A Philosopher's Blog

Mad PACS: Money Road

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 25, 2015

“The road to the White House is not just any road. It is longer than you’d think and a special fuel must be burned to ride it. The bones of those who ran out of fuel are scattered along it. What do they call it? They call it ‘money road.’ Only the mad ride that road. The mad or the rich.”

-Mad PACs


While some countries have limited campaign seasons and restrictions on political spending, the United States follows its usual exceptionalism. That is, the campaign seasons are exceptionally long and exceptional sums of money are required to properly engage in such campaigning.  The presidential campaign, not surprisingly, is both the longest and the most costly. The time and money requirements put rather severe restrictions on who can run a viable campaign for the office of President.

While the 2016 Presidential election takes place in November of that year, as of the May of 2015 a sizable number of candidates have declared that they are running. Campaigning for President is a full-time job and this means that person who is running must either have no job (or other comparable restrictions on her time) or have a job that permits her to campaign full time.

It is not uncommon for candidates to have no actual job. For example, Mitt Romney did not have a job when he ran in 2012. Hilary Clinton also does not seem to have a job in 2015, aside from running for President. Not having a job does, obviously, provide a person with considerable time in which to run for office. Those people who do have full-time jobs and cannot leave them cannot, obviously enough, make an effective run for President. This certainly restricts who can make an effective run for President.

It is very common for candidates to have a job in politics (such as being in Congress, being a mayor or being a governor) or in punditry. Unlike most jobs, these jobs apparently give a person considerable freedom to run for President. Someone more cynical than I might suspect that such jobs do not require much effort or that the person running is showing he is willing to shirk his responsibilities.

On the face of it, it seems that only those who do not have actual jobs or do not have jobs involving serious time commitments can effectively run for President. Those who have such jobs would have to make a choice—leave the job or not run. If a person did decide to leave her job to run would need to have some means of support for the duration of the campaign—which runs over a year. Those who are not independent of job income, such as Mitt Romney or Hilary Clinton, would have a rather hard time doing this—a year is a long time to go without pay.

As such, the length of the campaign places very clear restrictions on who can make an effective bid for the Presidency. As such, it is hardly surprising that only the wealthy and professional politicians (who are usually also wealthy) can run for office. A shorter campaign period, such as the six weeks some countries have, would certainly open up the campaign to people of far less wealth and who do not belong to the class of professional politicians. It might be suspected that the very long campaign period is quite intentional: it serves to limit the campaign to certain sorts of people. In addition to time, there is also the matter of money.

While running for President has long been rather expensive, it has been estimated that the 2016 campaign will run in the billions of dollars. Hilary Clinton alone is expected to spend at least $1 billion and perhaps go up to $2 billion. Or even more. The Republicans will, of course, need to spend a comparable amount of money.

While some candidates have, in the past, endeavored to use their own money to run a campaign, the number of billionaires is rather limited (although there are, obviously, some people who could fund their own billion dollar run). Candidates who are not billionaires must, obviously, find outside sources of money. Since money is now speech, candidates can avail themselves of big money donations and can be aided by PACs and SuperPACs. There are also various other clever ways of funneling dark money into the election process.

Since people generally do not hand out large sums of money for nothing, it should be evident that a candidate must be sold, to some degree, to those who are making it rain money. While a candidate can seek small donations from large numbers of people, the reality of modern American politics is that it is big money rather than the small donors that matter. As such, a candidate must be such that the folks with the big money believe that he is worth bankrolling—and this presumably means that they think he will act in their interest if he is elected. This means that these candidates are sold to those who provide the money. This requires a certain sort of person, namely one who will not refuse to accept such money and thus tacitly agree to act in the interests of those providing the money.

It might be claimed that a person can accept this money and still be her own woman—that is, use the big money to get into office and then act in accord with her true principles and contrary to the interests of those who bankrolled her. While not impossible, this seems unlikely. As such, what should be expected is candidates who are willing to accept such money and repay this support once in office.

The high cost of campaigning seems to be no accident. While I certainly do not want to embrace conspiracy theories, the high cost of campaigning does ensure that only certain types of people can run and that they will need to attract backers. As noted above, the wealthy rarely just hand politicians money as free gifts—unless they are fools, they expect a return on that investment.

In light of the above, it seems that Money Road is well designed in terms of its length and the money required to drive it. These two factors serve to ensure that only certain candidates can run—and it is worth considering that these are not the best candidates.

LaBossiere UC 2016Since I have a job and am unwilling to be bought, I obviously cannot run for President. However, I am a declared uncandidate—my failure is assured.


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A Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 28, 2009

President Clinton was recently asked whether the “vast right wing conspiracy” that allegedly plagued his administration is still around or not. His view is that it is not as strong as it was, but is still virulent. Naturally, one might wonder whether there is such a vast conspiracy or not.

People do love conspiracy theories of this sort.  The left has this “vast right wing conspiracy” while the right has its own favorite: the liberal media conspiracy.  Such theories are very appealing to folks. First, it is appealing to the ego to think that your are so important that a vast conspiracy has risen up against you (or your cause). Second, it provides a useful scapegoat in case of failure (“it wasn’t me, it was the vast conspiracy”).  Third, conspiracy implies secrecy, so it is a difficult thing to disprove.

Fortunately, the application of a little reason can help sort out the matter.

First of all, the conspiracy cannot be all that vast. After all, if it were truly vast, then Obama would not be in office. Of course, it could still be fairly large (just not large enough to stop Obama or the Democrats).

Second, most right wingers seem to be very open about their dislike. If they are conspiring, they don’t seem to get the idea that a conspiracy is supposed to be secret.

Third, the idea that the conspiracy is vast certainly implies that it is a unified movement. However, the right wing does not seem to be unified to the degree required for it to count as a vast conspiracy. Sure, there are folks that are right wing and are up to various sneaky things, but I would not consider this a vast conspiracy. If the right were so well organized and unified that it could maintain a vast and secret conspiracy, it seems unlikely that the Democrats would stand a chance against it.

Does this mean that there are not well organized right leaning groups that act in secrecy against the Democrats? No, not at all. Clearly there are such groups. Just as there are left leaning groups that act in secrecy against the Republicans. However, there seems to be no vast conspiracy on either side. Or perhaps they are so good at conspiracy, that they have been able to hide their vastness and amazing abilities behind the illusion of smallness and fallibility.

Change? Well, the More Things Change…

Posted in Business, Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 26, 2009

Back in 2008, Antoin Rezko was convicted of corruption. This was a problem for Obama because Rezko had served him quite ably as a fund raiser. Folks might also recall Norman Hsu. He was also a major money source for Democrats and was convicted back in May for campaign finance fraud.  He also admitted to running a Ponzi scheme.

Last month another major fundraiser for Obama and other Democrats, Hassan Nemazee, also ran into some trouble over his financial adventures.

Nemazee was arrested in August on charges of bank fraud based on the allegation that he used phony documents to get up to $74 million in loans from Citigroup, Inc. Nemazee has clearly done quite well for himself-he was released on a bond guaranteed by his $20 million residence in Manhattan and his lesser home in Katonah, NY which is worth a mere $8 million.

It can, of course, be said that the  intensely money driven and corrupt political system invites such occurrences. After all, since running a major campaign requires vast sums of money, politicians are probably quite happy to accept funds without looking to closely at the source. Naturally, thinkers and moralists have been pointing out that money is a corrupting element so it is hardly a shock that folks with large sums of money often turn out to be less than honest. Also, given the view that politicians are corrupt and shady, it is not shocking to see them rubbing elbows with other shady and corrupt folks.

It might also be claimed that the politicians do not know about the misdeeds of these folks. On one hand, this seems likely. After all, a smart politician is going to steer away from someone who could cause them serious problems and hence would not knowingly become involved with someone doing illegal things. On the other hand, politician often do illegal things themselves and do knowingly associate with such folks.

In the case of Nemazee, he was one of the top fundraisers for the Democrats. He donated to Clinton and then to Obama. He also was involved in John Kerry’s failed bid for President. Prior to the disclosure of his misdeeds, the Democrats seemed to have only nice things to say about him. Now, they seem to be only saying “no comment.”

Interestingly, the mainstream media also seems to have taken a “no comment” approach so far-for which Jon Stewart has taken them to task. This sort of corruption is of significant importance. After all, Obama spoke about changing how things would work in politics, yet it seems that the same old game is still being played.

This incident and others like it show a clear need for politicians to do their homework when it comes to their fundraisers and sources of money. It also shows a need for greater attention to be paid to the money trails leading into politics.

I also believe that there needs to be a proper investigation of the folks who receive money from such corrupt fundraisers.  The fact that they are corrupt and willing to break the law suggests that they might well be up to other misdeeds. Perhaps they got something in return for the money. That is, of course, something that must be considered and investigated.

I would like to say that I am shocked by this revelation. However, I am inclined to think that a politician is green on the inside whether they are red or blue on the outside.

Women, McCain & Obama

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 20, 2008

Like the battle between Clinton and Obama, the general election in 2008 will be heavily fought along gender lines.

Not surprisingly, Hillary enjoyed extensive support among many female voters while she was contesting with Obama. This contest, as most will recall, often saw the Democrats lashing away at each other over race and gender. It was a bitter struggle and some would say that the battle was over whether race or gender would emerge with the medal for greatest victim. In the end, Obama won out. As with all civil conflicts, the Democratic party now contains many bitter and angry people.

Recently Carly Fiorina (of HP fame) was in Columbus, Ohio. She was speaking to the group Women for Fair Politics on behalf of John McCain. Although McCain’s actual positions on many issues puts him at odds with most Democrats, he is no doubt hoping to tap into the bitter anger of many female supporters of Hillary.

While the anger might fade by November, it is currently quite intense. Some of Hillary’s ardent supporters have accused Obama of attacking the Clintons in a way comparable to the infamous swift boat campaign against John Kerry. Naturally, there are also accusations of sexism being made.

Although saying so is sexist, I cannot resist saying that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This fury is best expressed by Cynthia Ruccia. In addition to cofounding the women’s group in question, she is alo a Democratic Party official in Franklin County. She said the following: “We need to elect John McCain in 2008″That’s the only way the Democratic Party will learn it can’t treat women this way.” (Newsweek, June 23 2008)

Such anger is not unexpected. Many women regarded Hillary as more than just another candidate. They saw her as an avatar of all American women. Hence, her defeat would be regarded by some not as Hillary losing, but of women being mistreated once again (presumably by the patriarchy). Naturally, it is interesting to speculate whether black Americans would have reacted in an analogous way, should Hillary have emerged the victor.

From a practical standpoint, there is the question of whether such bitterness will endure. Will Democratic woman vote for McCain in order to punish the Democrats and Obama for their perceived sins against women?

Obviously, the many female supporters of Obama will not do so. They obviously do not think that the Democrats mistreated women. The angry and bitter women who feel betrayed by the Democrats might be able to sustain their anger for months-especially if people like Fiorina keep stoking their bitterness. However, as the anger cools and they look more carefully at McCain’s positions (especially on the  issue of abortion), they might return to the Democratic fold and vote for Obama. After all, Obama has an excellent voting record in terms of the general values of most female Democrats.

Some women might decide that the price of having McCain elected is worth the lesson that will allegedly be taught to the Democratic party. Presumably, the Democrats are supposed to learn that they should not give the nomination to the candidate who wins the nomination process but to the female candidate. That doesn’t seem like a lesson that should be taught.

It can be replied that the lesson the women have in mind is that the Democrats should treat female candidates better. While Hillary did get attacked based on her gender, it must also be noted that Obama took shots because of his gender and his race.As such, the Democrats could learn some lessons in both these areas.

Also, it must be kept in mind that national politics is not an afternoon in the kiddy pool. National politics is a high stakes game and it can get a bit rough. As such, some hard shots are to be expected. Yes, I do think that people should be polite and ethical and hence believe that politics should be played better. But I am careful to distinguish between what I would prefer and what is likely.

Another question is whether Hillary was treated worse because she is a woman. People who think she was tend to point to the gender based attacks as evidence that she was attacked because she is a woman. Some even go so far as to see any attack on Hillary as being gender based. Presumably they reason that an attack on a woman must be motivated by her gender.

While gender based attacks would show that she was attacked as a woman, this still leaves room to wonder whether she was attacked because she is a woman.

When politicians run against each other, they almost always attack each other directly and indirectly. As such, the main reason Hillary was under attack was because she was in competition with Obama. If a man had been running so close against Obama, he would have been attacked as well.

It could be replied that the gender based attacks show a gender bias. After all, there were many non-gender issues that Hillary could be attacked on (such as the numerous Scandals during the Clinton administration).

This is, of course, a matter worth considering. Hillary did take numerous gender based attacks. However, most of these came from outside of the Democratic party. Ironically, many of those who launched such attacks are supporting McCain. So, if the angry women fall in behind McCain, they will be joining with some of the very people who launched gender based attacks on Hillary.

Women who are liberal on what are considered woman’s issues should rationally support Obama. After all, his views are in line with such views. McCain is a true conservative on such issues. However, bitterness and anger are not rational things and one must remember that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Positive & Negative Racism

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by mclfamu on June 12, 2008

Race has, obviously enough, long been a major factor in American politics. Obama’s success to date has served to show that American racial views have chanObamaged over the years. But, it also shows that race is still a major factor.

Traditionally, racism has been seen in negative terms. To be specific, racism of this sort involves regarding the race in question as inferior or lacking in some way. For example, a white racist would traditionally be seen as regarding non-whites as inferior or defective.

This sort of traditional racism has long been a factor in American politics. Minorities have long had a very difficult time in getting elected on the state and national levels because, many claim, of racism on the part of whites. This sort of racism has also come out in the contest between Clinton and Obama. Some of Clinton’s supporters, such as Ferraro, have made remarks about Obama’s race. Further, Clinton and her followers have been stressing how Obama cannot sway certain white voters-presumably because he is black.

Various polls have been taken about the effect of race in the context of Obama’s campaign. Not surprisingly, race is still an important factor. Whites who are concerned about race are less inclined to support Obama.

While people still admit to holding positions that could be taken as racist, one interesting fact is that people tend to lie on such surveys in order to appear to not be racist. While racism still remains, it can be taken as a good sign that even some racists feel obligated to lie about there racism. This indicates that they might feel a bit guilty about such views. At the very least, it shows that they know that most people do not approve of racism.

Racism can also be positive. By this I do not mean that racism is good. Rather, positive racism occurs when someone attributes good qualities to a person based solely on race It also occurs when someone supports a person because of his favorable views of the person’s race.

This sort of racism has also been around a long time, but is usually referred to in terms of race pride or ethnocentrism rather than positive racism. For example, when members of the Klan talk about the superiority of the white race, they are exhibiting positive racism.

Positive racism is having an impact in the current conflict between Obama and Clinton. Followers of Clinton have claimed that black people are supporting Obama simply because he is black-thus accusing them of positive racism. Meanwhile, Clinton seems to be quite willing to cash in on the positive racism of white voters.

Interestingly, the gender issue has helped to fuel racism. To be specific, the contest between Clinton and Obama has served to put gender against race in a contest over which is the greater source of victimhood. Gloria Steinhem claimed that “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life”, thus setting the stage for the conflict over race and gender. After all, if gender is the most restricting force, then it follows that race is not as important as gender. Because of this sort of view, many feminist supporters of Clinton were quite dismayed about the support Obama has been receiving from black women. Presumably, these feminists think that black women should be more concerned with gender than race. This attitude no doubt has led some, such as Ferraro, to make remarks that might be construed as racist.

So, on the downside, racism is alive and well in America. On the plus side, racism is being openly discussed and is being addressed. While it might be disheartening to see race in the news so much, it is actually good that it is being exposed to the light of inquiry.  After all, admission of a problem is the first step towards solving that problem.

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NARAL’s Endorsement

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 26, 2008

Newsweek recently had an article discussing how Obama and McCain are competing to get the support of women who support Hillary.

This matter is, of course, a fairly serious one. There are a significant number of women who support Hillary and they will be important votes in the upcoming election. Also of importance are groups that are primarily considered woman’s groups, such as the pro-choice group NARAL. This matter also raises various concerns about gender and sexism.

To focus the discussion, I’ll be considering the matter of NARAL.

Recently NARAL decided to endorse Barrack Obama. There reasoning seems to be that Obama’s pro-choice credentials are as good as Hillary Clinton’s and he is probably going to win the nomination. NARAL, like other pro-choice groups, is concerned about defeating McCain. Interestingly enough, many people believe that McCain is pro-choice when, in fact, he is (or claims to be) pro-life.

Hillary supporters were, of course, very dismayed by the NARAL endorsement. On the NARAL web site there have been some rather negative comments. Some of these, such as the one presented from “Kayla” in the Newsweek article, follow the usual pattern of resentment: an expression of anger followed by a threat to abandon the group.

From a rational standpoint, these angry responses seem to be rather foolish. After all, Obama and Hillary vote in essential the same manner in regards to pro-choice issues and both have 100 % ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Supporting Obama hardly seems to be be something that should cause NARAL members to feel “shame.”

Of course, from an emotional standpoint it makes complete sense. People just feel the way they do and just vent their feelings in ways that are only weakly influenced by reason. Those who are devoted to Hillary have sometimes come to regard Obama as the enemy and hence NARAL’s support of him is regarded as an act of shameful treason against Hillary. One obvious motivation for this feeling is that Hillary is a woman and hence it is not surprising that some women see her as entitled to the support of NARAL. After all, they might think, no man can be as pro-choice a woman and perhaps no man can understand it as a woman can.

In short, there certainly seems to be a strong element of sexism in the view that Hillary is somehow entitled to the support of NARAL and that NARAL’s endorsement of Obama justifies people in feeling shame and deciding to abandon their support of the organization.

It could be replied that NARAL’s endorsement of Obama is disrespectful because Hillary has a longer involvement with the group and hence has a great claim on their support. This motivation would, of course, not be a sexist one. It would be based on a reasonable principle that established loyalty should count and be rewarded. In this case, the young upstart Obama would be regarded as “stealing” the endorsement after only a few years serving the pro-choice cause. In contrast, Hillary has long been involved with the group and the pro-choice cause and hence had a right to expect NARAL’s endorsement.

From a political standpoint, NARAL runs the risk of alienating some of its supporters. But, it seems very likely that Obama will be the nominee for the Democrats and I suspect that those who are now miffed at NARAL will come back into the fold once he is the nominee. Unless, of course, they would rather express their anger by supporting the pro-life McCain in the fall. That would certainly teach NARAL to endorse a man.

The Price of Words

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on April 14, 2008

There is a hackneyed old saying that talk is cheap. This is generally true. For example, it is easy and free to talk about fixing the problems in American health care. Actually fixing the problems will most likely be neither cheap nor easy.

There are, however, cases in which talk is not cheap. There are times when it can be downright pricey. There are numerous cases of people, inside and outside of politics, paying a steep price for a few ill chosen words. Don Imus is a good example of this. George Allen’s “macaca moment” incident is also an excellent example. The most recent example is, of course, Obama’s remarks about the bitter working class and their apparent habit of clinging to God, guns, and a dislike of people who are different.

As this is being written, Obama and his minions are in spin control mode. They are, obviously enough, trying to minimize the damage done by these ill chosen words. Meanwhile, Clinton and her minions, seeing this open spot in Obama’s gleaming armor, have attempted to drive a barbed spear home. From this spear flies the banners of “elitist” and “out of touch.” It is their fond dream that this spear will stick and thus mark Obama. McCain and his minions have also joined the fray. It is politics as usual.

In addition to providing fresh meat for the media frenzy, this situation also raises various matters that are philosophically interesting. One of which is the extent to which a person should be held accountable for “ill chosen” words.

On one hand, there is the easy and obvious position: when a person speaks, then she is accountable for what is said. After all, unless a person is coerced or incompetent, then that person is responsible for what he did. Since speaking is an action, then it would follow that a person is responsible for what she says.

On the other hand, there is a view that requires more consideration. Another way to look at such a situation is to place yourself into that situation. Think of a time in which you spoke words that were ill chosen. In that situation you might have spoken what you truly believe. But, just perhaps, your words  did not reflect what truly lies in your heart and mind. In the former case, you should expect to be held accountable for what was said. But, in the latter case, you would no doubt want to be able to take back your words or to be at least given the chance to clear things up. If this is the case, then you should extend the same privilege to others and grant them the same chance.

Switching to look at the situation from the outside, think of cases in which people you know have said ill chosen words. While it is natural to respond to such words with anger, reason and sympathy move us to consider the matter more carefully. The main question that should be asked is this: do those words reveal the person’s true character? If they do, then there are good grounds for  holding the person fully accountable. If the words are not true to the person’s character and arose from some other factor, then the person should be given the opportunity to apologize and that apology should be accepted. After all, though the person spoke the words, they were not really his.

From a practical standpoint it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether such ill chosen words reflect what the person truly thinks. For example, does Obama really think what his words seemed to express? Perhaps he was just tired and frustrated and it simply popped out. After all, who among us has not had that sort of thing happen? Then again, maybe he spoke from his heart and thought his words would not be heard by those who would use them against him. Obama is the only person who truly knows for sure (and perhaps not even him-sometimes such words reveal something new to the person who spoke them).

Unfortunately, finding the answer to that key question is as important as it is difficult. Further complicating the matter is the fact that his words can, as words often do, be taken many ways. Someone who is pro-Obama would tend to see the words as being critical of people who cling to certain ideas and are unwilling to change. Someone less enamored of Obama would probably regard them as expressing a negative view of guns and religion. In any case, the true meaning of the words is rather important. Taking just the religious aspect, Obama has taken great pains to establish himself as a person of faith (as have the other candidates). If his remark reflects a dislike of religion, then this would seem to reveal that his piety might be a clever front calculated to win over voters. Of course, a person can be religious and still critical of both religion and how people use their faith. As such, his remark is consistent with both piety and a lack thereof.

One way to judge the character of the person who says such words is to see what they do afterwards. If the person’s actions go against the words they claimed were but an ill chosen slip, then there are grounds to believe the person (or be impressed by their ability to engage in damage control). If the person’s actions match the allegedly ill chosen words, then it would be reasonable to conclude that the words were not ill chosen. Instead, it would be reasonable to think that they fit all too well. In Obama’s case, the matter is still open.

Obama and the Bitter Working Class

Posted in Politics, Race, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on April 12, 2008

Yet another private remark by a politician has been brought to the attention of the public by the media. This time, it is Barack Obama. In a private conversation, Obama was discussing working class voters who are apparently resisting his attempts to get their support.

In regards to these folks, he sad that they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” When these words became public, he stated the obvious: they were ill chosen. Naturally, Hillary Clinton took advantage of the situation to accuse Obama of being “elitist and out of touch.”

This does show an obvious problem faced by all politicians-there are no private conversations. Anything a politician says, private or not, will most likely end up in the news at some point. To modify the old philosophical problem: if a politician says something controversial in the woods and there is no one to hear her (or him), will it create a scandal? The answer is: that is a trick question-someone is always around to hear him (or her).

Turning now to Obama’s remark, he was unwise to say such a thing. While he was directing his remarks towards a certain group of people, his remark will be seen by some (or even many) as expressing a negative view of gun ownership and religion in general. From a political standpoint, people who like guns and religious people are two politically powerful groups (although religious people do, obviously enough, do not form a monolithic political group). Saying something that will be seen as offensive is not a very effective political move. Further, Obama (like all the candidates) has been trying to cast himself as religious. Such a remark, though logically consistent with being a person of faith, certainly is not calculated to appeal to religious voters.

His remark is almost certainly not going to help him win over the “bitter working class voters.” Rather, it will probably make them more bitter.

Hillary Clinton’s remark does seem to have some plausibility. Taking the view that working class people are clinging to guns, God and (presumably) racism does seem like an elitist view. After all, it seems to assume that the working class is not bitter and hard to win over because of legitimate concerns held by the individuals. Of course, for Hillary to hit Obama with the charge of being an elitist who is out of touch is somewhat ironic, given her own situation. Most “high end” politicians tend to be out of touch elites. After all, their lifestyles, concerns and such are quite different from those of most “normal” people. While not impossible, it seems unlikely that multimillionaire senators are “in touch” with the majority of Americans in a meaningful way.

One final and obvious question is this: what effect will this remark have on Obama’s chances?

It will have a negative impact, at least initially. But, Obama has shown that he is quite adept at damage control. He handled the Wright situation quite effectively and suffered no lasting harm. In fact, his speech on race seems to have helped him in many ways. In contrast, Hillary’s tall tales about coming under sniper fire and her attempts at damage control actually hurt her. I suspect that Obama will be able to use his skills of persuasion to mitigate any damage this remark might cause. To be a bit cynical, some of his supporters probably share his views in this matter.

As You Sow…

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on March 21, 2008

My conservative friends, such as Magus71, have been watching the infighting between the Democrats with both joy and disgust. The joy is, of course, because they would prefer that the Democrats once again pull defeat from the jaws of victory. The disgust is because they regard the Democrats’ behavior and words as pathetic and hateful.

One interesting point that has come up in our discussions is that some of the fighting involves the very weapons “the left” forged for their past battles with their external foes. One prime example is the use of race and gender in attacks.

Over the years, I have seen (both in academics and in politics) a standard attack made against whites and males. The basic idea is that male success and white success arise because of special privileges that stem from being white or male. If you happen to be a white male, you get to enjoy a double bonus (this is presumably how white males are able to oppress white women).

It is evident that males and whites do have certain advantages (or perhaps another way to put it is that they are free of the shackles of discrimination that all too often hold back women and non-whites). However, it does seem unreasonable to claim that, in most cases, white males succeed primarily because they are white males. This matter is obviously controversial, so it is fortunate that I can simply bypass this dispute in the discussion at hand. What it important is that this attack was (consciously or not) honed and deployed as a standard means of attack and criticism. It has been, for example, used to explain the allegedly unjust success of white males as well as the failures of those who are not white males.

What is rather interesting is that recently Geraldine Ferraro wielded this sort of weapon against a fellow liberal-namely Barrack Obama. She claimed that, in essence, the cause of Obama’s success was due to his being a black male.

The “attack” on Obama being male was, obviously enough, “old school.” Being a man, obviously his success could be attributed to his maleness-as opposed to his ability and his efforts. After all, success and failure are presumably determined primarily by race and gender-or so we have so often been told.

What was new was that Ferraro made an attack based on race against a minority target: Obama’s success was being attributed, in part, to his blackness. This, then, was something new in the liberal camp-attributing unjustified success to blackness.

While the target was new, the method was, of course an old one. Magus71 has put forth the hypothesis that the liberals just cannot help themselves-they are so focused on race and gender that they simply think of the world primarily in these terms. Hence, when they go into a political battle, they break out race and gender based weapons and fire them at their foe. In the past, the foes had typically been white men. But now, Hillary’s foe is a black male and Obama’s foe is a white woman.

Naturally, Hillary and Obama have been careful not to attack each other based on race and gender. As the Ferraro case shows, their supporters have not been so restrained. In Obama’s case, some of his supporters have attacked Hillary for being white and for being a woman.

These attacks have shown that race and gender are still very serious problems in America. Hateful remarks based on race and gender are merely the surface manifestations of what is no doubt a much deeper and serious problem. What is rather ironic is that so many of these remarks are arising from the ranks of those who most profess to be dedicated to justice and equality.

This certainly raises an interesting question about why there is this tension between their professed values and their actual behavior.

One possible answer, as noted above, is that “the left” is so obsessed with race and gender that it is simply a reflex to define things in that manner. So, Ferraro strikes at Obama being a black man. Wright strikes at Clinton based on race.

Another possible answer is that “the left” knows that race and gender are powerful tools and hence chose to deploy them. Such is the concern for power, that they are willing to attack each other.

A third possible answer is that they are pushed to such behavior by their emotions. When people are moved by strong emotions, their powers of reasoning are diminished. Hence, the most ardent supporters of Hillary and Obama might be overcome by emotions and hence lash out in a hateful manner.

A fourth possibility is that the individuals in question actually are racists and sexists who are acting in accord with these beliefs. This has some plausibility. Attacks on people because they are white are just as racist as attacks on people because they are black or Hispanic or Asian, or whatever. Attacks on people because they are men are just as sexist as attacks on people because they are women. Given the way whites and males are often regarded by “the left” it should be no shock that there are racist and sexist elements in the left. They probably do not think of themselves as such-after all, their anger is directed at whites and men (and mostly white men). But, an addiction to prejudice is hard to control and tends to spread. It is but a small step from being critical of white males to being critical of black males. It is also but a small step from being critical to white males to being critical of white females. Hence, the hateful attacks being shot back and forth among the troops supporting Hillary and Obama should not be unexpected. There have long been racists and sexists in the ranks-but now they are shooting at each other.

Sins of the Past

Posted in Ethics, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on March 15, 2008

After members of the media were subjected to a sarcastic attack on Saturday Night Live, Obama has been getting more negative media attention. To be specific, people in the media have been putting considerably more effort into digging into his past in order to find dirt.

Not surprisingly, various potential problem areas have been found. Some examples include:

His involvement with Rezko. This was brought up in the past and Obama claims that he made a boneheaded mistake by being involved in such dealings.

It was brought to the attention of the public that his pastor, Rev. Jerimiah Wright, delivered a rather controversial speech in response to 9/11. Obama has recently denounced statements made by his pastor regarding 9/11 and his claim that blacks should denounce the United States.

His association with 1960s radicals has been making the news.

No doubt, more such things will be found and presented in the press. Also, the other candidates are getting the same sort of treatment as well. While there is a certain pleasure to be gained from hearing of such misdeeds, the question arises as to whether the “sins of the past” should be held against candidates (or people in general) today.

On one hand, people should be held accountable for their past actions and decisions. Just because a person repudiates what was done or offers an excuse, it does not follow that s/he is off the hook. Further, what a person has done and said affects the person s/he is now. So, for example, the person Obama is now was affected by his association with Rezko and his involvement with his pastor. Likewise for the past of Hillary and McCain.

When someone runs for President, they try to clean up their past and say how they have changed in regards to past problems. Of course, the question arises as to how much the person has really changed. Perhaps, as some would suggest, the alleged “change” is a calculated move to get elected (much as Romney “changed” when he decided to run for President).

On the other hand, people do change and do learn from the mistakes of the past. In my own case, I made many mistakes in my life that I learned from. I infer that many other people have also learned from past errors. I also infer from observing other people, especially people I have known for a long time. They also made mistakes and changed in ways that made them better.

So, when (for example) Obama “categorically” denounces what his pastor said in response to 9/11, perhaps he is telling the truth. Perhaps when Hillary and McCain do similar things, they too are telling the truth.

It is, of course, hard to tell. The proof lies in the doing. Naturally enough, a clever person can fake it long enough to get elected. Knowing the truth behind the words is a hard thing and one that will cost us if we fail to do so.