Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bizarro World

“Earlier in the day, before a crowd of New Hampshire college students, Romney said that the policies of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards were similar to those of a Communist dictatorship. Their ideas, he said pointedly, 'didn’t work for the Soviet Union.'”
--Mitt Romney, quoted in the New Yorker, Oct 29, 07

“Shirley MacLaine writes in her new book that you sighted a UFO over her home in Washington state, that you found the encounter extremely moving, that it was a triangular craft, silent and hovering, that you 'felt a connection to your heart and heard directions in your mind.'”
--Tim Russert to Dennis Kucinich, Oct 31, 07
One candidate is consistent, straightforward, humorous, and serious about policy issues; one will say whatever leaps to his mind to win a convert, is evasive, slick, and wholly unserious about policy issues ("we ought to double Guantanamo"). One is a vegan, one lies about having been a hunter. One candidate is regarded as a lunatic for proposing a department devoted to actively spreading peace in dangerous regions of the world; the other is taken seriously despite believing that an illiterate in upstate New York found gold plates left by an angel that detail the history of a lost tribe of Israel's visit to North America and resulting war with Native Americans.

Dennis Kucinich is a national laughingstock, and Mitt Romney is the front-runner in the first two primaries.

There are times when I think we are at the moment when the scales fall from our eyes as a nation and we are re-introduced to reality. Then there are times when I think the madness is so profound that we will henceforth dwell in our own private bizarro world. Today I am not hopeful.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Big Tent

Barack Obama's in trouble because of his association with Donnie McClurkin, a black Southern preacher who vilifies gays. This has of course angered gays and lebians, who now want Obama to disassociate himself from McClurkin who is loved by vast numbers of South Carolinian black voters, who are key to Obama's electoral plan to beat Hillary.

Obama has repudiated McClurkin's bigotry, reaffirmed his absolute support of gays and lesbians, but has not spurned McClurkin. And now he runs the risk of alienating not only gays and lesbians, but liberals who have always suspected Obama wasn't liberal enough. This may all be academic, because until he does something dramatic, Obama remains the 30-point underdog with no chance of winning.

But there is something worth noting here, because this dynamic is prevalent throughout Democratic politics. We liberals hold two simultaneous, conflicting values that we haven't ever had the courage to examine closely. On the one hand, we think we are the open-minded altruists who welcome everyone into our big tent; on the other, we are a coalition who value fidelity to our issue(s) above all else. So we want everyone in our big tent until they don't agree to back our issue, and then we're not so high on the big tent, anymore.

The single-issue folks have been ascendant since the 70s, and when candidates run for office, they must make a big show of bowing to each of these calcified interests lest they find themselves the target of a bitter crusade. The single-issue focus seems like a good way to accomplish those ends, but it has been a big loser for environmentalists, social justice activists, abortion rights activists, etc. In ignoring (or worse, targeting) other potential coalition partners, Sierra Club, NARAL, unions, and so on have made themselves a yappy minority, of no more consequence to the German Shepherds of the GOP than a dachshund.

So now the Obama coalition splinters. A helluva way to get a guy elected.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Mutable, Theoretical "Center"

Kevin Drum has a post discussing a time-honored tradition: considering ideological purity and where it may be possible to compromise, and where exactly the sweet spot will be to win elections. His formula:
Every two years the losing party has this exact same conversation: (a) move to the center to appeal more to swing voters, or (b) move left (right) in order to stay true to the party's liberal (conservative) heritage? My sense is that (b) is almost always the choice after the first loss or two, after which (a) finally wins out.
This may be plausible in a restricted sense, with a couple of stipulations: 1) that "the center" is only a theoretical place defined by the politics of the day and substantially mutable from election to election; and 2) that "right" and "left" are themselves mutable and theoretical. In a certain sense, parties must fight a battle every two years to characterize their own politics as being within that sweet spot by defining that sweet spot.

Think of the first W campaign. On foreign policy, he argued an aggressively isolationist view--described at the time as "conservative." (Gore's diplomatic, engaged approach was "liberal.") On revenues, he argued that small government was the goal, big spending and debt the enemy, and tax cuts the vehicle. Again, the conservative view. From this evolved a president who aggressively engaged in "nation building," expanded the government like no one since FDR, and plunged the country into debt it will take decades to dig out of. There's no throughline here--yet every election, the Republicans characterize whatever policies they happen to be supporting as "the center."

Something else in Kevin's post bothers me even more. While it's the politicians' role to craft their message to the frame of "centrist," it doesn't mean the actual political spectrum shifts that much election-to-election. (Over generations, some things do change, but that's a different post.) So, when he characterizes the parties' deviation from center like this, I have to call BS:
[D]uring the 90s, moving aggressively to the center after years in the wilderness, and the GOP moved so far to the right under Gingrich and Bush, that Democrats have the luxury of being able to move modestly to the left and yet still be moving relatively closer to the center than the Republican Party. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's like the GOP is moving right from 8 to 9 while the Democratic party is moving left from 4 to 3.5. The lunacy of the conservative base is providing a huge amount of cover for liberals to make some modest progress this year.
If five is the perfect center, what do 1 and 10 look like? By historical standards, a one has the economic aspects of socialism that flourished in reaction to the Gilded age through the depression--of course, far to the left of the Democratic Party. It carries with it all the hallmarks consistent with socialism--state control of many industries, pervasive workers unions, and so on. If you compare Western democracies, with their labor protections, large social networks, strong regulation of industry, you see something along the lines of a 2.5 on that scale. The current Democratic Party, which is so pro-business that it supports NAFTA et. al., resists market regulations, offers limited support for workers, has abandoned progressive taxation, and has let the social safety net fray and tear, looks like the GOP of 1960.

What's a ten look like? The farthest extremes of market freedom have occured twice in America--during the Gilded Age and now, when government has almost been removed from its role as regulator. Our foreign policy is dictated by market economics and the imperative to open new markets. I can imagine a futher step right, but in terms of historical measures, we're about as far right as we've ever been.

So if the "center" is a five, then neither party represents it. Democrats range from probably 5-8, and Republicans from 8-10. The center of that spread is about a seven, not the historic center. What we regard as the political sweet spot for getting elected now would, by historical standards, look moderately-to-extremely conservative. If a true historic liberal ran now--one who pushed for a high tax bracket of 75%, universal healthcare, vast government investment in education, a department of peace, total nuclear disarmament, labor protections equal to France's--s/he would be mocked as a fanatic. But once, those positions would have been the mainstream.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Race and Intelligence

It seemed unnecessary to pile on to James Watson's racist comments about blacks and intelligence. But here's an interesting post that is worth a mention:

In my work with Fryer, we analyzed a newly available nationally representative survey of children ages two and under, done by the Department of Education. Included in this study are tests of mental ability around a child’s first birthday. While you might think it would be impossible to capture anything meaningful at such a young age, it turns out that these measures of one-year-olds’ intelligence are somewhat highly correlated with IQ scores at later ages, as well as with parental IQ scores.

The striking result we find is that there are no racial differences in mental functioning at age one, although a racial gap begins to emerge over the next few years of life.

So there you go.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A New Generation's Nixon

There's no way for this to sound worse than I mean it, but Hillary is our Nixon. I mean in a historical sense, leaving aside Whitewater, and I'm not saying she's Nixonian (although she appears to be controlling and possibly paranoid--but that's a different post). I'm pointing to the type of president we can expect to get in a transition election like 2008 will be. I mention this because it may offer some solace to those who have their heart set on a transcendently cool president like the three-letter guys (FDR and JFK). Nixon wasn't the GOP's transcendently cool president either--he was a crossover president that create the conditions for Ronald Reagan.

Let's have a look at the parallels. Nixon's election followed decades of Democratic rule and a liberal revolution. He was elected in the midst of an unpopular war on the promise that he would end it. He was a compromise candidate for the GOP--a liberal who was anathema to the Goldwater wing but who could attract Democrats who had grown alarmed by the ideological experimentation of liberals. In a time when the country was deeply divided, he offered a kind of acceptability to both camps--but he was loved by neither. The situation with incumbency was a little different (LBJ pulled out after New Hampshire, in March 1968--shockingly late by today's standards), but the general situation was quite similar--the incumbent party was in terrible disarray and featured several strong candidates who might have won the nomination. Nixon, on the other hand, was the only serious candidate in the Republican primary, and he won an easy nomination.

Compare that to a 2008 election of Hillary Clinton. A period of long GOP rule and a conservative revolution--check. An unpopular war and the promise to end it--check. A compromise candidate who attracts independents and Republicans--more the party than the candidate, but check. A candidate whom both parties can accept but which neither will love--definitely check. And even the situation is eerily similar--the Republicans have no serious front-runner, and the Dems seem to have had one since about 2005. There was even a Romney in both elections.

The upshot is that democratic revolutions come with the sway of opinion, and absent some major catastrophe like the Depression, this change will happen in increments. From the liberal point of view, the antidote to Bush may be Kucinich, but a candidate like Kucinich is the end-point of the revolution. You have to have your Nixon and Hillary to kick things off.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Bush Civics Lesson: The Veto

I pay less attention to Bush than I used to, and so sometimes miss things like this:
That's why the President has a veto. Sometimes the legislative branch wants to go on without the President, pass pieces of legislation, and the President then can use the veto to make sure he's a part of the process. And that's -- as you know, I fully intend to do. I want to make sure -- and that's why, when I tell you I'm going to sprint to the finish, and finish this job strong, that's one way to ensure that I am relevant; that's one way to sure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto.
Scholars take note, this theory may be new to you.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Even a Blind Squirrel

Bush got one right.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 — Over furious objections from China and in the presence of President Bush, Congress on Wednesday bestowed its highest civilian honor on the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists whom Beijing considers a troublesome voice of separatism.

But the Dalai Lama said he felt “a sense of regret” over the sharp tensions with China unleashed by his private meeting on Tuesday with Mr. Bush and by the Congressional Gold Medal conferred on him in the ornate Capitol Rotunda.
This is the perfect time to hammer China on these issues. The arrival of the Olymipics in Beijing next year means the Chinese have a huge amount on the line. In order to make a good impression, they've spent vast treasure getting ready and may even shut the city down days before the events so the pollution has a chance to clear. China have always been so panicked about His Holiness because it's the foreign relations equivalent of the S-CHIP battle: tryants versus a buddha. By virtue of their dirt-cheap labor and vast markets, they've always held the cards when it comes to the Dalai Lama. But no more. They need us more than we need them.

With any luck, foreign governments will start to make a very big stink about Tibet (not to mention the Uyghurs) , because China can't retailiate, and in their effort to look good, they may actually be forced to make some concessions.

Here are a few passages from the Dalai Lama's speech:
I believe that today's economic success of both India and China, the two most populated nations with long history of rich culture, is most deserving. With their new-found status, both of these two countries are poised to play important leading role on the world stage. In order to fulfill this role, I believe it is vital for China to have transparency, rule of law and freedom of information. Much of the world is waiting to see how China's concepts of "harmonious society" and "peaceful rise" would unfold. Today's China, being a state of many nationalities, a key factor here would be how it ensures the harmony and unity of its various peoples. For this, the equality and the rights of these nationalities to maintain their distinct identities are crucial.

With respect to my own homeland Tibet, today many people, both from inside and outside, feel deeply concerned about the consequences of the rapid changes taking place. Every year, the Chinese population inside Tibet is increasing at an alarming rate. And, if we are to judge by the example of the population of Lhasa, there is a real danger that the Tibetans will be reduced to an insignificant minority in their own homeland. This rapid increase in population is also posing serious threat to Tibet's fragile environment. Being the source of many of Asia's great rivers, any substantial disturbance in Tibet's ecology will impact the lives of hundreds of millions. Furthermore, being situated between India and China, the peaceful resolution of the Tibet problem also has important implications for lasting peace and friendly relation between these two great neighbors.

On the future of Tibet, let me take this opportunity to restate categorically that I am not seeking independence. I am seeking a meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people within the People's Republic of China. If the real concern of the Chinese leadership is the unity and stability of PRC, I have fully addressed their concerns. I have chosen to adopt this position because I believe, given the obvious benefits especially in economic development, this would be in the best interest of the Tibetan people. Furthermore, I have no intention of using any agreement on autonomy as a stepping stone for Tibet's independence.


Since you have recognized my efforts to promote peace, understanding and nonviolence, I would like to respectfully share a few related thoughts. I believe this is precisely the time that the United States must increase its support to those efforts that help bring greater peace, understanding and harmony between peoples and cultures. As a champion of democracy and freedom, you must continue to ensure the success of those endeavors aimed at safeguarding basic human rights in the world. Another area where we need US leadership is environment. As we all know, today our earth is definitely warming up and many scientists tell us that our own action is to a large part responsible. So each one of us must, in whatever way we can, use our talents and resources to make a difference so that we can pass on to our future generations a planet that is at least safe to live on.

Read the whole speech here.

Metaphor for a Failed Regime

Vincente Fox, on Real Time last week:
"You know in that visit, when I took him to see this beautiful stallion that I ride--and have ridden all my life, since I was two years old--I noticed that he was a little bit trembling, a little bit afraid of touching the horse. And then when I invited him to ride it he said, "No no, no--security will not allow me to ride that horse. And then I paid a visit back here in Texas and he invited me to go around his farm there. By the way, a very modest home that he's got there. And he was driving this pick-up, this beautiful pick-up. And so, I could notice that he knows how to drive a pick-up, but he doesn't know how to ride a horse."
Story of this administration: all Levis and no balls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wanting it Both Ways

Three thoughts on Hillary, one substantially after the fact, and two that have a better shelf lives, like Velveeta. They are all connected by a theme: having it both ways. (Though on second thought, it's possible that processed food is a better analogue.)

1. The laugh (cackle, guffaw) provoked, as all things associated with Hillary, intense speculation. Was it fake, was it weird, or (on the right) was it evil? Eventually the question had to be asked: was all this analysis sexist? Hillary's two X chromosomes are going to play a big role in this election no matter what we do, but this is one dog that just won't hunt: speculation about a front-runner for the presidency is not fueled by gender. No one asked if it was gender that made Al Gore get an image consultant or John Edwards get a $400 haircut. You run for president, a slack-jawed press corps is going to comb through your appearance. That's the deal, and Hillary is well aware of it.

2. A bigger issue is one that Hillary must exploit to win the White House--she must simultaneously take credit for her "experience" as first lady while distancing herself from Bill's negatives. Without the experience of the White House, she's an undistinguished second-term junior Senator, with less government experience than Barack Obama. But if we credit her with being an actual participant in the Clinton White House, she has to own up to things like NAFTA and Marc Rich. Why she gets a pass on this point mystifies me; it is regularly regarded as her sole, unimpeachable strength. Didn't we learn anything from Karl Rove: go after it!

3. Hillary is only in the picture because Americans are so politically juvenile they can't be roused to learn about other politicians. She's on the cover of magazines, so she gets the vote. There is absolutely no question but that the only reason Hillary is competitive is because she shares a bed marriage with Bill Clinton. Otherwise she's an ... undistinguished second-term junior Senator, with less government experience than Barack Obama. This can never be exploited, but the reality is grim indeed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Inconvenient Nobel

The righties are none too pleased about Al's win. A sampling of the hysteria from around the blogosphere for those of you who like a nice breakfast of schadenfreude.
From irony-averse Right Wing Nut House
I can never decide whether Gore is being used by the Luddites, the one worlders, the NGO’s, the anti-globalists, and the anti-industrialists as a front man for the implementation of their political agendas or whether he actually agrees with many of their ideas. The fact is, it’s not about the science. It’s never been about the science.... Global warming is mostly about politics which is why Gore has probably done so well in promoting it. It has left the realm of science and entered the world of religion – a belief system with dogma, sacraments, and penalties for apostasy. [He goes on in this vein for a few more paragraphs.]

Pirate's Cove dips into the well of conspiracy theory
he Surrender Monkey is extremely pleased with today’s news. While it does not involve Liberal surrender to a violent extremist group, it involves the Goracle, Global Warming hysteria, AND the United Nations, who/which the Nobel Prize Committee has surrendered to [Al Gore]... I wonder how much Gore actually makes as one of the founders of the Alliance for Climate Protection, considering it is a organization that he himself started, and serves as chairman of the board. Perhaps someone out there in Blogo Land knows how to get ahold of their money filings.

Power Line, funny as ever
How about some recognition for the scientists of Laputa discovered by Gulliver in the course of his travels? Is it too late to recognize them for their fine efforts to extract sunlight from cucumbers? (Thanks to reader Anthony Ragan for his contribution.)
I will conclude with an example that inadvertently stands as a symbol for all the righty reactionaries, from the (never) reality-based:
Michelle Malkin
While envirozealots celebrate the Goracle’s coronation, Jim Hoft notes that University of Illinois has just reported that ice cap growth in the Antarctic is at its highest level in recorded history.
There is a meme in the rightosphere that Al Gore's science is tragically flawed and that the entire global warming phenomenon is built upon a hoax--all of these blogs (and on to infinity) repeat the meme and carelessly record non-science. It is no surprise that these are the same folks who argue against science on a raft of GOP initiatives; yet where global warming is concerned, they become experts.

Well, if you follow Michelle Malkin's cherry-picked fact (suggestive, in its isolation, of her flat-earth view) you find a journal recording the catastrophic loss of arctic ice on the other pole. See if the "fact" Malkin selected supports her theory after all (emphasis mine):

Just when you thought this season's cryosphere couldn't be more strange .... The Southern Hemisphere sea ice area narrowly surpassed the previous historic maximum of 16.03 million sq. km to 16.17 million sq. km. The observed sea ice record in the Southern Hemisphere (1979-present) is not as long as the Northern Hemisphere. Prior to the satellite era, direct observations of the SH sea ice edge were sporadic.

The NH sea ice area reached an historic minimum on September 16, 2007 (2.92 million sq. km), representing a 27% drop in sea ice coverage compared to the previous (2005) record NH ice minimum.


Al won the Nobel, righties are apoplectic in defeat, and I am enjoying the view.


Update: Okay, this one's a little too amusing to leave out. The National Review is apparently not taking it very well. Via Kevin Drum:

Who Else Should Al Gore Share the Prize With? [Iain Murray]

How about that well known peace campaigner Osama Bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore's stance — and that of the Nobel committee — in his September rant from the cave.

Al Wins the Nobel

Al Gore is the new Nobel peace laureate, an accolade he richly deserves. Global warming, which I used to write about extensively on this blog (back in the period when I was writing extensively), is the greatest threat to global security. As weather patterns change, water grows scares (or violent), famines and disease spread, neighbors will be thrown against one another. The right's latest package of snake oil on the subject now includes an admission that it is happening, but that it's probably not caused by humans (it's natural!) and anyway we can't do anything about it. But this is a tacit admission that the consequences are going to be staggering.

Al Gore was the guy who made it a serious issue, freed the US from blocking change, and got us on the (slow, shaky) path to addressing the issue. He's a mensch for laboring in the trenches, out of power and out of sight, to make global warming a (pardon the pun) front-burner issue. If ethics is what you do when no one is looking, then true public service is what you do when no one is voting for you. Congrats, Al!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing

Is anybody out there? No doubt the first post in a week on the subject of an 87-year-old novelist will delight whomever straggles by.

Doris Lessing is a Nobel laureate today, and a rather unlikely one. I am shocked to see the committee honor a woman of this age (you have to go back to 1990 to find someone born before she was) whose recent work is almost exclusively genre fiction. Her list of awards to this point is rather skimpy, and I think history will not regard her contribution as particularly rare.

But hey, I'm just a wanker with a mostly-inactive blog--what do I know.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Brief Rorschach on Torture

Today the New York Times reported that the Justice Department drafted a secret opinion endorsing "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said....

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Your reaction was:
  1. "Oh my God--I can't believe the White House would endorse such a thing."
  2. "Good God, who leaked this? Now it's going to be a lot harder after we invade Iran."
  3. "Thank God--I don't care if they actually got any info, I'm just happy we're torturing evildoers."
  4. "Wasn't this the policy to begin with?"
  5. "Although I gave the President the benefit of the doubt, I worried this might be happening."
  6. "Didn't Josh Marshall report this two years ago?"
  7. "Britney better get her shit together or Sean Preston and Jayden will be stuck with their dead-end father K-Fed."
Check the response to determine the respondent's political affiliation. Respondent is
  1. A swing voter.
  2. A neocon.
  3. Dick Cheney.
  4. A mainline Republican.
  5. A Congressional Democrat.
  6. A MoveOn lefty.
  7. The othe 80% of the US electorate.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I have avoided writing about Burma because ... well, because I really don't have anything substantive to add to the discussion. How do you comment on a train wreck?

I have followed it closely. Yesterday I received an email describing eyewitness accounts of murder and suppression which led me to see if I could find any reports substantiating it. The problem is that the military has gotten the country under its thumb again--in the chaos of open protests, it's easier to see and record wrongdoing. When the streets are quiet, not so much. Still, incredibly grim dispatches are trickling out. The Irrawaddy reports on monastery raids, the Australian Herald Sun on murders at the monasteries, and the Times details reports of gulags. In short: it's very bad.

Tomorrow, a European site has a blog for Burma day, and I'll post something then in solidarity with the repressed citizens there, but I thought I'd mention something that touches me personally. I am a practicing Buddhist, and my community here in Oregon is connected to monasteries in India--over the past few years I've visited one in West Bengal three times. Tibetans practice a different flavor of Buddhism, but the monks look a lot alike--they shave their heads and wear red robes. I suspect that for many in my community, watching the scenes of monks pouring into the streets provoked a strange feeling of familial recognition.

There are a number of ways a person might respond to a human disaster like this, and I feel unqualified to talk about those that happen in Iraq or Darfur or Guantanamo Bay. But as a Buddhist, I may have some religiously-relevant insight to share.

According to Buddhist philosophy, self-centeredness is the foundation for suffering. This isn't a moral idea--it's not a condemnation of selfishness. Rather, the experience of suffering comes from this self-centeredness--when we're only trying to protect our turf and advance our agenda, it leads inevitably to unsatisfactory experience. One antidote is to begin to recognize our interconnectivity with other beings.

All phenomena exist by virtue of multiple causes and specific conditions--this isn't a woo-woo kind of concept so much as basic physics. Everything we do becomes a cause and further condition that affects the people around us. In the face of very intense situations, we almost inevitably slide into a place where our minds and actions become negative causes--we get angry or possibly even violent. When one is feeling calm and knows that his behavior will affect others he cares for, it's hard to imagine committing an act of violence. Rather, violence arises from a deep level of suffering and confusion--we are only capable these things when lose our composure and dehumanize each other. The loss of the recognition of our interconnectivity abets our ability to commit grave acts.

There are a lot of video clips online, but one that affected me was one where a soldier was beating a monk with a bamboo cane. He was a young soldier in his early twenties, no doubt an easily influenced young person who was deeply conflicted in that moment. Watching it, I remembered that it was not the monk who was principally in need of clear thinking in that moment, it was the soldier, who had become so overcome by the situation that he was capable of beating a monk.

And therein lies the positive side to all of this:t we can affect people and events in a positive way, too, even from a distant place. The power of compassion is a profound thing and the ultimate antidote to confusion. For Buddhists, the best response to the situation in Burma is to try to keep a clear mind and extend compassion to all of those who are suffering--especially those who are inflicting violence. Even in America, we can do a lot of good by not dehumanizing the repressors, which creates a general feeling of mistrust and hatred. The circumstances that brought the junta to the place where they could commit these atrocities must have been profound, and they, too, are worthy of our compassion. If we could hold such a view, our response would be a positive cause and create conditions that might yield long-lasting good.

I have some confidence that the monks would agree that unbounded compassion must be the first step in helping change things in Burma.

[Update: Seeing this post through the eyes of Andrew Sullivan's readers (thanks for the link, AS!), it occurs to me to add one thing. Buddhism does not encourage blissful inaction. It encourages mindfulness in all action, whether it's meditation or nonviolent demonstration on the streets of Rangoon. It encourages action from a place of clarity and compassion rather than emotional reaction. Mindfulness is the first thing, action the second. My post was really about the precursor to action, not a suggestion of what the action should be. Maybe I'll give that a shot today.]

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Iowa: Hillary 27%; Everyone Else 73%

This year's Iowa caucus is shaping up to be as unpredictable as it usually is. In '04, Dean went in with the polling lead, and a purported horde of staff on-site to ferry people to the caucus. This year, Hillary goes in with the lead (currently a trend of 26.9%) and Edwards and Obama are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. If Edwards loses, he's out. If Obama finishes third, he's almost certainly out. If Hillary finishes first, she's almost certainly the nominee--she'll go on to NH and win big, get a bump in the polls that will buoy her in South Carolina and Nevada, and win big in Florida. And this is all before Super Tuesday, where she looks very strong even without the bumps she'd get from these early victories. In short, if she wins Iowa, she's likely to lock it up before Super Tuesday even arrives.

But leading in Iowa doesn't mean winning in Iowa, because the caucuses are bizarre:
Democratic candidates must receive at least 15 percent of the votes in that precinct to move on to the county convention. If a candidate receives less than 15 percent of the votes, supporters of non-viable candidates have the option to join a viable candidate group, join another non-viable candidate group to become viable, join other groups to form an uncommitted group or chose to go nowhere and not be counted. Non-viable groups have up to 30 minutes to realign.
In a regular primary, they'd just vote and be done with it. But in Iowa, only a few hard-core voters will show up for the long, grueling process--in '04, it was just 6% of registered voters. So the first step is getting your voters there. This is why the three front-runners are spending so much time and energy in Iowa--to create enough energy that their supporters will show up on caucus night (as Dean's, famously, failed to do). This is why it's difficult to look at polling numbers and figure out which candidate is actually doing well among the six percent who will actually show up.

Okay, so now the voters are at their precincts. Let the horse-trading begin! Here is another bump in the road for Hillary--she will easily hit the 15% mark, as will Edwards and Obama in most precincts. But what happens to the left-overs? If Hillary is looking strong, it's possible that the anti-Hillary forces (of which there are far more) could choose to band together. In some ways, the issue isn't how much support Hillary has going in, but how much those who are in other camps actually inhabit the anti-Hillary vote. In which case, they might throw their support behind the strongest candidate not named Clinton.

Interesting possibilities.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Letting the GOP Handle It

I listened to a shocking conversation between Bob Wright and former White House speech-writer David Frum (he of the "axis of evil") a few minutes ago. The discussion was almost entirely an unpacking of the decision to invade Iraq. Before I get to the nature of the shock, let me also reference another conversation I heard (also via podcast) between George Stephanopoulos and Newt Gingrich. The experience was something like falling down when you have a bad back and finding, to your surprise, that vertebrae aligned. One talked about war, one talked about GOP strategies, and together, they revealed to me the unique madness of the Republican Party.

Frum's analysis comes down to a simple set of assumptions that, if agreed to, would in fact make you think invasion was the only solution. That they defy reason and reality is a matter that will become evident of its own accord:
  1. Arabs hate us and nothing the US does changes this immutable fact. (Frum conflates Arabs and Muslims repeatedly, a fact which caused me little surprise.) They hate us so unyieldingly that acts as disparate as befriending Saudi Arabia or invading Iraq will be used to demonize us.
  2. Certain leaders--Saddam chief among them--are inscrutable beyond comprehension. No matter what you do, they will commit acts of "mischief" (Frum's word) about which you should be irrationally panicked.
  3. It is not possible to contain these leaders, and certainly not Saddam.
  4. Since Europe is weak and foolish, the surest method--the only method, really--of heading off the irrational fury of Arab/Muslim madmen is for the US to take command of the situation.
Now, from this strangely beautiful logic, let us move to the wisdom of Newt Gingrich, shared yesterday on This Week With George Stephanopoulos. It echoes a lot of what you hear from the GOP these days, but was inimitably Newt and therefore the purest strain. Speaking commandingly about issues no one has mentioned in years, he exuded confidence rare among Republicans these days. For Newt, the GOP has always been correct on the issues (a national language, lowering taxes on corporations, the pledge of allegiance), the people have always been very ideologically conservative--just like the GOP!, and all the polarization in politics has been thanks to the nasty way in which Dems defy these truths.

So what does the GOP need to do to win in 2008? (Get ready, here's where the post finally comes together.) Since the Dems are weak and foolish, the surest method--the only method, really--of heading off the irrational fears of rich, Southern white men is for the GOP to take command of the situation.

For the GOP, the answer is always: give us control and we'll handle it. In fact, the "handling it" is actually just the exercise of power. Whereas some Americans may have a passing interest in health care and Iraq (issues Newt elided), these are secondary. So long as it's the GOP "handling it," and not the Dems, all will be fine.

Frum and Gingrich, specters from different pasts, were both given the opportunity to detail the ways in which they might govern differently if they were given another shot. Their logic was strangely mesmerizing, doubling back on itself until the method and the conclusion amounted to the same thing.

They have always used issues as window dressing for their leadership--issues were there to lend reality, fullness to the justification to vote GOP. But Republicans of recent vintage have rarely and only ever passingly been interested the issues. That has never been more evident than now, when the window dressing is so sparse and lends so little reality to any conversation. In the end, the argument really is "let us handle it." What else do they have?