect Obama’s campaign or his people and the governor of Illinois, but I have some confidence that all the information will come out. It always does, it seems to me.

That’s DC talk for ‘You guys are looking desperate and are embarrassing me.’

Using Blagogate to Spread Rumor and Innuendo – Part 1

13 12 2008

As indicated by the TPM video above,  certain national news outlets have run with the pay-to-play scandal that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is embroiled in to insinuate that President-elect Obama himself is involved, despite there being no evidence of that being the case.  Interestingly enough, the Chicago local media is not ready to declare that Obama and Blago should be treated as co-defendants.

But they have taken issue with how the Obama transition team – which is kinds busy with other issues such as cabinet level appointments, reviewing federal agencies, hiring White House staff, keeping up with security briefings, and lobbying Congress to make sure the Big Three automakers don’t go under – has handled the latest episode of Chicago’s never ending story of corruption.

Yesterday’s editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times, noted that “Obama should have spoken out more strongly after first hearing the news of Blagojevich’s arrest.” By the same token, however, the President-elect’s  “staff needn’t apologize for talking to Blagojevich about the open seat. But given the charges against Blagojevich, the public deserves to know key details.”

For its part, when the Chicago Tribune editorialized on the issue, it has not only stuck to the merits of the issue, but also invited Gov. Blagojevich for a visit to clear the air, similar to how Obama himself did in March when he sat down with the Tribune and Sun-Times editorial boards as the Tony Rezko scandal became impossible to ignore.

I, of course, doubt that the governor is eager to take them up on their offer. But I do think its interesting that two of the most respected organs of the Chicago public media have refrain from groundless speculation and innuendo, while those farthest away from the story were ready to pounce. This is an unoriginal observation I know, but its still one that still bears repeating.

At the same time, however, its not hard to see that Obama team should have tried to blunt the negative coverage from the onset, even with all their responsibilities, especially if it was less than entirely forthcoming about communicating with the governor since doing so  would only inspire more suspicion. Gov. Rendell of Pennslyvania made this very point recently on MSNBC.

Otherwise we get the chattering classes reveling in the tedium just as they did here:

Myth of Eric Holder as Flaming Liberal

12 12 2008

The National Review editors on the Holder nomination:

He is convinced justice in America needs to be “established” rather than enforced; he’s excited about hate crimes and enthusiastic about the constitutionally dubious Violence Against Women Act; he’s a supporter of affirmative action and a practitioner of the statistical voodoo that makes it possible to burden police departments with accusations of racial profiling and the states with charges of racially skewed death-penalty enforcement; he’s more likely to be animated by a touchy-feely Reno-esque agenda than traditional enforcement against crimes; he’s in favor of ending the detentions of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay and favors income redistribution to address the supposed root causes of crime.

I find this whole portrayal of Eric Holder simply laughable, especially since Obama’s nominee position on certain issues defies liberal orthodoxy. Holder advocated for stiff penalties for marijuana users, supported mandatory minimums, provided legal advice for Chiquita Brands International Inc., and while serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia acquired a reputation as very pro-police even at a time when use of force by cops were at historic highs.

In sum, Holder was a prosecutor who shared a lot, though not all, of the conservative views that many other prosecutors have. So, to suggest that he’s some flaming liberal is completely off base.

Prioritizing Human Rights

12 12 2008

I know Human Rights Day was on Wednesday, but I thought I would cross-post an interesting piece on how to incorporate human rights law and principles into U.S. domestic policy making  that I saw on the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights website, entitled Making Human Rights a Domestic Priority.

In an effort to institutionalize the nation’s bipartisan commitment to human rights at home, the American Constitutional Society for Law and Policy (ACS) has released a report by human rights scholar and Fordham law professor Catherine Powell offering guidance to the next presidential administration on how to integrate human rights principles into U.S. domestic policy making.

In response to a widening gap between what the U.S. promotes abroad and what it practices at home, Powell laments how “human rights has come to be seen as a purely international concern, even though it is fundamentally the responsibility of each nation to guarantee basic rights for its own people, as a matter of domestic policy.”

Human Rights at Home: A Domestic Blueprint for the New Administration” recommends either transforming or replacing the current U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) with a U.S. Commission on Civil and Human Rights to bridge the divide.  Armed with a broader mandate, this new commission would monitor both civil and human rights progress in the U.S., report on U.S. compliance with international human rights treaties, and investigate and hear complaints of human rights violations in the U.S.

A group of experts and senior officials from various federal agencies would implement the findings.

To avoid the politicization plaguing the present USCCR, the report recommends that every commissioner be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to ensure “highly qualified leadership, broad bipartisan consensus, accountability, and professionalization of the Commission’s work.”

Currently, the president and the Congress are each allowed to appoint four out of the eight commissioners to the USCCR without either branch consulting the other. Single party dominance has also worried some critics after two commissioners reregistered as independents shortly after being appointed as Republicans, bringing the total of Republican commissioners to six.

Powell said that independence and credibility are critical in investigating allegations of human rights violations, such as those during the responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

A recent survey by The Opportunity Agenda reveals substantial support for advancing a strong human rights agenda in the U.S. For example, 80 percent of Americans believe each person has certain basic rights even if governments don’t recognize them and that the U.S. should “strive to uphold human rights in the U.S. because there are people being denied their human rights in our country.”

Plus, the public also overwhelmingly agrees that equal access to public education (82 percent), equal opportunity regardless of race or gender (85 and 86 percent), a right to health care (72 percent), and freedom from torture and fair treatment by the criminal justice system (83 percent) are in fact human rights.

Such social justice issues of fairness and equality speak to the heart of the Blueprint’s aims.  As Powell notes, “We should make the transition from a society of structural inequality to one in which not only the very highest glass ceilings are broken, but also in which sticky floors and broken ladders to opportunity are repaired.”

On the Anti-Eric Holder Movement

12 12 2008

By nominating Eric Holder (see picture) to become the nation’s next attorney general, President-elect Barack Obama intended to signify the end of Bush era cronyism, incompetence, politicization, and use of enhanced torture techniques at the Department of Justice.

At the press conference where the President-elect unveiled his national security team, Obama said, “Let me be clear. The attorney general serves the American people. And I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.”

He also praised Holder’s independence and spoke of the native New Yorker’s deep familiarity “with the law enforcement challenges we face from terrorism to counterintelligence, from white-collar crime to public corruption.”

But there seems to be a movement afoot in among conservatives to portray Holder as a figure that lacks the integrity and the independence necessary to become the nation’s top law enforcement officer. In referring to the Marck Rich affair, the National Review tell us that Obama  nominated an “AG nominee who promoted a corrupt pardon process that sprung mass-murderers from prison.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board would have their readers believe that Holder is a terrorist sympathizer because President Clinton pardoned 16 members of a rebel and domestic terrorist group seeking state sovereignty for Puerto Rico called the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional. Other critics of the Holder nomination are even dredging up the whole Elian Gonzales affair as another instance that implicated him in another low point for the Clinton administration.

One has to wonder why the Holder opposition people were not as critical of the Alberto Gonzales nomination, considering he would be going from White House Counsel to running the Department of Justice. As many people pointed out at the time the appointment was fraught with conflicts of interest problems. At least Holder did not come from an Obama White House position to become the nation’s top lawyer.

At any rate, for his part, Holder has already admitted that the Marc Rich incident was a mistake. This is not to say that it does not merit scrutiny. But it does suggest, however, that it should not overshadow a long record of distinction in public service.

Here is a man who served as a federal prosecutor within the Justice Department’s Office of Public Integrity  going after everyone from influence peddlers in and out of government and organized crime figures. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration, Holder also “issued guidelines on the use of the False Claims Act in civil health care matters,” according to his biography on the Covington & Burling website.

After serving as a judge for some time, Holder also set up a Children Exposed to Violence Initiative within the Justice Department. In sum, Holder has the experience, the record, and the know how to run the Justice Department – all of which is a must for the next AG nominee considering its the Department’s current state. But of course, the real goal here is not to shoot he kill on this nomination in my opinion, the real goal here by conservatives is not to kill the Holder nomination, but to generate enough of a cloud of suspicion and simply to knock Obama down  a notch.

Just as the guilt by association card has been used to implicate Obama in the  Gov. Blagojevich pay to play scandal right wingers are trying to use Holder’s involvement in President Clinton’s controversial pardons to tar Holder and Obama with the same brush of perceived corruption.

And now the anti-Holder opposition has resorted to pressuring Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy to delay the start of the confirmation hearings. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post is reporting that Republican Senators Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn have signaled that if they are not given more time to “consider” Holder’s record, they will hold up his confirmation, i.e., filibuster the nomination. If Senator Leahy were to grant to such a request, that would only penalize Obama for having picked his nominee so early, which gave the Senate at least 39 days to review Holder’s record. And as Leahy himself noted in a letter to Senator Arlen Specter on the same subject:

Other Attorney General nominations, which you and I have considered together, include that of your fellow Pennsylvanian, Dick Thornburgh, whose hearing was held 24 days after he was announced. He remained in office when Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected President. When he left the post toward the end of that administration, we proceeded with Bill Barr, whose hearing was held 25 days after he was announced. The beginning of President Clinton’s administration was unusual, but when he settled on Janet Reno, her hearing was held 26 days after she was announced.

News reports feel say the Obama team feels fairly confident that they have they votes, but they may be concerned that if the Republicans can make the vote on the nomination partisian then they could force the President-elect to expend the kind of political capital the won his centrist transition team a 79 percent approval rating.

The Holder nomination serve as an early test of whether or not team Obama can handle Republican opposition in Senate as much as it will serve as an early indication of how united the GOP’s caucus is in the that chamber.