Thursday, August 04, 2005

Advice for Democrats

Check out Jim Wallis's op-ed today in the NYTimes.

My response:

Wallis is correct in his assessment that the importance of "framing" issues is largely overblown. As Wallis notes, the nature of a policy is far more important than the names or slogans associated with it.

Wallis even identifies two policy areas - abortion and protecting children from sleaze/pornography -in which Democrats could take common-sense approaches that would likely resonate with a large portion of the American political center.

However, Wallis himself engages in wishful thinking - and falls into the trap of "framing" -in his discussion of three other policy areas: poverty, the environment, and national security. In short, middle America cares not a whit about the first two - at least insofar as the issues actually affect voting decisions -and does not trust the Democrats with the third (precisely because some Democrats have already followed Wallis's advice).

With regard to poverty and the environment, the issues - whatever moral merit they might have - have absolutely no electoral appeal. It's just that simple. Great masses of voters (i.e. what the Democrats desperately need to attract) do not select political officials on the basis of what those officials will do for OTHER people - whether the OTHERS are poor people, gay people, or left-handed ex-convicts.

And outside of California, the same principle applies to the environment. No matter how many scientists are quoted about (real or hyped) impending environmental disasters, most of America does not care. Seriously, they just don't. Yeah, if you ask them in a survey, they'll say they care about the environment (and about poverty, too, for that matter). But in truth, they care about the environment like they care about whether their local grocery packs with (recycleable) paper or (unrecycleable) plastic. Yeah, it'd be nice if they used recycleable material, but we're not going to drive an extra 2 miles to a different grocery store.

Wallis tries mightily to frame both issues in language that makes them seem more important than most Americans think they are. It won't work (and hasn't).

Wallis's most glaring blind spot, however, concerns national security. When they speak about this issue, Democrats need to excise the word "international" from their vocabulary. "Yes, but Americans need to know that the international..." ZIP IT! "Ok, but the international..." ZIP IT! "But the entire world..." ZIP IT!

America - that is, the majority of Americans in the vast majority of states - do not trust the "international community" or ANY institution of the "international community."

And here's the key part, which Democrats have been flubbing for years:


This means that no matter how bad Iraq is or gets, the solution, for most Americans, does not lie with the UN unless President Bush says it does. No matter how bad the environment gets, the solution does not lie with an international agreement like Kyoto, which - whatever its merits - surely restrains American industry. No matter how much we might want to try Milosevic or Saddam, the solution will not be an International Court in which American soldier could even conceivably could be judged by justices from other countries.

In this discussion, I have not spoken directly of the merit of various policy initiatives. I do have opinions in each of these areas; I sometimes agree with the Democratic position, and sometimes with the Republican view. But my purpose here is only to point out the reality of how these issues are perceived by the American public. And if Wallis's view is emblematic of mainstream Democratic opinion, the Dems still have a lot to learn about the crucial difference between what people (in their view) should care about and what they actually do care about.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Beinart's Fighting Faith - hardly original

Hey all,

Just sent the following letter to TNR, regarding Peter Beinart's now-famous article calling for a transformation of the Democratic Party. I think I've finally sent them something that they won't print, so enjoy:

Peter Beinart is to be commended for his recent, courageous stance advocating a more muscular Democratic approach to foreign policy, which would fully acknowledge - and work to destroy - the threat posed to the world by Al Qaeda and militant Islam. However, it is somewhat ironic that Beinart is now considered the leading proponent of “fighting liberalism,” as he was TNR’s most vocal disparager of the Democrat who prominently voiced a similar position even before the colossal Democratic failure in Election 2004 - namely, Georgia Senator Zell Miller. Granted, Miller’s rousing speech at the RNC contained a number of inaccuracies, and his fiery rhetorical delivery might have struck some reasonable people as intemperate. But, significantly, these were not the grounds upon which Beinart savaged Miller in two separate columns. Rather, Beinart impugned Miller’s speech, and his integrity, because of two elements within it that Beinart first mischaracterized and has now essentially co-opted as keys to his vision of a transformed Democratic Party.

On October 11, Beinart - in an unconvincing, almost paranoid parsing of Miller’s speech - accused Miller of supporting an “antidemocratic vision” because of his statement that “while young Americans are dying…our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief.” But a straightforward reading of Miller’s statement yields only his belief that Democrats were wrongly prioritizing defeating the President above fighting America’s real, external enemies. Or, as Beinart himself now puts it in rebuking certain of his fellow Democrats: “the litmus test of a decent left,” is “the realization that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush.”

In late September, Beinart objected to Miller’s assertion that “No one should dare to even think about being commander-in-chief of this country if he doesn't believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators.” Beinart, here as well, (mis)construed Miller’s statement as a plea for quashing criticism of the administration’s policies: “He was urging Americans to reelect Bush because the president believes Iraq has been a success and Kerry has doubts.” Of course, Miller neither said nor implied any such thing. Indeed, Miller was not commenting upon the success of American operations in Iraq; rather, he was commenting upon the purpose of the mission, which - Miller said - was to liberate the country from tyranny (not occupy it), contrary to the belief of “today’s Democratic leaders.” And, once again, Beinart now echoes Miller’s critique, lecturing the “softs” of the Democratic Party: “Islamist totalitarianism--like Soviet totalitarianism before it--threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world. And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism's north star.”

In the end, sensible Americans - Republicans and Democrats - should welcome support for the task of defeating totalitarianism Islam from whatever corners it should arise, and from that perspective, Beinart’s piece is most welcome. But, for the record, months before Beinart’s tract appeared, it was Miller who spoke the uncomfortable truths about the Democratic Party that Beinart now parrots; it was Miller who invoked the memory of freedom-fighting Democrats like FDR and Harry Truman as models that Democrats should be (but aren’t) emulating; and perhaps most significantly, it was Miller - and not Beinart - who spoke these truths about his party before the election, calculating that the good of the country compelled him to help undermine the electoral fortunes of his own misguided party.

Beinart should reread Miller’s speech; he might be surprised to find that Miller’s “demagogic argument” is not so different from his own.

Also, sign up here to earn a free ipod. I've been told that this really works.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Congrats, Bengals!!

Fellow Bengals fan(s):

Great Win! Take heart, medicority is just around the corner!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Is CNN Shilling for Kerry?

Don't know for sure, but if not, can someone please explain to me this sequence of two sentences?

Fifty-one percent of likely voters said they would back Bush,
and 46 percent expressed support for Kerry.

The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points, meaning the true
leader was unclear.

I never did advance beyond AP Calculus, but doesn't 5 less 3 make 2? And wouldn't that make Bush the "clear" leader according to this poll?

No, and I am a dufus for suggesting it (yesterday) because I fell for the so-called problem of "innumeracy." My thanks to those who pointed it out. The margin of error applies not to the differential between the candidates, but rather to the percentage of support each candidate receives. So CNN, of course, is correct in its analysis. Here's a useful article explaining this phenomenon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Leno Lines

Dude. Jay Leno is funny:

1) The NYTimes reports that Saddam Hussein is depressed and defiant. It seems, he's still claiming that he's the constitutionally elected president of Iraq. He's kind of like the Iraqi Al Gore.

2) Today, the first organized baseball game ever was played in Iraq. Luckily, the game went smoothly. No Iraqi player threw a chair in the stands - which actually happened at a Texas Rangers game last week. And it's a good thing, too. The last thing anyone wants to see is the Shiite hit the fan.

Ow, god. that's awesome. the shiite hit the fan.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Desperate Times

Well, the NYTimes has managed to make my Sunday, (even before tonight's Bengals game). Under the heading (online, at least), "WHAT SHOULD KERRY DO?" the Times offers up four - four - articles by Democratic luminaries, advising Kerry as to the best, or only, way that he can salvage his doomed candidacy.

A couple of observations:

a) The entire premise of this feature - that Kerry's campaign has reached or is reaching disaster status - is exhilarating for those of us who badly want (and expect) Kerry to lose badly.

b) Ok, call me crazy, but who among the following does not belong: Bob Kerrey (successful white male Democratic Senate candidate, member of the 9/11 Comission), Leon Panetta (successful white male Democratic Congressional candidate, Clinton Chief-of-Staff), Donna Brazile (unsuccessful black female campaign manager for Al Gore), or Paul Glastris (white male speechwriter for successful presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Editor-in-Chief of Washington Monthly).

If you named the sister with no notable electoral accomplishments and one massive failure, you win - and you now fully understand the policies of the NYTimes Editorial Desk:

"Hmm, ok, people, think, which Democrats have the credibility to give Kerry advice about how to revitalize his campaign? Ok, Bob Kerrey, not bad - public loved him during the hearings. Panetta, yeah, that makes sense, Clinton's people know how to win. Any other Clinton people we can use? Glastris, excellent, he's got a following on the Hill. Very good.
Oh, crap. All of these are white males. Not good, people. You know the drill. We need at least one African American and one woman. Oh, hey, great idea, Jayson, let's get an African American woman. Hmm, Oprah? No, she told us to stop calling. Maya Angelou? No good, we need someone coherent this time. Miss Cleo? Nah, she's got that corporate scandal going on.
Hmm, Donna Brazile, interesting option. But don't people view her as a loser? Does she have any credibility? I mean, she was campaign manager for Gore!? Oh, you're right, excellent point - I forgot for a minute that she's a Democrat, black and a woman. Silly me. Good work, people."

Ok, the preceding was dramatization, and you might be inclined to dismiss it as simply (not) funny. But I actually think it possible that Brazile was added as an afterthought. Consider, her article is basically the same as Glastris's - each urges Kerry to focus on national security, and Bush's supposed failures in that area. The other two writers each focus on a distinct topic - Kerrey on trade, and Panetta on communicating a consistent message. Why have two writers say the exact same thing? Well, normally that would be odd, but - Oh, you're right, excellent point - I forgot for a minute that she's a Democrat, black, and a woman. Silly me.

c) Speaking of Kerrey's focus on trade - can anyone else here sense Kerrey's obvious frustration as he trumpets a campaign suggestion that is so mind-numbingly boring and vacuous that it should have been Brazile (or some other Gore lackey) who came up with it?

I mean, seriously, shed a tear for Bob. How the mighty have fallen! He can't really believe that the election hinges on

"The Columbus Summit meeting [which] would be a means of giving our political, education and business leaders a venue at which they can reach consensus on trade and globalism."

Due to his supposedly non-partisan post on the 9/11 Commision, Kerrey is in the unfortunate position of being unable to talk about his area of real expertise - foreign policy and terrorism, the overridingly critical issues of this election. Instead, Kerrey must settle for offering lightweight talking point about global trade. You gotta feel for the guy, but - bottom line - just shut up until the Comission is disbanded. You're the only (or, at least, most) viable Democratic moderate in 2008, have some patience.

d) Note the lack of specificity largely evident in these articles. All are bold on broad strategies, but less so on nuts and bolts. As Homer lovingly commented when Bart considered him as a father-role model, "No way. I don't want my fingerprints on that train wreck." (Rough quote, sorry). Thus, we have Kerrey:

"it is vitally important for this consensus (on trade) to be found...However, it simply will not and probably cannot be found during a modern presidential campaign. That is something Senator Kerry must promise to do if he is elected in November."

Terrific, Bob, let's give the voters one more plan lacking specifics.

And Panetta:

"Mr. Bush is most vulnerable on two issues - Iraq and the economy. Mr. Kerry needs to confront the president on both, with specific proposals that make clear the stark choices facing voters."

Gee thanks, Leon. Could you be any less helpful?

And Brazile, advising Kerry to make Bush's greatest strength into a weakness:

"Every day until Election Day, Mr. Kerry should remind voters that the Bush administration is making America less secure."

Great, Donna. You want to explain to us how that is exactly and how to get this message across? Cause the voters seem to think that President Bush's war on terror is actually making them safer. Shouldn't you be bitching about disenfranshised voters in Florida or something? Oops, sorry, Donna, I forgot for a minute that you're a Democrat, black, and a woman. Silly me.

Of the four, only Glastris puts himself on the line and offers specific plans for attacking the President's record and advancing alternatives. Perhaps it's no coincidence that he's the only non-politician (or the least of a political creature) of the bunch.

Go Bengals!!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Richard Pipes Loses his Mind

In writing his mind-blowingly shortsighted NYT op-ed last week, Richard Pipes cast his lot with the head-in-the-ground branch of American conservatism (Think Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, et al).

Pipes's thesis, relating to the Russian-Chechnyan conflict, is fairly simple: The Chechens deserve their own state. Therefore, the attack on Russian schoolchildren - which, Pipes generously allows, was "bloody and viciously sadistic" - is not the same sort of unprovoked, nihilistic act of terror experienced by the United States on September 11, 2001. Chechnya is terrorism with a legitimate purpose. Therefore, "there is always an opportunity for compromise."

There are many holes in Pipes's view of the Chechen issue, and other elements in his argument that may be grounds for legitimate dispute. A few include: a) whether Chechnya is indeed so obviously in the right in its political demands; b) whether the 9/11 attacks should be considered "unprovoked," given that Bin Laden and company many times listed their own political demands. c) Pipes contends that "the Chechens do not seek to destroy Russia." Presumably, he is referring to the terrorists when he says this. How does he know that they do not seek to destroy Russia? d) Using Pipes's logic, the attacks in Russia and Madrid are analogous because each has a specific purpose - Pipes actually makes this comparison himself. So is Pipes in fact suggesting - as he seems to be - that Spain, if it had been possible, ought to have negotiated with the terrorists planning to oust their sitting government? (Remember, in Pipes's logic, as long as the object of terrorists is not the destruction of the terrorized, "there is always an opportunity for compromise.")

All of these considerations, particularly the last, highlight the weakness of Pipes's case. But there is one more issue, a matter in whose light Pipes's argument becomes so utterly ridiculous that Pipes does the only thing he can to combat it - he willfully ignores it. The proverbial elephant in the room here is summed up by the following question: Exactly what kind of government does Pipes imagine the Chechens will erect once the "tiny colony" is granted its "independence"? Will Chechnya be the next Taiwan or, as is almost certain, the next Taliban-run Afghanistan?

Pipes obscures two important realities:

1) Terrorism is not merely a political strategy. It's a particular kind of political strategy, one that tells us something very important about those who practice it, namely, that they reject the moral values cherished by all civilized people and nations on this planet. As they murder masses of innocent civilians - often, as in the case of the Chechens, children are particularly targeted - terrorists are not saying,

"Meet our demands, so that we can grant our people the important freedoms that they do not fully enjoy at this time."

Rather, they are, in effect, saying:

"We don't give a shit about your freedom of speech, and your freedom of the press, and your religious freedom, and your equal rights for women and homosexuals, and your free economies…"

You see, by murdering so many Russian children, the Muslim Chechen rebels (whether they were aided by Arabs or not), have made one thing perfectly clear: an "independent" Chechnya will be a first-order Islamic autocracy. People who feel politically and religiously driven to kill children do not agree to the limits on their power demanded by the democratic, republican form of consensual government.

2) So let us assume that an independent Chechnya will be an Islamic autocracy. Why should that concern us?

This is a question that made sense - or appeared to - until a September morning three years ago. At the cost of thousands of innocent lives, we have now learned that failed autocracies are the breeding ground for global terrorism.

Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky has warned the world, for decades, that totalitarianism must be defeated, not accommodated, in order for human freedom to prevail. Our experiences of the last few years have confirmed Sharansky's contention, with one important addendum: totalitarianism is the enemy of human liberty not only in the totalitarian state itself, but in all places.

Today, as ideologies have become as easily exportable as any other marketable commodity, a small number of totalitarian fanatics - left unchecked, with the tools of corrupted statecraft at their disposal - have the capacity to threaten, coerce, and, indeed, attack the rest of the world in order to achieve their own reprehensible, freedom-crushing ends.

Richard Pipes would have us create one more haven for tyranny. The idea is both morally and politically repugnant, and it must be rejected at all costs.