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Because nothing says "historic" like an engraved whale's tooth stained with tobacco spit
Greg Grandin finds a literary analogy for modern America in a work by Herman Melville. And no, not the one with the whale.
Mr. Obama won the White House, inaugurating what many at the time hoped was a new, “postracial” America.

That optimism turned out to be premature. Today, anti-Obama signs with racist language accompany Tea Party rallies; a Confederate flag is unfurled in front of the White House to protest the government shutdown.

Looking back, there was one book in the McNally Jackson display, overlooked at the time, that could have helped us anticipate all this. That book was “Benito Cereno,” a largely forgotten masterpiece by Herman Melville. In today’s charged political environment, the message of Melville’s story bears rehearing.

“Benito Cereno” tells the story of Amasa Delano, a New England sea captain who, in the South Pacific, spends all day on a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans who he thinks are slaves. They aren’t.

The view of racial relations that Grandin projects is bleak, and unfortunately the conclusions he draws seem all too close to the mark.

We live in an America where a significant portion of the population doesn't see the election of a black president as a triumphant victory set against centuries of injustice. Doesn't see it as progress toward an America that really lives up to the high-flown language of its founders rather than their often far more base behavior. Doesn't even see it as a proud expression of our vaunted "American dream." Instead, millions of Americans consider the election of Barack Obama an uprising, an overturning of a natural order that must be restored.

No other American president has had to face, before even taking office, an opposition convinced of not just his political but his existential illegitimacy. In order to succeed as a politician, Mr. Obama had to cultivate what many have described as an almost preternatural dominion over his inner self. He had to become a “blank screen,” as Mr. Obama himself has put it, on which others could project their ideals.... Yet this intense self-control seems to be what drives the president’s more feverish detractors into a frenzy; they fill that screen with hatreds drawn deep from America’s historical subconscious.
Grandon's piece is your "read it all" selection for the morning, but after you digest the implications you may wish for one of those chapters in Moby Dick about butchering whales. It's less disturbing.

Still to come this morning... Ross Douthat welcomes us to the exciting, new world of conservative ideas... Frank Bruni covers the ghoulish excess of "pro-life" regulations... and Kathleen Parker blows your mind...

Come on in.

Ross Douthat is abuzz with excitement over New Conservative Ideas

The conservative policy larder was genuinely bare by the end of the Bush presidency. But that changed, reasonably swiftly, across President Obama’s first term. A new journal, National Affairs, edited by Yuval Levin, began incubating alternatives to a re-ascendant liberalism. The older magazines and think tanks were reinvigorated, and played host to increasingly lively policy debates. And a new generation of conservative thinkers coalesced...
And what has this refreshing new wind from the right brought? Just who are it's champions?
The first is Mike Lee, the junior Senator from Utah, who has pivoted from leading the defund-Obamacare movement to basically becoming a one-stop shop for provocative reform ideas...
Ah yes, Mike Lee. Dedicated to starting a war in Iran, cutting taxes for the rich, and repealing Obamacare. I can certainly see that those are completely different ideas from the Bush years. But don't worry, there are other political leaders bringing the new conservatism...
The second is Marco Rubio...
What's that smell? Not fresh, that's what it is.

David Ignatius covers more of that fresh GOP thinking.

The Senate intelligence committee made headlines this week by reporting that the 2012 attack in Benghazi was preventable. But frankly, we knew that. The deeper message of the bipartisan report was that Republicans in Congress wasted a year arguing about what turned out to be mostly phony issues.

The Republican Party’s Benghazi obsession was the weird backdrop for foreign-policy debate through much of last year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) used it as a pretext for blocking administration nominations. Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) used the issue to impugn the integrity and independence of a review conducted by retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former ambassador Thomas Pickering.

Driving the Republican jihad was a claim, first reported in October 2012 by Fox News, that CIA personnel had wanted to respond more quickly to the Benghazi attack but were ordered to “stand down,” perhaps by political higher-ups. Although this claim was promptly rebutted by CIA officials, it was repeated by Fox News at least 85 times, according to a review by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters. This barrage fueled Republican charges that the Democrats were engaging in a coverup.

Well, now that there's another official report out, I'm sure this is over.

Frank Bruni shows that the anti-choice forces don't back down just because someone is dead.

What would Marlise Munoz have made of all of this?

We’ll never know. She can no longer form words. Can no longer form thoughts. It’s arguable that we shouldn’t even be referring to a “she,” to a “her,” because if she’s brain-dead, as her family has consistently said, then she meets the legal criteria for death in all 50 states, and what’s been tethered to machines in a hospital in Fort Worth for the last seven weeks isn’t exactly a mother. It’s an artificially maintained ecosystem, an incubator for a fetus that has somehow been given precedence over all other concerns: the pain of Marlise’s husband and parents; their wishes to put an end to this; their best guess about what her desires would have been; her transformation, without any possibility of her consent, into a mere vessel. ...

Is her fate really what we mean when we speak of “valuing life” or “the sanctity of life,” to summon two phrases tossed around too quickly and simplistically? It seems to me that several lives are being devalued in the process, and that while there are no happy outcomes here, there’s also no sense or dignity on the chilling road that this Texas hospital is taking us down.

Has anyone asked freshy-fresh Mike Lee or Marco Rubio if they oppose this Texas law? Want to make a bet on what they would say?

The New York Times records a step toward restoring the voting rights that the Supreme Court so recently abridged.

Only seven months after the Supreme Court shattered the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has come up with a bill that would go a long way toward putting it back together. If they can persuade Republicans in Congress to set aside partisanship and allow it to pass, they would begin to restore justice to a deeply damaged electoral process. It would be an ideal way to observe the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this week.

The bill is far from perfect. In particular, it does not give enough weight to the discriminatory effect of voter ID laws. But it would make it more difficult for states and localities to take other actions that reduce minority voting rights. Jurisdictions would once again be put under Justice Department supervision if they committed multiple violations of the Constitution.

I'd give my opinion on that whole "If they can persuade Republicans in Congress to set aside partisanship" bit... but it's already been a depressing morning.

Kathleen Parker demonstrates that she's one Republican open to at least one fresh idea.

It is true that marijuana smoking tends to affect one’s short-term memory, but the good news is that, while stoned, one does relatively little worth remembering. At least that’s my recollection.

So, yes, I toked, too. This doesn’t mean anyone else should, and I haven’t in decades, but our debate might have more value if more of us were forthcoming. ...

Among columnists confessing are the New York Times’ David Brooks, who voiced his objections to legalization, and my Post colleague Ruth Marcus, who noted parental concerns and her own reluctance to endorse legalization. This isn’t hypocrisy, which I embrace in the service of civilization, so much as perspectives developed through maturity and experience.

Though I respect their views and share their concerns, I come down on the other side. My long-standing position is that marijuana should be decriminalized, if not made legal. Regulate and tax the tar out of it, please, but let’s stop pretending that pot consumers are nefarious denizens of the underworld. Among those who enjoy a recreational smoke are the folks selling you a house, golfing on the ninth hole and probably an editor or two here and there.

There. That's practically the same as a permission slip from your mom.

Leonard Pitts brings us back to where we started, this time looking at cruel remarks in social media.

How did this kind of cruelty — meaning not the occasional fat joke on Letterman, but this sort of truly sadistic and personal meanness — become acceptable? Indeed, commonplace?

... we are a people who spend half our days gazing down at screens and that, I think, has changed us. We’ve become unused to interacting with one another and we’re not very good at it anymore. We have, many of us, lost the knack of treating people like people.

You get some sense of this when a polarizing political figure — Ted Kennedy, Robert Novak — passes away and people cheer as if this were not a real person who just died. You get it when a man holds a sign calling for the president’s children to be killed. Or when Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a c---. Or when some individual likens [actress Gabourey] Sidibe to a zoo animal.

Too many of us have forgotten a basic rule of what used to be called home training. There are some things you just don’t say to or about another human being in a public forum.

Saying the thing anyway tells us less about the person you’re talking about than about you and your lack of class.

Amen, sir.

John Timmer covers the climate change phrases that should never be used again.

Stop me if you've heard any of these before:

"The warming is just part of a natural cycle."
"We've been warming up since the last ice age."
"To think humanity can influence the climate is pure arrogance."

If you haven't heard these arguments before, it's clearly because you've never read any of the discussions attached to our climate articles. One or more of these statements appear in just about every single climate article we run, which is made even more disappointing by the fact that these arguments are ludicrously, laughably wrong. People should be embarrassed to be making them (although I'd imagine most are oblivious to that fact). In an attempt to forestall further public humiliation, I'm going to explain why, exactly, they're such terrible arguments.

And he does. If you've had one of these ditties thrown in your face (and you must have if you've ever mentioned climate change), read Timmer's article to build up your artillery.

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 10:57 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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