Though I wear proudly my advanced degree (I am a Doctor of Jewish Prune Juice), I never expected that I myself would ever be the subject of any academic study by a Ph.D, unless those letters stood for “Pretty Hip Dude.’
But I’ve been proven wrong.
For your amusement, I am linking you all to the title page of “Blogging the Unspeakable: Racial Politics, Bakhtin, and the Carnivalesque” by Polly Bugros McLean and David Wallace, published by The University of Southern California Annenberg School’s “International Journal of Communication.”
From that page, you will find a PDF containing the actual document, which runs 20 pages.
According to the Abstract:
“The 2006 Democratic primary in New York’s 11th Congressional District saw opposition from the blogosphere to David Yassky, a White legislator running for election in a district created under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s account of carnival, this study uses a qualitative approach to examine how the racial discourse was constructed on two political blogs within a carnivalesque framework. At the same time, this study notes the uniqueness of the discourse between the White bloggers as well as between the Trinidad-born bloggers and their White counterparts. While the bloggers injected themselves into the spectacle of the campaign hoping to impact the election, there were inherent limitations in this new medium.”
The bloggers are myself and Rock Hackshaw (of Room 8), EnWhySea Wonk and Maurice Gumbs (then still affiliated with Room 8), and Michael Bouldin, Mole333, Liza Sabater, Dan Millstone and Rwallnerny (then all affiliated with the dearly departed Daily Gotham [alev ha-sholem]).
And I thought Bakhtin was what you put on booboos.
But the only booboo here is that some supposedly reputable journal allowed itself to be suckered into publishing this journey into the surreal. .
Frankly, except for me, all the bloggers who responded to my contact are delighted, feeling that it affirms their value.
This, in spite of the fact that to a person, we all think Rwallnerny is perhaps the worst political writer of all time.
The writers are not without some points:
Political blogging bears a striking resemblance to elements of Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of carnival culture. For Bakhtin, carnival culture belongs to the traditions and ritual practices of medieval folk culture, manifesting itself through ritual spectacles (carnival pageants, comic shows of the marketplace), comic verbal compositions (parodies both oral and written), and various genres of billingsgate (curses, oaths, popular blazons) Carnival is a time of laughter and openness leading to a type of communication that is aimed at creating an “atmosphere of freedom, frankness and familiarity”. The carnival, therefore, provides “a place for working out, in a concretely sensuous, half-real and half-play-acted form, a new mode of interrelationship between individuals”). This essay argues that the blog is the 21st-century carnival square—the marketplace—where people mingle, negotiate, laugh, tease, chastise, and organize while asserting their values and ideologies. Like Bakhtin’s carnival, the blog “brings together, unifies, weds, and combines the sacred with the profane, the lofty with the low, the great with the insignificant, and the wise with the stupid”. It is precisely this mix of people participating in an online community relatively free of “officialdom”—across social strata where the borders between actors and spectators are blurred and where praise and abuse operate side by side—that blogging permits. For political bloggers, entering the virtual square, whether masked or unmasked, provides a liberating experience and a rebirthing of political engagement.
Characteristic of Bakhtin’s carnival is a world turned “upside down” or “inside out,” where life becomes unpredictable. It is in this carnivalesque atmosphere that bloggers can unmask the sacred and subvert what is authoritative, rigid, or serious through discussions and opinion postings. Moreover, verbal etiquette and discipline are relaxed, and indecent words and expressions may be used. However, Bakhtin cautions that the “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because the very idea embraces all people”. Because people live in the spectacle culture of the carnival, there are no passive spectators—writers, readers, blurkers are all active participants. Yet, as social actors [they] are rarely “innocent” and social roles are rarely fixed and shared in any simple fashion. Instead, social actors are usually driven by complex interests, which lead them to push and pull at one another at every next turn.
In this vein, marked by an unmanaged social gathering across geographical space that is free, open, nonhierarchal, rarely neat, and user-driven, bloggers can turn U.S. cultural politics upside down by tackling the unspeakable subject of race.
Or, as one Room 8 blogger puts it:
“Gatemouth is the man New York politicos love to hate. An angry, acerbic, absurdist, contrarian, pragmatic, partisan, neo-liberal, Bill Clintonite, New Democrat, with an intolerence for sacred cows and received wisdom, a love-hate relationship with politics as usual, and an alarming tendency to drop bad puns, obscure political history and esoteric cultural references.
Picture, if you can, Michael Kinsley trying to channel Groucho Marx while overdosing on Viagra, stuffed derma, and scratchy old jump blues 78s. Watch New York politics realistically portrayed as the theme park you always suspected it was. Then watch Gatemouth spoil it by paying too much attention to the man behind the curtain.”
The authors also are very prescient in describing how the white bloggers, with their focus on Chris Owens and David Yassky, missed the real story of the race (Clarke's eventual victory), though they go too far in saying that only Wonk did not write her off.
While it is true that only Wonk supported Clarke, Rock Hackshaw always considered Clarke a strong candidate from the start, and I myself made a few comments along the way acknowledging her strength, saying at one point that if Owens was so concerned about holding the seat for a black, he himself should leave the race because he was the weakest of the black candidates.
But much of the time the writers seem intent of distorting our points, sometimes going out of the way to take them from their context, and make us into something we are not:
As Mole noted “I find it very amusing. We are caricatures of ourselves.”
We are fit into boxes, and not even accurate ones. Wonk, who is as Puerto Rican as Owens is black, is portrayed as being white. My home page, clearly meant to be the equivalent of vaudeville (or, if you prefer, “carnival”) is portrayed as deeply revealing of my character.
Meanwhile, my real issues with Owens—the issues a Clinton Democrat would have with a very leftie “progressive”—are completely ignored. As a review of my actual pieces would confirm, I believed (as did my pro-Owens antagonists, Mole and Bouldin) that we were engaged in a war for the very soul of the Democratic Party; in my case, I believed Owens embodied the enemy—as Rabbi Hillel said, “everything else is commentary, and though I criticized Owens (and all the other candidates) about other matters, that was at the heart of my coverage.
None of that comes though here, casting my work in a very false light.
The result is a very different portrait of me than what one would find from the totality of my writing on this race the authors have claimed to have read through multiple times.
So, in the interest of correcting the record, I give my own version of the race, as covered on the blogs.
What is here includes 1) my own pieces posted here at the time (leaving out a few tangential pieces, like Owens’ proposals to reform the Brooklyn Democratic Party, and the efforts of the candidates to pack the membership of political clubs), 2) some of the original comments posted from threads on those pieces, which no longer exist, but which I had saved, 3) things I added to the originals later, mostly culled from comments threads from here, Daily Gotham, Politicker, Daily Politics and elsewhere (which were also seen by the authors, since at the time they still existed), 4) a couple of pre-Room 8 threads from Politicker, 5) clarifying comments in parenthetical boldface added to the original pieces, sometimes drawn from the threads here or elsewhere, and 6) a few gap-filling narrative sections, written for a book I never finished, or put together especially for this piece, often drawn from threads I had saved or gathered from elsewhere.
I will note that, while the authors may be correct that we did not have much influence on the election results, the evidence would indicate that some of us did quite a bit to sway coverage in the mainstream media.
This is my recall of the 2006 Democratic Primary for Congress in CD-11 as portrayed on the blogs from my vantage point. It surely was a “carnival,” but one very different from that portrayed by the authors.
Congressional Notes — February 15, 2006
BEN SMITH: Daily Gotham rounds up the race to replace Major Owens in the 11th. [Note: The piece no longer exists on the web- ]
GATEMOUTH: The Gotham piece (written by some jerk who calls himself Mole333) is sci-fi verging on masturbation fantasy. We are supposed to believe that there is a plot for Andrews and Perry to drop out so Yassky can become the machine candidate? The last thing Yassky wants (unless it's for DeBlasio to drop in) is for Andrews and/or Perry to drop out. And while Yassky might want de facto support from Lopez, but he'd never want open support, and in any event wouldn't get it. The piece would be a good commercial for Chris Owens, if it weren't so stupid.
ROCK: Who wrote that piece on the 11th Congressional race ?
Fire the writer please!!
One of the worst political pieces ever written.
Yassky's slim chance lasts as long as the field stays large . If there are four or more he has a legit shot , but two or three and he is dead man running.
Chris, Nick and Yvete will all have money problems. Chris and Yvette will run irregardless. Nick may fold real soon. Carl may raise the money but has some "connection" issues. Maybe because she is the only female Yvette just might pull this off( there are other good / legit reasons why she can win of course). Being the only female must be good for at least 5 percentage points here , no?
Chris may be the best on the issues with Yvette and Yassky close runner-ups.
Nick and Carl are yet to show us that they do care about public policy.
To your marks. Get set. GO!!!!!
The Owens race is truly an open race for all political handicappers. Here are the latest odds ( supplied by the "rockman" ) :
Machine Politics — February 16, 2006
BEN SMITH : Over at Daily Gotham, a blogger argues [Note: the piece no longer exists on the web] that David Yassky can't win in Brooklyn.[I’ve always wondered why, if Bouldin was so certain that Yassky’s efforts would come to naught, he was so obsessed with impeding them] How do you reach this conclusion? By vastly overstating the effectiveness (existence?) of the "Brooklyn black political machine."
He writes: "…there are currently two races, one open, one very much behind the scenes. The first is the primary, the second is the race to see who is the most promising African-American contender. Should Yassky win the primary, which is possible, if unlikely in my view, he will face the winner of the second race.
GATE: How stupid can the writer get? The 2nd primary must take place before the 1st primary to have any effect. Otherwise what ballot line shall the winner of the 2nd race run on?
Republicans Working Families, Conservatives and Independence will all select their choices before the Dem primary, unless they have primaries themselves; either way, one doubts they would unite on the same horse, or that the "machine" spoken of could control this result so that there'd be only one viable black candidate coming out of such a process. If they could do that, they wouldn't need to do it at all; they'd just do it before the Democratic primary, and avoid the challenge of winning such a general in what is likely to be a heavily Democratic year.
Moreover, thanks to the recent Federal Court decision [Subsequently reversed by the US Supreme Court], the opportunity for the other parties to designate a placeholder who could later be nominated for a Supreme Court judgeship has probably gone out the window. Unless they nominate a candidate who has property in Ireland (it has been done) substituting later would seem to be out of the question. Finally, independent (not Independence) line petitions must be circulated before the Dem primary occurs, and, unlike minor parties, have a high signature threshold, making them very susceptible to challenge. Plus, how do you keep everyone from filing them?
While the writer's theory could work theoretically, in reality it runs into the roadblock of both election NY election law and personal ambition.
BOULDIN: Well, as the author of the offending piece, perhaps I can add whatever my substantial and acknowledged degree of ignorance allows.
First, I stand by the conclusions reached in this piece, based on conversations I've had with various elements in NY-11. Based on those conversations, I do assume that there will be a black compromise candidate on the November ballot. Who that is going to be, I do not know, despite the claim that this piece carries water for Owens, who isn't mentioned.
Second, I'll acknowledge a degree of inexactitude: 'machine' should have read, perhaps, 'machines', in the plural. I'm referring to the various fiefdoms out there, which are quite vital, and which I believe will all pull in one direction come November.
Third, to be clear, I have no personal animus towards Yassky; he's a fine legislator, and would be a good Rep. That said, I don't think he'll be elected, for the reasons I laid out. I get a strong sense that there is resentment of what is characterized as effrontery by Yassky to run for a seat in a district carved out to send a black person to Congress. One does not need to share that analysis to see that the voters there would be very open to it.
Erik Engquist: As to the notion that Yassky could win the primary but lose to a black candidate in the general election, that is absurd. The danger for Yassky, if he wins, would be facing a single black candidate in 2008
The 11th CD: A Guide For the Perplexed (The First in a Series of at Least Three Parts)
The race for Congress in the 11th Congressional District works best when viewed as a morality play, allowing the audience to comfortably weigh their own competing values against one another, while pondering their irreconcilability. At the end of such a play, one can walk out satisfied that one has exercised their intellect, and then one can discuss it for hours on end over a double latte or a crisp white pinot, without ever actually feeling obligated to convert one’s conclusions into an actual course of action.
The race for Congress in the 11th CD works worst when viewed as an actual election, because once the curtain falls, one is obligated to actually vote for one of the candidates.
Christopher Owens does have his points. While, at times, he seems to be reciting a catechism of the politically correct, at least it appears that he has some system of belief which he can actually apply to each new situation and use to come up with a rational answer. That is an important consideration.
Compare Ed Towns, who has no belief system, allowing him to vote to allow a land war in Kosovo, while voting against supporting an air war, a combination which made no sense, except for its expediency at that moment. By contrast, Chris Owens appears to own a moral compass.
Who among the others possess this quality? Carl Andrews appears to be in the Towns mode; just as shrewd, and probably smarter, but if there is a moral compass working together with that intelligence, the best one can say about it is that he's not yet had the opportunity to display it.
Nick Perry does have a moral compass. Unfortunately, the best one can say about it is that he's promised not to use it. An admitted social conservative with a religious bent, he states he will nonetheless put aside his beliefs if his constituents prefer otherwise. Would that we could trust him on that; but even a pol as personally honest as Peter Vallone could not be trusted to be maintain his insincerity in the face of a a contrary belief system.
A devout Catholic and social reactionary, Vallone's ambitions ultimately led him to become a timid supporter of gay rights and choice, but while he mouthed the right words, he could never really dance to the music. When carefully prepped, Vallone regurgitated his liberal talking points without passion, but if something new came up, he fell back on what he really felt; at one point in his 1998 governor's race, he was caught off guard during an interview and came out for school prayer. That was the real Peter Vallone, and the real Nick Perry isn't too different in his views.
While one can't conceive of Carl Andrews taking an unpopular vote as a matter of conscience (although one can picture him doing so as part of a deal), the thought of Perry taking such a vote is conceivable, and somewhat frightening. And not every socially reactionary vote Perry might have the opportunity to cast might prove so unpopular either.
Yvette Clarke, at best, seems a work in progress. She may yet evolve into something more substantial, or she may become a political strumpet, like her mother [Una Clarke, her daughter’s predecessor on the City Council, fobbed upon the public by Major Owens in a race against Andrews and Maurice Gumbs (in 2006, a Room 6 blogger); no bad deed going unpunished, Una later challenged Major and would have won if Major had not been saved by white voters in Brownstone Brooklyn, a result later replicated when Yvette challenged Major. In 2006, Una was serving as the token Caribbean George Pataki displays in his store window].
This leaves David Yassky. While less predictable than Owens, he evinces clear evidence of holding a set of guiding principles, as well as a formidable intellect which allows him to apply those principles with an often refreshing lack of allergy to nuance. There have been times when he's been politically daring (taking some Eva Moskowitz type positions on the schools).
But, at other times Yassky almost resembles a wonkish Carl Andrews; the guy who comes up with the wonkishly clever rationale to explain whatever deal was made the night before. Nonetheless, while the questions about Yassky’s (and Owens’) character deserve a piece of its own (forthcoming), let us just stipulate here that, flaws and all, Yassky, in many ways, appears to be among our best and brightest.
Yassky’s been accused of being too friendly to developers, but the actual record shows a realist bent on maximizing community benefits while minimizing bad impacts. The Williamsburg waterfront rezoning was initially offered to the community by Mayor Bloomberg as the only way to avoid a power plant. When other electeds jumped to support it immediately, Yassky held out for concessions on affordable housing, and backed the plan only after substantial modifications.
Politically correct? No; but, perhaps the best deal for the community. On Atlantic Yards, Yassky is also trying to split the difference, working toward a “mend it, don’t end it” type compromise, which in the end is probably the best the community can do. Of course, on that issue, the community also needs Owens-type opponents to move the proponents to the bargaining table (although they probably could do without Owens' silly, and probably legally dubious, call for rigid quotas, which are almost a bad parody of affirmative action).
The question is, who would do better in Congress? Owens could probably settle in more comfortably, not having to worry about a race-based crusade every two years, while Yassky's life would be a constant scramble, possibly impeding real achievement in Washington. Yet, it is Yassky who appears to have a better idea of what to do on the job.
Owens' proposals often have only the faintest acquaintance with reality. Take his proposed constitutional amendment (one of about half a dozen listed on his website) to require the government to guarantee affordable housing to all. Ratification would only require two-thirds of both houses and three quarters of the state legislatures. If such support were possible, we'd actually have enough support in Congress to already have a real housing program in place. One can always depend upon Chris Owens to propose a slogan; Yassky might actually come up with a real proposal with some possibility of enactment.
And, let's talk about impeachment. It is infuriating the House impeached Clinton over a (apparently mediocre) blowjob, but that Bush can shred the constitution at will with no response. But, the House had a Republican majority then and now.
Yassky recognizes this, and has proposed that the House Democrats constantly introduce Resolutions of Inquiry onto the floor and force House Republicans to vote them up or down; this would put many Republican marginals in the position of choosing between their political health and that of the President. Those votes would become issues in local races, and might cause some seats to change hands, making real debate on censure or impeachment possible in the next Congress.
Owens made fun of this strategy, saying that impeachment can't wait until the Dems have a majority. Either he's pandering (which I sort of respect) or he actually believes this (which would render him a marginal figure like his father). But, Yassky clearly understands how Congress works, and I'm not sure Owens (Sr. or Jr.) does.
Certainly, Owens, although not exactly a product of the working class, has a better understanding of the district, and might be a better Congressman for the majority of his constituents (although his dad is pretty pathetic). But, Yassky offers the possibility of being a better Congressman for the country. As Rabbi Hillel once said, "the rest is commentary".
Or, would be, if Yassky wasn’t white.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: MILKING THE TURKEY
I once watched a member of the State legislature testify before a City Council committee in support of a resolution urging the State Legislature to pass a particular piece of legislation. What a grand circle jerk!
Similarly, the Owens/Yassky debate on the proper method of handling Bush accelerated into heights of the ridiculous when Yassky’s smart idea about Resolutions of inquiry went down like a lead balloon at candidates forums, where the faithful demanded half baked red meat. Thoughtfulness then went out the window as Yassky then served up some empty calories by introducing a meaningless City Council Resolution in favor of censure. .
Typically, Owens' response upped the ante while lowering the IQ, as he argued that Yassky should have introduced a resolution supporting impeachment instead of censure. Apparently, Owens doesn't mind that Yassky is masturbating on public time; he just thinks that David's milking the wrong dick.
And those are the two smartest guys in the race.
Does Yassky Fail the Paper Bag Test? (2nd part in a series of at least three)
As both readers of my blog know, I recently concluded that only two candidates for Congress in the 11th CD, David Yassky and Christopher Owens, met the minimum standards to be fit for service, but while I found Yassky more promising, I was reluctant to support him because he is a white candidate in a black majority district. I sort of feel ashamed about this, but my reluctance to support him is a pragmatic judgment, not a moral one.
Yassky's whiteness is going to hang from him like a target and every two years he is going to face another racial crusade. This presents several problems. The first is that it does little for community comity. The ugliness of this race has already been damaging to community relations in Brooklyn, and will become more so as the primary approaches. This animosity is fueled by other candidates (especially Chris Owens), free lance community opportunists, and parasitical institutions of the Fifth Estate like Ed Weintrob’s repulsive collection of Brooklyn Paper rags.
I once was walking on the Promenade when I stepped onto a copy of the Brooklyn Paper. Luckily, there was some dogshit laying around or I’d have had nothing to wipe my shoe with. Ed Weintrob is a racial arsonist willing to thrown gasoline at anyone he thinks might be lighting a cigarette in the near future.
Recently, Weintrob decided to create a race controversy based on the idea that a music program at a school in Carroll Gardens was there only to serve the white students (the non-white students were deemed to be in need of “basic education”) Mr. Weintrob, have you ever heard of John Coltrane, Lester Young, Charles Mingus, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, George Clinton, Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, Sly Stone, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, or T-Bone Walker?
But, Weintrob (and his enforcer, Gersh Kunzman) is far more obsessed with making the Yassky campaign the front page controversy during any week when Bruce Ratner disappoints him by doing nothing outrageous. The more Weintrob and the other racial arsonists say there’s a fire, the more true it becomes.
Some of these stories have some basis in fact, although it’s often exaggerated. Other stories are almost out of whole cloth. The fact that Yassky raises more money from white Brownstone areas of the Congressional district than the other areas might be related to the fact he represents those white areas on the City Council. I’ve never seen Weintrob complain that Nydia Velazquez’s money comes from the same people. None of this is necessarily Yassky’s fault, but electing him will certainly bring Brooklyn more of the same, and many would just rather avoid this.
Hard to blame them.
There’s a touch of opportunism in Yassky’s candidacy which has echoes elsewhere in his record, and which I intend to explore in more detail at a future date. But, the real ugliness on the race issue has been the good cop/ bad cop game played by Chris Owens.
Chris desperately wants Yassky out of the race so he can pick up the lion’s share of the white Brownstone vote. Chris Owens’ usual pose is to stand silent trying to look innocent (but barely suppressing his laughter) while Major pretends to accidentally blurt out the darnedest things; it is easily the most unhealthy father-son realtionship since Nice Guy Eddie in Reservior Dogs.
When Major accused Yassky of trying to “colonize” the district, the press missed the point, focusing on the fact that Yassky lived a block and a half outside the district. Nonsense; Tracy Boyland lived outside the district in 2004, and no one cared (not even Major). Major would consider Yassky a colonizer if Yassky lived next door to him. The real fact is that Brownstone Brooklyn has been sliced and diced among three different Congressional districts to render it politically impotent. In every reapportionment since 1980, more and more of the area has been moved into minority districts to boost their population, but only in careful increments to make sure brownstoners can never elect one of their own (ironically, it was these white voters who saved Major’s tail in 2000 and 2004) . Yassky is not a colonizer; Yassky has been colonized.
Why should a talented pol unquestionably accept the idea that his skin color, because it differs from that of the majority in a particular political entity, permanently disqualifies him for national office (unless he runs in Staten Island)?
Barack Obama never brought that argument, and as a result, he’s a US Senator.
However, electing a white Congressman under such circumstances ensures a member who’s preoccupied with all the wrong things. While all members of Congress must run for re-election, most don't face constant primaries, so they can eventually settle in and actually accomplish something productive. Despite his capabilities, Yassky’s race will likely be a serious impediment to his productiveness.
Yes, people like Marty Markowitz survived representing districts far blacker than the 11th. But, they learned to walk the walk. Does anyone really believe that Yassky is ready to stand in front of an all-black crowd wearing an ice cream suit while hosting a gospel concert? I can’t imagine Yassky would find this fun, but the thought of him attempting to fake da funk is hilarious; Yassky's idea of an evening of African-American music is probably a joint bill of Tracy Chapman and Sweet Honey in the Rock.
It is also to be preferred that a member of Congress have some empathy for his constituency. Sad to say, but one has to be black to know what it is like to be black. This can be overcome; one can have empathy for poor and working people by having suffered some level of poverty and/or deprivation. I’m on the record for my less than esteemed opinion of Marty Markowitz, but it cannot be denied that Markowitz, a child of poverty, has no trouble feeling empathy for his African-American constituents despite his melanin deprivation.
By contrast, Yassky is a child of pure privilege. He can barely feel empathy for the plight of the Upper-Middle-Class. Can he truly understand where the majority of 11th CD residents are coming from?
Chris Owens is hardly a child of poverty. One look at him makes it quite clear that Owens has never missed a meal, but I'd bet he’s been passed by a taxi while trying to hail a ride. But, his campaign has been trying to have it all ways on race, pretty much telling audiences that his being black makes him more qualified to hold the seat, while running a full page on his website about his red diaper baby Jewish mom, complete with shots of little Chris at a seder.
Query: If being black makes Owens more qualified than Yassky, does this mean that Andrews, Clarke and Perry are twice as qualified as Owens? Just asking.
However, one cannot call Owens’ pitch race baiting, since he makes the same case in front of white audiences, at least those in the Brownstone belt (I think he may understand that white guilt does not play a big role in the politics of places like Midwood). I think that this pitch may be working on many, and I’m not sure it isn’t haunting the back of my mind.
Yet, Yassky is still the smartest, most knowledgeable, and best on the issues. In a better world that would be game, set and match. But, in a better world we would not be debating the politics of race (and in a much better world, we might not be debating politics at all).
ROCK: You hardly (if ever) discuss the Caribbean-American factors in this race.
Gatemouth: Point taken Rock, but the Caribbean thing is largely under the radar if you're not a part of that community, and I'm not. I think Yvette's potential is highly underestimated, but Perry splits that ethnic vote. Her real hole card should be gender [Perhaps not the best choice of words], but she needs to raise more money if she wants to reach her potential among the sort of voters (many white) for whom this would be an important factor.
Finally, the factors I find interesting just don't apply to the Caribbean candidates. I find Perry somewhat repugnant in his personal views (though he is not without his charm), while Yvette has never proven herself to be anything but an empty pants-suit of suspect lineage. Yvette Clarke may yet pull out a victory, but it won't be with my vote.
EnWhySeaWonk: This is the most interesting race this year because it balances qualifications against what "feels" right. The most qualified candidate in perfect color-blind world doesn't quite "seem right" for this seat. This doesn't mean he can't do a great job representing the district, though and it's democracy–everyone has a right to run.
I don't think you've explored the fact that Chris is the least qualified person in this race. He has zero legislative experience and has never been in elected office (school board doesn't count–there was no actual office). Chris is a nice and smart guy and would probably be better than his dad, but his qualifications come down to one word–his last name. He would not be a serious candidate if he was not the son of the incumbent.
Although I have qualms about supporting David for all the reasons you've discussed, he is the most qualified. Not only does he have major (no pun intended) legislative experience as a member of one of the largest legislative bodies of this country, he was a congressional aid to Chuck and actually wrote parts of bills that are now federal law. Even the other legislators in the race have never lived in Washington, worked on the Hill and has first-hand experience working for the body he is running for. He would de facto be more effective on day one than any of the others. That said, I was born in this district and lived there for two decades, with Shirley and Major as my reps. Although I don't think Major has not been effective, it seems totally bizarre that a priviledged white guy could win this thing, even if he's far-and-away the best candidate.
Gatemouth: I don't buy your argument that Owens' lack of legislative experience makes him less qualified than Andrews, Clarke and Perry. I don't even think it makes him less qualified than the three of them combined, as their combined legislative records are notable only for their singular lack of accomplishment in any area beyond the occasional acquisition of some local pork. I would say on the criteria of legislative experience, Owens starts on virtually equal footing with anyone but Yassky.
Moreover, except for Yassky, Owens appears to be the only one who has given more than a half hour's thought to the legislative issues facing our nation. A visit to Owens' website makes clear he has a very specific vision of what he would like to accomplish in Washington. I find that vision to often be unrealistic, and occasionally troubling, but I think it's clear Owens gave nearly every national and local issue some deep thought, even if his answers are always politically correct received wisdom.
Listening to Andrews and Clarke it's hard to picture that they've spent more thinking about issues time than it took to memorize their talking points, which were probably written by others. Perry might actually have spent a little more time, but the only places where he's shown evidence of a clear vision are on issues where he's promised to disregard it.
In others words, the only candidates deserving consideration are Yassky and Owens.
"Five Candidates In Search of Some Character" (Perhaps the Final Part in a Series of at Least Three)
In an election like the 11th CD Congressional race, where so little separates the candidates on most issues, perhaps it’s time to looks at the candidates’ characters. Unfortunately, there is no better topic to bring one back to a discussion of the issues.
Chris Owens must have the most unique campaign for Congress ever conducted in New York’s sorry, sleazy political history. In a certain sense he’s selling himself as the cross-racial unifier, the only candidate with appeal across both sides of the color-line, but it’s a peculiar appeal indeed. To white audiences he essentially says “this is an historically black seat which a white candidate has no moral right to hold, so vote for me, because I’m the one black candidate who shares your values” (this may only be a Brownstone phenomena, as white guilt does not play a big role in the politics of Midwood). To black audiences he essentially says “the whites are trying to steal our seat, which is part of our birthright, I’m the best guy to stop them, because I’m the only one who can get white votes.”
Essentially, Owens takes the “progressive agenda” and wraps it in a racial Ponzi scheme. When reporters are in the room, Chris generally soft pedals the racial aspect of his message, merely reminding folks that he’d be in the Congressional Black Caucus, which he calls “the conscience of the Congress”. He leaves to his father, Major, the use of red meat code words like “outsider”, “invader” and “colonizer”. Having just recently compared maps of the State Senate District Major Owens served before his election to Congress and the Congressional District he was first elected from in 1982, which barely overlap, I’m inclined to believe that David Yassky’s former residence just outside the 11th CD does not form the basis for Major’s use of these words. Does anyone need to guess what does?
Not that Yassky shouldn’t take some criticism for carpet-bagging. Yassky arrived in Brooklyn Heights in the late 90s, about 15 minutes after being defeated for the District of Columbia School Board.
A perhaps apocryphal story is told of how Yassky came to run for the City Council. He and his wife Diana had just finished unpacking, when Diana said “David, I chilled a bottle of Pinot when we arrived, why don’t you go out and get a brie, and we’ll celebrate.” Yassky walked up the Joralemon Street hill toward Hicks Street and suddenly looked lost. A stranger approached him and asked him if he needed help. Yassky asked “Do you know a good gourmet shop around here?” The stranger replied “go left on Montague and check out Lassen and Hennings.” Yassky thanked him and then thought to himself “Gee, this neighborhood’s been good to me; it’s time I gave something back”.
Nonetheless, even with his recent move to the 11th, Yassky is less of a carpetbagger running for a Congressional seat containing much of his current Council constituency than he was when he first ran for the Council; and given Congress’ national focus, it matters quite a bit less (it would matter even less if it were a US Senate seat; just ask Hillary).
David’s obsessive ambition is still a concern. Sometimes it appears that he really thinks he's going to be the first Jewish president. He's spent his life looking for the next office to run for (from DC School Board to Council to DA to Congress) and is always starting his campaign about five minutes after (if not five minutes before) he unloads his moving van.
Yassky can seem slippery and evasive, because sometimes he is (there is a classic web interview he gave when running for the Council where he continually ignores a Williamsburg based reporter’s question as to which neighborhood he lives in, until the reporter finally gives up); this sort of indirectness has also been displayed to other electeds, to the point where the only reason other officials in the Brownstone area don’t regard him as totally untrustworthy is because he’s had the luck to be compared to Bill DeBlasio.
Of course, these are the sorts of criticisms made by contemporaries of Bill Clinton and FDR. Yassky’s ambition sometimes leads him to make stupid grandiose proposals or act irresponsibly (e.g., endorsing County‘s John Sampson for DA). While, such a level of ambition is pretty much a prerequisite to greatness, Yassky's actions in its service can sometimes give one pause.
Yassky's support of Sampson was repulsive and stupid. It didn't get Sampson one white vote, and it won't get Yassky one black vote (In practice, Yassky's endorsements sometimes don't last much longer than the press conference where he made them; asked at a 2001 candidates debate who he'd endorsed for Borough President, he could barely get Marty Markowitz's name out of his mouth; an opponent who was supporting Ken Fisher actually said far nicer things about Markowitz than Yassky managed).
In fact, Yassky’s whole abortive race for DA is troubling in itself. Yassky has spent virtually his entire career as an attorney as either a congressional staffer, a law professor, or an elected official. Any random lawyer in 16 Court Street was probably as qualified to be DA. In fact, his total lack of qualification for the job almost explains the Sampson endorsement. Yassky, who’d never tried a criminal case, thought Yassky was qualified to be DA. Since Sampson had actually tried one criminal case, Yassky could honestly say he thought Sampson was qualified as well.
But, he is qualified to serve in Congress; and, who among his opponents did any better in endorsing for DA?
As far as I'm aware, the only candidate who didn't support Sampson was Owens. He supported Mark Peters, a former Spitzer deputy convinced into running by folks who wanted to draw white liberals away from Joe Hynes so Sampson could win. It nearly worked, too. The line from the Organization to Peters (Clarence Norman to Carl Andrews to Eliot Spitzer to Mark Peters) is too obvious to ignore; as was the fact that the County organization bound the petitions of District Leaders who supported Peters, but refused to extend the favor to those District Leaders who backed Joe Hynes.
Do I believe Owens was part of this conspiracy? I don’t know; either (a) Owens understood this was the purpose of the Peters candidacy and nonetheless cynically embraced it to build a beach-head in Park Slope, or (b) Owens was too stupid to understand he was being Clarence Norman's useful idiot. Either way, his choice for DA does not elevate him over Yassky.
Perhaps, I‘m being a bit hard on Chris; Yassky's support of Sampson was both repulsive and stupid, while Owens' support of Peters was either one or the other, but not both. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too easy on him; perhaps he supported Peters intentionally to give him more credibility, and thereby help to make him more useful to helping to elect Sampson; after all, Major Owens called the indictment of Clarence Norman a "lynching". I’d like to hear him tell this to the mother of Emmett Till, or the parents of Schwerner, Goodman, or Chaney. Perhaps Chris can discretely apologize on his behalf.
Turning to the other candidates does not offer much relief. I think it’s unfair to link Carl Andrews to the criminal convictions against his friend Clarence Norman, since the charges Clarence has been convicted of thus far are pretty personal, and are no reflection on Carl, even by association. However, whether criminal, or just unseemly, the activities of Clarence Norman as Democratic Leader are to be fairly imputed to Carl, who basically functioned as one of the organization's underbosses, and received more than his share of tribute from the Surrogate and Supreme Courts, to the point where some regulars, who had no problem with the concept of victors indulging in spoils, found unseemly the Norman clique’s seeming inability to let anyone else wet their beak. Perhaps Carl can articulate a case that his activities on behalf of the organization inured to the public good, but, for good or for evil, it is fair to hold him accountable for the actions of the County organization under the Norman regime.
The others are little, if at all, better; Yvette Clarke has yet to prove herself anything but an empty pants-suit of suspect lineage, and her legislative record is largely written in invisible ink (as Yassky is to gun control, she is to rest room parity). As to Nick Perry, the only places where he’s shown evidence of a clear vision are on social issues, where he’s promised to put his conservative heart and mind into receivership (which a friendly judge would probably award to Carl Andrews).
So, once again we are back to the earnest Nerd twins, Yassky and Owens. Both are capable of acts of nobility. Yassky bravely and properly stood up to Giff Miller on solid waste, and paid a high price for it. And, while the merits of the issue are a little more ambiguous, Yassky’s votes to back the Mayor on education issues, in the face of Randy Weingarten’s opposition, show bravery and fortitude. On issues he cares about, Yassky has the courage of his convictions, and his convictions stem from rational analysis and worthy values.
Owens has also displayed some courage; once declining nomination on a school board petition, substituting a candidate he found worthy who hadn’t made the ballot and successfully running as a write-in. A visit to Owens’ website makes clear he has a specific and sincere vision of what he would like to accomplish in Washington.
Unfortunately, Owens’ vision is often unrealistic, and occasionally troubling. I see nothing that contradicts my suspicion that, as a Quaker, Owens may have a sincere aversion to ever using military force, under any circumstances, even to stop genocide. Chris, if this is not true, please correct me! Because, in the end, I’m inclined to regard genocide as the ultimate character issue. And please, don’t quote me Gandhi or A.J Muste; Slobodon Milosevic didn’t find non-violent civil disobedience a compelling persuader, and neither do the folks responsible for the deaths in Darfur.
In the end, I want a member of Congress who’s wrestled with, and lost sleep over, the question of under which circumstances the deployment of American forces in battle is justified. “Just say no” is not an adequate answer, but it appears to be the only answer Chris Owens is capable of giving.
Near the end of April, 2006, I had my most shameful moment as a blogger; the tragically stupid incident on “Daily Politics” where I accused Chris Owens’s campaign of circulating an email connecting David Yassky with a purported incident of arson in Williamsburg, purportedly committed by an Orthodox Jewish landlord. [Subsequent investigation revealed a homeless Polish immigrant caused the fire by accident, although some on the web accused him of being affiliated with Yassky]
The term I used for the rumor was “blood libel”, which I think got it exactly right, even if one does not agree that some of the posts had anti-Semitic insinuations. As to Yassky, it was a "blood libel". It implied blood on his hands he did not have.
Further, there was an anti-Semitic undertone in some of the posts; that Ortho-landlords burn out their buildings is an anti-Semitic stereotype I've heard raised both in Bed-Stuy and Brownstone Brooklyn. The fact that some Orthodox Jewish landlords (as well as non-Jews) have done this does not justify the ugly stereotype. One does not need to be an anti-Semite to exploit anti-Semitism (the original poster was a Jew); although it may actually be a worse crime to exploit anti-Semitism when one knows better.
I named a campaign as a culprit, and did so in vicious terms, which nonetheless would have been justified if I’d gotten the culprit right. Unfortunately, I got the culprit wrong (actually, I got the culprit right, but his campaign wrong), which, under the circumstances, was as bad as the original act of bloody libel. My error became clear later that evening. I apologized as soon as I got access to a computer, and again and again over the next few months.
The first inkling I had gotten of the item was a forward from a friend of a post from a well-known local political operative to his extensive mailing list. It was written in the operative's own voice, and in his style. A nearly identical post was then excerpted by Ben Smith, so the source for the story was clear. Subsequent posts, one implying Yassky’s actual complicity, were written in the same style, and seemingly came from the same source.
The operative in question had a long history with the Owens family, including time on Major's payroll. He had worked together with the Owens' on a major race as recently as the prior year. In an unrelated coincidence, this same operative was clearly behind an “Out Gatemouth” campaign which had recently manifested itself on all the local political blogs (My identity was not out at the time, and I meant to keep it that way).
As the Yassky campaign was based almost entirely outside the African-American community, the post was of the sort most compelling to the white left/brownstone types. The only black candidate with a real operation in these communities was Chris Owens (no matter what Yvette and Carl deluded themselves to believe). Therefore, the only possible beneficiary of taking these votes from Yassky seemed to be Owens. And, as has been demonstrated, Major, if not Chris, had little reluctance in playing the ugly card.
Later in parsing out what had occurred, I concluded that had not reckoned with the fact that some individuals are just perverse, a description which clearly fit the author of these rumors. The fact that he was also obsessed with blowing my cover was probably another factor in my angry response:
“The tactic of connecting someone to an arson they had nothing to do with has a name with some historical resonance. There's a murky, implied, but unspoken, flavor to some of these comments which adds to that resonance. The name should be familiar to those who've read Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer" or Sholem Aleichem's "The Bloody Hoax". It's called "blood libel”.
Chris Owens; does your mama know your campaign is engaging in such tactics? A shanda fur der goyim.”
What was I thinking? Even if he was guilty, this was a bridge too far. I still hang my head in shame. Bouldin and Mole displayed their outrage in full force, and they were not unjustified in doing so (although I could have lived without Mole’s repeated statements that I had repeatedly made such an accusation, when I done so only once and had almost immediately corrected it and apologized).
At the time I refrained from naming the campaign this operative was actually working for, for I’d no evidence to conclude that they were aware of what was occurring, which I then thought was probably was of little benefit to them; further, the individual in question was clearly capable of acting on his own.
But looking the matter in the fullness of time, I now think it may be that I was playing checkers while the individual in question was playing chess. In fact, I guessed it myself without even realizing it. A website had recently appeared called stopyassky. Based on the site’s similarity to another of his endeavors (jefffeldmanmustgo), the writing style and the repeat of some of the “blood libel” material, I opined my theory as to who was behind the site.
Ben Smith then turned up evidence that the site was actually the work of DDDB’s Lucy Koteen. Gatemouth then apologized, because of a belief in taking personal responsibility for his actions, and acknoledging his mistakes. Even a fat ugly smelly toothless bastard is owed an apology when falsely accused. Moreover, to not acknowledge such wrongs would allow fat ugly smelly toothless bastards to falsely claim the moral high ground. I did not want to put my credibility (already impaired by the mistake) into further question.
I then opined further :
“Ironic that DDBD folks once again act against their own interests, although at this point that's a dog bites itself story.
If the polls are to be believed, the race is between Yassky and Clark. Clark is extremely pro-Ratner, financially supported by Ratner relatives, and seemingly about to be endorsed by the pro-Ratner Working Families Party. By contrast, Yassky supports downscaling Ratner's plans.
By setting up an anti-Yassky site, Koteen aims to drive voters in Yassky Brownstone base to vote for Chris Owens. But, every Brownstone vote taken from Yassky makes it even more likely that Clark will win and the most pro-Ratner candidate elected. Thus, Koteen serves Ratner's purpose and is his useful idiot.
Of course, some folks believe that Yassky's "mend it, don't end it" position on Atlantic Yards makes him so unworthy of trust that any alternative is palatable. I know at least two people who feel this way; one is Lucy Koteen; the other is Bruce Ratner. Nice company you keep, girl! But, I guess it's OK, because Bruce has no problem living off the tit. (sorry, that was uncalled for, but I can never resist a tasteless metaphor or pun)” [Koteen was Also a leading proponent of breastfeeding]
Then Ben published an update saying it wasn’t Koteen after all. Was I supposed to apologize for apologizing? To whom was I to I direct this apology? Perhaps it was an elaborate conspiracy to discredit Gatemouth, with both DDDB and the fat ugly smelly toothless bastard (an Atlantic Yards supporter) involved.
So, if Stop Yassky helped Clarke by driving votes towards Owens, the “blood libel” posts did the same. As such, it made absolute sense that both emanated from the Clarke campaign; there was nothing perverse about it (OK, there was something perverse about it, but it was a stroke of evil brilliance).
I should have been happy that the stop-Yassky blogger wasn’t Koteen, although the idea it was her was just too damned funny for words.
I should note that the Owens folks had nothing to do with my impending departure from the web, which was the result of the unrelated “Out Gatemouth” campaign.
Shortly after my departure from the web, Ben Smith reported that Nick Perry was in the field with a poll with a couple of twists. First, that some of the positive messages tested were in rhyme (ala Major). More interesting to Ben was the fact that Nick was testing how his opposition to gay marriage would play in a largely Carribean and black district. Although Perry was likely without such specific intent, a race posited on such a strategy would clearly be setting up a test of the right-wing conventional wisdom that same-sex marriage could be used to pry black voters away from the Democrats. Social liberals should have been alarmed. At least one was, the social liberal who’d been polled and dropped the dime on Ben.
That would be me.
The poll set up a series of questions establishing Nick as the candidate of what were called “communtarian values”. Some were not objectionable in and of themselves, but combined they were verging upon ugly. There was not one, but two, count ‘em, two questions about gay marriage; one a generic pro-marriage candidate versus generic anti-marriage candidate head to head.
So here we had it, a candidate who had earlier promised not to let his conservative social positions influence his votes was now planning to run an entire race based upon a vote-getting strategy of setting up gay families as a pinata. I may personally feel that pursuing civil unions first may be the smarter strategy, but I was be second to none in expressing my fury at those who decided to follow the Karl Rove strategy of making gay marriage the straw man of the month. Leave that sleaze for Ohio; this is New York
Thankfully, opposing gay marriage turned out not to be the wedge issue Nick had hoped for to break himself out of the field. One week he did the poll; the next week he dropped out! Republican strategists were clearly on notice; gay marriage may possibly have been a tie breaker among African-Americans, but that would only count when they you batted in as many runs as your opposition. And everyone missed the real story; a poll which apparently showed that opposition to gay marriage was great big yawn among African-Americans. That was national news!
Locally though, Perry’s exit had a different impact, giving a steroid booster shot to the campaign of the remaining Caribbean candidate, Yvette Clarke. Perry made insiders do something regarding Clarke which Clarke could never manage on her own; he made us take her seriously.
Meanwhile David Yassky was doing his best to have us do the opposite, earlier in the year he’d sent Orthodox Jews a piece featuring a picture of himself with a matzoh used as the background, now he continued this food obsession by publishing an article about the contents of his kitchen: hummus, Fratelli Cheese Ravioli, procini ravioli, black and white cookies, sesame oil, Jarred Borscht (purchased in Manhattan), Triple Sec, Silver Palette Cooksbooks, fat free organic milk, Jacques Torres Cocoa, Sweet ‘N Low, frozen pops and Brooklyn Brewery Beer. We also learned he did most of his shopping at Key Food, making him possibly the only person in Brownstone Brooklyn not shopping at Fairway.
One blogger commented about the lack of fried chicken, grits, grape soda or anything else demonstrably black. Fried chicken, grits, grape soda? If I were pandering in the 11th district, it would be ackee, codfish, and ginger beer. Moreover, the black and white cookie was clearly a kumbya oriented plea for racial brotherhood. However, under the VRA, the cookie would be 58% black and therefore considered "all-chocolate". [I've never been a "kumbya" liberal (although, in a way, I'm sort of ashamed that I'm not); if I'm going to listen to something earnest, I prefer either "Freedom for the Stallion", or "A Change is Gonna Come" (although, truth be told, I 'd rather hear "Who Put the Whiskey in the Well?")]
Anyway, Yassky’s fridge looked remarkably one of some buppie friends of mine who live in Prospect Heights. They didn’t have borsht, but they did have lox. Plus, I hear Chris Owens has borsht in his fridge; however, he got his in Brooklyn. This was obviously a ploy by Yassky to get the Yuppie/boho vote back from Owens. The borsht was a token gesture to the southland, but this was a decidedly whitebread (albeit ciabatta) menu.
In a further effort to elicit laughter, Yassky recruited the support of Geoffrey Davis, the brother of the late charismatic Councilman James, who’d been slain by a lunatic with a gun. Geoffrey brought his mother along for the ride. Geoffrey supported Yassky for much the same reason pro-Ratner leader James Caldwell did. Caldwell endorsed Yassky, in spite of the fact that Yassky was lukewarm at best on Atlantic Yards, because Caldwell was “for hire”. So was Geoff Davis. The ostensible excuse for supporting Yassky was his strong position on gun control. Controlling firearms was a matter Yassky had been obsessed with his entire career in public life. I’m guessing that Mrs. Davis may have shared this obsession.
Geoffrey was another matter, and in a matter of days the deal fell apart (over details of the quid Yassky was quoing, or perhaps the quo Yassky was quidding) and the Davises’ held a “diss conference” to express their displeasure. After seeing Davis and his mother on TV, I was inclined to think that the most scandalous thing about the imbroglio was that Yassky met with those folks and didn't see them for what they were. Five minutes of them on NY-1 and anyone who had eyes could see that Geoffrey wore his insanity like a ball and chain, with only enough sense left to spend his days trying to find ways to (successfully) pick the pocket of pols.
Yassky might have been worthy of a seat in Congress, but I might have trouble supporting his efforts to become the POTUS; his naivette could make him too much of a national security risk. Yassky's opponents, however, didn’t look all that much better. All publicly genuflected to the idea that the Davises themselves were somehow above criticism. If one of the others had actually acknowledged the truth about Geoffrey (I'd understand sparing the old lady), and said "how could Yassky be so dumb to do business with that delusional scam artist", I might have re-opened them to consideration for my vote. I dubbed Geoffrey “the official crumb of the Davis family” [A paraphrase of an actual ad campaign for breadcrumbs].
In the mean time, Chris Owens attempted to boast his Jewish bonafides. Under the letter of Jewish law, Chris Owens is technically Jewish. However, most non-Orthodox Jews would respect the fact that both Chris' Jewish mother and Chris himself had chosen to become Quakers, a fact he himself had taken the trouble to put on his website (obviously out of sincere belief, because there was certainly little political advantage in publicizing such a choice) [Although there were far more mentions of his Jewish background, proving Chris understood the mathematical formula Jews > Quakers].
Those of us Jews whose personal beliefs do not constrict our ability to recognize and respect the choices others make were thereby forced to accept the fact that Owens and his mother had chosen to opt out of our religion, even if we also recognized that the common heritage we shared with Owens might possibly afford him a special degree of rachmonis with our interests and values.
Not that we need such a sophisticated analysis to get the point; calling your kid Christopher pretty much telegraphs that particular punch.
Chris decided to appear on Zev Brenner's radio show? What was he thinking? Owens had less potential votes there than any of his opponents. Brenner probably regards Ehud Olmert (who Chris likely finds too hawkish) as a traitor worthy of assassination. He then compounded his error by expounding, "What if an Israeli Arab won an election for Prime Minister because other Israeli Jewish candidates split the vote? I think Jews would be upset about that."
The worst I'll say about this faux pas is that for a supposed student of public policy, and a supposed advocate of greater usage of proportional representational schemes, Owens seems somewhat ignorant of the Israeli political process (although probably no more so than most of his opponents); Knesset seats are allocated to parties in rough proportion to the vote they get in the election; a split vote is a literal impossibility.
I was more concerned with the implication that he seems to regard white people as a potential fifth column, but I'll wrote that off to bad hyperbole. Clearly, if Owens wanted to attack Jews or Israel, he would have chosen a venue other than the Zev Brenner show. It was a dumb analogy, which raised some perturbing questions (although I didn’t assume Chris intended any real evil), but none of those questions related to Jews or Israel.
In other Chris news, Owens supporter Michael Bouldin attacked David Yassky for having a "womanly handshake". I'm not sure who should have been bothered more, women or Yassky.
Father Knows Best
"We call on the Democratic Party, the national chairman, Howard Dean, right on down to the New York state Chairman Denny Farrell, to Brooklyn chairman Vito Lopez…We want the party to realize that the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party have been black people. Now don't ambush us. Don't take away our power. We're also going to go to the Republicans and say 'How about you. Do you support the principle of power sharing?' And we'll see what the Republicans say also." – — Congressman Major Owens calling upon leaders of the Democratic Party at various levels to prevent a white politician, David Yassky, from winning a Congressional seat long held by black politicians.
OK Major, how are they supposed to not let this happen? Kidnap his wife and children? Blackmail his contributors? Strip him of his committee assignments? Block his ballot access? What is it that Major Owens is proposing they do?
Obviously, at least a few of these strong arm tactics are the common currency of regular Democratic politics; those who’ve cast even a passing glance at the recent meeting of the Democratic State Committee in Buffalo have had a chance to observe these tactics in action, particurlarly as they were implemented in setting up hurdles to ballot access for every candidate in the Attorney General’s race, except Andrew Cuomo. Many prominent “reformers”, including several supporters of Congressional candidate Chris Owens, the Congressman’s son, have expressed their outrage in no uncertain terms.
And well they should; it has long been a hallmark of “reform” thought that the ballot access process should be as open as reason permits, and that party candidates should be chosen by the party’s voters in contested primary elections, rather than by the party’s bosses behind closed doors.
By contrast, the “old line regular” position (as opposed to that held my many more enlightened “non-reformers”) is almost from a different planet. To them, “the party” is not the enrolled membership, but rather the bosses; anyone who dares run a primary against the bosses is running against “the party.”
To make the bizzaro world contrast complete, those who hold this view of what constitutes “the party” often apply it only to the primary, and feel free to endorse the Republican candidate in general elections, often when their candidate loses the primary, but sometimes even when their primary candidate ends up as “the party” nominee. Apparently what constitutes “the party” has little or nothing to do with what the enrolled membership of the party actually decides.
“Reformers” and others like myself, who don’t necessarily embrace this title, find the “old line regular” position alarming. To many of us, this is what we entered politics to fight against. And Chris Owens has spent much of his political life successfully nurturing the impression among “reformers” and “good government” types that he shares their views on this topic. But does he really?
Chris’ father has essentially called upon the bosses to wield a heavy hammer to influence the results of a contested party primary before the voters get their say. Chris, do you feel this is an appropriate use of the powers of party leadership? If so, exactly what measures do you endorse to drive Yassky out of this race? What measures do you think would be a bridge too far?
It is important that you speak out if you find some potential measures morally troubling, as some of the persons being asked to implement them have not been known to lose sleep pondering exactly when the ends do or do not justify the means they are deciding whether to deploy. Since you are a potential beneficiary of what may be some ugly tactics, your word would go a long way in preventing any actions which you might find morally troubling, if indeed any such actions would trouble you.
And Chris; while you are pondering that, please also ponder your father’s quite blatant threat to do business with the Republicans. As of late, you have been quite outspoken about such tactics; last year, when Marty Markowitz cravenly endorsed Bloomberg’s re-election, you (to my public applause) endorsed the Green Party’s Gloria Mattera (in this case, a truly useful idiot) on the theory that “one good turncoat deserves another”. However, in the past, you’ve not always been so vocal; for instance, I do not recall your endorsing Tracy Boyland in 2002 as retribution for your father’s similar act of treachery in the 2001 mayoral race [In 2004, Green endorsed Yvette Clarke for Congress in revenge for the time in 1998 when Major dropped his previously announced support of Green for US Senate to endorse Schumer, who had previously represented much of Major’s district and had threatened to endorse Una Clarke against Major. As a result, in 2001, Major did everything he could to signal his support for Bloomberg except to actually endorse], but, blood is blood, so perhaps I should hold my tongue.
But Chris, while your silence in that instance might be forgivable, silence concerning such threats when they’ve essentially been made on your behalf cannot be countenanced. You know exactly what the 2006 Republican Party stands for, and have been outspoken in your opposition to it. Your father’s threat is essentially one to shoot his own constituents in the heart as punishment because someone spit on his shoes. If you spoke out loudly and publicly against such tactics, it would nip the matter in the bud.
The irony is that, however bad such tactics become (if deployed), they won’t work. Yassky’s ambition has always been greater than his fear of any living being; he has too much money in the bank for anyone to impact his fundraising; he is term limited and has almost nothing to lose. Even if term limits were repealed, he has so few African-American in his Council district to make any electoral threats to him a minor inconvenience at best. As Bill DBlasio’s neighbor and former ally, he provided Chris Quinn with crucial support, such that she would be hard pressed to punish him without losing face with her colleagues; and those amongst her colleagues pushing hardest for action against Yassky were those who pushed hardest against Quinn’s elections as Speaker .
In fact, any attempts by Party leaders which become public would only serve to make Yassky a martyr, a victim of "the bosses". Moreover, such heavy handed tactics would only serve to embarass the party nationally, allowing the Democrats to be branded as the captives of "special interests" (a code word if there ever was one), at a time when we are trying to attract the votes of largely white swing voters. Fox News will have a field day, and so will intelligent conservatives, not to mention independent neo-liberal voices like the New Republic.
Perhaps, Major and Al Vann should learn a different lesson from Andrew Cuomo’s coronation, and ask Vito, Denny, and Howard to promise to support Yassky for Borough President, Public Advocate or Comptroller if he drops out. Now, there’s a boss-driven tactic which might work, as the players have already proven they can deliver upon such a deal.
Of course, if the issue of black empowerment is so crucial to Major Owens, the fact that Yassky is unlikely to leave the race should not deter him from the pursuing the alternative solution to this dilemma, which is to get one or more of the black candidates to drop out. The problem is choosing which one(s). I suggest one of two ways of determining this. One is that the black candidate remaining should be the one who's raised the most money (Carl Andrews); the other is that the black candidate remaining should be the one who is leading in the polls (Yvette Clarke).
Major, it is clear that you are correct that continued black representation in the 11th Congressional District is threatened by the presence in the race of a Yuppie who has greedily elevated his own personal ambitions over what you define as the intent of the Voting Rights Act. Therefore, if you are serious about maintaining black representation in the 11th CD, you must do everything you can to get this selfish Yuppie out of the race.
Hint: his name is CHRIS OWENS.
Bouldin: First off, Gatemouth, as someone who came out very strongly against your "retirement", publicly and privately, I'm glad to see you're back.
I would be more glad if you hadn't come back with this vindictive drivel.
Considering that you recently had to publicly and widely grovel for falsely imputing anti-semitic 'blood libel' to Chris, perhaps you should have chosen less vituperative terms, or even another target. But then again, the only fun mistake is one that one can make over and over again, like a cartoon mouse running against a wall.
The first thing missing in your screed is the one-sentence note "I support David Yassky's candidacy in the NY-11 primary". Helps to put things into context, I find, lest people think you are a disinterested observer.
Next up, I am wondering what evidence you have that Major Owens is acting at his son's behest when he, with such bad taste, comes out and states the obvious: that Yassky is playing on a divided black electorate to win in a divided primary and then, presumably, go on to Congress.
You say this is bossism at its finest – Tammany Hall in black. Black empowerment must be just an excuse. My experience with hacks – like you, Gatemouth – is that they simply find it impossible to credit any motive that does not fit nicely with their own hackery.
And that's the problem with your screed – other than the absence of qualifiers, sourcing, any note on your electoral preference, the promiscuous use of innuendo, the basic incomprehension of why blacks might feel disinclined to contemplate a fine wealthy white candidate like Yassky as a gift to themselves – right there. The idea that Owens and Vann may see a principle at stake here is seemingly intolerable to the likes of you.
Going on to the bosses and your jawdroppingly asinine (and self-serving, cuz ya do have a horse in this race) contention that criticism of Yassky's cynical and divisive candidacy heralds the return of Tammany Hall, let's examine that a bit. Or is it enough to say that the party has methods that are perhaps a little more nuanced than knee-capping to express its displeasure? How many people of incluence do you think have told Yassky to stay out of this race? I know several personally – as do you, I'm sure, except that wouldn't quite flow with your self-serving argument here, now would it? Which is why you posit the false choice between the bosses and that paragon of democracy, David Yassky, who inconveniently happens to be counting on getting elected with a bit less than a majority, but why quibble with the details, eh? Especially when the donors, not the bosses, have already spoken so loudly on his behalf?
That's the crux of the matter: if Yassky did not have such deep pockets, and the field were not so divided, he'd be a laughingstock. There is no way I can see that for all his over-heralded talents (Brady Bill my ass), he would win without that division. But by all means, go ahead and decry the deep unfairness of blacks speaking out against him. After all, what this country really needs is the empowerment of wealthy whites, notably under-represented as they are in the House, the Senate, governor's mansions across the country and the Presidency.
I'll be eagerly awaiting your next post on the subject, which, if past is precedent, is likely to be about the inherent anti-semitism of pointing out that Yassky is running in a majority/minority district. Have a go at it; you seem eminently qualified for the job.
Perhaps you might even do a co-production with NYCWanker, on why a Harvard grad, successful business and NFP executive like Chris Owens is just not good enough for Congress in your eyes. That should also be of considerable interest, methinks.
Gate: you still haven't dealt with the only real points made by the article:
1) If Chris Owens is a process reformer, how can he support intervention by the likes of Vito Lopez?
2) If issues are what's paramount, how can Major talk about deals with the Republicans, and how can Chris countenance it?
3) If the issue is really empowerment, then how can Chris Owens stay in the race?
I'm sorry for the lack of truth in labeling here, Mike. Two thoughts: (a) Pat Buchanan doesn't begin each column cay "Warning: I am a raving bigoted lunatic"; he is a known commodity. So am I.
This is a post amongst all the other columns on my blog; my rather mild, critical, nuanced, and somewhat regretful support for Yassky (as well as a painstaking analysis of what I like and don't about Chris Owens; to whom partisans of the other black candidates probably feel I've mostly given preferential treatment) is there for all to see. (b) The posting isn't really about my preference. It is about the hypocrisy of those who call themselves "reformers", but refuse to live up to the standards they decry others for failing to adhere to. Carl Andrews and Yvette Clarke are not targets, because their efforts at claiming the reform mantle have been pro forma at best and laughable at worst. By implication, another target is folks like those at CBID who scream loudest for "reform" but turn a blind eye to actions by their friends they'd never tolerate otherwise.
If Vito follows Major's advice and intervenes, his implementer will be Jeff Feldman, who CBID's called upon to be fired; strange bedfellows indeed. Yassky is almost irrelevant to the piece.
Also nearly irrelevant is my past criticism of the theory that, as a VRC district, the 11th should automatically be held by a person of color. For the purposes of the discussing the points that interested me, I've almost assumed its validity for the purposes of this piece, and moved on to talk about "means". In fact, if the Owens family followed my advice, which I sincerely feel is politically logical, it would definitely not inure to the benefit of the candidate I find preferable.
Honestly, Michael, if the issue is empowerment, what's the rationale for Owens remaining in the race?
By any empirical measure, he's the weakest black candidate left, and the logic of empowerment is that he should go for the greater good, a martyr to a cause more important than himself. Once you open the genie's bottle and bring the bosses in, don't think they won't see that as well.
The distasteful tactics I've spoken of can be implemented against black candidates, as well as the white own, and, in this case, far more effectively. If they are (and threats of political blackmail have been publicly made in an effort to ensure this), isn't it a near dead certainty that Chris Owens is the person most likely to be their target?
Pretty funny, huh? Hoisted by the petard fired by his dad; almost Oedipus in reverse. Do you not find the whole thing just a little disturbing? Charlie Rangel's comments on the subject [To the effect that effective black leadership in Brooklyn would have eliminated multiple black candidates] are most instructive in their contempt for democratic process; but they are refreshingly honest. Chris and Major want to have their reform cake, while banging for admission to the bosses banquet; if successful in this effort, they shall have neither. For Chris, this will be one more opportunity to ponder exactly what he means when he says "reform". Read his post on the topic, and tell me that he doesn't needs to give the matter a little more thought.
And, if this is about empowerment, then Owens should get out. If, as Mole (and, to a lesser extent, you) seem to think, it is about ideas, then he should stay in, because no one else in the race has his world view.
As you know, I do not share this worldview; we are just different kinds of liberals. Ultimately, for reasons I've stated elsewhere, and in great detail, on this blog, I find Owens' ideas lacking, Yassky's ideas preferable to Owens', and the other candidates not really a factor. I would certainly, as I've also made clear, prefer otherwise, but we are left with the choices we have.
SUMMER 2006: GATE’S FOCUS SHIFTS
My summer reading list (almost entirely composed of “The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again” by Peter Beinart) and the new war in the Middle East accounted for a sudden decision to shift strongly into global matters. But, since one cannot teach an old blog new tricks, this mostly manifested itself by a focus upon such issues in a local contest, thereby opening a multi-front series of skirmishes with Chris Owens supporters Mole and Bouldin; much of this battle played out on “Daily Gotham”, but the pieces posted at the time on “Room 8” largely encompassed most of the highlights. And, although the candidate I backed didn’t win, it became far more important that the candidate they backed didn’t either. Since history is written by the victors, my point of view takes pride of place here, but they do get their licks in.
The Origins of the Liberal Species: Some Musings Concerning Political Evolution (Part One)
BARNEY FRANK: Not only has the left loudly pressured Democratic nominees into constant courtship, our ideological militants have also limited the Democrats ability to defend themselves from the Republicans…If you are a liberal officeholder, many of your hardest working supporters will tell you that you are “notsaposta” denounce the viciousness of those who commit violent crimes…or that America today continues to be one of the places in the world where political and artistic expression is the freest. In practice, then, the notsaposta is the passionately sincere but grievously mistaken view that acknowledging a troubling truth will weaken a party’s ability to resist the conclusions that its political opponents might draw from those truths.
Without intending to have done so, I now find myself writing what appears to be Part Six of what I’ve decided to call my “Ich Bin Ein DLCer” series. The series is an accidental effort by a Clintonite, Neo-liberal, New Democrat to outline a worldview different from both that of the repugnant Republican right and the newly energized minions of the hard left. This worldview seeks to be both a path to victory and a map of where we go once we achieve it. Of course, Peter Beinart and Bruce Reed (with Rahm Emanuel acting as his beard) have done it earlier and better, but maybe I can run the franchise’s Brooklyn Office.
This series has attracted its detractors, most prominently, two bloggers on Daily Gotham, Mole333 and Michael Bouldin. Mole seems to have a problem with the overall worldview connecting these pieces. Bouldin’s problem seems not so much with my worldview, but with my insistence on actually applying it when analyzing local elections.
Mole, who has almost literally been begging for acknowledgement in these quarters, appears to be a decent and dedicated fellow, and sometimes displays an ability to differentiate himself from the far left catechism (although not always in appealing ways; he does not, for instance, oppose the death penalty). He is clearly passionate about his Judaism, and this has shaped his less than politically correct views on Israel and Afghanistan, among other topics. Nonetheless, Mole sometimes actively supports “left-progressive” candidates like Chris Owens who take positions seemingly at odds with some of the things he holds most dearly, while those dear things are the constant source of half apologetic rationalizations. It’s not the fact that Mole is a “Michael Moore Democrat” which annoys me, but, rather, the fact that I think he might know better but just hasn’t realized it yet.
Such is the story with many intelligent ideologues, who have not yet allowed their moments of cognitive dissonance to be the occasion for reexamination, re-evaluation and renewal, in a process of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, so that their sometimes contradictory beliefs might have the chance to interact both with each other and their own personal experiences and evolve accordingly into an altered worldview more accurately reflecting how they really think, if they ever really gave it any thought. As such, the received wisdom of the hard left catechism is once again allowed to triumph over a lifetime of hard earned wisdom. I tend to think that left wing received wisdom is like chicken soup; some beliefs could often benefit if subjected to clarification, whereby the useless, albeit tasty, fat is discarded leaving an end product which is far healthier. Like any other species, the Democratic Party must evolve or become extinct.
I am reminded of a very liberal member of the New York City Council who, back in her earlier days as an aide, once forgot herself at an envelope stuffing party, and blurted out that, based upon her considerable experience (selflessly) working to assist the impoverished, she had concluded that it might be a good idea if able-bodied recipients of public assistance had to work for their checks. Immediately apologetic, one would have thought that she had just admitted that she liked to pleasure herself with a bullwhip while watching snuff films. In polite company, one was just not allowed to acknowledge that the “culture of poverty” theory, which we had all dismissed as so much racist claptrap back in college, was not without its points (for proof, spend some time analyzing the impact of the lifestyle choices of impoverished Williamsburg Hasidim).
But, what passes for etiquette among polite left and liberal circles (and, I suspect, in polite conservative circles as well) is really an effort to substitute faith for reason. The position of the polite left is embodied in the Biblical injunction that “He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind”. But, in this fight, I tend to side with the despicable and hateful elitist H.L. Mencken (and his hired gun Clarence Darrow) against the left-populist Williams Jennings Bryan; it’s time to leave the monkey house and stand on two feet.
These days, hard left Democrats generally define themselves around the war in Iraq, but issues are just not that simple in the real world.
I opposed the Iraqi invasion because it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the time of the invasion, our major concern was militant quasi-fascist Sunni Islamic terror, an ideology to which Saddam Hussein did not subscribe. While the man was an unspeakable monster, his crimes did not threaten our interests, and while his genocidal actions would have justified an invasion, the worst of those actions took place over a decade ago and were accomplished back when he was still on our payroll, in the days when Republican Godfathers like Bob Dole, doing his best imitation of Marlon Brando, were telling him with a nod and a wink that his border disputes with Kuwait were none of our concern, thereby making him feel he could wet his beak in Kuwaiti oil while we turned a blind eye.
As a result of the mission we’ve since accomplished, Iran has finally realized its decades old dream of a Shiite state in Iraq, thus freeing itself up for the mischief which has recently manifested itself in Lebanon, while we've bogged ourselves down to the extent that we've forestalled the use of ground troops where they might shortly prove more necessary (Iran might very well prove an example, as could Darfur).
I am not a pacifist, but that does not make me a war monger. I believing in preserving our option to use force, and find those who reject that option in all instances unfit for service in an institution which makes decisions concerning war and peace, but I certainly don't lightly advocate the use of military force; might even be said to be a bit more dovish than average, possibly because I have never served in the military.
It is worth noting that "Chicken-hawk"-type accusations were leveled against Bill Clinton when he deployed the military option in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Clinton's anticipation of just such accusations caused him to delay action, costing thousands of innocent lives. If not for military veteran Al Gore and chickenhawk Joe Lieberman, Clinton might never have mustered the fortitude to do what was necessary.
My reasons for opposing this war thus put me into the position of having more in common with those, like Hillary Clinton, who initially supported it, and even those, like Joe Lieberman, who still support it, rather than with those opponents who are pacifists or who feel that any exercise of American strength is always inherently evil, or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, those, like MoveOn.org.(which opposed the Afghan invasion), who always oppose using such strength no matter what the provocation.
The war is a big piece of my worldview, but not the only piece.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for the agenda of most hard left Democrats.
Opposing the war, early or at all, should not be the sole criteria to determine whether someone is praise-worthy. Pat Buchanan opposed the war too. So did Bin Laden. Opposition to the war does not render them into Barney Frank. And, opposition to the war does not render Chris Owens into Barney Frank either, although it may render him into Michael Moore.
I bring up Mr. Owens, because of all the serious candidates running for Congress locally, he bests manifests the foreign policy tendencies (not to mention the domestic policy tendencies) of the hard left (Jonathan Tasini is not serious, while Charles Barron is not a Michael Moore Democrat, he’s a Robert Mugabe Democrat).
As such, when discussing what I consider to be a battle for the future of the Democratic Party, it seemed sensible to bring matters home, and that meant linking my points to the most relevant local race in order to affect the outcome. As a result, I’ve gently smacked around Mr. Owens from time to time during this series.
Owens proudly states that “Cindy Sheehan is a courageous person with a strong and clear voice and I support her inspirational efforts to bring the anti-war message home to President Bush and all of us.”
Please note that Sheehan’s anti-war message concerns American withdrawal not only from Iraq, but also Afghanistan.
And, here is Mr. Owens on terror, “The killing of innocent men, women or children for a political purpose is an abominable and heinous act commonly referred to as "terrorism." Such acts cannot be condoned or supported.”
It is emblematic of the milieu from which Chris Owens emanates that he feels he must take the trouble to make this clear.
That excerpt also account for about 50% of what he has to say about the subject (he also thinks we should take preventive efforts within “decent” limits), on a site where he dedicates an entire page to rambling on about the procedural reform of the rules governing Brooklyn’s Democratic Party.
A visit to Owens’ website casts further doubt on whether the man is ever capable of supporting any American military action at any place or time for any reason. I raised this point several months ago, without mentioning Israel, and frankly, at the time, I believed that Owens would either join with his opponents in the pro-Likud chorus, or dodge the subject of Israel and avoid saying anything to rock the political boat (his idiotic statements on the topic speak well for his candor and integrity).
Clearly, my foreign policy problems with Owens were severe enough to make his stance on Israel almost an irrelevancy; which brings us to Mr. Bouldin.
Bouldin is decidedly not a Michael Moore Democrat. He’s a sample of what he’s had to say about Israel recently:
“some on the left reflexively root for the underdog, as the Palestinians surely are; my private theory is that this group of people basically moved over from the anti-Apartheid movement, without realizing that there really is no equivalency between the two. I'd also note that the Palestinians had everything they wanted handed to them on a silver platter with a sprig of parsley at Oslo, and thanks to the execrable leadership they had from Yassir Arafat, threw it all away. Then, of course, they voted out the corrupt supposedly former terrorists of Fatah and replaced them with the less corrupt current terrorists of Hamas. Well done, folks, and what a stirring example of political maturity. All sarcasm aside, my private view is that Israel should build its wall and build it well. This because, based on the evidence at hand, the Palestinian political process will not produce a 'partner for peace' any time soon. It should tell people in this country something, regardless of politics, that the only force in the territories advocating for peace, to the best of my knowledge, is the effing communist party. Yes, it is really that bad. I'd argue that Israel is sometimes too heavy-handed in its treatment of the Palestinians, as with the current conflict and its tenuous legal underpinning of equating Hezbollah with the Lebanese government, but that doesn't change the cold hard fact that neither the Palestinians nor for that matter the Arab governments really want peace. The Ward Churchills of the world can caterwaul all they want to their nationwide audience of dozens, but these are the facts.”
Great stuff! I really love this guy!!!
By contrast, Mr. Owens states “We know the Palestinian people want peace and prosperity, as do the Israelis”. I believe Mr. Owens also is on record objecting to Israel’s security wall, and I’m sure I could go on for hours with further distinctions between them on this and other subjects.
Despite his differences with Owens, Bouldin is on his campaign payroll while continuing to blog. I do not question here Bouldin’s ethics (Bouldin was blogging on Owens’ behalf long before he was hired, and would have continued to do so regardless; Owens didn’t need to buy this cow to blog; he was already getting the milk for free), only his sense. There is no way that Bouldin has the same worldview as Owens.
Bouldin’s opinions on Israel’s actions in Lebanon (linked in one of the articles above) make clear he does not agree with Owens' public assessment that Israel actions were an unjustifiable disproportionate response to the kidnapping of two soldiers. Talk about tunnel vision. When a fiend wielding a razor keeps coming at you making small, painful, but not too serious slits, you don’t respond proportionately, lest you bleed to death by a series of small cuts.
Bouldin has also been an unrelenting critic of left wing anti-Semitism on the blogs (check out this), so his response to my criticisms of Owens is almost unfathomable. He accuses me of disloyalty to my country. He states that I believe that Ehud Olmert should dictate the votes cast by our member of Congress.
His source for this assertion is a quote of mine refuting a statement by Ben Smith that Owens differed from the other candidates in the race in that the others supported the position of the Israeli government. I responded “Do Yassky and Andrews really support the Israeli government position, or do they support the Likud position? While in the past few days this distinction has become meaningless, it may yet re-emerge. I wouldn't mind the Congressman from the 11th taking his cues from Ehud Olmert; Dov Hikind is a different matter.”
Bouldin, in defending Owens used a portion of this quote without context to compare me to Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who committed treason against his country by spying on behalf of Israel. In the process, he distorted my point completely, almost making it stand for exactly the opposite of what I was asserting.
My objection was to candidates kowtowing to rightwing Zionists like Hikind and Abraham Hecht. I am an outspoken supporter of unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and find every candidate in the 11th lacking in this regard (albeit, in Owens’ case, for radically different reasons than the others; Owens because it doesn't go far enough, and unilateralism is bad, and Israel should instead withdraw to the 47 Partition lines, with a Palestinian right of return elsewhere; the others, because they care more Jewish votes than Jewish lives).
I was asking the candidates to promise to support Olmert in his efforts to leave the West Bank; something in which Israel’s interests dovetail nicely with our own. To use this quote to make me into Jonathan Pollard is a radical distortion of where I stand.
Actually, I'm with the Jewish War Veterans on Pollard; he's a traitor to his country, and he can rot in jail his entire life as far as I'm concerned. If he loved Israel so much (1) he shouldn't have taken money for his efforts, and (2) he should have renounced his US citizenship and made aliyah. I've heard convincing evidence that Pollard's sentence was disproportionate, and perhaps an injustice was done, but given his crime, I'm not going to lose any sleep over the fact that some other traitorous scumbag got a shorter sentence than he did; it's maybe #438th on my list of injustices needing righting when I get the time, which I won't. Moreover, I suspect that most of those who do lose sleep over Pollard really believe that he did nothing wrong, which is a concept I find personally repugnant.
Bouldin’s support of Owens offers me the chance to acknowledge that politics is sometimes more complicated than just voting for the one who stands closest to you on the issues. Maybe I’ve got some evolving to do too, since Owens must have some hidden greatness I’m not grasping to have earned the support of such a thoughtful intellectual. And the fact that this loyalty can cause one so principled to descend so low into the primordial ooze is an area of evolutionary science Darwin never fully examined, but which I will contemplate further.
Chris, given my sincere respect for Bouldin, I’ll make a deal with you. Let’s stipulate your love for Israel; even if it is a “love pure and chaste from afar”. Now, take a look at all of the Moore quotes unrelated to Israel in the Moore column I recently wrote, and tell me which, if any, you disagree with.
As I noted, I’ve asked you previously whether there existed any scenario under which you could support the use of American military force anywhere in the world for any reason (and btw, how did/do you feel about our military action in Afghanistan?); I’m still waiting for an answer. There is a significant constituency in the 11th CD for whom the only acceptable answer is never; you are their candidate; are you entitled to their support, or would you like to be considered by the rest of us?
In the meantime, Mole and Bouldin have accomplished their goal, and I’ve evolved in my position on this race.
Previously I’d expressed a mild preference for David Yassky, but stated quite clearly that Owens was preferable to the others, in that, while I disagreed with his worldview, at least he had one. I’ve now revised this assessment.
Owens' worldview is so pernicious that electing an empty pants suit flailing to please her constituents, or a dealmaker looking to cut the best bargain, would be far preferable. Someone of that kind might blunder into doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and when the fate of the world is at stake, that’s far better than doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons.
ANYONE BUT OWENS!
New York's Blogger of Record
The New York Times Editorial Page (8/30/06): Mr. Yassky is undoubtedly an opportunist, as are most politicians and certainly all those in this race. …The residents of the 11th District deserve the best representation possible. In this race, that is David Yassky, who gets our endorsement
Gatemouth (Series on the 11th CD 4/8/06 – 4/14/06): There’s a touch of opportunism is Yassky’s candidacy which has echoes elsewhere in his record … Yassky is still the smartest, most knowledgeable, and best on the issues. In a better world that would be game, set and match.
Christkillah’s Consumer Guide
[At this point in the campaign, Owens actually released a song over the web—this was my review]
DUD OF THE MONTH
Chris Owens: Love Is The Way (Loser Single ’06). This is clearly aimed at a crossover market which may not exist. The rap elements lack serious street cred, leading to charges of fakin’ da funk (which is admittedly better than fakin’ da diploma) [A reference to Yvette Clarke first lying about her unfinished degree from Oberlin, which she explained by saying she actually finished her studies at Medgar Evers, which also turned out to be a lie], while the reggae elements might seem more at home on a Belafonte record. The Kansas/Styx type organ clearly makes one wonder if the man has any understanding of the white crossover elements he seeks to attract. Still, the boy can sing and he sings his heart out. Says Azi: "he's probably the best singing politician since…Gifford Miller and Joseph Crowley (Sorry Patrick Jenkins.)", begging the question, "what about John Hall?" Well, having attended Hall's recent concert at Town Hall, I'd give the nod to Owens. As to the message, it’s all in the title. The solution to all the world’s problems is “Love”. One wonders if Mr. Owens has ever visited the matrimonial part of Brooklyn Supreme Court. Maybe he should ask his dad. And, even if one restricts the prescription purely to matter of foreign policy, it seems a mite simplistic. As the Israelis might query concerning Hezbollah, “what if my love is unrequited?” But Chris Owens is not where one goes for nuance. He is clearly a Quaker who's feeling his oats; he will not settle for the troops coming home tomorrow; only today will do. Me, I’d settle for sometime next week. B-
A NOTE TO READERS: An "anonymous coward" on Daily Gotham did first make the observation about the organ; acknowledging this non-existent person while staying in character as "the Dean of Rock Critics" proved far more difficult than the trouble it was worth, and the joke which resulted from the observation seemed so choice, that I finally just gave up and hoped folks who noticed the lift would take it as part of the same inside joke this entire post comprises. Mea culpa, mea culpa maxima!
Do you just hate the black people who have the poor taste to run against Jews, Gatemouth, or is there something else going on here other than that Chris is an uppity Shvartzer?
A part of me thinks that your obvious Chris-focused pathology stems from resentment of his mother's conversion from Judaism – not least because you've mentioned her in several posts (for example, in the one in which you alleged that Chris was smearing Yassky with 'blood libel') and now allude to his parents' divorce, and throw in the man's religion for good measure.
I don't know; is your motive an unspoken belief that the child of a convert has some innate animosity to the Jewish state and Jewish interests? Are you visiting the punishment you seem to feel the mother deserves on her son? Is that what this months-long smear campaign – "Christkillah" indeed – is all about?
And what would the reaction be if anyone pontificated on David's marriage and religious beliefs, especially in this charged contest? Even bloggers deeply hostile to him have stayed away from both subjects, and rightly so – isn't it time you showed the same simple good taste? Or how much longer will this hate-fueled vendetta continue?
I'm sorry, but your feud with Chris Owens has all the markings of something twisted and dark. There is simply no logical reason for any of this – as the commenter above notes – so I am beginning to believe that the roots lie deeper, in something of a reversed, projected Oedipus complex, where you hate another man's mother.
Deeply, deeply disturbing, that.
Gate: "Christgau's" Consumer Guide is a well known column of Rock criticism; this was a parody, written in a close approximation of his style. I could understand your vehement reaction to some earlier pieces, but this one was pretty goofy, and not particularly harsh. I really couldn't care less whether Chris is a Jew or not, and don't hold family conversion against him anymore than I did against John Kerry (who I supported in both the primary and general) or Madeline Albright. I do care that Owens is a pacifist, because I think any pacifist is morally unfit to serve in the congress of our country where he will voting on matters of war and peace. Pacifism as foreign policy would have doomed millions of Bonians and Kossovars to genocidal slaughter. Chris's answer is love is the way. Well, sometimes it ain't. Sorry that's too fuckin harsh for you.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: CHRIS OWENS AND THE MORAL BANKRUPCY OF PACIFISM
I've dedicated an awful lot of prose to the "Peter Beinart Democrat" stuff. Chris Owens usually gets a passing mention in these pieces, but, my real interest lies elsewhere. I certainly didn't spend all this time talking about the soul of the Democratic Party merely as a means of going after Chris Owens. I really believe this stuff, and being serious about it, I've put my principles into practice, and, being a Brooklyn guy who believes in thinking globally and acting locally, that means going after Owens.
Although I find many of Chris' opinions on domestic issues muddleheaded (his proposal for "reform" of the Democratic Party, his support of 45 different amendments to the US constitution) and sometimes even mildly offensive (his good cop/bad cop race bait game with his daddy), my main problem with Owens is his worldview. If he's not a pacifist, then let him come out and say so; I think he is because there's seemingly no other way to interpret either his song or his statements about foreign policy and defense. Unlike many other pols, I think Owens deserves the presumption that he actually believes the stuff he says.
Is Owens being a Quaker relevant to this discussion? There should be no religious test for public office, just an issues test. As I've stated in the past, I believe that all pacifists are morally unfit to hold a seat in Congress (the State Legislature or City Council would not bother me in the least) for their views on war and peace would prevent us from fighting in all wars, whether unjust or just. Surely extremism in the fight against genocide is no vice, and acquiesance to such evil is no virtue. And anyone who disagrees with me is welcome to step outside. It's not necessarily morally inconsistent to support certain military actions and oppose others. Pacifists can be consistent; for those of us who are not pacifists, nuance is the only alternative to moral reprehensibility. I supported Clinton's commitment of military force in Bosnia and Kosovo; I support Bush's commitment of force in Afghanistan. I oppose the war in Iraq. I would like to postpone to a later date making a decision concerning where I stand on Iran (preferably forever). One may disagree with all, none or several of my stances, but I am not fence straddling by making distinctions. Do I need to support all military actions to support any? I dare say, that would make me a monster.
But, not every pacifist is a Quaker, and not every Quaker is a pacifist; Richard Nixon was a Quaker, but no pacifist (although he was, for different reasons, morally unfit for public office). But, sad to say, if someone professes to embrace a religion which is pacifistic, it is legitimate to ask them if their political beliefs are affected by the doctrines of their religion. No one objects when Orthodox Jews are asked to clarify their opinions on sexual orientation anti-discrimination efforts, freedom of choice or tuition tax credits; I certainly make sure to ask them such questions
I've been asking for months on this blog for Chris Owens to answer whether he'd ever support the use of force for any reason. So far he's not answered in print. Seemingly, however, he has answered in song. With most politicians, I worry that they'll betray their principles, or, sometimes, that they have no principles to betray. I do not have this problem with Chris Owens on foreign policy (elsewhere, he is sometimes capable of duplicity, but no worse than what is the acceptable norm). It's just that his worldview makes for wonderful summer camp sing-alongs, but in the real world, is usually idiocy when dealing with genocidal maniacs and terrorists.
GATEMOUTH REPORTS; ED AND GERSH DECIDE
Brooklyn Paper Editorial (dated 9/2/06): Chris Owens …has a naivette about the world that members of Congress are sometimes forced to confront. Owens is right that we would have been better off not going to war in Iraq, but there are times when the United States does need to defend its interests with might. Owens indicated to our editorial board that there is almost no fight he’d be willing to join.
Gatemouth (4/14/06): Unfortunately, I find that Owens’ vision to often be unrealistic, and occasionally troubling. I see nothing that contradicts my suspicion that, as a Quaker, Owens may have a sincere aversion to ever using military force, under any circumstances, even to stop genocide…. In the end, I want a member of Congress who’s wrestled with, and lost sleep over the question of under which circumstances the deployment of American forces in battle is justified. “Just say no” is not an adequate answer, but it appears to be the only answer Chris Owens is capable of giving
FROM THE COMMENTS:
Jinny: I have a friend at the Brooklyn Papers. She said Owens' response was to a question about nuclear weapons, saying that if Israel had been attacked by nuclear weapons in the Middle East, should the United States retaliate with nuclear weapons? He said no, while Clarke and Andrews thought nuclear war was okay. Yassky waffled as usual and never answered the question– smart move, since it appears to have won him the endorsement.
There were no other war or troops questions except one about Iraq.
Bouldin: Good for him. The Congress needs more voices that advocate for peace. The primary achievement of the present lot – most of whom have worn a uniform as little as has Gatemouth – has been to expend American blood and treasure on a mirage built on a lie. From my experience, having grown up in the military, it's usually the civilians who play armchair general, as if wars were a bloodless chessboard.
I'm tired of Members sending off the children of other people to die. So are most members of military families. If Gatemouth is so eager to shed American blood, have him sign up, here.
Gate: Bouldin: I don't mind your distorting your own views (which have more in common with mine than with those of the candidate who's paying you), but please don't distort mine. I am not a pacifist, but that does not make me a war monger. I believing in preserving our option to use force, and find those who reject that option in all instances unfit for service in an institution which makes decisions concerning war and peace, but I certainly don't lightly advocate the use of military force; might even be said to be a bit more dovish than average, possibly because, as you pointed out (correctly, despite no knowledge aforethought) I have never served in the military.
However, I feel bound to point out that your same "chicken-hawk" accusations were leveled against Bill Clinton when he deployed the military option in Bosnia and Kosovo. I also believe that Clinton's anticipation of just such accusations caused him to delay action, costing thousands of innocent lives. If not for military veteran Al Gore and chickenhawk Joe Lieberman, Clinton might never have mustered the fortitude to do what was necessary.
Jinny: If your description of the question is accurate, then Yassky's waffle was the only correct answer. Properly, the candidates should have preserved the option of a nuclear response, but to call for retaliation without knowing the specific facts on the ground is almost as shortsighted as Owens' blanket rejection of of the retaliatory option. Just saying "yes" is as morally irresponsible as just saying "no". A decision to deploy nuclear force may require a rapid decision, but it still requires a thoughtful decision as well. Score one for Yassky and no one else.
FROM “Gatemouth’s Voter’s Guide (Part One- Intro; Statewide and Congressional Races; Notes)”
11th CD (Brooklyn): Some complain that it seems as if every piece I’ve written on Room 8 (this is number 53, although there are those who say that others exist as well) contains at least one gratuitous swipe at Chris Owens, which, if true, would clearly be unfair (it would be fair if each piece contained at least one gratuitous swipe at Charles Barron). In the interests of brevity (never a big priority on this blog), I will only cite the four (four?!?) posts mentioning this race which I consider to be the most relevant. This includes a three part series done in April. In part one, I examine all the candidates, find only Yassky and Owens passable, and express a slight preference for Yassky, provided he changes his color. In parts two and three, I keep whining about it, but keep coming back to Yassky. By the fourth post, from a few months later, Owens’ supporters have convinced me that not only Yassky, but even Clarke and Andrews, are preferable to Chris (and there are those who say I’m incapable of growth and reflection).
"The Dean, and the premier source of legitimate information" (Even For Those Who Disagree With Him)
New York Daily News Editorial (9/7/06): Yassky has attractive credentials (smart, committed, excellent on gun control), with one drawback. He had to move three blocks to be able to say he lives in the district, continuing a pattern in which he seems a bundle of ambition and campaign contributions in search of an office. Previously, he had run for school board in Washington and for Brooklyn DA as well as for the Council.
Gatemouth (4/14/06): David’s obsessive ambition is still a concern. Sometimes it appears that he really thinks he's going to be the first Jewish president. He's spent his life looking for the next office to run for (from DC School Board to Council to DA to Congress) and is always starting his campaign about five minutes after (if not five minutes before) he unloads his moving van
From “Did Owens Cost Yassky the Election? (Maybe); Did Yassky Cost Owens the Election? (Probably Not): A Statistical Exercise”
“What ifs” always raise unpleasant issues; after all, as the French say, “if bubbe had cojones she’d be zayde” [If grandma had testes she’d be grandpa], and if the Democrats had cojones they’d be in the White House and we’d be in Darfur instead of Iraq (but Michael Moore would still be complaining).
In the aftermath of this year’s congressional primaries, many “what ifs” have been raised about the race in the 11th District; both supporters of runner-up David Yassky (ruefully, and under their breathe, or after a few beers) and also-ran Chris Owens (by the candidate himself, in his concession speech) have claimed, contrary to the initial conventional wisdom that the presence in the race of additional black candidates helped Yassky, that Owens cost Yassky the primary.
Interestingly, several Owens supporters have used the blogs to raise the converse; that it was Yassky (27% to winner Yvette Clarke’s 31%) who cost the election to Owens (19%). There is an implicit presumption here that Yassky, being white, didn’t really have the right to run, and that, if he’d done the right thing, the proper and progressive victor would have emerged.
Although I’ve happily done my best to puncture many an Owens balloon, my aim here is merely to examine the statistical likelihood of both of these claims. Facially, they both begin with an idiotic presumption that: 27 + 19= 46 > 31. While mathematically correct, this is logically inapt. The illogic is that all the votes from either Yassky or Owens would be transferable to the other. That’s highly unlikely in the real world….
Were these white votes likely to transfer to Yassky? One assumes they chose Owens over Yassky for one of a number of reasons.
Those motivated by Atlantic Yards … were likely Yassky votes, though unenthusiastic ones.
Those motivated by altruisms or white guilt to support a black candidate were unlikely, but not impossible, Yassky votes, since that desire was likely to fade in the face of alternative black choices with machine connections or incomplete matriculations.
Those who chose Owens because he was most “progressive” were a strong possibility to move to Yassky, since the other remaining candidates, even if actually more liberal, were generally less able to articulate such a worldview beyond their talking points, and had less resources to sell their message (although many “progressive” voters were likely to prefer, all things being equal, to vote for a black candidate). The answer seems to be that Yassky could pick up most of these votes, but surely not all of them.
Those who chose Owens because they were impressed by the service rendered to their community by his father were probably not statistically significant, but were unlikely to have any predisposition to vote for either Una’s daughter or Clarence’s adopted son.
Now let’s look at the converse. Would the Yassky votes switch to Owens?
In the nearly all black ADs, where Yassky managed 12% … is there any reason to assume that these voters were more likely to vote for Owens than either of his opponents? I think not.
The same must be said of the black votes in the black majority ADs with an Orthodox Jewish element. As to the Orthodox votes in those ADs, as well as the more significant Orthodox vote in the predominately Orthodox ADs… it is almost mind boggling to contemplate any of these votes transferring to Owens, who had the least institutional support, and the least palatable position on Israel. This is also true of the Orthodox votes Yassky got in the 44th AD.., where the Orthodox probably accounted for at least a third (and probably more) of Yassky’s total…
Only in the 52nd …and the 57th…is the white vote entirely of the Brownstone sort most likely to switch to Owens (although somewhere between 1/3 to 2/3 of Yassky votes in the 44th probably also so qualifies).
So how would one deign to predict where such votes would go in the event a candidate dropped out?
Well this is a primary. Unlike a general election, where, if the Republican left the race, it is unlikely his supporters would go to the Democrat, the voters in a primary in any particular election district voting for one candidate, are pretty likely to have a lot in common with the voters in that primary living in the same election district who are voting for a different candidate. In the event a particular candidate drops out, those votes are likely to split pretty much like the votes cast by their remaining neighbors.
As such, I’ve attempted to reallocate the voters in our two scenarios in that manner…
Anyway, I think that, in the district-wide aggregate, the variables in every area wash each other, and to the extent they don’t, this would only matter if the result of the re-allocation were close.
The results are not close. With the reallocation of the Yassky vote, Clarke would get 20,059 (39%), Owens 15,847 (31%) and Andrews 15,379 (30%). Even positing that Owens was disadvantaged by the reallocation, an Owens victory seems highly unlikely….
The Owens-less race presents its own caveats…. Nonetheless, we have a decent rule of thumb for measuring whether the scenario that Yassky would have won the race without Owens has any plausibility.
The scenario is plausible. With the reallocation, Yassky would get 19,036 (36.65%), Clarke 18,843 (36.27%) and Andrews 14,066 (27.08%), a victory of 193 votes (.38%). Since I think the reallocation overstates the Yassky vote, I think the question of who really would have won is up in the air…
AFTERTHOUGHTS: HALF BAKED
In re-reading the pieces collected here, I’m appalled by their parochial nature. They are clearly of little interest to anyone outside the membership of Brownstone Brooklyn White liberal political clubs and the local blogosphere, which basically account for the same group of people.
Who cares about Yassky and Owens anyway? They lost. What about Yvette Clarke?
As I had predicted, working class voters, especially Caribs (with the exception of Rock Hackshaw) didn’t care that much about Clarke’s failure to graduate from either Oberlin or Medgar Evers; some even sympathized, rendering the matter a wash. The public release of Clarke’s college transcripts was a guided missile aimed at educated voters; it would have hurt her only if she was already getting some of those votes; she wasn’t.
And yet the diploma story was may have been the emblematic moment of Clarke’s campaign; although, in fairness, the competition was fierce. Who can forget her statement calling for bring home the “toops” (a poster calling himself “George ‘Gatemouth’ Constanza and the Bubble Boy” opined that perhaps she meant the “Moops”) [A Seinfeld reference].
The retention by her campaign of 5W Public Relations didn’t seem to help, despite the talents of her account exec, Judah Engelmayer. Perhaps the problem was that Judah's main livelihood is selling bialys, and Yvette seemed more like a bagel: hollow in the center.
5W ended up producing a lovely piece juxtaposing Clarke’s photo to those of a number of feminist heroines, one of whom turned out to be an actress playing Eleanor Roosevelt, rather than the real McCoy. Of course, comparing Yvette Clarke to any of the ladies in question was comparing a McDonald's bagel to one of Judah bialy's.
Bagels, Bialys, Yvette; it's all empty calories, although the baked goods are far more appetizing (try the salt-sticks!).
Chris Owens supporters, and other, myself included, castigated Clarke for being the child of a pol who supported Republicans; of course, if this were sufficient to disqualify a candidate, it would have done so for Owens as well, as his father had endorsed Bloomberg in all but name back in 2001, and had openly threatened to strike deals with the Republicans to punish the leadership of the Democratic Party if David Yassky was nominated.
As far as nepotism went, the only real difference between Una Clarke and Major Owens was that Yvette was a fully sane strumpet, while Major appeared at times to be half out of his mind with delusions that his actions, which include the crudest sort of race baiting, somehow exemplified being a progressive. I guess it depended on one's definition of the word "progress".
In fairness, I thought it was best to forget the parentage of either Clarke or Owens (and for that matter, any of the other candidates), and consider them on their merits, such as they were. Of course, but for the parentage of either Chris or Yvette, they would not have been serious candidates for Congress, or have even held the offices they'd achieved (and if not for his father’s real estate money, where would have been David Yassky?).