A Day We Have Waited For, A Day We Will Remember

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What Obama Has Read, Should Read

There's been quite a bit of commentary recently over the outgoing chief executive's reading habits, with Karl Rove throwing his dubious credibility behind the notion that President Bush is a "book lover" who read nearly a hundred books last year. Perhaps Rove felt pressure to stick up for his guy, what with the President-elect actually reading books and all.

During the campaign, Senator Obama's literary choices were given great scrutiny, even becoming the subject of the daily pool report. Michiko Kakutani devoted a column this morning to the books in his life:

Much has been made of Mr. Obama's eloquence -- his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire. But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.

Now as we find ourselves just hours away from the long-awaited inauguration of our next President, pundits of all stripes are offering a deluge of predictions and prescriptions for what lay ahead. The Washington Monthly decided to take a much more interesting approach, and asked for suggestions on what the new President should be reading. I particularly liked David Ignatius' contribution:

I recommend the new president read (or reread) The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. He should do so to remind himself, when the clever, idealistic briefer comes to tell him about the "third way" that will produce a breakthrough in America's tangled relations with the world, that we've been down this road again, and again, and again.

The whole thing is worth a look. Lots of history, political science, and philosophy; kudos to those who offered up fiction. (Via Steve Benen)

Bush's Law by Eric Lichtblau

lichtblau_bushs.jpgHaving just finished a lengthy book on the birth of the American Republic, which was in many ways the modern birth of civil liberties, I thought it might be interesting to read a book that covered as close to the opposite topic as possible. It came down to a biography of Joseph Stalin, or the story of the Bush administration's law enforcement and intelligence gathering policy in the years since 9/11. The ironic dichotomy of the latter carried the day.

The last few years have not been kind to the Bush administration, with the president entering uncharted waters for sustained unpopularity. That's only fair, after all, since for the last eight years the Bush administration has not been kind to this country. Several former administration officials recently claimed that Hurricane Katrina was the 'tipping point' that turned the tide against the president. I am sure there is some evidence to support this, and perhaps for many that was the blunder that finally laid bare the administration's incompetence. Along the way, however, there was plenty to suggest that there was more than mere incompetence at work. There was intentional malfeasance as well.

From the perspective of an attorney like myself, in law school from 2002-2005, a former intern at the ACLU, the most destructive efforts were those aimed at America's rule of law, the fundamental understanding that everyone in this nation, including the President of the United States, are subordinate to the laws of the land. This basic premise, thought to be widely accepted in the post-Watergate era, turned out to be anathema to this administration.

We still do not all the ways that the White House chose to circumvent or subvert existing law in its twisted theories of unfettered executive power. But for what we do know, we owe a debt of gratitude to the reporters who have zealously investigated and disclosed the numerous policies and programs that the Bush administration sought to keep secret. These are men and women who work long hours under great pressure for little pay, and they were rewarded by this administration by having their credentials pulled, being labeled as traitors, and threatened with imprisonment. At the center of much of this controversy was Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, who co-authored a bombshell article in December 2005 revealing the NSA's warrantless wiretapping of domestic targets (and won the Pulitzer Prize for it).

Early last year, Lichtblau published Bush's Law, which details a range of post-9/11 efforts by the Bush administration to expand the reach of executive power, from the 2001 roundups by immigration officials to the NSA wiretap program to the collection of international banking transaction data:

This war would require different tactics, different tools, and a different mindset in what would amount to the most radical remaking of America's notion of justice in generations. What Woodrow Wilson did in going after the socialists and anarchists, what J. Edgar Hoover did in going after communists, what Bobby Kennedy did in going after organized crime mob figures, Bush and his inner circle would now do in training the sights of the American government on those suspected of aiding the enemy known as al Qaeda. There was a new ethos at work, and it relied at its core on smashing walls-walls that had failed to stop the enemy from storming the country on 9/11; walls that had been erected in a bygone "don't tread on me" era to protect the American people from the powerful reach of its own government. Now, counterterrorism agents from the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the FBI would be allowed to go places and do things they had never done before in the quest to stop the next attack. Lawyer would give legal sanction to covert programs and secret interrogation tactics unimaginable just a few months earlier. And the drift net of government would sweep up thousands of suspects--some real, many imagined--in its tide. The walls had come crashing down.

Lichtblau peppers these tales with the anecdotal richness characteristic of journalism and the authoritative insider view offered by Lichtblau's numerous well-placed sources. He does not offer a binary portrait of administration officials or Republicans as universally evil or unprincipled. In fact, the only officials who come across as utterly contemptible are rather deserving: John Yoo, whose legal work in the service of torture is only the tip of the iceberg of damage he did to to America's rule of law; and Alberto Gonzales, the ultimate yes-man, whose enabling of the administration's overreach extended from his days as White House counsel doing end-runs around the DoJ to his time in charge of that department as it became the laughingstock of the political and legal world until his resignation in disgrace (the man is apparently unemployable). The most infamous example being his trip to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft in an attempt to overturn a decision by Acting Attorney General James Comey (another story Lichtblau broke):

Ashcroft, weakened and drugged up, lifted his head from the pillow. In language that both Comey and Gonzales regarded as remarkably lucid, he outlined his concerns about the legality of the surveillance program, paralleling many of the same issues Comey had briefed him on the week before. He made clear that he shared those concerns. "I've been told it would be improvident for me to sign," he told Gonzales. "But that doesn't matter," he said, "because I'm not the attorney general." Gesturing to Comey next to him, he said: "There is the attorney general." Ashcroft put his head back down on the pillow. He looked so ill that [OLC chief Jack] Goldsmith figured he was going to die right there on the spot; it was, Goldsmith said later, "the most amazing scene I've ever witnessed."

While detailing the incredible audacity of henchmen like Alberto Gonzales, Lichtblau also tells the story of those in the administration who resisted such overreaching. Ashcroft and Comey's dramatic standoff with Gonzales is the most famous example, but there are many others. Like James Ziglar, the INS commissioner (and self-described "Goldwater conservative") who on 9/11, with fires will still burning at Ground Zero, had the courage to raise red flags about proposals to make door-to-door sweeps and arrests in heavily Muslim neighborhoods and would later vigorously oppose the FBI's no-release policy regarding prisoners detained on immigration violations.

In addition to providing coverage over the numerous abuses of power, Lichtblau also sheds significant light on his experience as a journalist covering those abuses. The book is 20% autobiography, and in this case it's a perfect mix. Lichtblau was on the razor's edge with his reporting, and drew tremendous ire from the administration and its conservative allies. In the book, Lichtblau provides great details about the behind-the-scenes battle to get the NSA wiretapping story published. Contra conservative tirades, the Times editors actively debated whether to print the story:

A week before the election in November 2004, we had a draft of a story in hand that laid out the NSA program and the legal and operational concerns about it. The editors debated whether to run it--and if so, when. The Times had just run an explosive story about the Bush administration's failure to guard munitions in Baghdad, a story that critics on the right had lambasted as a last-minute ploy to hurt Bush. In fact, the timing of the Baghdad story had nothing to do with the election, and Keller made clear to us that if the NSA story was ready to go before the election, it would run before the election too... The problem was that he didn't think the story was ready. He had questions, including the central one: whether, as the administration so urgently insisted, the story would harm national security if it were published.

It is a troubling counter factual to ponder, whether public knowledge of this spy program might have tipped the scales of the election. As it turned out, the newspaper would end up holding the story for over a year, giving the administration repeated opportunities to establish why the story should not run. It was only after Lichtblau's co-author threatened to publish the story in his upcoming book that the story got back on track, and only when the administration seemed poised to once again abuse its power, this time directed at the paper itself, that the story actually ran:

I learned, almost in passing, that the administration had apparently discussed seeking a Pentagon Papers-type injunction against the paper to stop the publication of the NSA story. Senior administration officials had reviewed the legal options for possibly seeking an injunction, but they had not moved on it. The tidbit was a bombshell. Few episodes in the history of the Times, or for that matter in all of journalism, had left as indelible a mark as the courtroom battle over the Pentagon Papers. The case had proven perhaps the ultimate test of the tense balance between the government's claims of national security and the public's right to know, and the Supreme Court had clearly tipped the scales on the side of the press.

Now, we were learning that the Bush administration had dusted off a Nixon-era tactic to consider coming after us again... By the time word about the injunction had been relayed to the editors in New York some hours later, it had an effect I hadn't envisioned. The editors had already run out of patience with the White House and were ready to move ahead with the story, but talk of an injunction helped seal the decision. We had a tool that wasn't available three decades earlier during the Pentagon Papers clash--the Internet--and the paper wanted to use it to our advantage... The editors figured that once we had notified the administration of our intention to publish the story, a court injunction might, in theory, be able to shut down the presses in the hours it took to get an edition print and on the streets. But there was no way to stop the near-instant ability to post a story on the Internet.

Indeed, the story's publication rocked the political world. President Bush went on television the next morning for an unapologetic confirmation of his extra-legal endeavors (he claimed the only thing illegal was the leak to the media). The ramifications of the disclosure of this and other Bush policies are felt right to the present, with President-elect Obama's appointees' views on the limits of executive power of immediate concern (things are looking good).

Lichtblau's book is a fast, fascinating read. He carries the accessibility of his journalism into long form, and manages to effectively tell two intertwined stories: the growing abuse of executive power by the Bush administration after 9/11, both in theory and practice, and the journalistic efforts to uncover these abuses and expose them to public scrutiny. Those predisposed to think that Lichtblau should have been tried for treason and executed will be unimpressed, but this is a remarkably even-handed account of a sad saga in the annals of American government.

Georgia's Special Election

martin.jpgMy experience with the special election here in Georgia was quite a contrast from election day four weeks ago. My wife and I moved at a more leisurely pace getting dressed, anticipating a shorter wait than the two hour line from the general election. We bundled up a bit more this time, since the temperature has taken a precipitous plunge, and walked over to our local Starbucks for a bit of fuel.

As we waited in line to order, my wife noticed that sitting at a nearby table was none other than Jim Martin, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and the man for whom we had ventured out to vote. We opted not to bother him; between the primary, the primary run-off, the general election, and the general run-off, the man has surely had enough of shaking hands and being photographed. Still, it was neat to see him serendipitously on our way to the polls.

We voted at the same location, the All Saints Episocopal Church, but it was a very different scene this morning. Instead of a line wrapping around two city blocks, there was nary a soul in sight. We walked straight into the voting room, filled out our information slips, showed our ID cards, pressed the touchscreen four times, and that was it. We walked home and got ready for work. A much simpler process, though I doubt it bodes well for Mr. Martin, who needs to rack up big numbers in urban precincts like ours. I guess we'll see.

The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman

krugman_conscience.jpgYesterday I discussed the chapter of Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal dedicated to his political and economic argument for prioritizing health care reform. This chapter comes near the end, and serves as Krugman's plan for reinvigorating and validating America's belief in liberal ideology. This is essential in light of the thesis of the book, which Krugman recognized might be "economic heresy;" that politics and government policy drive economic reality:

Can the political environment really be that decisive in determining economic inequality?... [W]hen economists, startled by rising inequality, began looking at the origins of middle-class America, they discovered to their surprise that the transition from the inequality of the Gilded Age to the relative equality of the postwar era wasn't a gradual evolution. Instead, America's postwar middle-class society was created.

The second and third chapters of the book trace this history, from what Krugman deems "The Long Gilded Age" from the 1870s until the New Deal, "a period defined above all by persistently high levels of economic inequality." Krugman then points to the great contrast posed by the 1950s, when economic equality was at its height; the poor were less poor, the rich were less rich. It was, Krugman argues, "The Great Compression." It was the era of the middle-class. Krugman argues that this was not driven simply by some natural market forces, as was originally believed:

The Long Gilded Age, they thought, was a stage through which the country had to pass; the middle-class society that followed, they believed, was the natural, inevitable happy end state of the process of economic development. But by the mid-1980s it was clear that the story wasn't over, that inequality was rising again.

While some continued to offer market-based explanations for these trends, Krugman looks elsewhere. He argues that "the Great Compression is a powerful antidote to fatalism, a demonstration that political reform can create a more equitable distribution of income--and, in the process, create a healthier climate for democracy." He goes through a variety of factors, including government support for unionization and rules established by the National War Labor Board, all quickly establishing an increased economic equality that remained stable for decades.

Krugman also demonstrates that once Republicans became resigned to the survival of the New Deal, with Truman's victory in 1948, politics became less acrimonious, with room for conservatives in the Democratic Party and liberals in the Republican Party (evidenced by significant overlap between the voting patterns of the centrists in each party, unheard of today).

Of course, if government policy can effectuate a dramatic rise in economic equality, it can also engineer the opposite. Much of the remainder of Krugman's book explores just that story: the rise of movement conservatives, their exploitation of cultural issues to distract voters as they tried to dismantle the New Deal, and the resulting return of vast economic inequality.

Krugman brings up Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, which I discussed last week. Unlike Frank, however, Krugman does not believe movement conservatives rode to power exclusively by converting working-class voters on cultural issues. Though he admits he was "bowled over" when he first read it, Krugman suggests that "voting has become more, not less, class-based over time, which is just what you'd expect given the change in the nature of the Republican Party."

Still, something has allowed movement conservatism to win elections despite policies that should have been unpopular with a majority of the voters. So let's talk about the noneconomic issues that conservatives have exploited, starting with the issue that Frank oddly didn't mention in that glorious rant: race.

Krugman discusses at length the racial component of the so-called "culture wars," and makes a convincing argument that movement conservative outrage over states' rights, welfare, and crime was little more than a series of dog-whistles to tap into conscious or subconscious racial biases and thus successfully sever the New Deal coalition between Southern whites and the rest of the Democratic Party. He also explores the role of the Red Scare, and the "Rambofication" of the Vietnam War, which retroactively claimed the American soldier had been stabbed in the back by weak-kneed liberals back home.

Fortunately, this movement has gone too far, played the race card and the culture war too often. What the 2006 mid-terms suggested, and the recent election has confirmed, is that America can no longer be scared into voting against its self-interest. As Krugman details, the Iraq War has cost the Republicans their credibility on national security. The country is growing less white, and whites are growing less racist. And Americans' views on homosexuality, women's rights, and other culture war issues are becoming increasingly liberal, particularly among the younger demographics. Thus we see the GOP increasingly marginalized as a regional party. No longer are Southern whites the base upon which to build a larger conservative coalition; instead, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Krugman's book is an exceptional effort at demonstrating the influence that political decisions can have on economic realities, charting the history of how that influence was wielded by liberals and conservatives in the 20th century, and suggesting a way forward for liberal ideology through progressive politics. Krugman proudly states that "Liberals are those who believe in institutions that limit inequality and injustice. Progressives are those who participate, explicitly, or implicitly, in a political coalition that defends and tries to enlarge those institutions." We are witnessing the rise of both.

Krugman on Health Care Reform

krugman.jpgOver the weekend I finished Nobel laureate Paul Krugman's excellent The Conscience of a Liberal, which I will examine at length tomorrow. Today I want to discuss one particular chapter of the book, in which Krugman argues that the most important issue on the liberal agenda should be "completing the New Deal by providing Americans with something citizens of every other advanced country already have: guaranteed universal health care."

What follows is as good a 30-page summary as exists on the current problems with the health care system, the reasons Democrats failed to fix it in 1993-94, and what the current plans on the table involve:

The fact is that every other advanced country manages to achieve the supposedly impossible, providing health care to all its citizens. The quality of care they provide, by any available measure, is as good as or better than ours. And they do all of this while spending much less per person on health care than we do. Health care, in other words, turns out to be an area in which doing the right thing morally is also a free lunch in economic terms. All the evidence suggests that a more just system would also be cheaper to run than our current system, and provide better care.

Krugman demonstrates how Americans get less service for more money (with a couple cites to Ezra Klein for good measure; go Ezra!), explains the mechanics and costs of our private insurance-based system, shows how this has led to crisis over the past two decades, examines why reform failed in 1993-94, and how things could be different this time. He gives a great outline of why a single-payer system (akin to Medicare for everyone) is both economically superior and political impossible, and then describes the more feasible alternatives that liberals have crafted, based on four elements: 1) community rating, 2) subsides for low-income families, 3) mandate coverage, and 4) public-private competition. While the details are negotiable, Krugman says "the important thing is that universal health care looks very doable, from an economic, fiscal, and even political point of view."

In facft, we have seen a remarkable confluence of opinion that in the midst of all our other economic problems, health care should be a priority. Charles Morris singled it out at the end of a book focused on the financial crisis. Krugman highlights it as the single issue that can renew the promise of liberalism. President-elect Obama hammered the health care issue home in his advertising and the debates (remember when he called health care a right and discussed his own mother's illness?), and it showed: the public trusted him by wide margins on health care, and now they expect reform.

And it looks like they'll get it, if the President-elect's personnel choices give us any sign. Last week I highlighted the choice of Tom Daschle as HHS secretary and White House health care reform czar. Other good signs include the appointment of Peter Orzag to head OMB, since as Ezra points out:

Orszag will be coming from the Congressional Budget Office, OMB's legislative cousin. There, he's shown an almost single-minded focus on health care reform. He's added dozens of health care analysts to the staff, reconstructed the health policy division's management structure, and is readying to release two major books on health policy options and CBO's health care scoring models that will be extremely central in how Congress looks at building a health care bill. Amidst all that, he's toured the country giving a slide show about the problems of the health care system, the overwhelming danger it poses to our fiscal condition, the incredible inefficiencies that beset the delivery, and the research that suggests reform could not only save money but also improve care. He's also acted as a powerful and credible counterweight to those who counsel incrementalism, or delay, on health reform.

And for the progressives decrying the key role Larry Summers looks to be getting in the White House economics shop (based on a lot of silly nonsense, in my opinion), it is worth mentioning that he is "a true believer in health care reform, both as a way to alleviate economic insecurity and to address the country's long-term fiscal crisis."

With the public clamoring for change and the new President-elect and Democratic majority in Congress ready to deliver, things should go smoothly, right? Don't count on it. In fact, expect all out war. Because this is not just about health care. It's about the public's confidence in the liberal welfare state as we know it. As Krugman says, if Democrats enact effective universal health care:

Universal health care could, in short, be to a New Deal what Social Security was to the original--both a crucially important program in its own right, and a reaffirmation of the principle that we are our brother's keepers.

It is for this reason that Republicans blocked reform under Clinton, as Krugman mentions, and Steve Benen laid out in a blast-from-the-past post about a memo Bill Kristol circulated to congressional Republicans in 1993 opposing the Clinton health care plan because "Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party." Krugman explains Kristol's motivation:

[H]is main concern, clearly, was that universal health care might actually work--that it would be popular, and that it would make the case for government intervention... The most dangerous government programs, from a movement conservative's point of view, are the ones that work the best and thereby legitimize the welfare state.

And we are seeing exactly the same rhetoric again. After a US News editorial favorably quoted a Cato Institute blogger's argument that "Blocking Obama's health plan is key to the GOP's survival," Hilzoy summed up the state of thinking in the minority party:

Pethokoukis and Cannon claim that if Obama succeeds in passing health care, then people who might have been conservatives will like it, and will be more likely to vote for the people who passed it. This is unexceptional. An honest conservative might accept this claim and say: well, I guess our ideas are unpopular, so we'll just have to make our case more persuasively.

But that's not the conclusion they draw. Pethokoukis and Cannon say: because people will like health care reform, if we do not block it, our party will lose support. So precisely because people would like it if they tried it, we need to make sure that it fails.

The self-perpetuation of the Republican party, is, at this point, its only purpose.

Waxman Takes Energy and Commerce Committee Chair

waxman.jpgNow this may seem like major inside-baseball stuff, but when energy and health care reform are at the top of a new President's agenda, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is an important place. And for 300 years, the senior Democrat on the committee has been Michigan's John Dingell, the House's longest serving representative (by 10 years!) and a longtime ally of Detroit. Needless to say, Detroit's interests in energy and health care reform are not necessarily aligned with the interests of the nation.

Thus it was big news when Henry Waxman, the committed environmentalist and progressive California congressman, took the extraordinary step of challenging Dingell for the committee chair, which has been granted via seniority in the Democratic Caucus for decades. Perhaps even more extraordinary, Waxman won:

In a secret ballot vote in the Cannon Caucus Room, House Democrats ratified an earlier decision by the Steering and Policy Committee to replace the 82-year-old Dingell with his 69-year-old rival. The vote was 137-122 in favor of Waxman.

The ascension of Waxman, a wily environmentalist, recasts a committee that Dingell has chaired since 1981 with an eye toward protecting the domestic auto industry in his native Michigan. The Energy and Commerce Committee has principal jurisdiction over many of President-elect Barack Obama's top legislative priorities, including energy, the environment and health care.

Well, Dingell hasn't actually chaired the committee since 1981. Some, though apparently not anyone working at Politico, may remember that Republicans controlled the House from 1995 until 2007.

Anyhow, Waxman had been chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he has done some excellent work, but which was unlikely to be a position of much power with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress. This is good news. Ezra has more:

If you care about action on global warming, that's a very big deal indeed. And frankly, a bit unexpected. Dingell is an old lion in Congress. He's got a lot of friends and has done a lot of people favors. His loss isn't personal. Rather, it's evidence that Democrats are serious enough about climate change to want the relevant committee to be something more than an arm of Detroit.

And though this is a direct victory for Waxman, it's a quiet triumph for Pelosi. Without her tacit support, Waxman's campaign would have quietly died... Recalcitrant chairmen are going to be far more afraid of crossing Pelosi this afternoon than they were this morning.

For why this is not just good news for Waxman and Pelosi, but for progressive policy in this country, check out Harold Meyerson's latest column, in which he describes Waxman as "probably the House's most accomplished legislator in three issue areas that are high on the agendas of the nation and President-elect Barack Obama: universal health care, global warming and enhanced consumer protections" and brands him a "legislative genius." And even more insider-baseball from Ezra: "Waxman's chief of staff, Phil Schiliro, was named last week as Barack Obamas director of legislative affairs. Energy and Commerce is probably the most important committee for Obama's agenda. With Schiliro in the White House and Waxman holding the chairmanship, you're likely to see an intense and easy cooperation between the two branches." Over at TNR, Bradford Plumer and Christopher Orr have more.

As Greg Sargent says, "This is big, big, big."

UPDATE: This also has me wondering about the seniority system in the Democratic Caucus. Technically, the caucus votes to elect each chairmen, and has been doing so since 1974. But custom has been to perpetually elect the senior member of each committee. We'll see if that changes in years to come, or whether this was the exception that proves the rule.

What's the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank

frank_whats.jpgThe recent election dramatically renewed my interest in politics, an interest that had been relatively dormant for quite some time. Even when I was attuned to the political world, it was usually limited to a breaking news, current events level of attention. But the recent campaign season had me wanting to dig deeper, think harder about politics in this country. That's why I am about four years late in reading Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, which made big waves in the lead-up to President Bush's re-election. A native of Kansas, Frank's basic quest in the book was to understand how working class people from the heartland, once the radical supporters of John Brown and 19th-century leftist populism, became reliable Republican voters.

His thesis is that Republican politicians perfected the art of cultural warfare, convincing white, working class Americans to vote their outrage about sex, drugs, and rock & roll (and abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, evolution, etc) above their economic self-interest. In the mean time, Democratic politicians ceded the leftist economic agenda in favor of pro-business centrism, thus giving working class people no economic reason to favor Democrats any longer. Thus the Wall Street Republicans obtain working class votes, proceed to cut their own taxes and lower economic regulations that favor their own interests, and suffer no harm at the ballot box:

For decades Americans have experienced a populist uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting. In Kansas we merely see an extreme version of this mysterious situation. The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant. They are shaking their fists at the sons of privilege. They are laughing at the dainty affectations of the Leawood toffs. They are massing at the gates of Mission Hills, hoisting the black flag, and while the millionaires tremble in their mansions, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. "We are here," they scream, "to cut your taxes."

Frank also addresses the conundrum of why these working class voters harbor no resentment that, in addition to their economic interests being flushed, they also seem to make no progress on the cultural front. After all, in the long view, how much progress has been made in the restoration of school prayer, the end of legal abortion, and the suppression of gay rights? Virtually none. Yet they keep giving their vote to the Wall Street Republicans:

As culture war, the backlash was born to lose. Its goal is not to win cultural battles but to take offense, conspicuously, vocally, even flamboyantly. Indignation is the great aesthetic principle of backlash culture; voicing the fury of the imposed-upon is to the backlash what the guitar solo is to heavy metal. Indignation is the privileged emotion, the magic moment that brings a consciousness of rightness and a determination to persist.

Can there be a better example of this than the late campaign of Senator McCain and Governor Palin? These two brought the reductionist culture wars to a new level, and Palin virtually personifies the concept of indignant anti-intellectualism. It is Christians that are oppressed, Real America that is under attack, and it is some hazy, mysterious, socialist, effeminate, arugula-loving liberal elite that is to blame.

The book's strength lies in Frank's anecdotal journeys through the modern Kansas landscape, such as the travails of once-proudly unionized Wichita, or the rise of conservative Republicans like Sam Brownback and the battle between these "Cons" and the "Mods," the old-school Republicans of the country-club variety. But these anecdotes are all Frank really offers to support his thesis. You won't see any charts in this book, no detailed statistical analysis. At the time it was published, though, the thesis was ready made for Democrats frustrated at a series of unsuccessful elections, and it gained even greater currency with Bush's re-election, attributed by some to Karl Rove's leveraging of anger about gay marriage into Republican votes in Ohio.

Frank's critics, however, say he simply has his facts wrong, and that as nice as the story sounds anecdotally, it doesn't hold up empirically. At the forefront has been Princeton political science professor Larry Bartels, whose lengthy rebuttal challenged a number of Frank's conclusions. Bartels raised the issue again this spring, in the context of Barack Obama's comments about bitter voters clinging to guns and religion (a seeming endorsement of the Frank thesis):

It is true that American voters attach significantly more weight to social issues than they did 20 years ago. It is also true that church attendance has become a stronger predictor of voting behavior. But both of those changes are concentrated primarily among people who are affluent and well educated, not among the working class.

Mr. Obama's comments are supposed to be significant because of the popular perception that rural, working-class voters have abandoned the Democratic Party in recent decades and that the only way for Democrats to win them back is to cater to their cultural concerns. The reality is that John Kerry received a slender plurality of their votes in 2004, while John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, in the close elections of 1960 and 1968, lost them narrowly.

Mr. Obama should do as well or better among these voters if he is the Democratic candidate in November. If he doesn't, it won't be because he has offended the tender sensitivities of small-town Americans. It will be because he has embraced a misleading stereotype of who they are and what they care about.

Well the President-elect certainly won a resounding victory, doing better than any Democratic candidate since LBJ. So who was right? If Frank's thesis is correct, than Obama's victory requires some explanation of how this Democrat turned things around. One possibility is that Obama's victory does not reflect gained support amongst the white working class, but simply the decreasing importance of that bloc with the growth of minority voters and Obama's overwhelming youth appeal. Another possibility is that the economic crisis was severe enough to shock voters back toward their own self-interest, and caused Democrats to re-embrace the economic rhetoric that had been abandoned by the centrists. The latter is Frank's own thesis, which he published in an editorial the day after the election:

Acknowledging class was always difficult for "New Democrats" -- it was second-wave, it was divisive -- but 2008 made retro politics cool again. Watching the Dow get hacked down, seeing the investment banking industry collapse, hearing about the lavish rewards won by the corporate officers who brought this ruin down on us -- all these things combined to make a certain Depressionesque fury the unavoidable flavor of the year. When your mortgage is under water and your neighbors are being laid off, the need to take up the sword against arrogant stem-cell scientists becomes considerably less urgent.

He also suggests that McCain and Palin's over-the-top red meat appeal may have been counterproductive ("a flamboyant pantomime, grotesquely exaggerated in each of its parts"), though whether it has done permanent damage to the tactic is yet to be seen.

The other possibility, of course, is that Frank was wrong in the first place, that Democrats don't have a particular problem with the white working class, and that Obama's sweeping victory demonstrates his across the board appeal, unrestrained by the particular quirks of the Frank focus group. It will likely take a few more election cycles before we can make any kind of firm conclusions. Any single campaign has too many variables, from the quality of the candidates to the campaigns they ran to the question of incumbent effects, and on and on. But I'm sure Frank and/or Bartels will be back with more, soon enough.

Tom Daschle to Run HHS, Lead Health Care Reform

daschle.jpgThe elite cabinet posts (State, Defense, Justice, Treasury) usually get all the press, and with good reason. These are the elite posts because they have authority over the most powerful departments, where big policy decisions are made and implemented.

This administration may be different. With reports that Tom Daschle has been offered and accepted the job of Secretary of Health and Human Services, we are getting the strongest signs yet that health care reform, real health care reform, is coming. Leading that reform is likely to be as high-profile and meaningful a portfolio as any over the next few years, and the President-elect has sent a strong signal with his choice. As Ezra Klein says:

You don't tap the former Senate Majority Leader to run your health care bureaucracy. That's not his skill set. You tap him to get your health care plan through Congress. You tap him because he understands the parliamentary tricks and has a deep knowledge of the ideologies and incentives of the relevant players. You tap him because you understand that health care reform runs through the Senate. And he accepts because he has been assured that you mean to attempt health care reform.

Daschle will serve not just as a department head, but reportedly will "also oversee Mr. Obama's health policy working group to develop a health care plan." As Jonathan Cohn points out, Daschle has not only the legislative knowledge and connections to get a plan passed, he knows a thing or two about what the plan should look like:

Although he was always been interested in health care, in the last few years he's become a true wonk on the subject, publishing a book called Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis. It urges precisely the sorts of reforms President-Elect Obama and his congressional allies are promoting right now.

Not more than an hour ago, I sent Ezra an email asking for some suggested reading on health care reform. Seems like Daschle's book would be a decent place to start.

Begich Wins Alaska Senate Seat

Mark Begich's narrow victory over Ted Stevens in the Alaska Senate race is tremendous news for several reasons. It is the seventh Senate seat Democrats have picked up this year, besting the already tremendous 2006 cycle and guaranteeing at least 58 members of the Democratic Caucus, with Minnesota and Georgia still to be decided. It is also a seat Democrats should have had no business winning, considering how red Alaska is, and how long it has gone without a Democrat in its congressional delegation (1980). Mark Begich has the makings of a great senator, with the potential to hold this seat for some time, since he'll have all the advantages of incumbency come 2014.

That's the good news for Democrats. The good news for all Americans is that there will not be a convicted felon seated in our next Congress. And it also denies the opportunity, should Stevens have won reelection but then resigned or been expelled, for Sarah Palin to maneuver her way to Washington.

This is change we can believe in.

Lieberman Keeps His Chairmanship

lieberman_mccain.jpgAfter a couple weeks of wrangling and rumormongering, the Democratic caucus decided today to let Joe Lieberman keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee.

I'm pretty conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I strongly share the nearly unanimous sense in the liberal blogosphere that Lieberman's actions over the past two years have been reprehensible and that he should be stripped of his committee chair. Failing to endorse Barack Obama would have been awkward for a Democratic senator. Endorsing John McCain would have been inappropriate. But actively campaigning on behalf of McCain, repeatedly questioning the qualifications and judgment of Obama, and praising Sarah Palin, was simply beyond any notion of acceptable behavior for someone who wants to be rewarded for his seniority as a member of the Democratic caucus. Furthermore, from a policy standpoint, Lieberman has been a mess. As I said back in June:

On most issues, he is a liberal. On the war in Iraq, he has allied himself with the neo-con right. The war in Iraq is and has been the most important issue for the last 5 years, and the one in which a strong, bipartisan centrist voice has been needed to walk the administration off the ledge. So Senator Lieberman's failure to be a voice of restraint and his enabling of the worst of the neoconservative tendencies has been most disappointing.

So from both a political and a policy standpoint, there are good reasons he should not be rewarded. On the other hand, if the President-elect and Harry Reid wanted him stripped of his committee chair, it would have happened. I simply refuse to believe this was a problem of getting enough votes. So there is something else at work here. Perhaps there have been behind-the-scenes discussions about Lieberman's role in supporting some particularly controversial upcoming agenda items. Or perhaps this is another step in the President-elect's efforts to genuinely repair much of the damage that vindictive partisanship has already done in the halls of Congress.

So I'm faced with a choice between my personal anger and belief that punishment is due, and my recognition that politicians I respect and trust have gone in another direction. While I don't plan on accepting everything the new administration offers us with blind faith, we are still in the early stages of the transition, and the President-elect still has trust capital to spend with this voter.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, III

obama_audacity.jpgFor the past several days I have been discussing President-Elect Obama's 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope. On Friday I focused on the first half of the text, and yesterday I discussed the chapters on faith and race. Today I want to finish with the last two chapters of this extraordinary book, which cover foreign policy and family.

This seems a strange way to end the book. Certainly each is an important topic, and there is no requirement that each chapter flow easily into the next. But the initial sense that these chapters don't fit next to one another is misplaced. Look at what they tell us about this man, our next President. He is a Democrat who knows Democrats can own foreign policy, that, "We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy." And he is a loving husband and father, who understands why America needs to be safe and strong, not for the sake of power, but for the sake of preserving the American dream that has been our motivating force for centuries. He is a man comfortable in his own skin, who knows why he sought the position he just won.

Obama opens the chapter on foreign policy with a lengthy discussion of his experience as a child in Indonesia, followed by a brief outline of the country's history since that time. Combined with having a Kenyan-born father, it seems fair to suggest that Obama has the most personal connection to the world beyond our shores than previous occupants of the Oval Office. He uses American involvement in Indonesia as a start point for analyzing the isolationist/expansionist/internationalist cycles that our foreign policy has experienced since the country's founding.

As the campaign debates over Iran and "preconditions' made clear, Obama is in favor of expanding the use of high-level diplomacy far beyond what the current administration pursued for most of the past eight years. And his rhetoric on Iraq has been consistent: it was a mistake to go there and we need to figure out a responsible way to leave. He pulls no punches in the book, calling the invasion "a strategic blunder" and squarely rejecting the Bush doctrine:

[W]e have the right to take unilateral military action to eliminate an imminent threat to our security--so long as an imminent threat is understood to be a nation, group, or individual that is actively preparing to strike U.S. targets... and has or will have the means to do so in the immediate future. Al Qaeda qualifies under this standard, and we can and should carry out preemptive strikes against them wherever we can. Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not meet this standard.

It was really amazing to see how over the course of 2008, the Bush administration slowly began to adopt so many of the Obama foreign policy positions. Obama favored talks with Iran and North Korea, and we had talks in North Korea. Obama favored striking into Pakistan against high-value Al Qaeda targets, and we struck into Pakistan. Obama pushed for a firm timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and we negotiated a timeline. Now comes word that Obama's election has already created progress in Iraq:

Iraqi Shiite politicians are indicating that they will move faster toward a new security agreement about American troops, and a Bush administration official said he believed that Iraqiscould ratify the agreement as early as the middle of this month.

"Before, the Iraqis were thinking that if they sign the pact, there will be no respect for the schedule of troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011," said Hadi al-Ameri, a powerful member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a major Shiite party. "If Republicans were still there, there would be no respect for this timetable. This is a positive step to have the same theory about the timetable as Mr. Obama."

What a change for foreigners to believe in the good faith of the American President.

In the final chapter of his book, Obama turns inward once again, to the family that has been his sustaining force these past few strenuous years. He recounts how he met and fell in love with the beautiful, powerful woman who would be his wife, how he was welcomed into her extended family, conventional in a way he'd never enjoyed in his own. He segues from their experience to the nationwide shift toward dual-income households where both parents work, often because they have to, and this is having an effect on their children. But he rejects the notion that this implies less care for the children, pointing out that there are sacrifices either way:

[F]or the average American woman the decision to work isn't simply a matter of changing attitudes. It's a matter of making ends meet... for most families, having Mom stay at home means living in a less-safe neighborhood and enrolling their children in a less-competitive school. That's not a choice most Americans are willing to make. Instead they do the best they can under the circumstances, knowing that the type of household they grew up in.. has become much, much harder to sustain.

He reflects on the hardships his own career ambitions placed on Michelle, and is sufficiently self-aware to recognize that she was the one who make adjustments. He also recognizes that as professionals, they had more flexible schedules than most, "enough income to cover all the services that help ease the pressures of two-earner parenthood," and a semi-retired mother-in-law to babysit. Since these luxuries are unavailable to most Americans, however, he recognizes that additional support is needed. An opportunity for government, not to solve the problem, but to assist those who are working diligently to better themselves and their families:

[I]f we're serious about family values, then we can put policies in place that make the juggling of work and parenting a little bit easier. We could start by making high-quality day care affordable for every family that needs it. In contrast to most European countries, day care in the United States is a haphazard affair. Improved day-care licensing and training, an expansion of the federal and state child tax credits, and sliding-scale subsidies to families that need them all could provide both middle-class and low-income parents some peace of mind during the workday--and benefit employers through reduced absenteeism.

He has further proposals centered on investments in education, flexible work schedules and mandated paid family leave (the U.S. stands nearly alone among wealthy nations in its failure to provide this benefit). What is striking about all his ideas is that they do not presume that government should be a big brother, dictating the terms and conditions of parenting. They presume that government should be more like that semi-retired mother-in-law, giving that extra bit of support that gives parents the time and energy to fulfill their own plans to raise successful children.

Again, a truly extraordinary book. I'm eager to see these ideas put into action.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, II

audacity2.jpgOn Friday I discussed the first half of President-Elect Obama's 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, which I read in the week before the election in order to better understand the man I would be voting for, and reinvigorate my passion for seeing him in the White House. The early chapters of the book lay out his vision of the political process, the purposes of government, and the supremacy of the Constitution. The middle of the book is dominated by his now familiar domestic policy agenda, focusing on education, energy, and economics.

Obama follows these chapters with a focus on two traditional minefields for Democrats: faith and race. It is in these areas that he has probably shown the greatest innovation. He has demonstrated the possibilities of common ground and the power of a progressive agenda on these issues in a way that no other Democrat, even those who are great leaders on policy matters, has been able to achieve. First, his focus on faith, which was a major area in which his campaign deliberately departed from those of Kerry and Gore:

When we abandon the field of religious discourse--when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations toward one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome--others will fill the vacuum. And those who do are likely to be those with the most insular views of faith, or who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religiosity has often inhibited us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem is rhetorical: Scrub language of all religious content and we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord," or King's "I Have a Dream" speech without reference to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

He goes on to emphasize that the "failure as progressives to tap into the moral l underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical," but "may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in addressing some of our most urgent social problems." Like Robert Reich, Obama believes that the mantle of public morality is one that can be harnessed to advance the progressive agenda.

His perspective on race, discussed so eloquently in his speech last March, is explored at length via anecdotes about his childhood, his campaigns in Illinois, and his observations of modern American life. Though some of the discussion centers on aspects unique to African-Americans, for the most part Obama is explicitly inclusive of the growing Hispanic community in his exploration of the continuing racial divide, and the inequality that accompanies it. He somehow anticipates the campaign John McCain would come to run in the last two weeks of the election, in which the implication would be made that the black candidate wanted to take white money and "spread the wealth" to minorities, and rejects this dichotomy out of hand:

These days, what ails working-class and middle-class blacks and Latinos is not fundamentally different from what ails their white counterparts: downsizing, outsourcing, automation, wage stagnation, the dismantling of employer-based health-care and pension plans, and schools that fail to teach young people the skills they need to complete in a global economy. And what would help minority workers are the same things that would help white workers: the opportunity to earn a living wage, the education and training that lead to such jobs, labor laws and tax laws that restore some balance to the distribution of the nation's wealth, and health-care, child care, and retirement systems that working people can count on.

By emphasizing solutions that do not rely on racial preferences, even though they might dramatically benefit the minority community, Obama removes the racial wedge that conservatives have relied on for so long. He also speaks with authority in his admonition of minority communities that have failed to do everything in their own power to improve their lot:

We should agree that the responsibility to close the gap can't come from government alone; minorities, individually and collectively, have responsibilities as well. Many of the social or cultural factors that negatively affect black people, for example, simply mirror in exaggerated forms problems that afflict America as a whole: too much television (the average black household has the television on more than eleven hours per day), too much consumption of poisons (blacks smoke more and eat more fast food), and a lack of emphasis on educational achievement.

Then there's the collapse of the two-parent black household, a phenomenon that is occurring at such an alarming rate when compared to the rest of American society that what was once a difference in degree has become a difference in kind, a phenomenon that reflects a casualness toward sex and child rearing among black men that renders children more vulnerable--and for which there is simply no excuse.

Like Nixon going to China, this is the sort of stuff that even the most trusted white politicians simply cannot say; for all the talk of Bill Clinton as the "first black president," he could never have made headway on the deterioration of black fatherhood. But Obama is not conceding to the conservative smear that lazy blacks are responsible for their own misfortune. He recognizes systemic disadvantages and has reasonable proposals for how government can give a hand up:

Strategies like an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that helps all low-wage workers can make an enormous difference in the lives of these women and their children. But if we're serious about breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, then man of these women will need some extra help with the basics that those living outside the inner city take for granted. They need more police and more effective policing in their neighborhoods, to provide them and their children some semblance of personal security. They need access to community-based health center that emphasize prevention--including reproductive health care, nutritional counseling, and in some case treatment for substance abuse. They need a radical transformation of the schools their children attend, and access to affordable child care that will allow them to hold a full-time job or pursue their education.

By combining a recognition that minority communities bear a great responsibility for self-improvement and agreement that the welfare reform of the 1990s was a valid first-step, Obama has the credibility to establish that demands on the community must be matched by social programs that create the environment in which self-improvement can take place. There is just no sense in talking about minority parents taking a greater role in their children's education when they are working two jobs. How much blame can be placed on a young black or Hispanic child for dropping out of a school that could not meet basic educational standards?

The very fact of Obama's victory in this election is an opportunity to turn a page, and write a new chapter. But it is only an opportunity, not a fait accompli. And while the President-Elect must lead, he can't be the only leader. The rest of us need to shoulder our share of the burden.

The last two chapters of the book are dichotomous, focusing on foreign policy and then family, but they demonstrate in their own ways the professional and personal strengths of our next President. I'll wrap up that discussion tomorrow.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, I

audacity.jpgThough I had been supporting his candidacy for months, and felt pretty comfortable with my knowledge of his positions, before actually casting my ballot for Barack Obama on Tuesday I thought it would be nice to actually read his own words. So I started The Audacity of Hope, which he published in October 2006. At the time, he had been a U.S. Senator for 20 months, and had a bright future ahead of him.

The publication of this book would, in fact, fast-forward that future, and play a role in his decision to run for President, as we've learned from Evan Thomas' new account in Newsweek. One of the early backers of his candidacy was D.C. powerhouse attorney Gregory Craig, a former aide to Senator Kennedy and personal lawyer to President Clinton:

Craig read Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," which, Craig said, "floored me," and later chanced to ride with Obama on the Washington shuttle. He read Obama's earlier autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," and was "blown away," he recalled. "In my judgment, he showed more insight and maturity than Bill Clinton at the age of 60 in terms of understanding himself." In November 2006, Craig sat next to George Stevens, an old friend of the Robert Kennedy clan, at another Obama speech. Stevens leaned over to Craig and said, "What do you think of this guy for president? I haven't heard anybody like this since Bobby Kennedy." Craig instantly replied, "Sign me up." Stevens and Craig approached Obama coming out of the speech and asked, "What are you doing in 2008?" Obama gave them a big grin and said, "Oh, man, it wasn't that good."

Well, I don't know about the speech he gave that day, but this book is that good. It is easily the best writing I have ever seen from a politician, and probably the best political writing from any source. Obama has a rare talent for sounding both intelligent and genuine; he addresses the issues, but gives his perspective roots in his personal experience. His ability and willingness to reflect on his own mistakes and weaknesses is something normally seen only in retired politician looking back on his career, not rising stars looking for the next step up:

I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this book--namely, how I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loos, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.

Recently, one of the reporters covering Capitol Hill stopped me on the way to my office and mentioned that she had enjoyed reading my first book. "I wonder," she said, "if you can be that interesting in the next one you write." By which she meant, I wonder if you can be honest now that you are a U.S. senator.

I wonder, too, sometimes.

If the rest of the book is any indication, he could. Or at least to a vastly greater extent than we've come to expect from our politicians. Much of what he writes seems familiar now. After all, his first chapter is a discussion of the partisan rancor that has consumed Congress for the past decade and a half, and the need to end the "trivialization of politics." And having just read Robert Reich's Reason, I couldn't help but hear echoes of that text as well. Consider seize the mantle of public morality, and compare it to Obama's discussion of values:

I think Democrats are wrong to run away from a debate about values, as wrong as those conservatives who see values only as a wedge to pry loose working-class voters from the Democratic base. It is the language of values that people use to map their world. It is what can inspire them to take action, and move them beyond their isolation... [T]he broader question of shared values--the standards and principles that the majority of Americans deem important in their lives and in the life of the country--should be the heart of our politics, the cornerstone of any meaningful debate about budgets and projects, regulations and policies.

Reich argued that the values argument could be made effectively against the culture of corporate greed and corruption, and Obama agrees, pointing out that "conservatives should at least be wiling to speak out against unseemly behavior in corporate boardrooms with the same moral force, the same sense of outrage, that they direct against dirty rap lyrics." What Reich and Obama share is a confidence that liberal ideas are not just right, but worthy of being lauded in public rhetoric.

Obama is also particularly skilled at pointing out conservative straw-man attacks, explaining why they are wrong, and then re-framing the discussion to demonstrate the strength of his own position. One of the standard Republican lines of attack for decades has been that liberals are fans of big government and believe that government can solve all your problems. John McCain tried to use this line of attack at various times, particularly in response to the health care question at the second debate. But Obama has figured out the perfect response. First, he points out that he does not, in fact, believe that government can solve every problem. He triumphs, for example, the importance of family in educating children. He then re-frames the discussion:

Like many conservatives, I believe in the power of culture to determine both individual success and social cohesion, and I believe we ignore cultural factors at our peril. But I also believe that our government can play a role in shaping that culture for the better--or for the worse.

This message, that while government can not solve all our problems, it can solve some of them and help with others, is resonating at this moment for good reason. The country is bearing the burden of eight years of excessive deregulation and governmental indifference to issues that beg for collective action: health care, renewable energy, the environment. So to have a presidential candidate tell us that government can help, and will help... well you saw the election results.

Another strength that Obama's candidacy brought, of special importance to those of us with legal minds, is his deep understanding and respect for the Constitution. A former law professor, Obama speaks with great conviction about the importance of that document in our civic life, a welcome change after an administration that seemed to view it as, at best, an obstacle. Obama dedicates the entire third chapter of his book to this topic, and he covers a range of issues from the filibuster to strict constructionism, finally stating his own preference for "Justice Breyer's view of the Constitution--that it is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world." Sure, I love this; that's my position as well. But what is really moving to me is to have a man in the Oval Office who can think so intelligently about what these positions mean:

It's not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or "ism," any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad. The Founder may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them.

Obama follows with chapters exploring the nature of modern politics and the meaning of opportunity and how to expand it through investments in education, science, and energy. Much of what he lays out in these chapters took real form in his campaign: his refusal to take money from lobbyists or PACs, the democratizing of fundraising through small online donors, and his repeated emphasis on investment in schools, research, and renewable sources of energy. The midsection of this book, written and published in 2006 before his candidacy was even announced, remain the core of Obama's policy proposals.

In the last third of the book, Obama tackles several of the most difficult topics for any Democratic politician: faith, race, and national security. More on this Monday.

David Axelrod, Senior White House Adviser

axelrod2.jpgCould the Obama White House get any more West Wing? Lots of ink has been spilled about life imitating art imitating life, what with the Obama-inspired Matt Santos character winning the presidential election against an aging, maverick Republican senator from a western state, only for Obama to do the same. And yesterday we saw it again, with Rahm Emanuel following the character he inspired (Josh Lyman) into the position of Chief of Staff.

Now comes word that David Axelrod will take a position as a Senior Adviser in the White House. While this does not come as much surprise, come on. Look at this guy. Could he be any more Toby Ziegler if he tried? Note that Axelrod/Ziegler is close friends with Emanuel/Lyman, and it is reported that like Ziegler, of the major campaign players he has known the candidate the "longest and has the most interwoven relationship with [him]."

On a more serious note, this is great news for the Obama White House. Axelrod has a long personal and working relationship with Emanuel and the President-Elect, and if Emanuel understands Washington politics, Axelrod understands electoral realities.

Democrats Gain 6 Senate Seats

Just two years after gaining six seats in the Senate, Democrats are poised to at least match that total again this year. With the mail-in votes finally being tallied in blue strongholds, Jeff Merkley has defeated incumbent Gordon Smith in Oregon. Here are the six newest members of the Senate's Democratic Caucus:

kay_hagan.jpgjeff_merkley.jpgjeanne_shaheen.jpg
mark_udall.jpgtom_udall.jpgmark_warner.jpg

Clockwise from top left: Kay Hagan (D-NC), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Udall (D-CO).

These are, of course, not all the new Democratic senators that we'll be seeing in the next Congress. There are still close races not yet called in Minnesota and Alaska, as well as a likely run-off here in Georgia. More obviously, though, we are soon to have new senators from Illinois and Delaware to replace a couple of guys who've found work elsewhere.

Robert Gibbs, Press Secretary

Robert GibbsAnother face we will be seeing a lot of over the next several years belongs to Robert Gibbs, who will be the next White House Press Secretary, according to Politico. Gibbs has been around for awhile. He was the communications director for the early part of Kerry's 2004 campaign, worked on a variety of Senate campaigns, and has been Obama's communications director since the start of the campaign. He "has unquestioned authority, access and institutional memory," which will boost his credibility with the press.

He's also as tough as they come. Just check out this clip of Gibbs on Hannity & Colmes from a few weeks ago. This was during that ten days or so when the McCain theme of the moment was Obama's guilty-by-association with William Ayers. Sean Hannity had just done an hour-long smear job on Obama that was largely based on the frivolous claims of a fellow named Andy Martin, a documented anti-Semite. So when Hannity started going after the Obama-Ayers smear, Gibbs asked Hannity, "Are you anti-Semitic?":

Robert Gibbs taking over from the sycophantic Dana Perino? That's change we can believe in. Unfortunately, it does break the streak of parallels to The West Wing, as C.J. Cregg was loosely based on Dee Dee Myers, and most definitely not Robert Gibbs.

Rahm Emanuel

Rahm EmanuelThis is a face we might be seeing a lot of over the next several years. If you don't recognize it, you obviously weren't paying enough attention to the Clinton White House, where Rahm Emanuel served as a senior adviser to the President until 1998. Or maybe you were paying more attention to the spunky little Greek guy. Emanuel ran for Congress in 2002, led the Democratic Party to major gains in 2006 as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and is now the caucus chairman. It was assumed he had his eye on the Speakership. Now it seems he may have another job in mind:

In his first major move as president-elect, Barack Obama has asked Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a tough-minded tactician with West Wing experience, to serve as his White House chief of staff, Democratic sources tell Politico.

Emanuel has said to friends that he wants and will take the job, but it was not a done deal as of early this morning. Obama plans to move swiftly with his transition announcement and could name Emanuel this week, the sources said.

I like this pick. It means Obama is serious about getting things done. Emanuel knows the White House, he knows Congress, and he knows the Democratic Party. That's the triangle that Obama's plans will live or die in. And it is a good indication that Obama recognizes that while his own power stems from an ability to inspire and unite, that's not always enough:

Some Democrats have warned that Emanuel's take-no-prisoners style could hurt Obama. But the president-elect wants to move fast to push his legislative agenda through the Democratic-controlled Congress -- and Emanuel knows the Hill and power politics as well as anyone in town.

"Obama wants a bad cop, so he can be good cop 90 percent of the time," an adviser said.

Emanuel is also a strong advocate on Jewish issues; his father was a member of the militant Irgun in British Palestine, and Emanuel himself served as a civilian volunteer in Israel during the Persian Gulf War. He accompanied Obama to a meeting with the AIPAC executive board after endorsing him in early June.

The pick would also be fitting if for no other reason than to continue the West Wing parallels that so many have seen in this election. Emanuel was reportedly the inspiration for the character of Josh Lyman, President Bartlet's Deputy Chief of Staff. For those who followed the series to its conclusion, Josh Lyman leaves the White House to run the presidential campaign of Matt Santos, a character inspired in part by Barack Obama. When Santos wins the election against the older, white maverick Republican Senator from a western state, he makes Lyman his Chief of Staff. And now the circle is complete.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein has more.

UPDATE II: Michael Crowley at TNR raises the question of why this is being played out so publicly in the press. I've been wondering the same thing. Emanuel should either take the job or not; going on television to ponder taking the job is ridiculous.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton's role in this campaign was... complex. My initial support for Barack Obama was in some ways a reaction to the "coronation" of her candidacy, and I was very frustrated with her during the primary campaign, often venting this frustration by putting cash in the Obama campaign coffers.

It is clear to me now, however, that the extended primary was very positive for the Democratic Party. It energized Democrats in states that are often ignored, and forced the Obama campaign to build an infrastructure in those states that they were then able to transition straight into the general election. I'm thinking especially of North Carolina and Indiana, which look like they'll go blue by the narrowest of margins. I have no doubt that had Hillary Clinton dropped out before those primaries, they would still be red states.

Now that is a process argument as to why we should no longer be mad that Hillary stayed in the race so long. It is also important to recognize that Hillary Clinton is a tremendous asset to the Democratic Party and to this country. Once she conceded the nomination, and thus her likeliest shot at the presidency, she made a serious commitment to getting Barack Obama into the White House. Kevin Drum says it well:

She ran in one of the toughest Democratic primaries ever, against one of the party's most talented politicians in recent memory, and she took a lot of abuse during that primary -- some of it deserved, most of it not. But in the end, despite what must have been a bitter and searing loss, she campaigned tirelessly and wholeheartedly for the man who beat her. This is something that a lot of people doubted she'd do, and frankly, we all owe her some recognition and gratitude for her role in tonight's victory.

I have no doubt we are going to be seeing some tremendous things from her. In his speech last night, President-elect Obama said he would be reaching out to Senator McCain for his leadership in the days ahead. That's nice, but that's certainly not the first phone call he should make when looking for some Senate leadership on the issues that count. With Senator Kennedy's health and age forcing him to the , there is a real opportunity for Senator Clinton to emerge as the new leader of progressive ideas in that august chamber.

UPDATE: Karen Tumulty at Time has a story on what the future holds for Senator Clinton.

Unwritten Books about Election 2008

David Axelrod & Barack ObamaAlready I am excited at the thought of a couple really good books that I am sure will be written about the historic election we have just concluded.

The first would focus on the Obama campaign, how he went from state senator to President in four years, how he defeated the two most powerful brands in American politics to get there, and how he was able to do it with such little drama. As President-elect Obama said last night, with a touch of hyperbole, this was:

[T]he best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics.

On second thoughts, maybe that isn't hyperbole. After all, these folks managed to take a first-term African-American Senator with the middle name Hussein to the White House. The inside story of this campaign, when it is finally told, will be an instant purchase for me.

Lieberman, Salter, McCain, DavisAnother must-read, for other reasons, will be the dissection of just what happened in the McCain campaign. Contrary to current GOP spin, the economy was not the sole factor dooming the McCain campaign. Certainly it didn't make things easier, as the incumbent party is always punished in tough times. But it was McCain's reaction to the crisis, his lurching around in contrast to Obama's steady hand, that was more damaging. And the VP pick.... oh my. We've already got a taste of what's to come, from Robert Draper's lengthy essay from a couple weeks back. But if that sort of dirt was being dished even before the election, just imagine what's to come. We've already got these new tidbits from Newsweek:

McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended. Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request.

Some have said it looked like Palin tried to move to the mic after McCain finished last night, only to be mic-blocked by an aide. We'll have to look for video of that one. Another bit on one of Palin's notorious rogue moments:

Palin launched her attack on Obama's association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain's advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.

I'm sure one of the post-mortem talking points on the fringe right will be that the McCain campaign mistakenly restrained Palin from going after Obama as hard as she wanted, thus knee-capping themselves. I have a feeling this narrative will be met by quite a bit of resistance by the McCain camp. Remember, Steve Schmidt was brought in to win. Mark Salter has been there all along. It was Salter, no doubt, who wrote the conciliatory speech last night, and it will be he who leads McCain's rehabilitation, including, if necessary, exposing Palin for what she really is.

UPDATE: While we wait for these books to be written, check out the first three (of seven) articles in Newsweek's behind-the-scenes look at the campaign: "How He Did It," "Back From the Dead," and "The Long Siege." Great stuff here, all written by Evan Thomas (whose biography of RFK is excellent).

Blues States Getting Bluer

2004 ElectionOf course the sexy part of President-Elect Obama's victory was seeing so many red states from 2000 and/or 2004 turn blue. He could have won with just Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado or Virginia, but that wouldn't have been nearly so sweet. It is, in fact, difficult to say which formerly red state was the most gratifying to see shaded blue.

Florida turning blue is cathartic for all Democrats who suffered through the 2000 debacle. Ohio for similar, if less visceral reasons, and to emphasize just how stupid that Joe-the-Plumber nonsense was. Virginia has personal resonance for me, having lived there through the 2004 election, when it was a major disappointment. North Carolina, if the results hold, offers a further beachhead for Democratic inroads in the South. Iowa is a welcome consolidation of the blue Midwest. Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada reflect the new blue power in the West; as those states gain electoral votes, the map is going to look uglier and uglier for Republicans. I think Arizona would be blue if its native son had not been on the Republican ticket. And some will be most satisfied by the unlikely victory in Indiana, a state that went to George Bush by 21% just four years ago.

That's a lot of states that have turned blue since 2004. But take a moment and look at just how blue some of them turned. It looks like the popular vote victory will be around 6%, which is D+8 from 2004. Note how many of these formerly red states went even further blue than that. That's the really remarkable story here, and shows why this was a) a blowout and b) a sign of bad things for Republicans in 2012:

Florida
2008: Obama 51 - McCain 48
2004: Bush 52 - Kerry 47
Difference: D+7

Ohio
2008: Obama 51 - McCain 47
2004: Bush 51 - Kerry 49
Difference: D+6

Virginia
2008: Obama 52 - McCain 47
2004: Bush 54 - Kerry 46
Difference: D+13

North Carolina
2008: Obama 50 - McCain 50
2004: Bush 56 - Kerry 44
Difference: D+12

Iowa
2008: Obama 54 - McCain 45
2004: Bush 50 - Kerry 49
Difference: D+10

New Mexico
2008: Obama 57 - McCain 42
2004: Bush 50 - Kerry 49
Difference: D+16

Colorado
2008: Obama 53 - McCain 46
2004: Bush 52 - Kerry 47
Difference: D+12

Nevada
2008: Obama 55 - McCain 43
2004: Bush 50 - Kerry 48
Difference: D+14

Indiana
2008: Obama 50 - McCain 49
2004: Bush 60 - Kerry 39
Difference: D+22

That's not the whole story, however. There are also a number of states that were light blue in 2004 that are now a very dark blue. In other words, these are states that Bush actually contested, and which McCain might have hoped to pick off. They are going to look awfully frightening for Republicans come 2012. Note how most also ran at or ahead of the D+8 national trend. The most obvious, and most satisfying, is Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania
2008: Obama 55 - McCain 44
2004: Kerry 51 - Bush 48
Difference: D+8

New Hampshire
2008: Obama 55 - McCain 44
2004: Kerry 50 - Bush 49
Difference: D+10

Wisconsin
2008: Obama 56 - McCain 43
2004: Kerry 50 - Bush 49
Difference: D+12

Minnesota
2008: Obama 54 - McCain 44
2004: Kerry 51 - Bush 48
Difference: D+7

Michigan
2008: Obama 57 - McCain 41
2004: Kerry 51 - Bush 48
Difference: D+13

There are other examples, but these are the most important. What the Democrats have now, and may very well have for the next decade, are three solid electoral blocs: the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West. Consolidating gains made in Virginia and North Carolina could leave the Republicans in the wilderness even longer than they expect.

President-Elect Obama

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Liberals and Patriotism; Reason by Robert Reich

reich_reason.jpgElection years always stimulate increased popular interest in politics. But the presence of daily polling and instant analysis via blogs, both of which I have been obsessing over, can too easily direct our attention to the campaign process, the horse race, at the expense of the public policy issues at stake. This is made apparent by the dramatic decline in public attention to politics once the legislating begins, accompanied by a parallel decline in media coverage.

I'm guilty as well. I did not even pay much attention to the election until the night of the Iowa caucuses. I assumed that Senator Clinton was going to win the Democratic primary, and then the election, in a walk. What a difference a caucus can make. I opened up my wallet for Senator Obama that night, and have been more or less glued to the Internet since. I refresh my favorite political blogs with sufficient frequency to raise concerns about the survival of my F5 key. But this is mostly instant gratification, micro-data from polls and pundits on the campaign, not on our public policy. The campaign Senator McCain has chosen to run has only further diminished the visibility of key issues on the campaign trail.

I decided to take matters into my own hands, in the way I always do when I want more information: I started looking for books. I sought out big picture texts on the liberal agenda, and was directed to Robert Reich's Reason, Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal, and of course, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. On specific policy areas, I picked up David Cay Johnston's Perfectly Legal, Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy, and Chris Mooney's The Republic War on Science. For some help on understanding what led to the current financial crisis and the reactions to it, I bought Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, Charles Morris' The Trillion Dollar Meltdown, and Kevin Phillips' Bad Money.

So a big batch of books was headed my way, and I started with the first that arrived. Robert Reich, who maintains his own blog, became friendly with Bill Clinton during their time together at Oxford as Rhodes Scholars, and then joined Bill and Hillary at Yale Law School. Many years later, he would serve as Secretary of Labor in Clinton's first administration, and emerged as a leading liberal voice in a decidedly centrist cabinet. In the years since he left office, he has continued promoting liberal values and politics in his prolific writing, including his 2004 book, Reason.

I have already discussed Reich's take on the rise of "radical conservatives," his argument that liberals should not shy from discussions of public morality, and his elucidation of the liberal path to economic prosperity. The final prong of Reich's liberal rebuttal to the radical conservative ("Radcon") agenda is another hot current events topic: patriotism. He starts by exposing the superficial nature of the patriotism that conservatism encourages:

The Radcon version of patriotism requires no real sacrifice by most Americans. And it asks nothing of the more fortunate members of our society. Radcons don't link patriotism to a citizen's duty to pay his fair share of taxes to support the nation. And they don't think patriotism requires that all citizens serve the nation. Theirs is a shallow patriotism that derives its emotional force from disdaining foreign cultures and confronting foreign opponents. As such, it imperils the future security of America and the world...

Can there be any doubt that this is exactly the type of patriotism that conservatives have been pushing for the last eight years? And the trend continues. Let's take a look at the events of just the last week. Last Tuesday, at fundraiser in North Carolina, Sarah Palin said:

We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.

Sure, sure. Never mind those people in the big cities. You know, the ones that terrorists like to attack. Suffice it to say that these comments were so ill-received that even Palin felt it necessary to apologize. But take a moment to look beyond the denigrating offensiveness, and try and find some actual meaning to what she is saying. What can she possibly mean by the "real America" or the "pro-America areas" of this country? It is this same vapid patriotism that Reich was referring to.

Perhaps to give Palin some covering fire, Republican congressmen have produced their own variations on this theme. I have already covered Rep. Michele Bachmann's rant on Hardball last Friday, when she told Chris Matthews, "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?" Bachmann was rewarded for this hate-fest via hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to her opponent and a DCCC influx of an additional $1 million to boot her from her seat. After initially denying she ever made the recorded, televised comments, Bachmann now regrets going on the show, where she claims "a trap was laid."

Just when it couldn't get any weirder, we got word that while introducing John McCain at a rally on Saturday, North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes told the audience that "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." That's not the weird part (after all, this language has been par for the course); this is:

The comments were first reported by the New York Observer. When Politico linked to the Observer story on Monday evening, Hayes' spokeswoman Amanda Little called and denied the report. Observer reporter Jason Horowitz told Politico he stood firmly behind the story. Politico left the quote in The Crypt blog but added the Hayes denial.

On Tuesday, two more reporters and two other witnesses confirmed the quote, but Little continued to deny it, calling the story "irresponsible journalism." Little said she had just as many sources who would deny it, including Hayes' staff and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who spoke before Hayes.

But then Politico obtained an audio file of the Hayes quote from radio reporter Lisa Miller of WFAE. Little backed down, saying that Hayes must have misspoken.

Seriously. Check the original blog post to see the blow-by-blow updates. It is downright embarrassing. Of course, now that Hayes concedes that he made the statement, he claims "there is no doubt that it came out completely the wrong way." Hate speech can be tricky that way.

Apparently feeling left out, John McCain got in on the act on Tuesday. After flubbing an attack on John Murtha by actually agreeing that Western Pennsylvania is "racist," he made a feeble recovery attempt:

That's right, "Western Pennsylvania is the most patriotic, most god-loving, most patriotic part of America." Take that Eastern Pennsylvania! And the rest of America!

But seriously, there is good news in all of this. Palin had to apologize. Bachmann's comments were seen as so outrageous that her opponent now has $2 million to spend in two weeks, and she was forced to walk back her statement. Hayes, under intense media scrutiny, had to explain away a statement he has probably made a dozen times before.

What does this tell you? That there is another kind of patriotism out there, one that goes far beyond the shallow jingoism spouted by these conservatives. And it is a patriotism that resonates with the electorate, and can be harnessed. As Reich put it:

Liberals should embrace patriotism--not the negative and imperialistic version the Radcons are peddling, but a positive patriotism that's better suited to our time: a patriotism that's based on love of America, but not contempt for what's not America; that cherishes our civil liberties and our democratic right to dissent; that understands that our national security depends as much on America's leadership and moral authority in the world as it does on our military might; and that emphasizes what we owe one another as members of the same society.

Any of this sound familiar? If you had your television tuned to one of the major networks or cable news stations on August 28, 2008, it should:

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

And Obama has kept hitting back at the most recent ugliness from the Republicans. Take a look at this Dana Milbank piece from yesterday's Washington Post about Obama's rally in Richmond (note Milbank's mockery of the "Joe the Plumber" meme):

"There are no real parts of the country and fake parts of the country," he told 12,000 supporters. "There are no pro-America parts of the country and anti-America parts of the country. We all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, city dweller, farm dwellers, it doesn't matter. We're all together."

In recent elections, Democrats were cowed by challenges to their patriotism. But the crowd in Richmond, confident of an Obama victory, brushed off the Palin insult with laughter, a survey of the first row in the arena revealed.

"I'm a terrorist," said Kathleen the Food Vendor.

"We're probably communists," added John the Other Food Vendor, sitting with Kathleen. "I've been hating America ever since I was a young man."

"I was a baby terrorist," offered Terrence the Unemployed Guy.

Obama wasted little time getting to the "careless, outrageous comments" of McCain. "That's what you do when you are out of ideas, out of touch, and you're running out of time." He then had some fun with McCain's Joe-the-Plumber offensive: "He's not fighting for Joe the Plumber; he's fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager." Eventually, he arrived at Palin's "pro-America" charge.

"There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq; there are patriots who opposed it," he said. "There are patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women from Virginia and all across this country who serve on our battlefields, some are Democrats, some are Republicans, some are independents, but they have fought together and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag."

In the heart of real America, the crowd gave Obama a cheer that did not seem at all phony.

Amen to that. With Reich's book and Senator Obama's campaign, Democrats are reclaiming the meaning of patriotism that has been hijacked by conservative rhetoric for too long.

Liberals and Economic Prosperity

Robert Reich & Barack ObamaOver the past several days, I have discussed Robert Reich's take on the rise of "radical conservatives," as well as his argument that liberals should not shy from advancing a moral agenda of their own, each of which comprises a chapter of his 2004 handbook on liberalism, Reason.

The second and third prongs of Reich's liberal rebuttal cover economic prosperity and patriotism, and ways in which liberals can retake these issues from the conservative movement that for decades has claimed them as their own. In the debate over economics, Reich argues that liberals have made two errors; they have been dismissive of the importance of growth, and they have lost the framing war:

[I]n a debate that seems to pit economic growth against fairness, liberals lose. Part of the reason lies in how liberals define "fairness." They make it seem like too squishy an idea -- appropriate for soft hearts rather than hard heads. Besides, most of the people who are being hurt by Radcon cuts in social spending appear to be poor and black or brown -- "them" rather than "us." And most of those who are getting tax breaks and accumulating fortunes are people whom a lot of Americans would like to emulate.

We've seen this very phenomenon appear in the past several weeks of the current campaign. The ridiculous "Joe the Plumber" meme, which the gasping McCain team has latched onto this past week, is a perfect example. While the lunatics at the National Review obsessed over Senator Obama's "socialist" beliefs, it was not readily apparent or important to Joe the Plumber himself that he was going to be a beneficiary of Obama's tax plan. Instead, he was more concerned that someday, somehow, he would be rich, and Obama would raise his taxes. Robert Reich has a better answer to this than Democrats in the past:

Liberals shouldn't abandon convictions about fairness. But to be persuasive to the rest of America, the ideal of fairness has to be embedded in a hardheaded program to promote prosperity for everyone. Rather than help wealthy people stay on top, we need to help all working people build their wealth. The truth is, fairness and growth aren't at odds; they complement each other. Prosperity is easier to achieve if it's widely shared.

Unfortunately for McCain, and the occupants of the National Review echo-chamber, Reich's sentiment can be heard incorporated throughout Senator Obama's response:

My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody. If you've got a plumbing business, you're gonna be better off if you've got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody's so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.

So while the cynics and the mercenaries want to seize on the "spread the wealth" soundbite, Senator Obama is still consistently winning the argument, because he taps into both of the American economic ideals: growth and fairness. That's why the latest polls show he is more trusted on almost every issue related to economics, including the current financial crisis, reducing the deficit, and even taxes, which has been the bread-and-butter of conservative propaganda for decades:

On most domestic issues, Obama enjoys wide leads over McCain. Voters see Obama as the candidate best able to deal with the current economic crisis, 46%-34%. Obama leads 53% to 32% when voters are asked which would do the best job improving the economy more generally. Voters favor Obama on energy issues 53% to 34%. On handling education, the environment and the health care system, Obama holds advantages of more than 25 points over McCain.

Half of voters say Obama would do a better job dealing with taxes and reducing the budget deficit, while about a third say McCain would do the better job (35% and 30%, respectively). Obama also holds a nine-point advantage over McCain on the question of who would best limit the influence of lobbyists, up from a four-point edge in mid-September [emphasis added].

Certainly part of the reason for Senator Obama's advantage has been the disastrous campaign run by his opponent, whose erratic and negative behavior has destroyed his own credibility on almost every issue. But part of the reason why such a campaign was necessary was that Obama has so successfully articulated a liberal alternative to the conservative policies that have dug American into a hole. Consider one of Reich's major insights into the future of American economic growth. He recognizes that the decline of manufacturing jobs is not the fault of outsourcing, free trade, illegal immigrants, or minorities:

Factor jobs are vanishing all over the world... Robots and numerical machine tools can do factory work more efficiently than people. Even as manufacturing employment dropped around the globe since the mid-nineties, industrial output rose more than 30 percent.

We should stop pining for "manufacturing" jobs and the days when a lot of people were paid for good money to stand along an assembly line and continuously bolt, fit, solder, or clamp what went by. Those days are over. Don't blame poor blacks, Latinos, or all the other usual suspects.

In the absence of these jobs, Reich sees a division of available employment into two categories: highly-paid "symbolic analytic" jobs that center on "analyzing, manipulating, and communicating through abstract symbols--numbers, shapes, words, ideas" (think engineering, law, advertising, medicine, finance); and "personal service" jobs, which "are usually paid by the hour, are carefully supervised, and rarely require much more than a high school education."

Reich makes no judgment about the importance of either job to the economy; he simply recognizes that the jobs are not rewarded equally; "the demand for symbolic analysts keeps growing because they add significant value to products and services. Companies can no longer depend just on economies of scale to keep them competitive." On the other side, "Most personal service jobs... pay low wages. Few of these jobs require special qualifications, so many people can do them."

The obvious solution? Increase the number of symbolic analytic jobs in the United States. But Reich points out that the standard supply-side, trickle-down economic policies promoted by doctrinal conservatism is antithetical to such growth:

Their solution is to raise the level of savings and reduce consumption in order to create more capital. You know the drill: Cut the highest income-tax rates; reduce or eliminate taxes on savings, investment income, and wealth; and phase out the estate tax. Meanwhile, cut spending on social services; privatize public insurance; and relax government regulations on health, safety, and the environment.

The only way to attract global capital and also improve our living standards is to increase the productivity of Americans.

America's basic strategy for economic growth must be to equip a larger portion of our people to add more value to the world economy. And the way to do this is to increase investments in our people: We need to ensure that a good-quality public education is available to every child from the age of three all the way through at least two years of college, so that any talented American kid can become a symbolic analyst regardless of family income or race. We need to help personal service workers be more productive by giving them access to better training, and career ladders linking increased expertise to higher pay scales. We need to provide better health care and improve the environment, so that American can lead fuller and more productive lives, and both feel and be more prosperous.

Does Senator Obama have a coherent strategy to meet these demands? Let's see. Education? Check. Job creation? Check. Health care? Check. The environment? Check. It should be no surprise, then, to see the bases on which Robert Reich endorsed Obama, way back in April when the primary was still hotly contested:

His plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding. His approaches to the housing crisis and the failures of our financial markets are sounder than hers. His ideas for improving our public schools and confronting the problems of poverty and inequality are more coherent and compelling. He has put forward the more enlightened foreign policy and the more thoughtful plan for controlling global warming.

He also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades. He has spoken about the most difficult problems our society faces, such as race, without spinning or simplifying. He has rightly identified the armies of lawyers and lobbyists that have commandeered our democracy, and pointed the way toward taking it back.

Absolutely. Tomorrow I will turn to the final chapter of Reich's book, entitled "Positive Patriotism." In light of comments made in just this last week by Senator McCain, his running mate, and several Republican congressmen, this is a hot topic. And it is another area where Senator Obama has been pitch-perfect in his response, successfully owning the topic of patriotism such that now it is the conservative darling, Sarah Palin, who is making televised apologies for her comments. Advantage: liberals.

The Making (and Remaking) of McCain

Steve Schmidt & John McCainHave thirty minutes to gain some real insight into the nature of John McCain's campaign, and wondering where to spend it? Easy; read Robert Draper's 8,000 word "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain", which will appear in The New York Times Magazine this coming Sunday. A sample:

A senior adviser to McCain said: "The town halls, the ethics bill, immigration reform -- all are examples. I think McCain finds it galling that Obama gets credit for his impressive talk about bipartisanship without ever having to bear the risk that is a part of that. It is so much harder to walk the walk in the Senate than to talk the talk." By extension, then, if the McCain campaign's conduct would appear to be at odds with the man's "true character," it is only because the combination of a dishonorable opponent and a biased media has forced his hand. Or so goes the rationale for what by this month was an increasingly ugly campaign.

The worry among his aides had long been that McCain would let his indignation show. Going into the debates, an adviser expressed that very concern to me: "If he keeps the debates on substance, he's very good. If it moves to the personal, then I think it's a disaster." Accordingly, Salter advised McCain before the first debate to maintain, one person privy to the sessions put it, "a very generous patience with Obama -- in terms of, 'I'm sure if he understood. . . .' "

"The object wasn't to appear condescending at all -- really, the opposite," an adviser said of Salter's tactic, which judging by the postdebate polls seemed to backfire. "You put a bullet in a gun, figuring it'll get shot once. We had no idea it would be shot 10 times."

Sure it backfired! McCain didn't say "'I'm sure if he understood...," he said "What Sen. Obama just doesn't understand is..." This is considerably nastier, and he said it over and over again. And when Senator Obama actually was gracious ("Senator McCain is right"), the McCain campaign made an ill-received, sarcastic ad about it.

If you were ever looking for a textbook example of an echo chamber, this is it. A campaign essentially driven by a candidate's personal animosity toward his opponent, which he simply assumed entitled him to be negative and condescending, no matter how uncalled for and overblown this would seem to the world. McCain aides specifically point to an incident (from February 2006!) wherein McCain felt Obama went back on his word to attend a bipartisan meeting on ethics reform, and had Salter write a nasty letter in response.

Perhaps this was a legitimate grievance. But how many Americans have the slightest notion about this uber-insider baseball stuff from 32 months ago? That's how the whole article reads; three close advisers basically spent the last year convincing each other to believe their own spin, and apparently failed to notice that: a) no one else did; and b) they were contradicting themselves every few weeks.

Liberals and Public Morality

Robert ReichI have previously discussed the first chapter of Robert Reich's Reason, in which he analyzes the rise of the "radical conservatives" who have come to dominate the modern Republican Party. The remainder of the book is divided into three sections, each an area of public policy in which Reich believes liberals have the right answers, but have allowed the "Radcons" to frame the debate in their favor.

I'd like to turn to the second chapter of his book, which he titles "Public Morality." Interestingly, Reich does not shy away from pushing a liberal agenda on public morality. In fact, he believes public morality is an area in which liberals should expand their influence. The first step is in properly defining the sphere appropriately:

Radcons are correct in one respect: Public morality is important. By shying away from discussing it, liberals allows Radcons to define public morality the way they see it. But public morality shouldn't be about private sex. Liberals should be screaming from the rooftops about the real decline of public morality, about the real abuses.

Reich includes in his list such abuses as fraudulent accounting and stock manipulation, tax evasion, executive pay, and financial conflicts of interest, many of which will sound familiar to those who have paid to the attention to the four years since Reich published his book. Reich points out that conservatives "equate sexual permissiveness with the erosion of public morality because they're obsessed by the decline of discipline in society. They don't worry about the misuse of authority because they're focused on obedience to it."

Think about this for a few minutes. When we as Americans think or talk about sexuality, we usually do it in moral terms. When we talk about business or economics, we rarely do. We have been trained to think of capitalism as inherently moral, or at worst, amoral. The "free market" is made an excuse for a free-for-all in which abuses of greed or corruption are seen as par for the course, or necessary evils. The introductions of moral decision-making into a business plan is considered laughable; indeed, to the extent it might interfere with the immediate financial well-being of large shareholders, it would be considered corporate malpractice. That is how far we have fallen.

Reich indicts liberals for complicity in this situation, as they have reacted against the conservative emphasis on sexual morality by simply abandoning the field:

Morality is sometimes hard for liberals to talk about. It seems too personal, too closely related to authoritarian religion, too easily used as a tool to justify or to condemn private behaviors. Moralists often strike liberals as being intolerant. Hence, many liberals have adopted a kind of moral relativism; no single version of morality is superior to any other. By this view, abuses of power may violate legal or economic principles, buy they don't raise moral issues.

This is a dangerous cop-out.

To their credit, Radcons have developed several useful ways to frame morality as a public issue. They go awry on the application of their ideas. Sex is the wrong target. But their willingness to introduce the concept of right and wrong into public discourse enables us to discuss why the abuses of authority that plague modern America are rightly matters of public concern.

He goes on to quote extensively from books by Bill Bennett and Robert Bork for the purpose of showing how persuasive their morality-based arguments are if shifted away from sexuality and onto abuses of power. Reich also succinctly rebuts the oft-repeated conservative talking points on premarital sex, the decline of marriage, and the separation of church and state.

Reich then turns his attention to the abuses of corporate power that liberals should make the focus of their own moral crusade. He highlights Enron as the "poster child," of this phenomenon, but emphasizes that Enron was no exception, it was the simply the most excessive example of abusive practices running throughout corporate America. He points out the tremendous conflicts-of-interest that continue to link the fates of bankers, large investors, corporate executives with the boards of directors and auditors who are supposed to be guarding the hen house. Reich also touches on a subject that has really made the headlines in the current financial crisis, executive pay:

Over the past twenty years, as executive pay moved into the stratosphere, the pay and benefits of average working Americans have gone essentially nowhere. In the 1990s, many of these same Americans invested their scant retirement savings in the stock market, only to discover--too late--that is was a bubble filled with hot air. Then they found out that a lot of reported corporate earnings had been pumped up with helium. CEOs, on the other hand, did just fine. Their "big money carrots" were real. They cashed in their options early enough to beat the imploding market.

Reich goes into detail on what he calls "legalized bribery," which is of course an indictment of the campaign finance system. I'd be interested to hear what he thinks of Senator Obama's fund-raising, which has been exceptional for its breadth and its depth, and its exclusion of any lobbyist or PAC money. [UPDATE: Reich endorsed Obama in April, but did not specifically mention fund-raising]. Reich also emphasizes that the occasional "perp walk" (e.g. Kenneth Lay, Bernie Ebbers) is not enough. Instead, liberals must take the lead in promoting legal enforcement of the public trust, but with a healthy dose of morality added to the mix:

It's time for a vigorous liberalism that holds morally accountable those who abuse their authority. We need moral as well as legal limits on rapacious CEOs, accountants, lawyers, brokers, and investment bankers--people who are stewards of the economy but don't give a damn what happens to the millions of small investors, as well as employees, they're supposed to represent.

The chapter falls short, however, on detailed solutions. Perhaps Reich offers those elsewhere, but it was disappointing to find a former cabinet secretary so light on particulars. While convinced by Reich's call for introducing a moral element to the fight against corporate abuses, that seems a long-term project. Reich is surely correct that the liberal movement against greed and corruption will be strengthened by the moral arguments he suggests.

In the short-term, however, the law can yield greater effect. Yet Reich gives no guidance on what the appropriate changes might be. We might consider an expansion of legally-enforceable fiduciary obligations to a wider group of professionals involved in corporate finance. Or perhaps greater regulation (or re-regulation, as the case may be) of the conflicts-of-interest that improperly link the fates of supposedly independent actors. I am no expert in the field, which is why I hoped for a bit more from Reich. In his defense, the chapter is largely focused on convincing liberals to recognize the moral, not legal, elements of corporate abuse; I simply wanted both.

Vietnam Veteran Curse?

Gore, Kerry, McCainCan it really be, that America will never have a Vietnam War veteran serve as President of the United States? It certainly seems likely at this point. If Senator Obama wins the election two weeks from tomorrow, and I am confident that he will, we will have seen three consecutive elections in which a Vietnam veteran was nominated, but lost. And with no disrespect to Al Gore, Senators Kerry and McCain are not just veterans, but gentlemen with heroic service records (though under dramatically different circumstances).

If Obama wins, the next contested Democratic primary will be in 2016, at which point most Vietnam veterans will be well over 60 years old. None of the up-and-comers in the party (Mark Warner, Brian Schweitzer) served in the military, let alone Vietnam. The sole exception might be Jim Webb, but he'll be 70 years old and an unlikely candidate.

The Republican bench is just the same. Neither Mike Huckabee nor Mitt Romney is a veteran. Same for Bobby Jindal, who was three years old when Saigon fell. And we all know Sarah Palin has never been to Vietnam.

Perhaps I am overlooking someone who will rise to lead their party into the White House. And perhaps it is not such a big deal. It just seems odd, considering the perpetual elevation of military service as the pinnacle of public sacrifice, and the continuing presence of the Vietnam War as a focal point in political debate, that a veteran of that conflict might never hold our highest office.

When John McCain was a Real Conservative

In his 2004 political tome Reason, which I started reading last night, Robert Reich discusses the rise of the radical conservative movement (he calls them "Radcons"). He traces their agenda back to the 1960s, as a reaction to the New Left:

In its moral absolutism, its faith in the redemptive power of discipline, its emphasis on punishment, and its theory of evil -- in all these respects, radical conservatism sees itself as the counterforce to the sixties left. No matter that the sixties left has all but vanished. According to Radcons, it released an evil into the world that still imperils American civilization.

It should be little wonder, then, that the current mantras of the Republican candidate's campaign for President are that Senator Barack Obama has ties to William Ayers (that's right, a sixties leftist radical) and that he is a socialist (who said the Cold War was over?).

I have no reason to believe that John McCain had a sudden conversion to the radical conservative agenda. If he had, we would see him elucidating their worldview with genuine vigor, and he might retain at least the dignity of fighting for what he believed in. Instead, he simply turned over his campaign to these forces after making "cold, political calculations," put the young Rovians in charge, and put their Ice Queen on the ticket with him.

It was not always this way. Reich makes it a point to distinguish radical conservatives from "real conservatives." And the examples he offers? You got it:

A real conservative is somebody like the late Senator Robert A. Taft, of Ohio, or Senator John McCain, of Arizona -- someone who wants to conserve many of the things that are great about America: the value we place on hard work, our dedication to family and community, our love of freedom, our storehouse of generosity and tolerance.

Real conservatives are cautious. They're skeptical of big ideas, grand plans, risky moves. When change is necessary, they prefer doing it gradually, carefully, methodically, step-by-step. And they're meticulous about laws and procedures: Means are as important to them as ends.

Amazing what four years and a shot at the White House can do to a man. There is no way Senator McCain would be mentioned in this passage if it were written today, except perhaps to symbolize the total corruption of the Republican Party by these radical elements. Decide for yourself which of these best describes the John McCain of 2008:

Real conservatives are concerned about civility. They have codes of honor and rules of conduct. They worry about the "coarsening" of American culture. And they're wary of demagogues who stir people up. Edmund Burke, again: "Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hours than prudence, deliberation and foresight can build up in a hundred years."

But radical conservatives are uncivil in the extreme. They fill the public airwaves and bookstores with nastiness. Listen to Radcon talk radio or cable TV news and what you mostly hear are venomous diatribes. Read the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, Washington Times, New York Post, New York Sun, or any other Radcon outlet, and you find vicious attacks. Open a Radcon political best-seller and you find more mean-spirited screeds. Radcons typically reduce political debate to nonsensical statements that seem to be making a point but are nothing but vague and angry assertions, unsupported by facts.

That last sentence seems to describe Senator McCain's third debate performance pretty well. Or any statement that comes out of Sarah Palin's mouth. Or this:

That's why it was so moving to hear Colin Powell not only endorse Senator Obama, but spend several minutes eviscerating the tactics that have taken over the McCain campaign and the Republican Party. He specifically denounced the Ayers smear, cited the terrible Palin selection, and gave the best explanation of the offensiveness of the "Muslim" meme that any public figure, including Senator Obama, has been able to offer:

Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.

Here's more on that Soldier's sacrifice. This is very powerful imagery, and the strongest possible rebuke to the despicable attacks that no longer reside merely in fringe viral e-mails, but with "senior members" of the Republican Party. In a press conference after the show, Powell also gave a strong rebuttal to the "socialist" attack that is now the McCain/Palin smear of choice, by pointing out the importance of taxes in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, almost as if it were a patriotic duty.

Suffice it to say, between John McCain and Colin Powell there is only one real conservative. Too bad the Republican Party lacked the wisdom to ever put him on the ticket.

Spread the Wealth

Much has been made about Senator Obama's comment that Americans should be willing to "spread the wealth" around. When viewed in context, which political sound bites rarely are, this made perfectly good sense, but cynical conservatives have painted this as proof of Obama's support for forced wealth redistribution. But now I wonder whether Senator Obama was really talking about this:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama raised more than $150 million in September, a stunning and unprecedented eruption of political giving that has given him a wide spending advantage over rival John McCain.

Campaign manager David Plouffe, in an e-mail to supporters Sunday morning, said the campaign had added 632,000 new donors in September, for a total of 3.1 million contributors to the campaign. He said the average donation was $86.

Talk about a massive redistribution of wealth! I am proud to say that I made the first political donation of my life to Barack Obama on the night of the Iowa caucuses. I maxed out for the general election on the night of Sarah Palin's convention speech.

Palin

Say what you want about John McCain, but he's certainly not afraid of taking a risk. How else to describe a 72-year old cancer survivor choosing as his candidate for vice president an unknown first-term governor who thinks victims of rape and incest should be forced to carry pregnancies to term, supports the teaching of creationism in public schools, doesn't think global warming is caused by humans, withholds emails to obstruct an ethics investigation, and supported Pat Buchanan's bid for President?

And this is supposed to appeal to those who shed sweat and tears in support of Hillary Clinton? I think not. But maybe McCain didn't really know what he was getting:

John McCain today announced a running mate whom he met only six months ago and whom he spoke with just once on the phone about the position before offering it in person earlier this week.

It is said that the choice of running mate is the first "presidential" decision a candidate has to make, and that the real litmus test is whether that running mate is qualified to assume the presidency in a tragedy or crisis. In this, John McCain has utterly failed. More than any of the negative campaigning or flip-flopping he has done to this point, his choice today makes apparent that John McCain is concerned about only one thing: Election Day. He does not care one bit about the day after that, about what it would mean to actually govern, and he is certainly not, as they say, putting the country first.

Obama Biden

obama_biden1.jpg obama_biden2.jpg obama_biden3.jpg

Happy Birthday to Me

It's my birthday, so no extended posts today. I'll be too busy eating Fellini's Pizza and watching the Olympics. I did want to take a moment and thank Barack Obama for the birthday gift: picking Mark Warner to be the keynote convention speaker. I can't wait to hear his speech, and to vote for him for President on November 8, 2016.

Polls in July

July is a particularly stupid time to be paying much attention to national polling of the presidential election. After all, Michael Dukakis was up by seventeen points in July. But in case you needed more evidence, here are four polls released in the last 24 hours:

Obama (D) 51%, McCain (R) 39% (Research 2000)
Obama (D) 48%, McCain (R) 40% (Gallup)
Obama (D) 48%, McCain (R) 45% (Rasmussen)
McCain (R) 49%, Obama (D) 45% (USA Today/Gallup)

Now that last poll has been filtered through a pretty questionable "likely voter" model (Obama is up 47-44 among registered voters, for a seven point swing between RV and LV). But still, what possible rational reaction can you have to these numbers other than to shrug your shoulders and pray for November to come soon?

Managing the Media

Ben Smith posted this a few days ago, but I thought it was so striking (and amusing) that it was worth repeating. As everyone knows by now, Senator Obama recently visited Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a congressional delegation including Senators Hagel and Reed. While in Iraq, he accompanied General Petraeus on a helicopter tour, resulting in a number of striking photos, such as this one:

obama_petraeus.jpg

While Senator Obama spent the day with the troops, Senator McCain visited former President George H.W. Bush in Kennebunkport, resulting in this unfortunate image:

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Not a good day in image contrast for Senator McCain. Due respect to the former President, but that sign on his golf cart might as well say "Get off my lawn!" (It actually reads "Property of #41 Hands off!"). One candidate looks presidential, the other decidedly geriatric. And remember, it was Senator McCain's idea for Senator Obama to take this trip. Oops.

Bush = McCain on Drilling

Maybe I am thinking too hard, or maybe others just are not thinking hard enough, but I do not understand why President Bush has come out in favor of Senator McCain's offshore drilling plan. Let us leave aside the merits of the plan itself for a moment, and just review recent events.

1. Senator Obama's campaign and its Democratic surrogates have been doing everything they can to link Bush to McCain.

2. They have good reason to do so, since the President is very unpopular.

3. Senator McCain just released a new ad trying to distance himself from President Bush's environmental policies.

4. The same day, Senator McCain came out in favor of offshore drilling.

5. President Bush announced his support for the McCain plan.

I would be willing to put a good bit of money that the Obama campaign and its surrogates will now be referring to the Bush-McCain plan for offshore drilling. The President just handed the Democrats another talking point, and I do not see why. How does it make the plan more palatable, more marketable, or more likely to succeed now that it has the imprimatur of a wildly unpopular president? I am at a loss.

For bonus points, in which state is offshore drilling particularly controversial? Florida. And in which state has Senator Obama just opened his first lead in the latest poll? Guess. And that poll was conducted before this offshore drilling debate.

Pro-Obama Viral

Now I've never seen any of these anti-Obama smear emails, so I don't know how accurate this is as satire. And I'm sure there are a few sad souls who will think it is either 1) serious on its face, or 2) a serious attempt to mislead the voters. But it is hilarious no matter what:

From: [Redacted]
To: [Redacted]
Subject: WHO IS BARACK OBAMA?

There are many things people do not know about BARACK OBAMA. It is every American's duty to read this message and pass it along to all of their friends and loved ones.

Barack Obama wears a FLAG PIN at all times. Even in the shower.
Click here to find out more!

Barack Obama says the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE every time he sees an American flag. He also ends every sentence by saying, "WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL." Click here for video of Obama quietly mouthing the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE in his sleep.

A tape exists of Michelle Obama saying the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE at a conference on PATRIOTISM.

Every weekend, Barack and Michelle take their daughters HUNTING.

Barack Obama is a PATRIOTIC AMERICAN. He has one HAND over his HEART at all times. He occasionally switches when one arm gets tired, which is almost never because he is STRONG.

Barack Obama has the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE tattooed on his stomach. It's upside-down, so he can read it while doing sit-ups.

There's only one artist on Barack Obama's iPod: FRANCIS SCOTT KEY.

Barack Obama is a DEVOUT CHRISTIAN. His favorite book is the BIBLE, which he has memorized. His name means HE WHO LOVES JESUS in the ancient language of Aramaic. He is PROUD that Jesus was an American.

Barack Obama goes to church every morning. He goes to church every afternoon. He goes to church every evening. He is IN CHURCH RIGHT NOW.

Barack Obama's new airplane includes a conference room, a kitchen, and a MEGACHURCH.

Barack Obama's skin is the color of AMERICAN SOIL.

Barack Obama buys AMERICAN STUFF. He owns a FORD, a BASEBALL TEAM, and a COMPUTER HE BUILT HIMSELF FROM AMERICAN PARTS. He travels mostly by FORKLIFT.

Barack Obama says that Americans cling to GUNS and RELIGION because they are AWESOME.

I had to stop reading half way through because my co-workers were starting to look at me funny.

Obama-Lieberman Showdown

What I wouldn't give to have been a fly on the wall during this conversation yesterday between Senators Obama and Lieberman, since that's probably the only way we'd ever know what was said:

Furthermore, during a Senate vote Wednesday, Obama dragged Lieberman by the hand to a far corner of the Senate chamber and engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation.

While it was unclear what the two were discussing, the body language suggested that Obama was trying to convince Lieberman of something and his stance appeared slightly intimidating.

Using forceful, but not angry, hand gestures, Obama literally backed up Lieberman against the wall, leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation, as the two talked over each other in a few instances.

Senator Lieberman is a supremely frustrating figure for me. For most of my teenage years, and even during college, I considered myself a very moderate Democrat, and counted among my political idols moderate Republicans senators like Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, and Edward Brooke. When Al Gore tapped Senator Lieberman for his ticket, I thought it was a very interesting choice and I supported them.

The past seven years, however, have chilled my opinion of Senator Lieberman, to say the least. And I think it is because Senator Lieberman is not a moderate or a centrist in any meaningful sense. On most issues, he is a liberal. On the war in Iraq, he has allied himself with the neo-con right. The war in Iraq is and has been the most important issue for the last 5 years, and the one in which a strong, bipartisan centrist voice has been needed to walk the administration off the ledge. So Senator Lieberman's failure to be a voice of restraint and his enabling of the worst of the neoconservative tendencies has been most disappointing.

Obama's Money Machine

I'm proud to say that so far this year, I've already contribued three times to the Obama money machine. According to Politico, small donors like me have Senator McCain running scared:

If each of Obama's donors gave him a modest $250, he'd have $375 million to spend during the two-month general election sprint. That's $186 million a month; $47 million a week.

During the same September to Nov. 4th period, McCain will have about $85 million to spend since he has decided to take taxpayer money to help finance his campaign activities.

The Republican National Committee, which is charged with closing the gap between McCain and Obama, has $40 million in cash. Obama raised almost as much -- $31 million - from just his small donors in the month of February. His total for the month, $57 million, exceeded the RNC's cash balance.

Obama has more than 1.5 million donors; McCain has a few hundred thousand. If just a million of Obama's donors sent him the maximum donation, $2,300, he could raise $2.3 billion.

With numbers like that, I can understand why the Republicans are nervous. As Senator Obama and the DNC start doing joint fundraising, I expect the DNC will close the gap on the RNC. And as the article makes clear, Senator McCain himself just won't be able to compete with the Obama money machine. Could we really see the first billion dollar campaign? Time will tell.

Obama Victory

What a wonderful sight to see, after a truly historic, hard-fought primary campaign that has clearly strengthened the growth of the Democratic party throughout the country:

obama_victory.jpg

I leave for Kuwait next week. I'm glad I got to see this before I left.

PA Doesn't Matter

Even as I sit here wasting time watching the votes get tallied, and it appears Senator Clinton's moribund campaign will limp along a bit further, I know in the end Jon Chait is right:

In general, I think the coverage of Pennsylvania is wildly overblown. What happens tonight is not going to effect the outcome of the nomination. Obama will be the nominee, and the only thing that could stop him would be a massive scandal. If Wright and Bittergate couldn't dent his standing, a loss in Pennsylvania won't, either. The only thing the Pennsylvania results could possibly change is the timing of Clinton's departure, and even that won't happen unless Obama somehow pulls off a shocker upset win.

The conventions and structural biases of journalism dictate that importance must be read into whatever outcome occurs, but the fact is, it really doesn't matter.

Part of why I've been relatively quiet the past few weeks, after jumping back into blogging, is that I got real excited about the primary election just before it started to get ugly, at which point I became a more solid Obama supporter and yet wanted nothing more to do with politics for the rest of my life. In the months since, both feelings have held pretty strong, though I think the latter will fade.

UPDATE: As Josh Marshall put it, status quo ante.

Hillary's Unraveling

Senator Obama's big wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii last night further cement a solid delegate lead that I believe will be carried through the upcoming Texas and Ohio primaries. At that point, calls for Senator Clinton to drop out will start to emerge from corners of the Democratic Party currently inclined to let her lose demonstrably in the first week of March, rather than be seen as betraying her at this moment of weakness. I do not see this campaign lasting past that.

Somewhat lost in this forward-looking analysis is any discussion of why Clinton got to where she is... how exactly her campaign has so unravelled. The post-mortems on the 2008 primary season are yet to be written. After all, there is no mortem yet, despite the lifelessness her campaign demonstrated yesterday. But I think Ezra Klein has written an excellent column that foreshadows what the post-mortems will say, barring any substantial surprise in the coming weeks:

These results, in fact, have less to say about Obama than they do about Clinton, and in particular, the collapse of her campaign. Her aura of inevitability has given way to a fight for relevance. She is no longer the default candidate--her losses are not confined to demographically unfriendly electorates or surprise upsets. They have become the norm for her campaign and are damaging the foundations of her candidacy.

Ezra turns first to notice that for both senators, this is the first tough electoral fight either has faced:

Obama's path to the Senate largely required him to step over the bodies of establishment candidates who self-destructed in scandal. Clinton's 2000 victory over Rick Lazio and her 2006 triumph over the forgettable John Spencer demonstrated little about her readiness for combat.

Of course, Hillary was present and participating in her husband's numerous electoral battles, something that, as Ezra points out, she tried to rely on as evidence that she was the one who had the well-oiled machine, the experience and preparation not just to win the election, but to be ready on the infamous Day One to be President of this country. This picture was a perfect fit for the clear front-runner who was expected to sweep through the primary process and thus needed to focus on general election themes.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been a Plan B. Perhaps more surprising than Clinton's status as an also-ran over the past several weeks has been her campaign's total inability to adapt to this new reality. This is the well-oiled machine, loaded with experience? All I've heard is whining about Michigan and Florida, and the endless merry-go-round about superdelegates. How about, you know, winning some primaries? Getting people to vote for you? That's what this little democracy thing is supposed to be about. As Ezra points out, Obama seems to understand how it works:

Obama's campaign, in Iowa, South Carolina, and elsewhere, made good on their promises to excite new voters. Additionally, the Obama campaign ran a disciplined, forward-looking operation. It methodically organized--and, as a result, dominated--the caucus states; it predicted early on that the contest would drag beyond Feb. 5 and was thus better prepared in the recent primaries; the campaign ran a tight ship with little dissension, few gaffes, and no damaging leaks.

Clinton's campaign has done exactly the opposite. Aside from an important win in New Hampshire, she has not overperformed in any state. Tactically, her strategists have made a series of massive errors: They were so stung by their loss in Iowa that they largely turned away from caucuses, a disastrous mistake as the race became more dependent on delegates; they thought the election would be over early on and were unprepared to go past Feb. 5, which is why her organizing in post-Super Tuesday states has been so poor; they appear, only now, to be thinking through the implications of Texas' hybrid primary/caucus system--and Texas is a must-win. No one thought to dispatch an intern to ask the state's Democratic Party, how would March 5 work? How savvy of a campaign operation could this be?

Not so savvy, as it turns out. I think when we look back at 2008 and all the campaigns that crashed and burned, Clinton's will be the most interesting to dissect. Edwards got the same voters he got four years ago, but unfortunately his opponents were much better this time around. He did about as well as anyone expected, I think, so there won't be much more to say.

On the Republican side, Giuliani never stood a chance with the conservative primary electorate, no matter what the national polls said, and his Florida-firewall strategy simply reflected that. Thompson was a media mirage, lured into the race by pundits who falsely promised he would be greeted by as a liberator by voters. Romney's money could only mask his vacuity for so long.

Clinton is the only candidate whose plummet will be worthy of studied reflection. If she somehow pulls out a victory, it will be a revival of Charles Finney proportions. If not, I'm sure some will blame sexism, or Bill Clinton. But the truth will probably be a mixed tale of hubris and the bad luck to run against a man named Obama.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux has more.

One Night, Two Victories

obama1.jpgThe only thing better than one electoral victory is two, and the progressive movement had two such victories yesterday. Barack Obama continued his march to the nomination with overwhelming wins in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., and Donna Edwards won her Democratic primary battle against corporate incumbent Al Wynn in Maryland's 4th Congressional District.

As an enthusiastic Obama supporter (his is the first political campaign I've contributed to), I am naturally pleased by his victories. But the real excitement, with an eye towards November, comes from looking at the overall totals of the Democrats vs. the Republicans. In Virginia, which has trended blue but was still a Bush state in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama received more than 619,000 votes, Hillary Clinton received more than 345,000 votes, and Republican winner John McCain received just under 243,000 votes. That's very good news for Democrats.

Well, it's good news for most Democrats. I do think Hillary Clinton is in real trouble. First, look at those results from the Potomac primaries again. Men, women, black, white, young, old... Obama Obama Obama. Then look at this photo from Obama's speech last night in Wisconsin:

obama2.jpg

This is a campaign that has people excited. It was good to see Senator Obama use this excitement last night to aim some of his firepower at his likely Republican opponent:

When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won't be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.

If we had chosen a different path, the right path, we could have finished the job in Afghanistan, and put more resources into the fight against bin Laden; and instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Baghdad, we could have put that money into our schools and hospitals, our road and bridges - and that's what the American people need us to do right now.

And I admired Senator McCain when he stood up and said that it offended his "conscience" to support the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of war; that he couldn't support a tax cut where "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate." But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels, because now he's all for them.

John McCain is in real trouble too.

As if this was not enough, the other excellent news coming out of yesterday's contests was the Democratic Congressional primary in MD-4, where Donna Edwards has finally unseated the corporate-owned Al Wynn. Matt Stoller over at Open Left has been deeply involved in that campaign, and will certainly have thoughts on what the victory means for progressives, netroots, and the contests ahead. For the moment, check out these photos of some very happy people in Maryland last night.

Pelosi to Syria?

pelosi.jpgNancy Pelosi has my respect for many accomplishments. I think she was an excellent minority leader, overcoming any concerns that her politics or those of the district she represents were too liberal for her to be an effective national leader.

She kept her caucus together, and I think this played a major role in outcome of the 2006 elections. She did an admirable job of leading the Democrats to their first majority in over a decade, and has been off to a great start in helping them re-learn how to handle that power.

The Democratic House achieved an impressive first hundred days and Pelosi is rightfully proud. I think she has also done well to avoid the temptation of overreach thus far, but her proposed trip to Syria is a mistake:

The White House has criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plans to stop in Syria next week during a Middle East trip that began Friday.

She will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria since relations deteriorated between Damascus and Washington.

The United States has accused Syria of aiding the Sunni insurgency in western Iraq with weapons and fighters. Syria also is accused of supporting the militant extremist groups Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and militia, and Hamas.

"We do not encourage and, in fact, we discourage members of Congress to make such visits to Syria," said White House deputy spokeswoman Dana Perino. "This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the (Prime Minister Fouad) Siniora government in Lebanon and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow through its borders to Iraq.

It gives me no pleasure to takes sides with an administration whose absolute refusal to talk to Syria and Iran has borne no fruit, and may in fact have exacerbated the violence in Israel, Lebanon and Iraq. But disagree though I might with this approach, and with the administration view of the unquestionable power of the executive, I do think high-level diplomacy is the prerogative of the President.

I have no patience for those who think vehement domestic dissent from administration policies (even foreign or military policies) is unpatriotic or treasonous. But this is not a few congressmen on a fact-finding mission. I think a line is crossed when the Speaker of the House, who might be viewed as equivalent to the leader of the opposition or the head of parliament, opens diplomatic channels which the President has chosen, for better or worse, to keep closed.

McCain vs. McCain

His sentiments are appreciated, but John McCain is at serious risk of becoming the biggest two-faced politician in the land. This time, it is his opinion of Donald Rumsfeld that has McCain talking out both sides of his mouth:

"We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war," the Arizona senator said.

"I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history," McCain said to applause.

I think that's a bit harsh, but I've certainly had my share of criticisms of Secretary Rumsfeld. The problem is, as with many other issues, Senator McCain can't make up his mind:

The comments were in sharp contrast to McCain's statement when Rumsfeld resigned in November, and failed to address the reality that President Bush is the commander in chief.

"While Secretary Rumsfeld and I have had our differences, he deserves Americans' respect and gratitude for his many years of public service," McCain said last year when Rumsfeld stepped down.

Senator McCain might make a good President. He might make a great one. But one of the supposed strengths of his candidacy back in 2000 was his "straight talk." He said what he meant, meant what he said. It was a breath of fresh air. But times have changed. Whether he was scarred by the loss in the 2000 primary, or whether we just weren't paying enough attention in the past, it is abundantly clear that he is now saying what he thinks people want to hear.

Democrats and Rumsfeld

As a lifelong Democrat, today has been a rather exciting day, many years in the coming. It's been about ten years, I think, since I had an election day that I could really celebrate. So I have been savoring it since the wee hours of the morning when I practically wore the F5 button right off of my computer trying to refresh the election reuslts in Montana and Virginia. I think the Democrats ran a remarkably decent, civilized campaign overall and am heartened to see the gains they have made. Of course, every big change of power often has more to do with the failings of the party in control than the ideas of the challengers, but in a seat-by-seat analysis I think it undeniable that the Democrats fielded an unusually strong slate, particularly in the breadth of challenges into seats long thought safely Republican.

As a soldier, however, the changing of the guard at the Pentagon may be just as important. I think Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation was inevitable, though I am a bit surprised at the timing of it, which seems to have led the media to spin it as an additional spoil of the Democratic victory rather than as any kind of proactive, positive move by the White House. I have long thought that Secretary Rumsfeld would have been perfectly suited for his job, but for the Iraq war.

Much like Robert Duvall, he just was not best suited to be a wartime consigliere. Some of his biggest accomplishments came very early in his tenure with his focus on transforming the military, an obvious example being cancellation of the Crusader program. But many other expected cuts simply fell by the wayside with the wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. As the latter became more and more divisive, the qualities which enabled Rumsfeld to hold his own against an entrenched Pentagon (like his reportedly stubborn and abrasive management style) quickly became liabilities as he became the face for an increasingly unpopular war and incoherent strategy. Never quite able to just stick to the soundbite of the week like his more polished colleagues, he was alternately too opaque or too forthright in his attempts to parry an increasingly feisty press corps.

I don't know that Robert Gates is the answer, and I have no doubt too much blame has been placed on Rumsfeld and thus too much will be expected of his successor. At this point I think change was the most important thing, as Secretary Rumsfeld had become the story himself, a major distraction. A good day for Democrats, and as I am a firm believer in the benefits of divided government, I think it is a good day for America.

Chafee's Win is Good For America

Democrats are bound to have mixed feelings about yesterday's Rhode Island Senate primary, which saw incumbent moderate Lincoln Chafee defeat his right-wing Club for Growth challenger, Stephen Laffey. It was an 8-point victory (54-46), which is decent enough considering the recent polls putting Laffey in the lead, but does not speak to a great amount of strength for the incumbent.

Here's the rub for Democrats: Chafee's victory shows that there is still room in the Republican party (albeit in Rhode Island) for a moderate, pro-choice, anti-OIF incumbent to beat back a well-funded challenger from the right. Yet Chafee will unquestionably be a tougher opponent in the general election for Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse, who would have won in a walk against Laffey. While Laffey's positions are apparently competitive in a Republican primary, they would not have been in a Rhode Island general election.

So is Chafee's victory a good thing or a bad thing? Steven Clemons says it is good:

Lincoln Chafee has triumphed in his primary vote count tonight. While many will groan about Chafee's victory because it makes the Rhode Island contest a greater hurdle for the Democratic challenger, I am pleased that Chafee has knocked out the far-right Laffey.

This Chafee victory is also a potential sign that Republicans who "look like Bush" are in trouble -- and that Republicans who are pragmatists and not ideologues may be on the comeback. This, in the mid to long run, is very healthy for the country -- just like the return of strength on the Democratic Party ledger is healthy for democracy.

I agree. I think Whitehouse still has an excellent chance of victory in the fall, particularly if the hardcore Laffey supporters stay home rather than vote for Chafee. While Democratic money and resources could have been shifted to other states if Laffey had been the opponent, I think a Laffey primary win would have sent the wrong message to other Republican moderates who have played an important (if insufficient) role in tempering the excesses of their party's leadership. They need to know that towing the party line is not the way to victory, even against a primary challenge from the right.

Immigration

After years of being shoved under the carpet, an immigration brouhaha has rather suddenly descended onto the national scene, and I find myself without a sturdy set of opinions to rest on. I spent years working in a diner kitchen alongside illegal immigrants. I've also known a fair number of immigrants who went through the long process this country requires for legal status. I do legal work for soldiers who were motivated to join the military because it can significantly expedite the citizenship process.

This country prides itself on being a nation of immigrants, and there are countless historical iterations of the cycle wherein immigrants come to America, establish themselves, and then throw stones at the next group that dare attempt follow the same path, be it the Irish, the Chinese, or the Eastern Europeans. But how does that translate to the specific issues at hand? I just don't know.

President Bush is in a tough spot, because his party seems more fractured on this issue than any other, and fractured right down to the base, amongst party loyalists who can usually be counted on to set aside their differences this close to an election. The President's ability to lead has been further weakened by his poll numbers and by the incentive potential 2008 candidates have to swing to the extremes on this issue to curry favor with the base voters who control the primaries.

Adding to the problem is that there is little agreement as to what the real problem is. Is the problem the fluid border, posing as many questions about national security as immigration? Is it the effect that illegal immigrants have on employment opportunities for U.S. citizens? Is it the burden illegal immigrants place on social services provided by taxpayers? Different answers to these questions lead to different priorities in solving "the immigration problem."

So the complex issue facing politicians is twofold: what is the real problem that needs to be solved, and how should we solve it? It seems to me that half of the opposition to President Bush's proposals are that they are the wrong solutions addressed at the correct problem. But half of the opposition does not think the President is even targeting the real problem at hand. It's going to be well nigh impossible to reconcile those positions.

It almost leads me to wonder whether the issue could be resolved by the center, a la the Kadima/Labor coalition in Israel, with Democrats and moderate Republicans providing the necessary support for a compromise plan endorsed by the President. I say "almost" because there are only so many times we moderates can rest our hopes on a centrist compromise without getting rather cynical.

And this is, after all, an election year. I don't see how a hard drive to the center will help the Republicans much, unless it boosts the President's poll numbers enough to keep him from dragging down the ticket. That said, I'm not really sure how this immigration issue plays out well for Republicans in 2006 in any case, since any solution seems destined to alienate a good chunk of the party loyalists. Perhaps it will shift some focus from Iraq, however, and that is probably a good thing considering the poll numbers right now.

UPDATE: Maybe I was being too cynical. The Senate just rejected Sen. Isakson's attempt to require that national security issues be resolved before any other immigration reform move forward, and it did so on a 55-40 vote. Those numbers don't sound unusual with the present makeup of the Senate, but look closer at that majority: 36 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and one Independent. I'm sure some of the votes were skewed by the proximity of re-election for particular senators, but the result makes me think a centrist position might be holding steady for now. I doubt any bill will emerge from the House/Senate conference in such good shape, but who knows?

Men, Women, AND Minorities

My father pointed out this rather oddly phrased comment by Senator Trent Lott regarding the Miers nomination:

There are a lot more people -- men, women and minorities -- that are more qualified, in my opinion, by their experience than she is.

I'm sorry... men, women, and minorities? It's been a long time since that was an acceptable way to categorize people. I'm one to give people the benefit of the doubt, and even with the Thurmond comments that cost him his leadership role, I think Lott just has some articulation problems and an occasionally severe case of foot-in-mouth disease, rather than conscious racial biases. But still, comments like this do make you wonder.

Sam in the OC

Ezra Klein's wondering whether his West Wing memory is faulty, and his e-mailers correct when they assert that Rob Lowe's exit from the show was due to Sam Seaborn actually winning his congressional race in Orange County. As is usually the case in the world of political blogging, Ezra, your e-mailers are nuts. When in doubt, do what my wife would do: check Television Without Pity:

We are preaching to the choir and that is all that we are doing," Sam yells to Toby, walking into a bar and discovering Toby is no longer behind him. Toby finally catches up, and Sam complains that all the groups he's spoken to today are people who are voting for him already. He wants to know why. Toby explains, "The story's going to be that you stood up for what you believe in." And so Sam finally gets it: "I'm going to lose." Toby assures him that he will. They hug in solidarity because Toby is standing by him anyway, but their manlove reverie is quickly broken by the appearance of a bartender, who informs them in a most unlikely way, "There was a terrorist bombing in Africa, at an army base." And yes, America is totally much more attuned to news of terrorism than we used to be, but I'm still not sure a bombing at an army base is the first thing off a bartender's lips whenever a patron enters the premises. I'm not saying that it's right; I'm just saying that it's true. Nevertheless, Toby and Sam affirm that they already knew that, thanks, and they clink shots to Toby's toast, "God save the President of the United States." They walk out of the bar. Where's the Pope and the Protestant when you need 'em?

And that, as they say, was the end of that.

Congress and Schiavo

I suppose I am too old to be surprised by this sort of thing, but I am really quite mortified by the actions being taken in Congress regarding the Terry Schiavo case. It is a nightmare scenario for a states rights libertarian (which is vaguely what I'd call myself), yet the vanguard of this movement is led by those would supposedly champion the importance of federalism and of local government rule, and have spent decades trying to limit access to federal courts!

This case has been completely litigated, through every level of the Florida courts, with appeals to the US Supreme Court, with dozens of rulings on Schiavo's status. Her husband, doctors, and the Florida judiciary all agree on the proper course of action. But just because Congress doesn't like that, they are giving de novo jurisdiction of the case to federal courts, ordering the federal judiciary to completely disregard all of the testimony and decisions that have already been rendered. This is a total abuse of federal power, attempting to reopen a court case by creating new jurisdiction solely to cover these litigants.

The fact that this legislation ONLY applies to the Schiavo case also raises totally separate equal protection problems, and is precisely the type of thing a legislature should not be involved in.

Do I know all the details about this case? No. Do I have a personal opinion on whether the husband is really looking out for his wife's interests? No. What I do have is a confidence in the judicial process of the state of Florida, that after hearing all of the testimony about this case (and not just the particular details beneficial to one side or the other, like on FoxNews), the courts have rendered good and sufficient decisions.

To allow Congress to essentially overturn rendered decisions by creating new federal jurisdiction is a recipe for federal overreach and the destruction of what little state sovereignty still remains. That it is being done by those who normally stake their political livelihood on protection of local power shows that this is political pandering of the absolute lowest kind. I hope people can see through it.

Check out Jack Balkin and Andrew Cohen at CBS News for more.

What Does This Mean?

The Secretary of State is trying to send a message to Iran:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that Iran must live up to its international obligations to halt its nuclear program or "the next steps are in the offing."

"And I think everybody understands what the 'next steps' mean," Rice told reporters after a meeting with NATO foreign ministers and European Union officials.

I think there's actually quite a bit of vagueness about that phrase, and red flags are certain to go up in a lot of minds.

The administration made similar statements and threats in the run-up to its invasion of Iraq.

But Rice on Friday said that the question of using military force against the Tehran regime "is simply not on the agenda at this point in time."

I hope it stays that way.

The Environment Makes Strange Bedfellows

I have no problem calling myself an environmentalist, a tree-hugger, or any term that would indicate that green issues have high priority on my political agenda. And a fascinating new article suggests I may be gaining strange bedfellows from the religious right:

"It's amazing to me that evangelicals haven't gone quicker for the green," Hedman said. "But as creation care spreads, evangelicals will demand different behavior from politicians. The Republicans should not take us for granted."

There is growing evidence - in polling and in public statements of church leaders - that evangelicals are beginning to go for the green. Despite wariness toward mainstream environmental groups, a growing number of evangelicals view stewardship of the environment as a responsibility mandated by God in the Bible.

"The environment is a values issue," said the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals. "There are significant and compelling theological reasons why it should be a banner issue for the Christian right."

In October, the association's leaders adopted an "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" that, for the first time, emphasized every Christian's duty to care for the planet and the role of government in safeguarding a sustainable environment.

"We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part," said the statement, which has been distributed to 50,000 member churches. "Because clean air, pure water, and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation."

If this is what it takes to get the Republican Party serious about environmental issues, I think it's a fabulous development.

A Big Step Sideways

I do not know enough about Michael Chertoff to give an opinion on whether he will be a good homeland security chief, but I must say as a career move I do not understand this:

President Bush on Tuesday nominated federal appeals court Judge Michael Chertoff to replace Tom Ridge as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bush made the announcement from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

"When Mike is confirmed by the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security will be led by a practical organizer, a skilled manager and a brilliant thinker," Bush said.

Maybe being a federal appellate judge is not all it is cracked up to be. And maybe being in charge of a superfluous and bloated bureaucracy is more than it is cracked up to be. But I don't think so.

Why Rumsfeld Still Has His Job

For those who can't understand why Rumsfeld, of all Bush's cabinet, is still around, this story may shed a little light:

Acknowledging mistakes in Iraq by the Bush administration, leading Republicans expressed reluctance Sunday that the White House replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has lost the confidence of some GOP lawmakers over the conduct of the war.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said a change at the top of the Pentagon would be too disruptive, given the elections scheduled in Iraq for Jan. 30. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also said the administration was dealing with the missteps that have occurred in the aftermath of the U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"We should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon," Warner told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, "We really can't go through that ordeal" now of finding a successor. Rumsfeld "should be held accountable, and he should stay in office," said Lugar, R-Ind.

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, said he had no confidence in Rumsfeld. Hagel, R-Neb., did not say Rumsfeld should step down.

"I find it astounding. ... Things are worse than they've ever been" in Iraq, Hagel told CBS' "Face the Nation." Hagel said it was up to Bush whether to replace Rumsfeld.

Not quite ringing endorsements of Rumsfeld's performance, but reasonable arguments for continuity.

UPDATE: My dad passes along a link to a Washington Post story from a couple weeks back, which covered the issue in more humorous fashion.

More Consolation

I know a lot of people in the blogosphere were finally hoping to knock off Arlen Specter this year, but I was never convinced it would have been a good thing. And I think this is evidence of why:

The Republican expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year bluntly warned newly re-elected President Bush today against putting forth Supreme Court nominees who would seek to overturn abortion rights or are otherwise too conservative to win confirmation.

Sen. Arlen Specter, fresh from winning a fifth term in Pennsylvania, also said the current Supreme Court now lacks legal "giants" on the bench.

"When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely," Specter said, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Remember that Specter helped stop the Bork nomination. His colleagues certainly do:

When asked Wednesday about Specter's impending chairmanship, another Republican on the panel, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, did not offer a ringing endorsement.

"We'll have to see where he stands," said Cornyn, a close friend of Bush who worked to get all of the president's nominees through the Senate. "I'm hoping that he will stand behind the president's nominees. I'm intending to sit down and discuss with him how things are going to work. We want to know what he's going do and how things are going to work."

Does this provide any guarantees for Democrats? No, of course not. But it gives them a little more breathing room than their post-election panic would suggest.

A Ray of Hope For Democrats

This ought to be some consolation for the broken-hearted:

Attorney General John Ashcroft could be one of the first Cabinet members to leave the administration.

Sources close to Ashcroft told CNN Thursday that they believe it is most likely the attorney general will submit his resignation in the near future, possibly within the next two weeks.

I wonder who the most hated cabinet member really is. At the beginning of the term, Ashcroft would have won in a walk. But Rumsfeld has really been making a case in Democratic circles... will he be next?

New Democratic Minority Leader

Oh, and I think the Harry Reid pick is just awful. The debilitating thing about Tom Daschle, other than his personality, was that he came from a red state and thus could not be as strong a partisan leader as Democrats needed. You'll notice Republic majority leaders come from Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas... not Maine, Minnesota, or Oregon. I saw Daschle's loss as the one ray of hope for Democrats in this election, as I thought it meant a guy like Dick Durbin, in a safe blue state, could step up and provide some meaningful opposition leadership.

Now Harry Reid just won re-election, and easily, in a state that Bush carried rather narrowly. Perhaps he's not planning on running again in 2010, or perhaps he thinks Nevada Republicans will again be unable to field a top-tier opponent (don't count on it, they'll be gunning for another minority leader). Otherwise I see this as a huge strategic blunder, and a real missed opportunity.

What's next? Replace Terry McAuliffe with Bob Shrum?

Most in U.S. Hopeful?

I don't have a lot to say about the election. Democracy at work, some people are pleased and some are not. But the current (as of 10:19am) front page blurb from CNN is so utterly stupid that I had to at least point it out:

A post-election poll indicates most of those surveyed are hopeful the country will be drawn together during President Bush's second term. Just over half -- 51 percent -- said they were pleased with the outcome of the election; 38 percent said they were upset.

Wow, 51 percent were pleased with the outcome! You think it might be the same 51 percent that voted for the guy who won? How can CNN write something like that without comment? It's just silly.

Granted, within the article itself there are some statistics to support the "most of those surveyed" notion: 57 percent expecting more unity, 74 percent seeing this election as fair and square. But the fact that 51 percent of the electorate is pleased with the outcome is just such a mindnumbing truism that I can't believe it is the current lede on the front page of CNN.

So I Voted

I decided to walk to the polling location, since it is one of the most gorgeous fall days I can remember. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and the leaves are a majestic Virginia blend of red, yellow, and green. After fifteen minutes of such bliss, the voting itself was a bit anticlimactic. I walked into the little booth, pressed a couple buttons on this bizarre screen, and pressed the big yellow "cast vote" button. It says my vote was recorded, but who knows.

In fact, this whole day is a bit anticlimactic. After experiencing some rather uncomfortable tension the last few days, today I feel fine. I can't explain it. But I'm glad. Whatever happens today, the world goes on. It always does.

Overwhelmed

You know, four years ago there was no blogosphere to speak of, I spent relatively little time on the Internet, and I didn't start paying much attention to the election until I voted. Even on election day, I watched a little coverage and then went to bed.

Oh how I long for those days. I just can't take the tension anymore... it is seeping into my bones and driving me nuts. I can't go half an hour without checking the various political blogs, and might even bring my computer to school tomorrow for the first time in a year just to stay up to date. I have Trial Ad from 7pm-10pm tomorrow night, and I don't know how anyone will be concentrating.

I thought about writing a post about Democratic pessimism (or my anecdotal evidence thereof), what it tells us about Democrats and Republicans, what the consequences of perceptions are, and the like. But instead I'm going to step away, walk slowly toward the Xbox, and pretend I'm a gladiator with magical powers. Yeah, that sounds good.

Another Electoral College Entrenchment Problem

The other big electoral reform in vogue is the idea of splitting electors within a state, as is done in Maine. Instead of a winner-take-all system, in which all of a state's electors go to the candidate with the most votes (majority or plurality), a split system would divide up the electors.

There are a few ways to do this. In Maine, they do it geographically, effectively creating two "mini-states" within Maine, each with a winner-take-all system. Insofar as these two regions might have different political interests, this gives the two parties a greater chance to win at least some of Maine's electoral votes, even if they could not win the whole state.

The other obvious way is a proportional system. In a state with 10 electoral votes, a candidate wins one electoral vote for every 10% of the state's popular vote. In a 50-50 tie, each candidate gets 5 electoral votes. I don't know how this would work in terms of rounding (is 54-46 a 5-5 tie, or a 6-4 majority? What about 55-45? 56-46?), but I'm sure someone else has figured that out.

These systems seem really attractive because they avoid one of the major obstacles to national reform of the electoral college: there is no need to amend the Constitution. In fact, since the state legislatures are specifically given control over choosing their electors in the Constitution, each state legislature is capable of making this reform on its own. This is an appealing approach for those who, like me, see national reform via constitutional amendment as a non-starter on this issue.

But I must say, with an ever heavy heart, I'm not convinced that reform via the state legislatures is likely to be much more successful. Once again, we have an entrenchment problem, though this time it IS a partisan one. The problem here is that whichever party is in control of a state's legislature is likely also the party which benefits from that state's winner-takes-all system.

Take an easy example like Utah. Now Utah has 5 electoral votes, and the race is currently polling roughly 65%-25% for Bush. Under the current winer-takes-all system, Bush wins all 5 electoral votes. In a proportional system, Kerry would likely pick up one of those electoral votes, giving Bush the other 4. Sounds great, right? Finally, everyone's vote means something!

But who needs to approve that change? The Utah state legislature, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 56-19 in the House and 22-7 in the Senate. Is there any reason to think that those Republicans are going to vote to change the system in a way that guarantees a loss of electoral votes for their party? Particularly when there is no guarantee of reciprocity from Democrat-controlled state houses? No, of course not. And the same would obviously be true in Rhode Island or Massachussetts or Idaho, etc.

As such, the only state legislatures that would consider such a reform would be those controlled by a party that is NOT expecting to win in the winner-takes-all system. And there are such states. Democrats control the legislatures in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia, all states which went to Bush in 2000. Republicans control the legislatures in Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all states which went to Gore in 2000. So why don't these legislatures change systems to better favor their party?

Well there are multiple possibilities, none of which are mutually exclusive. The first and most obvious would be that sometimes the interests of state parties and national parties do not coincide. The very fact that voters in a state elects a Democratic legislature and a Republican President might indicate that the state representatives of the Democratic party are closer to the middle or to the right. As such, they themselves might not in fact favor a system which would increase chances of a Democratic president.

Or perhaps they only retain power in that state through long-standing tradition or entrenchment, and do not want to do anything that sufficiently upsets the state electorate. If a majority votes for a Republican candidate, that same majority probably wants that candidate to get ALL of the electoral votes, not just some proportion. So they might be upset if the legislature tries to change the system to harm their candidate.

In addition, it is possible some of these "inconsistent" states will not be inconsistent for long, as the state will shift its electoral vote. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are very much up in the air this year, so perhaps the Republican majorities in those legislatures will soon be reflected in their electoral results. The legislature would be shooting itself in the foot if it switched to a proportional system only to see their candidate take a plurality or majority of the vote.

The point is, entrenchment is hard at work in this area. Somebody benefits from the current electoral vote system in each state, and in this area it happens to be almost always the same party that also controls the decisionmaker, the state legislature. With very little incentive to change the status quo, the status quo will remain.

No More Electoral College?

I've stayed out of the election talk almost entirely, and don't really plan on starting now. However there has been a lot of egghead discussion about the possibility of eliminating the electoral college if we get another election where the popular and electoral votes point in different directions. See, for example, Matthew Yglesias:

Speaking seriously, a Kerry win without the popular vote would probably create a real chance to eliminate the electoral college, since both parties would have tasted its wrath in recent memory and neither would have any particular love for it. That, I think, would be a good thing.

There are two points to be made here, I think. The first is that I'm quite sure there is NO real chance to eliminate the electoral college. Contrary to Yglesias' inference, support for the electoral college probably falls either on a small state / large state axis, or on a battleground state / non-battleground state axis (or some combination thereof), not on any partisan one that I can think of. And some people, believe it or not, actually have principled positions on the matter. I would not have supported abandoning the electoral college in 2000, and I won't support it in 2004, regardless of the outcome.

The even bigger obstacle, of course, is that it requries amending the Constitution. We're not talking about getting a slim majority in both houses of Congress with the signature of a President who just won under the current system. We're talking about overwhelming majorities both in Congress and in the state legislatures. And that's a rather different undertaking, almost doomed from the start. There's a pretty simple entrenchment problem. As much as the current system upsets some, it also gives a lot of power to others. The latter don't have much incentive to give up the status quo, and I don't think another close election will alter their incentives much.

Small, battleground states get far more attention than they would in a popular national election, and small uncontested states will probably be ignored just as much as they are now (likely too few votes to justify the expense). Hard to get 38 states to approve a dramatic, unpredictable constitutional change that either decreases or has no positive effect on their power.

The second point is that I am not at all sure that eliminating the electoral college would be a good thing. I'm not sure that it would be bad, but I think it is more complicated than most people really think. I started this post thinking I would go into a long litany of potential problems, but I've not thought it through as well as I like, and will save it for another day.

The little I can add right now might be to suggest that though a historical understanding of the electoral college's creation is not as relevant as one might hope, it might give some insight.

What Madison was most afraid of was not direct popular election on a national scale, which modern anti-electoral college advocates desire. That wasn't even an option back then, it would have been a laughable proposition. Instead, what he was fighting against was the proposal that the president be elected directly by the state legislatures. He feared, rightly so, that if a president were elected by state legislatures, and was eligible for re-election, thrn he would become a puppet of those legislatures. And since the nationalist Madison of 1787 was most concerned with correcting the abuse of power by state legislatures, this was a non-starter.

So he crafted an ingenious compromise, in which a new body would be formed for the sole purpose of electing the president, and would be immediately dissolved thereafter. It would have none of its own institutional desires for power, and no capacity for such.

The state legislatures were given responsibility for deciding the process for creating this body, but it would be some time before popular votes for electors even took hold within the states. But just keep in mind that the debate over the electoral college in 1787 does not look much like the debate about it now.

I don't know if that adds anything to the discussion, but it has been on my mind.

Biting Political Analysis

From the current issue of Rolling Stone, some insight from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy:

When people ask why this election is so close, I can't explain it. It's like trying to figure out how Billy Ray Cyrus sold 10 million records.

I'm not sure why anyone would ask Jeff Tweedy of all people to explain the closeness of the election, but that is a great answer.

The Loyal Opposition

In my consitutional history class, we've recently been discussing the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Aside from the legal question of whether the acts were constitutional (clearly not under contemporary free speech jurisprudence, less clear then), we pondered what would drive an American administration to go so far as to jail people for what, in many cases, amounted to rather mild criticism.

The best explanation offered was that in the context of a growing crisis with France, including an undeclared naval war and widespread fears of a French invasion of America, many Federalists simply did not view Jefferson and his supporters as a loyal opposition. The loyal opposition, in simplistic terms, would consist of those who while critical of the administration, remain loyal to the country and its fundamental principles. And so this theory would suggest that so long as the majority views their critics as still loyal to the union and its basic principles, they will not abuse their power in attempts to suppress their opponents. When they view their critics as disloyal, or covertly treasonous, the gloves come off.

As a very general theory, this seems pretty well supported. It is usually only when a dissident group is thought to pose a danger (real or hysterically imagined) that we see the government push the limits of its power to suppress dissension (the Red Scare, Japanese internment, etc.). This in no way excuses these abuses of power, but merely offers an explanation of why some episodes of dissent trigger oppressive measures, and others do not.

It might also explain, in part, the tendency of more extreme partisans to try and paint their opponents as "disloyal." Thus the rhetoric that Bush must be defeated in order to "restore democracy" or that a Kerry election is a "victory for terrorists." It might explain why liberal dissent over the war on terror is labelled (as earlier as 2002) as "the disloyal opposition."

Of course the great difficulty in assigning such labels, even removing the partisan instinct for exaggeration and distortion, is that there is almost certainly going to be disagreement not only about the substance of particular issues, but even whether those issues are the sort of fundamental principles that a loyal opposition must adhere to. On the easy side would be the most mundane issues of zoning law or the size of a municipal bond issue, etc. It is very unlikely that a debate over such things will provoke charges of disloyalty to the union.

On the opposite side would be something like overt treason, such as passing classified secrets to a wartime enemy. Almost everyone would agree that such acts, almost by definition, constitute disloyalty to the union.

Of course, this leaves a huge gap in the middle. Some gray area issues lean heavily toward the "loyal opposition" side. Take an issue like affirmative action. It seems we can all agree that one's position on affirmative action programs, even if grounded on constitutional rather than policy grounds, does not trigger questions about a person's loyalty to America. One can usually disagree and criticize the government on that issue without raising attacks about undermining our society. Note, howver, that the most passionate rhetoric even on this issue will invoke acknowledged fundamental principles like liberty and equality, and highlight the tension between them. Those who feel most strongly about affirmative action are the ones most likely to charge their opponents with undermining one of these fundamental principles.

And many issues in the gray area are just ripe for such charges. Bush supporters see the war on Iraq as a key element in the War on Terror, which is a widely acknowledged fundamental battle for American values. Thus criticism of the war on Iraq is a criticism of the War on Terror, and thus constitues disloyalty to preserving America, democracy, etc. In contrast, many Bush critics attack the premise that the war on Iraq is a key element in the War on Terror, while pledging their fidelity to the later. They might even go a step further, and argue that the war on Iraq is a distraction that is hindering the War on Terror, and thus it is Bush and his supporters that are the ones undermining American values.

Where do I come down on this? Well it is more of a descriptive analysis than a normative one, but I will say this: American administrations do not have a very good track record for restraining the temptation to use a broad brush in painting opposition as disloyal. The Alien and Sedition Acts, the Japanese interment and McCarthyism all stand out as particularly regrettable episodes in American history. This might suggest that so long as the issue is in the gray area, short of any signs of legitimately treasonable conduct, it might be best to err on the side of restraining the rhetoric and the temptation to suppress, even when the passions and pressures of the wartime context urge otherwise.

Anyhow, while I was thinking about this topic, I ran across an interesting passage from Ambrose's D-Day. This is an account of the political activities going on in Washington on D-Day. As you read it, think about analogies to the 9/11 Commission, whether Democrats are going too far in their calls for accountability and trying to turn it into an electoral issue, and whether Republicans are just stalling to avoid embarrassment:

At the Capitol building, the politicians were going about their business. On D-Day, the House voted 305-35 to proceed with the courts-martial of Maj. Gen. Walter Short and Rear Adm. Husband Kimmel in order to fix responsibility for the Pearl Harbor disaster. "It's all politics," one congressman confessed. The Democrats (who opposed but felt they could not vote against the resolution, which they had been delaying for two years) charged that the Republicans were seeking to make a campaign issue in an effort to embarrass President Roosevelt. The Republicans (who sponsored the resolution and were unanimous for it) charged that the Democrats were trying to delay any possible disclosures until after the presidential election. Both charges were true.

An interesting question, left unanswered by this quick account by Ambrose, is whether there were charges levelled against Republicans of disloyalty, of undermining the war effort, and the like. I wouldn't be surprised.

I Don't Think Kevin Drum Likes This Administration

I'm not endorsing the position that Kevin is taking, but this is one of the most efficient indictments of the administration that I've seen:

The Medicare bill is practically a model of the Bush administration at work: an initially reasonable idea made unrecognizable by deep frying it in a witch's brew of bloated spending, dishonest accounting, fealty to big corporate contributors, crackheaded movement conservative ideology, and just plain incompetence. If Bush ends up losing the election partly as a result of a revolt of seniors over this bill, it will be poetic justice.

When Kevin gets angry, it is really something to see. That is one of the most understated benefits of his normally even-handed approach. Because he spent so long cultivating a deserved reputation for moderation in both substance and tone, he has more credibility when he does express outrage.

Can Kerry Win Back Europe?

Senatory Kerry has made a concerted effort to suggest that his election would bring a renewed emphasis on alliance-building and international cooperation. Yet even for those who think those are good things, and I do, Sgt. Missick reminds us to maintain realistic expectations about how much Kerry could accomplish:

I do feel that Senator John Kerry will probably have a much more congenial relationship with European leaders than President Bush, but that is a matter of personalities. What I believe goes unrecognized is the fact that many European leaders also have an electoral obligation to their constituents, and European politico's have an all-too recent reminder in the Spanish elections of what happens when elected officials step outside of the will of their own public and support the Iraqi people. Clearly, a change of heart can happen on the interpersonal basis of leader to leader between European and American officials, but to convince the vast throngs of uber-progressive populaces (by American standards) is something that I believe is above the ability of any American political leader.

Now I think Missick decidedly understates the substantive non-personality differences between Kerry and Bush, particularly when it comes to their view of alliances in international relations. And he also understates the argument that Bush has uniquely poisoned the well, although he mentions that he has "written in the past how I believe the apparent discord in transatlantic alliances between the United States and Europe would have occurred with or without President Bush in office, and that it is mostly a bi-product of new dynamics in a post-Cold War world." There's a lot to argue with in that thesis, but that's for another day.

Regardless of the nuances of the argument, it is important for Kerry supporters to keep realistic expectations of his ability to restore the great Western alliances to their former (mythic?) glory. It is not likely to make much electoral difference, since all a Kerry supporter probably needs to believe on the foreign policy front is that Kerry will not be worse (since that seems to be where his opponents are trying to attack him). But for those who take a less election-driven view of the candidates, it is a much-needed dose of reality.

FBI vs. Communists

Turns out 9/11 was not the first time the FBI found itself institutionally incapable of meeting present threats. From Evan Thomas' biography of RFK:

In New York, Kennedy asked for the FBI's files on organized crime and got mostly newspaper clips. The New York office had four hundred agents out looking for communists and ten devoted to the mob. Kennedy was scornful. By 1961, the American Communist Party had only a few hundred members, Kennedy knew, and most of them were undercover FBI agents.

And they say the military is always fighting the last war.

Bush's Biggest Problem

This has to be the funniest comment I've ever read:

Bush�s biggest problem: being popular in very unpopulated states. That map is just astonishing. If Kerry wins, it�ll be the coasts that give it to him.

If you looked up self-parody in the dictionary, this is what you would get. Bush's biggest problem is that he is most popular where nobody lives. Or, phrased differently, Bush's biggest problem is that Kerry is more popular. I remember the President having a similar problem four years ago.

Expressing Outrage

Sure he's on a rant, but when intelligent and well-spoken people like Publius start ranting, it is worth taking note. Where there is smoke, there may be fire:

I have gone through many "last straws" over the past couple of years, but this may be the last of the emergency set of last straws. It's actually sad in a way. I too got swept up in the post-9/11 feelings of unity and purpose. Thinking of the firemen who charged the buildings and sacrificed their lives for something higher, I reflected on whether I should be doing something other than law. I think everyone did. Everyone wanted to come together and stop terrorism, and make America and the world better. But this President - who has neither knowledge, curiosity, experience, nor judgment - pissed that away because he was too damned ignorant to realize the once-in-a-century opportunity History had given him. He robbed us of our national unity. I'm 27, but I doubt I'll ever live to see the same degree of unity. And now look where we are - now I don't even believe my own government when they tell me of terror warnings... Nothing - I believe nothing more they say. Ever.

Food for thought. I have trouble getting myself quite that worked up, but I can't deny recurrent inklings of outrage. I guess I still value even-handedness, and try to avoid ranting on this site. I just don't project anger or outrage particularly strongly in my writing. Whether that is because I'm not as angry or outraged, or because I moderate myself in my blogging, I'm not sure. I certainly do feel some constraint from my present and future employment, and thus am usually quite conscious and cautious before posting each entry.

Perhaps I'm just being overly cautious in worrying that simple disagreements with the administration would ever threaten my career. But maybe not:

Active duty military members may not:

-- Speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind for promoting a partisan political party or candidate.

-- Participate in any radio, television or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate.

-- Make campaign contributions directly to a partisan political candidate.

I won't be active duty for another year and a half, at least, so these restrictions don't squarely apply to me right now (though they do counsel for discretion). But once I go active, expect a lot less political talk. It's not even clear to me whether I'll be able to keep the archives of this site publicly available (such as my discussion of who I voted for in the Democratic primary). Anyone know? After all, here's how one JAG officer has summed it up:

A good rule of thumb is that any public or outward involvement in or support of partisan political activity by soldiers is likely prohibited.

Serious stuff.

Nader v. Peltier

It might be funny if it were not so damned sad:

The California Peace and Freedom Party won't be supporting Ralph Nader for president.

The group of 80,000 instead nominated jailed American Indian activist Leonard Peltier at its convention yesterday.

Nader addressed the group before the vote. The independent candidate was in California seeking the signatures needed to put him on the presidential ballot this November. Nader and his vice presidential candidate have until August 6 to collect more than 153,000 valid signatures.

Kevin Akin says the party decided to go with Peltier because delegates believe his candidacy is "very important."

God Bless California. You make the rest of us seem so normal. And of course, by "jailed activist," I'm sure CNN meant "convicted murderer."

Dostoevsky on the Election

Doesn't this passage from Notes from Underground resemble much of the rhetoric regarding Bush and Kerry, especially the "assertive fool" vs. "indecisive flip-flopper" labels, and the dangers inherent in both? If you're so inclined, think of this in terms of the differing approaches to justifying the war in Iraq:

I repeat, I emphatically repeat: ingenuous people and active figures are all active simply because they are dull and narrow-minded. How to explain it? Here's how: as a consequence of their narrow-mindedness, they take the most immediate and secondary causes for the primary ones, and thus become convinced more quickly and easily than others that they have found an indisputable basis for their doings, and so they feel at ease; and that, after all, is the main thing. For in order to begin to act, one must first be completely at ease, so that no more doubts remain.

I think that well sums up the criticism (and some of the defense) of Bush's approach to the war. He is decisive, he emphasizes moral clarity, and leaves no room for gray areas or self-doubt. In contrast, I think it hard to argue with the notion that Kerry is more concerned with solving ambiguities, at the risk of seeming indecisive.

Sharpton

Like David Bernstein, I have no tolerance for Al Sharpton. But when Bernstein asks whether he is "really supposed to take seriously a party" that gives Sharpton a slot at the convention, it is not immediately clear whether he is just expressing his disgust, or is actually trying to impliedly distinguish the Republicans. I have strong, strong antipathy for Al Sharpton, but will be flayed alive before agreeing to the notion that Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan are any less repugnant.

So perhaps David will join me in a bipartisan call to both parties, asking them to stop letting anti-Semites, homophobes, racists, bigots, and general crackpots from giving prominent (or even non-prominent) speeches at the party conventions. It would make the election cycle just a little bit more tolerable.

Editors-in-Chief

I normally avoid comment sections like the plague, but Kevin Drum's post about the Obama speech was repeatedly updated in response to comments, so I thought I'd take a look. Mostly the same dreck, but I thought this comment was funny for its innocent ignorance:

Obama apparently was head? president? of the Harvard Law Review. Not surprised he can speak off the cuff so well.

All due respect to past and present editors-in-chief and presidents of the nation's many (way, way too many) law reviews, but I am not under the impression that extemporaneous speechmaking is a weighty consideration in the selection of the EIC. Nor should it be. That's not to say that it would not be a useful skill, or completely ignored by those who choose the EIC. But I doubt there is enough of a causative or even correlative relationship to provide any explanatory value for Obama's oratory skills. That's my snotty law student comment for the week.

The Speeches

I have been studiously avoiding coverage of the convention, both of the traditional and the blogospheric variety. I just do not think it is a very interesting event, and certainly not worth the attention, time, and money that is expended on it.

Of course, I feel a particular apathy toward rhetoric of almost all kinds, whether friendly or hostile to the positions I advocate. There is a certain lowest common denominator factor to most of it that turns me off. I do not like the feeling that I am being manipulated, and that is essentially the point of much or most rhetoric.

On the other hand, lots of people do like rhetoric and can become very inspired or enthused when it is done correctly. And it seems that Barack Obama does it quite correctly. Good for him, and good for us, as it seems he could make an excellent senator in the best tradition of that institution.

How Not to Reach Out

President Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover not to attend an NAACP convention. He attended during his first campaign, but perhaps he has given up on the idea of wooing black voters.

UPDATE: The Clerk says I'm being disingenuous. I prefer "snarky," but his point is valid. Maybe I'm channeling Michael Moore. Anyhow, this was a silly post, as are many of my shorter posts, and should thus not be mistaken for anything approaching an actual argument. I have neither the time nor inclination to consistently write with the length and precision that the Clerk does. Maybe that means I should just be quiet, but sometimes I'd rather be simplistic and snarky.

Jacob Levy v. George W. Bush

It looks like Jacob Levy will be casting his first vote for a major-party presidential candidate: John Kerry. Why?

[W]e've had no Social Security reform, no push for vouchers, atrocious incompetence and policy made for the wrong reasons on the important foreign policy questions, protectionism, agricultural subsidies, and a spending explosion. All that's left are a) the tax cuts, which are good but something close to meaningless in the absence of spending cuts; b) a general positioning as "hawkish;" and c) annoyance at various elements of the left who I'd rather not be aligned with and certainly don't want to listen to crowing. (I really don't want Michael Moore to spend four years feeling like, and crowing that, he decided a presidential election.) Those aren't sufficient reasons to outweigh the general inability to govern competently or to make good policy judgments.

Levy also has links to various grumblings amongst the President's usually loyal base. It all makes for good reading. I think it is safe to say that this will be one of the most interesting and bizarre election cycles in decades.

Tax Cut Skepticism

Plenty of people, myself included, have been skeptical of this administration's tax cuts. But I don't think anyone has so succintly explained why as Brad Delong did today, in a post about conservative reevaluations of Clinton's economic legacy:

[C]an we please please please please please please PLEASE!! stop talking about Bush's "tax cuts." There are no tax cuts. There's a tax shift--current taxpayers pay less, and future taxpayers pay more. Only by pretending that nobody has to service and amortize the growing federal debt can you talk about Bush's "tax cuts." They aren't there, any more than a $5,000 increase in your VISA limit is an increase in your income.

Good point.

Reagan

I am intentionally laying low about Ronald Reagan. I do not yet know enough about his presidency to make any informed comment, and I know even less about what kind of man he was. His death has brought out a plethora of amazingly stupid, inane and/or insensitive commentary from journalists and bloggers of all ideological stripes. I think pretty much everyone would be better off keeping quiet, so that is what I am going to do.

Quasi-Racist

Nick Confessore says that Republican reaction to Herseth's victory in South Dakota is quasi-racist:

Something similarly offensive is going on when Rep. Tom Davis, (R-Va.), the former National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman, says of Stephanie Herseth's narrow win in South Dakota, "If you take out the Indian reservation, we would have won."

I wonder if that tag applies equally to Kos, whose post concerning the same topic was titled "Native Americans deliver SD to Herseth."

UPDATE: That's weird. Josh Marshall has essentially repeated Confessore's post, a day later. Too bad he doesn't mention Kos' post either (maybe he doesn't read other blogs).

Tenet Resigned? Not Likely

The official line is that Tenet resigned, but I think we will hear a lot of this over the next few days:

Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner said the timing of Tenet's resignation -- just five months before the presidential election -- cast doubt on the explanation that it was a personal decision.

"I think he's being pushed out or made a scapegoat," said Turner, who led the CIA during the Carter administration. "That is, that the president feels he's got to have somebody to blame, and he's doing it indirectly by asking Tenet to leave. ... I don't think he would pull the plug on President Bush in the middle of an election cycle without having been asked by the president to do that."

That's absolutely right. If Tenet had any redeeming quality for this administration, it was his loyalty. Now, all of a sudden, he decides he will split and run? No way.

Of course, now that he is no longer a member of the administration, I think it high time he wrote a book. A nice long book, with lots of details. I'll even promise to buy it when it comes out in mid-October. What do you say, George?

Sierra Club Update

Apropos the new charity buttons on the sidebar, I should give an update regarding The Battle For the Sierra Club, which I wrote about earlier this year. In a victory for environmentalists (and everyone that benefits from their efforts), traditional Sierra Club values defeated the anti-immigration candidates trying to usurp the Sierra Club's board. In fact, the results were not even close. And thank goodness for that.

The Day After

Now that the Democratic primary season is over, the media is desperately in search of the next story line. Unfortunately, here's a sign of the fair and balanced things to come, all oriented towards making this the least informed electorate yet. I'm almost frightened to think of just how little role the real and important differences between the candidates will play in the election. These are the current top headlines from CNN, CBS, The New York Times and FOXNews, respectively:

cnn_040304.gif cbs_040304.gif nytimes_040304.gif fox_040304.gif

I'm not picking on FOX for ignoring the 9/11 ad issue. Quite the contrary, I actually think it's a pretty silly story the others are running. But those are going to be our choices for the next 8 months. We can read dumbed-down stories brimming with hostility, fluff pieces ignoring real flaws, or nothing at all. This is just my way of paying homage to the biased, low brow coverage we can expect from media all over the spectrum. Here's to the circus show of tangents and irrelevancies that make up the presidential campaign season.

Short Primary Success?

Was the Democrats' shortened primary a success? Kevin Drum says yes. He cites three reasons: 1) it ended early, giving the nominee (Kerry) plenty of time to prepare for the race to November; 2) it forced the candidates to get on message early, making them seem relatively polished by the time anyone starting paying attention; 3) it was exciting, which resulted in lots of good news coverage for the Democrats without giving Bush a chance to really fight back or control the news cycle, which has traditionally been one of the incumbent's greatest strengths.

My intuition says Kevin is essentially correct, but it is really too speculative to know. It's been a decade and a half since the Democrats had a well-contested primary season, and even then there was no incumbent to challenge. So it's not very easy to disaggregate all the changes which have taken place, including not least the Internet. For example, I don't think the "electability" issue which seems to have so strongly favored Kerry is a result of the shortened primaries. But whatever the reason, I think Kevin is right to suggest this new primary system worked out almost perfectly.

Whether it will end up being much help to the Democrats is another story. There are probably as yet undetermined costs to the process. I can think of one. As a good Democrat, Kevin failed to mention what many consider evidence of a potentially fatal flaw: it resulted in a candidate named John Kerry.

Gay Marriage Uproar

I have to confess to genuine surprise at the uproar all across the blogosphere at yesterday's announcement by President Bush that he supports the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It's not that I thought it would get much praise, it's just that I didn't think it would come as such a shock to anyone. Perhaps I've had my head in the sand and did not see that there was actual uncertainty about President Bush's likely public position on the amendment, but I had thought it a foregone conclusion. When I saw that it was breaking news, and that the blogosphere was in an uproar, I had to scratch my head.

That it was left out of the State of the Union was to me a sign merely that he knows it is red meat for the conservative base, not for mainstream consumption. It may also reflect, as I suggested his support for the Assault Weapons Ban might, a recognition that the position has essentially zero chance of becoming law. As such, the conservative base can be satisfied by his public support, but the moderates mollified when it doesn't even make the floor of the House or Senate.

Either way, I see this decision as par for the course with this administration. Thus I'm genuinely surprised that the announcement has created such a stir in the opposition, and perhaps even pushed more people into that opposition.

Scary on Purpose?

cheney.gifJust as soon as we've decided that Dick Cheney is not evil, Dick Meyer at CBS steps forward with a new question:

Is Dick Cheney Scary On Purpose?

Quite a headline, and surprisingly it is posed in an interesting way. Rather than simply list all the ways that he thinks Cheney is a frightening man, Meyer is wondering how Cheney's popular image has become so transformed in the years since he became Vice President, and whether the transformation is intentional:

As a congressman and Defense Secretary, Cheney was actually a pretty fun guy. He was open with the press, relatively spin-free for his peer group and popular for the deadpan wisecracks issued from his famously curled mouth. He was a Republican that Democrats liked. Republicans did too.

As the choice for veep in 2000, he was the opposite of scary; he was seen as a soothing selection: wise, unflappable, hardboiled, heavy. It was Bush who suffered in comparison to the uber-competent Cheney. The joke was that Papa Bush�s cronies sent Cheney in to watch over Junior, mentor him and mind the till. Now he�s the bogeyman.

The "Cheney question" is one of the more intriguing and unpredictable elements of this administration and this coming election. Kevin Drum has long been a fan of an explicit anti-Cheney strategy for Democrats, but I've been more skeptical that they'd really gain much from it. Yet Meyer does list a series of recent Cheney-related stories that have probably been taking a toll on the administration's popularity: public statements on Iraq and WMD, Iraq and al-Qaeda, the energy task force, his Halliburton connections, the Valerie Plame leak, and the Scalia duck hunting trip.

In the end, however, I still think Cheney is not that big a liability. I think he'll be able to recapture much of his 2000 campaign image when he squares off against the as-yet-unknown Democratic VP candidate, though an articulate combatant like John Edwards might give him some trouble. The real question will be not whether Cheney is a liability, but whether he offers any value-added in a potentially tight re-election race. I think he does, and think we're probably better off with him in the VP office than most of the alternatives, but a Bush campaign machine might see an even greater upside in having, say, Condoleeza Rice in the VP slot come November. And I think it'd be hard to argue with that.

The Battle For the Sierra Club

sierraclub.gifI've been a member of the Sierra Club for quite a long time, from the earliest days of my political awareness. Though I'm quite liberal on most environmental issues, I've often been turned off or appalled by the more extreme tactics and positions of some environmental organizations (from the stupid ads of PETA to the abhorrent eco-terrorism of Animal Liberation Front). The Sierra Club always struck me as one of the more reasonable environmental groups, and they got my money on a pretty regular basis. Now I see a battle is brewing over who will control the Sierra Club:

A growing faction in the nation's most influential environmental group has urged a stronger stance against immigration, calling the growing U.S. population and its consumption of natural resources the biggest threat to the environment.

Past and present Sierra Club leaders say the anti-immigrant faction has teamed up with animal-rights activists in an attempt to hijack the 112-year-old organization and its $100 million annual budget.

Club leaders say the anti-immigration debate has drawn in outsiders who want to promote their agenda. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based civil liberties group, has reported that extremist racist and anti-immigration groups are encouraging their members to pay $25 to join the Sierra Club and vote in the election.

This is a frighteningly real possibility because so many members (like myself) who would oppose such insanity often do not think to vote in the board elections. After all, how many times does a xenophobic faction try and take over your environmental protection organization? This means that a motivated minority that gets out the vote can assert disproportionate influence on the elections, and then possibly on the board itself. It'd be a shocking, terrible shame if the folks that have scared so many away from other environmental groups do the same to an institution with such a rich history of moderate and reasonable advocacy for our natural resources.

Closer Than Expected

edwards_wisconsin.gifWhat a delightful surprise we got in Wisconsin yesterday. After practically calling the race for Kerry before the polls opened (and claiming Edwards and Dean were going to "battle for second"), the networks almost got it wrong again. At the very least, Edwards showed we're going to have a couple of exciting weeks leading up to Super Tuesday (thank goodness this primary will make it that far!) and perhaps beyond. The Super Tuesday states are not all that friendly for him, and Kerry could potentially close out this race with a near-sweep. But if Edwards can squeak out a few wins, the week after should be like shooting fish in a barrel: a return to the South with Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

It'll be interesting to see what Dean does. Though I'd become very hostile to the idea of a Dean nomination, I recognized relatively early what an impressive machinery Dean had created. Whether it was just another Internet bubble fueled by an echo chamber and media speculation, it generated a lot of excitement, a lot of money, and provided a lot of lessons to be learned. Dean supporters, though fewer in number than once thought, are among the most committed to their candidate. If this can translate to committment to their party, and/or to defeating President Bush in the fall, I think they'll still be a force to be reckoned with. They, and Dean, do however have the opportunity to marginalize themselves by sitting out this election completely. If the Democratic faithful believe they can blame four more years of Bush on the lack of support from Dean and his supporters, you'd better believe they will.

Republicans Raising Taxes in VA

You see, there was a big gap in the budget. Revenues for the next year were anticipated to be $1 billion lower than planned expenditures. And in this era of Republican big government, instead of cutting programs the House and Senate Republicans have agreed to raise taxes:

Faced with the prospect of closing Virginia's $1 billion budget gap with deep cuts to popular programs, the GOP-controlled House instead voted 59 to 36 to raise $520 million by eliminating sales tax exemptions enjoyed by utility companies, the shipping industry, airlines, dry cleaners, telephone companies and other businesses. House leaders expect the bill to receive final approval Tuesday.

The plan, first put forth by Republican leaders just 80 hours before the vote, turned the Capitol's tax debate on its head. Business lobbyists, Democratic legislators and Warner administration officials gathered for their own tense, closed-door strategy sessions and wondered what to make of a GOP plan that targets the party's traditional business allies.

I say, embrace it! Democrats could never get away with this stuff, so they ought to encourage it when the budget has got the Republicans on the run. You see, it's a big victory... the Republicans were unwilling or unable to contemplate the cuts in government programs necessary to deal with this budget gap, so they raised taxes instead. Tax-and-spend Republicans.

Kerry Wins!

Or so you might think from the front page of the MSNBC website. I'm usually not particularly hostile to polling, exit-polling, and general media effects on the public; if people wanted to vote smarter or more independently, they would. No sense blaming the media just because you think the electorate are sheep. But really, does this look like a story and photo that should run at 8:30pm, after the results are in, or at 8:30am, before the polls have opened?

wisconsin_msnbc.gif

A Question of Evil

bushcheney.gifPublius at Legal Fiction has a post addressing some questions I had been contemplating myself in recent weeks: are politicians evil? In this case, Publius is taking a look at Bush and Cheney in particular:

Some people think that both Bush and Cheney are just lying evil men. I don't think that's right. I think that Bush and Cheney both think that their actions are good and will help America.

I think Publius is quite right, that Bush and Cheney are almost certainly not lying evil men. This is an argument I've had before, defending Clinton against a Chomsky acolyte who saw the entire government (and the military) through a Dr. Strangelove-like lens of paranoia and disgust. It is too easy to forget, in the end, that these are just people. They had childhoods, chicken pox, teenage romances, fears about moving away from home, etc. etc...

Does this mean they are normal? No. No matter what their background, be it the luxury of Bush's childhood or the poverty of Clinton's, by the time we see them in political office they've become politicians, a transformation that has a bad effect on almost everyone who undergoes it. They seem distant, self-interested, and corrupt. We're so hardened and cynical that everything looks like pandering and patronage. And some of it is. But I hold on to the belief that, at bottom, it has more to do with their office and the political game than with the flaws in character of any particular actor. Is this meant to excuse bad behavior? No, I think there should be accountability, and sometimes a politican can obviously cross the line (e.g. Nixon, Rostenkowski). But often times, as Publius points out, most of them "think that their actions are good and will help America."

That they are often wrong is a different matter, and Publius does an excellent job unpacking just how it can come to be that politicians can be so sheltered from the best interests of most Americans, even when they honestly think that is who they are helping. And of course, there are a lot of issues where there is room for reasonable people to disagree. If the people in power disagree with you all the time, it can be maddening. But it doesn't make them evil.

Nascar Dads

bush_nascar.gifAs far as over-generalized voting groups are concerned, I think Nascar dads are much cooler than soccer moms:

[S]tock-car races remain a refuge from political correctness, with cigarettes and buckets of fried chicken welcome in the stands. Beer is sold in towering 16-ounce cans known as "tall boys." Bush's motorcade was greeted by several men waving Confederate flags from atop the roofs of their pickups.

Okay, well not the Confederate flag part so much. Or the cigarettes. But the food sounds good. More seriously, this does have the makings of a pivotal group of voters, without whom it is hard to see the President easing into a second term:

Even in this conservative and largely adoring crowd, however, there were signs of trouble for Bush, whose job-approval ratings have dropped to the lowest of his presidency amid questions about the basis for war in Iraq.

Years ago, these voters were known as "Reagan Democrats," and the Republican Party has mostly held on to them over the past two decades.

But some Democratic strategists think that job losses during Bush's term, which have been concentrated among the blue-collar communities that historically have provided most of the fans for stock-car racing, offer an opening to prevent the president from sweeping the South in November.

Of course this is all moot if, like soccer moms, the Nascar dad group is such an over-generalized classification that it defies group voting behavior:

Analysts disagree over how definable a bloc is NASCAR, which claims 75 million fans and the second-largest sports audience after the National Football League. NASCAR distributes statistics showing that 40 percent of its fans are women, that 39 percent make at least $50,000 a year and that 19 percent are from the West and 20 percent from the Northeast.

Sure, sure, but that's not who we're talking about, right? We only want the poor, Southern redneck Nascar dads. Just ask Howard Dean. Anyhow, I hope this is not the last we'll hear of the Nascar dad.

Mass. Legislature Rejects Compromise

I'd love to know just what the machinations behind these votes are (e.g. are opponents of any ban voting against the compromise only because they think they can defeat the total ban, or would they do it either way?):

Massachusetts lawmakers narrowly rejected a compromise proposal Wednesday that sought to legalize civil unions but ban gay marriage, leaving the outcome of the historic debate in flux.

The defeat of the amendment left open the possibility of either an outright ban on gay marriage or letting the state's constitution remain intact.

The bipartisan proposal was crafted by Senate leaders who wished to overturn a high court decision legalizing gay marriage while still extending equal benefits to gay couples. It was rejected by a 104-94 margin at the joint House and Senate session.

Having just spent several weeks studying the debates in Congress over the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, I have to admit to being genuinely intrigued about the motivations and purposes of the individual legislators, the parties, and the party leaders. I'd rather they passed a state constitutional amendment forever securing equal marriage rights for gays, but that doesn't appear to be on the table.

Democratic Primary Prisoner's Dilemma

primary.gifAlright, I'm pretty sure it's not actually a bonafide prisoner's dilemma situation. But looking closely at the current primary situation, I think everyone can agree that if Dean, Edwards, and Clark all stay in the race, Kerry will coast to easy victory. Even if there was a coalescence around one of the three, I still think Kerry would easily win at this point, but lets leave that aside. Instead, let's assume that if two of the three dropped out, the remaining candidate could mount a viable challenge.

So all the Dean supporters are saying "the other two need to drop out and support our guy," and the Edwards and Clark supporters are saying the same. It's a stand-off.

Clark raised enough money and positioned himself as a national candidate, but all he's really done is draw 10-15% all over the map. Edwards positioned himself as a southern candidate, and he's done just well enough here to stay in, but not well enough to challenge Kerry. Plus we move out of the South after today. Dean is... well, Dean. High expectations, stubborness, optimism, denial, take your pick. Each one has enough support that he can make a pitch for being the "non-Kerry" candidate, thinks if he holds out long enough he can outlast the other two, and thus none of them see why he should be one of the two to drop out.

So none of them will drop out, or at least not soon enough (today might have been the day, if Clark and Dean could have swung their VA and TN votes to Edwards). They'll continue to split the non-Kerry vote, and Kerry will win. Classic.

UPDATE: Looks like Clark is out. Yeah, that 9% in Virginia must have hurt.

Kerry Goes Three-For-Three

kerry.gif Kerry sure is looking invincible, isn't he? I was only 12 in 1992, so this is essentially my first experience with a contested Democratic primary (sorry Bill Bradley fans), and even to me it seems pretty unusual. The candidates have not gone negative nation-wide, though it sounds like Dean/Gephardt got nasty in Iowa. The press has been hands-off now that the Dean campaign has imploded. And there is actually a broad sense of unity, which is practically anti-thetical to the Democratic Party.

The party seems to be coalescing around John Kerry so early and so quickly, which is about the last thing I would have predicted. In fact, several interviewers asked me how I thought Kerry would do, seeing as I had my internship with his office on my resume. My answer: he doesn't stand a chance. I just couldn't foresee a way that he'd rise above the pack.

There are some ways in which he'll make a very good candidate. He knows how to run a campaign, having found himself in a heated battle with Bill Weld in 1996. He's shown he has the capacity to fight, and I think he has shown the ability to sidestep a lot of the problems Al Gore ran into, particularly in the debates. If John Kerry can make Bill Weld look bad, I have a suspicion he might make President Bush look really bad. No guarantee, but at least a possibility.

Kleiman Defends Clark

Mark Kleiman is defending (with uncharacteristically knee-jerk approval from Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum) the remarks made by General Clark about Senator Kerry's war records, which I criticized here.

I'm trying not to assume that Kleiman did not actually see the interview, but the fact that he only quotes a New York Times article and discusses nothing but the words themselves suggests he did not. I can agree that the words are sufficiently vague that it is not clear whether Clark's comments should be criticized or defended. But, as one of John Cole's commenters hits on the head with this comment, Clark's demeanor in uttering the words is less defensible:

Despite his 'I respect that', the tone of his words (if not his voice, heck if I know on that) imply that he does NOT respect that from 'mere' (that's the implication) Junior Officers. An insult to every Junior Officer.

One of Kevin Drum's commenters agrees:

Clark has been my first choice since before he entered the race, but I was a little taken aback by his exchange with Bob Dole on CNN. I was watching it live, and it came across as him belittling Kerry as a junior officer.

This happens quite a lot with bloggers. Since we are almost entirely a text-based medium, too often we rely on text-based accounts of things that were actually viewed by many people. I'd suggest that those who actually saw and heard Clark's remarks might have an edge on interpreting them versus someone who just has a transcript in front of him.

Pulling Rank

I'm not as upset as John Cole, but I do think this was a pretty classless remark:

Clark, who didn't compete in Iowa, told campaign workers in Manchester, N.H., that Kerry, a decorated former Navy officer, had a military background "but nobody in this race has got the kind of background I've got."

"It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that, I respect that," Clark said. "But I've got the military experience at the top as well as at the bottom."

There's a lot of ground to criticize Kerry on, but this is not one of them. As John said in his comments, "The military needs a lot more bona fide combat heroes like Kerry and a lot fewer armchair generals like Clark." I give Clark more credit than that, but it's not an unreasonable response to Clark's attack on Kerry. If this is a sign of things to come from Clark, I'll definitely be rethinking my support. We can do better than this. We deserve better than this.

Visual Bias?

Kevin Drum objects to the Los Angeles Times' choice of Howard Dean images:

This is the only picture that makes him look like a frothing, Nuremburg-ish nutball, and it's the one they chose for their page 10 photo roundup. Who made that call?

Whoever it was, they picked well. I don't want to start a trend of disagreeing with Kevin, but why is it bad that they used the one photo that really conveys Dean's behavior? I imagine it is very hard to capture in one photograph the seething rage that came across in Dean's voice and movements, but that photograph comes pretty close. I have no trouble with it, and think it is testament to the skill of the photographer that he was able to capture Dean's post-Iowa madness in a single frame.

Second Look

Well if nothing else is certain after Iowa, at least we know that I was too hasty in endorsing Clark. I suppose I bit pretty hard into the conventional wisdom that this was a Dean-Clark race. At least my fears about Dean were graphically validated last night. But now that we've got a real primary season on our hands, I think I'm going to step back and wait, at least until after the February 3 primaries. Like many others, I had stopped thinking about Kerry or Edwards as viable candidates. Who knows where it all goes from here, but at the very least those two can no longer be easily dismissed.

I worked in Senator Kerry's Boston office for a semester in college, but never met him and don't have a lot to say that might prove helpful in this race. I do remember him having a good deal of trouble relating to the rest of the Massachussetts Democratic party, but that's hardly an indictment in my book.

Edwards is a bit of an unknown to me, but if he can put together a real campaign, gain some traction going into South Carolina, I can definitely see myself supporting him. Virginia will be a funny state, however. Though it is rightfully viewed in general elections as a southern state, I think the Democratic primary is more heavily influenced by D.C. suburbia than anywhere else. It'll be interesting to see what the polls are saying in two weeks.

But so long as Howard Dean remains "inevitable", the question always lurking in my mind as I think about this election is: could I actually vote for Howard Dean?

There Is Hope

I'm following the caucus results coming in from the Des Moines Register and all I can say is: thank God for Iowa, there is hope for the Democratic party.

The reaction of Dean supporters? Well, read it yourself. Just unbelievably, unbearably infantile. They'd rather support a third party candidate then a Democrat other than Dean. Turns out Iowa is like a third world country and the caucuses are wildly undemocratic. You think we'd be hearing such things if Dean came in 1st or 2nd? I empathize with those who put so much hard work into something only to be so hugely disappointed, but a lot (though not all) of those commenters are saying outrageous stuff. I'm glad the people of Iowa have done their part to return some sanity to this campaign season.

UPDATE: Just listened to Howard Dean's speech to his supporters. What a psycho. I mean, what an absolute psycho. An unlikely bedfellow, Professor Bainbridge, describes it perfectly:

Watching Dean's speech is painful. He's so over the top. I can't imagine this speech is helping his cause. I can't believe a majority of American voters will want to spend the next 4 years listening to this guy yelling at them.

Not my preference, that's for sure.

UPDATE II: ScrappleFace made me laugh. Michele at A Small Victory has some wise commentary.

Targeting Cheney?

I guess I'm going to be talking more about politics than I thought. Kevin Drum is sticking to his claim that challenging Cheney could be a winner for Democrats:

For now, though, I'm going to stick with my suggestion that the Democrats could gain some traction by making Cheney a bigger issue in the campaign than vice presidents usually are. It would require a subtle touch, of course, but let's face it: nobody likes an evil genius operating out of a hole. There ought to be something there we can take advantage of.

Cheney might joke around and call himself that, and Kevin and I might even think it is true, but I don't think there is much traction to be had on this argument. First of all, I think most Americans just won't believe any claims that the Vice-President is exerting so much control. It goes against all conventional wisdom on vice-presidencies, and that's a lot of inertia to overcome.

Second, it can easily be spun (perhaps correctly) into proof that Democrats know they can't win by going after the President himself. Karl Rove could have a field day running ads that say "They are picking on the President's staff because they don't want to go head-to-head with George W. Bush." The last thing Democrats want is to implicitly admit they can't beat Bush straight on. That might do more damage than good.

Third, I think Cheney's presence is actually reassuring to a lot of people. To the extent that people do buy into the "Bush is dumb" rhetoric, many of them think having Cheney around makes for a perfect complement: Bush gives them the leadership and machismo that reassures a frightened nation, Cheney provides the organization and runs a lot of the policy analysis. Though for people like Kevin, this is a recipe for national nightmare, for many this is not something to be scared of or vote against.

Giving Kleiman Some Credit

Yesterday I gave Andrew Sullivan credit for being willing to criticize the administration. I'd like to give similar credit to Mark Kleiman for this post demanding that General Clark (who Kleiman supports) distance himself or correct Michael Moore's charge that President Bush was a "deserter":

Moore was simply wrong to use the word "deserter." Clark, who surely knows that better than I do, should have corrected Moore's very bad mistake when asked about it. Having failed to do so, he should do so now.

It was a pretty silly charge and Clark missed an opportunity to demonstrate his willingness to be equitable in his criticisms. It is these wild-eyed cries of "deserter," "imposter," "usurper," and "thief" which most turn me off about the current rhetoric of the left.

Though I don't think it is reason not to support Clark (Andrew Sullivan does), I am a bit bothered by the Michael Moore endorsement. I just really don't like him. It's not Clark's fault that I don't like Moore, and I think all candidates take endorsements from people I don't like (how about Pat Robertson?), but I would have been especially impressed with Clark if he'd chosen to distance himself from Moore's more outlandish claims.

Carter, McGovern, Anyone Else?

Matt Yglesias asks whether it is really such a good thing to get an endorsement from Jimmy Carter. I had the same reaction with Bill Bradley a couple weeks ago, and again this morning when I saw that George McGovern had endorsed Clark. That's about the best proof of what a dearth of respectable elder statesmen the Democratic party is suffering from. Who's next, Michael Dukakis?

I guess the conventional wisdom at this point is that Clinton is not going to endorse a candidate in the primaries, but boy if he did, that would be a coup. The rest of these endorsements seem a bit silly.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias has more:

At the end of the day, "McGovern" is a byword for weakness, both on security and as a candidate. Moreover, part of the theory of McGovern's candidacy was that as a war hero he would have the credibility to push a dovish stance against Richard Nixon, a theory that reminds one of things that are said about, well, Wesley Clark. And we know that didn't work out so well, so....

Interesting point.

Giving Sullivan Some Credit

I have always liked Andrew Sullivan a good deal more than a lot of my blogging colleagues, and the current posts up on his site now remind me why. He is better than many war supporters at turning a critical eye at the administration, though I remain a little puzzled how he can have so many disagreements with the administration and still be so skeptical of others who criticize it. Nonetheless, his criticisms of Bush (here and here and here) ring particularly true when you consider that, as he said, he has "earned a certain amount of credibility on this one."

I did not start blogging until February of last year, and the political blogosphere itself wasn't really up and running until a year or two before that. So we haven't had a chance to see what Democrat and liberal bloggers would be like if their ideological and political opponents were constantly attacking a Democratic president. Would they have given an inch, admitted any wrongs, offered any self-reflection and self-criticism in the face of conservative hatred for Clinton? Probably not. They'd have circled the wagons and mounted a defense. Who wants to concede any ground to those they see as rabid and hateful? And yet, conservative bloggers (even those who now recognize the fiscal responsibility of Clinton's terms) probably wouldn't have given Clinton credit for much of anything.

Anyhow, sometimes people can rise above that, and I like to give them credit it for it. If and when a president comes along who I strongly admire and identify with, I will try to remember not to put on blinders just because it is my guy in the White House.

Political Animosity

Dean Esmay, (responding to Roger Simon) points out that "seething animosity and vile assertions" goes back long before Bush and Clinton:

I've read some of the things Democrats used to say about Nixon, some of the things Truman Democrats used to say about Republicans, some of the things the Taft Republicans in particular said about Roosevelt and even Eisenhower. I've read some of the things people used to say about Presidents like Andrew Jackson, too.

I'll even go a couple generations earlier. From David McCullough's biography of John Adams:

Thomas Paine, in a fury over the Jay Treaty, unleashed an unprecedent attack on George Washinton in the pages of the Aurora. Writing from Paris, Paine called Washington a creature of "grossest adulation," a man incapable of friendship, "a hypocrite in public life," apostate and imposter.

Adams also came under much fire during his Presidency, largely fueled by the Federalist vs. Republican debate on our relations with France:

In almost daily attacks in the Aurora, Adams was belittled as "The President by Three Votes," mocked again as "His Rotundity," excoriated as a base hypocrite, a tool of the British, "a man divested of his senses." He was charged again and again as a creature of Hamilton and the Federalist war hawks.

It appears that, if anything, much of the press has become less openly vile than before. Of course, many in the partisan press (and blogosphere) continue this unfortunate American tradition. I don't read the most conservative magazines, but I stopped my subscription to The Nation when they became unable to discuss President Bush in any context without mentioning the 2000 Florida vote and implying he is an unelected usurper because of it.

Morality, Religion and Predispositions

Howard Dean has put forth a claim that "[f]rom a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people." Andrew Sullivan has quoted approvingly. Well if those two agree, you might think it would be an intelligent statement. It even sounds reasonable at first blush, but only at first blush. After that it seems patently absurd.

Matt Evans (posting at The Buck Stops Here) is essentially correct:

Dean and Sullivan believe homosexuals are innately predisposed to a point on the hetero-homosexuality continuum... But this fact doesn't resolve the question of homosexuality's morality. If it could, then Dean and Sullivan would have to either (1) believe that people do not have, and science will not find, innate predispositions toward behaviors Dean and Sullivan condemn, such as aggression, alcohol abuse, pedophilia, pederasty and incest; or (2) embrace those negative behaviors once they're shown to be genetically based: once science shows that Ted Bundy was genetically predisposed to kill women, we'll know that God must not think killing women isn't a sin because He created Bundy and his predisposition.

Now, to me, a predisposition toward homosexuality and one toward murder are miles apart. From a moral standpoint, I wouldn't even consider the former to be negative. But the point remains the same: humans are likely born with all sorts of tendencies, and none of them are moral (or "approved by God") simply because they exist. Some external casuistry is required to apply labels of moral and immoral. And once that is done, one of the great challenges of human life is to overcome the negative tendencies and predispositions within each of us. "I was born that way" is an unacceptable excuse for otherwise immoral behavior.

Anybody but Dean

There has been a lot of discussion over the past several months comparing Howard Dean to George McGovern (and others), and discussing the various DLC and Democratic establishment attempts to fight off Dean's insurgency. Well today I was in the library doing research for a professor that involved browsing every issue of Newsweek from 1972-1976. Other than a severe case of Watergate-overload, I found some interesting articles that I thought I'd pass along for comparisons sake. This one was titled "Can They Stop McGovern?":

From the beginning, the regulars of the Democratic Party have been unhappy about George McGovern. Many consider his politics radical, his people ill-mannered, and his candidacy a sure ticket to disaster for the party in Novemeber. They have watched his accelerating march toward the nomination as dismally, and as helplessly, as Rome watching the advance of Attila the Hun across Europe.

The article goes on to discuss the various nomination tricks employed by the "ad hoc ABM (for Anybody But McGovern) coalition," which, of course, failed in the end. I doubt we'll see similar tricks this time around, since the conventions have become the site of coronations rather than back-room deals. Another feature of the Dean=McGovern analogy is the role of young and previously uninvolved campaign workers. This comes from an interview with a 21-year old college student working on McGovern's campaign:

The McGovern delegates I know won't go for anyone else. If McGovern gets pushed aside, they'll either screw things up by keeping on voting for him or some will leave the convention. The Democrats could lose an awful lot of young people McGovern has picked up for the party.

There's no second choice for me. If McGovern doesn't make it, then I'd say, forget it. I'm either going to sink with the ship or be there to aise the victory flag.

Sound a bit like any Dean supporters you know? At least the McGovern supporters had something to be angry about (the attempts to steal the nomination with the aforementioned conventions tricks). There was one other interesting tidbit I did not know until browsing these articles. McGovern's campaign manager: Gary Hart.

Of some historical interest: when I finally got around to the 1976 election, what did I find? The Anybody But Carter movement, led by establishment Democrats against an insurgent candidate, going so far as to discuss a Draft Humphrey or Draft Kennedy movement at the convention after the Scoop Jackson campaign fizzled.

Some things never change.

Blogging Reagan Pt. II

I forgot to mention earlier that one of the inspirations for my interest in Ronald Reagan was Stephen Ambrose's discussion of writing a biography of Richard Nixon. In To America, Ambrose relays (via the acknowledgements to volume three of the biography) the effect that trying to understand Nixon had upon he and his wife:

The funny thing is, the more she got to know Richard Nixon, the less she liked him, while as for me, well, in volume one I developed a grudging admiration for the man. . . . In volume two I came to have a quite genuine and deep admiration for many of his policies. . . . And in volume three I found, to my astonishment, that I had developed almost a liking for him.

While I'm clearly not planning to become a presidential biographer, I do want to emulate the most important aspect of Ambrose's Nixon project: giving the subject a fair shake. I'm open to the possibility that I may end up hating Reagan, and the possibility that I may end up liking him. That said, I'd like to relay a couple of things from Noonan's book that I did really like.

Continue reading Blogging Reagan Pt. II.

Blogging Reagan, Pt. I

In what I hope will be a long running series of blog posts, I'd like to start taking a look at who Ronald Reagan was, what he stood for, why he was so popular, and what role his policies and popularity continue to play today. I approach this project not as a partisan trying to bring Reagan down, but as curious American seeking to understand one of the most important and powerful figures of the last half-century, a man who continues to be held in tremendously high esteem by a significant segment of the population.

In large part, this stems from my own ignorance regarding Reagan. I was born just a few months before he defeated Jimmy Carter and won his first term. I was 8 years old when he left office. So my own political consciousness was mostly non-existent while Reagan was in the limelight. Yet it was recent enough that Reagan's legacy is not yet clear. As such, I'd like to make an honest attempt at understanding Reagan, on his own terms, from the perspective of his critics, and from the perspective of his supporters.

Continue reading Blogging Reagan, Pt. I.

Understanding Reagan

Apropos of the recent controversy over the Reagan mini-series, and a brief glimpse I had of a Reagan documentary on A&E, I started feeling rather ignorant about our 40th President. I've become more and more convinced that large segments of the American populace (mostly Republicans I would assume) still consider him the model president. As such, I think one way of understanding our current head of state and his sometimes inexplicable popularity might be to consider how closely he emulates Reagan. For those longing for another Reagan, GWB might be, well, close enough.

Anyhow, this is entirely speculative, particularly since I know so little about Reagan or what made (and continues to make) him so popular. In an effort to begin remedying that ignorance, I've picked up Peggy Noonan's When Character Was King, and will begin reading it as soon as this afternoon's Evidence exam is complete. I'm sure it'll inspire some interesting blogging.

Good For President Bush

I'm sure many will dismiss the President's surprise visit to Iraq as a PR stunt, but I'm going to stop being cynical for 5 minutes and give the President credit for a nice gesture. I'm sure the soldiers appreciated it.

UPDATE: Boy did I call that one. Check out John Cole's roundup of some of the more ridiculous commentary from what I still (reluctantly in this case) consider my side of the spectrum. The President of the United States visits our troops on Thanksgiving, and this is the crap that spews from the lefty blogosphere. I'm ashamed.

UPDATE II: I'm through with shame. Now I'm at disgust. It's one thing for the Democratic Underground crowd to fly into hysterics at everything Bush does, just because Bush does it. But to visit one of my old favorites like Matthew Yglesias and have to read this crap from him and his commenters, it really has me second-guessing how much I have in common with them. Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only here that gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero.

UPDATE III: Leave it to Will Baude to try and tell us we're all wrong:

Continue reading Good For President Bush.

Guns and Democrats

I've been following this discussion pretty closely, and think Mark Kleiman has well-summarized the proper reasoning for Democrats re: gun control:

For a Democrat to deliberately fight the culture wars -- as opposed to standing up for principle in ways that cause cultural strain -- is just stupid politics, in addition to being bad manners. And "gun control," as a political issue, is a culture-war issue. Guns are to the People for the American Way as drugs are to the Eagle Forum: a material symbol of everything they hate and fear. And hatred and fear make bad policy.

The "assault weapons" ban, like gun registration, has almost precisly no value in reducing the rate of homicide with firearms. As a quick reaction to the fears of some big-city police departments that they were losing the arms race to the drug dealers, it made a kind of sense, but the banned weapons never accounted for any significant number of murders, and it's not clear that banning them for purchase by people eligible to buy guns is necessary, or even useful, as a way of keeping them out of the hands of bad guys.

...Law-abiding gun owners are not the problem, and there's no reason to pick a quarrel with them.

Amen, Brother Kleiman. This gun-control crap is a black hole for the Democratic Party. It's irrational, it doesn't work, and it's unpopular. The cost-benefit analysis of the party's position is so heinous that it defies explanation. The party should let it go.

A Democratic Virginia?

Of all the things I didn't think would come into play next election, the idea of Virginia voting Democratic is near the top of the list. Imagine that, my vote actually counting for something. Looks like I'll have to pay attention this time.

Of course, in the insanely unlikely event a Democrat could win Virginia, I imagine it would be accompanied by a full-scale nationwide Bush collapse. So maybe it wouldn't matter anyway.

Leavitt as EPA Chief

As an ardent environmentalist who lived in Utah for 6 years, I feel quite a bit of trepidation concerning the confirmation of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt as chief of the EPA. Yet take a look at that article (an AP release), and you won't find one bit of information regarding Leavitt's tenure as governor or his actions and views regarding environmental protection. It's just another story about Senate politics. The same has been true of most of the stories about Leavitt's nomination over the past several weeks. That's a bad sign.

For those who are interested, here's a bit of actually helpful journalism from USC's Daily Trojan.

And in This Corner

Yesterday I linked to Sebastian Holsclaw's abortion posts, and today I'll link to a through response by Ampersand at Alas, a Blog. In particular, he points to a key line from O'Connor's concurrence in Stenberg:

A ban on partial-birth abortion that only proscribed the D&X method of abortion and that included an exception to preserve the life and health of the mother would be constitutional in my view.

I'd forgotten how explicit O'Connor was about this. Now we can argue about Congressional fact-finding all day, but in the end it's my belief that the current court would still strike down this legislation. O'Connor has shown herself to be quite adept at making these close cases end up exactly where she wants. It's part of why I dislike her jurisprudence so much.

That's the last from me on abortion for awhile.

Listening to the Other Side

It's not often I find a reasonable and engaging post on a topic like abortion, but Sebastian Holsclaw has started his new blog with two very good posts on the subject (one addressed to pro-life advocates, the other to pro-choice advocates). It's especially refreshing because Sebastian is himself pro-life, and I usually find it particularly difficult to discuss abortion with those I disagree with. The comments to each post aren't uniformly intelligent, but better than most discussions of this topic.

Why Plame Matters

Let me confess, I really don't think the Plame affair is a particularly big deal. It doesn't tell me anything I didn't know about Washington politics, and I'm not convinced it was a particularly nefarious activity.

But at least the press has regained its critical abilities. Whether I agree or disagree with a particular president or his policies, there's nothing I can't stand more than an acquiescent press. It's an indictment of Americans that they don't find ways to keep themselves better informed, but so long as Americans suffer that laziness we must demand more from the big media. They need to be skeptical, ask tough questions, and highlight the weaknesses and hypocrises of those in power along side the strengths and achievements.

As If It Mattered

If I cared even a bit about the California recall, which I don't, I might be persuaded by the line of thinking that Alex Knapp sums up here:

Apart from a minor setback, I think I've been pretty unabashed in my support for Arnold Schwarzenegger's run for governor. But in case you've missed that, let me just say to all you readers out in California that I wholeheartedly support Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor of California. Gray Davis is a mess, Bustamante more of the same, and McClintock is just damned scary--let's keep the Christian Reconstructionists out of office, shall we?

The fact of the matter is, we need more socially liberal, economically conservative politicians out there. Especially ones who show some basic competence in real life. Here's a guy who came to this country with nothing and built himself up. He's a shrewd businessman and one of the best action stars on the silver screen. He's not a perfect man by any stretch, but good lord, who is? He's said and done some stupid things, but haven't we all?

I can't come out and say that under Arnold's leadership, California will recover from its fiscal crisis. To be honest, I'm not sure how soluable the problem is when you have a legislature dominated by partisan idiots. But I think that Arnold's basic plan, attracting business back to California, and his corruption-reducing reforms of opening up government are a good step in the right direction. Ideally, I'd love to see Governor Arnold stand up to Ashcroft in defending California's right to self-determination with its medical marijuana laws. That may be hoping for too much, but given Arnold's past... maybe not.

At least he's picked a side. I guess I'd vote no on the recall anyway, since it seems like such a power grab, but at this point I think California gets everything it deserves. The whole state has really lost my respect, particularly considering the role it could be playing as a positive leader for our country. As it stands now, I just keep hoping the rest of America can avoid the worst of California's problems.

The People Aren't Listening

If I were Karl Rove, I'd be a little worried about this:

Data from Nielsen Media Research released Tuesday showed that a one-hour interview with President Bush on Fox came dead last in the hour among the six major broadcast television networks in both total viewers and audiences aged 18 to 49.

"That is a sorry state of affairs," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "I think most people, when they heard that the interview was going to happen, just assumed they weren't going to hear anything new that they hadn't already heard."

The Bush interview trailed an episode of UPN's comedy "The Parkers" and the series premiere of the comedy "Eve," starring the singer of the same name.

I think Thompson is probably right. We've all heard the rhetoric, and I think at this point people either believe it or they don't. Words are not going to be enough to revive the flagging poll numbers now.

Pro-Gun Student Newspaper

Here's a lead editorial from the Cavalier Daily that I wasn't expecting to read:

The University would be prudent to prohibit the use and possession of firearms in residence halls and classrooms -- areas central to the University's task of creating an educational community. But unless there's overwhelming evidence that allowing concealed weapons everywhere on Grounds would severely compromise the University's educational mission, there's no good reason for keeping in place these restrictions.

I just read this, so I haven't had time to digest the editorial or its policy implications. But it sure does seem quite a departure from your normal big state school campus editorial, even if this is Virginia.

California Compromises

I wonder if the general distate for the candidates I just expressed might also resonate with many Californian voters. The WP has an analysis of the conflict California conservatives face in the gubernatorial race:

They now face an unhappy choice: support a candidate in Schwarzenegger who is anything but a true believer or stick to principles, back McClintock and risk being blamed if Republicans lose the governor's office once again.

It's not as if Democrats have a much better choice. They get to select between a Governor that is widely despised, and a Lt. Governor whose liberal credentials and experience are highly suspect. Not a lot to get excited about there either.

UPDATE: Also, has anyone noticed that Bustamante looks eerily like Jon Polito, a character actor put to good use in several Coen brothers' films (e.g. Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski)?

I Know Them, But I Don't Like Them

So it turns out that 2/3 of Americans can't name any of the Democrats running for President. Well that's likely not a problem for me or any of my readers, but here's a tangentially related problem: I don't like any of the candidates. This seems to me a rather strange position to be in. While I like some of the policy proposals and political leanings of various Democratic candidates (Dean and Edwards in particular), I can't say that any of them seem very likable. There's a good chance it's just my cynicism about politics and politicians seeping into my view of these individual. But then again, cynicism about politicians is not a unique thing. Are those who are rallying behind these candidates less cynical than me, or are they simply motivating themselves with other ideals (e.g. "anyone but Bush").

None of this is to suggest I wouldn't vote for the Democratic nominee, simply that I have trouble getting excited/motivated/financially involved until I can feel positive about a candidate rather than negative about his opponent.

OK, I'm Impressed

I've got to admit, Dean's fundraising achievements are impressive to me. It looks like they've got a Dean table set up on Saturdays here in Charlottesville, I may have to go take a look.

At least he's got buzz, which is something I certainly can't say about any of the other candidates. And, as Yglesias points out, the DLC really hates him. That counts for something in my book.

Of course, I am a registered Virginia voter. I don't think it'll matter much what I say in the general election, though I'm less informed about VA's Democratic primary.

Which leads me to another question: how many states are truly competitive for the general election? In my politically-aware years, I've lived in Utah, Massachussetts, and Virginia, so I have the distorted view that my vote never ever matters in national elections. How many states are really up for grabs?

A Breathtaking Moment of Honesty

When the numbers are so clear that even NRO has to be honest (and sorta praise Clinton!), then something is seriously wrong:

After all, in inflation-adjusted terms, Clinton had overseen a total spending increase of only 3.5 percent at the same point in his administration. More importantly, after his first three years in office, non-defense discretionary spending actually went down by 0.7 percent. This is contrasted by Bush's three-year total spending increase of 15.6 percent and a 20.8 percent explosion in non-defense discretionary spending.

Wow, wow, and wow. I like this part in particular:

Government agencies that Republicans were calling to be abolished less than ten years ago, such as education and labor, have enjoyed jaw-dropping spending increases under Bush of 70 percent and 65 percent respectively.

Fiscal conservatism is truly dead. I guess that's why the Republican party offers me no temptation. If you're a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, then neither of the major parties offers much anymore... but at least the Dems get 1 out of 2.

(link via the Conspiracy)

Quite a Triumph

The pro-life movement must be so proud:

Warren Buffett has drawn criticism in the past for supporting pro-choice causes, but it never affected Berkshire Hathaway's charitable giving - that is, until Cindy Coughlon, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom in Peoria, Ariz., came along. Now, as a result of her campaign against pro-choice donations, the most powerful man in business has terminated Berkshire's entire contribution program, which distributed nearly $200 million over the past two decades to institutions ranging from schools to groups on either side of the abortion debate. (emphasis added)

And the hits just keep on coming.

More From Glenn

I wonder how many times Instapundit can say "Here's yet another issue for the Democrats..." without coming to the conclusion that he's dissatisfied with this administration. It's not just an issue for the Democrats, Glenn, it's an issue for America.

Geez

What a schmuck:

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson urged his nationwide audience Monday to pray for God to remove three justices from the Supreme Court so they could be replaced by conservatives.

"We ask for miracles in regard to the Supreme Court," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club."

Robertson has launched a 21-day "prayer offensive" directed at the Supreme Court in the wake of its 6-3 June vote that decriminalized sodomy. Robertson said in a letter on the CBN Web site that the ruling "has opened the door to homosexual marriage, bigamy, legalized prostitution and even incest."

The same letter targets three justices in particular: "One justice is 83-years-old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?"

The Fittest Men

Yesterday I read Mill's "The Spirit of the Age" essays, and stumbled upon this jewel of a passage:

In the United States, where those who are called to power, are so by the general voice of the whole people, experience equally testifies to the admirable good sense with which the highest offices have been bestowed. At every election of a President, without exception, the people's choice has fallen on the person whom, as all impartial observers must admit, every circumstance that the people knew, pointed out as the fittest; nor is it possible to name one person pre-eminently qualified for the office, who has not, if he was a candidate, obtained it. In the only two cases in which subsequent experience did not confirm the people's judgment, they corrected the error on the very first lawful opportunity.

What a romantic image of America! For the curious, those who proved "unfit" were John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Among the most interestings facts about that pair, aside from their kinship, is that they both lost their re-election bids to the man they defeated in the first place (Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively). Someone should have told Al Gore.

Yes, One Can Hope

Daniel Berkman at Red Weather says a prayer for our country:

I can only hope that the 22 percent who think that we've already uncovered WMDs are also the people who think Iraqis were involved in the 9/11 hijackings, and also part of the pluralirty of people that don't vote.

Amen.

Polarization

Erasmus at Civic Dialogues has a post comparing the ideological distribution of House representatives in the 91st Congress (69-70) to that of the 106th (99-00). In the 91st Congress, there is significant overlap between the two parties.

In contrast the 106th Congress graph's two mountains have virtually no overlap! The democratic plateau has disappeared and the republican mountain has moved farther right creating a distinct 'valley' between the mountains. It's a great illustration of how our politics has become polarized.

Now here's the problem: my understanding is that the ideology of about one third of the American electorate is right where this valley is!

What contributed to this polarization?

Here's the easiest part of the answer: Roe v. Wade. This clearly doesn't tell the whole story, but prior to that decision, conservative religious Protestants, particularly in the South, were not a very active political force. When Blackmun was writing his Roe decision, he was under the impression that it was only Catholics who would be upset at the outcome. He was obviously quite mistaken.

The post-Roe influx of the "Moral Majority" into the Republican party began the rightward drift of that party, but it wasn't until the 1990s, with the Christian Coalition (et al) and the Republican takeover of Congress that this group became dominant.

The other big shift has been on the Democratic side. While the Democratic ideology hasn't changed all that much in the last 40 years (look at Dick Gephardt), its membership has shifted. The Dixiecrats, who might have made up a chunk of that middle ground in 1969, are pretty much gone, replaced by Republicans who are also conservative on economic issues.

Those are the two contributions to polarization that immediately come to mind... I'm sure there are more.

Litmus Tests

Litmus tests have been in the news a lot lately, particularly as the judicial nominations process became so heated.

I've been thinking about whether I would use any litmus tests myself when I vote, and it turns out that I probably would. I don't think I could vote for any candidate who had a truly bad track record on the environment, by which I mean either consistent voting against environmental protections and/or sponsoring particularly egregious anti-environment legislation.

Yet, I think that might be my only one (excluding extremist positions, i.e. no members of the Klan, no one who favors child abuse, etc.). I certainly have preferences on most other issues, but at first glance I don't think any of them could alone prevent me from voting for someone I disagreed with on that issue.

I wonder if most people have more or less stringent standards than me. By having a single-issue litmus test, I automatically disqualify a wide range of candidates. Yet by having only one such test, I probably leave the door open to many candidates that traditional leftists wouldn't even consider.

Times Have Changed

I'm doing research on defenses of necessity in criminal trials, and have been reading the recent literature on the use of medical marijuana. In so doing, I came across a curious article from 1999 on then Texas Governor Bush's support for states' rights on marijuana. Despite the grammatical imprecision, we see a principled federalist stand on the issue:

Gov. George Bush said he backs a state's right to decide whether to allow medical use of marijuana, a position that puts him sharply at odds with Republicans on Capitol Hill. "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose," the governor said recently in Seattle in response to a reporter's question.

Fast-forward to this week:

House Republicans want to move drug enforcement money from state and local police officers to federal agents in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

The GOP-sponsored legislation would also allow the Bush administration's drug policy office to launch an advertising campaign to deliver the message that marijuana should not be legalized.

Both provisions were initiated by Congress, but they clearly reflect the Bush administration's desire to strictly enforce marijuana laws.

Oh well.

Mandatory Volunteerism

Ezra Klein has a good take on Kerry's mandatory volunteerism 'thing':

The problem is that this is the type of thing which we should be able to easily deem "good", if we cannot, then there are defintely some problems within it. The most glaringly obvious of which is that mandatory volunteerism is an oxymoron. Making volunteerism a mandatory requirement for high schoolers contradicts the whole spirit of volunteerism. When you donate time out of a will to make the world a better place, that's volunteering. When the Government makes you donate your time in order to make the world a better place, that's called forced labor.

I always felt the same way about using community service as an alternative sanction in the criminal justice system. It sends entirely the wrong message, both about what community service is supposed to be, and what punishment is supposed to be.

Those who chose to volunteer are sent the message that the work they do is somehow a negative thing, so much so that we'll make criminals do it instead of sending them to prison.

Criminals get the message that the crime they've committed isn't that bad, since all they have to do is something that other people choose to do voluntarily, something that is generally considered a worthy and fulfilling activity.

This mixed message ought to satisfy no one.

Strange Polling Data

Can this possibly be accurate? It just seems so... so... unlikely:

The presidential campaign of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry received some startling news Wednesday from his own back yard.

A poll recently conducted by the research institute Mass Insight shows Kerry trailing President Bush in the race for president in the Bay State.

The poll, which involved 500 Massachusetts voters at the end of April, shows the president with a 6 percentage point lead -- the exact numbers have not been released.

This stands in stark contrast to a similar poll taken by the group in January. Back then, Kerry had a commanding 16 point lead in Massachusetts in a theoretical matchup with the president.

After all, here's MA's 2000 results:

George W. Bush - 32.5%
Al Gore - 59.8%
Ralph Nader - 6.4%

Now I'm note sure just what this poll is suggesting (perhaps most are undecided), but I'm skeptical.

(via Drudge)

Hit & Run

Reason's Hit & Run gets results! Here's a May 16 post from Jeff Taylor:

Excuse me for interrupting the victory laps over aircraft carriers, but shouldn't Tom Ridge have raised the terror threat level to orange right about now? We've got seven dead Americans in Saudi Arabia from a daring attack by al Qaeda, staged just hours before Colin Powell was due to be in country. More attacks may be in the works.

And then earlier today:

It didn't make sense last week that Homeland Security did not go to Code Orange in the wake of terrorist attacks against Americans in Saudi Arabia. Now that we have a fresh FBI warning that al Qaeda may strike again in the U.S. the code system is revealed to be a farce.

And now:

The United States raised the nation's terror threat level Tuesday, saying the U.S. intelligence community believes al Qaeda has entered an "operational period worldwide" and might attack within the United States.

Yep, those al Qaeda blokes are doing pretty well for being crippled.

Tact

CalPundit provides yet another post demonstrating why I read him everyday. Commenting on the deal Kennedy made with Khruschev to remove our missiles from Turkey, he recognizes this key insight:

The real lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis isn't that standing firm at all costs is the only way to conduct international relations. Sure, you need to be steady and resolute, but the real lesson is that you face the world the way it is, you don't overreact to every provocation, and you make the best deals you can. This is a lesson that the neocons in the Bush administration ought to take to heart.

There may be some brilliant diplomatic efforts underway that we just don't see, but I'd be surprised. So far we've seen failures with the U.N., NATO, Turkey, and North Korea, and that's just in the past couple months.

Signs of the Apocalypse

This has to be one of the strangest stories I've ever seen:

The political version of the Amber Alert was posted for 53 Texas legislators who fled the state Capitol to avoid a vote that could cost Democrats seven congressional seats.

Without the Democrats present, the Republican-controlled House does not have the two-thirds quorum needed for a vote on legislation to redraw congressional districts.

News reports late Monday quoted leaders of the missing Democrats as saying they are gathered across the state line in Ardmore, Oklahoma, out of reach of Texas Rangers who have been ordered to arrest them and return them to the House chamber.

A bulletin was posted Monday on the Texas Department of Public Safety Web site -- the same one used to alert citizens to missing children and wanted criminals -- asking for help in locating the missing lawmakers.

What the hell is going on down there?!? And why are they voting on redistricting in 2003? Isn't that a decennial activity?

UPDATE: Looks like they caught one.

Role Reversal

I guess I understand what might be the actual intentions of the President (to encourage the silent majority who supposedly already support him to speak out), but there's something about this headline that just seems backwards to me:

Bush Urges Americans to Call for Tax Cuts

I mean, isn't democracy supposed to work the other way? I was under the impression that the people tell their elected officials what they want, and more or less the elected officials should do it. The idea of an elected official telling the people what they should be demanding from him just seems odd.

9/11 and Missed Opportunities

In a brief escape from studying Constitutional Law last week, I was discussing with my neighbors my belief that this country, and in particular the political leadership, had missed a great opportunity in the wake of 9/11. This was an opportunity to step back and re-examine what it is to be an American, what values our country wants to emphasize. It was also an opportunity to try and see our country within the context of a much bigger, global neighborhood. Instead we were encouraged to return to our self-interested mass consumerism.

I was having trouble articulating exactly what it was I thought was missed, but the end of exams has allowed me to return to reading East of Eden, and of course Steinbeck (writing at the beginning of the Cold War, 1952) has just the words I was looking for:

There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, even our religion, so that some nati ons have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.

At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

In asking and answering such questions, we would know who we are. Instead we remain adrift, surrounded by a fog of our own creation.

Invisible Man

During exams I did not pay particularly good attention to the latest Democratic nominee news, but now that I'm fairly caught up, let me say this: blech. I am almost overwhelmed (or is it underwhelmed) by the dearth of inspiration provided by these candidates.

I'm too young to really remember the nomination process in 1992, but I have to think this group of nominees is less appealing.

On the other hand, I am impressed by the bare fact that Howard Dean has really turn himself into a contender, when so recently he could be dismissed as a fringe anti-war candidate. I'm not speaking at all to his conduct, policy, or potential in a show-down with President Bush. I'm just reflecting on the fact that he's become a strong viable candidate and I wasn't sure he would.

UPDATE: (Via Yglesias) Ezra Klein shows that optimism was similarly lacking in 1991.

Town's the Fish, People are the Barrel

CalPundit (it's the Deficit Thinking post) takes the opportunity to shoot some fish in the National Review barrel:

Now normally I'd just disagree with NR and be done with it, since that's the safest way to bet, but I can't even figure out what point they're trying to make here.

What do spending increases have to do with tax cuts? Are they suggesting that every dollar of spending increases should be matched by a dollar of tax cuts? That strikes me as peculiar economics even for a magazine that's desperately trying to support Bush.

Go check it out to see the nonsensical editorial he's talking about.

Powell's a Tattle-Tale

AP reports that Powell may have stepped out of bounds by telling the truth:

When a student asked Secretary of State Colin Powell about the 1973 military coup in Chile, the retired general turned diplomat made no secret of his deep misgivings about the U.S. role in that upheaval.

The matter might have ended there had not Washington operative William D. Rogers taken notice of Powell's televised comment. Rogers served under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1975-76 as the department's top official on Latin America and maintains a professional relationship with Kissinger.

In a highly unusual move, the State Department issued a statement that put distance between the department and its top official. The statement asserted that the U.S. government "did not instigate the coup that ended Allende's government in 1973" - a reference to the elected president, Salvador Allende.

Institutional aversion to the truth has become an art form.

The Rich Get Richer

CalPundit takes apart Irwin Stelzer's article in the Weekly Standard on economic growth:

You wonder how people have the gall to write stuff like this. Surely Stelzer has noticed that while the incomes of the American rich have indeed skyrocketed over the past 20 years, "rapid increases" have been a noticeably absent feature of the incomes of the poor and middle class?

Take a few moments to stare at the chart he's included alongside.

Far from "doing nothing," Republican economic policy for � well, forever, really, but certainly for the past 20 years, has been explicitly aimed at what Selzer unwisely acknowledges: "encouraging" rapid increases at the top end of the income scale. One of the enduring mysteries of American politics has been the ability of the Republican party to get away with this while still retaining the loyalty � and votes � of the middle class that they rather obviously don't care a whit about. Middle class enthusiasm (or, at least, tolerance) for the dividend tax cut is merely the most recent example of this.

This isn't even paternalism, as my rightist friends will cry. It's not that I want to tell the middle class what is good for them. That's their own choice. But once they've made that choice (to be concerned about their own economic well-being), it is mind-boggling to watch them ignore the real effect these economic plans are having on them.

Moynihan the Neocon

With Senator Moynihan's untimely passing, and Matthew Yglesias' question regarding his skills as a senator, I was reminded that I have his book on Secrecy, purchased for a class on the Modern Police State which I took pass/fail (and thus the book went unread). I've decided to read it now, and within the first pages of the book I already have a question for those more knowledgeable (and perhaps older) than myself:

Was Moynihan a neocon?

The dedication of the book is to Irving and Bea Kristol, and the first pages of the introduction mention his work being published in Commentary and his strident anti-communism. The introduction mentions that his anti-communism at least allied him with the "neo" movements, but doesn't offer anything further. Anyone know more?

UPDATE: Here's one answer (rather hostile), from the American Prospect:

He is the prodigal neocon, the one who managed to turn against his fellow liberals again and again, even though he returned to the fold, on his own terms, ending his career with a passionate denunciation of what he insisted on calling the "repeal" of welfare.

For Moynihan, neoconservatism was a short-term survival strategy, a way to get away from the errors of liberalism--crazy students, first-wave political correctness, social-science arrogance--without losing his identity or convictions as a liberal. It's interesting that Moynihan did not choose the strategy that most people expected from him when he first entered the Senate surrounded by allies of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson--the conservative-Democrat tactic that would evolve into the kind of party centrism defined in the Clinton era by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

Interesting that I didn't hear much talk about this in the days after his death. Perhaps I wasn't listening well enough.

Oversight

Alex Knapp displays prudent skepticism of Congress' oversight powers:

The House Judiciary Committee, in an uncharacteristic move, has decided to do it's job in overseeing the Justice Department. The Committee sent a long list of questions about just what exactly Ashcroft is doing with the powers granted by the PATRIOT Act... Of course, the big question is, what will the committee do with the answers?

Bailout = Handout

Alex Knapp points to the potential bailout (again) of the airlines as further evidence of economic hypocrisy:

Ahhh... Republicans. They're the party of the free market, dontcha know? Well, except when other principles might be at stake.

Corporate welfare is so astonishingly hypocritical that I can barely wrap my mind around it. Either the government should regulate the market or not. If so, what makes anyone think that subsidizing failing industries is the proper way to do it?

Defending Burk

CalPundit takes Joel Mowbray to task for his continuing criticism of Martha Burk, giving us some insight into her methods:

The reason Burk harps on Augusta National is because no one pays attention to her when she's talking about substantive issues. Make a speech about, say, the difficulty that single working women have finding decent childcare - and the media yawns. And National Review ignores it. Start a campaign to get women admitted to their precious golf club, though, and you get attention that most organizations can only dream of. So if Mowbray really wants to cut down on the frivolity, maybe he should pay a little more attention to feminist substance.

I couldn't agree more.

Leftist Sabotage

Critical Mass has very thorough coverage of the controversey surrounding Columbia University's anti-war teach-in. Sounds like another example of left extremists undermining a genuine and legitimate liberal position.

Tax Cut Blues

The Moonie Times says House Republicans want their tax cut bad:

Conservative Republicans in the House say they will flex their muscle to ensure that President Bush's tax-cut plan "or at least most of it" is retained in the 2004 federal budget.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and deputy majority whip, said conservatives are tired of getting beaten and will not support a budget that contains only the $350 billion in tax cuts approved last week by the Senate.

Tired of getting beaten? Yeah that's one of the hard things about proposing legislation that most Americans (and their representatives) are opposed to.

UPDATE: Along the lines of Matthew Yglesias' skepticism of Republican moderates, I should note regretfully that Rep. Pence may very well get what he wants, and that is a shame. Liberal/moderate Republicans are, to my mind, the most culpable actors in the destructiveness of the Republican agenda. It is one thing to vote for right-wing legislation because you believe in it. It is much harder to justify when the legislation is entirely at odds with your advertised political views and those of your constituents.

They Blew It

Ezra Klein has a good insight into why the far right has more power and persuasion in the Republican party than the far left has with the Democrats:

Republicans don't mind their extremists because they help them win elections. Sure, Robertson and Buchanan can fuck around with primaries, but in the end, everyone votes republican and they win. Our extremists lose elections for us.

Our extremists came together and voted Green. Just to show how peeved we are, I did some quick calculator work and surmised that Green voters in Florida gave Nader 181 times what Gore would have needed to win the state. Greens do not come through at the end and insure that a Democrat occupies the Oval Office. If they did, we'd like them a lot more and would probably do a bit of pandering. As it is, we look on as every green and democratic ideal is trampled by this Administration and think how stupid they were to keep us from getting Gore in office.

I voted for Gore in 2000 (someone asked this before.. there's my answer) and remember thinking pretty much exactly what Ezra is pointing to. My voting has been mostly driven by environmental concerns, and I could not understand AT ALL the idea that the green (lower g) position would be improved by a Bush victory. There was much talk about how the Democrats would really have to pay attention to the left after Nader's run. Instead, as Ezra points out, it simply made the far left look like morons who can't be trusted.

Good Riddance?

AP reports:

Former Pentagon official Richard Perle resigned Thursday as chairman of a group that advises Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on policy issues, saying he did not want a controversy over his business dealings to distract from Rumsfeld's management of the war in Iraq.

I often look for truth somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of what I hear (not always a good idea), so I've always thought Perle was probably neither a devil nor a genius, just a very hawkish defense guy who really knew how to work the system. If he really is a devil, good riddance. If he's a genius, I'm sure he'll find another way to contribute.

The Nation

I subscribed to the Nation a few months ago, and have really regretted it the past few weeks. Though my liberal social views would probably generally fit with the Nation's coverage, their editorials on the war this week are too much for me to accept. Why does Jonathan Schnell, doubtlessly speaking for countless liberals (and certainly for Michael Moore) insists on drawing a direct connection between the war in Iraq and the contested election in 2000:

"Unilateralism" was born in Florida.

I find this line of reasoning inapt and unnecessary. It excludes all those, like myself, who have doubts about the war but either don't agree or no longer care that Bush 'stole' the election. Arguing against the war by trying to undermine the legitimacy of the President is going too far, and crosses the delicate line between democratic dissent and disloyalty.

I just got an email from the Nation offering me the chance to renew my subscription. Needless to say, it has already been deleted.

UPDATE: A friend emailed to suggest that "If you speak out against the liberals

abuse of logic as you did here, you must also speak out against the

conservative equivalent." I disagree. I don't subscribe to any conservative magazines and don't look to conservative commentators for my news or editorials. The motivation for this attack on the Nation is a growing self-criticism of myself as someone with decidely liberal views on many issues and my growing distate for my 'representatives' in the media.

Amusing Ice Cream

Star Spangled Ice Cream:

AT LAST - A CONSERVATIVE ALTERNATIVE TO BEN & JERRY'S

Like millions of your fellow Americans, you enjoy ice cream but do NOT enjoy seeing your money funneled to wacko left-wing causes. We are not ashamed of America. We think it's the best country ever, and so we have set out to make the best ice cream ever!

Their four flavors? I Hate the French Vanilla, Nutty Environmentalist, Iraqi Road, and Smaller Governmint.

No comment necessary.

No More Flag Officers in France?

Phil Carter has a post regarding the annual National Defense Authorization Act, and in particular a provision removing the requirement that the U.S. Defense Attache in France be a flag officer.

As I read this, we want to downgrade the position to a full colonel or possibly even a lieutenant colonel. This position carries enormous diplomatic prestige, so this is a big deal. The American defense attache to Paris is the senior American military representative to the French government, responsible for all kinds of diplomatic and military contacts. I find it interesting that we'd want to downgrade this to anything but a general or admiral, particularly given the rank sensitivity of most European militaries. This could be a bit of legal housecleaning -- France is the only country to have its own special provision in Title 10 mandating a flag-rank attache. But the timing is pretty interesting, wouldn't you say?

It seems unlikely that we'd actually go through with such a move, but I agree the timing is interesting.

Talking Dog

the talking dog gave a nice link to my site, with this description:

Despite this commitment to serve in our military (or perhaps BECAUSE of this background, UH is a commissioned Second Lieutenant), we get sort of a "war skeptical" approach, or do we? The political discussion is "well-reasoned" (high praise for a law student!). The blogroll is distinctly left leaning (though he has a couple of the big righties), though the commentary is NOT AS distinctly left-leaning, maybe it is...or is it?

Many thanks to the talking dog for the link and the kind words. The blogroll is left-leaning, though I'm working to make it more well-rounded.

As far as my commentary? Well I'm extremely pro-military, though as the talking dog said, I'm very skeptical of any effort to put American troops into danger (but by no means am I an isolationist). That necessarily makes me a skeptic of whichever party controls the White House, Republican or Democrat. I'm a handgun owner. I'm skeptical of affirmative action (both its ethics and efficacy). I dislike big spending generally, though that puts me in opposition to both many Democrats AND the current administration. I'm particularly put off by reckless big spending (i.e. cutting taxes without cutting spending).

More leftist (at least as far as our political parties go), I'm very pro-environment and pro-choice, the former being probably my biggest current concern. I'm rather disgusted with the current status of the 4th Amendment and its eroding constraints on police procedure. I'm pro-gay rights, anti-censorship, and very keen on the strict separation between church and state.

I have mixed feelings on the death penalty, though I tend to be very opposed to the way I see it used in the United States today.

I tend to mostly be distasteful of the mass media, not because of their politics, but because of the lack of perspective and context. The media seems to only have two approachs to the subjects of their journalism: pandering and disgust. When pandering, they toss softball questions, ignore inconsistency and hypocrisy, and only give the facts that support the object of their reporting. When disgusted, they fight straw men, resort to ad hominem attacks, ignore gray areas, and only give facts that undermine the object of their reporting.

I like the blogosphere because we specialize in calling bullshit on each other, something the media has apparently forgotten how to do.

So there's a quick and dirty manifesto.

Majoritarianism

NathanNewman scuttles the Republican whining about the undemocratic nature of filibusters:

So yes, the filibuster is archaic, but then so is the Senate. And so is the electoral college that put George Bush into office despite getting fewer votes than Al Gore. It's strange that when Bush was becoming President, the GOP didn't go on about majority rule so much, but now that it's their ox getting Gored, they have become born-again small d democrats.

Press Conference

Daily Kos has a good summary of the punditocracy's take on last night's 'press conference'.

They Hurt His Feelings

NY Times has ANOTHER story on this administration's continuing assault on free speech and the Internet. Looks like Dick Cheney has had his feelings hurt, and he won't stand for it:

Vice President Dick Cheney's office has spurred an unusual dispute by asking a Web site that parodies the Bush administration to remove a satirical biography and pictures of the vice president's wife, Lynne.

I'd like to thank the Vice President. If it weren't for his letter, I'd never have even seen this amusing website.

Racist Legacies?

CNN has a story asking whether legacy college admission are racist, profiling UVA (where I attend law school) in particular:

The practice of favoring the sons and daughters of alumni is a tradition at elite schools. It is also essentially racist, say affirmative action supporters, who are attacking "legacy preferences" as never before while the Supreme Court scrutinizes race-conscious admissions policies.

At the University of Virginia, 11 percent of this year's freshmen class were children of alumni -- and more than 91 percent of them are white.

While I do not particularly favor legacies (and am not stridently opposed to affirmative action), this story neglects to give the fullcontext for its statistics, and the context changes everything. The current enrollment at UVA is just under 70 percent white, with black enrollment just under 9 percent. Compared to the state population (2000 census), blacks are heavily underrepresented: they make up almost 20 percent of the state population.

What most affirmative action advocates (and legacy opponents) fail to note is that whites are not overrepresented at the University of Virginia. As said, they make up almost 70 percent of the UVA student body. Yet whites are also roughly 70 percent of the state population.

So who is 'taking' the black population's place at the state's premier university? The statistics say: Asians and foreigners. Asians constitute almost 11 percent of the student body, but less than 4 percent of the state population. And almost 5 percent of the student body are non-resident foreign students.

This analysis probably would not hold true in a state like California, but it is illuminating to flesh out the facts here in Virginia. The whole racial issue is not nearly so simple as some assume.

I also remember recently reading a blog or article about how Asians are considered white for purposes of affirmative action and diversity in many places (Asians certainly don't qualify for preference under Michigan's affirmative action program). If anyone has that link, it'd be much appreciated.

UPDATE: From Jim over at the always excellent Rittenhouse Review, here's a link to the NY Times' profile of the plaintiffs in Grutter v. Bollinger, the U. of Michigan affirmative action case currently before the SC. He makes the excellent point: "This is the best they could do as far as finding worthy litigants?"

UPDATE: Kos from Daily Kos sent me an (unsurprisingly) worthy response (Kevin from CalPundit made similar good points):

I don't think the question is whether Legacy Admissions help whites to be overrepresented -- it's that it's an arbitrary category that disproportionately helps whites. And I'd take the argument further -- that it disproportionately helps wealthy whites.

I'm a fan of the U of Michigan affirmative action program. It provides
several categories under which disadvantaged individuals can get a leg up -- underrepresented race (and diversity has value beyond what AA opponents claim), low socioeconomic status, upbringing in a rural county (sons and daughters of farmers), or a nebulous "others".

Legacy Admissions does nothing more than help those who least need help -- the sons or daughters of other college grads.

The Candidates

Daily Kos has his weekly ranking of Democractic presidential candidates. He has Gephardt at number one, but I really have trouble imagining him winning the nomination. It's like a Bob Dole redux: a stiff, long-serving congressional leader who thinks it is finally his turn (though I probably like Bob Dole better).

Trent's New Friends

Looks like Trent Lott is learning to play nice in his new surroundings.

The Credibility Gap

Via Matthew Yglesias, the Democrats' credibility gap attack. Not bad, though they could have made even better use of the web format by providing hyperlinks to some of their sources.

Estrada & Neutrality

Does either party have a whole lot of moral standing when it comes to the judicial nomination fight? I don't like that it has become so political, but I don't think there can be any question that what the Democrats are doing is historically in-line with what the Republicans did with Clinton's nominees.

As The Wyeth Wire points out (with great quotes from Scalia and Rehnquist, definitely check it out), one of the most strange things about Estrada (and Thomas before him) is the claim that these judicial nominees do not have preconceived notions about particular issues or past cases. This is, of course, ridiculous. They studied law, they have opinions, it is not a crime. Being an impartial arbiter of the law does not require that you come to the bench without personal opinions, it requires that you endeavor to put those opinions aside when making decisions from the bench.

It reminds me a bit of one of Michael Sandel's attacks on the liberalism of John Rawls, that "liberalism is wrong because neutrality is impossible" and "try as we might we can never wholly escape the effects of our conditioning." While this latter point is undoubtedly true, it misses the point. As Robert Brown has said, "To be neutral is to be non-aligned and unengaged only under certain conditions and only... with respect to the application of the rules relevant to the contenders within a particular sphere of authority."

What both sides agree on is that individual actors will obviously carry their own opinions and preconceptions with them, the very point Estrada and his defenders deny. Where they go wrong, however, is not just in thinking that judicial nominess can be without preconceptions, but that they should. The point Brown makes fits nicely here. It is no attack on our judicial system to say that judges have preconceptions and personal opinions. It is an inevitable truth. They must merely know how to set those aside when applying the rules in their sphere of authority.

UPDATE: Wyeth linked to it, but I'll also recommend reading Kinsley's excellent take on the situation.

Estrada Filibuster & the Credibility Gap

Interesting analysis from Jeff Cooper on the potential Democratic filibuster of Estrada, and how it fits into the broader attack on Bush's 'credibility.'

The question I have is, can a 'credibility gap' attack survive the start of war? It seems unlikely that any Democratic leader would openly attack the honesty of the Commander-in-Chief in wartime and risk incurring the wrath of a patriotic public.

My theory: perhaps the Democrats realize that if America goes to war and is brilliantly successful, not much can be done to puncture Bush's wartime numbers. On the other hand, if the war does not go as planned (victory may be fleeting, nation-building may be impossible, and the war will certainly be more expensive than the WH admits), the Democrats have already opened the question of a credibility gap. The Democrats are then in the position of fitting the current wartime crisis into a pre-established pattern. This might make them less vulnerable to charges that they are simply taking advantage of wartime difficulties. Just a theory.

UPDATE: Jeff Cooper responds: "I'd add one other possibility: the Democrats may realize that, whatever boost the presdent's popularity may receive during a war with Iraq, that boost may prove ephemeral. Democrats, after all, remember the plunge in George H. W. Bush's popularity during the months after Desert Storm brought his approval rating to stratospheric heights. It makes sense now to lay the groundwork for criticism that will inevitably be revived later, regardless of what happens in Iraq."

Jeff was kind enough to add me to his blogroll, and sent a bit of wisdom my way: "Pace yourself."

UPDATE: I just noticed that Mickey Kaus has been thinking along the same lines, but from the administration's perspective:

[I]sn't it politically better for Bush to attack next winter than now? For one thing, the actual popularity-boosting war would be closer to the elections -- and right in the middle of the early primary season, making the anti-war Democrats highly uncomfortable. Plus, given the possibility of post-war chaos and anti-American blowback over the mid-to-long term, an Iraq iintervention is likely to look a lot better, in November, 2004, if it's only 12 months old than if it's 18 months old.