A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, November 09, 2002
HOW TO DEFINE A "BEATING": One last outsider's note on the U.S. midterms: both thrilled conservatives eager to gloat and despondent liberals who want to change their party's direction have described Tuesday's midterms in rather hyperbolic terms. I've read that the Democrats were "shellacked," "crushed," "ground to fine powder," etc.

People. Let's put this into perspective. The Dems lost a net 2 Senate seats and half a dozen House seats. They gained governorships. The margin of difference between the parties in terms of the aggregate popular vote for Senate candidates was under 1%. It's not as though the president's party hasn't gained seats in a midterm election before (Clinton did it four years ago). This isn't even close to the defeat the Dems suffered in '94.

And, if you want to see what a real, honest-to-goodness political Shitkicking For The Ages looks like, I refer you to Kim Campbell's [i.e. Brian Mulroney's] 1993 federal Progressive Conservatives, whose 169-seat majority government was irradiated, immolated, obliterated, annhiliated, masticated, and regurgitated down to a 2-seat pile o' leaderless ash. Two seats. For the next four years, they were able to hold their caucus meetings in a airplane bathroom. Now THAT's a political implosion worthy of some serious adjectives.
MILD CONCESSION, AND JUST A TOUCH OF RANDOM HAPPINESS: I'd like to sincerely thank Josh Chafetz for responding to the second point of this post by pointing out a couple of other female candidates who did manage to beat male competition in close races in the U.S. elections Tuesday. Without his note, I wouldn't have found out that newly elected Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) is, in the words of a (female) commenter on Will Burton's site, "brilliant and beautiful"...and Canadian, to boot (born in BC, emigrated when she was 3)!!! Ms. Granholm's heritage would be fantastically cool, if only it did not forbid the very talented Democrat from ever running for president as a result of a vestigial xenophobic clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Oh, and before Josh says it and forces me to make another concession, Nancy Pelosi's elevation to House Minority Leader (the first female chamber leader of any variety ever) is another good step for U.S. women that came out of this election. I still want to partially withhold my verdict until we see how the media treats her over the next two years, though...
Thursday, November 07, 2002
AND I WILL POUR MY VENGEANCE UPON THEE: Check out this utterly unsurprising burst of noxious hyperbole by the always charming Grover Norquist on Indy Sen. Jim Jeffords' likely treatment at the hands of his ascendant Republican colleagues:
"I know there were some people pretty angry with me last year, but that has dissipated with time," Mr. Jeffords said today in a telephone interview from his office in Vermont. He said he was not expecting retribution. "The Senate's a pretty collegial group," he said. "You learn it's best to get along."

Republicans, though, were not necessarily buying the no-retribution line.

"That sounds like the Taliban's analysis on Sept. 13," said Grover Norquist
Like all analogies, this one can be read from either of two directions, and I'm not sure which one is worse: Grover could be interpreted as comparing Jeffords to the evil Taliban, which is merely incredibly offensive and stupid...or, he could be read as comparing the Taliban to Jeffords, and therefore suggesting that the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime was based on a largely unjustified and petty desire for payback...
LATE REFLECTION ON THE U.S. MIDTERMS: Instead of griping about the Democrats' misfortunes in the recent midterms like many other left-leaning sites, I just want to say that right now it's sure nice to be a Canadian progressive: unlike U.S. progressives, I get the luxury of observing things as an outsider, as opposed to someone who is devastated by the prospect of two years of unified government under the GOP.

That's my first reflection: considering my sympathies and the attention I was giving to the midterms near the end of the campaign, I found it surprisingly easy to shrug my shoulders and say "feh, it's not my country...and it certainly isn't my party." Those judicial nominations won't be making decisions that will erode my civil liberties--oh, wait, I'm living here on a student visa...OK, so I also do have to admit that making it easier to trash environmental standards and engage in more American military quasi-imperialism won't be good for all that many people in the rest of the world. But the sting isn't nearly as bad when you aren't directly responsible for or represented by the election's outcome.

Second reflection: anyone else notice how poorly female candidates did? My American flatmate mused "wow, is it just me, or are there more women running for governor this year than ever?" Interesting that he didn't notice that almost all of them lost! I can't really speak for the House, since there were too many darned races for a layperson like me to follow, but it seemed as though every woman who was up against a man in a close race for a Senate or Gubenatorial spot lost----Shaheen, O'Brien, Townsend, Carnahan, Morella (OK, so that's one House race I did notice)--with the exception of Elizabeth Dole. And one can argue that there's no way that race should have been close in the first place, considering she's a Republican in North Carolina. Americans just don't seem willing to view women as leaders--I also make this observation based on the adjectives that the U.S. media seems to frequently apply to female politicians. If they're aggressive like Hillary, they tend to be labelled "pushy," "bossy," or "whiny" (How often do you hear a male politician criticized as "pushy"? That's because politicians are supposed to be highly assertive). If they're passive, then they're labelled "weak" campaigners. I'd also speculate that Americans are especially loathe to trust female liberals. Not exactly a sign of a mature civilization...

Third reflection: Overused political term on election night was "in play," which commentators used to describe seats or bodies that either party has a reasonable chance of winning. As in: "there were very few House seats in play this year" or "the Senate is still in play" (CNN's Aaron Brown). Sure, politics--especially U.S. politics--has a competitive, calculated, "game" element to it that I'll admit to enjoying as much as anyone else, but overusing these sorts of metaphors threatens to erode our sense that there the substantive issues that lie at its core. It's also corrosive to the idea that the parties are responsible for engaging in substantive debate over these issues and trying to change people's minds, as opposed to just mobilizing and harvesting votes. This ain't the Superbowl, folks--there's a lot more at stake in politics for observers than the payoff they'll get for guessing whether one team will beat the spread, and the media should talk about it accordingly.
The first real crack in the walls of Fort Chretien? Canada's PM chews out members of the Liberal caucus who voted for a sly opposition motion on Tuesday: one that would allow votes for parliamentary committee chairs to be conducted by secret ballot. Under the current system, votes are conducted in the open, leaving open the possibility that MP's who vote against the PM's picks will be punished.

Now, Cabinet Ministers such as Allan Rock have defended the "open vote" system, saying that MPs should cast all their votes in the open for reasons of accountability (but accountability to whom?) Yet the following slip would seem to put the lie to that rationale:

"I do not want to go out of politics as a Brian Mulroney," Mr. Chr├ętien was quoted as saying.

Really, M. Chretien? Compared to your tortured year-and-a-half exit strategy, the Big Chin's departure would practically earn a 6.0 for Presentation.

PS. I would like to say a little more about the Mondale situation, but I think I might be coming down with the annual viral gift basket from the Far East. So more the meantime, a hot toddy and the futon beckon...
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
RANDOM NOTE OF DECENCY: On the subject of things I'm reticent to comment on because I don't know nearly enough of about them--how about Sharon surprising the heck out of a lot of commentators who do know about Israeli politics by giving up on a new coalition and triggering February elections?

I'm not precisely sure what it is, but there must be a moral in this somewhere for those Labour MKs who used the "we can effect more change internally" argument.

Then again, one can also view this as a reminder that, from a dovish point of view, it is possible to do worse than Sharon...
FOR WHOM THE POLLS CLOSE: One reason that I haven't commented all that much on the midterm elections is because even though I live in the U.S., I've felt a bit like an outsider and haven't particularly felt that it would be my place.

But, I do feel comfortable in adding this note, which applies only to our American readers: if you haven't done so yet, please do vote. There's little more that can make a person more appreciative of citizenship than living in a place where one doesn't have it. If you're wondering, it does feel different to be subject to laws to which you know you will never have a right to formally approve or reject. Your vote matters even if you live in a constituency in which none of the big races are tight; besides your ability to affect smaller races and ballot propositions, voting affirms the basic democratic tie that citizens share with the state and the rest of their society and produces a voice that is crucial to drawing state power in a representative direction.

Simply voting is certainly not sufficient to secure a liberal democratic society but it is definitely necessary. There's not much less the rest of your country--and the rest of your world, given the U.S.' special status--can expect from you.

And if you can't decide who to vote for, you can always pull the lever for this half of Antidotal by voting for the person on the ballot with a "D" beside it...just kidding...well, I'm mainly just kidding in the case of people who live in Connie Morella's district...she's one of the "R"s who probably deserves better than to lose...
I also want to rant a little on one issue, while it retains a degree of topicality. Much has been made of the memorial service to Paul Wellstone, and many are outraged that it turned into a Democratic rally. Spare me the outrage: the man was a politician, see, and he died while fighting for the causes and party he cared for. You honestly believe that a memorial true to his memory, held in the midst of a campaign for which he gave his life, would not mention the election? If anything, the article states,

"Unlike a similar service two years ago for Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri, who was eulogized by then-President Clinton after his campaign plane crashed, most speakers tonight were friends and relatives of the dead."

Yes, the booing of Trent Lott was boorish and classless -- but I hardly think you can hold the Democratic Party responsible for the actions of a few members of the public, at a public memorial. To be honest, I think that conservatives are frustrated by the Dem's ability to rustle up celebrity retread candidates. Unlike the New Jersey situation, they can't accuse anyone of impropriety, so they are grasping onto anything they can.

Now, I don't feel that this is the case with the usually excellent OxBlog. I don't know Josh Chafetz personally, but I have been reading his blog for several months and I believe that he is genuinely outraged by the Wellstone rally (as opposed to being motivated by pro-Republican political concerns). That being said, I still feel that his outrage is misplaced. He writes,

"...[Wellstone] got a tacky campaign rally. His sons and supporters should be ashamed of themselves. And Minnesota voters should make it clear in 6 days that they expect a little more class than this. Let's see a backlash, please."

No, Josh, you ought to be ashamed. Wellstone's sons are the ones who lost their parents and sister -- what's more, unlike the vast majority of people who have faced personal tragedy, they have been forced to grieve in public. They can grieve any way they bloody well please, and if they feel their father's memory is best served by assisting Mondale's candidacy, then that is their right.

And as for this bit about Minnesota voters teaching the Dems a lesson about "class" -- this kind of thinking reminds me of the fuss over Al Gore's "heavy sighing" in the first presidential debate. Their country may be going to war; they might possibly face new terror attacks; their economy seems to be going nowhere fast. Rest assured that Minnesotans have more important things on their minds than whether the Dems are "nice guys". After all, it's not as if Mondale was up there booing Trent Lott.
We at Antidotal have been neglecting the American midterm elections -- there seems to be so much going on in the world at this juncture, and, let's face it, we're both Canadians. Though for all I know, Eric might be thinking about entering the green card lottery (jk!)

So with scant hours to go before polls open, I will attempt to correct this oversight. I initially approached this article on the California gubernatorial election with a fair amount of irritation -- it professes the same sort of logic that led to the Nader candidacy and, ultimately, George W. Bush's election. I guess I am a cynical pragmatist at heart, and I am quite willing to settle for the lesser of two evils. I don't think that any Nader 2000 supporter can look at that election's aftermath and be happy with the outcome of their "idealistic" vote. The sad part is that the Naderites went into the ballot box knowing exactly what the result of their protest would be.

Even worse, the practical purpose of the Nader campaign -- to lay the groundwork for a viable, progressive alternative to the Republicrats -- has gone nowhere. It's pretty easy to argue that from the liberal point of view, the Green Party phenomenon ended up on the wrong side of the cost/benefit ledger. (Though in fairness, the post-9/11 political terrain has hardly been easy going for progressives of any stripe.)

However, upon further reading of Cooper's article, I began to think that this California election is quite dissimilar to the 2000 presidential one. I don't profess to know much about California politics....but it if Gray Davis is really as unpopular as the piece suggests, and if the state legislature leans so heavily Democratic, it might just be worth putting up with four years of reactionary Bill Simon...if it forces the Democrats to produce a more palatable candidate in 2006. Short term pain...
Monday, November 04, 2002
Back after a short absence...I have been moving apartments, and the cable company gave me the runaround before finally setting up my Internet connection. But I am back online, with the added bonus of a spectacular view of Lake Ontario's frigid waters.

Toronto's NOW Magazine has a report on the U.S. military's interest in the combat uses of fentanyl. Yes, the same sedative used by Russian special forces in the infamous Moscow cinema raid. What's more, the primary target of fentanyl warfare may well be civilians:

"Both the UK and U.S. armed forces foresee increasing involvement in what are termed "military operations other than war," which feature "close interaction between the military and non-combatants." The U.S. Army's approach to such non-war operations and to sedative drug weapons was defined by the experience of U.S. forces at Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1992...The U.S. military is considering just putting future troublemakers to sleep. And that challenges a basic premise of international law on war, that non-combatant civilians should not be the targets of military attack."

And the Western world will be going to war against Iraq, in part to destroy Saddam's ability to wage chemical warfare? Riiiiiiiiiiight...