Friday, February 27, 2009

He'll hand the seat to the Dems if the GOP tries to oust him

The Sen. Jim Bunning saga just got weirder. Republicans want to primary the senile old coot's ass, so he's offering an ultimatum: if they bring forth a primary challenger (which they really want to do), he's just going to resign and let the state's Democratic governor appoint his replacement. The story is here. I didn't think this was going to turn into a test of wills. Republicans really are in a tough spot, as they want to get rid of Bunning really badly (he is senile, and Nate Silver has the rest here) but want to hold on to the seat.

My guess is that the GOP backs down and supports Bunning, even though he's far from a sure thing to win reelection they don't want to increase their risk of losing more senators.

Toward a kinder, gentler rushbo

Rick Perlstein leaves his blog after offering commentary on Rush Limbaugh's gender hour. It's quite hilarious:

Someone calls in and admits that, yes, she has a woman friend who listened to Rush once, and hated the experience. He goes into fulmination mode: how could she have any informed opinion about him if she's only listened once?

Well, the caller replies, she thought you were pompous.

"Pompous?! (literally incredulous). "Do you think I'm pompous."

I've never heard him so nervous. He's never worried about his audience before.

The caller admits that, yes, she's occasionally found Rush Limbaugh a little pomp—though she can't complete the thought because Rush interrupts her.

"Irreverent, yes!" says the man who calls himself "El Rushbo," calls his company the Excellence in Broadcasting Network, brags that he carries out his show with half his brain tied behind his back at all times, and that he's ninety-nine-point-nine percent correct about everything. "I'm not pompous."

He pauses a bit. Perhaps he realizes he's stretched credulity.

"I'm not changing that." He returns to the datum that her friend only listened to the show a single time: "Demand that you and her listen to the program together and report back."

End of call. For bumper music going into commercial, he puts on Barry White making sexual grunts.

There's also this little gem: "It's just then that I recall someone making a perfect description of Rush Limbaugh's voice: it sounds like a woman imitating her know-it-all ex-husband." You know, Limbaugh's books sold more than Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, and this used to be something that the right used to needle the left. Ironic then that Rush is, if anything, on the downslope of his influence (he couldn't even stop "Juan" McCain from getting the GOP nomination) while Al Franken is very likely to be a U.S. Senator very soon. The moral arc of the universe at work and all that, I suppose...

Politics at this moment in time

Andrew Sullivan praises President Obama's political acumen while expressing worry about the effects of his agenda, all the while conceding that this is Obama's moment and his ideas might well be right for the times. I recommend reading it, as it's not too long but it is thoughtful. I think that this sort of feeling ought to be the mainstream sentiment among conservatives--it's at once patriotic, ideological but pragmatic, and constructive. The conservative movement could do worse than to emulate Sullivan's sentiments, and it seems they are:
There is plenty of confidence [at CPAC] that the new president is going to push Americans back into their arms.

“This is probably too strong,” said Doug Haney, the city attorney in Carmel, Ind. and a Republican precinct committeeman, “but Hitler also gave great speeches.”
I recommend following Dave Weigel's reporting from CPAC, the most intriguing of which can be found here. It's packed with good stuff. Okay, I understand, they don't want to admit failure. Fine. But don't these people have a moment's doubt about their views after 2008? Sure, they'll get another shot eventually, but aren't they worried that the same problems will recur again? I guess unyielding faith in political dogma is what you get when you base your party on an unwielding faith to religious dogma.

Still, it seems to me that the recent parade of hits from the GOP folks--decrying spending on mice, volcanoes, tattoes--seems more to be geared toward getting chuckles at places like CPAC (Instead of removing tattoos, President Obama should remove his party's lips from the money faucet! Har har!) rather than mounting a serious critique of Obamanomics. And this is what happens when the party is whittled down to its base--you don't have anyone who represents anyone other than ultraright conservatives, and therefore you don't have anyone who can pitch anything to anyone other than ultraright conservatives, except for the moderates who are the most hated in the party. I suspect that this entire generation of conservative leaders is lost to the idiocy, which is a bad thing for us liberals since good opposition makes policies better. I'd much rather have right-left arguments and left-further left arguments than just the latter. Unfortunately, since the only people serious about governing are on the left that's just how it goes.

None of this is terribly original, just what's been on my mind lately. Reading dispatches from CPAC really does make me feel like these folks have lost their minds.

Update: If you read the article, you will read about some Huck idiocy. I still tend to believe that he's the GOP's only hope of real reform, but in light of his recent statements I'm beginning to believe that there therefore is no hope.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dept. of Things That Shouldn't Exist

Now this really sounds awful:
The comedian's project is tentatively called "The Marriage Ref" and features celebrities, comedians and athletes who will judge couples in the midst of marital disputes while recommending various strategies to resolve their problems.

Seinfeld is partnering with "The Oprah Winfrey Show" veteran Ellen Rakieten on the project, which reunites the comedian with the network that aired his hit sitcom "Seinfeld" for nine years.
Amelie Gillette has the right idea: "Why picture it when I could just stare at a blank wall until I fall asleep and get the same effect? It's never a good sign when you have to specifically inform people that, yes, this is supposed to be a comedy show."

Then there's this from Seinfeld:
"This is not a therapy show, it's a comedy show," said Seinfeld. "After nine years of marriage, I have discovered that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich."
Yes, that's quite an insight. Who would have thought to make a comedy out of a marriage? Ray who?

As I think about it, I find that I'm not terribly interested in rewatching any Seinfeld episodes in the forseeable future. It just feels outdated these days, especially since similar shows like It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia have gone much further (and contain a much higher quotient of laughs) than Seinfeld ever did. Still, it's hard to dispute Seinfeld's influence, though watching him hocking progressively suckier projects reminds me of Rudy Giuliani's primary campaign (or John McCain's, for that matter) for 2008: it's disappointing to see people you used to like become more and more pathetic as they prostitute themselves to remain relevant. Ugh.

Oh, and there's also this:
"Jerry called us up and told us he had an idea," Silverman said. "He flew in to sit down with us, and he and Ellen pitched the show. We were laughing the whole time as they went through the concept. As Jerry noted, some of the greatest comedies in history have been about marriage."
Look, of course all you NBC suits are going to laugh hysterically at whatever Jerry Seinfeld says. He's Jerry fucking Seinfeld and not only is he funny, but I bet your sweet ass that even if he started telling, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" jokes you'd still be laughing because you toadies want to maintain a good relationship with Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most famous and popular entertainers living today. So pardon me if I ask whether or not you are protesting too much.

I am just curious about something: where is NBC's LOST? Where is it's 24 (so to speak)? It seems that all the other channels each have a big-time, critically acclaimed serial series, while NBC is tossing out more reality sludge with Jerry Seinfeld and has-been Jay Leno. Since I don't have TV (I catch everything I want on Hulu) I don't know what their programming schedule is like, but it's pretty sad from what I can tell. And I bet Conan gets seriously dumbed down as well when he becomes Mr. Late Night.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bobby Jindal is the first Bobby Jindal

TNC nails it here. And this reminds me of what annoys me about historical analogies: they're just that. Analogies. Since we aren't in Isaac Asimov's universe and we don't have formally cyclical history it doesn't mean anything at all, as two moments are never quite the same. Two people are never quite the same. What works for one might not work for another.

But, yeah, Jindal really screwed things up. What would have been more interesting is, if instead of a prepared speech and a teleprompter, Jindal had watched Obama's speech with a pencil and pad of paper and just made a few notes, then talked extemporaneously about what he thought about the speech. Sure, this approach might well have been as disastrous as what Jindal did, but I can't imagine the results would have been worse--if Jindal really is as bright and talented as his boosters declare, then surely he can make an off the cuff speech, no? It might have had more freshness and energy than the guy actually produced.

Actually, considering recent history with these cross-party responses, I suspect my response would be better. More risky, certainly, but as the Ferengi would tell us, the greater the risk, the greater the latinum.

Hilda Solis is Secretary of Labor

It's nice to see another Cal Polyite going places in the world, even if it's the wrong Cal Poly...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Moderation and the Republicans

We've heard this story before, but I wanted to write about it considering Michael Steele's recent remarks. It has become fashionable for Republicans to follow the Rush/Gingrich model and hope that steadfast opposition will somehow bring them back into power (see Cantor, Eric). Often deputized into this argument, at least among some conservatives, is the example of the Democratic Party's resurgence. The Democrats didn't moderate--in fact, they moved further left, the argument goes, so why should Republicans?

First off, I recall the party line after the 2006 elections being that the Democratic Party's return to power was actually a victory for conservatism, and that it was the result of Republicans being too wasteful. The latter was the McCain campaign's line. But the former doesn't compute--empowering the center-left party is a victory for the right? The argument was that most of the Democrats who won were conservative Democrats. Of course, this is silly on its face, since there's a world of difference between a conservative Democrat and a conservative Republican. See this chart if you don't agree. But it is a relief to know that the class of 2006 was actually a victory for fire-breathing liberals like Heath Shuler and Bob Casey.

The examples of Shuler and Casey are actually very constructive. After 2004 the Democrats chose three major issues upon which to campaign: corruption, the war, and the economy. The latter involved a shift to the left, but the former involved no shift and Iraq war opposition, while anti-Bush, isn't particularly liberal, as Daniel Larison can attest. So, ultimately not a huge leftward shift. On the contrary, the Democrats moderated significantly on culture war issues like abortion, as Casey and Shuler can attest. Shuler might be excused because nobody more liberal than him could have won his district, but Casey cannot, as a more credentialed social progressive could easily have won a race against Rick "Santorum" Santorum. But selecting him, and people like him, was a signal that social issues were out, and the economy and the war were in as the major Democratic issues. This was a very wise decision in retrospect, as culture war tropes were soon to get tired as the economy tanked, and Democrats' focus on the economy paid dividends.

Ah ah, some of our conservative-minded friends might say, that doesn't count as moderation. The Democratic Party is still pro-choice! Yes, it is, but backing candidates who buck the party line is an act of moderation, because in doing so you are changing the composition of your party. Backing Bob Caseys and Jim Langevins (of course, Langevin chose not to run) sends a signal, but it also means that people on the opposite side of the culture war are represented in your camp, which gives you a reason not to pursue it so singlemindedly. Indeed, were it not for the Caseys and Langevins of the world--in other words, were this still Bill Clinton's Democratic Party--the Freedom of Choice Act would have already come up for a vote in Congress. And, ultimately, that it hasn't is frankly good news from a political standpoint. At this point, it would serve only to antagonize pro-lifers, many of which have been welcomed into the Democratic fold. In my mind, this process counts as moderation.

So hopefully this answers the notion that moderation isn't required. Indeed it is. Sure, the Democrats had to modulate their pitch to the public--which meant less "Get your laws off my body!" and more "Americans are being left behind by globalization." People responded more to that message. However, in order to be successful, Republicans need to find a pitch that can get them 50+1 percent, one which addresses peoples' anxieties and sets up the GOP for the cure. Naturally, this will involve moderating on some issues and sharpening on others. I don't know what that will wind up looking like, but I am almost positive on one thing: the next Republican president will be Democrat-lite on economic issues. Especially if Obama manages to turn the economy around.

Monday, February 23, 2009

And now for a brief interlude

I am going to be taking some time off of posting this week. I haven't felt particularly inspired for a little while now, and hopefully things will pick up when I've had some time to let things percolate and whatnot. I might pop in for the odd thing here or there, but that's all for now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Battlestar Galactica Post

Wow, that sucked. I think someone forgot to tell the show's writers that the show is going to be ending in four episodes, because they're sticking with the same formless crap they've been trotting out since the New Caprica storyline ended, and I'm looking forward to hearing BSG dissident Bill Simmon rip this ep a new one when the podcast pops up. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the show had been developing a positive momentum during the past few weeks, and it was making me think that that awful episode after the season opener might well have been an aberration. Now, it looks as though the show is reverting to the mean. Seriously, it seems like every time the show starts to get awful it has a brief good spurt before reverting to suck. This spurt is over.

Basically, Ellen Tigh returned to the ship today. In the first of a series of jump the shark moments in this episode, she got angry when she found out that Saul had fathered a child with Caprica Six. This is the same Ellen Tigh that slept with most of the fleet. This led to several angry confrontations with Six. How dare she steal the man of a dead woman who everyone thought was a human until three episodes ago! BSG as soap opera. I guess she was angry because it showed that Tigh loved Six enough to give her a child but didn't love Ellen. Let's put aside that Six is in her late twenties or early thirties and that Ellen is likely menopausal. Let's ignore that the idea that "love" creates a cylon baby is just a rumor that Helo and Sharon thought of to explain why she was pregnant. The fact that Tigh would stay with a woman like Ellen--who constantly lied to him and betrayed him, while he did no such things to her--would likely be due to love, no? And then Caprica Six has a miscarriage, presumably because Saul doesn't completely love her anymore? WTF?! I thought that the whole point of their liaison was because she reminded him of Ellen. Clearly there can be pregnancies when Saul is in love with other women. This episode was so stupid and poorly written I really do want to hurt whoever wrote this thing (and this isn't even mentioning the fleet's command authority giving Baltar's cult guns? What? Are they really that stupid? Answer: when the story requires them to be that stupid, they are!) And let's not notice that the most libertine, freeloving character on the show is now the most prudish? Ellen was never interested in having children before this, in any event, and I realize that the whole end of the Cylon race thing might make her reevaluate those choices, but then under the circumstances shouldn't she be happy that Cylons can reproduce, and that the Tigh-Six baby proves it? And then she wants to leave the fleet on top of the stupidity, despite being utterly defenseless. So much for carrying on the cylon race!

At some point a long time ago, BSG ceased to resemble anything of aesthetic value and merely became brainless entertainment. Fine. I can do that. But it's getting so that you can't just turn your brain off to enjoy it--you need to use your brain to reconcile the flaws in the stories that are being introduced. I feel like a Soviet intellectual trying to use dialectical materialism to square the circle of the Leninist worldview. And the antilogic of the show would be easier to handle if it actually were still able to captivate. That isn't the case either. What I don't understand is that the show was able to elegantly tie much of the show's mythology together in last week's installment. Why can't they write a simple episode that doesn't require massive intellectual contortions to square with established character traits and common sense? I suppose some of the mysteries of BSG will never be solved.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Which Republican should Democrats want to face in 2012?

Which one indeed? I think it depends on what Democrats themselves want. If we want the best opportunity to hold the White House, I think the answer to my question has to be Sarah Palin. Her "colorful" past might well yield some more interesting anecdotes--just how pally was she with Ted Stevens?--and her "maverick" reform-oriented image will not likely survive a GOP primary race. This is not to mention that she wears poorly with time and can't take the pressure that comes with the nearly two years that presidential campaigns take these days. She barely lasted a few weeks in 2008 before she became an incoherent babbler with Katie Couric. How's she going to be in November 2011, with Mitt Romney running attack ads about aerial wolf shooting in Iowa and New Hampshire? She'd likely suffer a meltdown, and even if she won the nomination she's not terribly popular with the electorate and not particularly knowledgeable about policy. So she'd be unlikely to win, and Palin stands as a perfect example of the Peter Principle--had McCain not picked her, she would probably have made a fine regional politician and possibly a reform-oriented voice within the GOP, though not likely a national candidate. Oh well.

So Palin is the option if Democrats want to win. What's a step down from that? Well, I think that Florida Governor Charlie Crist is probably the Republican that Democrats would be most able to live with. Crist, unlike most of his comrades in the party of Rove, is scrupulously honest and principled. He's conservative, but he knows how to appeal to the center while not ceding the right. Crist would be a good candidate for a "Sam's Club Republican" sort of philosophy, which is a bit more generous to the middle and working classes than classical conservatism is. Crist is phenomenally popular in Florida, which I hear is kind of important for presidential candidates to win. Crist would likely govern from the center and win over much of the public in the process, while moving Republicans into sensible territory on economics and the environment, unless the Club for Growth gets to him first. Of all the plausible Republican candidates, Crist would likely be the most palatable to Democrats should he win in 2012. Whether that is likely, who's to say, though I suspect it won't matter as President Obama will probably win a second term unless he ushers in a new great depression. Republicans might think he can easily be ousted, but they probably thought that in 1936 as well when Alf Landon managed a whopping eight electoral votes against FDR. (Curiously, for all the Republicans' talk about how the New Deal didn't work, it sure seemed like people wanted him to keep enacting those policies since they voted him in more than a few times.)

But I know who I'd prefer the Republicans to nominate most of all: Mike Huckabee. That's right. Huck's probably going to run, and while I definitely don't want him to be president I think that putting him in charge as party leader would probably be best for the liberal order. This does not hold true on social issues, but Huckabee has clearly little love for his party's establishment, and the feeling is evidently mutual. If Huck were able to lead a movement against the assorted neocons and supply-siders running the store of the Grand Old Party, and instead reorient the party toward realism and fiscal responsibility of the Eisenhower style (and perhaps a hint of social justice along the way), then it is hard to see how liberal goals in many areas wouldn't be easier to achieve. Now, I am assuming Huckabee is a realist because of the article he wrote in Foreign Affairs which gave broad hints at this sort of thing. I'm going a bit more blind on economics because of his idiot FairTax idea, which he should scrap immediately. His record in Arkansas suggested a lack of Norquistian ideology on economics, and a party that was honestly worried about spending would be a good addition to the country. Honestly, despite the religious craziness I wouldn't be as averse to a Republican party with that sort of configuration--social conservatism, economic moderation, foreign policy realism. And if Huck could get the conservatives to abandon their Nixonian deception, vote caging, etc., then so much the better. He does seem to have a spot of integrity at times. I'm unsure as to whether he stands a chance--most libs dislike him and are afraid that the folksy shtick will work again like it did for Bush (to be fair, Huckabee is much more charming than Dubya ever was), but I've talked to hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool liberals who actually kinda like Huckabee. If he can make these folks like him he's probably got a future in politics. Still, he's not exactly in the mainstream on the social issues, though I suspect he could tweak the rhetoric quite a bit to make it all more palatable. The man is nothing if not a talker.

Honestly, though, it seems as though remaining Republicans are going to be looking for a "pure" conservative, so I doubt very much that Crist and Huckabee are going to fit that model. Honestly, Palin shouldn't be considered a conservative, but because she's so adept at manipulating culture war grievances she might well win the nomination. It'll probably be some wingnut Southern gov, like Haley Barbour or Mark Sanford or Bobby Jindal. And, frankly, none of those guys are presidents. I know Republicans are giddy about Jindal, but really. Really. I've seen him on television and he comes off as a nice guy--he has a nerdy vibe about him, which isn't too bad a thing to have in a party that has taken such an anti-intellectual tack of late. But Jindal isn't particularly magnetic or appealing--he has all the charisma of a high school chemistry teacher. Which, as I said, isn't the worst thing in the world--it's comforting in a way--but there are certain intangibles one looks for in a president and I'm not sure Jindal has them. Plus, I think the Catholic factor is not inconsiderable. As someone who grew up in an evangelical household I can assure you that the religious right will be keenly aware of that fact (many of them don't believe that Catholics are saved), and while it wouldn't be as much a dealbreaker as Mitt Romney's Mormonism it won't be trivial. Then again, they may just choose to ignore it, though the exorcism story will raise eyebrows. I doubt his race will be much of a problem, as even the most hardened racists will feel the need, when in polite society, to point out a few minority members that they like. Jindal could well fit that role for the, um, less progressed part of the Republicans' southern rump. If Jindal can win in David Duke's backyard he clearly can transcend the racial issues, so they likely won't be a factor. Jindal says he isn't running for now, but they all say that at this point, don't they? I seem to recall a certain freshman senator from Illinois pledging to serve a full term in 2005.

The first thirty days

Since we're exactly a month into the Obama Administration, I guess it's time to assess how things are going. In general, I'd say they're going pretty well. Obama has managed to pass a stimulus bill, which is big, but also worthy measures increasing childrens' health insurance and gender pay discrimination. The housing plan seems to be generally thought to be a good idea throughout the interwebs. And most of the administration's team is in place.

There have been some slipups, though. Obviously Geithner and Daschle could have been handled better, and I wish the order of their scandals had been flipped, as I'd be more confident with Larry Summers at Treasury and Tom Daschle at HHS, taking steps toward health care reform. Plus, we wouldn't even be confronted with the possibility of taking Kathleen Sebelius out of Kansas, where she might win an otherwise impossible Senate victory for the Dems next year. Still, I'm guessing Geithner will eventually rise to the challenge, though his bank plan rollout was botched. And I don't really think Obama lost too much ground with his Commerce nominations. The Secretary of Commerce isn't that important, and the Judd Gregg drama was hardly a blip on most peoples' radar screens. The administration could have done a better job initially of selling the stimulus, as it seemed for a while as though Republicans were babbling nonsense for quite some time. Obama stepped up to the plate in time and got it done, and hopefully lessons have been learnt so that things go more smoothly when EFCA and health care roll around.

So far, Obama has been good at sticking to his plans--perhaps too good, in some instances. Clearly Tim Geithner was not prepared to announce his bank plan when he did. Take this with the Afghanistan surge and it looks like the major flaw to watch for in Obama's team is in sticking to the plan for too long--Geithner's announcement was set, and he wasn't going to change the time. And there was a bit of this with the stimulus debate as well. To be fair, though, in the latter instance Obama did adapt when necessary, and if he can do that he will likely have a pretty productive term.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just weird

I must confess that I'll never understand the mojo that the Republican leadership has over its moderates:
The bravely flip-flopping Republican congressman from New Orleans, Anh “Joseph” Cao, has inspired a recall petition. The reason: his vote against the economic stimulus package in a district that voted 74-25 for President Obama over Sen. John McCain.

Frederick the Great once said that, in a successful army, the soldiers would be more afraid of their officers than the enemy. I guess the right has taken old Frederick's advice to heart. In any event, the fact that the GOP leadership decided to go all in on this measure, to provoke an ideological war seems particularly nuts considering that the measure was a) broadly supported by a b) popular president, and c) allows future Democrats to say that Republicans voted against jobs and tax cuts. Not that they should just necessarily have voted for the thing, but why would representatives in blue districts even bother to follow the leadership's direction on this? What are they gonna get? The blessing of people whose disapproval ratings are similar to Jeremiah Wright's? In New Orleans I suspect Boehner's approval ratings are closer to Saddam Hussein's.

I suspect Mr. Cao's days as a representative are numbered. Seriously, if you're a Republican in a D+26 district you have to be smarter than this, unless you're hoping to preserve sterling right-wing credentials to move up the GOP ladder. Since Republicans tend to foist incapable token mediocrities upon us all the time I suspect this is the end game. What else could it be? Solidifying that base of New Orleans Republicans? And why flip-flop at all? Principled opposition might gain you some points. I guess this needs to be filed under things I don't understand.

More shoes dropping than a Foot Locker in an earthquake

Things keep getting worse and worse for Roland Burris. Evidently the new Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, can set a special election any time he wants under the 17th Amendment. Hey,'s a good time.

Israel and P.R.

Even Jeffrey Goldberg admits that Israel didn't exactly handle the leadup to the Gaza fight that well:
...Israelis never seem overly cognizant of the way their actions are interpreted abroad...I wonder how much it would have hurt for Israel to first have gone to the UN Security Council to make its complaint against Hamas. It would have lost, obviously -- this is the UN we're talking about -- but it was a box Israel could have at least checked.
I have said it before, many times, but the reason Israel doesn't bother with this stuff is because it doesn't feel it has to. Israel's reading of domestic politics in America is that it is not possible for America to publicly oppose them--between American Jews and fundamentalist Christians no politician can really stand up to Israel, they probably figure, not to mention elite Jewish media figures from all across the spectrum that would likely not take any such demands well.

Which is precisely why, perhaps after Israel's electoral results are sorted out and they have a new Prime Minister, President Obama should demand immediately that Israel take steps to end settlement growth and to start rolling settlements back. I think that Kadima, should it be senior partner, would naturally be inclined to do this, and Likud might as well with some combination of sticks and carrots. But I think it's important that Obama show Israel that, close as our alliance might be, America is no longer going to roll over for Israel in the way it did under Bush. It's important to establish the dynamic early, and I tend to think it wouldn't upset too many people (aside from the Podhoretzes and fundamentalists) because Obama would be right.

Is he black, or is he Jamie Kennedy?

GOP Chairman Michael Steele:
We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-suburban hip-hop settings.
Honestly, the quote speaks for itself. It ain't exactly Howard Dean's fifty state strategy. But it is what is to be expected of a party that seems to think that two successive electoral bitchslaps are the result of insufficiently aggressive messaging. The truth is, if anything, exactly the opposite--the GOP press operation was functioning just fine during the stimulus debate. Believe you me, we know what you stand for. We know. And we don't care much for it.

The obsession with communication strategies within the GOP is what gave all of us Michael Steele, who is proving on an almost daily presence to be a joke.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More troops to Afghanistan

Matt Yglesias is optimistic about putting more troops on the ground. His reasoning sounds good: more troops = less airstrikes + less ability for the Taliban to cause havoc. Let's hope that's how it works out.

Burris's plot thickens

Things keep getting worse for Rollie. He's gone from mediocre and mockable but squeaky clean to iffy to typical pay-to-play Chicago pol in quite a short time. Of course he won't resign, and he probably won't opt out of reelection. The man is beyond shame--just check out his prebuilt masoleum. The only way to get him out is to primary him or expel him. I suspect that one or the other will be occurring soon.

Time to do stuff

Congress's approval is up to 31%. Surprise, surprise: voters like it when our governmental institutions do stuff. They also like it when said stuff makes a difference in what they see in their own lives. The latter is the point that the Bush Administration never got. Spin doesn't change reality on the ground for these folks--it might work for a little while, but you can't talk about "the greatest economy ever" and expect people to believe it when, you know, it isn't. The Bush team figured they could just distract people with intemperate shouts and misdirection, and for a little while they did, but the fact that they thought spin could replace governance bespeaks an incredible cynicism about the American public (I know, it's so hard to believe). Ultimately, the two most prodigious spinners of our time--George W. Bush and Tony Blair--were ultimately felled by not grasping this same lesson (though Blair did a better job of running the economy).

He's a bear in a forest of wolves...encircled by ravens.

It would appear that David Paterson's problems are not going to just blow over:
A new Quinnipiac poll finds both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and the man who appointed her, Gov. David Paterson (D) trail Democratic primary challengers in 2010.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) crushes Paterson, 55% to 23%, in a possible gubernatorial primary.
Not surprising. Will someone please explain to me why Eliot Spitzer felt a need to resign, while David Vitter is still a United States Senator?

The History of Conservatism

Peter Suderman accidentally gives it here:

The market for this is young, at best, but twenty-five years ago, the conservative/libertarian non-profit world was tiny, comprised of a handful of understaffed organizations. Now there’s a conservative think tank in nearly every state and more D.C.-based organizations, some with dozens of employees, working on federal issues than I could possibly list. Why did this happen? Because, despite the lack of a traditional market for conservative ideas, they were nonetheless very much in demand from people who had money to give — and they remain so today. Although the rough economy has forced some of these groups to cut back in the short-term, the medium to long-term future for the right-of-center ideas and advocacy industry looks bright. No doubt the model isn’t directly transferable to the news media, but perhaps there are lessons to be learned, and maybe — I hope! — in twenty-five years, I’ll be able to issue a similarly optimistic report on the future of non-profit journalism.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Religion and Politics

Via Andrew Sullivan, we have here a survey across different religions as to what guides their beliefs. Evidently, Jehovah's Witnesses are the most fundamentalist--an assessment that I have had occasion to verify myself--followed by Mormons and Evangelical Christians. Seems about right. It's not incredibly heartening (though we mainliners choose "practical experience and common sense" over religion as the foundation of our beliefs by 3-to-1!) but it could be worse--we could be in a J-Dub majority nation!

Must read

I'll be damned if Hilzoy doesn't capture my thoughts exactly about what the conservatism I left stands for these days in a silly-seeming post about the Corner's most conservative movies. Money quote:
And when I read a sentence like "Our journalists know that good men are often despised by the mob; it just never seems to occur to them that they might be the mob themselves", I think: our National Review writers know that people can fight for tyranny and against freedom without ever admitting to themselves that that's what they're doing; it just never seems to occur to them that they might be those people.

Roland Burris

What an idiot. I can see why Blago appointed him: the two have about the same level of brainpower working upstairs. People are going to wonder if Burris has anything to hide, which is reasonable as people usually lie if they have something to hide. I wonder if this might lead to expulsion only because then Burris would be able to chisel another historic accomplishment to the family masoleum--first Senator in however many years to be expelled.

What I find interesting is that this guy has absolutely nobody looking out for him. His patron is gone in disgrace. The Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn't care for the guy. He has little of a base in Illinois politics outside of the Black community, as is evidenced by his umpteen failed runs for higher office. I doubt Barack Obama is going to intervene to save his hyde, and the racebaiters like Bobby Rush have had their fun and now they're done. If it begins to look as though he can't win reelection he's going to find everyone arrayed against him. I think his chances of winning reelection are pretty darn small, but like his appointer he seems detached enough from reality to try again.

Franken vs. Coleman, Round 1000000

It seems to me that there are only two possibilities with respect to the GOP's continued support of Norm Coleman, especially after the most recent court ruling making his chances of prevailing ever more unlikely. The first is that they think Coleman is innocent of any wrongdoing (possible, though unlikely) and they think he'll hold this seat for the GOP for a long while (very unlikely, for a man whose only victory in major office came against a man who lost 49 states in a presidential run and has lost races against a former professional wrestler and a former Saturday Night Live comedian). The second is that they don't really want Coleman to win, but they just want to handicap Al Franken. The latter is actually a far more likely probability to my way of thinking, and a much sadder one. It basically confirms what we all suspect: that the Republican Party is all about its own power and could give a damn about principle, let alone democracy. It is absolutely fascinating that the party machine that insisted that we couldn't let the legal process work out in Florida in 2000 now insists in letting the process wend its way through the system now in Minnesota, despite the fact that provisionally seating Franken while the process plays out doesn't really disenfranchise anyone, and it is precedented: Republicans allowed Mary Landrieu to be seated after she was first elected and challenges were being sorted out.

I tend to think that the Republicans will eventually end this charade, but it's not as though they have anything to lose. Of course, if Coleman somehow pulls out a victory and then gets hauled off in handcuffs from the Senate floor the Republicans are not going to hold the seat, but Minnesota is an uber-Democratic state. It seems to me that having Al Franken to deal with instead of a potentially stronger Democrat bodes well for the chances of the GOP ever retaking the seat, and having someone like Mark Pawlenty as a candidate instead of a tired and unpopular commodity like Norm Coleman would also be an advantage. But ascribing, you know, thought to the party that thinks that there are political points to be scored over census battles is a bit too farfetched.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Irony alert

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX): "[Y]ou cannot borrow and spend your way to prosperity." I bet he wasn't saying this back during the Bush years, when the administration would routinely talk about how deficits don't matter, cut cap gains to the moon, it's all good for the economy, no matter what shape the economy's in! Borrowing and spending is no problem unless you're a tax-and-spend Democrat, of course. In which case, folks like Jeb Hensarling need to stand up for Joe Q. Taxpayer and talk about the crushing weight of debt on our grandkids. In any event, this joker, like virtually every other House Republican, voted for the all-tax cut Republican alternative stimulus plan, which seems to me to be a vote to borrow and spend your way to prosperity. Can we drop the shit and just admit that you don't want to spend money on things like schools and bridges that help everyone, and just give it to rich people?

Look, there are certainly principled conservatives out there, and there are no doubt many Republicans who oppose the stimulus out of legitimate reasons. The bulk of them, though, are completely full of shit.

What the withdrawal means

Dave Weigel on Judd Gregg's doubleplusheroic withdrawal from the job he wanted in the first place:

Before the Gregg withdrawal, Republicans were piling on the White House for trying to devolve some (not all) of the management of the Census from the Commerce Department to the White House. Is that the new Republican rallying cry? No, it’s another example of the party careening from message to message.

If 2010 rolls around and the GOP is running “Return full Census management responsibilities to the Department of Commerce!” ads in swing states, obviously, I’ll eat my words.

What conservatives mean when they say that the Gregg withdrawal is a return to fundamental principle only makes sense if that principle is knee-jerk opposition to the new administration. And, indeed, for quite some time now the right has been primarily interested in opposing whatever liberals want. How else to explain the disagreement over climate change? You would think that, given the mountains of scientific evidence and lack of credible, credentialed opponents of the theory (GOP members of Congress do not count) that opposing climate change would simply be insane. It is, and the absolute certainty with which they oppose it--the sheer unwillingness to admit even a sliver of a possibility that they are wrong--suggests that, as far as the conservative base is concerned, if liberals believe it it must be wrong. The enormity of the consequences--millions of deaths, natural disasters, famines when previously fertile land no longer grows things--evidently has no bearing on them.

And Barack Obama thinks he can work with these people? Better to make overtures but to count on working the handful of Senate RINOs to get his agenda passed. In any event, I do not think that this rededication to mindless opposition is a return to anything for the GOP: it's not as though they ever stopped doing it.

Update: Weigel reports that House Republicans aren't letting the census argument go. This is really stupid. Do these people not realize that we're in a recession? That people are taking pay cuts, losing jobs, worried about mortgages, etc.? Even in better times nobody would care about the census. These people are idiots, and their obsession with winning news cycles and headlines is pathological. Obama ought to laugh at these fools, then pick a solid Democrat for the post who favors the sampling techniques Republicans hate. Problem solved.

Leon Panetta is confirmed

He'll be CIA director. The debate has been about whether he would bring the right skill set to the job, but considering that virtually every CIA director has had a tenure ranging from mediocre to disastrous--and that includes everyone from politicians like George H.W. Bush (mediocre) to career guys like Richard Helms (disaster, though he did have his moments). What we could really use is someone who a) commands the respect of the rank and file officers there and b) who is dedicated to building up the intelligence framework rather than trying to use covert ops to conduct foreign policy on the cheap. Being as literally every single director for fifty years has gone with the latter approach on point (b)--no doubt because presidents wanted it that way--I wonder if Panetta will be successful, though he will likely be effective because of his political clout. And it's good that Panetta is strongly against torture, but I'd be more interested in hearing from him about his vision for the CIA.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

If you had told me one year ago, however, that the "good" outcome of the Israeli elections would be a reenergized Netanyahu emerging as the centrist alternative to a crypto-fascist strain of racial populism, I would not have considered you an optimist. -- Ezra Klein
I've been thinking more about the Israeli elections. The best I can come up with is that at the very least Likud underperformed its polls, and more people actually wanted Kadima to keep power than any other group. Still, one cannot shake the notion that Israelis have just voted against peace for the time being, and giving Avigdor Lieberman power is even worse, as it symbolizes a sort of knee-jerk anti-Arab sentiment is taking hold in some quarters in Israel.

On the bright side, though, it is now highly unlikely that there's going to be another pan-Arab war against Israel. As Gaza showed, Arab countries are simply not willing to wage war on behalf of Palestine. They might be willing to demagogue against things like Gaza but basically you're not going to see any nukes lobbed around. This is because, ultimately, the other Arab countries don't really care about Palestinians and, often, actually loathe them, as the Palestinian refugee populations cause headaches for bordering nations. And pulling off a peace deal with Syria would be a real coup--the likelihood of a significant Arab-Israeli war would be at best marginal if a deal could happen. Not that people will stop breathlessly obsessing about such a war, but my impressions from the study I have done on the region back in college are that Arab nations have generally moved on from wanting to wipe Israel off the Earth, and that such an option isn't even seriously considered in most countries these days. It won't change the neocon obsession with Iran getting a nuclear bomb, to which I say--what do I care? We have 10,000 of them, and Israel has over 200. And ours can go anywhere on the planet, while Iran's almost certainly wouldn't.


Steve Benen notes that Obama's stimulus contains the largest tax cut ever, that it fulfills the campaign promise Obama made and that it's going to be better for average folks than Bush's cuts. It really is unusual to see a president actually delivering on his promises--Bush, of course, flouted most of what he said in 2000 and didn't promise anything in 2004 except not to flip-flop, windsurf, or let gay dudes get married. One out of three ain't bad.

The libertarians speak

Will Wilkinson posts an unscientific poll of libertarians, and it turns out that most would rather live in a nation with a larger welfare state and legalized drugs than the inverse. Not sure what it means--maybe it means that libertarians value the social liberalism more than unfettered capitalism, or maybe it's just a reflection of drugs' centrality to the libertarian cause (not that the drug war isn't rightly a big focus--if not the most important focus--for libertarians). I walk a lonely road myself: I am a complete teetotaler in real life, but I support legalizing soft drugs and decriminalizing hard drugs as far as users are concerned, with a focus on treatment instead of incarceration.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


This is interesting:
Utah Governor John Huntsman (who, needless to say, is a Republican, not to mention a potential 2012 presidential candidate) has come out in favor of gay civil unions. It's not gay marriage, but it is Utah.
It is surprising that a prominent conservative Mormon is saying this, but this isn't new: wasn't George W. Bush in favor of civil unions? Of course, he ran in 2000, which was before the theocons decided to make gay marriage and abortion their jihads.

It does, however, seem like Republicans of all stripes are coalescing around civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage in the wake of several states legalizing gay marriage. The battle lines are once again shifting, and this is tremendously encouraging, actually. If there can be robust civil unions in Utah the battle for equality is mostly won. Of course, the Utah Legislature will have to approve.

Tech Misadventures

This is hilarious. Almost as good as that whole "Democrats seizing control of the Tennessee House" story. Basically, Virginia Republicans were trying to get a Democratic state senator to switch parties, and the state party chairman accidentally tweeted (that word makes me uncomfortable) that they were doing this in time for the Democrats to stop it. Republicans are being mocked pretty frequently these days for their technology obsession, and I don't think it will change attitudes about today's GOP, but maybe just figuring out the tech angle a little bit wouldn't be a bad thing in and of itself. Right, Jeff?

CA Governor's race

Since Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown are evidently in the race to be my state's governor, I figured I'd weigh in. Although I'm a left-liberal Democrat I'm not opposed to voting for moderate Republicans at the state level, as local issues and federal issues are different and, all things considered, there's only so much damage that a governor can do (Ronald Reagan notwithstanding). On a national level I can't imagine voting for a Republican unless the other option is a historically corrupt Democrat of Blagojevichian proportions, and even then I'd probably vote third party or just leave the race blank. But state and local races are a different story.

Having said this, Whitman doesn't inspire me with confidence. Business leaders do not exactly make good politicians most of the time, and Whitman's less than stellar job shilling for John McCain leads me to believe she's not going to be able to beat Steve Poizner. Poizner seems like the only Republican with a real shot in the state--California Republicans in general tend to be very conservative and California is, if anything, growing even more liberal. We're mavericky, though, and a moderate Republican that can work across party lines and make budgets balance, all the while pursuing environmental regulations and keeping out of peoples' private lives, is not an impossible sell to Californians. In fact, it has a pretty good track record of working in recent history, as Arnold Schwarzenegger himself used it back during his campaigns. Unfortunately, Arnie didn't really live up to the promise he seemed to have. Partly it's because he never really had a base in the Republican Party, which saw him as far too liberal and is populated with unserious goobers from sparsely populated inland districts who know they're never going to run anything and have settled on just pissing off the other 65 or so percent of the population. So Arnold was hamstrung from the moment Republicans won more than 1/3 of the legislature, as California has a pretty dumb requirement that 2/3 of the legislature has to sign off on the state's budget. These Republicans didn't care about Arnold and his bright future, they just wanted to flex what little power they had. Schwarzenegger's strong reelection victory--one of the few GOP bright spots during the 2006 elections--actually sealed his fate, as the GOP delegation decimated his healthcare and environmental proposals. Arnie had worked well with Democrats, but he couldn't deal with Republicans. He had nothing to offer them, and he had no bonds with them. So they screwed him.

This is one of the reasons why Arnold's approval ratings have plummeted, as every year the GOP holds the budget hostage and demands unpopular spending cuts (tax hikes being the equivalent of SOCIALISM) and Schwarzenegger can't do a thing. Another part of it is institutional, to be sure, as ballot propositions and the 2/3 rule make California all but ungovernable. But one wonders if a GOP candidate who actually managed to get the party's nomination in the first place wouldn't be stronger with the state party. Someone like Steve Poizner might well be able to get some Republicans on board and make budgets go through smoothly, as he managed to get the GOP nomination and win statewide office. Whitman could conceivably do so as well, though she starts at a disadvantage (though she would be the state's first female governor). The only other remotely plausible person whose name has been bandied about is that of Condi Rice, whose attachment to the Bush Administration seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Still, that could be interesting.

On the Democrats' side, I suspect that Jerry Brown has a better chance of being the once and future governor than most people think. For one thing, he's been elected to the office before and knows how to make a pitch to Californians. There is a bit of a strain of fiscal conservatism present in California, and Brown knows how to appeal to it, and his actions as state AG on Prop 8 are likely to win him favor among progressives. Brown's disadvantage is that his base is Oakland and not San Francisco or Los Angeles, but I suspect that he'd carve a lot out of Gavin Newsom's base if both wound up running. Newsom is supposedly interested in the job but I find it unlikely he'd go anywhere, as he has a political tin ear, which was represented in his obnoxious Prop 8 quote that was a large part of what turned around the gay marriage debate. Brown could probably hit him hard over that. I suspect Brown will manage to lock down most of the San Francisco Bay Area in the end, which is huge. However, it's not nearly as big as Los Angeles, which will be tough for Brown to beat if Tony Villaraigosa winds up running. Villaraigosa might have been hurt by his high-profile adultery, but his candidacy might well wind up unifying Latinos behind him. That would be tough to beat. I suspect that it would come down to which candidate manages to get big endorsements from Dem-leaning groups, like the California Nurses Association, the government workers' union and so forth. Support of these groups is key, and as Steve Westly's 2006 loss to Phil Angelides can instruct us, their support can make or break a candidate. The Westly case is particularly bothersome, as he would almost certainly have beaten Schwarzenegger in 2006. Angelides was a dead man walking from the moment he got the nomination--a man with no charisma and no ideas who was beholden to Democratic interest groups. I don't have a problem with any of those groups, but I do think that politicians must have independence to consider different ideas, which Angelides never did, and it's doubtful he would have used it if he had it.

I do wonder who the Dem establishment will back, though my guess is that it would be Brown, who is a longtime fixture of state politics and knows everybody. I do think that Brown would have a good chance of taking back the Governor's Mansion, especially since Arnold's numbers have been going the way of George W. Bush's and Brown has political skills, and his many political lives are in the past. Experience and fiscal sobriety--Brown's calling cards--might well be what California wants in 2010. I will say this: I will vote Republican if the Dems pick Gavin Newsom. If he does to the state what he's done to the cause of gay rights the last person out of the state might as well turn the lights off when they leave.

The mutineers were right

Robert Farley lays out the pro-mutiny case for Battlestar Galactica. I will admit the mutiny episodes were better than most of post-New Caprica BSG, though that's not exactly a high standard. Ultimately, though, introducing this three episode arc right after the first episode back introduced so many revelations--the Cylons are ancient and predate what the humans built, for example--was pretty dumb: these new threads were basically shelved so that we could have some coup episodes that weren't ultimately important to the arc of the show. Narrative discipline used to be a strength of BSG, but for some time now it's been clear that the showrunners are making things up as they go, and their instincts in following the most interesting parts of their stories have long since been dulled.

What separates the (superior) first two seasons of BSG from the clunky latter two? Simple: danger. The first two seasons had it in spades: we had Galactica being chased by bloodthirsty, unreasoning robots with a smattering of human-looking models. Humans were nearly annhilated and could only manage to stay one step ahead of the Cylons. Since New Caprica that hasn't been true, and aside from a handful of S3 episodes the Galactica has not been in any danger at all. The show then played on largely uninteresting narrative threads (e.g. Who are the final cylons?) before wrapping them up in an unsatisfying way (i.e. it doesn't matter, as there is no difference between humans and cylons). Minus the danger, the show's momentum has been slack for some time. The fourth season has been a little better, but the show's obsession with making things "dark" and treating everything from cylon standoffs to quorum meetings with the same level of hyperactive, nervous energy is nothing short of tiring, and while the general level of quality has improved it is nowhere near the rapturous highs of early BSG. Add this to the show's perverse embrace of hopelessness (an early episode like "The Hand of God" which ended happily is inconceivable these days) and you have something that simply isn't all that much fun for anyone anymore, which is probably why the ratings have been going down since Season 3. At this point, BSG is still watchable but it has been some time since it's been "the best show on television". It's not even the best science fiction show anymore, as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has come a long way and is, so far as I can tell, the best written and best acted show on television, and one that actually has some new and interesting ideas to convey.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sounds about right to me

Ezra Klein's idea on how the "centrist" stimulus cuts happened:
I'm half ready to believe that Rahm convinced Ben Nelson to ratfuck the Republicans. "Get them to cut school construction for poor kids," he (might have) told a visibly nervous Nelson. "It's schools for kids. You couldn't get more sympathetic unless all the kids had cancer. It's clear stimulus. It makes sense long-term. It's easy for reporters to understand and voters to remember. It undermines Republican attempts to paint the bill as a porkfest, completely discredit the centrists, and Nancy Pelosi will simply replenish the funds in conference committee." Then he bit the head off a bear, punched through a wall, and asked Nelson if he was sure he didn't mind helping out.

The Republicans' best hope

Of all the Republicans whose names have been bandied about as GOP presidential prospects, I think Charlie Crist--who will be stumping for the recovery package with Obama today--is the one who holds the most promise, for a few reasons. For one, he runs a hugely electorally important state where he is very popular. For another, he's a moderate conservative who really does live up to both terms. And, also, he's not as much a hostage of the movement as seemingly every other Republican officeholder these days, as one could see from his unwillingness to demagogue against ACORN and his insistence in honoring folks' voting rights. This isn't really evidence of ideological purity in any respect so much as it is a belief in a principle other than that anything that helps the Republican Party is good. That seems to be what Bill Buckley's movement has descended to, but Crist would likely make a popular, pragmatic president.

I suspect that these things will keep Crist from attracting movement support--I'm guessing it's Palin/DeMint 2012, and in 2016 we'll get another faux moderate, phony reformer in the Bush mold who will say all the expected things, and by then there will probably be a few scandals in the Obama Administration and among Congressional Democrats that the Republicans will be able to run against as superficial "reformers". I suspect that only if the GOP loses again in 2016 will they pick somebody like Crist, in much the same way that the UK Labour Party needed to lose a heartbreaker in 1992 before Tony Blair could take over.

In any event, who else has the GOP got? Bobby Jindal is problematic--he's smart and he has a reasonably good (though overrated) personality, but he's ultraconservative (perhaps too much so) and I think that religion, rather than race, will be the problem. Jindal would be the first Republican Catholic nominee for president. Even though there are some conservative Catholics I tend to think that this will be as much a problem for the religious right as was Mitt Romney's Mormonism. (Plus he has an exorcism story in his past that would keep him from being taken seriously by, well, anyone.) Jeb Bush is also Catholic, although his problem is his last name. Palin is a nonstarter--she's the right's McGovern. Huckabee might be promising if he'd stop sounding like a crazy religious nutter and move to the left on economics and foreign policy, and reorient the GOP as a Christian Democratic party. I don't know if he's willing to do this, but it would be an idea on where the GOP could go next, and probably a popular one. Huckabee, though, seems intent on coasting on his charm, and it isn't going to work. Romney himself is always a better candidate on paper than in real life, someone who somehow should be more compelling than they actually are. He's got a hell of a resume and the look and mind of a president, but there is an emptiness and a slickness there that puts off most people. And once you get past the top tier, you get people like Mark Sanford, John Ensign and John Thune, who don't seem to be able to persuade anyone outside the base over anything. It's actually quite likely that Ensign won't even win reelection in 2012 in a state won by President Obama by 17 points.

So, it's all up to Crist. Or David Petraeus, I suppose, if he ever wants to get into electoral politics.

Israeli Elections Today

Marty Peretz weighs in here, and gets points for correctly describing Avigdor Lieberman as a neo-Fascist. I mean, the man is in favor of population exchange of Arab Israelis, which might as well be a declaration of genocide, as it was in Armenia in 1915 and Pakistan in 1947. My basic problem here is that neither Palestine nor Israel really has much leadership. Netanyahu is a scary, scary man, and the prospect of Avigdor Lieberman with any power at all is frightening. Unfortunately, as in America, the right wing looks poised to take over whenever people are afraid of external foes. Israel needs an Obama (ironically enough, they have a Barak running, but he's unlikely to win as the head of a Labor Party that doesn't really know what it stands for anymore).

I guess I'm rooting for Livni, and she might well win even though she's a bit of a lightweight. She's the best alternative, aside from Ehud Barak, who won't win. A Likud-Yisrael Beitenu government is too distressing to think about. We'll see soon enough.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I'm beginning to think that Michael Steele might not be the most informed person in the world. I think I'm going to have to start deploying the brand new "Michael Steele" tag, as I suspect that he's going to be showing up on my radar fairly frequently from now on.

The height of charletanism

can be found here. I tend to think that Republicans are eventually going to cave and just seat Franken for a simple reason: Franken gives them a better chance to eventually retake the seat. Norm Coleman is under investigation by the FBI, and if he gets bounced from the Senate the Dems have an awfully good chance of retaking the seat in 2010. It's Minnesota, after all! Obama won it by 10 points. And the likelihood is that the Democrats will pick someone more formidable than Al Franken in 2010--someone like Congresswoman Betty McCollum, perhaps--who will be virtually impossible to topple, ever. Franken will probably always be controversial, and the race will be a tossup every six years. All this is about now is trying to delegitimize Franken because a) Coleman might somehow manage to pull a rabbit out of his hat and hold the seat for a while longer, and Franken being seen as illegitimate could help keep down voter revolt as people will be glad to just get it over with, and b) so that Al will pipe down in the Senate and/or be an easier target down the line. At some point they're going to stop throwing away money.

Oh, by the way, wasn't Harry Reid going to try to seat Franken a few weeks back? God, the man's effective.

Against a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

I'm afraid I don't really see how this makes sense. It did make sense in South Africa in the 1990s for a few reasons: for one thing, Apartheid upholders weren't breaking any law at the time. Morally awful as they were, they were following the laws of South Africa at the time, and putting them on trial would necessarily have meant trying them under ex post facto laws, something which is dicey and is, by the way, forbidden under the United States Constitution. But in a broader sense the Apartheiders committed moral infractions on such a grand scale that it's almost impossible to come up with a law to fit their crimes. It's similar to upholders of slavery in the United States: what were you going to do, throw every White Southerner into jail? Clearly that could never have been a plausible course of action, and going down such a path would invariably lead to lots of witch hunts. So criminal action didn't make sense for South Africa after Apartheid.

These conditions do not apply to Bush-era lawbreakers. There were laws on the books against torture that were wantonly broken, so there is no worry about an ex post facto situation. And instead of the sort of massive injustice we were dealing with when we talk about slavery, in which an entire ethnic group was brutally subjugated and mistreated as a matter of government policy. Here it was still a small group of people who were definitely mistreated, to some extent because of ethnicity, but the scale is vastly different, and between Abu Gharaib and a reading of Jane Mayer's The Dark Side you can sort of get a handle on what the Bush Administration did. So I think that, aside from political messiness, prosecuting Bush Administration officials has to remain the preferred alternative. This doesn't mean that every CIA interrogator who dabbled in a bit of the dark side ought to be dragged in front of a jury--as far as they knew, they were following orders they believed to be legal. The architects of these policies--specifically David Addington, John Yoo, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales and George W. Bush--ought to have to explain themselves to the people. I doubt this would happen unless subpoenaed and forced to testify under oath.

Of course, it will never happen, and a TRC isn't the worst of all possible worlds--it's not a bad consolation prize, and getting all of Bush's dirt into the public record forever ought to rightly preclude any posthumous resurrection of Bush's reputation. What confuses me about the Bush team's conduct on this is that they insist they got good legal commentary from John Yoo's shop, but they seem to be terrified of a full public airing of all of this dirty laundry. Why would they be, if they were acting according to the law? They're indirectly admitting that they knew Yoo's bullshit was just that: a thin veneer to break the law to "protect America" which, curiously, had not needed their particular brand of protection before they showed up.

One other thing that annoys me about the interrogation discussion is that the discussion always focuses on which methods to use (i.e. is waterboarding torture) rather than on whether interrogations are simply done effectively, like the FBI has been doing (and doing pretty well, by all accounts). What do you know, staffing federal agencies with competent folks who are serious about their jobs (as in the Clinton years) often makes a difference in keeping people safe. Or you can appoint Don Rumsfeld, George Tenet (yes, he was a Clinton appointee, but still), Feith, Yoo, etc., and get the results Bush got. It often seems like debates on interrogation policy revolve around finding some sort of magic bullet to get enormous scads of intelligence, but good old-fashioned intelligence and law enforcement seem to do just as well as any of the alternatives, and often better. And they don't require ceding our souls.

The Stimulus PR War, cont'd

Dave Weigel is largely right here, but there's something else at play: people just don't trust Republicans and don't really care much about what they have to say. Republicans have scored some minor tactical victories in this debate but the strategy just seems to be knee-jerk opposition to Obama's agenda, which isn't going to bear fruit unless Obama does something really, really wrong to lose the public's confidence. People do like him, after all. I have long been saying that the GOP has been botching this particular battle--sure, the base is fired up, but intense partisanship during times of crisis is the sort of thing that Bush used to do and is what the country just voted against. Sure, stand by your principles (whatever those might be), but making plausible, fact-based, smart arguments about issues would do far more for the Republican Party than "firing up the base" without any conceivable end in mind. Of course, today's GOP only knows how to fire up the base. At some point they're going to have to realize that you can't win nationally with 25% of the vote, though it might take the loss of the remaining 15 or so percent of Republican officeholders that aren't wingnuts for this to sink in, or perhaps an Obama 2012 lanslide over a Palin/DeMint ticket in which Obama wins Texas and Georgia will bring them around.

Pragmatism, always pragmatism

I tend to think that this E. J. Dionne article is right on, and deserves reading in full:

The Williamsburg speech let loose a great gnashing of teeth from those who seem to believe that bipartisan form matters more than substance. But the new tone reflected the very thing about Obama that has won so much notice: He's a pragmatist who takes a method and tries it until it no longer works.

Initially, Obama hoped to win broad Republican support for his stimulus package, but most Republicans preferred to bloody up this new, young president. Obama adjusted. If the GOP wanted a fight, he would not back down.

Some liberal blogs are saying that Obama was wrong to engage Republicans to begin with. I tend to think that that analysis is wrong: he had to do it in good faith to show that he had done it. If it had worked, hey, it worked. If not, well, then he can say he tried, and then win a crucial PR victory in the process. There's also this:

His politics are more neo-Truman than neo-Woodstock, more compatible with It's a Wonderful Life than Easy Rider.

He supports abortion rights but argues for fewer abortions. He supports religious liberty, but thinks religion has a legitimate public role. MTV loyalists love him, but he models a family life more likely to play on the Disney Channel.

I tend to think that this is why Obama resonated so much: even though he really is a historic figure, he's also a bit of a throwback in terms of political style and values. There is something fundamentally American about the guy, which is why the attempts by McCain and Clinton to "otherize" him never worked. Obama may not be just like you and me, but I think he's the kind of person that we want to see ourselves as. I don't see this as hypocritical--quite the opposite, in fact: I think that it is very much a kind of honesty about our country's aspirations. You really can mention Barack Obama in the same sentence as Frank Capra and, unlike some of our recent presidents, it is not in the context of a comparison with Mr. Potter or the mentally challenged guy who lost all the money.

This is just embarrassing. The manner in which Michael Steele became RNC Chair was inevitably going to bring up accusations of tokenism, and if he wants to avoid that he really needs to step up his game. I really do think that a reality-based Republican Party that is willing to participate in the process is a valuable thing to have, as informed and reasonable opposition can only make the resulting policy better.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why focus on the stimulus when you can talk about CLOTHES?

I think Andy Card's obsession with Obama's clothes is pretty stupid, but I always thought the same thing about Card, too. From what I understand he was a pretty weak CoS, and this press flap no doubt points to why--spending six years as Bush's clothier rather than, I don't know, the defender of the constitution is pretty illuminating. Nevertheless, HuffPo has pictures of Reagan and Bush 43 sans jackets, but I think the real notable thing here is that Reagan is wearing a weird cranberry red shirt...and not pulling it off. At. All.

Oppose the stimulus, you have nothing to lose but your chains!

This is amusing...someone evidently doesn't know the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics. The Next Right is one of the "hot" conservative websites, and occasionally they try to challenge orthodoxies of the right, but not so much here. As I see it, the case for stimulus is pretty simple: there are two basic approaches to manipulating the economy: monetary policy and fiscal policy. Obviously, monetary policy is the more popular policy because it doesn't involve SPENDING!!!1!!11! but we can't do any more there monetary policy, so Ben Bernanke thinks we need to do some fiscal stimulus.

I do have to give Jason Sterlace points for trying to frame the stimulus as a question of government "overriding" individuals. But that's silly--government isn't ordering folks to spend more right now. Obviously, we'll have to recoup the stimulus money much later, and hopefully that will be easier with a booming economy. Then again, it's not as though Republicans generally gave a damn about forcing people in the future to pay for Bush's wars, Bush's tax cuts, etc.

We need better conservative opposition to the stimulus. I support it, but I wish that Republicans had better constructive criticism than just offering metaphors about how big the bill is or how it hurts your freedoms (which it really doesn't).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on conservatism that everyone should read. At least there's somebody on the right that sees conservatism and Republicanism as separate causes. I agree with his main point, which is that conservatism and liberalism need to coexist, though I reject his formulation of conservatism as being about individualism and liberalism as being about collectivism. I think that conservatism generally has a fair amount of collectivism, while liberalism is actually quite individualistic in many areas. Here's how I'd put it: I would say that liberalism's ultimate goal is to expand freedom to the greatest possible extent. In social policy, liberals like the government to generally stay out of peoples' business. This is not how liberals necessarily deal with economic or foreign policy, where things get more complicated. Libertarians would probably disagree with my formulation, and say that things like income taxes restrict freedom, and this is true, only from a very limited point of view.

Basically, I see it this way: enacting social programs that promote equality do increase freedom. This comes at the expense of some individual freedom, although I think this gets overstated. A person earning a few million dollars a year will be able to do pretty much whatever they want. The more you have, especially when you get into the ultrarich, the less freedom that money brings you. In my opinion, progressive taxes are warranted because they provide more freedom to the non-ultrarich, while not costing too much freedom for the ultrarich. Libertarians might well believe that taxing rich people more is wrong on principle, but if libertarians believe that we should maximize freedom it is difficult to see how something like no redistribution at all makes that happen. I understand the notion of picking one's self up by one's bootstraps, but it's a myth. Equality just doesn't happen on its own: it is created as an act of deliberate policy. We did try the "pick yourself up" idea in this country before the New Deal, and the result was stable and widespread inequality and poverty. Conservatives who want to return to a pre-New Deal America want to return to this sort of reality, in which someone can "get ahead" but can't really ascend one's station. There are many different views on freedom, but it is difficult to see how widespread equality (which I'll define as equal opportunity) doesn't happen without some active intervention. I'd say most center-leftists would agree with this, and I'd say it's a vision generally in line with Social Democracy, which holds much promise in the era of globalization.

Foreign policy makes things tricky. One could make the case for a liberal noninterventionism as being respectful of the freedom of other nations to chart their own respective courses, but this is complemented by a significant liberal hawk contingent that sees toppling dictators and intervening for humanitarian reasons as maximizing freedom. I've been trending more and more toward the first camp. The problem, as I see it, is that outside of stopping atrocities or protecting ourselves, America doesn't really have any right to step in and tell people how their country is to be run. I think the Iraq War had no real moral basis, and the United States should make an attempt to get along with the lawful authorities of other nations, regardless of whether we personally approve of them or not. We shouldn't stop trying to persuade people of the power of our principles, but we should recognize that freedom includes the freedom to choose one's destiny. We imposed a settlement on Iraq, and effectively removed their autonomy. This is wrong.

Anyway, that's my brand of liberalism.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In defense of all my fellow intellectual elites

Yuval Levin has a good article on Sarah Palin. I disagree with much of it, but it's reasonably argued and nearly persuasive. The gist is: Palin was killed by cultural elitism.

I'll agree with Levin that a lot of the social issue stuff about Palin was exaggerated, and that she was never the "Christianist" that Andrew Sullivan claimed she was. But her lack of political experience--and, more importantly, of engagement with the issues--was and is significant. Her personal style, which included a willingness to abuse official power to settle scores against certain ex-brothers in law, was and is significant. And I think it's very hard to say that Palin was Biden's equal at the debate--polls at the time and common sense can only lead to the conclusion that Biden easily won the debate, and that Palin only managed to avoid getting booted off the ticket.

Perhaps Levin's most contentious point is the cultural elitism point. I won't deny that there was an element of this--hell, maybe it was a prime mover of Palin criticism--but I think he overplays his hand here. Palin was not lower middle class in any economic sense of the term. And the notion that she just fell into the culture war debates is disingenuous, being as her convention speech was basically a rehashing of all that garbage. She courted culture war conflict nearly from day one, and she got it. But saying that expecting potential presidents to go to (one) good university is elitism is just wrong: getting into good schools (not necessarily Ivies) is predictive of one's drive, motivation, and future achievement. It tells just how hard you are willing to work. If expecting well-educated hard workers to assume the presidency is elitism, then the very concept of expecting achievement out of our public officials is dead. I actually think this tells us a lot: over her years as a politician, Palin seemed to be uninterested in doing the intellectual spadework needed to be a serious political figure, and as a result was revealed as an ignorant boob on national television. This is not an aberration, it is part of her character.

Palin was part of Steve Schmidt's scheme to work the refs and delegitimize the media's criticisms of his candidate. Fair enough. But when that is the goal from the outset it seems a bit rich to cry about poor treatment from the media. How is the media supposed to react when your candidate cannot answer the simplest questions on foreign policy? How is the media supposed to react when your candidate keeps repeating the same lies even after they're being disproven? The Bridge to Nowhere scandal wasn't the result of a simple mixup, but rather a deliberate attempt to game the media to see if they would bark. They did. While some element of elitism might have permeated all of her bad coverage (hey, even Beltway types have feelings and probably don't like being insulted all the time), it's hardly the only plausible explanation here, and when there are simpler explanations (like her poor command of the issues and combative political style), why immediately suspect a conspiracy? Then again, paranoia is a deliberate suppression of Occam's Razor.

Some of Levin's other critiques miss the mark as well. Palin's feminist critics opposed her largely for her issue positions rather than because of her cultural heritage. Or maybe they didn't, but, once again, one can choose to take people at their word or one can believe that they are acting out of bad faith. And Levin doesn't really convince here. He acts as though one could only oppose Palin out of cultural snobbery and that there isn't a case to be made for expecting, you know, achievement out of our leaders. Instead, Levin seems to think that life experience is sufficient. Now, I think that life experience really is important in leaders, but Levin is unfortunately forced to argue that it is all that a leader needs, which means that virtually anyone in the United States is qualified to be president. This is clearly not the case. Not that a degree from an elite institution is a predictor of success in and of itself--George W. Bush, after all, received degrees from two of our finest schools. But Levin's task isn't to provoke an honest discussion of the importance of raw knowledge in our leaders, but rather to defend Sarah Palin, regardless of what the implications of his arguments are. I suspect if the Republicans had put up an intellectual force like Mitt Romney and the Dems had picked someone with quite a bit less intellectual firepower like, say, Loretta Sanchez for president, Levin would be singing an entirely different tune. Maybe, maybe not, but the effectiveness his defense of Palin relies upon one believing in some sort of systemic liberal bias, the irrelevance of higher education to elected officials, and so on, which is to say that one cannot believe the argument unless you share the biases and worldview of someone like Levin. Which is all well and good, but it doesn't persuade. It's just more campaign agitprop.

Ushering in a new era of Democratic hegemony...

Public support for the stimulus bill is slipping. This coming on the heels of Reid not having the votes in the Senate to pass the damn bill. Honestly, I think that Obama and his team are getting a good education, and learning that old adage about leading a horse to water applies to the Republicans. He shouldn't just cut them out of the process, but he cannot put himself in a position where the GOP has this level of power. He won, so he gets to set the agenda, and I suspect that the days of Obama as omnipresent media advocate for progressivism have just begun. Now the Republicans feel empowered, so Obama & Co. have to put together a line of solid victories to disempower them. Stimulus first.

My choice for HHS Secretary...

is Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Ongoing Edwards Story

So Elizabeth Edwards is going to write a book. This is hardly surprising. For all the love directed her way by progressives she always seemed to me to be more the proverbial "power behind the throne" than Hillary Clinton ever was. She spoke about policy far more often than either Michelle Obama or even Bill Clinton ever did, which says something as Clinton was a former president and would therefore be the only candidate spouse I would have been interested in hearing from. Edwards might well be a good person, but something about her insistence on having John run for president while she wasted away, despite knowing about the affair that he conducted and his seeming public indifference to actually getting the job, bespeaks a desire for power that is quite a bit more acute than anything the Clinton years showed.

To some extent, it seems that criticizing political actors for their ambition is silly, and often one is merely criticizing one's ability to hide said ambition. And ambition isn't even a bad thing, really. But I found Elizabeth Edwards somewhat off-putting, despite her superior acting skills. It in interesting that there were some odd synchronicities between John Edwards and Fred Thompson. Both were out of politics, both ran presidential campaigns that often seemed fine with being second-tier endeavours. Neither wore particularly well, and neither proved as inspiring as promised. And both were arguably driven by spouses. This isn't to say that Edwards wasn't progressive, and I do think he had a good effect on the race overall, but the riskiness was unnecessary and unsavory. Elizabeth Edwards hasn't been reexamined in light of the Edwards sex scandal. And she should be. Especially with a book coming out which has no rationale except to keep the Edwards name alive for a little while longer. Edwards is magnanimous because she can afford to be magnanimous: she probably figures, with a little P.R. work, John might wind up being untainted again. Maybe Obama gives him a cabinet slot down the line. Maybe that leads to the N.C. Governor's mansion. And then to the White House. It's delusional, but when people are confronted with shattered dreams, delusion often sets in. Democrats must resist the temptation to bring him back. This whole thing is fishy to me, and I think that the Edwardses should stay where they are.

I know progressives still have affection for Elizabeth, but think about this: had Edwards won the Dem nomination and had the cheating story come out right before the convention, the Republicans would have won handily and the Dems would not have nominated a progressive for decades. And the person most directly responsible for this would have been Elizabeth Edwards. Progressive hero my ass.

Daschle's Out

I'm pretty saddened about this. The possibility of significant health reform has become greatly diminished, as Daschle was the best chance to make it happen. He had the knowledge of Congress and health care that we need, and being able to move a plan through the Senate has always been the key stumbling block. For him to lose it because he was too stupid to pay his taxes in full is supremely irritating, and progressives ought to be pretty angry at him for this stupidity.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Holder's in

Good news: the U.S. now has an Attorney General who believes in the rule of law. Hooray!

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.