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Archive for May, 2004

“I was talking to an Indian programmer, and he told me, ‘You know, Tom Friedman is nuttier than a crate of Snickers…'”

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

Elton Beard effectively sums up Tom Friedman’s latest ad hoc theory. But what strikes me most about it is that he chooses an example that completely repudiates his thesis:

Is Vladimir Putin’s Russia today a Jeffersonian democracy? Of course not. But it is a huge nation that was tilted in the wrong direction and is now tilted in the right direction. My definition of a country tilted in the right direction is a country where there is enough free market, enough rule of law, enough free press, speech and exchange of ideas that the true agent of change in history — which is something that takes nine months and 21 years to develop, i.e. a generation — can grow up, plan its future and realize its potential.

Now, a few years ago you could make a plausible case that Russia had reached a tipping point; it wasn’t exactly a democracy, but was on a strong transitional path. But Putin’s Russia isn’t just unlike a “Jeffersonian democracy”; it’s not like any democracy at all. It’s a one-party state with rigged elections, whose president can use the legal system to punish personal enemies. If you want to argue that Putin’s fairly sofauthoritarianismsm beats Stalinism, I’m certainly not going to argue, but let’s not kid ourselves about what’s going on there.

Indeed, as the case of Russia shows, the assumption that any liberalization creates an inevitable tipping point is actively pernicious; it’s perhaps one reason for the willful blindness on the part of much of the American media about Putin’s Russia.


Well, I suppose Steve Perry was a “rock star” too…

[ 2 ] May 31, 2004 |

Ezra Klein has an interesting discussion about the latest journalistic thumbsucker about blogs. My favorite part of the article he cites, however, is its discussion of the blogosphere’s “rock stars,” which includes…Mickey Kaus. Mickey Kaus. First of all, as Ezra points out, in terms of stature he’s nowhere near Kos or Atrios. And is anyone less like a rock star than Kaus?

On the other hand, the comparison of Wankette with Chris Martin strikes me as entirely appropriate, but that’s another argument…

On foreign policy and democracy. . .

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

Tacitus is concerned the the election of Kerry will end the peculiarly American quest for a democratic world.

John Kerry thinks that stability may sometimes be more important than democracy. The sin that Kerry commits, apparently, is not to think this, but to say it. What administration, in any era, has valued democracy higher than stability? This is not to say that American foreign policy is based on cynical self-interest, but rather to recognize historical fact. Accepting democracy means accepting that people may legitimately disagree with us and act contrary to our interests, and we have never been willing to do that. Indeed we shouldn’t, at least not in every case. Democracy is one value, to be weighed against a set of other values. To claim otherwise is to grandstand.
To claim otherwise and still support this administration, which has abandoned any effort to preserve democracy in Russia, to bring reform to China, to come to terms with the democratic government of Venezuela, or to spur even the most meagre democratic effort in central asia, is to suffer from profound blindness.

Nader, third parties, and the election

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

I have fewer misgivings about Kerry than either Scott or Dave. Although I supported Clark at one point (and still support him for VP), I’ve always thought that Kerry would make the finest president of the lot of Democratic primary candidates.

Discussing Nader isn’t just about recriminations from four years ago. Certainly, I think that anyone who made the mistake of voting for Nader in 2000 should accept that they helped drive the country to the right, helped forge a pointlessly aggressive foreign policy, and helped put lobbyists in charge of environmental policy. What’s more important is that we don’t let it happen again.

I don’t expect Nader to take the four or five points that he has been polling. He should take a lot less than that. What shocks me is that people can consider voting for Nader even when the consequences are clear. There’s a difference between Republicans and Democrats on this, and I don’t know why. While I’d like to think that the Roy Moore or the Libertarian Party will take votes from Bush, I don’t expect that it’ll have much of an impact. Right Republicans are no less “ideologically pure” than left Democrats, but they seem to have a better grasp of practical consenquences. Perhaps the left is simply too fragmented, and too distant from power, to take practical considerations seriously.


Hopefully my last Nader post. At least this week.

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

When it comes to pragmatic arguments about Nader, I basically don’t see the point. That Gore would have won had Nader not run in 2000 is indisputable; trying to argue the point is like arguing with creationists. It’s also true that this outcome was not inevitable, and that any number of other factors might have made Nader irrelevant. This is all well-established.

Another reason to move past this argument, however, is that it essentially accepts the premise that Nader is a dream candidate, and one must only reluctantly and pragmatically vote for an electable Democratic candidate. The thing is, though, that Nader isn’t a good candidate. His priorities are extremely clunky for someone essentially unconstrained by pragmatic considerations, and he’d be a terrible president. This point is made effectively by Michael Berube:

As his open letter reminds us, Nader is a terrible candidate. Yes, he’s “on the left,” but he belongs to a nasty, authoritarian, crypto-conservative left that wants people to stop playing those violent video games and stop looking at sexually explicit images. He’s not too concerned about women’s reproductive rights, as we all know, but he is very worried about the decline of parental authority in Today’s Modern World. Hence his “appeal” to conservatives. (And look again at his praise for the Texas GOP– that’s right, the same Texas GOP that gave you that outrageous mid-term redistricting!) But back in the real world, conservatives are far too politically savvy to fall for “appeals” like this; unlike their counterparts on the left, they didn’t break ranks in 2000 in favor of Pat Buchanan or an “independent” Alan Keyes/Gary Bauer candidacy, and they’re not going to break ranks now. They’re not going to punish Bush for supporting amnesty for illegal Hispanic immigrants from Mars, or for running up a $500 billion deficit and lying about Medicare. They know what side their bread is oiled on. Nader’s open letter to them is just another of Ralph’s exercises in self-delusion. Which brings me to . . .

Nader would be a terrible President. He has no experience in elected office and nothing but disdain for people with that experience. He wouldn’t be able to get a budget– or a single damn piece of legislation– through this Congress. He’d be able to declaim, yes, and personally, even I would thrill to a couple of his denunciations of this or that, as I did in 2000 when he spoke of the insanity of our drug laws and the disgraceful fact that we have two million prisoners behind bars, many of whom have been incarcerated for casual drug use not far removed from that of the youthful Bush or Gore. But he wouldn’t be able to do a blessed thing about any of it.

Now, I will occasionally support a third-party candidate on principle, and I have done so in the past. But not Ralph. My opposition to him is not the opposition of some craven ex-indie-leftist who’s decided to come in from the cold, sign with Sony-Columbia Records and put out a “crossover” record with Tom Petty. My opposition to Ralph is based both on his form and his substance, neither of which I like.

I have many misgivings about John Kerry. But he’s a better candidate and would make a better president than Ralph Nader, and the same was true of Al Gore.


[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

Welcome to our blog. More on who we are and what we’re up to soon, if we feel like it. I can’t imagine how you found or why you’re reading it at this point, but welcome. Since this is a nominally public forum, I’ll say something that I’ve said in various contexts but that can’t be repeated often enough. Three and a half years ago, I voted for Ralph Nader. And I’m really, really, sorry. Don’t hold this against my co-bloggers. They were among the first to berate me for this, and they haven’t really stopped. Nor should they. I hold out some hope that a Kerry election, should we be so fortunate, will lead to a modest decrease in the amount of mockery I recieve on this front.

This is very well covered territory, and I while I plan to comment on the upcoming elections from time to time, I won’t say much about Nader from here on out. A bit about where I was at in 2000–I was angry. I was angry that in many policy areas, the Clinton administration had been complacent in a rightward shift of the political center. I was angry that he had, in several policy areas, caved to the right for no discernable reason. I was angry at the part center-left parties were playing around the world in the dismantling of the welfare state.

I thought the Democrats deserved a scare. The best possible outcome, I would have told you at the time, was basically what happened, but with a few thousand more votes for Gore in Florida. They needed to be reminded of that they had a base that they were ignoring, and that betrayal shouldn’t be easy or convenient.

Nevertheless, the display the right had put on in the last few years of Clinton and the alarming nature of the GOP ticket had me, for the weeks leading to election day, leaning very heavily toward Gore. Indeed, I walked into a voting both planning to vote Gore. The Nader vote….just happened. I thought again about welfare reform and my hand moved down the ballot a few slots.

I’ve offered up various justifications (sometimes operating as both excuses and explanations, and occasionally defenses), and I won’t bore you with any of them. They’re all rather pointless. Should Nader-voting, like homicide, be considered a lesser offense when it’s not premeditated? I don’t know, probably not. You’ve got to keep your emotions in check, whether you’re dealing with an annoying neighbor or voting for president. That Bush was likely to be extreme and incompetent was knowable at the time, and I knew it.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this reading John Emerson (“Zizka”)’s post on the matter. He points out, rightly, that Bush has a base of around 30%, and these people ought to scare us all, including themselves. If he, or any Republican, is going to win, we would do well to want that constituency diluted as much as possible with centrists. A Nader “success” (ie, a substantial portion of the vote) may well push both major parties to the right.

Those who are concerned about social justice issues not well represented by the Democrats (and I remain squarely in that camp) ought to be operating on several fronts. We should be making our case in the public sphere(s) as strongly and articulately as possible, to increase our numbers. We should look for Democratic legislators who represent our views and support them (and not hold them to pointless ideological purity tests). We should work through NGOs and social movements. It’s not like there aren’t other, more effective outlets for the progressive energy being poured into this bottomless well.

I’m making political campaign donations for the first time this election cycle. I’m pretty damn poor, but I’m going to donate at least 100 dollars to the Kerry campaign. I call on all past Nader voters to do the same, as an act of atonement. We really can’t make up for what we did, but we can and should try.

State run liquor

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

First substantive post!!!

Matt is right. No sense in state ownership of liquor stores. It would be interesting to track the existence of public ownership on a state by state basis; I wonder what the map would look like.

The Third Man

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

So here I am, the first syllable of the blogspot address…

Law and Order

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |

Briscoe and McCoy on the weekend…

This post was to test out link-creating. It seems to work fine. And because it’s a pretty cool picture, on Law and Order, um, I mean, Memorial Day.

Testing, testing

[ 0 ] May 31, 2004 |