The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

See my complete profile

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thank you John Kerry

Phew. I've many times doubted the wisdom of voting for George Bush in 2004. Now, along comes John Kerry to confirm that I made the right decision.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Joe Klein, where have you been?

Here's an idiotic column by Joel Klein. Klein's thesis - Democrats are winning this year because they are finally punching back. This is a good example of how extreme partisanship befuddles the mind. Klein apparently missed the campaign of 2000, in which the NAACP ran ads associating George Bush with dragging blacks to death behind pickup trucks; or the campaign of 2002, in which Democrats accused George Bush of putting arsenic in drinking water; or the campaign of 2004, in which Democrats accused George Bush of, well, just about everything.

Democrats over the past decade have been ruthless, mean, nasty, oppositional, crude, determined, thuggish, brutish, reckless and, if I had my thesaurus handy, much more in their attacks on Republicans. The same could be said about Republicans attacking Democrats. What always strikes me as odd is this deep-rooted belief among many Democrats that Democrats have failed to strike back, to stand up to Bush, to play tough with Republicans. I suppose it doesn't fit the typical Democrat's self-image. Republicans are also prone to think of Democrats as particularly nasty these days, but they seem much more willing to accept and take responsibility for their own hardball tactics. I think this goes to something in the conservative psyche - they kind of like the idea of being tough, they don't take it quite so seriously, and they like watching Democrats whine about how mean Republicans are - it makes them (the Republicans) feel they are winning.

The major point of all this is, if you don't like the present tone of politics, one of the first things you've got to do - Republican or Democrat - is drop the notion that somehow your side just hasn't been tough enough. I think Democrats have lost recent elections because they've got few ideas, and those they have are rejected by most people. I think Republicans will lose this election because of the invasion of Iraq and the scandals that demonstrate they've become a little too comfy with power. But it's not because Democrats were weak or nice in the past, or because they are "punching back" this year. The "they started it" blame game gets us no where.

The minor point is this: Joe Klein gets paid money for such nonsense?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Oh, those Exit Polls!

Mark Blumenthal, formerly the Mystery Pollster and now, to my sadness, just a plain old Pollster, has an interesting post on exit polls. Blumenthal is a partisan Democrat who has done yeoman's work in trying to make other partisan Democrats understand that exit poll data from the 2004 election does not support the idea of some Republicans conspiracy to steal the election. In this post, the Pollster notes some data hidden in a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey that supports the notion - scoffed at by conspiracy theorists - that in fact Republicans are less likely to respond to exit pollsters than Democrats.

Definitely worth a read. Of course, the true believers will note that Fox News paid for this survey, and so they will see it as just another bit of evidence in the great cover up. Still, those of us in the reality based community - like Mr. Blumenthal and the Centerman - do what we can.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Maybe the Problem is that I'm Not Racist

Or at least not as conscious of race in factor of life as the New York Times. The Times calls a recent ad by the Republican National Committee, criticizing Democratic Representative and Senatorial candidate Harold Ford, Jr., for, among other things, attending events with Playboy bunnies, a "transparently honed ... racist appeal."

You can judge for yourself here at You Tube.

I've watched this ad at least a dozen times (it's a good ad, really) and I can't find the racism. The Times claims that it is "resonating with the miscegenation taboos of Old South politics." I wonder what the editorial board of the New York Times knows about the "old South." Or the "new South." I'll bet most of them have never crossed south of the Mason-Dixon line, except to visit Washington, D.C. Having lived quite a bit in various parts of the old Confederacy, methinks the ad resonates with the sexual taboos of the New South, where cavorting with Playboy bunnies - by anyone of any race - is frowned upon by more than a few folks. And of course, that's a small part of the ad. Much of the other stuff is better. (Especially the guy chuckling about Ford getting campaign contributions from a porn producer, near the end of the ad). But maybe the problem is that I'm not as racist as (the Times thinks) the citizens of Tennessee are. Those redneck wannabe Klansmen (one senses that this is the Times image of the typical Tennessee white voter) pick up on this stuff right away. They get the message. "Harold Ford wants your women!!!!!!!!!" Because we all know Republicans only win election by appealing to racial prejudice anyway. Or so the Times thinks.

Watch the ad yourself, and see if you don't agree with me. The appeal of this ad is not in race, but in it humor, and the way in which it suggests - compellingly - that Ford holds different values than his would-be constituents. Playing the race card does the Times no credit.

It may also be worth noting that the Times editorial is incorrect, simply as a factual matter. It suggests that voters will miss the statement about who paid for the ad because they will be "transfixed by the blonde’s vixenish sign-off." But that sign-off actually comes after the spoken statement of who paid for the ad. Again, I think there may be some "projection" going on here - perhaps it's the Times editorial board that it smitten. Sometimes those city slickers ain't so worldly as they think.

And the time is wrong in a more important way. Whines the Times, "it takes the statuette for political hypocrisy as G.O.P. leaders insist they were hobbled by campaign law from cutting off what is clearly their own handiwork."

Sorry guys, but it's exactly true, and it's the result of "reforms" that the Times has favored, as Bob Bauer explains.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What the average guy is thinking...

I wish I had written this. Read the post.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bush the Divider

In today's Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein repeats what has become something of a staple for shallow political analysis: from the get-go, George Bush based his presidency on dividing the electorate.
From the outset of his presidency, Bush has accepted division as the price of mobilization.

With a few exceptions, such as education and immigration policy, he has targeted his central initiatives — tax cuts, judicial appointments, the unilateral projection of U.S. power abroad — primarily at the priorities of conservatives while conceding little to interests outside his coalition.

In Congress and across the country, that ideologically polarizing agenda has helped Bush unify and excite Republicans. But it has come at the cost of antagonizing Democrats and straining his relations with independent voters.

It is true that the country is now sharply divided, and has been for some time. But I think Brownstein's analysis is off the mark. Let's think back a bit...

Back in 2000, Bush did not run as the conservative candidate for the GOP nomination. There, he was outflanked by Pat Buchanan, Dan Quayle, and even, early on, John McCain. This dynamic flipped when McCain discovered he could get good press from campaign finance reform and hinting that he was rethinking his longstanding opposition to abortion, and when Bush responded to McCain's early success by moving right. Even then, however, Bush's call for "compassionate conservatism" and his repudiation of the small government philosophy of the libertarian wing of the GOP left many conservatives suspicious.

The 2000 campaign was largely waged on centrist turf by two candidates who adopted basically centrist platforms. Wing nuts - Clinton haters on the GOP right, and the unreconstructed Reagan haters on the Democratic left - were in the minority. Then came the election and more importantly its aftermath, when Al Gore broke tradition by contesting the election through extended legal proceedings, absent any evidence of fraud. Gore's campaign chairman appeared on national television the morning after the election to announce, for all intents and purposes, that Gore would not accept any recount that did not proclaim Gore the winner. Republicans responded in kind and things quickly spun out of control. Even after Bush won, Gore was ungracious, saying only that Bush was "selected," not "elected" president. Leftist Democratic House members contested the electoral vote count. By inauguration day, things were pretty bitter indeed.

Republicans, it seems to me, made a pretty good effort to soothe tensions. In the evenly divided U.S. Senate, after some tough negotiating by Democratic leader Tom Daschle, Republican leader Trent Lott agreed to a power sharing arrangement, rather than insist on GOP control based on Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote. Meanwhile, over at the executive branch, the President extended the olive branch. His cabinet nominees included hardened conservatives such as John Ashcroft, but for the most part they were quite conciliatory and representative of the broad Republican coalition. Appointees such as Colin Powell, Christie Todd Whitman, Nixon/Ford retread Don Rumsfeld, Paul O'Neil, Mel Martinez, and Democrat Norman Mineta hardly represent the far right of the GOP.

Bush's first major initiative was one of the "exceptions" noted by Brownstein - the education bill, or "no child left behind," which Bush largely turned over to Senator Ted Kennedy. Bush's first set of judicial nominees, which Brownstein holds is an area where Bush has sought to favor "priorities" of conservatives, included two Democratic nominees. Bush took the unprecedented step of renominating two Clinton nominees who had not been confirmed by the Senate, Roger Gregory and Barrington Parker. Other nominees included elected women judges from major states of Ohio and Texas. Yet Senate Democrats, having taken control of the Chamber after Senator Jim Jeffords switched parties, quickly pocketed the two renominated Democrats and then began to filibuster the other nominees.

Bush largely allowed Democrats to write the federal budget, so long as he got his tax cuts approved. Another early push came for Bush's "faith based initiatives," allowing more interaction between government and private religious charities. The Democrats opposed it, even though it was a plan that addressed a historic area of Democratic concern - poverty - with more government spending and involvement. But Democrats would not swallow the allowance for more involvement by religious charities. Even on taxes, there was considerable compromise, with Bush agreeing to Democratic proposals for small, across the board rebates. Yet it is hard for me to remember any Bush policy of his first year that was not met with resistance by the Democratic congressional leadership.

Brownstein specifically mentions education and immigration as exceptions to Bush's partisanship. Those are pretty big exceptions, and as Brownstein notes, there have been others - primarily spending, another big exception.

Thus, I see events quite differently from the conventional wisdom. Far from entering office determined to promote his base and divide the country, Bush took numerous steps, both substantive and symbolic (been past the Robert F. Kennedy Depart of Justice Building lately?) to work with Democrats. He met almost constant opposition from the Democratic leadership. There was no compromise on the liberal side of aisle. So Bush went where he could - he looked right. This shift was exacerbated by the decision to invade Iraq, a disastrous choice for Bush. Here Democratic opposition was more merited, but, sadly, feckless. Rather than articulate principled opposition to the move, leading Democrats either supported it, and then whined about having been "lied to" when things went badly, or, mainly on the far left, proferred idiotic reasons for opposition: the ANSWER, "no blood for oil," doofus left.

What is ironic, as we head down the stretch of this campaign season, is that Bush ought to be able to claim a successful presidency. The economy is strong. Unemployment is at 4.6%, compared to 6.0% in 1994, when Republicans swept away Democratic congressional majorities. The stock market, buffeted by the costs of security and the uncertainties of a post-9/11 world and the goofy legislation known as "Sarbanes-Oxley," has nevertheless reached record highs in as we enter the final weeks of the campaign. There has been no follow up terrorist attack on U.S. soil. High government spending and immigration are irritants, but not affecting the immediate quality of life in any noticeable fashion. Besides, no serious observer believes that the Democrats will control spending better than the Republicans, or take a harder line on immigration (the former of which I support and the latter of which I oppose). Democrats, who have long demanded taxes to raise the price of gasoline, are now horrified at the high price of gasoline - even if it has gone back down to real price levels that Jimmy Carter and Democrats who opposed price deregulation in the late 70s and early 80s could only dream of. Only Iraq - a mistaken front in the War on Terrorism - is a real problem. Yet even casualties there, tragic as they are, are not high in any historic sense - - more often in the range of a few dozen to a hundred a month than anything resembling Vietnam or even Korea, let alone WWII casualties. Corruption in Congress is demonstrably a bipartisan affair. Perhaps the biggest long-term concern we should have - the one that really might make the strongest case for change - is the failure to block North Korea's nuclear program. But it's not clear what any administration could have done, and in case, this issue is clearly not driving the elctorate. Even North Korea's nuclear test could barely tear Americans away from the Mark Foley gay/teenage sex scandal for more than a day or two.

Divided America? You bet. Bush's fault? When was the last time you heard a Democrat say anything nice about Bush? Have you ever heard a leading Democratic political figure say anything nice about Bush or his agenda? It takes two to compromise. My point is not to play a blame game. Certainly, at many points, Bush might have done more, such as appoint a Democrat to head the Department of Homeland Security. But that's just the point. There is lots of blame to go around. Blaming the divisions solely on Bush is both a) not true and b) not helpful. The divisions will heal only when partisans on both sides agree to come together in good faith.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

From the Duh File

Here is an L.A. Times story that we think pretty much sums up the shallow state of campaign finance analysis. It begins with the classic "you don't say" style headline, "Big Money is drawn to issues." Because usually, you see, big money is simply drawn to hedonistic pursuits or flushed down sewers.

Some text highlights with a bit of pithy commentary mixed in:
often — not always — the politician or proposition with the most money wins.
I think the purpose of this sentence is to inform us, right in the opening paragraph, that this is going to be a stupid article.
Oil and tobacco interests are investing millions in campaigns opposing Proposition 87's proposed increase in the oil extraction tax and Proposition 86's $2.60-a-pack leap in the cigarette tax
Hey, no taxation without representation, man! I love how the shareholders and employees of these industries, not to mention their suppliers and their shareholders and employees, or family members, or towns and cities that rely on them, are supposed to just bend over and take it.
Real estate heir and movie producer Stephen L. Bing and his allies matched the oil industry nearly dollar for dollar, dropping $47 million into the Yes-on-87 campaign. ...

Hospitals and healthcare groups that stand to benefit from the revenue generated by higher cigarette taxes have collected $14 million to promote the measure.
So there's big money on both sides. Egads, it's unfair! It's undemocratic!
The real tragedy of campaign financing in the initiative process is that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to 'educate' voters, and yet most of the money is used to buy television ads that confuse, mislead or scare voters and do just about anything but inform them.
As opposed to this article, which really informs voters about the issues.
For statewide political candidates, money is following a familiar trend: Generally the candidates with the most money are the candidates who are ahead in the polls.
It would be a strange world, indeed, where less popular candidates generally raised more money, wouldn't it Indeed, if every citizen could, and was required to, give exactly one dollar to their favored candidate in each race on the first day of the campaign, and no more, the candidate raising the most money would always win. Well, that's not good if you're concerned about money dictating election results. On the other hand, we could dispense with the campaign, so the scheme offers some benefits. Of course candidates ahead in the polls tend to raise more money. A wonderful thing about our system, however, is that sometimes those behind in the polls can raise more money. Reformers constantly mistake campaigning with voting, as if dollars were stuffed into ballot boxes, and forget that the purpose of the campaign is to persuade.
A Los Angeles Times poll released Sept. 30 showed state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, leading Republican rival Claude Parrish, a Board of Equalization member, by 24 percentage points. Their money gap is similarly wide: Lockyer has raised $1.3 million this year, compared with $226,724 for Parrish.
Well, there you have it. Money bought the election. Couldn't be that Lockyer's popularity has anything to do with his raising more money, or that Lockyer popularity is due to his holding a much more high profile office, being a Democrat in a heavily blue state, etc. etc.
A departure in the trend is the insurance commissioner race. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic candidate, has only a slight lead, pollsters say, over Republican Silicon Valley businessman Steve Poizner. The overall total Poizner has amassed for his campaign is $11 million; Bustamante has collected $1.1 million. The difference? Poizner put $8.3 million of his own money into the race.
And they say there are no competitive races anymore. Thank goodness Poizner could use money to make this race close against a candidate who began with much higher name recognition and is from the majority party.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Now This is Campaign Finance Reform

The irrepressable Onion reports on campaign finance reform in the Sudan. But why no quote from the World's most naive man?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Coming Apart at the Seams

I keep seeing polls in which substantial majorities of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. How can this be? It really can't be the economy, although some people undoubtedly underestimate its performance. But it is doing well. It seems to me that all perspective has been lost on a host of issues. The Patriot Act is denounced as if it were the Nuremburg laws updated. In fact, what is done under the Patriot Act seems to be nothing compared to the actions taken in most every other war in which the U.S. has been engaged, not least of which WWII. If the war in Iraq seems not to be going well, it is nonetheless true that casualties are a fraction of those in Vietnam or other wars; and there have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Of course, I suspect that "wrong track" means many different things to different people. To some, it probably means increasing acceptance of gays in American life, and even more, gay marriage. It may mean too many abortions. It may mean a culture of celebrity and sex, or too much growth in the size of government and unconstrained federal spending, or a failure to consider serious entitlement reform. Yet the probable beneficiaries of this "wrong track" belief, if the polls are correct (and I believe they are), are liberal democrats who favor gay rights, including gay marriage, abortion rights, a vague association with Hollywood, and more federal spending. To others, of course, "wrong track" means too much religion seeping into political life; failure to adequately fund needed government programs; and government intrusions on civil liberties, and these people will, more logically, vote Democratic in November.

I don't know the answer to these questions, or who is right or wrong on such issues, although I have my opinions. But here is where I think the country is on the "wrong track." According to one poll, one-third of Americans believe that the American government was behind the September 11 attacks. In other poll, forty-two percent of Americans believe gas prics are falling because George Bush is manipulating them. Meanwhile, our political leadership is going nuts of the story of a perverted congressman and his emails to congressional pages, while, as the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger points out, the Stalinist hermit kingdom of North Korean prepares to conduct an underground nuclear test, and Europe throws in the towel on Iran's nuclear agenda, as Iran's political leader tells a mob screaming "Death to America" that nothing will stop Iran from enriching uranium. From the other side of the political spectrum, Peter Beinart of The New Republic points out that it seems to be a common belief on the farther reaches of the political left that President Bush and the Pope were engaged in a calculated conspiracy when the latter made his comments quoting Emperor Manuel II on the deficiencies of violence as a tool of religious conversion, and that this anti-Bush paranoia is preventing our nation from seriously defending freedom of speech.

These beliefs in 9/11 and gas price and papal conspiracies, and the fascination with a congressional sex scandal, are not the signs of a serious nation. If America is on the "wrong track," I think it is probably in our inability to debate issues seriously, or even to figure out which are the serious issues.

I don't know how to see this well, insanity, resolved. Perhaps a hopeful sign is to see columns such as Henninger's and Beinart's, suggesting that maybe the adults will try to regain control of the debate (although Beinart can't help himself from using the same column to excoriate Bush).

Perhaps the fall elections will pop the boil, but I am not optimistic.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Senator Feingold ACTs up

According to this piece in Roll Call ($$$), Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) has been desperately trying to rent the mailing list of Americans Coming Together (ACT), the pro-Democratic "527" that was so influential (if ultimately unsuccessful) in 2004.

Although ACT rents its list out regularly, apparently it has refused to rent the list to Feingold, despite repeated requests. According to a source cited in Roll Call, ACT has turned Feingold down for the rather obvious reason that Feingold has tried repeatedly to put ACT and other "527s" out of business:
"Feingold's not a friendly person to 527s. He basically said 'Stop what you're doing, we want to shut you down,' but now it's 'You guys are incredible, I'm willing to take part of your gravy.'"

Some will call this hypocrisy on Feingold's part, but to me it smacks more of self-righteousness and arrogance. You see, Feingold only wants to use ACT's resources for good, not for evil special interests pleading. And that makes all the difference.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life