Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

November 29, 2012

Congress in Wonderland

By David K. Shipler

            “EAT ME,” said the note on the plate of cookies. So Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham took bites and rapidly shrank until they were small enough to fit through the tiny door into the halls of Congress.
            There, mingling with their same-sized colleagues, these once-larger men badgered the White House and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice about her account of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, parsing the language of the CIA’s talking points she had been given, which had carefully excised a reference to a terrorist group because the information remained classified to protect intelligence gathering.
            The trouble with being very small is that you can’t get an overview of the very big problems that tower around you.

November 21, 2012

Should We Talk to Hamas?

By David K. Shipler

            It’s nice for Egypt’s new government, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, that the United States has handcuffed itself by refusing to deal directly with Hamas. And perhaps it’s just as well, since Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has more influence with Hamas than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would. Plus, he gets to play a pivotal role in the eternally exasperating Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lucky him.
            But it’s not so great for American interests that the “terrorist” label, which the U.S. government has imposed on Hamas, carries such a broad set of taboos as to restrict Washington’s flexibility in a crisis.
Hamas employs terrorism, obviously—witness today’s bus bombing in Tel Aviv, the random rocketing of Israeli civilians—but it was also elected to govern Gaza, which Israel voluntarily left to the Palestinian residents in 2005. Denying Hamas the symbol of legitimacy it would gain through contact with American officials may be morally satisfying, but it has about as much impact on reality as the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

November 13, 2012

The Longer Campaign: Radicalizing America

By David K. Shipler

            The most significant lesson of the election may be one that has gone practically unnoticed: Conservatives have failed to radicalize the American electorate, even after years of well-organized, heavily-financed efforts. Most voters have not been pushed to the extremes, not by Fox-News and Rush-Limbaugh propaganda, not by thinly encrypted appeals to racial bigotry, not by evangelical preachers threatening the wrath of God for abortion and same-sex marriage. Fire and brimstone ain’t what they used to be.
As the pundit class has observed, Republicans have been left behind by the demographic shift. But that’s not the whole story. The group identities that have always described the landscape of American politics run deeper than skin color or national and religious heritage. Groups have real political interests and resilient attitudes, not easily manipulated in an open society where multiple voices can be heard.

November 5, 2012

To Vote or Not To Vote

By David K. Shipler

            “Have you registered to vote?” the white cashier asked the black cashier at a hardware store. Both young women looked barely 18.
            “No,” the black woman answered, because then she’d get called for jury duty.
            I groaned out loud. So did a man at the next counter. You have to vote, we told her. In the quarter century since I’d moved to this county in Maryland, I explained, I’d been called for jury duty a total of two times. The other guy said his total was zero. Then he corrected himself: once, he said.
            People give lots of reasons for not voting, and the lower the income, the lower the turnout, a fact that hurts Democrats and those who want to boost government anti-poverty programs. I’ve heard non-voters say that voting won’t change anything and takes time they don’t have. They can’t get off from work, they’re stressed and busy, and they’ve been made dizzy by the barrage of lying campaign ads. But to avoid jury duty? That was a first. (It was also mistaken, because jury pools in Montgomery County, where we were standing, are drawn from lists of licensed drivers as well as registered voters.)
“This is terrible!” my fellow shopper declared. “It’s part of being a citizen.” You have to vote, we both told her. She gave us a pleasant smile.

November 3, 2012

Civil Liberties: Liberals Give Obama a Pass

By David K. Shipler

Published at Salon.com Nov. 3, 2012

Let us stipulate, as lawyers like to say, that President Obama has a deplorable record on civil liberties, one that threatens long-term damage to the country’s constitutional culture.

Why, then, has his base of support not been eroded decisively? Why have so many on the left fallen silent, after railing against George W. Bush’s rights violations, as Obama has prolonged and codified most of the same practices? And why have so few on the right, riding a groundswell of resentment toward big government, failed to resent the biggest governmental intrusions into personal privacy since the FBI’s domestic spying during the Cold War?