Monday, December 14

Is There An Emoticon For "God, That Smells Disgusting! Here, You Taste It."?

Ross Douthat, "Prisons of Our Own Making". December 14

NOTE that we will shortly be quoting an actual sentence perpetrated by the above referenced Mr. Douthat, Opinionater of Record. Those of you who require helmets, safety nets, or who need to assume the crash position under such circumstances, please prepare now.

I grew up, or "grew up", in Indianapolis, where the local news trade was dominated by the Gene Pulliam-owned Star and News, (there was also the pinko Indianapolis Times, the one which fought Klan control of the state, as opposed to pining for its return. The Times folded in the mid-60s. It was never allowed to cross our threshold.) Gene Pulliam swung so far to the Right that I remember thinking that the one good thing about the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 was that Pulliam would be forced to support a moderate.

And reading the Star at the breakfast table was a big part of my learning to read--something I overcame later--so I think I can say with apodictic assurance that the New York Times has managed to hire a guy whose work falls short of that army of anilinguists commanded by journalism's answer to Curtis LeMay, forty-five years ago, in the Mid-fucking-West. In the name of balance.

Here's Monday's opener. It's not the one you need to strap yourselves in for; I'll give a special heads-up on that:
If you’re a governor with presidential aspirations, you should never, under any circumstances, pardon a convict or reduce a sentence. That’s the lesson everyone seems to have drawn from the dreadful case of Maurice Clemmons, an Arkansas native who murdered four Lakewood, Wash., police officers over Thanksgiving weekend — nine years after Mike Huckabee, then governor, commuted his sentence and the Arkansas parole board set him free.

Even before Clemmons was shot dead the following Tuesday by Seattle police officers, a chorus of pundits had declared Huckabee’s presidential ambitions all but finished. His prospective 2012 rivals — Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin — hastened to suggest that they never considered issuing a pardon while governor. And even observers sympathetic to Huckabee’s decision (Clemmons’s original 108-year sentence was handed down when he was only 16, and for burglary and robbery, not murder) tended to emphasize its folly. Joe Carter, who handled rapid-response for Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, acknowledged that the “prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency — ever.”

Okay, one: upon reading this, my estimated time between the endquotes and the first mention of Willie Horton: 114 words. Actual: 133. Two: in an era of dwindling ad revenues, shouldn't the Times consider offering a million-dollar prize for whoever can complete a Douthat "think-piece" word-for-word from just the first two paragraphs? It's not like they'd lose anything of value by throwing the rest of one away. Three: they gave this guy a blog, which, in addition to being a Good First Step (#2: stop paying him), ought at the very least to mean that his once-a-week 800-word sleep aids would begin to approach, I dunno, timeliness? Clemons was shot to death two weeks ago. I'm not saying this ended the issue, mind you, but maybe you could have covered it last week, or blogged it to a tortuous death in the interim? Baring that, maybe you could turn up with something, anything, that exhibited an original thought, as opposed to coughing up a refried George Wallace stump speech from 1967?
This calculus has recent American history as well as crude political logic on its side.

Sorry to interrupt, but in case you're keeping score at home, that's Major Premise: make Democrats responsible for Mike Huckabee being hoist on Lee Atwater's petard; Minor Premise: grant that Sarah Palin--in case she winds up being the nominee--has "logic" on her side, albeit not as refined as The Thirty-Year-Old Guy With the Teenage Beard would like.
Without conservative lawmakers willing to “err on the side of punishing” (as Palin put it after the Clemmons shooting), America might still be swamped by the crime wave that engulfed the country in the 1960s and ’70s.
Estimated time between that "and the [Arkansas] parole board set him free" and "first mention of the Sixties": 140 words. Actual: 154. I'm getting pretty good at this.

Incidently, Ross, and just out of curiosity, how'd it take you two weeks to wind up blaming The Sixtes for this one?

Okay, )))))))) time to buckle up! (((((((( (And Please remain seated until the attendant gives the all clear. Just because Retroactively blaming crack for the 60s, the 70s, and the Dillinger Gang can't be topped doesn't mean he's not going to try):
The surge in crime rates, which lasted until the early 1990s, was driven by a variety of factors — the demographic bulge created by the baby boom, the crisis of authority in the late ’60s, and the heroin and crack epidemics that followed.

Similarly, the Titanic sunk because of a variety of factors: hitting an iceberg, sailing on water, and coed polka.

Ross Douthat was born in 1979.

But it was abetted by a softheaded liberalism that emphasized rehabilitation to the exclusion of retribution and deterrence. (Across the Great Society era, as crime rates started to take off, America’s prison population actually went down.)

Okay, it's more or less safe now.

So, first, we've narrowed down that two-week delay to either 1) "research", or 2) diagramming that roller-coaster ride of decades, crime statistics, and finger-pointing. Second, we've perhaps spied the hazards of giving fucking prime newspaper space to some talentless wingnut so he can lecture us on the pitfalls of The Permissive Sixties based on the fact that, growing up, he listened to any number of lectures on the pitfalls of The Permissive Sixties.

We will, momentarily, enter Full Linkmaster Ross mode, where those of you interested enough will be able to go search for the evidence Douthat is too busy being inherently correct to explain, or get right. Meanwhile, a quick racism break:
The case of Willie Horton remains the exemplary instance of rehabilitative folly.

"Exemplary" being synonymous with "the first time in my wingnut youth I heard such a thing blamed on Democrats".
In 1986, a furlough program in Michael Dukakis’s Massachusetts enabled Horton to commit rape and battery midway through what was supposed to be a life sentence for murder.
Unlike Arkansas, where the Parole Board frees future felons, in Massachusetts the whole damn liberal-ass state does, enabled by the governor.
Liberals remember the Horton story, which Republicans used to derail Dukakis’s presidential bid, as an example of right-wing race-bating.

Yeah. They do. And that's pretty much the way Lee Atwater recalled it, too, once he was dying of brain bubbles and no longer in the employ of the Bush Crime Family.
But they rarely recall the damning details — from Dukakis’s veto of a bill exempting first-degree murderers from furloughs (it would “cut the heart out of efforts at inmate rehabilitation,” he claimed), to the self-parodic way his administration responded to the tragedy. (“Don’t forget that Mr. Horton had nine previous successful furloughs,” Dukakis’s secretary of human services told the press.)

Look, Ross, I can appreciate how difficult it must be to remember the complex legal details of a matter than happened when you were four, but it's not really helped by that adult somewhere inside you insisting on lying about it. The program wasn't Dukakis', but his predecessor's (a Republican, for whatever that's worth). The bill "exempting first-degree murderers" was a response to the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturning that provision. I have no idea how Dukakis responded to that, nor to the crimes Horton committed while on furlough, and, furthermore, I'm not sure what you imagine the relevance to be now that it's no longer 1988.
There are superficial resemblances, much cited in the last two weeks, between the Horton case and the tragic parole of Maurice Clemmons.

Fuck; there are two salient differences: today it's a Republican (and highly-public Christian) being roasted for an executive connection to a freed felon, and there's no major campaign advertising budget at work juxtaposing Clemons' scary black mug with the white female victim. The "distinction between clemency and a furlough program?" Well, Dukakis was administering a statewide program, while Huckabee personally granted clemency. Beyond that, y'know, either take your own medicine or stop trying to force it on everyone else.
But the political context is completely different. The age of furloughs is long gone. For a generation now, conservatives, not Dukakis-style liberals, have been making policy on crime. They’ve built more prisons, imposed harsher sentences and locked up as many lawbreakers as possible.

Their approach has worked. The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak. The murder rate is at its lowest point since Lyndon Johnson was president.

I see…so that earlier equation, that crime rose in the 60s and 70s because of generational demographics, the "crisis of authority", and the Kreskinesque retroactive effects of crack should have read "because of Democrats"? Who was President the early 90s, when the homicide rate took a nose dive? Why'd it flatline in 2000, instead of continuing to drop as you tough "conservative" types took over again? How is it that the penal system is run for a generation by Republicans, while the Liberal Elites in Washington thwart all their other plans? And half the population of these super-cool prisons you and your buddies build instead of inner-city schools are inside for drug offenses. So how'd you manage to lose that war, too, Bright Boy?

For that matter, how is it that back in '04 Baghdad was still so much safer than Detroit?

Y'know, I really don't care how it is that you come to believe that the whole Punishment/Rehabilitation argument comes down to something Mater told you about the Evil 60s; and I'm really not concerned with your problems in defending Mike Huckabee from his own side's weapons. I'd just like to know how you reach 30 years old, with an Ivy education, and given (for whatever reason) a plot of intellectual influence people ten time more capable would have killed for, and you spend your time recapitulating a previous generation's arguments, except with all the stuffing removed so you can win this time.


heydave said...

Are we absolutely sure his surname isn't "asshat?" I always read it that way, personally.

Morgan P. said...

Brilliant post, as usual! Particularly the last sentence, which reminded me of Anne Sexton's "A Curse Against Elegies":

"I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you - you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams."

(BTW, that's my favorite poem ever so I hope this reads correctly as high praise.)

charles pierce said...

There were many chunky Reese Witherspoons back in the 1960's. It was a very difficult time for a young man with a sacred penis.

JMC said...

The Common Folk of America burble:
Why aren't you writing 4 the Times? Plus whatever Mr Pierce said, about his penis.

StringonaStick said...

Sacred penis or scared penis?

Anonymous said...

More like a sacred iliac


R. Porrofatto said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent. Douthat is not only "recapitulating a previous generation's arguments" but regurgitating the worst "soft on crime" Lee Atwater propaganda as if it were an actual argument.

From Time Magazine, July 1988, about Michael Dukakis' Massachusetts:
In the past four years, the violent- crime rate in Massachusetts has dropped 13.4% while the national rate has risen 1.8%. Today the state has the lowest homicide rate of any major industrial state in the country. In 1983 Dukakis formed a special anticrime task council, and he has chaired every one of the group's 58 meetings. "His record against crime now can't be disputed," says Ned Merrick, legislative representative of the state's police association. "It's too good."

Ipso facto, Dukakis must have been a Republican.

(Regardless of one's visceral reaction to furloughs, it's interesting how asses like Douthat never mention that some 45 states had similar furlough programs, including Texas and California under St. Ronaldus, and Horton would have been eligible for furlough in 23 of them. Nor does anyone note that, nationally, the recidivism rate of inmates who were in these furlough programs was 40% less than for those not engaged in such rehabilitative folly.)