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Archive for November, 2008

This is What Happens When People Who Fetishize Reputation Go to War with One Another

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

Just good clean entertainment:

As Kristol used column after column to boost Sarah Palin, suspicions built inside the campaign that Kristol and McCain staffers close to him had written off McCain and were now determined to salvage Palin as a vehicle for Republican politics in the future, possibly the Republican nomination in 2012. Michael Goldfarb—who left Kristol’s Weekly Standard to work on communications for the McCain campaign—also repeatedly came under suspicion among McCain insiders for his close ties to Kristol and his “manic zeal” in fending off questions over the Palin candidacy.

At this point, the fighting has nothing to do with the political quality of Sarah Palin. These folks are the kind of people who think it’s worth fighting pointless wars that kill thousands in order to demonstrate “toughness”; they aren’t going to back down from an intra-party fight just because Sarah Palin is well on her way to becoming the biggest joke of 21st century American politics. Abandoning the fight now would demonstrate weakness, and would call into question the judgment of the Grand Kristol, and that, for so many reasons, can’t be allowed to happen.

But hey, as long as it keeps the Sarah Palin Project humming, I can’t complain.


Friday Cat Blogging

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

This is clearly Palin’s fault:

The large cat that’s been popping up around Anchorage over the past weeks has been captured alive by a man using a dipnet, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The animal was at first thought to be a serval, a wild, medium-sized African cat that is illegal in Alaska. Turns out, it is a savannah cat, a mix of a serval and a domestic cat that is legal, said wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott.

The cat, whose name is Simon, had actually been missing since last spring from its owners home in the Kincaid Park area, Sinnott said.

Depending on how many generations removed the animal is from its original cross, a Savannah cat can apparently run anywhere from $2000-4500.

Henry, by contrast, cost me $10 in 1994 ($14.75 in 2008 dollars). That’s one inflation-adjusted dollar per year for this sort of semi-daily entertainment:

Audrey’s reaction?

“Henry? What are you doing to my bear?”

Nothing. Not Even the Fee For the Gaming License.

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

I swear this is a “verbatim”, not a “shorter,” and we are aware of all internet traditions here:

According to the aide, Lieberman’s met with Harry Reid and discussions were very friendly. Reid wanted him to step down from his post as chairman of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in exchange for heading a lesser committee. Lieberman reminded Reid of how loyal he’s been to the Democrats in myriad of ways despite the obvious disagreements, and indicated that would be unnacceptable.

Oh, yes, well if you just make an exception for such trivialities as “supporting the Republican candidate,” “speaking at the Republican convention in support of said candidate,” and “grotesquely smearing the Democratic candidate,” he’s been very loyal!

Reid’s choice is obvious: let Lieberman join the Republican conference with no seniority or chairmanships. I completely understand that broad party coalitions inevitable involve making peace with wankers. People who actively support the other party are a different matter. He has no leverage and won’t be a reliable cloture vote in any circumstances. Let him walk.

More Prop 8 "Backlash" Arguments

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

Jeffrey Rosen tries to spin the narrow passage of Prop 8 into a triumph for his prediction that In Re: Marriage would instigate a massive backlash, and he’s no more persuasive than McArdle. The central problems remain the same: he doesn’t explain how the decision made the status quo worse or made the entrenchment of same-sex marriage rights less likely (because such a claim would be transparently false.) Nor does he provide any evidence that judicial intervention made same-sex marriage any less popular. And, again, since the striking down of an initiative supported by more than 60% led to the passage of an initiative supported by 52%, I presume he doesn’t provide any such evidence because it doesn’t exist. Rosen makes some other assertions that are unburdened by evidence; for example, I would love to see some empirical justification for his claim that the Supreme Court’s tepid early-70s gender discrimination decisions torpedoed the ERA. A few other points:

  • It’s strange that he would bring the recent decision by the Connecticut courts into it, since he provides exactly no evidence that this decision had produced any backlash or that the court’s decision will not produce a stable policy otucome. Given that the governor has essentially conceded that the court’s decision will in fact stand, this lack of evidence is understandable but also fatally undermines his central argument. Litigation has led to stable same-sex marriage regimes in two states, and very nearly did in a third. Seems like good odds to me, considering that before the litigation started the number was zero.
  • Even more bizarre is his claim that Brown is an example of a decision by a court much more savvy about backlash than the California courts. Is Rosen seriously claiming that a decision that was unenforceable in many of the states it affected and radicalized Southern politics produced less backlash than In Re: Marriage? I don’t think Brown provides good evidence of a unqiue judicial backlash, but it certainly led to far, far more backlash than Rosen’s bete noires.
  • Rosen compares the anti SSM initiatives with the less successful abortion initiatives, but doesn’t seem to realize that in doing so he’s moving the goalposts to the 40 yard-line. Roe, of course, is at the center of Rosen’s claims about judicial backlash. And what we found this year is that after 35 years of Roe…abortion rights remain popular, and aboriton remains legal in every state after having been illegal in 46. How this provides evidence that litigation is counterproductive escapes me. I assume he’s arguing that this proves that the repeal of most abortion statutes was inevitable, but this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of American politics. Veto-point-laden institutions favor the status quo, and this is particularly true for statues (like bans on abortion) that disproportionately affect the politically powerless. It is much easier for the anti-choice minority to keep existing statutes on the books than to create new ones.

What a Wingnutty Era it Was

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

I thought I was aware of most of the major pillars of Clinton-era foolishness, but I had no idea that there had been thigh-rubbing about Clinton having a hot tub (just like Saint Reagan, although the future Pulitzer Prize winner (!) MoDo neglected to mention that). Which leads us to one of the most horrifying passages in the recent history of American journalism:

I took some friends along so we could float a few theories about the iconic meaning of Bill Clinton installing a hot tub on the South Lawn — Jerry Nachman, the former New York Post editor who now works in TV; Dee Dee Myers, the former White House press secretary who now lives in L.A. and works at Vanity Fair; Barbara Hower, author and TV personality; Rebecca Liss, a reporter for The Los Angeles Daily Journal, and Mickey Kaus, a magazine writer.

Their comments are precisely as illuminating as you would expect. The person who wrote the column retains her presitgious editorial real estate for reasons I could not dream of explaining. [Via, of course, Somerby.]

Pumas Can Never Stop Lying

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

Authentic self-appointed voice of the American working class Lady Lynn Forrester de Beaucoup de Argent Naturellement Je Suis Un Ailier Droit Rothschild just can’t stop the wanking.

A Failure of Leadership

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

Kevin Drum suggests that “Obama has a notable streak of temperamental caution that serves him well, but it could also betray him. Maybe he could have turned the tide against Proposition 8 in California if he’d been willing to take a risk on its behalf.” In this case, it’s a fair knock.

I can understand the difficulty of the problem. Injecting new issues into a campaign is a loser’s strategy; when the most salient issues favor you, you don’t rock the boat. Obama’s primary and general election campaigns were superbly disciplined and stayed consistently on message, and I can understand wanting to avoid the same-sex marriage issue.

But, ultimately, in the last week or two of the campaign it was overwhelmingly clear that Obama was going to win, it was clear that Prop 8 was going to be close, and it was also clear that same-sex marriage was going to be an extremely marginal issue in the federal election. Obama had already come out against it; if the McCain campaign was planning to exploit it they would have already done so. Making a statement (however cautious) against Prop 8 in the last week of the campaign could have made a major contribution to human rights without threatening Obama’s lock on the electoral college. Even to a risk-averse politician, that should have been a no-brainer, and it’s fair to criticize Obama for failing to do the right thing.

Election Night in Juneau

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

I have one final commentary up at MnIndy, whose editors have been kind enough to keep me busy for the past two months. I spent the evening bar-hopping and chatting with folks about the election, Sarah Palin, and assorted other stuff. I describe one of the highlights of the evening here:

Conversation segues to the question of impeaching Palin — hope swims upstream tonight — and then to a prolonged debate about whether our governor is smarter than George W. Bush. Before we can sift through all the evidence, Fox News — officially drawing a curtain on the era of Joe the Plumber — projects an Ohio win for Obama. A light volley of applause fills the room. A guy at the bar announces that he’s going to call his Republican friend in Cincinnati. A few minutes later, he’s gleefully shouting into his cell phone.

“Say it!” he laughs. “Say it with me! Say it! ‘PRESIDENT BARACK — ‘ Say it, you fucker! PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA! COME ON, SAY IT!”

It takes several minutes, but his friend apparently complies. A one-man rapture ensues.

Theories on Stevens

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

Josh Patashnik and Nate Silver have some thoughts on the apparent re-election of Stevens and Young here in the great state of Asshat. Silver notes that so far, it appears that turnout here was significantly lower than it was in 2004 — possibly as high as a 14 percent drop — a fact that, if true, would undermine theories about the so-called “Palin effect,” about which everyone has been jabbering for the past 24 hours. Turnout was high in the Mat-Su Valley outside Anchorage, which happens to be where Wasilla is located, but I don’t necessarily think that voter support for Palin had a huge coattail effect for Stevens and Young. Mark Begich did really well in areas of the state (like Fairbanks) where support for Stevens had always been really high as well as in a number of areas where McCain and Palin pulled in big numbers. Silver’s hypothesis about lower-than-expected Democratic turnout might be correct — and would be a huge disappointment if it turns out to have been the case. But as I’ve pointed out before, polling in Alaska has always been really weird; in every election I’ve seen, Republican candidates always do better on election day than the final polls project. This was one reason I had no hope that Silver’s projection (98% likelihood of a Begich win) would pan out.

I also think that Stevens, especially, managed to pull in a huge sympathy vote in the last few days of the campaign. The campaign clotted the airwaves with ads, and Lisa Murkowski chipped in with several TV spots claiming that Uncle Ted Wuz Robbed and essentially promising that his convictions would be overturned. It was a moronic argument, but it probably worked.

That said, I don’t give a lot of weight to Patashnik’s theory that a lot of folks voted for Stevens on the assumption that he might be a placeholder for Sarah Palin in the event he’s forced to resign. I’ve talked to a lot of Stevens supporters over the past couple of days, and none of them have framed their vote in that sort of strategic way. Support for Senator Intertubes was based on the sense that (a) he’d given 40 years (and a shitload of money from the lower 48) to Alaska, and massage chairs and home renovations aside, he deserved one more term, and/or (b) he’d been the victim of an unjust prosecution and will be exonerated in due time.

Litigation and Strategy

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

In response to Matt’s point here, if I understand correctly most gay and lesbian rights groups (especially in recent years) haven’t opposed all litigation (Goodridge was the result of a carefully coordinated combination of seven lawsuits with support from LAMDA, for example.) Rather, they have opposed federal litigation, which given the non-existent chance of victory with the current composiiton of the federal courts makes sense. On the other hand, as a practical matter, it would in fact be difficult to file a serious lawsuit seeking your marriage rights without any support from prominent civil rights organizations. Nothing can stop you from filing, but without the resources to pursue the a good case through appeals, amicus briefs from prominent organizations and individuals to signal sympathetic judges, etc. your suit is unlikely to get anywhere. So prominent national organizations do have some (although far from total) ability to control the process. (And, of course, there’s often disagreement among organizations about the optimal strategy, which further complicates things.)

The potential tension between the immediate interests of plaintiffs and the demands for a coherent national strategy was also a major part of the LDF’s civil rights litigation (and a particularly difficult problem, since finding plaintiffs in the Jim Crow south, for obvious reasons, wasn’t easy.) Mark Tushnet’s book is very good on this subject.

Palin: Too Big to Fail

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

Everybody’s having a lot of fun with the various rumors about the internal conflicts in the McCain campaign, and the efforts by McCain and Palin staffers to blame each other for defeat. Particularly hilarious is the following threat by Erick Erickson:

RedState is pleased to announce it is engaging in a special project: Operation Leper.

We’re tracking down all the people from the McCain campaign now whispering smears against Governor Palin to Carl Cameron and others. Michelle Malkin has the details.

We intend to constantly remind the base about these people, monitor who they are working for, and, when 2012 rolls around, see which candidates hire them. Naturally then, you’ll see us go to war against those candidates.

It is our expressed intention to make these few people political lepers.

They’ll just have to be stuck at CBS with Katie’s failed ratings.

P.S. – Did I ever tell you how RedState was able to stock Gov. Palin’s campaign plane with twenty of these?. We were glad to. And we were glad not to mention it at the time. We are rooting for Sarah Palin. Don’t make us add you to our list. Do you really want to be next to Kathleen Parker in the leper colony?


McCain deserved what he got for picking Palin; idiocy is often the wage of maverick-itude. Part of the effort by McCain staffers is to point the blame away from their own guy, but I also wonder whether there’s a concerted effort on their part to destroy Palin’s future electoral prospects. This could be understood as McCain’s last gasp effort to save the Republican Party from the monster that he created, but I suspect we’ll never really know.

In any case, I expect that the effort will make Palin more toxic to anyone who’s not in the Republican base, but won’t touch her position within the base. Sarah Palin is too big to fail. Bill Kristol has staked his prestige on Palin’s future, and the simple fact that she thought Africa was a country isn’t going to make he and his back down. He’s too deeply invested in her, and everyone else in the conservative punditariat is too deeply invested in him. If she crashes, everyone goes down. I foresee two possible futures; in one, Kristol starts walking everyone back from the brink in a year or two, and Palin’s future Presidential candidacy goes down the memory tube. In the other, we get Sarah! 2012, and a Goldwater style annihilation next time around. I’m guessing door #2.

The Countermobilization Myth: Prop 8 Edition

[ 31 ] November 6, 2008 |

My prediction that someone would argue that Prop 8 “lends credence to the claims that litigation tends to produce a disproportionate backlash” has been proven correct by Megan McArdle. A few points in response:

  • McArdle, first of all, provides no evidence in support of a unique countermobilization effect, although there’s no compelling theoretical or empirical reason to believe it exists. But she also fails to provide any evidence that it applies in this case. Did same-sex marriage become less popular after the Court’s decision? Did anti-SSM groups become more politically mobilized after it? One would think that this is the minimum that would be necessary for the argument to be true, but McArdle does not offer a shred of support for either.
  • The claim that courts were “the wrong venue” and should be dealt with legislatively runs into the obvious problem that the legislative avenue was closed in California. The decision by California’s (elected) courts was, in fact, consistent with the preferences of a majority of California’s legislators and its governor, but these elected officials were not free to enact their preferences until the court acted. The civil rights analogy McArdle tries to distinguish is, in fact, completely appropriate to this case.
  • It’s also unclear why she thinks the judicial action in this case was counterproductive. There is now a constitutional amendment enshrining discrimination into the state constitution. Prior to the court acting, there was… a constitutional amendment statute with the force of a constitutional amendment* enshrining discrimination into the state constitution. How this made the status quo worse is unclear, and McArdle doesn’t provide any help. And, of course, it seems hard to argue that the passage of an initiative supported by such a bare majority could have been considered inevitable. Clearly, the court’s decision increased the chances of an enduring right to same-sex marriage. And the only way of obtaining this right in the future — a successful initiative — remains equally available.

Rather than providing evidence for the countermobilization myth, then, the passing of Prop 8 proves that people will try to fit virtually any set of facts into the narrative no matter how poor the fit.

*As paperwight correctly notes in comments, one of the laws struck down in In Re: Marriage is technically a statute, but because it was passed by initiative under California law it has the same effect as a constitutional amendment, as it cannot be amended by an ordinary statute from the legislature. The key here is that the status quo is no worse than it was prior to the Court’s intervention.

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