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You Bought…a Bunch of Them?

[ 0 ] March 21, 2007 |

Shorter Verbatim Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser: “My favorite bumper sticker as of late is one that states, “Bumper Stickers Are Not the Answer.” I bought a bunch of them just because I thought it was funny. However, sometimes bumper stickers are the answer, they can tell you oodles about the person in front of you and warn you to avoid the person or just make you laugh. A good laugh is nothing to sneeze at and frankly, neither is an early warning system that tells you that the driver in front of you lacks critical thought, is emotionally fragile, or just has a wicked sense of humor when you see a bumper sticker that says something like this: “Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?”"

Um, I think this is one of those times when commentary is superfluous, except to say that I guess drawing broad psychological inferences based on bumper stickers might be slightly less unreliable than basing such inferences on someone’s socks.

[Via Roy.]

Why I Have Less Than No Use For Frank Rich

[ 6 ] March 20, 2007 |

As a follow-up to my post about Al Gore allegedly “squandering” the 2000 campaign, I thought it would be useful to take a look at Frank Rich’s analysis of the first debate (where Gore’s victory among viewers was esclipsed by Bush’s wins among the army of morons who covered it.) As Rich’s colleague Paul Krugman–who, unfashionably enough for a media pundit, actually cares about policy outcomes–was pointing out, it was also where Gore laid out a serious policy agenda while Bush systematically dissembled about his plan to piss away the surplus on upper-class tax cuts. How did Rich cover it?

Still, I wouldn’t have missed the debate for anything. Though it added exactly zero to our knowledge of either Al Gore or George W. Bush, it is a keeper for any time capsule of America 2000. At a cultural moment when many voters are forced constantly to make that hard choice between the Gap and Banana Republic, what is more apt than the spectacle of two princely boomers in identical outfits hypothesizing about how to spend a surplus of infinitely elastic trillions that both assume will last indefinitely?

Ha-ha, Gap and the Banana Republic, very droll! But did you hear the one about “Gush and Bore”? That’s a real knee-slapper! Anyway, I take the point; there’s really no difference between an accomplished center-left vice president and a not-very-bright guy who governed to the right of the Texas legislatures–after all, they both wear suits!

…what is more apt than the spectacle of two princely boomers in identical outfits hypothesizing about how to spend a surplus of infinitely elastic trillions that both assume will last indefinitely? Now that branding and marketing are the national ideology — and focus groups have a clout unmatched by labor unions or the religious right — what could be more fitting than a debate in which not a single word is uttered that hasn’t been pre-tested more rigorously than a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich rollout?

Jesus Christ, the whole goddamned point of the “lockbox” phrase you reliably make fun of later is that Gore doesn’t assume that the surplus will last forever. Almost as if, unlike his opponent, he actually knows what he’s talking about.

Though Mr. Bush is fond of boasting that he’s a man of principle, not ”polling and focus groups,” he was just as scripted as his opponent — no small feat. Mr. Gore’s hit parade of tested buzz words and phrases — ”middle class” (10 mentions), ”wealthiest 1 percent” (10), ”lockbox” (7) — was nearly matched by Mr. Bush’s Pavlovian references to bringing ”Republicans and Democrats” together (9) and ”fuzzy” math (4).

Wow, people actually prepare for debates and reiterate key themes in modern presidential campaigns. No kidding! But good that you repeated the narrative about Gore being “scripted.” Good boy.

OK, he does say something about Bush’s lies:

The moment came when Mr. Bush told a Gore-like whopper, fudging his previous stand in favor of trying to thwart the F.D.A.’s approval of RU-486, the abortion pill.

Bush told him one lie–which made him for a second just like that evil Al Gore, whose entirely fictious lies Rich has been hyping (and sometimes making up himself) for months!

And, the inevitable punchline:

Mr. Bush is still an entitled, hail-fellow-well-met American blueblood who has coasted through life with the right name and its attendant connections. Mr. Gore is still the overcalculating child of the expediencies of Washington, where no principle is written in stone for longer than a polling cycle.

Because you can recite cliched personality narratives about both candidates, see, what difference does it make who becomes president?

What a disgrace that people like this are hired to analyze politics in this country’s most presigious newspapers. (I think you can see why the Times thought it was a great idea to hire Ann Althouse for 5 columns.) Nothing rings hollower than the anti-war posturing of people like Rich and Dowd–few people worked harder to make it happen. Not out of principle, but because they’re vapid, self-satified clowns.

Eroticizing PTSD?

[ 0 ] March 20, 2007 |

I agree with Lindsay–the choice of photos for the article about women in the military suffering from PTSD is exceedingly strange, although this charitable interpretation of the editors’ motives is plausible enough. Kay has more on the article’s substantive content.

The Bill of Rights Is The First Casualty Of The War On Drugs

[ 2 ] March 20, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

What do you mean we can’t punish oral sex just because it happens off-campus? Let’s install cameras! It will destroy our precious bodily fluids educational mission!

The War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs has, among its many other problems, acted as an all-purpose Fourth Amendment destruction machine. The nation’s former Panty-Sniffer-in Chief proposes that we throw the First Amendment into the refuse heap while we’re at it:

Oral argument in Morse v. Frederick does reveal some of the worst aspects of sharing a bong. The first being paranoia. Because according to Kenneth Starr, former righteous independent counsel—now tanned Californian law-school dean—the fate of the drug wars depends upon the unconditional school message that drugs are bad, yet schools cannot enforce that message because smartass kids keep undermining them. Starr’s alternative (and if you ask me, far more paranoia-inducing) universe: Schools get limitless discretion to craft broad “educational missions” and are then free to squelch any student speech that “undermines” them.

The justices appear to loathe each alternative about equally. At some point, Justice Stephen Breyer groans that a ruling for the students would encourage them to be “testing limits all over the place in the high schools,” whereas a ruling for the schools would certainly end up limiting lots of speech.

Starr opens with the statement that “the glorification of the drug culture” is at stake here. He claims that schools, even under the broad standard laid out in the armband case, can’t necessarily limit political protest but may bar “disruptive speech.” This sets the court’s hippies off. Justice Anthony Kennedy: “There’s no classroom here.” Justice David Souter: “What did it disrupt on the sidewalk?”

Yes, it’s certainly not as if these restrictions are content-based restrictions of speech!

That middle paragraph is a little scary; I fear that we might be in for a Breyer swing opinion in which he upholds the policy but writes a “compromise” opinion emphasizing that a future violation of the First Amendment might be enough to shock his conscience or something.

CT: More Dangerous

[ 0 ] March 20, 2007 |

The world’s most dangerous perfesser has joined CT, a most welcome development. Whether our annual NHL playoff preview will migrate to that august site as a chaser to all that damned soccer blogging remains unconfirmed at press time.

The Countermobilization Tautology

[ 0 ] March 19, 2007 |

Speaking of nominal supporters of gay rights and specious backlash arguments, you may remember that in the wake of the New Jersey civil unions ruling Glenn Reynolds said that “changes like this are better made through legislative than judicial means, and that this may well benefit the Republicans substantially in the coming elections.” So, what does he think about his preferred position on gun rights in D.C. being required by the courts rather than by democratically elected officials? He predicts a massive backlash if the Supreme Court defers to elected officials and upholds the law. Or what about Tom Maguire, who argued that “gay marriage or civil unions is fine if enacted by the state legislature but wrong if crammed down by judicial fiat.” Oddly, I haven’t seen any posts on his part hand-wringing about gun rights “being crammed down the throats of the people by judicial fiat,” but he has approvingly linked to a defense of the decision.

Of course, it is possible to agree with one decision and not the other for doctrinal reasons. But neither Reynolds nor Maguire disputed the legal reasoning of the New Jersey decision (and I’m going out on a limb and assuming that neither gentleman is an expert on New Jersey constitutional law). Rather, they simply made the a priori assumption that the gay marriage issue should be left to elected officials, regardless of a state’s constitutional order, and also assumed that it’s politically counterproductive for gay rights advocates to use litigation. But for some reason, when there’s an issue they actually care about these concerns about backlash and junior-high-school democratic theories mysteriously vanish. Why, it’s almost enough to make me think that claims that litigation produces a unique backlash are disingenuous and incoherent, and that their objections to the New Jersey decision were about substance, not procedure.

The Goodridge Backlash?

[ 0 ] March 19, 2007 |

In response to my point that Mickey Kaus’s nominal support for gay marriage was empty because he never finds any means of achieving it acceptable (the only meaningful difference between people who are flat-out reactionaries and people who support social change unless it might cause social conflict or affect entrenched interests is that the former are at least honest), a commenter asks: “There wasn’t a massive backlash after the San Francisco and Massachusetts decisions? This didn’t mobilize the Republican vote in Ohio and other battleground states, thus costing Democrats the 2004 election?” Although the question is apparently meant to be rhetorical, the short answer is in fact “no.”

I’m presenting the long answer in an updated version of a paper I’m presenting at the MWPSA conference next month, and Dan Pinello does a good job of summarizing the arguments in his new book too. To summarize the many problems with the countermobilization thesis:

  • The state backlash was window dressing. The strongest argument for the Kaus backlash thesis are the 13 state initiatives passed in 2004 which passed following Goodridge and Gavin Newsom’s actions. However, the actual cost of these initiatives for the cause of gay rights was trivial. In none of these states did gays and lesbians lose legal privileges*; and as Pinello notes, in 9 of the 13 states the new amendments just mirrored statutory bans on gay marriage that already existed. And since state constitutional amendments are generally no harder to change than a statute, the political cost is nominal. A federal constitutional amendment — which is almost impossible to change — would be a different issue, but of course the FMA was pure cynical exploit-the-bigotry-of-the-rubes politics with no chance of actually passing. Gay marriage isn’t any less popular now than it was in 2004. In other words, there’s no evidence that Goodridge actually made the practical task of achieving gay marriage harder. So, clearly, the decision was a net benefit: they gained in Massachusetts (where pro-gay rights legislators have fared better than opponents of the court’s decision, belying claims of a backlash), without actually losing ground anywhere else. As a general matter, I also don’t believe there’s any significant empirical basis for claims that judicial opinions create uniquely large backlashes.
  • The election myth. As Pinello notes, the evidence that gay rights was a decisive factor in the 2004 election is scant-to-nonexistent; once you go beyond eyeballing exit polls and actually do empirical studies of voting behavior, the alleged effects disappears. Moreover, at this point the various strands in the antiliberal obsessions of Kaus and his fellow travelers start to collapse on one another. Kerry in 2004 did historically well given that he was facing a wartime incumbent in a decent economy. Obviously, few people (and Kaus least of all) would claim that this was because Kerry was an incredibly strong candidate. But if a massive anti-gay backlash hurt the Democrats badly, where did the votes go? And none of this is surprising. People who are single-issue gay marriage obsessives are pretty unlikely to be liberal otherwise.
  • Predicting 9 of the last 2 backlashes. You may recall Kaus, and may other pundits predicting that the decision of courts in New Jersey to require civil unions would cause a major backlash against the Democrats in the 2006 election. You may also recall that this didn’t happen even at the level of simple correlation, which will be promptly forgotten the next time the courts issue a similar holding.

Obviously, substantive victories (achieved in any branch of government) will produce opposition from people who oppose them, which would obviously be a stupid reason not to want to win. But there’s no evidence that judicial opinions produce a unique backlash, and there’s also no evidence that gay marriage won the 2004 elections for the Republicans.

*UPDATE: As Mithras and another commenter note, this isn’t entirely accurate; while there was no loss of state marriage benefits in these states, in Michigan and Virginia it did interfere with the ability of gays and lesbians to negotiate private benefits.

Private Morality and Public Policy

[ 0 ] March 18, 2007 |

Matt quotes my colleague Ken Sherrill about why Democrats who support equal rights may be reluctant to disclaim the notion that homosexuality is immoral. The other important point, I think, is that from a political (as opposed to personal) level, what matters is the policy, not the subjective morality. Just as it doesn’t matter what John McCain “really” thinks about abortion when he’s resolutely in favor of criminalizing it, if you support gay rights your personal position about the morality of gay sexuality is not terribly important.

…Pithlord, Matt and lt are correct to point out in comments that it’s wrong to imply that public comments about the morality of sexuality are irrelevant. Obviously, it’s suboptimal for candidates to express the wrong opinion on the issue.


[ 0 ] March 18, 2007 |

Glenn Reynolds asserts as fact that “it was Joe Wilson who outed Valerie Plame.” If you clink through the link, however, you’ll note that the linkee provides no evidence whatsoever for his assertion; he’s got nothing but a just-so story based on pure speculation. Of course, we are dealing with a guy who proclaimed the Plame scandal “bogus” because she appeared in a public photo after she had already been outed, so admittedly the illogic and lack of evidence here are modest by his historical standards.

The Coming Misogyny of Campaign ’08

[ 0 ] March 16, 2007 |

What Garance said. Beck’s attack on Clinton is no less objectionable than Coulter’s attack on Edwards.

…see also Echidne.

Academy of the Overrated: T.V. Edition

[ 0 ] March 16, 2007 |

Shakes asks about the most overrated shows ever to appear on the teevee. (Fortunately, I’ve never seen Lost and can avoid her wrath.) Doing this with television can be tricky, especially since so many series go on after being exhausted (because critics seemed to catch up with Six Feet Under only after it became not very good, for example, it could plausibly be on a most underrated and most overrated list.) So I’m thinking of shows in their “prime.” And I also strive to bracket out questions of mere genre taste; I find The X-Files overrated not so much on aesthetic grounds as that I find the entire premise too intensely irritating to get beyond, which I don’t think is really with the spirit of the category. Anyway, here we go:

  • Sex and the City: It was a critical darling and cultural icon. And it was also a show with C-grade broadcast sitcom writing and (Cynthia Nixon excepted) barely-adequate-to-horrible acting about exceptionally uninteresting characters learning fundamentally sexist lessons. In other words, the easiest choice on the list.
  • 24: The recent discussion about its right-wing politics obscures the real problems with the show, which is that it sucks, something that was quite evident before its politics became clear. In the immortal words of the Editors, “Here’s the plot of “24″: there’s a bunch of terrorists, Kiefer stops them, oh wait no he didn’t, but now he did really, and just in the nick of time! Because even the cruelest TV executive couldn’t stretch this over more than 4 hours, the rest of the show has to be padded out with subplots, mainly involving his daughter getting kidnapped. Oh, Lord, can that girl get kidnapped. Most people can live a good long life without ever getting kidnapped; an unfortunate few do get kidnapped once; there are probably a few examples through history of people getting kidnapped two, or maybe even three, times. Kiefer’s daughter gets kidnapped like seven times a day. She gets kidnapped from people who kidnapped her from kidnappers. If she makes it to dinner time without being kidnapped at least twice, that’s a cause for celebration in the Kiefer household.” And the fact that Keifer Sutherland can win a best actor Emmy tells you all you need to know about the value of those awards.
  • The West Wing: It may seem strange to put what is, I guess, Sorkin’s best show on the list, but that’s the overrated/bad distinction. Even if most critics only saw the glaring suckiosity of Studio 60 after it became a ratings fiasco, it’s hard to call it overrated at this late date, and SportsNight wasn’t long-running enough. Between its wholly unearned reputation for political acuity and the fact that it was a mediocre show discussed as if it was comparable in quality to The Sopranos (hint: in an actual great show, all the characters don’t sound like the script’s author), I found it essentially unbearable despite the good actors. I’ll admit that the 9/11 episode was anomalously bad, but when I saw those students trapped in a room so that a “character” could read–complete with blackboard!–trite moderate-liberal position papers about the Political Implications Of Terrorist Attacks at them, I could identify strongly with them because I had seen an Aaron Sorkin show.
  • Law and Order: SVU Granted, the all-pervos-all-the-time premise does largely pre-empt the “I’m putting the Iraq War on trial!!!!!!!!!!!!!” moments that make many late episodes of the mother show unwatchable. Still, there’s something about the DeMillian simultaneous exploitation and moralism that’s very annoying, and as a procedural it’s pretty lame. Plus, Mariska Hargitay isn’t that good.

Hey if you need a new stand for your tv then look no further we have the TV furniture you need. Whether its Food Network TV shows you want to watch on you’re new big Plasma TV or if you want to hide your old tv in a new tv entertainment center we can help.

How Can Students Understand Whether Xenophobia is Good Or Bad Without Reading Rising Sun?

[ 0 ] March 16, 2007 |

Shorter Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser: “The fact that listening to a fourth-rate pop novelist can cause people to change their minds about the consensus of actual scientists proves that science needs to be balanced with fiction more frequently.”