Friday, December 08, 2006


Mary Cheney: just a private citizen?

I'm inclined to be sympathetic to the argument that Mary Cheney ought to be left alone. What kind of weirdo wants to run for office when your whole darn family is going to be subjected to scrutiny?

The thing is, though, Mary Cheney's status was on the ballot in Virginia last month. It already is a political issue.

Plus, she wrote a book about her experience earlier this year.

So this isn't the same thing as excessive scrutiny of the Bush twins, or Chelsea Clinton.

I think that stressing "this is a private matter" is the only way for Republican supporters to play this. It's pretty easy to cast the Cheneys as hypocrites, cynical exploiters, etc. And it's easier to advocate denying rights to a vague class of citizens than to deny rights to an individual, the VP's daughter.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Sometimes people forget that the whole blessed world needs us to get our act together

The leading contender for world's most influential country, as we throw away lives, strength, money, and prestige in Iraq like we had them all in infinite supply, is China.

The Chinese authorities secretly executed a man who took part in violent protests against a hydroelectric project in 2004, his lawyer said.

Chen Tao was among tens of thousands who demonstrated against the Pubugou dam in Sichuan province. Locals say the dam will displace 100,000 people.

The protests turned into a riot which left a policeman dead. Mr Chen was found guilty of killing the policeman.

Mr Chen's lawyer, Ran Tong, said he had not been allowed to attend his appeal.

'Tricked us'

Mr Ran said he heard about the execution when he went to the high court in Sichuan to ask about progress in the case.

"I am extremely angry about this because since the first trial (in April last year) I have repeatedly asked them for an appeal date and they have always told me that the case was being worked on," he told the French news agency AFP.


The first rule of comity is timing

... and once you can fake that, you can fake anything.

Or something.

But this sort self-satisfied back-patting is just appalling while there's a war on. We don't need "A Study in Comity." We need something approaching a miracle.

Gradualism is really the worst of all possible options right now-- much less this gradualism for gradualism's sake.

Let's either go all-out right now, boosting troop levels by probably 50,000 plus, or let's get out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Centrism, centrism, uber alles

Cynthia Tucker vs. reality:
"The simple fact of the matter is, every serious Democrat who was in the Senate at the time, voted for the war--or voted to authorize the president--and Al Gore was one of the few Senate Democrats who voted in 1991 for the first Gulf War."
So, by definition, everyone who was right was frivolous. It's tough work, maintaining this faux seriousness in the face of all reason and experience, but Cynthia Tucker is up to the task.

This is bizarro-world political correctness, where it's considered gauche to have voted against the war even though 90 percent or so of Americans now agree with that point of view. And I supported the war. But obviously, people who argued the other way look an awful lot smarter than me, in retrospect.

I used to buy into this fetishization of centrism, this out-of-hand dismissal of "liberal" views. It seems pretty clear now that this was a poor framework for evaluating whether to support sending American troops to invade a country.

Is there any set of facts that would cause someone like Tucker to (1) question her assumptions, or (2) be held accountable for her mistakes? Another 3,000 dead American soldiers? Another 300,000, dead Iraqis? Another 3 million? Another $50 billion? Another billion people in the world who say they dislike and mistrust the US?

Or would she still consider whatever she might expect to come out of the mouths of Broders to be the lodestar for political analysis?

Monday, December 04, 2006


Glasnost II

Rich Lowry writes: "you should put your faith in principles not in men. It was always weird that so many conservatives stayed so vested in Rumsfeld—mostly because they liked his style and he was attacked by the left".

Admittedly, Lowry is writing (in a flip-flop) that we need to put more troops in Iraq. He's wrong because chaos is too far ahead of us now, and the president is considering adding 20,000 troops, which is not enough to do anything but prolong the agony for Iraq and for US servicemen.

But at least the Republican commentariat seems to be coming to a recognition that there is such a thing as principles, which might be worth defending over cults of personality, in some circumstances.

Partisanship, like nationalism, blinds us to the flaws of our own side. As things are, because Republicans shied away from honest assessment of his actions, they will be struggling to distance themselves from the disasterous domestic and foreign policy of the Bush administration for at least a decade.

A party winds up getting judged on its actions, not its principles. "Small government conservative" is an oxymoron to people under 30.

The incompetence of the Bush administration-- coupled with the unprincipled acquiescence of the conservative commentariat-- may have ceded some principles, such as cognizance of our own limitations in fiscal and foreign policy, that Republicans mostly defended for a half century prior to the Bush administration.


Why Democrats don't need libertarians in their coalition

Brink Lindsey writes (also found here) that liberals should look to libertarians to form a coalition. Liberals and libertarians will be able to work together from time to time-- maybe more now than ever due to Republican lawbreaking on civil liberties issues, and abandoning of any pretense of restraint or rationality on spending.

But it would be a mistake for liberals and libertarians to try to form a coalition. Happily, it will never happen. Here's why:

(1) We have different beliefs. Exhibit A: the minimum wage. We want to raise it; libertarians want to abolish it. Same with Social Security and antitrust laws, which we want to fortify, and libertarians want to destroy. We also, unlike libertarians, support the continued existence of fire codes and zoning laws.

Democrats and libertarians take vastly different lessons from the voters' frustration with the catastrophically expensive, confusing prescription drug benefit. That the Republicans have heightened frustrations of inefficient governance with their incompetence doesn't mean that voters or Democrats share the libertarian view that government is always the problem.

(2) I'd be surprised if more than 5% of voters consistently vote libertarian. They're fine for collaboration on certain issues, but not ripe for coalition-forming. Even folks like Bill Maher and Glenn Reynolds, who claim to be libertarians because the word has more syllables and fewer connotations than "Republican" or "Democrat," will rationalize their party-line voting by any means necessary, however implausible.

If libertarians want to be a major part of a coalition, they have to convince more people of their views.

Most Americans want the government to do good and to prevent bad. The two parties have different views on which things are good and which are bad. Even the supposedly libertarian business interests favoring the GOP have really been seeking handouts from GOP-led DC, not getting it off their backs.

(3) I'm still holding out hope that once libertarians turn 25, or treat their OCD, or read the scholarship of Mancur Olson, they'll realize that the correct answer to every question isn't "no."

Lindsey's plaintive cry for "a new politics" at least recognizes that the current politics are bad.

But the answer isn't to form different unweidly coalitions than the one currently blowing up on the GOP. It's to deal with issues honestly, one by one. It's to de-emphasize party allegiance as an aspect of people's identity on par with religion or sexual orientation.

Lindsey makes a few peripheral distortions worth addressing. Jim Crow wasn't a "great libertarian breakthrough," in terms of who did the breaking through. It was liberals, using the machinery of the federal government, who dismantled longstanding public and private discrimination against blacks. It is revisionist history to claim LBJ-era successes as a triumph of libertarian political organization.

He also wrote that "progressives remain stubbornly resistant to embracing capitalism." He provides no examples of this, of course, because beyond perhaps an odd copy editor at the Nation, Democrats don't think that. An awareness the fact of the collective action problem and of multiple equilibria, and a humble, historically grounded view of the role the government can play in addressing them, does not amount to "resistance to embracing capitalism."

Andrew Sullivan writes of Lindsey's piece, "can the Democrats really find a place for lovers of liberty?" I think he meant "fetishizers of the term liberty" at the expense of empirical analysis. Libertarians will like what Democrats do more than what Republicans have been up to of late, and they can help Democrats along on many issues. But we shouldn't, and we won't, yoke ourselves together.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


New rule of rock criticism: no more than one comparison per sentence allowed

Actual headline and teaser in the WaPo:

Hinder Rocks the House: A band that sounds like Aerosmith covering Nickelback, while misbehaving like Motley Crue.


Donald Rumsfeld, speaking truth to power

So, Donald Rumsfeld left a nice going-away present for the Bush administration: a memo urging us to change course in Iraq, on the grounds that we're not winning.

Three years late, hundreds of billions of dollars short.

Oh, and hundreds of thousands of lives.

None of the ass-covering, none of the fig leaves matter anymore. We can't keep peace while we're there; we might not have enough troops to move in there to restore stability; and that the Bush administration's plan to "go big" involves a paltry 20,000 troops means that our political leadership is not serious about responding to conditions on the ground, prefering instead to save face.

We need to get out, and we need to get Iraqis out as George Packer recommended.

I supported the war, and I supported sending more troops till this summer or early fall. But events are ahead of us now.

And I was wrong from the beginning to support this war of choice.

I thought we had learned, as a country, from Vietnam that we had to be honest about this sort of thing, and that if we fought a war, we had to be extremely serious and cautious about it.

I was wrong.

Actually, what we learned from Vietnam is that political leaders lie about matters of war, and that conventional wisdom might have nothing at all to do with the truth.


With a little fairy dust and some psychokinetic skills, I could kick John Micklethwait in the nuts over the Internet

Connoisseurs of inane and unsupportable contrarianism must read this John Micklethwait offering on the Bush presidency in 2007.

First off, if you want to engage in "maybe the president will do something postive someday" contrarianism, you must mention immigration reform. It's the only area in which President Bush might be considered to have consistent principles over his career in public service (with the possible exception of decreasing government revenue regardless of context or expenditures). And those principles on immigration-- more realist than punitive-- are closer to those of most Democrats than Republicans.

Unwilling to attempt to square the facts of the previous six years with his unwarranted notion that Republicans favor what used to be called "fiscal conservatism," Micklethwait writes that Bush can now courageously stand up to overspending now that "the Democrats [are] likely to lavish ever more on boondoggles." This assertion, of course, has zero to do with anything that Bush has ever done. The Republican Congress had zero restraint, to be sure, but the biggest budget busters have been Bush initiatives, like the precription drug benefit and that inconclusive experience in Iraq.

The end of the article is jaw-droppingly non-reality-based. Micklethwait lists a bunch of seemingly intractible problems that Bush has shown little or no inclination to address in any meaningful fashion (the Doha trade round, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the environment), asserting that he could preserve a legacy by solving them. "With panache and a little cunning," Micklethwait writes, "Mr Bush could start to fashion a replacement for Kyoto." Technically a true statement, like the title of this post. But does anyone think that's a likely event?

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