Plug me in

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Eric is still on the West Coast promoting Why We're Liberals -- you can catch him at Stacey's Bookstore in San Francisco at 12:30 today. His full tour schedule for the book is below. Meanwhile, this is George Zornick filling in again ...

The Washington Post has one-upped The New York Times today in creating the impression that the label of "liberal" is radioactive for any presidential candidate. The Post ran a four-column-wide story on A1, titled "In Obama's New Message, Some Foes See Old Liberalism." The story is based on the assumption that being called a liberal is a very bad thing -- a furtive, sweaty secret:

The double-barreled attack has presented Democratic voters with some persistent questions about Obama: Just how liberal is he? And even if he truly is a new kind of candidate, can he avoid being pigeonholed with an old label under sustained assault?

It goes on and on, quoting experts who say things like "Obama is vulnerable because he can point to no major area where he has broken with liberal orthodoxy." The news plug of the story is that, along with Republicans, even Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign "now argues that Obama is too liberal."

What's so strange about the story, and others like it, is that it never attempts to define liberalism, simply presenting it as a self-evident insult. The story does rattle off a list of Obama's specific policies, like "expanding the government's role in delivering health care, and [paying] for that by ending President Bush's tax cuts for the rich." But never mind or mention whether the public agrees with these policies -- they do -- the Post simply writes that these positions "would seem to conform to the Republican stereotype of a liberal." So, that's that.

Since the Post disconnects the word "liberal" from what it actually means to be a liberal, and from the general public support for that position, it runs into quandaries like this one: "Supporters also argue that the liberal tag will not stick to Obama partly because the public climate has shifted toward him amid widespread disillusionment with Republican policies." So, people do actually agree with the liberal policies Obama proposes ... somehow keeping the liberal tag from sticking. (Clinton's campaign is guilty of maintaining the same disconnect too -- as the story notes, her campaign says Obama is "too liberal" while at the same time attacking him, for example, on being too timid about using the government to provide health care).

Obama, too, is perpetuating the disconnect, refusing to call himself a liberal while simultaneously championing liberal polices. This is all such a confusing mess, someone should seriously just write a handbook that clears up for all these politicians and journalists just what it means to be a liberal ...

Via Tapped, we have this troubling New York Times report about another gap between the rich and poor, besides wealth, that is growing -- life expectancy. In the early 1980s, "people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group," the Times reports. By 2000, that difference increased to 4.5 years, and is continuing to grow, according to the story.

The reporter mentions possible explanations for the widening chasm in life expectancy, not the least of which being that "lower-income people are less likely to have health insurance, so they are less likely to receive checkups, screenings, diagnostic tests, prescription drugs and other types of care" and "people who are affluent and better educated are more likely to take advantage of [new medical] discoveries."

One would think the Times would then talk to policy experts who could explain why profit-driven private health insurance companies might not be an ideal way to deliver health care, or about the countries with government-supported health care that don't see such disparities in how long people can afford to live, or at least to expand a little on the growing number of uninsured and possible ways to address the problem. But unfortunately, as Tapped noted, only two think-tankers were quoted: one from the American Enterprise Institute and one from the Heritage Foundation. Both were in agreement that simply increasing "health literacy" is a solution to the problem -- people learning to make smart choices about their health -- the "more-pamphlets" approach to solving a health care crisis. Maybe the phone lines at Physicians for a National Health Program or the Center for Economic and Policy Research were down ...

Truth in advertising: The Fox Business Network is now running full-page ads proclaiming "Turbulent Times Call For A Credible Network." Note, at last count, the network only gets 6,000 viewers on weekdays.

From the stuff-we-should-really-be-paying-attention-to file: "A chunk of Antarctic ice nine times the size of Manhattan has suddenly collapsed, putting an even larger glacial area at risk. Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 220-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica. British scientist David Vaughan says it's the result of global warming. The rest of the Connecticut-sized ice shelf is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice and scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995."

From Eric Boehlert: You know something's wrong when even government-issued itineraries make the Beltway press want to revisit Clinton sex. Read more here.

The Why We're Liberals official tour:

Wednesday, March 26, 12:30 p.m.
Stacey's Bookstore
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's Books
Portland, OR

Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle
sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co.
Seattle, WA

Thursday, April 10, 7:45 p.m.
Scarsdale Public Library
Scarsdale, NY

Saturday, April 26, 2:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, April 30
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brett Walter
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Great work on the book -- it is informative (as usual), splendidly written, and above all it is energizing -- particularly for someone like me who is dangerously close to being paralyzed at the seeming hopelessness of being a "loser" liberal in our time. Keep it up, Eric -- we need leaders like you who are both intellectuals and street fighters.

Name: Paul Taylor
Hometown: Brentwood, CA

Dr. Alterman,

I want to thank you for your talk tonight at First Congregational; it was surely worth the hour's drive. Hopefully your audience was sizable and interactive enough. All the best with the sales and reviews of Why We're Liberals -- I anticipate another great read!

Enjoy your two Bruce shows.

Name: Ken Bilderback
Hometown: Gaston, OR

I approached this story from a slightly different angle: Why can't a liberal be a unifier? The basis of liberalism is embracing diversity. Liberalism is inherently unifying, which is why it's so scary to the conservative minority.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric,

Jonathan F. from CA ponders what the world would look like if neo-cons had their way.

If we take them at their word that they want to see "democracy" spread through the Middle East, two immediate problems arise.

First, (I was corrected for verbal sloppiness on this subject by a fellow named Dan on this very website -- thanks, Dan -- even if you did compare me to Condoleezza Rice) what do they understand the word to mean? By its actual definition, it amounts to what Madison called "substituting the tyranny of the many for the tyranny of the one". This is what "democracy" without a Bill of Rights accomplishes.

This brings us to the second problem. The majority of the nations the neo-cons wish to "convert" to "democracy" are Muslim. Despite protestations of people like the late Ms. Bhutto, there are the deepest imaginable problems trying to reconcile the cultural institutions and religious traditions of Islam with anything like a Western understanding of individual human rights.

Seclusion of women? Freedom of worship? Separation of Church and State? The list could go on, but contemplating even these issues should suffice to show what a pipe dream, if that, the neo-cons hopes ever were.

Some day it may happen. But it is not likely to happen quickly, and as for the idea that it can be imposed...well, we have some empirical evidence now, don't we?

Name: Rich Siegel
Hometown: Northbrook IL

Of course Osama bin Laden agrees with Senator McCain that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. It's more than 1,000 miles from where he is. In fact, he is probably saying to his close advisers, "Let's fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here."

Name: Cindy
Hometown: Irvine, CA

Thank you, Jonathan F., Dublin, Ca.

I have been asking everyone what the hell is the reason for staying in Iraq? What is the win he keeps talking about? Why won't Bush end his war? Hasn't he had his "win" several times and kept going?

My husband thinks it is a democracy in the Middle East but don't they already have that? The violence will never go away as long as the troops are there and the Iraqis don't get the chance to be their mediators. They will continue fighting like they have for the past several centuries. The only option is to leave and force them to make the changes they need to be an independent country.

Or could it be that Bush and Cheney still want the oil revenues? "So?"

Name: Joel D.
Hometown: Fairfield, IA

Michael Green of Las Vegas makes a very good point regarding the role "humorous" columnists have played in our political discourse in the past (and of course we can look back much further than his examples). For me, Donald Kaul's regular columns in the Des Moines Register were an important part of growing up in/to the politics of the early '70s; I'm sure Mike Royko had a similar effect for a generation of Chicagoans. While some blogs are definitely funny (Sadly, No! regularly makes me snort, chortle, hyuck, etc.), I'm having a hard time thinking of any (intentionally) humorous writers for newspapers that regularly delve into the politics of the day.

On a different subject, the last time I crossed the Mississippi from Illinois to Iowa I was surprised to see a row of barges that appeared arranged to spell out "I LOVE NOLA". Has Mr. Pierce finally found some spare time?

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