Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, August 21, 2021
America’s Afghan War: A Defeat Foretold
Nearly a score of different generals in charge of the war effort, and three presidential administrations, chose to extend an unsustainable status quo rather than acknowledge hard truths. None of them faced any consequences. . . . . Now, in Biden, we finally have a president who won’t be cowed into inaction by the threat of political damage. . . . Because he is unwilling to simply say “more,” he is being unfairly vilified."
The lack of consequences for military leaders both after Vietnam and in Afghanistan sadly predicts that future debacles may well occur since America seems incapable of learning from past mistakes due to hubris and an insane myth of "American exceptionalism." Worse of all, as a piece in the New York Times lays out, where America now finds itself was foretold by history and past defeats. Here are highlights:
It was 8 a.m. and the sleepy Afghan sergeant stood at what he called the front line, one month before the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban. An unspoken agreement protected both sides. There would be no shooting.
That was the nature of the strange war the Afghans just fought, and lost, with the Taliban.
President Biden and his advisers say the Afghan military’s total collapse proved its unworthiness, vindicating the American pullout. But the extraordinary melting away of government and army, and the bloodless transition in most places so far, point to something more fundamental.
The war the Americans thought they were fighting against the Taliban was not the war their Afghan allies were fighting. That made the American war, like other such neocolonialist adventures, most likely doomed from the start.
Recent history shows it is foolish for Western powers to fight wars in other people’s lands, despite the temptations. Homegrown insurgencies, though seemingly outmatched in money, technology, arms, air power and the rest, are often better motivated, have a constant stream of new recruits, and often draw sustenance from just over the border.
Outside powers are fighting one war as visitors — occupiers — and their erstwhile allies who actually live there, something entirely different. In Afghanistan, it was not good versus evil, as the Americans saw it, but neighbor against neighbor.
When it comes to guerrilla war, Mao once described the relationship that should exist between a people and troops. “The former may be likened to water,” he wrote, “the latter to the fish who inhabit it.”
And when it came to Afghanistan, the Americans were a fish out of water. Just as the Russians had been in the 1980s. Just as the Americans were in Vietnam in the 1960s. And as the French were in Algeria in the 1950s. And the Portuguese during their futile attempts to keep their African colonies in the ’60s and ’70s. And the Israelis during their occupation of southern Lebanon in the ’80s.
The Americans thought they had defeated the Taliban by the end of 2001. . . . . But the result was actually far more ambiguous. “Most had essentially melted away, and we weren’t sure where they’d gone,” wrote Brig. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as quoted by the historian Carter Malkasian in a new book, “The American War in Afghanistan.”
In fact, the Taliban were never actually beaten. Many had been killed by the Americans, but the rest simply faded into the mountains and villages, or across the border into Pakistan, which has succored the movement since its inception.
By 2006, they had reconstituted sufficiently to launch a major offensive. The end of the story played out in the grim and foreordained American humiliation that unfolded over the past week — the consecration of the U.S. military loss.
“In the long run all colonial wars are lost,” the historian of Portugal’s misadventures in Africa, Patrick Chabal, wrote 20 years ago, just as the Americans were becoming fatally embroiled in Afghanistan.
The superpower’s two-decade entanglement and ultimate defeat was all the more surprising in that the America of the decades preceding the millennium had been suffused with talk of the supposed “lessons” of Vietnam.
Long before, at the very beginning of the “misadventure,” in 1961, President John F. Kennedy had been warned off Vietnam by no less an authority than Charles de Gaulle. “I predict that you will sink step by step into a bottomless military and political quagmire, however much you spend in men and money,” de Gaulle, the French president, later recalled telling Kennedy.
The American ignored him. In words that foreshadowed both the Vietnam and Afghan debacles, de Gaulle warned Kennedy: “Even if you find local leaders who in their own interests are prepared to obey you, the people will not agree to it, and indeed do not want you.”
Friday, August 20, 2021
More Friday Male Beauty
Govs. DeSantis and Abbott Have Betrayed the Public Trust
In covid-19′s dismal fourth wave, some things haven’t changed. Vaccination still dramatically reduces the chance of serious disease. Mask-wearing and distancing are still effective tools in fighting an easily aerosolized pathogen.
In a few areas, however, the fourth wave has brought greater clarity. As covid’s third wave seemed to be fading in the spring, and the promise of normality was in the air, Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas came out strong — through legislative measures and executive orders — against masks and vaccine mandates. The issue had a growing symbolic power among right-wing populists, who are always searching for ways to operationalize their contempt for government. Accusations of covid-related coercion now constitute another front in the culture war. DeSantis and Abbott took full political advantage.
But then Florida and Texas led the resurgence of covid-19 in the United States, filling hospital beds and intensive care units across those states. Cities, school districts, hospitals and businesses naturally want to take measures such as mask and vaccine mandates that are equal to the severity of the outbreak.
What was supposed to be a costless, largely symbolic political commitment has led DeSantis and Abbott to a particularly vivid moral choice. Should they allow local government and community institutions to save people from harm? Or should they actively prevent those measures to appease a radical faction of their party?
The decision, it seems, wasn’t close for them. There is no public evidence of inner turmoil. If they had defied the populist base of the Republican Party, their careers (and presidential prospects) would have been as good as over.
Now these governors have a problem, as does their party.
The challenge for the governors is that public health is not the same as other issues. Their actions will lead, directly and predictably, to deaths in their states. This constitutes a betrayal of public trust so grave — a violation of moral responsibilities so depraved — that I am not sure there is a word for it. Selling the lives of your fellow citizens to a foreign power is treason. What is the proper description of selling the lives of your fellow citizens to a crazed political interest group?
These governors are attempting, of course, to take refuge in principle — the traditional right not to have cloth next to your face, or the sacred right to spread nasty infections to your neighbors. But such “rights” talk is misapplied in this context. The duty to protect public health during a pandemic is, by nature, an aggregate commitment. Success or failure is measured only in a total sum. Incompetence in this area is a fundamental miscarriage of governing. Knowingly taking actions that undermine public health is properly called sabotage, as surely as putting anthrax in the water supply.
So maybe that’s the right word: saboteurs.
The problem for the Republican Party is that one of the central demands of a key interest group is now an act of sociopathic insanity. Some of the most basic measures of public health have suddenly become the political equivalent of gun confiscation. It’s as if the activist wing of the GOP decided that municipal trash pickup is a dangerous socialist experiment. Or chlorine in public pools is an antifa plot. There can be no absolute political right to undermine the health and safety of your community. Or else community has no meaning.
Public health can’t be reasonably understood in culture war terms. There are no winners and losers here — because all of us, together, either win or lose. This is one area — perhaps the primary area — where we are one people. But it also shows how sick souls can result in sick and dead bodies.
Why America Doesn't Have Nice Things
All the recrimination-filled reporting and commentary about how fast Afghanistan fell to the Taliban after President Biden made the courageous decision to finish withdrawing our troops misses a much more important story.
This story concerns why Americans can't have nice things anymore while our main economic competitor China does — and is investing in a lucrative and influential future.
It's the story of jettisoning the sensible Powell Doctrine of asking whether war is quickly winnable before rushing into military action in favor of chronic combat. Endless war creates enormous fortunes for investors in the military-industrial complex, enabled by jingoistic political cowardice in Washington.
For two decades our elected leaders foolishly spent our money trying to impose democracy at the point of a rifle in a country with no democratic culture or tradition.
To date, U.S. taxpayers have spent about $2.3 trillion on an undeclared war that cost 2,448 American troops their lives avenging about the same number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. More than 100,000 Afghans died in the 20-year war.
This butcher bill comes to more than $6,000 for each American man, woman and child. Our elected leaders borrowed all that money because of federal tax cuts in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2017.
Cutting taxes in a time of war is as dumb an idea as ever infected American politics. America would be far better off today had Congress built a giant bonfire with all those greenbacks. Seriously. That's because the costs of this foolish enterprise will continue until the last eligible dependent of an Afghan combat veteran dies sometime near the dawn of the 23rd century.
The total ultimate Afghan war bill? More than $6.4 trillion, according to the Cost of War Project at Brown University. That's more than $100,000 for the iconic family of four.
[O]ur participation occurred without a congressional declaration of war, as required by our Constitution. While our elected officials squandered money on an undeclared war that drained our economy, the dictatorial regime in Beijing bought China a bright future.
China spends more than 5.5% of its economy on infrastructure. America spent about 3.1% of the economy on steel and concrete infrastructure way back in 1980, before more than half of today's Americans were born. In recent years, American infrastructure investment has been slashed by half to a record low.
None of this Afghan war spending bought us a better life. None of it was an investment in the public furniture, which is the commonwealth foundation on which private wealth is built.
That money didn't maintain or build new roads, dams, bridges, rail lines or public buildings that could last centuries if adequately designed and constructed. It didn't buy textbooks or strengthen our third-rate grid in this electricity-dependent Digital Age.
China, in contrast, didn't spend its money on wars. Indeed, China hasn't been in a war in this century, though it brutally oppresses those within its grasp who challenge its totalitarian control. Instead, China invested in public furniture that makes commerce more efficient, shrinks its carbon footprint, reduces rural poverty and expands influence beyond its borders. Those investments create jobs galore and, in turn, wealth.
"Infrastructure investment in China has increased significantly in recent decades and has been a significant driver of economic growth and improved standards of living," according to the Reserve Bank of Australia.
The can-do spirit has been throttled in America by petty politicians like the anti-taxers who insist we cannot afford to invest in the public's welfare. Be it making college tuition-free, or nearly so, or taking care of our existing infrastructure, they stand for tax cuts for the rich and the big companies that their patrons own. At the same time, they oppose building new and refuse to recognize that electricity, cell phones and the internet are core necessities of life in the Digital Age.
The can-do spirit, however, is not gone from this earth. It's just moved to China, which in 43 hours tore down and replaced a multi-lane highway bridge in Beijing, as this fantastic brief video shows.
Think about how long it takes to get anything done in America these days.
In just 10 years, starting in 2008, China built nearly 16,000 miles of high-speed rail. That more than doubled total global high-speed rail lines. How many miles of high-speed rail carry passengers in America? None.
China isn't afraid of debt either. Its infrastructure investments, private and public, are essentially 90% debt-financed. From 2000 to 2014, China invested the equivalent of $29.1 trillion U.S. in infrastructure while issuing $26.1 trillion of debt, researchers at Oxford University calculated.
Our Congress is in a lather about just $1 trillion for traditional infrastructure.
To a person, the Republicans won't consider a separate bill that defines infrastructure in human terms with money for housing, expanded education, cash to lift children out of poverty, climate change mitigation, rural internet access and investments in science.
From my many visits to China in this century, it's evident that the regime there builds smooth roads on very deep beds of rock, assuring potholes will be rare. America, by contrast, produces inferior roads.
The long-lasting Chinese highways with wide lanes put to shame the German Autobahn, which puts to shame our cheapskate interstate highway system.
America thinks in terms of 90-day corporate financial reports and two-year election cycles. China's leaders think in terms of decades and centuries.
America has literally gone backward in some areas since 1863.
During the Civil War, the president of the New York Central worked in Manhattan but lived in Batavia, midway between Rochester and Buffalo in western New York. Dean Richmond took his private rail car down to arrive at work Monday morning and returned home late Friday supper.
The trips he took in 1863 took 90 minutes less than they do today.
[I]nstead of working toward such goals, we squabble over the scraps left over after wasting blood and treasure in a war that had no purpose except to catch those behind the awful attack on us almost two decades ago.
We had good reason to invade Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden's fanatical followers crashed jetliners into both World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, . . . . The 2001 invasion should have followed the Powell Doctrine, named for Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later secretary of state. He said a lesson of Vietnam was that America should use military force only when national security demanded it, and even then only after building overwhelming global support and then applying overwhelmingly military force.
Instead of applying that doctrine to find and kill bin Laden and his confederates, the inexperienced George W. Bush agreed with conservative fanatics who said we could buy our way into capturing our enemies.
Air Force cargo planes stuffed with American dollars flew to the Middle East during the Afghan and Iraq wars. We gave literally tons of greenbacks to warlords who promised to catch bin Laden and his pals. They lied.
They took our money and hid the mastermind of 9/11. Bush declared in 2004 that he was "not concerned" about finding bin Laden.
Not until Barack Obama became president was our military told to find and capture him, as they did on May 2, 2011. But Obama, like Trump, lacked the political nerve to do what Biden did — stop investing in a bad decision to keep troops in Afghanistan.
And be glad the ultimate total cost of this folly is only about $100,000 per family because it could have gone on forever, the costs piling higher and higher every day because of the political cowardice of Bush, Obama and Donald Trump.
And, now, please think about all the good things we could be investing in to make our lives better had we elected politicians who read and understand:
- Our first president's farewell warning about foreign entanglements;
- Our 34th president Dwight Eisenhower's farewell warning about the dangers of our military-industrial complex.
Of course in a democracy, we choose our own leaders so we know ultimately who to blame for why we can't afford nice things and are falling behind China: Ourselves.
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
The GOP's Racist "Southern Strategy" Goes to School in Virginia
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N*****, n*****, n*****.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n*****’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N*****, n*****.’ ”
Lee Atwater’s strategy in this quotation from Alexander Lamis’s 1984 book, The Two-Party South, is on full display in the current Republican apoplectic aneurysm over Critical Race Theory (CRT).
As Sir Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Apparently, if there isn’t a crisis to use, the modern GOP will simply create one.
There is a long history of success using this strategy:
-Black Lives Matter
-Critical Race Theory
The names change, but the strategy remains. The strategy, however, is not racism; that is merely the tool. The strategy is fear.
In their book, The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics, Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields state:
It is more than ‘backlash politics.’ It is orchestrated backlash politics. Campaigns made choices, set fires, and even poured on the gasoline if accelerant was needed, which is why the passage of time has not, in fact extinguished such prejudice. It is kept aflame as long as it is stoked.”
Critical Race Theory is not being taught in any elementary, middle, or high school in Virginia. However, across the Commonwealth, school boards are being asked to prove a negative, and when they can’t, because one cannot prove a negative, that is used as irrefutable proof that the schools are hiding something. It is a self-created political sleight of hand.
So when Glenn Youngkin stands in front of the Loudoun County school administration building and declares that he will fight CRT, he is using a page directly out of the Atwater playbook. When his wife comes to Prince William County and announces that it was parents who first stood up against CRT, not politicians. This opposition, she claimed, was due to remote learning and parents seeing for the first time that their children were being brainwashed.
Of course, her argument leaves out the obvious fact that this political juggernaut did not gain any steam until after children left school for the summer and presumably had returned their CRT-laced textbooks while also assuming that the parents now completely invested in protecting their children from CRT never checked those very same children’s homework before the pandemic.
Fear and distraction have replaced bread and circuses as the chief tools of modern politics. While CRT is not happening in any Loudoun County school today, in November 2020 those same schools were found to have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act, Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and Titles IV and VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This ruling was in response to a May 2019 complaint by the NAACP Loudoun Branch, and 2019 also happens to have been when a Democratic majority was elected to the Loudoun School Board sending several incumbents into retirement.
Instead of reflecting on how Loudoun County schools were found to have been discriminatory against African-American and Latino students when the county was red, Republicans have decided that they will use the response to that suit, an equity policy, as the basis to falsely claim that a graduate-level legal theory is being taught to elementary school children, thus distracting from the original issue while purposefully creating a fear among parents that their children are going to be taught to hate themselves because they are white. Atwater was right; that is much more abstract than simply yelling “N*****.”
So why bring this up on a conservative blog? Because truth matters. . . . . . Republicans would be better served to learn the lesson being taught by Doug Wilder instead of continuing to rely on the lessons of Lee Atwater. Stop using fear, distraction, and lies as campaign strategies. Admit that CRT is not being taught in schools. Acknowledge that after exhaustive searches in Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia, there was no voter fraud. Stop pushing to pass voting restrictions that have a higher impact on minorities. In other words, back away from fear and step towards truth.
Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince still holds true: “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” The times have changed, and so too must the Republican Party.
America Has Been Lied Into Too Many Wars
Let's never forget that what we are watching happen right now in Afghanistan is the final act of George W. Bush's 2004 reelection strategy.
After 9/11 the Taliban offered to arrest Bin Laden, but Bush turned them down because he wanted to be a "wartime president" to have a "successful presidency."
The Washington Post headline weeks after 9/11 put it succinctly: "Bush Rejects Taliban Offer On Bin Laden." With that decision not to arrest and try Bin Laden for his crime but instead to go to war George W. Bush set the US and Afghanistan on a direct path to today.
More recently, Trump and Pompeo gave the Taliban everything they wanted — power, legitimacy and the release of 5000 of their worst war criminals — over the strong objections of the Afghan government in 2019 so Trump could falsely claim, heading into the 2020 election, that he'd "negotiated peace" in Afghanistan when in fact he'd set up this week's debacle.
"The relationship I have with the Mullah is very good," Trump proclaimed after ordering the mullah who yesterday named himself President freed from prison over the furious objection of Afghan's government, who Trump had cut out of the negotiations
Now Trump and the GOP are scrubbing the record of that betrayal of both America and Afghanistan and embrace of the Taliban from their websites, as noted here and here.
And the UK is coming right out and saying that Trump's "rushed" deal with the Taliban — without involvement of the Afghan government or the international community — set up this disaster. "The die was cast," Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC, "when the deal was done by Donald Trump, if you want my observation."
Trump's sabotage notwithstanding, President Biden, the State Department and the Pentagon should have anticipated this week's debacle in Afghanistan. The fact that they didn't speaks volumes about how four administrations, the Pentagon and our defense contractors covered up how poorly the Ashraf Ghani government was doing there. Just like they did with Vietnam. It's on all of them.
And this isn't the first time a president has lied us into a war.
- Vietnam wasn't the first time an American president and his buddies in the media lied us into a war when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara falsely claimed that an American warship had come under attack in the Gulf of Tonkin and LBJ went along with the lie.
- Neither was President William McKinley lying us into the Spanish-American war in 1898 by falsely claiming that the USS Maine had been blown up in Havana harbor (it caught fire all by itself).
- The first time we were lied into a major war by a president was probably the Mexican-American war of 1846 when President James Polk lied that we'd been invaded by Mexico. Even Abraham Lincoln, then a congressman from Illinois, called him out on that lie.
- You could also argue that when President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 leading to the Trail of Tears slaughter and forced relocation of the Cherokee under President Buchanan (among other atrocities) it was all based on a series of lies.
Bush's lies that took us into Afghanistan and, a bit over a year later into Iraq, are particularly egregious, however, given his and Cheney's apparent reasons for those lies.
n 1999, when George W. Bush decided he was going to run for president in the 2000 election, his family hired Mickey Herskowitz to write the first draft of Bush's autobiography, A Charge To Keep.
Although Bush had gone AWOL for about a year during the Vietnam war and was thus apparently no fan of combat, he'd concluded (from watching his father's "little 3- day war" with Iraq) that being a "wartime president" was the most consistently surefire way to get reelected and have a two-term presidency.
"I'll tell you, he was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," Herskowitz told reporter Russ Baker in 2004.
"One of the things [Bush] said to me," Herskowitz said, "is: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of (Kuwait) and he wasted it.
The attack on 9/11 gave Bush his first chance to "be seen as a commander-in-chief" when our guy Osama Bin Laden, who the Reagan/Bush administration had spent $3 billion building up in Afghanistan, engineered an attack on New York and DC.
The crime was planned in Germany and Florida and on 9/11 Bin Laden was, according to CBS News, not even in Afghanistan: "CBS Evening News has been told that the night before the Sept. 11 terrorists attack, Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. He was getting medical treatment with the support of the very military that days later pledged its backing for the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan." When the Obama administration finally caught and killed Bin Laden, he was again in Pakistan, the home base for the Taliban.
But attacking our ally Pakistan in 2001 would have been impossible for Bush, and, besides, nearby Afghanistan was an easier target, being at that time the second-poorest country in the world with an average annual per-capita income of $700 a year. Bin Laden had run terrorist training camps there, unrelated to 9/11, but they made a fine excuse for Bush's first chance to "be seen as a commander-in-chief" and get some leadership cred.
Cheney, meanwhile, was in a world of trouble because of a huge bet he'd made as CEO of Halliburton in 1998. Dresser Industries was big into asbestos and about to fall into bankruptcy because of asbestos lawsuits that the company was fighting up through the court system. . . . . Bush had asked Cheney — who'd worked in his father's White House as Secretary of Defense — to help him find a suitable candidate for VP.
Cheney, as his company was collapsing, recommended himself for the job. In July of 2000, Cheney walked away with $30 million from the troubled company and the year after that, as VP, Halliburton subsidiary KBR received one of the first no-bid no-ceiling (no limit on how much they could receive) multi-billion-dollar military contracts.
Bush and Cheney both had good reason to want to invade Afghanistan in October 2001:
Bush was largely seen as an illegitimate president at the time because his father's appointee on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, had cast the deciding vote that made him president; a war gave him legitimacy and the aura of leadership.
Cheney's company was in a crisis, and Afghanistan War no-bid contracts helped turn around Halliburton from the edge of bankruptcy into one of the world's largest defense contractors.
In 2019, Trump went around the Afghan government (to their outrage: he even invited the Taliban to Camp David in a move that disgusted the world) to cut a so-called "peace deal" that sent thousands of newly-empowered Taliban fighters back into the field and drew down our troops to the point where today's chaos was absolutely predictable.
Trump's deal was the signal to the 300,000+ Afghan army recruits that America no longer had their back and if the Taliban showed up they should just run away. Which, of course, is what has happened over the past few weeks.
Jon Perr's article at Daily Kos does a great summary, with the title: "Trump put 5,000 Taliban fighters back in battle and tied Biden's hands in Afghanistan." Trump schemed and lied to help his reelection efforts, and the people who worked with our military and the US-backed Afghan government are and will pay a terrible price for it.
As President Biden said Friday:
"When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. Forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. Forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our Forces and our allies' Forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country's civil conflict. I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth."
America has been lied into too many wars. It's cost us too much in money, credibility and blood. We must remember the lies.
When President Ford withdrew US forces from Vietnam (I remember it well), there was barely a mention of McNamara's and LBJ's lies that got us into that war. Similarly, today's reporting on the chaos in Afghanistan almost never mentions Bush's and Cheney's lies and ulterior motives in getting us into that war in the first place.
We can't afford to let this one go down the memory hole, too. We must learn from our mistakes.
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
The GOP Surrenders in the Same-Sex Marriage Wars
To mark the beginning of Pride Month this year, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel did what party leaders do on these types of occasions: She sent out a tweet.
“Happy #PrideMonth!” she wrote, “@GOP is proud to have doubled our LGBTQ support over the last 4 years, and we will continue to grow our big tent by supporting measures that promote fairness and balance protections for LGBTQ Americans and those with deeply held religious beliefs.”
Inside the RNC, the missive barely registered. McDaniel, after all, had sent out a similar message in years past.
But outside the building, those 265 characters prompted immediate backlash. Not just from Democrats, who accused her of disingenuousness, but from social conservatives too who furiously dialed up McDaniel with complaints. Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, lambasted her in a scathing blog post and even encouraged people not to donate to the RNC. But the attacks, particularly from the evangelical right, were met with a shrug by the party.
McDaniel’s willingness to brush aside complaints would have been unthinkable not too long ago, Republicans say. The evangelical right remains the most committed part of the party, and the Family Research Council leader is among its most powerful figures. But the GOP has, in recent years, undergone a quiet but consequential evolution: Party leaders still exhibit strong opposition to transgender rights and the top legislative priorities of the LGBTQ community. But on the most prominent battlefield of the past few decades, same-sex marriage, they’ve all but conceded defeat.
[T]here is a widespread acceptance that debate over marriage equality is settled. There is no serious discussion about trying to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case that ruled states are required by law to recognize the marriage of same-sex couples. There were openly gay officials working at the highest levels of the Trump administration. And in Congress, the gay rights movement has found allies in up and coming Republican stars like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.).
While much of the country grew to accept same-sex marriage well in advance of the Supreme Court recognizing it in 2013, GOP voters didn’t. A Gallup poll from 2014 showed only 30 percent of Republican voters in support.
There have been moments over the past 20 years, however, when prominent conservatives warned Republican party leaders they were dramatically out of step with the public as a whole on the issue. Ken Mehlman, who managed George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential run, apologized for the anti-same-sex marriage rhetoric of that campaign and for his role in fighting marriage equality, while announcing that he was gay. One of the founding members of the Federalist Society, conservative attorney Ted Olson, joined forces with David Boies, a Democratic attorney, to overturn Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Hedge fund billionaire and Republican donor Paul Singer quietly donated to pro-gay rights causes and formed the American Unity PAC and American Unity Fund, which fights for LGBTQ and religious freedom. And former Vice President Dick Cheney was famously at odds with President Bush over same-sex marriage and became a supporter of the movement. His daughter, Mary Cheney, has been married to her wife since 2012.
The real breakthrough, gay Republican operatives say, came with the nomination of Donald Trump. Though evangelicals flocked to his candidacy, conservative gay rights activists also saw an opportunity. A cosmopolitan minded business person, Trump did not prioritize LGBTQ issues during his campaign and, in fact, made overt appeals to gay voters, though not by pledging support for laws to protect them.
A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed that by June 2021, 55 percent of Republicans supported same-sex marriage.
Gay rights activists and Republicans acknowledge there is still much work to be done within the GOP. For now, the official Republican party platform, unchanged since 2016, includes language defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, and gives what some say is a nod to the controversial practice of conversion therapy. Gay rights advocates in the party said Republicans missed an opportunity to change the platform’s text in 2020. . . . There will be a concerted effort next time in 2024. A more vamped up effort of what was going to happen in 2020.”
Deaton said his group, the American Unity Fund, will continue to advocate for changes to the GOP platform.
“We brought a lot of attention to the weaknesses of the platform, the mean-spirited language of the platform and it doesn’t reflect the party. It reflects a few dozen people who show up at the convention and try to run the platform committee. And we’re not going to let them do that forever,” Deaton said.
But Trump also opposed the Equality Act — which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit anti-LGBTQ and sex discrimination in public accommodations and federal programs — appointed judges deemed hostile to LGBTQ issues, rolled back protections in the workplace for non-binary workers, and pushed for the removal of protections for LGBTQ people in healthcare programs.
“I think even with Christians the gay [marriage] issue, that ship has sailed. But the trans issue is different,” said one Trump adviser.
Monday, August 16, 2021
Media Wrongly Blames Biden for Two Decade Debacle
In 2017, I arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport as part of a congressional staff delegation. Even though the U.S. embassy stood a mere four miles away, safety concerns necessitated our helicoptering from a recently constructed multimillion-dollar transit facility instead of traveling by road. As we flew over Kabul, I realized that the Afghan security forces, backed by thousands of U.S. personnel, could not even secure the heart of Afghanistan’s capital.
Kabul was not lost yesterday; the United States and our Afghan partners never truly had control of the country, nor of its capital. Once the Taliban had secured an agreement that the United States would be pulling out and that forces would be reduced to minimal numbers before Joe Biden’s presidency began, they merely had to wait.
The dozens of congressional briefings I attended over 14 years of working on Capitol Hill underscored this dynamic. The intelligence community would commence each briefing with a stark assessment regarding the fragility of conditions in Afghanistan. Senior defense leaders would then provide a far more optimistic view, one that often gave a sense of progress, despite the Herculean challenge with which they had been tasked.
Various critics of President Biden are engaging in fantasies amid Kabul’s collapse: if only we’d used more force, demonstrated more will, stayed a few months longer, then the Taliban would have adopted a different strategy.
At some point, the attack on the Afghan government would have come, and U.S. troops would have been caught in the middle—leaving the U.S. to decide between surging thousands of troops or withdrawal. . . . . There is a cost—financial and military—to tying forces down in a project that was ultimately doomed to fail.
Biden faced a set of bad options. He ultimately made the difficult but necessary choice to preserve American lives. That decision will have devastating consequences for Afghanistan, and we will learn more in the coming days regarding how the administration might have executed its plans better. But as I saw for myself in 2017, and as many others had also observed, the government we supported never truly controlled the country it governed. Biden did not decide to withdraw so much as he chose to acknowledge a long-festering reality, one accelerated by the previous [Trump] administration’s withdrawal announcement.
A piece in the Post also seeks to revive meories of those who want glaring headlines and who would ignore the true objective reality of America's fool's errand in Afghanistan. Here are excerpts:
If ever a big, breaking story demanded that the news media provide historical context and carefully avoid partisan blame, it’s the story of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Instead, what we largely got over the past few days was the all-too-familiar genre of “winners and losers” coverage. It’s coverage that tends to elevate and amplify punditry over news, and to assign long-lasting political ramifications to a still-developing situation. . . . . Evidence of this nuance-deprived, overstated coverage was obvious throughout big and small news organizations over the weekend and across the political spectrum.
The truth is quite a bit more complicated than all of that, and once you get past the headlines, some of the coverage — including Packer’s — reflects that. But for an American public that largely ignores serious international news short of a bona fide crisis, this will be the enduring takeaway.
The situation is tragic, no doubt, and the images of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on Sunday are stunningly memorable, but the blame has to be spread much more evenly. Biden has been in office for just over seven months; the always untenable Afghan war — and its sure-to-be-terrible ending — has been a disaster for decades. It cuts across political parties: begun by a Republican, George W. Bush, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and presided over by two Obama terms and four years of Trump.
Throughout, the American government has lied to the American people about how well things were going in America’s longest war, as The Washington Post’s important 2019 project, “The Afghanistan Papers,” made abundantly clear. . . . . “Senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”
All of what the Afghanistan Papers lays bare, of course, occurred well before Biden was elected, making it even more of a stretch to lay the whole travesty at his feet.
Has the Biden administration badly handled the ending? Yes, and that deserves to be pointed out unsparingly, as David Sanger did in the New York Times: “Even many of Biden’s allies who believe he made the right decision to finally exit a war that the United States could not win and that was no longer in its national interest concede he made a series of major mistakes in executing the withdrawal.”
What’s not fair, though, is scolding punditry like the piece on the Fox News site by August Pfluger, the Republican congressman from Texas and an Air Force veteran, who characterizes the “Biden doctrine” as “Hear no evil, see no evil, stop no evil.”
You can chalk that up to sheer partisanship, of course, but so far there’s not enough thoughtful, context-rich news coverage to counter it. And so a false idea can take root:
That a war that cost trillions over two decades, killed many thousands, and was destined to failure from the start is the sole fault of the president who — hamstrung by all that came before him — was the one to end it.
As always, the media moves too quickly to the blame game, allowing the most extreme punditry to carry the day. When history is in the making, as it surely is here, that’s far from the best approach.
The Census Data Is Dreadful for White Supremacists
For some of us, the census data released on Thursday was fascinating. For others, it was, I would presume, downright frightening.
Much of what we have seen in recent years — the rise of Donald Trump, xenophobia and racist efforts to enshrine or at least extend white power by packing the courts and suppressing minority votes — has been rooted in a fear of political, cultural and economic displacement.
The white power acolytes saw this train approaching from a distance — the browning of America, the shrinking of the white population and the explosion of the nonwhite — and they did everything they could to head it off.
They tried to clamp down on immigration, both unlawful and lawful. They waged a propaganda war against abortion, and they lobbied for “traditional family values” in the hopes of persuading more white women to have more babies. They orchestrated a system of mass incarceration that siphoned millions of young, marriage-age men, disproportionately Black and Hispanic, out of the free population.
On every level, in every way, these forces, whether wittingly or not, worked to prevent the nonwhite population from growing. And yet it did.
Meanwhile, the white population, in absolute numbers, declined for the first time in the history of the country.
This data is dreadful for white supremacists. As Kathleen Belew, an assistant professor of U.S. history at the University of Chicago, told me by phone, “These people experience this kind of shift as an apocalyptic threat.”
Population size determines, to some degree, the power you wield. The only option left to white supremacists at this point is to find ways to help white people maintain their grip on power even as they become a minority in the population, and the best way to do that is to deny as many minorities as possible access to that power.
We are now seeing a shocking, blatant attempt at voter suppression across the country. I believe that this is just the start of something, not the end — that efforts to disenfranchise minority voters will grow only more brazen as the white power movement becomes more desperate.
We are likely to see this trend in full swing as the redistricting process gets underway. As Nate Cohn wrote in The Times, the fact that much of the population growth over the past 10 years occurred in the Sun Belt, where the G.O.P. controls redistricting, gives Republicans, who are overwhelmingly white, “yet another chance to preserve their political power in the face of unfavorable demographic trends.”
Black people are continuing a reverse migration to the South and threatening to alter the political landscape there. Hispanics account for more and more of the voting-age population in key swing states across the Southwest.
As the nonwhite population grows in these states, so does their political power. In response, many of these are the states now trying to suppress nonwhite votes. This is why the Democratic-controlled Senate’s inability and unwillingness to alter the filibuster to pass voter protection is so maddening. Republicans’ voter suppression is an all-out attempt to shore up white power and diminish nonwhite power, and the Senate has been letting them do it.
The passage of power is not a polite and gentle affair like passing the salt at a dinner table. People with power fight — sometimes to the end — to maintain it. There’s going to be a shift, but not without strife.
Sunday, August 15, 2021
Youngkin Sides with Anti-Vaxers and Anti-Mask Nuts
The dreaded comeback of the coronavirus has convinced both major candidates for Virginia governor that victory this fall hinges on one simple but vexing question about masks and vaccinations:
To mandate, or not to mandate?
Democrat Terry McAuliffe favors requiring masks and shots in certain cases as a science-based path out of a public health and economic crisis. Republican Glenn Youngkin opposes any mandates as a matter of individual liberty and parental rights.
As the delta variant has recently powered Virginia’s seven-day average number of new cases to levels not seen since February, according to The Washington Post’s tracker, both candidates have moved those issues to the front of their campaigns — and with good reason, University of Mary Washington political scientist Stephen Farnsworth said. “I think this election is likely to turn a great deal on what happens with covid,” Farnsworth said.
McAuliffe announced this past week that he’s requiring his campaign staff to be vaccinated. He also called on private health-care providers to require vaccination for their employees and supports outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam’s vaccine-or-testing mandate on state workers.
McAuliffe agrees with Northam (D) that state law requires schools to follow guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. On Thursday, Northam officially made it a mandate.
Youngkin, meanwhile, has pushed back against any effort to require students to wear masks at schools, saying that decision should be left up to parents. When asked in a radio interview this month if he would follow the lead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and prohibit local school boards officials from requiring masks, he said he would, proclaiming that “there should be no mask mandates in Virginia.”
The campaign in a statement also said Northam’s new mandate for masks in schools shows “Richmond liberals . . . will stop at nothing to impose their will and take away parents’ ability to decide what’s best for our kids.”
The statement further warned that the governor’s action was a precursor to “returning to a full shutdown of our economy” — though Northam cast the mandate as a step that would help prevent the need to shut things down by keeping cases low.
Both sides seem confident the issue will play well not only with their respective political bases, but with the suburban swing voters who will be crucial to winning increasingly blue Virginia.
“It strikes me that Youngkin is doing all he can to try to activate the Trump-loyal base of the Republican Party as though that’s going to win a statewide election for him, and I find that puzzling,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
In the August Quinnipiac poll, 45 percent of independents support a vaccine mandate for university students and 51 percent oppose it — a net eight-point swing from April, when 42 percent supported such a mandate and 56 percent opposed.
She also noted that independents this month were considerably more worried about the delta variant than Republicans.
But finding the “sweet spot” that appeals to independents will be trickier than stoking up the base, Walter said, given that they see a danger in the delta variant and support mask mandates but are not as supportive as Democrats on vaccine mandates.
“I think it’s disgraceful Glenn Youngkin would be taking advice and guidance from Ron DeSantis,” McAuliffe said in an interview with The Post. He cited Florida’s current plight as one of the top states for infections and noted its nation-leading spike in children hospitalized with covid-19.
McAuliffe said the unvaccinated have “taken over all our intensive care units. It causes such a strain on our health-care system.” He accused Youngkin of being in a category with DeSantis, former president Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in playing down the severity of the crisis and the steps needed to address it.
Youngkin’s campaign declined to make him available for an interview.