The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Monday, November 29, 2004

Pet Peeves: Why Can't Sociologists Use Dictionaries?

One of the most annoying debates in Sociology concerns the degree to which individuals can be seen as autonomous agents or as products of a structured and bounded world that controls their actions. The debate is annoying because so many of them use the word REFLEXIVE to refer to a person's capacity to reflect on his or her actions. Hello? Don't they mean reflective? Here's what my online dictionary says about reflexive:

1) [n] a personal pronoun compounded with -self to show the agent's action affects itself
2) [adj] (grammar) referring back to itself
3) [adj] (physiology) without volition or conscious control; "the automatic shrinking of the pupils of the eye in strong light"; "a reflex knee jerk"; "sneezing is reflexive"

I think one reason so many modern scholars, particularly those on the left who are part of the post-modernist, post-structuralist side, draw so much scorn from colleagues and the populace at large is their capacity to invent terms and use words without regard to their true meaning.

Take this by foremost social theorist Anthony Giddens: "...most of the schools of thought in question - with notable exceptions, such as structuralism and 'post-structuralism' - emphasize the active, reflexive character of human conduct. That is to say, they are unified in their rejection of the tendency of the orthodox consensus to see human behavior as the result of forces that actors neither control nor comprehend."

Since people doing things on the basis of routine is such an important part of Giddens' theory of structuration, his use of the word reflexive is disconcerting at best.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Remembrances of Things Past

Or, the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

I was cleaning up my office today. Man I needed to do that. I hadn’t touched the place since I moved in and boxes needed to be unpacked, and accumulated papers piled on the floor needed to be sorted out. So it was with some amusement that I came across a set of files from my days working at the DNC that my mother had sent to me. I found an old cartoon from Doonesbury, circa 1991.

A man is lying sick in bed with a lethargic look on his face. His doctor asks him how he is feeling today and he replies: "I don’t know. I don’t know what I feel. I’ve lost the courage of my convictions. I have this terrible urge to pander. I no longer have any direction. My sense of purpose is gone. I have no idea who I am."

And his wife exclaims! "Oh my God! You’ve turned him into a Democrat!"

It was interesting to find these clipping and old memos from around the time of the first Gulf War. There was an article from USA Today entitled "Bush has Democrats in Retreat." And this was Bush Senior.

I also found some papers I inherited from the circular files at the DNC that are an historical curiosity. Most of them are talking points distributed by the DNC between 1956 and 1960. What do you think of these two quotes?

"Private health insurance is out of reach for much of the population, particularly those whose medical needs are greatest….Millions of American families are in debt for medical care and millions more defer treatment because of the fear of debt. Provision must be made to bring adequate care within the reach of all our people."

"I have been against [national health] insurance as a very definite step in socialized medicine. I don’t believe in it and I want none of it for myself, I don’t want any of it."

The first quote is from the Democratic Advisory Council of the Democratic National Committee in March of 1960. The second is from Dwight Eisenhower, longtime recipient of medical care paid for by the US taxpayer and provided by the US government, who was commenting on Democratic proposals for national health care reform.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

This is Irony

Hey Alanis Morrisette. If you were still wondering, this is ironic. Powell Says U.S. Will Not Accept Final Tally in Ukraine. I just wish it were Bush or Cheney who said that. But I guess they could see how that would look.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Brand Democrat | Oliver Willis

This is a really great blog about creating a Democratic Brand that was developed by a guy named Oliver Willis. Please give it a look. It will make you feel proud.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Ownership Society Will Not Be Televised

It was a nice slogan during the campaign. The Ownership Society. It fit nicely with all those screeds that right-wing pundits were penning during the campaign about an emerging progressive conservatism. Of course, Bush never picked it up. He was content to smear Kerry and warn darkly about the terrorist homosexual threat to our nation.

But he did manage once or twice to put in plugs for his expensive visions of domestic policy. Two ideas stood out to me. One was tax reform (which sounded like a nice code for further shifting of taxes onto labor from capital). And the other was was health care reform (which sounded like an effort to undermine employer provided health insurance by making us all more sensitive to the price of health care - i.e. take away our employer-provided health insurance).

Comes the post-election mandate and now we see that Bush might have time to squeeze both efforts into one.

Matthew Yglesias over at the American Prospect points out that emerging details of the possible parameters of a Bush tax reform effort would try to knock off those two ducks with one throw. Wise move since, political capital being such a limited commodity, you don't want to empty your six shooter before you have all of your feast ready for the trough. And what a feast for the wealthy it is shaping up to be. No taxes on investment income and no need to provide those pesky workers with expensive health insurance any more. Brad Delong points out that this is really just another example of the kind of class war that Republicans wage against working people all the time, but never get called to account for.

Mark Schmitt over at the Decembrist pointed out a while back that Bush's reliance on private savings accounts paired with catastrophic health coverage would provide a strong incentive for employers to roll back employer-provided health care coverage. If you paired this with eliminating the deductibility of employer provided health insurance (which appears to be part of the Bush plan - surprise!) you would really create a set of incentives to unravel our current system of health care coverage. It's fine to think people will help to curb health costs if you believe that their lack of price sensitivity (because of insurance) is one of the reasons costs are so high. But it's another to shift the risk onto working people who have barely enough income to make ends meet, let alone pay for that $2,500 emergency room visit. Both DeLong, Yglesias, and Schmitt remark that Bush couldn't possibly do more to raise the probability that this country will soon have a single-payer, Canadian style health care system if he wanted one in the first place.

Makes you wonder. I don't know whether to hope Bush succeeds or pray the Democrats find their soul first.

Remember Kerry's Law Enforcement Strategy for the War on Terror?

Turns out he was right after all. Of course sensible people knew this already, but it's so easy to think that aggression = strength, that use of the army will better safeguard us. Of course Kerry had every intention of destroying Al Qaeda and its networks, but it was so tempting for Bush to pretend that Kerry was going to presume people were innocent and try to bring them to trial rather than to kill them where they slept. This calumny against Kerry was never entirely accurate during the campaign in that it meant to evoke a candidate who was weaker than another on homeland security (G-d we have to stop using that phrase. It's so Fourth Reichian)

An article in this week's National Journal opines that terrorism experts say that Bush has pretty much exhausted the armed forces effectiveness in the war on terror and from here on out will have to switch to a law enforcement based strategy that hinges on international cooperation. National Journal Magazine Archives.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Meltdown Cometh?

Brad DeLong has an interesting post (Brad DeLong: Required Reading on the Dollar: directing people to Nouriel Roubini's latest paper with a colleague about the near term prospects for the dollar and the likely impacts on the global economy. The news isn't promising for those who worry that the US may be on the verge of a major economic crisis.

American's are notoriously independent. Their scorn of the United Nations stems in large part from their reluctance to let any one from another country tell them what to do. How do you think they would react to an IMF like intervention? Can anyone say Argentina?

Roubini's brief discussion of this is available at his blog.

The message in brief? America's trade deficit, combined now with the growing budget deficit, threaten the strength of the dollar. But since so much of the global economy is linked to the strength of the dollar, a precipitous decline in the US dollar could force economic downturns in other countries. And since these countries are financing our trade deficit, the decline in the dollar is eroding their investment. Hence they have pegged their currencies to the dollar in a system that resembles the fixed exchange rates of the post WWII period. But this system threatens the stability of the euro's value, making it likely that Europe will need to either enact protectionsit measures or join the dollar fixed system. But if everyone pegs their currency to the dollar, then we, by virtue of our huge deficits in public spending and trade, become beholden to them for our economic fortunes. If these countries ever abandon the pegging their currencies to the dollar, it's value will melt down.

So are they likely to stay in the system or bail? Roubini & Setser (2004) argue that the incentives for all players (nations) are to stay in the system together (meaning the US economy doesn't melt down for a generation) but that the incentives for individual nations are to bail on the system and leave the others to hold the bill (meaning that the economy melts down in a matter of years). Sooner or latter, the dollar has to collapse. The question is - who will be left holding the bag?

Roubini's summary conclusion? "The flow and stock imbalances associated with Bretton Woods Two are much larger than the imbalances created by the initial Bretton Woods regime. The scale of these imbalances and the difficulties sustaining a cooperative equilibrium in a game with strong incentives for free riding make it likely that the Asian dollar-renminbi standard will crash in years, not decades."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Wondering About those Undecided Voters?

If you found yourself wondering, as many did this year, Decision Makers (print)about those undecided voters, this is a must read. You have to register, but it's free and it's worth it. Just unclick those email report options to keep the spam out of your inbox.

3 November Theses

Those of you who listen to NPR may have heard about these modern day Martin Luther's who posted the following theses on the door of the DNC.3 November Theses An excellent read that I highly recommend as food for thought.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Values Revisited

Let’s review the values debate a little more closely before we all decide to head South in a rattling, rusty school bus filled with bibles. The argument goes that the Democratic Party is elitist and out of touch. That they mock family values and they mock religion. That they fail to respect the most devout expressions of faith and religiosity.

But who EXACTLY mocks it? Kerry didn't. Clinton didn't. Gore didn't. If anything, national Democratic candidates give it lots of lip service. Remember when Dean was leading in the polls and decided to start talking about his faith? (He couldn’t even get his bible stories straight, but there he was talking about faith). And Democrats do more than just talk. In fact, Democratic candidates may, in many instances, be more religious than their Republican counterparts. We can go back to Carter (Well, I can since I can’t go back much farther in my memory). He was one of the most devout Presidents we have had. Nevertheless, in the first awakenings of the Moral Majority, he lost the religious vote to Reagan, a man who was almost rarely seen in church and never identified with any organized religion.

This criticism of the Democrats as the Godless Party or as James Dobson of Focus on the Family says about Pat Leahy - ‘The God’s People Hater Party’ -- is an easy line, but is it true? My hunch is that people are echoing what they hear in the media "ethosphere." Lots of people have been repeating this slander for years. Stephen Carter of Yale University got a good deal of press a number of years ago for a book that claimed that liberals were scornful of religion. And the number of commentators and pundits in the media who repeat this shibboleth has become like a multitude of biblical locusts. So it’s easy to see how this could become filtered and absorbed into the conventional wisdom that everyone accepts as simply true.

Now it’s probably true that some members of the media and entertainment world do express mocking sentiments. And it is also likely that the least religious of Americans tend to break to the Democrats in elections. But how has the Democratic Party en toto gotten paired with this calumny when the Party doesn't in any way cast aspersions on organized religion and most Democrats are devout people? Echoing around the blogosphere is the line that Democrats can no longer ignore this issue or try to explain it away or come up with weak excuses. But where exactly is the weak excuse coming from? Does the weakness lie with those who are irreligious and don’t know it? Or with those who have a particular vision of how the world should be, of what constitutes faith and morality, and who have a complete intolerance for anyone who might see things otherwise or even be willing to tolerate the existence of people who see things otherwise?

I think you can see where I am heading. It’s an easy stereotype but it’s still a stereotype. And an especially false and pernicious one at that. I feel that this line that Democrats are faithless and disregard religion is a weak excuse to explain away a vote for a particularly dogmatic view of faith and morality and a few hidden, subconscious fears of the evil other and social change.

We know from psychological studies that most people don’t make up their mind in a linear, rational fashion in which they reason through pros and cons and come to a conclusion. Rather, they make quick decisions on the basis of rough generalizations, a few facts, and superficial perceptions. They then proceed to go through a process of rationalization called ‘sensemaking’ in which they discover the reasons why they decided as they did. I think that the values issue is an expression of sensemaking that explains away a host of other reasons why people voted for Bush.

Underneath the broad penumbra of values lies a whole host of anxieties about change and about unsettling social developments that threaten some people’s core identities and sense of social order. Concern about values can be interpreted as an expression of a deeper concern about changes in the social order. Let’s not forget that the rise of the evangelical Right in Southern politics coincided with the shift of white voters from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party after the Civil Rights Act. Such trends are only further accelerated when society makes way for the entry of women into new and powerful roles that challenge traditional notions of endowment and place in the labor force and social structure. This trend is then compounded by economic forces that transform the work place so that expectations about job security, control, and economic power can no longer be taken for granted. Finally, we throw in new notions of sexuality and sex roles for both men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Now who is doing all this throwing? Is it Democrats? No, it’s the complex phenomenon of social change rooted in a host of issues connected to modernization, globalization, industrialization, de-industrialization, and advanced capitalism. If you live in a free, open society connected to the global market place and based on capitalist principles you are going to subject your selves and your community to these forces and pressures and be hard pressed to stop them. But Democrats have often championed the resulting social change and it is this reason why they have come to be blamed for it. The Democratic Party has been the Party for progress in Civil Rights, that has pushed for the advancement of women in society and the workplace, that has championed individual freedoms to do as one pleases as long as it harms no one else, and which now stands to ensure that members of the community who happen to be gay not experience undue discrimination from others. But Democrats haven’t been a force for such social change rather than stewards of rapid social changes taking place throughout society. In Thomas Franks new book, "What’s Wrong With Kansas" he shows how the religious Right has targeted liberals for the social changes that they react against. But when you look at the things that actually constitute their grievances in the book, you quickly see that liberals did not bring these things about. Instead, they are typically the result of economic forces acting upon the news media, the entertainment media, global corporations, and others.

Does that mean that people really aren’t concerned with values? Does it mean that Democrats can ignore the values debate? No, not at all. Rather it reminds us that Democrats do not suffer from a failure to adequately demonstrate faith. That Democrats may champion social change but they are not its cause. And that Democrats are unlikely to make much headway on the values debate unless they are willing to sacrifice some core values.

Democrats who accuse the Party of lacking sufficient adherence to religious values play to the Republican desire to cast Democrats as the Party of Sodom and Gomorrah. Democrats are not going to turn their back on abortion rights and they are not going to willingly participate in discrimination efforts against gay people. Democrats will persist in being the party of personal liberty. And as long as they do, there will be those who are uncomfortable with homosexuality, abortion and social change that will invoke ‘values’ to explain their opposition to Democrats.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Schweitzer for President!

If only all our candidates could talk like this. Sigh.

"I've got to get my cattle off the high ground and get them castrated before the winter," said Mr. Schweitzer, a whirl of energy in a pair of blue jeans.

The New York Times has an interesting article on how Democrats might regain the initiative, pointing to Montana's new governor, Brian Schweitzer. Their suggestion is that someone of his ilk, close to the land will win over the red state voters Dems have lost in recent years. I have no doubt that Governor - elect Schweitzer is a genuine person and his language is certainly colorful. I would love a candidate who is comfortable with castration. Just think of the campaign possibilities!

But I think that the focus on personality and the values message takes Democrats away from where they are weakest and need to do some work -- issues and policy. All this talk about Obama, Clinton, Salazar, Schweitzer is just a distraction from the real business of clarifying what the Democratic Party stands for. The Democracy Corps numbers show this. The Party needs to make a persuasive case for election and right now it just isn't at most levels. The few exceptions -- Colorado and Montana -- feature colorful earthy candidates but they also feature Parties with simple messages. As the E.D. of the Montana state party says in the article, "we ran on things like the fact that we lead the nation in percentage of households where people have to work two jobs, and we're at the bottom for average wages." Sure they neutralized issues like guns and gays but it's pretty insulting to working class people to suggest that all they really want is a cowboy and they don't care about who will make their lives better and protect them. Many in the media like to pretend these things are separable, but as political scientist Samuel Popkin shows in his work, people use personality to support or confirm the things being said by the candidate. But you have to have something to say. Tom Daschle is hardly an effete East Coast liberal. His personality is just fine for South Dakota. The frustration people feel with the Democratic Party goes much deeper than values and personality. And Daschle now knows this first hand. You can read the NYTimes article here: Montana Democrats Reflect on Success

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Why Bush Won

Stanely Greenberg and James Carville at Democracy Corps have a very interesting analysis of the final week of the campaign and the outcome over at Strategic Analyses and National Surveys. Most interestingly, unlike all of the pundits and bloggers who are giving us tome upon tome of election debrief and analysis without a shred of evidence to support it, (myself included:-) they have some data to back up what they are saying. You can read their analysis here and I highly recommend it.

Among their most interesting conclusions, however, is the claim that Kerry lost even though he won a majority of the new registrants and most of the undecided independents who broke towards him at the end as predicted. Why? They argue because a large percentage of "downscale voters" decided to vote on the basis of values because they felt that Kerry had not given them a strong enough set of economic reasons for vote for him and they broke towards Bush. They broke almost 6-4 for Bush in the final week.They write, "...for the Bush waverers (people who chose Bush but wavered to Kerry), who were the key swing group in the election, moral values is as important as terrorism and national security, and critically, are followed by concerns with the economy and jobs which are also quite important. No issue, however, matches “moral values” as a determinant of vote."


Who was it who said "Hope beats values every time unless you don't give people hope?" Kudos Dan Carol.

Right Direction, Wrong Track?

Doesn't it seem odd that one of the most important questions asked in almost every national poll (and many local ones too) is "Generally speaking, do you think that things in this country are going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?" (This is taken from a GREENBERG QUINLAN ROSNER RESEARCH poll for Democracy Corps). How come you can't be headed in the right direction but on the wrong track? Or why can't you be on the right track but headed in the wrong direction? I am sure most people understand this question, but right direction and wrong track are not opposites. Why not right direction or wrong direction? Or, "are we on the right track or the wrong track?"

"Now leaving track 9, the Right Wing Express, making stops at Iraq, Social Security privatization, tax cuts, deficits, gay discrimination, and where ever else necessary prior to derailment."

Friday, November 12, 2004

Another Head Scratching Instance of Media Shortcomings

This one is from Altercation, Eric Alterman's blog on MSNBC

Bob, a reader from Paoli, PA writes in:

"Dear Eric,

"Here is what I believe to be both what could be taken to be proof of an already existing 'credibility gap' with respect to statements by the military about events in Iraq, and a prime example of reporting which refuses to confront this Administration and its spokespersons (military and otherwise). The following are two exact quotes from a AP story reprinted on USA Today's Web site under the headline 'US Launches Second Phase in Fallujah'
Third Paragraph

"'Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, also said 69 American service members and 34 Iraqi security forces had been wounded since the assault began Monday against insurgents in the Sunni Muslim stronghold.'

"Eighth Paragraph

"'The Fallujah campaign has sent a stream of American wounded to the military's main hospital in Europe. Planes carrying just over 100 bloodied and broken troops were arriving Thursday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. They join 125 wounded soldiers flown there already this week.'

"If 125 wounded soldiers had already been flown to Germany this week from the Fallujah campaign, why wasn't Maj. Gen. Natonski challenged on the numbers he was giving out? Even more astoundingly, why isn't there even an explanation in the article itself of the rather astounding factual disconnect between material just a few inches apart?

"I have to admit that the thing which most upset me about the outcome of outcome of the election is the knowledge that I am going to be living in this kind of horrible NeverNeverLand for another four years. God help us."

Excellent, excellent points.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Red-Sex Ed

Shocking article from Ellen Goodman in today's Globe about the latest reform to sex education in Texas. Or should we call it sex ignorification? Sex education, Texas-style

Among the highlights is this gem:

"Only one of the four approved books even mentions contraceptives. The altered lessons teach students how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases in many ways -- including "getting plenty of rest" -- but not by using condoms. One actually suggests using latex gloves to avoid contact with blood but says nothing about using latex . . . you get the idea."

Actually, one thing that she neglects to mention is that abstinence only education programs have a pretty poor record when it comes to preventing the bad outcomes like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I don't know the research on the effect on sexual activity rates, but shouldn't our main concern, from a policy perspective, be keeping these kids alive, healthy, and not pregnant so they can stay in school? And shouldn't we also point out that there is no evidence that sex education programs which include discussions of contraception increase the incidence of sexual activity?

Halliburton was Pressured to Buy Kuwaiti Oil

In today's news: U.S. Officials Pressured Halliburton to Buy Kuwaiti Company's Oil, Documents Show

If only life were as tidy as the GOP wished. I guess that's what happens when you no longer live in the 'reality-based community.' Remember during the debates when Edwards and also Kerry tried to score some points on the activities of Halliburton in Iraq. And we were told by the media (as part of their report card/ truth squad/ deconstructions of the debate efforts) that giving Iraq contracts to Halliburton was a phony issue since no one else could do the work? Well it turns out that one of the chief procurement officers in the Pentagon warned her bosses about the no bid contracts and said that she doubted Halliburton was the only firm that could do this work. Now investigations in Congress are uncovering more sordid details that members of the GOP have used Iraq as their own personal little K-Street Project. "Hey, we're over here, bringin' some freedom. Let's see how we can make a little cash on the side." There is this embarrassing email which has surfaced showing former US Ambassador to Kuwait berating Halliburton officials into buying overpriced fuel.

Where Do We Go From Here? Pt II (via a guest correspondent)

Dan Carol over at Kumbayadammit has a piece in Salon today that takes up (along with about 1000 other bloggers including myself) the question of what comes next for those concerned about the election results and the future of the Democratic Party: Memo to sore losermen. I urge you to read it.

Dan has a number of great points I think should be stressed. First, to make genuine progress on progressive policy we need to remember to focus our actions on the state level. Even were we to win a national election, the structural arrangements of governance in Washington are designed to slow progress, reform and change. While this will hopefully work to our advantage now, it also means that there are lots of ways to bog down a progressive agenda in Washington. It's why we never get national health care reform. The reason we are all so disappointed now, however, is because we have to muster all our energy to slow the Right-wing juggernaut down, and winning the election would have been a much easier way to do this. (Of course issues of foreign affairs are another key factor here that we could affect directly and immediately :-(.

Second, forget the debates over who will run the DNC. Dan and I were both there and the person's key role is getting us ready for the next national election and marshalling resources while also keeping some kind of profile. I suppose the Chairman is seen as some kind of national spokesman, but a better use of time would be to give attention to the Senators and Congressmen who form the Battle of the Marne, last-line of defense for progressive values in Washington. Help them stiffen their spines so we can avoid a repeat of 2001-2002 where everyone was tripping over themselves trying to up the ante on the tax cuts. Remember, even though we lost narrowly in 2000, Democrats acted like we lost in a landslide for 3 years until Howard Dean reminded them what a verterbrate animal is supposed to look like.

Finally (although Dan has a whole bunch more points to make in his article), we need to stop whining about values. We are never as a party going to 'out-values' the GOP in the South because it's not a question of who has values but which values you stress. Speaking in the language of faith is a completely different issue altogether. There are certain principles of liberalism and progressivism that are not negotiable and we shouldn't wring our hands about this. There is so much to say (and so many who are saying it) about the values debate in this country. It deserves a post in and of itself. But the values question is a packaging question and we need to think more about the contents of the box than the packaging at this point. As Dan says, hope beats values everytime and we need to give people hope again.

There are all kinds of pressures coming down on people in the rural areas, the South, the red states as well as in the urban areas and blue states. We have these in common as Americans -- from the threats from terrorists, to the pace of technological and social change, to the impacts from globalization. Right now, Democrats don't offer much except two conflicting messages - change is great or change is bad. One view embraces free trade, the other rejects it. One view embraces the market, the other rejects it. There is a very real tension in the Democratic Party over the host of policy issues in this nexus. And it exposes cleavages between those seen as the educated elites and the policy wonks and those seen as the liberal groundswell. Until now, we have relied on people's antipathetic reaction to the GOP and GWB to unite the Party and gloss over this cleavage. But this ignored the problem; it did not solve it. The big fear now is that retrospection and recrimination will tear us asunder again as a Party (God I love that word). We need to see this as an opportunity. How can we as a Party come up with policies that embrace the future, that establish us as the clear, progressive alternative in favor of progress, and that also communicates our understanding of how change threatens and disrupts people's lives? How do we propose to minimize negative impacts, help with adjustment, and ease the pain caused? Those are the questions we need to be asking of ourselves and of our Party.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Average IQ in the States and the Election

I don't make up the numbers. I just print them. Someone else is responsible for this but he does a nice job with the colors, don't you think? Posted by Hello

In fairness, though, the data comprising this chart is purportedly a hoax although the order is roughly correct. You can see supposedly more accurate data here and here. And then of course there is the fact that a difference of 10 IQ points represents less than one standard deviation in the distribution (but that is a subject for another time and class).

Ironies of French Foreign Policy

Or, Why Americans Distrust The French

"More generally, we appeal for restraint in the military operations that are in progress on the ground."
Statement by the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson on the assault in Fallujah
(Paris, November 9, 2004)

In the second of two stunning days that stood to alter French-Ivory Coast relations — and perhaps Ivory Coast itself — French forces seized strategic control of the largest city, commandeering airports and posting gunboats under bridges in the commercial capital, Abidjan.….The chaos erupted Saturday when Ivory Coast warplanes launched a surprise airstrike that killed nine French peacekeepers and a civilian American aid worker. The government later called the bombing a mistake. France hit back within hours, wiping out Ivory Coast's newly built-up air force — two Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters and at least three helicopter gunships — on the ground.
Sun Nov 7AP Africa
PARFAIT KOUASSI, Associated Press Writer

Monday, November 08, 2004

America is Awash in Red? Check this Out

Posted by Hello

Here is a map of the United States which shows state area weighted by state population. You can read this excellent article about the so-called Republican Mandate here. For an excellent analysis of all those maps you have seen showing how almost all of the states and all of the counties are Republican, check out these maps with the proper adjustments.

Where Do We Go From Here? Pt I

One of the questions the Democrats have been asking in the wake of the last election has been how can so many poor and middle class people vote for ‘values’ over their pocketbook? Of course, to a person of faith the question itself is ludicrous and it is telling that Democrats can’t see how much is betrayed in the question. But what strikes Democrats as ludicrous is that the Right has persuaded such people to vote for supposed values (without delivering them anything with regards to values) and that these votes work directly against the economic self-interest of these people and towards the interests of the wealthiest people in the country. But there is a huge presumption in even this stance and it is that Democrats truly do represent the interests of the poor, working and middle classes. Thomas Franks has written the most important political book of the year "What’s the Matter with Kansas?" in which he asks how the Right has won over the poor farmers and others in the Red states whose economic interests lie with Democrats. But do they? How exactly does the Democratic Party offer anything in a clear and persuasive fashion to the religious but struggling farmer in Kansas? What would Democrats do that would revive the broad swath of the heartland that is losing population and for people who are watching the slow transformation of their towns, their livelihoods, and their way of life?

The main contention of my previous posts has been that Democrats have done a poor job of articulating what they stand for. Sure they talk a lot about fighting for the middle class. But people aren’t stupid. What exactly do Democrats stand for that represents the interest of the middle class or working class people or even poor people for that matter? What of the litany that you are about to list in your head represents a new or original idea about policy? The minimum wage? Health care reform (vaguely put)? Preserving Social Security? Now think about the policies that Democrats have championed in the last 12 years. The biggest one that comes to mind is free trade. Clinton talked about welfare reform but ended up having to sign the bill championed by the Right. After that there are mostly some foreign interventions and the effort to balance the budget in 1993 that resulted in the 1994 electoral debacle.

Balancing the budget and the accumulating surplus was Clinton’s most significant achievement and one for which he took tremendous heat and for which the Party paid a terrible price (yeah, the politician supposedly most famous for holding his finger forever in the wind did that!). And it was also Clinton’s most valuable achievement for the resulting fiscal stability and associated low interest rates and booming economy did more for the middle class or poor people than any Left-wing policy out of Washington in 30 years. Democrats should take pride in this accomplishment but it’s hardly the basis on which to build an electoral base. Americans have a great fondness for saying they want politicians who look out for the national interest and then punishing those who do so at the polls. Witness what happened to GWB’s father when he decided to put the national interest ahead of a campaign promise.

Democrats have to craft a winning message but this message will not lie in a few slogans about faith. It will not lie in adopting the language or the policies of the Right. And it won’t come from finding a Madison Avenue way of packaging what is becoming a stale set of products that no one wants to buy anymore. Democrats are selling polyester leisure suits and the country has moved on to new styles and natural fabrics.

At the core of this challenge lies adopting a new attitude. Instead of playing not to lose, the strategy of the last 3 elections, Democrats need to start playing to win. It’s an old cliché in sports but one that Democrats would do well to remember. For too long they have been thinking that just a few votes here or there will swing them back to power. But my contention is that Democrats are much farther than that and they will need to get bold and start articulating some radical new ideas. Not left wing ideas or right wing ideas or moderate ideas. Just ideas that are fresh and that signal to voters that Democrats are aware of the changes that have taken place in the world, are sensitive to the need to come up with new policies to meet these changes, and at the same time are committed to preserving the ideals that lie at the core of the party and that represent the finest aspects of this nation. The folks over at the DLC have called for Democrats to become a true outside reform party. Many liberals have already jumped the gun and assumed that these folks will want to push the party rightward. I am sure some do. But if we can get past our knee jerk reactions to one side or the other, we need to recognize that the true wisdom in their position is that Democrats need to be seen as not simply standing for the status quo but for real and sensible change.

People know that the world is changing all around them. But Democrats haven’t had a new idea that they are associated with since Clinton’s first election to the White House. We need to change that by coming up with policies that are aimed at the times. Policies that address the true problems which face people and this country. We need to take risks. We need a new message, sure. But behind that message has to be a set of substantive policies for change and for relief with which voters can connect. To do this Democrats are going to have to decide what they stand for and that is not as easy as it sounds for it requires facing some hard realities.

Why, for instance, have Democrats put this conversation off for so long? In my mind, it is not just because they thought they were so close to winning and didn’t want to risk that. I think that this conversation has been put off because there are very real, very strong, and very conflicting interests within the Democrat Party. As a coalition party rather than the top down kind of hierarchy of the Republicans, Democrats have always faced a tougher challenge navigating such shoals. Conflicts over policy and issues don’t tear asunder the Republican Party. Northeast moderates don’t leave the GOP over its abortion plank. They don’t leave over its fiscally irresponsible tax cuts. They don’t leave over the divisive use of language and wedge issues. Matters are not so easy for Democrats. Before we can consider what we need to say, we need to consider why it is so hard for us to decide what to say. That’s next.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Another Sign It's Worse than We Thought

Just read this in my local newspaper: In Alabama voters elected to the state Supreme Court Tom Parker, a former aide to Roy Moore, the ousted former chief judge of that court who personally erected a monument to the Ten Commandments on court grounds. During the campaign, Parker handed out tiny Confederate flags and associated with pro-Confederacy groups.

But wait. It gets worse! Voters in Alabama also rejected Amendment 2, which would have stricken from the state constitution old language mandating segregated schools and imposing poll taxes -- an old segregationist policy aimed at keeping blacks and some poor whites from voting. Supreme Court decisions have rendered both aspects of the constitution moot but that didn't convince Alabama voters to clean up the language in their prime governing document.

Some hope remains that continued counting of provisional ballots may reverse this narrow defeat. But the fact that it was even a close race leads one to ask -- what values exactly are Democrats supposed to espouse to win back the South?

Friday, November 05, 2004

We've Got Trouble, Right Here in River City

"Trouble. And that starts with T and that rhymes with D, and that stands for Fools."
(With apologies to Meredith Willson’s
The Music Man)

My big fear coming out of this election is that the Democratic Party will continue down the same path and learn nothing from this defeat. That it will change nothing, out of the misguided notion that little is wrong or broken since the election was so close. My father, one of the most astute thinkers about American politics and the electorate I know, said to me over a year ago that the Democratic Party’s biggest problem was misinterpreting the division and polarization in the country and thinking that they were almost there, almost about to take power again, almost about close the deal. And this lead them into a kind of milk-toasty caution that actually alienated voters and led people to be less trustful of the party. Party leaders have failed to understand that in the electorate’s eyes the distance between the parties is a chasm. Key constituencies have lost faith in the party. Despite this the party leadership has continued on a cautious course, not just of centrism, but of nothing-ism. Articulating very little vision, pushing very few ideas other than the tired worn ones -- raise the minimum wage, vaguely saying we want to fix health care, and pledging to protect Social Security without saying how we will ensure its continuation in the face of possible bankruptcy. After the 2002 debacle, the New York Times did an analysis of the electorate and found that large majorities supported the Democratic position on almost every major policy matter. But equally large majorities expressed disgust with the Democratic Party and did not believe it was offering the kind of vision necessary for this country as it moves into the 21st Century. The current strategy is simply not enough to win an election, but it’s what the party leadership has settled on today.

Many in Washington don’t seem to see this. There are echoes of this already in some places. TPM provides a telling example. Others have said that we shouldn’t begin to rend our clothes publicly and bemoan the state of the party.

But others have called for change and a wholesale redefinition of what being a Democrat means. Three days past the election, the litany describing the scope and significance of the Republican victory is growing tiresome. But it bears repeating here if only to make the point of how serious the Democratic challenge is. We are not as close as current strategies pretend or the closeness of the Electoral College race suggests. It is true that this year’s 3-point defeat repeats the fault lines of 2000. But several changes are important to note. Republicans increased their winning margins in the Southern states. Democrats posted narrower victories in the Midwest states and lost Iowa and New Mexico. Bush won only a small majority but this marks the first majority for the winning presidential candidate since 1988. Republicans have extended their gains in the House every year since 1994 when they first took back control of it. They widened their lead in the Senate and defeated the Democratic leader. The Democratic Party is 10 miles from Dunkirk but thinks it is ten miles from Berlin.

Is this a mandate? No, the country is still sharply divided. But if it’s not a mandate it is a permission slip to begin dismantling Social Security, to appoint judges who will reverse Roe v Wade (and possibly last year’s sodomy decision), to ignore the health care crisis or worse to undermine the employer based health care system and leave a rickety shell in its place, to make further regressive the tax code, to make permanent the tax cuts and to spend our children and their children into oblivion until they are beholden to foreign creditor nations like an addicted gambler to a loan shark. Bush indicated yesterday that he sees the outcome as such and will be moving ahead aggressively with a conservative agenda. Will the small band of 44 Senators be able to rally together sufficiently often enough to stand fast in a cloture-proof contingent of 40? (Will the cloture rule even exist?) Will this small band be willing to do this often enough that they will expose themselves to charges of being obstructionist time and time again? Figuring out ways for this small band to hold the last line of defense for the New Deal and 1960s social victories is not a strategy for winning progressive reforms and advancing social justice.

As numerous other bloggers and commentators have noted, we face the need to reinvent the Party. The danger, however, is that this opens up a fault line within the Party over the direction it should take. Because there are those on both sides of the political divide, the liberals and the so-called centrists. And they envision very different ways to advance the Party. These ideas come out of deeply held values but they also connect to very different views of the best electoral strategy for the Party. Liberals want to energize the base and raise participation rates among key supportive constituencies that under-perform in terms of turnout at election time -- the youth, minorities, the poor. Centrists fear alienating the moderate middle with the language of class and race. One side feels victory lies in increasing our numbers. The other wants to make inroads in the Republican South, in the suburbs, in rural areas, and in the West. The lessons of this year would appear to offer corroboration for both perspectives. And yet there are inherent contradictions between these strategies in terms of selecting issues to emphasize, positions to stake, language to use, and policy approaches to select. I don’t think the inherent contradictions are fatal or insurmountable. But they have to be recognized and serious policy makers and political strategists need to sit down together and think about ways to reconcile the conflicts and find innovative ways to unite the party’s elements behind a common goal other than simply defeating George W. In the words of Richard Nixon, we won’t have him to kick around next time. For my thoughts on how Democrats confront and address this strategic challenge, stay tuned. (Appropos on this, Ed Kilgore of New Donkey and the DLC both have intersting takes on how we redefine Democrat without a war)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Post Mortems: The Wrap Up

Here are the best of the blog post - mortems that I read today. If you have some time and want to peruse, I highly recommend them.

Washington Note
Michael Berube
Jim Moore
Left Coaster
Bull Moose
Andrew Sullivan

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post Mortem: Second Cut

First a word of inspiration. I recently wrote an American friend who is abroad in England and bemoaned his country and its direction, wondering how he could come home. At times like this it is easy to despair about the present and the future, and to despair of the fight and the hope for victory. But remember, the true meaning in being a progressive lies not in having power and in wielding it but in fighting for change. This may feel like our darkest hour, but know that at this moment the future lies in your hands and the power to make it right is yours. Remember these immortal words from Shakespeare's Henry V:

"gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us."

The true thrill and our true purpose can be found in the fight for justice and goodness at home and abroad.

Now back to election analysis. With further reflection and reading, I feel like my insights into the keys behind the Republican victory are borne out by the emerging analysis and discussion. This piece on Reuters does a good job of breaking down Rove's winning strategy.

One of the big current debates among political scientists concerns the effects of negative campaigning on the electorate. While there is still an on-going debate, an emerging consensus appears to be that negative campaigns have their largest impacts on independent voters and work to sway them and to suppress their turnout. So, in retrospect, the Rove strategy looks brilliant. He is an ugly man both inside and out (from all appearances at least) but his political genius must be recognized and affirmed. Rove and Bush sought to energize the base with conservative policies (that most of the country disagrees with by the way) while using a highly negative campaign to minimize any attendant loss to the other side of independent voters who are put off by these policies. Bush made very little effort to appeal to swing and independent voters with his record or his domestic agenda. In fact, most polls show that on policies, the majority of people stand with the Democrats. But Bush's negative campaign (and Kerry's often inept response to it) was sufficient to cast doubts in the minds of independents regarding their alternatives. Rove recognized that rather than feeling he needed to appeal to swing voters (the conventional political wisdom) he could win by appealing to his base and turning independent voters off to Kerry or off to the election (a pox on both your houses). I haven't done any analysis with the numbers on this but my sense is that Kerry's success in appealing to independents lay in the same approach. I doubt having a moderate health care proposal and promises to cut middle class taxes and only raise taxes on the rich made much of an impression one way or another on the moderate middle. He is likely to have made more headway winning independents and swing voters with his critique of Bush's out of touch leadership, his stubbornness, and his policy failures in Iraq and the US.

So for this election at least (and maybe those in the future) Democrats should worry less about appealing to the middle of the country and more about energizing their base while counting on a strong negative campaign to go after the independents. It's not a palatable strategy if you hold high ideals about how politics should work (which I do) but maybe it's one to consider in the future. Unfortunately, it's likely to further polarize a country that is in sore need of some healing, soothing, and uniting.

So how do Democrats go about appealing to and energizing their base? There are no easy answers here. It's not as simple as some such as Robert Reich, Nader, and others on the Left might feel. The Democratic coalition is a fragile and vulnerable thing which can easily be fractured over some highly contentious domestic issues that Democrats will need to think about -- issues such as social security, health care, budget deficits, trade, education. What they should do about this I will take up in a future post. Just as soon as I address how deep the trouble is that Democrats face.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Post-Mortem: First Cut

I am reminded tonight of another election night 15 yrs ago. I was working in Virginia where Doug Wilder (D) was running to become the first black governor of a southern state since Reconstruction. He led most of the way but particularly down the final stretch. On Election Day we were told that the exit polls had him winning 55%-45%. When the votes were tallied he won by less than 800 votes and was only certified the winner after a lengthy, contentious and litigious recount. I can remember still that sinking feeling of panic and dread as the campaign staffers rushed back from the victory party at the hotel to the campaign offices to begin preparing for the recount process. How could we have gotten everything so wrong? How could we have had such a divergence between polls and the final results?

It's almost midnight now and NBC has called Ohio for Bush. Florida went that way among all the networks a couple of hours ago. And once again I have that feeling -- a mixture of despair and confusion tinged with panic. How did this happen? The final polls looked great. The chatter was that the Bush team looked panicked. The exit polls looked great -- predicting a 3% Kerry win and victories in Florida, Ohio and the rest of the battlegrounds. Right now though, Bush leads nationally by more than 3% and it seems to be growing. How did this happen? How could all the signs early in the day have been so wrong? How could all the experts on both sides (apparently) been so fooled? I think it has a lot to do with something very similar to what happened in Virginia in 1989.

After the Virginia election we concluded that there were a large number of people who felt uncomfortable saying they were not voting for Wilder, so they told reporters and others that they were. I am not sure if they voted against him simply because he was black or if they felt embarrassed to be voting against him because he was black. Nevertheless, I am sure that race was a cultural issue that led to a divergence between what the true numbers were and what people were willing to report. Why is this significant today? Because I think that the key to this election lay in the 12 ballot initiatives on gay marriage that were up this election across the country. In the end, what turned this election was not the economy or the war on terror but moral issues. My hunch is that many people voted on the ballot initiatives and for President with their eye on the morals divide between the candidates and within the country but were reluctant to report this to pollsters and others. Perhaps this speaks to the divide between what people perceive as the attitudes of the media elites and their own attitudes; a slight embarrassment regarding what they see as a divergence between their values and the values of the national elites. A divergence they defend but are unwilling to stand publicly on. But I simply cannot buy that the pollsters did such a terrible job of sampling. Most people will do their post-mortems in coming days and point to the war on terror and the war in Iraq and say people just did not want to abandon a Commander in Chief in time of war. But I think the exit polls show that moral issues appeared from nowhere to be the most salient issue that determined how people voted today. And Bush won those folks hands down. In other words, if Bush's lead holds up (which looks highly likely at this point) the morals issue will prove to be the deciding factor. So the gay marriage card (and associated moral issues like abortion) may prove to be the deciding factor in this election. What's the significance of this conclusion? Well everyone said the ground game was going to be key in this election. Democrats have historically dominated the Get-Out-the-Vote component of elections but Republicans have closed the gap mightily in the last four years. And the ground game probably determined the electoral vote outcome if not the popular vote. But it was the Republican ground game that put them over the top, not the much vaunted Democratic one. In some sense this is eerily similar to the unfounded prognostications in the primaries that Dean's grassroots effort was so vital and would prove to be the difference. A good deal of hype without a lot of substance.

You can see this in a number of areas in the exit polls. Hispanic voters did not turn out for Kerry in the numbers that polls indicated that they would. The vaunted youth vote failed to materialize, accounting for the same fraction of the votes in 2004 as in 2000. Turnout was up across the board, but not noticeably more so among those voters 19-29. The African American vote won Kerry Pennsylvania but may not have been sufficient in Ohio and nationally. But more importantly, the Republican base appears to have been more energized and turned out more enthusiastically than even Republican operatives expected.

This reminds me that back before the primary season, Karl Rove or someone like him remarked that this election was not going to be about the swing voters and the independents but about energizing the party base and getting large turnout. Noting that the country was so closely divided anyway, persuading the swing voters was likely to be a marginally useful endeavor. Better pay off was likely to be found turning out voters who didn't turn out usually. One well-remarked on observation was that millions of evangelicals stayed home and did not vote in 2000. Clearly, a key component of the Republican strategy was turning these folks out. And it appears that they managed to do this. So perhaps Bush's polarizing governing style has proved useful to him politically in the final analysis.

More importantly, Democrats may find that on closer analysis, that they will rue the day they decided last winter to select a candidate they felt had the best chance of beating Bush rather than the candidate who could most generate enthusiasm. Plenty of my friends and family were energized by John Kerry and impressed by his moral and physical courage (qualities the press has ignored or covered up). His statesmanlike bearing and his poise were striking. Many in the press (see this compilation of backhanded endorsements at Slate) complained about Kerry and bemoaned his lack of such qualities but I think they were being unfair. A deeper flaw may prove to have been his lack of passion and his rather tepid proposals on Democratic policy objectives such as health care, economics, and similar issues. His failure to energize traditionally Democratic voters to vote FOR him rather than to simply vote against Bush may have been his final undoing.

So the combination of the silent salience of moral concerns particularly around gay marriage combined with the lack of compelling factors to generate Democratic enthusiasm for the candidate are in my preliminary analysis the key to understanding this result and understanding this result in the context of the results that so convincingly contradict the indicators leading into Election night. Here I sit alone before the TV in a quiet cold house wondering how things might have turned out differently. For my analysis of outcomes under different scenarios, stay tuned.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Crazy World of the National Media

People on the Left think the media is biased towards the Right. People on the Right complain about a pervasive Liberal media bias. My own sense is that the bias of the media leans towards stupid. Looking for school closings on TV this morning -- we had our first snow -- I watched Good Morning America. I realize why so many Democratic friends are tearing their hair out in despair about this election. If you surround yourself with mainstream media, you are convinced that Kerry doesn't stand a hope in holy hell. They had a reporter covering the campaign who argued that both sides see the election coming down to Wisconsin and were pouring their efforts and attention into that state. They finished the story reporting that Gallup's latest poll has Bush leading Kerry 52%-44%. But on the Votemaster's webpage -- he reveals his identity today by the way -- Zogby's latest effort has Kerry leading Bush 51% to 44%. They can't both be right. And using a little statistics, a poll is supposed to tell us that 95 times out of 100, the candidate's true proportion should lie within the confidence interval. In this case, that would be between 48% and 56% for Bush. So how do Zogby's number's fit in? They are a whole margin of error below the lower bound of Gallup's margin. One possibility is that one of the polls is simply an example of those rare 5 times out of 100 when the confidence interval reported does not encompass the true share of the vote. Another is that polls really do not represent how a public is thinking after all of the massaging that pollsters give to the numbers.

Given how pollsters doctor the data once they finish their survey, I think they need to be honest that they are no longer reporting poll results, but predictions based on their model of voter turnout. Of course, all of these subtleties escape the notice of the media. Hopefully, when this election is all said and done, they will send some of their political reporters back to school to learn some basic statistics.

There is more good news from the Votemaster's website today. More confirmation that things appear to be breaking for Kerry. In addition, the latest polls from Zogby, Fox and Washington Post lean in Kerry's favor. Over at TPM, Josh Marshall points out that Gallup's latest work on people who have already voted shows sizable leads for Kerry in Iowa and Florida.

Meanwhile, over at The Note, that choice example of self-referential Beltway-Media conventional wisdom, we have this on the pre-election numbers:

"But the weekend polls tell us little beyond that President Bush is probably a little ahead nationally and under 50 but close to 50, but that perhaps John Kerry has more strength in the battlegrounds than nationally, which doesn't necessarily mean of course that he is ahead in enough battlegrounds to win, and so either man can prevail but it is close."

"[Kerry's] reliance on young and first-time voters should be — for sane Democrats — terrifying. 'I would much prefer our position than theirs,' Bush strategist Matthew Dowd tells USA Today. 'They would, too, if given truth serum.'"

Stupid is as stupid does.

My advice to my Democratic friends. Ignore the mainstream media. They got it wrong in 2000. They said 2002 was going to be close. Until proven correct, assume they are wrong. Seal yourself in a hermetically sealed bubble of Left-wing media. Air America, blogs like TPM, NewDonkey, DonkeyRising, DailyKos, and read The American Prospect, The Nation, The New Yorker, or some such rag.

Voter Suppression Tactics Update: Looks like the effort is spreading to Wisconsin. Or more accrately, a national strategy has reared it's head in Wisconsin. And South Carolina. Kerry has no hope of winning here but Democratic hopes of winning back the Senate rest on Inez Tenenbaum's chances against Jim DeMint.