If I had one single reason for supporting Obama in the last election, it was that he and he alone had the strategy and perseverance to end the Cold War with Iran. He hasn’t done that yet – but he has, with remarkable global unity, started down a diplomatic path that could liberate the forces for moderation and democracy in that country, and unwind a dangerous ratchet toward war. That was always his larger promise from the get-go: not just to end the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; not just to end the torture regime that made a war criminal of the president and ruined both our moral authority and the integrity of our intelligence-gathering; but to begin to defuse the deeper forces of polarization and conflict that seemed only likely to intensify after 9/11. I have always seen Obama as the antidote to Bush. This weekend, he fully inhabited the role.
For this blog, the question of Iran has particular resonance. Patrick, Chris and I truly soldered our partnership in the heady days of the Green Revolution, as we became immersed in every tweet, every gesture and every tragedy of that great awakening. I know Dish readers were glued to those events as well – and feel the relief and exhilaration of this partial but still real breakthrough.
Which is why we should make this clear: this blog favors this agreement primarily because of our love of and admiration for the people of Iran. We saw them in June 2009 dare to believe that their long nightmare of isolation, extremism and theocratic rule might end one day. And there are times when commentary on all of this too easily misses their central place in this diplomacy. We are doing this not just because it is in the interests of the United States for there to be peace and non-proliferation in the Middle East; but because it as an act of basic respect toward the people of Iran. They were the ones who risked their lives and fortunes to fight against theocracy in 2009 and they are the ones who recently elected the most moderate leaders allowed. And we owe it to them to reciprocate their courage and perseverance. To be sure, Rouhani is not all of the regime, but he is very much a part of it, and has the sole democratic legitimacy. Not to engage this newly elected leader’s diplomatic outreach would be to turn our back on fledgling democracy in the Middle East – and kindling those democratic forces was and is the best response to the polarization unleashed in the crime of September 11, 2001.
Now consider this: in the past few months, Obama has both begun to remove the threat of WMDs in Syria through diplomacy and found a way to ensure that Iran’s irrevocable nuclear know-how will be verifiably channeled into peaceful, civilian use. These two acts of diplomacy compound one another to make the world a much more peaceful place. Yes, there remains a risk. Of course there does.
Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru respond to a few of my recent thoughts on healthcare in America. I’m really grateful for their engagement. Here’s one basic thing on which we already agree: before the ACA, we did not have a free market in healthcare. We had, as I rather crudely put it, “the most fucked-up, inefficient and inhumane socialized system on the planet.” What is encouraging about their work is that they are actually proposing something that might make that socialized system less perverse and more amenable to the power of market decisions, as well as being humane. The ACA does all that, as well, but its market mechanisms are embedded within a more elaborate government-organized scheme.
They propose a system based on the catastrophic insurance model. Let’s call it Catastrophic Plus:
We are not proposing a regime of universal catastrophic-only policies, with perhaps some supplementary coverage packages on top of that. (There have been some proposals of that sort by others.) We propose, rather, to build on today’s insurance market, in which most people get tax-preferred coverage through an employer while other people get non-tax-preferred coverage on their own, by allowing those other people to have the same benefit provided through a credit they could use to help them buy insurance.
The credit would be sufficient to pay the premium of catastrophic-coverage policies (more or less by default; if you put a huge amount of money on the table in, say, $5,000 increments that can only be used for insurance, insurers will rush to offer coverage with $5,000 premiums and adjust co-pays and deductibles accordingly). So people who now pay no premium costs and therefore have no insurance could pay no premium costs and have catastrophic coverage. Nobody would have any economic reason to forgo such coverage, while the economic reason to pursue it (to gain some protection from extreme unexpected costs) would remain in force. Protection from catastrophic costs is the core benefit that health insurance offers, and this would be a way to make it available to all. But people who now buy more comprehensive coverage in the individual market, or who would like to, would see its cost to them decline by the amount of the credit, and so could purchase it far more easily, while most people would presumably continue to receive employer-provided coverage as they do now.
What this does is retain government subsidies for healthcare insurance but equalize them for employment-based insurance and individual insurance. That’s something I would happily get behind. But one of my core worries is that these catastrophic policies would not allow for routine, preventive care – and so end up as a false economy. Here’s their response to that point:
There is no clear reason to think people would skimp on preventive care in such a system. People tend to value preventive care, and we’re just saying they should be better enabled to choose insurance options that provide what they value, and that this should be done in a way that encourages insurers and providers to seek the most efficient and appealing means of running a health care and insurance system.
The clear reason, I’d counter, is that people cannot afford it. If they only have Catastrophic Plus, the kind of care that would lower costs by preventing, say, cancer by early screening and detection, would be beyond their means. Of course, a huge amount depends on how much of a subsidy individuals could get. What’s positive about L&P’s proposal for high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions in the individual market is that they are not squeamish about the cost. (Here’s their model in one iteration.) But at some point, if it’s significant enough, the ACA seems preferable for the solvency of the system as a whole because of its clear minimum provisions for preventive care.
The deeper trouble, it seems to me, is that insurance as a model is a guard against low-probability but high-impact events. And yet healthcare cannot be seen simply in that way – because part of it has to be non-catastrophic. This has only gotten worse over time. As medicine has moved past the relatively inexpensive prevention or cure of terrible illness toward the much more expensive and open-ended maintenance of health and longevity, insurance remains a terribly unsatisfactory model. Except for all the others. And denying someone a treatment that could save or transform their life is qualitatively and morally different than denying them a new PS4 or iPhone.
I also totally get L&P’s desire to find some way to connect the price of this good with demand. Someone has to pay for it – and the market is a much better mechanism for figuring the best price out – and making it visible to people – than a government central plan. My problem is that this is one market where experts really do know better.
The Guardian has a great interactive guide to all the doctors over the last fifty years, if you need a refresher before the imminent 50th Anniversary episode.
It would be hard for me to express how powerful this television show was in my fledgling imagination. I never missed an episode, and got really hooked in the Patrick Troughton years. Yes, that Doctor’s male assistant, Jamie, was one of my first crushes. I just wanted to be him in some inchoate way that would eventually evolve into sexual and emotional attraction. Maybe it was the kilt that did it. There are also episodes in the Pertwee years which I can still close my eyes and remember vividly – The Green Death was my favorite (with giant maggots threatening Surrey!). But Tom Baker and Sarah Jane Smith became the iconic Doctor and his assistant for me – and for lots of Who-nerds growing up with me at the same time. Baker in some ways created the character in its fullest, final incarnation: querulous, curious, funny, fearless and yet also all-powerful. (You can watch his debut above). Then as I went to college (no TV there) and to America, I lost touch, except for occasional winces at what I thought were gimmicky and tawdry attempts at revivals in the late 1980s and 1990s.
But it lived on in my dreams. Almost every anxiety dream I ever had in my teens was situated solidly in the Doctor’s world. I was never the Doctor – always his assistant – in these dreams. I knew my place and was just glad to be around him. The dreams invariably took the shape of a classic Doctor Who scenario – walking gingerly down strange, dark corridors waiting for some scary monster to jump out and grab me. Of particular note were the Cybermen, who for me exceeded the Daleks in their inhuman, soulless scariness. The explanation for this, I realized later, was that in the episodes in my youth, the Daleks couldn’t get up the stairs to my bedroom at night. They were on wheels! The Cybermen? They could knock down the front door and march up the stairs in an instant.
Even in my twenties, these dreams persisted. They were, I think, both about longing to exist in another kind of world; and also about seeing as the ultimate authority this quirky, non-violent, superior intelligence made Time Lord flesh in the Doctor. I realize now that this is a very English idea of inter-galactic power – all brain and close to very little brawn, and deeply moral, even when confronting the purest of evil.
I read several pieces today that, together, were a somewhat grim insight into the acute social and economic crisis of our time. The first is a challenging and persuasive historical account by historian Peter Turchin of what Aristotle first observed in The Politics. The graphic (by Jennifer Daniel) is a crude but powerful summary of an historical pattern we see again and again in human history:
In this cycle, I’d say the US is roughly in the elite fratricide moment, which means very choppy waters ahead. Turchin’s thesis is basically the following: the eternal tension between liberty and equality has a recognizable shape in historical and economic cycles, which are perhaps better understood today. The optimal moment for successful societies is when the middle class dominates, where political institutions reflect a mass interest in governing the society well, because everyone feels they have a stake (so more people than usual want and need collective success), and because they share some basic commonalities in experience, and so can find a way to compromise.
When societies grow more unequal, commonalities fray. Wealth accumulates among the few, who begin to see the polity as something to be used for private interests rather than engaged in for public-spirited reform. But as wealth at the top grows and grows, and as more and more of the middle class attempt to become part of the super-wealthy club, the loss of economic demand among the increasingly struggling majority puts a crimp in the social mobility of the wannabe elites. So we have a wealth glut: hugely wealthy one-percenters and a larger group of under-employed or unemployed professionals. It’s from these disgruntled elites that you will get the tribunes of the new plebeians. And they will be guided by revenge just as destructively as the top one percent is now guided by naked self-interest.
What disappears in this moment of the cycle is the lubricant for all successful polities: a sense that we are all in this together. When that crashes into economic stagnation, and the fight for a slice of the pie gets even more frenzied, you’re in for some serious social unrest – which will either lead to a period of reform or to further social and economic disintegration.
So do we have elite fratricide? When a Harvard and Princeton alum like Ted Cruz emerges as a wildly swinging wrecking ball for the entire global economy, you bet we do. When Republicans up the ante on judicial appointments by trying to prevent a president from filling any vacancies and when the filibuster has become much more common than, you know, actual legislation, ditto. When the response to that is to scrap one of the last remaining mechanisms for legislative balance and compromise, ditto. When a major political party offers nothing on a major social and fiscal problem, like our grotesquely inefficient form of socialized medicine, but is content merely to attack, attack and attack the law of the land and sabotage it, ditto. When a former Tory prime minister breaks ranks and accuses his elite successors of ignoring the impact of growing social immobility, ditto. When news channels decide to become propaganda channels, and when there are close to no major media institutions retaining trust as neutral arbiters of our national debate, ditto. When elite sister breaks with elite sister over an appeal to the masses, ditto.
You can probably add a whole litany of additional data points yourselves. But to my mind, what matters now in politics is finding a party or a candidate that recognizes this core problem and tries to ameliorate it.
Dish readers know what I think of “native advertizing” and “sponsored content.” If it’s an advertorial, just call it and clearly label it an advertorial! Full disclosure and transparency are essential. The rest is whoredom, not journalism. When a journalist becomes a copy-writer for big advertisers giving him or his publication money, and does not clearly disclose the conflict of interest, he or she has ceased to be an independent journalist and joined the lucrative profession of public relations.
Read Erik Wemple’s evisceration of Mike Allen’s Playbook and make up your own mind. But to my eyes, it reads like a meticulously researched tale of at least the appearance of blatant corruption. Wemple starts with the kind of test I used for Buzzfeed’s corporate whoredom. Guess which one of these two items Mike Allen wrote and which one was written by the US Chamber of Commerce?
3) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has an ambitious new agenda to generate stronger, more robust economic growth, create jobs, and expand opportunity for all Americans. Learn more about the Chamber’s American Jobs and Growth Agenda at http://www.uschamber.com/issues. **
4) ”U.S. Chamber of Commerce will launch ‘On the Road With Free Enterprise,’ a two-month cross-country road trip to promote ‘the principles of free enterprise and the best of America. Your Free Enterprise Tour Guides will see the sights, check out local events, talk to businesses, and share it [online]. More than 900 teams applied to be the Free Enterprise Tour Guides, and after months of poring over applications, two teams remain: Jen and John, and Nate and Joe. You can vote [here] once per day.’ http://www.FreeEnterprise.com/tour”
Allen wrote the first second press release; the US Chamber of Commerce the second first. [Correction here] But the Wemple examination impresses because of its thoroughness. After a while, the examples are so egregious and numerous they beggar belief. Wemple and the Post unleashed an army of bots onto the Playbook archive and came to the following inescapable conclusion:
It’s about time that Politico’s Allen got his due as a native-advertising pioneer. A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable.
The most egregious examples are the US Chamber of Commerce, BP, and – yes – Goldman Sachs:
The good news for the president is that support for the law has not collapsed, especially given the massive – and largely deserved – shellacking of the wobbly website. A new United Technologies/National Journal poll makes for fascinating reading:
Amid all of the turmoil surrounding the law, solid majorities of Americans continue to say they believe it will “make things better” for people who do not have health insurance (63 percent) and the poor (59 percent). Only about one-third thought the law would “make things … worse” for each group. In each case, that’s a slight improvement in the overall judgment since the July poll. Back then, 58 percent thought the law would help the uninsured and 55 percent believed it would benefit the poor.
My italics. And there’s a distinct racial imbalance here. 58 percent of non-whites say the law will benefit the country overall, while only 35 percent of whites believe that. The danger for the administration is that many whites therefore see this as a transfer of wealth to nonwhites and away from them. But given our shifting demographics, that’s also a danger for Republicans.
Just as striking to me is the finding that support for repeal of the law has not grown, even as frustration has mounted: in July support for repeal was at 36 percent and is now at 38 percent. Those preferring to “Wait and see how things go before making any changes” numbered 30 percent in July and now is at 35 percent. 23 percent backed a third option: “providing more money so the law is implemented effectively.” That amounts to a 58 percent majority for keeping the law and trying to make it work. That strikes me as an important corrective to some of the hysteria in the Beltway.
I think all this comes from the realization that the status quo ante was a nightmare, and that it’s still early days for the ACA. Which is, again, a warning to the GOP: repeal is not going to win any converts unless you have a viable alternative that tackles some of the core problems, i.e. the millions of uninsured, the grotesque inefficiency of the American private healthcare sector, and the bar on getting insurance for people with pre-existing conditions and the maddening unreliability of any private insurance plan.
Add to this the tantalizing possibility that the federal website may soon be obsolete. Why? Because you can already get a lot of critical info from other sites like eHealth and the administration is now prepared to delegate the subsidy application process to insurers and online brokers. Andrew Sprung makes the case:
The major clusterfuck of the website, the breaking of an unequivocal promise, and a media eager to prove it’s not a lapdog to the president have all combined to bring the president down. The latest polling is grim. Here’s the poll of polls on Obama’s approval, since January:
Here’s the favorability chart for the same period:
The question is: what does this mean and what does it portend? I don’t know, but I can express how this has changed my view of the president. On the core question of whether I believe the president deliberately lied to us, I’m inclined to believe he didn’t. His explanation of his broken promise last week was depressing but convincing to me. And I’m not alone: “By 52 percent to 44 percent, Americans say they think he told people what he thought was correct at the time.”
As for the website debacle: Canada and the UK had similar disasters when they attempted something on this scale. And the refusal of many states to set up their own exchanges made the burden on the federal website far greater than might have been imagined. The relative success of many of the states’ own sites is more proof that federalism works, and more proof of the sabotage of the law of the land that Republicans have engaged in.
But what I cannot get past is the management failure. Walter Russell Mead made a strong case on this yesterday:
Obamacare is the single most important initiative of his presidency. The website rollout was, as the President himself has repeatedly stated, the most important element of the law’s debut. Domestically speaking there was no higher priority for the President and his staff than getting this right. And the President is telling the world that a week before the disaster he had no idea how that website was doing.
I’d cavil about the ACA being the single most important initiative of his presidency (pulling the world out of an incipient second depression and carefully unwinding the Bush-Cheney catastrophe in foreign policy beat it, in my view). But it sure is a key element in his domestic agenda for his second term. It was going to require a real focus to get the federal government to work on this core matter. And yet the president was somehow blindsided by this fiasco. One wonders: what on earth was he doing this past year? He clearly understood the importance of the website’s functionality, and yet he didn’t get into the innards of the government to avoid a debacle.
Substantively, I think the ACA may well have the last laugh. We are certainly primed by the press for comeback stories. But I can’t predict the future, except that the core issues that the ACA deals with are not going away and even the nihilist GOP will have to offer something at some point to address them. What I do know is that the president was inexcusably AWOL on this for the past nine months. And that matters.
From the beginning of this experiment in the new media economy, we’ve said that one day, we’d like to add a monthly magazine to the Dish. Today, we’re launching a prototype, and we’re calling it Deep Dish. It’s a skeletal first issue, but we hope it sketches the kind of things we want to publish in the months and years ahead.
What we’re trying to do – to put it bluntly – is to reinvent the idea of a magazine through a blog.
I love magazines – but the web has not been kind to them. The web tends to favor the quick hit and the rapid fire of blogging; and long-form journalism, magazines’ previous specialty, has taken a hit as a result. Online, no one wants to read a long piece, as they sit at their desks or check their iPhone on the bus. The tablet has changed that a huge amount, but it’s still a struggle. Our idea is to do something relatively simple: connect an already vibrant and subscriber-based blog community (that would be you) to monthly long-form pieces in all the variety that the web can support. We know we have the kind of committed readership that the best long-form writers love to reach. And we think we have the ability to find those writers. We want to connect the two.
It’s monthly because you already have too much to read; and it’s called Deep Dish because we want to use it to provide substantive but compelling depth to online journalism. Plus, I like puns.
The first issue is bare-bones, compared with our eventual hopes. With a handful of staff, and a commitment first and foremost to creating and innovating the Dish every day, it’s frankly the most we can accomplish right now. Since we haven’t yet reached our annual goal of $900K for just putting out the Dish, it’s an act of faith as well as an act of entrepreneurship.
But it’s a start. Our first issue has two long-form pieces: an eBook, I Was Wrong, which is an edited diary-like chronicle of my blogging of the Iraq war from 2001 – 2008; and a 100-minute conversation with a remarkable former Iraq war commander, Mikey Piro, who now deals with PTSD, and in our conversation, tells the story of his war – on the ground and in the front-lines. Together, we hope they provide a deeper look at the narrative of the core event of the first decade of the 21st century.
We intend to follow up each month with long-form journalism that is close to the polar opposite of our daily blogging, yet fueled by its thriving community of readers. We’ve already begun taping a series of audio conversations called “Andrew Asks Anything” of which Mikey Piro is our first. I wanted to create something deeper, more intimate and less constrained than a television or radio interview. I didn’t want to interview anyone so much as enter into a conversation with another person, in which both of us have something to say and learn. It grew out of my one early experiment with such a sprawling, recorded after-dinner chat with Hitch.
I’ll also be writing long-form essays of the kind I used to produce for the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek and Time. We’ll also use Deep Dish to create edited eBooks of some of the Dish’s best reader threads – from the death of pets to the cannabis closet. Soon, we hope to have the resources to pay outside writers for the kind of long-form journalism that is increasingly under threat of extinction: lengthy investigative reports, New York Review of Books-style reviews, and sustained arguments and essays that require more than a column’s length. I have ambitions for long-form video as well; adventures in photography (an eBook of the best window views around the world, for example); and a continuing commitment to the publishing of poetry. In other words, we want to begin creating the kind of content we often link to.
Think of it as the Dish – but deeper, longer and uncut. You can check out our inaugural issue here. But Deep Dish is not as accessible to the world as the Dish. It’s behind a real paywall, which means it is for subscribers only. We wanted to offer the 32,000 or so subscribers a token of gratitude for their amazing support this year, but also to show everyone else (a million monthly readers) what subscribing to the Dish could help spawn: a new business model for long-form magazine journalism.
There are signs that our own model of subscriber-based online journalism is beginning to bear fruit. Here’s a piece by Mathew Ingram on Beacon, a new media start-up he summarizes thus:
Beacon wants to give journalists who may not have the ability — or the desire — to run their own site a way to connect with readers who might want to subscribe.
It’s a collective version of the Dish model – for those who have not had thirteen years to build an online readership. We deeply hope it works. As long-form struggles to survive, and as “sponsored content” or page-view trolling gain more and more traction in the media, we want to pull in the very opposite direction – toward more reader-writer interaction and support, toward subscription-based journalism that can focus on the quality of content, rather than on the need to placate corporate advertisers with unprecedented leverage over struggling news sites or to rack up pageviews.
So here’s our first prototype. As always, we welcome feedback of all kinds, including your ideas of what we could do with Deep Dish in the months and years ahead. Our regular in-box is always open, and we read it carefully.
If you’re a subscriber, just click here to read and listen to the first issue. (If you can’t access Deep Dish, you probably need to sign in with your username and password. If you need help signing in, check out this help page. If you’re still having trouble, email us at email@example.com.)
If you haven’t yet subscribed but want to read the eBook – the kind of journalistic accountability for error Paul Krugman called for today – or listen to the podcast (perhaps the most intense and humbling public conversation I have ever had), you can get immediate access to Deep Dish and unlimited access to the Dish by subscribing here. If you’ve been hemming and hawing, this is an opportunity not just to help us, but to help others pioneer a new business model for long-form quality magazine journalism. Subscribe here. It takes two minutes and it’s just $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. Or more, if you really want to help us turn this prototype into a more sustainable reality.
Only you can make it happen. But welcome to the beginning of what could be our future.
For quite a while now, the GOP has lived with a rather spectacular contradiction over homosexuality. It was perhaps best summed up by the split between George W Bush and Dick Cheney in 2004 over the federal marriage amendment. Bush backed the amendment – you can read my real-time response that day here – and Cheney didn’t. So on a major issue of social policy – one on which the 2004 election was waged in Ohio – the ticket was split. Well: not so split. Bush – we were led to believe – was not exactly energized on this subject. His wife and daughters all backed marriage equality. In his personal life, Bush wasn’t a hater or a man lacking in empathy. Far from it. But Rove knew the base, and knew what could deliver it. So, with the aid of his then-closeted campaign honcho, Ken Mehlman, Rove won Ohio. With Ohio, he won Bush’s re-election.
Ask yourself: on what ticket in living memory did a president and vice-president publicly disagree on an issue that was critical to winning the election? And there you see the clash. Republican elites had gay friends, offspring and key aides. Yet the Republican base continued to view gays as some kind of threat to the family. The electoral math won. I remember – those were the days – when I was invited to meet Rove in the White House early in the first Bush term, and pressed the case against the FMA, or any variant thereof. Rove simply told me that there were many more Christianists than homos, and that mathematical reality dwarfed any arguments, however meritorious. It wasn’t the first time I had seen utter cynicism on this issue in high places – it was hard to beat the Clintons for that. But the baldness of the cynicism – the reflexive refusal even to address the actual rights and wrongs of the matter – was never better expressed than by Rove.
Cheney got a pass – but he shouldn’t have. He boldly came out for marriage equality explicitly … in 2009. In the vice-presidential debate of 2004, he bristled – as did the public – at being confronted by the fact that he was hurting his own family on this issue. But at some point, the contradictions – and their deep moral consequences – had to emerge. And now they have in full bloom. Liz Cheney, not a homophobe in my personal memory, is nonetheless opposing her sister’s right to marry – anywhere. Actually, she is in favor of her sister and her wife being stripped of all legal protections the moment they come into their family’s home state. Let me put this more clearly: Liz Cheney is attacking her sister’s dignity and civil equality, in order to advance her political career. In a word, it’s disgusting.
It’s not made any better by Liz Cheney’s response:
I’m glad Dan agrees with me on the core point. But why on earth does he feel the need to qualify it? That is the question. Why are progressives held to a lower standard than conservatives? Should they not be held to higher standards? Many readers – depressingly – take Dan’s position or worse:
I feel slimy doing this but I am going to “defend” Alec Baldwin. I am now 38, I do not consider myself homophobic or a bigot. I am from the San Francisco bay area and I have had family, friends, employers are co-workers who are gay. I will vehemently advocate for gay rights during discussions with co-workers and I will not vote for bigoted politicians. I have frequented many gay bars with my wife because the partying is better.
However, when I am angry, I frequently use the phrases, cocksucker, faggot, bitch or a combination of the three words. Does this make me homophobic? Perhaps. Unfortunately I also use racial slurs. I am a third-generation American of Mexican descent and I use all type of slurs – anti-white, anti-Mexican, anti-black. I did grow up in a racially diverse area and we would always joke around with each other using racial slurs. I can only say in my heart and in my head I do not have negative feelings towards gay people or any race. I consider myself a conservative but voted for Obama in small part because the racist strategy used against him was so offensive to me.
Here’s a question. When my reader says he uses racial slurs, he doesn’t cite them. Does he use the word “nigger” or “kike” in public, in anger, I wonder, as Baldwin did in a homosexual context? If he did, would it be relevant to qualify it by saying he voted for Obama or loathes racist political demagoguery – and that he should thereby be given a pass? Ask yourselves that.
As you stated, Baldwin’s anger was merited. But you and everyone else should be very careful in throwing around the word “homophobe”, since being implicated as a homophobe is sort of a big deal. To say that Baldwin has contempt for gays is ridiculous. People who protest gay pride parade and spit on gays are homophobes. People who fire gays for their sexual orientation are homophobes. People who get cut off in traffic, lose their temper and yell “you stupid bitch” aren’t male chauvinists – they’re just being assholes at that moment.
Baldwin was pissed off and threw out a word that invokes the most pain possible.
I want to unpack this sentence, because it is important:
Baldwin was pissed off and threw out a word that invokes the most pain possible.
So Baldwin regards calling another man a “cocksucking fag” a way to inflict the most pain possible. That means he has to buy into the logic of the stigma in order to wield it as a weapon. What he’s implicitly asserting, by choosing those words, is that a man who sucks another man’s cock is a terrible thing to be. It’s a classic form of demonizing gay sexuality. It’s laden with the tones of schoolyard anti-gay bullying.
Then he uses a term that is routinely used in this context (there are other much more benign contexts I have no trouble with) to imply another man is inferior to other men, because he is effeminate, i.e. a fag. I’m sorry, but this is homophobia in its rawest form. If I heard someone yelling “cocksucking fag” to another man on the street, I’d immediately know what was going on, wouldn’t you? And whenever I have witnessed such a thing, I have intervened and protested.
There are many ways to vent in public. “Asshole,” “douchebag”, “fuck you!”, to cite a few more obvious ones. Since living in New York, I have heard many more variations on the theme. But a man who instinctively uses misogynistic or homophobic slurs as weapons in public is not just another angry New Yorker. If this were a one-off, it would be one thing. But Baldwin’s record on all this is appalling. Two years ago, he allegedly had another confrontation with a photographer:
At one point, at the beginning of the confrontation, It sounds like Alec says to the photog, “I know you got raped by a priest or something.” Then, in an effort to assert his dominance, Alec got right in the pap’s face … and in a menacing tone said, “You little girl.”
Baldwin again denies it and there may be some confusion over the precise wording. But this is textbook schoolyard homophobia, laced with the familiar memes of anal sex and the threat of thuggish violence against a gay man demeaned as a woman. (Notice the obvious rank misogyny embedded in that as well.) Even Mel Gibson – for all his foul anti-Semitism – never physically threatened a Jewish person while calling him a “kike.” Then there were the infamous tweets of earlier this year, directed not at a random person, but someone he actively knew was gay:
Yuval Levin notes that Obama’s announcement yesterday “makes it more likely that the exchanges will not be able to achieve the volume and the risk-balance necessary for them to function.” He suspects the administration thinks “the risk is worth it not just because the immediate political danger is so great but also because the chances of the exchanges actually functioning anyway seem lower and lower all the time”:
That, to my mind, is what Thursday’s announcement really signals, and why I think it’s so significant. Prior instances of reckless presidential expediency in the debate over Obamacare have involved efforts to get past some immediate obstacle and just get the system into place, in the hope that once it was working the criticisms would fade away. This latest instance, however, involves roughly the opposite impulse: to sacrifice the prospects of the new system itself in the service of avoiding immediate political pain and embarrassment and without some larger goal in view.
It suggests that the administration is giving up on the long game of doing what it takes to get the system into place and then trusting that the public will come around and is adopting instead the mentality of a political war of attrition, fought news cycle by news cycle, in which the goal is to survive and gain some momentary advantage rather than to achieve a large and well-defined objective. It suggests, in other words, that the administration is coming to the view that Obamacare as they have envisioned it is not really going to happen, that they don’t know quite what is going to happen (and no one else does either), and that they need above all to keep their coalition together and keep the public from abandoning them so they can regroup when the dust clears.
That’s a very sobering thought, although I very much doubt the administration is as bearish on the law as Yuval. For my part, I thought the president should take the deserved hit but not tweak the law. Bill Clinton made that a lot harder – and boxed Obama into a classic Clinton triangulation: allowing insurance companies to restore their current clients’ canceled plans, and shifting the onus onto them. But Obama should have resisted it. For the sake of the entire law – which will be a core part of his legacy in history – he should have done a Reagan Iran-Contra Oval Office address, candidly confessing that the fact is he misled people, and is sorry. To regain that kind of credibility, you have to be one-on-one. A presser, even though I thought he showed calm and grace in it, keeps the feeding frenzy going.
It seems particularly unwise to me to weaken the law’s momentum and coherence when it is already beleaguered by the malfunctioning website, which may make a death spiral more likely next year anyway. Could he have survived the short-term political nightmare? Not without serious damage. But he is not George H W Bush, who faced re-election after breaking his No New Taxes pledge – for honorable reasons. He’s president for the next three years. If the Democrats bolted and the Congress united in trying to over-rule him, he has a veto. He may well use it anyway, to stop the Upton bill. He could have used it against any temporary fix to the law, taken all the blame, allowed Dems to defect, and then engaged on a real, actual campaign to sell the ACA to the American public. In other words: show true political conviction and finally make the unabashed moral and fiscal case for the reform he and the Democrats have so far shied from, for fear of political damage.
The great flaw of Democrats is their cowardice, which they sometimes mistake for caution.
Listening closely to the president’s noontime presser, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ronald Reagan’s famous address to the nation in March 1987. Reagan had been caught in a lie – his declaration that he had never traded arms for hostages in his attempt to reach out to Iran (yes, neocons – he was trying to reach out to Iran!). For months, he languished as investigations revealed that he had indeed done such a thing, and his credibility – long his strong point – was at stake. Here’s the address:
The most famous line – addressing his clear statement to the American people that he “did not trade arms for hostages” – was the following:
My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true. But the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
Today, Obama said something very similar about his statement that “if you like your plan, you can keep it, period.” I love the guy, as I loved Reagan, even though I have not exactly held back when I thought he was screwing things up. And the yawning discrepancy between that unequivocal statement and the “facts and the evidence” of the cancellation of individual market insurance policies these past few weeks was startling, to say the least. Had I misjudged the man? Had he unequivocally peddled a focus-group line that he perfectly well knew was untrue, in order to overcome resistance to healthcare reform? Was he a bullshitter – or something worse, a liar?
As I heard him today, he explained it this way. He says he was focused on the large majority of Americans who get their insurance policies through their employer. And for them, the statement is true, even though, of course, insurance policies are fluid and subject to change. What he ignored was the 5 percent of people in the individual market, whose plans did not meet the standards of the ACA. He said he believed that the grandfather clause would help the majority of those people and that those whose policies could be canceled would see, once the website was up and running, that they now had access to better plans at a similar cost. He also says he believed that the constant churn in the individual market – which cancels or changes policies dramatically and unpredictably all the time – would make cancellations due to the ACA seem like business as usual. He now says he realizes his statement was wrong and irresponsible but that he didn’t fully grasp that at the time, as focused as he was on the 95 percent, and as he believed the grandfather clause would help the rest.
Sorry for missing the Best of the Dish Today deadline last night. I was giving a speech on conservatism at Eastern Michigan University, and the conversation didn’t stop.
I prepped by re-reading parts of my friend Jesse Norman’s terrific book on Edmund Burke: The First Conservative. I was reminded again of how routinely and extravagantly Burke was ridiculed and mocked in his time for his alleged contradictions: supporting the American colonists then unleashing a barrage of brio against the French revolution, a British MP defending the rights of Catholics in Ireland, a patriot obsessed with colonial abuses of power, and an enemy of empire .
He was not a reactionary and yet remained a skeptic of unbridled liberal aspirations to improve society. He was a conservative Whig, and a liberal conservative. It’s that prudential balance – partaking of both traditions in Anglo-American thought and practice, and tacking toward one or to the other depending on the specific circumstances of time, people and place that makes him, in my mind, a conservative.
For a conservative should not be implacably hostile to liberalism (let alone demonize it), but should be alert to its insights, and deeply aware of the need to change laws and government in response to unstoppable change in human society. Equally, a liberal can learn a lot from conservatism’s doubts about utopia, from the conservative concern with history, tradition and the centrality of culture in making human beings, and from conservatism’s love and enjoyment of the world as-it-is, even as it challenges the statesman or woman to nudge it toward the future. The goal should not be some new country or a new world order or even a return to a pristine past that never existed: but to adapt to necessary social and cultural change by trying as hard as one can to make it coherent with what the country has long been; to recognize, as Orwell did, that a country, even if it is to change quite markedly, should always be trying somehow to remain the same.
That is rooted simply in a love of one’s own, in feelings of pride in one’s country or family or tradition. And unlike liberalism, conservatism does not shy from these sub-rational parts of what being human is. They are not to be conquered by sweet reason, because they cannot be. They need to be channeled, not extinguished, guided not fetishized. A conservative will be a patriot, but not a nationalist. He will be proud of his own country but never tempted to argue that it is a model for all humankind, or that it can be exported to distant, different places with vastly different histories.
This means a true conservative – who is, above all, an anti-ideologue – will often be attacked for alleged inconsistency, for changing positions, for promising change but not a radical break with the past, for pursuing two objectives – like liberty and authority, or change and continuity – that seem to all ideologues as completely contradictory.
But they aren’t. Churchill, in his great essay, “Consistency in Politics” wrote of Burke:
On the very sensitive issue of Israel, there is often little middle ground that isn’t swamped by angry rhetoric on either side of the debate. So, as the critical talks with Iran proceed, I want to clarify a couple of things.
My dismay at Israel’s rightward lurch, its refusal to freeze settlement construction on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its apocalyptic fear-mongering about Iran does not and should not mean that I couldn’t care less about the Jewish state. I can understand how, in the rough and tumble of daily blogging, many reflexive – and some thoughtful – supporters of Israel might infer that I harbor some disdain for the Zionist project, or indifference to the dangers Israel confronts on a daily basis. I don’t. For an Irish-Catholic Englishman, I have long been passionate about Israel’s security and success. It was one of the first foreign countries I ever visited, and for many years (shaped, of course, by my time at The New Republic), I completely sympathized with successive Israeli governments’ frustration at the lack of a decent negotiating partner and the continued, foul incitement to anti-Semitism of much of Palestinian culture.
Things changed for me during my unsentimental education about the world-as-it-is during the Iraq War catastrophe. That war was the defining event for me and my own political understanding of the 21st Century world. For others, it was an error or a failing, but their broader worldview remained intact. Mine didn’t. It didn’t make me an isolationist, but it sure radically tempered my belief in the ability of American power to remake the world in our own image – however well-meant that remaking may have been. It became clear to me that a global conflict between fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity could become apocalyptic, especially in the Middle East. What was urgently required was a move to pragmatism, toward defusing the most polarizing rhetoric, toward healing the wounds of Iraq, and a calmer, if clear-eyed, engagement with Muslim humankind.
I noticed during this period that, post-Arafat, the Palestinians were no longer an unreliable partner in negotiations. Abbas and Fayyad were about as good as we were ever going to get, and the Obama presidency was the perfect reagent for a compromise that would defuse some of fundamentalism’s power and return us to the art of the possible. The way in which Israel’s leadership responded – contemptuously – signaled that we were dealing within a very different Israeli government than, say, Rabin’s. Their Gaza war, their hyperbolic rhetoric on Iran, their continued settlement of the West Bank, their constant apartment-grabs in East Jerusalem, and the increasingly extremist tone of Israeli political culture: all this made me see them as the current arrogant problem, and not the Palestinians. The way Netanyahu intervened in American domestic politics to undermine the president also appalled me.
Obviously I am not alone. Someone far more knowledgeable about the country whose views I had long shared – Peter Beinart – also shifted. Many others have among American Jews of the younger generations. And the motive for the shift is not to demonize Israel, but to assert America’s national interest first and foremost, and secondly to save Israel from becoming a pariah state that was hellbent on becoming a permanent occupying power, with all the moral corrosion that occupation implies. It is tempting to say that the moment for a two-state solution is past. But I want to resist that temptation – because without a two-state solution, Greater Israel is not a country the West can support with such largesse indefinitely. And I want to support an Israel that lives up to the best aspirations of its founders.
My support for an agreement with Iran that grants it the right to enrich uranium at low levels and subject to routine, tough inspection regimens is also a function of dealing with the world as-it-is and not as I would like it to be.
So this weekend I spent upstate with close friends and a three-legged beagle called Bowie. It’s a very Dish story. A Dish reader – and, oddly enough, a writer for AC360 Later – emailed me a few weeks ago. His girlfriend was taking care of three dogs (and a few birds) and one of the creatures – a rescued beagle – was proving a little too much on top of the menagerie, work, and life. She was trying to find a new home for the dog, and he recalled how I had lost one only this summer. It was a long shot but I was intrigued. So we agreed to meet the little scamp at the neighboring dog park, and then to take her for a weekend away. As I write this, she has coiled herself around my feet in a bedroom near Livingston Manor, New York.
She was given the name Bowie – after David – and it seems as good a name as any. She’s a small beagle – only 15 pounds – and still young for a survivor, at 18 months. The trip, alas, didn’t start that well. I fed her a calming treat that, an hour later, gave her awful gas in the backseat; and then she peed on my bed almost as soon as we got there. Smelled like Dusty. I crated her the first night, because of peeing worries, but at dawn, she woke me with whimpers. I took her out for a wee and then back to bed, where I left the crate behind and let her snuggle up against me, as I wheezed myself back to sleep (bad asthma lately). She woke me again a few hours later to kisses all over the beard. After breakfast, we went for an old-fashioned English country walk.
In many ways, his entire term as president has been leading up to this winter and spring. This will be when his core advancements in domestic and foreign policy will be tested as never before. This will be when we see whether the Affordable Care Act can gain traction and legitimacy as a reform that is far better than the chaos and inefficiency of the past; and when we see if the West can bring the great nation of Iran back into the fold of the world economy, with clear restrictions on its nuclear program.
The ACA has gotten off to a really rocky start, with the debacle of the website and the chorus of complaints from those whose health insurance plans will experience disruption. But it’s worth recalling that this law has always had a rocky history. It nearly got swallowed up by the urgent need to wrest the country out of a potential Second Great Depression; it wallowed in Senate inertia for months, as Max Baucus hemmed and hawed; it was pummeled by the summer of Tea Party rage; it nearly came undone when Ted Kennedy’s seat was lost to a Republican; it caused a huge loss in the 2010 Congressional elections, which in turn, helped the GOP gerrymander the House even more to their advantage, and block much of the president’s agenda since. It was the casus belli of the government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis of this fall. When you look back, you realize why every previous president who tried to get this done failed – from Nixon to Clinton.
And yet it’s still alive, even as it’s enduring severe labor pains as it makes its way into the world. As I noted yesterday, support for it has actually risen recently; and, because of the website’s malfunction, the winners are much less vocal now than the losers. But if the process grinds on, that balance may change. The president should not be let off the hook for his previous overly-broad promises or for the clusterfuck of the site. He may need to adjust again a little. But the odds of the core of this law surviving – particularly the principle of universal coverage and the end of denials of insurance for pre-existing conditions – are solid. It may well need further reform, but it has created a framework for both Republican reform (if they can get out of their ideological mania) and even, perhaps, a single-payer system, if the Democrats want to move left. It’s messy, its future could go in several directions, but it’s now entrenched. The president can take the hit for the problems in the next three years, and he should. Because he’s not up for re-election and can veto any attempts to destroy it.
But in some ways, the outreach to Iran is just as important and critical. Again, the policy arc has been long and brutal. We witnessed – and this blog will never forget – the Green Revolution that emerged only months after Obama’s first election, propelled by the same online, youthful hopes that brought this president to office. We then saw the hopes of Obama’s Cairo speech destroyed by the brutal repression of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. The sanctions that were then imposed were everything a neocon could ask for – except for the war or regime change they still want. Again, it took four more years for the Iranian elites to fully digest how damaging the sanctions were, but in the last elections, Rouhani emerged as a pragmatic interlocutor. During all this, Obama managed to create a truly durable and powerful international coalition for sanctions, and prevent the Israelis from doing the unthinkable and starting a religious war in the Middle East that could have metastasized into a global terror wave, with all the collateral damage in human life and civil liberties that would have entailed.
Much could still go wrong. But there’s no doubt in my mind that both Rouhani and Obama want a deal.
The current conventional wisdom is that the ACA is a disaster. Democrats up for re-election in 2014 are running away from it, there remain, according to Sebelius, hundreds of fixes still to be made to the website, the stories of canceled policies have dominated the headlines and the president has rightly been lambasted for grotesque mismanagement of the federal government. He had one core domestic goal for his second term, it seems to me, and he flunked it. Worse, he cannot even admit that he simplified the sale so badly he repeated something untrue. If the website’s functionality is not substantially fixed by December 1, all bets are off.
And yet … Americans have not changed their minds on the ACA much over the last few months. Here’s the poll of polls on it since January of this year:
Since September, support has actually risen, while opposition has remained flat. Given the fiasco of the website, that’s a surprise. This week’s elections also didn’t prove that it is a huge liability. Opposition to the ACA remains very strong in the GOP base, which doubtless helped Cuccinelli in the final week. But McAuliffe ran explicitly on Medicaid expansion and won. Then there’s the calculation of Ohio governor John Kasich in embracing Medicaid expansion. Consider too the relative success of the law so far in a state like Kentucky of all places. Now along comes a poll from Reuters-Ipsos:
The uninsured view the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, more favorably since online marketplaces opened – 44 percent compared with 37 percent in September. It found that 56 percent oppose the program compared with 63 percent in September. A higher proportion of the uninsured also said they are interested in buying insurance on the exchanges, with 42 percent in October, saying they were likely to enroll compared with 37 percent in September.
I don’t want to overstate the case but I think it’s also foolish to understate the impact on many people who will get health insurance for the first time in their lives. This reality will matter politically in the end. See Byron York’s take on the number of winners versus the number of losers in pure monetary terms – and Ed Kilgore’s response. People are also not dumb enough to think that cancellation of their policies or sudden premium hikes started with the ACA. It was a constant in the private sector for years. Yes, disruption will tick a lot of people off. But Obama still has three years to get this entrenched – and once in place, it will be mighty hard to remove for the exact reasons that people are so upset right now. Disruption is always unnerving, especially in an area like your health.
We all take this issue personally, as we should. And I’ve been very lucky to have had excellent employer-based healthcare for years. But always at the back of my mind was the fear that I might leave a job with that kind of security, like at TNR or the Atlantic and the Beast, and be stranded and bankrupted by my pre-existing condition, HIV. We’re looking into our own health insurance plan right now for the Dish in the next year, and I’ll let you know how the process goes. But like many, we haven’t been in a mad rush, we have an insurance broker to help us through the process, and it is hard to express the relief I feel that I cannot be denied coverage because I am a survivor of the plague. If we have to pay more, it’s well worth the relief.
I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this way.
Last night, we had a spirited discussion of legalizing marijuana on AC360 Later. I’d post a clip but CNN’s clips don’t work when embedded. For a taste, go here. David Frum repeated Ross Douthat’s recent equation of marijuana and gambling legalization:
Both have been made possible by the same trend in American attitudes: the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.
Like Conor Friedersdorf, I think that’s too crude an argument. I don’t think human beings will ever see law as entirely amoral, even as we try to account for real differences of opinion over what is moral and reach a workable, neutral-as-possible compromise. As Conor notes, our society has shifted toward new moralisms – “mandates to recycle, laws against dog-fighting, marital-rape statutes, trans-fat bans” – and away from old ones, rather than a move away from moralism altogether. Our sensitivity to the abuse of children is perhaps the greatest sign of a heightened sense of moralism, especially when one looks back and sees how appallingly blind so many were to it for so long. I know Ross will differ on the substance, but I doubt he will argue that my support for marriage equality stemmed from mere libertarianism (which would have led me to oppose all such marital benefits for everyone) but from a deep moral sense that we were (and are) violating the dignity of the homosexual person and perpetuating enormous pain for no obvious reason.
Now, the argument for legalizing marijuana is not quite the same. It’s much more based on the simple argument of personal liberty. But it has its moral components as well. The grotesquely disproportionate impact of Prohibition on African-Americans is an affront to any sense of morality and fairness, just as the refusal to research cannabis for its potential medical uses – to prevent seizures in children, for example – seems immoral to me. Some might argue that the right response to this is decriminalization, not legalization. But keeping marijuana illegal profoundly constrains the potential for medical research on it, sustains a growing and increasingly lucrative criminal industry, and does nothing to keep it from the sole cohort for whom it could do harm: teenagers.
Right now, teens can get it very easily – but because it is illegal, they have to be in contact with criminal elements. Last night, David Frum argued that legalizing it would increase the smoking of weed among the poor and socially marginalized, especially in the inner city, thereby blighting their prospects for advancement in society. It’s an important point to which I would provide several responses.
First off, of all the factors holding those kids back, marijuana-use is trivial, compared with family breakdown, shitty schools, and gang violence. And given the already endemic presence of the plant in the inner city, I doubt legalizing it would increase use in those neighborhoods – as opposed to middle-class areas where the stigma still exists as a major force. What it would do is sever the link between criminal gangs and a recreational pleasure that so many already enjoy. It would cripple the livelihoods of many drug dealers, which is why they would be very happy to join David in his campaign for decriminalization but no further. That’s a very sweet spot for the cartels.
There’s also a premise buried in there that I would question: that weed always makes people lethargic or unmotivated or lacking in initiative. Sure, it does for many. But knowledge of the increasing sophistication of the drug – achieved during the last decade or so – has changed this. Sativa strains, for example, don’t make you sleepy; they can make you very alert and highly creative. Strains that are very high in CBD and low in THC don’t make you high at all. The complexity of the drug’s impact on the many human cannabinoid receptors renders its impact far more variable than crude Cheech and Chong mythology would suggest. And one must recall that the last three presidents all smoked marijuana in the past – the current one being a true enthusiast in Hawaii in the 1970s. Sometimes marijuana can unleash creative potential that would otherwise be buried for life. I’m not arguing that this is always the case, or that weed doesn’t harm many people’s lives. I am arguing that the weed-makes-you-a-failure argument is far too crude for today’s more sophisticated drug and that, besides, it inflicts far less harm than alcohol and tobacco.
I also start from an empirical fact. 23 million Americans smoke marijuana regularly, according to the latest survey. I don’t think the rule of law is well served when 23 million Americans do something that is both pragmatically condoned yet illegal.
Statistics from the many states and municipalities that have passed similar bills (“mini-ENDAs”) indicate that they do not serve in practice as a basis for litigation as often as one might expect. This may arise from the simple circumstance that most employees with other options prefer to move on rather than sue when an employment relationship turns unsatisfactory, all the more so if suing might require rehashing details of their personal life in a grueling, protracted, and public process.
To take a similar point on the federal hate crimes law, since it was passed in 2009, there have been two successful prosecutions under the act for anti-gay bias, so far as I can find. One was in March, 2012, in Kentucky, and the second was in Georgia last June. It may well be that neither would have been pursued without the federal law, but still. If I’ve missed any, please let me know. But two successful prosecutions in four years does not suggest a problem so vast that the federal government must be involved. If you care at all about economic liberty, it seems to me you have to weigh the costs as well as the benefits.
At the same time, the private sector has forged ahead of government, acting rationally to get the best set of employees possible. The Human Rights Campaign annual report (pdf) on voluntary corporate anti-discrimination policies gives us the latest: 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies with respect to homosexuality, and 57 percent also include gender identity in their policies. The progress in the private sector over the last ten years has been remarkable, and HRC can rightly feel proud of their work engaging corporations. But that, of course, suggests that government itself may not be the best way to protect gay employees.
I used to be opposed tout court to such laws on libertarian grounds (and not just for gays but for everyone apart from those subjected to the unique historical burden of slavery and segregation). Virtually Normal also makes the case that the government has no right to compel private citizens not to discriminate against gays when it discriminated so perniciously against gays in civil marriage and military service. But two things have changed my mind over the years.
The first, quite simply, is that the libertarian position on such crimes is largely moot – for good and ill. The sheer weight of anti-discrimination law is so heavy and so entrenched in our legal culture and practice, no conservative would seek to abolish it. It won’t happen. And if such laws exist, and are integral to our legal understanding of minority rights, then to deny protection to one specific minority (which is very often the target of discrimination) while including so many others, becomes bizarre at best, and bigoted at worst. Leaving gays out sends a message, given the full legal context, that they don’t qualify for discrimination protection, while African-Americans and Jews and Catholics and Latinos and almost everyone else is covered by such protections. It’s foolish to stick to a principle, however sincere, in the face of this reality.
It’s been a while since we last shared our traffic and revenue data, so here’s the latest. October was a terrible month for the country but a great month for the Dish. Subscription revenue had its biggest surge since March:
But when you look at that week by week, you see the twin peaks of the big news story (the shutdown and threat of default) and then back to our regular levels of income:
Traffic was strong:
October’s final numbers were 1.2 million unique visitors and 7.7 million page-views. That’s the highest number of unique visitors we’ve had since we went independent. More importantly, we now have 30,880 subscribers.
How are we doing in getting toward our announced goal of a gross $900K in revenues for the year – which would keep us at the budget we had in the last year at the Beast? We’re at $791K at ten months. So we have two months to raise $110,000. It’s a tall order, because the average monthly revenue since March has been $18,000. If we keep going at the current pace, we’ll be lucky to make it to $830K by year’s end. Not bad and not fatal, since I’m not taking any salary or profits from the Dish this year. But we’re not quitters – and still want to reach our target. So if you’ve held out for the last ten months, and read us every day, please help us keep the show on the road. Right now, you’re the only source of income we have.
Over the weekend, we’re also going to add house ads for the first time, aimed solely at getting new subscribers in the next two months. Every other website has them as a constant – and we’d need to do much less begging in posts like this one in future. For some of you, that will mean a slightly more cluttered Dish, with less white space and more distraction, and a lower signal-to-noise ratio than you’ve been used to.
But only for some of you. The technology exists to ensure that only non-subscribers will see the ads. So subscribers will see no change at all. Membership, I’m happy to report, has its privileges. (If you have subscribed and still see the ads, make sure you’re logged in.) And if you’re still a non-subscriber and dislike the clutter or distraction of the ads, you can easily get rid of them. Just subscribe and they will all magically disappear! If you like the clean, simple look of the current Dish, keep it. Just subscribe. It’s that simple.
It’s $1.99 a month, or just $19.99 a year. Do it today and you won’t see any house ads at all. Do it after the ads have appeared – and you can make them go away at any time. Just subscribe here!
This morning I watched the president’s speech in Boston yesterday. It felt like a campaign rally. At first, it seemed off-key, although the combination with Sebelius’ dogged endurance of the deserved brickbats by Republican members was, I’d say, a relatively good day for the White House, which is not saying much these days.
But as I listened to the speech, it seemed to me that the president made some points that really do need to be re-made. Nothing makes me madder than a technical problem I cannot understand, let alone solve. Last night, as we were thrashing out various technical issues for the Dish, I got real testy and frustrated. So I can perfectly understand not just the frustration but the rage at healthcare.gov. I can also see why the cancellation notices for individual insurance policies because they don’t cover enough and perpetuate the free-rider problem would be maddening. Obama’s relentless repetition that if you like your plan, you can keep it, period, was bullshit, and he must have known it at the back of his mind. Trust is a very dangerous thing for a president to risk. And he deserves some shellacking for it.
At the same time, look. I’m running a small business now – and we are talking to our insurance broker about what the ACA means for us. We’re not panicking, and we may well pay less. As we go through the process, I’m going to keep you informed as to what happens. As for me, with the mother of all pre-existing conditions, I cannot express how relieved I am that having HIV will no longer carry the risk of bankrupting me, if I have to seek insurance one day on the individual market. I wonder if I would have risked going independent with the Dish without the security that, even if it all fell apart, I wouldn’t be left to the ravages of the individual market for insurance for those with chronic conditions. At a small level, it gave me some sense of security to take an entrepreneurial risk. It may be a huge boon for business for people to switch jobs or try new ventures knowing that the health insurance caveat against risk-taking is now gone.
But I’m extremely lucky and privileged. How can you put a price on the relief of struggling middle-class families whose current insurance policies can be abruptly canceled, or amended with little recourse, or those who simply cannot afford insurance at all and face not just the pain of sickness but bankruptcy as well?
The best part of Wilfred McClay’s new essay on what Michael Oakeshott could contribute to today’s American Republicanism is a gem from George Santayana, perhaps the most under-rated conservative writer I know. In thinking of America, Santayana was struck by the vastness of its wildernesses, its gigantic mountain ranges and deserts, its inherent difference from the genteel English conservatism of what Tolkien called the Shire.
But he didn’t draw from this any sense of American exceptionalism, in which this country’s sheer might could empower it to run the world, or to unleash the animal spirits of capitalism. He saw something else in those mountains:
A Californian whom I had recently the pleasure of meeting observed that, if the philosophers had lived among your mountains, their systems would have been different from what they are. Certainly, I should say, very different from what those systems are which the European genteel tradition has handed down since Socrates; for these systems are egotistical; directly or indirectly they are anthropocentric, and inspired by the conceited notion that man, or human reason, or the human distinction between good and evil, is the centre and pivot of the universe. That is what the mountains and the woods should make you at last ashamed to assert…
It is the yoke of this genteel tradition itself that these primeval solitudes lift from your shoulders. They suspend your forced sense of your own importance not merely as individuals, but even as men. They allow you, in one happy moment, at once to play and to worship, to take yourselves simply, humbly, for what you are, and to salute the wild, indifferent, non-censorious infinity of nature. You are admonished that what you can do avails little materially, and in the end nothing. At the same time, through wonder and pleasure, you are taught speculation. You learn what you are really fitted to do, and where lie your natural dignity and joy, namely, in representing many things, without being them, and in letting your imagination, through sympathy, celebrate and echo their life.
There is a Whitmanesque celebration of America here – but in the service of emphasizing the limits of human activity, the insignificance of so much that rivets us day by day, and the more fruitful option of mere enjoyment of these wildernesses, a giving over to them. And this uniquely American sense of the promising yonder and awe-inspiring West will – and should – shape an indigenous conservatism. Why such an emphasis on contingent space and place? Because conservatism in its best sense is about the constant situating of the individual within a cultural and historical context. Indeed, the very idea of the individual, an Oakeshottian would insist, is a contingent and unlikely achievement of the modern European and American mind, forged first by Augustine from the moral kindling of Christianity, and elaborated ever since. Individualism can never therefore be an ideology. “I built that” is an excrescent simplification, a form of contempt for tradition and society.
McClay asks the obvious yet overlooked question in our politics today: what is it that American conservatives want to conserve? It’s a great question. I am sympathetic, for example, to some conservatives’ dismay at the decline of unifying cultural events like Christmas or Easter. I am sympathetic to conservative resistance to changes in, say, marriage law, or the cultural impact of mass Latino immigration. There is real loss for many here as well as real gain for many more in the future. But the key to a more productively conservative defense of tradition is, it seems to me, a civility in making the case and an alertness to the occasional, contingent need for genuine reform, as social problems emerge in a changing society.
Today’s Republicanism is, in contrast, absolutist, ideological, fundamentalist and angry. It has ceased to be a voice among others in a genuine conversation about our country and become a rigid, absolutist ideology fueled by the worst aspects of the right – from racism to Randian indifference to the many others who made – and make – our lives possible. A lot of the time, it is quite simply philistine. Here’s what McClay gleans from Oakeshott’s writing that could help the cause of conservative reform:
Their exchange is one of the high moments of debate as journalism evolves in the digital era. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read it. I come down in favor of both approaches, i.e. alleged “objectivity” or an attempt at impartiality in competition with a press more open about its own biases and point of view. I think readers deserve both. In Britain – though it is far from working perfectly – the biases of the papers make more sense because of the massive resources of the BBC aspiring to impartiality.
But on the basis of this exchange, I think Glenn has the advantage. And that’s because his idea of journalism is inherently more honest – declaring your biases is always more transparent than concealing them. That’s why, I think, the web has rewarded individual stars who report and write but make no bones about where they are coming from. In the end, they seem more reliable and accountable because of their biases than institutions pretending to be above it all. In the NYT, the hidden biases are pretty obvious: an embedded liberal mindset in choosing what to cover, and how; and a self-understanding as a responsible and deeply connected institution in an American system of governance. These things sometimes coexist easily – as a liberal paper covering the Obama administration, for example, with sympathetic toughness. And sometimes, they don’t – as a liberal paper covering the Bush administration, for example, and becoming implicit with its newspeak.
On the latter, Glenn’s strongest point is about the NYT’s decision not to call torture torture when reporting on the torture regime of Bush and Cheney. Keller still has no good answer here – except, quite obviously, his desire not to burn bridges with an administration and not become a lightning rod for right-wing press critics. Trying to appear objective, in other words, by appeasing both sides in a dispute, is not actually being objective or impartial. It’s enabling war crimes – which I think the New York Times did under Bill Keller’s leadership. No one ever hesitated to use the word torture to describe waterboarding in the past, and the NYT itself did so when other countries were guilty. So hiding your biases, and trying to appear objective, can mean the opposite of honest. That’s why, up there, the Dish has a simple motto: biased and balanced. You know where I’m coming from; and you can also judge if we fairly provide counter-points and dissent. The Dish evolved toward the “biased and balanced” mindset out of a desire to get things right, after I had proven myself all-too able to get things wrong.
Of course, I’m not running (as of yet) original reporting. But reporting, to me, is about finding stuff out, and publishing it without fear, and being accountable for it.
The fusion of politics and religion – most prominently the fusion of the evangelical movement and the Republican party – has been one of the most damaging developments in recent American history. It has made Republicanism not the creed of realists, pragmatists and compromise but of fundamentalists – on social and foreign policy, and even fiscal matters. And once maintaining inerrant doctrine becomes more important than, you know, governing a complicated, divided society, you end up with the extremism we saw in the debt ceiling crisis. When doctrine matters more than actually doing anything practical you end up with Cruz cray-cray. How does one disagree with a Taft:
Watching the Republican Party use the full faith and credit of the United States to try to roll back Obamacare, watching its members threaten not to raise the debt limit — which Warren Buffett rightly called a “political weapon of mass destruction” — to repeal a tax on medical devices, I so wanted to ask a similar question: “Have you no sense of responsibility? At long last, have you left no sense of responsibility?”
But there is some light on the horizon. The Catholic hierarchy has been knocked sideways by the emergence of Pope Francis and his eschewal of their fixation on homosexuality, contraception and abortion. That fixation – essentially a Christianist and de facto Republican alliance among Protestants and Catholic leaders – has now been rendered a far lower priority than, say, preaching the Gospel or serving the poor and the sick. Francis has also endorsed secularism as the proper modern context for religious faith:
I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres.
But perhaps a more powerful shift against Christianism is now taking place among evangelicals, especially the younger generation. Check out this terrific profile of the Southern Baptist Convention’s new public voice, Russell Moore. Money quote:
“We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it,” Mr. Moore said in an interview in his Washington office, a short walk from Congress. “Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture.”
Moore, moreover, is not alone. At 42, he is more in touch with the next generation of evangelical Christians who do not share or support the harsh political agenda of their elders:
In a review of Permanent Present Tense by Suzanne Corkin, Steven Shapin reflects on the life of Corkin’s famous patient, HenryMolaison, whose ability to form new memories was destroyed by a brain operation when he was 27. How Molaison’s sense of memory relates to our own:
In everyday life, we don’t much care whether what we remember is contained between our ears or resides on a piece of paper. We rely on our partners, colleagues, and friends to remind us of obligations; we stick Post-its on computers and fridge doors to cue us to buy milk or have the car serviced; our cell phones ping to announce coming appointments and remember all our phone numbers for us. Increasingly, our memories are distributed across a landscape populated by things and other people, and, in that respect, it’s possible to see Molaison as standing merely at a pathological extreme of memory’s normalcy: after the operation, all of Molaison’s declarative memory lived outside his own body, while only some of ours does.
Shapin imagines a future in which “technology will banish forgetting”:
The Quantified Self movement encourages everyone to follow Silicon Valley utopians in forming a personal digital register of every item of food consumed and every measurable bodily state. A camera worn on the neck of a “lifelogger” records everything seen, and a digital recorder captures everything heard. It’s all there—nothing filtered, nothing lost, nothing distorted by the messiness of internal memory. Wearable computers like Google Glass hold out the promise of still more powerful modes of self-archiving. We shall be as gods, and about ourselves we shall know all things. Technology will banish forgetting, and the stores of undeformed memory will live forever in the cloud, retrievable at will. The name for our remaining problems will be “search”: all we’ll have to do is remember what we’re looking for, master a few tricks for finding it, and, finally, offload the initiation of search onto external prompts that will remind us to remember.
Last Saturday I spent a relatively harmless and hugely enjoyable few hours with some friends and the conversation got a little 3 am college dormy. My friend elaborated an epiphany about eternity.
As the years go by, and our lives are digitally recorded in more and more ways, he argued, there will be digital versions of ourselves – from selfies to web trails, from precise consumer preferences to social networks, from thousands of emails and texts to videos and Facebook likes – that will have more data embedded in them than even the most industrious biographer could have used on the most famous person in the past. We will also come, inevitably, to refer to these digital summaries of ourselves, to remind us of our past, to get digital proof of previous loves or ideas or events or friends. We will therefore need to remember less and less, even as the imprint we make on the world becomes more and more indelible and eternal. We can just look them up, the way we reach for Google when we cannot remember the answer to a trivia question or need to resolve an empirical debate.