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Obama and the Republicans

[ 56 ] February 18, 2008 |

In the thread below, commenter Dr. Zen suggests that Obama’s apparent level of appeal to self-identified Republicans is a reason to be suspicious of him. This is becoming something a regular theme in case against Obama, followed by a suggestion that his rhetoric about bipartisanship and coming together is troubling in a moment when the other party is so clearly disastrously evil.

A common response is that this is a feature, not a bug, of Obama the candidate; that his political skills and image allow him to defuse partisan rancor, and consequently bring in support for an agenda that would be unappealing if offered by a less impressive and talented politician. There is probably some truth to that response, but I think that misses the basic dynamic at work here. Virtually anyone in Obama’s current position, I expect, would be getting much of this support. The fact that he speaks the boilerplate language of unity well certainly doesn’t hurt but lots of politicians do this perfectly well. His support from self-identified Republicans is, I suspect, more structural than personal.

The simplest and most probable explanation, I suspect, runs something like this: Once upon a time, these people were standard-issue Republicans, with all the attendent views on Democrats in general and the Clintons in particular. This worldview couldn’t survive the onslaught of the Bush years, and some of the scales have fallen from their eyes. They’re prepared to admit they were wrong to vote for/support/believe in Bush and Bushism, and since the GOP standard-bearers seem bizarrely eager to go down with the Bush ship, they’re taking a fresh look at the Democrats. But they’re not prepared to admit to themselves just how wrong they’ve been, and for how long. Obama, while similar to Clinton on a great deal of substance, has the advantage of being someone they can support without any further admissions they were wrong back in the day; they only first heard of Obama around the time. Now, this isn’t the story the Andrew Sullivans of the world are willing to tell themselves, let alone anyone else, so they find some superficial reason to like Obama, which isn’t hard. But in the grand scheme of things, they’d pretty much have to find a reason to like whoever occupied the space Obama currently occupies; fundamentally it’s not about him.

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Your Moment of Fascism

[ 0 ] February 18, 2008 |

Today is the 65th anniversary of Joseph Goebbels’ notorious Sportpalast speech, in which he called for “total war” against the Bolshevik peril, which had just turned back the German armies in the battle for Stalingrad.

An excerpt:

Bolshevism has always proclaimed its goal openly: to bring revolution not only to Europe, but to the entire world, and plunge it into Bolshevist chaos. This goal has been evident from the beginning of the Bolshevist Soviet Union, and has been the ideological and practical goal of the Kremlin’s policies. Clearly, the nearer Stalin and the other Soviet leaders believe they are to realizing their world-destroying objectives, the more they attempt to hide and conceal them. We cannot be fooled. We are not like those timid souls who wait like the hypnotized rabbit until the serpent devours them. We prefer to recognize the danger in good time and take effective action. We see through not only the ideology of Bolshevism, but also its practice, for we had great success with that in our domestic struggles. The Kremlin cannot deceive us. We had fourteen years of our struggle for power, and ten years thereafter, to unmask its intentions and its infamous deceptions.

The goal of Bolshevism is Jewish world revolution. They want to bring chaos to the Reich and Europe, using the resulting hopelessness and desperation to establish their international, Bolshevist-concealed capitalist tyranny.

I do not need to say what that would mean for the German people. A Bolshevization of the Reich would mean the liquidation of our entire intelligentsia and leadership, and the descent of our workers into Bolshevist-Jewish slavery. In Moscow, they find workers for forced labor battalions in the Siberian tundra, as the F├╝hrer said in his proclamation on 30 January. The revolt of the steppes is readying itself at the front, and the storm from the East that breaks against our lines daily in increasing strength is nothing other than a repetition of the historical devastation that has so often in the past endangered our part of the world.

That is a direct threat to the existence of every European power. No one should believe that Bolshevism would stop at the borders of the Reich, were it to be victorious. The goal of its aggressive policies and wars is the Bolshevization of every land and people in the world. In the face of such undeniable intentions, we are not impressed by paper declarations from the Kremlin or guarantees from London or Washington. We know that we are dealing in the East with an infernal political devilishness that does not recognize the norms governing relations between people and nations. When for example the English Lord Beaverbrook says that Europe must be given over to the Soviets or when the leading American Jewish journalist Brown cynically adds that a Bolshevization of Europe might solve all of the continent’s problems, we know what they have in mind. The European powers are facing the most critical question. The West is in danger. It makes no difference whether or not their governments and intellectuals realize it or not.

The German people, in any event, is unwilling to bow to this danger. Behind the oncoming Soviet divisions we see the Jewish liquidation commandos, and behind them terror, the specter of mass starvation and complete anarchy. International Jewry is the devilish ferment of decomposition that finds cynical satisfaction in plunging the world into the deepest chaos and destroying ancient cultures that it played no role in building.

We also know our historic responsibility. Two thousand years of Western civilization are in danger. One cannot overestimate the danger.

If you’re Jonah Goldberg, this speech — stripped, we assume, of its anti-Semitism — must sound exactly like a speech by Barack Obama and nothing like the dislocated ravings to be found in, say, Powerline’s Book of the Year.

For as much grief as we give the Pantload around these parts, I have to hand it to him for establishing himself as one of the great intellectual-cultural embarrassments of 2008. Let’s assume for a moment that Obama actually does receive the nomination. If Goldberg can hitch his absurd narratives to some of the emerging anti-Obama memes, he will stake out an enduring place among historians as the guy who argued that the nation’s first prospective black president was actually a fascist.

Say what we will about the guy, but those efforts will secure him an immortality of which few pundits can hope to dream.

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The New Spin…

[ 48 ] February 18, 2008 |

Apparently, pledged delegates totals are illegitimate, because some states have open primaries. Consequently, it is the responsibility of the superdelegates to overturn the preferred pledged delegate candidate if another candidate wins the national popular vote among “self-identified Democrats.” When caucuses are excluded, Michigan and Florida included, and overall totals determined by evaluating exit poll data rather than counting votes, Clinton wins!

To say this aloud is to refute it, but it is nevertheless generating excitement at TalkLeft. For good measure, Lukasiak throws in the “but can Barack Obama REALLY win California and New York?” meme. Christ, the stench of desperation is sickening.

Clinton partisans are really sounding more desperate than they should; I think Obama is the favorite to win this thing, but Clinton still has a decent shot if she can take Wisconsin, and maybe even if she can’t. There’s no reason at this point to be jury-rigging the data in such an obtuse fashion; this kind of garbage can wait until after March 4.

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Straightforward Answers To Bizarre Questions

[ 25 ] February 17, 2008 |

I wish I was making this up, but:

The inference is that by winning the small red states with caucuses, but not the big blue states like California and New York, Obama is likely to repeat McGovern’s blowout in the general election.


Any thoughts on the validity of this scenario?

It is wholly invalid.

Really, the fallacy here is transparent; indeed, I can’t believe that someone as smart as Merritt believes this is serious. By the same logic, Clinton will go down to a crushing defeat because she can only get a small fraction of the African-American vote. The fact that Obama has lost a couple states that Democrats reliably win by 15 or 20 points in a Democratic primary means absolutely nothing in the general, just as Hillary Clinton would obviously not struggle to win Illinois or Connecticut or Maryland. (Inferences about Obama’s ability to win solid-red states would be similarly invalid, but I think there’s a hack gap here; I don’t recall seeing a prominent Obama supporter talking about how he’s going to carry Alabama and South Carolina — after all, Jimmy Carter won them in 1976! Correct me if I’m wrong.) And to repeat what I’ve said before, to the extent it means anything (which probably isn’t much) Obama’s greater strength in states that aren’t Democratic electoral college locks is clearly a point in his favor in the general election, although one can reasonably argued that this is balanced by Clinton’s apparently greater appeal in a swing state such as Florida. At any rate, one cannot infer from Obama losing California to Clinton that he would do less well against a Republican, and even it was true who cares if the Democrats win the state by 18 or 14 points anyway?

Really, people need to keep some perspective here. Either Clinton or Obama would almost certainly be better candidates than John Kerry, and Kerry won 251 electoral college votes against a wartime incumbent in a decent economy. We can argue about which one is marginally better, but the Dems are in good shape either way, and bringing George McGovern into the discussion is simply absurd.

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Bet the House

[ 0 ] February 17, 2008 |

A little Sunday morning Clemens-related levity.

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Note to the NYT: We’re On To You

[ 18 ] February 17, 2008 |

When I picked up the New York Times last weekend, I thumbed through the sections, skimming the headlines and plotting out my reading plan. That is, until I came upon the magazine and its featured article, “The First Ache,” an exploration of fetal pain. Ick, I thought. Yet another Times article “exploring” the complications in the quote-unquote abortion debate. I didn’t feel much better having read the article — it’s misleading and unbalanced.

But as Debbie Nathan points out in the New Republic (via), this shouldn’t be surprising coming from the Times. She writes:

What is The New York Times’ problem with abortion? The editorial page consistently supports sex education, birth control, and the right to legally end unwanted pregnancy. The rest of the Times, however, often seems uncomfortable with concrete applications of these principles. Not a season goes by that a news item or magazine feature doesn’t imply that women who get abortions are acting with egotism, unhealthiness, and cruelty.

There’s last week’s article by Annie Murphy Paul; last year, the usually wonderful Emily Bazelon wrote an article for the Magazine about so-called Post Abortion Syndrome. As Nathan points out on TNR, though, Bazelon’s article, while explaining the evidence that “PAS” doesn’t exist, features all these fuzzy profiles of “PAS” sufferers and treads lightly over the “syndrome’s” political uses (and, I would argue, political creation). There’s more (which Nathan is sure to document). And I’ve complained before about other things the Times has published about abortion and other issues related to feminism, gender, and sexuality.

Which all leads to the question: what gives NY Times? By your own admission, your editorial page strongly supports abortion rights. So why all the apologizing for it and the mixed signals? Nathan posits that the Times’s coverage mirrors a societal trend:

Liberals and even feminists have bought into the reasoning that abortion is basically immoral, and if women could just be educated and dosed with birth control, we wouldn’t have to terminate any pregnancies. Bill Clinton’s famous formulation [ed. note - which Hillary Clinton has adopted], that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” has become conventional wisdom.

It’s a shame that the paper of record, the Gray Lady herself, is not above such moralizing about an issue on which women face more than enough moralizing as it is.

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Happy Independence Day!

[ 0 ] February 17, 2008 |

Congratulations of a sort are in order for Kosovo. As I understand it, a number of Western countries will shortly recognize the independence declaration, to the chagrin of Serbia and Russia. Serbia has a variety of means through which to play the spoiler, but will almost certainly stop short of the use of force. It’s bad news for Georgia, because Russia will feel the need to retaliate in some form and may take advantage of the opportunity to recognize the independence of the two Georgian breakaway regions.

On the general merits, I’m inclined to think that this is the best solution available for Kosovo. Maintaining the union with Serbia wasn’t really in the cards, so the only real option was continued existence in a legal nether region. For Serbian nationalists this really does represent the final humiliation; after years of war to create and maintain a Greater Serbia, the state is now diminished about as far as it can conceivably go (give or take a couple more small ethnic enclaves).

Back in the old days when a new country was created in Europe, the Great Powers would search about for an appropriate monarch to fill the new vacancy. As the old ways are always better, and as I’ve not seen sufficient attention devoted to this problem in the MSM, I’d like to call here for consideration of a monarch appropriate to place on the throne of Kosovo. The last monarch to hold sway over Kosovo was Peter II of Serbia, but it seems that putting Alexander II on the throne would miss the entire point of the independence declaration. A better option would be Leka of House Zogu, who continues active efforts to claim the throne of Albania. A coronation in Pristina might prove a useful stepping stone to an Albanian restoration. Tragically, the House of Wied (which held the Albanian crown prior to the rise of Zog), appears to have become extinct. Victor Emmanuel III of Italy briefly held the crown of Albania, but sadly Victor Emmanuel IV is a poor candidate for anything other than prison.

It’s clear to me that the most compelling remaining option is Ertugrul Osman V of House Osman. While it’s unlikely that the Sultan would be willing to give up his cushy (and cheap) Manhattan apartment for a life in Pristina, I have to hope that something could be worked out, as what Kosovo clearly needs now is the strong hand of the Ottoman Sultan. Moreover, I can’t imagine that the Serbs would complain…

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The Right’s Failure of Imagination

[ 0 ] February 17, 2008 |

So Grover “Drown the Government in a Bathtub” Norquist looks forward to the possibility of depicting Barack Obama as a “shady Chicago socialist” in the general election.

An impressive and original strategy, but really — why stop there? I suggest trying to cast Obama as a “shady Chicago anarchist.” It would appeal to the authentic glue-huffers who believe the Senator is actually an agent of foreign terror, it would draw in the more moderate types who are merely nervous about the crowds of Obama supporters, and it would force the rest of American to relive the horror of the Haymarket bombing every day of the campaign.

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Spurious Invocation of Sexism of the Day

[ 158 ] February 16, 2008 |

I would like to think that this is too obvious to need pointing out, but as Hilzoy and Cole note, the idea that there’s some nefarious sexism lurking in Obama’s boilerplate statement that “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal” is a)farcical, particularly when one views the whole context of the remarks, and b)undermines attempts to point out the extensive and genuine sexist attacks that Clinton has actually received. And since I’m sure some conservative will pick up on this and start tutting about those feminists and their p.c. or some such, I’ll also add that as far as I can tell the group of people making this argument are best described not as “feminists” (although some may be as well) but “people who have extensively demonstrated that they’re completely in the tank for the Clinton campaign.”

…although I would like to have the context of the remark, I would agree that this is much more plausibly described as offensive, and I would hope that Obama wouldn’t use the phrase again.

…UPDATE: I should also note that, as you can see in comments, several very smart bloggers who (unlike Armando) have much more extensive records of calling out sexism than carrying water for Clinton also find Obama’s comments objectionable. So the last line of the original post no longer applies, and their arguments should be seriously considered. On the other hand, many good feminists don’t find the comments objectionable, and I’m still unpersuaded.

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[ 38 ] February 16, 2008 |

Brad has a good post on the Freeman Dyson review of Michael Neufeld’s new biography of Werner Von Braun. Essentially, Dyson makes the argument that the V-2 was a poor allocation of scarce defense resources:

As the summer ended and our armies drove the Germans out of France, the buzz bombs stopped coming. They were replaced by a much less disturbing instrument of murder, the V-2 rockets launched from more distant sites in western Holland. The V-2 was not nerve-wracking like the buzz bomb. When a V-2 came down, we heard the explosion first and the supersonic scream of the descending rocket afterward. As soon as we heard the explosion, we knew that it had missed us. The buzz bombs and the V-2 rockets killed a few thousand people in London, but they hardly disrupted our civilian activities and had no effect at all on the war that was then raging in France and in Poland. The rockets had even less effect than the buzz bombs.

Brad uses this as a jumping off point for a discussion of inter-service rivalry and the US defense budget.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, and inter-service competition is only one (important) part of the issue. There’s no question that military organizations compete against each other for turf and resources, and I think it’s right to interpret the V-2 in the light of Wehrmacht-Luftwaffe competition. This kind of competition can reflect poorly in any number of ways, from producing bad procurement decisions to limiting cooperation in actual warfighting. In WWII, for example, conflict between the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine prevented necessary cooperation on attacks against shipping. On the other hand, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were bitter rivals during the interwar period, but cooperated very well during the ASW campaign. Back in the 1960s McNamara tried to get the services to compete against one another for procurement in the hopes that the flaws of weapon systems he didn’t like would be highlighted. It didn’t really work out, though; the services knew they were being played and toned it down, and the result (each service gets a stable slice of the pie) is what we’re still coping with today. As Yglesias noted, Fred Kaplan has a good discussion of some of the competition surrounding ballistic missile defense in his new book, Daydream Believers. I suspect that it might be possible to create some kind of scheme by which forcing the services to compete with one another improved procurement; the services could conceivably become each other’s best critics. However, I’m not sure that the logic follows for questions such as doctrine or general organizational effectiveness, where turf battles can be very destructive. Military organizations do not, after all, exist in an environment of perfect competition, and as such competition doesn’t necessarily make them more efficient.

However, it’s worth mentioning (as Dyson notes) that the SS took over the V-2 from the Wehrmacht, so it’s clearly not just a inter-service rivalry question. Civilians somewhere convinced themselves that it would be a good idea to pour money into this particular program at the expense of fighter aircraft and other goodies. There are a couple of reasons why this might have seemed sensible at the time. The first is that some innovations aren’t so useful in and of themselves, but can be quite useful as stepping stones to other innovations. One example on the German side in WWII would be the submarine campaign. After the middle of 1943, the U-boat campaign turned very badly against the Kriegsmarine, with the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and USN exacting a devastating toll on the Germans. Germany continued to devote considerable resources to the campaign, even though it wasn’t paying off at the time. This devotion resulted in the development of the snorkel (allowing German subs to spend more time underwater), and eventually in the development of the Type XXI submarine, which could have devastated Allied supply lines if the war had continued a year or two longer. It’s possible (the article doesn’t really say) that the V-2 was considered such a halfway step, and that the Germans envisioned a longer ranged missile that could hit the US and targets deep within the Soviet Union as the true war-winning weapon.

If this is true, the Germans were almost certainly mistaken. The amount of ordnance that could be delivered even by a successor to the V-2 is certainly less than was delivered onto Germany by strategic bombers, and the strategic bombing campaign neither broke German morale nor crushed German industry (although it did some damage to the latter, and might have done more had better metrics been employed). A few, or a few dozen, or even a few hundred missiles hitting US industrial centers would not have substantially slowed the US war machine; same with the Soviet Union. For complicated reasons associated with the German collapse in 1918 and the Bolshevik Revolution, military planners in the 1920s and 1930s assumed that societies were much more fragile than they actually were, and thus that bombing might end wars in short order. Didn’t work out. Things haven’t changed that much, as not a few modern military planners seem to assume that a smattering JDAMs and cruise missiles will serve to bring recalcitrant rogue regimes to their knees. Especially since the Germans were already suffering under devastating Allied bombardment yet not surrendering, it hardly seems possible that they could have believed that the V-2 or its potential successors could win the war in an economical fashion.

However, the strategic bombing angle presents at least one other logical reason for pursuing the V-2; the Germans may not have believed that the V-2 itself could win the war, but might have concluded that the Allies would be forced to respond in some fashion and that the cost of that response would exceed the cost of the V-2. Probably the single greatest contribution that the strategic bombing campaign made to the end of the war was to drag German fighter aircraft out of tactical roles on the Western and Eastern Fronts. The presence of V-1 and V-2 launch sites changed Allied behavior on the Western Front, and it’s possible that the use of even more powerful delivery vehicles could have forced the Allies to engage in a costly effort to prevent the attacks. This is a pretty thin reed to stake an enormously expensive program on, but it’s not an impossibility.

And this, I suppose, is why I should read the book about Von Braun, because I don’t really know the details of any of this process, and it’s pretty interesting from a theoretical point of view.

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Economics Writers: Should Understand Collective Action Problems

[ 1 ] February 16, 2008 |

Megan McArdle cites a story finding that a fund permitting Virginians to send more money to the government voluntarily raises little revenue. What lesson does she derive from this?

This is what economists call “revealed preference”. What most of us are really in favor of is higher taxes on other people. If we wanted higher taxes on ourselves, we’d give the money to charity.

If I may be permitted to state the obvious, it reveals no such thing (unless it’s supposed to reveal the trivial point that nobody would want to pay taxes if necessary public services could be funded with money grown by magic ponies.) For some reason, a lot of conservatives think “if you think taxes should be higher, why don’t you send more money to the government?” is some incredibly clever rejoinder, but it’s deeply silly. Rather, most people intuitively understand the concept of free riding: unless you’re Bill Gates, no money you send to the government is going to pay for the provision of an important public good, and moreover it would also be very unfair for you to pay for a public good while your similarly situated neighbor with the ability to pay takes advantage of the public good without contributing. Hence, those mean Upper West Side Liberals (TM) who drove Adam Bellow to edit unreadable books for a living don’t send unsolicited money to the government but are perfectly willing to support politicians who raise their taxes and oppose politicians who cut them. This behavior is, of course, perfectly rational.

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"Popularity Contest"

[ 65 ] February 16, 2008 |

John Dickerson, while ruminating on the possible limits of Barack Obama’s “hipness,” asks a profoundly stupid question:

More generally, shouldn’t Democrats who have complained that George Bush was elected on the strength of a popularity contest be nervous that this blossoming Obamadulation is getting out of hand?

Um… Hold that thought while I retrieve a cool, refreshing drink from the linen closet.

Okay then. I have a limited amount of time before I go blind and slip into a coma, so I’ll make this brief. Could Dickerson possibly be speaking of George “Where Wings Take Dream” Bush? Last I recall, his — ahem — “election” to office in 2000 was a “popularity contest” in the following senses:

  • He received 50.5 million out of 104 million votes cast. That is to say, he lost the “popularity contest” outright. (Three million of those votes, of course, went to Ralph Nader.)
  • Fuck off, Ralph Nader.
  • Bush was, on the other hand, quite popular with the Dowdified corporate press corps who behaved egregiously thoguhout the campaign, blathering endlessly about his “folksy demeanor” while overlooking the fact that when he spoke about actual policy matters, his breath reeked of model airplane glue. Meantime, Gore was portrayed a desperate, arrogant wonk who — though not yet fat — was clearly unworthy of the office he sought.
  • Bush was also hip in the eyes of the rent-a-mob who disrupted the “undervote” recount in Dade County and helped their preferred candidate win a state whose “popularity contest” he had, in all likelihood, actually lost.
  • And finally, he was popular with five Supreme Court justices who offered the final stroke of legitimacy to the pretense that Bush was indeed “the people’s choice.”

Beyond those niggling details, it’s totally plausible that Dickerson might confuse Obama ’08 with Bush ’00. The resemblance is just uncanny.

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