Monday, December 31, 2007

The Lion and the Publisher: A Play in one act


The PUBLISHER is sitting behind his desk, reading a manuscript while reclined in his chair. He picks up a cup of coffee and takes a small sip before he hears his secretary on the intercom.


Excuse me, sir, but Jonah Goldberg is on the line.


By all means, put him through.


Right away, sir.

The Publisher picks up the phone.


Jonah, my man! How are things.


Never better, my friend.


That is good news. It has been ages since you've been by to see Gracie and the kids.


I know. I'll try better.


I'm just giving you a hard time. So, why are you calling?


Well, I'm writing a book and I'd like you to publish it.


A book? Splendid. I would love to publish it. What is it about?


Well, it's called Liberal Fascism, and it's about how liberals are really fascists - well, not really fascists, but they sort of act like them in some ways, or at least they sorta look like they act like them in some ways. It's going to be revolutionary.


(laughs for thirty seconds, with a deep, booming resonance) Dear Lord, that is outstanding. It sounds like it will be hilarious! Do you have a chapter on why Sean Penn is a fascist?


Two, actually.


Fabulous stuff. Yes, we'll put that under our humor imprint. I say, Jonah, there are simply too few funny conservatives these days. It will be terriffic!


Um, I think you misunderstand.


How so?


It's not a comedy book, it's a serious intellectual argument.


I don't understand.


I actually believe that liberals are fascists. Well, maybe not Nazis, and not necessarily like any fascist regime in history, or even any imagined one, but there some things that fascists do that liberals also do, and I think I need to call attention to that.


So you actually think...I thought...wait, when we were having Cucumber Sandwiches at the Harvard Club last week, you said that people calling other people fascists without cause was one of your greatest pet peeves. Why, then...


Well, I just thought that some of the things that liberals do are kinda like what fascists do--you know, like going to Whole Foods.


That doesn't make any sense.


Well, I can always change the subtitle.


But what's your argument? Do you claim that liberals want to seize power, end democracy, and start a bunch of wars? Who would want to do such a thing?


Well, not that they want to do that per se, well maybe they want to. Sure they want to, but they aren't going to...they don't want anyone to be great, they just want everyone to be special and to have self-esteem, like a kintergarten classroom.


That doesn't make any sense.


But you'll publish it?



[This was a fictionalized account of what might have transpired between Jonah Goldberg and his publisher when he first sold his new book, Liberal Fascism. Here is the factual version.]


Well, I'm writing a book and I'd like you to publish it.


A book? Splendid. I would love to publish it. What is it about?


Well, it's called Liberal Fascism, and it's about how liberals are really fascists - well, not really fascists, but they sort of act like them in some ways, or at least they sorta look like they act like them in some ways. It's going to be revolutionary.




Yeah, I pretty much agree with what's said here. Bloomberg doesn't really have any compelling reason to run, and the bipartisan fetishists don't seem to realise that bipartisanship doesn't stand a chance of working if the two parties' positions are fundamentally incompatible. But since the public favors the Democratic position on virtually every issue (or may be to the right of what the public wants), it's clear that what the Democratic party needs to do is to include more GOP position stances in its agenda. I just can't wait until all these Broderism-spouting jackasses are dead so that we don't have to hear from them anymore.

Then again, there is one way to increase bipartisanship that I can think of--people actually voting for the Democratic politicians of whose solutions they claim to support. A decade of entrenched and popular Democratic rule would force the GOP to move back to the center, thus fashioning a new bipartisan consensus. But no, that sounds a little too much like politics to me. Must fashion a dreamland in which everyone gets along and is happy. I'm not sure when D.C. elites' dreams started sounding more like the board game Candy Land, and yet that's what's happened.

There is one wrinkle to this issue that I find interesting. People wonder if Bloomberg would help the Dems or the GOP, and I'm not entirely sure. I do think that the Democrats would be able to neutralize the criticism of being "nanny-staters" by just pointing to the many things that "Republican" Bloomberg did as Mayor of NYC. Then they can point out his affection for Bush and his cheerleading for the war. Bloomberg does not stand a chance, and I'm getting sick and goddam tired of hearing the self-loathing liberals in the media touting his liberalism-that-dare-not-speak-its-name agenda every couple of months. This ISN'T news. If he announces, it's news. Until he does, just shut up. That is all.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In Defense of Putin

Yeah, some people would hate me for writing this, but I think that the rap against Putin, while valid, misses the point. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, a lot of Russians felt that they could become like the United States overnight. They were wrong. What occurred next was rampant corruption, a significant decrease in Russia's influence and power, and a sharp 180-degree turn from communism to capitalism that (understandably) left a whole lot of people behind. This was the situation when Putin took office. Since then, he has revived Russia's economy and influence, and his people love him for it. He has done this by anti-democratic means, admittedly, but it's worth noting that Russia never had any transition between communism and capitalism, and Putin seems to be providing something close to that, which might ironically loosen up the ground for a more robust democracy in the future.

What interests me is how much he's hated by the conservatives in this country. He's no champion of democracy, but neither is the Saudi Royal Family or Hosni Mubarak (or Pervez Musharraf), yet we happily deal with them. Sure, he does business with some pretty bad people, like Iran, but many conservatives still defend Ollie North. Maybe it's that he's no fan of unbridled capitalism. Or maybe it's that he declines to follow Bush's directives. One suspects that's the real reason why he's disliked. Why all the rancor against Putin and Ahmadinejad (and Hugo Chavez, for that matter)? This is not to say that they're good people, by any means, but there are worse in the world, and some of those folks are valued allies of the United States. Conservatives seem to dislike any opponent who is outspoken in any way. I wonder why.

Edwards fever

Or so says Political Wire. I don't much like the guy, but I like his positions and his political style. I suppose I'm in the anybody-but-Clinton camp, but I would pick her over any of the Republicans in a second.

I have to say that I'm really excited about the Iowa Caucuses this year, and that even though I'd say I'm quite well informed on the subject I simply have no idea how it's all going to turn out. I do have a suspicion that, if Hillary Clinton doesn't win a landslide victory it's going to be played as a big defeat for her in the media, and I'd say the odds of her winning an Iowa landslide are quite low at this point.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

If Christmas did not exist, it would be necessary for shops to create it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Obama and the netroots

Paul Krugman doesn't seem to like Barack Obama. Neither do many of the big liberal bloggers. From what I can tell, this has little to do with the policy positions he holds than his general attitude. Indeed, the only complaints about Obama that I ever hear mentioned among the netroots are:
  1. That he opposes mandates for healthcare, and by extension opposes universal healthcare
  2. That he mentions a Social Security "crisis"

That is about it. It seems a little silly to dismiss the most talented Democratic politician since Bill Clinton by these criteria, so the arguments usually boil down to complaints about his attitude:

  • He hasn't sufficiently embraced the progressive movement
  • He is too conciliatory toward the "bad guys"
  • He does not understand/is not committed to fighting the obstacles he will face in office

I suspect that the second bullet point is the big deal-breaker here. Opposing mandates is a legitimate gripe (and I disagree with Obama there) but mandates aren't perfect either, and it just seems like a minor distinction. Since nobody is proposing Medicare for All, the goal here is to try to create a system that takes a few steps in that direction that can be scaled up in the future. All three plans do that, and they are, for the most part, interchangeable. The Social Security thing is just stupid. It's not a crisis, and Obama is wrong to refer to it as such. It's a minor issue, but probably not for seniors (and more than a few beltway types). The idea expressed by Krugman (among others) that Obama is somehow negating the Major Progressive Victory Of The Bush Era is a little overblown. Only Fred Thompson is talking about privatizing Social Security, and Wonkette's nickname for him is apt. The victory stands, largely, for now.

On the other hand, Obama's attitude does not mirror the bloggers'. The Kos-Atrios wing of the party might complain about his understanding of what he'll need to do as President, but I suspect that Edwards is their favorite because he's been willing to embrace the movement and strike an ultra-confrontational pose, and these folks don't want to just win, they want to beat the bloody pulp out of the conservatives. And I sympathize. They might turn out to be right. But a strong mandate and an expanded Senate majority might make for some good leverage, and panicking conservatives would probably be more willing to meet Obama halfway than Edwards or Clinton. A conciliatory approach might not work, but it does leave the toolbox open for the future, and Obama could legitimately claim later on that he tried to bring people together, but that those darned obstructionist Republicans kept it from happening.

In sum, the case against Obama would only make sense to me if an argument could be constructed that collaborating with the GOP at all would make a progressive agenda more difficult to pass. I don't buy that. Questioning Obama's commitment to progressivism is more legitimate, but there's nothing that's made me question it yet.

Hitchens and "The Argument"

I think this interview with Christopher Hitchens is a fairly good one--love him or hate him (and I generally lean toward the latter), he often brings up good points. Still, Hitch is one of those people who are frequently provocative but rarely persuasive. It's been ages since I've read a piece by Christopher Hitchens and came away saying, "I totally agree with that." It might be his schizophrenic political and personal philosophy that embraces the ever more nihilistic Iraq War while angrily attacking religion in all forms, then mentions how women aren't funny and goes on to plead for the release of Scooter Libby and Paris Hilton. With Hitchens, it's never about convincing others that he's right--it's about courting controversy and thus staying relevant in the zeitgeist. And he does, somehow. After all, not too many people get played by Bruce Willis, even though that movie was a notorious flop.

Still, he does use an argument against religion that nearly every athiest I've ever met has paid homage to, an argument I'll refer to as "the argument". Actually, it's not so much an argument as an observation masquerading as an argument. In the interview, Hitchens talks about an encounter when speaking when he asked a roomful of people whether they could name an act of brutality committed against a religious person by an athiest, which received no response. Then he asked the converse, if anyone could come up with an incident in which a religious person mistreated someone else because of their faith (or lack thereof), which he claims he couldn't even finish asking before people chimed in with their responses. The argument inextricable from that observation: that religion causes violence and athiesm does not.

The sheer demagogery of this argument is astonishing. On one hand, you have the availability heuristic to contend with--just because violence on behalf of spiritual ends is better-known and better-publicized does not mean that it has never happened on the orders of athiests. Nearly all of the infamously brutal 20th century regimes were athiestic. The Soviet Union persecuted followers of Judaism before segueing into persecuting Christians, using imprisonment and torture to prevent the spread of the religion. The Chinese have not only done this in the past, but they are still doing it this very day, and not just with Christian evangelists either (or just Christians, for that matter). Even minor cults like Falun Gong get major persecution from the "nontheistic" government of China, and it is all explicitly linked to their faith. I don't mean to argue that athiesm leads necessarily to such actions--it is an embarrassment, a perversion, of what many athiests believe, just as the Crusades and the Inquisition, and all the other brutalism inflicted upon innocents in the name of Christ over the years, are perversions of the essential nature of Christianity abhorred by everyone outside of a truly lunatic fringe.

It is also fairly clear to me that this argument is a textbook example of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc paradigm. In these kinds of arguments, correlation is confused with causality, which is to say that something that happens at the same time as something else is said to happen because of that something else. Sure, there have been repressive theistic regimes throughout history, and even today one finds examples. Then again, until the 20th century there were no regimes led by athiests--none. In fact, considering the carnage inflicted by regimes from Lenin to Mao to Pol Pot, one could conclude, ceteris paribus, that regimes led by athiests are far, far more violent and dangerous than their theocratic conterparts. To be fair, Marxist-Leninist thought effectively was a religion in and of itself--it had its own eschatology and dogma, its own evangelistic branch and affirmative duties. Athiesm might have been its faith, but socialism was its religion. Still, in the short time in which athiesm has been a viable, mainstream creed (there have always been nonbelievers, but it wasn't until the Enlightenment that athiesm really caught on), and in the even shorter time in which it has been widespread enough to capture control of a nation-state, there seems to be some fairly compelling evidence that athiests are just as capable of barbary as theists.

This would all be beside the point if it weren't for the implication of this argument that it is religion that is responsible for all the suffering in the world, and not just plain old human nature. If Hitchens and his contemporaries would argue that religion was responsible for a nontrivial portion of the world's problems, I would concede the point willingly. I just don't get that vibe from Hitchens, who mentions all kinds of examples of brutality by people of faith but doesn't even make a nod toward the nastiness that athiesm has also caused over the years, and his use of hyperbolic terms in contexts such as these only impedes the legitimate arguments that people might otherwise sway people. There have been, over the years, plenty of tolerant, peaceful, moral athiests. There have also been many who have been ruthless butchers who targeted people of faith for the purpose of internment, torture, and murder. The same can be said of people of faith. This indicates to me that violence and conquest are probably hardwired into the human DNA rather than something that can be flicked on and off by accepting or renouncing religion. This argument seems to belie an oversimplified and overly didactic worldview that is ironically not too far from the very people these athiests excoriate. Either Hitch and his acolytes are being deliberately intellectually dishonest when they make this claim, ignoring any evidence that doesn't conform to their cosmology (not unlike the creationists they scorn) or they are simply so uninformed that they have literally no idea about that which they speak. Then again, it's not like the two are mutually exclusive. As usual, Hitch's argument is provocative and completely unpersuasive. But a lot of evil religious people don't know what they're talking about, so don't worry about it.

P.S. Ross Douthat's review of Hitchens's book is quite good--even at his best, Hitch is less a journalist than an anecdotalist, and his book is just not that convincing. But, as you might have guessed, it's not meant to be.
If Obama wins in Iowa, I think he wins the nomination. My rationale is that a win in Iowa will bring him significant momentum, permanently shatter HRC's image as a "winner", and will his momentum will probably be enough to win in New Hampshire five days later. Winning those two will force Edwards out of the race, make Obama the frontrunner and the non-Hillary candidate, and he'll probably romp the rest of the way through. Hillary might win the Florida beauty contest, as well as the California and New York primaries, since those states are packed to the brim with single-issue voters, like pro-choicers, environmentalists, or gay righters, and these groups generally support Hillary. Other than that, though, Obama will probably sweep the South on the strength of the Black vote, and he will be in an extremely strong position to sweep (aside from those few states I mentioned) on February 5.

If Clinton wins in Iowa, she'll be the "comeback kid" who trailed in the polls in Iowa for a whole year, only to win with superior organization. She'll run the table after that.

If Edwards wins in Iowa, he will get a boost, but he has no organization anywhere aside from Iowa, and even with his federal funds he's still quite short on cash. He's not viewed nearly as favorably by Democrats as Hillary Clinton is, and Hillary would be the biggest beneficiary of an Obama fall, especially in the South. Edwards's win would be followed by a Clinton win over a crippled Obama in New Hampshire, and Clinton's strength in Michigan, Florida, and South Carolina would be nigh-impossible to beat, especially considering Hillary would probably pick up a ton of Black voters that Edwards has virtually no chance of winning.

In short, Edwards winning in Iowa hands the nomination to Hillary Clinton. All these netrootsy types who don't think that this is true are simply wrong. It's either Obama or Clinton, and Clinton's cautiousness and seeming lack of principle and boldness lead me to hope for the former. The idea that Edwards is going to emerge as a third choice is simply not credible.

Is Deckard a replicant?

I recently acquired the 4-disc reissue of Blade Runner, which looks gorgeous in its newest iteration. The set, of course, contains several versions of the film, including the much-loved/hated (depending on to whom you discuss it) theatrical cut, with the voiceover, the happy ending, etc. I was watching this version (which wasn't as bad as I'd been led to believe, although the narration is not really that necessary and kinda dopey at times) and it occurred to me that the whole "Is Deckard a replicant?" argument is pretty much a non-starter in the original version, since we're in his head for much of the time, hearing his non-android thoughts, and the notorious pieces of evidence (i.e. the unicorn dream) are not in attendance. And I think that the movie is better for it.

Let's be honest--if Deckard is a replicant (and that is very strongly implied in the more recent cuts), then there really isn't a central human character in the story. It's a hell of a twist, but it's crappy storytelling, because if the film is about the differences between humans and androids (which contributes to the usual Dickian argument about what makes a person a person), that contrast doesn't work with the most important human suddenly becoming an android in the new cuts. Much better to have him act in a mechanistic, robotic fashion and have the robots act in surprisingly human ways--that's where the contrast should take place. I think the best way to move the interpretation of the "final" cut in that direction is to say that the unicorn imagery is not so much literal as symbolic and figurative--an extension of the animal-free Earth depicted in the movie--that is, to say that the unicorn is just as mythical as other animal life, existing only in imaginary and synthetic forms, not unlike the rest of humanity, no?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Future of the Democratic Party

Immigration is a complicated and difficult issue, one more suited to the muted tones of analysis and study than to the black-and-white didacticism of our partisan political process. Not that that matters, as immigration is and will be a political issue. There is, however, an element to the discussion about immigration that most people don't seem to realize or want to address, and the progressive community ought to take note of it.

Generally, Hispanic voters tend to be socially conservative and economically populist, stances inherited from the Catholic religion of which the vast majority of Hispanics consider themselves members, and from the particular interpretation of Christianity, liberation theology, that has much popularity among Latinos in Central and South America. Democrats stand to be the beneficiaries electorally if the Republicans continue their demagoguery viz. immigration--indeed, polls already indicate this movement occurring. Should this movement continue to the sorts of levels with which it exists in the Black community--i.e. 90% Democrat--the explosion of the American Latino population could give the Democrats a permanent structural advantage within the next decade or so--we could be talking about a sixth party system. But what would that party system look like?

It is difficult to believe that the Democratic Party of twenty years from now will look much like the one we see today, especially if the Democrats are able to entice many scores of Latinos into the fold. While such a party would no doubt be just as progressive on economic issues as it is now, if not more so, it would no doubt be far less receptive to the liberal social policies that the party currently advances. America has been moving to the right of the scale on abortion without the help of immigration, but a new influx of socially conservative Democrats would radically change the equation. Ditto the precarious situation with regard to gay rights in America. This is a reality which Democrats seem uneager to face, instead revelling in the medium-term destruction of the power of the Republican Party. That might very well happen. Nevertheless, there is the danger to progressives of losing a few very real battles in which much passion has been invested, and there ought to be some thought given to the outcomes of these policy debates. For my part, I'm less fixated on the social issues than the economic ones, so this isn't the worst thing in the world for me, but I'm not sure I welcome it.

John Edwards

I had gotten the sense over the past few months that Edwards had realized that he couldn't win the nomination this year: he's short on funds, he can't get any (positive) attention from the media, and he's fighting against two juggernauts. My feeling was that he would fight as long as he could, and then wind up backing Obama with the hope of a veep pick or a high-level cabinet posting (most likely AG--he'd be credible for that post) and then hope for another opportunity. After all, the dude's only going to be 55 on Election Day, 2008. Grabbing the nomination at the age of 63 is not at all out of the realm of possibility, and a high-level cabinet post would increase Edwards's visibility and allow him to claim some more executive experience next time around.

This would all work if Edwards were prone to thinking strategically. But there is little evidence of that in this campaign. This is, after all, the guy who wanted to abolish the SUV (while presumably excepting his own). I understand that the media has ignored Edwards, thus necessitating ever-more-extreme gambits to grab attention. Still, there are quite a few of these sorts of miscues that come to mind. I loathe a horse race-centered view of politics, but I really do wonder about Edwards's ability to win a general election, as he hasn't exactly inspired me with confidence viz. his primary campaign.

At this point, though, one has to think that he's starting to believe that he can actually win this nomination. I'm reminded of a line from the pulp thriller Gorky Park when one of the characters notes something along the lines of the necessity of believing a lie if the lie is that you will escape. Edwards has toned down his rhetorical attacks against Hillary, and has tried to remain more "above the fray", whatever that means. When he was relentlessly attacking Hillary, the MSM CW was that he was helping Obama by doing the latter's attacking for him. Now that he's stopped, one can only assume that he no longer wants to help Obama because he sees an opportunity to sneak in between two warring juggernauts, just like he witnessed Kerry do, back in the 2004 race.

At this point, though, one wonders if he might not wind up being a spoiler working in Clinton's favor. Sure, Edwards might be able to win in Iowa, and that might prompt Democrats elsewhere to take a second look at the guy. But Edwards's problem is that it really isn't a second look. His problem isn't that he's unknown among Democrats, it's that he's not as popular among them as Clinton and Obama. He lacks either Clinton's extensive establishment backing or Obama's grassroots enthusiasm. It may be true that Hillary Clinton isn't as good an attacker as we thought she would be, but she would win the nomination in an Obama-less race because of several factors: first, she has managed to appeal to progressives while remaining the favorite of the more moderate party apparatchiks. It's difficult to see how Edwards could credibly attack someone who agrees with him on any number of policies: he could attack her forthrightness, but she could play that game with him as well. He could attack her on electability, except most Democrats (incredibly) think she's the most electable candidate. He could attack her for being a part of the special interest-driven politics he often complains about, but such attacks simply haven't worked so far, despite his making them repeatedly. Then there's Bill Clinton's enduring popularity with Black voters, who are currently more simpatico with Obama. There's little doubt they'd switch to Clinton without Obama in the picture. Edwards simply doesn't stand a chance, by any calculus.

Not that I'm saying that Edwards should just throw in the towel in Iowa--that would not help Obama as it would be seen, not unfairly, as a corrupt bargain--a quid pro quo in exchange for influence and power in an Obama administration, and it would destroy the ethical image upon which Obama has built his campaign. He should, however, be realistic. And he should keep up the offensive on Clinton, even if it damages his popularity in the state. Now I, of course, think that negative campaigning is an acceptable (and often responsible) thing if it's done properly, and by that I mean honestly. That is a discussion for another time.
I find myself wondering whether Obama's recent success in the early primary states is going to be short-lived. The paradigm up until this point has been that Obama would occasionally spike in the polls against Hillary (like during that irresponsible and naive negotiating strategy period), then the polls would return to showing a comfy HRC lead. But that phenomenon was always confined to the national polls. That Obama has been surging in New Hampshire and South Carolina--as well as Iowa--but moving comparatively little in the national polls tends to suggest that this isn't that phenomenon. Hillary really only has one week to react before the holidays begin in earnest, and it's not clear that mudslinging will work. I'd like to believe that the Hillary juggernaut has run aground, and she has undermined so many of the arguments for her candidacy, and the "I don't have any skeletons in my closet" argument is almost parodical.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Obama up, Hillary down

Peter Beinart would have us believe that the Obama boom is due to Iraq being less of a factor in peoples' determination when choosing a candidate. This is no doubt a factor, though I'm not sure it's a significant one. Democrats still hate the war and want it to end. The situation has become less urgent because less people are dying, but Democrats still want out nonetheless. To the extent that Obama seems more likely to remove the troops in Iraq--which might be because he doesn't have to burden himself with appearing ultra-tough in order to confound gender tropes--he has an advantage over Hillary. Still, if the focus pivots toward domestic issues, doesn't that help Clinton more than the other candidates? Instead of getting prodded about her Iraq vote and Lieberman-Kyl, she can disfavorably compare Obama's healthcare plan with her own. Isn't that better than having the sensitive spot of your record under scrutiny?

No, this doesn't account for it. And I don't really think that she's choking because of her voting record. I think it gets at something far deeper than roll call votes. One of the greatest assets Hillary's campaign had from the beginning was the one that was also her greatest weakness--I don't want to drop the b-word here out of respect for women, but a lot of Democrats were enraged at John Kerry's "high-minded" (i.e. wimpy) reaction to the Swift Boat rumors, and they (and I) felt that Clinton would be able to fight back against such things. Hell, she could probably start some of that stuff on Giuliani, no? That advantage, one of the relative few that she could have claimed earlier in the process, is largely gone now. She's proven so ineffective at attacking Obama that one of her underlings had to retract a stupid attack earlier today. Obama, on the other hand, has proven to be quite effective at parrying and thrusting, though he hasn't initiated too many harsh attacks against her, perhaps because he knows that there's still much affection for Mrs. Clinton among Democrats, and such unprovoked attacks would just generate bad blood among his general election base.

A lot of people seem to refer to his naivete, but it seems to me that Obama has run exactly the right kind of campaign here. He's running as a reforming outsider while keeping the beltway crowd happy by mentioning Social Security reform and bipartisanship. He's an unabashed liberal who makes sure to tell conservatives that he understands and respects their viewpoints and just disagrees with them. He's managed to check off so many boxes on the candidate checklist: new ideas, unifier, less divisive political style, plus he happens to be a fantastic orator and a charismatic, likeable guy. He's even opened a bit of a tiff with Paul Krugman over an incredibly wonky element of his healthcare proposal. If he gets some of the voices on the left to criticize him, he can point to that as evidence of moderation, then just enact liberal policies upon entering the Oval Office. Embodying bipartisanship might seem misguided, unless one considers that Obama might be trying to set himself as Mr. Reasonable Dealmaker, associating himself with that trait so that he can more effectively blame Republicans if he can't make the bipartisan wheel spin. And as far as the primary goes, he's managed to undercut some of Hillary Clinton's most fundamental advantages while only strengthening himself. Now, admittedly, some of this could just be luck, and maybe it's not this strategic. Still, Obama couldn't be in a better position at this point in the game: ahead in Iowa and South Carolina, pretty much tied in New Hampshire, and gaining nationally. It can't all be due to luck.

Obama's VP

It seems to me like this conversation needs to start from the perspective of where Obama needs help the most, and it seems that he's most lacking when it comes to security and military matters, as well as executive experience. He's also weak experience-wise on foreign policy, but none of the frontrunning GOPs have much more experience at it than does he, and he has good, novel ideas there. On the other hand, Rudy, Romney and Huckabee all have executive experience, and while Obama has run something larger than a coffee shop, saying that you were the President of the Harvard Law Review has not historically tended to enhance a candidate's outsider status, or endear them to middle America.

There was a time when Wes Clark would have seemed an ideal VP candidate--before he started whoring himself out to Hillary, that is. Maybe Obama will choose to be forgiving there, but Clark doesn't have much going for him other than a resume. Ditto Bill Richardson, whose melange of social moderation, fiscal conservatism, and strong opposition to the Iraq War has appealed to--approximately seven percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers, and nobody anywhere else. Bad mix for this campaign year, and Richardson and Clark are poor campaigners. Obama could try to tackle the executive experience angle with either Sen. Evan Bayh or Gov. Brian Schweitzer--the latter of whom might be an inspired choice--but Sen. Jim Webb might just be the best choice available.

Webb is a former combat marine who later served in the Reagan Defense Department and as Secretary of the Navy. He knows the armed forces, he was right on Iraq from the beginning, and unlike John Kerry, he exudes toughness. He's a great campaigner. He's from the all-important state of Virginia. And he's a former Republican, which is no small asset, in my opinion. It would enrage conservatives to see a turncoat on the other side's ticket, and it will allow him to articulate a good case for moderates to abandon the GOP for the Democracy, since he would just be able to relate the factors that led him to take that action. He's a solid progressive with some forgiveable exceptions (like guns) and it seems like he'd be able to appeal to Westerners and Southerners reasonably effectively. He's largely lacking in scandal fodder as well, save some trumped-up Macaca accusations about being anti-woman. Let's not forget that he managed to dethrone George Allen as well, which deserves some reward. Had Allen survived his re-election campaign, it would have been a completely different campaign season, for sure.

A GOP Brokered Convention?

Much speculation about a possible brokered GOP convention. Nobody can win, can they? They all have big-time flaws, and yet somebody has to win, right? Ezra Klein asks who the GOP dream team would be, and I must confess that I'm not too sure.

After all, we all know the money-cons control the GOP, and they will pick Giuliani if it goes to a convention since he's shown the most willingness to embrace the supply-side (read: give more to the rich) cause, without the questions of a former Rockefeller Republican like Romney, or a former anti-supply sider like McCain. They both pay homage at the tomb of Laffer now, but in the would seem that the party of the religious right is ironically somewhat less than enthused at having converts (or maybe it is the insincerity that bugs them, who knows?). Despite his social views, Rudy comes closest to being a complete conservative (aside from the nonviable McCain), as his economic and foreign policies appeal to the kahunas of the GOP. But couldn't they get the whole package somewhere? Someone whose name rhymes with Jeff Tush?

I actually don't think a Jeb Bush/Dick Cheney ticket would be too far from the GOP elites' ideal ticket, but it would be lucky to get 40% of the vote at this point. Cheney's circle of approval is so small it probably rivals his enemy/role model Ahmadinejad's, and aside from being the brother of one of the least successful and least popular presidents in history, Jeb's got the dynasty thing to worry about, as well as Terri Schiavo and some messy family history in his own shop. Not that that will necessarily matter, as George's awful children didn't seem to bother the sociocons all that much. It's interesting that the sociocons don't really seem to care much about whether or not their leaders are actually good family men, just that they have families with a mommy and a daddy. And that they're Republicans. As long as the second part holds, the first is less important.

I don't think it would matter, because a brokered GOP convention would mean months without a frontrunner while the Democrats will probably settle on one reasonably quickly, as there are only two real options. The media would run "Republicans in Disarray" articles for months, and while it would be advantageous for the GOP in the sense that they could take potshots at the Dem nominee for months and not worry about getting both barrels, necessarily, a convention that returned a candidate voted for by noone would be seen as illegitimate, and only two months to run as the nominee in the general election seems like a very short time in which to correct a potential scandal. It could be advantageous to the GOP inasmuch as it keeps whoever the eventual nominee is from getting too stale, and that could mean a bigger bump out of the nominating convention, but what if the convention gets ugly? What if there are floor fights, or possibly even walkouts? I just don't see how the Republicans could possibly win if the Democrats effectively pick their guy/gal on February 5, but the Republicans have no standard-bearer until September 2. As I indicated, it could help the Republicans in that they could all criticize Obama or Hillary in unison for seven months, but they could all just attack each other during that time as well, and Obama or Hillary could argue that the GOP has effectively cracked up. And that would just about be right.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ron Paul is not a libertarian

Libertarianism is a philosophy that holds that government involvement in anything is always a bad thing. Agree with it or not, it leads inevitably to a clear and specific set of principles--social issue stances that generally qualify as "liberal", economic stances that generally qualify as "conservative". It's not directly a one-to-one mapping in either case, but there is a usual reticence among libertarians to allow any quarter for government, aside from maybe busting counterfeiters or things of that nature.

So, when one considers the Ron Paul philosophy, one naturally needs note that it bears less relation to the classical conception of libertarianism and much more of a semblance to the modern conception of conservativism in every way aside from on foreign policy. From my vantage point, it seems to me that Ron Paul has few hangups about curtailing reproductive rights or gay rights, that he's all too willing to massively increase the federal government's power viz. border control, and that he's all too willing to curtail free trade by stepping up governmental involvement in the global marketplace. Some might say that these issue stances are correct, and that may be true, but it is also irrelevant. It shows that Paul is a libertarian in the same sense as I am one--which is to say, not at all. Sure, I have some libertarian leanings, but everyone has libertarian leanings of one sort or another. Just like we all have authoritarian leanings of one sort or another. I just wish Ron Paul's acolytes would admit that he's on the same scale as everyone else, rather than as some revolutionary freedom maximizer. He does want to maximize freedom in some areas, and he wants to minimize it in others, just like everyone else does. That makes his claim to represent freedom just as strong as mine. We can debate differences on that playing field.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is Obama Another Adlai?

Once I read an article whose premise is identical to something said by Karl Rove, I tend to be a bit skeptical. Nevertheless, this Slate piece is worth a look, and it makes a decent argument for this analogy.

I'm far from convinced, however. They're more dissimilar than similar, in my opinion. Stevenson and Obama are both from Illinois, they both have similar messages about civility and so on, but Stevenson was an intellectual and unapologetically elitist. Obama is neither. Stevenson was a cold and formal presence, which is also untrue of Obama. And Stevenson was fighting against one of America's greatest heroes the two times he ran for president (seriously, why did they pick him again after the first landslide defeat?). The article notes that Stevenson refused to go negative against Eisenhower (but did attack Richard Nixon, Ike's VP candidate), but this hardly seems conclusive. I don't think there's anything wrong with making a critique of an opponent's character, any more than that it's wrong to make a critique of an opponent's policy proposal. Nevertheless, throwing dirt at the man who beat Hitler on the Western Front would have been a disaster. In any event, Obama has been criticizing Sen. Clinton, albeit mostly in an overly cryptic fashion so far. I don't see this a tension between this and being against a "politics of personal destruction," which in my estimation means attacks based on innuendo and untruths (like the Swift Boat ads), not on completely fair but negative assessments of an opponent's character.

I suppose the reason this analogy bothers me so much is that it seems like an easy way of implying that Obama is just another liberal loser like Stevenson. But Adlai had the deck stacked against him in a way that Obama doesn't. Obama isn't facing an Eisenhower. Odds are he's either going to face Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, both of whom aren't as universally admired as Ike and both of whom have some pretty obvious (and legitimate) avenues of attack, character-wise. And unlike Stevenson Obama has a very appealing image and is not a member of an unpopular incumbent party. Finally, Obama is offering the prospect of real change at a time when it is strongly desired, again unlike the moderate Stevenson.

I have always wondered what would have happened if Robert Taft had won the 1952 Republican Nomination. It shouldn't be too controversial to say that he wouldn't have had as easy a go of getting to the White House as Eisenhower. Let's forget this analogy for a while, okay?

[Photo from the Northwestern University Library site:]

Houston Would Be A Problem

I keep hearing the debate about whether or not Mitt Romney should give a speech about Mormonism like the speech given by John F. Kennedy in Houston in 1960 about his Catholicism. Evidently his advisors are against the notion, and I have to agree.

The reason why is simple: while there were many people who simply didn't like Catholics or Catholicism or just thought it was weird, the big worry about Kennedy in 1960 in respect to his Catholicism was that Kennedy would be, in effect, taking orders from the Pope. The speech he gave in Houston, in which he praised the concept of separation of church and state and promised that his Catholicism wouldn't dictate his policies, helped to defuse that powderkeg for many people. Many others still voted against him because they were just weirded out about a Catholic president, but Kennedy realized that he wasn't going to be able to convince those people to vote for him anyway.

Romney's situation is different. The people who don't want to vote for him aren't concerned about faction or divided loyalties so much as just weirded out by the Mittster's religion (or maybe him personally). Giving a speech about Mormonism will only draw attention to his religion, and it's difficult to believe that he can change the perception that Mormonism is a weird religion, in part because it is a weird religion. And I'm not just talking about some of its more extravagant claims, like good Mormons becoming gods of their own planets after death, or some of its more peculiar practices, like the special underwear. I don't mean to pick on Mormonism, as every religion has its mystical and surreal beliefs. Still, Mormonism also requires one to throw out virtually everything we know about history in the West to accommodate its story, and some people might not be quite so willing to do that.

In essence, Romney shouldn't make a speech about his religion, unless he wants to remind people how weird it is. Being as he's one of the less-crazy Republicans in the running right now, I do hope that he listens to his advisors.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

There's more than one John Kerry on the Republican side

Giuliani declares himself to be functionally pro-life here. This troubles me. Abortion is one of those issues where I can accept that people are just going to have different points of view, but it seems a little craven to claim the pro-choice mantle while essentially promising to restrict abortion through legal means. I doubt he'll be able to get away with being on both sides of the issue.

So, this is how Giuliani stands up for his convictions? How limp is this Republican field? I knew that Giuliani, despite his rep, is a man of surpassingly weak character, but this is a flip-flop whatever way you slice it. Why even bother to do it, as it doesn't even seem like abortion is an important issue at this point? I just hope that Clinton hammers it home, as someone who can be induced to change their mind on such a fundamental issue for political gain doesn't really deserve to be in the White House. That's why I like Huckabee--Lord knows I don't agree with him on most things, but at least he's not a shifty bastard like Giuliani.

I suppose he could be lying, but that hardly makes things better.

My opinion is that Rudy is simply not going to be a very good candidate for the GOP. His temper and unprofessionalism are going to supply an endless series of gaffes and overreactions. The Biden remark is a prime example. If I had been Giuliani after Biden said that a sentence to me is a noun, a verb and 9/11, I probably would have ignored it or laughed it off or joked that a sentence for Biden is a noun, a verb, and a thousand other nouns and verbs. I wouldn't have had my press secretary release an attack that made me look like a prick. But Giuliani is a prick, isn't he? I think that's sort of why he's doing so well, since the GOP base is very combative. Being so predictably bellicose is not necessarily a good thing, if it means he's easy to provoke. If the Dem nominee can get his anger up and get him to keep overreacting to minor slights, it would be possible to paint him as a loose cannon unfit for the presidency. Add to that his hard right views on pretty much every issue right now (and the flip-flops) and I can imagine a pretty good case being made against the guy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I've noticed this for a while now, but Mike Huckabee is now #2 in virtually every Iowa poll, such as this one. I like the guy--there are plenty of places where I disagree with him, and I doubt I would vote for the guy. Still, he does seem like someone who has the public interest at heart instead of his own designs on power or advancing ideology at all costs. He'd make an okay consolation prize, I suppose.

The War

I find the current situation viz. the Iraq funding bill to be quite interesting. It's promising, in any event. The Democrats are finally picking a fight on Iraq funding, and I think it's the right time. I find it interesting that even as Iraq has gotten objectively better (i.e. fewer deaths), it's become even less popular. Not an original sentiment, but I think it underscores the fact that people have limited patience for conflicts that aren't really necessary or correct. Had Iraq turned out to be an oasis of freedom and secularism in exchange for a few months of war, I suspect most Americans would have been willing to make that tradeoff. When we talk about Iraq and Vietnam, though, not so much. It seems to me that if we can't clearly say why we're there at any given time, then we're sunk. I agree with what Matt Yglesias says about this--that we're basically there to provide cover to certain politicians who don't want to admit they're wrong. That is insufficient...

Everyone expected a GOP opposition to the war to materialize, but it largely hasn't. One wonders if this will come to pass after the possibility of Republicans being challenged in primaries passes. Since Republicans, by and large, still love the war, dissenters (like Wayne Gilchrest) could find themselves punished by organizations like Freedom's Watch and the Victory Caucus with a pro-war primary challenger. Staying steadfastly pro-war is quite a liability, and I find it hard to imagine a situation which will make the public want to rededicate themselves to the conflict. The path is simple, at least it would be if I were a GOP rep--wait until the primary deadlines pass, then challenge the war. It might dampen some Republican turnout, but probably not if Hillary's the nominee.

In any event, that the Democrats seem to be taking a stand on this issue is important. We got ourselves elected by promising to bring the Iraq War to an end. This was somewhat unrealistic, but people did (and do) still expect this to happen. So, since nothing else worked, going after the money really is the only way to end it. This episode will surely become a part of the Republicans' stab-in-the-back theory, but it doesn't seem to me like most people give a damn about such things anymore and just want to get out. And at least the Democrats will be able to say they stood tall against Bush on something.

The Debate and The Media

Some random thoughts:

  • I didn't watch it, but it seems like the media was eager to bury Hillary in order to resurrect her shortly afterward.
  • All I want to know is when the media stopped being in the business of reporting news and started to get into the business of manufacturing it (e.g. Meet The Press, et al.).
  • The media seems to overcompensate for being called "liberal" by trying to bash Democrats as much as possible, so as to prove their "independence". This is silly. The Guardian is a liberal publication out of the UK, but it has a sterling reputation. Were the media to actually present the facts and ask informative questions, might the bias accusations might diminish?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Feminists hate Hillary

The Nation has an article on Hillary's problems with feminists here. Surprisingly to some (though not to me), they don't much care for her. I especially like the point that being the first woman in the White House would be overrated. How would that materially improve the lives of women? The article says a lot of things I agree with--i.e. it would be better for women to have a more liberal, male President who will fight for their rights instead of a calculating, unprincipled female who is willing to give away the store to seem more reasonable, which is the HRC modus operandi in spades. This is a must-read for HRC supporters.

Some quotes I found interesting:

"Having a woman in the White House won't necessarily do a damn thing for progressive feminism," writes Bitch magazine founder Lisa Jervis in LiP magazine. "Though the dearth of women in electoral politics is so dire as to make supporting a woman--any woman--an attractive proposition, even if it's just so she can serve as a role model for others who'll do the job better eventually, it's ultimately a trap. Women who do nothing to enact feminist policies will be elected and backlash will flourish. I can hear the refrain now: 'They've finally gotten a woman in the White House, so why are feminists still whining about equal pay?'"

I found myself enraged by this pro-HRC argument. Check it out for yourself:

"There's not one man of either party who is at the top of the race right now who, if he were a woman, would be taken seriously," says White House Project's Marie Wilson. "We wouldn't tolerate the lack of experience or the marital history [of Rudy Giuliani]. If Obama were a woman, and I don't care how articulate or wonderful, we'd be telling her that she didn't have enough experience." Or, as Susan Estrich wrote in her 2005 book, The Case for Hillary Clinton: "Imagine if Hillary weren't a woman. She'd simply be the best-qualified candidate, with absolutely everything going for her...."
I agree with the points about Rudy and Obama, but WTF is the last line about? What, being a political husband (in this example) for a long time and a Senator for six years would make you an ideal candidate? How about never apologizing for a vote that you say was wrong (even though you never really say that either)? How about buddying up to big business and Rupert Murdoch? How about lacking any sort of media skills or cohesive worldview, let alone new ideas? If Hillary were a man, she would be under constant attack by the blogosphere for what she believes, and rightfully so, since she's virtually a pro-choice Republican if you go by her stated stances.

I cannot stomach dishonest Hillary apologists, and these sorts of arguments drive me batty. I count Obama's experience as a State Senator more highly than Hillary's tenure as the First Lady of Arkansas, and just being around politics doesn't mean you learn it by osmosis. She totally screwed up health care in the early nineties, which is pretty much her only substantive policy experience outside of the Senate. By my count, Obama has about 10 years as an elected official, with Hillary having six. I don't know about you, but that argument is baloney.

She goes on to say: "If she were a he--Harry Rodham, let's say--the Democratic Party would be thrilled." Not so. We've had neoliberal, waffling candidates for President with armfuls of experience and a fair amount of hawkishness on military matters. Was anyone thrilled with the notion of John Kerry as President? Kerry was perceived as a liberal but was really a moderate, center-left, DLC-type Democrat, just like Hillary. He never had the enthusiastic support of the left flank--he was just the designated non-Bush choice. Kerry was every bit the male version of Hillary, down to being wholly uninspiring and subscribing to the weather vane theory of politics--just point the way the wind blows.

In sum, Hillary Clinton = John Kerry. And, oh yeah, the latter lost, just like the former will. Case closed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I love the title of this article:

Louisiana Mayor Bans Sagging Pants

Boy, I know that Katrina was tough on the state and its population, but they actually demoted Louisiana to being just a city? Ouch.

Plus, isn't this gripe, like, ten years old? I recall my parents complaining about sagging pants when I was in grade school. Why, I don't know. I guess cause it seemed sort of gang-like. It does sort of show the faulty thinking among many parents: it's not the pants that make you a gang member. The murdering and selling drugs are what do that. Gangsters just happen to like loose-fitting clothes.

P. S. Isn't this a clear First Amendment violation? I've been lead to believe that freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Then again, the GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR! obviously requires some sacrifices. If we let our children wear sagging pants, the terrorists will have won.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Late breaking news: Bush to appoint political hack to senior policy position!

Reuters has the story here. You might remember Ed Gillespie--certainly, he remembers you. He was the RNC chair during George W. Bush's 2004 election. Then he did some other stuff, now he's back. Really, the Bush Administration doesn't really bring in new blood, they just recycle the same people over and over again. Some examples:
  • Robert Zoellick: US Trade Rep->Assistant Secretary of State->World Bank Head
  • John Negroponte: Iraq Ambassador->Director of National Intelligence->Assistant Secretary of State
  • Rob Portman: Congressman->US Trade Rep->OMB Director
Etc. etc. Gillespie does indeed have a lengthy biography in politics. Much of it deals with politics instead of policy, although he did have a prominent role in drafting the Contract on America. Much of his bio involves public affairs work, which would be good, if Bush actually cared about what the public thought and used PR for any other reason than trying to convince people that he's right. It says something about a man when he thinks fundamental philosophical and political differences in his country are primarily a PR problem.

In any event, Ed Gillespie will soon become a senior counselor to the President. I'm not sure what the job entails, but if it has anything to do with policy, Fast Eddie might be out of his league. Not that it matters, since this Administration hasn't even bothered with policy since about 2002.

The Lieberman Puzzle

The Nation gets all allegorical with this piece on a hypothetical Lieberman Presidency. The real target is fairly obvious, and I agree that the "any Democrat" argument is a hollow one. I don't have any reason to believe, for example, that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be much better than a Mike Huckabee presidency. Indeed, if anything, the former would probably be worse. I think that Huckabee would be more likely to bring the troops out of Iraq than Hillary, regardless of their respective rhetoric on the issue. Not to mention that Huckabee has good things to say on a number of other issues, such as the environment. Were he in charge of the GOP, he would likely be able to pursue several liberal concerns better than Hillary would (although I doubt that is going to be his pitch to GOP Primary voters).

Still, I think this article doesn't quite understand the Lieberman phenomenon. Lieberman might have voted for the Iraq War in 2002, but he was not very outspoken about it until after 2004, when he was badly defeated in his run for the presidency. Let's keep that in mind: he ran in an election to replace George Bush. That event seemed to be a shattering experience for Lieberman, who did not receive a coronation. Instead, he was mocked for his declaration that he was gaining "Joementum" and his declaration that he was in a three-way tie for third place in New Hampshire (which even he had to think was a silly thing to say). Before that, he was generally a good Democrat who had some independent (read: pandering) stances on cultural issues. Since that run (and the Ned Lamont primary challenge last year), he has become so angry at the Democratic Party that he has moved closer toward Bush on Iraq and even further right than him on Iran for what seems to be purely personal reasons. It's very clear to me that Lieberman is an attention whore who needs to be written about as being an independent, moderate Senator, but he's certainly not a sensible centrist on the issues anymore. He won't defect from the Democrats, as the press loves a dissenter, and Lieberman loves being covered by the media. Still, it's interesting to see "Holy Joe" go from being the reasonable Joe of 2000 to becoming a lot like his fellow Connecticut native Ann Coulter. In any event, the $20 I donated to Ned Lamont is seeming more and more prescient as time goes by. Connecticut is supposedly changing their state anthem, and I've got a suggestion that works on a couple of levels: Won't Get Fooled Again, by The Who.

P. S. The truth about this election is that the best candidate is the one who is no longer with us. Paul Wellstone would have been a tremendous candidate. Very liberal, to be sure, but he was a genuinely principled and good man, and it was easy to sense that about him. Plus, he had ideas, and he was right on Iraq from day one. I don't think the Democratic Party ever recovered from his loss, and although Russ Feingold has stepped in as the conscience of the party, he's not Wellstone. It's not every day that you find a living embodiment of your princples, but Wellstone certainly was one. Not sure how the MS would have played out...

Evolution schmevolution

A number of people (mostly on the left, although not exclusively) have an issue with the relative levels of people who believe in evolution in this country--specifically, the number of Republicans who say they don't. I'm not sure if they just don't like the man from monkeys idea (which is something that I'm not wild about, but willing to accept) or if they believe that God created all the species on the Earth as they are now, and that none of them have evolved at all (which is crazy and plainly contradicted by Darwin, with fairly incontrovertible evidence). In any event, if evolution is wholly false, it is difficult to explain away all the biological advancements of the past 150 years, which all build upon evolution.

Anyway, the ratio of average Republicans who believe in evolution is inverse among the GOP Presidential candidates. I'm actually amazed that that many Republicans do believe in evolution, although obviously the GOP isn't all evangelical, and many of the more business-oriented conservatives (and some other groups like Mormons) would not likely have a problem with evolution. I find this encouraging, actually: having grown up among evangelicals, I know that disbelief in evolution is virtually an article of faith among them, hence the 68%. However, being that about half of the people out there believe in evolution (which seems higher than it used to be) and that the GOP goal is not the elimination of evolution from the classroom, but rather just the teaching of intelligent design alongside it, I'm not too worried. One of the good things about my generation is that we're less tied to orthodoxy than the boomers. I'm actually encouraged by this poll, to be honest, and I'm not too afraid of creationists in general. The stakes for that argument are low--not so much when one talks about the neocons.

I'm not sure I like the either/or question with faith and science. We're supposed to believe in science, but not to accept it as fact. Nothing is ever proven in science, there's just evidence for or against the proposition. Faith, on the other hand, is inherently unprovable (regardless of what Kirk Cameron says). One of the things I really loathe, though, is that evolution is dismissed for just being a theory. Folks, a scientific theory is not the same thing as one of Cliff Claven's bar-room theories--it's a hypothesis backed up by all available evidence. No amount of proof turns a theory into a law. As for me, if science says something is true, I generally believe it. There's too much uncertainty in this world, and I'm not going to throw away the little fact that we have. I'd just as soon start with the facts and reconcile them to my faith, rather than going vice versa.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Fred Thompson won't unite the GOP

So, he's all but in. Fred Thompson is going to run for president...maybe. He announced his exploratory committee last week, and the actor-turned-politician-turned-actor is already a major force in the race, matching Rudy Giuliani's showing in the current Rasmussen poll. Thompson's visibility from Law & Order, coupled with his effective campaigning skills and "tough" demeanor, have already made him the choice of many a Republican. He has been repeatedly referred to as Reaganesque and many Republicans hold out hope that he will be able to reunite the GOP. His Senate tenure reveals a generally conservative voting record, and he has been visible in some other ways as well, such as the John Roberts confirmation. With three frontrunners that, for various reasons, are supposedly unacceptable to the base, the right is no longer even bothering to try to find the best, most qualified candidate (Mike Huckabee, who already happens to be running) and go instead to Hollywood glitz in a rather pathetic attempt to mine Reagan nostalgia yet again. Only this time, it isn't going to work.

The reason for this is simple: immigration. Despite the unified showing among all of the GOP candidates (minus John McCain) opposing the recent Kennedy-McCain immigration bill, there is a great deal of conflict among Republicans regarding this issue, and the intramural squabble is unlikely to be resolved by the entry of a new candidate who, like all the others, opposed the bill. The conflict is largely among the conservative base, who loathe the very notion of amnesty and essentially want to build a fence and close the borders, as opposed to the party's more moderate wing and business Republicans, who see the strategic value of comprehensive reform to usher in Latinos to the GOP and feel that the base is simply xenophobic and ignorant of the economics of the immigration debate. This is the rare tussle among Republicans, who are usually more disciplined about these things, and it is the even more rare fight that pits the Republican elites (such as Bush) against his most ardent supporters. To say this is a mere disagreement is to be guilty of quite an understatement: what we have here is nothing less than a full-blown civil war between two increasingly intractable factions of the GOP, and although the immigration bill is gone for now, the issue will be back. What's really extraordinary are the types of people turning on the President right now. Administration stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, who I cannot remember otherwise opposing Bush in any way, have more or less declared war on the Bush plan, and in a party where discipline and obedience are prized attributes, this development is a surprising one.

So, this is the environment into which Thompson enters: two sides to the immigration debate, with each growing increasingly less respectful and more contemptuous of the other. One might think that nominating an anti-immigration candidate might smooth over problems with the base, but that approach comes with a price. The pro-immigration elements of the Republican Party really want this legislation to pass, as it will mean more Latino immigrants (through a guest worker program), which means smaller payrolls. If it doesn't, it's not inconceivable that the pro-comprehensive forces might decide to back the Democrat, as the Dem frontrunners are generally friendly to their kind of immigration policies. So much for reuniting the Republicans.

In any event, I find it difficult to see just how Thompson is supposed to reunite the GOP. Despite having a level of folksy, down-home charm, the man has yet to articulate ideas on many current issues. Even though he's popular now, there's no reason to believe that his solidly conservative outlook will distinguish him from all the other solid conservatives in the race. And his acting career is hardly a substitute for executive experience. He's a Senator, and a former one at that. He will undoubtedly try to play the outsider card, although that dog simply won't hunt for Thompson. Eight years in the Senate, coupled with more as a lawyer and lobbyist in D.C., makes him one of the biggest insiders in the race.

Ultimately, while Fred Thompson might very well be up to the task of reuniting the Republican Party, there is no evidence up to this point that he will be able to do so. Too bad for the Republicans, who have hitched their hopes to this guy in a way which can only be described as irrational.

P. S. I realize I've written a fair amount about Fred Thompson in recent days. I'll stop writing about the man...for now.

Bill Richardson

This article, from TNR, is a pretty interesting look at Bill Richardson, formerly a much-buzzed-about Presidential candidate and likely VP nominee. Now, after weeks of floundering about (ho-hum debates, disastrous Meet The Press showing), those hopes seem less likely to come to pass. Richardson does indeed have a terrific resume and is palpably more authentic than some of the other major candidates. Unfortunately for him, he is not a naturally gifted politician: he's unable to provide a pithy soundbite, he hardly comes off as a commanding presence, and while he does have a resume, I agree with John Dickerson that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. He'd be a great choice for Secretary of State, though. Better than Joe Biden, although Al Gore would be good in that slot as well.

The article broadly assesses Richardson, but it could have stood to show more about the primary problem with his campaign: despite his resume, he is still often totally uninformed about serious issues. The Byron White gaffe is telling: White was on the court for about 30 years, from the Kennedy Administration until 1993. Roe v. Wade does indeed fall in this range, as it was decided in 1973. Hey, I admire Byron White, and his reasoning on the abortion issue is interesting: although personally pro-choice, he just didn't believe that abortion was a federal issue, and the Court couldn't interfere. I can respect that opinion--not so much his majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick, which allowed states to keep sodomy illegal for another 20 years.

Monday, June 11, 2007

One week

It has been about a week since I started this blog, and it's been quite a bit of fun for me so far. I've enjoyed reading the (sparse) comments left so far...please leave some if you wish. Chances are that I'll be able to engage you personally if you do.

I recently finished Season 2 of 24 from Netflix. I think I've come to the realization that, despite the inevitable urge, 24 is not a show that goes well together if you watch a bunch of them back to back. Still, it's generally a pretty good show, and while it goes overboard on the torture (part of the reason why I liked Season 1 so much--not as much of that), it's not as easily reductive as a right-wing show as people would have you believe. I thought the second season was actually a pretty clear denunciation of Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy, and the allegory fit pretty well. War fought for the purpose of national self-esteem. What a disgrace.

Oh yeah, and remember the immortal words of Adm. Fred Thompson from The Hunt for Red October, "The Russians, son, don't take a dump without a plan." Words to live by!

Fred Thompson is crazy

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this quote. Conservatives love to link their pet issues with one another: immigration to terrorism, as in this example. My favorite was a few weeks ago, when some right-wing blog tried to tie abortion to immigration (with laughable results).

Sullivan's analysis is also dead on, and is far more succinct than anything I could write. Anyone who thinks this actor is a viable leader needs to read his post.

P. S. He used to be pro-choice, too.

P. P. S. He's not Reaganesque!!! Reagan had a clearly-defined philosophy and he had a record, as well as executive experience. His ideas were bold for his time, but he was certainly qualified for the nation's top job. Thompson had eight indifferent years in the Senate, and a little bit of time as a government lawyer before that. That is, unless you count lobbyist-for-hire as government experience, which I don't. He stands for the same generic conservatism as all the other Republican candidates (save Ron Paul) and he has no ideas to speak of. While H. L. Mencken might compliment him for that (albeit backhandedly, like he did with Calvin Coolidge), I'd just as soon know the precise ways in which he would like to screw up our country is all.

P. P. P. S. Why are Republicans so enthralled with "strong leadership"? It's not even so much about strength, but the appearance of strength. Have these conservatives who see Thompson as tough considered that he his toughness might very well be an act, considering he is an actor!

Colin Powell for VP?

Yesterday, Sullivan floated the notion of an Obama/Colin Powell ticket here. It would be rather a genius idea in the ways he described, and it would entice Republicans who have become irritated at the way the Bush Administration has chosen to operate in the world. My take is that, outside of the oil companies, business conservatives are really angry at the Administration's foreign policy, because having everyone else in the world hate us is bad news when you're trying to sell them something. These conservatives might blanch at the concept of voting for a liberal Black Democrat, but with Powell on the ticket, I can see many of them bolting from the GOP to vote for Obama/Powell. It might be the only bipartisan fusion ticket that stands a chance of working (largely because Powell's stances on social issues are generally liberal), and despite his speech at the U. N., Powell is still pretty much universally admired, in part because of his consistent criticism of the Bush Administration in the past few years. I personally like this idea because of the statement it makes: instead of left vs. right, it's realists vs. neocons (i.e. Giuliani and most of the GOP field, minus Ron Paul). I do agree with Sullivan that, with this ticket, the election would be over, and it would be smart for Obama to tease this angle--the whole "me and Colin are a package deal" thing. I don't even think the all-Black ticket issue would matter, since both politicians are hardly traditional Black pols (i.e. Jesse Jackson) and have strong appeal with Whites.

This quote by the former General here is only going to feed the speculation.

Status Update: Sullivan brings up the topic again today. No mention of Powell's U. N. speech as a stumbling block among the left, but I happen to agree that this would be a pretty awesome ticket. Then again, in order for it to ever happen, Obama needs to beat Hillary first, which is where the real trick lies...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ike quotes

I came across a few quotes from one of my favorite Presidents, Dwight Eisenhower. One, in particular, was compelling to me:

"One circumstance that helped our character development: we were needed. I often think today of what an impact could be made if children believed they were contributing to a family's essential survival and happiness. In the transformation from a rural to an urban society, children are—though they might not agree—robbed of the opportunity to do genuinely responsible work."

"Peace and Justice are two sides of the same coin."

"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable."

"When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. ... War settles nothing."

Hurrah for our last sane President!

Romney flip-flops on Iraq

This is almost like a f***ing Saturday Night Live sketch...

Ron Paul in the money

Ron Paul is a curious political phenomenon, and the phenomenon is about to get curiouser: he's supposedly raised five million dollars ($5,000,000) this quarter. (Link to story here). It just goes to show you that people who have a coherent, firm, all-encompassing ideology tend to attract supporters, and that there is an opening for an anti-war Republican in the field. Considering that John McCain has supposedly raised less than $10M, this will be quite a funding upset, and it will make it less likely that Paul will be kicked out of GOP debates.

I would go into a whole spiel on libertarianism now, but I won't. I'll just say that Ron Paul is speaking for a lot of people that the GOP has ignored in recent years in an attempt to cater to evangelical voters, and I would love to see him jump out from the second tier. Since he's trying to appeal to a different kind of Republican than everyone else, I'd give him a better chance than, say, Jim Gilmore. It's all about supply and demand. Wow, I guess Republicans don't understand economics, but that ain't news considering this is the party that invented voo-doo economics.

Click here to visit Ron Paul's website. I'm thinking about making a small donation.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Romney 2008: Vote for him because he panders?

Andrew Sullivan makes an interesting pitch for Romney here, in which he sees the man's transparent willingness to pander to literally anyone as a plus, and that it will make him more able to pivot on Iraq and other things. In the interest of full disclosure, Sullivan loathes Romney and acknowledges that he is an obvious panderer and fraud. Still, this is a notion that should be discussed, and it has a sort of perverse merit to it.

I don't agree, though, with the notion that if Romney wins it will be in spite of Christian evangelicals, rather than because of them. He is hardly running a centrist campaign, and although he might be more inclined to compromising with Democrats than, say, Rudy Giuliani, Democrats are not going to be nearly as inclined to work with him, and thus we have a new incarnation of the Jimmy Carter presidency. This assumes Democrats stay in control of Congress. If not, of course Romney is going to pursue a conservative policy agenda--that's what the Republican base is going to want, and if he doesn't do their bidding, he immediately becomes a target to become the first sitting president defeated for renomination by his own party since...Chester Alan Arthur, I think. In that eventuality, I think Romney begins to look more like a Prime Minister than President, as his support among the conservative rank-and-file will always be tenuous, and conservatives on the Hill will sense an opportunity to reassert their power after years of being muzzled by Bush. Evangelicals aren't just going to forget about Romney's past--for example, they're not going to forget his promise to be more liberal on gay rights than Ted Kennedy in 1994.

Ultimately, the old truism is that the devil you know beats the devil you don't. I have no idea what a Romney administration might be like, but I hope I don't have to find out.

How Bush can get back the base (or at least keep them from leaving for good)

It's so simple I didn't even think of it before: pardon Scooter Libby. Why he hasn't done it already is a mystery to me. To be honest, much as I loathe the administration, I wouldn't be too broken up if Libby got pardoned, since it is obvious that he wasn't the mastermind behind the whole Plame affair. I'm not so angry at Bush Administration that I've forgotten who the proper targets for this anger are.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Become a virtual prison inmate! Make some license plates!

This is surprisingly fun. Click here to go to the State (er, Commonwealth) of Virginia's DMV site, where you can make our own custom license plates. I made a few:

This might be a little too on the nose. And, considering how old Senator Robert Byrd is, it might actually be literally true.

Oh, poor Jerry Falwell. We will miss him. Who's going to blame the gays the next time we get attacked by terrorists?

I think this accurately sums up everyone's feelings about Pat Robertson.

For other ones, go here.

Pace out: the world must bow before me!

Wow, that was quick.

Only a few hours ago did I mention Peter Pace in conjunction with Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Now, he's gone. At risk of committing the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, I don't see how it isn't possible to conclude that I was directly responsible for this change. I don't know what to think about Pace, aside from the fact that he seemed more concerned about gay men showering with straight guys than he did with the war in Iraq. I'm not sure to what extent he influenced Bush's thinking on Iraq--being as he was the friggin' Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I would imagine he had a great deal of influence on W's thinking. That tells me that his departure can only help matters.

I don't know anything about the new guy, Admiral Mike Mullen, although he is Gates's pick, and I put somewhat more stock in Robert Gates's judgment than virtually anyone else's in the Administration. Probably because he hasn't been around long enough to disappoint me. I'm not sure if he's as much of a anti-gay agitator, but I still don't think Bush signs a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Not when he's already on such thin ice with his supporters. Not when some of those supporters include groups that can legitimately be described as gay-hating and believe that any protection for homosexuals: from anti-discrimination laws to hate crime legislation, anything that benefits gays and lesbians must be wrong from their perspective, because it means that we're "legitimizing homosexuality". Uh, how does not wanting people to be denied home loans solely because they're gay legitimize their conduct? And how does denying them such services delegitimize it? It does not seem very American to me to deliberately deny people the same rights and prerogatives as everyone else on account of their engaging in acts that a pissy minority doesn't approve of, but that's the America of the religious right. Moving to Canada might seem like a good alternative, but they've got their own Bush clone as PM up there. We have to fight these people here, and there is a cycle for movements such as this one: power leads to overreaching which leads to no power. I'd say we're on stage two of that cycle right now.

Rudy, McCain cut and run, Marines still never do

I make a conscious effort to quote the Best Congresswoman in America (aside from Babs "I'm going to make cookies that look like phalluses!" Cubin) as much as possible, and this is one of Jean Schmidt's best (worst) lines. As it turns out, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, two men who are trying to out-strong each other in order to get the GOP nomination for President, have elected to skip the all-important (really, not at all important) Iowa Straw Poll. Prior engagements, I'm sure. Hey, those checks from Giuliani to Planned Parenthood don't just write themselves! And goshdarnit, if John McCain wants to watch a weekend marathon of M*A*S*H reruns, then that's what John McCain is going to do, my friends! Now, why anyone would want the GOP nomination when a reanimated Saddam Hussein would probably have comparable approval ratings to Bush is beyond me.

I find this baffling, and in a rational world, it would be a huge story that would get both their asses out of this election right now. These men are campaigning for the presidency, our nation's second-highest office (behind vice-president, of course), because they believe that they will provide strong, resolute leadership that doesn't run from tough fights and tough decisions, like Iraq. Yet, they're willing to skip a minor GOP event because the odds are they aren't going to win. Let me tell you something: if these guys legitimately believed the Iowa Straw Poll to be a silly nonevent, I'd be fine with them skipping out on it. But this is obviously an attempt (and a feeble one on McCain's part) to avoid hitting some negative momentum. A McCain victory in the Straw Poll might have revived his poll numbers, and without Rudy sucking all the air out of the room, he would have been in a much better position to do well there. Oh, well. I guess Mitt Romney, who heretofore will be known as Ozzie Smith (thanks to the latter's acrobatic flip-flopping and Romney's baseball-term name) will win the Straw Poll, every primary and then be elected President of America. God (Moroni?) help us.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The reports of immigration reform's death are not greatly exaggerated

It's all over. Bush's legacy is denied. Iran, you are so screwed...

Immigration reform: dead?

Is immigration reform dead in the Senate? North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan introduced what Mickey Kaus has referred to as the killer amendment (i.e. ending the guest worker program after a period of time), and clearly the anti-immigration Republicans feel the same way, since a few have signed on, like Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who at least was candid about why he voted for the amendment.

Is this amendment a killer? Quite possibly. It will send Republicans scurrying, might potentially get a presidential veto, and it might break the Democrats' resolve to pass this wildly unpopular bill through if they aren't going to be able to share the blame with Republicans. It isn't going to help this Congress's reputation for being do-nothing, but in this case, a plurality of voters prefer the "do-nothing" approach.

I guess it depends on how bad Pelosi wants to bring Hispanics into the Democratic Party, and how hard she feels she has to work on it. My reading at this point is that she isn't going to have to try too hard. The GOP has been the producer of so much anti-immigrant rancor in recent times that Hispanics are probably already in the clutches of the Democrats for quite some time, and actually getting the bill passed isn't necessary at this point. From a tactical point of view, this bill has become so contentious and so identified with Bush that getting it passed might not even hurt the Democrats too much in 2008--it might just hurt the Republicans, and it will hurt much more if it gets passed. Then, it becomes like NAFTA is for the Democrats, only way angrier.

Despite the temptation, I think that Pelosi and Reid should let the bill fold for now. You can always bring it back up later--like in September, when that Iraq status report is going to be due...

What if immigration reform just went away?

Wouldn't Bush and his party, respectively, take the biggest pastings on this issue should no bill be put forward? Bush would look bad--really bad. He has wrapped himself up in this cause, and he is slowly beginning to lose support amongst his most ardent anti-immigration supporters. The GOP will have shown Latinos exactly why they should vote Democrat for the rest of their lives (well, at least one reason why...), which puts them at a demographic disadvantage in the Southwest for the next generation. Texas and Arizona, for example, are majority minority, and if suddenly they were to become purple (or even blue) states, along with Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, the GOP would be out of the White House for a generation. Hence Bush's (and Rove's) determination to do this and make sure that Bush gets credit for doing it, because otherwise the credit goes to Pelosi. Unfortunately for Bush, his party isn't going to give him any leeway on this, and he's going to face trouble in September when the war issue comes around again because of his immigration push.

Note to Bush: your party will not be able to attract Latino support with the current level of vitriol they display for Hispanic immigrants. You might as well let your crappy bill fold. Not that I'd really mind your being politically neutered for the next two years.

Note to Pelosi: you and Harry Reid draw this bill out as long as humanly possible. It's strategy so that when Iraq comes up again, Bush's base support is so low, you'll see dozens of GOP defections on the war.

Of course, if the bill does pass, it would create an irreconcilable rift within the GOP between the business and social conservatives, which would have immense consequences in 2008. McCain would be finished if his bill actually passed--if it doesn't, he might be able to eke it out. Giuliani might benefit, since he recently denounced the bill. I can forsee some business conservatives supporting the Democrats in 2008 if the GOP picks someone who really opposes immigration reform (i.e. Freddie), and I can see some social conservatives bolting for a third party anti-immigration candidate (e.g. Tancredo) if a pro-comprehensive guy gets the nomination (I think it's just McCain at this point). Finally, a GOP more bitterly divided than the Democrats are. I smell an opportunity!


Nobody expected Rudy Giuliani to be a serious contender for the GOP nomination this time last year. Hell, nobody thought he would even run. The GOP first string was all but declared: Virginia Senator George "Macaca" "Macaca" Allen, Senator Bill "Tears can give you AIDS" Frist of Tennessee, Senator Rick "I'd love a bottle of" Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida (sorry, all out of snarky nicknames, although Jeb was the only one of these bozos who was halfway competent). At this point, you can add a former in front of all their names, because they're all out of office, Allen and Santorum involuntarily. Frist elected not to run for the Presidency, perhaps because he's about as exciting as the Metro section from an 1896 Los Angeles Times, and the elder Bush brother saw the writing on the wall and distanced himself from the presidential race as soon as possible. And probably spending many nights drinking and cursing his twit of a younger brother for ruining his career. Oh, well.

So, the top tier was vanquished, thankfully. True, Frist or Bush might be a potential VP candidate, but still--they're gone. That left a palpable hole for three people who otherwise would not have had a chance at the Presidency: ex-New York City Mayor (and social liberal) Giuliani, John McCain, and used to be Massachussetts Governor Mitt Romney. Rudy is lucky, as this is the rare year where Republicans seem totally uninterested in the traditional social issues they have always paid lip service to: he's pro-choice, pro-civil union, and anti-gun, which is rare to find these days in a top-tier GOP candidate. It's true that parties sometimes run candidates who don't necessarily agree with them because of the national hero factor: one need look no futher than Dwight Eisenhower, who was firmly in the Democratic camp on foreign affairs and the New Deal, and actually cut military spending every year he was in office to balance the budget. Giuliani gained a lot of prestige from 9/11 after a very troubled second term as NYC Mayor, but is that (or the accomplishments of his first term) enough on its own to make up for his apostasy on the GOP's core issues?

As it turns out, no. But it isn't all Rudy is peddling. Rudy has been running a good game plan up until now, I have to admit. He's making his social positions an asset by saying they make him more electable, while appealing to conservatives on the issues that they care about at the moment. In particular, he has adopted an ultra-hawkish foreign policy stance that is arguably more belligerent than that of the Bush Administration. He says things along the line of, "It's good that, after 9/11, the President went on offense." First of all, I remember at the time that Bush showed admirable restraint in pursuing a military retribution to the 9/11 attacks that garnered respect from both the media and from Democrats. Second, this sound bite makes it sound as though Rudy felt that Bush could have attacked anywhere and it would have been proper. Rudy has been energetically been dissembling the same Cheney-esque BS that this administration has been selling us on the war. We hear from him chestnuts like, "[Going into Iraq] was absolutely the right thing to is impossible to imagine fighting the War on Terror leaving Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq." Never mind that Saddam was detested by OBL and al-Qaeda, and provided no help to their cause. He's also selling the we need to fight them over there or else we'll fight them over here spiel, which fails the laugh test. For one thing, Iraqi insurgents are not all composed of one group, or even two groups. al-Qaeda accounts for very little of the insurgency. By and large we're dealing with Sunni and Shi'a nationalists who are struggling for power in Iraq, and they would have very little interest in coming back here to attack us. They just want us out.

All this is especially irritating when one considers that Giuliani is perhaps the least-qualified major candidate to talk about foreign affairs. His experience in foreign affairs is nonexistent, unless you count throwing Yassir Arafat out of Lincoln Center experience. What I find amazing is that his outlook and leadership style haven't evolved at all in almost fifteen years--he is still the same brash, aggressive, power-hungry man who promised to crack down on broken windows. And that is what spells trouble for me. If he hasn't changed since being Mayor, we're in for a world of hurt. While his first term was impressive, his second mayoral term was an unmitigated disaster, marked by cronyism, vendettas, posturing, and ultimately failure. Sound familiar? Any other world leaders that fit this particular bill? This time, the stakes are much higher--in NYC, the worst that could happen was that some squeegee men could get wrongfully arrested. Now, we're talking about a crisis moment in world affairs--the world hates us, which doesn't bother conservative Republicans, but it should, since we progressively rely upon other countries to manufacture the stuff we buy, as well as to consume the entertainment and other products we sell. We cannot afford to say we're the most powerful country in the world, as we are the world, at this point. Giuliani still has the worldview of a kid bully from New York, and I don't think that someone with so parochial a worldview should be sitting in the Oval Office in 2009.

Giuliani has managed to get social conservatives to support him by moving so far to the neocon right on foreign affairs (as well as on economic issues) that he hopefully would be unelectable to our nation at large. Polls show him beating the prospective Democratic rivals, but when you get down to it, Rudy has been presented to the public in a very positive light, as a competent, tough moderate. Once the public starts paying attention and realizes he's actually an extremist loon who just happens to be pro-choice, I can easily imagine any of the top three Dems taking him out. Everyone seems to say that he is a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode. Let's hope it happens before the election.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.