Thursday, November 18, 2010

Whose ox is gored

I chuckled a little at this in a recent Politico piece about why the House Democrats retained Nancy Pelosi as their leader:

Many House Democrats view the last two years as a permanent gain for progressive values, particularly when it comes to a health care law that ensures nearly every American will be insured. They believe it would discredit these achievements to humiliate the House leader most responsible for these gains.

Many of these Democrats believe that the gains for progressives are worth spilling blood over and they are not holding election losses against Pelosi. [snip]

"Sometimes doing the right thing will cause you to pay dearly," Clyburn argued, according to a source in the room. "What's good for the American people sometimes is not good for a few of the high and mighty."

This is a view shared by many liberals in the caucus, particularly those who represent underserved minority communities, where Pelosi has strong support.

Clyburn’s position is correct as a statement of principle: there are some causes worth sacrificing careers for (although I don’t believe Obamacare was one of them). However, the sentiment would be a lot more moving if the people expressing it were among the House Democrats who lost their seats rather than the House Democrats who retained them. And it’s worth remembering that “the high and mighty” Clyburn is so quick to dismiss include a number of Democrats who had served only one or two terms in the House - as opposed to Clyburn’s nine and soon to be ten.

Oh, gag me

Not a very tony post title, I know, but it was my first reaction when I read this letter in the New York Times (via TigerHawk):

Perhaps President Obama could benefit from becoming familiar with the recommendations for raising children and adolescents successfully. Neither authoritarian nor democratic and permissive styles of parenting are optimal ways to raise children. Rather, a third way, authoritative parenting — in which the perspective of the child is understood but the parents’ opinions and choices prevail — has been to shown to lead to successful developmental outcomes and healthy children.

Perhaps it is time for the president to learn how to be the authoritative leader that this country craves and spare the American people the chaos that so often results from democratic, permissive parenting, which may well have led to the loss of faith in his leadership that Paul Krugman laments.

I am not a child and neither are any of my fellow voters. I don’t want my President to be a parent. And I’m awfully attached to democratic parenting governance - perhaps understandable since I live in a democracy.

The funny thing (as opposed to the queasy thing) about this letter is that the “authoritative parenting” style lauded by the writer is pretty much what we’ve gotten from Obama: the perspective of the child [voter] is understood (okay, not really but Obama thinks he understands it - which I suspect is often the case with parents and children as well) but the parents’ [President’s and Congressional Democrats’] opinions and choices prevail.*

Such an authoritative style may lead to “successful developmental outcomes and healthy children” in the context of a family. In the context of a functioning democracy, however, it leads to electoral disaster.


* Yes, the Democrats’ opinions and choices did prevail. Those on the Left who are disappointed with the legislation churned out over the last 22 months can scream about the Republicans all they want but the simple fact is that from January 20, 2009, until February 4, 2010, the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, the Senate (with a filibuster-proof majority), and the Presidency. That gave them almost 13 months in which they could have passed whatever legislation they wanted. If those on the Left want to argue that Obama should have been more iron-fisted in dealing with Congressional Democrats then we’ll need a letter explaining what happens to the family when Daddy and Mommy’s opinions and choices don’t match up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The Valour-IT friendly inter-service competition for this year is underway. (Actually, I think it’s almost over.) This is a most worthy cause, purchasing technology to help wounded servicemembers.

If you haven’t made a donation yet, please do so. You can donate via credit card or you can make a commitment to donate by mail. If you don’t have an attachment to particular service branch, consider giving to the Marine Team as a send-off for Cassandra.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Casual racism

Writing about where we go from here, Marc Ambinder said:

Eric Cantor, who won't escape the casual racism of being referred to as the "first Jewish majority leader," will appear as the voice of policy and conciliation.

Let’s leave aside the quibble that religion and race are two different things. As far as I know, “first Jewish majority leader” will be a truthful descriptive phrase, like “first Black President” or “first female Speaker” or (vaguely remembered from many years ago) “first male national officer of the Future Homemakers of America”. Perhaps Americans’ pride or happiness or gratification when positions of authority are attained by those who have historically found them difficult or impossible to achieve is a bit too artless for Ambinder but it’s hardly racist, casually or otherwise.

Here's a thought (Updated)

There’s some chatter this morning about Republican pickups at the State level and how this is a Very Good Thing because we’ve got redistricting for House of Representative seats coming up next year. The assumption seems to be that the Republicans can thus gerrymander the redistricting to make as may seats as possible Safe For Republicans - which would presumably leave the remaining seats Safe For Democrats since herding Republicans into some districts will herd Democrats into others.

Here’s a thought. How about if the Republicans instead do non-political redistricting? One way to do this is to split a State up along logical lines - paying attention to city and county lines, for example. I believe this is what California is going to attempt to do (for State-level districts, not Federal elections) with its Citizens Redistricting Commission. The results will be interesting to watch. I’d consider it a success if the resulting districts don’t have ludicrously lopsided election results.

Another way to do this is mechanically. Start in the upper left (northwest) corner of a State and move south and north until you’ve encompassed enough people. Then move east from there until you’ve got another chunk of people the right size. If you hit the eastern State line, start at the southernmost point and move west and south, mirroring the way you started the whole process.

I’d like to see Republicans lead the way on this. Maybe it would be suicidal but maybe it would indicate that they’re serious about making government more responsive.

UPDATE: I’m behind the curve here. Take a look at “Two Big Losers: Obama and Gerrymandering“ over at Contentions.


It did not, in fact, rain in Poughkeepsie yesterday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The cat in the machine

[Strong language warning.]

On the talk shows yesterday I heard various talking heads opining about how many seats the Republicans would take in the House and Senate. The same opining is going on across the blogosphere. In general, those who lean Right - both officials and pundits - are predicting big Republican gains; actual Democratic officials are predicting smaller Republican gains (what else can they do?); and non-officials who lean Left are attempting to explain that big Republican gains would not be so very big in context or explain that big gains would not really be a result of general unhappiness with the direction of the current Administration and Congress.


I listen to all these predictions and I think that anyone trying to predict tomorrow’s outcome is nuts. I have this sense of a large mass of people who are unhappy with everyone in government. Not unhappy in a “poor me, I’m so put upon” way; unhappy in a “what the heck has happened around here” way. Trying to predict which way that cat will jump seems fraught with peril.

Take me, for instance. I’m going to vote straight Republican tomorrow. But what I really want is a Big Red Button ( hereinafter “BRB”) that says, “I’m voting for Republicans but I’m not really voting Republican, mostly because I have no clue what you guys are going to do if you get elected and, frankly, I don’t have much faith you’ll do anything I approve of.” I’m still voting Republican, though, because to me what’s important is getting the party in power out of power tomorrow - and doing it again in two years if the Republicans don’t get the message. If there are a lot of people who’d like that same BRB and think the way I do then maybe the huge Republican wave is even bigger than anticipated.

Or maybe a lot of BRB people decide what’s important is not getting rid of the party in power but getting rid of the people in power and so vote against incumbents regardless of their party. That would still mean a Republican gain but not such a big one.

On the other hand, maybe there are people who want that same BRB, hear about the huge Republican wave, and decide to stay home or vote for a third party candidate or even vote Democratic so the Republicans don’t get the idea we actually want them in office. We just want the other guys out. So maybe some of the BRB people decide to make the Republican wave smaller lest the Republicans get delusions of grandeur - or even grudging acceptance.

The sentiment underlying the desire for a BRB was expressed quite forcefully in the comments to a post at the Confluence. Blue Lyon reproduced it on her site and I reproduce it here:

Whatever anyone says about “concern” that the public is merely “lashing out” and “aren’t thinking this through” is just so much noise. The public is indeed thinking. They are thinking that we can’t even DISCUSS policy direction until we yank our politicians up by the shorthairs enough that they get it through their thick entitled heads that it isn’t about them, or about parties, or which one gets the next turn to grab the keys and go joyriding with their lobbyist buddies. It’s about US.

It’s a very simple message, actually. The message is “We can yank those keys out of your damn hand anytime we please. We can give them to a hairdresser, or a certified loon, or Sam the not-so-bright yard guy. And we will if you keep this shit up. So both parties need to STOP FUCKING WITH US.”

In my conversations with people all across the political spectrum, once you cut through the static, most are viewing this election as a “Who’s in charge here – you or us?” to both parties. The various issues, whether left or right, do need to be discussed and debated. The differences are real. But it seems that the people want to have both sides of that debate come from US, not be shaped and molded and controlled by THEM.

I can argue my liberal point of view with my conservative or moderate neighbor, as they can with me. There’s no arguing with a machine, whether it has a D or an R stamped on it. Yes, there are scary ideologues involved this year. But I think they are misjudging as much as the sell-out Dems are. This is in large part rage against the machine, and it ain’t over in 2010.

Vote tomorrow. And in the absence of a Big Red Button, don’t forget your monkey wrench.

Fortune, fear, and reading comprehension

From Grim’s, I got to this article about Europe’s sense of being helpless in the face of the forces that control our destiny. Among other things - it’s well worth reading the entire article - the author says:

One of the most important ways in which today’s sense of diminished subjectivity is experienced is through the feeling that individuals are being manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces. [snip]

The crisis of causality means that the most important events are now seen as being shaped and determined by a hidden agenda. [snip]

In previous times, that kind of attitude was mainly held by right-wing populist movements, which saw the hand of a Jewish or a Masonic or a Communist conspiracy behind all major world events. Today, conspiracy theory has gone mainstream, and many of its most vociferous promoters can be found in radical protest movements and amongst the cultural left. Increasingly, important events are viewed as the products of a cover-up, as the search for the ‘hidden hand’ manipulating a particular story comes to dominate public life. [snip]

Some time later I was reading Anglachel. She was talking about what she refers to as David Broder’s “proposal” that President Obama use confrontation with Iran to come storming back in time for 2012.* Among other things, Anglachel says:

David Broder has put into words what is on the Collectively Wise Mind of the Very Serious People in DC [snip]

And Broder's proposal is being taken seriously by at least some people in the White House or it wouldn't have seen the light of day. [snip]

I find it all too plausible that the Very Serious People are in greater accord on this idea than we'd like to think.

I dunno. I’m pretty sure writers come out with all kinds of ideas no one in power takes seriously. After all, Paul Krugman complains endlessly that no one in power takes his ideas seriously.


*Just for the record, characterizing Broder’s column as containing a “proposal” - that is, as calling for Obama to escalate tensions with Iran in order to win in 2012 - is a mischaracterization. Broder is not urging Obama to start a war with Iran or to cynically escalate tensions with Iran to pump up his chance of re-election. Rather Broder is convinced that over the course of the next two years the United States will have to “confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions” because “Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century”. If Obama can “confront” and “contain” Iran then, says Broder:

he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

In the process of doing this, Obama will bolster his own popularity both directly and, through the economic impact, indirectly. In other words, the situation with Iran gives Obama an opportunity to do well politically by doing the right thing substantively, an opportunity that will not be available to any of Obama’s opponents. Broder is being descriptive rather than prescriptive. Not necessarily correct - after all, Broder also says flatly that Obama “is much smarter than his challengers in either party” - but hardly urging war as a continuation of electoral politics by other means.