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Colony to Superpower I: Things Fall Apart?

[ 0 ] November 12, 2008 |

Erik’s response to my FCTS I (From Colony to Superpower: Chapter 1) post is up. A lot of the discussion we’ve been having regards counterfactuals, which is plenty entertaining but somewhat limiting. I wish Erik would expand on this point:

Also, I think westward expansion as a real reason for Revolution has probably been overhyped since 1776.

It’s not that I disagree; I’m just curious about the nature of the argument. Is Erik suggesting that the British would (eventually) have been just as comfortable with expansion as the colonists? This would seem plausible, although it’s fair to say that the gains from expansion (territory and property) would have been distributed much differently under a different relationship between the colonies and the metropol. That difference in distribution might well have produced a civil war or revolution by itself.

On a wholly different subject, Herring noted that there was a widespread expectation in Europe (particularly in Great Britain) that the United States would disintegrate, probably in five years or less. I’m not terribly surprised that there was such an expectation, but I do wonder about the details. Did the British think that the US would crack into 13 separate states, or along regional lines? Did they think that the recovery (voluntary or no) of the colonies would be possible? Individual states would have been extremely vulnerable to pressure from France or Spain, and might well have found the mother country a better option. Herring doesn’t give us any details, but I wonder whether the idea that Britain would recover the colonies anyway played a role in the debate over the wisdom of continuing the war, and in obdurate British policy following the war. Spanish and French expectations of American disintegration may also have played a role in their enthusiasm (such that it was) for American independence.

Dude Has Class…

[ 0 ] November 12, 2008 |

Adam Serwer:

You can take the entire ’08 class of any school and put them in suits and no interviewer would know what their class background is.


At Patterson, we actually do line up thirty-five or so students and put them in suits, and it’s really not all that hard to make educated guesses about social class. Since we cost quite a bit less than our competitor schools, we tend to have a considerable amount of diversity in class and social background. For starters, it’s pretty easy to differentiate between someone who’s comfortable in a suit and someone who’s not. This isn’t a 100% proxy for class, but it’s an indicator, because people who are unaccustomed to wearing really nice clothes tend to look uncomfortable in them. You get more clues when you start talking to the students. A straight regional accent doesn’t tell you very much, as we have more than a few well-off Southerners. But a lower class Southern accent is much different than an upper class, and in any case upper class Southerners will deploy the accent differently. With Northerners it’s a bit different, but you can still find clues to class in the accent, speed of speech, and in the word choice. Finally, lower, middle, and upper class people talk about different things in different ways, even when the subject is international security. This has nothing whatsoever to do with how smart the students are; rather, it concerns the kind of discussions that they regularly have with their friends and families. Once you get to the resume and recommendation stage, the game really is up, because school and connections provide are a fantastic shorthand for class. Do you think that a Harvard education is 18 times better than a University of Oregon education straight on its merits? Assessments of class are never scientific and often aren’t even really conscious, but I would guess that most people have some sense of the class background of people they meet without ever seriously investigating the subject.

Adam’s point is that race and gender are more obvious signifiers than class, and consequently that race and gender are more likely to produce bias in hiring decisions, and finally that affirmative action is thus more necessary to remedy race and gender distinction than class distinction. There is much truth in this, but I think it understates the degree to which class becomes evident through social interaction. The genius of George W. Bush (such that it is) has been in mastering the indicators of class to the extent that a product of New England aristocracy looks and sounds like a lower middle class Texan. Bush is, within a very narrow set of limitations, a fantastic actor, so fantastic that I suspect he’s internalized the created persona. Then again, this may reinforce Adam’s point; George W. Bush was capable of transforming his class persona, but Barack Obama will never be able to convince anyone that he’s white.

Yet More Backlash

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

As Jeffrey Rosen’s dialogue partner, Richard Just makes several very good points here. Two are worthy of emphasis. First, he’s right to say that “I am not convinced that the backlash against gay marriage is fueled primarily by a dislike for judicial tyranny. Rather, I think it’s fueled primarily by a dislike for … gay marriage.” As Just says, opponents of gay rights have mobilized against actions by elected officials, and on the other hand there’s been little backlash in Massachusetts or Connecticut, where the policy outcomes show every sign of being stable. Which brings us to his second important point: “Second, I think it’s important to point out that the gay rights movement has not worked exclusively through the courts. The reason it sometimes appears that the gay marriage movement has focused on the courts is because those are the only places it has actually had success.” This is a pretty high bar for those claiming that litigation is always a bad stretegy to get over.

Meanwhile, Rosen’s reply doesn’t really address these points squarely, but has a couple of additional howlers. This argument is very strange:

I suspect that that gay people in California as a whole would have had the right to marry more quickly if the political process had taken its course. Repealing Prop 8 will be more difficult, given the mobilization of well-funded anti-gay marriage forces from around the country. (The pro-choice movement learned the same lesson after Roe v. Wade.) I wonder, for example, whether 70 percent of African American voters would have turned out to oppose a legislative, rather than a judicial, declaration of gay marriage…

First of all, and rather embarrassingly, Rosen still seems unaware that the California legislature couldn’t legalize same-sex marriage; the previous initiative functions like a constitutional amendment. On the second point, and leaving aside the fact that I’m going to guess that if any additional African-American voters “turned out” most of them did so to vote for Barack Obama rather than to vote against same-sex marriage, where’s the evidence? Rosen doesn’t have any, but that we do know is that less than 10 years ago a much larger majority of Californians voted against same-sex marriage before the California courts had done anything. There’s no reason to believe that the judicial intervention is the key variable here.

In addition, trying to backtrack from his previous argument that the enduring support for judicially-protected abortion rights proves…that litigation is a bad strategy, Rosen engages in some revisionist history about Roe, arguing that “[m]ost of the backlash against Roe focused on restrictions on later term pregnancy, which national majorities supported and the Supreme Court eventually permitted.” Again, there’s no reason to believe that this is true. First of all, none of the statutes struck down in Roe limited their restrictions to late-term abortions. Secondly, Roe itself permitted the state to ban post-viability abortions with a health exemption, and this remains Supreme Court doctrine. The changes in Casey had nothing to do with late-term abortion; rather, the “undue burden” stadard permitted various regulations of abortion that were applicable at any stage of pregnancy. Indeed, the regulations the Court upheld in Casey if anything make it more difficult for women to obtain first-trimester abortions by putting regulatory obstacles in their path. At any rate, it’s hard to see how abortion regulations that Roe permitted could have been the source of the backlash against Roe.

Why Wasn’t This Briefed?

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

The Supreme Court yesterday denied cert in two cases asking them to review standards for the “victim impact” statements that the Court decided to reverse course with unusual speed and permit at the sentencing phase of death penalty trials. The dissents make some interesting arguments, but I think they overlook a key constitutional issue:

All 37 states and the federal government that maintain the death penalty allow victim impact evidence in the sentencing phase of murder trials. In the cases denied review on Monday, the evidence was composed of a 20-minute videotape in one case, and a 14-minute videotape in the other. The 20-minute presentation included dozens of still photographs and video clips depicting the victim’s life, set to the music of recording star Enya, with a voice narration by the victim’s mother.

If forcing a captive audience at a state trial to listen to Enya isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is. I hope a future case will consider the second Eight Amendment issue.

Meanwhile, in the interests of being fair-and-balanced for those Enya fans out there, I present an alternative perspective from an objective critic:

Pondering the fate of post-September 11 pop, everyone predicted what they already wished for–Slipknot undone, Britney in hiding. What happened instead was the unthinkable–sales of Enya’s first album since 1995 spiked 10 months after release. (And she thought that movie where Charlize Theron fucked Keanu Reeves and died of cancer was a promotional coup!) Two years in the making with the artiste playing every synthesizer, the 11 songs here last a resounding 34 minutes and represent a significant downsizing of her New Age exoticism since 1988’s breakthrough, Watermark–it’s goopier, more simplistic. Yanni is Tchaikovsky by comparison, Sarah McLachlan Ella Fitzgerald, treacle Smithfield ham. Right, whatever gets folks through the night. But Enya’s the kind of artist who makes you think, if this piffle got them through it, how dark could their night have been? Like Master P or Michael Bolton only worse, she tests one’s faith in democracy itself.

Maybe a little generous, but…

Armistice Day

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

They ask me where I’ve been,
And what I’ve done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who know it wasn’t I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands…
Though I must bear the blame,
Because he bore my name.

Wilfred Gibson

Ten verified veterans of the First World War remain. On distaste for the “Veterans Day” construction, see here, here, here, and here.

Alaska shall be as a citty upon a hill

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

America’s Governor, responding to a question that no one had actually asked:

I think OK, it provides opportunity, again, to do things right up here as the governor. And to make sure that, if those eyes of the nation are on the state, that we are responsible, we are just, we are fair, we are productive, all those things that this state already is but we have opportunity to be even more so. The eyes of the nation are on the state, we’re not going to let them down, we’re going to make sure that people know we can do things right up here.

Um. Yeah. About that…

To the degree that the nation has cast its gaze on Alaska, it’s been with bug-eyed disbelief that its voters may have actually re-elected Ted Stevens instead of, say, making a vest and hat out of his skin. Beyond that, I can’t imagine what sort of sustained interest the rest of the nation might have in the operatic gyrations of Alaskan politics. But Palin seems convinced that Americans — real Americans, that is, the pro-Americans who failed to elect her — are eagerly awaiting the arrival of those fungible commodities whose molecules we don’t flag, and that the state of Alaska is somehow going to serve as a government-in-exile for the Drill Now/Drink America’s Milkshake Party. Meantime, Palin is apparently unable to comprehend the simple fact that new resource development — ANWR, off-shore drilling, the Trans-Canada gas pipeline — won’t come online, if ever, until years after she’s been humiliated in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

I suppose the good news to draw from this is that in lieu of actual actual accomplishments, Sarah Palin will continue to entertain the nation until the expulsion of Ted Stevens supplies us with something else to talk about.

Handbags and gladrags

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

Things you learn while shopping for other people: I had to buy a wedding gift for somebody who is registered at Nordstrom, and in the course of surfing the store’s internet site I ran into this.

Now I guess I generally think of myself as a somewhat sophisticated fellow, but if you had asked me how much the most expensive handbags at Nordstrom were I would have said, oh I don’t know, $400? I mean I know there are crazy expensive things in this world purchased by crazy rich people (or the wives of crazy rich people), but I sort of assumed there were semi-secret boutiques where those people went to engage in the most insane sorts of conspicuous consumption.

But nope . . . good ‘ol Nordstrom, an anchor store in the very ordinary megamall just down the road apiece, sells $3000 handbags! $3000! I sold my car for less than that last summer, and it was still a pretty good car.

True confession: I don’t think I’ve spent $3000 on clothes, collectively, in the last five years (this wouldn’t exactly shock my students I’m afraid).


The Next "Real America"!

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

I think we have the media’s winner starting in 2010:

“Among Oklahomans, Mr. Cook and Mr. White are hardly alone. Though the state’s Democrats still outnumber its Republicans, you would never know it by looking at the election results. Oklahoma voters went for Senator John McCain by almost two to one, bucking the tide that swept Mr. Obama to the presidency. Not a single one of the state’s 77 counties backed Mr. Obama…


“Oklahoma Democrats, with very few exceptions, are the old-line white Southern Democrats,” said David Ray, another political scientist at the university. “They don’t like liberals or liberalism.”

Indeed, the state has a political landscape closely resembling that of the old solidly Democratic South, especially in its southeastern corner, known as Little Dixie, where many Southerners settled after the Civil War. When conservatives of the Old South began abandoning the party decades ago, Oklahoma’s Democrats lagged behind the historical trend. Further, the state has relatively small black and Hispanic populations, and so the Democrats did not absorb as many new voters from those groups as in the states of the old Confederacy.


Another Republican, State Representative Sally Kern, who recently declared that homosexuality was a greater threat to the nation than terrorism, easily won re-election.

Wow, I think according to Mark Penn’s calculations Oklahoma’s votes should count at least 12 times those of quasi-“Americans.” And I expect David Broder to write a column urging that Oklahoma be moved to the front of the primary calendar, as recent elections results have suggested that Iowa and New Hampshire are becoming a touch less American.

On a related note Mark Schmitt grades the election theories, and notes that the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — the very opposite of the “obsessive focus on the Real American reactionary rural/exurban white voter” beloved by so many pundits and Republican politicians — is looking better than most of the alternatives.

Infrastructure + Cap & Trade = Good Stimulus Package

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

I’m convinced.

From Colony to Superpower: Part I

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

Erik Loomis and I have embarked on a project to evaluate George Herring’s new book, From Colony to Superpower. Herring is a well-respected historian of the Vietnam Era, and has produced a roughly 900-page book on the history of American foreign policy. Each Sunday, Erik and I will comment on a new chapter of the book. I’ll be reading as a political scientist, focusing on how the development of US foreign policy fits into extant theories of international relations. Erik will be reading the book as a historian, with an eye toward how Herring integrates modern scholarship on American foreign policy into the overarching narrative. Perhaps more interesting than the academic element, we’ll also take the opportunity discuss interesting and worthwhile stories about American foreign affairs, in particular those that have fallen out of the public memory. The book has twenty chapters, so we expect to keep this up for twenty Sundays. We’ll be responding to each others points in posts throughout the week, and of course in the comments sections of both blogs. Anyone who wants to join in is welcome, even if you don’t plan to read the book. We’ll take care to include responses to posts and comments in our responses to one another. If you have the book and would like to participate, drop one of us a line. Erik has the first post on the first chapter; go read it now.

Herring makes what amounts to a second image reversed argument about the impact of international factors on the formation of American political institutions. A second image argument (using the terminology developed by Kenneth Waltz in Man, the State, and War) derives international outcomes from domestic factors; for example, democracies don’t go to war against other democracies. Second image reversed derives internal characteristics of states from the international system. Herring makes the case that much of the drive towards centralization in the early Republic came from the need to interact with the international system. While security was one concern (the Founders were concerned about Native Americans, the British, and the Spanish), commerce, according to Herring, was a larger consideration. Pursuit of an open commercial policy was one of the justifications for the Revolution, and expectations were that the new nation would enjoy good commercial relations with Europe. It turned out, however, that coming to agreements was difficult without a central legislative and executive authority capable of negotiating and regulating such agreements. This is a clear cut case of institutional isopomorphism on the international stage. In order to deal with the states that then existed, the United States needed to become like them. The international system creates units that mirror already existing units. There’s both a realist and a constructivist account for this, with the realist case focusing on security concerns, and the constructivist case concentrating more on social and commercial issues. Both cases find some support in Herring’s argument, although I tend to find the latter more satisfying.

As Erik points out, the introduction and first chapter of this book probably look different than they would have fifteen years ago. Herring makes clear that the Founders were, in a very important sense, genuine revolutionaries; they expected the United States to behave differently internally and externally than the nations of Europe. Moreover, the Founders believed that the United States would play a revolutionary role in world politics, eventually if not immediately. Early American efforts at diplomacy with Europe were, it’s fair to say, uneven and often a bit naive. The colonists shared the British prejudice towards continental powers, especially Catholic ones, even as they sought the military and commercial aid of France and Spain. It’s still wrong to make a leap connecting the Founders to modern-day neoconservatism; the Founders on the whole had a profoundly different conception of the relationship between democracy and force than is held by the neoconservative right. Nevertheless, the idea that the United States would play and unique and crucial role in world politics is not new to American political thought.

I’m not sure that I can agree with Erik’s argument that the Revolution was a mistake. Herring convincingly argues that the interests of the colonies and of England diverged significantly in the latter decades of the 18th century. The United States wasn’t able to achieve everything that it wanted through independence (in particular, the commercial sector didn’t grow as anticipated), but the nation was able to survive and expand without the protection of the British Empire. The expansion point is key; Britain and the colonies disagreed bitterly over proper relations with the various Indian nations. The British preferred a far more conciliatory policy than the colonists were willing to entertain. This disagreement doesn’t put the Founding generation in a particularly good light, but it nevertheless represented a serious dispute that would have proved problematic even if the various tax and autonomy issues had been solved. Also, the Revolution limited (but did not fully preclude) American participation in the world war that last from 1790 until 1815. The avoidance of such entanglements was another justification of the Revolution.

Erik further makes the case that slavery in North America would have been abolished earlier in the absence of the Revolution. I’m not sure that I can agree with this, either. To keep the colonies part of the Empire, some power-sharing arrangement would have been necessary. The population of the United States was 16.2 million in 1838, while the population of Great Britain was a touch over 25 million. Even allowing that a considerable portion of that population was enslaved, and that the population might not have grown to the same extent had the colonies remained part of the Empire, this represents a free white population of a scale dramatically different than the other elements of the Empire. The continued inclusion of the colonies within the British Empire would have necessarily transformed the character of the Empire, opening some possibilities and foreclosing others. In particular, the continued existence of a large, white, and wealthy slaveholding class in the North American colonies would have made it much more abolition in the British Empire a much more dodgy prospect than it ended up being. Moreover, the slaveholding class was willing to fight to protect slavery in 1860; there’s no reason to think that would have changed if the relationship between the Empire and the colonies had remained intact.

Finally, I think that a movie or HBO miniseries about John Jay is long overdue. He seems to have had entertaining adventures in France and Spain, and was of course both the “Forgotten Federalist”, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A quick perusal of Wikipedia and IMDB reveals not a single instance of Justice Jay appearing in film; this is surely a crime against cinematic history.

Any thoughts on casting?


[ 0 ] November 9, 2008 |

Steve Conn has some interesting observations on the race in Ohio, where Democratic turnout may have proven less of a factor in the race than the degree to which Republicans simply stayed home. In the end, Obama received fewer about 8000 votes more than Kerry had earned in 2004 — but whereas Kerry lost by 110,000 votes four years ago, Obama wounding up carrying the state by 200,000.

I mention this only because there’s been a lot of speculation over the past two days about the strangely low turnout in Alaska, where it so far appears that about 8000 fewer votes were cast this time around than 2004. I wouldn’t have expected that sort of fall-off going into election day, but I’m not nearly as surprised as Shannyn Moore, who seems pretty well convinced the election was stolen on behalf of Stevens and Young.

For starters, I think too much can be made of the expectation that Alaskans would show up in droves to vote for Palin as VP. While a good many people here implausibly regarded her as a decent candidate for the office, it’s important not to forget how unpopular John McCain was in this state. He finished fourth in the February caucuses, and I would imagine that there were a good many Republican voters who just stayed away on Tuesday, either because they just didn’t care for the guy and/or because a McCain victory in Alaska was already inevitable — as was a McCain defeat nationally. I’m of course just guessing here, but I can imagine that any of those factors might help to explain some of the low numbers.

I’m also not necessarily shocked by the discrepancy between the numbers of Obama and Kerry voters (80K and 111K, respectively). For as excited as Democrats were for this year’s campaign, it’s easy to forget how eager we all were to cast a vote against Bush in 2004. And I suspect there are plenty of Obama supporters who spent the day making phone calls to swing state voters whil assuming — incorrectly, it turns out — that Begich and Berkowitz would mop the floors with Stevens and Young. There are plenty of people, self included, who couldn’t imagine that enough people would vote for these dopes to make the race close. And while I’m not beyond suspecting foul play, I think the more likely scenario is that a surprising number of Alaskans are simply out of their goddamned minds.

Russian Submarine Accident

[ 0 ] November 9, 2008 |

And people wonder why I was concerned about the ability to Peter the Great to make it to Venezuela and back:

More than 20 people were killed and another 20 injured when a fire extinguishing system was inadvertently activated aboard a Russian nuclear submarine in the Pacific Ocean, the Russian navy said Sunday.

“During sea trials of a nuclear-powered submarine of the Pacific Fleet the firefighting system went off unsanctioned, killing over 20 people, including servicemen and workers,” said Captain Igor Dygalo, the navy’s spokesman.

The accident did not apparently affect the submarine’s nuclear reactor. “The submarine is not damaged, its reactor works as normal, and background radiation levels are normal,” Dygalo stated.

Time for a new entry in the “Soviet Submarine Disaster of the Day” series. The submarine is on its way back to port. Custodian at ID wonders whether this was the submarine intended for lease to India. Russian Navy Blog has a bit more.

Russia Navy Blog has a more substantial update.