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Archive for June, 2006

A Round of Applause

[ 0 ] June 27, 2006 |

Now that I’m finally back from becoming even more Frenchified, it’s time to thank my outstanding guest-bloggers, Iocaste and Lizardbreath. And to add one more round of kudos to SteveG and Dan Nexon. Make sure to visit them regularly at their usual residences.



[ 0 ] June 27, 2006 |

Soon, The New Republic will collapse in on itself, smothered by its own sense of self-importance. We need to organize a rescue operation to get the book review section out of there and into a safer, less ridiculous location. No one should have to wade the foul contrarian swamps of Zengerle and Beinart to experience glorious filletings such as this.

h/t Political Theory Daily Review

The Contrarian Fallacy, Baseball Edition

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |

Joe Sheehan on baseball punditry:

When the situation was reversed, when the best team in baseball was, at least on the surface, a smallball team, the revolution was upon us. Now that the winningest teams in the game are power teams, though, there’s no mention of a paradigm shift, no discussion of how the little guys are more important than the brutes. Just an awkward silence from the peanut gallery.

I’ve written about this before, but I think the contrast between the way in which the 2005 White Sox and the 2006 version–along with the 2006 Tigers, who might as well have Earl Weaver on the bench–have been covered is illustrative of an insititutional blind spot. For whatever reason, there’s a morality attached to various forms of playing baseball; teams that succeed with power are considered in many circles to be inferior to those that succeed using smallball. I think this is a generational thing; many people in the game and covering the game had their worldview shaped by the baseball of the Second Deadball Era and the years immediately after, when scoring was very low, pitching dominated and smallball tactics were most effective.

There’s also an element of something Bill James discussed in “The Politics of Glory” in a chapter comparing Phil Rizzuto and Vern Stephens. People want to be perceived as savvy, and showing an appreciation for less-obvious skills is one way in which they do that. Anyone can be impressed by homers, but it takes a true student of the game to understand how steals, sacrifices and baserunning contribute to a winning team.

What can be said of baseball transfers so easily to the world of political punditry. If the boys at Slate wrote about baseball, is there any doubt that they’d be the first to extol the virtues of the bunt, the stolen base, and the sacrifice fly rather than the things that actually win baseball games? Consider this: Anyone can see how Roe vs. Wade improves access to abortion, but it takes a true student of politics to understand how support of a broadly popular Supreme Court decision actually hurts the Democratic party. Consider also that instead of attaching moral content to the bunt, the political editor and journalist attach it to the “bipartisan maverick”. Unfortunately, this kind of too-clever-by-half thinking dominates not just baseball, and not just Slate, but the entire edifice of political punditry.

Today’s Decisions II: A Different Kind of Conservative

[ 1 ] June 26, 2006 |

When Ann Althouse said that Alito was a different kind of conservative than Scalia, she was in a sense right, although in a rather different way that she intended. From a left-liberal (if not left-communitarian) perspective, Alito is clearly worse. Scalia does have a libertarian streak; he is, albeit in a very inconsistent and erratic manner, willing to enforce the clear textual demands of the Bill of Rights, while the less theoretical and even more results-oriented Alito won’t. Today’s decision in U.S. v. Gonzales is a case in point.

The case concerned the question of whether or not the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel clause was violated when the state refused to allow a defendant to hire her first choice of legal defense. Alito’s dissent claimed that a Sixth Amendment violation required a showing that the choice of lawyer affected the outcome of the trial. Leaving aside the fact that this is virtually impossible, it also doesn’t make any sense. As Scalia (joined in an unusual coalition by the court’s four more liberal members) says:

Stated as broadly as this, the Government’s argument in effect reads the Sixth Amendment as a more detailed version of the Due Process Clause—and then proceeds to give no effect to the details. It is true enough that the purpose of the rights set forth in that Amendment is to ensure a fair trial; but it does not follow that the rights can be disregarded so long as the trial is, on the whole, fair…


So also with the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice. It commands, not that a trial be fair, but that a particular guarantee of fairness be provided—to wit, that the accused be defended by the counsel he believes to be best. “The Constitution guarantees a fair trial through the Due Process Clauses, but it defines the basic elements of a fair trial largely through the several provisions of the Sixth Amendment, including the Counsel Clause.” In sum, the right at stake here is the right to counsel of choice, not the right to a fair trial; and that right was violated because the deprivation of counsel was erroneous. No additional showing of prejudice is required to make the violation complete.”

Exactly right. If the Sixth Amendment means anything, it means that the state cannot obstruct a defendant’s choice of attorney. The unknowable question of whether or not the trial would have come out differently is beside the point.

Now, of course, it’s not a conincidence that Scalia’s textualist conscience was awoken in a holding more likely to involve defendants with financial resources than a typical civil liberties case. But nonetheless, when he’s right he’s right, and in this case he is.

Today’s Decisions I: I Am Still Not A Contrarian!

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |

Some big Supreme Court cases today. I’m going to leave discussion of the Vermont campaign finance decision until tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m going to take a page from LizardBreath and defend a coalition of 5 justices I almost never would. Generally, the odds that I’ll join Scalia/Thomas/Alito/Roberts/Kennedy in a civil liberties case are about the same that I will accompany Ludivine Sagnier to watch the Royals and Pirates play Game 7 of the World Series, but if pressed I would probably join them in Kansas v. Marsh.

The case concerns the constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty statute, which holds that a convicted defendant can be sentenced to death if the jury finds a balanced number of aggravating and mitigating factors. As I’ve said before, despite all of the criticism the decisions received, I basically think the Supreme Court got it right in the 70s; the death penalty as practiced before 1972 was plainly unconstitutional, but I do not believe that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits the death penalty (which I would vote against as a legislator), so the states should have been given the opportunity to construct a more rational system. Within these parameters, however, I just can’t see a lot of basis for striking down Kansas’ particular balance of sentencing factors. Although the “tie goes to the defendant” standard makes sense to me as a question of policy, as far as I can tell the short opinions of Souter and Stevens don’t make a convincing case that this particular balance is required by the Eighth Amendment. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I’m afraid I think the majority is probably right on this one.

The Biggest Problem With American Third Parties

[ 1 ] June 26, 2006 |

After Iraq and massive deficit busting upper-class tax cuts and Ashcroft and Abu Gonzales and Strip Search Sammy etc. etc. etc. it’s very difficult to continue to defend the narcissistic third-party candidacy that put Bush in the White House in 2000, and to continue to defend this as a viable strategy for progressives. Some of these defenses couldn’t be more easily dismissed. The argument that Nader didn’t really throw the election to Bush is just unambiguously false (and as Chait points out, it’s crucial to note that putting Bush in the White House was not merely an incidental byproduct but the central goal of Nader’s campaign.) Ditto for claims that because Democrats and Republicans aren’t different enough on NAFTA and legalizing hemp that there is therefore no difference between the two parties. Then there are the times in which the lines of communication between the various arguments appear to have been cut off. My favorite is the attempt to justify the Greens by noting that a significant number of conservative Democrats voted for Bush, or that Gore couldn’t win his conservative home state. To quote myself, “First of all, it’s a non-sequitur on its face; it doesn’t change the fact that if Nader doesn’t run, Gore wins. But secondly, Greens don’t seem to understand that this fact fatally undermines the basic rationale for a left-wing third party candidacy. So, because of realignment, many nominal Democrats voted for the most reactionary President in decades…but the Greens want us to believe that there is a majority for social democratic politics in the US that would inevitably manifest itself if only the Democrats would stop thwarting democracy and run a Kucinich/Mumia ticket. Sure.”

Having said that, though, I know some people of some actual political sophistication who voted for Nader, and in my experience none of them are willing to defend claims that there’s no difference between the two parties, or that the fact that the electorate is moving right means that the Democrats should move to the left. In my experience, most of these arguments always wind up simply noting a lot of things that are wrong with the Democrats. And, of course, many of these complaints will have merit. Clinton did sign a lot of bad legislation. Cantwell’s vote for cloture on Alito was appalling. The problem, however, is that pointing out that the Democrats aren’t where you want them to be is insufficient. The real question is: what does voting for a third party do to change the Democrats? And the answer is: nothing. After all, by throwing the election to Bush Nader had about as much leverage on a presidential election as a third-party candidate could have…but according to his dead-ender supporters, the Dems are just as bad. So when is this strategy going to work, exactly? How many elections do you have to throw to Republicans? When will the contradictions be sufficiently heightened? When Clarence Thomas is the median vote on the Supreme Court, maybe? What’s the causal mechanism here? Of course, this strategy of using third parties to push the Democrats left is doomed to dismal failure, because there are always more votes in the middle. As Katha Pollit pointed out, this is particularly true of Nader, who ironically seemed to share the DLC’s dream of a progressive movement without labor, feminists, or civil rights groups (although, in fairness, their chief political constituency was white male college students as opposed to wealthy white businessmen):

Future elections will be even tougher. Whoever wins the presidency, people now know every vote counts–the frightened liberals are really frightened now. If Bush wins, the energy left of center will go into re-electing Democrats–any Democrat. Meanwhile, the small Nader vote–only 2 percent of Democratic voters chose him, while 11 percent chose Bush–means that the Democratic Party will move, if anywhere, rightward. The Greens may move that way also; after all, they failed to dislodge the old progressive voting blocs–feminists, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, labor. The typical Nader voter was a young white man, college educated but income poor. Nader did well among students, independents and Perot voters; outside a few left strongholds–Madison, Portland, Berkeley, western Massachusetts–his best counties were rural, his best state Alaska (10 percent), of all places. None of this sounds like a recipe for a powerful progressive voting bloc.

That’s the problem. The argument is not that the Democrats don’t leave a lot to be desired, as is inevitably the case in a system where coalitions are put together before elections rather than after. It’s that voting for third parties does nothing, and can do nothing, to change that, and it has hugely consequential negative externalities.

"Someone who is concerned merely with seeming to be reasonable"

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |

Hilzoy identifies the crucial problem with Lieberman, and identifies another classic example of Holy Joe putting himself above the party that I had forgotten:

Prizing genuine pragmatism, reasonableness, and statesmanship is a good thing. Prizing your reputation as a pragmatic, reasonable, statesmanlike politician is something else entirely…

This, I think, is what bothers people about Lieberman: that when push comes to shove, he is more concerned with his reputation as one of the reasonable people who rises above mere partisan bickering than with principle, and that this leads him both to trash his own party (since, of course, a Democrat can only establish his bipartisan bona fides by embracing Republican positions and criticizing Democrats), and to compromise even when compromise is wrong. His obvious flirtation with the idea of leaving the party can only strengthen this impression.

As a friend of mine reminded me recently, this isn’t the first time Lieberman has placed his own narrow interests above those of the party. Back in 2000, when he was nominated to be Al Gore’s running mate, he had to decide whether to continue running for his Senate seat. Had he withdrawn, the Democrats would have been able to nominate someone else, and that person would almost certainly have won. If he stayed in the race and Gore won the Presidency, however, Connecticut’s governor would have named his replacement; and since Connecticut’s governor was then a Republican, Lieberman’s replacement would have been a Republican as well.

Which, of course, is why this alleged man of principle won’t rule out a destructive third-party run. Which shouldn’t stop anyone from voting for Ned Lamont. (Check out part 2 as well.)

Huh. Fascinating.

[ 0 ] June 26, 2006 |


Two competitors face each other in 11 alternating rounds, six of chess, five of boxing. A bout begins with chess, which is played on a board placed directly in the middle of the ring. Each round of chess lasts four minutes. After each chess round, the bell sounds, and workmen remove the chessboard for a two-minute round of boxing, the gloves go back on, the punching recommences. Participants win by way of knockout, checkmate, referee’s decision, or if his opponent exceeds the allotted total of 12 minutes for an entire match on the chessboard.

There’s obviously some interesting strategy to be had in a match like this. If you think yourself a weaker chess player than your opponent, then going for a knockout in the boxing match is clearly the right way to go. The converse is also, of course, true. For an experienced player, twelve minutes is plenty of time to play an entire game of chess; many speed matches only allow five minutes on either side. Of course, speed chess isn’t often interrupted by consensual pummelling…

In fact, I wonder if twelve minutes is too long to have on the chess clock. Assuming that the openings go very quickly, that’s a lot of time to sit and hope to wait out an opponent. On the other hand, as long as the opponent can stay vertical and coherent for six rounds, he can probably force a decision.

What an absurd sport. Probably going to be on ESPN 2 within a year.

Tip from Jay.

Good Lord, not this again…

[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

Yeah, I’m pretty much with Neil; cheering for a Green candidate to sabotage Cantwell is one of the dumbest things to come down the pike since… oh, well, since some people thought voting for Ralph Nader would actually produce a progressive outcome in this country.

People wonder why LGM regularly devotes a post a month to excoriating Ralph Nader and those who voted for him in 2000. Well, this is it; the same narcissism that prevailed among some progressives then threatens to prevail among others now. Political elections are about real world effects, and there is almost no situation, in America today, in which a victory by a Republican will lead to a more progressive outcome than a victory by a Democrat. This includes Maria Cantwell and it includes, God help me, Joe Lieberman.

DJW is fighting the good fight in the comments at Pandagon, but his latest comment is particularly worth noting:

Ah, a last refuge argument–I had the right to vote that way! Yes, indeed you did, and very good. I have, thankfully, the right to do all sorts of stupid things, and criticize those who exercise their rights in stupid and foolish ways.

(The freedom, I like, it’s the petulant spoiled immaturity I’m doing just fine without. This is something the vast majority of Green voters figured out after 2000, of course, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect much from those who just can’t let go of the beautiful dream, which the rest of us struggle though the mess they made.)

The Seat of Empire

[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

In Washington D.C. now, for the first time in my life. Some people seem shocked to find that one could get a Ph.D. in political science without stepping foot in D.C., but these people are under the grave misapprehension that political science has anything to do with politics.

Observations thus far:

  • I’m glad I don’t drive here.
  • When it rains, it rains hard.
  • The Jefferson Memorial is the only monument I’ve seen thus far. Meh.

If anything interesting happens to me, I’ll be sure to blog about it.


[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

I’ve wondered about this, too. In Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne suggested that Baron Hausmann did a grave aesthetic disservice to Paris in the 1850s. But, as Mr. Trend points out, some changes can be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Also, the increase of state capacity (as was the purpose of the urban redesign) cuts both ways; increased coercive capacity can be a bad thing, but an increase in the ability to provide services and security can be a very good thing.

And, as Mr. Trend notes, Paris is an exceptionally lovely city now, and it’s hard to imagine that the Hausmann redesign was TOO aesthetically devasating.

On The Mythical "Pro-Choice" Republican

[ 0 ] June 25, 2006 |

Aspazia: “Next time you meet a “pro-choice” Republican, just remember, they might care about their own choice, but they could give a rat’s ass about yours.” Indeed, and this goes for Republicans who hint at “moderation” on choice as well. This is what makes the fact that liberal pundits who should know better are willing to assert that John McCain is a secret pro-choicer so baffling. Aside from the fact that his subjective beliefs are completely beside the point, the fact that McCain doesn’t really believe that a woman he knows should be subject to the use of state coercion to carry her pregnancy to term doesn’t make him a pro-choicer; it makes him a Republican. The “abortion should be illegal but not so illegal that my wife couldn’t get one” faction of “pro-lifers” is simply the Republican flipside to the “as a pro-choicer, I believe we should compromise by denying abortion access to poor women who live in states I never will” crowd, and what Republican “pro-choicers” remain almost always fall into the latter camp.

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