Politics Archives

September 10, 2003

Throw the book at the bookkeeper

Remember all those Democratic complaints about how the Bush administration wasn't doing anything about corporate crime? How about five years in prison for Enron's treasurer?

(Think that will satisfy Democrats that progress is being made? Ha! We'll hear "So what? What about Ken Lay?" And when Lay is prosecuted, and the trial drags on, we'll hear, "Why did you arrest him unilaterally, instead of working through the UN? Now we're in a legal quagmire." (Er, sorry. I watched the first Democratic presidential debate -- the Hispanic debate -- last weekend, and the second Democratic presidential debate -- the black one -- last night. My cynicism about the Democratic party is unusually high right now.))

September 11, 2003


Two years. Hard to believe it. It seems almost surreal now, as it fades slightly into the distance. Almost hard to believe that it happened. And then you remember the little things, from Barbara Olsen on the plane to the horror of watching the buildings crumble, to the amazing concept of 72 hours without commercials, and it all comes back, if not quite as vividly as before.

But we've come so far. We've fought a war on terrorism in two theaters, while fighting a longer, more intense diplomatic war in between those two conflicts. In some ways, the world feels like it has changed so much since 9/11; we've gone from the End of History to the Clash of Civilizations. And yet in other ways, it feels as if it hasn't changed at all. Last year, 9/11 was a huge, emotional day. This year, the networks have forgotten about it -- or decided to ignore it -- and the media focus has shifted from remembrance of the events themselves to metastories about the way people are dealing with the anniversary of the events. Policywise, we've gone from "Oh my god, how should we react?" in 2001 to "What should we do? What's our long term strategy for foreign policy?" in 2002 to "Why did we do it? What did he know and when did he know it? How is this going to affect the 2004 election?"

In a way, it's depressing; the brief period of certainty, with a widespread shared sense of purpose, is gone. No longer does the national sense of unity endure. There will be no more 420-1 votes in Congress regarding American policy. Petty partisan squabbles again predominate, and foreign policy has been displaced by, or at least forced to share space with, the Kobe Bryant story.

And yet, in a way, it's reassuring; life does go on. The war is not over, not nearly over. There are major battles left to fight, both militarily and diplomatically. And national security will be back on the electoral agenda after completely disappearing for the 8 years of Clinton. But, we're not obsessed with it. And that's a good thing. We don't have to be. We're not Israel, constantly under siege; we can get on with our lives. We can pay attention to the campaign of the Governator and the World Series and Ben and J-Lo and the economy and the Ten Commandments in a courthouse. In the past, some -- such as Bill Maher -- have proclaimed our pre-9/11 obsession with these sorts of matters as a sign of American decadence. But it isn't; it's a sign of our strength. We can afford to pay attention to these matters, most of the time, because we focus on the important things when we need to.

So on this second anniversary of the Day Which Changed Everything, we should remember, and reflect, and mourn, and resolve to stay the course for as long as it takes until we have won this war as decisively as we won the Cold War. As we should every future 9/11. But we shouldn't wallow, and we shouldn't feel guilty about having "moved on."

September 16, 2003

Equal protection, unequal situation

A lot of conservatives are upset about the 9th circuit's decision to postpone the California recall election, finding it to be more unwarranted judicial activism -- and again, as in Florida and New Jersey, activism which coincidentally happens to benefit Democrats. There has been a lot of criticism about unelected judges taking elections out of the hands of the people.

Since I do think the U.S. Supreme Court made the right call on Florida 2000, I can't rightly object to judges intervening in an election. Equal protection is a valid reason, as longstanding precedent as well as Bush v. Gore make clear, for the federal courts to intervene in the electoral process. And at least this intervention, unlike the Florida Supreme Court's, took place before the election, so it's not quite so obvious that they're manipulating the outcome to benefit the Democratic candidate.

That having been said, it seems to me that the application of the Bush v. Gore precedent to this recall situation does not compel this result.

  1. Bush v. Gore held that varying standards from district to district were a problem. That is, a chad hanging by two corners might be considered a vote in one county and a non-vote in another, based on the whims of poll workers.
    As seems to have been acknowledged at oral argument, the standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots might vary not only from county to county but indeed within a single county from one recount team to another.

    The record provides some examples. A monitor in Miami-Dade County testified at trial that he observed that three members of the county canvassing board applied different standards in defining a legal vote. 3 Tr. 497, 499 (Dec. 3, 2000). And testimony at trial also revealed that at least one county changed its evaluative standards during the counting process. Palm Beach County, for example, began the process with a 1990 guideline which precluded counting completely attached chads, switched to a rule that considered a
    vote to be legal if any light could be seen through a chad, changed back to the 1990 rule, and then abandoned any pretense of a per se rule, only to have a court order that the county consider dimpled chads legal. This is not a process with sufficient guarantees of equal treatment.

    On the other hand, the California election doesn't present that problem. It merely presents the possibility that more ballots will be discarded in some counties as a result of errors -- errors by the voters, not by poll
    officials, though those errors may be facilitated (though not caused) by the choice of ballot technology used. And, indeed, Bush v. Gore explicitly did not address that issue:
    The question before the Court is not whether local entities, in the exercise of their expertise, may develop different systems for implementing elections. Instead, we are presented with a situation where a state court with the power to assure uniformity has ordered a statewide recount with minimal procedural safeguards. When a court orders a statewide remedy, there must be at least some assurance that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied.
    There's a big difference between mechanical error rates being slightly different and poll workers being allowed to pick and choose which ballots they wish to count without any possibility of oversight.

  2. Even if the court found that different error rates presented a constitutional problem, that doesn't justify this decision. While other forms of ballot might have a lower error rate in general than punch cards, that does not mean that a newly-implemented system in these California counties will have a lower rate than an established punch card system. Training poll workers (who, let's face it, aren't the sharpest knifes in the drawer) to use entirely new technology in a short time period doesn't inspire much in the way of confidence that they won't make mistakes.

As to what is going to happen, I have no idea. I've got to imagine that the Supreme Court is going to be extremely reluctant to get involved. [Update: while I was writing this, word came down that the 9th circuit is getting involved, asking the parties to file briefs on whether they should hear the case en banc. Would they do so if there weren't a decent chance of reversing the panel's decision? I don't know.]

September 17, 2003

Lies and the lying... well, you know

Having failed to make any impact whatsoever on Bush administration policies, the left has come out strongly on the counterattack, with the biggest theme being that the whole administration is dishonest. That's to be expected in politics (both dishonesty and accusations thereof), but reasonable people need to learn the distinction between differences of opinion, mistakes, and actual lies. Most importantly, if you're going to accuse someone of lying, shouldn't you make sure your facts are correct first? It seems like a good rule of thumb. But if so, someone needs to explain it to The Nation. In a column entitled The Latest Bush Gang Whoppers, David Corn attempts to dissect Dick Cheney's weekend appearance on Meet The Press, where he cited the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague as possible evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

Let's start with Dick Cheney. He appeared on Meet The Press and was asked by host Tim Russert if there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He replied, "Of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know." This was a deceptive answer.
Now, the first thing to note is that Cheney was careful here not to make any claims of knowledge here. How can it possibly be "deceptive" to point out that this report is out there, unconfirmed, and that we don't know? Well, Corn has an answer:
Shortly after 9/11, Czech intelligence officials did say they had a report from a source--a single source--that Atta had met with this Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. Subsequent media reports in the United States noted that the source was an Arab student who was not considered particularly reliable. The FBI investigated and found nothing to substantiate the report of the meeting. In fact, the FBI concluded that Atta was most likely in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting, and the CIA questioned the existence of this meeting. (Even if there had been a meeting, one could not tell what it meant unless it was known what was said--and no one, not even Cheney, has claimed to know what might have transpired.
Huh? Didn't Corn just repeat exactly what Cheney said? That is: there's a report of a meeting that the US hasn't been able to confirm, so we don't know. Where's the "deception"?

Oh, here it is:

Moreover, on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports" of the meeting. And it seemed that Atta had gone to Prague in June 2000, not April 2001. "Now," the paper noted, "some Czech and German officials say that their best explanation of why Mr. Atta came to Prague was to get a cheap airfare to the United States."

For some reason, Cheney did not share with the Meet the Press audience the information about Havel's denial.

Yes, that illustrates deception. The deception here, though, is not Cheney's, but the Nation's. The "some reason" Cheney didn't share the information about Havel's denial is because it never happened. The New York Times made it up:
"It is a fabrication. Nothing like this has occurred," [Havel spokesperson Ladislav] Spacek said about Havel's alleged phone conversation with the White House.
Oh. Yeah. Oops. Admittedly, it would have been tough for Nation to discover this... unless they read the Times two days later, where the Times admitted it.

There is, of course, serious debate about whether this meeting took place, and what it would prove if it did. The evidence for the meeting is limited to a single source, and he provides no details about the substance of the meeting. But that in no way justifies calling Cheney a liar for citing this as possible evidence of a connection, and it in no way justifies citing a fabricated New York Times story as evidence that Cheney lied.

September 19, 2003

Don't be a Pander Bear

Tip for politicians: when you consult your political advisers on a policy matter, you might want to also consult your economic advisers, to make sure that their ideas will actually work. Because when they don't, you're in trouble. Last year, the Bush Administration imposed tariffs on steel imports in advance of the midterm Congressional elections; now it turns out that the tariffs are backfiring.

Eighteen months later, key administration officials have concluded that Bush's order has turned into a debacle. Some economists say the tariffs may have cost more jobs than they saved, by driving up costs for automakers and other steel users. Politically, the strategy failed to produce union endorsements and appears to have hurt Bush with workers in Michigan and Tennessee -- also states at the heart of his 2004 strategy.
It's not difficult to say "Told you so" here, since everybody did in fact tell Bush so. Except Karl Rove, I guess.

Sometimes bad economics can make good politics, but only in the short run.

Maybe it's just a myth

I hear that once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, people often offered to help other people in need. And when they did so, they did so without expectation of being paid. And they were known as volunteers.

And then government got involved, and suddenly "volunteering" turned into a big government program that needed an extra $100,000,000 just so that 20,000 more people could work for free.

It would be surreal -- if it weren't for the fact that these sorts of paradoxes are to be expected from government. The issue here is that what the program calls "volunteers" are, in fact, something else entirely, as their website makes clear:

Eligibility and Benefits
AmeriCorps is open to U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent residents aged 17 or older. Members serve full or part time over a 10- to 12-month period. Full-time members receive an education award of $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back student loans. They also receive health insurance, training, and student loan deferment. About half of the members also receive a modest annual living allowance of about $9,300, along with health insurance. Members who serve part-time receive a partial education award.
Hmm. So that can add up to $14,000 in cash, plus health insurance. So why not call them "poorly paid employees," rather than "volunteers"? Besides the fact that it would be harder to recruit workers that way, I mean?

September 23, 2003

Why ask why?

Gregg Easterbrook answers that imponderable question: why are there 175 candidates for the Democratic nomination?

First, to the extent the candidates are United States senators (four are), caution-contents-under-pressure egotism is the driving factor. It matters not that it has been 43 years since a senator was elected president. All senators consider themselves Great Men -- substitute Women where appropriate--and of equal importance, all senators consider all competing senators Bloated Gasbags. So when Senator A declares for the presidency, 99 other senators instantly think, Him? I'm better than him! Senators endlessly run, and endlessly lose, because they cannot stand the thought that some other senator views himself as more qualified.
Read the rest.

September 24, 2003

Is this what we can expect over the next year

Mark Whitaker went to Harvard. Graduated with honors. Then he went to Oxford on a Marshall Fellowship. Obviously, he's an educated guy.

Well, actually, it's not that obvious. He's now editor of Newsweek, and here is his idea of political analyis:

FROM THERE, I went to dinner with a veteran NEWSWEEK correspondent who covered Clark when he was commander of NATO. When I asked what he thought of the general, my colleague made an “L” with his thumb and index finger. “Loser!” he said. Sure, Clark was very smart, he conceded, but he was also brittle and egotistical.

That's right. A colleague made an "L" with his thumb. Wesley Clarke is, evidently, a "loser."

It's important to ask: what's not being reported in Newsweek so it can fill its space with tales of one reporter signaling another reporter with 8th grade put-downs?

Continue reading "Is this what we can expect over the next year" »

September 30, 2003


Sheesh, leave the blogosphere for a couple of days and you're swamped by some story. The current one is the Plame affair, which went from simmering to boiling when the Washington Post published a big piece on it. The short version, for those of you too lazy to click on a simple link:

  1. A rumor appeared that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger. Dick Cheney asked the CIA to investigate. The CIA sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to do so. He did, and decided it was unsubstantiated. Either his findings were deliberately disregarded, or got lost in the bureaucracy, so the claims made it into the State of the Union. Months later, when Democrats were looking for Bush vulnerabilities and settled on the "16 words" in the State of the Union, Wilson began going around telling everyone who would listen that he had researched it, found it to be false, and that Bush lied.

  2. Soon afterwards, columnist Robert Novak reported that someone in the Bush administration had hinted to him that Wilson (an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war diplomat) had been chosen because his wife, a covert CIA operative, pulled some strings. This didn't get a lot of publicity at the time, but now it has suddenly exploded.

  3. The Post is reporting that a bunch of other Washington journalists were also contacted by administration officials leaking this story to them. Now the Justice Department is going to investigate,because it's a crime to reveal the name of covert operatives, for obvious reasons.

My reactions to the scandal (other than "wait and see what an investigation reveals"):

  • If the worst -- that Plame is a covert operative who was deliberately outed to retaliate against Wilson -- is true, the
    perpetrators should be shot, not merely for treason or for violating the law, but for criminal stupidity. What on earth did perpetrators have to gain by doing this? Supposedly it's "revenge," but where's the revenge? How is Wilson hurt by this? I suppose the theory is that his wife is hurt -- but how? (People she worked with overseas would indeed be hurt -- their lives would be in danger -- but it's rather perverse to suggest that the Bush administration tried to get overseas operatives killed in order to "punish" Wilson.)

    And if Wilson, through Plame, is indeed hurt, what's the point? To intimidate other critics of Bush, as some have suggested? That doesn't work; nobody was even paying attention to this until Bush's critics -- including Wilson himself -- brought it out in the open and turned it into a scandal. To simply get even with Wilson? For what? He was an insignificant figure before the scandal broke. His 15 minutes of fame about the "16 words" were long over.

  • A lesser version of this scandal makes more sense: some in the administration were trying to discredit Wilson, so they leaked the story that the only reason he got the assignment is because his wife pulled some strings. Naturally, the next question a journalist would ask is, "His wife? Who? What strings could she pull?" And then the accurate response: oh, she works for the CIA on WMD. In this scenario, the motive for the crime -- it is still a crime, after all -- switches from revenge to diminishing Wilson's credentials. Also illegal, but inadvertently, rather than deliberately, so. The perpetrators weren't trying to harm Wilson, Plame, or her contacts, but were just trying to make Wilson look like a beneficiary of nepotism.

  • If this story is true, it's just not going to be that hard to find out. If the perpetrator called at least six journalists, then there are gong to be phone records. There are only a limited number of people who knew and/or could find out what Plame did for a living, and there will likely be a paper trail of some sort regarding her personnel file. And that leads to my next point...

  • There's a second -- and far lesser, don't get me wrong -- scandal here. Namely, what the hell is the media doing? I understand that journalists want to preserve their access, and protecting sources is an important part of that. But supposedly we have _six_ journalists who have firsthand knowledge of a felony on the part of a senior administration official, and yet they'd all rather keep quiet? What is wrong with them? There's a big difference between not revealing who told you that the judge has a secret bank account filled with bribe money, and not revealing who illegally handed you classified information for petty reasons.

October 2, 2003

This is why we call it "Jumping To Conclusions."

I have generally agreed with Dan Drezner's take on Plamegate, but I think he gives a little too much credibility to administration critics, such as Salon's Eric Boehlert. Drezner writes:

Eric Boehlert's Salon piece undercut Robert Novak's credibility just as badly as Joseph Wilson's exaggerations undercut his credibility.


  • Surprisingly Boehlert buries the lead with this graf from the story:
    [A] former senior CIA intelligence officer confirms to Salon that Plame is both an analyst and an officer who works undercover, and was undercover when Novak outed her. Now that her identity has been exposed she cannot again work overseas, and the network of agents she once oversaw may be at risk.
    I think this falls under the "unbelievably disturbing' category.
  • Well, I think it does too -- if it's true.

    Let me preface my comments by explaining that this is exactly why I don't like this story as a blogging subject: we don't really have any facts. We're discussing second- and thirdhand reporting using almost solely anonymous sources. We've got anonymous people commenting about news stories of other anonymous people, as if the first group knew the identity of the second when we have no way to know whether they do.

    Boehlert's version of the facts simply doesn't sound credible to me, in two aspects:

    1. Valerie Plame is "an officer who works undercover," who has a "network of agents she once oversaw."
    2. Valerie Plame "was undercover when Novak outed her."
    As to the first point, does it seem credible that a person would be "working undercover" under her own name, while at the same time openly being married to a U.S. Ambassador under that name? I may be overestimating foreign intelligence services, but a maiden name doesn't exactly sound like much of a secret identity. How hard would it have been for anybody to figure out that Valerie Plame = Valerie Wilson, given that the ambassador's own bio (*) mentions his wife's maiden name?

    Moreover, if someone is "working undercover," while pretending to be an "energy industry analyst" as a cover -- as some stories have noted -- does it make sense that she doesn't have a cover? I spent some significant time the other day searching the internet, and found nothing about a Valerie Plame, energy industry analyst. Wouldn't there be something out there to establish her bona fides if she were actually operating undercover?

    As to the second point, Novak has been explicit about the fact that, when he checked up on the story, the CIA didn't seem to care much about whether Plame was outed. If she were actively undercover, that doesn't sound right. Moreover, I would think their post-leak response would have been a little more aggressive, don't you?

    Additionally, how would a "former senior CIA intelligence officer" be in a position to know what Plame's current assignment was?

    And, in a related question, if she were actively undercover, how would anybody in the White House know, to the point where they could leak it to Novak? That sort of information isn't posted on bulletin boards. The identity of an undercover operative is, from what I understand, very closely guarded. It doesn't appear anywhere outside the CIA, not even in reports based on what that operative has found. It's not going to be something that a Karl Rove would even have access to.

    These questions I raise have been bothering me for a couple of days now. Now, this could be based on my misunderstanding of the way covert operations work. But it doesn't quite pass the common sense test to me.

    None of this means that the leaker didn't commit a crime and doesn't deserve punishment. But it does call into question the significance of the damage done.

    (*)By the way, this really bothers me, now that I pay more attention to it. Several pundits have, in questioning why on earth Wilson was sent to Niger, noted that Wilson is an anti-Bush, anti-war partisan. That's one thing. But now that I see that's he's affiliated with the Middle East Institute, I'm very disturbed. The MEI is one of those Saudi-funded propaganda mills that Matt Welch brilliantly exposed last year. Now I really want to know what the people who originally picked Wilson were thinking.

    October 6, 2003

    Ten little, nine little indians...

    To the surprise of nobody but Bob Graham, Bob Graham is out. Just 134 left. Oh, no, wait -- that's California. Just nine left.

    October 8, 2003

    Do the math

    Remember all the pre-election hysteria from Democrats about how the recall election was unfair? They gave many reasons:

    1. The whole state elected Davis in 2002, while a handful of radicals were hijacking the state by pushing a recall which would be supported by only a few people.
    2. There would be hundreds of candidates and someone could get elected with only a small percentage of the vote.
    3. Davis could get more votes than the guy who replaced him and still "lose" to that guy.
    There were probably other arguments, but those were the ones I heard regularly.

    Surprise! None of those things came to pass.

    In fact,

    • More votes were cast in the recall election -- 7.9 million so far -- than were cast in the November 2002 general election that let Gray Davis remain as governor (about 7.5 million).
    • There were a large number of candidates, but not "hundreds," and the winner got 48.5% of the vote. Which was, in fact, a higher percentage than Gray Davis got in 2002, when he received 47.3% of the vote.
    • Schwarzenegger got more votes in this election to win the job (3.7 million) than Davis did in the recall portion of the election to retain the job (3.5 million).
    One can still argue that recall elections are a bad idea for one reason or another, but this should hopefully serve to demonstrate that most of the frantic pre-election Oh-my-god-they're-trying-to-subvert-democracy cries we heard in this instance were just partisan fearmongering. Perhaps this was less of a "circus" than the media had hoped it would be.

    So adding up Arnold and McClintock, plus dropouts like Ueberroth and lesser known people, more than 62% of the vote went to Republican candidates. What does that say about the state of politics in California? (I have no idea. It wasn't a rhetorical question.)

    By the way, the award for quirkiest vote total: in ninth place was "George Schwartzman." Who? I hate to be cynical about voters, but given that he got almost as many votes as more prominent candidates like Gary Coleman, Mary Carey, and Larry Flynt, it's hard not to conclude that there are a substantial number of retardsCalifornians who thought they were voting for Schwarzenegger, not Schwartzman.

    October 9, 2003

    Weak=Strong. Good=Bad. Democracy=Anti-Democracy.

    There may be no more pre-election hysteria, but there's plenty of post-election hysteria. For example, this piece by The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner:

    TRENDS AND FADS often start in California, and that thought should terrify anyone who cares about a functioning democracy. Yesterday's recall election is history's ironic revenge on a well-intentioned set of reforms championed by the Golden State's great progressive governor, Hiram Johnson. Johnson's Progressives, beginning in 1911, enacted the populist measures beloved by that generation of reformers -- the ballot initiative, the recall, and nonpartisan local elections. Johnson was a crusader against monopolies. He imagined that giving government back to the people would purge politics of the corruption of moneyed interests. [...]

    So, in a sense, Hiram Johnson had a point. If elected officials want to keep the confidence of voters, they had better get serious about addressing real problems.

    Unfortunately, Johnson's remedy is allowing disgusted voters to wreck democracy itself. California will be a long time digging out. Neither party should take any comfort.

    Kuttner's point seems to be that recalls and ballot initiatives are great ideas, except when he happens to disagree with the reasons and the results. Then they become undemocratic. Unfortunately for him, a majority of Californians disagreed with him and supported the recall.

    But why? On a certain level it doesn't matter, as Steven Den Beste points out:

    Why do I think Davis was recalled yesterday? Because 55 percent of the voters wanted Davis out, and 48% of them wanted Schwarzenegger to be his replacement. That's why.

    I know that sounds prosaic, but I think it's really the most important message of all. Yesterday we demonstrated that the government of the State of California works for its citizens and is controlled by them, and if the people become sufficiently dissatisfied with what the government does, they'll replace it.

    Absolutely. And Robert Kuttner apparently thinks that we all should be as terrified of this message as he is.

    October 17, 2003

    Where to draw the line?

    A partisan Republican would be thrilled with the outcome of the Texas redistricting fight.

    Gov. Rick Perry announced late Monday that he had signed the bill, which received final passage in the Texas Senate on Sunday night along largely partisan lines, 17 to 14.

    Political scientists and other analysts on Monday identified 8 of the 17 Texas Democrats in Congress whose seats seem at risk under the remapping. Another district created around Midland, in West Texas, seemed clearly earmarked for the Republicans, who hope to pick up as many as seven seats next year. This would raise the number of Texas Republicans in the House to as many as 22 from the current 15.

    Partisan Democrats, of course, are dismayed. (As, needless to say, is the New York Times.) But what about those of us less interested in partisan scorekeeping, and more interested in ensuring a reasonable process? How should we feel?

    On the one hand, this does feel rather heavy-handed. It's a blatant partisan power grab by Republicans, and at that, a grab that goes outside the usual channels; as is well known, districting typically takes place only once per decade, and this decade's districting has already been completed in Texas. Republicans are simply taking advantage of the fact that they have more power in the Austin legislature to force through an extra round of districting that will benefit from them.

    On the other hand, the previous districts were hardly sacred; they were drawn up by a Democratic-leaning judicial panel after the legislature couldn't reach agreement on a plan, and they do not appear to accurately reflect the political views of the citizens of Texas. It's not clear why, just because Democrats happened to have more power a year ago, they should get to freeze their advantage in place for another ten years. And it's not as if Democrats are standing up for grand principle here:

    Several of the Democrats at risk — including two congressmen with nearly 50 years of experience between them — reacted angrily on Monday, saying the map was an effort to concentrate African-American and Hispanic voters in certain districts and paint Democrats as the party of minority voters, costing them white support.


    Mr. Frost said the changes were harmful enough to minority voters to require rejection by the Justice Department or the courts. A Republican tactic against the Democrats, he said, is to eliminate all white officials of consequence, so white voters will not identify with the Democratic party.

    Ah. So really, it's all about picking up all the minority votes without appearing too minority-friendly. Hardly the substance of Federalist-Antifederalist debates.

    And on the third hand, the typical genteel, congenial, collegial approach, the one preferred by the editorialists and the other good government types, involves a process which in some ways is far more sinister. It involves a process in which both parties get together and draw lines in such a way as to protect each party's incumbents. Certainly the party with more electoral clout attempts to gain an advantage -- but in such a way as to minimize the effects on each side. Is that really preferable to the DeLay plan? The latter may be one-sided, but at least it's honest. It doesn't masquerade as anything other than the partisan power grab that it is. Voters can decide what they think of such flagrant partisanship, and approve or disapprove in a straightforward manner. Politicians don't have the cover of civility to mask their self-interested intentions.

    I would have far more sympathy for Democrats in Texas if it seemed that they cared about anything here other than their own jobs. As long as they're only interested in their own partisan advantage, why should I care? Until they stand up for real principle, they don't deserve anything other than what they're getting. So what is the right approach, the one I could get behind?

    Simple: End gerrymandering altogether. The problem with what's going on in Texas isn't that Republicans are drawing lines which hurt Democrats more than is seemly. The problem is that Republicans are drawing lines on a partisan basis. Partisan gerrymandering has always existed, of course, but politicians are so much better at it than they used to be; sophisticated software has made it possible to draw and redraw, down to the block level, until the optimal amount of gerrymandering has taken place. And to what end? Incumbent protection, of course. Every year, we hear about how there are so few competitive House races, how out of 435 seats up for reelection only a few dozen are actually in danger of changing hands. And no, it isn't because of insufficient campaign finance reform. It's because the other ~400 districts are drawn so that nobody from the other party could possibly win the seat.

    Coming up with neutral nonpartisan (note: not bipartisan) algorithms to use in drawing districts, such that any partisan advantage in any decade is purely by chance, would solve many problems.

    1. It would increase the competitiveness of House races, giving citizens more of a choice. Without requiring a resort to unconstitutional campaign finance censorship.
    2. It would depolarize the House; a candidate who has a mixed constituency in his district has to govern closer to the center, rather than running towards the extremes of his party base.
    3. It would eliminate the decadely redistricting fights in the state capitals, and obviate the need for federal judges to step in and draw lines when those fights fail to reach a resolution.
    4. It would hopefully lessen the number of career politicians; fewer safe seats means politicians have to work to keep their jobs, which limits the attractiveness of the job to many of them.

    I don't mean to suggest that this is a panacea; there are some problems this approach can't fix, and might even cause. (For instance, fewer safe seats = more competitive races = more need for fundraising.) Senators have mixed constituencies, and yet many -- Ted Kennedy and Strom Thurmond, just to name two on either end of the spectrum -- have managed to become career senators. Still it's certainly worth a try, don't you think?

    Voters are such a drag

    Dave Yaseen is a good friend of mine, because we've learned to never talk politics. If he said anything like this to me at a party, I would, well, just politely excuse myself and get another drink:

    Repealing that god-awful insult of a tax cut isn't a winning position? I beg your pardon? It wasn't all that long ago we could energize people by saying something like 'they're gonna take your money and give it to, of all people the rich! America, is that what you want?'

    In other words, it wasn't all that long ago that Democrats could energize people by lying. Well, half lying. The government *is* taking away your money. That's called taxation. The lie is that a tax cut is the same as taking person X's money away to give to person Y. Let this fact sink in, folks: it is person Y's money in the first place! If I steal $100 from someone, and don't return $90 to him, you can't say I'm giving him $10. And you certainly can't say I'm taking $10 from you to give to him.

    With repetition and coordination, it would have sunk in and won us a lot of races.

    Yes, repeat the lie until people start to believe it. (Sadly, many people already do.)

    Yes, this debacle of an election is the media's fault. But it's our fault as well, and we need to drastically change the way we do things in the Democratic party, not diddle around with how to phrase things to make them palatable to the electorate. If we have to drag American voters, kicking and screaming to chose their own interests, so be it.

    Somehow I don't think "we're going to have to force the public to vote for us because we think the public is stupid" is much of a winning position. But hey, at least it's honest - in that it's an honest view into the elitist mindset of a good portion of our friends on the Left.

    October 24, 2003


    Two of my favorite talking points are touched upon in this New York Times story on global warming:

    1. Media bias:
      As a developing country, China is exempt from the Kyoto Protocol, the pending international agreement to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. When President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol two years ago, he portrayed China's exemption as a serious flaw. The protocol has been embraced by most other big nations, however, and only requires ratification by Russia to take effect.
      Of course, saying that it "only requires ratification by Russia" is like saying that the liberation of Iraq "only required a UN resolution in its favor." Putin has said Russia isn't going to join Kyoto. But the bigger problem is that, once again, the Times is rewriting history to pretend that George Bush rejected Kyoto. Kyoto was DOA when Bill Clinton signed it. The Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto in 1997, when Clinton was in office. So why does the Times keep trying to pretend that the Bush administration changed US policy in this area?
    2. Reliability:
      Official Chinese statistics had shown a decline in coal production and consumption in the late 1990's, even as the economy was growing 8 percent a year. But many Western and Chinese researchers have become suspicious of that drop over the last several years.

      They point out that the decline assumed that local governments had followed Beijing's instructions to close 47,000 small, unsafe mines producing low-grade coal and many heavily polluting small power plants. Yet researchers who visited mines and power plants found that they often remained open, with the output not being reported to Beijing because local administrators feared an outcry if they shut down important employers.

      How much of the public policy debate is based upon the assumption that "official" statistics reflect reality? How accurate is that assumption? How accurate can global warming models be when the inputs consist of faulty data?

    October 27, 2003

    Moving To New Hampshire?

    The Democratic Party there isn't exactly preparing a welcome wagon for all those Free-Staters:

    "If you've got people saying we just want to mind our own business, keep government out of our lives, hey, we all feel that way," said Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. "But if they want to have a radical change in our form of government, no, you're not welcome here."

    Quick, someone alert John Kerry!

    November 10, 2003

    It ain't over til...

    I'm not a political junkie, so I can't answer this question, but maybe someone else can: is it a good sign when a presidential candidate fires his campaign manager with just a couple of months before the first primary?

    Assuming this is a sign of the Kerry campaign's implosion, is this the worst campaign debacle ever by the presumptive nominee? Kerry was supposed to be the front-runner with the straight shot to the nomination; instead, he's reorganizing his campaign at this late date. (Okay, there's Gary Hart, but his campaign collapsed for non-campaign reasons. I guess Lyndon Johnson in 1968 would have to take the prize for the worst campaign failure by a front-runner. But Kerry's has to rank up there among flops. Though I must point out that I called the Dean phenomenon long before the media noticed him.)

    November 16, 2003

    "Go Southwest, Young Man."

    Democrats should ignore the South in 2004; they aren't going to win it anyway, and they can win without it, according to UMBC political science professor Thomas Schaller.

    Essentially, the logic goes that Gore almost beat Bush without the South anyway, so all the 2004 Democratic nominee needs to do is hold onto Gore's victories and then pick up a few more electoral votes. Schaller's theory is that the Southwest is ripe for a Democratic pickup, primarily because of the Hispanic influx in recent years. So to those states add New England, the Pacific states, and parts of the Rust Belt, and the Democrats win without any victories in the South.

    There are a few flaws in Schaller's argument; the most obvious ones are these:

    • The main basis for the thought that the Southwest is up for grabs is that Schaller's standard of comparison is Mike Dukakis. But doing better than Dukakis (or Mondale, Carter, and McGovern) is hardly evidence that the Democratic Party, as a party, is picking up ground in these states.
    • If the Democrats write off the South, this frees up the Republicans to concentrate their attention in competitive states elsewhere. And it's not as if Democrats have a lock on all these other areas; Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin all went Democratic by very small margins. If Bush, who is already likely to have a financial advantage, is free to pour resources into these states, the Democratic nominee is in real trouble. And that doesn't even count California, where Arnold's election throws the whole dynamic out of whack.
    Of course, much depends on Ralph Nader; if Nader doesn't run, and/or if the Democratic nominee -- let's call him "Howard Dean" -- picks up Nader's votes without losing any in the center, then he can win without having to make gains elsewhere; both Florida and New Hampshire could have swung Democratic in 2000 if Gore had had Nader's votes.

    Ultimately, it seems somewhat pointless to try to make these sorts of projections now, when so much depends on what the economy is doing in fall 2004. If the jobs picture continues to be mediocre, Bush is vulnerable; if the economy is in full recovery, Democrats aren't going to win in the South, North, East, or West.

    November 24, 2003

    Conservatives think liberals are stupid, and...

    I happened to be reviewing an old piece in the American Prospect about Paul Krugman, and his reply, and perhaps have a little bit more insight into Krugman's shrill partisan rhetoric. It might seem as if what separates Republicans from Democrats is the policies they prefer. But Krugman explicitly rejects that:

    But the important point is that this objection presumes that we are agreed on what must be done--which brings me to the question of what it means to be a liberal.

    To Bob Kuttner, liberalism means supporting more government intervention in the marketplace. Above all, it means supporting managed international trade and deficit-financed public investment. In fact, not only does Kuttner know what needs to be done: He knows, in advance, what the conclusions of future cutting-edge economic theory will be. He knows that I must have stopped being an innovator after the mid-1980s, because my work no longer seemed to provide a rationale for neo-mercantilist trade policies; and he knows that the remarkable revival of Keynesianism is a rarefied academic affair of no real importance, because the new Keynesians still think that we ought to reduce the budget deficit. (Why is it illiberal to think that monetary rather than fiscal policy can be used to increase aggregate demand?)

    So if policy prescriptions don't define liberalism to Krugman, what does? Simple:
    Somehow, though, I always thought that liberalism was about compassion and justice, and have never understood what import quotas and budget deficits have to do with it.
    There you go. Liberalism is about "compassion" and "justice". By implication, then, conservatism must be about cruelty and injustice. When a conservative opposes the welfare state, it isn't because he thinks it creates a culture of dependency which is bad for its recipients. It isn't because he thinks that private charity can do a better job of helping the poor than the government can. It's just because he's mean.

    Now, it's hardly a surprise to hear that some (many?) liberals think this way. But one might think that Krugman, a highly educated, supposedly worldly, academic, would be a little more sophisticated than that. One would, apparently, be wrong. Krugman's philosophy is that liberalism is defined by compassion. Which explains why Krugman is the second most partisan pundit out there.

    November 25, 2003

    Smoke 'em if you've got 'em

    Except, of course, in New York, where the supposedly cash-strapped city has managed to find the money to fight public enemy number one:

    In the corner office of Vanity Fair, on the 22nd floor, sits Graydon Carter. He is editor of the magazine and a liberal with libertarian tendencies who enjoys an occasional Camel. Although he keeps his door closed, someone at the magazine - no one knows who - called the city's health department more than once this fall. City inspectors visited Vanity Fair in September, October and November, and issued citations each time, said Sandra Mullin, communications director at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
    How much do you think those inspectors get paid?

    But that's okay, because at least they caught this dangerous criminal in the act, right? Well, not exactly:

    She said no one was seen smoking when the inspectors made their unannounced visits, but that the presence of ashtrays and the absence of no-smoking signs represented a violation of the ban.
    Uh oh, it's the Absence of No-Smoking Signs Police!

    November 26, 2003

    You're A Mean One, Mr. Green-ch

    Mark Green, the former New York City public advocate who came scarily close to being our mayor, recently appeared on the O'Reilly Factor to defend the placement of religious symbols in public schools. Fair enough. One can in good conscience disagree with the ACLU and believe that a Christmas - or Hanukkah - play does not violate the First Amendment prohibition on the establishment of religion.

    Yet Green is not defending *all* religious symbols. Just non-Christian religious symbols. Apparently, in the New York City public schools, menorahs and Islamic star-and-crescents are allowed, while Nativity scenes are a no-no. Green, supporting this rule, reasons thusly:

    I was a city official, and I got a hundred thousand complaints over 10 years about all kinds of city services. Not one person said, you know, one of the biggest problems in New York is those Jews like Mayor Bloomberg and Joe Klein trying to trick 95 percent majority Christians into converting to Judaism. Bill, get a life.

    So according to Green, the rule is okay because Christians don't complain enough. And when they do, he dismisses the complainer as someone who needs to "get a life". Clayton Cramer comments well on the obvious double standard. But he doesn't comment on Green's closing statement:

    The ayatollahs of the Republican Party support your point of view, and I support the Bill of Rights.

    Clayton doesn't comment probably because such stupidity practially defies comment. Never mind that nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it state that Jews and Muslims are entitled to their religious symbols, but Christians aren't. But come on, "ayatollahs"? As in the Republicans are going to repeal the Constitution and impose an Iranian-style theocracy?

    That's patently absurd. Republicans aren't ayatollahs. Everyone knows that Republicans are Nazis.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    December 9, 2003

    Noam-more lies

    I've been a little busy to blog lately, but for the moment, check out this post from Damien Penny pointing out a typical Noam Chomsky rhetorical trick.

    December 10, 2003

    Because Our State Legislators Have Too Much Time On Their Hands

    Like a fat man who eats bowl after bowl of ice cream, legislators pass law after law after law. Probably because it feels good. Or perhaps simply because they can. Are all of them necessary? I highly doubt it. Case in point:

    Legislation mandating the registration of beer kegs sold in New York, and which will require beverage stores to increase the deposit on the kegs to $75 and mandate new record-keeping obligations, has been signed into law by Gov. George Pataki.

    The problem with laws such as these is that there is never anyone to stand up and say "Hey, wait a second! Doesn't the state have more important things to do than inspect keg records? Haven't we been doing well enough as a society for the past six or seven decades without government control of our kegs? Is creating more paperwork for retail stores and restaurants and bars to do a worthy goal of government?". Most likely, anyone who objects would just be branded a tool of the alcohol industry who wants to get our children drunk or some such.

    Anyway, having just passed the law last week, legislators can now get back to the important and demanding task of... amending the law. Apparently, they didn't do it right the first time:

    But where the new law is defective, [State Senator Nancy] Hoffmann says, is the requirement that the keg be returned within one month or the purchaser forfeits the $75 deposit.

    "Beer in properly refrigerated kegs stays fresh much longer than one month," Hoffman points out. "The last thing we want to do is to force anyone to drink faster than they want to, or should."

    Good job, guys. Me, I'd say the entire law is defective. But hey, as long as they don't come after my barrels of wine, why should I complain?

    January 19, 2004

    Calling their bluff

    Those who support "affirmative action" in college admissions complain that those of us opposed to such racial preferences inconsistently appeal to "merit" as the appropriate guiding principle for admissions. That is, although opponents of affirmative action claim that merit should be the only factor, we don't object to preferences for athletes, legacies, etc. The accusation is somewhat unfair -- legacy status, for instance, is not a constitutionally protected class with a history of invidious discrimination attached to it -- but it has a grain of truth to it. Certainly if one is going to argue that colleges should, in order to fulfill their mission, admit the most academically qualified students, it's hard to defend extra preferences for those related to alumni of the schools in question.

    In any case, the Powers That Be at Texas A&M decided that these criticisms had force; they've decided to end legacy preferences. But of course that doesn't satisfy supporters of race preferences, because that's not what they really wanted:

    Local politicians had been outraged that the university continued to give special treatment to legacies, the vast majority of whom are white, while refusing to give the same consideration to minority applicants.

    But ending preferences for legacies was not their goal. In fact, the same politicians said yesterday that scrapping the policy was a poor substitute for reinstating affirmative action as a way to achieve diversity on campus.

    "This discussion is far from over," said State Representative Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston. "They act like they've done something for students of color by eliminating the legacy program. They have not. The new policy takes away the advantage of some students, but it does not remedy the obstacles faced by students of color and women."

    Whoops. I think that falls under "be careful what you wish for." Or, at least, "be careful what you ask for." They thought that they could use legacy preferences as a lever to bring race preferences back; now they don't even have that lever.

    Which leaves the following question: does the New York Times even pretend to screen their articles for bias? If so, explain the following quote thrown into the article:

    Even ardent opponents of affirmative action often condemn legacy programs, arguing that they perpetuate the same kind of advantages as considerations of race.
    "Even"? As if there's some sort of contradiction between opposing affirmative action and legacy programs?

    January 21, 2004

    The era of big government is back

    Article II, Section 3:

    He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
    I thought the State of the Union spectacle had reached an all-time low in 1996, when Bill Clinton used his Constitutionally-granted podium to advocate a solution to a national emergency:
    I call on Congress to pass the requirement for a V-chip in TV sets so that parents can screen out programs they believe are inappropriate for their children. When parents control what their young children see, that is not censorship; that is enabling parents to assume more personal responsibility for their children's upbringing. And I urge them to do it. The V-chip requirement is part of the important telecommunications bill now pending in this Congress. It has bipartisan support, and I urge you to pass it now.
    That the president would use his precious time to discuss such a petty matter was an embarrassment.

    But I think George Bush managed to top it yesterday, with his latest contribution to State of the Union history:

    To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.
    It gives a new meaning to the phrase "bully pulpit." The "bull" part, anyway. This dreck is what Bush wastes his time on? His speechwriters have a year to come up with a speech, and that's the best they can do? He calls on sports leagues to get rid of steroids?

    "Nothing to offer but blood, sweat, and boredom."

    Ugh. Is that really the best that the president and his speechwriters could do? Goodness knows I don't generally look to politicians for inspiration, and I certainly don't look to this president for rousing oratory. (Let's face it: whatever you think of his policies, you have to breathe a sigh of relief any time Bush manages to speak a whole paragraph without inventing a new form of grammar along the way.) But even so, I expect at least a minimal level of dramatic performance out of a State of the Union address. If we can't get a bold proposal, at least we're owed an interesting catch phrase like "Axis of Evil."

    But this one? Yuck. I'd expect a Student Government president to give a speech like this one. It was just a rambling collection of blah, and while Bush occasionally projected an air of defiance, it was directed not at Al Qaeda but at his domestic political opponents. The entire speech was defensive in tone, as Bush seemed to be responding to every criticism that has been levied at his policies as though he had been saving up a list for just this occasion. And as though he were determined to give not even one inch of ground, to concede even the possibility that some of his policies need tweaking.

    It's one thing to say, "Yay, tax cuts." That's core Republican belief, and there's some evidence that they're helping the economy, even if you'd never get Paul Krugman to admit it. But the Patriot Act? Come on. A third of the country hates it, and the rest are, I suspect, pretty indifferent. (Does anybody outside John Ashcroft's office sit around saying, "Praise the lord for the Patriot Act"?) So who was his defense of the Act aimed at?

    Okay, the part where he listed all the countries in our unilateral coaltion was good; I'll give him credit for that. But the rest of the speech? We saw neither humor nor boldness, neither vision nor outreach. Some red meat for his base, as he denounced gay marriage, campaigned for abstinence, and proposed money for faith-based institutions. But nothing for the rest of us.

    Not that the Pelosi-Daschle response was any more inspiring, mind you -- but at the end of the night I left the room (actually, I just changed the channel, but that's not the point) hoping that Joe Lieberman does well in New Hampshire.

    Good For The Country, Bad For Democrats

    David's right - the speech was pretty blah. But I did like this part:

    Americans took those dollars and put them to work, driving this economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years. New home construction: the highest in almost 20 years. Home ownership rates: the highest ever. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high. And jobs are on the rise.

    Not because the words are anything special, but because of the reaction from the audience: the Republican side of the chamber gave this part a standing ovation, while the Democrats sat on their hands. I suppose it's because they think low inflation, high economic growth, and such are bad or something for some reason. (Now, whatever reason could that be?) Still, someone should have suggested that they at least *pretend* to be happy about the improving economy...

    Alone With Our 34 Friends

    OK, I also really liked this part:

    Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq.

    Nancy Pelosi obviously needs to have it explained to her as well, for in her response, she said:

    Never before have we been more powerful militarily. But even the most powerful nation in history must bring other nations to our side to meet common dangers.

    The president's policies do not reflect that. He has pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home.

    This accusation of unilateralism is and has always been transparently bogus and ludicrously simple to rebut. Why, then is it such a popular accusation among the accusing class?

    UPDATE: Maureen Dowd, no surprise, is also holding her ears and shouting "la-la-la-la-la-I'm-not-listening-la-la-la-la...":

    Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

    There is no pleasing some people. Build a coalition and they complain that the coalition isn't good - or "real" - enough. Well, tell it to the real good soldiers from those countries who are over in Iraq right now helping us and the Iraqi people, Ms. Dowd. (Just be careful not to spit on any of their graves on the way.)

    January 23, 2004

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse

    So I watched part of Thursday's Democratic debate in New Hampshire. As usual, it was filled with political pablum and pointless platitudes, as candidates struggled to dodge questions in their one (!) minute allotted response times. And it was filled with idiot questions from idiot media panelists, asking all sorts of horse-race related questions which nobody on earth cares about.

    But one exchange during the debate, between moderator Peter Jennings and Senator John Edwards, struck me:

    JENNINGS: OK, thank you, sir.

    Senator Edwards, President Bush, as you know, is worried. He said it again in the State of the Union address the other night that the Defense of Marriage Act is not strong enough, as he says, to protect the institution of marriage.

    You were not in the Senate in 1996 when it passed overwhelmingly.

    JENNINGS: Senator Kerry was one of only 14 senators who voted against it. I'd like to know from you whether or not you think he was right or wrong, and why?

    EDWARDS: I think he was right. I think he was right because what happened with the Defense of Marriage Act is it took away the power of states, like Vermont, to be able to do what they chose to do about civil unions, about these kinds of marriage issues.

    These are issues that should be left -- Massachusetts, for example, has just made a decision, the supreme court at least has made a decision, that embraces the notion of gay marriage.

    I think these are decisions that the states should have the power to make. And the Defense of Marriage Act, as I understand it -- you're right, I wasn't there when it was passed -- but as I understand it, it would have taken away that power. And I think that's wrong. That power should not be taken away from the states.

    JENNINGS: Do you believe that other states, for example, should be obliged to honor and recognize the civil union which Governor Dean signed? Should other states be obliged to recognize what happens in another state?

    EDWARDS: I think it's a decision that should be made on a state- by-state basis. I think each state should be able to make its own decision about what they embrace.


    HUME: I just want to follow up with on the Defense of Marriage Act, which of course is the law of the land.

    EDWARDS: Yes.

    HUME: Does not the Defense of Marriage Act specifically say that the court rulings in one state, which might, for example, recognize a gay marriage, may not be imposed on anther state? In other words, doesn't the Defense of Marriage go to the very position which you yourself take?

    EDWARDS: No, the Defense of Marriage -- first of all, I wasn't in the Congress, I don't claim to be an expert on this. But as I understand the Defense of Marriage Act, it would take away the power of some states to choose whether they would recognize or not recognize gay marriages. That's my understanding of it.

    In case you don't catch what I'm talking about, it's simple: Senator Edwards has no idea what the Defense of Marriage Act is. He gets the answer completely wrong, thinking the law says the opposite of what it actually says. The Defense of Marriage Act -- whatever one thinks of its merits -- is designed specifically to leave it up to each state whether to legalize gay marriages and whether and how to recognize gay marriages from other states.

    Edwards pathetically tries to wiggle out of his ignorance by pointing out that he wasn't serving in the Senate when it passed, and that he "doesn't claim to be an expert." But Edwards is a lawyer! No, he doesn't practice an area of law related to this -- but shouldn't he have some basic familiarity with one of the more prominent laws passed by Congress on a prominent political issue? My practice doesn't have deal in any way with any related area of law -- and needless to say, I also wasn't a member of Congress when it passed -- but I sure as heck know what the law says.

    Brit Hume gives Edwards a chance to pull his foot from his mouth, and yet Edwards repeats the error. Now, if George Bush showed total unfamiliarity with a prominent piece of legislation, he would be called both a liar and a moron. How do you think the media will choose to characterize Edwards? (My guess: his error will be briefly mentioned, with no insinuations that it tells us something abouut Edwards' fitness, and will then be dropped entirely.)

    Scenes from the Democratic struggle in Manchester, New Hampshire

    In addition to Senator Edwards' unfamiliarity with the law, which I mention below, some other debate tidbits caught my attention, generally for the absurdity...

    • Wesley Clark dodging a question about why he didn't contradict Michael Moore's calling President Bush a deserter. Clark's response: "Well, I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this." I'm pretty sure everyone's aware of that, Mr. Clark. But thanks for that first amendment primer.

    • John Edwards explaining that lobbyists are fine, wonderful, upstanding human beings... as long as they don't lobby, or at least as long as they don't lobby effectively.
      JENNINGS: Is there anything intrinsically wrong with being a lobbyist?

      EDWARDS: No. There's something wrong with the impact that Washington lobbyists are having on our system of government.

      JENNINGS: Time.

      EDWARDS: Because -- since you asked me, may I say one other word about that?

      Because if you watch what happens there every single day, they are influencing legislation. The power of the American people to have their representatives decide only in the interests of the American people has been taken away. And it happens over and over and over.

      Which is why I have laid out a very clear set of proposals: banning contributions from Washington lobbyists. I've never taken any money from Washington lobbyists, but no one should be able to take money from them...

    • Remember all that liberal propaganda you were fed in high school about how the evil robber barons oppressed their workers, stuffing them all in sweatshops and unsafe factories and making them work 25 hours a day? (Until the noble Progressives intervened with their legislation and unions, of course.) Well, apparently, it's all untrue -- though not for the reasons you think. It's not that these times weren't that bad; rather (to quote John Kerry), "The workplace of America, Peter, has never been as unfair for the average American as it is today." That's right; never.

    • Brit Hume asking Al Sharpton, without smirking, what to do about the chaos in Iran: "As president, how would you deal with the situation in Iran?" (Next: asking Sharpton, "As head of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory , what would you do to help advance research into fusion technology?")
    Of course, the format of the debate -- seven candidates sharing the stage, and each getting just one minute to respond to questions (Heck, it barely leaves them time for the pre-scripted quips), doesn't help, but could this group be any more underwhelming? Other than Dennis Kucinich, none of these people can give a clear, concrete, statement as to why they'd be better than Bush -- and Kucinich is a fruitcake, so his clear, concise statements are, well, loony. How can there not be one Democrat out there in the entire country who's presidential material?

    It's not just that these people have no ideas -- though (again, with the exception of Kucinich) they don't. They all hate Bush, but they can't really articulate reasons, or come up with their own proposals for anything. It's just "Trust us, we could do it better than he could, because we're Democrats." (Admittedly, part of the blame/credit goes to Bush, who learned from Clinton that triangulation makes it difficult for your political opponents to catch up to you. When Bush expands federal spending on education, AIDS, agricultural supports, Medicare..., what's left to say but "We could do it better"?)

    But the bigger problem is that each of them, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, has the backbone of a single-celled organism. Lieberman has staked his campaign on his support for the liberation of Iraq, and he's determined to stick with it, regardless of what his audience thinks. But the rest of them are too scared of offending any part of the party faithful to say anything that might cost them a single vote. Wesley Clark -- a general, for goodness sake -- won't even distance himself from lefty Michael Moore. He won't even say that Moore is wrong, let alone calling Moore the slime that he is. Edwards and Dean talk about being pro gun rights, but then sign on to every bit of the anti-gun agenda of the party. Clark panders panders panders on abortion. Kerry wriggles and twists to avoid saying anything about going to war in Iraq. If these people can't even stand up to those who are on their side, how can they possibly stand up to anybody else?

    January 26, 2004

    Do as we say, not as we... say

    Next time you hear the New York Times complaining about irresponsible fiscal policies, about deficit spending, please keep this editorial in mind. The Times has serious criticisms of the $400 billion prescription drug plan recently passed by Congress: namely, that it isn't generous enough.

    So just keep this simple formula in mind: allowing people to keep their own money is "ill-advised." Spending other people's money as fast as possible is a "major achievement."

    January 29, 2004

    Can't buy me love?

    Speaking of what I just posted about Paul Krugman's idiocy about domestic spending not having risen under Bush, I see this piece on that topic:

    — President Bush will seek a big increase in the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest single source of support for the arts in the United States, administration officials said on Wednesday.


    Administration officials, including White House budget experts, said that Mr. Bush would propose an increase of $15 million to $20 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That would be the largest rise in two decades and far more than the most recent increases, about $500,000 for 2003 and $5 million for this year.

    I'm not quite sure I get Bush's strategy here. Somehow I don't think the NEA -- even a noncontroversial version -- is a program near-and-dear to his heart. So why this proposal? Does he figure that he has already lost the deficit-hawk vote, so he might as well go all out to buy the votes of moderate swing-voters by funding every social program ever conceived of?

    The one thing we can be sure of: even if it passes, Bush will never get credit for this among Democratic partisans. It doesn't matter how much additional money he spends; people like Paul Krugman come along to claim that it's not enough. (Indeed, if the NEA's budget increases by "only" $10 million, say, those partisans will claim that this announcement was just grandstanding and that Bush never lives up to his promises.) So I just don't get this. What does Bush hope to gain?

    (By the way, isn't Disney, or one of the other media conglomerates, a larger "single source of support for the arts in the United States" than the NEA? Or does only art that nobody wants to watch count as art?)

    January 30, 2004

    He has other good qualities, too.

    The good news is, Josh Chafetz isn't snarky.

    February 2, 2004

    Free Hint: Don't Appoint Kissinger This Time

    So after having his arm twisted, President Bush has finally agreed to an independent investigation of some sort as to what went wrong, intelligencewise, on the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction fiasco.

    In terms of the politics of the situation,I think Bush is being an idiot. By rejecting the idea of an investigation, he made it look like he had something to hide. And by giving in only after weeks of criticism and demands for an investigation (or is it only days? It seems like weeks.), he's not going to get any credit for trying to get to the bottom of things. It looks like he grudgingly did so only after pressure became too great for him to bear. Which means either he simply doesn't care why the intelligence was wrong, or he already knows why, because he was aware it was false from the beginning.

    For what it's worth, I think the answer is much closer to the former than the latter, with the added factor that he cares more about re-election than anything, and he feels that giving even an inch, admitting that there was a problem, will hurt his chances.

    (Or is Bush craftier than I thought? Perhaps his logic went like this: "If I spontaneously respond to the Kay report by appointing a commission to investigate, my critics will accuse me of stalling. They'll insist upon a more immediate response. But by dragging my feet I got them to demand a commission to investigate, which I just gave them, so now they can't complain." Nah, he's not that crafty.)

    My guess as to the ultimate outcome of the investigation: the resulting report will gently chide the administration for being too sure of itself, but will ultimately blame the CIA. But that blame will be posed in a way that actually exonerates the CIA; that is, the report will lay responsibility at the feet of the CIA, but rather than saying that they did something wrong, it will say that they need more resources in order to do their job effectively. I'm not going out on a limb here; every report about a government screwup ultimately concludes that the fault is institutional rather than personal, and proclaims that the solution is more money.

    Canary in the coal mine?

    In 2000, Dan Drezner worked as an (unpaid) advisor to the Bush campaign. In 2004, Dan Drezner hasn't decided who to support:

    Here's my position -- I'm genuinely unsure of who I'm going to vote for. More and more, Bush reminds me of Nixon. He's not afraid to make the bold move in foreign policy. On domestic policy, Bush seems like he'll say or do anything, so long as it advances his short-term political advantage. If Karl Rove thought imposing wage and price controls would win Pennsylvania and Michigan for Bush, you'd see an Executive Order within 24 hours. Andrew Sullivan and others have delivered this harangue, so I won't repeat it.

    If -- a big if -- the Democrats put forward a credible alternative, then I could very well pull the donkey lever.

    As Mr. Instapundit would say: Indeed.

    And if Bush can't even retain people like Drezner, he isn't going to win. As I've begun saying, I really don't understand Bush's strategy on so many issues at this point. Deficit spending is one thing; lowering taxes is good policy (as well as good politics), and defense outlays are necessary. But the simultaneous gratuitous bumps in domestic spending are then indefensible, and yet Bush seems to be determined to use the federal treasury to buy votes that can't be bought, while ignoring the votes this profligacy is costing him.

    While I don't think any Democrat other than Joe "Joe-mentum" Lieberman can be trusted on foreign policy, or trade policy, and I don't want to see any of them nominating federal judges, we might well get better fiscal policy if we select one of them as president and retain a Republican Congress.

    February 5, 2004

    It's not over 'til the fa--

    Damien Penny, reviewing the results of Tuesday's primaries, says

    John Edwards is getting all the attention for his victory in South Carolina despite losing to Kerry almost everywhere else, which suggests that the media would prefer a Bush-Edwards race to a Bush-Kerry one. But it's hard to see how Kerry can be stopped now.
    Hard to see how Kerry can be stopped? Sheesh, Kerry has a total of 11% of the required delegate total to win the nomination -- and that includes a bunch of unpledged delegates; if you only count the ones actually pledged to Kerry right now, he has about 8% of the required total. Is he ahead? Sure; his closest competitor in pledged delegates is Edwards, who only has half that. But why on earth are people calling the race when, needing to get to 100, the score is 8-4? (Or 11-6, if you want to include the unpledged ones.)

    Why are we (pundits and bloggers) so eager to declare winners and losers? Sure, if you gave me even odds, I'd pick Kerry over Edwards or Dean right now. But doesn't it stand to reason that if Kerry can go from frontrunner to nobody to frontrunner in such a short time, that he can revert to nobody in an equally short time?

    I mean, it's not as if there's a real reason people are voting for Kerry; as David Brooks hilariously noted a couple of days before Tuesday's primaries, he's only getting support now because people have decided to give him support:

    So New Hampshire voters who had dismissed Kerry as a pathetic, unelectable loser days before took a new look at him after Iowa and figured that if he could win an election, he must be electable (which is sort of definitional), and concluded he is a triumphantly electable winner. Now Kerry is riding this great wave of electability, and he has a huge seething army of fanatical Kerry supporters who will follow him to the death, unless, of course, he stumbles - in which case they will abandon him faster than you can say "electability."

    In which case, John, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

    So why treat his victory as a fait accompli? At least let the fat lady get out of her dressing room, first.

    February 8, 2004

    If she's not singing, she's at least coming on the stage

    Okay, I've complained about premature declarations that Kerry has won the Democratic nomination, but I'm only as stubborn as I need to be before looking foolish. Given the results of Washington and Michigan, it doesn't seem realistic to expect anybody else is going to catch Kerry. As a mathematical matter, Kerry is miles away from the nomination, and anybody who hasn't dropped out can catch him. As a practical matter, though, things are different.

    Edwards finished third in Michigan with 13%, and fourth in Washington, behind Dennis the extraterrestrial Kucinich. He hasn't done diddlysquat outside the South. He hasn't demonstrated any ability to appeal to non-Southern voters. At this point, you have to think he's running for vice president. Clark ditto -- only more so. He barely scratched the radar in either state. That leaves Howard Dean. But his campaign is in such disarray, and now to add insult to injury, one of his major backers, the AFSCME union has withdrawn its endorsement. That seems somewhat sleazy -- whoever heard of "takebacks" in the endorsement game -- but it's a big blow. Dean's pinning all his hopes on Wisconsin now -- but even if he wins, what good will that do him? Sending the message that he can only win in the most liberal states is hardly the way to convince people he can win the general election.

    Worst part of Kerry winning: my mid-2003 prediction that Dean would win, which seemed so prescient just a few months ago, now seems to have been proven wrong. I hate being wrong.

    Best part of Kerry winning: perhaps Dean's defeat will mean we will finally stop hearing left-wing blather about "grassroots" crap.

    February 10, 2004

    You won't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore

    Just kidding.

    By the way, what should we make of this?

    Dr. Dean said he "was unaware of making this decision" before announcing it. He explained that he often let choices "incubate unconsciously for a long time before I actually make a formal decision."
    And Bush is supposed to be the dumb one? Do we really want a president who is "unaware" that he is making decisions?

    (Actually, I think it's pretty clear that the answer is "no." But I suppose it's an interesting way to create plausible deniability: "Don't blame me; my subconscious did it when I wasn't paying attention.")

    February 18, 2004

    Lots of ketchup

    Random question: assuming we credit him with his wife's money -- and assuming he wins in November -- would John Kerry be the richest person ever to be president of the United States?

    February 23, 2004

    Where's the outrage?

    Kevin Drum, who's generally one of the more thoughtful liberal bloggers out there, answers one of the more puzzling questions out there: why all the Bush hatred? I mean, I understand that people dislike his policies, but they hate him personally. Why?

    Why do I dislike George Bush? Because of his policies, obviously, and also because of temperament and personality characteristics that rub me the wrong way. But there's more. Whenever I think about this, one of the things that always settles into my mind is that he just doesn't deserve to be president. He never paid his dues.

    It's not just that he got the job based partly on his family name. You could say the same thing about FDR, JFK, Bush Sr, and Al Gore, and it doesn't especially bother me about any of them. It's more that I just can't figure out how he managed to become a consensus party choice for president after a mere single term as governor of Texas.

    For many cultural conservatives, Bill Clinton symbolized everything wrong with liberalism -- a career politician, whose background included draft dodging, drug use, and adultery. And worse, none of these things bothered voters. It's one thing to be a draft-dodging-drug-using-adulterer; it's another to be a successful one.

    For many liberals, George Bush represents the flip side of the coin; he symbolizes privilege. Unearned privilege. Worse, unrepentent unearned privilege. George HW Bush was also privileged, but nobody could accuse him of not working hard; Bob Dole's criticism of him, after all, was that Bush offered a "resume." The current president, by contrast, just seems to have stumbled his way to success his whole life, getting by on his name and his charm when his behavior "should" have doomed him.

    In many ways, not that different than Bill Clinton. Which explains why there's as much Bush hatred as there was Clinton hatred.

    February 29, 2004

    Pointing fingers

    One thing you have to say about Paul Krugman; he's consistent.

    If the prime minister of Indonesia is an anti-Semite, it's George Bush's fault. If Democrats are insanely protectionist, you can't blame them, because that's George Bush's fault, too. If the Lord of the Rings doesn't win an Oscar, I'm sure that there's some way that that will be George Bush's fault.

    Hell, even South Park was more rational than Paul Krugman.

    March 11, 2004

    Hard to believe

    Who woulda thunk that campaign finance "reform" would turn into a partisan weapon?

    Then again, who would have thought that campaign finance "reform" would turn into a tool for corrupt politicians to enrich themselves at the public expense? Amusing is the New York Times' feigned naivete:

    It was a far cry from what the reformers envisioned in 1996. Within a year, the new measures were credited with increasing the number of parties competing for power, and with helping the opposition win control of the lower house of Congress. Three years after that, a plain-talking politician named Vicente Fox was elected Mexico's first opposition president.

    But the recent videotapes have brought the new system's drawbacks into focus. In a nation where more than half of all people live in poverty, Mexico's political system is the most expensive in Latin America. And the measures that opened the system to new parties also opened it to new capers.

    Or is it real naivete? Have they never heard of the law of unintended consequences over at the New York Times?

    March 17, 2004

    If you can't say it to someone's face, then don't say it...

    Mark AR Kleiman doesn't think much of Bush's current campaign tack:

    It's too early in the campaign season to be handing out the award for the dumbest charge, but Team Bush has certainly staked an early claim with its attack on John Kerry's comment -- known to be the truth by anyone who pays any attention to such things -- that many leaders in friendly countries overseas are rooting for him to win, though diplomacy prevents them from saying so in public.

    The White House spokesgeek and others -- including Colin Powell, who surely knows better -- are demanding that Kerry identify the leaders who have told him privately that they're for him.

    Well, "dumb" is probably the wrong word for it; as a tactic, it's quite brilliant, as it puts Kerry in an untenable position. Of course, Mark means that the charge is substantively dumb, not tactically dumb -- but I'm not sure I agree. It's a valid substantive criticism of Kerry that he stuck his foot in his mouth by saying something he shouldn't have.
    Kerry's obvious response to this -- which he hasn't yet made, as far as I know -- is that when a foreign leader tells you something that he can't say in public, you're not supposed to quote him on it, because if you do then he'll never tell you anything again he doesn't want to have his name attached to. It's called "keeping confidences," and it's a very valuable charateristic to have in a President.
    You know what else is a valuable characteristic to have in a President? Not revealing things people told you in private in the first place. If a person tells you something he "can't say in public," then you shouldn't say it in public, either -- at least not when the essence of the statement is the identity of the speaker. The violation of confidence isn't just using the speaker's name, but using the speaker's words. After all, without the speaker's identity, what Kerry is left with is, "Someone likes me better than Bush, but I won't tell you who." And Kleiman thinks that this makes Bush look foolish? I beg to differ.

    By the way, why is Kerry bragging about this, anyway? is it really appropriate for a candidate for president to say, in effect, "Vote for me because I'm more popular in Europe"? Yes, I know, politics don't stop at the water's edge anymore -- if they ever did. But shouldn't one be a little more subtle about it? "Vote for me because I'll work to rebuild international alliances," perhaps? (It seems slightly less like a prom queen campaign speech if one uses the latter phrasing.)

    April 14, 2004

    It's uh, well, uh, like, uh, maybe, uh...

    Andrew Sullivan, for some incomprehensible reason, liked George Bush's press conference. I can't imagine why. Because, while I'm generally supportive of the administration's stance with respect to Iraq, I found this performance to be embarrassingly bad. I don't want to make the mistake of confusing articulateness with intelligence, but that took articulateness to new lows. Although I do have to say that after reading the transcript, it's not nearly as bad as having to sit through it live. Still, statements like these...

    Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American people -- it's an interesting question. They're really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein, and you can understand why. This guy was a torturer, a killer, a maimer. There's mass graves.

    I mean, he was a horrible individual that really shocked the country in many ways, shocked it into a kind of a fear of making decisions toward liberty. That's what we've seen recently. Some citizens are fearful of stepping up.

    And they were happy -- they're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either. They do want us there to help with security.

    ...make me cringe with shame. "I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either"?! Are we discussing an airplane bathroom? And "I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it." and "Look, nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens. I don't." hardly inspired much confidence, either. Why can't we have someone who sounds a little more like, say, Tony Blair to stand up for these views?

    As long as I'm criticizing, I ought to note that I thought Bush got more comfortable and less awkward as the press conference continued, and I thought that this was particularly effective:

    Maybe I can best put it this way, why I feel so strongly about this historic moment. I was having dinner with Prime Minister Koizumi, and we were talking about North Korea, about how we can work together to deal with the threat. The North Korea leader is a threat.

    And here are two friends, now, discussing what strategy to employ to prevent him from further developing and deploying a nuclear weapon. And it dawned on me that, had we blown the peace in World War II, that perhaps this conversation would not have been taking place.

    It also dawned on me then that when we get it right in Iraq, at some point in time an American president will be sitting down with a duly elected Iraqi leader, talking about how to bring security to what has been a troubled part of the world.

    The legacy that our troops are going to leave behind is a legacy of lasting importance, as far as I'm concerned. It's a legacy that really is based upon our deep belief that people want to be free and that free societies are peaceful societies.

    Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or free. I'd strongly disagree with that.

    I reject that. Because I believe that freedom is the deepest need of every human soul, and if given a chance, the Iraqi people will be not only self-governing, but a stable and free society.

    Unfortunately, the media was far too interested in trying to get Bush to apologize for 9/11 to notice. He did finally place the blame appropriately with Osama Bin Laden, but it took him several tries of meandering non-responses before he did so.

    You know, I'm not saying I could do a better job at a press conference -- but, then, I'm not the president, and I don't have a staff of dozens of people to assist me in preparing, either. Sheesh. Hasn't he ever heard of rehearsing?

    April 20, 2004

    Sauce for the goose?

    So does anybody think there will be a media feeding frenzy over this presidential candidate's coverup of his mlitary past:

    The day after John F. Kerry said he would make all of his military records available for inspection at his campaign headquarters, a spokesman said the senator would not release any new documents, leaving undisclosed many of Kerry's evaluations by his Navy commanding officers, some medical records, and possibly other material.

    Kerry, in an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," was asked whether he would follow President Bush's example and release all of his military records. "I have," Kerry said. "I've shown them -- they're available for you to come and look at." He added that "people can come and see them at headquarters."

    But when a reporter showed up yesterday morning to review the documents, the campaign staff declined, saying all requests must go through the press spokesman, Michael Meehan. Late yesterday, Meehan said the only records available would be those already released to this newspaper.

    I seem to recall headlines and press conferences and the media generally acting like sharks sensing blood when they covered a similar story vis-a-vis George Bush. It's still early, and that could still happen -- but right now, it seems pretty quiet.

    Oh, and what's with this?

    Asked whether Kerry would release his evaluations, as Clark did during the primaries, Meehan responded: "We don't have Wesley Clark's evaluations." Asked directly whether Kerry would release all of his own evaluations, Meehan repeated that the campaign would release only the records already made available.
    I can't tell whether this was an attempt to be funny -- it failed -- or an attempt at evasion -- it failed.

    [Update: Mickey Kaus speculates that this is just a bait-and-switch by Kerry, that when the full records come out they'll make him look good. Nah. Kerry ain't that smart.]

    April 24, 2004

    Ballplayer: manager should stop calling plays

    When politicians say dumb things, sometimes it's hard to tell whether they're dumb, or whether they realize the statements are dumb but think we're so stupid that we won't notice how dumb they are. Case in point: New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, showing he doesn't quite grasp the concept of religion:

    Gov. James E. McGreevey said he is a "devout Catholic" and will continue to practice his faith, but church leaders are wrong to tell him and other politicians not to support abortion rights.

    Church opinions like the one issued Friday by the Vatican force American Catholics to chose between obeying their religion and practicing politics, McGreevey said.

    "I do not accept that false choice," he told reporters.

    Many children have trouble with making choices, also. They think they can watch television and go to the movies. Get a new CD and get the new video game. Support abortion and belong to a religion which opposes abortion. Have their cake, and eat it, too.

    Whether McGreevey "accepts" the choice or not, it exists. Church leaders, of course, cannot force McGreevey or other American Catholics to obey them. They have no police power. What they do have is the power to decide what makes a good Catholic, and to deny that label to those who don't live up to the appropriate standards. I may not agree with the Church on the substance of many of its views. I may not agree with some of the rules of my own religion. But I don't pretend that I can pick and choose which ones I feel like adhering to and still claim to be observant.

    There may be some religions -- Unitarians, for instance -- where there really aren't any rules. If McGreevey wants to become one of those, he can do what he wants. But he can't claim to be Catholic -- a hierarchical religion -- and then ignore the dictates of the hierarchy. Church leaders are not "wrong" to tell him what to do; that's their job.

    And from the "world's smallest violin" segment of the story:

    A recent speech by Bishop John M. Smith, head of the Diocese of Trenton, said McGreevey's politics indicate he "is not a devout Catholic."

    "When he refers to himself as a devout Catholic and supports legislation and programs that are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Father and the bishops, he is not a devout Catholic," Smith said. "He cannot compromise what it means to be a Catholic. I speak, as your bishop, for the devout Catholics of the Diocese of Trenton. Jim McGreevey does not."

    McGreevey on Friday said those remarks hurt him and his family.

    Awww. Poor baby.

    May 17, 2004

    Cutting off your nose to spite your face

    I have been skeptical of the claims of those such as Andrew Sullivan who want the Catholic Church to stay out of politics. While Sullivan is right to be concerned that the Church appears to be taking partisan sides, the source of that problem lies not in the Church, but in the partisan split on key issues, notably abortion.

    I don't agree with the Church's stand on abortion, but it is a clear moral stand; to suggest that they should stay out of the debate merely because it's divisive is to misunderstand the role of a religious institution. Should 19th century churches have refused to condemn slavery-supporting politicians merely because such a condemnation would put the churches on the side of Republicans? I suspect Sullivan would be far less inclined to make such an argument; I suspect his problem here is that the Catholic hard-liners who want the Church to make a strong stand against abortion are the same ones who want to make a strong stand against homosexuality.

    But you pays your money and you takes your chances; as I pointed out earlier with regard to New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, you can't simultaneously demand to be an accepted member of a religious community and demand to be allowed to espouse whatever religious views you choose without consequence. That is, unless you're a Unitarian.

    That having been said, I think this bishop is going a little far.

    The Roman Catholic bishop of Colorado Springs has issued a pastoral letter saying that American Catholics should not receive communion if they vote for politicians who defy church teaching by supporting abortion rights, same-sex marriage, euthanasia or stem-cell research.
    To me, there seems to me to be a significant difference between ostracizing a candidate who advocates a particular policy as one of his main platform planks, and ostracizing someone who votes for a candidate who holds that view.

    The Church can do whatever it wants, of course. But unless the Pope runs for office -- and I'm pretty sure he's not eligible for too many of them around these parts -- you're not going to find candidates who follow every Church teaching. What is the voter who lives in a district where both candidates are pro-choice to do? Or what if the voter decides that the pro-choice candidate is better on other Catholic teachings, and that this candidate won't have an opportunity to implement his abortion views anyway? (I'm always amused when candidates for mayor or the like emphasize their views on legal abortion, as if mayors had any authority over the matter.) The Church should take strong moral stands, certainly -- but if it drives away all its members, it won't be very effective at promoting those stances.

    [Disclaimer: I'm not Catholic, so keep in mind that I'm making this up as I go along.]

    July 12, 2004

    Dumb and dumber

    Some intelligent, thoughtful bloggers I have great respect for -- bloggers who would ordinarily never support a Democrat for president -- have announced their likely intention to vote for John Kerry this November. Their primary reason is disgust with President Bush's seeming incompetence and/or irresponsibility. There's some truth to that; Bush may be on the right side of the war on terror, but his execution has left something to be desired. And much of his domestic policies range from egregiously awful to plain ol' stupid.

    I can sympathize with this position; in terms of domestic policy, there's a serious argument that can be made that a Kerry presidency would be superior to a Bush presidency. Not because Kerry is something to write home about, but because a GOP-controlled Congress and a Democratic president might be nicely gridlocked for four years. The problem is, there's still foreign policy. And Kerry is so feckless that it's hard to imagine him as commander-in-chief. And Edwards? A total lightweight.

    For instance, this article in the New York Times, in which Kerry and Edwards boldly announce that the Iraq intelligence was bad:

    Senator John Kerry and Senator John Edwards declared on Friday that slipshod intelligence invoked by President Bush to invade Iraq had cost the nation lives, billions of dollars and international prestige, signaling that the Iraq war would be a central issue in their White House campaign.


    "They were wrong and soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong," Mr. Kerry said as Mr. Edwards, in an adjacent seat in the front of their chartered Boeing 757 jet, nodded in agreement. "And America's paying billions of dollars because they were wrong. And allies are not with us because they were wrong."

    Mr. Edwards said, "My view is that what George Bush has done in Iraq, both in the lead-up to the war and more importantly his planning for winning the peace, has cost America dearly, and cost the possibility of success dearly."

    Yadda yadda yadda. Bush lied, people died. Pretty standard fare, right? But here's what got my goat:
    While the two men said they had discussed the crisis in Iraq in their frequent talks leading to Mr. Kerry's decision this week to choose Mr. Edwards, they did not offer any ideas about what the United States should do to end the war beyond what they had previously called for: enlisting the help of allies and the United Nations.

    Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry voted for the resolution authorizing Mr. Bush to go to war. In the interview, they declined to say whether they agreed with other pro-war Democratic senators who said on Friday that they would have voted against the resolution had they known then what was contained in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

    "I'm not going to go back and answer hypothetical questions about what I would have done had I known this," Mr. Edwards said.

    Mr. Kerry said: "The vote is not today and that's it. I completely agree with John Edwards."

    It's one thing to be for the war. It's one thing to be against the war. It's one thing to have changed one's mind. But to not know? How can anybody vote for someone for president who doesn't know whether he should have supported the war? I'm not saying it should be an easy question; I'm saying that anybody who expects to be elected president should know the answer. This isn't 9/12/01; this is more than a year after the war in Iraq. We've known that the intelligence was faulty for quite a while. Has he not thought about it? Has he been so indecisive (er, I mean "nuanced") that he's still thinking about it?

    There's another (and I suspect more likely) possibility: that Kerry does know the answer, but that he -- along with Edwards -- is too much of a political coward to say what he thinks. But is that really any better? There's prudence, and then there's irresponsibility. Again, how can one vote for a person who has so little courage that he won't even answer as fundamental a question as "Would you have gone to war?" If he won't take a risk in answering the question, a risk which is merely electoral, what will happen if he's president and he needs to attack Iran or North Korea? Can we trust him to make a decision?

    And if we can't, can anybody justify a vote for him, no matter how unsatisfactory Bush is?

    [ADDENDUM: Note that the title of this post refers to the candidates, not the bloggers I cited at the beginning of the post.]

    August 12, 2004

    And They Say Nothing Newsworthy Happens In August

    I've been quiet lately because it feels like the news has been getting a bit predictable. Not dull, just predictable. And that makes it hard to get worked up enough to write. So it was refreshing to open up my browser and see this headline:

    N.J. Governor Resigns, Admits He Is Gay

    I don't have any interesting comments to make about the story; I am just in complete awe at its sheer unexpectedness. Bravo.

    August 25, 2004

    It's Probably Jeb Bush's Fault, Anyway

    We hear much talk about faulty voting machines and shadowy conspiriacies to harass minorities into staying home on Election Day, but does anyone much care about overt, honest-to-goodness election fraud?

    Some 46,000 New Yorkers are registered to vote in both the city and Florida, a shocking finding that exposes both states to potential abuses that could alter the outcome of elections, a Daily News investigation shows.

    The News found that between 400 and 1,000 registered voters have voted twice in at least one election, a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

    That's 46,000 voters in New York City alone. Who knows the true number of multiple registrations throughout the country? As anyone who has gone to college in or moved to a different state knows, it's a trivial matter to be registered in two states at once. Shocking as this might be, this hardly anything new, as Russ Smith points out:

    The News, which provided evidence of both Democrats and Republicans voting twice in recent elections, underscores the political reality that election-day corruption is as common as jaywalking and was only highlighted four years ago because of the fluke results - a virtual tie - in Florida.

    I'm not holding my breath waiting for the voting rolls to be corrected (much less waiting for any arrests to be made). Correcting the rolls, after all, would probably be seen tantamount to disenfranchisement.

    UPDATE: Dave Huber has a good take on the bias inherent in the story itself.

    UPDATE: Reason Magazine remarks on the story, too.

    August 26, 2004

    The Evolution of Truth

    Mark Steyn has more to say on Governor McGreevey than I did:

    "My truth is that I am a gay American,'' announced Gov. James McGreevey to the people of New Jersey last Thursday.

    That's such an exquisitely contemporary formulation: ''my'' truth. Once upon a time, there was only ''the'' truth. Now everyone gets his own -- or, as the governor put it, ''One has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world.'' For Jim McGreevey, his truth is that he's a gay American; for others in the Garden State, the truth about McGreevey is that he's a corrupt sexual harasser who put his lover on the state payroll in a critical homeland security post, and whose I-am-what-I-am confessional is a tactical feint that distracts the media sob sisters from the fact that, as his final service to the Democratic Party, he's resigned in such a way as to deny the people an early vote on his successor.

    It's a tactical feint that I believe is working. Last weekend, a friend (who I have to believe up until two weeks ago wouldn't have known who the governor of New Jersey was even if he barged into her apartment with four of his friends and started redecorating) told me that she thought what McGreevey had done was "great". Not the resigning part, but the coming out part. More to the point, she dwelled on it being a shame that he had to resign because of it. She seems to have internalized the popular meme that he is resigning simply because he had a gay affair - a meme cleverly and impressively planted by McGreevey himself. Never you mind the corruption involved, it's all about being gay.

    And mark my words, it's only a matter of time before it's insinuated that the whole mess is the fault of the mean old Republicans.

    With help from the Israelis, of course. Wow.

    September 2, 2004

    The Dictionary Definition Of "Stem-Winder"

    My gosh, I loved Zell Miller's speech. He was a juggernaut, plowing through his remarks with a passion and sense of determination I haven't heard in a politician since, well, since ever. Of course, I'm not at all surprised that for his troubles, he gets labeled an insane fascist. (Meanwhile, the rabid hate-fest going on daily on the streets of Manhattan is labeled as legitimate and sober dissent. All in good fun, you know.)

    Me, I'm inclined to agree with Jim Geraghty:

    We (okay, I) want a mean old SOB running things, some tough-as-nails cranky ex-Marine with a mean streak a mile wide whose idea of dealing with threats includes a crowbar, duct tape and a hill of fire ants.

    Anyway, from the speech:

    No one should dare to even think about being the Commander in Chief of this country if he doesn't believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home. But don't waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my party today. In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. They don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy. It is not their patriotism -- it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking.

    Waahh, it's *not nice* to say that about the Democratic Party, say the critics. Maybe not about *all* the party leadership, no, but certainly it's an accurate enough charge to make against much of the rank-and-file. (And come to think of it, I don't exactly hear demands on John Kerry to disassociate himself from the more vile of the protestors, do you?)

    September 3, 2004

    Bush's Speech

    Well, as expected, the president's speech was good, not great. Still, the wife and I loved this part:

    Another drag on our economy is the current tax code, which is a complicated mess -- filled with special interest loopholes, saddling our people with more than six billion hours of paperwork and headache every year. The American people deserve -- and our economic future demands ---- a simpler, fairer, pro-growth system. In a new term, I will lead a bipartisan effort to reform and simplify the federal tax code.

    Hooray! Unfortunately, it was later followed by this part:

    We will offer a tax credit to encourage small businesses and their employees to set up health savings accounts, and provide direct help for low-income Americans to purchase them.

    So much for reforming and simplifying the tax code. And then there's this:

    We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account -- a nest egg you can call your own and government can never take away.

    That's nice and all, but what's wrong with simply cutting taxes and letting younger workers keep the difference for themselves?

    Well, we also liked this part (which echoes what Dick Cheney said a few months back):

    Again, my opponent takes a different approach. In the midst of war, he has called America's allies, quote, a "coalition of the coerced and the bribed." That would be nations like Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, El Salvador, Australia, and others -- allies that deserve the respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician. I respect every soldier, from every country, who serves beside us in the hard work of history. America is grateful, and America will not forget.

    A friend of mine, with whom I was arguing about the war, not only repeated the canard that we're acting unilaterally, but when challenged on it, dismissed our allies as being "bullied and bribed" and thus inconsequential. Just like John Kerry. Hmmm, must have been reading from the same talking points. And theirs is the side who purports to "repair our standing in the world"?

    Amending The Constitution For Partisan Gain

    The New York Times changes its mind and now wishes to abolish the Electoral College:

    The Electoral College's supporters argue that it plays an important role in balancing relations among the states, and protecting the interests of small states. A few years ago, this page was moved by these concerns to support the Electoral College. But we were wrong. The small states are already significantly overrepresented in the Senate, which more than looks out for their interests. And there is no interest higher than making every vote count.

    Translation: we liked the Electoral College until our guy got the short end.

    In any case, the best argument against abolishing the Electoral College can be expressed in a mere two words: Nationwide recount.

    UPDATE: Opinion Journal agrees, though in many more words...

    September 4, 2004

    The angry old man

    I have to disagree with Peter's assessment of Zell Miller's speech.

    I confess that I didn't watch every minute of the conventions, but I watched all the major speeches -- McCain's, Rudy's, Arnold's, Miller's, Pataki's, Laura Bush's, Cheney's, and the president's. (I tried to sit through the Bush twins' "speech," but it was so execrable that I turned it off after about two minutes.) And of all those speeches that I listened to, I thought Miller's was the worst. It was bad on substance and it was bad on style.

    On substance, there's so much to criticize in Kerry's attitude towards national security -- his attitude towards the UN; his attitude towards Iraq before, during, and after the war; his attitude towards Iraq now; his view about America's place in the world. A criticism that Kerry is weak on national defense may well be valid. A criticism that he can't make up his mind is definitely valid. A criticism that he wants to have it both ways is certainly valid. But the criticism that he voted against all those weapons systems has been debunked a long time ago. But, hey, that's politics. If politicians didn't distort each other's records, then a slew of spinmeisters would go bankrupt.

    What bothered me far more was the tone of Miller's speech. I'm certainly not offended by negative campaigns the way reporters profess to be, but there's a time and place for negative, and the convention isn't it. None of the other speakers -- including Cheney, who has an (in my opinion undeserved) reputation for nastiness -- were that negative. More importantly than the fact that it was negative, though, was that it was strident. Some might use the word "angry," but I'll stick with "strident."

    And that's bad. I could cite Reagan the optimist, or the ranting and ravings of Pat Buchanan in 1992, for the proposition that tone matters -- but an even more immediate example is at hand: the 2004 Democratic Party. Bush's opponents are enthusiastic -- but it isn't helping Kerry gain traction. Why? In my opinion, it's because Bush's opponents are so vehement in their anger. They're not pulling undecided people towards Kerry; they're pushing them away. When you see someone so upset, and you don't share his anger, it doesn't cause you to change your views; it causes you to question his rationality.

    Hell, I questioned Miller's rationality, and I mostly agreed with him. That was a bad speech.

    Now, McCain's speech, that was good. Good enough that it made we wish for a moment that he was president -- made me actually forget, for a moment, the horrible McCain-Feingold bill which bears his name. When a speech is good enough to do that, it's a home run.

    September 6, 2004

    Who thought he was making sense?

    He's a complete loon, and, like Pat Buchanan at the 1992 GOP convention, a car wreck waiting to happen, but at some level, you have to admire a candidate who says exactly what he thinks on controversial issues, even though he has to know that it's going to lead to one of the most embarassing defeats in electoral history.

    And credit to John McCain for one of the most diplomatic ways of calling someone a complete loon you'll ever see:

    "He made a remark the other day that people who perform abortions are the same as terrorists. That's a very unique take on that issue and one that's very seldom espoused."

    September 13, 2004

    The Protests Are Working

    I visited Las Vegas for the first time over Labor Day weekend, and call me hokey, but the magnificent Bellagio fountains dancing to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The U.S.A." were just the antidote to the noisome protests endured here in NYC the week before. I'm no country-music fan, but it was nice to be reminded that there are indeed other ways to express patriotism aside from shouting and carrying offensive signs in the streets.

    So what did the protestors accomplish? Well, they changed my brother's mind. He was a Kerry supporter, to the point of actually hanging by his computer a full color picture of Kerry and Edwards thanking him for his donation to their campaign. But while in Vegas, he confessed to me that after encountering the protestors, he now feels he has no choice but to vote for Bush. Confronted with the sheer imbecility of their rants, he simply decided they were not only wrong, but *really* wrong. And dangerous, too. Thus he changed his vote accordingly. Way to go!

    I wouldn't have bothered writing about that one data point, except that Reason Magazine's Julian Sanchez suggests that my brother might not be alone:

    In March of last year, the American Enterprise Institute's Karlyn Bowman did a roundup of national surveys on Americans' attitudes toward protesters. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 71 percent unmoved by antiwar protests—perhaps not all that surprising, since debates over war and peace turn on arguments too complex to fit on a placard. Among those who were influenced, however, three times as many said that the protests made them more likely to support the war in Iraq than oppose it.

    Perhaps, then, the incessant media coverage of the protests was a contributing factor to Bush's post-convention bounce?

    September 21, 2004

    A foolish consistency

    Don't let it be said that the New York Times is always pro-federal government. The editors of the paper have finally discovered a state's rights crusade they can get behind, enthusiastically. Sounding like budding Timothy McVeighs, they now rant about people "laboring under the yoke of Congress." Only, this new crusade doesn't involve a state at all, which makes the argument somewhat strange.

    The nation's capital city will soon suffer a brazen insult at the hands of the House of Representatives as a legislative majority prepares to vote for the decontrol of guns in the city - that's right, a majority of lawmakers, sworn to "insure domestic tranquillity" for the nation, would make D.C. stand for Dodge City. As far as election year pandering goes, the impending vote to legalize handguns and semiautomatic weapons on the streets - striking down the home-rule wishes of Washington's citizens - may answer the question of how low Congressional politicians will go in bowing to the gun lobby.
    Of course, there's no real mystery here; the Times is simply virulently anti-gun rights. If Congress were acting to ban guns in the District of Columbia against the wishes of its citizens, then concerns about "home rule" would go out the window at Times headquarters. As, in fact, such concerns did when the so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" was enacted; the legislature of, say, Montana was denied the right to decide for its citizens whether they would be able to own so-called assault weapons. The Times, of course, had no problem with that.

    The Times has every right to oppose gun rights, no matter how idiotic, immoral, and unconstitutional the laws they support are. The issue here is their hypocrisy of cloaking opposition to the second amendment in the guise of defense of "home rule," when the essence of their position -- on virtually every issue in recent decades -- has been to centralize power in Congress at the expense of "home rule," to treat calls for such "home rule" as naked racism, regardless of the issue. Until now. It's true that DC, unlike the states, does not have an elected representative in Congress -- or at least not one who gets to vote -- and the Times seems to attach great significance to this point. But that's sort of a silly distinction; if 435 members of Congress decide to ignore your one non-voting representative, is that really somehow more tyrannical than 434 members of Congress ignoring Montana's one voting representative?

    The Times' editors are hardly the only hypocrites on this score; as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out (ad nauseum), many Republican congressmen who are ostensibly pro-states rights suddenly discovered the wisdom of Washington when it came to the issue of gay marriage (though at least they had the decency to propose a constitutional amendment, instead of the Times' approach of ignoring Constitutional provisions like the second amendment). But that's hardly a defense of the Times' hypocrisy.

    Aren't 23 Reasons Enough?

    James Taranto takes note of a recent John Kerry speech:

    In his speech, Kerry also complained that "by one count, the president offered 23 different rationales for this war. If his purpose was to confuse and mislead the American people, he succeeded." That's quite an argument coming from someone who's taken 57 different positions on the war.

    Never mind Kerry's confused and shifting positions on the war; I don't understand this particular criticism of his on its face. So the president has "23 different rationales" for going to war - that's supposed to be a bad thing? Evidently, William Raspberry thinks so:

    Heard any good rationales for the war lately? If not, maybe you ought to talk to Devon Largio, a new graduate of University of Illinois, who says her research turned up 23 different rationales offered by the Bush administration in the year following 9/11.


    Many of the key rationales she knew already – the weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's treatment of weapons inspectors, the administration's interest in "regime change." Others seemed to ebb and flow – setting an example for other tyrants, protecting Iraqis (or the region or the world) from Saddam, completing the work of Desert Storm, spreading Western-style democracy and compensating for international institutions so ineffectual as to render the phrase "United Nations resolution" an oxymoron.

    Well, you can't really judge from that excerpt, but trust me, Raspberry finds this surplus of rationales quite problematic. (And so do other lefty pundits). The main arguments seem to be either that Bush doesn't give every possible reason for going to war every time he opens his mouth, or that goals such as regime change, spreading democracy, and setting an example are somehow mutually exclusive. Devon Largio herself isn't much impressed, either, but for a simpler reason: 23 reasons (and counting) are too many:

    "I didn't include this in my paper," she said, "but I'm as torn now as I was when I started. I tend to accept the good intentions of the president, and it's tempting to say that if they have 23 reasons for going to war, we probably should have gone. On the other hand, I find myself thinking that if they had to keep coming up with new reasons for going to war, we probably shouldn't have done it. It's almost like the decision came first, then the rationales."

    And I'm just not understanding any of this. Since when does having too many arguments in favor of doing X turn into an argument against doing X?

    October 1, 2004

    Debate stream of consciousness

    Shorter debate, in case you didn't watch and don't have time to read the transcript:

    • Bush: (Long pause. Figure out what to say.) My opponent flip-flops. I won't. I'm so determined to be consistent that I'm going to repeat the same one-liner over and over and over again. That's how you win the war.

    • Kerry: I don't flip flop. My opponent makes all the wrong decisions. Even though I called them wrong, I'm going to make exactly the same ones, except they're going to work when I do them, because I'm not my opponent. Oh, and I served in Vietnam. That's how I'm going to win the war.

    Okay, now that the substance is out of the way, let's play pundit, and bring out random thoughts that I had as I watched the debate.

    1. This format wasn't as bad as the media was making it out to be. It wasn't quite as rigid, and it was far more interactive than it might have been. Although the two candidates didn't address each other directly, they came close to doing so. Not Lincoln-Douglass, but not mere independent press conferences, either.
    2. The debate was actually somewhat substantive. I don't want to go overboard in praising it, but there was relatively little sniping, ad hominem, or name calling. They discussed several important issues.
    3. It seems even more substantive if you read the transcript rather than watch the debate.
    4. My wife looked at me strangely when I said it during the debate, but I found it amusing that the two candidates presented the clearest, most direct, least spun, most substantive argument on a topic -- bilateral vs. multilateral negotiations with North Korea -- that isn't going to affect a single vote in November. (Or perhaps that's why it was so substantive.)
    5. Both candidates worked extra hard to overcome the negative public stereotypes about themselves. Kerry wasn't exactly concise or down to earth, but he didn't act overly condescendingly and wasn't overly long-winded. Bush wasn't articulate, but he did seem to have command over some facts.
    6. It seemed that Bush was playing this debate extremely conservatively. He had one repeated joke/jab at Kerry that he used, but he never tried to put Kerry away. He was content to play defense. Perhaps the most recent polls have made him overconfident.
    7. How long did it take Bush to learn to pronounce "Kwasniewski"? He got that right, but couldn't pronounce "mullah"?
    8. Bush botched some questions, as to be expected from someone as inarticulate as he is, but he clearly had the stronger argument on some key points. Leaving aside the fact that Kerry is delusional if he thinks he can get more international help, Bush was right to point out that Kerry is doubly insane if he thinks he can say that this was the wrong war, that it has made everything worse, and then try to enlist others to join in.
    9. Kerry made not one substantive point about his plans for the future in Iraq. He said he had a plan. Claimed it was on his website. But not even one concrete idea. ("Get allies involved" doesn't count.)
    10. If Kerry thinks Iraq was badly planned, or was the "wrong war," fine. But the reason had better be something more than "we could have spent the money on prescription drugs."
    11. Federalism is deader than Francisco Franco. Why would the U.S. government be concerned with firehouses in the United States? I can't imagine something which is more quintessentially a responsibility of local government.
    12. Why does Kerry think Bush should have guarded Iraq's nuclear facilities if there were no WMD or WMD programs?
    13. Kerry's "outsourcing" joke was stupid the first time. Even stupider the second.
    14. What the hell was Bush babbling about with the International Criminal Court treaty? How was that even relevant? Bush had the perfect opportunity for a valid zinger here and dropped the ball: Kerry thinks Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror, but he thinks global warming does. Instead, Bush rambled about the ICC, in such a way that nobody except political junkies would understand what he was referring to.
    15. Kerry flip flops during the debate. During one paragraph of the debate. He thinks unilateral action against Iran is bad, but he thinks unilateral action against North Korea is good.
    16. Kerry thinks that Iraq didn't pose a threat to us, but he thinks Darfur does? It may be a tragedy, but how exactly is it an imminent threat?
    17. For some inexplicable reason, Bush decided to show off his knowledge by discussing things like "the AQ Khan network" without explaining what it was. How many debate viewers have the foggiest idea what that referred to?

    Ultimately, I have to say that Kerry probably won this debate. Not on substance, but on the things that seem to matter to those that score these things. There were no Bush gaffes (though there were some uncomfortably-long pauses), and no Kerry home runs, but Kerry is the challenger here, and it was his task to show people who don't know who he is that he can be presidential. Or at least presidentialish. By showing up, going toe-to-toe with the president, and not doing or saying anything obviously stupid, he accomplished that goal. Bush isn't going to win the election on his past record; his strategy for winning the election is to paint Kerry as a risky unknown who can't be trusted to be strong and keep the country safe. At least superficially, Kerry was able to project the image that he could be strong, confident, and sincere. If people think that of him, he probably wins.

    I doubt this one debate will sway many people -- I suspect that those who are still undecided this late in the game are probably not the people watching debates anyway -- but nonetheless, it's a point in Kerry's column, I think. (At least stylistically; I think Kerry was his usual self, substantively. If he knows what his vision is for the future, he's doing a damn good job of hiding it from us.)

    We shall see.

    Debate stream of consciousness 2.0

    Following up on my previous post, a few more thoughts on the debate, all thoughts which arose contemporaneously (though posted hours later):

    1. Treblinka???????? There was a concentration camp in Moscow? Can you imagine the reaction if Bush had made that mistake?
    2. I would have assumed, going into the debate, that Kerry would seem to have a greater grasp of facts than Bush, but Bush would come across better. The reverse seemed to be true.
    3. Bush was playing defense -- a mistake -- but the format of the debate did constrain him. The entire focus of the debate as framed by Jim Lehrer was to focus on what Bush had done right and wrong. Lehrer wanted Bush to defend his record and Kerry to attack it, and both people obliged. Very few questions were asked about what Kerry would do. Still, Bush could have turned the tables; he didn't.
    4. Where were Kerry's kids?
    5. Kerry's crack about the New York City subways made no sense. Even if Bush could have done some things differently Homelandsecuritywise, there'd still be a threat either way.
    6. If Bush were more capable of public speaking than a mime with social anxiety disorder, he'd wipe the floor with Kerry. I don't know how Kerry got the reputation for being a great debater. He's not at all. But Bush is far worse.
    7. Post-debate instant polls seem to be showing that Kerry won. Well, no surprise there. I still doubt it will affect many votes, but it hurts Bush's momentum. (Or is that Joe-mentum?)

    Alright; that's enough. Go read someone else's blog.

    October 8, 2004

    Let's play twenty questions

    Given that Friday night's debate is a "town hall" style debate where non-professionals get to question the candidates, I thought I'd come up with a list of questions that I would ask if I were in the audience. (The New York Times had the same thought, printing a list of questions from prominent pundits -- except that their liberal worldview led them to structure the two sets of questions as "Senator Kerry: aren't liberal policies great?" and "President Bush: aren't conservative policies bad?") So here are approximately twenty non-rhetorical questions for each candidate, in no particular order:

    For Kerry

    1. Why do you keep saying that you can get more allies on board for the war in Iraq when there are only a couple who have the operational capability to pour resources into Iraq, and those have already said they aren't interested? Whether or not you do get allies on board, what is your plan for fixing the current situation in Iraq?
    2. Do you think the US is capable of taking on both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously? If so, why do you call the former a "distraction" from the latter? If not, aren't you embarrassed over the size of the American military budget?
    3. How do you plan to reduce the deficit when your own proposals call for spending even more in new government programs than you propose to raise in new taxes?
    4. How do you explain your vote against the first Gulf War if you believe that a vote for the second Gulf War was necessary to give the president's threats credibility?
    5. Assume that the United States had not invaded Iraq. What would you have done, beyond the invasion of Afghanistan, to reduce or end the terrorist threat? "Work with allies" is not a sufficient answer; that's merely a tactic; I'm looking for you to explain your larger, big picture strategy.
    6. You once suggested that if the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, there would only be two or three thousand people who might need sanctuary from the North Vietnamese after their inevitable victory. Do you think that your massive underestimation of the cost to the Vietnamese of American withdrawal demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the threat American enemies pose?
    7. Assume the US hadn't invaded Iraq. What would have been your plan for maintaining the policy of containment when it was clear that our allies were unwilling to continue such a policy?
    8. Given the Democratic Party's stated commitment to treating people equally, why do you oppose gay marriage? How can you justify your support for racial preferences?
    9. If your plan for bilateral talks with North Korea proves fruitless, how will you contain and/or defeat them?
    10. Is there any area of the economy in which you believe government has no proper role?
    11. Is there any area of the economy or society in which you think states have a proper role but the federal government has no proper role?
    12. Can you identify one significant government regulatory or spending program that you would eliminate if you could?
    13. Other than the current guy, who do you think was the worst president the U.S. ever had, and why?
    14. What philosopher has had the biggest impact on your thinking, and why?
    15. It is likely that a Supreme Court justice will retire in the near future. Who are the two or three people on your short list of nominees to fill the first vacancy?
    16. Do you believe the second amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms? If so, why do you support "gun control"? If not, why do you read the second amendment so much more narrowly than you read the rest of the constitution?
    17. Do you call Bush's stem cell policy a "ban" because it sells better politically, or because you don't distinguish between lack of government subsidies and a ban?
    18. You endorsed the 9/11 commission's recommendations for reform of the intelligence community before you had even read them. Why?
    19. Do you believe that the best defense is a good offense? Or do you think that a defensive response to 9/11, such as enhancing port security, can be effective?
    20. What do you think the real reason was that the United States was attacked on 9/11?

    For Bush

    1. How do you plan on reducing the deficit when you keep cutting taxes without corresponding cuts in spending -- when, in fact, you keep drastically increasing spending?
    2. Why was nobody fired over 9/11? Why was nobody fired over the mistaken Iraqi WMD predictions? Why has nobody been fired for any of the pre- or post-9/11 mistakes? Shouldn't there be some accountability?
    3. You keep saying that you provided as many troops as commanders on the ground asked for. Do you agree, even given the situation on the ground? If yes, how can you, given the situation on the ground? If not, why do you keep hiding behind that mantra, and why haven't you replaced the commanders that made these misjudgments?
    4. Other than training a new Iraqi police and military to keep law and order, do you have any plan for finishing up in Iraq? Or do we just have to hope that not too many Americans are killed before these forces are ready?
    5. Do you think the Iraqi WMD debacle has hurt American credibility in dealing with Iran?
    6. Do you believe Islamic terrorism is a serious domestic threat? If you do, why is the Justice Department waging war on medical marijuana, pornography, assisted suicide, and online gambling? How can people feel safe and confident in the government's ability to protect us domestically when you can't even catch the anthrax mailer?
    7. What's your plan for North Korea if your insistence on multilateral talks fails?
    8. Do you think global warming is (a) a hoax, (b) unproven, (c) real but not caused by human behavior, or (d) caused by human behavior?
    9. How can you justify signing McCain-Feingold when it provided for massive restrictions on political speech in violation of the first amendment?
    10. Can you identify one significant government regulatory or spending program that you plan to eliminate? Why didn't you eliminate this in your first four years, and why would anybody believe you're going to cut it now?
    11. How does it threaten the institution of marriage if gay marriage is allowed? If the institution of marriage is "sacred," shouldn't it be left to churches rather than the state?
    12. Assuming the United States succeeds in Iraq, what is the next step you plan to take?
    13. Who do you think was the worst president the U.S. ever had, and why?
    14. Not counting Jesus, what philospher has had the biggest impact on your thinking, and why?
    15. Why haven't you vetoed any spending bills?
    16. During the last campaign, you said you would nominate Supreme Court justices in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas. But although both Justices are conservatives who oppose judicial activism, they have some significant differences. Would you nominate someone closer to the conservative Scalia or the libertarian Thomas?
    17. Why are you putting such a low priority on programs such as Nunn-Lugar, which would reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation?
    18. Can you answer the question you failed to answer in your last press conference? What mistakes have you made? Trading Sammy Sosa doesn't count.
    19. Other than drilling in ANWR, how do you plan to reduce independence on Middle Eastern oil? Is nuclear energy part of your plan, and how do you propose to overcome NIMBYism and environmental objections if it is?
    20. You claim to be a "compassionate conservative," and yet you've presided over a massive increase in domestic spending and deficits, you've abandoned federalism, and you've flip-flopped on free trade. Other than your opposition to abortion and gay marriage, in what way do you think your policies conform to conservative ideas?

    I could probably come up with more, given time, but I think that's more than sufficient. To both of my readers: free to add your own suggestions in the comments section...

    What are words for?

    Bush gets lots of flack about his stance on gay marriage from those inclined to give him flack about his stance on gay marriage. Never mind that Kerry claims to be against gay marriage, too (he's sort of for civil unions, but not when the issue comes up in Massachusetts, evidently). Anyway, others have commented on his recent quote in the NY Times:

    "The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position. But they're out there misleading people and exploiting it."

    It's the final sentence of this quote that boggles me. What about Bush's position is misleading or exploitative?

    • "Exploiting"? Bullcrap. It's a valid subject to bring up (why wouldn't it be?).

    • "Misleading"? Bullcrap. Bush has been very clear on the subject (quick, what's Bush's position on gay marriage? For contrast,what's Kerry's??)

    It's a common tactic among the left: words and phrases such as "misleading", "exploiting", "divisive", "stifling of dissent", and "Hitler" are bad -> Bush is bad -> therefore let's tar Bush with words and phrases such as "misleading", "exploiting", "divisive", "stifling of dissent", and "Hitler". Never mind what the words and phrases actually mean, nor if they are true or not (nor if they apply perfectly to the speaker); they'll be reported and repeated ad nauseum, and too few people will stop to ask questions (or at least that's their hope.)

    Kaus sees through it:

    The problem, as with most of Kerry's straddles, is that he doesn't let both sides know both faces of his position. In the above quote, he's trying to con conservatives into thinking--well, that he has the same position as the president.

    You mean Kerry's statement might be misleading?

    October 9, 2004

    Lincoln-Douglas it wasn't

    Just as I did in the first debate, I thought I'd post my random thoughts on the debate, for those who don't want to read the transcript. These are in no particular order; they just reflect the notes I jotted down while watching the debate:

    1. The two campaigns' micromanaging of the debate format probably turned out to be a good thing. Not only would a looser format probably have included lots of time-wasting applause, but it would have led to the candidates playing for applause lines rather than attempting to dance around the questions.
    2. Kerry's more loquacious than Bush, so even though he's pretty much doing the same thing as Bush in repeating his talking points ad nauseum, it doesn't sound quite the same. By the seventeenth time Bush says, "Wrong war wrong place wrong time" or "Voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," you're ready to strangle him; when Kerry repeats the claim that Saddam Hussein was a threat but the President should have worked with allies and raised taxes on rich zzzzzz. Sorry, I fell asleep. Was Kerry saying something?
    3. Worst moment in the entire history of debates since the beginning of recorded human history: Vice presidential candidate Admiral Stockdale forgetting to turn on his hearing aid, and then asking "Who am I? Why am I here?" Second worst moment: George Bush explaining that he would not appoint any judges who would uphold slavery.
    4. George Bush did much better in this debate than in the first one, both substantively and stylistically. Stylistically, he was much more comfortable in this format than in the first one, or maybe he was just much better prepared. Substantively, he finally began responding to some of Kerry's charges and some of the legitimate criticisms of his record.
    5. Is Bush finally responding to the charges because he has finally figured out what the answers should be or because he has finally realized that the public wants him to respond? Either way, thank goodness he finally pointed out that the War on Terror is bigger than Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda.
    6. Wouldn't it have been great if someone in the audience had stood up and said in response to Kerry's tax plan that he also made $200,000? Well, it probably would have been a lot more likely in New York, where $200,000 isn't exactly high society, than in St. Louis. (Did someone think to ask Charlie Gibson what he thought about Kerry's plan to confiscate his income?)
    7. If Kerry says "I have a plan" one more time, I'm going to join Al Qaeda.
    8. How many internets does George Bush think there are?
    9. Does George Bush not point out Kerry's many mistakes because (a) Bush is playing a conservative strategy, or (b) Bush doesn't know the facts, or (c) Bush is too inarticulate to come up with the counterarguments fast enough? For instance, might it not have been helpful if he pointed out that the Senate rejected Kyoto 95-0, instead of letting Kerry put all the "blame" on him?
    10. Biggest pander: both candidates -- primarily Kerry, though -- promising to support the reimportation of drugs from Canada. The safety issue is a smokescreen, of course; the real problem is economics. What do these people think will happen if reimportation happens on a large scale?
    11. Worst dodge: Charlie Gibson asked each candidate to explain how each could fulfill his promises to reduce the deficit. Bush responded by saying that it wasn't his fault and that he did a good job in cutting taxes to shorten the recession. Kerry responded by saying that it was Bush's fault and he lost jobs. Neither one came close to an answer. (Bush did say "Make sure Congress doesn't overspend" before he segued into his rambling about tax cuts. Kerry just said, "You are my priority.")
    12. In response to the question about pledging not to raise taxes, for a moment I thought Kerry was going to say, "Read my lips: no new taxes." He passed on that opportunity. Probably a wise decision.
    13. Kerry finally boldly says "I mean, you've got to stand up and fight somewhere." Unfortunately, he's not referring to the Middle East; he thinks that the right fight is class warfare against the rich.
    14. Kerry whined about "artificial deadlines." Does he not understand what an ultimatum is? Of course, he opposed the first Gulf War for the exact same stated reason.
    15. When is Bush going to say what's obvious: Osama Bin Laden is deader than Ralph Nader's campaign? (Answer: it's too politically risky for him to say it without having seen the corpse personally. But it's clearly true.)
    16. There's an old story about Lyndon Johnson spreading a rumor that his opponent had sex with pigs. LBJ's campaign staff approached him and said, "But you know that's not true." Johnson's response was, "Yes, but I want to hear him deny it." (Well, that's the clean version of the story, anyway.) It's what I thought of when I heard Bush's response to one of Kerry's lectures on the threat from Iran and North Korea: "I fully understand the threat." When the president is forced to publicly make the argument that he understands what's going on in the world, he's in some trouble.
    17. By the same token, Kerry said on that subject, "And if we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough." In fact, many of us don't believe you, John. And the fact that you need to exhort people to believe that you'll get tough "if we have to" is a pretty big black mark on your resume.
    18. Kerry thinks that soldiers are amputees because they "didn't have the right body armor"? Whoosh! Soldiers are amputees because they did have the right body armor, stupid.
    19. There may be an argument for government-funded stem cell research, but "Michael J. Fox wants us to do it" isn't it.
    20. Why is George Bush so obsessed with the USA Patriot Act? Some of the provisions are useful in fighting terrorism, to be sure, but he acts as if it's the holy grail of anti-terrorism. Why is he so adamant about protecting and extending it, instead of admitting that it could be scaled back without doing that much harm?
    21. Bush: "I've got a plan to increase the wetlands by three million." Three million what? Dollars? Acres? EPA bureaucrats?
    22. Corporate scandals came up a couple of times. Kerry's reference to Enron seemed to fall somewhat flat. Made me think of Paul Krugman's incredibly idiotic prediction that Enron would be a bigger story than 9/11.
    23. Shocker: Bush is able to bring up several points on the drug issue without stumbling. He cites the generic drug issue, he discusses the drug discount cards, he talks about the new prescription drug benefit. I'm not even saying he's right on all of them. I'm just surprised he didn't get lost halfway through the first point, the way he often seems to. Similarly, he managed to tick off numerous bullet points relating to his environmental record.
    24. Kerry's answer on abortion was awful. Truly awful. There are ways to connect with voters about values -- Kerry just doesn't know what those ways are. He thinks life begins at conception but he can't legislate it -- after all, what business does the legislature have in outlawing murder? -- but he can lecture women? Is he hoping to reduce unwanted pregnancies by inducing a miscarriage with the sound of his voice? And he thinks being pro-choice means that the government has to pay for abortion? (I wonder if he thinks that the second amendment means that the government has to give guns to poor people.)
    25. Bush brings out the big guns, with the old GOP standby: don't vote for him because he's going to raise your taxes. Well, it's tried-and-true. Does it show that Bush is getting desperate or that he's got another effective talking point besides "we've got to be steadfast"?
    26. So much for the "ownership society" theme; did that even come up once in the debate? I thought that was supposed to be the GOP's vision for the future. Does Bush have a domestic vision for the country? Or is "getting re-elected" his only one? To be fair, his closing statement was a pretty good one. Too bad it's mostly empty rhetoric and it didn't come until the end of the debate.

    I think Bush clearly won this debate (though not by a large amount). He bounced back strong from the debacle of the first debate, where he looked completely unsure of himself. If some people were worried, afer that first debate, about whether he was presidential material, this debate would reassure them. (Of course, if significant numbers of people were worried about whether he was presidential material, he's screwed, because he has been the president for four years. If he hasn't convinced people yet, he's cutting it awfully close to the wire.)

    The problem for Bush is that Kerry also seemed pretty solid, and (as I said after the first debate) since Bush won't win on his record, he has to win by convincing voters that Kerry is a risky unknown. Kerry is effectively dispelling that worry, at least superficially. That is going to force Bush to go on the offensive in an attempt to establish its validity. Which is going to require negativity. (Let's see how many times the media trots out the ghost of Willie Horton when this happens.)

    I'm not sure that a fourth debate, a third one between these two, is really going to add much. Unless one candidate has a total screwup, it's not going to change anybody's impression of either candidate.

    October 10, 2004

    Maybe, maybe not?

    From the incomparable Mark Steyn on the second presidential debate:

    And, if you want to know the real difference, after 90 minutes of debate it came in the final exchange of the night: "The truth of that matter," said Bush, "is, if you listen carefully, Saddam would still be in power if he [Kerry] were the President of the United States."

    Kerry replied: "Not necessarily."

    That's John Kerry: the "not necessarily" candidate. Saddam might not necessarily be in power. He might have been hit by the Number 37 bus while crossing the street at the intersection of Saddam Hussein Boulevard and Saddam Hussein Parkway in downtown Tikrit. He might have put his back out with one of his more vigorous concubines and been forced to hand over to Uday or Qusay. He might have stiffed Chirac in some backdoor deal and been taken out by some anthrax-laced Quality Street planted by an elite French commando unit.

    But, on the other hand, not necessarily. That's the difference: Bush believes America needs to shape events in the world; Kerry doesn't and, even if he did, because he doesn't know how he'd want to shape them the events would end up shaping him. There would be lots of discussion. Frenchmen would be involved. And, in the end, President Kerry could claim that however things turned out was what he wanted all along because, on Saddam and Iran and North Korea and a whole lot more, who the hell can say with confidence what Kerry wants anyway? How it would all turn out is anybody's guess.

    On the other hand, Kerry does have a plan. I know, because he said so.

    October 11, 2004

    Bird, plane, RIP

    From the bad taste department: So sue me, but the first thing I thought of when I heard the news that Christopher Reeve had died was that John Kerry would have to find another sick celebrity to exploit when he criticizes Bush's position on stem cell research.

    (In Friday's debate in St. Louis, Kerry had said:

    Chris Reeve is a friend of mine. Chris Reeve exercises every single day to keep those muscles alive for the day when he believes he can walk again, and I want him to walk again.

    I think we can save lives.

    Well, I guess there's still Michael J. Fox.)

    Depends who's asking

    Over at Volokh the other day, Orin Kerr linked to an ABC News post-debate poll showing an interesting split in partisan scoring of the debate:

    MY GUY DEFINITELY WON: I like how ABC broke down its post-debate poll numbers into results from Kerry supporters and results from Bush suppporters. When asked to name the debate winner, participants from each side remained true to their team:

    Kerry won

    Bush won


    Among Kerry supporters




    Among Bush supporters




    What I want to know is, how much of this is self-deception/wishful thinking -- that is, thinking your guy won because you agree with him already -- and how much of it is a deliberate attempt to game the system -- that is, telling pollsters that your guy won in an attempt to convince undecideds that it's true, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    November 2, 2004

    You know you want it

    With the election only six weeks away, I thought it was the appropriate time for the prestigious, eagerly awaited, first quadrennial Jumping To Conclusion presidential endorsement.

    First, the background: living in New Jersey is easy. It's a solidly Democratic state, which frees me to vote Libertarian without having to worry about its effect on the election one way or the other. This year, though, several polls from different, nonpartisan polling outfits have shown the New Jersey race to be a dead heat. This makes the decision more difficult; my vote is not just a symbolic one. It theoretically could affect the outcome. (Although the latest polls show it moving towards Kerry.) So what to do?

    Do I support George Bush, who has done some things I like, but who is woefully flawed? Do I support Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian, even though he is even more of a total loon than Libertarians usually are, and even though it might help John Kerry get elected? Do I support Kerry to send a message to the Republicans that George Bush's woeful flaws are just too woeful to tolerate?

    Start with the obvious: at least I know I won't be supporting Ralph Nader.

    Now some people – thoughtful conservatives and libertarians such as Dan Drezner and Jacob Levy, not to mention Andrew Sullivan and almost everyone at, or interviewed by, Reason magazine – have abandoned George Bush and endorsed John Kerry, for the reason I suggested above: that Bush has been so bad on so many levels that he can't be rewarded with re-election. That the message needs to be sent to Bush and the Republicans that they need to shape up. And that gives me serious pause. If these people, who supported the war on terror, the war in Iraq, tax cuts, etc., reject Bush, then an automatic endorsement of him would be a serious mistake. (Indeed, about the only thoughtful conservatives/libertarians I know who are supporting Bush are Virginia Postrel and Eugene Volokh.)

    Certainly, George Bush has many faults, too many to list here.

    • An approach to fiscal policy that makes M.C. Hammer look like a responsible businessman.
    • Defining "compassionate conservatism" to mean "Refusing to say no to any interest group or corporate interest that sticks its hand out."
    • Being willing to accept any amount of pork the Republican Congress chooses to shovel.
    • The urge to get re-elected overwhelming any principle: witness the steel tariffs, foolish and clearly doomed from the start, designed only to satisfy the electoral math. Or witness the abandonment of school vouchers in passing the No Child Left Behind bill, purely so that Bush could say he had passed a bipartisan education bill. Or witness the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
    • Apparently terrible planning for Iraq. The decision to invade was right; the way it was done was right. But the postwar approach has been awful.
    • An authoritarian impulse towards governing, acting as if the presidency should neither have to explain nor justify – nor even publicize – its actions.
    • Refusing to hold subordinates accountable for anything, other than disloyalty. That George Tenet was allowed to remain on the job after 9/11 is ridiculous; that he wasn't fired the day no WMD turned up in Iraq is inexcusable. Abu Ghraib should have caused high level heads to roll – not because the mistreatment of prisoners was ordered at high levels, but because lower level people thought it would be deemed acceptable at high levels.
    • A cavalier approach to the Constitution which says that it's no big deal to amend it to suit one's political whims.
    • An approach to diplomacy that would make Attilla look tactful. Even when Bush gets policies right, he botches them. For instance, Kyoto. Bush was right to reject it. But the Kyoto treaty was Dead on Arrival before Bush even took office; the Senate passed a resolution, by a vote of 95-0, condemning it. And yet it wasn't enough for Bush to let it die a quiet death; he had to make a big show of denouncing it. Whether that was sincere or for the purpose of domestic politics is beside the point; it was pointless and gratuitous.
    I could go on, but what's the point?

    So of course, voting for Kerry would send the message that we need more accountability, that mistakes must be avoided, or corrected if made, that intentions aren't enough to justify decisions, that the Republican Congress can't be allowed to run rampant with no checks and balances. All important messages.

    The problem is that voting for Kerry would also send the message that we need bigger government, that the Clinton-era approach to the Middle East is correct, that the major problem with international affairs is not how other countries behave but how the United States behaves, that more regulation is the solution to every problem, that a new government program is always a good thing, that socialized healthcare is a proper function of government, that the educational system exists for the benefit of teacher's unions, that the rich exist at the sufferance of the government, for the purpose of serving the poor, that the problem with our economy isn't overregulation but undertaxation. That the Republican party needs to move more towards the Democratic party.

    No, for a conservative or libertarian to vote for Kerry to send a message would be, ultimately, self-defeating. On virtually every issue where Bush is wrong, Kerry is wronger. Or at best he offers a "me too," with an empty assurance that he'll do the job better. If you want to send a message, vote libertarian, not Democratic. That will at least send the right message.

    Now, there's one other possibility: vote for Kerry because you endorse gridlock. That's a very tempting position. The Clinton-era gridlock, when a Republican Congress acted as a check on a Democratic president, resulted in a lot of good. We got free trade, we got welfare reform, we got budget surpluses, and we didn't get healthcare "reform." Kerry might be a lousy president, but Congress will keep him from enacting his proposals, and so government will stop growing and taxes won't rise.

    There are three problems with that: the first is that a Democratic president, even checked by a Republican Congress, gets to appoint liberal judges. (They'll be "moderate," which is mediaspeak for "liberal, but sensible about it.") William Rehnquist's health condition should give us all pause. Federalism hangs by a thread; one more liberal on the court and we could be set back by thirty years. Affirmative action could be embraced with open arms rather than reluctantly. The second amendment would have no chance. And forget any hope that the federal courts will defend private property and the Takings clause.

    The second is that there are no guarantees, as the last few years should show us, that the Congress would remain Republican for four years. People switch parties. Midterm elections create huge swings. It seems unlikely now, but so did the Gingrich revolution in 1994.

    And the third, and most important, is that the president runs foreign policy. Congress has a say, to be sure. But the president is ultimately in charge. Which means that we probably cut and run from Iraq. No commitment to democracy there, certainly. No hard line on North Korea or Iran. Appeasement of the PLO. And we just can't risk that. Under Clinton it wasn't that big deal. Or didn't seem to be. In the post-9/11 world, we know what can happen.

    So for those reasons, I have to stick with George Bush and give my first ever Republican presidential endorsement, after years of Democratic or libertarian lever pulling. Four more years, reluctantly. And here's to hoping that Bush, freed from concerns about re-election, governs more on principle and less on politics.

    A watched polling place never closes

    For those people sitting on the sofa doing nothing but waiting for the polls to close, courtesy of MSNBC I present the schedule:


    In other words, it begins at 7 PM, EST. And theoretically ends at 1 AM, EST. Or, at least, that's the opening bell for the lawsuits to be filed.

    (I think I'd rather have Kerry win big -- or Ralph Nader -- than have another recount fight. I don't think I could take it.)

    November 3, 2004

    The Strangest Result?

    In the island community of Vinalhaven, Maine, Kerry received 519 votes, Bush received 249 votes, Nader received 7 votes, Cobb (the Green Party candidate) received 5 votes, and Badnarik received a grand total of 0 votes.

    Now the strange part: Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka came in first with 540 votes, almost half his total for the entire state. A fluke, or could Vinalhaven be the epicenter of the coming Constitution Party earthquake?

    (I'll go out on a limb and say fluke.)

    November 12, 2004

    Not the economy, stupid?

    If Kerry had won the election, I have no doubt that the dominant themes of the election post-mortems would be how terrible Iraq and the economy are, and how that drove election turnout. But since Bush won, there's very little on the converse - that is, on how everyone might have perceived that things aren't as bad as all that, and might have voted the way they do because they see Iraq and the economy getting better. No, all everyone wants to talk about is gay marriage. Because as David Brooks points out (in an article everyone else in the blogosphere has already linked to), focusing on that helps "reassure liberals that they are morally superior to the people who just defeated them." I guess they feel it's better to label Bush supporters simple bigots that to admit there might have been "positive" reasons to vote for the guy.

    So anyway, about gay marriage. Andrew Sullivan shares with us a letter from a reader who theorizes, with statistics to back him up, that the referenda did not drive turnout, and thus did not (in itself) cost Kerry the election. I agree. But I also have interesting statistics of my own... The following is a list of states which passed gay marriage bans last week. For each state in the following list, the first number is the percentage who voted to ban gay marriage, and the second number is the percentage who voted for Bush:

    • Arkansas: Yes 75%, Bush 54%
    • Georgia: Yes 76%, Bush 58%
    • Kentucky: Yes 75%, Bush 60%
    • Michigan: Yes 59%, Bush 48%
    • Missisippi: Yes 86%, Bush 60%
    • Montana: Yes 67%, Bush 59%
    • North Dakota: Yes 73%, Bush 63%
    • Ohio: Yes 62%, Bush 51%
    • Oklahoma: Yes 76%, Bush 66%
    • Oregon: Yes 57%, Bush 48%
    • Utah: Yes 66%, Bush 71%

    (Sources: here and here.)

    Note that in every state except Utah, Bush was far less popular than the ban. In other words, a not-insignificant number of Kerry supporters were also ban supporters. Now I'm not going to call any of these Kerry supporters homophobes, though I wonder - will others?

    November 24, 2004

    Entitlement... plus

    If you're a gun rights supporter, take heart: not only is the New York Times arguing that you should have the right to own guns, but it thinks that the government should force people to give you guns.

    Okay, not quite, but that's the "logic" of Tuesday's silly editorial, Rolling Back Women's Rights. ("Women's rights," of course, is code for "abortion.") You see, the evil Republican Congress has mounted "a disgraceful sneak attack on women's health and freedom."

    From such heated rhetoric, you might think that these evil GOPers had required all women to wear burkas and stay indoors without a male relative to chaperone them. But, no, we're not quite at Talibanesqe levels:

    Tucked into the $388 billion budget measure just approved by the House and Senate is a sweeping provision that has nothing to do with the task Congress had at hand - providing money for the government. In essence, it tells health care companies, hospitals and insurance companies they are free to ignore Roe v. Wade and state and local laws and regulations currently on the books to make certain that women's access to reproductive health services includes access to abortion.
    Oh, it "[t]ells health care companies.. they are free to ignore Roe v. Wade"? Now I see.

    So it banned abortion? Well, not quite.

    Well, at least it must have forbidden health care companies that receive federal funds from performing abortions, right? No, not that either.

    What could it be? I don't want to keep you in suspense any longer, so I'll tell you:

    It denies federal financing to government agencies that "discriminate" against health care providers who choose for any reason to disregard state mandates to offer abortion-related services.
    That's a little convoluted, so I'll translate: if a state or local government agency chooses to force health care providers to perform abortions or offer "abortion related services" against their will, then that agency -- not the health care provider -- will lose federal funding.

    Yep. That's it. A little underwhelming, isn't it? It doesn't mandate that anybody do anything "abortion-related." It doesn't forbid any "abortion-related service" from taking place. It doesn't penalize anybody that provides "abortion-related services." None of that. And yet the Times thinks that this allows "ignores Roe v. Wade"? So the Times must think that Roe mandates that health care providers perform abortions? Huh?

    In essence, if government cannot forbid something -- the actual holding of Roe -- the Times thinks that private individuals are required to give it to you, and it is a violation of your rights if the government does not force them to do so. So, to sum up: the government has to force gun sellers to give you guns.

    (Also, a printing press. I'll take the one from the Times' building, since they're misusing it, anyway.)

    March 9, 2005

    A matter of principle

    Picking up on Jonathan Chait's argument from last week that conservatives are ideologues and liberals are pragmatists, Matthew Yglesias weighs in in the American Prospect:

    On economic matters, in particular, conservative policies are drawn together by a broad principle: Small government is good, regulation should be light, and taxes should be low. Liberals don't really accept the reverse of those propositions. While the right thinks taxes should be as low as possible, liberals don't think they should be as high as possible. We think that should be high enough. But high enough for what? High enough to pay for spending on programs that work well. But work well at doing what?

    There's the rub. Liberalism's pragmatic, empirical orientation -- it's focus on producing good outcomes rather than conformity with abstract principles -- is a source of strength.

    Do liberals not have "broad principles" on economic matters? Of course they do. Those principles may not be "the reverse of those propositions," but they nonetheless exist. The idea that just because liberals "don't think [taxes] should be as high as possible" they don't have ideological beliefs on taxes is absurd on its face. Liberals think that government has an important role to play in managing the economy; that taxes should be strongly "progressive"; that government can and should create opportunities for the "less fortunate";" that there should be a strong, broad safety net provided by the government; that inequality is bad; that corporations generally can't be trusted to do what's right and that the market is incapable of solving that problem. Are these not all "broad principles"?

    Continue reading "A matter of principle" »

    March 13, 2005

    I swear I didn't cheat...

    ...but I got the exact same score -- a 58 -- on this libertarian purity test as Dan Drezner did. And like Dan, I'm comfortable with that result, and for similar reasons (which is probably why we scored the same).

    I'm not an anarchist, so I don't think that courts and police ought to be privatized. I've read libertarian journals explaining how it would work; let's just say I'm not convinced. And I don't think libertarianism has much useful to say about international relations, given that one is dealing with other, non-libertarian regimes.

    So, I guess I'm a "medium-core libertarian." At least by the standards of this test creator.

    April 28, 2005

    Let filibusters be filibusters

    Via Discriminations, I see a column from Linda Chavez arguing that Senate Republicans have an alternative to the "nuclear option" of eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees:

    But the most significant change in filibuster rules came later, when, by gentlemen's agreement, the Senate leadership decided that the mere threat of a filibuster would be enough to stop a vote. Instead of forcing obstructionist senators to take to the floor for hours on end, the Senate began operating under a two-track system that allows legislation and other business to move through the Senate whenever a filibuster is threatened. Instead of pulling in the cots and forcing senators to stay up all night reading recipes into the Congressional record, 41 senators simply indicate their unwillingness to allow a vote, and the matter is put aside -- which is the process Democrats have used to derail Bush's judicial nominees.
    If the Republicans want to force a vote on the president's nominees, they don't have to change the filibuster rules permanently, or even adopt the so-called "nuclear option" of allowing Vice President Cheney, acting in his Constitutional role as presiding officer of the Senate, to rule that executive matters -- specifically judicial nominations -- are not subject to a cloture vote. Why not just insist that senators who want to filibuster actually do so, bringing work in the Senate to a halt?
    I think this is brilliant. Perhaps because I already said it quite a while ago.

    Note that this would also fit the true purpose of a filibuster: to preserve the opportunity for debate. (That it prevents a bill or nominee from being voted upon is merely an incidental effect.) If Democrats want to have a debate on a nominee, let them. Let them talk as long as they want. And when they're done talking, then the Senate can vote. If the Democrats have made their case, great. All they need to do, after all, is peel away six Republican senators from the majority. If they can't manage to do that after talking all day and all night, then perhaps it's because their case has no merit.

    Chavez concludes:

    The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Republicans would make a mistake getting rid of the filibuster. Republicans won't be in the majority forever, and they may rue the day when they deprived themselves of the ability to block a candidate to some future Supreme Court. Worse, they may end up making themselves look like the heavies instead of forcing the Democrats to take center stage as the real fanatics. Let the filibuster stay -- and force the Democrats to actually use it.
    All that is true... and Republicans are either fanatic, power-drunk, or just plain stupid not to realize it. But it misses a much simpler point, one that leftists like Nathan Newman understand all too well:
    But the reality is that conservatives have thrived in a political environment where they can block any positive use of government. By frustrating progressive policy, it feeds the argument that ineffective government does not deserve the taxes working families paid. That was the explicit argument of conservatives who blocked health care reform in 1994; they knew that national health care would be so popular that it would lock in support for positive government action for decades more.
    The reverse doesn't work for liberals. Blocking conservative action through filibusters has short-term gains, but it feeds the long-term cynicism of voters that government cannot accomplish anything. Which just feeds the meta-argument of conservatives of the dysfunctionality of government and the superiority of leaving decisions to the marketplace.
    Liberals like government. The business of government is passing laws. The filibuster prevents that from happening. The filibuster is anti-government. The filibuster -- regardless of the short-term politics of a particular issue today -- is the small government supporter's friend. Why would you want to sacrifice that over seven measly judicial nominees?

    May 12, 2005

    Enduring Puzzles

    In today's Opinion Journal, James Taranto comments unfavorably (of course) on Timothy Noah's ruminations on the possibility that conservatives might be insane. But Taranto misses a whole lot more that can be criticised. Noah begins his article thusly:

    The working class's refusal to synchronize its politics with its economic interests is one of the enduring puzzles of the present age.

    Note the breezy assumption that voting Democratic is unarguably in working classmen's economic interests. Their failure to vote this way is only an "enduring puzzle" to those who would present such an assumption as fact.

    Noah continues:

    Between 1989 and 1997, middle-income families (defined in this instance as the middle 20 percent) saw their share of the nation's wealth fall from 4.8 percent to 4.4 percent.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States was 245,705,000 on January 1, 1989 and 266,574,000 on January 1, 1997. 20% of those numbers are 49,141,000 and 53,314,800, respectively.

    And according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Gross Domestic Product (which I feel is a good proxy for "the nation's wealth") in constant 2000 dollars was $6.9814 trillion in 1989 and $8.7035 trillion in 1997.

    So, in 1989, the 49,141,000 citizens in the middle of the income pile had, according to Noah, 4.8% of the wealth. That would be $335.1 billion. Or $6819 each.

    And (you can see where this is going, can't you?) in 1997, the 53,314,800 citizens in the middle had 4.4% of the wealth. That would be $383.0 billion. Or $7184 each.

    In other words, people in the middle 20% did, in real terms, get richer. Not a whole lot richer, and granted, my calculations are a bit back-of-the-envelope, but it certainly contradicts the point that Noah wants to get across when he compares 4.8% and 4.4%.

    And I won't even delve into the question of how many people in the middle 20% in 1989 were still in the middle 20% in 1997. Time to go on to Noah's next sentence:

    Yet Al Gore lost the white working class by a margin of 17 percentage points, and John Kerry lost it by a margin of 23 percentage points.

    I don't agree with Taranto's position that "working class" is an insult (to me, it's as neutral as "blue collar"), but still, Noah seems to be pulling a fast one on us by using the term here. After presenting us with a statistic about middle-income Americans, Noah goes on in the very next sentence to tell us about the voting habits of the "white working class" as if the two sets of people are interchangeable. Are they? The link in the above sentence defines "white working class" as "whites with less than a four year college degree". No mention of how many in the white working class are in the middle 20% of income. For that matter, neither is there any mention of how many middle-income folks are non-white.

    In addition to the switch from middle-income to white working class, note the switch in timelines. Noah uses data (incorrectly, as I pointed out) from 1989 and 1997. Then extrapolates to elections in 2000 and 2004. What happened from 1998 through 2004? Noah doesn't say. He just finds it self-evidently inexplicable that white working-class folk would vote against Al Gore (the same Al Gore, it should be said, who was vice-president for half of the time Noah claims the middle-income group was losing ground economically).

    Noah's paragraph concludes:

    As the GOP drifts further to the right, and becomes more starkly the party of the wealthy, it is gaining support among the working class.

    Some possible explanations: The working class is indeed already on the right, towards where the GOP is drifting to. Or the working class doesn't have any animosity towards the wealthy and would like to join their ranks someday. Or the GOP isn't as starkly a party of the wealthy as a party who managed to field a candidate even more wealthy than Bush is. Or maybe even the working class knows condescension when it hears it, and doesn't much like it. That, in the end, is Taranto's analysis:

    Every time the Democrats lose an election, they make a big show of asking questions like these. Then, the next time they lose an election, they once again wonder why the "working class" has forsaken them. Maybe it's as simple as: because they were listening.

    July 19, 2005

    Faster news day

    I guess George Bush reads this blog. A day after I complain that I want him to announce his Supreme Court nominee, he goes ahead and announces... well, he announces that he's going to announce the name tonight.

    Early speculation that it would be one of the Hispanic possibilities has given way to rumormongering about Edith Clement, but just in case he's still undecided, I want to clarify that I am available.

    October 27, 2005

    The buck stops here.

    So, it's official: Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination to the Supreme Court. I take full responsibility for this event, or at least the timing thereof. Last night, I prepared, in a hoped-for return from my blogging hiatus, a long post on the Miers nomination. I was going to clean it up and post it this morning. In order to ensure that said post would be pointless, Miers withdrew.

    A few quick observations:

    • Charles Krauthammer called it: the face-saving gesture was executive privilege. Although I question how much face it could possibly save, at this point.

    • Although I am happy that Miers has withdrawn, I do feel sorry for her, to an extent. She's hardly an innocent bystander in this, to be sure -- but it's got to be difficult to say no when your close friend, the president, approaches you with such an offer. In two years, I doubt anyone outside law/news junkies will remember her, but this has to damage her career. She went from being a politically connected, successful, accomplished corporate litigator, to an unqualified hack who can't write, in the span of a month.

      If she were already a federal judge, she could return to that position, secure in life tenure. If she were an academic, she could turn back to academia. If she had been forced to withdraw by a nanny problem, she could have returned to her career and laughed it off. If she had been Borked, she could turn to the conservative book/lecture circuit for support. But what does someone in her position do now?

    • I wonder how much of a role, if any, blogs played in all this. I also wonder if there was any one factor, such as yesterday's revelation of Miers speech suggesting she may not want to ban abortion at all, or if it was just the constant drumbeat of opposition which Bush and his minions couldn't quell.

    • I feel sorry for Sandra Day O'Connor, whose conditional resignation is now likely to drag on for more months (thanks to Chief Justice Rehnquist's inconsiderate timing of his death).

    • I see that Democrats and the activist left are using this as a rhetorical weapon against the conservative movement. I doubt that will have any traction, but they couldn't resist. This is, of course, merely setting themselves up to oppose Miers' replacement. They've got the script all worked out: "Bush nominated a moderate to replace O'Connor, but those ultra-right wing ideologues couldn't tolerate that, so we know that this new nominee fill-in-the-blank must be so radical, so we oppose him. Or her. Whoever."
    In any case, I have reluctantly agreed to throw my hat back into the ring. If President Bush calls, I will do my duty, despite my annoyance at being snubbed last time around. And unlike Miers, I have a paper trail. Or at least a virtual one.

    May 12, 2006

    Not Fair

    Yeah, it's been a while. Ran out of things to say. And lazy. Maybe I'll start back into this slowly..

    So according to the Wall Street Journal:

    Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with 71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, up from 63% in April.

    The article then goes on to characterize "excellent or pretty good" as "positive", and "fair or poor" as "negative". Well, I'll grant them "poor", but since when is "fair" a negative assessment? If I say I think the President is doing a "fair" job (which I do), I don't mean that negatively. I mean that in a neutral-to-positive "not bad, but could be better" way.

    So why not just break down the results as "excellent", "pretty good", "fair", and "poor"? Wouldn't that be fairer reporting?

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