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A Failure of Leadership

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

Kevin Drum suggests that “Obama has a notable streak of temperamental caution that serves him well, but it could also betray him. Maybe he could have turned the tide against Proposition 8 in California if he’d been willing to take a risk on its behalf.” In this case, it’s a fair knock.

I can understand the difficulty of the problem. Injecting new issues into a campaign is a loser’s strategy; when the most salient issues favor you, you don’t rock the boat. Obama’s primary and general election campaigns were superbly disciplined and stayed consistently on message, and I can understand wanting to avoid the same-sex marriage issue.

But, ultimately, in the last week or two of the campaign it was overwhelmingly clear that Obama was going to win, it was clear that Prop 8 was going to be close, and it was also clear that same-sex marriage was going to be an extremely marginal issue in the federal election. Obama had already come out against it; if the McCain campaign was planning to exploit it they would have already done so. Making a statement (however cautious) against Prop 8 in the last week of the campaign could have made a major contribution to human rights without threatening Obama’s lock on the electoral college. Even to a risk-averse politician, that should have been a no-brainer, and it’s fair to criticize Obama for failing to do the right thing.

Election Night in Juneau

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

I have one final commentary up at MnIndy, whose editors have been kind enough to keep me busy for the past two months. I spent the evening bar-hopping and chatting with folks about the election, Sarah Palin, and assorted other stuff. I describe one of the highlights of the evening here:

Conversation segues to the question of impeaching Palin — hope swims upstream tonight — and then to a prolonged debate about whether our governor is smarter than George W. Bush. Before we can sift through all the evidence, Fox News — officially drawing a curtain on the era of Joe the Plumber — projects an Ohio win for Obama. A light volley of applause fills the room. A guy at the bar announces that he’s going to call his Republican friend in Cincinnati. A few minutes later, he’s gleefully shouting into his cell phone.

“Say it!” he laughs. “Say it with me! Say it! ‘PRESIDENT BARACK — ‘ Say it, you fucker! PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA! COME ON, SAY IT!”

It takes several minutes, but his friend apparently complies. A one-man rapture ensues.

Theories on Stevens

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

Josh Patashnik and Nate Silver have some thoughts on the apparent re-election of Stevens and Young here in the great state of Asshat. Silver notes that so far, it appears that turnout here was significantly lower than it was in 2004 — possibly as high as a 14 percent drop — a fact that, if true, would undermine theories about the so-called “Palin effect,” about which everyone has been jabbering for the past 24 hours. Turnout was high in the Mat-Su Valley outside Anchorage, which happens to be where Wasilla is located, but I don’t necessarily think that voter support for Palin had a huge coattail effect for Stevens and Young. Mark Begich did really well in areas of the state (like Fairbanks) where support for Stevens had always been really high as well as in a number of areas where McCain and Palin pulled in big numbers. Silver’s hypothesis about lower-than-expected Democratic turnout might be correct — and would be a huge disappointment if it turns out to have been the case. But as I’ve pointed out before, polling in Alaska has always been really weird; in every election I’ve seen, Republican candidates always do better on election day than the final polls project. This was one reason I had no hope that Silver’s projection (98% likelihood of a Begich win) would pan out.

I also think that Stevens, especially, managed to pull in a huge sympathy vote in the last few days of the campaign. The campaign clotted the airwaves with ads, and Lisa Murkowski chipped in with several TV spots claiming that Uncle Ted Wuz Robbed and essentially promising that his convictions would be overturned. It was a moronic argument, but it probably worked.

That said, I don’t give a lot of weight to Patashnik’s theory that a lot of folks voted for Stevens on the assumption that he might be a placeholder for Sarah Palin in the event he’s forced to resign. I’ve talked to a lot of Stevens supporters over the past couple of days, and none of them have framed their vote in that sort of strategic way. Support for Senator Intertubes was based on the sense that (a) he’d given 40 years (and a shitload of money from the lower 48) to Alaska, and massage chairs and home renovations aside, he deserved one more term, and/or (b) he’d been the victim of an unjust prosecution and will be exonerated in due time.

Litigation and Strategy

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

In response to Matt’s point here, if I understand correctly most gay and lesbian rights groups (especially in recent years) haven’t opposed all litigation (Goodridge was the result of a carefully coordinated combination of seven lawsuits with support from LAMDA, for example.) Rather, they have opposed federal litigation, which given the non-existent chance of victory with the current composiiton of the federal courts makes sense. On the other hand, as a practical matter, it would in fact be difficult to file a serious lawsuit seeking your marriage rights without any support from prominent civil rights organizations. Nothing can stop you from filing, but without the resources to pursue the a good case through appeals, amicus briefs from prominent organizations and individuals to signal sympathetic judges, etc. your suit is unlikely to get anywhere. So prominent national organizations do have some (although far from total) ability to control the process. (And, of course, there’s often disagreement among organizations about the optimal strategy, which further complicates things.)

The potential tension between the immediate interests of plaintiffs and the demands for a coherent national strategy was also a major part of the LDF’s civil rights litigation (and a particularly difficult problem, since finding plaintiffs in the Jim Crow south, for obvious reasons, wasn’t easy.) Mark Tushnet’s book is very good on this subject.

Palin: Too Big to Fail

[ 0 ] November 6, 2008 |

Everybody’s having a lot of fun with the various rumors about the internal conflicts in the McCain campaign, and the efforts by McCain and Palin staffers to blame each other for defeat. Particularly hilarious is the following threat by Erick Erickson:

RedState is pleased to announce it is engaging in a special project: Operation Leper.

We’re tracking down all the people from the McCain campaign now whispering smears against Governor Palin to Carl Cameron and others. Michelle Malkin has the details.

We intend to constantly remind the base about these people, monitor who they are working for, and, when 2012 rolls around, see which candidates hire them. Naturally then, you’ll see us go to war against those candidates.

It is our expressed intention to make these few people political lepers.

They’ll just have to be stuck at CBS with Katie’s failed ratings.

P.S. – Did I ever tell you how RedState was able to stock Gov. Palin’s campaign plane with twenty of these?. We were glad to. And we were glad not to mention it at the time. We are rooting for Sarah Palin. Don’t make us add you to our list. Do you really want to be next to Kathleen Parker in the leper colony?


McCain deserved what he got for picking Palin; idiocy is often the wage of maverick-itude. Part of the effort by McCain staffers is to point the blame away from their own guy, but I also wonder whether there’s a concerted effort on their part to destroy Palin’s future electoral prospects. This could be understood as McCain’s last gasp effort to save the Republican Party from the monster that he created, but I suspect we’ll never really know.

In any case, I expect that the effort will make Palin more toxic to anyone who’s not in the Republican base, but won’t touch her position within the base. Sarah Palin is too big to fail. Bill Kristol has staked his prestige on Palin’s future, and the simple fact that she thought Africa was a country isn’t going to make he and his back down. He’s too deeply invested in her, and everyone else in the conservative punditariat is too deeply invested in him. If she crashes, everyone goes down. I foresee two possible futures; in one, Kristol starts walking everyone back from the brink in a year or two, and Palin’s future Presidential candidacy goes down the memory tube. In the other, we get Sarah! 2012, and a Goldwater style annihilation next time around. I’m guessing door #2.

The Countermobilization Myth: Prop 8 Edition

[ 31 ] November 6, 2008 |

My prediction that someone would argue that Prop 8 “lends credence to the claims that litigation tends to produce a disproportionate backlash” has been proven correct by Megan McArdle. A few points in response:

  • McArdle, first of all, provides no evidence in support of a unique countermobilization effect, although there’s no compelling theoretical or empirical reason to believe it exists. But she also fails to provide any evidence that it applies in this case. Did same-sex marriage become less popular after the Court’s decision? Did anti-SSM groups become more politically mobilized after it? One would think that this is the minimum that would be necessary for the argument to be true, but McArdle does not offer a shred of support for either.
  • The claim that courts were “the wrong venue” and should be dealt with legislatively runs into the obvious problem that the legislative avenue was closed in California. The decision by California’s (elected) courts was, in fact, consistent with the preferences of a majority of California’s legislators and its governor, but these elected officials were not free to enact their preferences until the court acted. The civil rights analogy McArdle tries to distinguish is, in fact, completely appropriate to this case.
  • It’s also unclear why she thinks the judicial action in this case was counterproductive. There is now a constitutional amendment enshrining discrimination into the state constitution. Prior to the court acting, there was… a constitutional amendment statute with the force of a constitutional amendment* enshrining discrimination into the state constitution. How this made the status quo worse is unclear, and McArdle doesn’t provide any help. And, of course, it seems hard to argue that the passage of an initiative supported by such a bare majority could have been considered inevitable. Clearly, the court’s decision increased the chances of an enduring right to same-sex marriage. And the only way of obtaining this right in the future — a successful initiative — remains equally available.

Rather than providing evidence for the countermobilization myth, then, the passing of Prop 8 proves that people will try to fit virtually any set of facts into the narrative no matter how poor the fit.

*As paperwight correctly notes in comments, one of the laws struck down in In Re: Marriage is technically a statute, but because it was passed by initiative under California law it has the same effect as a constitutional amendment, as it cannot be amended by an ordinary statute from the legislature. The key here is that the status quo is no worse than it was prior to the Court’s intervention.

Make You Want To Ralph

[ 114 ] November 6, 2008 |

The Man Who Gave Us Bush decides he hasn’t disgraced himself quite enough in the last decade and decides to not only to suggest that Barack Obama is an “Uncle Tom,” but to declare that he’d be fine having that as his legacy. Well, he said it, I didn’t. (In fairness, it’s not as if the fulfillment of his 2000 goal to elect George W. Bush had any negative consequences for poor people in this country, and the 0% of the vote he obtained from African American women in delivering the election to Bush makes him an especially powerful spokesman for that community.)


[ 0 ] November 5, 2008 |

Juneau Democrats, gathering for last night’s election celebration at Centennial Hall. This shot was taken about 15 minutes before Obama’s acceptance speech:

And here — literally in the ballroom 30 feet away — are the Republicans:

It was actually a tough night for Juneau Democrats. My friend Andrea Doll lost her seat in the state legislature; what’s more, the state appears prepared to return a convicted felon to the US Senate, and it seems we’ve decided to re-elect Don Young as well. I have no other way to account for this except to assume that Alaska has grown accustomed to being a national joke, and the impending defeat of Sarah Palin’s candidacy only made us hungrier for sustained ridicule. Mission accomplished!

Initiatives, Good and Bad

[ 25 ] November 5, 2008 |

I was surprised by the results of two major initiatives yesterday. The pleasant surprise was Measure 11 in South Dakota. The rape-and-incest exemption, while essentially meaningless in terms of how a ban would actually work on the ground, are the kind of superficial “moderation” that I was worried would suck in enough additional voters to pass it — I’m happy to be wrong. The failure of a common-but-stupid parental notification requirement in California and the zygote-rights initiative in Colorado are also welcome.

The passage of Prop 8 in California, on the other hand, as Dana says is a disappointment and a disgrace. Although I’m sure some people will spin it this way, though, I don’t think it really lends credence to the claims that litigation tends to produce a disproportionate backlash. Same-sex marriage is, after all, considerably more popular in California than it was five years ago, and there’s little reason to believe that an initiative codifying same-sex marriage would have done better absent the judicial ruling. I wish it had gotten a few points more popular, but I doubt that the judicial intervention was a key factor. The other frequent argument used in 2004 was that judicial rulings on same-sex marriage hurt the Democrats electorally, but since Obama carried the state by 24 points I think it’s safe to declare this critique inoperative. And finally, it’s not much of an argument for litigation being counterproductive, as the status quo isn’t any worse than it was before the summer, and the initiative was close enough to make it a good gamble.

It’s enormously likely that Prop 8 is just temporarily delaying the inevitable — but that’s little consolation to the Californians who have once again been stripped of their fundamental rights.

Moving Forward…

[ 0 ] November 5, 2008 |

Fox News:
On the downside, very disappointed in Prop 8 in California. We knew that Franken would be close, but I thought Merkley in Oregon would be a lock. And Alaska… I guess that saving Stevens is the wage of the Palin pick.

Hangover is milder than expected.

The end of something

[ 0 ] November 5, 2008 |

Race in America has always seemed to me like the terrible secret at the end of Chinatown, that isn’t really a secret at all. Forget it, Jake . . .


Hoodwinked by the Hope-i-ness!

[ 24 ] November 5, 2008 |

I think our friend Americanneoclown has been raiding the cooking sherry again:

This I believe of Barack Obama: Not imminent physical destruction of our nation (though not completely discounted), but destruction nonetheless. Destruction of the moral light that never lets the malignant growth of evil roll across the land. No, America’s enemies will get a respite, where they can regroup and reconsider what they want from America. There will be a reckoning, at some point, of course. Because even those who have been hoodwinked by the hope-i-ness of change will not long tolerate the yoke of Third World despotism and terror over this proud nation. A despotism seeking to behead the American individual, and the culture that birth [sic] him – all of this, dearest Americans, faster than you can say Madrid 2004.

My masthead is now black in mourning for the missed opportunity of victory in John McCain’s moral right and history. This change is permament [sic], at least as far as my current state of mind dictates. The Obama Soviet “Yes, We Can” widget, above right, is temporary, and will likely come down upon the resumption of regular posts. I don’t know when that will be, however. I may take just a day off from blogging, or a month or two. But rest assured, dear readers, American Power will be back, stronger than ever, to pick up the flame of moral clarity and to enjoin the ideological battle that stands before us.

I was beginning to worry that The Donald was not going to come through for us tonight. Boy, was I wrong!

. . . Dan Nexon has a more sober reaction — literally and metaphorically — to the debasement of Donald Douglas.