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Category: Interviews

“Full Frontal Feminism” Author, Jessica Valenti: The IM Interview


Jessica Valenti and me at the Full Frontal Feminism book party
A prediction: Full Frontal Feminism, the debut book from Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti, is going to change young girls’ lives, and help replenish the ranks of the feminist movement. While political elders continue to fumble and stumble in their attempts to connect with young voters, and soon-to-be voters, Valenti’s “Young Woman’s Guide To Why Feminism Matters” succeeds by talking straight and not down.
LiberalOasis interviewed Valenti via IM on April 29 about the book, the state of feminism and anti-feminism, her straight talk on teen sex, and how to deal with “porn culture.” An edited transcript is below:
LiberalOasis: So, isn’t feminism dead?
Jessica Valenti: hahahaha
JV: nope, still here
LO: Time Magazine said you were dead, like, 10 years ago. After Ally McBeal.
JV: Time magazine can suck it
JV: if feminism were dead, why would so many people be trying to kill it?
JV: i mean, there are organizations dedicated to beating feminism down (IWF, CWA, etc)
JV: so if feminism wasn’t seen as a powerful force, i doubt they’d be putting so much cash into these orgs
JV: you better put in that time mag can suck it comment
LO: LiberalOasis is a family-friendly website
JV: damn you
LO: Kate O’Beirne, when she was plugging her book “Women Who Make The World Worse,” said: “Too many people think feminism is a spent force … They don’t realize how influential the feminist agenda is. The feminist ideology is in our schools, on our campuses. We certainly saw that with the trouble Larry Summers at Harvard got into. Boy, was that brutal…”
LO: “When he said very unremarkable things at an academic conference and we saw what a grip Harvard is into the feminists. Enormously influential on Capitol Hill.”…
LO: …”They’re the kind of women who have hyped the phony gender gap in politics to intimidate politicians into thinking that they represent American women.”
JV: i think as a whole this is typical
JV: it’s either, feminism is dead OR feminism is dangerous and it’s coming for your kids!
JV: they really need to make up their mind
JV: and i also think the idea of some nefarious feminist agenda is hysterical
LO: Is feminism as influential, and insidious, as Kate O’Bierne claims?

JV: i think feminism is influential, though not as influential as it should be
JV: though certainly not insidious
JV: i mean, jeez, what’s wrong about an agenda that says women are people and deserve equal rights?
JV: is this really so frigging controversial?
LO: It seems like some conservatives, like O”Bierne, are trying to shift the argument, embracing equality in general, but then saying things like “…they have gotten such mileage out of the phony gender gap. The kind of women who promote that in order to paint America as a discriminatory country…”
JV: right
JV: well that’s what folks like the iwf do
JV: they paint themselves as the “real” feminists
JV: “don’t worry, gals–we have all the rights we need! those ‘radical’ feminists are just whining!”
JV: and let’s face it, america IS a discriminatory country
JV: and the pay gap isn’t phony–i think that’s the worst anti-feminist argument ever
JV: because real women, women who work and see the inequality, aren’t going to fall for that line
LO: Do you think folks like O’Bierne are having any success in holding the feminist movement back?

JV: no
JV: but i think they’re maintaining the status quo of anti-feminism
JV: and i think that women speaking out against feminists is a really easy way to get media attention
JV: any book that says sexism doesn’t exist or that has a regressive message, like women LIKE making less money and don’t want jobs–that’s going to be a book that gets a lot of play
LO: What does that say about the media?
JV: that they suck
JV: no, it says that they’re catering to the men who want to hear that shit and to the women who will get pissed
JV: i mean, media backlash against feminism is nothing new
LO: Now, in your book, you have some critical things to say about the leadership in the feminist movement…
JV: yes…
JV: i just think we could all be doing a better job
JV: especially when it comes to reaching out to younger women
LO: …is the Veteran Feminists of America going to come after you like the Black Crusaders did against Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock?
JV: i’ve been watching my back
JV: no, i think that leaders in the feminist movement probably don’t care much about what I have to say–they’re busy doing their own thing!
JV: but i would say that i’ve gotten a lot of positive emails and notes of support from veteran feminists
JV: and i don’t think generational tension is necessarily a bad thing–we all want the same thing at the end of the day
LO: So your concern is not part of an ideological split?
JV: no i don’t think so.
JV: i think that i just wish folks in positions of power were doing more to be inclusive of young feminists and doing better outreach
JV i think that we’re all fighting for the same things…but that maybe we have different ways of going about it
JV: and that some more mainstream leaders or organizations don’t realize that working together on things like messaging and outreach would probably benefit all of us
JV: i think that feminist orgs have a very specific way of going about things–and for good reason. they’ve been having to deal with bullshit backlash for a long time
JV: so they play it “safe” in a way
JV: but that’s just one woman’s opinion
LO: Why shouldn’t young feminists defer to those who are more experienced? What do young feminists bring to the table?
JV: I think we can have conversations with, and work with more experienced feminists without having to defer to them
JV: and i think with issues like outreach, and messaging to young women–other young feminists are doing more successful work than our predecessors
LO: is that because you don’t play it “safe”?
JV: i think so, yeah
JV: but also…we know how to speak to each other in a way that’s not patronizing
JV: i think there’s a language of “you’re taking your rights for granted” or “you don’t know how good you’ve got it” that’s happened…and it’s not very helpful
LO: Everyone in politics wants the secret to reaching out to young women…
LO: …what do you got?

JV: humor
JV: and candidness
LO: like Imus!
JV: EXACTLY like imus
JV he’s my feminist idol
JV: no really…i think things like feminist blogs are successful because they’re bringing it back to the personal
JV: and because they’re not dry or academic…they’re fun, funny, and community building
LO: so speaking of candidness…
JV: ya
LO: …perhaps the most bold part of Full Frontal Feminism is your unapologetic support of teens making up their own minds about sex

JV: true
JV: but, in a way, i don’t see why it’s bold–i think it’s necessary
LO: can the broader feminist movement get behind that without alienating those over 40?
JV: i think so, yeah.
JV: i mean, what’s controversial about wanting young people to make informed decisions?
JV: i think we have to go from framing teen sex as “well, they’re going to do it anyway”
JV: to a more positive view
JV: sex is a GOOD thing.
JV: even for some teenagers.
JV: i don’t see why we should talk about sex in a negative way and raise a generation of kids thinking that sex is dirty dirty dirty
JV: and i also don’t buy the “not emotionally ready” argument either
JV: sex can be confusing and emotional and overwhelming (or not) no matter what your age
JV: it depends on the person, and the level of information available to that person
LO: Are you opening up feminism to the charge that it encourages irresponsible behavior by kids, and taking power away from parents?
JV: i don’t think having sex is irresponsible, so no
JV: this is what i’m talking about–we talk about sex as “irresponsible”
JV: we talk about an at-risk teen as someone who maybe does drugs, drinks and…is sexually active
JV: having sex is not a dangerous activity like drinking or doing drugs–if you’re informed and protected
JV: and framing it as dangerous i think is dishonest and damaging

LO: How do you reconcile your support of teens making their own informed decisions about sex, with your criticism of Girls Gone Wild and related “porn culture” phenomena?

JV: well my criticism isn’t that girls are participating in that culture–but that they’re doing so uninformed
JV that’s my concern
JV: there’s a difference between making a sober, informed decision about your sexuality…
JV and i would say that it’s difficult to gauge just how “informed” young women are when they’re given all of the fucked up messages about sex
JV: but what i propose about the GGW stuff
JV: isn’t all of this finger wagging and telling young women they’re being taken advantage of
JV: but instead, engaging women
JV: and talking with them about their choices
LO: where?
JV: well, like on blogs for example!
JV: or when we write books aimed at young women…or aimed at parents for that matter
JV: instead of taking the “isn’t this terrible” approach
LO: So you don’t necessarily advocate having this sort of engagement in public schools?
JV: yes, i definitely do
JV: but i think that’s what comprehensive sex education does
JV: in that it doesn’t take a moral stance on sex
JV: which i think is really dangerous, esp for women
JV: because we’re taught that our ability to be moral agents is tied up with whether or not we have sex. which is just insane.
LO: What’s on the mind of the average 16 year old that feminism can speak to?
JV: i think the main thing feminism can speak to, that’s really huge in young women’s lives, is the almost indescribable feeling that there is something wrong with you
JV: when you grow up in a sexist society…you’re just inundated with all of this stuff that tells you you’re less than just by virtue of being a girl
JV: and if feminism can address anything in young women’s lives–i think that’s it. and i think it’s transformative.
Full Frontal Feminism is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books We Like, Powell’s and your local bookstore.

Interview With Paul Rieckhoff, Author of “Chasing Ghosts”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (formerly Operation Truth), recently published, Chasing Ghosts, a memior of his tour of duty in Iraq, and his fight for accountability upon his return home. Former Senator Max Cleland deemed the book a “must read for all of us struggling to understand the number one issue of our time.”
Mr. Rieckhoff participated in an email interview with LiberalOasis earlier this month, and discussed Iraq, permanent bases, the midterms and the growing numbers of homeless vets. The transcript is below:
LiberalOasis: What did officers tell their soldiers regarding the reason why they were being sent to Iraq? Were they told Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11?
Paul Rieckhoff: We were told we were being sent to kick Saddam’s ass. Officers rammed home to all of us how brutal and nasty he was to the Iraqi people.
But at the end of the day, what motivated my soldiers most was the desire to protect each other, and the thought that the sooner we were done, the sooner we could get home to the world of beer, AC and girls.
Whether or not it was said overtly, I don’t remember, but there was a general feeling that the invasion was definitely payback for 9/11.
As someone who worked at Ground Zero after 9/11 (which I write about in the book), I find this aspect of the flawed rationale for war to be especially insulting. The fact that the Administration still ties the war in Iraq to 9/11 today is revolting. They must be held accountable.
LO: What did the failure to find WMD do to the morale of troops? Did it lead to more questioning why they were sent to Iraq?
PR: It was frustrating. We were sent on wild goose chases all over Iraq looking for things that could potentially be WMD. We quickly got sick of coming up empty. But morale is a funny thing.
Not finding WMD did not lead to the morale erosion that a civilian might expect. I think there are two main reasons:
1. The rationale was already so convoluted, that it was easy for troops to fall back on any one of the three or four other shaky pieces of the inconsistent case for war in order to justify our presence.
2. We’re still stuck there for a year — no matter what happens in Washington. We are asked by the American people to do a job — and came to accept that.
The inevitability of the time you have in Iraq forces you to cope. Soldiers are trained to deal with adversity and pain. And your life is in danger every day — you’ve got more immediate fish to fry. Coping mechanisms kick in, and most of us tried to find something better to focus on.
We are also trained to be apolitical. And from where we sat, it didn’t look like the people back home were terribly upset — and they were much more up to date on the news than we were.
LO: How much easier would it be for us to withdraw troops from Iraq if Congress banned funds for permanent military bases, which Democrats have proposed but Republicans have stripped out of appropriations bills?
PR: Not at all. You won’t starve the beast. It is not going to happen.
That political strategy is ineffective and short-sighted. It would only end up hurting the troops stuck in Iraq in the end. Our troops live on those bases. Reductions in funding will result in leaving our people more vulnerable — equipment won’t be fixed, repair parts won’t be ordered, armor won’t be shipped. It is a half-assed way of dealing with the symptoms while you ignore the core of the disease.
Take on the policy. Demand congressional oversight. Work with the media to reveal fraud and waste. Get some people like Rumsfeld fired. But don’t punish the troops for Bush’s stupidity by hamstringing their spending.
Karl Rove smiles every time people on the left consider this strategy. It is the same type of flawed tactical decision that anti-war groups make when they decide to protest outside military bases or Walter Reed hospital. It is like protesting the cows, if you don’t like McDonalds.
LO: Aside from the merits of the tactic to ban funding for permanent bases, are permanent bases an obstacle to bringing stability to Iraq and creating the conditions where US troops can responsibly withdraw?
PR: Yes. Permanent bases would be a destabilizing force in Iraq, and would make our responsible withdrawl more difficult. We need to show the Iraqi people we are not staying forever.
Publicly announcing that we do not desire permanent bases is an important message to send. It would give the Iraqi people less of a feeling that we are in Iraq to exploit them and their oil resources.
The military wants some form of a base in Iraq to use as a “lily pad.” That is a fact. Militarily, it makes sense. Having a force somewhere in Iraq gives American military commanders the flexibility to quickly project power to most areas of the Middle East region. It would allow the US to respond much more rapidly to an Iranian threat, or to defend Israel or Saudi Arabia in the event of an attack by one or more enemies.
If this were to happen, and I had to predict it, I would say that this would most likely happen in the Kurdish northern part of Iraq. I would venture to say this is one group of people who would generally not have as much of a problem with the idea of permanent US bases.
Kurds consider themselves separate from the rest of the nation, ethnically and regionally, and may ultimately look to establish an independent Kurdish state. If they were to happen, they might welcome a US presence there to protect them from Turkey, and even Iran. This is notably different from the Sunni and Shia dominated southern areas.
LO: You’ve been very critical of the Bush Administration for doing a poor job of equipping the troops. What do you think is behind that? Incompetence? Ideology? Arrogance?
PR: All of the above. But the key to battling this failure is to understand why the Administration was able to get away with it for so long:
Very few people are personally connected to this war. Most Americans simply don’t give a shit. Sure they say they do, but not enough to get off their asses and actually do something about it. The neglect of our troops has no real impact on the life of the average America. The people have no skin in the game.
The gap between our troops and our civilians has never been larger. Less than 1% of the American population has served in Iraq. (in WWII it was about 11%) Most Americans don’t even know anyone that has served in Iraq. They have never actually talked to a veteran of the war in person.
When I do speaking events, it is often the first time many people have seen an Iraq Vet in the flesh. Our troops are an abstract. It is not someone in their family getting shot at in Baghdad. We are an image on television without a name.
If your kids were the ones calling you at 3 AM telling you they did not have adequate protective gear, you’d be standing in your congressman’s office raising hell and screaming from the rooftops (like many military families did).
We need Americans to know who our are troops are. And demand accountability for the failures that cost them their lives and limbs. The gap that currently exists is bad for our military and bad for America. We founded IAVA in large part to bridge that gap.
It is time to hold people accountable. It is time for payback. That starts by electing Iraq vets like Tammy Duckworth, Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak to congress this fall.
We don’t need any more yellow ribbon magnets. If you really want to support the troops, then send them to Congress.
LO: Your organization has been very focused on homelessness among veterans. Why do so many veterans become homeless, and what policies can we support that would solve the problem?
IAVA is tracking over two dozen homeless Iraq veterans in NYC right now. The VA says that they have seen over 500 nationally. And those numbers are all VERY conservative.
The biggest problem is a lack of transitional care and services for returning vets. We haven’t learned enough of the lessons from Vietnam.
Troops are literally in Baghdad one week, and Brooklyn the next. Criminals getting out of federal prison get a more extensive transitional program than our combat veterans do.
We need mental healthcare treatment, an expanded VA budget, transitional housing, substance abuse programs, job placement and all the other pieces that can help brace our fall when we return home.
Congressmen Michaud and Evans and others have taken the lead, but the legislation goes nowhere. Plenty of members of Congress (mostly along party lines) have voted consistently against most transitional care funding items.
These legislators must be held accountable for voting against our veterans. They hope you don’t notice the votes, or they say that it costs too much. That is bullshit. The price of our inaction will be astronomically higher in the end. America either pays now, or pays later.
Just as our chickens are coming home to roost in Iraq right now, the same thing will happen back home in the coming decades. Over 1.6 million vets have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. Less than half have been to the VA so far.
A flood is coming. And America is not ready.

Interview With Tom Schaller, Author of “Whistling Past Dixie”

The sharp and insightful Tom Schaller, executive editor of The Gadflyer, recently published Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without The South, which was praised by Publishers Weekly as a “much-needed shot of realpolitik in the arm of the modern Democratic Party.”
Prof. Schaller and I agreed to ask five questions of each other via email about our respective books. His responses to my questions are below. His interview of me can be found here.
1. You articulate a “non-Southern platform” based on the following principles: “strong defense, but a smart offense,” “a culture of investment,” and “the exercise of inalienable liberties.” Don’t those ideals appeal to both southerners and non-southerners alike?
TOM SCHALLER: For some voters in every region, sure, those ideals are equally appealing. But overall, there are striking differences in the attitudes of southerners and non-southerners, especially among white voters.
Support for Bush’s war in Iraq is weakening across the country, but the pockets where it is still strong are in the South and a few Plains and Mountain West states.
And although it is a myth that native southerners account for a disproportionate share of our fatalities in Iraq (they don’t), the South is the temporary home to larger shares of active-duty military and veterans because of the disproportionate location of military bases there. In the literal sense of the term, the most belligerent region of the country is the South.
White southerners talk about the need for limited government, but the fact is that most southern states get back anywhere from $1.10 or $1.35 for every dollar they send to Washington. It is the northeastern states that get back less than what they contribute, and it is liberals who are happy to investment their monies in programs that will pay off in the medium to long term, because they understand that investing in education and early-life health care actually saves the country in the long run.
The culture of investment theme steals the language conservatives love to invoke when it comes to markets and apply it to governmental commitments to infrastructure and human development. If you look at southern states, however, their per-capita state expenditures rank near the bottom.
If they believed in investment, instead of redistribution of monies contributed by others, they’d spend more at home — especially since they benefit so greatly from the federal redistribution game. But they don’t.
As for civil liberties, must I even make the case?
A quick look at American history through the lens of its constitutional amendments, which for 150 years have extended suffrage and safeguarded our most cherished civil rights and liberties, should suffice. And what does that history show?
That at every key struggle in American history — abolition, women’s suffrage, the end of child labor, the integration of the military, to de-segregation of our schools and public facilities — it was mostly southern states blocking and opposing these amendments. History is what history does.
2. Whistling Past Dixie lays out a strategy to win without the South in the short-term, but it also argues that Democrats should work to win back the South by 2028. Howard Dean argues that we can’t win in places where we don’t “show up,” and is rebuilding the party infrastructure to enhance its presence in all 50 states. Are your strategies at all in conflict?
TS: Nope, because Dean is right. What Dean is calling for is a minimum investment in each state so that Democrats there don’t have to reinvent the wheel every two or four years.
As one of the few scholars in the country who has actually worked on a field campaign (and thus understands how poorly ideas and contacts and voting data get transferred from one cycle to the next), I know that Dean’s approach is actually quite efficient.
So that means [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair] Rahm Emanuel is wrong? Nope. Dean is doing electoral defense, and you defend at a minimum level everywhere. But offense requires targeting, and that means not spending capriciously in places where, during the late stages of an election, you can’t win.
If Ike had invaded Europe in 1944 by spreading our Allied troops evenly across the French coast, the Germans might have repelled the invasion. So, Emanuel is right, too: Concentrate resources at points of weakness.
It’s great to have staff in every state, and to encourage local Democrats to do the best they can on a local level. And it never hurts to recruit the best possible candidates in every seat at every level.
But when it comes down to crunch time, you target resources where they will matter most. Politics is economics, and we’re not trying to build a “unanimity party,” but a majority party. And that means figuring out how to get to 51% before aiming for 61% or 71% and, in my view, targeting Arizona or even Alaska before thinking about Alabama.
3. The “low-hanging fruit” for Democrats, in your analysis, is the Midwest and Interior West. Are those regions proving to be low-hanging fruit in this midterm election?
TS: Absolutely, but don’t take it from me.
Chuck Todd, esteemed editor of the Hotline, ranks 60 House seats as in play: 53 held by Republicans, just seven by Democrats. Of those 53 seats, just seven are in the former 11 Confederate states. Put another way, although the House GOP gets 39% of its membership from the South, only 13% of our targets are there.
The fact is, the Democratic targets this cycle are largely contained within what I call the “4D Rectangle” of states formed by connecting Dover (NH), Dover (DE), Des Moines and Duluth. Of the 59 Republican-held seats which were either carried by Gore or Kerry, or narrowly by Bush (less than 3 points), during the past two presidential cycles, 44 of them are in this box.
If there’s a Speaker Pelosi on January 3, she will owe her new majority to the conversion (finally!) of the old Rockefeller/Ford wing of the Republican Party into the Democratic column. Indeed, there are at least 3 seats in play in CT, NY, PA, OH, and even IN. Just winning those and breaking even everywhere else would be enough to convert the House.
As for the Senate, same story: Though TN has been made competitive because of a great Democratic nominee and VA has been made competitive because of a terrible Republican nominee, even if Dems win both of those and win only four of the non-South seats where they presently lead (OH, PA, RI, MT and MO), Harry Reid’s new 50-plus-Sanders (VT) majority will be comprised of 44 non-southern Democratic senators and just six southern senators.
And that’s in the best-case scenario for southern Democrats. If Clair McCaskill holds off Talent in MO and either Ford (TN) or Webb (VA) lose, the split will be 45-5. That means 90% of Reid’s caucus will be non-southern.
I could go on, but the fact is that the Midwest is and has been the most “purple” region of the country for 70 years. It is home to five of the nine closest states in the last presidential election, and the Southwest is far more competitive today than it was when Bush’s father won in 1988.
The windfallen fruit is at Democrats’ feet in the Northeast/Pacific Coast, where they need to fully “blue-ify” their strongholds; the Midwest is the low-hanging fruit reachable without so much as a step-ladder; the Interior West, particularly the Southwest, is the mid-tree target; and only at the top is the (non-FL) southern states, particularly the Deep South states at the apex.
Again, politics is economics, and since all the apples are the same size, the fastest and most efficient way to 51% (or 61%, for that matter) is to fill with the fruits closest at hand.
4. You instruct Democrats to explicitly run against the “conservative South.” Is it necessary to criticize a region of the country when standing up to conservatism? Is there a risk of being seen as divisive?
TS: This is the most infuriating criticism of my book, and one that shows how the same liberals who complain about Fox News and media bias have fallen victim to the very national discourse they decry and which holds liberals/Democrats and conservatives/Republicans to different standards.
Note, for starters, that the GOP brazenly, and with impunity, mocks “northeastern liberals,” and people like John Kerry and Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank, as “out of touch” wackos from “Taxachusetts.”
I could run you through the respective histories of Massachusetts and, say, South Carolina, but suffice to say that the Palmetto State has been defying, opposing, ignoring or rejecting every beneficent governmental change since before the Republic was founded.
Lindsey Graham claims he represents one of the most patriotic states, but he won’t tell you that many white southerners refused to celebrate the 4th of July until the 1950s. If it were the other way around, do you think Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly would fall silent about the lack of patriotism among northeastern liberals?
Democrats vilify Ken Lay, Jack Abramoff, or Mark Foley, and that’s fine. But these are fleeting foes. So why is it that they cannot criticize the southern conservatives who stand so directly in opposition to almost everything liberals and Democrats support?
I find it gallingly ironic that the same national media talking heads who are the first to say the Democrats are gutless and afraid to fight are the same folks who lecture Democrats for daring to criticize anyone except Antonin Scalia, unnamed corporate fat-cats and “special interests.”
It’s time to call a spade a spade, and the southern wing of the Republican Party runs the GOP and thus, by extension, the country. If you think the kind of government they’re giving us is not to be criticized by name, then you’re just another spineless Democrat.
A final point: You know why Republicans use divide-and-conquer politics to attack the “northeastern liberals”? Because at least it offers “conquer” as a payout.
“Pander-to-unify,” the mollycoddling crap we hear from the “Kum Bay Yah” centrist Democrats only results in pandering that fails to unify anybody. It’s important to be for something, no doubt; but sometimes being for something also means showing the courage to be against something.
We should stop trying to hand-hold whiny southern conservatives who talk tough but can’t govern, and whose ideas and values on everything from affirmative action to Iraq are taking our country in the wrong direction. They’re the last people likely to vote Democratic anyway, and if you don’t have the stomach to call them out, you should go do something else.
5. You also counsel Democrats to move away from support of gun control in order to reach Midwest and Western voters. Can they do that and still win support from those in their base who remain concerned about fatal gun violence?
TS: This is the perfect example of the supposed problem you raised in the previous question, Bill.
Look at where support for the 2nd Amendment is strongest: In the South and the Mountain West. Are you gonna tell southerners they’re out of touch and don’t share real American values? To borrow language from your last two questions, how you can “maintain support from the fatal-gun-violence base” without picking a Second Amendment fight, and by picking it, risk being “seen as divisive” and “criticizing a region” of the country?
This is the double-standard trap of which I just spoke, and this question falls right into the pit.
My view on the Second Amendment is simple, if even a bit simplistic: I don’t keep a gun in my house and would probably sign a petition to clarify the ambiguous language of the amendment itself.
But I’m also an ACLU-style libertarian and that means I don’t get to say the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments all count but the Second doesn’t.
Clinton, Gore and Kerry all tried to take guns off the table so they could get a hearing on their economic platform, and that’s exactly what people like MT Gov. Brian Schweitzer does.
Remember what Paul Hackett said: I don’t think the government should be telling me what to keep in my gun safe, but it also shouldn’t tell me what my wife and her doctor can talk about.
What’s he saying, in a less professorial and thus more powerful way, is this: Let’s put the other nine Amendments of the Bill of Rights behind the ramparts of the Second Amendment and protect them all with equal vigor. That’s smart politics.
Now, here’s why the gun issue demonstrates the difficulty in attracting white southerners to the Democratic Party:
White westerners in red states support gun rights to the same degree that white southerners do, but on the non-gun social issues they are less conservative. This is not my opinion, by the way; it is an empirical fact, based on self-reported attitudes of voters interviewed for National Annenberg Election survey.
On reproductive choice, affirmative action, gay rights, prayer in school and the death penalty, midwestern and interior western white voters hold less conservative positions that white southerners. And that means there are fewer cultural hurdles to clear with midwestern and interior western swing voters before they’ll hear your pitch on foreign policy and economics. The hurdles are higher and more numerous in the South, and the data back me up.
So take guns of the table and the West and Midwest are in play; take guns off the table in the South, and you lose by 12 points on Election Day instead of 14. Whoopee!
Thanks Bill, to you and your great readers. This was fun. Your readers should go to Gadflyer.com to read my five questions for Bill about Wait! Don’t Move to Canada! and his compelling replies.

LiberalOasis Interviews Nomi Prins, Author of “Jacked”

Nomi Prins, senior fellow at the think tank Demos, recently published Jacked: How “Conservatives” Are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them or Not). The book lays out on innovative way to explain the impact of conservative domestic policies on us, by showing how they affect every “card” in your wallet, such as your Social Security card, health insurance card and student ID card.
As Howard Dean said, “This is the first book I have read that sees the effects of Republican incompetence and meanness through the eyes of ordinary Americans.”
On September 28, Ms. Prins participated in an email interview with LiberalOasis. The full transcript is below:
LiberalOasis: Your book Jacked argues that conservatives are picking our pockets. That’s often a charge Republicans make about Democrats, in regards to taxes. Why do you say it’s the other way around?
Nomi Prins: Jacked focuses on what’s happened in the country since President Bush took office and more specifically since the Republicans gained control of Congress. The label “conservative” is supposed to connote some sort of moral and fiscal responsibility. Well, these “conservatives” have wrecked the country’s finances.
They have created the biggest deficit, national debt, and trade imbalance EVER. That’s not economically conservative. Pushing that kind of debt onto our future generations isn’t even morally conservative.
They passed the most sweeping bankruptcy reform in 25 years (that hurts consumers, and benefits credit card companies). They passed the Medicare Prescription D Act without keeping the right to negotiate for lower drug prices (again, not economically conservative) which gouges seniors for $2850 a year if their drug needs fall in the “donut hole” between $2,250 and $5,100.
They signed the largest corporate tax breaks in two decades. They tried to dismantle Social Security while raiding its trust fund at a higher magnitude than any other administration. They are NOT conservative. They are wasteful – jacking the country’s financial resources at the population’s expense.
LO: You lead off the book taking about high gas prices. Is it fair to hang that on conservatives, or are the price spikes due to economic factors that are out of our government’s hands?
NP: Of course, it’s fair. True, market forces and speculators have a direct impact on crude oil prices and these prices are not directly controlled by the conservatives. But, knowing how your bread gets buttered goes a long way in politics and business.
That’s why since Bush took office 81% of oil industry campaign contributions have gone to the GOP. That’s why Bush signed $8 billion of tax breaks to the oil industry last summer. That’s why after getting exorbitant profits on the backs of Katrina victims, the Republican lead Senate committee allowed the top five oil executives to plead that they “needed” those profits, and as individuals across the country were helping victims, continued screwing them.
The US oil and gas industry can’t control the price on the open market, but they can control the difference between what they pay for crude oil and how much profit they make out of refining it into the gas we use. They can and are cutting into their own profits on that difference before the elections. To help keep their friends in power and the American people from focusing on their pump pain. Until November.
LO: Republicans argue that since GDP is rising and unemployment is historically low, people should feel good about the economy. Why shouldn’t we feel good about those indicators?
NP: Because aggregate statistics don’t tell the real story about the details of everyday lives across the country, the ones told in Jacked. They ignore the enormous chasm between people struggling and people scraping the cream off the top of this country. The buying power of the minimum wage is at a 51 year low.
The Republicans have voted against every increase that’s come their way. It’s wrong to say, if you look behind the curtain, things are so rosy.
LO: What has the new Medicare prescription drug benefit done for seniors? Are there lessons about health care reform that we should learn from this experience?
NP: The prescription drug benefit has made it more confusing and more expensive for seniors to buy the drugs they need.
We should learn that you don’t give carte blanche to drug companies to charge whatever in the interest of their bottom line and at the expense of seniors’ wallets. We should learn that since 47 million people don’t have health insurance in the country, a number up 16% since Bush took office that our system needs an overhaul. We should learn that when health insurance premiums have doubled since Bush took office and $400 billion a year is spent by private insurance companies in red tape and overhead – that our system needs an overhaul.
People shouldn’t have to choose between getting Jacked and getting affordable care.
LO: With the midterms around the corner, what do you think will happen to the wallets of Americans over the next two years if Republicans are fired from control of Congress?
NP: If Americans fire the Republicans, their wallets would feel better if the Democrats actually take a good hard look at all the concerns that ordinary people have. Perhaps even visit them in their homes, and just listen, like I did researching Jacked.
If the Democrats can have the guts to unwind the damage the acts passed in the past term have caused – raiding higher education assistance, slashing Medicare and Medicaid, targeting Social Security while pilfering the trust fund.
If they could do something ANTYHING about a national health cost (yes, that’s COST, not care – we have good doctors, we just need people be able to afford to go to them), passing a living wage act at the Federal Level, regulating the gouging rates that credit companies extort instead of sitting by as accomplice to a bankruptcy reform act that penalizes people not playing on a level credit playing field to begin with … yes, then we can start talking about healthier wallets for a wider section of the American public.

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Sidney Blumenthal

Three years ago, Sidney Blumenthal offered an insider’s perspective on the Clinton presidency in “The Clinton Wars.” Today, he’s delivered an outsider’s dissection of the Bush presidency in “How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime.”
On Aug. 31 Mr. Blumenthal joined LiberalOasis, for the second time (our first interview is here), to discuss his latest work, the true Bush agenda, Condi Rice, John Bolton, PlameGate and the Democratic chances in ’06. The following is an edited transcript:
LiberalOasis: What makes the Bush presidency “radical” as opposed to merely “conservative” or “right-wing”?
Sidney Blumenthal: It’s certainly not conservative in any classical definition of the sense of conserving something.
And, it’s radicalism, in some ways is of the Right, but it is a unique radicalism…
…we’re in the grip of this radical presidency, and I don’t think that the country is fully aware of how radical Bush is, what the true and sweeping agenda is, and how this is changing our country fundamentally, including an attempt to change the nature of our government and Constitution.
It is unique because it’s a kind of perverse mutation of conservatism and right-wing thought, but it’s unto itself.
And it is unique in that Bush is more radical than any other president we have ever had in American history.
LO: You say that many Americans don’t know what the agenda is. How would you summarize that agenda?
SB: I think that agenda is to completely transform our system of government, so that we have an unaccountable, unfettered concentration of power in the Executive.
It’s an agenda that also seeks to transform the place of the United States in the world.
Bush has discarded 60 years of broad bipartisan consensus in foreign policy and internationalism.
And in place, asserted an agenda of, using the attacks on 9/11 as the proximate cause, … first-strike pre-emptive attacks, unilateralism, de facto dismissal of internationalism.
He has shattered our traditional coalitions, including the Western Alliance.
And you can go through the whole foreign policy, but particularly, point to the immense dangers that he has created to our national security interests, coming from the utter fiascos he has engendered in the Middle East.
He also [is] the only President ever to show hostility to science.
It didn’t matter whether a President was Democratic or Republican or Whig … no President has ever been hostile to science until Bush.
We have an Administration where government scientists are being given orders on what they can say, in terms of science, by political appointees, and in one case as we saw, people who fabricated their resumes in terms of their education.
This is not something that’s abstract.
Bush’s utter contempt for science has led to the paralysis of medical research on stem cells which might affect the development of cures on a whole host of diseases, and could affect, potentially, every single person living in the United States…
LO: Ronald Reagan left the Republican Party with an anti-government domestic philosophy that guides it to this day.
When Bush’s term ends, will he leave the Republican Party with his ideological legacy in foreign policy? Or are you sensing that Washington Republicans are uneasy about where he is taking them and they might scale it back somewhat?
SB: I think the Republicans have to cope with the Bush legacy. It’s the single most important factor that affects the future of their party.
I have grave doubts about whether they are capable of doing it, because the Republican Party has been transformed so fundamentally over decades, and especially during the Bush Era.
I don’t think they can come to terms with the drastic changes that Bush has made, and the dire conditions he will have put his party.
Bush is the number one issue in the midterm elections, Republicans are running away from him.
He will be the number one issue in the 2008 election. And his legacy, such as it is, may overshadow the Republican Party for a generation, and define it. I don’t see how they get away from it.
One of the ways which Bush is radical is that he is the first, and I say the first, elected Southern conservative in the White House. Ever, in our history.
LO: And what is the specific relevance of him being a Southern conservative?
SB: He comes from a very particular part of the South. He comes out of Texas. He comes out of kind of oil-based politics.
It’s the most conservative part of the country, in terms of conservatism. It’s far more conservative even than conservatism in the Midwest.
It has a different view of government, for example. It’s certainly not the Reagan view.
Reagan came out of California. And while he was making ideological statements about hostility to government, he actually accepted large parts of government in terms of public works.
And Reagan himself, personally, at every juncture where he encountered serious difficulty, was willing to negotiate his way out, and even throw overboard all the important people in his Administration if need be, and change course.
In the end, he signed the intermediate nuclear treaty with Gorbachev, and made gestures toward ending the Cold War, in defiance of the conservative movement, who were openly hostile to him.
Can’t imagine Bush doing any of that. Bush comes from a very different tradition.
Southerners we’ve had in the White House have all been Southern liberals, in that tradition, in the Southern tradition,
Bush is a complete aberration out of the South in the White House, it’s something the Republicans — their party is in the grip of this, and in the grip of what he’s done to them.
LO: There’s been some chatter that Secretary of State Condi Rice is more of a “realist” than a “neoconservative” and can provide a check on the neocons in the White House. Is this an accurate portrayal of the fault lines in the Administration, or is it wishful thinking?
SB: I believe that is wishful thinking.
I think Condi Rice is a strange case. I’ve written about her a lot in this book.
Condi Rice is not assigned as much as responsibility for what’s happened in the Bush Administration as she deserves.
Instead, people focus on others. But Rice herself has been a major factor.
She is someone who Bush trusts and listens to. She is his most trusted briefer.
She throughout the first term as National Security Adviser, consistently stabbed Colin Powell in the back as he sought more diplomatic and political solutions to problems,
And she sided fairly consistently with Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and Bush himself, in taking extreme radical and neoconservative positions.
It was Rice, all on her own, who decided to ignore Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism chief, and his reports and warnings.
And she has filtered out a lot of worst-case scenarios and negative information and intelligence from Bush, and protected him, as it were.
She’s also created a kind of academic dreamland for Bush. She operates through flattery. She’s a great flatterer. And she’s propelled her ambition on it.
And she tells Bush he’s a great world historical figure. He’s going to transform the world, which is going to make her like Dean Acheson at the beginning of the Cold War, present at the creation, and this is not only as great as creating the whole Cold War foreign policy, but it’s as a big as the beginning of the nation-states. This is epical.
And she tells Bush, people don’t understand him because he’s such a great figure.
The Bush-Rice relationship needs more investigation in its strange dimensions of Bush’s self-conception, involving elements of noblesse oblige, deference and ignorance — all of which contribute to Rice’s immense influence with Bush, which for the most part has been overwhelmingly to encourage him in his worst instincts.
LO: How would you characterize the efforts of Democrats to counter the neoconservative campaign to frame the foreign policy debate?
SB: Democrats have basically been non-players. And have been rolled over.
The Democrats prove the maxim, what I believe, which is that absolute lack of power corrupts absolutely.
They’re held in contempt in large part because they have no power anywhere in the system. People don’t understand how damaging that is to you, not to have any power….If they had any power, people would say, “You know, the Democrats have some good ideas.”
The idea of Democrats generating these policy papers or idea forums is well and good, but no one will ascribe anything positive to them until they actually hold power.
That’s simply the basis of politics for the future here for them.
In terms of foreign policy, where Bush has caught the Democrats is … he’s created such a nightmare in Iraq, [while] the Democrats, some Democrats, still trying to act responsibly, come up with alternative policy ideas on what ought to be done.
The result of coming up with alternatives, is that Bush listens to nobody and the Democrats are left to simply hang out to dry.
Events then pass you by, and you appear impotent, foolish and beside the point, underlying the Democratic predicament of powerlessness.
It runs against the grain of Democrats who like to think of themselves as responsible for government, and even being bipartisan. But they’re operating on premises that Bush doesn’t accept at all.
By acting in a positive way, you don’t hold to Bush account wholly for his failure, and put the entire burden, as it should be, on Bush to come up with a strategy, of which he has none.
LO: What have we learned from the first year of John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN?
SB: I don’t know if we know the whole Bolton story.
Bolton has been very effective in stigmatizing and tainting the United Nations. He has blocked reform at the UN.
He’s a Cheney person, he’s part of the Cheney neocon network, even though he’s not a neocon. He’s actually an older kind of, even more right-wing, deeper conservative than that, who not only worked for Helms, but began his career as a political aide for Vice President Spiro Agnew. And it’s important to remember exactly who he is.
But he’s connected to them and acts as their agent. He spied on Colin Powell, and tried to throw a wrench in every bit of Colin Powell’s diplomacy often successfully.
Condi Rice — very well aware of that, having been a backstabber herself, and seeing what Bolton was up to and how Cheney operated — would not accept Bolton as her deputy secretary of state, which Cheney was trying to push on her. So they moved him over to the UN, where Bolton would report to her.
Well, I assume Bolton is still very much part of this Cheney neocon operation as well, and part of the pressure on Rice, and they know that applying pressure on Rice often works.
So that’s how I see Bolton, he’s an aspect of largely of Cheney and ultimately of what Bush wants. After all, the president is always responsible.
LO: Regarding Bush and Cheney’s efforts to greatly expand the scope of executive power, how would you simply describe the practical impact of that? Why does it amount to a threat to democracy and not simply a sincere effort to stop terror attacks?
SB: Bush has adopted a radical theory about, not only the law, but international law and our treaty obligations.
He has broken with the policy of the United States, going back to George Washington, and is engaged in actions that the American Bar Association has said are contrary to the rule of law.
We’ve seen that his fundamental policy … is that as commander-in-chief, he has the authority to make any law he wishes that relates to what he calls his war, calling himself a “war president.”
And he’s also shown through his abuse of so-called signing statements — of which there are more than 750 appended to legislation passed by the Congress — that he has declared that he can enforce or not enforce any laws as he sees fit in this role, which is what aroused the ABA…
…The overall effect of Bush’s torture policy, … the way in which he’s engaged in domestic surveillance outside the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, his signing statements, the extraordinary powers granted to the Vice-President including through Executive Orders allowing the Vice-President equal control as the President over intelligence matters — extraordinary expansion of power for Cheney — all of that has created the impression of lawlessness.
Which has drastically undermined the national security interest of the United States, and brought our prestige to its lowest ebb, ever, in the world.
All of that has an immediate bearing on our alliances, our ability to act, our long-term prospects in dealing with terrorism and other important matters.
The contempt for the rule of law in creating this Imperial Presidency, the culmination of Nixon’s vision, the seed of which is carried by Cheney and Rumsfeld, and executed by Bush, has drastically undermined the US in the world.
LO: You dedicated your new book to Joseph Wilson. What was your interest in doing that?
SB: Joe Wilson and I are good friends. I admire him a great deal for what he’s done, in standing up for what I regard as the national security interest of the country, and defending it against the degradations of the Bush Administration.
He has been made a particular target because he spoke truth to power about the lies told in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq…
…I think he’s provided an example, in this scoundrel time, of patriotism and how a patriot ought to act in the face of these attacks on our country by a radical Administration.
LO: How do you think the revelation that Richard Armitage was one of the leakers impacts the Wilsons’ legal efforts against Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove?
SB: It has no impact whatsoever.
I had known that Armitage was that source for a long time, many months, and it has been fairly well known among some people in Washington.
It has no bearing whatsoever on the legal case against Scooter Libby on the counts of perjury and obstruction of justice … which have been filed by the [special] prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald…
…Nor does it have any impact on the reality, of the concerted action, as Fitzgerald put it, taken by key individuals of the Administration including the Vice-President to smear Joe Wilson.
Why did Rich Armitage do this? Rich Armitage was deputy secretary of state, long-time friend of Colin Powell … Why would he tell Bob Woodward and Robert Novak this?
First of all, he learned it in a document that had been created as a result to provide information within the State Department, after Cheney began his interest in attacking Wilson.
That document specifically notes that Valerie Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA operative was secret. It’s marked with a letter “S.” That means secret.
So why did Armitage yap his head off?
Because he’s a fool. And he wanted to impress and maintain his relationships with famous journalists, and as a Washington player.
He’s a gossip. He put what he considered to be gossip above his sworn, written oath to defend the national security of the United States. And for someone with his background, this is extraordinary.
So Armtiage is a fool. And what this revelation shows, it’s a sad tale of Washington, and really the disgrace of a long-time public servant because of his own foolishness.
But it has no bearing, at all, on the concerted attack on Wilson that was instigated by Cheney, and which involved high members of the Administration.
And it has no legal ramifications whatsoever for Fitzgerald’s case against Scooter Libby.
LO: The question on everyone’s mind: what are the odds of a Democratic takeover of Congress this year?
SB: Pretty good.
I think that the issue is Bush. That’s the issue that my book makes clear. That’s really the issue facing the country, Bush and his works.
And if Democrats can focus on that, and the fact that … he hasn’t gotten the job done, he doesn’t do the job for them, then I think they stand an excellent chance of taking the House and perhaps even scaling the heights of the Senate.
It is essential that Bush be blocked and checked, precisely because he’s such a radical president.
His radical presidency is dependent on one-party rule, and a certain kind of one-party rule. It’s a one-party rule where there is no oversight by the Congress.
Now we’ve had Congresses and presidencies in which one party has controlled all of them. But the Congress had enough institutional integrity and sense of itself so that it would always stand up for its own prerogatives, its own oversight.
This happened under Franklin Roosevelt. It happened under Harry Truman. It happened as we well know to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. And it certainly happened to Bill Clinton in his first two years. It happened to Jimmy Carter.
But it doesn’t happen now. It’s because we have this disciplined Republican Party that has applied extraordinary pressures on the members of the Congress, stifled the oversight function, and prevented any investigations or hearings into the Bush policies, and has allowed this radical presidency to flourish.
If Bush is allowed two more years of unaccountable power, the damage will be untold, and the public needs to understand those stakes.
This is a crisis that we can see, not only out in the world, and not only in terms of the immediate issues facing the country, but also a constitutional crisis, because of the agenda on the part of Bush and his Administration to [shift] the constitutional balance of power.
So that’s why this midterm election is so crucial.