Thursday, May 27, 2010

Waste of time and money

California will hold another referendum on open/jungle primaries. Hasn't this been ruled un-Constitutional before, both here and in Louisiana? And how does it fix the manifold problems in our state? And why can't people just make peace with the idea that political parties exist and that they don't have to be evil? Frankly, we'd be better off with a system that permitted tighter party control like Britain's, so that it wouldn't be necessary for the parties to use the most heavy-handed and inefficient ways of enforcing discipline.

Change I Can Believe In

Today has been a pretty good day, hasn't it?

A center-right nation?

A new study seems to say otherwise: that being more conservative tends to lose you Senate elections, while being more liberal doesn't.

Whenever this sort of stuff comes up, I think of what John Kennedy said on the subject (from Teddy's memoir): that the American people are conservative but are for progress, and that if you talk like a conservative and vote like a liberal, you're going to do fine. Now, a lot of things have changed since then, but this study seems to give it some added creedence.

Republicans to filibuster troop funding over DADT repeal?

A lot of liberals have talked about how homophobia damages our national security, mostly because talented soldiers are turned away because they are attracted to people of their own gender. Evidently the GOP wants to double down and make the damage to national security far worse. They're really committed to that Archie Bunker vote, aren't they?

Admittedly, this is one of those issues where the ~20% of people who support DADT probably feel much stronger about it than the ~80% who oppose it. But you can't build a majority with 20%, and I'm frankly baffled that Republicans think this is a political winner for them. I suspect that the combination of this and the anti-immigration nuts that will come out of the woodwork when we start seeing real debate on that issue will reinforce the impression of the GOP as the nasty party, which worked so well for the Tories during the Blair era, didn't it?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A requiem to a lost sort of cultural conservatism

Long-time readers know that one of my obsessions on this blog is the change in the conservative movement from deploring (back in the 90's) to now promoting trash culture. I find it strangely fascinating, and perhaps symbolic of the movement's, um, movement over the past decade or two. I was rewatching the pilot of The West Wing not so long ago and found myself bemused by a scene where a major religious right operative is spouting off about the availability of pornography being evidence of a society in chaos. It just seemed so dated to me, watching it a decade after the fact. Nowadays, Fox News is more likely to be hosting a porn star on one of its programs as it is to bash pornography. I'm not sure why that is--the best I can come up with is that conservatives just gave up on trying to improve the culture and now only care about cutting themselves off from it, financially speaking. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out over time.

Anyway, I think the final brick in this particular wall was laid today, with WWE CEO Linda McMahon defeating former Rep. Rob Simmons in the Connecticut Republican Convention for the office of U.S. Senate, and his subsequent departure from the race. McMahon is basically unelectable, so far as I can tell. Her company is basically the embodiment of trash culture, filled to the brim with bimbos, violence, a reductive view of masculinity as being something akin to Conan the Barbarian, etc. We all know what she's about and what she's peddling. But I recall a time in the early 90's when I was growing up that practically every parent with whom I came into contact (by the way, I grew up here) thought that pro wrestling was just awful, had all sorts of bad messages for kids, and might well have been some sort of portent of The End Times. Clearly, this is hyperbolic, and I don't really see the threat level that those other people saw back then, but I do think it's generally garbage that kids are better off not watching. I think most people would agree. So, why did McMahon win? Evidently because she's richer than the other guy. And evidently more "conservative". Putting up with trash in exchange for more money--pretty much sums up the Republican credo these days, I guess. I'm just looking forward to when Al Goldstein runs for something as a Republican. Then the cycle will truly be complete.

I do think the culture wars, such as they were, are ending. I should clarify what I mean by this. Do I think that the right and the left are going to make peace and get along? Probably not soon. And there are still some divisive social issues out there, i.e. teh gayz and illegal immigrants, that will polarize for some time to come. But these are outliers. Conservatives seem to have absolutely no interest anymore in what sort of society we're running, aside from the tax structure. This is, I think, a sign that the hyperindividualistic mindset of the Randists has become the default for conservative self-expression, which I find an unambiguously negative development. Social issues beyond the big three (abortion, gay marriage, and immigration) are pretty much out of the public debate at this point. I suppose you can say that liberals won these battles--people aren't really banning films anymore, not that it would matter, since you can get anything on the internet now--but my sense was that, aside from the hypocrisy and lying and holier-than-thou posturing, the right's objections to stuff like pornography and pro wrestling and profanity on television were based, on some level, on an actual regard for people. That there was a time when conservatives had some vision of a society where some things were held sacred and not subjected to the cycle of transgression, cynicism, and banality that can so easily wind up eating our souls if we let them. Maybe I'm reading this wrong, and I was much younger at this particular point so I'm sure the picture I got back then had a few distortions in it, but all this did have a powerful effect on me at the time. I don't for a second believe in censoring any of this stuff, but I do think that society should be in the business of drawing certain lines, and unless one's vision of a perfect society involves Paris Hilton being a legitimate celebrity, surely we all must, too.

So, despite my own avowed (and celebrated) liberalism, I've always had a certain streak of this sort of sentiment buried deep down. Cultural conservatism of a sort, though I'm not even sure that covers it. My values are fundamentally liberal--free speech, free press, and all the rest--but undergirded by a belief in the importance of community and a sense that, since everyone wants to give themselves away to something, it's important to create a society that is worthy of receiving them. This doesn't mean that I want to bring back improvised, illegal abortions or keep gays and lesbians from tying the knot--indeed, I am enthusiastically in favor of the opposite policies in both cases. But I have always been of the belief that society--and culture--are enormous influences on our lives and need to be monitored and pushed back upon occasionally. The culture wars, such as they were, used to be between cultural liberals who believed wholeheartedly in free expression and sexual liberation, and cultural conservatives who had some skepticism toward these enterprises. Now it just seems like, aside from a few residual and emotional issues, the right has just moved on and no longer cares (or thinks they can't change things). I'm not sure what this all means, but it really does feel like we're living in a very different era from the one portrayed in that decade-old West Wing episode.

Snobbery cloaked as reverse-snobbery

Steve Benen has a really amazing quote of the day.

Gitmo, or why we need more liberals

I'm not entirely sure how to feel about Congress evidently killing the Obama Administration's plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. I kind of feel that this is sort of a second-tier issue, to be honest. Opposition to the prison was always fundamentally based on an opposition to what was done there, and closing it was always put in terms of the symbolic damage it did to our national reputation. That reputation has rebounded significantly during the Obama era, and since torture is once again gone from the institution, the importance of closing the institution is a bit diminished to me. I would much rather have preferred that the Administration spend its political capital on dismantling Bush's shadow justice system (and not pursued its dubious assassinations policy), but the fact is that Obama spent a lot more political capital on this than I figured he would. I don't see it as being his fault.

What bothers me is that, by and large, there are few people on the left willing to speak out against the War On Terror, and that people who speak out generally have little grasp of how to pitch an argument to the public. The general responses to the right's objections to civilian trials for terrorists and Miranda warnings were to point out hypocrisy on the part of Republicans, not to accuse Republicans of cynical distortions to scare people out of supporting the Administration's terror policies. This failure merely forces the Administration to move ever-further to the right on these issues, as there is little rhetorical ground to take a more little-l liberal approach. I find the entire thing more than a little frustrating myself. What it boils down to is that there just aren't enough people in the Democratic Party who are animated by anything close to liberal ideas, like the preservation of civil liberties. True liberals would find much of this stuff intolerable, and would have little problem saying so. You can't tell me that someone like George McGovern would have just gone along with the assassination policy back in the day? It would have driven him crazy, and he wouldn't have been able to stay away from taking his problems to the public. I wish we had more like him around these days.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Slip-sliding away

DougJ over at Balloon Juice can't help but gloat just a little bit over this poll finding:
When we polled Colorado in early March Michael Bennet and Jane Norton were tied. Last week we found Bennet with a 3 point lead. One of the biggest reasons for that shift? Bennet went from leading Norton by 12 points with Hispanic voters to a 21 point advantage. That large shift in a Democratic direction among Hispanics mirrors what we saw in our Arizona Senate polling last month- Rodney Glassman went from trailing John McCain by 17 points with them in September to now holding a 17 point lead.

Of course, I predicted this as well. The immigration issue, outside of perhaps the border states, is an asymmetric one. It will benefit the Democrats because Hispanics will get more worked up over it than white people will. It's helping Bennet in Colorado (who seemed like a sure goner on account of his lack of a power base in the state), it's helping Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown in California, Glassman in Arizona, and who knows who else. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this could save the Democrats' majority in November.

Why can't liberals just be happy?

Jamelle Bouie asks the question. My point of view is that the liberal mind has certain habits that can't be so easily reversed. The past few decades have not held too many victories for liberals, at least, not as progressive activist types would see them. For example, I would tend to see the welfare reform of the 1990s as a win for liberalism that neutered the issue of welfare abuse, thus setting the stage for a future resurgence of domestic liberalism, but I know from my own personal interactions that many liberals view welfare reform as at best a wash, and perhaps an outright loss. And it's not like there haven't been a lot of tough losses for the left during the last few decades. So, people on the left who are mentally accustomed to losing can easily become the people who can't take yes for an answer, not out of substance so much as out of an inability to adjust outdated thinking so quickly.

This wouldn't be unprecedented, by the way. Some few decades ago, Ronald Reagan's modest but real successes were viewed skeptically by many conservatives who wanted something much more sweeping instead, as this older but memorable post by Daniel Larison notes, and the right at that time was also so used to losing that they couldn't see things in any other terms. I suspect it will take liberals some time to realize that we, too, have won some big battles this past year and a half.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One last observation on Rand Paul

I don't have much else to say about the guy, but isn't it a little weird that Daniel Larison--a man who has rightly excoriated Republicans who lost races because they pursued ideological crusades instead of focusing on local issues--is so behind Rand Paul, who seems like the ultimate example of this tendency. I mean, who really wants to relitigate the CRA or the Americans with Disabilities Act? Given how quickly Paul backed off practically every stance that Republicans disliked, this strikes me as wishful thinking. But it's a nice wish, I suppose.

Then again, maybe the guy will surprise us. Frankly, I was amazed that Scott Brown voted for financial regulatory reform. Perhaps he won't be as bad as I feared.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sullivan and Kagan, redux

Will somebody please stop this man? Seriously, it's not enough to call Elena Kagan a closet case and therefore a vile liar, does he have to bring up this subject seemingly every other post?

Hey, Andrew: She's. Not. Gay. Everybody who knows her says so. Not only are you making me much more sympathetic to the woman, you're being a lazy and immature stereotypist. What's with this whisper campaign? What are you doing? Why can't you get over her apparent straightness? And yes, I'm a straight guy, so I guess I'm suspect, but implying that she's a closet case without evidence of it is basically calling Kagan a liar, isn't it? Why so many more posts about her than, say, Lindsey Graham? I can barely even stomach this anymore. What you're doing isn't noble, isn't journalistic, isn't free speech martyrdom, it's self-pitying and attention seeking. Please stop.

I've been reading Sullivan for about five years now, through points both high and low. I stopped for a few months in '07 because of his vitriol toward Hillary Clinton. Don't think I wouldn't take a break again. The thought is growing ever more appealing. I could follow another four blogs a day if I dumped him. It's like the Trig Palin theories. Seriously, who wants this stuff? Seemingly aside from Glenn Greenwald, the biggest a-hole on the internet (and I mean that in the best way, seriously), who really wants to read about why if Kagan were gay it would be unconscionable for her to be in the closet? Maybe once or twice, but a dozen times a day? I tend to think Andrew's issues with women tend to be more smoke than fire, but I'm seriously reconsidering this view.

Rand Paul and the CRA

It appears to be the topic du jour.

I have to say that I agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates on this. I understand Rand Paul's case on this issue--it's one that I've heard before, and while I disagree with it, I do understand it. But the incredible thing about the clip is how awful at explaining and defending his position Rand Paul is. He keeps bringing up free speech (?) as though it makes sense in the context, he's evasive and meandering and clearly would just rather be anywhere else. I think this makes it that much worse because it basically validates the worst reading of the story. If he can't clearly explain his thinking on something as elemental as civil rights, people are going to assume that he's either ignorant or deceptive, or both. There's some ignorance there, but mostly what I see is a guy who, like his father, is pretty comfortable on the fringes and holding fringe views. He's not used to being held accountable for those views. Some of those views are wholly unobjectionable, by the way. If noninterventionism were more mainstream, America would be much better off! But with Rand Paul you're going to see more things like this crop up, just as with Ron Paul, though the elder Paul wasn't subjected to near as much scrutiny since he wasn't really that close to power. Which is why the GOP would have been better off nominating Grayson, ultimately.

Another installment of California GOP fail

The only thing you really need to know about California Republicans is that they never miss an opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot. The GOP could have taken Gray Davis out in 2002. They even had a candidate in L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan, whose politics could be easily summarized as, "Arnold without the accent." And then the GOP went with hard-right Bill Simon instead. I voted for Simon out of protest to Davis, which turned out to be prescient.

Now, this year, the GOP looked poised (pun not intended, as you'll see) to have a good year in California. The economy in California is so awful that literally anything can happen. Meg Whitman isn't my cup of tea, but she's not that bad. And Tom Campbell is one of the last sane Republicans in the state. I wouldn't exactly be happy if those two won their respective races, but my lack of love for Jerry Brown mostly makes me indifferent to the former. But I was just thinking to myself the other day, hey, these races have been going too smoothly! And too well for the Republicans! When is the inevitable Chuck DeVore tea party surge going to happen?

And then I see these two items:
  • A new Public Policy Institute of California poll finds that Carly Fiorina (R) has a narrow lead over Tom Campbell (R) in the Republican Senate race, 25% to 23%, with Chuck DeVore (R) gaining ground at 16%. There are 36% still undecided.
  • A new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows a "dramatic reshaping" in the Republican race for governor as the 50-point lead Meg Whitman held over Steve Poizner two months ago has now closed to single digits.
The DeVore surge is real, and I don't wonder if it will continue. But it's pretty amazing that the GOP still punishes its most promising prospects for being moderate in this state. Frankly, if the CA GOP looked and acted like Schwarzenegger they'd be competitive on most every level. Instead, they're mostly just happy being a pure, rump presence in the state. It's not like we couldn't use some cleansing periods of opposition rule every now and then, either, since what the long period of Democratic rule has made all sorts of ugliness fester in the state. Basically, California is the state you go to if you want to be cynical about politics. Aside from Nancy Pelosi, this state almost never produces effective political leaders, and there are very good reasons for that. But I just find it incredible that they would actually pick a businesswoman whose record in industry makes George W. Bush look like Lee Iacocca and a real right-winger to run for the senate and governor. Winning big in California would probably make people think that the GOP could win anywhere again. Instead it is, as David Byrne might say, "Same as it ever was."

(h/t: Political Wire)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What yesterday means

Mike Tomasky has a typically astute take on the ultimate meaning of Anti-incumbent Tuesday:

If there's one overall trend we're seeing, it's that more candidates are learning to make effective use of non-traditional weapons like netroots activism and online fundraising and word-spreading. This was novel when Howard Dean did it in 2004 and worth noting when Obama improved on Dean's model in 2008. Now, these tools are starting to gain much wider use. They helped Paul, Sestak and Halter. Since they're inexpensive tools to use, they do tend to mitigate the greatest advantage incumbents of both parties have had over challengers in recent decades: money.

That, to me, is really the main thing these results tell us about the autumn. The advantages of incumbency, traditionally massive in American politics, are melting away. It's mostly because of technology, but the bad economy and resulting anger and impatience only intensify matters. Democrats of course have more to lose in the midterms. But the incumbents of both parties need to be on their toes.

The money is key. Fewer people are watching network TV, so the importance of fundraising to pay for those ads could well become less pronounced in the future. Good news for democracy if it happens.

Asking The Question

I like Andrew Sullivan as a blogger, and I'd say I agree with him about 60% of the time and disagree about 30% of the time, and the other 10% is usually when he annoys me so much I need to get up and get a drink of water. Which is probably about the right mix for any blogger, all things considered, but recently he's been in that 10% zone a lot with his questioning of Elena Kagan's sexual orientation. He's written about why he thinks it's so important to ask the question, and it appears to still be on his mind. Here he is generalizing the issue to something about Obama that I don't quite get.

Sullivan's most frequent problem is that he is too self-congratulatory for asking questions that don't really matter all that much but are controversial, and then acting like a martyr for free speech when he doesn't get the answers he wants. Despite numerous people saying that Kagan isn't gay, he simply cannot take yes for an answer. He's decided there's something strange there, and that's that. I find it telling that literally nobody else cares about who Ms. Kagan prefers to go to bed with, just like nobody really cared about the real story about Trig Palin. Despite there being a very plausible counternarrative to Palin's sketchy explanation for the pregnancy (i.e. that she lied about the circumstances, which is hardly out of character for her), Sullivan couldn't let it go. He seemed to be under the impression that Trig is somehow Bristol's baby, despite there being literally no possibility of that. And in both cases, he personally made himself out to be the victim when questions weren't answered to his satisfaction. Frankly, I find this an unattractive tendency. I do like Andrew Sullivan, and his blog is one of my favorites. And he often does try to honestly deal with his mistakes and change his mind when confronted with new evidence. But his strong instinctual sense for the story, coupled with a streak of martyrdom, often gets him into trouble. A word to the wise, Andrew: let this one go.

What about a Liberal Party?

Sounds good to me. By the way, I'd readily give up public sector unions for a vastly more generous mechanism for forming private-sector unions.

Blumenthal survives?

If this is as bad as it gets, I think he'll pull through. I don't trust this poll entirely, though. WWE CEO Linda McMahon making a race of it against Connecticut's AG, while moderate and popular former GOP Rep. Rob Simmons still trails by double digits? Rasmussen polls seem more and more like Zogby polls (or just random numbers) every day.

Rand Paul

Yglesias thinks he's a lunatic. I wouldn't quite agree. I sort of find the Ron/Rand Paul phenomenon to be quite vexing. On many subjects the two of them have entirely sensible views that Republicans would be wise to adopt wholesale. When it comes to issues of war, security, civil liberties, and drugs, these guys are on pretty solid, limited government ground. So naturally Republicans want nothing to do with their stances on those issues. On the other hand, the Pauls have stances on economics that are just...nutty. I'm not saying that all small government philosophy is nutty, but from what I read the Pauls basically hold to conventional economic theory circa the 1800s up until, say, the 1920s. I realize that Keynesianism has its critics, and that's why the right wing here and elsewhere endorsed Friedmanite monetarism during the 1970s and 1980s, which basically said that manipulating the money supply was the better way of making the economy work, as opposed to deficit spending. And while monetary policy will only take you so far, this was at least a theory that could work under certain circumstances. But the Pauls--who want to eliminate the Federal Reserve, of course--essentially think that even monetarism is fishy, and that the invisible hand ought to rule again. I don't quite think the public grasps that the Paul philosophy is to literally do nothing about the economy, which would probably sour most everyone on the entire Paul enterprise. But all this is extremely radical and bizarre to me. I don't know if Jack Conway can use any of this to knock down Rand Paul, but I suspect that this race will be a real close high-risk/high-reward race for the right wing that could easily have been a cakewalk with Grayson.

On the bright side, Paul could become a leading civil libertarian on the Republican side if elected (though his attempts to distance himself from those stances aren't promising), and at the very least could make himself a real nuisance to the GOP leadership.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The GOP's strong position?

They've won back some of their old supporters. It's simply a fact that the GOP is poised to do well in this year's elections. But the vision of a resurgent GOP just seems incorrect to me. What I see is a petrified and frightened Republican Party, one where most members are terrified of losing their jobs not from an opposition onslaught but rather from friendly fire, and one where that notion is plausible for pretty much everyone except for maybe Jim DeMint. I think dumping Bob Bennett has had a pretty significant impact already--Lindsay Graham is off the energy bill, no elected Republicans are stepping up on immigration, and the GOP even made a show of staving off financial regulation until it became clear that the tea parties just didn't care about that particular issue. Absolutely no Republicans are sticking their necks out for anything right now, because they know if someone as unobjectionable as Bob Bennett goes, they could easily be next. That was the point that FreedomWorks and Club for Growth were trying to make by beating him. They could care less about Bennett. They were claiming a scalp, sending a message and showing their strength. And it appears to have worked.

Frankly, while Democratic politics are often utterly baffling even to a loyal Democrat like me, Republican politics at the moment are much stranger. So far as I can tell, the GOP is basically undergoing a civil war. It's been declared many times, tacitly and formally. The tea parties are out to take over the party from the mainstream/establishment conservatives and remake it in their image. One would figure the battle lines would be drawn. After all, the mainstream/establishment wing of the Republican Party knows very well how to win votes in this country, as up until 2006 they were winning them quite often! And promising to cut public spending to the bone is all well and good unless you try to do it, and you usually wind up getting a Newt Gingrich government shutdown sort of situation. One would think that a tea party-led Republican Party would have a very hard time winning the public debate on this issue. And yet the GOP elites seem to mostly be interested in trying to exploit the tea party people for their own gain instead of realizing the dire threat the TPs pose to them. Perhaps they're in denial, obsessively focused on winning in 2010 that they don't particularly care how they do it. But if the tea parties do take over the GOP, I don't hesitate to say it could be catastrophic.

This all hearkens back to the early 1980s in Britain. Margaret Thatcher's win was to the left like Barack Obama's win as interpreted to the right, in many ways. The racial elements aren't there, but much of the Labour left simply didn't believe that Thatcher could win, that she was too right wing. Her win basically caused a complete nervous collapse on the part of the left, with the Militants as the tea partyish group of the left, a bunch of antiestablishment types who thought that Labour--then a party formally committed to Democratic Socialism--was far too right-wing. It was a movement that had some success in local politics, capturing some city councils (Sheffield being sort of the epicenter), and it could well have spread to the whole party were it not for the fact that Labour's leaders at the time, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock, actively worked to keep that from happening. The tea parties are still sort of a peripheral phenomenon at this point, and I suspect that most people don't know much about them. But I really wonder whether the GOP's leadership is up to the task here. There is a very real danger that the radicals seize control of this party. Everyone in the GOP is petrified of someone else getting to their right. It's a recipe for disaster, I think.
I simply must join Erik Kain in pointing you to this masterful roundup of the state of Elena Kagan criticism. It's quite simply hilarious. My favorites:

1.) Titillating David Brooks- no boring career oriented types need apply. Try to squeeze in some college era hijinks to liven up that vita- maybe a possession bust as an undergrad, some racy Facebook pictures, or a term paper supportive of Mao.

3.) Paul Campos would like a dissertation on the history of curriculum theory (no slouching and skipping out on the role of hermeneutics and critical theory), a treatise on best pedagogical practices, a complete review of the collected works of John Dewey, and a positive evaluation from every lazy student you may have ever had.

4.) Andrew Sullivan would like proof one way or another of your sexual orientation. I suppose pictures will do, but the apparent gold standards are the assurances of Jeffrey Toobin and Eliot Spitzer.

10.) Lynn Sweet would like a decent batting stance. And no, I’m not kidding. According to recent debates, proof of a good baseball stance could also serve as verification of your sexual status, as required by Sullivan in point number four.

It's still too soon to make up my mind about Ms. Kagan, but if this is really all they've got against her, then I'm not sure why they're even bothering.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More drama from California

Interesting little story by TPM about California Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman stumbling because of some old Goldman ties. I hadn't seen the ads because I don't have cable, and my ad intake comes exclusively from Hulu and visits to other peoples' houses. But it sounds pretty bad for Meg.

I don't really hate Meg Whitman. Unlike a certain other former CEO trying to break into California Republican politics, I've heard only good things about her executive abilities, and though she's tacking to the right in the primary she's pretty much an Arnie Republican and most people know it. Truth be told, I'm not a huge Jerry Brown fan and I wouldn't be terribly broken up if Whitman beat him in the general election. Brown isn't bad from an executive standpoint, but if he won the Democrats would be running what would theoretically be a unified government in CA, except that it's nowhere close to that due to budgetary supermajority requirements. Brown seems none too keen on fixing those problems, or on saying much about anything at this point, so I'm not too thrilled to have him back in office. Having a (nominally) Republican governor, on the other hand, helps diffuse blame a bit, and it helps with bargaining with the handful of GOP moderates that are actually willing to bargain. It doesn't look like Meg is going to get the chance, though. Which is actually quite surprising to me. Poizner sort of slipped through the cracks to be insurance commissioner in 2006 when Schwarzenegger won a big landslide in the state. Having him at the top of the ticket will pretty much eliminate the GOP's hopes of holding the governorship, and probably help kill any of their hopes of beating Barbara Boxer to boot.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

That being said...

While Obama hasn't exactly kept the faith of civil libertarians on terrorism stuff, there have been lots of big changes in federal drug policy that are very much in line with what we want to see out of him:

The White House is putting more resources into drug prevention and treatment, part of President Barack Obama's pledge to treat illegal drug use more as a public health issue than a criminal justice problem.

The new drug control strategy to be released Tuesday boosts community-based anti-drug programs, encourages health care providers to screen for drug problems before addiction sets in and expands treatment beyond specialty centers to mainstream health care facilities.

A lot of people think that the Obama Administration is basically Bushism with a human face. In some respects, this is uncomfortably close to truth. But when you look at the trajectory of the War on Drugs over the past year or so, there's a pretty definite trend toward sanity here. We're not closing in on legalization or anything, but it's actually pretty extraordinary that this is the classically liberal approach to the drug problem--treatment, not punishment--and the administration keeps pushing more and more toward winding the insane drug war down. Ten years ago, even proposing this would have been considered batty. Now? It's hardly news.

That's fundamentally why I try to support the Administration as much as I can on these questions. I don't think the Democrats have done a good job safeguarding civil liberties, but they're much better than the GOP. Because the GOP's position is basically that we have no civil liberties. When that's the right-most point of the debate, it's hard to see how we get to the sensible center with respect to our freedoms. But on the non-security issues like drugs, I think Obama has decent instincts toward freedom. I wish he'd put his neck on the line for them more often, but honestly, what's the alternative at this point?

Elena Kagan: A poor choice, politically speaking

I would have gotten to this earlier, but I was pretty sick yesterday and was not really much up for blogging.

I've read a lot of different takes on the Elena Kagan nomination and I'm not really sure how to feel, aside from mildly annoyed. I mean, I guess Obama has a high opinion of her, and he is obviously in a position to know more about how Kagan thinks than I do. I sure hope he knows a lot that I don't, because I kind of think that this pick is odd from a practical perspective and terrible from a political perspective. There's practically nothing in Kagan's history or work for people to connect with. She's from a well-off family that headed some top-notch legal departments, basically, and seems to have assiduously avoided from saying anything noteworthy about much of anything. She's a completely uninspiring choice. Nobody seems to be really excited about her, aside from some of the dialed-in Beltway types. Kagan is the embodiment of the governing class, and to the extent that her nomination is a statement, I'm not sure it's a statement that coincides with what Obama was preaching in 2008. I'll be watching this process, and I'm inclined to support her, as what details we know seem to paint a picture of someone who is smart and qualified, but there's hardly enough here to pass judgment and unless she answers some basic questions I don't really think she should be a lock for confirmation. I think Obama would have been better off picking an experienced progressive jurist like Diane Wood, or someone with a better narrative and more life experience like Jennifer Granholm*, both of whom are quite a bit less opaque than the current nominee.

On the other hand, I'm also mildly annoyed at some of the more blustery anti-Kagan pushback. There's a real point to be made that Kagan's record on civil liberties is suspect, but to say that she's argued the government's case in cases involving civil liberties is evidence of antagonism to civil liberties is like saying that a lawyer who defends a murderer tacitly supports murder. Kagan is essentially the government's lawyer, of course. All of which is to say nothing, I suppose, except that there's not much to say. Kagan is a cipher seemingly to everyone but Obama. As much as I respect the guy, that's just not enough.

I'm not sure what to think of this situation. I don't really think the Obama Administration has been that strong on civil liberties, and I wish he would expend more political capital on it, but I have to admit that that kind of stuff just doesn't command much popular support at this point in time. I can't really blame Obama for the climate of fear that makes every failed terror attack front-page news for weeks at a time. I'm no apologist--reading Eric Holder's concession to the latest BS from the Republicans about Miranda warnings made me want to pull my hair out, and I think showing more guts on those kinds of issues would go a long way. But it is what it is. In any event, Obama's leadership has been solid and even inspired in most other areas. Therefore, I'm willing to at least hear the case in Kagan's favor, should one be presented, but absent a compelling case I just don't know. At this point, Kagan has a lot of support but little evidence in her favor, and all her supporters' messages seem to be riffs on, "Trust me." My inclination at this point is to trust, but also to verify.

So, I guess I'm basically undecided at this point. Still, when I read stuff like this I get really annoyed:
In his selection of finalists, Mr. Obama effectively framed the choice so that he could seemingly take the middle road by picking Ms. Kagan, who correctly or not was viewed as ideologically between Judge Wood on the left and Judge Garland in the center.

Judge Garland was widely seen as the most likely alternative to Ms. Kagan and the one most likely to win easy confirmation. Well respected on both sides of the aisle....But Mr. Obama ultimately opted to save Judge Garland for when he faces a more hostile Senate and needs a nominee with more Republican support. Democrats expect to lose seats in this fall’s election, so if another Supreme Court seat comes open next year and Mr. Obama has a substantially thinner margin in the Senate than he has today, Judge Garland would be an obvious choice.
I just don't understand how this much political calculation gets such a poor choice from a political perspective. A successful filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee has never happened. It's hardly even been credibly threatened. Why not appoint Diane Wood and see if the GOP decides to give the Democrats a perfect, high-profile case of obstructionism to take to the voters? When you see stuff like this Gallup poll showing Kagan about as well received as Harriet Miers or Sam Alito, one just wonders what the point is to this calculation at all. Would Wood really have been much below that? I doubt it.

* So, Barack Obama clearly wasn't thinking the way I was about this. I still think my arguments about Granholm are solid, and she would undoubtedly have more grassroots support than Kagan will. But I will readily admit that I know nothing about Kagan's jurisprudence, though I appear to not be the only one.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Palin endorses Carly Fiorina

Reading between the lines here, I'm 100% positive that Palin knows this endorsement will kill Carly's chances of getting elected in the state and that she's exacting revenge for Carly saying that Palin couldn't run a company.

Tell me I'm wrong.

Poison Penn

I recommend checking out Jon Chait's rebuke of Mark Penn's predictable "centrist" idiocy. It just takes me back to early 2007. I was an Obama supporter from very early on--probably not long after his announcement in February of that year. I sensed something from the guy, didn't quite know what, but I knew that this guy could win, and that he should win. I worried at a number of points during that campaign season but I never seriously considered backing anyone else, in part because the other options were so unpalatable. But Clinton was perhaps the worst choice, not because of she lacks talent or intelligence (which she doesn't), but because the woman simply has no ability to judge talent or character in others. Her senior staff were clueless loyalists, to a person, at best. At worst...well, you had Mark Penn. An enabler of everything that is wrong with American Politics today. A guy who combines the good judgment of Bob Shrum, the insight of Dick Morris, and the personal ethics of Jack Abramoff. Ugh.

Put another way, I couldn't vote for someone who could implicitly trust a person like that. In a way, he was Hillary Clinton's Sarah Palin, at least for me, and certainly for a lot of plugged-in netrootsy types.

Marco Rubio supports Arizona's immigration law

Funny that.

What I find hilarious about this is that it puts the lie to the narrative that a lot of conservatives (including a few I really respect, like Daniel Larison) are pushing about this election: that Charlie Crist is a soulless and unprincipled hack, while Marco Rubio is a charismatic politician of conviction. If anything, something like the opposite appears to be true. Crist's sin was to run for governor as an independent. Why is he doing this? Because the GOP aggressively recruited him to run for Senate, and then abandoned him when someone who better suited their ideological predilections came along. He obviously supported the stimulus, but this was hardly a policy defection since governors either supporting or denouncing the stimulus was purely for show. They all took the money in the end, and the entire episode was little more than posturing, much like the GOP's health care lawsuits. Crist was courted as long as he was convenient to Republicans and then dumped when that was no longer the case. Republicans might well tout Crist's defection as some sort of double-cross, but you can certainly make an argument that it was entirely just, and that the GOP got what was coming to them when they used Crist in the way they did.

But Rubio's stance here is pretty craven. He has no GOP opposition in his primary. How much support would he really lose by opposing the Arizona bill? Is he going to lose right-wingers to Crist or Ken Meek? My guess is that Rubio is thinking further down the line to a presidential campaign, but this would be like an African-American politician in the South during the 1950's opposing desegregation to try to appeal to racist whites. Okay, perhaps that comparison is too strong, but I don't think it's that far off. Talk about soulless.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Arizona again

DougJ of Balloon Juice: "You tell me: who is more likely to be a one issue voter on the Arizona immigration law, a Glenn Beck listener living in white suburb or a Latino American who was just forced to show his papers to the police?" Of course, he's right and the DC establishment is wrong. Their particular flaw here is in assuming that voters give equal weight to major issues, when in fact this is not the case. There are, after all, quite a few pro-choice Republicans (~25-30% in most polls). That the Arizona law might command (extremely slim) majority support and still be a huge boon for Democrats are not at all contradictory. I would have put it a little differently, as in the Latino vs. someone who reads some quick headlines on Google News, but this premise is about right.

I'm beginning to wonder if the GOP isn't seriously overplaying its hand with stuff like this. They have a decent hand to play, of course: the economy isn't good, Obama isn't as popular as he was a year ago, and midterm elections are usually more about blowing off steam than anything else, which helps the out-of-power party. The average voter doesn't follow politics too closely and probably won't notice all the craziness going on, but poisoning the well of a gettable group of swing voters like this isn't helping them. The GOP didn't exactly do well with Hispanics last time around, but they did get about a third of their votes, and not having those supporters turn out leaves a pretty significant hole that would presumably have to be filled by more white voters. Their assumption of many Scott Brown moments this year strikes me as something they should plan for as a best-case scenario, not a median-case scenario, which is the only way this makes sense. That seems to be how they're acting, anyway. Taking votes for granted usually winds up ending tragically, as President Tom Dewey can tell you.

Tom Periello catches a break?

Virgil Goode--i.e. the embarrassing jackass who raised hell about Keith Ellison being sworn in on the Qur'an--is evidently pondering a third-party challenge to the progressive Democrat who unseated him, Tom Perriello.

Perriello is an interesting case. He's quite progressive on most major issues--energy and health care come to mind--but he's pro-life and presumably anti-gun control, etc. He is nevertheless a favorite among the left netroots because of his progressive convictions, and considering he's representing a district that elected a Virgil Goode to Congress, nobody figured he'd be around for very long. Except that he's proven to be a hard worker who takes hard votes and then works to get his constituents to understand his thinking. In the age of Dick Morris and Drudge, it seems like a sort of old-fashioned, nostalgic approach to politics that the cynics would scoff at. But it's working! All the polls of this race show it to be close. And even if Perriello has a ceiling of 45% or so, two conservative opponents splitting the anti-Perriello vote could help the guy squeak through a tough re-election fight.

And I really hope he does. Perriello is the sort of young, committed politician who threatens to give Democrats a good name. I suspect he'll become a big rising star in the party if he wins another term.

Retiring Democrats

There goes another one.

I have to admit that I this annoying. It would be one thing if these guys were just old and said enough was enough, but more often--particularly with Dorgan, John Tanner, Bart Gordon, and now Dave Obey, you just get a sense that these dudes don't want to actually fight for their seats. They never really had to in the past, of course. But I just find it a little appalling that these guys seem to have no stomach for political combat. When the going gets tough, they get going. In the short term, they're hurting the Democratic Party. In the long term, though, I have to believe that the party will be better off without all this deadweight.

The Republicans have had more retirements this year, of course, but they've done theirs the right way by pushing tired representatives to retire in what will probably be a Republican year, rather than in say 2012, when Barack Obama will be running for a second term.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Am I reading this right?

This sounds like most Americans think that the Arizona immigration law sucks in many ways, but that it's better than doing nothing. I disagree with this notion, but I think it would be good for politicians who want to act on this issue to approach it from this angle.

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.