Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why did conservatives love Palin and hate Huckabee? A theory.

Ross Douthat tackles the question of why Mike Huckabee was hated by the conservative establishment, while Sarah Palin was beloved. Huck suggests it was looks over ability, Ross suggests it was Palin-bashing by liberals, and I agree with both, though even more with Huckabee. Palin was clearly a dolt from the beginning--ambitious on the level of Richard III but without two brain cells to rub together, Palin was a buffoon from the beginning of her time in the public eye. Huck looked silly from time to time, but he was obviously more qualified than Palin for high office. And that's why he didn't get it.

You see, Huck winning would have shifted the meaning of Republicanism by quite a bit. Huckabee had little love for the moneycon wing of the Republican Party and little love for the neocon wing, while being very much a proponent of sociocon enhancement in the party's establishment. Now, the grassroots of the GOP is predominantly Huck-loving and socially conservative, but the party's establishment is far more neocon- and moneycon-friendly. Huckabee clearly wanted to take the Republican Party in the direction of a European Christian Democratic party, which fuses social conservatism with moderate-to-liberal stances on domestic and economic issues. Since he was essentially mounting an offensive against the party establishment, the establishment fought him as hard as they could. It is regrettable that Huckabee didn't succeed in gutting his party's establishment--even if he'd lost the election (as he most likely would have) he'd have been able to remake the party in his own image after having engaged in some creative destruction.

Palin, on the other hand, is a blundering idiot. Her record isn't too different from Huck's, but it's obvious from watching her that she is stupid, so the same establishmentarians that objected to Huck's record saw someone they thought they could directly control and accepted her. It's not unlike how bureaucracies work in The Wire, in which smart and talented people are ostracized because they act independently of the bureaucracy, while incompetent morons (like Stan Valchek) are promoted because of their willingness to toe the company line. With Palin, folks like Bill Kristol saw a perfect blank slate that would appeal to the social conservative base, as Huckabee did, but because Palin was out of her element she would be easily moldable and reliant on folks like Kristol. The fact that she did immediately become the target of fundie love and liberal scorn only crystallized (sorry) the wisdom of the strategy. It might even have worked, had Palin been better able to fake some modicum of policy knowledge so as not to make her untenable to moderates. This was the fatal flaw in the strategy, though it was a bit unexpected as she at least seemed to know what she was talking about when she was in Alaska.

In short, Huckabee was rejected by the establishment because he threatened their control, and Palin was accepted by them because she didn't.

Senator Clinton forever

The Senate seems like a natural fit for Bill Clinton--he'd totally get immersed in the cloakroom culture of the World's Most Exclusive Club, and I would imagine he'd have a fair amount of experience to contribute to the national conversation. All things being equal Obama ought to have made Clinton U. N. Ambassador, as Clinton is generally beloved by the rest of the world, has lots of relationships with foreign dignitaries, and he wouldn't have to move. Clinton would have moved to Defense or HHS in my parallel universe, en route to a SCOTUS berth.

Still, this all seems like a good way of things shaking out, if Paterson made such an appointment. I'm not sure that Bill would want it, though. My sense is that he sees himself above mere politics these days.

What about Bob (Gates)?

Bob Gates will remain on as Secretary of Defense. Most of the big Democratic bloggers are offering a muted but positive response. Here's Steve Benen:

So, is this a good move or not? At first blush, it seems more than a little discouraging for Democrats. It's not, for example, "change" if the Defense Secretary under Bush is the same Defense Secretary under Obama. For that matter, the decision doesn't help dispel the notion that Democrats are weak on national security issues if Democratic presidents keep turning to Republicans to lead the Pentagon.

And yet, I'm not at all convinced that Gates is a poor choice. In fact, I've seen ample evidence that Gates is exactly who Obama needs at the Pentagon right now.

I don't buy the notion that picking Gates makes it look like the Democrats can't handle defense policy. I would buy that if Gates had stepped down and Obama had replaced him with another Republican, like Chuck Hagel. That would effectively say, "Hey, America, we don't have anyone who can handle this, so we're going with a Republican to keep us safe." But that is not what Obama is doing, needless to say. He's not searching high and low and finding a new Republican defense chief, he's keeping on a Republican who happens to have a temperament that parallels Obama's and who has done a good job.

It's just the sort of politically savvy but healing move that Obama has trademarked. And Gates is one of the rarest of all creatures: a Bush Administration official whose public image has actually gone up since serving in government. On any number of levels, retaining him is the right choice.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday afternoon abortion post

Daniel Larison has convinced me that the Freedom of Choice Act is a bad idea for now. In any event, this seems just a bit beside the point. The Court is pro-Roe, to be sure, and this is the sort of thing that would infuriate and energize the right while not necessarily providing any real benefits to the left. It's bad politics, especially when Roe is in little apparent danger, and while the pro-choice case would be strengthened by something as suitably democratic as a public law it seems like it ain't worth the cost.

I wonder how long the pro-life movement will persist in any recognizable form. People who think that movements last forever are sorely mistaken: they eventually end, either by accomplishing their objectives or not. I think it's safe to say that pro-lifers haven't really accomplished anything of substance--they've complicated the moral attitudes of many people toward abortion (as if it is a subject that doesn't naturally have that effect!) while enacting a few parental notification statutes in various states. The operative strategy of these groups is to legally ban abortion as they consider abortion to be murder--it follows logically to go for this approach, but just because tens of millions of people would like to be able to fly doesn't make it any more possible. And the pro-life movement is drawing more inward by pursuing the sorts of sweeping abortion bans that even significant swathes of pro-lifers in places like South Dakota reject. The course that they're on seems not to lead to anywhere promising.

More than anything else, it reminds me of Johnny Rotten's quest to destroy rock 'n roll by turning the Sex Pistols into a non-mainstream group that would push rock out of the mainstream by setting too strong an example to ignore, thus destroying rock. If I were in charge of the movement, I'd say it's time to focus on winning support for national parental consent and partial birth bans, which are popular and don't have particularly strong defenses (these mostly involve not wanting to "chip away" at Roe, as if there weren't already significant restrictions on abortion rights in America). That might be the strategy that pro-lifers wanted to use, but it seems like one more likely to win over new supporters, rather than losing them by making the movement more about ham-fisted bans that simply won't work even if enacted.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Enough already

The media seems determined to write the "Obama is angering liberals by appointing centrists to his cabinet" meme, despite there being not too much in the way of proof. Ah, the media--never let a lack of facts get in the way of a good story! Matt Yglesias says what needs to be said here. For my part, I could care less if he appoints left-wingers, right-wingers or even Ralph Nader to his cabinet. The cabinet doesn't really do anything aside from managing their respective bureaucracies, and they rarely even advise the president directly. Anyone who thinks that picking a "moderate" cabinet is a sign of President Obama's lack of commitment to a progressive agenda should actually look at, say, what his incoming Treasury Secretary and HHS Secretary have to say about the economy and healthcare. It ain't triangulation, that's for sure.

In the end, a lot of these people have moderate reputations, which is good. But what does it mean to be a moderate these days? In the 1990s, it meant Clintonism of the Bill variety. Nowadays, it evidently means believing in massive stimulus, fixing inequality and bold steps on healthcare. Liberals tend to be process-oriented in these things, I care mostly about results. If by election day, 2010, Obama has enacted Universal Health Care, gotten us out of Iraq, passed stimulus and turned the economy around, I would say that he has been successful. He should also do away with secret prisons and torture. He has pledged to do all those things. These are my metrics for his success. So far, I haven't seen any real reason to believe he will not do them. (The Clinton appointment is something I'm ambivalent on, but I'm willing to believe that Clinton's hawkishness was just pure tactics and that she'll be eager to work along the lines that her husband's administration used.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

David Cameron shoots self in foot

In the world of British politics something truly amazing is happening. Gordon Brown, the incumbent Labour PM, has substantially rehabilitated his political standing, while Dave Cameron, the Conservative who had been presumed to be the next PM in about a year or two, has probably blown his chances this week. The story is pretty simple: Brown was a dead duck about six months ago. Polls had the Tories up by double digits until Brown had a successful party conference and then managed to handle the financial crisis in a manner that instilled confidence. In six months, Brown has gone from a guy in danger of losing his party's leadership into the likely bet to remain in Downing Street after the next elections. Things have gotten even worse since Cameron tacked hard to the right on fiscal policy, which even British businesses oppose due to the crisis and fears of a depression. If Cameron loses next year, it will be a really surprising comeback story for Gordon Brown. One wonders what would happen to the Tories in that circumstance: after a few election cycles of getting their asses kicked for moving further and further rightward, the party nominates a centrist modernizer who, at a critical moment, panics and swings to the right. Would the Tories retain Cameron and move more to the left? Curious.

I'm beginning to suspect that the Republicans will follow the Tory model and struggle about, moving further to the right and swapping out leaders willy nilly for the better part of a decade. Brown is not as slick as Tony Blair, to be sure, but he will probably be remembered more favorable by history. One of the interesting subtexts of the movie The Deal, which focused largely on the relationship between the two men, was that Blair was pretty much a cynical opportunist who was largely interested only in power, while Brown was truly interested in the ideals of the party. Blair got the job because of his flash and his youth and good looks, and his excellent sense of timing. But his ambition, that overarching desire to make his mark, was what led him to support a disastrous war waged by an incompetent American president and it eventually wound up destroying his reputation and legacy. The thing that elevated him also destroyed him. It's not particularly profound or original. Brown, meanwhile, has always been more low-key and idea-oriented. His weakness has generally been an inability to read the public's mood, and he's more of an ivory tower type (he is an academic, after all). But it turns out that British people like the idea of a quietly competent technocrat right now. Cameron's main problem has been his flopping all over the ideological spectrum: he's gone back and forth between the center and the Thatcherite dead-enders, and he's back there now. England would be crazy to elect him now, as fiscal austerity from the government is a terrible way to deal with lean economic times.

I'm not exactly a fan of Tony Blair. I think his ambition to be a world-historic politician led to the War on Terror and the Iraq War, two boneheaded ideas that we will have to mop up for decades. Blair has paid the price for his sins, although some of it was visited upon his successor. Tony ought to have known better. Why he thought he should hitch his star to that of George W. Bush I'll never know. Anyway, this is a bunch of rambling. Check out The Deal, which is a really, really awesome movie. It's part of a loose trilogy on Tony Blair along with The Queen and another movie to come. They're all written by Peter Morgan, who is one of the few writers of political stories that I feel actually gets the ins and outs of politics, and I usually feel like I've learned something after watching his movies. He's also the writer of Frost/Nixon, which I will naturally be seeing. If you're not a fan, you should be.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

McConnell plus mass denial

I find this exceedingly odd. Why would Mitch McConnell take it personally that Democrats targeted his seat? And why would anyone expect that the GOP wouldn't target Reid in 2010? I guess Ted Stevens's emotionalism is rubbing off on everyone around him, like some sort of airborne pathogen. Besides, McConnell won, and it wasn't by like fifty votes. He won by 6%.

It does make him look more than a little weak, but the GOP is keeping him and Boehner on for reasons that defy comprehension. My suspicion is denial: most Republicans just don't want to face the amount of evil that their leadership has engaged in over the past decade, and I suspect that's why you're seeing Republicans talking feverishly about replicating 1994. But in 1994 the GOP had the following things going for them: they were not at a hugely disproportionate disadvantage on the economy. Bush 41 wasn't great, but he was better than the last Democrat in the office (Carter). The GOP was known for excellent stewardship of the military and the congressional Democrats were known for their corruption more than anything else. Plus, the country was still center-right back then. It isn't now. The only way the right is going to be back in power, short of reforming, is if Obama makes a mistake and/or is unable to turn the economy around. Basically, they have to hope that the man who ran one of the most disciplined campaigns in American History coughs up a play (or plays) so boneheaded it completely turns people off to the Democratic brand, and the most likely result of this would be the formation of a centrist third party rather than a Republican revival.

Mass denial. It makes sense. Center-right country. Not a mandate. Keep on a-sayin' it.

What the Huck? The GOP's establishment problem.

Why the GOP needs to nominate Mike Huckabee in 2012.

Over the past two weeks, the Republican Party has been conducting internal debates about the future of the party, and the fault lines have become perfectly clear. One one side are reformers like Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, David Frum and David Brooks, who argue that the GOP ought to adapt its approach to policy to try to appeal to the middle. Others, such as talk radio stalwarts like Rush Limbaugh, opt to return to the status quo ante--which is to say, how things were before Bush. As with the leadership of the British Labour Party in the 1980s and 90s, these folks believe that one more push will finally see the party successful. And the Labour Party example is instructive: they pushed in 1983. And then again in 1987. And then again in 1992. And they would have tried again in 1997, were it not for the arrival of a reform-minded leader by the name of Tony Blair who turned things around.

Now, of course, such analogies are crude and often abstract out so many details that they become little more than bromides. Nevertheless, the GOP must modernize in some respect. The public mistrusts them on virtually every issue on which there is polling: in the Clinton years, the Republican polling advantage on defense issues nudged 2 to 1. It's now even-up as a result of the Iraq disaster and the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, and if Obama manages to conduct a successful foreign policy and keeps America safe there is the real possibility that the Democrats will become the party that owns the defense issue going forward. With the Dems registering overwhelming advantages on every domestic policy issue and possibly foreign policy going forward, the GOP will have nowhere to go and no issue upon which to strike up an insurgency. How's that plan looking now, Rush?

So, reform is essential for future Republican success. But how to go about it? This is where the reformers diverge. Frum and Brooks, as well as Kathleen Parker, believe that social conservatives have become a drag on the Republicans' fortunes. Douthat, Salam, and Ramesh Ponnuru believe that the economic policies of the Bush years have become the chief culprit of GOP failure. And few mainstream conservative voices, aside from the exiled likes of Chuck Hagel and the ever-perceptive Daniel Larison, believe that the party's foreign policy has been the problem, and the neocons disbelieve this despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In fact, perhaps the theoretically easiest path to reform within the GOP would be to cut the neocons loose. After all, there aren't too many of them. And the "tax cuts for the rich so help me God" class of tax raiders, like Grover Norquist, are hardly numerous in number either. Polling suggests that fewer than half of Republicans believe that tax cuts are necessary at this point, and as much as a third believe in raising taxes to pay for the deficit. A third of the GOP dissents on the party's signature issue? What is going on here? Why do these small groups have all this power?

The answer is pretty simple: the tax raiders control the GOP's money spigot. Turning against these folks would make the Republicans further undermatched to the Democrats' new small-donor funding model. And the neocons (such as Bill Kristol) are, well, just there: they're well-known and well-connected, and they are prominent in conservative media. These two groups make up most of the conservative coalition, and they tend to be hostile to the party's evangelical wing. As someone who is sympathetic to that hostility I would like to agree with this analysis, but it's just wrong. These groups got John McCain the nomination after their preferred candidate, Mitt Romney, couldn't close the deal with voters. McCain ran a perfect conservative establishmentarian campaign, running on the "surge" in Iraq and foreign policy hawkishness in general, as well as concluding with ranting and raving about Obama's "socialism", presumably because he supports progressive taxation, as does most of the country and even McCain himself. McCain shied away from social issues--two states legalized gay marriage during the 2008 race and these developments were hardly mentioned--and he still lost. George W. Bush ran largely on social issues in 2004 and won. As someone who tends toward social liberalism I wish this wasn't true, but it is: there is simply no evidence that social conservatism is a loser for the GOP at this point. Now, there are some counterexamples to my thesis: the hateful Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) was defeated in a House race this year, for example, in a generally Republican district. But McCain didn't emphasize social issues this year--in fact, he went out of his way not to give the impression that he was far more moderate here than he was, as part of a plan to win over disaffected Hillary Clinton voters from the Democratic primaries. It didn't work. Blaming sociocons, in other words, doesn't work. It's very, very difficult to make a direct case that they are responsible for the party's downfall.

The neocons and tax raiders, on the other hand, are directly responsible for the major failures of the Bush 43 years. One can draw a direct line from neocon ideology to Iraq. One can draw a direct line from the tax raiders' policies to the poor economy and rising wage inequality in America, not to mention rising debt and deficits. And one can squarely blame moneycons for the deregulation fetish that was the direct cause of the financial collapse this year. None of these arguments are really debatable, either. They are facts, and they are directly attributable to the flawed philosophies of the tax raiders and the neocons. Ditching these folks and their ideas and enacting reasonable, center-right policies rather than their radical drivel would be good for the Republican Party, and for America. All that the GOP needs is a George McGovern figure to do it.

Yes, you heard me right: the GOP needs a McGovern, which in this case means someone who will clean out the old establishment and the old hacks and lay the seeds for rejuvenation. Of course, McGovern didn't work out too well for the Democrats: he was a legendarily inept candidate, and the man he laid the way for was Jimmy Carter, who wasn't terribly apt himself. But McGovern changed the power structure of the Democratic Party in a beneficial way, and did away with the establishment for good. And right now the Republicans desperately need to clean house and find new establishmentarians with sounder ideas. The only way I can think of doing that would be by a grassroots revolt against the party elders, and I can think of only two conservative politicians who could theoretically pull such a thing off: Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. Palin is a non-starter here: she is almost unbelievably ignorant of public policy and political philosophy, nor does she have any sort of governing strategy or vision for the future.

Huckabee, on the other hand, does posess most of these things. He became something of a punchline this year because of his ignorance on any number of issues, it is true. Part of this problem, though, was no doubt due to inadequate preparation because Huck never thought he would be the nominee. On issues on which he is well-versed, such as faith, he is thoughtful, intelligent and persuasive. He could be a plausible Republican candidate against Obama in 2012, and while I somehow doubt he could win, he could perhaps fill the role of another evangelical candidate who never won but who radically reformed his party in his own image: William Jennings Bryan. Huckabee could expel the moneygrubbers and warmongers from the GOP fold and move the party toward a more reasonable course in those directions.

The only question that remains is: would he do it if given the chance? My answer is a qualified yes. Huck has shown a propensity to piss on the moneycon faction: calling the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group whose primary goal these days seems to be collecting scalps of insufficiently raiderish Republicans, the "Club for Greed" is a good indicator. His instinctual loathing of libertarians is another. Huck is not a Norquistian anti-taxer, and there is every reason to believe that he would be flexible in this area. He also publicly opposed the financial bailout this year, which should help him with Republican primary voters in 2012. Huck has supported the Iraq War for some time now, but he was notably one of the less rhetorically hawkish of the Republican candidates this year. His Foreign Affairs article was more similar to Barack Obama's than it was to Rudy Giuliani's. It's entirely possible that he's internalized the Bible's teachings on defense and war--more so than, say, Mitt Romney. And Huck starts out with plenty of enemies, which is so much the better for mounting an insurgency against the establishment. This is all undercut by the fact that Huck dropped many of his anti-establishment views upon becoming a real contender for the nomination. This is why the yes was qualified.

Let me be clear: I do not believe Mike Huckabee could assemble a successful coalition to win the presidency. Catholics hate his guts, which is why I think that he'd obviously pick Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as a running mate. Huckabee might be able to appeal to some of the old Reagan Dems if he called for some real Republican reform, and he is reportedly interested in reaching out to black voters on socially conservative grounds, which is not a bad idea but one that wouldn't work in 2012 against Barack Obama. Huck would probably lose, but it would be a loss that would sew seeds of renewal down the road. Picking, say, Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney would mean that the GOP would keep trying to execute the tax raider/neocon playbook, and the Republican Party would only spend that much longer in the wilderness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A rather objectionable poll

Every liberal who follows politics knows that Rasmussen is a conservative polling outfit. Truth be told, their national and statewide polling this election cycle was fairly accurate, but a lot of their "issue" polls are wretched, with leading questions and analysis that usually amounts to little more than right-wing spin.

Consider this poll. It shows that 48% of respondents believe that Barack Obama's Supreme Court picks will be either too conservative or just right. Eleven percent were undecided, and 42% said the picks would be too liberal. It seems to me that about 60% of the public is either in sync with Obama's self-stated principles on the rule of law and his political philosophy in general or just aren't that worried about it, and about 40% is concerned about the choices he would pick. All in all, it's probably not too much to worry about, as most people probably feel that the Court has moved pretty sharply to the right during the Bush years, and that adding another liberal justice or two might not be the worst thing.

But Rasmusen, of course, chooses to lead with the following headline: "42% Say Obama’s Picks for the Supreme Court Will Be Too Liberal." Nice work, Scott. It wouldn't bother me so much if the dude would just stop trying to be impartial. This is a poll as propaganda.

I guess being borderline illiterate isn't an obstacle to getting a book deal...

Sarah Palin, America's Hockey Mom and linguistic genius, gets $7 million for a book deal. Makes sense, considering that during the campaign she had absolutely nothing to say, and said it in the most excruciatingly meandering terms possible.

Summers will not cause a revolt

"As Ben Smith reports today, there's a lot of anxiety in Obamaland about giving the Clintons such a key role in his administration. "These guys didn't put together a campaign in order to turn the government over to the Clintons," a Democrat close to the Obama campaign tells him. If Obama brought Hillary aboard, then turned around and picked Summers, he could face a small-scale insurrection." -- Noam Scheiber
Scheiber is one of the savviest guys around, but this is just nonsense, and it reflects the eternal MSM tendency to try to mine Obama-Clinton tensions that simply no longer exist. So far, Obama has named several Clinton administration veterans to the White House staff. There has not yet been a netroots outrage. Picking HRC as SecState might well precipitate some unease among some Obama supporters who backed the Illinois Senator for enemy-of-my-enemy type reasons and just don't want the Clintons anywhere near power. Unfortunately, such thinking is just unrealistic: the Clintons are players, like it or not. Honestly, I'm not sure Secretary of State is the best role for Hillary, but I hardly think that a Clinton in the Cabinet amounts to "turning over the government," and shutting off all Clinton staffers from the White House severely depletes the talent pool one has to work with. So, I hardly think that Larry Summers is going to result in a netroots revolt. I would expect a muted but positive diary entry at DailyKos with generally respectful comments (e.g. "I'd prefer Paul Krugman, but Summers has been saying good things recently and he knows what he's doing").

Under different circumstances what Scheiber insinuates might be happening, but Obama won the nomination by appealing to the best in Democrats, and he did not shift radically to the center during the general election--he actually moved a bit left rhetorically on regulation and such once the financial crisis hit. The netroots is elated at having won and sincerely wants to give Obama a chance to enact his change. After eight demoralizing years, the left is tired of angrily fighting the power structure. And, honestly, Summers isn't that bad--his public statements and editorials in recent months have been pretty good from a progressive viewpoint, he knows what he's doing, and he's clearly aching to get back to Treasury. I say we let him.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A tale of two coalitions

"On the Democratic side of the coalition, the more conservative Blue Dogs of the majority are still far more liberal than the real conservative Democrats of the Clinton era, who, when they later changed parties, turned out to be among the most right-wing of Republicans." -- Mark Schmitt

Conventional wisdom regarding Barack Obama's prospects has been, as most Washington conventional wisdom is, deeply misguided. Pundits have been speculating at the odds of Blue Dogs halting the Obama agenda as occurred with Bill Clinton, but this scenario is painfully out of date. The Democratic Party, circa 1994, was a very different party than it is now. These days, when someone says "conservative Democrat" they are intended to mean a Democrat that is right-of-center on most cultural and social issues, but that is left-of-center on most economic and bread and butter issues. This is largely true. But a 1994 Blue Dog (or Boll Weevil) tended to be an actual political conservative who believed in cutting taxes on the rich, rolling the trade unions, and so on. There really aren't any of those left in the Democratic Party, as they've all gone to the GOP.

There's another dynamic at play now that wasn't in 1992. In 1992, the Democrats had been running Congress for about fifty years, and they just assumed they would run it forever. Conservative Democrats didn't really care too much for Bill Clinton and his agenda, and many no doubt figured that opposing it would help them in their home districts. There was, in other words, a rift between the Congressional-level Democratic Party and the Presidential-level Democratic Party. The latter was dominated by liberals that nominated folks like Mike Dukakis and Fritz Mondale, while the former was dominated by right-leaning Southerners. This schism, by and large, no longer exists, as is evidenced by Georgia Senate candidate Jim Martin tying himself to Barack Obama after pushing his election with Saxby Chambliss into a runoff. Thanks to the events of the past few years and the progressive infrastructure that has been built, there is much more of an "all-for-one" feel among Democrats these days, and there are only a few Boll Weevil-like Gene Taylors and Dan Borens stalking the halls. At the same time, moderate Republicans of the sort that would perpetually tease Bill Clinton with their support have generally been replaced with reliable liberal Democrats, and those few remaining might have more of a motivation to seem bipartisan and moderate considering the electoral shift of the past two elections rather than just waiting until being restored to power--a wait that would no doubt take a while.

The Big Tent loses another one

David Frum leaves National Review. The wages of anti-intellectualism are, well, not having intellectuals having your back. Considering that conservatism was born of an intellectual movement, and that core conservative ideas (like supply-siderism) are not exactly intuitive to the average Joe, I wonder how long conservatism can survive without some smart people coming up with smart ideas at the top of the tree. I suspect not long.

Obama and identity politics

Jon Chait's advice to Obama: avoid the social issues for now, and focus on the economy. It's not bad advice. Eventually, it's not going to be possible: when John Paul Stevens retires, social issues will come to the fore once again. Chait is further correct to state that the sort of identity/constituency politics that dominated Clinton's cabinet-picking is to be avoided. This being said...isn't that what the cabinet is for these days? It's not like most secretaries set policy--maybe Defense and Treasury do, but generally they implement plans laid down by the White House.

Basically, giving various constituencies a high-profile presence in the cabinet makes sense, but there has to be a minimum competency test at play here. I think Clinton passes that test, as does Janet Napolitano for Attorney General. They can do the job, and they make a key constituency happy. It's a two-fer. The problem we risk is picking someone who mollifies an interest group but can't do the job, or, even worse, passing over the best candidate (like Larry Summers) because an interest group doesn't like him.

All in all, though, I feel reasonably confident that Obama will make good appointments--look at the team he picked for the campaign!--and that he'll sidestep culture war landmines. I believe this because I believe that Barack Obama is way smarter than Bill Clinton, and way more politically savvy. Some might object to this statement. I challenge you all to find me some evidence of times during the Clinton years where the Administration actually was able to successfully move public opinion. We had a crime bill, but the Democrats didn't become "tough on crime" in peoples' minds. We had NAFTA, but a majority of Americans still consider themselves protectionists. And we all know how Clinton was able to sell health care reform. Obama has been much better at setting the agenda than Bill Clinton was, and Obama has done better at shaping public opinion so far.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Republican Conundrum

Very perceptive post by Ed Kilgore here. He examines why the GOP still seems to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there is a hidden majority for right-wing ideas out there. Extra kudos to Kilgore for noting that politicians who actually tried to implement a conservative vision found themselves smacked around very quickly.

The thing about the Republican Party is that it draws many passively-willed people. It's a natural consequence of preaching about "old-fashioned family values": the people you attract are going to be people who don't much care for modernity, who don't really want to cause a fuss, and who don't have deeply thought-out political positions that go beyond that things used to be better. Just take the abortion issue: in the late 1970s, conservatives like Ronald Reagan and John Tower supported abortion rights, as did most protestants (though the religious right opposed abortion because of the feminist principles upon which it was based). Then Reagan changes his mind. And the GOP now largely opposes abortion rights. To be sure, there are many conservatives (mostly Catholic) who opposed abortion from the start, and it's not as though there aren't compelling pro-life arguments to be made that no doubt persuaded many thoughtful conservatives. Still, I see this as a clear example of my thesis: Republicans tend to be the sorts of people who fall in line with their elites. They tend more often to Messianism toward their leaders than do Democrats (this year being something of an exception), a la Reagan and Bush 43 after 9/11. They believe in strong leadership as being the path to implementing a conservative vision.

Unfortunately, even with strong leadership it hasn't happened. To continue the example, the pro-life movement hasn't accomplished any of its major objectives in 30-plus years. And yet, you don't hear widespread dissatisfaction with how the movement is serving its people. Movement types have become very adept at spiraling the blame outward. It's the liberal media's fault, of course. The liberals cheat to win. And so on. By feeding a deep and abiding sense of aggrievement they have distracted the rank and file from looking at just how abysmal their record has been.

Or is that really the case? I'm beginning to sense that there are an awful lot of conservatives out there who don't really care much about effective government. What is George Bush's approval rating among Republicans? It's still awfully high, the last time I checked. The GOP just doesn't care about whether things are run well, and the evidence of mainstream conservative revolt for most of Bush's term in office is proof of this. The fact that most Republicans were willing to elect, as vice president, a woman with little experience and no clue about national policy further underscores just how unserious today's GOP is about effective government. The Palin farce illustrates something rotten at the heart of the GOP--grievance has overpowered all else. It used to just be a tool to get conservatives to the polls, but nowadays a Republican can become the de facto face of the party by merely channeling banal resentments from the "real America" toward "fake America". And I thought that I would be spared more "two Americas" chatter after John Edwards doomed his career!

If the Republican Party is to survive, the party needs to change itself such that a Palin doesn't happen again. It needs to cultivate leaders that celebrate education and achievement, and reiterate that that's exactly what their party celebrates. It needs to speak to the fundamental notion that all Americans are real Americans, regardless of their skin color or where they live. The GOP cannot be a national party until it says these things. The old resentments need to die if conservatism is going to win any new converts, as a first priority. The GOP has fashioned itself as the redoubt of the embattled (White) middle class, and it has achieved some things on its behalf (like welfare reform). But the nation is changing, and unless the GOP largely drops all that tired Nixonian rhetoric, I believe it risks consignment to the dustbin of political parties who died off rather than readjust to change.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overstaying her welcome

Sarah Palin is still talking about Bill Ayres and desperately trying to retain attention and remain relevant. To a great degree, decrying women as ambitious is often a cloak for sexism, as ambitious men are not derided for this quality while the implication is that women just ought to know their place.

But Palin takes this to a new level. She is so desperate for power that it's pathetic. She can't hide it. Hillary Clinton seems positively modest by comparison. And unlike a female politician like, say, Kay Hagan who is ambitious and feisty, Palin simply lacks the intellect and personality to be anything other than a joke candidate. Clinging to the limelight is likely only to deepen these perceptions.

But I don't think that dragging things out with interviews is going to get Palin to where she wants to be. I think she ought to run for RNC Chair. I find it easy to believe that the idea of being party head would be appealing to her, and how many movement conservative types have been saying that she's the future of the party? Well, the future is now, bitches! Palin would be able to mobilize a huge grassroots army to support her, and although it's not a popularly elected position I would imagine that the RNC members would be sensitive to the outpouring. Now, I'm sure that many Republicans are doing a ketman sort of thing with respect to Palin, and that most are willing to outwardly praise her to the heavens while privately not wanting her within a mile of real power. These folks would have to put up or shut up. My guess is that she wouldn't win the chairmanship, and that while professional conservatives are perfectly willing to have the country led by an incompetent that mouths conservative platitudes but not their own party. I can hear it now, "Ooh, budgets are fun, gosh darn it! What does all this red ink mean?"

For Palin, though, it would be a win-win. If she wins, she wins, and she's the de jure party leader, which means she becomes a big national presence for four years and has the inside track at the 2012 nomination. If she loses, she can inveigh against the "old boys' club" of the party apparatus and take Mike Steele's legs out from under him before his first day on the job. Heck, she could probably form a shadow party apparatus on the internet, sorta like Barack Obama did. Plus, it would get her at least a few months' more news coverage and the timing feels right. Howard Dean managed to take hold of the DNC after losing in 2004 in the primaries. Palin was actually the nominee, and has been proclaimed by many of the right's leading lights as the future of conservatism and just about the only good thing that John McCain did. I think, with all the delusion going around, the right is due a moment of truth. I don't think Palin will do it, but who knows?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can this be for real?

John Hinderaker (via Steve Benen):

Obama thinks he is a good talker, but he is often undisciplined when he speaks. He needs to understand that as President, his words will be scrutinized and will have impact whether he intends it or not. In this regard, President Bush is an excellent model; Obama should take a lesson from his example. Bush never gets sloppy when he is speaking publicly. He chooses his words with care and precision, which is why his style sometimes seems halting. In the eight years he has been President, it is remarkable how few gaffes or verbal blunders he has committed. If Obama doesn't raise his standards, he will exceed Bush's total before he is inaugurated.

I'd say Hinderaker's communicative abilities are a bit superior to Bush's, though his intellectual capacity and/or his grasp of reality are equivalent to his hero's.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gingrich and the GOP Future

He's being bandied about as a potential RNC Chair or 2012 presidential candidate. I think that he stands a damn good chance of getting either one, if he wants. Democrats are gleeful at the prospect, and with good reason: Gingrich would likely be a disaster, the likes of which haven't been seen by the GOP since George W. Bush or, perhaps, Newt Gingrich.

The right would do well to be wary of a Gingrich reconquista of the Republican Party. After all, it didn't work out so well the first time. Yes, the GOP managed to gain congressional majorities. But they won them largely because America was (at the time) far more right wing, and shared the Republican positions on taxes, national security, welfare, etc. It was one part Clinton winding up a bit further to the left than where he said he would be, one part Clinton simply being a bad president at the beginning, and one part Democratic corruption in Congress. Put simply, the fundamentals of that election were sufficiently strong for Republicans that they could have run on a platform of free milk and cookies for everyone and making everyone watch Star Wars and have won a resounding majority.

So, Newt Gingrich's major accomplishments are to win an easily winnable election and welfare reform, which Bill Clinton talked about to a great extent while running for president anyway, and for which the president got more credit anyway. Newt failed to get the Contract with America passed. He pursued the disastrous government shutdown strategy, which led directly to Bill Clinton's reelection. He made a federal case out of the Lewinsky scandal, which only made Bill Clinton more popular and gave the Democrats more seats in Congress. After that, he was ignominously dumped from the Speakership by members of his own party. Of course, he was having an affair while trying to impeach Bill Clinton's sorry ass for the same thing, and he later divorced his wife on her deathbed. He's definitely the change that Republicans need right now.

Then again, one must compliment the man on his sense of timing. At this point, the Republicans are desperate. This loss hit them harder than they expected, and I think there are a few reasons for that. The most significant reason is that the Republicans thought they would win. Despite the odds, despite the economy and Iraq and all of it. They figured they would be running against Hillary Clinton, who would split the electorate down the middle. Clinton, of course, lost, and their usual demonization campaigns failed because they were running against someone who, surprisingly enough, people liked. One by one, all the conservative dogmas fell at the feet of the Obama machine.

So, now that the Republicans are feeling demoralized, who shows up but their beloved white knight, the man who brought them out from the wilderness in the first place? Gingrich can legitimately claim that he's done this before, albeit under very different circumstances. Nowadays, there are no issues where the Republicans have a dominant lead. Even taxes and national security are even up these days, and issues like education and health care are overwhelmingly Democratic issues. To his credit, Newt isn't afraid to offer conservative solutions to these problems. They're ususally awful, but he does address the issues. Unfortunately for Newt, the state of conservative thought is such that he'll have to start completely from scratch, as conservatism's last big and popular idea was welfare reform. Since then it's been a bunch of foul balls: vouchers and social security privatization being the biggest ones.

But this can't help but feel like a Back to the Future-style gambit. For the past few years, Republicans have been talking nonstop about Ronald Reagan, and now they want to relive the glory days of Newt Gingrich? This points to what we have already realized: that the GOP is simply exhausted, that it doesn't want to believe the heady days of Reagan are behind them and be forced to make the sorts of hard reforms it will need to make in order to compete nationally. Indeed, I would not be surprised if the Republican strategy over the next couple of years is to focus almost exclusively on kicking moderate Dems out of the South and replacing them with conservatives. It's a strategy that might net them some seats in the South, but nowhere else, and its enaction at a more mild level it's already lost them the Southwest. Consider this: four years ago, the GOP had majorities in the Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado congressional delegations, and a 3-to-1 advantage in Arizona. All of those states now have majority-Democratic delegations. And while the rightward shift might well get the Republicans more Southern seats, it would make the party even more toxic elsewhere. We might well see a Solid Southwest that is as universally Democratic as the South used to be. Certainly, there is a Solid Northeast in play at the Congressional level, and the West Coast is looking more daunting than ever for the Republicans. In fact, virtually everywhere is looking more daunting for the Republicans: Barack Obama won the blue states by huge margins, and he won the Western states of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico decisively. If he consolidates those states at their present levels of support, the presidency is simply out of reach for Republicans unless they are able to appeal to Democrats and independents.

Is Newt Gingrich the man for this job? I seriously doubt it, so as a partisan I welcome his elevation.

Lieberman punks the Democratic Party again

For the record, I think that booting Joe Lieberman from the Dem caucus would be an eminently reasonable thing to do. The idea that political parties have some sort of obligation to keep renegades on the party rolls is a surpassingly strange one. If you had a company, and one of your employees was not only moonlighting for the competition, but was publicly attacking your brand and saying that there was, I don't know, lead in your products--well, that person would be fired. I don't see how this situation is any different.

But the idea that Joe Lieberman would be able to stay on, to let bygones be bygones, seems weak. And for Harry Reid to put it to a caucus vote seems surpassingly weak. It is the action of a man who is terminally afraid of seeming aggressive, a man whose instinct is not to punish people for fear of looking vindictive, while not realizing that Republicans are watching this whole thing play out. They are seeing that Reid is a truly pathetic figure who is willing to be stepped upon so as to look magnanimous in the face of victory. A confident and assertive leader would have taken Lieberman aside and said, "You're losing your gavel. Those are the breaks. If you want to switch sides and spend four years in a depleted majority before losing reelection, then be my guest." Either that or just say, let bygones be bygones. But this dilly-dally shit just doesn't work. Not so much. The Democrats need to dump Reid, the sooner the better. Either Chris Dodd or Chuck Schumer would be better in general--don't know how they stand on this issue on particular, but the Democrats will have reasonably strong leadership in the House and the White House come January 20 of next year. There's got to be a Democrat somewhere who isn't willing to be treated like a punk.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Palin Watch

A Rasmussen poll finds her the overwhelming favorite for 2012, despite other polls that show the opposite. I'm not sure exactly what to think about this, as someone who has stated that the base will go with Palin over all the other comers this tends to verify my theory, but it just doesn't seem right. Palinphilia has always seemed like a mile-wide-inch-deep phenomenon, sort of like Quaylephilia. Then again, I highly doubt that reports of incompetence and idiocy are going to dissuade her hard-core supporters. After all, they mostly support George W. Bush, so they aren't too interested in, you know, intelligence and performance.

Lieberman down the chute?

I find the Lieberman melodrama fascinating. If I were Harry Reid, Lieberman would have been kicked out of the caucus by now. Why even bother with Lieberman anymore? It's not like you can trust him, and he had to figure that there was going to be some retribution for turning on his party's nominee. He hitched his star to John McCain, and it didn't take off.

Still, it's interesting that this is playing out in the media. Lieberman is trying to play the martyr and arouse sympathy among the public, but I have yet to see any evidence suggesting that too many people care about his fate. Basically, the prospect of public backlash is all he's got. And I highly doubt that he's going to leave the party in power by a sizable majority to become a GOP backbencher in a party that is unlikely to have much power for some time.

But I think it's worth noting just how poor a politician Joe Lieberman is. He supported the Republican candidate for President in a year where the fundamentals overwhelmingly favored the Democrats. Not only that, but he became one of McCain's biggest surrogates and dissemblers of GOP talking points, and McCain's first choice for vice president, all in a year where the Republicans had little chance to win. I guess he felt like he had no choice because he had little future in the Democratic Party, but just think of the alternative: imagine that Lieberman had endorsed Obama in, say, July 2007. He could have become one of Obama's top surrogates on many issues, especially if he hadn't hitched his wagon to Bush (WTF?!?!) starting in 2007. And, right now, he could be back in the good graces of Democrats and possibly be in line for a cabinet slot, instead of being in danger of losing his influence without anyone much seeming to care.

If this man is this politically tone deaf, how did he ever manage to get elected in the first place?

Abortion = end of Democrats? Umm, no.

Count me unimpressed by this TNR piece. Basically it says that the Democrats need to move to the center on abortion if they want to remain in power. And, yet, in four of the past five elections, pro-choice candidates for president have gotten more votes than their opponents. And South Dakota and Colorado rejected sweeping abortion bans on Tuesday. Where is the evidence that the voters are going to punish Obama if he doesn't moderate his course? Linker notes that Obama didn't improve his results among Evangelicals and White Catholics, which is true but misleading in the latter case, as Obama vastly improved his performance among Hispanics, who are inexplicably excluded among Catholics (I guess it's because only White religious types count as the foundation of a party. Like we haven't heard that before...) In any event, evangelicals would not vote for Obama unless he supported something like a sweeping ban on abortion, and even then they probably wouldn't because evangelicals are generally very conservative and not predisposed to support with Democrats. It's, once again, a variant of the "Democrats need to win White working class voters" argument we heard during the primaries. Why? Do their votes count for more than anyone else's? I hate to bring it up, but Barack Obama won 52.5% of the vote, regardless of (or because of) his pro-choice views. Exit polls showed that, among voters who voted on the issue, the effect was neutral for Obama. The notion that America has a lot of single-issue voters on abortion might be true, but these are not the majority, and most people are flexible on who they support for president, regardless of this issue. I know a lot of people who hold strong opinions on the matter on both sides are dismayed by this, but it's true.

And I would also dispute the notion that the Democrats are moving "left" on their rhetoric on abortion. It's the Republicans that are becoming more extreme by pushing bans on abortion, on a state and federal level, that even heavily pro-life states like South Dakota are rebelling against. The Democrats are proposing abortion reduction (as Obama said in the third debate), which seems like a good middle ground option to me. In terms of which party "sounds" more moderate on abortion, I think the Democrats win easily these days. In the final analysis, though, rhetoric on this issue is less important than actions. And I just don't see too much evidence that Americans reject a President who is pro-choice. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Basically, this article seems to be in service to a preexisting argument rather than the results of serious study, and is more than a little self-serving, banal, and silly. I would say that it's embarrassing that The New Republic publishes such sloppy work, but that ain't exactly news.

Permanent Majority

I just want to say right now that I don't believe in a permanent Democratic majority. I think that a similar insistence was one of the reasons why the GOP veered so badly off track. Power corrupts, and the longer you stay in power, the more you get corrupted. Fires are actually a part of the lifecycle of a forest, and so must losses be a part of any healthy party or political movement, as they provide an opportunity to unload dead wood and to reexamine a party's direction.

Such a goal also misses the point of political power. If one's desire is to stay in power forever, one is going to make decisions that are going to keep one's self in power rather than out of ideological conviction or an attempt to change the world. As it turned out, this is exactly what the GOP did--any pretense at Goldwaterite conservatism is ridiculous. The embrace of unconservative ideas, like the prescription drug giveaway, neoconservatism and the bailout seem like odd things for a true adherent of limited government to embrace, but they seem like totally natural things for a cynical power-grabber to embrace. Viewed through this lens, the last eight years become immediately comprehensible, and it explains why Bush did other things like signing McCain-Feingold and trying immigration reform. Why a conservative would want a massive giveaway to prescription drug companies is a real question, but why would a president who got gazillions of dollars from these people help them out? That's a no-brainer.

One hopes that Obama understands this, and that his administration will not only try to remain politically powerful (this is important, after all) but will also fight to improve the country in ways that will be difficult to dismantle.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama the compromiser?

A lot of people are worried about the prospects for progressive change under an Obama Administration featuring Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel. These two dudes are more frequently associated with the centrist/New Dem wing of the Democratic Party, but both have been saying things significantly more progressive as of late.

Ultimately, the relevant question is: is Obama a compromiser? Not in a horse-trading, half-step is better than none way, but rather: is he going to compromise his ideals for political power? I can't imagine anyone who lived through the primaries saying that. I understand the nervousness on the part of liberals on reliving the Clinton years. Obama ain't Clinton. He's smarter, tougher, a better communicator and more ideologically coherent. And he picks excellent staff--this is how he won in the first place.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From the casefiles of WTF?!?!?! was John McCain thinking?

So Sarah Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent and not a country. She couldn't name a single periodical that she read. She couldn't name a single SCOTUS case, other than Roe v. Wade. At this point, it's not inconceivable that she wouldn't be able to answer a question about the identity of the denizen of Grant's tomb. "You know, back in the great state of Alaska I worked with both parties to get things done because I'm a Myav-rick just like John McCain a great hero who I am just so gosh-darn proud to serve as vice president if I get the ability to--if the people give us the opportunity to make improvements on solar power and wind and get trade and education and blah blah blah."

At this point, the only way to rid ourselves of this menace for good is to turn her into a punchline preemptively so that she can't take her religious fanaticism/ignorance/diva-ness into any real power. As I recall, this plan worked pretty well in the film The Dead Zone, in which Christopher Walken was able to see into the future of a sleazy politician (played by Martin Sheen) to discover that he would end the world. I don't think that Palin would do that, per se, but I think she'd be so inept for the job that she'd make George W. Bush look like FDR.

In a funny way, John McCain's greatest service to his country might well have been his Palin pick, cynical and dishonest though it was. By picking Palin before she had years to become a relentlessly scripted talking point machine to hide her gaping vacuousness (a la Bush), McCain plucked her before she had that polish, when it was blindingly apparent that she had absolutely nothing going on upstairs. This is the underlying perception of her now: as a poseur who is grossly unworthy of the job for which she was applying. Her future in national politics is over just as surely as if she had held up a baby as a human shield to stop sniper fire.

McCain wound up exposing Sarah Palin for what she was. It might well turn out to be the only good thing to come out of his campaign.

Ralph Nader is a Douchebag, Part II

How much of a d-bag is Ralph Nader? So much so that Shepard Smith at Fox News had to bat him down for race-baiting Obama. Fox friggin' News comes off as tolerant and enlightened compared to this guy!

Big government conservatism wasn't the problem

Yglesias flays this argument. But I understand why libertarians would say this. When all you have is a hammer, pretty much everything looks like a nail. The fact that the fundamental tenets of libertarianism have been pretty definitively disproven, at least in economic terms, they persist. Basically, this is the sort of thing that you would expect self-interested partisans to say. But they should be careful that they don't buy into their own spin.

Republicans need to embrace Reagan

Kevin Drum makes the counterintuitive, and correct, argument.

Has the pro-life movement peaked?

For all the attention paid to Prop 8, less attention was paid to South Dakota Initiative Two, which would have banned all abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, or the mother's health. It went down, 55%-45%. And the "personhood" amendment did even worse in Colorado. This is something to keep in mind as the GOP contemplates moving even more aggressively to emphasize contrasts on abortion and gay marriage: while a whole lot of people consider themselves pro-life, many of those people don't really want to make abortion illegal or overturn Roe. Indeed, while the pro-choice/pro-life split is about even in most polls, polls also show 2:1 support for retaining Roe (albeit with some restrictions, like parental notification).

Now, Americans don't vote solely on abortion. Not by any means. So moving aggressively to the right on abortion (for example, championing a "life amendment") probably wouldn't sink the GOP any lower than they already are. This is sad but true. However, it is unlikely that such policies would add voters to the GOP column, and ceding the center ground on the abortion position to the Democrats would be fatal to the pro-life movement, especially since Barack Obama and the Democrats have developed compelling new rhetoric that doesn't really sound much like the "if it feels good, do it" caricature that wingnuts have been distributing for years. That was very effective, and it probably helped grow the pro-life movement immensely. But the pro-life movement is in real danger if it definse pro-lifeism as "banning all abortion" because, as you see, even in one of the most pro-life states in the Union such measures are defeated handily. In the end, I believe that savvy pro-lifers will embrace the same "abortion reduction" argument as pro-choicers seemingly have. So much the better.

A silver lining

I know that a lot of you, like me, were greatly saddened to hear that Proposition 8, the California Initiative to ban gay marriage, narrowly passed. But, while those of us who favor equality have lost the battle, it is clear that the idea of equality is winning the war.

How could this have happened? I'm sure that you are asking, as am I. After all, polls during the summer showed Prop 8 losing in a landslide. As I see it, there were two major dynamics at play. The first, of course, was the effective and unbelievably deceptive campaign in favor of Prop 8. Usually, politicians will distort the truth--that's how a vote against a pork-laden defense bill full of $500 ashtrays becomes a vote to defund the troops. It might be true from a certain perspective, but it doesn't tell the whole story. But the Prop 8 advocates, on the other hand, invented a whole load of crap about teaching gay marriage in schools, forcing churches to perform marriages, etc. Untrue, paranoid, and unsupported by the evidence, as Massachusetts has had marriage equality for about four years now and none of that stuff has happened.

This, however, might not have mattered as much as the second cause. I think it's wonderful that America has just elected a black president, and I have been a supporter of President-elect Obama's (how awesome it is to write that!) since he announced his candidacy in February 2007. I think electing a black man is a wonderful statement of why America is different, and a lot of blacks feel the same way. Unfortunately, they voted nearly 2-to-1 in favor of Prop 8, and the elevated turnout that Obama caused among black voters might well have been the single most important element in Prop 8's success. One must appreciate the irony, as Barack Obama is the most progressive president we've had since Lyndon Johnson, and yet his election has led directly to a profoundly regressive result here in California.

This has been a tough loss, but I think it has been an instructive one. We now know that the LDS Church, far from being a quirky, conservative institution that stays out of politics, is actually part of the Robertson-Falwell-Dobson axis of intolerance. We now know that we can't take anything for granted in this struggle. And we now know who our real friends are. Perhaps the most resounding lesson of this election is that advocates of same-sex marriage now know that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is no friend of ours. Despite years as a self-styled equality advocate, he vetoed two separate bills to legalize gay marriage, preferring to let the courts weigh in on the matter. They weighed in on the side of equality, and Schwarzenegger said he disagreed and that he would campaign against Prop 8. He did no such thing, instead heading over to Ohio to campaign for John McCain. He didn't lift a finger to help us, and we equality types now know that he's little more than a typical politician trying to be all things to all people. (Some might lay blame on Barack Obama for not speaking out against Prop 8 more. Let's not forget that Obama has never professed support for same-sex marriage as Arnold did, and that he actually did oppose Prop 8 as discriminatory and reiterated that support on MTV the weekend before the election. I'd say he overdelivered on expectations.)

And, while one can lay the blame at unscrupulous Prop 8 supporters, the truth is that the pro-equality side got lazy. We assumed it was in the bag, and so did the people running the No on 8 campaign. Things improved over the past two weeks, but it wasn't enough to offset the damage done by Gavin Newsom (has there been a better friend to anti-equality types?). We can place the blame on others, but some lies with ourselves as well.

So, that's how we got here. I was upset when I heard that Prop 8 passed, but I'm feeling much better now. I don't feel like the hours I volunteered to this effort or the money I donated were wasted at all. And there's actually much to be hopeful for in the future. Let's look at it this way: in 2000, a same-sex marriage ban passed with 60% of the vote. This year it only got 52%. That means that, in eight years, the anti-equality folks lost 8% of the vote, or about 1% per year. This is, no doubt, the confluence of older voters (who generally oppose equality) dying off while younger and more tolerant voters enter the scene, as well as changes of heart. If these trends continue, then in two years a similar proposition would be neck-and-neck and in four years it would lose by the same margin by which Prop 8 won this year. These are, of course, conservative estimates, and I wonder whether equality could pass in 2010 when Barack Obama will not be on the ballot. Progress occurs slowly. I was hoping this would be one of those times where there was a sudden burst of change, but it turned out to be too soon. Nevertheless, the trends are clear: while we have lost this battle (and we will lose some battles) we are winning this war. Anyone who really thinks that marriage equality is gone from California forever needs to remember those two numbers: 60% and 52%. At this point, we are winning the war, and the only way to lose it is to lose faith, to give up, and to throw up our hands and cluck our tongues at bigotry without trying to persuade others that we're right. And I think we have some pretty strong arguments going for us.

I think that this loss could actually be a good thing , because it is a wake-up call for those of us who thought it would be easy. What it means is that those of us who truly believe in this cause need to get off the sidelines. We need to be persuading others, and giving our time and money to the cause. It's going to be a hard fight, but I know that I have some fight left in me. Let's get real, and let's get back in the ring. We can do this if we want to. As Andrew Sullivan is fond of saying, know hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breaking News: Nader Still A Douchebag

We already knew this, but doesn't this part sound like sour grapes:

He also called the money raised by Obama to support his campaign, "disgusting."

John McCain sounded similar notes earlier. This is just stupid. The problem with money in politics isn't that there's too much money in politics, but rather that wealthy individuals and special interests and corporations could buy lots of influence. What Nader and McCain share is a lack of understanding of what the problem with campaign finance should do.

Of course, the idea of writing laws to keep special interest money out of politics seems analogous to me to trying to develop the world's best sieve to keep water from dripping through. It seems like better methods are out there, such as either full public financing, encouraging a more even distribution of wealth (i.e. "spreading the wealth around") so as to minimize such vast inequities, or the Obama model of a large amount of small donors. Liberals are often identified with a "have the government do everything" philosophy, but the campaign finance reform problem might well be solvable sans government help, as politicians on both sides of the spectrum will probably try to emulate Obama's successes, rather than through sweeping bipartisan bills.

Maybe that's why McCain hates Obama so much!

An early salvo in the upcoming conservative civil war

Andrew Sullivan attacks the center-right populists (e.g. Salam, Ponnuru, Douthat, etc.) for being insufficiently small government. I like Andrew and respect his views immensely, but I don't think it's wrong to try to find a center-right coalition that can win, largely because small government conservatism can't win. Now, that might seem counter-intuitive, and I'll admit that "small government" conservatism can win. I would guess that you intend my meaning.

Saying that you favor "small government" as an abstract idea is popular. But there's just not much there that it is politically feasible to cut. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public education--these are all really popular liberal programs. No conservative can cut any of these. Conservatives are not predisposed to cutting defense. That leaves an amorphous "waste" to be cut that is usually outweighed by tax cuts for the rich (in reality, Bush's tax cuts weren't tax cuts so much as credit card charges for which the government took the tab).

To be fair, Sullivan has been generally a principled, small government conservative and has opposed many of the excesses of the Bush years. But I think that you are eventually going to see more of a split between the GOP and the conservative movement. The GOP cannot live in the world of absolute principles and ideological purity--it has to be able to win elections, and the country is well to the left of Sullivan. Now, his insights--and the insights of conservatives in general--are interesting and valuable. But it's just not where the country is.

Tzipi Livni for Prime Minister

For the reasons outlined here. I don't think true peace is achievable at this point between Israel and Palestine, but if it is you need somebody committed to peace in order to achieve it. I do think that formal peace with Syria, for example, is achievable. Livni believes in peace. Benjamin Netanyahu does not. If he is elected, he will scuttle the peace talks in short order and reinvade Gaza. He will act like the hawkish tool that he is and let Islamists provoke him, just as they successfully did with Olmert in 2006. In short, any possibility of peace goes out the window if Bibi returns to the premiership.

In general, though, I don't understand Americans who take partisan sides in other countries' politics. In Britain, for example, I don't really take sides between Labour and the Conservatives. (This, of course, presupposes that there is an appreciable difference between the two these days.) Gordon Brown would be an Atlanticist who would continue the special relationship. Same with David Cameron. If anything, I'm pulling for Cameron as I hope that US conservatives use him as a model for reforming their movement.

Prop 8 Losing

Let's hope it holds up:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Liberal outrage alert: alternate history edition

You can check it out at Washington Monthly, where Hilzoy flays Kevin Drum for saying that the cause of liberalism is better off under Obama than it was under Kerry. She takes this to mean that Drum is saying that the country is better off because Kerry lost, and uses SCOTUS and Katrina as examples. Of course, fighting the straw man is easier than confronting the actual argument.

Actually, I can forsee a scenario under which Drum is wrong (though I think he's right). Had Kerry gotten another 200k votes in Ohio and won his presidency would probably have been crippled out of the gate, especially when dealing with a GOP congress out for blood after being cheated out of the election by the framers (though not without a certain poetic justice). Kerry would have gotten bupkis done domestically, so he probably would have focused full-time on foreign policy. Had he turned things around in Iraq, he might well have sent the GOP into electoral oblivion. Kerry was preferred on domestic policy, to be sure. Foreign policy was his weakness.

Indeed, had Kerry surged in Iraq around 2005, I would imagine that most hawks would have supported the action. And then there's the little matter of the Anbar Awakening and Petraeus. The Awakening happened independent of Bush's Iraq policy, and Petraeus was really popular among pro-war Dems. Basically, had Kerry done in 2005 what Bush did in 2007 (back when it would have been more effective) he might well have become the most powerful president in recent memory. And he might well have ushered in a Democratic wave in 2006.

But one wonders whether this would have been good for the cause of liberalism anyway. If Kerry had gotten Iraq right, the Democratic Party would undoubtedly be more hawkish today. Rather than the Deaniac antiwar faction emerging the victor in the Dem internal battles, the Lieberman faction would have been transcendent. Ned Lamont would never have challenged Joe Lieberman in 2006. Barack Obama would have had a far more cloudy path to power. And Hillary Clinton would be the odds-on favorite to succeed Kerry in 2012. Provided, of course, that Kerry would have been smart enough to avoid the financial crisis.

My predictions

I think Obama is going to win with 378 electoral votes. Basically, I think Obama will sweep the swing states over at, with the most iffy states being Indiana and Missouri. I suspect Ohio and Florida will follow national trends--Ohio will be fairly decisively for Obama, Florida will be close, but Obama will win both. The big surprises will be North Dakota, Indiana and North Carolina, of course. Georgia and Montana might well flip, but I've yet to see Obama winning in a creditable poll of those states. They might just flip, though. North Dakota, Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana are all shaky, but I think Obama is favored in all of them.

In terms of the Senate, the Dems will get 59 seats counting Lieberman. All the usual suspects, plus Al Franken. I don't think the Democrats are going to win in MS, KY or GA, though the latter is the most likely, and would be the most satisfying for Dems who remember Saxby Chambliss's campaign against Max Cleland (and Daniel Larison).

House races are complicated, but I think somewhere upwards of 30 more seats, with Marilyn Musgrave and Michele Bachmann being ousted. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it will be closer to 50 seats than 30, just due to so many "safe" races not having been polled where disgusted voters might oust their incumbents. If the Dems get something close to 290, the GOP will become almost totally irrelevant to the proceedings of the next few years.

More on Israel

It's a little weird that I agree with Jeff Goldberg over Joe Klein about Israel, and yet that is the position in which I find myself. I think Goldberg makes a fair case here. What dismays me most about the crisis is just how impossible it is to actually have a public debate about Israel in this country, as the right evidently believes unquestioning support of Israel (read: Likud) is the only defensible policy. The right often (and often unjustifiably, though not always) complains about political correctness in American life, but the Israel issue is the most clear example of this that there is. When one side of the spectrum vilifies a former president for daring to insinuate that life for Palestinians isn't all that good; when one side of the spectrum decries the Zionism of a current presidential candidate because he was friendly with an American scholar of Palestine (seriously!); when one side of the spectrum stifles dissent on the 2006 Lebanon War--perhaps the most barbaric, unprovoked and indefensible conflict of the past decade, with the only possible exception being Iraq--as not "supporting" Israel then clearly there is no room to debate. And, ultimately, the right sees America not as an ally of Israel but rather as a rubber stamp. And such a policy is necessary because of the 30% or so of the country that is fundamentalist Christian and that supports Israel due to end times eschatology.

Still, Goldberg is right that caring about Israel and actively trying to protect it is defensible, and crucially that these things should be debatable. Unfortunately, you can't really debate religious fanatics. But in an ideal world public officials should be able to say, for example, that Israeli policy since Barak's premiership ended has made peace far less likely and have hurt Palestinians greatly, and that this has been the goal--rather then ending the conflict, dead-enders like Sharon and Netanyahu want to win it. And they're welcome to try. But I think that we should hesitate to endorse such tactics if we want to maintain even the pretense that we care about human rights rather than endorsing realpolitik.

Then again, I'm just a moderate on this issue who likes both parties and wishes that they could come to an amicable solution. And they will eventually, and it will look an awful lot like the two state solution we've heard of before. But Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert have made such peace far more costly than it needed to be.

The Israel Attack

I must confess that the Republican fixation on deriding the opposition as being too weak on Israel baffles me. It has shown up a lot during this election, most recently here. Are the Republicans really that obsessed with the Jewish vote? It's more uniformly liberal than evangelicals are conservative. And the people that are really obsessed with Israel outside the Jewish community--the fundamentalist Christians--are presumably in the bag. Sure, most Americans support and like Israel, and if Obama were seriously proposing pressuring Israel into making a deal on, say, right of return or Jerusalem this might be cause for widespread concern, but he just isn't.

One must conclude that this attack is all about emphasizing Obama's "otherness", and this element of the campaign has been one of the darkest stains on John McCain's honor. One might even reasonably conclude that this was done to spread the rumor that Obama is a closet Muslim or has such sympathies. I do find it most interesting that the constituency for the most hard-core militant pro-Israel policies exist almost exclusively among Gentiles--sure, there are some neocon Jews, but you could fit them all into a medium-sized basketball arena. The fundamentalist Christians of which I am speaking make up nearly one third of the country. When the right talks about a candidate or group being weak on Israel, their audience is almost never Jews but rather their base of fundies, whose interest in Israel is mostly about eschatology. In this case, the motive for this attack is a bit different.

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.