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"Of course you’d say that…you have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter!"

[ 25 ] March 2, 2008 |

As Matt and spackerman note, this collection of bizarre anecdotes and phrenology from Charlotte Allen has to be the dumbest thing published in an American newspaper in many moons. So I guess I can see why she would want to blame it on her gender as a whole, but alas that won’t fly. The heart of the article consists of selective assertions (call me crazy, but it strikes me that the Oprah is conducted at a higher intellectual level than, say, the WWE, Elizabeth Gilbert has to be better written than Mitch Abloom Albom the guy who writes the treacle about meeting your high school volleyball coach in heaven, etc.), assumptions that intelligence consists largely of sharing Allen’s trivial aesthetic preferences and bourgeois romantic sensibilities, and so on.

Trying to make this about the Clinton campaign takes the silliness to a whole other level. Her assertion that “[a]s far as I’m concerned, she has proved that she can’t debate” runs into the obvious problem that debating is the one area where she’s clearly a better candidate than Obama, and even if she wasn’t her unquestionably greater extemporaneous command of policy details creates significant problems for the thesis that any alleged deficiencies in debating result from less intelligence. Then there’s this:

Then there’s Clinton’s nearly all-female staff, chosen for loyalty rather than, say, brains or political savvy. Clinton finally fired her daytime-soap-watching, self-styled “Latina queena” campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, known for burning through campaign money and for her open contempt for the “white boys” in the Clinton camp. But stupidly, she did it just in time to alienate the Hispanic voters she now desperately needs to win in Texas or Ohio to have any shot at the Democratic nomination.

Yes, if only Hillary Clinton had paid millions of dollars for the sage advice of a good smart male union-buster, all of her problems would be over! Only a hysterical woman could believe otherwise!


The Candidate For Civil Liberties

[ 27 ] March 1, 2008 |

I don’t agree with every particular of the argument — it’s a little problematic to tie Hillary Clinton too strongly with her husband’s administration (granting that much of the tying has been done by the Clinton itself), and it’s really time to stop citing Kathleen Willey as a credible witness — but overall Rosen convincingly makes the case that Obama has a significantly better record on civil liberties:

IF Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian. Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has been more consistent than Hillary Clinton on issues from the Patriot Act to bans on flag burning. At the same time, he has reached out to Republicans and independents to build support for his views. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has embraced some of the instrumental tacking of Bill Clinton, whose presidency disappointed liberal and conservative civil libertarians on issue after issue.

Mr. Obama made his name in the Illinois Legislature by championing historic civil liberties reforms, like the mandatory recording of all interrogations and confessions in capital cases. Although prosecutors, the police, the Democratic governor and even some death penalty advocates were initially opposed to the bill, Mr. Obama won them over. The reform passed unanimously, and it has been adopted by four other states and the District of Columbia.

In the Senate, Mr. Obama distinguished himself by making civil liberties one of his legislative priorities. He co-sponsored a bipartisan reform bill that would have cured the worst excesses of the Patriot Act by meaningfully tightening the standards for warrantless surveillance. Once again, he helped encourage a coalition of civil-libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives. The effort failed when Hillary Clinton joined 13 other Democrats in supporting a Republican motion to cut off debate on amendments to the Patriot Act.

That wasn’t the first time Mrs. Clinton tacked to the center in a civil-liberties debate. In 2005, she co-sponsored a bill that would have made it a federal crime to intimidate someone by burning a flag, even though the Supreme Court had struck down similar laws in the past. (Mr. Obama supported a narrower bill that would have satisfied the Constitution.) And Mrs. Clinton opposed a moderate proposal by the United States Sentencing Commission that would have retroactively reduced the draconian penalties for possession of crack cocaine — a proposal supported by Mr. Obama, and by liberal as well as conservative judges.

The expanded executive powers claimed by the Bush administration makes this issue important, and I don’t see a good argument that Clinton is better on civil liberties.

As Astute a Judge of Music As Politics

[ 75 ] February 29, 2008 |

Brad actually lets the most amazing thing about Richard Cohen’s column slide:

She seems unknowable, and there is that melancholy Billie Holiday air about her — all those songs about a suffering woman. Most of us would prefer Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow),” the upbeat theme of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

Apparently, this is supposed to be…an insult to Clinton? Wow.

Where Is The Next Liberal Justice Coming From?

[ 34 ] February 28, 2008 |

Jeffrey Rosen brings up an interesting point about the judicial options for the next Democratic president. The recent Republican dominance of the White House leaves the Democrats with a very small group within the most desirable target candidates (relatively young, female or Hispanic, significant appellate court experience.) This will especially be true if the President has to appoint a justice quickly and doesn’t have time to install a future candidate as Bush did with Roberts. I definitely like the idea of perhaps going outside the appellate courts for a first nominee; as Rosen notes many fine justices have come from that background. Rosen also usefully reminds that Elena Kagan, a potentially strong candidate, “was nominated to the D.C. Circuit at the end of the last Clinton administration and never got a hearing.” Why, it’s almost enough to make me think that the Deeply Principled Republican arguments that Teh Constitution!!!!111One!!!1! requires nominees to get an up-or-down vote were a cynical ruse.

This is also an interesting point:

But a choice like this might be controversial among Democratic activists in the John Edwards wing of the party, who feel the current Democratic justices are already too sympathetic to business. The statistics here bear them out. On the Roberts Court, both Democratic and Republican justices have been remarkably pro-business: The Chamber of Commerce won 13 of the 15 cases in which it filed friend-of-the-court briefs last year, many by near-unanimous margins. In light of this, some Democratic interest groups may prefer a more populist candidate without an extensive resume as a corporate lawyer.

Yesterday’s oral argument in the Exxon Valdez punitive damages case starkly revealed Roberts’s slavish pro-business tendencies, but Breyer — who has joined (and written) opinions finding limits on punitive damages in the due process clause — at times also appeared sympathetic to Exxon’s arguments. Cases involving business interests is an area where the relative moderation of the current Court’s more liberal faction is particularly important.

End of An Era

[ 16 ] February 28, 2008 |

Linda Greenhouse accepts a buyout from the Times. She did very good work. Anybody have guesses about her successor?

"It was a nationwide, televised, MSM version of one of those noxious Obama smear emails."

[ 12 ] February 27, 2008 |

Russert is a disgrace. (See also here, here, and here.) It seems to be that Obama handled the ridiculous questions about as well as could be expected.

Emphasize Law , Not Morality

[ 16 ] February 27, 2008 |

Various bloggers have reacted negatively to Amy Sullivan’s claim that her support of legal abortion can’t be labeled “pro-choice” because she believes that abortion is morally problematic. Kevin Drum defends Sullivan, arguing that it’s entirely possible for a good pro-choicer to acknowledge the moral complexity of abortion. And this is true as far as it goes; it’s certainly possible for a pro-choicer to acknowledge that people disagree about the morality of abortion and then go on to explain why bans on abortion are a bad idea no matter what your position on abortion is.

The problem that I and other people have, though, is that for the most part Sullivan and Saletan don’t actually do this. Their arguments about abortion emphasize moral agreements with anti-choicers, not legal disagreements. Sullivan claiming that she can’t be described as pro-choice implies that pro-choicers can’t disagree about the morality of abortion, and of course asserting that everyone has to acknowledge that abortion is icky is central to Saletan’s shtick. And while Obama goes on in the speech cited by Kevin to argue that everyone can agree that it’s good to lower abortion rates but that we need “family planning and education for our young people,” Sullivan has argued that such policies represent “standing up to” pro-choicers whose goal is allegedly to maximize abortion rates per se.

Good coalition-building on reproductive freedom would consist of emphasizing agreement (the stupidities and inequities of using inevitably arbitrary state coercion to force women to bring pregnancies to term, the greater effectiveness of the broad panoply of pro-choice policies in reducing abortion rates by reducing unwanted pregnancies) and de-emphasizing moral conflicts. People object to Sullivan and Saletan because they emphasize the latter rather than the former — and especially in Saletan’s case, in fact denying that abortion is morally complex but that people who don’t share his moral views are simply wrong — and argue almost exclusively on the political terrain favored by anti-choicers. Creating conflicts where no necessary ones exist — like writing yourself out of the pro-choice movement because you think there are moral problems with abortion — is coalition-fracturing. Acknowledging that many people find abortion immoral can be the start of a pro-choice argument, but it can’t be the end of one.

How Sadly Appropriate

[ 13 ] February 27, 2008 |

It seems right that Chris Muir would have his half-undressed fantasy object cite the punchline of a sexist ad campaign for a crappy frat boy malt beverage. Ah, the intertwining layers of brain-dead sexism!

Democracy! Whiskey! Misogyny!

[ 11 ] February 26, 2008 |

Why, it’s almost as if the talk of liberating Afghani women was a cynical pretext abandoned as soon as they had another shiny new Islamist quasi-state to install!

I’m afraid that if Christina Hoff Sommers hasn’t written at least three books on the subject by the end of the year I’m going to have to continue not taking her seriously.

Today In Aesthetic Stalinism

[ 8 ] February 26, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim stooge at Veritas Libertas — Conservative Thought (sic) About Film (sic): “You know what, I’m glad little Miss Julie -Close Gitmo- Christie lost. Acting like a anti-American pig on the red carpet waving her little Canadian flag (White, right?) and bitching about Gitmo… She can kiss our terriorist killing, UN hating, Iraq invading, Red White and Blue ass as she goes home empty-handed hoping she someday scores an HONORARY Oscar. See ya in Canada Julie– unless, of course you decent decent healthcare.”

I don’t know how much one has to hate art and hate life to harbor an intense, simmering resentment against Julie Christie because she made some mild statements opposing arbitrary detention and torture. Frankly, I don’t want to know. It’s the kind of market we can do without.

One might also think that a writer about film would be aware that Julie Christie has actually already won an Oscar, but of course the website in question has nothing to do with film so it makes sense.

[Thanks to Roy. I think.]

Oh No! A Turban!

[ 0 ] February 25, 2008 |

My assumption about the Drudge story was that the pictures of Obama dressed in a turban with the racist and/or xenophobic connotations that flow from that was that it was a right-wing smear he was trying to launder by pinning it on the Clinton campaign. But this non-denial denial suggests pretty strongly that it was, in fact, a Clinton smear job. I really hope it’s over next Tuesday….

an actual denial from Wolfson. I’ll take their word for it.

The Non-Sequitur Defense

[ 84 ] February 25, 2008 |

A commenter recommends this diary defending the candidacy of Ralph Nader, making an argument I’ve heard many times before. I agree strongly with the diarist that we should get rid of the electoral college and institute instant runoff voting, and mildly agree that a PR system would be preferable to first-past-the-post (although a PR system creates some serious problems with a separation-of-powers system.)

The problem, of course, is that Ralph Nader’s candidacies have done absolutely nothing to bring these things about, and at least two of them (direct vote for president and PR) are because they would require small states or incumbents to give up vested interests. It’s silly to defend Nader by saying that if we had a different electoral system he wouldn’t have thrown the election to Bush. We don’t, and he did, and I don’t see how putting George Bush in the White House took us closer to instant-runoff voting.

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