The Senate journey of Charlie Crist seems to be coming to a laughable end. Good. If there was one Senate candidate in a seriously contested race that I could pick to lose above all others it would be him. Other people might pick Harry Reid, and though Reid is a belligerent jerk, he does seem to have a set of economic liberal core beliefs that give him a certain integrity even with all of his personality flaws.
Crist just seems to have a hunger for office and status (I'm not even sure he wants power exactly.) Ever since he went the independent route, it was clear that he was unlikely to win regardless of what the polls said over the summer. Rubio was an articulate and attractive conservative who came across as well prepared on policy. Unless Rubio self-destructed, Rubio was always going to get the 45% or more that makes up the right-of-center vote in Florida. That meant Crist would have to win almost all moderates and liberals in a three way race. That might have been possible under different circumstances. If the economy was in great shape, he might have been able to ride an image as a pragmatic miracle worker, but the Florida economic miracle is a bust and governor Crist is holding the bag. In this weakened position, Crist had to make appeals based on principle and policy as well as his record. The problem was that since conservative voters weren't going to be for him, he would have to move left to capture usually Democratic-leaning voters. This left him vulnerable among moderates because his every move to the left made him look ever more cynical and unserious about governing. And it isn't like ambiguity or support of Obamacare is all that popular among Florida swing voters anyway.
And yet... I loathed Crist but when I heard him talk in a favorable environment he made his evasions and switches seem reasonable. No, that's not it. It was that he projected such reasonableness and sincerity that while he was talking that other stuff didn't matter so much. It took a conscious exertion of will to remember why I was against him. It reminded me of this:
Those who listened unwarily to the voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves...For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spoke to another they smiled, as men do when they see through a juggler's trick as other men gape at it...But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it.
The Left has a major rally in Washington, DC, just before a major election, and does so in the name of "sanity," and it's hosted and organized by two comedians?
There's a lesson in there, and I don't know that it's a sign of civic health.
I once again spoke with Andy Busch on the upcoming election in a podcast. Our conversation began by focusing on the more interesting gubernatorial races around the country, but by the end, Andy was sharing his wisdom on the Congressional races as well. It will not surprise you that he still believes there is great reason for Republican optimism on Tuesday.
This conversation was a bit longer than our past two (a little over 40 minutes), but I think it's worth your time. Thanks again to Andy for allowing me to pick his brain.
I second Roger and Peter's praise for the Ponnuru and Lowry article. I don't think the article gives quite enough emphasis to the persistently lousy labor market as contributing to Obama's political troubles. That doesn't mean that Obama's current unpopularity is merely a product of the economy. His health care plan, with its tax increases and Medicare cuts would have been unpopular even if unemployment was coming down much faster. There is something about the combination of trillion dollar deficits and the knowledge that the entitlement crisis isn't even well and truly upon us yet that is scary. But that doesn't mean the economy hasn't exacerbated the reaction to Obama's policies. All that spending and borrowing doesn't seem to be buying prosperity. A fragile economy seems like an especially lousy time to raise taxes and add an expensive middle-class entitlement. Ponnuru has written elsewhere that high unemployment doesn't necessarily translate into huge midterm election losses for the party in power. He uses 1982 as an example. The unemployment rate of October 1982 was even higher than today's, but the Republicans had only modest losses. The Democrats' losses will be greater this year and so not all the blame can go to the unemployment rate. Politics and policy is making the losses worse than they otherwise might have been. But there is a little more to that story. The (hopefully temporary) high unemployment of 1982 was at least coinciding with (and maybe contributing to) a decline in the rate of inflation. The unemployment rate of 2010 seems to be compensated by nothing. Pushing the stimulus and Obamacare might have hurt Harry Reid enough so that he would have been vulnerable to an excellent opponent even in a good economy, but it is the high unemployment rate is keeping Sharron Angle in the game
I think that it would be wise to combine Ponnuru and Lowry's observations that Republicans should not over interpret their (hopefully!) forthcoming gains by assuming that the public is with them and overreach, with Peter Schramm's observation that Republican gains will be barren if they are not used to offer a real to choice to the public. Those two pieces of advice are not contradictory in theory, but I'm not sure that Republicans possess the political skills to offer meaningful reform while avoiding (partly rhetoric-based, partly policy-based) overreach.
The House Republican Pledge does not inspire confidence that the Republican congressional leadership is inclined to put hard choices to the American people, and even if they do, the public will not have been prepared for the inevitable trade-offs. Some Tea Party-backed soon-to-be freshmen seem to be serious about the combination of spending cuts and policy reforms we will need, but they seem to struggle to explain how the consequences of those changes will be handled. I saw Neil Cavuto tie Ken Buck in knots with questions on spending cuts. And that was during a very friendly interview.
The danger is that Republicans will find a way to both offer very little affirmative policy and alienate the public with seeming extremism. The congressional leadership could fight for an economic platform that amounts to the pre-Obama status quo (extending the Bush tax cuts and repealing Obamacare) plus tort reform and defunding NPR, while backbenchers scare the pants off the public with poorly explained talk about cutting Medicare, "privatizing" Social Security, and ending the current system of employer-provided health coverage.
The number of Republicans who both seem serious about policy reform (especially about entitlements and health care policy) and have the expertise and rhetorical skill to sell those reforms to swing voters seems small. There is Paul Ryan, but his Roadmap, while noble, is flawed and he is just one guy. Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey aren't even in the Senate yet, and Toomey probably loses to Sestak most years. There seems to be more talent and reason for hope at the gubernatorial level.
Republicans need to keep an eye on the most important issues and the best available policies, but they also need to watch their words very carefully and remember that swing voters sometimes hear very differently from committed conservatives. The (hopefully!) forthcoming gains will come from a combination of energized Republican voting, the flight of persuadables from the Democrats that is significantly caused by present economic conditions, and the particular demographics of midterm elections. The economy might not be the same in two years, the demographic profile of the electorate will be somewhat different, and Obama's job approval rating isn't that bad considering the circumstances.
And to Dr. Schramm's call for a politics based on constitutionalist government might be in productive tension with Reihan Salam's more policy-based politics. Salam writes:
I sense that there's an opportunity for the right-of-center coalition to expand, provided conservative politicians and activists emphasize the core question of how to create a sustainable government. Whether that'll actually happen remains an open question.
I don't entirely agree with that. I think that social democracy might be sustainable for decades - though at the price of a great deal of unnecessary suffering. Any vision of sustainable government ought to include some normative vision of the proper relationship between man and government. But at the same time, supporters of constitutionalist government have a great deal to gain from a close alliance with fellows like Salam.
Refine & Enlarge
In Maryland, a trick to boost the Dems' campaigns is making election day a school holiday and scheduling other non-school days close to the election, to give the teachers' union more recruits in the field. When I worked in government, the political appointees would schedule election-year awards ceremonies for the fall, to take the typically leftist types getting awards for their taxpayer-funded organizations out of their campaigns. (No way to defund the groups.)
Any other tricks to share, anyone?
A good rant from P.J. O'Rourke.
Perhaps you're having a tiny last minute qualm about voting Republican. Take heart. And take the House and the Senate. Yes, there are a few flakes of dander in the fair tresses of the GOP's crowning glory--an isolated isolationist or two, a hint of gold buggery, and Christine O'Donnell announcing that she's not a witch. (I ask you, has Hillary Clinton ever cleared this up?) Fret not over Republican peccadilloes such as the Tea Party finding the single, solitary person in Nevada who couldn't poll ten to one against Harry Reid. Better to have a few cockeyed mutts running the dog pound than Michael Vick.
I take it back. Using the metaphor of Michael Vick for the Democratic party leadership implies they are people with a capacity for moral redemption who want to call good plays on the legislative gridiron. They aren't. They don't. The reason is simple. They hate our guts.
They don't just hate our Republican, conservative, libertarian, strict constructionist, family values guts. They hate everybody's guts. And they hate everybody who has any. Democrats hate men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, gays, straights, the rich, the poor, and the middle class.
Democrats hate Democrats most of all. Witness the policies that Democrats have inflicted on their core constituencies, resulting in vile schools, lawless slums, economic stagnation, and social immobility. Democrats will do anything to make sure that Democratic voters stay helpless and hopeless enough to vote for Democrats. . . .
I've been thinking of really good movies that slide into mediocrity or worse halfway or two-thirds of the way through. Here are some that come to mind as well as when I think they go off the rails:
Stripes: Right after basic training
10 Things I Hate About You: Right after the house party
The Boondock Saints: Right after "THERE WAS A FIREFIGHT!!!"
So the ad of the week seems to be The Chinese Professor by Citizens Against Government Waste. The ad is effective in exploiting fears national decline and humiliation, and personal downward mobility but...
Rewrite the text of the ad to talk about how the US fell because it failed to invest in green jobs, didn't work to stop climate change, and did not adopt a universal health care system to improve the public's health and control costs (and uh...free ice cream.) It would be about as well argued and as effective as the ad we actually have. And that is the problem. Fear of defeat, decline and humiliation are used to substitute for a defensible explanation of why policies are good or bad.
I don't mean to pick on Citizens Against Government Waste. The despicable Thomas Friedman has used these fears to push his agenda in a self-interested and misleading way. I'm old enough to remember the big "Japan Inc. is gonna get your momma" scare of the 1980s where statist politicians and policy analysts, as well as rent seeking business executives used fear of Japan to push a corporatist agenda. The right is just catching up.
Well forget that. Imposing an exceptionally complex lobbyist-friendly carbon tax and then using the proceeds to fund favored companies (basically what cap-and-trade is) will slow growth and make us less competitive and poorer. God knows there are many reasons to be against Obamacare, but fear of hobbling America in the global economy is way down on the list - if it is on the list at all. Canada has single-payer (the direction Obamacare will push us towards) and is competitive enough.
I don't hate the players (well, maybe Friedman a little), I hate the game.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
Cancel your regular Sunday paper subscription and read the Wall Street Journal Friday and Saturday editions instead. Its books and culture sections are far superior to anything in the NY Times and WaPo, for example. Theater criticTerry Teachout is the most instructive writer on the performing arts in America. (See Peter's notes on Teachout's Pops.) It's too bad past movie critic Martha Bayles is no longer with them, having moved upward to the Claremont Review of Books. Such splendor comes of owner Rupert Murdoch's laudable ambition to destroy the NY Times.
With the WSJ, CRB, and the Weekly Standard's often ingenious book review section, thoughtful readers will find a generous store of books and reviewers to pick from. But first the political season.
News of NPR's decision to fire Juan Williams for "bigoted" comments Williams made earlier this week as a guest on The O'Reilly Factor struck me initially as nothing more than the latest chapter in liberals' recent and sordid history of thought-policing. That the NPR powers-that-be should target Williams, author of multiple books chronicling various aspects of the civil rights movement and--more important from their perspective--a "person of color," might have seemed a bit strange but for the fact that Williams also serves as a FOX News contributor, which, to the folks at NPR, brands him with the ineradicable mark of Cain. Nonetheless, I was not surprised. Perhaps those of us who have made careers in academia while resisting its leftist orthodoxies have somehow lost the capacity for astonishment at such things. After all, we know the NPR types: the campus strut-abouts who think themselves uniquely qualified to define and punish transgressions of speech, all the while oozing sanctimony as they struggle to conceal their disdain for those around them whom they regard as their moral and intellectual inferiors. Even Williams's own account of the firing, chilling though it is, fails to shock. (In an ironic twist, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller offered an apology for comments made about Williams since the firing; she, presumably, will keep her job.) But then I got to thinking, and I wondered if the real story here isn't something more than political-correctness-run-amok.
2010 is the year of the Tea Party. Predictably, today's perplexed liberals have comforted themselves by dusting off old copies of Richard Hofstadter's 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," which, in its day, reassured equally perplexed liberals that they had nothing to fear from the so-called fringe radicals on the right who had hijacked the Republican Party and saddled it with Barry Goldwater (turns out they had a good deal to fear from one of Goldwater's most rhetorically effective champions, Ronald Reagan). No doubt something like a paranoid style has existed since our nation's inception. American patriots in the 1760s and 1770s routinely accused the British ministry of having hatched a conspiracy against liberty. American revolutionaries justified their separation from the British Empire by citing a "long train of abuses and usurpations" and a "systematical plan of reducing [the colonies] to slavery." Since the eighteenth century, fears of concentrated power have manifested themselves in mass movements of ordinary people, and the manifestation, which liberal elites regard as sinister and threatening, we who celebrate individual freedom and constitutional government deem salutary.
But what happens when paranoia grips those in power? I would suggest that an amusing-yet-dangerous paranoia among the liberal elites, not the familiar silliness of political correctness, best explains NPR's decision to fire Williams. What Williams actually said on the air is only part of the story. That he said it on FOX News, whose connection to Williams NPR long has sought to undermine, constitutes another and more important element. What really matters here is that the Obama administration's petulant 2009 crusade against FOX News, complete with the equally petulant narrative that spawned that crusade, retains its relevance among the paranoid left. According to said narrative, and straight from the president himself, FOX News qualifies as little more than a "destructive" mouthpiece for the Republican Party. It's not a real news network. Its commentators are selected and paid by wealthy right-wingers, special interests, etc. Furthermore, it exerts an unhealthy influence upon the viewing public, whom--according to the liberal narrative--Fox News seems somehow to have called into existence. It has not occurred to the president and his supporters that the ironically-labeled "fair and balanced" network might represent an alternate and quite legitimate perspective--a perspective whose decades-long absence from so-called "mainstream" network news broadcasts, and not some mysterious-but-well-funded conspiracy, was what called Fox News into existence in the first place. All of this is so very tedious to conservatives, who, with no little fortitude, have resigned themselves to living in a world where their liberal friends, unsatisfied with seeing their own views advanced on ABC, CBS and NBC, on nearly every major newspaper's editorial page, in academia, and in Hollywood, bristle at the fact that they do not maintain an absolute monopoly over the dissemination of information and opinion. But in our tedium we must not overlook the real danger. Such bristling from liberal colleagues means little when confined to the proverbial faculty lounge. But when the foregoing narrative becomes so widespread in liberal circles as to constitute something of an axiom, when they convince themselves that their opponents act from feelings of paranoia rather than legitimate opposition born of serious reflection, and when one among them gets control of the government, it then becomes possible--imperative, actually--to de-legitimize the sources and the forces of this so-called paranoid opposition. This explains the Obama administration's near-pathological obsession with Fox News. And this, I would suggest, explains NPR's decision to terminate Juan Williams's contract. This, in short, is what happens when real paranoia infects the powerful.
about the tightening Senate polls. Democrat-leaners are coming home. The early voting indicates a Republican edge. The Republicans will still pick up 9 to 11 Senate seats. But if you live in one of those states and are eligible, please vote.
The Republicans are having a good year in Massachusetts. They elected a Republican Senator for the first time since the 1970s, and several (maybe as many as four) of their nominees for the House of Representatives look competitive. They have a shot at the Governor's chair too.
They might win it, but there is something interesting about the messaging in the Governor's race that could have implications for national politics going forward. The Republican nominee is a former health insurance company executive. Health insurance premiums are have been rising very quickly in Massachusetts. A lot of the anti-Baker ads have been hitting him for raising people's health insurance premiums.
This is something we are going to see a lot more of in the coming decade. Romneycare has tended to increase insurance premiums. The Massachusetts Democratic Party's response is to demonize insurance companies for the consequences of government policy. Obamacare is, in large measure, a much more poorly designed version of Romneycare and is going to cause the same kind of premium spike.
In the short-trerm it doesn't matter much. The economy is lousy enough that Baker might win anyway. Not many Republican nominees are going to be former health insurance company executives. But the important point is the need for conservatives to control the narrative on the consequences of Obamacare and never let up. To the average person, the consequences of Obamacare (which will unfold over years and years) will just seem like a bunch of stuff that happens with no obvious cause. The liberal narrative will be that the health insurance premium increases are the fault of mean insurance companies and that only heroic liberal politicians can save them with new statist initiatives. Massachusetts is a preview of how liberals will use the failures of statist health care policy to advance the cause of even more statist health care policy. And they could win.
Robinson O'Brien-Bours is spending his last semester as an undergraduate in Florence, once the home of Amerigo Vespucci, Boticelli, Raphael, Dante, Medicis, Machievelli, et al. I envy him for his youth, his good mind, and this experience. I was in Florence a couple of times in my youth, saw the noble David, drank red wine on the Ponte Vecchio in the middle of the night, looked at beauty, and tried to heed my father's advice, (I paraphrase) "Take heed of the girls in Italy, for our language does not have the words to deny if they demand." Robinson blogs at Life, Liberty, and the Times. You might want to have a look. He wrote me a good note, and long. I'll just lift a paragraph from it:
I attend class Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. My final class of the week is on Wednesday night; Wine and Culture- The Wines of Italy. It is a fascinating class where we move beyond the mere drinking of wine to learning about it. We are learning how to taste, smell, view, and feel wine as we drink it, to determine excellent from average. We learn of the different grape appellations and specialties of the various Italian wine regions. It really is a fantastic art. The week before last I went to a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside, about a 40 minute bus rid from Florence. The owner of the vineyard, a nobleman whose family has owned the property for two centuries now, gave our small group a tour of his property, and walked us through how he produces his wine. When someone asked which wine was his favorite, his response was, tellingly, "That is like asking me which of my children is my favorite. I love them all." This trip also had a particular treat to it as the property is home to a villa that Machiavelli's family owned for some time and where the famed theorist spent a part of his exile. "This is special to me I had my wedding here," said the owner, married to a former model from New York, referencing the villa's courtyard. "It's declared a national heritage site so the government comes by occasionally to make sure we're taking care of it."
Here is a photo he sent of the Duomo from atop the Gioto Bell Tower.
From Newsweek: "As Cass Sunstein, a centrist legal scholar at the University of Chicago who now serves in the Obama administration, has explained . . . "
NRO's Rich Lowry pens an "Open Letter to the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party."
Dear Chairman Redfern,
I hesitate to take your time with a missive like this because I know you are busy losing a governorship, a Senate seat, and conceivably as many as six House seats in the great state of Ohio. Managing such a massive political failure can't be easy, so I don't want to do anything to distract you from it. . . .
The LA Times notes that since shifting to the right four years ago, the Supreme Court "has made the right call in most of its major decisions," according to public opinion. And as if on cue, the Court today denied the appeal of a prison inmate in Mass. who argued his disenfranchisement as a felon was unconstitutional.
Bad felon, no vote.
Naturally, Democrats have sponsored a bill to "restore" voting rights to felons - the Democracy Restoration Act. Just the sort of democracy we were hoping to restore. Democrats apparently failed to appreciate the irony. I mention the obvious motivation for the bill without need of further comment:
Criminals vote Democrat.
Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear former Attorney General John Ashcroft's appeal of a suit by a Muslim American alleging an abuse of federal law for his imprisonment as a "material witness." (See WaPo, USA Today and Bloomberg)
The twist: the Obama administration is appealing on Ashcroft's behalf, arguing the ruling (by the infamously liberal 9th Circuit) against Ashcroft would "severely damage law enforcement."
The view's different from the inside, isn't it, Mr. Obama?
Jay Cost eviscerates Obama's D- sociology (yeah I stole that trope from Peter Lawler) in trying to explain away opposition to his agenda. I think it goes well with this smart paragraph by regular commenter Art Deco:
One gets the impression that his understanding of history begins and ends with the Democratic Party's received narrative and that he conceives of himself as a character in some tome by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Obama had a long apprenticeship in politics that was in some ways diverse and in some ways narrow. His lived experience is almost entirely on the left-of-center, but he isn't the creature of any one institution. He has experience in issue advocacy, academia, and Chicago machine politics. He had to learn how to speak to different liberal constituencies (the South Side and Hyde Park) at the same time. He no doubt learned some lessons about the nuts and bolts of politics as well as how to take a cheap shot. His apprenticeship (from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s) also coincided with the experience of feelings of marginalization by many liberals. Republicans usually held the White House and the Clinton administration was something between a missed opportunity and a desperate rearguard action.
Obama seems to have gone to school on selling a liberal activist agenda to the general public (he already knew how to talk to liberals) and then getting that agenda securely enacted. This included constructing the cool, detached, pseudo-open minded style that serves an ideological politician especially well in reassuring swing voters. It also included certain policy concessions. He changed his mind on welfare reform. He was pro-death penalty and talked out of both sides of his mouth on the Second Amendment (no biggie there, he can appoint Supreme Court Justices who will vote abolish the death penalty and neuter the Second Amendment.) He tried to neutralize the Republican advantage on taxes by advocating (in the short-term) tax cuts for most combined with tax increases on high earners. John Kerry had actually promoted this policy first, but Kerry (unlike Obama) had a long history of voting for tax increases and against tax cuts as a Senator. Obama was of course willing to make spectacular bad faith promises like the one of a net budget cut. There is something off about his attempts to create an appeal to non-liberal-leaning Americans. Unlike Reagan, who learned to appeal to FDR-loving Democrats by talking to them at length, Obama seems to have constructed his appeals to non-liberals in isolation from them. That is why he sometimes resorts to a sociology of smugness when things seem not to go his way. Still, his appeals have worked well enough for Obama to get his way when it really mattered.
The payoff for all these campaign concessions is to do something big for the liberal cause as President. Something big could mean using the opportunity of an economic crisis to pass a big spending increase (and pay off favored constituencies.) If the economy turns around, the public would tend to identify Big Spending with prosperity. It isn't working out well so far, but 2012 is far away and we'll see. Something big could mean reordering the energy market in a "green" corporatist direction through cap-and-trade. That ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Above all, something big would mean adding a huge new middle-class entitlement and taking THE decisive step toward government-run health care.
Even if it hurt his popularity in the short-run, such a health care law would ensure him a place in the Mount Rushmore/Hall of Fame/Valhalla of liberal historiography. That would be far higher than the place of Bill Clinton, who had high approval ratings, but whose most notable policy accomplishments were a balanced budget and welfare reform. FDR would love Obama best. So when you get the chance, go for broke (in every sense.) Once you have enacted the big change you can let the anti-majoritarian features of American politics (bicameralism, the filibuster, the veto) work for you rather than against you. You can also count on the tendency of government expansion to reorder interest group politics in a more statism-friendly direction. You can hope that demagoguery (if you repeal health care reform children will die...) and people's natural risk aversion will scare enough people to prevent the GOP from reversing your policies, and once those policies are entrenched, the political incentives will tend to push policy in an ever more statist direction.
None of this is to say that Obama is a good President. He is a dangerous opponent with the skills to win elections and then enact and (potentially) entrench policies that I find destructive. It is also why, for all of his weaknesses and blind spots, he is the most formidable domestic opponent conservatives have faced in generations. And whatever happens this November, he is not beaten.
Patricia Cohen has a great NY Times article on the resurgence of cultural explanations for generational poverty. Conservatives (as Cohen states) never abandoned the obvious connection between culture and poverty,
But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word "culture" became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.
Most interesting is not the sudden liberal awakening to culture as a factor in economic success, nor the pathological ideology which kept liberals blind to this common-sense explanation for decades, but rather the oppressive censorship and dogmatic ideological rigidity present in academics and among the left.
Of course, the left is only taking baby steps toward sensibility and reality. While acknowledging the relevance of culture, "they attribute destructive [cultural] attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation." One couldn't expect it would be long before racism was called upon to explain everything. Baby steps.
UPDATE: For an even more cynical perspective on the supposed reformation of liberal thought on poverty, see the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector on NRO. Spoiler: liberals still think poverty is the reason for poverty - and the solution is thus to simply throw around more (of other people's) money. Rector identifies the most obvious culprit leading to poverty as "the collapse of marriage."
In low-income communities, the overwhelming majority of children are born outside marriage and raised by single mothers on welfare. If these single mothers were married to the actual fathers of their children, two-thirds would immediately be lifted out of poverty. But, despite these obvious facts, the Left is reluctant even to mention the connection between marital collapse and poverty.
The main problem for liberals in talking about the "culture of poverty" is that any honest examination of behavioral roots of poverty will, almost certainly, diminish public support for the welfare state. Thus, any clear discussion of the links between poverty and behavior is to be scrupulously avoided.
For the better part of two generations, the best political science departments have concentrated on equipping students with skills for performing empirical research and teaching mathematical models that purport to describe political affairs. Meanwhile, leading history departments have emphasized social history and issues of race, class and gender at the expense of constitutional history, diplomatic history and military history.
Neither professors of political science nor of history have made a priority of instructing students in the founding principles of American constitutional government. Nor have they taught about the contest between the progressive vision and the conservative vision that has characterized American politics since Woodrow Wilson (then a political scientist at Princeton) helped launch the progressive movement in the late 19th century by arguing that the Constitution had become obsolete and hindered democratic reform.
Of course, it will not surprise you to know that we do things differently here, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.
The NY Times' "world" section leads with the UN's most recent promise that the world is about to end. Greenpeace explains that in order to be "rescued from the brink of environmental destruction, we need action by governments (naturally -ed) ... to halt biodiversity loss." Having blown past the 2010 deadline for total planetary annihilation, we are now on a 2020 deadline for total planetary annihilation. And this time they mean it. Really.
At the same time, the Times' op-ed page angrily laments that only one of the Republicans running for the Senate "accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming." The editors blame Dick Cheney.
Mark Kirk of Illinois is the one exception among the Senate candidates. Can somebody talk some sense into him? He's obviously been reading too much of the NY Times.
A new WaPo poll finds:
More than half of Americans say they think that federal workers are overpaid for the work they do, and more than a third think they are less qualified than those working in the private sector.
Only a third think they are overpaid and less qualified? That's celebratory news for federal employees!
WaPo has an unrelated story on the Supreme Court. I wish the poll had singled out the Court - it polls rather well, historically. The story focuses on the nitty-gritty lawyering that surrounds single words or phrases in appellate adjudication. I failed to immediately understand the seeming mockery of the Court's tortured parsing of legislative language - until I remembered that I long ago drank the cool-aid and find this sort of thing quite normal. (WaPo has a SCOTUS quiz here.)
Every now and again the Germans will surprise you....
German Chancellor Angela Merkel admits: "And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed."
Bill Donahue observes:
At the beginning of the new millennium, there was a consensus in Europe on the virtues of multiculturalism. Attendant to this view was a profound reluctance to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage. Midway through the decade, there were signs that things were changing. In 2006, after meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the case for "Christian values" in the European Union Constitution. Now her criticism of multiculturalism is causing an international stir.
The problem with multiculturalism, as the pope understands, is that it breeds contempt for the moral truths that undergird the Judeo-Christian ethos of Western civilization. Indeed, as the pope has said, it has led to "a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological."
One major reason why multiculturalism is a failure is its implicit moral relativism: all religions and cultures are seen as equals. But this means that those who adhere to Judeo-Christian values, and those who espouse a preference for Sharia law, are voicing a similar perspective. This is worse than nonsense: the former yields liberty and justice; the latter yields slavery.
Chancellor Merkel deserves our support. Her courageous stand is worthy of emulation in the United States.
UPDATE: I'm sure Germany's decision to open its first Hitler Exhibit just following the denunciation of multiculturalism is mere coincidence.
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and co-author of Silenced, a forthcoming book on contemporary blasphemy rules, has a short NRO article on the larger context of Geert Wilders and liberal suppression of free speech in the guise of Islamic hate crimes.
"Geert Wilders is the latest in a lengthening roster of Europeans who have been criminally prosecuted for criticizing Islam," Shea writes. Such prosecution "demonstrates the continued willingness of authorities in Europe's most liberal countries to regulate the content of speech on Islam in order to placate Muslim blasphemy demands."
This is an important trend I've touched upon several times, but which bears continual repeating. European liberals are confusing democratic liberty with egalitarian slavery - the result is not academic theory but public prosecution. When large groups make such mistakes about basic political priorities, historical tragedies often follow.
Also see Cliff May's post:
The decisions by Dutch prosecutors to dismiss the charges against parliamentarian Geert Wilders can be seen as a battle won in a war the West is losing - the war for freedom of speech, the freedom without which no other freedoms can be defended.
As I argue in my latest column, influential people are not just avoiding criticism of all things Islamic, they also are legitimizing vile practices -- e.g. gender apartheid -- where these practices are rooted in Islamic practice.
Women's rights groups are silent. Most elite journalists are at least complicit.
Obama has been criticized as sufficiently narcissistic as to lack the capacity to recognize personal fault. The President has ticked off a laundry list of villains responsible for all our woes: Bush, Rush, Boehner, Rove, etc. Recently, Obama chastised Democrats for failing to have his back. And finally, having run out of just about anyone else to blame, Obama turned on the voters themselves.
Apparently, "facts and science and argument" are not persuading Americans because they are unable to "think clearly," since they are "scared," "looking backwards," full of "fear" and "confused." He cited Republicans as refusing to put aside politics and deciding to "ride people's anger and frustration all the way to the ballot box." (The GOP would probably agree to the last bit - and should laugh at the President for chiding others about partisanship.)
Insulting the public as too addle minded to comprehend your magnificence isn't likely the quickest way to electoral success. It speaks to the mind-set and temperament of the President, who has yet to truly address the obvious public refutation of his policies and ideology. At this 11th hour, witnessing the eclipse of his legislative potential as November nears, Obama's desperation has led him to a unique strategy: honesty.
Obama is right, and the public is just to dumb to get it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
I would like to believe Walter Russell Mead's basic point that Big Government-style programs that ensured Democratic popularity in the 1930s won't work today, but I have my doubts. Mead writes that Democrats, without ending the Depression, made gains in the midterm elections of 1934 while Democrats are poised to lose seats in 2010. Fair enough, but the analogy is problematic. I think that the best metric for understanding the differences between 1934 and 2010 is the state of the economy. Mead is right that FDR's policies had not ended the Depression by 1934, but the economy had perceptibly improved. GDP was growing at over 10% in 1934 and the unemployment rate had fallen over 3% in the last year. We can argue to what extent FDR's policies were responsible for the growth and the future implication for policy, but he clearly benefited politically.
By comparison, the unemployment rate is now stuck almost 2% higher than when Obama took over and GDP growth is weak. Obama is obviously paying the political price, but his popularity isn't that bad considering the circumstances. Can you imagine the job approval of a President McCain under the same circumstances? It won't take much of an improvement in economic conditions for Obama to be marginally popular again. That doesn't mean he is destined to win reelection, just that, depending on economic conditions (and the results of Obama's fights with the forthcoming Republican House of Representatives and maybe Senate), the politics of 2012 might partly point away from the politics of 2010. And even a narrow Obama reelection might result in the entrenchment of Big Government-style political changes that Mead thinks are on the way out.
"All laws enacted by the Congress of the United States and signed by the President, and all administrative rulings and court decisions made pursuant to those laws, and the consitution of the United States must apply equally to private citizens and to people employed by the U.S. government."
I'm not sure the language is quite right, and it might make sense to add: "unless two thirds of both houses of the legislature specifically exempt a particular group from the law, and state clearly their reasons for doing so." There may sometimes be a good reason to carve out exemptions, so that reservation might be wise.
Update: Here's a list of rules that don't apply to Congress.
Not long ago, Vinceng Gray defeated the incumbent mayor of Washington, DC, Adrian Fenty, and became the presumptive next mayor. As a result, Michelle Rhee is leaving her job as schools chancellor. Washington has notoriously bad, yet expensive public schools. Rhee was trying to improve the schools and was willing to knock heads and to fire people to do it.
In the election, the black communities were central to Gray's victory. Why? As the Washington Post noted, firing public employees hits the black middle class:
As mayor, Fenty retained his overwhelming popularity among white voters, as a breakdown of last Tuesday's vote demonstrates. But he lost the support of vast numbers of black voters who derided him for ignoring their communities and slashing government jobs. Many of those jobs were held by African Americans, who since the advent of D.C. home rule have used city employment as a stepping stone to the middle class. . . .
Although blacks and whites recognize the importance of the public schools as a vehicle for educating their children, blacks also see the school system as a primary employer, providing jobs to thousands of teachers, school bus drivers, administrators and secretaries. When Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee laid off hundreds of teachers, many blacks saw something more than a simple purge of poorly performing educators. They saw an assault on economic opportunity.
To put it more bluntly, the leadership of the black community is heavily invested in working for the government. Statistically, if memory serves, the percentage of blacks who work for the taxpayers is higher than that of any other ethnic or racial group in the U.S. In short, it might be the case that the interest of the black middle class conflicts with the interest of the rest of the black community. The idea of ending tenure for civil servants and teachers threatens a very strong, entrnched interest in the black community, even if opening up the job market is, in fact, in the real, long-term interest of the community as a whole.
Perhaps the rise of black tea party candidates represents a move to change that, reducing the dependency of the black community on the government, and breaking the perceived uniformity of interest in the community.
In the Oct. 13 Section A, a profile of Lorenzo Velez, the only Bell City Council member not charged with a crime, described Bell as "a city dominated by blue-color Mexican immigrants like himself." It should have said "blue-collar."
Tomorrow, Pope Benedict XVI will canonize Australia's first saint, Blessed Mary MacKillop, who died in 1909.
While one would be tempted to praise the land down under for their accomplishment, I've gotta say ... what took so long? I mean, really - 2010? You couldn't get a saint until 2010? Australia's been Christian since the late 18th century! Take the shrimp off the barbie and get yourselves to church, you lazy, no good . . . .
God bless the Aussies. Congrats.
The Obama administration is expected to announce today that the federal budget deficit has exceeded $1 trillion for the second year in a row.
WSJ NEWS ALERT: Social Security Payments Won't Increase Next Year
The Social Security Administration said there will be no increase in benefits next year -- the second year in a row without an increase for more than 58 million retirees and disabled Americans. The announcement marks only the second year without an increase since automatic adjustments for inflation were adopted in 1975. The first year was this year.
Shame is an undervalued quality. Only humans have shame, as they alone recognize when their actions have fallen short. A person who acts immorally without shame has lost the most precious of human qualities: conscience. People who routinely espouse a philosophy of "no regrets" are simply attempting to suppress their humanity and liberate themselves from morality, guilt and consequences.
Good luck with that.
Nonetheless, shame was once a central element of punishment. From schoolboys wearing dunce caps to throwing someone in the stocks and the literary scarlet letter, punishments have long relied upon public humiliation as a means of personal rehabilitation and general deterrence - and often as a bit of good old fashion vengeance.
The state has generally lost the power to employ humiliation as a sentencing device - cruel and unusual, apparently. So it's interesting to read that private citizens have offered precisely this punishment as an alternative to prosecution. There is currently an 18 year-old would-be-shoplifter dressed as a Sesame Street character carrying a sign that reads, "I got caught shoplifting at Halloween Express." I'm rather comfortable with people offering private substitutions to would-be criminals - they can always choose the courts, but have the option to give the victim and others concerned with the crime a first say in restitution.
On the other hand, a guy in Houston was sentenced to spend every weekend for the next six years pacing a busy highway with a sign reading, "I am a thief. I stole $250,000 from the Harris County crime victim's fund. Daniel Mireles." His wife is currently serving a sentence for theft, as well - their home has a court mandate sign in the front yard reading, "The occupants of this residence are convicted thieves. They stole $250,000 from the Harris County Crime Victim's fund. Signed, Judge Kevin Fine."
Maybe there's hope yet for humiliation.
The values that have long been associated with the Midwest are almost anachronistic in the Obama era. Thrift, hard work, common sense--the messages and policies coming out of Washington seem to disregard these once-revered virtues. As voters in the Midwest and across the country found themselves increasingly worried about the economy and government spending, Democrats in Washington, led by the White House, changed the subject to health care.
OSV has a brief exchange on the compatibility of Tea Party ideals and church teaching between Catholic historian David O'Brien and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at my law alma mater, The Catholic University of America.
Naturally, the Tea Party isn't a perfect fit, but it isn't attempting to provide a full-fledged political, social and economic philosophy. It addresses a particular, current issue with a roughly-sketched response. Of course, that response could be refined and cultivated by philosophers, theologians and political scientists - but it's a pretty good start for a bunch of everyman-Americans responding to a gut-feeling of injustice and foolishness.
From WSJ (registration required):
Imagine if a leader within the tea party movement were able to persuade its members to establish a third political party. Imagine he succeeded--overwhelmingly--and that as their leader he stood a real chance of winning the presidency. Then imagine that in anticipation of his electoral victory, the Democrats and Republicans quickly modified an existing antidiscrimination law so that he could be convicted for statements he made on the campaign trail.
All of this seems impossible in a 21st-century liberal democracy. But it is exactly what is happening in Holland to Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders.
It really doesn't seem all that impossible, if you've been paying attention. Liberals in America have been all too happy to censure conservatives (e.g., the Fairness Doctrine) and criminalize thought (e.g., hate crimes). So far, they have failed - but the very endorsement of such tactics is shameful.
The 20-state lawsuit against Obamacare has been given a greenlight to proceed by a federal judge in Florida, who denied the administration's claim that the law is plainly constitutional under the commerce clause. The judge denied the administration's legal argument (which contradicted their political rhetoric) that "individual mandates" were a tax (and thereby constitutional under the government's power to tax). Transcript here.
The next hearing is in December, so this is the state of affairs until the election. Like many things pertaining to the Obama administration, it is in Limbo.
Jay Cost writes that much of that much of the money spent for voter mobilization is ineffective in turning non-voters into voters. Maybe he is right and I think that a lot of campaign season advertizing has many of the same limitations. I'm numb from watching commercials about the New Hampshire Senate race and the Massachusetts Governor's race. The commercial breaks on the local news have political ads back-to-back-to-back. It is disorienting. I think that a certain amount of repetition is needed just to keep your message fresh in the voter's mind, but at the margin, there has to be a better use for some of those dollars. I remember watching the 2008 election and feeling that Obama would have done about as well if he had spent 30 million fewer dollars on ads. Scott Brown was able to beat Coakley while being outspent in the air war.
I would suggest that if you wanted to turn non-voters into voters (or to turn some of the other side's voters who have weak or vaguely understood affiliations), some of that money is better spent between elections targeting low-to-medium information voters. The key would be shifting policy preferences (explaining how certain policies would directly benefit them and/or how those policies are consistent with their beliefs) and improving the party brand. This approach would shift some significant amount of money to different media. The ads that are being put out today tend to go to media with older-skewing audiences and to programs with the broadest appeal. There are good reasons for that and those media buys should not be abandoned come election time. The question is when more money isn't doing very much to advance your message. It would make sense to spend money on media with large audiences that don't consume much right-leaning media and take only a passing interest in the old-model NBC/ABC/CBS/CNN-type news. The ads on these media would also have to be different. The audience does not know your policies or your presumptions. Your slogans are completely meaningless to them. Slow down, take a minute (or two) and explain. Communicating with people who don't already share your frame of reference is hard. Read this book. Try to do the same thing with today's audiences who aren't already conservative. Try writing an anti-cap-and trade ad for viewers of the Daily Show, a tax ad for Univision and an ad for market-driven health care reform for viewers of BET.
Conservatives have developed great ways of talking to one set of Americans and pretty good ways of talking to another. The right-leaning media offers conservatives a great way to communicate with tens of millions of Americans at length and at fairly low cost. Conservatives are also okay at getting their message out through the "traditional" broadcast news media. Those programs aren't exactly a favorable environment, but a combination of ability to work through the conventions of the programs and advertizing on those programs ensures that (if you are competent) your message will get out. The problem is that the audience for right-leaning media is not a majority of the country and the size of the traditional broadcast news audience is shrinking and aging. That leaves tens of millions of people who aren't getting talked to by conservatives in any kind of effective way. Many of them end up as Democrats by default.
Jay cost writes that, under present conditions "There is really only one reason to vote: you care about what happens." True, but I think that one of the least understood communication problems in our politics is how little communication effectively takes place for millions of people and how many of the common place terms of debate are total nonsense (not wrong, just meaningless) to tens of millions of Americans. If you want people to care what happens, meet them where they are and talk the language of everyday life. It is harder than it sounds.
I know that there are reasons not to do this. Money spent just before an election is fresher in the voter's minds. But before you can reap you must sow.
This NYT article on Afghanistan and the French involvement over there is amusing--not in itself, so much in how it is likely to be used by the left. A liberal friend of mine posted it on Facebook by way of imagining, I suppose, that he had thereby made a point in his efforts to prove the efficacy of welfare/statist programs as an indisputable good. See: the French have stabilized a sector of Afghanistan by establishing a functioning and generous welfare system, therefore, welfare is (obviously) a good way to govern human beings.
Is that not utterly revealing? Do we want to be like dirt-dwelling Afghans mollified by a few pieces of cake? Honestly! I think this is what Peggy Noonan was getting at with her column last week in which she opined that one reasons the American electorate is reacting so vehemently against the Obama/Pelosi agenda is that they are concerned about the kind of character these programs are likely to spawn. Do we want to be that kind of a people? Thank God, the answer still seems to be "No!"
Our objection to lefties is that they seem to want to view us through a lens that we find de-humanizing. They want us to act like grateful Afghans. But the truth is that these Afghans are only happy because they now have a benevolent tyrant instead of an evil and violent one. Do we want to be like that? Should we be grateful when decisions (and the money to implement them) concerning the most basic functions of ordinary life come down to us from on high? Eat your cake!
Constantly pushing this kind of benevolence on us, what they seem to miss is the implication in their words and actions that we don't know what's good for us. We ought to listen to them and give up our silly dreams of self-government. Self-government is too darn messy and difficult. If the Afghans can't do it, we probably can't either. This is what they think the failed experiment in nation-building has proven.
I am fairly certain that the next charge leveled at me from the peanut gallery will be one of jingoistic arrogance . . . I think Americans are better than Afghans. Well . . . yeah. I do. (Though I also think Afghans are capable of being Americans--though, perhaps not all at once or while they're still in Afghanistan.) Amazing to me that the reverse--thinking we're just like Afghans (or the Greeks!)--is not the damning charge!
I asked this friend of mine what will happen when the Afghans in this story become accustomed to looking to their government (and France) for care and support and then begin--as inevitably, they will--to want MORE. What happens when there is no "MORE"--because we know from reading our own Bill Voegeli, that there is "Never Enough!" I suppose they will take a cue from their French betters and riot. That's what. Except theirs will likely have a bit of an Afghan/Taliban twist to it . . .
Peter Lawler and James Poulos wonder if we have what it takes to make the sacrifices needed to get the federal budget under control. I think the answer is yes, but only because we have no choice. It also depends on what we mean by sacrifice. Old (and near-old) people are terrified of any changes to the existing system. They can see the enormous budget deficit and they feel that they are in no position to take care of themselves if their current benefits are cut. That is one reason why the sentiments that "government is getting too big" and "don't cut my Medicare" tend to go together. It isn't merely hypocrisy. Older people have built their lives around certain government guarantees and many are not in a position to make major adjustments now. There will be no new savings and investment to make up for Social Security cuts. Whatever benefits might come from voucherizing Medicare will come too slowly to help off-set cuts in reimbursements.
The question is not how we will take care of those who are already too old to work. The question is what adjustments will be made for middle-aged and younger people. One choice we do not have is keeping the existing system for younger workers at the current tax burden. That isn't going to happen no matter who wins what election.
There are false and comfortable choices that only promise sacrifice for someone else. Obama says that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it" and "no tax increases if you make less than $200,000." John Boehner says "extend the Bush tax cuts, and repeal Obamacare and...uh...I'll get back to you." These kinds of misleading tactics are designed to disguise either long-term policy goals (Obama) or get through one election cycle without having to say anything real about the problems we can't escape (Boehner.) You won't find our actual policy future in either man's rhetoric.
While there are many intermediate options (and innumerable details), our policy options fall somewhere between two poles, and reality will probably end up much closer to one than the other. The real challenge of statesmanship (as opposed to merely grasping for a chairman's gavel) will be to influence policy making between those two poles.
1. The first might be called the Bernie Sanders/Nancy Pelosi pole. People would pay higher taxes during their working years in order to finance the full Social Security benefit for currently young and middle-aged high earners. There will be centralized government control over health care. The wealthy will still be able to pay for their own care but the vast majority of the public would get their health insurance through the government and have no other realistic options. Medical providers would be oriented around providing (or not providing) the services that the payer (the government) wanted provided. Individual middle-class consumers would be marginal and have no bargaining power with medical providers. The vast majority of people would get the health care that government decided to pay for.
2. This second might be called the Mitch Daniels/Paul Ryan pole. Higher earners would get somewhat less from Social Security when they retired. That means more saving and investing now. Some large fraction of workers in physically less demanding jobs (and who had not developed crippling injuries or conditions) would have to retire later. In return, we will all pay lower taxes during our working lives. Most people would pay for most (this part is negotiable) of their routine health care costs out of pocket or out of Health Savings Accounts. The government or private insurers would cover catastrophic health care costs. That means that individuals would have to choose which health care providers provided the best services at the lowest price. In return, they would get lower costs for many services, lower premiums, and higher take-home pay.
Both poles (and every real world-oriented plan in between) involve sacrifices by lots of somebodies, but none involve cutting off people who are retired or near retirement. It also means that older people who sense that government's current promises are unsustainable in the long-term are wiser than smug and malicious creeps who can't understand why people in Medicare-provided scooters don't support creating an expensive new middle-class entitlement.
A federal judge has issued a nationwide injunction stopping enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, ending the military's 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops.
[The] landmark ruling Tuesday was widely cheered by gay rights organizations that credited her with getting accomplished what President Obama and Washington politics could not.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have 60 days to appeal. Legal experts say they are under no legal obligation to do so and they could let Phillips' ruling stand.
While Obama has stated his desire for Congress to decide the matter, I assume this is one of those occasions in which the administration is very content to have a court overturn its own policy. Yet I doubt this mode of victory will inspire gays to rally behind the Democrats, whereas social conservatives are far more likely to find anti-Democratic motivation in the ruling.
Some assumed the Dems would repeal DADT in the post-November lame duck session. Should this ruling prevent such a vote and then be overruled after the GOP assume control of the House, the ruling would have the ironic effect of cementing DADT in law for the foreseeable future.
Obama has lifted the ban on deep-water oil drilling prior to the original Nov. 30 expiration date - though months will pass before anyone gets back to work and draws a paycheck. The political, rather than safety-oriented, nature of the ban is painfully apparent. Everyone understands that Obama needed to do something in the wake of the worst environmental disaster in American history. The decision to simply stop all drilling and wait, however, has been devastating to the coastal economy - and this during the worst recession in recent history.
To add insult to injury, during Obama's moratorium on deep-water drilling, he committed $2 billion in funding to an off-shore drilling company ... in Brazil. As the WSJ put it: "Americans are right to wonder why Mr. Obama is underwriting in Brazil what he won't allow at home."
Lifting the ban will now annoy the left (which wants a permanent ban on all wealth-producing activities) and remind the right that the moratorium was a foolish overreaction in the first place. Just another nail in the Democrats' coffin.
Men and Women
NY's Carl Paladino stepped on a landmine this weekend by, as WaPo puts it, refusing "to step back from his inflammatory comments disparaging gays." Referencing his opponent's decision to march in a gay pride parade with his child, Paladino objected that, where men wearing only women's bikini underwear are "grinding at each other and doing these gyrations, I certainly wouldn't let my young children see that. Young children should not be exposed to that at a young age. They don't understand; it's a very difficult thing."
If you've ever seen a gay pride parade, you know that you'll be exposed to things you shouldn't have to know about until you're in prison. If parents acted in a similar manner in front of their kids at home, authorities could remove the kids on cause of obscenity and mental abuse. It's the equivalent of taking your child to a burlesque cabaret or X-rated film.
Nonetheless, Paladino committed the media sin of prioritizing parenthood above gay rights. Further, he stated that he didn't want his kids "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is acceptable." And therein is the reason he was roundly denounced by the usual suspects as "hurtful and dangerous," "preaching hate," "stunning homophobia and a glaring disregard for basic equality."
If any other group wandered into the streets dressed and behaving as those in gay pride parades, they would be arrested. If nearly any other group (Muslims immediately spring to mind) demanded that all others approve their lifestyle and branded all dissent as bigotry, they would be admonished for devaluing free-speech, individuality and diversity.
Could the homosexual lobby please practice what they preach and tolerate those with whom they disagree? Is it really an extreme proposition to object to kids being taught that running around in the street, in someone else's underwear, pretending to masturbate or have sex, is acceptable behavior? American's aren't Islamophobic for not wanting a mosque at Ground Zero, and they aren't homophobic for not wanting homo-erotic obscenity in the streets. It's just common sense decency in a pluralistic society.
On the other hand, Cuomo stated that Paladino's views "make it clear that he is way out of the mainstream and is unfit to represent New York." If that is so, it speaks more of New York than "the mainstream" or the GOP candidate.
Men and Women
I have a confession to make. I own, although I do not display, a Nazi flag. I also have (on display in my office) an Iron Cross, a German helmet, and a samurai sword (all replicas). At home I have a collection of miniature diecast German tanks. I have some strange music, too. I own a CD called "The Best of Communism: Selection of Revolutionary Songs." I also have on my iPod a selection of Japanese military marches from the 1930s and 1940s.
Does all of this make me a Nazi, a Communist, or a supporter of Japanese militarism? No. I find all three abhorrent. Yet I also find those ideologies fascinating, just as, although I have no love for war, I find military history fascinating. All this helps to explain why I've dedicated my career to the study of 20th century history. In particular, I want to know why totalitarianism managed to gain so many adherents.
Another confession: at one time I considered becoming a World War II reenactor, and, because because of my German ancestry and my interest in totalitarian ideology, I thought about joining a group that took the German side. I ultimately decided against it, for the same reason that I don't display that Nazi flag that I own--because it would be misunderstood, and used against me. In addition, although I suspected that most of those I would meet in the group would have been motivated by the same things that drove me, I feared that there might be some in the organization who were really pro-Nazi.
All of these things are on my mind today, of course, because of the case of Republican House candidate Rich Iott. On the one hand, I sympathize with the guy, who seems to be nothing more than a military history buff. (He's also portrayed a U.S. soldier in World War I, and soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.) On the other hand, if I ever found myself mulling over a run for public office I'd want to make sure that, whatever the explanation, there weren't any photographs of me in a Nazi uniform floating around.
Should this prevent him from joining the House of Representatives. No. Should it matter at all? Maybe a little. If I were a resident of Ohio's 9th District I'd want to learn a bit more about Iott, just to make sure there were no political undertones to his decision to reenact as a German soldier. Of course, I suppose to be fair we should also ask whether members of this group of Red Army reenactors are Communist sympathizers, or whether those belonging to this organization are clandestine monarchists yearning for the return of the United States to British rule.
Today's New York Times features a roundtable called "Hating Woodrow Wilson," in which a number of scholars address the fascination certain conservatives such as Glenn Beck have with America's twenty-eighth president. Of course, there is the unsurprising divide among the discussants between liberals and conservatives, but what I find more interesting is how closely this corresponds to the fault line between historians and political theorists. Even more interesting is how the two sides talk past one another. The historians profess to be surprised at Beck's hatred of Wilson; after all, critics of Wilson have traditionally tended to come from the left. Wilson, they remind us, brought the country into a world war--isn't rising to "national greatness" what conservatism's supposed to be all about?--and once in that war he suppressed domestic dissent in a far more radical way than George W. Bush ever did. Why not focus instead on FDR or Lyndon Johnson, under whose administrations the federal government grew much larger than it did under Wilson?
The political theorists, on the other hand, pay almost no attention to what Wilson did as president, and focus rather on what he believed, as laid out in his various scholarly works. Once we see that Wilson was the first president openly to repudiate the principles of the Founders, and sought to replace the notion of limited government with an expansive administrative state, it becomes far easier to understand why conservatives dislike him.
I must say that, while my own opinion of Wilson is closer to that of the conservatives (no surprise here), both approaches strike me as incomplete. If we regard progressivism as merely a set of policies (banning, say, child labor or the sale of tainted meat) it probably does not appear particularly objectionable, but if such a platform is predicated on a philosophy that effectively rejects self-government on the part of ordinary citizens in favor of rule by unelected bureaucratic experts, then we should probably be worried. At the same time, however, is it not worth remembering that, whatever theories he espoused, as president he generally regarded himself as bound by the Constitution? The fact that arguments similar to his were employed in support of fascism (although I wouldn't go so far as Jonah Goldberg and claim that fascism was predominantly a phenomenon of the left) is worth noting, but should we not also consider that, when he had the opportunity to do so, Wilson did relatively little to act on them?
A month is an eternity in political terms, admittedly - but we can get a pretty good sense of the mood and environment of the country come November from our present perch.
Economics will rule the day, and the draught is not likely to have improved. The final job numbers prior to the election have been released, and unemployment remains at 9.6%. America shed another 95,000 jobs during the past quarter. Without doubt, that's the most damning news for Democrats, who, after a trillion dollars in stimulus spending, now own the economy. (Government spending rose 9% last year, totaling a $1.3 trillion deficit - down from 2009, but second-largest on record.)
The tomfoolery on freezing foreclosures (merely exacerbating an open wound and prolonging the housing market collapse) and Obama's veto of a bipartisan bill to fix the problem merely lend to the sense of incoherence, impotence and desperation emanating from Washington. The market was not likely to pick up by November - now it is certain not to do so.
Obamacare will remain a public annoyance, as court cases keep the issue before the electorate. Should the law be struck down before November, it will render another blow to Democrats.
Nothing will likely happen in Iraq or Afghanistan to arouse public sentiment, nor are any motivating social issues likely to appear. November will be here before you know it, and the nation will only be a month older and a margin madder by then. All the bets have been made - now it's just time for everyone to show their hands.
Had any interesting conversation with another person the other day. Went kinda like this.
Them: So the Tea Party hates moderate Republicans right.
Me: Yeah, but it isn't like an organization with centralized leadership.
Them: So they hate Scott Brown.
Me: Well, no.
It got me wondering why there wasn't any organized and effective Tea Party movement against Scott Brown during the Massachusetts Republican primary. You could argue that Massachusetts conservatives were being prudent and, knowing that they weren't going to get anyone to the right of Brown, they took what they could get. There is something to that, but, it doesn't explain why there was a dump Castle movement in left-of-center Delaware, but not in Massachusetts. I think that the explanation is that a populist conservative insurgency against a moderate Republican requires several elements to come together. Brown avoided the fate of Bennett, Murkowski, Crist, Specter, and Castle due to several things that were in his control and one big thing that wasn't.
1. Brown's opponent in the Republican primaries was a perennial candidate with a history of personal problems (sound familiar?.) But Jack E. Robinson was not able to distinguish himself as a populist and more conservative alternative to Brown. He might have had some paid media, but I never saw any of it. I saw him on one of the local evening news shows one time and, while talking the same anti-Obamacare, pro-tax cuts stuff as Brown and just about every other Republican he said nothing to distinguish himself from Brown . There were some differences on social issues. Robinson was pro-life and pro-gay marriage, while Brown was the reverse. The lack of a conservative alternative in the race gave Massachusetts down-the-line conservative no one to coalesce behind. If there hadn't been a credible (Joe Miller) or semi-credible "real conservative" in the race, Lisa Murkowski, Charlie Crist, and Mike Castle would be on the way to winning Senate elections.
2. It strikes me that the Tea Party movement is (along with the right-leaning issue preferences and media consumption habits of its supporters) an anti-entitlement, anti-establishment movement. While I expect that Scott Brown will show up as a moderate Republican in the next ACU ratings (fwiw) he didn't come across as entitled or as a member of the establishment. He worked hard and did so in a way that he was seen to be working much harder than anyone else. He also campaigned against the state and federal political establishments.
3. He focused on issues on which he agreed with conservatives. He built his campaign against the stimulus (unlike Crist and Specter, who supported it), Obamacare (unlike Murkowski and Castle who voted no but later waffled), and civilian trials for terrorists, and in favor of tax cuts. He even explained supporting tax cuts in the very Reaganite way of invoking JFK in a very clever ad.
4. Brown maintained good relations with the local right-leaning media. He not only went on the local right-leaning talk shows (or in the case of Dennis and Callahan, shows with right-leaning hosts and audiences), he often got the hosts to say nice things about him and what an improvement he would be over any of the Democrats and explaining to their audiences that we can't expect conservative perfection in Massachusetts. Brown didn't treat conservatives with disdain.
5. Timing. There was very little of an "almost any real conservative can win" narrative in early 2010. Doug Hoffman had just lost the special election in New York-23. Obamacare was still working its way through Congress and it seemed like one more Republican Senator (and maybe the shattering effect on Democratic morale of a Republican win in Massachusetts) would stop Obamacare. It didn't work out that way of course, but it probably made it easier for some Massachusetts conservatives to support Brown
In light of the controversy surrounding attempts to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples, one of the more radical solution would be to exclude the state from marriages altogether and remand the whole business of matrimony back to religious communities.
This is the state of affairs in Egypt, where civil ceremonies are invalid and marriage is the sole purview of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The civil authority, however, recently attempted to force the church to permit a divorce and remarriage, defying a constitutional court ruling holding marriage to be fully within religious jurisdiction. The conflict is yet unresolved, but exposes the likelihood that political-religious disputes would accompany such a scenario anywhere in the world.
Marriage is one of those delicate institutions which fall well within both the religious and secular spheres. A sacrament of the Church, it is also a foundation of society and law. Even if the state were merely to recognize religious unions, it would be necessary to regulate the requirements of such unions - i.e., recognized religious authorities, non-polygamist unions, consenting adults (no minors) and, again, homosexuality. If a solution is to be found, it is not entirely in this recourse.
A U.S. District Court in Michigan has refused a request for injunction of Obamacare's individual mandate provision (requiring everyone to buy health insurance or face a federal penalty). The opinion lays out a brief history of Commerce Clause adjudication in the Supreme Court before addressing the merits of the arguments at hand. It's worth a read, particularly because it is short, legible and seemingly intended for a non-legal audience.
The significance of the ruling is only of particular interest because it is the first official ruling on Obamacare. It is only a denial of the plaintiff's request for injunction - the court was merely required to find a reasonable basis for constitutionality (not actual constitutionality) for denial. The ruling will be appealed.
Further, two independant suits have been brought in other courts. A federal judge already refused to dismiss a challenge to Obamacare in Virginia, meaning to case will proceed. And another suit brought by twenty states and small-businesses is pending in Florida. A victory in any of these three courts would demand Supreme Court review of the law.
Should that day come, it will be of particular significance to Obama and the Democrats. The lack of a severability clause in the law, requiring that the whole law be held void if a single provision is found unconstitutional, could swiftly and easily effect the end of Obamacare. The principle acheivement of the Obama administration would not only be nullified, but it would be found unconstitutional and many Tea Party criticisms would be vindicated.
A heavily reduced Democratic presence in Congress would leave the president with a difficult decision: accept defeat or compromise with Republicans. The loss of a near-super-majority in Congress will likely prove crippling to a president so unwilling to compromise.
Jay Cost's horserace analysis at the Weekly Standard is one of my favorite reads on the web.
I guess the Nobel Committee chose 2010 to stop sniffing glue. Good for them, but I'm afraid next year's Peace Prize is going to Bart Stupak.
Fascinating and sympathetic article by Megan McArdle on the spiral of bad incentives and bad (but logical given the incentives) short-term decisions making that led to the collapse of the Big Three car companies. It made me think about how the short and medium-term political incentives align for putting off dealing with the federal government's fiscal issues. It made me want to put together a bumper sticker that says Daniels/Christie 2012: Reality Starts Now
Remember when the left began sputtering with anaphylactic shock upon the release of The Passion of the Christ, shrieking that the movie was pornographically violent, hatefully anti-Semitic and simply inappropriate for American audiences in its overtly pro-Christianity? They fled to Michael Moore's movie as an antidote to such Christ-smut and reassurance of their world-view.
The entire episode provided a useful measure by which to identify those on the left who had simply gone off the reservation in their knee-jerk, irrational hatred of all-things-Christian.
Well, another cinematic stimulus has triggered another outbreak of lunacy amongst the radical left: Secretariat. A Disney movie about a horse. Salon's review condemns the movie's NAZI-driven racism, pro-Americanism and "Christian-friendly and 'middle-American' inspirational values." From the Catholic League:
The Sarasota Herald is not happy with the movies' "barely concealed religiosity" and "all the talk about 'lifting up.'" The New York Times notes its "Bible-thumping" elements, while nj.com says, "the film is bookended by quotes from the book of Job, interrupted by mystical shots of clouds and sunbeams, and even has a scene where the horse gets a rubdown scored to a gospel song." Newsday goes so far as to claim that the director "insists on turning the horse into Christ himself," and New York 1 opines "it's a bit much" to endure "passages from the Bible and playing gospel music." Similarly, Hollywood.com complains the film "reeks" of "grandiosity," even to the extent of "using Old Testament quotations and gospel music."
A sign of the times. The only examples in Hollywood of gratuitous violence, harmful messages or inappropriate themes visible to liberals involve gospel music and Bible passages. It's hard not to feel more pity than consternation for such miserable people.
NOTE: I've not seen the movie, but I'm a life-long fan of Secretariat. I wasn't alive to view his historic Belmont victory, but my mother recounts that she wept at the beauty.
Imagine that you are president. Your party has passed a major overhaul of health care. However, on the eve of midterm elections you learn that about a million people, many (perhaps most) of whom normally support your party, will lose their health care coverage as a direct result of provisions of that law. Do you:
1) Admit that the law, which few if any legislators read beforehand, was a mistake, and work to repeal it.
2) Offer exemptions to the law to the companies that employ these people, effectively putting the problem off until after Election Day.
Click here for the answer.
Ricochet's Rob Long asks what Republicans can do to win over a larger share of the Latino vote. I don't think amnesty per se is the biggest stumbling block. Even the pro-amnesty lobbying group America's Voice, using leading questioning found immigration to be a low salience issue when compared with the labor market, health care, and education (look at the question wording in the attachment.) That doesn't mean that the salience of immigration would not rise if Republicans came out for mass deportations (which does not seem to be on the table for the national party.) A policy of stricter border enforcement, the introduction of a tamper-resistant national identification system, and the prospect of a limited amnesty once we have a functional immigration system would seem to combine gaining majority support and moving policy in the right direction with an agenda that would minimize alienation of Latino voters.
But having an answer on amnesty is only a small part of the problem. I think that a large part of the GOP's problem with Latinos comes from an inability to communicate with people who have not bought into (or are at least familiar with) certain narratives and stock phrases within American politics. A policy of stop tax increases (or cut taxes) to create jobs isn't quite an appeal on tax policy. It is an appeal to people who buy into a certain narrative of what is wrong with the economy and how to fix it. To someone who is unfamiliar with the unarticulated premises of "cut taxes to spur the economy" the statement isn't exactly wrong. It is just noise.
People who pay alot of attention to politics seem to me to not notice how the vocabulary of our politics is incomprehensible to large fraction of the public. This is true of many Latino voters, but is also true of many young voters in general (including whites) who have not been socialized into understanding the terms of the debate through their families, the right-leaning media or through large doses of the MSM's traditional news broadcasts.
The Democrats have certain built-in advantages with Latino voters and especially with Latinos in heavily Latino areas. Personal interactions with politics involves contact with local elected officials, community organization activists and school teachers. All of these groups are probably Democrat-leaning and can create the impression that Democrats are the "good guys." One shouldn't exaggerate the strength, or complexity of that impression. That impression can coincide with any number of opinions on abortion, taxation, or whatever (and no particular policy preferences on a broad range of issues.) As long as the impression of the Democrats (or a given Democrat) does not come into direct and seemingly unavoidable conflict with an important issue preference or deeply held principle, the impression can form the basis for political action.
This has implications for how Republicans (and conservatives) should seek to win over Latinos (and to a large extent all voters who do not consume much right-leaning media but do not have strong liberal-leaning policy preferences.) The first thing is to realize that large parts of basic conservative speech is worthless as an appeal. There are lots of people who are unmoved at the thought that government spending is out of control (what does that even mean? it can be explained but still...), who neither fear nor lust for government-run medicine, who don't know that tax cuts are the road to recovery and don't care that the Obama administration's alleged Wilsonian progressivism makes dead George Washington cry in heaven.
One implication for policy is that policy and messaging should focus on tangible benefits to the audience you are addressing. That means that if you are going to build an appeal around tax cuts, you should include significant tax cuts for most of the audience you are appealing to. Compared to Obama's program, the 2008 McCain tax plan, the Ryan Roadmap, and the Pledge to America did not include significant tax cuts to most non-wealth Americans. From personal experience, I think that there is probably a political market among younger Latinos for a policy mix of lower taxes and fewer (though perhaps better functioning) government services. But that would mean actually cutting their taxes rather than having some story about how tax cuts that go to someone else will benefit them in the end. I also think that there is room to move the US tax system that provides tax cuts to young middle-class workers (especially parents) and increases economic efficiency.
Something similar can be said for other policies. It isn't enough to be against socialized medicine. That isn't a scare phrase for alot of people. It isn't enough to be for tort reform. It makes plenty of sense to blame forthcoming premium increases on Obamacare, but it will be just as important to have policies that can plausibly offer life improvements. And the focus of explaining those policies should be on the benefits that individuals would derive. It would include explaining how reforming Medicaid into a voucherized system of high deductible insurance would decrease the working poor's wait times for seeing a doctor and maybe save the taxpayers money. In fact that last sentence is at least eight words too long to be maximally effective. It would mean explaining how a system that bypassed state mandates and funded reinsurance pools could increase the take home pay of middle-class workers and increase their security of keeping health insurance if they change jobs. It also isn't enough to be pro-life. You have to be clear and gutsy in highlighting the abortion extremism of the Democratic Party. It wouldn't hurt (and it is only just) to remind the public of the visible humanity of the late-term fetuses that much of the senior Democratic leadership wants to have a virtually unlimited license to destroy.
There are of course bad ways to explain these policies. They would include spending alot of time citing journal articles and economic models. They would also include falling into Bob Dole-type Congress talk (I coauthored an amendment to SB 141 to authorize the Secretary of HHS to...) Selling the right policies will have to be a combination of wonkiness and populism.
There is also the issue of the media environment. You will have to get people where they are which would mean using paid media to get to people who aren't consuming right-leaning media (with focus on the Comedy Central bloc of show, entertainment programming and Spanish language media.) It would also mean structuring your ad buys differently. Many thirty second ads are only collections of buzzwords and atmospherics. The buzzwords are probably meaningless to your target audience. It might make more sense to buy one ninety second or two minute ad that says something clear instead of four thirty second ads that don't effectively communicate anything.
Personal note: I'll be away tomorrow. See (well, read) you on Friday.
Men and Women
Should the Republicans get a majority in one or both houses of Congress, how will the President react? My guess is that he won't be in an accommodating mood. President Obama seems to be the kind of liberal who thinks that his analysis of things is the simple truth. Others may come to different conclusions, but that's only because they have not thought hard enough about things, or, perhaps, they have narrow, or interested motives. In short, they are political; he is not. Obama sees his ideas as being above politics; those who disagree with him are being political, and dividing us. By contrast, his ideas are designed to unite us. If that analysis is correct, he will dig in against a majority that disagrees.
One further point on the same subject. President will probably also think he can imitate President Clinton, and get the GOP Congress to overplay its hand. He may be able to do that. On the other hand, after 1994, the main elements of the
I'm not sweating the tightening generic ballot. It probably reflects one of two things. First, some polls have a too large number of self-identified Democrats in their voter sample. The second is some Democratic leaners coming home. The second factor is more relevant but should be kept in perspective. The Democrats are going to get their 45% or more of the House vote. I'm confident that Republicans will win control of the House and win 9 to 11 seats in the Senate. I think Angle will win but the Democrats will win close ones in Connecticut and California.
I'm watching the California Senate race because it could be a sign of where politics is going. Republicans should be winning this race. The Republicans have the lousy economy working in their favor. Boxer is an extremist (she is cagey about whether it should be legal to "abort" fully delivered fetuses...ugh...babies), and she has an obnoxious personality. Fiorina isn't a perfect candidate, but she is competent. Fiorina's problem seems to be that Republican gains seem concentrated among two groups. First are right-leaning voters who (if polls are to be believed) are very excited about voting. The second group is made up of white persuadables who don't have a strong liberal/Democrat political identity. The Republicans are getting huge margins among whites. Among white voters this isn't 1994. This is 1984 at the congressional level. In other words, the white voters who aren't voting Republican are committed liberals. That is enough for Republicans to win in most places in 2010, but it might not be enough in California. The Democrats are, under very adverse circumstances, doing surprisingly well among Latino and African American voters. Obama's job national job approval rating among Latinos is 55%. I'm not sure exactly how much stock to place in the California polls, but Boxer seems to be beating Fiorina among Latino voters by about 2 to 1. The problem for Republicans nationally is that the national electorate will look a little more like California's every election cycle starting in 2012. Or to put it another way- if ethnic voting patterns stayed the same, Scott Brown would probably have lost his Senate race in the demographic Massachusetts of 2020.
Now there is no guarantee that the racial or ethnic voting margins of the present will reproduce themselves exactly in the coming decade-plus. But there are reasons to worry. The Democrats are holding undivided power and the American labor market is as bad as anyone under seventy can remember. Unless something changes, the Republicans are near their historical ceiling among white voters and are only barely back where Bush was among Latinos in 2004. The situation points to Republican losses among both groups if circumstances improve even a little.
So that means that Republicans are going to have to earn (or not) gains among Latinos, and probably under less favorable circumstances than they have now. It isn't exactly clear how to go about doing that, but Ricochet's Rob Long asked an interesting question. I'll try to give a tentative answer tomorrow.
Following up on Ken's observation that CNN and other liberals were troubled by politicians and decision-makers attending the Red Mass (or, more generally, attending any Catholic services), one should note that the same media (see today's NY Times - subscription only) runs several articles this morning on liberal Democrats campaigning from the pulpits, and all without the slightest mention of impropriety.
Democrats have always had the privilege of converting churches into campaign pit-stops. The NY Times this morning relates that a local pastor begged his congregation to vote for Andrew Cuomo as the Democrat made his rounds of the local church circuit.
So, Catholic politicians and judges are scolded for attending a Catholic mass which simply articulates Catholic doctrine, yet the same critics find no fault in liberal, usually black churches actually endorsing specific Democrats before turning over the pulpit for those candidates to deliver political stump speeches.
Try to imagine the outrage if a Catholic archbishop declared that the Church was endorsing Sarah Palin - maybe she could also read from her latest book in place of the Gospel before blessing and distributing the Eucharist. (It would, at least, be the only instance in which the NY Times would object to a female usurping the Catholic hierarchy.) Principles find no footing amongst partisans such as these.
In the view of CNN via the LA Times, it is problematic for the Catholic Church to denounce abortion at the "Red Mass"--a Catholic Mass on the Sunday before the Supreme Court's opening of its session, tomorrow. A tradition since 1952, the Mass has attracted both Catholic and non-Catholic Justices, and an audience of several hundred from the local legal and political community.
But recently "Critics have called the attendance of leading decision-makers, including members of the highest court in the land, inappropriate"--for its "unhealthy mix of politics, religion and the law." Indeed, Justice Ginsburg stopped attended because of the tone of the remarks in recent years: "I went one year, and I will never go again, because this sermon was outrageously anti-abortion." As a sign of atonement, perhaps next year a priest should give a homily on foreign sources of American constitutional law.
In keeping with this criticism, I propose that the Catholic Church should henceforth base homilies and readings on Hobbes' Leviathan. The President and the Democratic Congress should ratchet up their treatment of the Court from the last State of the Union address, in order to help exorcise any demons inflicted on the five attendees (and Vice President Biden).
Recall that during the 2008 election, Obama's experience and readiness to take high office was contrasted in the media to that of Sarah Palin, rather than John McCain. Last night, I read that Obama has yet to relinquish his petty war against Fox News. Obama deflected questions of his effectiveness by blaming media outlets which he branded as harmful to America. (Because competing viewpoints which could lead to dissent are definitively un-American.)
A staple strategy of the Obama administration has been to identify hand-picked adversaries against which the president may continuously campaign. When challenged on policy, Obama pivots and attacks Fox News, the Tea Party, John Boehner, etc.
It perhaps seems belittling that the president should descend from the podium in order to relentlessly attack and vilify ideological opponents over which he presides. But it is a method that has served him well.
The gang over at First Thoughts gives us a list of the top twenty (presumably American) animated television series. The ban against animated series based on characters from other media strikes me as arbitrary and inconsistently applied besides (Wikipedia says the Smurfs were adapted from a Belgian comic strip.)
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited belongs in the top five. That show's adaption of (and major improvement on) Alan Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything" is a 22 minute masterpiece about responsibility, the lure of fantasy, and how lived experience can shape and (in a heartbreaking little moment) stunt the ability to imagine (never mind live) an ordinary life.
Yeah, I know I'm taking it too seriously.
The Real Ghostbusters also belongs somewhere on the list.
Also, yesterday I recorded a podcast with Andy Busch on the 2010 races for the U.S. Senate. Thanks to Andy for helping me to better understand the current political landscape. Needless to say, perhaps, Andy sees a lot of gains for the GOP in the Senate, though perhaps not enough to bring about a majority. Andy and I will be talking again soon and will bring you a podcast outlining the House elections as well.