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They Pull Me Back In…

[ 0 ] June 24, 2007 |

Now that the latest Nader thread has neared the length of an Unfogged one, I guess it’s time for a new one! I think zuzu makes the point that is really the most important:

There’s a lot of talk about Nader on this blog, but I rarely ever see any of Nader’s defenders say exactly what they thought he was going to accomplish in 2000, or 2004, and god help us, 2008. Because I don’t think Ralph hisself knows once the cameras turn his way.

This is really the heart of the issue. Defenses of Nader at this late date always end up turning into attacks on the Democrats. And while I rarely agree with them tout court — they tend to ignore obvious facts like the structure of American institutions, the preferences of the median voter, etc. — they certainly have some merit. But the larger problem is that it’s all a non-sequitur because voting for Nader doesn’t accomplish anything positive. (Or, at least, doesn’t accomplish anything that just voting for Bush straight up wouldn’t accomplish, but in the wake of the hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, a deficit that will make progressive change much more difficult, the Alto-fied Court, etc. one rarely hears heighten-the-contradictions arguments that eight years of Bush will be worth it because the 2008 Democratic candidate may be slightly to the left of the previous ones. Especially since the frontrunner is less progressive than Gore or Kerry.) The Goldwaterite transformation of the Republican Party wasn’t accomplished by vanity third-party runs, and getting matching funds for the Greens would have done nothing but make it easier for the Republicans to hold office.

As Michael Tomasky pointed out, one only wishes that conservatives were as illogical and indifferent about the strategic ends of their actions as the minority of Greens still defending the man who used them for his own bizarre ends:

During the 2000 campaign, I used to go to bed wishing that the Christian Coalition were as strategically feebleminded, and as psychologically bent on disruption at any price, as the Greens. That way the CCers would have backed Gary Bauer, the laughably unelectable hard-right family values candidate. Then, once Bauer had been winnowed out of the nominating process, they would have claimed that his defeat showed just how corrupt the Republican Party had become from its incurable need to placate the secular humanists and “banking interests.” Then they would have run some nut of their own who’d have made Bauer look like Arthur Vandenburg. Finally, with a few million misguided souls behind them, including at least a couple thousand in Florida, they would have cost George W. Bush the election, no asterisks or question marks. What a wonderful world this would be.

But the Christians are far smarter than these left-wing lions of ideological chastity, and so we are where we are.

Christian conservatives could have formed a third party over, say, Reagan hanging Bork out to dry or Bush I tax increase. Alas, they didn’t, because they actually understand American politics. They understood that for all they were used the GOP was better for the than the Dems, those were the only two options, and they got the Roberts Court as a result. Anyway, to sum up, the costs and benefits of Nader’s 2000 candidacy:

  • Costs: Nader’s goal of electing a very reactionary and exceptionally incompetent president was, alas, realized, with incredible domestic and foreign policy costs.
  • Benefits: None. And, no, the fact that some people got to feel ideologically pure as they effectively voted for Bush (while assuring us that, despite having governed to the right of the Texas legislature, he was a harmless moderate not substantially different than Gore!) doesn’t count.

I’m not really seeing how the tradeoff works here.


[ 0 ] June 24, 2007 |

Tom Hilton looks into Melinda Henneberger and discovers that her random anecdotes just happened to line up with her strong pro-forced-pregnancy views! (“‘…choice,’ make no mistake, is killing the Democratic Party.” It’s scary to think about how much views that aren’t the majority position are hurting them…) What are the odds? And not only that, but she also lined up with the far right on the Schaivo case, complete with appalling, gratuitous slaps at her husband. Another question: it would obviously be too much to ask for her to write about how the disgraceful (and enormously unpopular) Schiavo circus hurt the GOP, but has she ever written an op-ed about how the death penalty is “killing the Republican Party” by costing them the Catholic vote? I know which way I’m betting.

Anyway, as Digby says there’s no genre of op-ed more annoying than this kind of Friedman/Broder special, where well-rewarded pundits tour Real America and find — amazingly enough! — that Real Americans just happen to agree entirely with their a priori views:

That is exactly why I don’t trust this stale and silly convention of DC insiders and elite pundits making anthropological forays into Real America and “reporting” back on the thinking of the electorate. They just reinforce their own preconceived notions and come back to their perch at the top of the political power structure secure in the knowledge that they are just like small town, hard working, regular folks after all.

Give me cold poll numbers any day — and if somebody wants to follow up with interviews of a sample of that sample for an article in the paper, then fine. But the notion that DC pundits have some special way of talking to strangers that translates into something meaningful about the population at large is ridiculous.

Henenberger is anti-choice. Fine. She went out and found some anti-choice people just like her and extrapolated from their conversation that abortion was killing the Democratic party, just as she personally thinks it is. But she never says that. Instead, she pretends that she has conducted some objective reporting which led to the inevitable conclusion that the Democratic party is losing because of abortion. That is shoddy journalism, opinion or not.

And the real brickbats here, of course, belong to the New York Times for not even requiring her to directly acknowledge that her cherry-picked Stories From the Heartland happen to accord with her own views on the subject.

Colbert on, um, porking

[ 0 ] June 24, 2007 |

His choice of words, not mine.

I wrote last week about the hubbub over FOX and CBS’s refusal to run a new Trojan condom ad which uses sex to advertise sex (the horror!). Colbert has one upped me with this hilarious the Word segment.

I couldn’t have said it any better.

The View From Your Massive Cardiac Event

[ 0 ] June 24, 2007 |

Much as I love spending time back in the midwest, it’s not Santa Fe. My summertime resolution to forestall a heart attack has run aground on a reef of bagged snacks, fatty meat, fried edibles, surprisingly inexpensive booze and curded dairy products. I suppose now would be as good a time as any to invest in a personal defibrilator.

Weird. Should my left arm be tingling?

Sunday Maritime Book Review: Sacred Vessels

[ 0 ] June 24, 2007 |

In the course of some actual academic research I happened upon Robert O’Connell’s Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy. Someone (I forget who) also recommended this book in comments a while ago. O’Connell’s a fellow battleship enthusiast, but has come to hate the thing that he would love. His argument is that the battleship in the 20th century is essentially the product of folly. Naval officers (and some civilian policymakers) fell in love with the battleship and supported its development and procurement because the battleship fit into preconceived notions of how naval combat was supposed to be conducted. Although reluctant to give up the battleship, naval officers eventually decided that aircraft carriers fit the mold, and adopted the CV as the capital ship of the post-war age. The submarine, because it lacked the romance normally associated with naval warfare, suffered, as did the destroyer. O’Connell illustrates his account with more than a couple glorious quotes, including Admiral William S. Sims:

Kentucky is not a battleship at all. She is the worst crime in naval construction ever perpetrated by the white race

and, from Representative John S. Williams (D-Mississippi) in 1906:

Whereas the British Sea Monster which we are imitating has been named Dreadnought- an archaic name- this man-o-war is hereby named Skeered O’Nuthin as an expression of our true American spirit; Provided further, that it is hereby made the duty of the first Captain who shall command her to challenge in the nation’s name, the so called Dreadnought to a duel a outrance, to take place… in sight of Long Island and that on the occasion of the combat the President and his cabinet… being fond of the strenuous life, shall be entertained on the quarter-deck as guests of the ship and the nation

The latter suggests that Southern conservatism has not always been attached to a hawkish approach to American foreign policy.

O’Connell focuses on the USN, but his argument necessarily touches on the other navies of the world. Because every navy of consequence (and some of no consequence) pursued battleship construction, it’s untenable to argue that the battleship stems from organizational peculiarities in any one navy. This is an argument that I’m sympathetic with, especially since my dissertation is titled “Transnational Determinants of Military Doctrine”, and the paper I’m writing examines the spread of the dreadnought as a form. However, I wish that O’Connell had explored two issues at a bit more depth. First, the dreadnoughts of the navies of the world differed significantly, as did the appreciation of the aircraft, submarine, and other alternative weapons. I would have liked some account of why different navies pursued the dreadnought in different ways. Second, the primary alternative explanation for why all of the navies of the world would pursue the same kind of ship is that it is rational to do so; the rationality can be conceived of in either a bounded or a traditional sense, with the former explanation focusing on the battleship in preference to other established ship types, and the other in the battleship as the natural product of warship evolution. O’Connell hints at both, but would prefer to reject the idea that naval officers were behaving irrationally in favor of what might be termed “systemic bureaucratic blindness”.

O’Connell doesn’t take seriously enough the possibility that, at least in World War I, the dreadnought may well have been the best option available for control of the sea, and that, for some powers at least, control of the sea was an entirely reasonable object of war. O’Connell emphasizes the danger that the mine and submarine posed to the dreadnought, and suggests (although he’s reluctant to make the argument outright) that a navy based on cruisers, destroyers, subs, etc. would have been better than the concentration on battleships. For some powers this is no doubt true, as both Germany and Russia would have been better served by a sea denial rather than sea control strategy, although I think that the strategic errors would more accurately be placed at the feet of civilian policymakers rather than naval officers, as O’Connell would have us believe. For the US, UK, and Japan, however, it was sensible to try to build ships that, being larger and more heavily armed than the enemies ships, could destroy the latter in battle. Competition inevitably produced larger, more capable ships, and thus the dreadnought form. O’Connell also gives a somewhat misleading account of the performance of the dreadnought in World War I. Not a single dreadnought was lost to submarine attack during the war (one was lost to a mine, and one to surface torpedo boats), and only three (Barham, Royal Oak, and Kongo) were lost to submarines in World War II. Although O’Connell suggests that the standoff between the High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet was not expected by naval observers, it wasn’t a surprise to the admirals at the time, who had a very strong sense of how numerical advantage would play out in a major battle, and spent the war trying to manipulate the numbers to their own advantage. At Jutland, for example, Jellicoe’s decision to turn away from the German destroyer attack was motivated by a very sensible appraisal of the strategic situation; the Royal Navy did not need to sink Germany’s dreadnoughts as long as it outnumbered the High Seas Fleet. This can hardly be regarded as a flaw in the weapon system, any more than someone could argue that the ICBM is a useless weapon because it never gets fired. O’Connell also plays a bit fast and loose with some encounters; although naval enthusiasts still debate the encounter between Goeben and Admiral Troubridge’s four armoured cruisers, it’s hardly settled opinion that the smaller, slower, lighter armed cruisers would have been able to destroy Goeben. I would argue just the opposite; Goeben likely would have crippled or destroyed Troubridge’s cruisers without difficulty, specifically because of the characteristics (high speed, heavy guns) that characterized dreadnoughts.

O’Connell gets into interesting ground when he talk about the naval treaties and the run up to World War II, although his discussion is confused. He wants to argue that the limitations of the battleship were possible because everyone realized that the battleship was useless, but this argument obviously makes no sense. If there was generally consensus among civilians that the battleship was an obsolete form, then no limitation on their construction would have been necessary. The market, as it were, would have solved the problem. O’Connell also leaves out a few important facts about the interwar construction and modernization; contrary to his assertion, some of the reconstructions produced very useful units (the Italian modernizations in particular), and the USN made the decision not to modernize its five most modern battleships in favor of newer units. Also, the dreadnought in World War II was more useful than O’Connell suggests, as the German, Italian, and British dreadnoughts regularly saw action, and the faster Japanese and American battleships contributed to the air defense of the carriers.

I wish that O’Connell had turned his focus to the Southern Cone navies, where a genuinely peculiar naval race developed between Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. I suspect that he would have found, as I suggested above, that there were sociological reasons for the adoption of the battleship form, but that they depended more on civilian perception of international prestige than on the preference of naval officers for a particular form of ship. Nevertheless, he makes an interesting argument, one that combines elements of Lynn Eden (organizational frames) with John Meyer (world society). He also tells a lot of interesting stories, particularly about the development and internal politics of the USN. It’s a flawed but useful book.

The Corporate Court

[ 0 ] June 23, 2007 |

Kia Franklin has a post on two new cases that make successful securities litigation more difficult. A few additional notes about the Tellabs case, which came down this week:

  • The case created a standard for surviving a motion to dismiss — that in inference of illegal action should “at least as likely as any plausible opposing inference” — that is unusually difficult. Despite this, Alito concurred to claim that the standard was still too lenient. The corporate donors certainly got what they paid for.
  • Having said that, the problem here is not just about Alito and Roberts. This decision, after all, was 8-1. As I mentioned last week, what we think of as “liberals” on the Court are really more Rockefeller Republicans and DLC Democrats. They seem like liberals compared to Thomas and Alito — especially on the kinds of cultural issues that dominate coverage of the Court — but business cases make it clear that there’s no Douglas or Marshall on the current Court. (If if you’re response is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a crazeee liberal, you don’t know what you’re talking about.)
  • And in this particular case, the primary blame (or, if you own a business engaged in potentially shady securities activities, credit) belongs to the Republican Congress. The most interesting part of the case to me is this from Stevens’s dissent: “[Congress] implicitly delegated significant lawmaking authority to the Judiciary in determining how that standard should operate in practice.” Congress does, in fact, do this all the time, but it’s rare for this to be acknowledged openly. And as Stevens points out (and unlike Ledbetter), none of the standards advanced in this case are illogical readings of the statute. Congress wanted to create a tougher standard, and it didn’t specify how much tougher, so any of the three broad standards advanced in this case could plausibly fit the statute. That the Court would fill in a moderately conservative standard isn’t terribly surprising.

Knock Me Over With a Goddamn Feather

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Huh. I guess, maybe, insurgents run away from superior firepower:

The operational commander of troops battling to drive fighters with Al Qaeda from Baquba said Friday that 80 percent of the top Qaeda leaders in the city fled before the American-led offensive began earlier this week. He compared their flight with the escape of Qaeda leaders from Falluja ahead of an American offensive that recaptured that city in 2004.

In an otherwise upbeat assessment, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, told reporters that leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had been alerted to the Baquba offensive by widespread public discussion of the American plan to clear the city before the attack began. He portrayed the Qaeda leaders’ escape as cowardice, saying that “when the fight comes, they leave,” abandoning “midlevel” Qaeda leaders and fighters to face the might of American troops — just, he said, as they did in Falluja.

Wow. Who could have predicted that? And while the challenge to Al-Qaeda’s manhood is charming in a fourteenth century kind of way, I seriously doubt that the insurgent leadership is as stupid as, say, Right Blogistan or the braintrust of the Bush administration. Indeed, the idea that fleeing superior numbers, firepower, and technology is somehow “unmanly” is rather quaint; I suspect that insurgents would be happy enough if we threw down our tanks, cruise missiles, fighter jets, and armored personal carriers and settled this dispute by Marquess of Queensbury rules.

Also, it seems that somebody is irritated at the current Golden Child:

Some American officers in Baquba have placed blame for the Qaeda leaders’ flight on public remarks about the offensive in the days before it began by top American commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the overall commander in Iraq.

But don’t those officers understand that the only real front is the home front, and the only serious battle the PR fight? Compared to the MSM and the Democrats, Al Qaeda poses only a trivial threat to our precious bodily fluids…

On Street Harassment

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

See Ann Friedman, Catherine Andrews, and Unrequited Narcissism. This really is an under-discussed aspect of gender subordination.

Hopefully My Last Nader Post Ever

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

This is intended just to bring together some thoughts from these two threads, and not to add more fuel to the fire. I agree with LP and gmack that these arguments no longer have much of a point; I’m not going to become any less angry, and anyone who hasn’t been convinced thus far of Nader’s perfidy isn’t going to change his or her mind now. Thus, barring some surprising development, I hope that this will be the last time that I ever blog about St. Ralph.

Part of the anger that Scott, myself, and so many others feel has to do with Nader specifically, rather than with what happened in 2000. I think that I would have more sympathy for the pro-Nader position, even in its apologetic form, if he had been a genuine leftist running for progressive purposes in 2000. To take an alternative scenario, consider if a Green Party candidate who had been interested in the environment, who had taken the third party-building aspect of the run seriously, who had been solid on gender politics, and who had demonstrated a personal preference for authoritarianism had run a campaign that had concentrated on safe blue states instead of battleground states, yet the outcome had been the same. In this scenario, our Nader stand-in takes, say, 10000 votes in Florida instead of 90000, after making clear to his/her constituents in the Sunshine State that they should have been voting for Gore. I’d still be angry, because such a candidacy would have remained utterly at odds with the structure of American elections and still would have been casually dismissive of the danger of George W. Bush. Yet, I suspect that my animus towards candidate X and his/her supporters would be less; at least they would have been pushing a progressive/left position, someone who might plausibly be mistaken for Eugene Debs, instead of the faux-populist, faux-progressive Nader. It’s the transparency of Nader’s schtick that gets me riled, almost as much as the consequences of his candidacy.

I also think there’s a difference between 1996 and 2000. Although in retrospect I think it was wrong to vote for Nader in 1996 (it ended up simply feeding his vanity, and setting the stage for 2000), it wasn’t evident at the time that a symbolic third candidate vote would be destructive. Clinton was coasting to an easy win, and indeed the polls showed a larger gap even than the considerable victory that Clinton won. In that context, an “ok, but” vote was entirely reasonable. In 2000 it wasn’t, even in Massachusetts or California. The effort to build to 5% and make the Green Party nationally viable (as unserious as Ralph was about that project), would have been devastating for progressive, leftist politics in the United States, wholly apart from the direct and immediate consequence of bringing an incompetent reactionary to power.

Finally, I don’t understand why anyone takes the “but maybe Gore would have gone to war, too” argument seriously. Yeah, Lieberman is an uber-hawk and all, but he would have been replacing Dick Cheney, and it’s impossible for a sensible person to argue that Lieberman would have had more influence over Gore than Cheney had over Bush. The rest of the administration, from Secretary of Defense on down, would have been filled with people less hawkish that those that made up the Bush administration. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, et al would have been on the outside looking in, and in every case their replacement would have been less enamored of the war. Those voices on the outside might still have lobbied hard for invading Iraq, but without an administration that was committed to the invasion and also committed to trumping up intelligence in order to build support for the invasion, such a campaign would have had considerably less force. It’s also important to remember that the Bush team bears, through negligence, some considerable responsibility for allowing September 11. Without a changeover between parties, without a shift from an administration that took terrorism seriously to won that couldn’t care less about it, and without the replacement of committed professionals by inept boobs, September 11 might not have happened. No 9/11, no Iraq War. Most importantly, Gore’s personal opposition to the war should weigh very, very heavily against the argument that he would, nevertheless, have taken the country into Iraq. Gore opposed the war before it was cool, and in contravention of all the established norms for how defeated presidential candidates should behave. I know that Naderites seem to have a problem with this concept, but the personal political preferences of the President of the United States really do have an impact on policy. So, given that the Gore administration would have been less hawkish in composition and would have been led by a man strongly in opposition to the invasion, I’d say that the “but Gore would have invaded Iraq, too” argument has some impressively high hurdles to leap before it should be taken seriously.

That is all.

Rhythmic Admirer of the Month

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Melinda Henneberger. Her accomplishment should not be understated; within op-ed pages that regularly publish Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd, and that gave a month-long guest slot to the Simpsons’ crazy cat lady, I would be shocked if this isn’t the worst thing the Times publishes this year.

See Bean, if you haven’t already. Then Paul and Ezra. And then Digby Tristero and Barbara. (She’s the political editor of the Huffington Post? Jeebus.) And the thing is so bad I’m sure there’s something we all missed.

Friday Cat Blogging/Counterproductive Fisticuffs Blogging

[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Dr. Zaius. I took care of The Doctor — one of my best friends’ cats — for about a year while dedicating my life to a project otherwise known as Not Writing the Goddamned Dissertation. Dr. Zaius, at the time, weighed in at around 18 pounds of glorious feline flesh, and I spent the better part of the next year gradually working him down (through a combination of reduced diet, increased exercise, and subtle, persistent ridicule) to a much healthier 15 pounds. MeMe Roth would have approved, and I must say I’m as proud of that accomplishment as I am to have received the Ph.D. 17 months after Dr. Zaius moved out.

In any case, I had the good fortune to hang with Dr. Z and relive the good old days while I was in Chicago last weekend. I also got the chance to see the second near-no-hitter of my life (the first being a Danny Darwin one-hitter at Fenway in 1993), and the first bench-clearing brawl in 20 years of attending major league baseball games.

For the record, the last fight I tried to instigate — sometime in early 1983 — looked pretty much like this one (e.g., two empty punches and a swarm of idiots.) I did intentionally plunk an opposing hitter in the summer of 2000, but that was during a slow-pitch softball game, and the provocation didn’t work out quite as I had hoped.


[ 0 ] June 22, 2007 |

Depressingly, the “because having a bare majority in one house of Congress was not enough to entirely strip the executive branch of its powers, the Democrats are equally responsible” routine being trotted out by Nader-exculpating voters here. I guess we need to return to Jon Chait on this:

Before the election, a New York Times editorial rebutted Nader’s Tweedledee-and-Tweedledum analysis by citing the two candidates’ starkly different approaches to using the budget surplus — with Bush favoring a massive tax cut for the rich and Gore preferring other governing priorities. In his memoir, incredibly, Nader throws this back in the Times editors’ faces. “So what happens in June 2001, with the Democrats taking over the Senate?” he asks. “The Democrats call a $1.3 trillion Bush tax cut a victory for their side, as indeed numerous Democrats voted with the Republicans.” While repellent, the collaboration of a minority of Democrats with the Bush tax cut hardly vindicates Nader; quite the opposite. The tax cut fiasco, like Supreme Court nominations, demonstrates the difficulty of stopping a president’s agenda from moving through the legislative branch. But it was Nader who argued (at least implicitly) that controlling Congress mattered more than controlling the White House. He claimed all along that his candidacy would help the Democrats win Congress; indeed, he asserted that the extra turnout he spurred gave Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) her winning margin and that this would offset any advantage Republicans gained by controlling the presidency. The tax cut showed that Nader was wrong and that the Times was right: What really matters in setting governing priorities is which party has the White House. Nothing resembling the Bush tax cut could have passed with Al Gore in the Oval Office.

To listen to Nader explain himself on these questions, then, is to stumble into a funhouse world of illogic and trickery. His systematic dissembling was necessary to hide something he could not, for political reasons, admit: Helping elect George W. Bush was not an unintended consequence but the primary goal of his presidential campaign.

Then there’s the claim that the possibility of Clinton running means that the Dems are just as bad because she’s just responsible. Now, I won’t be supporting Clinton in the primaries, and please criticize her awful vote on the war as heartily as you like. But as for apportioning responsibility, I think this is pretty straightforward:

  • If Clinton votes against the war, we would have had the Iraq war.
  • If Nader doesn’t run in 2000, no war.

This is pretty straightforward–their relative responsibilities are not remotely comparable.

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