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Politicians? In the United States Congress?

[ 0 ] October 11, 2007 |

Shorter Verbatim CNN: “More and more, Congress is acting less like a deliberative legislative body, and more like a political campaign. We’ve been seeing the politicization of every aspect of government.” What kind of deliberation is inherent to a five-minute radio address, or how “politics” is to be avoided on an issue where two branches of government support overwhelmingly popular legislation and the president vetoes it, is not clear.

I don’t think that CNN has a “pro-conservative” bias so much as a “pro-stupidity” bias, although in the Age of Bush there’s obviously considerable overlap between these two categories.

Conservative Liberal Hawks

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |

Speaking of “liberal hawks,” the Bush administration’s idea of a Deep Thinker tries to combine the vain preening of liberal Iraq War dead-enders with very strange conservative strawman arguments about moral relativism. And, alas, it succeeds:

It is inherently difficult for liberals to argue against the expansion of social and political liberalism in oppressive parts of the world — though, in a fever of Bush hatred, they try their best.

Yes, some liberals hate Bush so much they really don’t want states to become more democratic! Omitted: not only actual names, but what the Iraq War, at its immense cost in money, opportunity, and human life, has actually done to advance “political liberalism.” Reason for omission: the answer is obviously “nothing.” Gerson’s argument is the flipside of the “you were opposed to the war because you secretly like Pol Pot” silliness of Cohen. It’s all an attempt to pre-empt rather crucial questions about whether their favored policy is actually advancing their very noble-sounding goals. Then there’s this:

The unavoidable problem is this: Without moral absolutes, there is no way to determine which traditions are worth preserving and which should be overturned. Conservatism assumes and depends on an objective measure of right and wrong that skepticism cannot provide. Without a firm moral conviction that independence is superior to servitude, that freedom is superior to slavery, that the weak deserve special care and protection, the habit of conservatism is radically incomplete. In the absence of elevating ideals, it can become pessimistic and unambitious — a morally indifferent preference for the status quo.

Again, this is just a pointless non-sequitur. Very few Americans on either the left or right believe that the Hussein regime was a just social arrangement worthy of preservation. A lack of moral conviction on the trite question of whether liberal democracy is better than brutal dictatorship is not the issue. The problem Gerson is eliding by conflating normative and empirical skepticism is that our conviction that a social order is unjust is neither here nor there in terms of whether or not a half-baked military intervention is capable of replacing said unjust social order with something substantially better at a cost that wouldn’t be put to better humanitarian purposes elsewhere. Like “liberal hawks” Gerson wants to be judged on intentions rather than results. I’m guessing most Iraqis suffering under the disaster Gerson helped create and is still apologizing for might want to apply a different criterion.

UDPATDE: Beutler, Joyner, and Logan have more.

Books That Really Needed Writing

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |

Although I remain almost as confident that McCain’s primary campaign will remain a dead parrot as, er, I was sure that the Dems wouldn’t take over the Senate in 2006, this looks great:

At any rate, in the event that a McCain surge does materialize, the antidote is Matt Welch’s new book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, a comprehensive dissection of the man who for a long time held the title of America’s most overrated politician and who still in many circles is viewed as something of a sympathetic, tragic figure.

In the book, Matt builds upon some earlier writing of his on McCain through the revolutionary (given the subject matter) method of actually examining McCain record and views than the more traditional approach of wishful thinking and ideological projection. In essence, it’s the story of a man who succeeded in turning his own life around through embracing hard-line American nationalism and then decided to adopt this as a governing philosophy before becoming a media darling in a way that left him simultaneously overexposed and underanalyzed.

Obviously, my favorite example remains people straining to find a pro-choicer beneath a 0% NARAL rating, but there’s plenty more where that came from. The movement in the early 2000s to pretend McCain was a liberal because he didn’t embrace (at the time) the very nuttiest supply-side policies remains utterly inexplicable.

Elimination Day: Day After Notes

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |
  • It’s all A-Rod’s fault for working so hard. Make sure to see this handy “why Slappy’s homers are all meaningless” chart. I really don’t think Cashman will stick by his pledge not to sign him if he opts out, but I’m sure hope he’s being honest about it.
  • Admittedly, St. Derek of Pasta Diving supplementing his usual atrocious defense by hitting roughly 000/000/000 with 15 DPs was so bad that even his reliable apologists in the media had to say something, although this was generally framed as the loss of his previously unassailable “clutch gene” or something. How he gets a pass for 2004 is beyond me. I guess that unlike Sheffield and Slappy he didn’t make the mistake of playing well when the Yanks got off to a 3-0 lead; if they had all played like Jeter, they would have gotten swept rather than choking historically. He’s a terrific hitter who has had many good postseasons, but really, we’ve heard enough about the Captain of Clutchiosity.
  • I also have a lot of crow to eat in regards to Eric Wedge. Happy to be wrong!
  • Apparently Torre is likely to be replaced by Tony LaRussa, Super Genius (TM). Goody. Average Yankee game time in 2008: 7 hours, 22 minutes. (I’m rooting for Larry Bowa, granting that Torre’s credentials in 1995 we just as suspect.)
  • I can’t say I really grasp why an organization that gave $1 million a start to the 112-year old Roger Clemens and half the GNP of Bolivia on Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright and Official Opening Day Starter Carl Pavano would let Mariano Rivera test the free agent waters bitter because the Yanks wouldn’t give him an extension. Hopefully the Cubs will blow him out of the water…
  • I should also mention that because the Yankees made the playoffs, Planned Parenthood of Seattle is $50 richer thanks to faithful reader Howard. As long as such wagers are confined to the regular season, abortion access in this country could be significantly broadened….

Like Before Sunrise, But More Long-Winded!

[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

You know, sometimes when the studios suppress the work of artists they have a point. It did produce a great summary of Hawke’s acting in such roles: “He still seems to mistake brooding for depth, solipsism for self-awareness, and gaudy declarations of love for the thing itself.”

Your Tax Dollars!

[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

It’s a minor example among the countless ones of the Bush administration’s fiscal incontinence, but the money the Bush administration is using to fund useless abstinence-only programs and useless abstinence-only advertising campaigns makes it pretty clear that the veto of SCHIP was not about the money, but about the horrifying prospect that providing insurance to more middle class children might create a slippery slope to the kind of health care system used in every other liberal democracy where more people are covered for less money for health outcomes that aren’t any worse. And we can’t have that!

Wounded Byrd

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

The question of whether Byrd on full rest or Sabathia on short rest start tonight really is the kind of question that’s empirically unknowable. The difference between Byrd and Sabathia is less than the plausible effects of Sabathia on short rest, especially when you consider that it will limit his innings. This is a case where deference is owed to the manager, who knows the individual characteristics of his players. Plus, Byrd is a league average pitcher who throws strikes, crucial to beating the Yankees.

Still, I have to say that unless Sabathia is completely unable to pitch it seems crazy to me that Wedge is starting Byrd. This is partly the fatalism of the Yankee hater, I’ll grant, but there’s also good reason to believe that Byrd will be entirely non-competitive against the best offense in baseball. He doesn’t get many Ks, and going up against 7 lefty hitters in a lefty-favoring park his surrendered a .322 average to lefties, which is an improvement over 2006 when lefties hit .369 off him. I can’t believe that even on 3 days rest Sabathia doesn’t give you a better chance than that, and if it doesn’t work you still have Carmona on full rest at home in Game 5. Wedge is all but surrendering Game 4 in advance, something he may well come to severely regret.

Anyway, I can’t say I was looking forward to the Gus Van Sant skateboarding picture a friend bought me a ticket for at the New York Film Festival tonight, but now it seems likes a godsend…

…obviously a good start, long way to go. One more point before I go: one reason for both optimism and to wonder about the choice is that the Indians are in a decent position to score some runs here. Sinkerballer or no, you have to wonder about Wang on short rest, and with Torre’s bizarre decision to use Joba for two innings with a 5 run lead the Yankees are in a world of hurt if he gets knocked out of the box early. Hopefully Byrd can gut his way through a few innings, but I hope he doesn’t squander a lead a la Westbrook. (Good point about Laffey in the comments.) Anyway, I hope to be pleasantly surprised when I get back…

…so it turned out after I got to Columbus Circle that, to my ill-concealed annoyance, the Van Sant movie is tomorrow. It actually looked like we were going to see Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge instead — the usher didn’t notice either — but then someone showed up for their seats after the picture started. It figures that the Yankees would start hitting as soon as I got home…anyway, as I was saying starting wily veteran Paul Byrd was a brilliant choice and I predicted that he would shut down the Yankees for five innings…

…My question (and fear): if the Indians have, say, a 2-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, does Borowski come in?

Will Dobson Run?

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Matt disagrees with me that Dobson is probably bluffing about a third-party run if Giuliani is the nominee. I don’t mean to discount the possibility entirely, but I do think it takes a pretty cynical view of Dobson’s motives (“cynical”, of course, doesn’t mean “wrong.”) If we assume that Dobson wants to maximize his personal power, he’s almost obligated to mount a third-party campaign if Giuliani wins. If we assume, however, that he cares most about achieving anti-legal-abortion (for poor women) policy objectives, he’s not going to mount a campaign. If the next President lasts eight years, he or she will almost certainly be appointing the replacements for Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter, as well as dozens of federal judges who have been given almost unlimited discretion by the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of new abortion regulations that start short of a ban (but can cumulatively have the same effect.) Whether or not he’s personally pro-choice, the kinds of judges Giuliani will appoint are likely to be hostile to Roe, and at the very least will be more likely to vote or overturn it than those appointed by Clinton or Obama. With four reactionaries, three of them still young, entrenched on the Court and two older liberals (at least on reproductive freedom, along with another one who by most accounts doesn’t especially like the job and is likely to retire early, this is a historic opportunity for supporters of forced pregnancy, and moreover an opportunity that may not come back for decades. (And this also makes any loss of political power from a Giuliani presidency short-term; if Roe is overturned, the GOP is going to need every anti-choice vote it can get.) I don’t know, but my guess is that Dobson really does care about this. I don’t think he wants to guarantee the entrenchment of Roe v. Wade for several decades.

There is one other scenario under which Dobson would run: he’s convinced that Giuliani can’t beat Clinton. (I don’t think this is remotely true, but it only matters what he thinks.) If he believes that a Democratic victory is inevitable, then it makes sense for him to make it look as if he was responsible. However, this strategy carries a rather obvious risk; if he ends up throwing an otherwise winnable election to Clinton, it’s frankly hard to see this increasing his influence among Republicans who will be furious with him. The analogy isn’t exact because Nader represents a smaller constituency, but four years after Nader threw the election to Bush he had to rely largely on Republicans to fund his feeble 2004 spoiler campaign, and he was a non-factor in the Democratic race. Again, I’m pretty strongly convinced that Dobson understands this, and will have more influence keeping Giuliani honest within the party than taking his ball and going home.

I Defy You To Show Me A Christian White Male in a Position of Power Anywhere In the United States

[ 5 ] October 8, 2007 |

Shorter Dr. Helen: Men are “screwed” by laws preventing domestic violence because they don’t have the political power to influence the laws. And a random anecdote about David Letterman provides convincing evidence that many restraining orders are granted just to give women leverage in custody disputes!

Bush: War On Drugs Over The War On Terror

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

One major reason I always strongly opposed the Iraq war is that my graduate training entailed some study of the difficulties of state-building. Building stable states, let alone liberal democracies, is very difficult, and usually involves alliances with other powerful actors to help raise revenues and maintain coercive authority. One reason Iraq was so disastrous is that the people responsible for designing the plan for the invasions failed to grasp this simple point:

An even more fundamental argument against fighting terrorism by promoting democracy, however, is that no one in the US government has any idea how to promote democracy. Fukuyama accuses the neo-cons of chatting offhandedly about democratisation while failing to study or even leaf through the ‘huge academic and practitioner-based literature on democratic transitions’. Their lack of serious attention to the subject had an astonishing justification: ‘There was a tendency among promoters of the war to believe that democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators.’ Democracy obviously has many social, economic, cultural and psychological preconditions, but those who thought America had a mission to democratise Iraq gave no thought to them, much less to helping create them. For their delicate task of social engineering, the only instrument they thought to bring along was a wrecking ball.

One might have thought that this ‘remove the lid and out leaps democracy’ approach was too preposterous ever to have been taken seriously. But it is the position that Fukuyama, with some evidence, attributes to neo-cons in and around the administration. They assumed, he writes, that the only necessary precondition for the emergence and consolidation of democracy is the ‘amorphous longing for freedom’ which President Bush, that penetrating student of human nature, detects in ‘every mind and every soul’. Their sociology of democracy boils down to the universal and eternal human desire not to be oppressed. If this were democracy’s only precondition, then Iraq would have no trouble making a speedy transition from clan-based savagery and untrammelled despotism to civilised self-restraint and collective self-rule: sceptics who harped on the difficulty of creating a government that would be both coherent and representative in a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and tribally fragmented country, simply failed to appreciate the love of freedom in every human heart.

Cavalierly designed by mid-level bureaucrats who were both historically and theoretically illiterate, the administration’s half-baked plans backfired badly. This should have come as no surprise. And prospects for reform in the Middle East have not been improved by the perception that democratisation in the region, at least when promoted by the West, spells violent destabilisation, criminalisation and a collapse of minimally acceptable standards of living.

And the inability to understand the basic fundamentals of state-building continues to lead to incredible blunders. As Yglesias and Kleiman note, both undercutting the Karzai government in Afghanistan and denying it the ability to obtain revenue from poppy-growing while effectively ensuring that said revenues will instead go to the Taliban is utterly insane. It would be insane even if there was any reason to believe that it would reduce American heroin use, which of course it won’t. To prioritize failed anti-drug war policies over protecting American security is beyond indefensible, and (like Iraq itself) an instruction in what happens when you talk a lot about fighting Islamic terrorism but are incapable of thinking about anything to actually accomplish your goals that don’t involve torture and conventional military force.

Personal to Maureen Dowd

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Please never try to write satire in another voice ever again.

I’ve been thinking for a while at picking some of the Pulitzer-winning columns from 1999 at random and seeing just how debased the standards of whoever votes for those awards are. But I’m not sure I have the stomach for it.

At Least Get Your Story Straight

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

Of the innumerable jaw-dropping feats of illogic performed by American “pro-lifers,” I’ve always been amused by the fact that to the forced pregnancy lobby women are simultaneously routinely getting abortions on a whim because a pregnancy might interfere with their pedicures and yet such helpless, desperate victims that they should not be held liable in any way for what is allegedly a serious violent offense against another human beings. It really would be helpful if they would figure out which particular line (among the several mutually inconsistent ones) of idiotic reasoning they want to go with.

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