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.

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.