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Archive for May, 2005

Hillary

[ 0 ] May 27, 2005 |

Very interesting post by No More Mr. Nice Blog. I agree with this part:

I know, I know — “Hillary can’t win.” Except I’ve stopped believing that. As a lot of people have pointed out, the Bush win in 2004 proves that being utterly despised by huge chunks of the population is no longer a barrier to victory in a presidential election. (Arguably, we should have learned that in ’72.)

I wouldn’t say she’s my ideal candidate, but I’m not sure I could identify my ideal candidate. Can a true progressive ever actually win a presidential election? I doubt it, at least in the current climate. Far too few Americans identify with progressivism (even though they may support a lot of things that would be described as progressive).

Both these points are right, I think. The fact that large numbers of people despise Clinton isn’t really a big deal; these voters for the most part aren’t in play anyway. Clinton is a very canny politician. And Clinton is certainly progressive enough for a Democratic candidate for President, despite being far from ideal. I do, however, have two major caveats:

  • While I don’t worry about how much the Republican base hates Hillary, I certainly do worry about the media. I am inclined to agree with Bob Somerby that a Hillary run would make the kneecapping of Gore look like nothing. Every phony scandal would be rehashed ad infinitum ad naseum.
  • There’s another important problem, which I also think Yglesias brought up recently. Steve is correct that Hillary is much more moderate than her reputation, although she would certainly be infinitely preferable to whatever the Republicans cough up (and, Jon Chait notwithstanding, this definitely includes McCain.) But, of course, a candidate whose reputation is more liberal than their real politics is the worst model to follow. I have always argued that Gore’s campaign simply wasn’t the disaster many people claim, but the worst thing about Gore as a candidate is that he was a fairly conservative Democrat, who had the reputation of being a moonbat liberal. Being a pragmatic fellow, it doesn’t bother me that the Dems run a centrist. but they should at least get credit for it. I just don’t see Hillary getting that credit.

None if this is to say that Steve is necessarily wrong; Clinton certainly could win. The economic context in 2008 could well be so bad that it’s a virtual slam-dunk for the Dems. The Democrats may be better positioned to respond to the inevitable smear campaign. While enough leftists deserted Gore to throw the election to Bush, after 8 years of seeing the consequences only people of an Cockburnesque level of lunacy will be hopping on Nader’s clown car in 2008. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the second problem is real but not easily solved–it’s virtually impossible for a prominent Democrat to be more progressive than their reputation in the media. One reason Bush was able to win in 2000 was the media (with, of course, an assist from Nader and his supporters) gladly went along with the narrative that a man who governed to the right of the Texas legislature as a moderate who would restrain Congressional Republicans. The Democrats will never get that luxury. The problem may be particularly actute with Clinton, but I suspect the Dems will have to overcome this problem no matter what.

I don’t, of course, endorse Clinton; it depends on who else is running, who it looks like the GOP will run, etc. I’m skeptical. But to say that she can’t win is silly. She certainly can.

UPDATE: People more skeptical that I can rest easy: now that Dick Morris has predicted it, it won’t happen. The caveat is that Rice’s 0% chance of being the GOP candidate provides the inevitable falsification, but betting against Dick Morris is one of the world’s surest paths to wealth.

Nuked

[ 0 ] May 27, 2005 |

I would think that Frist making it clear that he will ignore the filibuster agreement would be case closed. Obviously, the Democrats really gain nothing. Some of the worst justices will be confirmed, a few Confederate judges will be replaced by a few other Confederate judges. And as Dan Skinner notes, once you’ve set the precedent that Owen and Rogers do not constitute “extraordinary circumstances,” you’ve given away the store, especially on Supreme Court appointments. Given that Owen and Rogers are more reactionary, and not nearly as smart, as Scalia and Thomas, the constraints this puts on Bush are basically nil. And even if the Dems try to filibuster anyway, this deal depends on the good faith of a significant number of Republican moderates. If you think that means anything–well, let me lay this out for you: 8 units, Mountainview. Ezra and the Mock Turtle, however, are mollified by Dick Durbin’s claim (which I don’t doubt) that the Democrats didn’t have the votes to stop the nuclear option. And this is the one plausible defense of the deal: if you think the filibuster as a whole was worth saving, then this was the second-best option.

The problem is that this position, from a progressive standpoint, is dead wrong. Given that this deal will have a negligible effect on the content of judicial appointments, the nuclear option would have been a much better outcome for Democrats in the long run. What conservatives who are just as reactionary but not as stupid and short-sighted as the likes of Frist and Dobson understand is that once you’ve set the precedent that Senate rules can be changed with a simple majority, the filibuster is doomed as soon as the Democrats regain power in the Senate. And, of course, the filibuster is on balance an inherently conservative rule, one that clearly serves the long-run interests of the Republican Party. Getting a decent health care system, or any other significant progressive reform, will be virtually impossible as long as the filibuster remains in place. In other words, from the standpoint of Republicans not having to use the nuclear option is a feature, not a bug. They get basically everything they want in the short-term, without sacrificing anything in the long-term. This deal was an utter rout. And although its undemocratic aspects help the Democrats in the short-term, progressives really have to stop romanticizing the Senate, and instutition that has been the graveyard of progressive change and tool of the worst elements of American politics for two centuries.

[ 0 ] May 27, 2005 |


Friday Cat Blogging. . . Frodo Posted by Hello

Pro-what?

[ 0 ] May 27, 2005 |

Kos is impressed by Jerome Armstrong’s attempt to re-frame the abortion issue. But I don’t get it:

Stripping away the slogans will get people to pay attention to the debate over the legislative action taken on the issue of abortion. Politicians get paid to do this, it can be done quickly, and the reporters always follow. Very few people are pro-abortion, and neither is the Democratic Party pro-abortion. We value life just as much as Republicans do, and we value our freedom and privacy from governmental intrusion even more.

So if a politician says I am pro-life and Democrat, lets hear them out. The Republicans will snicker and respond, no you aren’t. And if the politician responds by saying yes I am, I do not like to see abortions, but will not legislate or have the government intruding into this private decision between a woman, her family, and her doctor. That’s a politician that belongs in the Democratic Party. And boom, this is a politician that’s going to put the Republicans on the defensive.

Ah, I see–we try to redefine “pro-life” as “abortion is really bad but shouldn’t be regulated.” Three points:

1)The assumption that the pro-choice frame no longer works isn’t very persuasive. Public opinion is not shifting against legalized abortion or Roe v. Wade. States are passing regulations that are bad, although they don’t affect abortion rates much, but Armstrong’s assertions that this is due to bad framing is highly problematic.

2)More importantly, I am at an utter loss to explain how emphasizing that abortion is really bad but should (reluctantly ) remain legal will decrease the impetus for abortion regulations. Indeed, it seems to me that humiliating, obstructionist regulations like waiting periods, consent forms, and the like represent the codification of the sensibility that holds that abortion is morally bad but perhaps shouldn’t be banned outright. Just conceding that abortion is a bad thing will, over time, of course lead to more regulation and make if more difficult to sustain legal abortion. Armstrong’s hypothetical question hardly puts anyone on the defensive; quite the opposite. It invites an obvious rejoinder: if abortion is so awful, and preserving “life” so important, why shouldn’t we ban it? As I’ve mentioned before, Hillary Clinton bringing up alternative policies that reveal the fact that support for the “culture of life” is merely an unprincipled pretext for intrusive, patriarchal social control is a far more effective strategy. I also don’t think that simply calling the pro-choice position “pro-life” will fool anyone.

3)It should also be noted that, aside from strategic considerations, this argument is awful on the merits. As for the idea that women who have abortions should constantly be lectured by politicians that they’re doing something wrong, I vote “no.”

Resistance is (Almost) Futile

[ 0 ] May 27, 2005 |

Oh, it’s easy to brush off critics such Roger Ebert, says I–hell, the guy gave Cop and a Half three stars. But now I see that tasteful aesthete Roy Edroso has given the latest Star Wars picture a positive review. So surely you’ll be seeing it now, you might ask? (Well, actually, you probably don’t care, but it’s my blog.)

Nah, probably not; I can’t imagine being motivated to go for any reason (barring meaningless hypotheticals of the “for a thousand dollars” or “a good chance of getting laid” or some such.) But I see what Roy means here:

As my regular readers know, I am the sort of dark, ratlike creature who revels in marginalia and sneers at the common herd with their bourgeois reality shows and blow-‘em-up adventure pics (and their Christmas! And their presents with their gaudy wrapping paper!), but I am really glad to have enjoyed a popular film on its first run, especially after running into the stoned kid outside the theatre (a young Ratso Rizzo played by Gino from Bay Ridge) who asked if we had just seen the movie and then bellowed, “It’s really good, right? Youse t’ought it was good? Like as good as the old Star Wars movies? I seen it four times! And I can’t wait to see it again! I got the bootleg, right? An’ it’s so clear – like sometimes you see people getting up an’ they’re shakin’ the camera, but this was just, like, the movie!” (Bootlegs have been like this for some time; obviously this was the first movie he cared to buy in that format.) “But wait’ll you see it in the IMAX! Oh, man.” (Gestures indicative of blowing-away) Had he seen it? “No, that’s not coming out till like November.”

You may have the impression that I’m some kind of snooty pseudo-intellectual, and your impression is certainly correct. However, I would not want it to be inferred that my distaste for, say, George Lucas movies is an extension of their popularity. Actually, I like it when things I admire I become popular. When I find something that excites me my impulse is to share it with others. My admiration for A Fine Balance is not dimmed by the fact that it was tabbed by Oprah. I’m glad lots of people get pleasure from listening to the Stones or watching Seinfeld or following baseball. Feeling that you’re part of something is great. It’s just that a lot of cultural products with a large following aren’t for me, and I still think that Return of the Sith is one of them, even though I should probably be persuaded by Roy (with Rob’s review presumably pending.)

Carlye’s history of the French Revolution, on the other hand…I’m all over that!

No Sex?

[ 0 ] May 27, 2005 |

I had the same reaction as Amanda Marcotte to this Salon article on asexuality.

In the reporter’s attempts to get “both sides” of the story and also the freak show atmosphere struck me as really unfair to people who identify as asexual. The author dredged up all sorts of psychologists and various other experts who suggested that asexuality is likely a mental illness with some deep down cause that should be examined with lots and lots of expensive therapy. Besides the self-interested motivations going on with them I have to ask and very sincerely why it matters.

The lack of desire for sex on the part of some strikes me as possibly the least pressing difficulty facing the Republic, and ought, in my mind, to be treated wholly as a matter of personal taste. As Marcus Licinius Crassus notes:

Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
Antoninus: When I have them, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat snails?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn’t it?
Antoninus: Yes, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

Some don’t care for either snails or oysters. It is no more a question of psychlogical deviance or mental illness than it is of morality.

But That Doesn’t Include the School-painting

[ 0 ] May 26, 2005 |

Tim Lambert, limiting himself to what Arthur Chrenkoff purports to be “good news,” explains the ongoing dismal failure to supply adequate electricity in Iraq.

Bolivian Trivia

[ 0 ] May 26, 2005 |

This story is not terribly interesting, in and of itself:

Bolivia admiral denies coup plan

Admiral Luis Aranda

The head of Bolivia’s armed forces has denied that the military is planning a coup and has criticised two officers for calling on the president to resign.

Commander-in-chief Luis Aranda called the officers’ statement in a radio interview irresponsible and untimely.

Sun rises, coup plotters gather in a Latin American country. No big deal, right? But wait. . .

Bolivia has admirals?

Bolivia has a navy?

Bolivia has a coastline?

The answers, it turns out, are positive to the first two questions and negative to the third. Bolivia does indeed have a Navy. It seems that Bolivia is still reluctant to accept the verdict of the 1884 War of the Pacific, in which Chile seized the only territory linking Bolivia to the ocean. So, Bolivia maintains a navy, in the hopes of one day reacquiring a coastline.

Learn something new every day.

Ismail Merchant, RIP

[ 0 ] May 25, 2005 |

Ismail Merchant produced a tremendous number of over-rated films. He also produced Howard’s End and Remains of the Day, both of which feature Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and both of which are outstanding. I like the former very much but prefer the latter, largely because of the source material.

Season Finale

[ 0 ] May 25, 2005 |

I’m excited.

4
8
15
16
23
42

Whatta Card

[ 3 ] May 25, 2005 |

As you all know, I am a connoisseur of right-Stalinist film criticism; some healthy fanboy seasoning, even better. So I was very happy to see Lance uncover the Revenge of the Sith pensees of Mr. Orson Scott Card, a man who makes Michael Medved look like James Agee. He did not disappoint.

I don’t mean, however, to slight the contributions of John Podhoretz, a major exemplar of the genre. His latest thoughts allow me to get a line on him; he seems to be the embodiment of middlebrow MPAA sensibilities, with some crude political reductionism sprinkled on top. I would like to submit that there are two sentences here that should never appear within any kind of proximity:

Just to whet your appetite: The upcoming Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ron Howard, is a thrilling piece of work. No, more than thrilling. I left the screening room this afternoon exhilarated, moved, excited, stirred and overwhelmed, convinced that Cinderella Man is one of the best movies ever made.

I admit that I may be bitter because I spent money to see The Paper in the theatres, and of course that and other doorstops like Far and Away have been high-density-of-cliche staples of plane trips for far too long. Still…wow. And then there’s this:

Crowe hasn’t made a full-on comedy yet. If it turns out he can do that too, Russell Crowe will then have proved himself unquestionably the greatest screen actor not only of our time, but probably of all time.

I would like to think he’s kidding, but I’m not sure. Anyway, why do I suspect that the man Podhoretz thinks Crowe may knock of the pedestal is Tom Hanks?

A Constitutional Mulligan

[ 0 ] May 25, 2005 |

An interesting question–if you could pick one part of the Constitution to get rid of, what would it be?

I thought about saying ditching Article V; as I have argued before, this was a major mistake. But I’m much more sure that it should be modified than how. Anyway, I think there are more important fish to fry. My choice: abolish the Senate.

There’s just no good reason for an upper house. Bicameralism is in no way necessary for liberal democracy; neither New Zealand nor Nebraksa are about to slide into tyranny. Even if protecting the interests of states is important to you, there’s little evidence that the Senate matters much; Canada has become much more decentrailzed with a vestigial upper house, while the Senate hasn’t stopped the U.S. from becoming more centralized. And the egregiously malapportioned American Senate is particularly problematic. The most important effects of the Senate has been to do things like perpetuate slavery and apartheid, prevent universal health care and other progressive reforms, and encourage particularly inefficient pork-barrel spending. And it’s insulated from Constitutional change through ordinary processes. So if I could do one thing, it would be to abolish the Senate; I can’t think of any single change to the constitution that would do more for American democracy.

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