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Defining Liberalism Down

[ 0 ] December 5, 2007 |

Dave Weigel claims — plausibly — that Huckabee has gotten soft coverage because reporters like him. He also claims — rather less plausibly — that this is because of Huckabee’s “liberalism.” I guess this is the flipside of arguments that George Bush’s statism makes him a liberal (as opposed to the statist conservative he actually is), but it’s a strange assertion. Unless anybody who doesn’t believe that tax cuts are the appropriate response to every conceivable fiscal situation is a liberal, then fiscally Huckabee governed as a moderate conservative (in the context of a strongly Democratic legislature), and he’s campaigning as a right-wing crank on fiscal matters by making a regressive, unworkable national sales tax his centerpiece. In addition, of course, liberals tend not to believe that abortion is a “holocaust,” support amending the Constitution to make gays and lesbians second-class citizens, etc. He may not be the first choice of the powerful Donald Luskin wing of the GOP, but he’s not a liberal in any sense.

The Unserious Huckabee

[ 26 ] December 5, 2007 |

A couple of things:

  • Melissa McEwan makes a good point with respect to Huckabee wanting to have it both ways when it comes to religion and politics. You can’t not only repeatedly stress your background as a preacher and your religious values and muse about teaching the non-science of “intelligent design” in public science classes and then complain when people ask about the latter.
  • Both Yglesias and some commenters here are advancing the claim that Huckabee’s surge should be seen as evidence that Huckabee is a serious contender for the nomination. I still think the original bank-shot conventional wisdom — that Huckabee could inflict serious damage on Romney but not actually win — remains correct. In the course of explaining why claims that someone is “peaking too early” don’t make much sense and distinguishing between Obama and Huckabee, Publius makes the key point. As Huckabee’s apparently not having heard about N.I.E report on Iran or understanding its implications makes clear, he just doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure for a serious bid. After Iowa and New Hampshire Huckabee’s exceptional retail campaigning skills become virtually irrelevant, and he just doesn’t have the organization to take advantage of an early victory. Even worse, the fact that the Hair Club For Growth and other pro-business factions within the party are strongly opposed to him means that not only is he not going to get the resources to quickly build an organization, but whoever emerges as his strongest opponent will be lavishly funded. I suppose the race remains too fluid to completely rule out anybody who can win Iowa, but I still rank Huckabee a distant fifth among GOP candidates in terms of their chances of winning the nomination.

McCain is the New Kerry?

[ 0 ] December 4, 2007 |

“I’m waiting for pro-life voters to remember this guy named John McCain,” says Yglesias. Relatedly, Tom Schaller lays out the case that McCain could be the Republican Kerry, the guy who slips up the middle when the frontrunner implodes.

There are a couple things to be said for this. In terms of his opportunity, there’s no serious question; Romney is in a considerably more shaky position than Dean was at a similar time, and Guiliani and Thompson both have obvious problems. And logically, I agree that McCain (assuming that Huckabee can’t win) seems like the best choice for ordinary social conservatives; my opinions about that aren’t terribly relevant, of course, but actual social conservative Ramesh Ponnuru makes a persuasive case. The problem, however, is that — especially after what McCain said about various cultural conservative leaders in 2000 and for a couple years after — McCain is disliked by a lot of people within his own party, who (rightly or wrongly) seem to see him as a Republican Lieberman. And this is the biggest difference with Kerry. Nobody in the Democratic Party had any particular issue with him; he was ideally positioned as the plain vanilla liberal to take advantage after Dean’s campaign was mortally wounded in Iowa. McCain really isn’t in the same position. He has a lot of important enemies within the party.

Admittedly, I also thought Kerry was dead in 2003. And with Huckabee unacceptable to the most powerful faction in the GOP and Thompson seemingly campaigning from a hammock, there’s really no Kerry-equivalent plain vanilla conservative who’s both 1)a strong candidate and 2)lacks strong opposition. But I still think a McCain win is a real longshot, and I think Romney can survive losing in Iowa.

Injustice and Felony Murder

[ 20 ] December 4, 2007 |

Via Plumer, Adam Liptak discusses the case of a 20-year-old in Florida serving life without parole for lending some friends his car. What’s particularly useful in the article is that Liptak makes clear how unusual it is for the U.S. to have retained the concept of felony murder that holds accomplices equally responsible for murders committed by others regardless of their intentions:

Most scholars trace the doctrine, which is an aspect of the felony murder rule, to English common law, but Parliament abolished it in 1957. The felony murder rule, which has many variations, generally broadens murder liability for participants in violent felonies in two ways. An unintended killing during a felony is considered murder under the rule. So is, as Mr. Holle learned, a killing by an accomplice.

India and other common law countries have followed England in abolishing the doctrine. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court did away with felony murder liability for accomplices, saying it violated “the principle that punishment must be proportionate to the moral blameworthiness of the offender.”

Countries outside the common law tradition agree. “The view in Europe,” said James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative law at Yale, “is that we hold people responsible for their own acts and not the acts of others.”

The point here is not that Holle is entirely innocent, but it seems far more appropriate to sentence him as an accomplice before the fact than as a murderer. (And when combined with another distinctive feature of the United States compared to other legal regimes — maintaining the death penalty — the potential for injustice is even more severe.)

If You Like Phillipe Rushton…

[ 0 ] December 4, 2007 |

Searching around in a hurry for some reading material for the gym, I found an issue of Esquire on my magazine pile, and came across this from Certified Teller of Hard Truths James Watson:

Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified. Just like some anti-Irish feeling is justified. If you can’t be criticized, that’s very dangerous.

Although, as he goes on to make clear, the unspecified “dangers” arising from exemption from “criticism” apply only if you’re engaging in crank racialist stereotypes; criticizing a university president with a bad record of hiring and retaining female faculty for asserting that women lack the genetic necessities to become professors in many fields, on the other hand, is completely beyond the pale of civilized discourse. You can see why people who take Pihillipe Rushton seriously are inspired to claim that Watson is justified by Teh Science…

Discussion of Issues Of Greater Interest To Readers Than Me

[ 93 ] December 4, 2007 |

Megan stakes out her preference:

I believe that just as there are Elvis people and Beatles people, there are Rowling people and there are Tolkien people. Sure, you may enjoy both, but you’re always going to prefer one to the other. So one of the other reasons why I kept putting off reading HP is because inevitably whenever people recommended it to me they would go on and on about just how creative Rowling was. To which I would inevitably think, that may be true, but no one is ever going to create as rich and complete of an imaginary world as Tolkien (hi, multiple appendices of lineages and fully developed languages with pronunciation keys). So I’m a Tolkien person.

Somewhat oddly for someone of my general social circles my choice here would be “none of the above.” Although for different reasons, because I have actually read some Tolkien (read all of The Hobbit and tried unsuccessfully to get through The Lord of the Rings a couple times) and know he’s not for me while I’ve never read word one of Rowling. I don’t even mean that to be hostile; like Chuck Klosterman I secretly suspect that they’re actually not bad, but I also know I’ll almost certainly always have other priorities. And yet, I can sort of see what Megan is saying about the old stuff; although the LOTR movies are accomplished pictures that often make my mind wander and that I have no desire to watch again, it would be foolish to deny the scope of imagination the films demonstrate, and while that’s partly a credit to Jackson but however alien his sensibility is to me it’s also largely a credit to Tolkien. (With respect to the Potter movies, I haven’t seen them, but I have a very hard time believing Megan’s claim that they got worse after firing Chris Columbus.)

With respect to the perennial “Beatles/Elvis?” question, the correct answer of course is “the Stones.”

The Beauchamp Retraction

[ 0 ] December 3, 2007 |

Franklin Foer has officially withdrawn his support for the reporting of Scott Beauchamp. I’m not terribly surprised with how this turned out, having thought from the beginning that the stories had a certain…Glassian quality about them. It still hasn’t been proven that Beauchamp has a Glass-like fabulist, but believing difficult-to-prove-or-disprove stories comes down to the reliability of the storyteller, and in this case it’s pretty clear that faith in his reliability isn’t warranted. The story probably shouldn’t have been printed, and it was also obviously a mistake to have his wife involved in fact-checking the article.

Having said this, I don’t see anything especially problematic with anything Foer did after questions were raised about the story. I think this passage is worthy of emphasis:

My colleagues and I placed calls throughout the military’s public affairs apparatus in Baghdad and Washington, hoping to set up back channels. We asked officials to provide us any conclusive evidence, even off the record, that would give us faith in the Army’s findings.

We never received this cooperation. But conservative bloggers who were fixated on this controversy–one arrived unannounced at TNR’s offices with a video camera, another later attempted to organize an advertiser boycott of the magazine–were treated differently. After we had posted an online statement explaining that we had been unable to communicate with Beauchamp–who, according to Reeve, was under orders not to speak with us–and pleading with the Army to make him available to us, General David Petraeus’s spokesman, Steven Boylan, told the Standard, “We are not preventing [Beauchamp] from speaking to TNR or anyone.” One of our editors called Boylan’s office on a near-daily basis to set up a phone call with Beauchamp; every time, they told us they were working on our request. After several weeks, we stopped hearing back from them. The Army later confirmed to us that it had, indeed, prevented Beauchamp from speaking.

If the Army has actually provided evidence to TNR that the stories were false, or were even allowing Beauchamp to speak freely, a great deal more of the criticism directed at Foer would be warranted. But that wasn’t the case. Given that Beauchamp wasn’t retracting his stories, and TNR was being prevented from effectively discerning their truth, Foer did the right thing in not saving himself by throwing his writer under the bus prematurely. (He’s also right, of course, that many of the arguments made against the article at the time were obviously specious.)

I also agree with Andrew Sullivanclaims that TNR published Beauchamp in the hope that the “piece would help turn people against those serving in the war” are beyond ludicrous. Leaving aside the fact that TNR‘s turn against the war has been pretty subtle — it doesn’t seem to involve supporting a withdrawal, for example — it doesn’t make any sense. First, if TNR wanted to publish a diarist who would undermine the war effort, publishing someone whose first story was about how a vicious militia cut out the tongue of a boy who was friendly with American troops seems like an odd choice. And secondly, nobody opposed the war because…American soldiers might make cruel remarks about a disfigured woman. I can understand why people defending the fiasco in Iraq want to make arguments about the valor or the troops rather than attempting to defend the war on its actual merits, but they really need to stop projecting.

It’s Your Fault For Not Having a Penis

[ 0 ] December 3, 2007 |

Via Ann, Megan Carpentier finds that the “Medicare program spent $450 each on about 47,000″ penis pumps, although “Medicaid (which serves low income Americans) only covers abortions in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother.” Although an amusing tale of government waste — maintaining erections is a legitimate medical problem, but they overpaid by hundred of dollars each — as Carpentier suggests, this story has a serious point.

Given the recent death of Henry Hyde, allow me to point out again that the constitutionality of the Hyde Admendment is a much more difficult question than it might seem on first glance. It is true that Americans don’t have to right to health care spending per se, but this doesn’t end the dispute. As Justice Stevens noted in his dissent in Harris v. McRae — which upheld the Hyde Amendment — “When the sovereign provides a special benefit or a special protection for a class of persons, it must define the membership in the class by neutral criteria; it may not make special exceptions for reasons that are constitutionally insufficient.” To take an obvious example, Americans also don’t have the constitutional right to a state-funded education, but when the state provides one it cannot provide one to white people but not black people. And as the fact that the feds are willing to shell out for dick pumps at $450 a throw makes clear, abortions are not excluded from Medicaid funding for a legitimate neutral reason, such as the procedure being insufficiently important or too expensive. It can’t be because it’s too dangerous, because 1)an abortion performed by a trained professional is safer than carrying a pregnancy to term and 2)the Hyde Amendment makes the procurement of unsafe abortions more likely. The Hyde Amendment does not have a justification related to the criteria of the program; its sole purpose is to obstruct the exercise of a fundamental right.

This raises serious constitutional problems. And while reasonable people can disagree about whether the policy is arbitrary enough to be unconstitutional, it’s certainly arbitrary enough to be awful public policy.

A Defeat For Autocracy

[ 25 ] December 3, 2007 |

Hugo Chavez’s referendum has apparently gone down to a narrow defeat. This is a good thing for reasons that Randy Paul explains here.

Solemn Announcement

[ 32 ] December 3, 2007 |

All of our efforts to convince Davida that she really could be doing a lot better having been in vain, it should be noted that Mr. Robert M. Farley is about to become the second married member of our collective. I will have the solemn responsibility of Best Man; I may or may not figure out what that entails in the next two weeks. Information about the pending nuptials in Washington D.C. can be found here.

A Real Making-Shit-Up Renaissance Man

[ 24 ] December 3, 2007 |

The guy who filed fictions in the guise of reporting from Lebanon is also the author of the seminal The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. Of course he is! The title is a little redundant, though.


[ 15 ] December 2, 2007 |

Joe Sheehan (subscribers only) points out that it would be crazy for the Twins to trade Johan Santana for young pitching that hasn’t proven it can handle a major league workload — something it had plenty of — as opposed to major league hitters, which they lack at several positions. (At the very least, if they deal with the Yankees they should hold out for Cano, not Cabrera, who has well-below-average range for a CF and doesn’t hit enough to play the corners.) They don’t seem to consider that because, as Sheehan correctly points out, “no matter what a team actually needs, its GM always thinks it need pitching. ” But, of course, there’s the even better option:

Of course, there’s another option here, one that hasn’t been brought up very often. By virtue of having very few veteran players, the Twins have a low payroll, and one that is unlikely to rise much in the next few years given all of that cost-controlled pitching. They’re also moving into a new ballpark in 2009, one that should provide a larger-than usual boost in revenue as they get out from under a brutal lease at the Metrodome. Like all teams, the Twins have seen a jump in central-fund revenue, and even in the new park, they may find themselves the recipient of revenue-sharing money.

Taking that into consideration, the Twins should sign Johan Santana themselves. Even setting a new pitching standard of $20 million a year, or $22 million a year, is more than affordable for a team that will be able to support a payroll approaching $100 million and won’t come close to that figure without Santana around. The key thing we know about the free agent market is that the very best players in baseball are the ones on which you should spend your money. It’s infinitely better to overpay a bit—if it’s even overpaying—for Johan Santana than it is to try and replace his performance in the market, or through development.

Like Alex Rodriguez in 2000, like Barry Bonds in 1992, like Greg Maddux that same winter, Johan Santana is an elite talent irreplaceable through normal means, and as durable as any pitcher can be in modern baseball. If the standard in six years and $140 million, or seven and $155 million, as ridiculous as those figures sound, they may be well worth it if the alternative is spending two-thirds of that over that same period for half the performance.

Trading Santana for 50 cents on the dollar at best isn’t just a bad trade; it’s an outrage. This isn’t a baseball move, like letting Hunter walk (which was smart; he wasn’t worth the money.) They’re not going to use the money to sign a better player. And remember that the Twins, owned by one of the richest people in the country, are getting a large and absolutely indefensible taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium that will increase their revenues. I’m going to guess that the need to be able to pay their talent came up quite a bit when defending this regressive distribution of state revenues. And yet, when it comes to retaining the best pitcher in the game, Pohlad won’t risk any of his mutli-billion dollar fortune; after all, he can just take revenue-sharing money from teams that actually invest in their product along with a nice fat check from the state and make a safe profit instead. It’s a disgrace.

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