Thursday, February 28, 2008

The On-Demand Generation

Over the last couple of years I’ve come to realize that my children are growing up in a vastly different media world than the one in which I came of age. It’s not just the endless amount of content, it’s the on-demand availability of all that content. I’ve got to wonder how this is affecting their relationship with the world.

Between my parents generation and mine, the only real innovations of mass media were the color television set and UHF. When I was my son’s age (4) back in 1978, we had three networks, PBS some local channels and no VCR. If I wanted to watch Sesame Street, I could do so just once a day at the scheduled time. If I missed the Big Bird segment it was lost to the ether. If I wanted cartoons at noon, too bad, Gilligan’s Island was all that was on. This really wasn’t that long ago but the technology seems ancient.

My son has a list of twenty or so children’s programs he likes to watch and which we have saved on TiVo. Whenever he wants, click, click, it’s on. He misses something, we rewind. He gets bored, we change to one of the other sixty or so saved programs or any of the piles of DVDs. What the hell is this doing to his sense of the world? He already gets quite agitated if we happen not to have a saved version of the exact show and episode we wants.

O.k., disparage my parenting skills for letting my children watch television (we do spend a lot of non-media time with them too, I promise), but my family is hardly alone. We have a whole on-demand generation growing up. They (well, the privileged ones) will live in a world where whatever entertainment they want will be available immediately. There is a structure-less nature to on-demand. How will this affect their relationships with each other, with politics, with more static versions of culture (the novel, sculpture, painting, even live theatre)?

I wish I had an answer for that. But I guess, as one of the pioneering parents of the on-demand generation, I’ll have to do what all parents do – figure it out as I go.

Labels: , , ,

McCain's Class, Buckley's Death, Clinton's Support & Texas' Craziness

If you haven't been checking Donklephant, I have four posts up over there since yesterday. Here are the links.

On McCain here.

Briefly on William F. Buckley Jr. here.

On Clinton's waning support here.

On the screwy Texas primary here.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Newest Way to Show Off: Go Locavore

By now you’ve probably heard of the locavore food movement, generally defined as only eating food grown or raised within a 100 mile radius of where you live. Great if you live in, say, San Francisco where the movement began. Not so wonderful if you live in the thorn brush of deep south Texas, unless you really enjoy prickly pear puree and javelina barbeque.

The idea behind local eating is that the food is fresher and it’s more environmentally friendly, not only because it promotes varied land use but because the food doesn’t have to be trucked or flown great distances in fossil-fuel burning trucks and planes. It’s also good for the local farmer and rancher who, as we all know, are a dying breed.

Part of me, the crunchy con part who shops at Whole Foods and takes long nature hikes, wants to laud this movement. The other part of me, the wise-ass contrarian part, wants to point and laugh at the pretentious urban hipsters who have found yet another way to broadcast their privilege while acting all concerned for the Earth.

Can you imagine what kind of effort and expense it takes to only eat food from within 100 miles? When you drive a Lexus, you’re saying “I have more money and better taste than you.” When you go locavore you’re saying “not only do I have more resources and better taste, I am more morally attuned.” Too critical? Of course. But it’s hard to deny the element of snobbery in the locavore movement.

Guess I’ll just have to stick with my Whole Food artisanal French cheeses and line-caught Atlantic salmon. That’ll make me look so much less pompous than those arrogant locavores.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

News About Maverick Views

Here’s the news: Justin Gardner of Donklephant has invited me to become a fulltime writer for the site rather than just an occasional poster. He’s looking to diversify content and make sure a wider spectrum of opinions are available throughout this election season and beyond. I’m happy to say, I’ve taken him up on the offer and will now be Donklephant’s regular right-of-center voice (except, of course, when I’m left of center or just out in left field).

Beginning next week, my political posts will be at Donklephant. I’ll post links to them here at Maverick Views but I will not be cross-posting. Maverick Views itself will stay active but the focus will be much less political and far more cultural and personal. Consider this site my private reserve where I retreat from politics a bit and let my mind ponder other matters.

The good news for those who like reading my words is that my commitment to Donklephant means I won’t be disappearing from the blog world again anytime soon. Of course, you’ll have to visit two sites to get the full breadth of my opinions, but isn’t that a small price to pay for knowing you’ll be able to read new posts from me almost every day? Please, don’t answer that.

See y’all around the ‘sphere.

Labels:

So, You Want to Be a White Person?

This snarky, funny as hell site has all the details on stuff white people like.

My favorites? Standing still at concerts. Expensive sandwiches. Being the only white person in ethnic restaurants.

Labels: ,

They Thought Reagan Was "Just Words" Too

Stephen Hayes of the Wall Street Journal recounts the criticisms of Ronald Reagan and notes the similarities to what people are saying about Barack Obama.

Then again, maybe it's not Reagan whom Obama resembles. Maybe it's Jimmy Carter.

Labels: , ,

A Healthcare Plan I'd Like to See

Shay at Booker Rising calls me to task for my post on McCain and healthcare. But she misinterprets my viewpoint – which is probably because I didn’t actually say what kind of healthcare proposal I’d most like to see. So, here it goes…

First, I do think the federal government has a role to play. This is a national problem involving millions of citizens, thousands of businesses and plenty of interstate commerce. However, I do not support nationalized healthcare as that just reconfigures the system without addressing the cost/quality conflict at the heart of the current problems.

Healthcare costs are high for a variety of reasons. Some are uncontrollable, such as the increasing number of older Americans whose advancing age requires a great amount of medical care. Others are directly related to the high quality of care we’ve come to expect: we use the newest (thus most expensive) technology and produce highly skilled (thus well-compensated) medical professionals. We could fairly easily lower costs if we substituted older technology and less-skilled medical providers, but we’d have to settle for lower quality care.

In many ways, we’re already making the cost/quality tradeoff. Healthcare providers, following the demands of the free market, are increasingly using nurse practitioners in lieu of board certified physicians and hiring lightly trained medical assistants over more highly trained nurses. Many insurance companies take a more draconian approach, telling patients and doctors what level of quality care is acceptable based partially on what the insurance company is willing to spend. That kind of cold, cost-benefit analysis results in the rare but heart-wrenching stories of people suffering because they were denied treatment.

Using fewer physicians and registered nurses can only go so far until quality of care becomes dangerously insufficient/incompetent. There’s little reason for the federal government to force even more lesser-trained providers into the system. Similarly, mandating what insurance companies must pay for would require a massive government intrusion into private business with unknown and likely undesired results. The solution, therefore, will not come from artificially controlling the cost/quality relationship. Instead, we need to look at the risk management aspect.

Where the plans of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton go wrong is in their assumption that lack of affordable insurance for millions is the core problem when it’s actually just the most obvious symptom of larger issues. Making sure every American has insurance is a nice idea but without addressing the underlying risk/reward problems, simply shoving more people into an already unbalanced system will decrease the quality of care for everyone.

The lack of affordable health insurance is not due to greedy insurance companies or the quality-control initiatives of theAmerican Medical Association or even because we Americans are leading relatively unhealthy lives (the obese and smokers actually cost less to treat over their lifetime than do more healthy individuals). Health insurance is expensive because high quality healthcare is expensive. Insurers must take on significant risk and thus charge significant prices. The most expedient way to lower prices is to spread the risk over larger numbers but, thanks to ridiculous regulations, many Americans are not allowed to buy insurance as part of a group and instead must opt for staggeringly expensive individual plans.

So, step one is deregulation/re-regulation. Allow individuals as well as small businesses to band together with others and buy group rates. More radically, instead of requiring businesses to provide health coverage for their employees, we can sever the business/insurance relationship and let each individual citizen choose a plan based not on where they happen to work but on their healthcare needs.

Without large corporations footing the bill, insurers would have to innovate to create plans affordable for individuals. Plus, individuals would have fully portable plans that would allow them to change jobs or start their own businesses without fear of losing coverage. A more fluid and less risk-adverse workforce would be a boon to our economy, as would freeing our businesses from the burdens of paying for healthcare.

Deregulation alone will not be enough. Step two is increasing the level of choice available to consumers and the level of responsibility expected from them. Right now, health plans are stratified but not particularly customizable. It’s a collection of prix fixe menus with designated courses at each price level but no real choice. This has the effect of disconnecting the consumer from the real costs of what they are purchasing. If it’s covered, they’re going to opt for it, even if it’s not medically necessary. The current coverage system creates a disconnect in patients’ minds between care and cost and is actually one of the leading causes of higher healthcare expenditures.

However, if more customizable plans were available, individuals could choose coverage based on the level of risk they were willing to assume and the level of premium care they desired. There could even be different deductable levels for different procedures and medications, rather than one flat deductable. That way, patients would know the cost of the care they seek and have to take personal responsibility for choosing excessive procedures and medications. This, of course, is not something the government could mandate but it could encourage innovations by providing tax incentives to those companies willing to reform their coverage.

The final significant way the federal government can help is through providing tax credits which individuals and families can apply to health insurance (John McCain’s otherwise gaunt plan, has this provision). Additionally, the government can expand health savings accounts allowing families with more expensive coverage or additional health needs to put aside extra tax-free funds.

Clearly and inarguably, what I’ve laid out here has huge holes. This is a profoundly long blog post but a terribly insufficient description of a healthcare plan. My thoughts are really nothing more than the very basic outlines of ideas I’d like to see developed and advanced on the federal level – I realize they are not devoid of fallacies or complications and I do not consider them anywhere near a complete list of available remedies. There is a lot of room for states to promote their own plans and take other measures such as preventative care initiatives and malpractice lawsuit reform. There is also a lot of room for free market solutions from both insurers and providers. What’s important is we avoid restricting the marketplace of ideas by federalizing the healthcare system and cutting out the vast majority of the innovators in this field.

As a general rule, I like a narrow federal government focused more on clearing the road of obstacles than trying to design and drive my car. Right now, Obama and Clinton are focused on building the car while John McCain is either unaware of the huge piles of junk blocking the way or is unmotivated to develop the bold actions needed to remove them. I think the best solutions will come from a conservative-leaning mindset, but I’m still waiting for a Republican to champion pro-market, limited government ideas that can win out against the Democrats’ big government plans.

Labels:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Still Endorsing Obama -- UPDATED

Yeah, I'm a John McCain guy, but I did endorse Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and I stand by that. Want to know why? This nasty Hillary Clinton trick is a good example. We don't need her type or the type with whom she surrounds herself. I really don't care what policies she has, I don't want the Clintons' style of politics around anymore.

I may just go vote for Obama in the primary, since McCain will win the nomination regardless of the Texas results. Clinton's resort to fear-mongering has left me that disgusted. I'll let you know what I decide.

h/t: Captain Ed

UPDATE: There's debate as to whether this photo really was distributed by the Clinton campaign. They deny they did it. I think it fits their pattern but what proof do I have? None. Kids, this is why you should never link to Drudge. Facts are elusive there.

Labels: , ,

McCain's Healthcare Problem

Michael Reynolds nails John McCain to the wall on the issue where he’s most vulnerable: healthcare. My number one reservation about McCain has been his less-than-comprehensive healthcare proposal. It’s not even really a proposal, it’s some superficial adjustments and free market bromides.

You don’t have to be a policy expert to know our healthcare system is ineffectual. Despite our world-class technology and highly-skilled physicians, far too many Americans have trouble obtaining basic care. We have a high cost, high quality, low access system. This is not only creating undo hardships for many citizens but is weighing down our global competitiveness by creating an immobile and risk-adverse workforce at just the time job fluidity and entrepreneurism is most needed.

We’re long past the point where tweaks might work – heck, incessant regulatory tweaks are one of the reasons we’re in this mess. We need big ideas now. Unfortunately, John McCain doesn’t seem to have them.

I’m not specifically arguing for Barack Obama’s or Hillary Clinton’s approaches. I think both focus too much on creating new layers of bureaucracy and not enough on removing the unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles already in place. However, at least the Democrats recognize the existence of a problem as well as the American people’s desire for a solution. McCain is apparently content suggesting the same “the system ain’t really that bad” proposals advanced by Republicans and others who just haven’t been paying attention.

By no means does McCain’s lack of a comprehensive healthcare plan disqualify him from serious consideration (to be fair, it’s just February and this wasn’t an issue important to winning his primary). But I’ll be listening to him. Just as I hope the eventual Democratic nominee develops a more rational Iraq plan during the general election I hope McCain develops a more workable healthcare plan. His failure to do so may not cost him my vote but it could very well cost him the election.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Like a Broken Record, Nader's Back

In 2000, Ralph Nader shook up the race by highlighting a growing disaffection with the two-party system. In 2004 he wanted to see if what he started in 2000 was a movement or a political blip (answer: a blip). Now, he’s running again, apparently because he still feels the two parties are locking out too many citizens.

Back in 2000, I bought into the whole “there’s nothing different between the parties” myth advanced by Nader. What can I say? I was in the beginnings of my own ideological crisis/quest and saw little to like in Al Gore or George Bush. I reached for Nader as much out of protest as out of congenital lefty sentiment (it wouldn’t be until 2001 that I stopped reflexively assuming only liberals had good and moral answers).

In the years after 2000, I think we all learned that, yes, there are significant differences between the two parties. And although there will always be voices shut out of the two party system, the spiritedness of both parties’ nomination process this year proves that a great range of opinions are well represented and can find a space within one of the two parties.

There is really no compelling reason for a Nader candidacy this year. But, hey, it’s his right to run and I’m always in favor of more voices, not less. Besides, at 74 years of age, Nader gives John McCain the chance to point out he’s not the oldest person in the race.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ideology vs. Outcomes

In a column about the difficulties the Republicans find themselves in, Mike Rosen asserts:

Two-thirds of voters may reliably support either Republican or Democratic candidates, but the other third goes either way. Most of them have no loyalty to parties, coalitions or philosophies. They just want nice outcomes and they want them now! And it's they who decide elections. When the party in power can't deliver, they try the other party.

To make sure we fully understand what regard he holds these members of the electorate, Rosen later refers to them as “discontented, gullible swing voters.”

But I have to ask, what’s so wrong with caring more about outcomes than ideology? Most Americans just want a functioning government that manages the economy well, that provides reliable services and that keeps us safe. Does it really matter if those ends are achieved through big government liberalism or small government conservativism? To a lot of people, it doesn’t.

Ideologues believe their way is the only acceptable way. If they fail, it’s a matter of internal corruption (we’re not conservative/liberal enough!) or external perfidy (the conservatives/liberals are deceiving the voters!). Somehow this is supposed to be a wiser approach than simply voting for whoever has the idea that seems most likely to work right now.

There’s room for ideology in politics. In fact, it’s essential to the development of grand ideas. However, there’s just as much room for (and legitimacy to) voting based on which candidate or party will most competently manage the government. Sneering at swing-voters for not “getting it” is just puerile. If that’s the best conservatives like Rosen can do then they are headed for quite the defeat.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 22, 2008

The New National Obsession

We’re obsessed. All of us. Left, right, center, upside and down, everyone just keeps writing and talking and debating Barack Obama. Cruise the blogs, the columnists, talk radio or the news channels and Obama is at the front of everyone’s mind. We can’t stop ourselves. In a culture that salivates over the every move of talentless heiresses and half-sane pop starlets, we’re preconditioned to obsess over larger-than-life personalities. And who in modern America is more fascinating than Obama?

He won’t lose to Hillary Clinton. He can’t. Love him, hate him or find yourself endlessly confused by him, we all want to know where the story goes from here. A loser in the primaries? Unthinkable at this point. He doesn’t just have momentum, he has destiny. We can’t look away.

John McCain will need all the forces of luck and clear-headed rationality if he hopes to have a chance in November. Obama has the spotlight and it doesn’t look like he’s letting go anytime soon.

Labels: , ,

Texas Debate

Last night I watched the entire debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Both of them trotted out the names of great, late Texas Democrats with Barbara Jordan getting due respect from both candidates. But other than that, neither showed much more than some basic statistical knowledge of Texas and our challenges. This is a national-level debate and the senators wrapped our state’s struggles tidily into their national plans.

As such, neither won. Their national plans are so incredibly similar that even the candidates had trouble drawing distinctions. Where they do differ, on healthcare or foreign policy, it’s a matter of degree not type. These guys are not apples and oranges. They’re Mandarins and Clementines.

The Texas primary is going to be like all the other primaries. Voters will be choosing the candidates based on personal preference, not policy ideas. Now we just have to wait to see who the state likes more.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Obama's Act II Begins

Is there a growing wave of criticism against Barack Obama? I’ve already pointed you toKarl Rove’s piece. Amba at Ambivablog directs us to other anti-Obama pieces here and here. Moderate blogger Michael van der Galien at PoliGazette as dubbed the man a fake and has posted countless anti-Obama commentaries in recent weeks. Even Obama supporters are starting to get worried. Why the negativity?

Sure, some of it is just Republicans calibrating their opinions for the upcoming general election. But, as the above links show, this is much more than a Karl Rove attack agenda. This is something in the zeitgeist. And I think it goes straight to the roots of media and storytelling.

Despite what some want to believe, the media are not a monolithic force controlled by a central brain. If you want to look for biases, don’t look for ideological favoritism, look for inescapable narrative structures. Compelling storytelling demands conflict (so we get lots of shouting), it demands surprise (so we get trumped up “gotcha” stories), it demands emotion (so we get overplayed tragedies) and it demands story arcs, which is where Obama comes in.

In Act I, Obama is the intrepid tyro, an unblemished do-gooder believing in impossible dreams. He rises up from obscurity to capture the hearts and minds of his people. Along the way he does noble battle against the forces of darkness and is positioned to become a great man.

In Act II, the hero always stumbles. His brilliant talents are revealed to have corresponding weaknesses. The adulation he’s received goes to his head. Members of his movement turn against him out of disillusionment or greed. Now the struggle is not just against outer forces but inner ones as well.

We see this in just about every conventional narrative. We see it in politics. We see it in sports (Dallas QB Tony Romo could tell Obama a thing or two about media love turned media suspicion). We see it throughout our religious stories and ancient parables. The media, as storytellers, simply can’t escape these classic structures. Act I can only go on for so long. Eventually Act II must begin.

Detailed criticism of Obama has been a long time coming. He played out Act I as well as any politician can in our 24-hour storytelling news cycle. Now the heat is on and now we see if Hillary (who’s been stuck in her own Act II for months) can thwart the ambitions of America’s newest star. Or, if she fails, can John McCain, who’s had about five three-act plays in his life, prove the stronger narrative. Only one thing is for sure: the media will not be able to escape the lure of storytelling’s classic structures.

Labels: ,

A Reality Check on NAFTA

Over the years, NAFTA has become the boogie man of U.S. economics. But it's not that simple as Froma Harrop of RealClearPolitics explains. The deal (and other such deals with nations in the Americas, like CAFTA) is not to blame for our shuttered factories and has, on the whole, been quite good for our continent.

If there is one main cause of our manufacturing downturn, it's cheap Asian labor. Bashing NAFTA not only misses the point but distracts us from addressing the real challenges.

Labels: , ,

All the Tabloid News That's Fit to Print

The culture of rumor-journalism has gotten so prevalent that The New York Times is now conforming to the journalistic standards of Star Magazine. The Times’ “story” that John McCain may have had an affair during the 2000 campaign is based on nothing more than concerns some anonymous staffers had.

Concerns from anonymous sources? Really? That is tabloid level reporting. Hopefully this will wash right through the news cycle with more responsible journalists admitting that concerns from anonymous sources about a possible affair does not merit a news story. But I have serious doubts that the rest of the mainstream media will be so mature. This is going to be a thorn for McCain and that’s a shame.

Labels: ,

You Know Obama is the Frontrunner When...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It Tolls for Thee

I wasn’t an English major so I never had a huge pile of classics assigned to me. I’ve had to catch up with them on my own time, usually knocking back a couple canonical titles a year in between reading contemporary literature. Most of them are, if not excellent stories, at least important cultural touchstones. A few, however, merit every bit of their acclaim. For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of those.

I’ve always liked Earnest Hemmingway’s pop-you-in-your-mouth prose but his work, particularly his earlier novels and stories, lack a force of purpose beneath their compelling themes and language. “Isn’t it pretty to think so,” may be one of the most incredible lines of dialogue in American literature, but The Sun Also Rises as a novel is too full of disaffection to really knock you off your feet. It makes you sit down, despair a little and then get on with other things.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, despite centering on a near hopeless mission in the middle of a dismal war, has not at all left me dispairing. It’s left me completely revived. In the novel, Hemmingway captures both the abject bleakness of war and the unstoppable human hope and determination that makes men and women achieve great feats of bravery. Even though causes are corrupt, leaders are puerile and victory is seemingly impossible, Hemmingway’s band of characters attack the world head-on, convinced that their great sacrifices for small objectives can make life better for everyone. This is not naiveté (these characters are quite aware of reality and the harshness of their circumstance). This is bravery, without cynicism.

Hemmingway himself was, of course, a miserable bastard. That shows through in a lot of his work. But at his best, here and also with The Old Man and the Sea, he reveals a powerful defiance in the face of despair. I cannot help but think that’s how Hemmingway went on being brilliant for as long as did before finally succumbing to his demons. He was miserable but he was not about to go gentle into that good night (to quote another fantastically talented, utterly despondent writer). He was going to fight and, in his best literature, he shows us that it’s that fight, not the circumstances or ultimate outcome, that matters – that makes us human.

I can only hope in my life and in my writing I can give such fight.

Labels: , ,

Intellectual Dishonesty

I’ve got my issues with Barack Obama and his campaign, but the recent attacks on him and his wife have bordered on the intellectually dishonest. Michael Reynolds eviscerates the accusers in a perfect bit of satire and I have very little to add. Only, it’s these kind of blog/news cycle eruptions that make my occasional absences from blogging so enjoyable. I get so irritated when otherwise smart, perceptive people start harping on pseudo stories, pretending they’re illuminating the issues when they’re really just obfuscating the truth. So, instead of letting it get me down, I’m letting Reynolds do the heavy lifting of revealing the fallacies and idiocies of the current non stories.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cloud 10

That's how Barack Obama must be feeling after winning his ninth and tenth state in a row. Looks like Texas and Ohio are now Hillary Clinton's last, best hope. I think she has a decent shot but what might ruin her here in Texas is if Mike Huckabee drops out of the Republican race. All the independents who are planning on voting for John McCain may just cross over (we have open primaries). And independents have been going Obama over Clinton in large numbers.

Two weeks ago I'd say the odds of Obama winning Texas was 3 to 1. Now, I'd put the line at even. It'll be a fight and I expect Clinton to keep the nastiness level high.

Labels:

You are What Your Demos Say You Are

For a former political science major like myself this article is manna. Kurt Andersen breaks down and analyzes the demographic trends in the Democratic primaries. He reveals the myths, the inconsistencies and the variables that have occurred thus far. I loved this part, discussing our habit of voting in demographic blocks:

Thus does poli sci begin to resemble a harder science—quantum physics: Each of us voters is like a subatomic particle, our individual behavior at any moment “indeterminate,” never absolutely predictable, but as a practical matter, in the aggregate over millions of repetitions—electrons spinning, voters voting—we behave in a supremely predictable fashion. Matter does not spontaneously dissolve because the atoms all happen to move apart at a given moment, and 65 percent of southern college graduates (give or take 4 percent) will vote for Obama. It seems we possess only free-ish will. “Yes we can”? Yeah, maybe, but only if it has been decreed in advance, by the demographic gods.

We’re biased and, even if we know it, we’re not free to escape it. While Andersen does go on to show how the conventional wisdom about Clinton’s and Obama’s supporters is mostly wrong, I am fascinated by his assertion that the measurables of who we are (gender, age, education level, region) are more consistent and dependable predictors of voting patterns than the immeasurables (personality, political attitudes, life experience, etc).

Do our demographics drive our personalities and attitudes or are we just innately followers, most comfortable when voting in line with our immediate cohorts? This is the kind of thing us political science junkies can spend hours if not days discussing.

Labels: ,

Castro Quits

Looks like old age has done what the embargo never could -- gotten Fidel Castro to quit. Early polling finds Raul Castro (Fidel's younger brother) way in the lead in the fixed election that will take place in the next few days.

Now, will President Bush or any of the presidential candidates propose changing our ridiculous Cuban policy? We'll see.

Labels:

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Iraq Blind Spot

Why is it that after years of accusing President Bush of ignoring the realities of Iraq in favor of political expediency and ideology, most Democrats are now doing the same thing? Iraq has improved. Why support the radical and reckless notion of withdrawal when the current strategy has achieved progress? How is it intellectually honest to argue that leaving the Iraqis now would spur them into making important political decisions when our absence would be much more likely to foment renewed chaos rather than improved stability?

Even if you take it as fact that the invasion was wrong and our management of the first few years of the conflict was extremely poor, those mistakes will not suddenly go away if we leave now, as if we can just close our eyes, stick out fingers in our ears and shout “nah, nah, nah, you don’t exist, you don’t exist!” We have to address the current situation within the context of the current realities and understand that even if we disagree with what has happened before we have a responsibility to ensure that what happens next will result in the best possible outcome for our nation and, just as importantly, the people of Iraq.

Quick withdrawal was never a particularly defensible position (militaristically or morally) but it at least had a place at the table when the situation seemed nearly hopeless. Now, however, it’s just empty rhetoric delivered by politicians who refuse to change their opinions because being anti-war was so successful in the 2006 elections (just as Republicans ridiculously refused to change their hollow stay-the-course rhetoric because being pro-war had worked so well in 2004).

I know the intransigent anti-war crowd would go ballistic if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton (or Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reed) admitted, hey, you know what, things are looking up and there are now inarguable reasons to stay in Iraq for awhile longer. But honest and right-minded foreign policy should trump the less-than-reasonable positions of party activists. I mean, Obama and Clinton can’t REALLY believe that immediate or near-immediate withdrawal is the wisest course of action, right? I’d much prefer that they were pandering than that they were that clueless.

I will be very curious to see if, after this prolonged nomination process is over, Obama and/or Clinton will adjust their Iraq stance for the national campaign. If not, the same kind of ideological and political blind spot that doomed the Republicans in 2006 could take down the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.

Labels: ,

Che the Annoying T-Shirt Boy

So, a Barack Obama volunteer office in Houston displays a Cuban flag emblazoned with the famous Che Guevara image. Obama has softly opposed the flag but many think he should be far more forceful.

Ah, Che. Is there a more ironic case of commoditization? Or a more pathetically ignorant? Che was a brutal man and even if you are a passionate socialist, you can’t morally support Che’s murderous methods. And yet his image pops up everywhere, particularly among a certain class of too-cool-for-thou lefty “intellectual.”

Everyone needs their heroes and the associated myths. Why a certain group of leftists reach for Che when there have been plenty of wonderfully admirable liberal icons throughout history is beyond me. I guess the more admirable historical figures lack the revolutionary chic, dangerous aura and international fame necessary for a bad-ass t-shirt. Because, really, isn’t Che’s image all about posing? It says “I’m a liberal but not the wussy kind, so, like, watch out, man!”

In this sense, the real Che has almost nothing in common with Che the liberal t-shirt boy. What Che Guevara did and what he believed are only tangentially related to his current popularity. Sure, it would be nice if those who unfurled his image weren’t so easily sucked in by the modern consumerist culture that strips symbols of their meaning and repackages them in easily digestible formats. BUT, their choice to display Che is indicative of nothing more than historical ignorance and ideological gullibility.

Pointing out that ignorance is appropriate but expecting anyone, particularly a presidential candidate, to issue harsh condemnations is a little ridiculous. The image is harmless and those who display it aren’t dangerous radicals, they’re just annoyingly pretentious. And if Barack Obama castigated every supporter who was annoyingly pretentious he’d have no time to campaign.

Labels: , ,

Clinton Helped Make Her Own Raw Deal

I’m no Hillary Clinton fan, but I’ve started to question if she’s gotten a raw deal from the media. An excellent article in the most recent edition of The New Yorker makes the case that she has, but that it’s as much due to Clinton’s messaging mistakes as it is to media bias. She reveled too much and too long in her tough image and insider experience while Barack Obama easily positioned himself as likable and fresh.

The implications of Obama’s and Clinton’s respective meta-narratives for their press coverage have been profound. For Clinton, the inability to change the story line meant that any vaguely negative maneuver was interpreted in the darkest possible light, for it reinforced a preexisting supposition. For Obama, however, any criticism could be fended off as a manifestation of grubby old politics. And any act he committed that could be perceived as nefarious created cognitive dissonance

Name recognition is generally a boon for a candidate. But Clinton has much more than name recognition. She has character recognition, and that’s not so beneficial. Public figures do better when they hide their inner workings, but Clinton seems to have no hood, the mechanizations of her ambition and the faulty wirings of her insecurities clearly visible. Combine this with a lingering sexism that demands powerful women be masculine and then makes fun of them when they are, and it’s surprising we ever bought into the idea that she was a “sure thing” for the nomination.

She may yet win this race but there is no doubt that the campaign has gone very poorly. Her failure to close that hood or at least add some more horsepower to the old inner workings made it all too easy for the media and many voters to see her exactly as they’ve always seen her. The major media shouldn’t be so lazy but it’s unsurprising that they are. The voters are, I think, far more blameless. Clinton and her campaign have certainly done enough to warrant scorn and Barack Obama has presented a compelling enough case for himself.

So, it really comes down to a very odd situation: Yes, Clinton has gotten a raw deal, but it’s her fault for not seeing this coming and doing more early on to prevent it.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Generation Gaps and Obama

In a post discussing her own reservations about Barack Obama, Amba tangentially discusses the disconnect between herself and her more liberal friends and family.

The dyed-in-the-wool Democrats I know, many of them in my own family and among my closest friends, are very solemn about being in (as opposed to on) the right. To them, the simple virtue of being simply pro-choice , antiwar, green, and anticorporate is obvious and incontrovertible. If you tell them you don't think it's that simple, they look at you like you've sold your soul to the devil. Not to unquestioningly accept the pure rightness of those positions is to have malignly mutated, to have become stupid, greedy, backward, and corrupt.

I wonder if it’s a generational thing or perhaps a regional thing (Amba’s roots are in deep blue Chicago and New York City as distinct from my red and purple Dallas and San Antonio roots), but my left-leaning friends and family are not nearly so absolutist. Yes, I know the type of which Amba writes and I do catch some flak for the rightward slide I’ve taken, but only a handful of those with whom I’m closest believe liberalism to be “obvious and incontrovertible.”

Almost all my closest friends and family are Democrats and only a tiny fraction are significantly conservative, so this isn’t a matter of me not knowing enough people on the left. However, other than my online blog friends and my parents, everyone I talk politics with is roughly my age. When I voice a more conservative stance during friendly debates, I am not looked at as a mutant but rather engaged. They may not often concede any ground, but they will take my opinions seriously.

I bring this up as a long way to voice a thought about why younger voters are backing Obama in such large numbers. It’s not just youth’s well-documented infatuation with the new and vibrant, it’s that when Obama talks of bridging divides, people of my age (33) and younger believe it is realistically achievable because the newer generations are not as intransigently partisan as are the baby boomers. Just as Obama’s bi-racial identity is a much more common experience in my generation, Obama’s inclination to be less rigid is more common to those of us who’ve grown up in (and grown weary with) the polarized glare of our parents’ ideologies.

Sure, you have deeply divisive younger people like thirty-something Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos whose obdurate and blindly loyal liberalism makes your average New York City baby boomer look positively bipartisan, but my experience leads me to believe, on the whole, us Gen Xers and Yers are less committed to defending ideology to the death and more interested in ending or at least assuaging the political bitterness. Maybe that’s just my specific cohort, but I think it may play into Obama’s ability to get his message across to younger voters. It may also be why, on the Republican side, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul captured the youth vote in the earlier contests, with all three offering messages significantly removed from the George W. Bush style of polarizing politics (represented this election by angry-pundit backed and youth-vote loser Mitt Romney).

It’s a decent theory – too critical of baby boomers and too complimentary of my generation for sure – but it’s worth thinking about and is far less derogatory than the going theory that younger voters are just naïve hope-addicts.

Labels: , , ,

Me in Six Words

Have you heard about the six word memoir? Kinda cool. Dyre42 reminded me of it. I’ve been meaning to post mine, so, here it is:

Searching is fun. Finding, less so.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 15, 2008

How Many Earmarks Does Your Candidate Have?

Last year's numbers:

Hillary Clinton: $340 million worth of earmarks (a top 10 placing among senators)

Barack Obama: $91 million (placing in the bottom quarter of the senate)

John McCain: $0 (one of only 5 senators to request no earmarks)


You can say earmarks aren't that big of a problem, but they are a decent indication of who wants to play politics as usual and who actually wants to change the way Washington does business. So, who's the change candidate again?


*Disclosure* I heard about this from the John McCain campaign, but it checks out. Here's the Washington Post article.

Labels: , ,

Finally, Some Texas Polls

Texas primary poll numbers are finally available. As everyone expected, Hillary Clinton is leading Barack Obama ... but by less than 10 points. Both camps are opening campaign offices across the state, including right here in San Antonio where the Latino vote will get a LOT of attention. And they're both already running ads during primetime (heath care is the main topic on all the ads I've seen which, given this state's horrendous health care problems, is not surprising).

On the Republican side, polls show John McCain edging Mike Huckabee by 4 points. Of course, that race is all but over which is going to suppress what I think would otherwise be a large Independent turnout for McCain in our open primary system. Remember, this is the state that in 2006 gave two moderate, independent candidates for governor a combined 30% of the vote, the same amount the Democrat received.

It'll be interesting to see how these polls change as the election draws closer.

Labels: ,

Obama Voters Losing Touch with Reality

So says Charles Krauthammer. I know Krauthammer wouldn’t agree with a Democrat on the color of the sky, but he makes a solid point and quotes plenty of others who are becoming concerned about the near-messianic fervor surrounding the freshman senator.

I’m not as quick as others to dismiss Obama as all rhetoric and no plans (he has plenty of plans, they’re just hard to see under the glare of his hope rhetoric). But the adulation of his supporters is beginning to border on, well, crazy. And that’s worrisome.

If you’re not a true believer, the genuflections of the faithful can be very off-putting. I never got on board with Howard Dean because his followers were too blindly reverential. Ron Paul’s positions were almost less of a detriment to his campaign as were the disturbingly passionate outbursts from the Paulites.

Obamamania hasn’t reached that level of weird yet. But his admirers are exhibiting symptoms. The “Yes we Can” video and the hosannas it received were a little creepy. Certainly there must be reasons to support Obama other than the fact that he’s Obama. “Hope” is not a policy position. And yet that seems to be the driving energy behind his support.

Should Obama wrap up the nomination, which looks like a decent bet, his national campaign will need to reach beyond the already baptized members of his congregation. Then again, maybe his blend of common Democratic positions with uncommon rhetoric is enough to win him the presidency. If he can keep that balance between excited support and irrational fervor, then he has a very good chance at ultimate victory. But if his followers slip into crazyland, the campaign will have a hard time winning over more skeptical voters.

For what it’s worth, I think beneath the admittedly inspiring rhetoric, there is a man who could potentially make a good president. I just hope, if the nation elects him, his supporters vote for the real man and not the mythic figure he’s already becoming.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Romney Takes Lead in VP Race

I’m not sure Mike Huckabee could have received worse news than Mitt Romney’s endorsement of John McCain. Not because Huckabee had a chance to get the Republican nomination (that miracle ain’t coming) but because Romney suddenly looks like the man at the top of McCain’s VP list.

Those of us McCain supporters on the more moderate side of things have known all along that the senator’s troubles with the Republican base would almost certainly result in a less-than-centrist VP choice. A lot of us have been thinking McCain would ultimately have to make nice with the social conservative wing and pick a guy like Huckabee. But with the anti-McCain vitriol coming from the conservative punditocracy (who are more big business/law-and-order oriented than they are religious), Romney now seems like the more likely compromise – an outcome made all the more likely by his willingness to play by party tradition and try to end the nomination process in orderly fashion.

McCain could still end up going another direction. They don’t call him a maverick for nothing. But if I were making odds, I’d place Romney at about even for the VP nod. For Romney, it puts him in perfect position to easily secure the nomination next go around. For McCain, it will quicken the healing process and give all those pundits who’ve painted themselves into a corner a sneaky way out. We’ll know soon enough if this is where everything’s headed.

Labels: , ,

Stupid Texas Law Struck Down

We seem to have a lot of those. Dyre Portents has the details.

Labels: , ,

What's Huckabee Doing?

Having fun, apparently. And keeping Republicans in the news. Guess there are worse reasons to keep a losing campaign going.

Labels:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Defense of Melancholy

A new book by Eric Wilson argues that we should be more willing to embrace melancholy and be less desperate to be happy. In Against Happiness, the author describes his own dark mood and how he battled it for years before accepting it as part of who he is. I suspect it is a part of who we all are.

Wilson separates melancholy from clinical depression and other psychiatric illnesses. He’s talking about mild to moderate sadness – an emotion we as a society seem desperate to eradicate with pharmaceuticals, with sex, with escapist violence, with cruises and Vegas and an endless appetite to accumulate more and more material possessions, even if that means going into deeper and deeper debt.

But it doesn’t really work, does it? And, worse, the fact that none of it brings us endless happiness just makes us all the more morose. The sociology of it takes up volumes, as do the prescribed solutions. We need more purpose. We need deeper connections. We need stronger religion. We need less technology. We need more free time. We need better diets. We need more love.

What if we don’t need any of that any more than we need the trip to Vegas or the IPod? What if melancholy is just a natural part of life? What if we are unfulfilled because we are bottomless?

We humans have such fantastic capacity, for knowledge, for love, for hate, for happiness and sorrow. But that capacity comes with a caveat: if there is no pinnacle there is always the sense we’re falling short. Some of us find that gap between what we are and what we can be more unbearable than others. Some of us find those bright bursts of happiness more elusive than others. But all of us feel sad and I bet we all feel it more often than we’re willing to admit.

Never in the history of the world have one people had so much of the world’s bounty set before them. Never have a people suffered so little, hungered so infrequently. Yet we cannot find regular or even frequent happiness. This is not a condemnation of us as a people, merely a sign that perhaps we humans, in exchange for all our gifts, are fated to live much of our lives in a state of sweet sadness.

We can fight against this natural part of ourselves. Or we can, like Eric Wilson suggests, come to terms with our own melancholy. I think I’ll opt for the latter.

Labels: ,

Jolting the Economy

Robert Reich explains why this recession may be a bad one. Looks like our spending power is all tapped out.

The first way [we increased spending power] was to send more women into paid work. Most women streamed into the work force in the 1970s less because new professional opportunities opened up to them than because they had to prop up family incomes. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970 — to more than 70 percent. But there’s a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

So Americans turned to a second way of spending beyond their hourly wages. They worked more hours. The typical American now works more each year than he or she did three decades ago. Americans became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

But there’s also a limit to how many hours Americans can put into work, so Americans turned to a third way of spending beyond their wages. They began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster from 2002 to 2006, they turned their homes into piggy banks by refinancing home mortgages and taking out home-equity loans. But this third strategy also had a built-in limit. With the bursting of the housing bubble, the piggy banks are closing.

So, to summarize, we’re all working, we’re all working our asses off and we’re all drowning in debt. We’re screwed unless something changes. Reich suggests, in the short term, we need to dramatically lower taxes on the lowest earners with the collection shortfall offset by raising taxes on the top earners. Since the highest earners are spending large amounts of their wealth on global investments outside the country (trickling down money to China and the like), their diminished spending power will not impact our economy. However, the middle and lower-middle class earners who receive the giant tax breaks will almost certainly spend the extra money within our economy (it’s trickle-up economics).

I can see the logic in this argument, although using the tax code as such a blunt instrument can have plenty of unintended consequences. Who does Reich mean when he talks about raising taxes on the wealthy? The top 5%? Not all of the top 5% of earners are happily throwing their money into foreign hedge funds. Many are running small businesses. Others are hard-at-work professionals who may own a Lexus and a plasma TV but are not blessed with an exceptional amount of expendable income. Over taxing these people may be more than just unfair, it might poison the top portions of the economy in a devastating manner.

Obviously, sitting back and just waiting out the economic turmoil is not the perfect solution (particularly if we’re as screwed as Reich argues), but I’m not sure fiddling with the tax code is a magic bullet, even as a short-term solution. A complete overhaul would be more useful but decidedly impractical at this point. To me, the most obvious and achievable stimulus would be infrastructure investment, a plan championed by Mike Huckabee during the debates and supported by plenty of others. (In all fairness, I heard Robert Reich himself promote infrastructure investment on an NPR segment I can’t find a link to).

Our infrastructure is in need of repair. Our economy is in need of an extended jolt. Rather than making tax law changes with undeterminable effects, why don’t we invest in projects which we know will create jobs and provide long-term advantages. There may be a better action to take but, if there is, I haven’t heard it.

Labels: , ,

The Most Important Numbers From Yesterday

From CNN:

The Illinois senator won the women vote. He won the white vote. He won the elderly vote. He won the Latino vote. He won among every income level.

I think we can now call Obama the front-runner.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

McCain: Clean Sweep. Obama: Stampede.

Results are in. McCain did what he had to do in his typical fashion (moderately). Obama did what a lot of us didn't expect and won by definitive margins. I mean, he beat Clinton by greater margins than McCain beat Huckabee. As we say in Texas: that ain't nothing.

Clinton has a lot of work to do, she can't take Texas and Ohio for granted. Exit polls are showing that Obama has made major gains in every demographic. If he can win OH and TX, even by just a few points, he'll get this nomination. But first, all the candidates are going to have to slip into some boots and come on down here. We're looking forward to it.

Labels:

Obama Set Up for Quite a Fright?

Is it just me or are expectations running overly high for Obama?

Clinton’s a horror-movie villain. Each time she looks dead, she suddenly crashes onto the screen with a machete and maniacal snarl. The overhype of Obama leading in to today’s primaries means if Clinton wins even one, she’ll look like the winner. Really, is there anyone better at managing expectations than the Clintons?

Labels: , ,

Saudi Arabia Bans the Color Red

It’s an attempt to squash Valentine’s day celebrations. Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, a scholar in Islamic studies, told the Saudi Gazette, an English-language newspaper:

"As Muslims we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration, especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women, ".

And don’t forget it encourages the consuming of nasty little candy hearts and stale chocolate. And flora-cide –- Valentine’s day is the leading cause of flower murder in the world. I don’t know why we all don’t ban it. In fact, I know a lot of American men who would be just fine with such a regulation.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 11, 2008

How Obama Appeals to Elites

Here’s a question: what, if any, national change does Barack Obama represent? I have an idea and it begins with the fact that wealthy Americans are migrating to the Democratic party, a move preceded by the college-educated professional class moving to the Democrats awhile back. Other than African Americans, who does Obama most appeal to? The wealthy and well-educated.

Why America’s elites are moving towards the Democrats is a post for another day. What’s important is that, while Obama’s appeal extends well beyond the well-off and well-taught, the number of elite citizens within the party has hit a critical mass capable of fueling and funding an insurgent campaign. But what’s the attraction? Outside Obama’s more experiential style versus Clinton’s more commodity-based style, as discussed by David Brooks, I believe Obama is grabbing the votes of the elites for three important reasons.

First, it’s a matter of process. While Obama may share many goals with Clinton, he promises a substantially different leadership method. Clinton talks in terms of what people deserve from their government. Obama talks about what we are obligated to give each other, believing the government to be the most efficient means of helping one another (if you believe charities are the best method, you probably aren’t be a Democrat). For the elites who generally do not need government assistance, their desire to expand health care and help the working class is largesse coupled with a desire for a more functional nation. They are naturally wary of Clinton who seems to be a technocrat focused solely on finding the quickest avenues to handing out “deserved” entitlements.

Instead, the elites are more likely to trust Obama who seems to better understands the give-and-take and across-the-board expectations inherent in all government assistance. This is a matter of leadership style and method, not just rhetoric. If you feel it is appropriate to give of yourself to better the nation (i.e. pay more taxes), you want a President who appreciates that sacrifice and will manage the programs accordingly. Obama’s well-publicized support of teacher merit-pay is one excellent example of how he integrates a greater amount of responsibility with his government-program driven solutions. His refusal to shove every last American into a health care program whether they want one or not is another example of where he includes personal responsibility in his liberal agenda.

Secondly, Obama is more internationalist than Clinton. His stated preference for robust engagement with even the most difficult of nations, as distinct from the Bush administration’s ignore and punish policy and Clinton’s similar if less unilateral predilections, appeals to elites who tend to live more internationally. Elites often travel the world for pleasure and work with people of other nations for business. As such, they are less American-centric and more attuned to the opinions of the rest of the world. When those opinions are negative, it makes travel abroad less pleasurable and business relationships less fruitful. To many of these elites, whether Obama’s foreign policy is right or wrong is less important than whether it will improve foreign opinions of our nation. Greater engagement is something many nation’s ask of us so, unsurprisingly, Obama’s position is attractive to many elites.

Finally, the well-off and college-educated are indoctrinated in the culture of change. Business success is about the next great product and intellectualism is about the next great theory or discovery. This submersion in change not only makes elites more desirous of the new but also less worried about risk. Whatever Obama’s shortcomings are, they are acceptable to elites if he delivers on his promise. For the less secure in life, failure can be devastating. For the elites, failure is typically just a temporary setback and thus they respond less to Clintons “I’m the safe choice” message and more to Obama’s “we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for” message. Obama is simply more daring, in his foreign policy, in his support for nuclear power (Clinton is bravely “agnostic”) and in his willingness to give a polite middle finger to the divide and conquer style of politics.

There’s been a lot of discussion on how Obama can win the hearts of red state (read: moderate) Democratic leaders and leftist organizations like MoveOn.org. The answer may not be the cynical assumption that he’s a man of two faces or of no faces. The answer may simply be that both groups come from the party’s well-off, well-educated block of voters. Whatever policy differences they have, they share enough in common to prefer Obama over Clinton. Is it enough to win him the nomination? It is if the well-off, well-educated super-delegates also come along for the ride. Then he’ll have all the money and enthusiasm he needs to take on (and quite possibly take down) John McCain.

Labels: , ,

Diet Sodas Not Good for Your Diet

A new study shows that diet sodas may make you gain weight and increase your chances for diabetes and heart disease.

The study, of course, is on rats. The reasons why diet sodas made some rats gain weight is still in the early theories stage. But that is not stopping the powers that be from scolding us for consuming what was previously a guilt-free pleasure. Apparently, if you consume one or more diet soft drink a day you should immediately cut back.

Given my Diet Dr. Pepper habit, I'm doomed. Then again, I'm not overweight. Maybe I'm just lucky not to be a rat.

Labels: ,

The Archbishop's Sharia Mistake

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, recently stated that he believes the eventual adoption of some aspects of sharia law into British law is unavoidable. This has caused quite an outcry.

As an Episcopalian and thus part of the Anglican Communion, I’m familiar with Archbishop Rowan. He’s a very thoughtful man and a wonderful writer. He has had the misfortune of inheriting a church that is greatly divided over social issues, particularly whether to accept or condemn homosexuality. He also has the misfortune of being a poor politician. This is not the first time he’s made less-than-wise political statements. But it is the largest denunciation of his words.

Taken at face value, his comments on sharia law are quite condemnable. There is little reason to think Britain could maintain its equal rights or even its democracy under a plural legal system, one of which strictly limits certain freedoms held dear in Western culture. However, in the greater context of British thought and law, Dr. Williams’ comments make a little more sense, even though they remain worthy of rebuke.

Sharia courts already operate in Great Britain. Although their status is unofficial, British authorities have generally allowed them to continue and Dr. Williams is hardly the first to argue that a plural legal system could be acceptable.

In fact, Dr. Williams’ mistake was not so much the suggestion that there’s room for sharia courts in Britain, but that the adoption of some sharia law into British law is unavoidable. To that point, John O’Sullivan of The New York Post says:

The archbishop's use of the word "unavoidable" was significant: It reflects not just his mindset but that of British ministers and the country's wider multicultural establishment - who would like to protect rights such as gender equality in law but positively shrink from any conflict with ethno-cultural groups that oppose and threaten them.

If that mindset prevails, then sharia - women's second-class status and all - will indeed be unavoidable.

That, I think, is the crux of the problem. Dr. Williams sees the creep of sharia law into the British system and, rather than voicing concern about the trend, has decided acquiescence is the more appropriate reaction. It’s not. But for a religious scholar of a denomination known for accommodating new ideas and permitting dissent, I’m not too surprised by Dr. Williams’ remarks.

Clearly, the Archbishop was wrong and all of us who condemn his statement are right to do so. But we must remember that this man is not a legal scholar or a politician. He’s a religious man whose concerns are more with divine grace than contemporary concepts of freedom. Yes, I would prefer an Archbishop with a more worldly sense of human rights (particularly women’s rights), but I can understand why a religious leader might choose conciliation rather than confrontation with another religion. Rowan Williams is no radical and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Huckabee Could be Force in Party's Future

Mike Huckabee is convinced he can still win. He won’t. Mathematics preclude a Huckabee miracle. But his candidacy and its success could very well be a forecast of things to come. I can certainly see the future Republican party looking a lot more Huckabee and a lot less Romney.

Romney represents nothing more than a sack into which the party has thrown all the disparate parts of a moribund ideology. Huckabee, on the other hand, is a much more cohesive beast. He represents the hopes (and fears) of the lower middleclass, rural and working class voters upon which the Republicans have built much of their recent electoral success. These are people who voted Democratic for decades before that party became exceedingly secular, increasingly dovish and overly committed to identity politics. Republicans offered a better option, but not the perfect one.

Huckabee is more perfect. He’s a conservative populist, a man whose religion is as much tied to lifting people up as it is to opposing social change. He may welcome the endorsements of James Dobson and other conservative sycophants, but Huckabee is not like other Republican Christians, willing to sell his religion to the big business wing of the party. He speaks out against corporate greed in a way that rouses his supporters even as it risks offending party elders.

From his audacious tax plan to his immigration stance to his foreign policy (what little there is), his ideology is centered on giving the average family a better shot at succeeding. He sounds like a Democrat, except instead of promising more government programs he’s promising that government programs will stop getting in their way. It’s a revised Reaganism with a twang and a “Praise the Lord!”

Huckabee connects with people’s exasperation at being screwed over by big powers, be they governmental or corporate. He appeals to those who see their way of life (their religious values, their jobs, their apple pie Americanism) being submerged by larger forces they themselves are powerless to stop. Huckabee promises to be the levy against those forces. Where Barack Obama is offering a change-forward message, Huckabee has a change-back message. Change back to simpler times when jobs were secure, Mexicans were in Mexico, terrorists weren’t a threat and Christianity was the accepted moral guide for the nation.

We would be foolish to discount the allure of Huckabee’s message. Much of what he believes is already well-woven into the fabric of the Republican party. But instead of just offering a grab-bag of positions, Huckabee has a hard populist core around which other ideas naturally cling. Those that don’t stick, like overly favoring big business, are not forced into belonging. They are jettisoned, leaving a more pure ideology. It’s one that could provide the energy for a reconstitution of the Republican party.

A lot of us could never sign on to such a protectionist ideology. But many others eagerly would and that’s why, even though he’ll fail to get the nomination this year, Mike Huckabee could be a real force in the party’s future.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 08, 2008

"He's a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him."

That's humorist Joel Stein talking about Barack Obama in a column that explores why he likes him, why maybe he shouldn't and why Obama supporters sometimes embarrass him.

Funny. Worth the read.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Romney Takes One for the Team

Mitt Romney is done. He's suspended his campaign for the good of the party so Republicans can focus on stopping the Democrats.

I saw his speech. One of the best speeches I've seen from a Republican in a long while. He could be an asset to John McCain if the senator can suffer the former governor campaigning for him down the road.

I haven't been a Romney supporter but it takes a man of character to consider the greater picture and not just his own ego. Obviously the hard numbers were against him, but a lot of people wanted him to continue the fight. He isn't and that's good news for the Republicans.

I suspect, if McCain wins Virginia and Maryland next Tuesday, Huckabee will step aside too. The Republicans will have several months to cool off passions and rally behind McCain before the convention.

Labels: , ,

Democrats Headed for the Rocks

Now that the Super Tuesday delegate count is known, we can see how incredibly close the Democratic race actually is. Among pledged delegates, Obama leads Clinton 635 to 630. Among committed super-delegates, Clinton leads Obama 193 to 106, meaning Clinton has just 82 more delegates than Obama.

Let’s run some numbers. There are 4,049 total delegates, pledged and super, making the magic number 2,025. In the remaining primaries, there are 1,942 delegates still up for grabs. There are also another 543 super-delegates who have not stated a preference (a list of committed super-delegates is here).

Clinton needs 1,202 more delegates. Obama needs 1,283 more. For one of these candidates to secure the nomination without the super-delegates coming into play, one of them would need to win all the remaining primary delegates by a 2 to 1 margin. That’s 66%. Unless one of them is caught on a boat with Gary Hart, it’s just not going to happen.

This nomination will be decided by super-delegates who are free to change their votes however they please and are bound to no election results. You think the Republicans are at each other’s throats? Wait until every significant (and nearly every minor) Democratic official is forced to pick a side. The only hope that this will be worked out amicably is if one of these candidates manages to win something near 60% of the remaining primary delegates and the other concedes for the good of the party.

But if they keep splitting elections 50/50, neither is going to step aside for the other. That will not be pretty and the Democrats will be unable to avoid the perception that the nomination was decided in some smoke-filled back room. With all the favors the Clintons could call in, you have to like Hillary’s chances. Of course, Obama has the Kennedys behind him and that family could call in a few favors (and wring a few arms) as well.

Super-delegates were created to avoid the turmoil of a brokered convention. Instead, they could very well cause a broken convention. Democratic leaders need to figure out a plan right now to avoid the potential disaster ahead.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

55,000 Votes Separate Clinton from Obama

That's out of 14.6 million votes cast nationally yesterday. A 0.4% advantage for Clinton.

Wow. Heading into the fourth quarter, it's a tie game. Will the Big Mo keep swinging Obama's way or, now that he's so close, will the Clinton supporters rally? Only time will tell.

Labels: , ,

Haven't We Seen This Before?

For anyone who watched the final season of The West Wing a few years back, this election is starting to look eerily similar. In the fictional world of The West Wing, the Republicans nominated a grumpy, moderate Republican who was disliked by his own base but had the potential to win 50 states thanks to his mainstream positions. The Democrats went through a grueling primary season, ended up at the convention without a nominee and finally chose a relatively inexperienced, solidly liberal, non-white congressman who was extremely good at giving inspiring, unifying speeches.

John McCain as Arnold Vinick. Barack Obama as Matt Santos. Life is imitating network television. No wonder this has been such a captivating election.

Labels: ,

Super Tuesday Leaves a Super Mess

The results are in and the race is far from over.

John McCain was the night's biggest winner thanks to winning the most Republican states including the big ones of New York, California and Illinois. Mitt Romney was the big loser, winning some Western states but performing poorly in the South. Huckabee proved he's more than an also-ran but despite his strong performance, he clearly doesn't play outside the South.

I imagine the cooler heads within the Republican party are going to start pushing Romney to step aside. The hot heads of the media, however, are going to want to fight on. John McCain has just barely half the delegates he needs for the nomination which means this thing could go all the way to the convention if Huckabee and Romney keep contesting each state.

The Democrats look destined to go to their convention without a nominee. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are neck-and-neck coming out of Super Tuesday. Clinton withstood the Obama surge with New York and California firewalls but he cleaned up a lot of the smaller states and, of course, ran her over in Georgia and Illinois. I'll be interested to see the polls coming out of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC (the next major grouping). Obama should dominate DC and squeak out victories in Maryland and Virginia.

Then on to Washington and then Texas and on and on and on until Denver where we may have a convention decidedly not scripted for television. The fun ain't over yet. The ride's jut getting good.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"And They Haven't!"

That was the the line Mitt Romney repeated with a chorus of supporters during his speech tonight. Nothing against Mitt's desire to change Washington but Obama's "Yes we can," line is far superior. Rule number one in persuasive writing -- use positive language. Make people excited, not angry. Just a tip from a copywriter.

Labels: ,

Early Super Tuesday Reaction

John McCain is winning every where he's supposed to win. Yet, I'm hearing a lot of negativism on the networks with pundits pointing out over and over that McCain is not loved by the most conservative members of the party.

And yet isn't the story really how poorly Romney is doing and how well Huckabee is performing? After a week plus of anti-McCain hysteria, there are a LOT of Republicans who are choosing Huckabee over Romney. See, the conservative talk show hosts can try their hardest to convince us Romney is some pure blooded conservative but a lot of voters are smart enough to know he's a political changeling.

John McCain may not wrap things up tonight but, right now, Romney looks like the biggest loser.

On the Democratic side, things are falling where they were expected to fall. The biggest news is how well Obama is running among white voters at over 40%. He's doing even better among white males, which he's splitting evenly with Clinton.

Of course, with every state having to divide its delegates, we'll be a long way from having a Democratic nominee. What we need to look for is how close Obama comes to splitting the delegates evenly. If he can stay close, his momentum could keep building.

More later.

Labels: ,

The Future of Both Parties Rides on This Election

Anyone else excited about watching the election returns tonight? This has been the best primary season in a generation, offering some very interesting candidates and two parties in complete flux. The Republicans thought they knew who they were but after the very curious presidency of George W. Bush, their coalition has shattered. The Democrats, meanwhile, have been in the weeds since Bill Clinton left office. Their recent takeover of Congress was as much due to Republican forfeiture as Democratic strength, so they too are struggling to define themselves.

On both sides we have candidates who are desperately trying to cling onto the old coalitions, hoping they can scotch tape their parties together just long enough for another spin in the Oval Office. Both sides also have transcendent candidates who are explicitly (McCain) or implicitly (Obama) rejecting their party’s status quo. In appropriate fashion, the conservative is trying to pull his party back to the traditional values of pre movement conservativism – it’s the restoration of the Eisenhower/Nixon wing. The liberal is trying to catapult his party forward into a new era, attempting to give modern liberalism the champion it’s never had.

How this election turns out will dramatically affect each party. Here’s how I see how these four potential presidencies would impact their respective parties.

If Hillary Clinton wins, the Democrats will stay on their current course, not a movement of ideas but a force of institutional might. The diverse special interests which make up the Democratic party will each continue to get their piece of the federal pie and voters will continue to see Democrats as a party that talks big but acts small, more concerned with appeasement than action.

If Barack Obama wins, the Democrats will evolve into a movement party with the tenants of contemporary liberalism eagerly pursued much in the way Reagan pursued his vision of conservativism. This is actually the worst-case-scenario for movement conservatives as Obama will not just win votes but will change minds. It’s not that he’s a centrist, it’s that he could pull the entire center of American politics leftward. That is the potential power of his personality.

If Mitt Romney wins, the Republicans would stagger on as is, gasping out the last breaths of movement conservativism. Unfortunately for Republicans, a Romney presidency would give the party a false sense of security much like the Democrats had under Bill Clinton. They will not reinvigorate, will not reclaim Congress and they will not be in the majority again for quite awhile. Romney may say all the right things, but he is not a child of the conservative movement. He’s just one of its last followers. His presidency would delay the necessary reckoning.

If John McCain wins, the Republican party is done as we know it. The old guard will have a small resurgence but traditional conservativism was never a majority belief system and the Republicans will not want to become the permanent and loyal opposition once again. Instead, I see them reaching either towards a revived small government libertarianism (the Ron Paul direction) or a big government social conservativism (the Mike Huckabee direction). President McCain would be like Senator McCain, a maverick unattached to a movement, leaving his party to figure out for itself which direction it wants to go next.

Interestingly, I think if the Republicans lose this election (no matter who is the nominee), they will have their much-needed reckoning and come out stronger for it, perhaps even shedding the baggage that has ruined movement conservativism as exemplified by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. If the Democrats lose, it really matters who the nominee is. If it’s Clinton, her loss would just guarantee Obama as the nominee in 2012. If Obama loses, the Democrats are screwed. They have no one even close to Obama in likability or ability to articulate the liberal agenda.

Today is big. Super big. The futures of two parties are riding on the outcomes.

Labels: , ,

Barking Mad

Rush Limbaugh, who has always had an abusive relationship with reality, has completely lost it. This from The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb quoting a piece in The New York Sun:

On Mr. Limbaugh's program today, he said people should not be rushing to back Mr. McCain over issues of national security. The talk host said America's direction in Iraq would not be substantially different, even if Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama were elected. "They are not going to surrender the country to Islamic radicalism or the war in Iraq," Mr. Limbaugh said after mentioning the two Democratic senators by name. "They are not going to do that to themselves, despite what their base says."

Goldfarb brings us back to reality:

There is no doubt that America's direction in Iraq would be substantially different if a Democrat were elected in November. No well informed person could argue otherwise.

Yep. But Limbaugh and others on the unhinged right are operating in a fun-house mirror version of reality where McCain is the product of some vast liberal conspiracy (apparently perpetrated by a significant number of strong conservatives). It’s all off-the-wall crazy.

Limbaugh, Coulter, et. al. have long been the right’s half-crazed attack dogs. Let them into your house and it’s no surprise when they piss all over the furniture. If McCain wins big tonight, the Republican Party is going to have to figure out how to get its crazies back in the kennel and ready for the real fight this Fall.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 04, 2008

Hell No

I’m for rational security meassures. But I'm strongly against the abdication of our privacy. So, this worries me . A lot.

And you know what worries me more? There will be a whole swath of people who’ll see nothing wrong with it – who’ll accuse me of not supporting law enforcement or of letting the terrorists and criminals get the upper hand. Wrong and wrong. I’m fine with taking the biometrics of convicted criminals and known terrorists. But the rest of us? Hell no.

We cannot allow near-constant, warrantless government surveillance become our solution to security issues. This FBI program could take us straight down that path. With enough personal information, the government could track our every move -- and anyone who doesn't see a problem with that is a stunningly blind optimist.

Labels: ,

Imperfect

In almost all undertakings in life, we can never be perfect even as we strive, Sisyphus-like, for perfection, aware the goal is unattainable but determined to push forward nonetheless. That’s why so many became enraptured in the New England Patriot’s quest for an undefeated season. They almost got the boulder to the top, and that’s a rare thing indeed.

You could say a perfect NFL season is not perfection at all, the pursuit just a game and the achievement defined in the narrowest of terms. And yet that misses the point. Sports is the only arena in life where perfection is actually attainable. The quantification of athletic success makes ultimate success possible in a way that’s impossible in business or art or politics. Numbers are inarguable. You are either 19-0 or you’re not.

The New England Patriots are not. 18-1 is laudable, the team’s season is legendary. But they are not perfect. And we may never see another team come so close. Even under the clearest of definitions perfection is brutally hard to achieve. Only one NFL team has ever reached such heights – long ago and in a different era. They look, more than ever, to be alone on that hill for years to come.

If some who rooted against the New England Patriots are feeling malaise today, perhaps it’s because a historic moment vanished, replaced by just another Super Bowl winner, strong yet imperfect. Instead of seeing the near impossible happen we witnessed the all to commonplace drama of greatness succumbing to mediocrity.

The Patriots lost their bid for immortality because they lost one game. Perhaps, in the end, that’s why we respect sports achievements less than we respect the triumphs of art or culture or humanity. In sports, you’re either perfect or you’re not. And there’s almost all nots. But in art and literature and humanitarianism and life, perfection is infinitely debatable, feats measured not in whether a man or woman reaches the top but how close he or she gets and how hard he or she fights.

Personally, I’d rather struggle for unattainable perfection than be measured by a rigid mark. The Patriots had no such luxury. They are imperfect, just like every other team.

Labels: ,

Grab Your Cowboy Hats

As some astute observers predicted, Barack Obama is surging heading towards Super Tuesday, with polls showing he’s closing the gap in a number of states. What’s this mean? The election is coming to Texas! That’s right, there’s almost no way Obama or Clinton will secure the nomination tomorrow. After that, Texas has the single largest batch of delegates left.

Get your cameras ready because you’ll be seeing a lot of a very rare creature – the Texas Democrat. Currently, no Democrat holds a statewide office and us Lone Star voters have gone red in presidential elections since native-son Lyndon Johnson won the White House in 1964. Despite all that, this a huge state and there are massive numbers of Democratic voters just itching to vote in a meaningful election. I expect record turnout. If the Republican nomination is also still undecided by March 4th, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a turnout exceeding the numbers who showed up for the last presidential election.

As a late primary state, our influence in the party nomination process has been minimal for well over a generation. Now we may be casting deciding votes. That’s not just exciting for a poli-head like me. That’s going to energize the whole state.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Will the Real Barack Obama Please Stand Up

I thought I had Barack Obama figured out. I thought he was no more liberal than Hillary Clinton but far more likely to bridge the divides in this nation. But, if that’s what I am seeing, why are America’s leftists seeing something entirely different? A day after Obama gets the MoveOn.org arch-liberal seal of approval, there’s this Christopher Hayes piece in The Nation, encouraging the left to rally behind Obama.

What struck me hardest was the way Hayes tries to write-off Obama’s conciliatory tone in the exact same way I and other independents have tried to justify Obama’s liberal record.

But he places more rhetorical emphasis on a politics of "unity" that, read uncharitably, seems to fetishize bipartisanship as an end in itself and reinforce lame and deceptive myths that the parties are equally responsible for the "bickering" and "divisiveness" in Washington. It appears sometimes that his diagnosis of what's wrong with politics is the way it is conducted rather than for whom.

In its totality, though, Obama's rhetoric tells a story of politics that is distinct from both the one told by Beltway devotees of bipartisanship and comity and from the progressive activists' story of a ceaseless battle between the forces of progress and those of reaction. If it differs from what I like to hear, it is also unfailingly targeted at building the coalition that is the raison d'être of Obama's candidacy.

In Obama, Hayes sees the progressives’ Reagan, a man so rhetorically gifted that he can bring along lots of people who would otherwise never agree with the agenda. Hayes believes Obama’s persuasion is honest (remember, progressives think the rest of us just need to be educated and we’ll all renounce our capitalist, imperialist, cultural chauvinist ways), but there’s a fine line between changing minds and tricking voters.

So who is Barack Obama? Is he a man who will bring us all to the table and, in effect, temper the worst urges of the left and right OR is he a man who will promote a leftist agenda while patting the rest of us on the heads and saying he really does care what we think? We can only guess. And that’s incredibly frustrating.

For now, I give up trying to decipher this man. I still think he’s a better choice for Democrats than Hillary Clinton, if only because she represents so much that is wrong with modern politics. But there’s little chance I’ll vote in the Democratic primary when it gets here in March. If Obama pulls off the improbable upset, we’ll have the much brighter lights of the general election to shine on him. Then, maybe we can base our judgments on who he actually is rather than who we hope (or fear) he is.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 01, 2008

Centrists and the 2008 Campaign

I've got a post up at PoliGazette about the 2008 race and how it pertains to centrists. It's mainly an explanation as to why some centrists are supporting Obama, but I pull off a nice trick: linking to no fewer than 7 of my own posts. That has to be some kind of self-referential record.

Labels: ,

I'm More Liberal Than You!!

Mitt Romney’s main selling point in the primaries is that he’s more conservative than John McCain (and he is – at least this week). McCain defends himself by displaying his own conservative credentials and claiming Romney is just pandering. This seems a wise strategy to most of us. But can you imagine the Democrats doing comparatively the same thing and arguing openly over who is more liberal?

Barack Obama is rated as the most liberal member of the Senate but he’s not using that for bragging rights. In fact, he goes out of his way to portray himself as someone of more moderate instincts. While I have heard some disgruntled lefties say Hillary Clinton is too conservative, I haven’t heard either Obama’s or Clinton’s campaign make “I’m more liberal!” their main or even secondary selling point.

I think this just goes to show you how out of favor being a liberal is. The Democrats, in their own primary, are wary of the word. Is it because conservatives have successfully used deceit to turn the word into a pejorative or is it because liberal ideas are simply outside the American mainstream? A little bit of both, maybe?

When liberal Democrats claim the moderate mantle and moderate Republicans say they are strong conservatives, you know there’s either something funky going on with our language or we’ve completely lost sense of where our nation’s political center sits. Either way, it disrupts our ability to have an earnest debate on ideas.

Labels: ,

123 Tag, I'm It

Michael Reynolds apparently thinks I have enough free time to play along with one of these blog memes, so he tagged me. I’d ignore him (and, really, shouldn’t we all ignore Reynolds?) except he demeans my character and I’m obliged to mount a self defense. But first, the meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Michael thinks the nearest book to me is an Iron Man comic book. That’s libel. I’ve never read Iron Man. I’m much more a Conan the Barbarian fan. And The Teen Titans. And, occasionally when I’m melancholy, Care Bears.

However, none of those fine titles are near. I wish I was out in my office where I’ve left on my desk a book about the history of cocktails. That would make me look cool. But I am at the dining room table and sitting next to me is a teetering pile of crap composed of papers, disks and assorted post-its I’ve left scattered around the house. My wife recently collected all this junk and stacked it here as a monument to my untidy mind (or maybe she’s expecting me to put it away?).

In this pile is The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly. I pulled it out a few months back because I thought it had tips on writing corporate mission statements. It doesn’t. So, naturally, I abandoned it on the sideboard. The fifth sentence on page 123 is about an ad written for The Institute of Children’s Literature. Ready for some captivating prose? Here we go:

This ad for a home-correspondence course in writing selects the right audience with the headline, “We’re looking for people to write children’s books.” The ad is written as a letter from the dean of the institute to the reader. The letter technique has two advantages.
.
If you want to know those advantages, I guess you’ll have to read the book. Or, you can ask Michael Reynolds as I believe this was the ad he responded to before becoming a successful young adult author.

Now that I’ve played along, it’s my turn to tag. So I’m going with Dennis at Neomugwump, Dyre42 at Dyre Portents, Rob at NoFrowns Nation, AubreyJ and Kranky Kritter at Centerfield. I’d have gone with Amba at Ambivablog too but she’s already been tagged. I won’t provide snarky remarks as to what these fine writers might be reading, mainly because I’m just not that witty.

Labels: ,