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Justified Wars

[ 46 ] August 11, 2008 |

Balko has a poll. Inferring from his comments that we’re judging wars in retrospect, I get five (Balko’s three plus the Civil War and the first Gulf War.) A couple of these would be more problematic at the time, especially the Civil War. (Evaluating the Civil War after the fact, conversely, one has to account for not just emancipation but the Fourteenth Amendment, which almost certainly could never have passed under normal circumstances.) Afghanistan also looks worse in retrospect but I’m not prepared to say it was unjustified yet.


John McCain: Staunch Opponent of a Woman’s Right To Choose

[ 13 ] August 11, 2008 |

Sarah Blustain powerfully reminds us of what should be obvious: John McCain is a strong opponent of reproductive freedom. He’s certainly no moderate on the issue. Make sure to read the whole thing, but a taste:

McCain’s views may matter especially to Hillary Clinton supporters, many of whom are pro-choice; according to syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, “[T]hey’ll want to know this: Would McCain stock the Supreme Court with foes of Roe v. Wade?” But, she writes, “The answer is unclear but probably ‘no.’ While McCain has positioned himself as ‘pro-life’ during this campaign, his statements over the years show considerable latitude on the issue.”

That, however, is simply not true. There is no “latitude” in McCain’s position on abortion. Interviews with dozens of people who have dealt with him on the issue–pro-choice and pro-life activists, Hill staffers, McCain confidants, pollsters, and staffers–along with a two-and-a-half-decade-long perfectly anti-abortion voting record, make that clear. And his record on related issues, like contraception, is no better. “I think it is outrageous that people give him a pass, as they gave George W. Bush a pass,” reflects Feldt. “John McCain will be that and worse.”


During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a “child in utero” to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand. And he has voted to appoint half a dozen anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, as well as Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. During the Bork hearings, McCain attacked the Court’s creation of a right to privacy in Roe v. Wade: “Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion,” McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, “it is difficult to argue that the Court’s opinion is not constitutionally suspect.”

Blustain also hasn’t gotten the key script on this issue, which is that holding highly unpopular (Republican) views on abortion isn’t a political problem; it’s only holding the majority (Democratic) position that should be a political liability. Blustain seems to think that holding unpopular positions is a political problem, giving McCain and his acolytes every incentive to obfuscate their categorical opposition to abortion rights. What a strange view of politics!

And while I’ve said this before, it’s also worth addressing this particular attempt to portray McCain as a moderate that Blustain cites:

He also told reporters that if his then-15-year-old daughter got pregnant, they would make “a private decision that we would share within our family and not with anyone else”–a response that to some ears sounded a lot like code for the right to privacy and abortion.

Of course, having no objection to your daughter getting a safe abortion in that context doesn’t make you a pro-choicer; it makes you a Republican. John McCain’s daughter will be able to obtain a safe abortion under any legal regime, including if Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow and her home state banned abortion. It’s not women with the connections to obtain gray market abortions or the resources to travel who are affected by abortion bans, and the fact that McCain would exempt his daughter from rules he would apply to poor women in Mississippi makes his support for criminalizing aboriton even worse.

The Cat That Won’t Cop Out

[ 2 ] August 11, 2008 |


Hopefully Never To Speak of This Again

[ 1 ] August 10, 2008 |

With Rob doing yeoman work covering the real news, I was planning on not commenting, but seeing that MoDo has decided to combine inevitable attacks on the “Breck Girl” with mockery of Rielle Hunter (apparently once relevant novelist Jay McInerney was appalled!), I’m compelled to say something. So let me start with the obligatory concession that whatever one wishes the rules were, a candidate has to largely work within the established rules, and it was therefore grossly irresponsible of Edwards to run for president under these circumstances. I don’t feel the same bitterness that Paul must, because I was never an Edwards supporter in this cycle, largely because his campaigned seemed amateurish compared to his two largely ideologically similar opponents. I suppose this could be seen as further evidence of this.

Still, especially since it’s not just right-wingers who have used this opportunity to engage in easy moralism and to construct tortured rationalizations of why this really matters, let me be clear: the idea that this kind of thing could be seen a decisive factor in determining who should become president is, as Mizner says, “a national sickness.” This is politics-as-selling-jeans, and any difference between this and “OMG a woman adviser is telling Al Gore to wear earth tones!!!!!!” trivia is one of degree, not kind.

And, when you come down to cases, I don’t think anyone really could dispute this. This is particularly evident when you consider all of the McCain supporters now claiming that this should have been a major story in the (at least nominally) serious political press. Do they really believe this? Well:

Recall: John McCain returned to the United States from Vietnam in March 1973. His wife, Carol, had been in a near-fatal car accident while he was gone. She was overweight, on crutches, and 4 inches shorter than when McCain had left. McCain ended up divorcing Carol for Cindy Hensley, his current wife. Carol has remained mostly silent on her marriage to John, except for one notable comment to a McCain biographer: “John was turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again.”

There were legal complications, too. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that McCain obtained a marriage license while still legally married to his first wife. McCain suggested in his autobiography that he divorced Carol months before marrying Cindy. In fact, that period was about five weeks. He also said that for the first nine months of his relationship with Cindy, he still “cohabited” with Carol. Social conservatives were never McCain’s base, but yes, it could get worse.

So these people will support Obama, because a candidate’s commitment to marriage is Really Important, right? Of course not — and it would be incredibly foolish for them to do so. As Digby says, “[i]t’s not a useful proxy for public behavior, never has been.” And, fundamentally, I don’t think anyone really disagrees. They just pretend to in order to justify treating interesting gossip as if it was serious news.

As a punchline, Kenny has a good roundup of Instahackery on the subject. In addition to everything else (yes, newspapers that routinely put Judith Miller on the front page in the runup sure were committed to stopping the war), what kills me is that Reynolds thinks that by not reporting on this before the MSM was helping…the Democrats. Yeah, that sure would have been great for the Dems if this had come out now if Edwards was the candidate! But, of course, I’m forgetting the rules: Edwards’s adultery is bad news for Barack Obama, Bill Clinton’s adultery is bad news for Hillary Clinton, but John McCain’s adultery isn’t an issue for John McCain.

More on The Myth of Saint Casey

[ 3 ] August 8, 2008 |

Yesterday, Tom Maguire pointed to what he claims is an old defense of the “conventional wisdom” on the exclusion of Saint Casey from the 1992 Democratic convention (although, in fairness, his analysis is actually a little more intelligent than that.) I see no reason to believe that Begala is wrong that Casey’s failure to endorse the Democratic ticket played a role in his not being invited to speak, but purely for the sake of argument let’s say that this is just ex post facto rationalization. It remains rather critical to distinguish between two distinct claims: the argument that Casey (as the Times said yesterday) didn’t speak “because he is pro-life” and because “he wanted to give a speech attacking his party’s position on reproductive freedom.” (Maguire carefully conflates the two by framing this as whether Casey was excluded “because of abortion.”) The Myth of Casey relies on dissembling and giving version #1. And this is necessary, because if stated as the much more accurate version #2, the claim that the party did something wrong is transparently ridiculous.

Well, maybe not fully transparent. Maguire, whatever his other sins, does us the favor of reminding us of this remarkable claim from Peter Beinart:

I think one of the great problems in the debates about abortion and gay rights is the perception that liberals are illiberal and nondemocratic. It’s remarkable to me how many people still mention the fact that [the anti-abortion Pennsylvania governor] Bob Casey was denied the right to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. That was an illiberal thing the party did. And there is an important debate for liberals to have about the role of the courts in pushing social change.

So “liberalism” requires that a political party give a speaking slot at its nominating convention to anyone who wants to give a speech attacking a party’s core values? Is this guy for real? What would the idea of a political party even mean if this was true? I think we can see why Beinart thought that running Joe Lieberman in 2004 was a peachy idea.

And as dumb as this idea is in the abstract, it’s even worse in context:

  • Casey’s support of using state power to compel (poor) women to bring pregnancies to term came in the context of a recently argued Supreme Court case seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • It was Casey’s government that was not only defending the abortion regulations at issue in the case but that filed a brief urging that Roe be overruled.
  • Although this now seems less threatening, it’s also important to remember that at the time the overruling of Roe seemed to be nearly certain. The most recent Court pronouncement on the subject has only three clear votes for re-affirming Roe, and two of those justices had just been replaced. Kennedy joined Rehnquist’s majority, not O’Connor’s more moderate concurrence. Even assuming the O’Connor wouldn’t vote to explicitly overrule and not counting on the unknown views of Souter, Thomas and Kennedy seemed to give the clearly anti-Roe Rehnquist, Scalia and White a majority negating a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

So Casey Sr. was not some random pro-lifer. He was not a nominal pro-lifer who wasn’t actively trying to criminalize abortion in the manner of Harry Reid. He was at the epicenter of a movement to take away a cherished constitutional right from American women, and moreover a movement that seemed at the brink of succeeding in forcing poor women to the black market if they wanted to control their reproductive destinies. And he wanted to broadcast his views — both unpopular and contrary to core party principles — at the party’s convention.

Of course he wasn’t permitted to do this, and even if had been the sole reason for his exclusion the party’s decision would have been indisputably correct. The only “illberal” or “intolerant” actions here were the actions of Casey. Are the Republicans obligated to give speaking spots to people who support single-payer health care and Denmark’s tax policies? If John Lindsay wasn’t permitted to give a speech at the nominating convention in 1984 attacking Reaganonmics despite his demands would we still be hearing about how the “intolerant” Republicans had “treated him shabbily” decades later? I think these questions answer themselves.

The Myth Of Casey Never Dies

[ 69 ] August 7, 2008 |

You would think that the latest defeat of Phil Kline would (unless you think the median national voter is more reactionary than the median voter in Kansas Republican primaries) give some pause to people who, say, believe that appeasing radical Catholic anti-choicers should be a key criterion in choosing a running mate. Alas, we get more of this:

Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party’s platform and powerful constituencies. Many Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight.

The first sentence, as usual, completely ignores the fact that Saint Casey refused to endorse the Democratic ticket. No evidence is provided for the assertion that “[m]any Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight,” but what’s remarkable is that the data provided in the story shows the Democratic margin among Catholics increasing in ’92 and ’96 versus 1988, so it couldn’t have been that much of a factor.

The rest of the article has all of the usual problems with arguments implying that shifting towards the minority position (already occupied by one party) on abortion will be electoral gold : the arbitrary focus on one particular subgroup, overstating that subgroup’s opposition to abortion rights, being completely vague about how exactly Democrats could attract abortion opponents, and most importantly ignoring any costs that might come from diluting the party’s popular position on reproductive freedom.

My question: can you imagine a Times thinkpiece about how John McCain’s position that abortion should be illegal (if possible, accomplished by a constitutional amendment that would make performing an abortion first degree murder in all 50 states) may “divide” suburban women in swing states? Me neither.

The Overhype Has Landed

[ 0 ] August 7, 2008 |

Do-do-do-dee-do, it’s nice living here in the Capital of Baseball where you can check some scores and news before bed without being subjected to an ESPN-style 24-hour Brett Favre wankfest and…

Oh, Jeebus.

Readers will be happy to know that at least there’s no way I can any longer argue that St. Derek of Pasta Diving is the most overrated athlete in New York. One of the ineffable mysteries of life is that Favre seems to have the media status of a Mantle/Woods/Gretzky immortal when as far as I can tell he’s never (with the very arguable exceptions of ’95 and ’96) even been the best player at his position and has often not even been close. Jeter has a good argument for having been the best player in the league at least twice and was one of the best players on four championship teams, and he was generally an excellent postseason performer in those years. Favre has been a very good player, insanely durable, but not truly great.

Will he help the Jets? If he plays like he did last year, he sure will. If players the way he did in ’05 or ’06, he’s a marginal upgrade over Pennington/Clemens. And I don’t think he has the receiving weapons here he had in Green Bay…anyway, I’m sure we’ll now be hearing all too much about it.

The New Professionalism

[ 37 ] August 6, 2008 |

In the course of refusing to exclude evidence obtained through an illegal no-knock search in Hudson v. Michigan, Justice Scalia applied that the rule was obsolete:

Another development over the past half-century that deters civil-rights violations is the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline.

The logic of this argument (like much of Scalia’s opinion) is dubious. If police forces increased their professionalism in the wake of the requirements established by the Warren Court, including the application of the exclusionary rule to the states, this doesn’t strike me as a good reason to get rid of said requirements.

At any rate, Radley Balko finds an example of the professionalism that allegedly allows the Court to get rid of negative disincentives:

Last week, police stormed Calvo’s home without knocking, shot and killed his two black labs, and questioned him and his mother-in-law at gunpoint over a delivered package of marijuana that police now concede may have been intended for someone else.

The Washington Post reports that the police didn’t even bother to get a no-knock warrant, which means the tactics they used were illegal.

It’s good that the Supreme Court has encouraged this kind of sterling police work!

To add an additional point, it is true (as its critics will point out) that after the fact the exclusionary rule does not provide a remedy in cases where evidence isn’t found. But that doesn’t mean that the innocent derive no benefits from the rule; if the state knows that it can’t use illegally obtained evidence, it has a strong disincentive not to break the law in the first place.

More Adventures In McSexism

[ 48 ] August 6, 2008 |

Megan Carpentier:

When he failed to wow them with his “drill here and drill now” energy plan, or his tax plan or his plan to be out of Iraq for sure by 2013, he tried a different strategy. He suggested to Cindy and the audience that she should compete in the Miss Buffalo Chip contest. What’s so bad about that?

Miss Buffalo Chip isn’t a beauty contest in the traditional sense — it’s a relatively debauched topless (and sometimes bottomless) multiday contest where women dance, jiggle and reportedly even perform blow jobs on bananas for the titillation of the spectators. And John McCain offered up his 54-year-old wife as a contestant.

And, let be frank, he didn’t do it just because she’s pretty or has an enviable body for a 54-year-old woman or because he’s proud of his wife’s brand of socialite beauty. He did it to pander to the crowd’s idea of appropriate masculinity, and that apparently includes over-sexualizing your wife and the mother of your children for the amusement of a few people in a crowd. McCain offered up the thought of his wife objectifying herself for the sexual gratification of others (at his suggestion) in order to get a couple of chuckles, inspire some male fantasy and make a few “friends.” Fun!


But what does it say that he would suggest it of his wife? I think it’s another piece of gravel in a growing mountain of evidence that John McCain doesn’t think a lot about women, their place as equals in society or their rights in that society. But he does seem to think a lot about us as sexual beings — or, at least, sexual objects.

And, certainly, whatever is in his mind his consistently anti-feminist policy record is manifest.

Walk On Bayh?

[ 29 ] August 6, 2008 |

As far as it goes, I think that Patashnik and Silver make reasonable points here. A congressman’s record has to be evaluated in context, and in said contexts Bayh’s record isn’t bad: ” there is no senator more liberal than Bayh in any state more conservative than Indiana.” He is a bit of a wet on abortion, for example — although better than Kaine — but there’s a reasonable argument to be made that his compromises are the minimum necessary for political survival in that context. Moreover, while “partial-birth” legislation is the very stupidest of that dismal genre, it’s also the regulation with the least impact on access to abortion. I also agree with Patashnik that “authenticity” means nothing; the fact that he’s moving left is a good sign, not something to worry about. And there are some surprising good points in his record especially the votes against Alito and Roberts. While suboptimal, he would be at least an acceptable choice in ideological terms.

Still, I’m definitely with Cohn. I think there should be a strong presumption in favor of having someone with executive experience on the ticket [whoops: as a commenter points out, Bayh was governor; my mistake], and as Cohn says even Bayh’s legislative record is undistinguished. I also think there should be a strong presumption against someone who supported the Iraq war. And I’d make an even stronger case against selecting him on strategic grounds. Even if we (very generously) assume that Bayh is the extremely rare candidate who could attract home-state votes as a running mate, there’s the problem that Indiana at the presidential level (whatever the polls at this early date say) is a deep, deep red state. If Indiana’s close enough that Bayh could put Obama over the top, Obama won’t need it. Bayh’s OK, but he hardly seems like the best Obama can do.

UPDATE: As elm notes, I neglected the most important point: it would almost certainly result in the loss of a Senate seat as well.

The King of Nothing

[ 58 ] August 6, 2008 |

A couple commenters here (and I’ve heard this elsewhere) compared Mark McGwire to Dave Kingman. This really couldn’t be more absurd. Let’s start with their lifetime OBPs:

Kingman: .302
McGwire: .394

So, except for the fact that McGwire is vastly better at the most important hitter’s skill, they were very similar. Or compare the OPS+s from their first seasons up to age 30:

Kingman: 113, 109, 102, 117, 128, 96, 131, 146
McGwire: 164, 134, 129, 143, 103, 176, 138

And even this understates McGwire’s superiority, because OPS substantially overvalues power and undervalues OBP. With a better metric, the gap would be even larger than this. Comparing the two is like comparing George Bell with Ted Williams.

In addition, McGwire was a decent first baseman when he was younger, while Kingman was a complete butcher. True, McGwire was a slow slugger, and lost his defensive value early. But even if he was largely “one-dimensional,” so what? Derek Bell is more “multi-dimensional” than Frank Thomas. Who cares? The point is to win, and the enormous amount of runs McGwire created (in addition to adequate defense when he was younger) was extremely valuable.

Reasonable people can disagree about how much PEDs should affect Cooperstown. I, personally, would but virtually no weight on it, but I understand people differ. But unless all alleged steroid users are removed from consideration McGwire is not merely a Hall of Famer but an overqualified Hall of Famer.

A Joker Without A Clue

[ 69 ] August 5, 2008 |

Ed Morrissey tries to explain why Obama’s perfectly banal remarks about car maintenance and tire inflation are considered some sort of hi-larious gaffe among people who considered The Half Hour News Hour comedy gold and the Right Brothers the new Stones:

So yes, inflate your tires properly and get regular tune-ups. But if you think that will solve the supply crisis or make us independent of foreign oil, then you probably won’t get the joke no matter how many times we explain it.

See, here’s the problem: Obama doesn’t believe and has never said that we can be “independent of foreign oil,” for the obvious reason that it would be completely crazy to believe that this is possible. Certainly, McCain’s plans would bring us nowhere near this point. And even if we destroyed enough wildlife refuges and coastal economies to produce enough oil to meet the demand of American consumers — again, a complete impossibility — we would still not be meaningfully “independent.” After all, oil is a fungible commodity that’s part of a world market, and it’s not as if American oil companies will just give Americans a discount out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to pay the going rate no matter where the oil is produced.

So the punchline is that Obama’s suggestions will produce more benefits, without — and pay attention here — any costs. That’s not a gaffe. Thinking that Iran is training Al-Qaeda? Now that’s a gaffe. See? Sorry I had to explain it to you.

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