Sunday, November 30, 2008

"High-Value Professions"

Required reading from Ezra Klein:

Money Quote:
If you're in a high-value profession, hard work can do you a lot of good. If you're not, it may not do you any good at all. And though anyone can work hard, we're mostly able to admit that not everyone has the specific constellation of opportunities that lets you go to law school, or spend your time goofing off in amateur political punditry.

My response below (in his comments section)

Thank you! I've been struggling recently with my own chosen profession--theater--and getting increasingly angry at the fact that people who graduated, say, in the field of investment banking, will make money hand over fist.

I recently saw a statistic (it was quoted as being from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) that said that the median wage for actors in Actor's Equity Association (which not everyone can get into) is roughly $6,000.

$6,000. It's not as though we in the theater are doing something selfish--we raise property values, supplement education (not to mention the esoteric upside of things like cultural value). But we rarely turn a profit.

From a capitalistic point of view, our profession is a waste of time. The "entertainment" and "culture" slots are filled much more effectively by the internet, by the film industry, etc.

When I apply for a job outside of the theater (which obviously I have to, since I don't make anything from my theater yet), they don't look at my theater experience as being ANYTHING at all.

I've fulfilled the role of "stage MANAGER" but I could never be considered for a managerial role; I've led a team of artists on an independent project, raised funds, and controlled a budget. But what is the best job I can land in the quote unquote "real world"? I sold popcorn for Regal Entertainment.

So the question I'm saying that your question raises is, WHAT ARE THE HIGH VALUE PROFESSIONS. And why? Is a teacher not a high profile profession? Is Bill Kristol worth more to the news business than the arts reviewers, who are getting shed like flies? Are hedge-fund managers worth more to us than the much maligned "community organizers"?

A little context: Ezra Klein is a lucky guy, and also a talented guy. He's a political pundit. He's one of the few that I follow regularly, and I've very much enjoyed his status; I don't think it's ill deserved. And he has always used his powers for good--unlike Bill Kristol, who I took a shot at in the comment.

As you can tell, I've been a little irritated by this for a while, and it's kind of building. Because it's the assumption we all work under: only the true, true geniuses will break even--because someone wealthy will back us up.

I'm not bitter at Ezra, or at people who are successful in their fields. But when actors come to politicians for support, we get brushed off, as though we're some sort of luxury. I mean, theater is associated with wealth (because of the cost of high-end theater), but we in the theater business tend to be the poorest of poor. If you go to a Congressman and say, "will you help our small business?" or "Will you help our farmers?" they will at least pretend like they care. But theater? So far from their priority.

We are workers. We fight because we think this is a worthwhile industry; we benefit our communities. Why are we low value?

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Obaminet: National Security

Three new names on the Obama rolls:

John Brennan. Actually, John Brennan isn't in the incoming cabinet, but I would like to point out his conspicious absence, and the letter that announced it. Now, I wasn't at the CIA, and I can't judge how disingenuous or not disingenuous his claim of being passed over because of his opposition to waterboarding is, but what is clear is that A) he did not fight waterboarding outside of the White House, and that B) he was in favor of other methods of torture.

There comes a time to resign. There is a point in a Presidential Administration where if you stay, you are responsible for the Administration's actions. Say what you will about Colin Powell dissenting in private: he stayed in the Administration, and therefore he bears the responsibility of the War in Iraq.

I'm glad that the Obama Administration understands that (I can't believe that the letter was published without Obama's staff knowing). The point is, at least someone had to pay something for their involvement in this terrible event in our history.

Robert Gates. This name has been on the list since the days of the campaign, and the only thing that may have surprised some people (who expected Obama to be a big turn to the left) is that the name is still on the list. I like the rumor I've heard that he may only stay for one year (read: he may only stay until we're out of Iraq). Although Gates has overseen a period of significant progress in Iraq (still not nearly enough), it's difficult to say how much he personally is responsible for that (although this is the reverse flip-side of the aforementioned institutionalized responsibility), and Afghanistan has most certainly not improved (see below).

Also, I do want to see a good solid Democrat replace this position once Gates leaves. I am a little frustrated that the appearance is of there being no qualified commanders on the left. I am very, very much in favor of the next Secretary of Defense being ret. Gen Wesley Clark; Clark is an extremely competent man, a very humble man, a great public figure (if not a very inspiring leader, in the political sense). He's also a Democrat, to prove that we Dems can run our own military.

But that's a consideration that should come second after "who is most competent." I only put forward Clark's name because I think he's very competent (to the limited degree that I, outside the military, can judge competence).

Adm Jim Jones. Another of the "very competent crowd," and someone who John McCain was looking to put in the same position--a nice touch on both scores. But what I find even more important than his position in the marine corps is his position as a former commander of NATO. Right now, our involvement in Afghanistan is going from poor to piss-poor, and part of the problem (or result) is an increasing strain among the relations of NATO nations. France and Germany want to avoid being heavily involved in the fighting, to the dismay of Canada, the UK, and the US. A former NATO Commander in the White House signals a greater degree of military cooperation; the President of the United States will be getting his advice from someone who has worked closely with the military of each of these countries, and as the new President looks to formulate a new plan in Afghanistan (the one thing I haven't heard from him), he's going to be hearing a lot about Europe's role in this.

This inclusion of Europe will apply to other national security issues. How does Europe play into the Israel-Palestine situation? How does it play into the Iran situation? India-Pakistan relations may be the new front to test Obama. No matter what, Europe will be involved in the future of our security. Walking away from that deeply historic bond was one of the greatest failures of the Bush Administration, and walking back will be Obama's first big improvement over our national security environment.

So far, my enthusiasm about Obama's picks have ranged from caution to applause. But Obama's picks are not going to be important based on his reasoning going in. They're going to be judged by what they result in. These three are fairly safe bets, politically; some of his other picks (Clinton most of all) are true political gambles. If they pay off, they pay off big.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Czech "Democracy"

The Czech Republic, like the rest of the Eastern Bloc, like parts of Africa, like parts if the Middle East, like parts of Asia, had democracy imported; after years and years of differing foreign tyrannical rule, they instituted "democracy."

Take everything that I'm about to say with a grain of salt. I've been here three months, but I still don't speak the language. Still, I read the news, hear the faces, and these are my thoughts about the situation.

It didn't work out as great as they'd have liked. Granted, the Czech Republic hasn't slid into Russian-style autocracy, or Lebanese-style chaos. But the two-party system seems to have entrenched itself into a two party system; politics of the worst kind reigns, with most political appointees being unreconstructed Communist. They had a recent uptick in voting: 34% turnout.

What went wrong?

From what I can tell, when the concept of "Democracy" arrived, it was mostly limited to the idea of elections. Political parties still believe that once they win an election, they are the representatives of the people, and therefore power lies with them. So they do stupid things, like appointing extortionists to government positions (due to loyalty), or attempting to censor their public radio on trumped up accusations of fascism--and hiding behind "democracy" when public outrage raises its head.

The point is, that when America severed its ties with England, it was being led by some of the finest political theorists of their period, influenced by the finest political theorists of history. Rosseau, Locke, Montaigne; Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin. And yet, when we first declared independence, the American people still were not the most democratically inclined people; farmers rioted and fought any tax collection, the states refused to cooperate, the people wanted George Washington to be coronated as King.

But the founding fathers leveraged their respect, exerted checks on each other, and by our current age, there was a certain degree of understanding of democracy. Now, not a perfect understanding--even in 2008, the idea of persecuting people based on their un-Americanism still has some traction.

Here in the Czech Republic, it seems that democracy means voting. And once you have won the vote, you have won. It is your turn to rule. That's not democracy. I think George W. Bush might think it is, but most of us agree--the ruler must respect everyone, not just the people who won.

And think--if after 278 years of practice, we still don't know what should or shouldn't be acceptable in a nation of democratic laws, how are we expecting people here to understand?

Working In The Theater

Today one of my classes brought in a fine young gentleman who is a director of Yspilon Theater in the Czech Republic. We asked him a few questions. Here's a pair of choice answers (highly paraphrased, unfortunately, due to my bad stenography skills):

Q: Why did you go into the theater?

A: Well, you know, I'd been involved in some amateur theater in secondary school, and when it came time to choose a school, I decided to apply to [named his Drama school]. But ever since then, you know, I've never had to ask for jobs, you know, to sit down and write applications... they just sort of came to me.

Q: How is government support for the arts? What do you have to do to get government grants?

A: Um. Well. You know, there's a lot of money for the arts here. But I've never really had to, you know, apply for any grants. I don't think I've written a single grant application. We just do what we do, and there is money.

Let me take a moment to quote from a book; the chapter is "The Economic Realities Of Acting," from Acting Is A Job: Real Life Lessons About The Acting Business by Jason Pugatch (2006).

On the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' Web site...the acting profession is bullet-pointed with these warnings:

- Actors endure long periods of unemployment, intense competition for roles, and frequent rejection in auditions.
- Because earnings for actors are erratic, many supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other fields.

Another fine quotation:

Your bare minimum turkey-dog diet annual cost of living is about $18,500... Median annual earnings for an AEA member in 2004 were $6,638.

In other words, in the Czech Republic, if you are an average worker in the theater industry, you will be able to support yourself without effort. In the United States, you will make roughly a third of your cost of living if you are working in the theater industry.

This is not right. I'm not talking about "lack of support for the arts" and "not making culture flourish" or any of those arguments. I'm simply stating the fact that you have an industry in which the median annual salary is one third of the cost of living.

We have failed.

The idea that in any field, if you are good, you can make a living--that is simply wrong. Grossly, grossly wrong.

We work. We put in hours, we create a product which people pay for. We contribute economically--studies show that we raise property values near where we work. Just by virtue of us living in places, we raise the standards of living. And we work. We perform a trade. A trade which is not easy, which takes skills and training--the latter of which costs a lot of money.

This is about economics. The fact that actors can't support themselves means they take jobs in other fields--unskilled service jobs, jobs which the unskilled working class need for themselves. We have a trade. We have managerial skills.

I am sick to death of our job not being considered a job. When I apply for a job, I am treated as though I have no experience. I have worked for money, albeit never for as much as "minimum wage;" in fact, I have managerial experience. Stage Manager. I have been put in charge of a team of 15 and a bare-bones budget, and done something with it. That's something that should make me more skilled in the job market. the idea that my skills and expertise are economically useless, and that I should be waiting tables in order to practice my trade... it should be unheard of.

We need to come up with a plan to make this happen. In this economic downturn, the government has an incentive to help us out: they need us spending money, they need us working, and most of all--they need us to do our skilled jobs so the unemployed can take our unskilled jobs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Culture, Counter-Culture, And...?

The frame of Manichean thinking has set the tone for many years: "you're either with us, or you're against us." After many years of watching a bitterly partisan Congress fail to address the issues of the day, and after watching the subversion of the executive branch caused by a drive for loyalty, I heard someone talking about Joe Lieberman's reprieve and say, "It's about loyalty. He wasn't loyal to the party. He's going to stick a knife in Obama's back."

One of the sins of a two-party system is that it plays into the hands of the Manichean impulse: A versus B, black versus white. Even multiparty systems can fall into it; although the Liberal Democrats are present in Parliament, they fail to particularly budget it.

(What's fascinating about the Liberal Democrats, by the way, is that many of their supporters, when polled, don't believe that their party has any strong effect on politics. I had no idea that they were quite so self-aware--I imagine a similar poll might yield the same results about our Green Party. In a way, a vote for LD or Green or Reform or any other "impossible" candidate/party is simply a protest at this A or B frame--just like a Kucinich vote in the Primary).

In the last post, I discussed the different forces in the Republican Party. In a way, this entire election has broken down the American manichean vocabulary ("left" versus "right"). Some of the strongest supporters of Obama have been those who call themselves "Conservative"--not because they are RINOs in name only, but because what they consider to be "conservative" is what is coming from the Democrats in this election.

More and more of the issues that face us are no longer able to be contained in a left-right bucket; it's interesting that while we are talking about a "team of rivals," most of those rivals are in the Democratic Party. Now, some of that is indeed overblown, but when we talk about Scowcroft being a large influence over Obama's foreign policy advisor, when we see "conservative" economists championing bailouts, we start to wonder: what does left-right mean?

I think, in the long run, this is a good thing. The less we can stereotype the positions of our politicians (think "two of the four most liberal senators"), the more we'll understand where they stand. And they won't be able to use short euphemisms for their positions anymore. I remember one of the early Republican debates, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain were each talking about "good Conservative values," and each (I can almost guarantee) had a completely different definition for each of those. I remember when Samuel Alito and John Roberts were nominated to the Supreme Court, hearing conservative groups saying that they were pleased with the "conservative nature" of the nominations; Congress, on the other hand, failed to ascertain the "conservative nature" of those nominations. (After all, isn't the Unitary Executive big government?)

I'm not optimistic that we'll reach a point where "left" and "right" leave the vocabulary of our politics. After all, it's a time-honored tradition dating back to the oh-so-effective French Revolution (if the French Revolution had worried less about "left and right" and loyalty to the cause, and worried more about the integrity of the country and the living conditions of the citizens, things would have been different.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Republican Coalition

The old days of the Republican Party was a four-way coalition, between:

Military hawks

They linked together for various reasons: industrialists have often been on the side of the military (see: military-industrial complex), libertarians have often been on the side of business (see: "I'm fundamentally a deregulator"), Christianists needed the local control that Libertarians promote (see: faith-based initiatives).

The Bush Administration frayed many of those links. Firstly, privatizing the military has had significant blowback (no-bid Halliburton contracts, Blackwater insanity); the foreign policy buffs have been separated from the Neoconservative ideologues thanks to the failure in Iraq (take career-military like Robert Gates, and then take Neocons like Wolfowitz). Secondly, in a bad economic downturn the business-folks need a little bit of "big government." Thirdly, many Christians left the Christianist wing, believing that the fight against poverty or the environment might be more important than imposing Christianist views in local communities. Fourthly, the poor fiscal policy (and privacy policies) of the Bush Administration has convinced some Libertarians that the Democratic Party might just be the party of a smaller government.

So now we see the Republican Party looking for a new organizing principle, and they have two clear directions: the Christianist direction, and the Libertarian direction. The military and the business parts of the Republican Party have always been the more pragmatic; Christianists and Libertarians are the more ideological.

The question is, who can appeal to which segments of the market? Are Christianists going to find a message they can sell to business, to the military, and to Libertarians? Or are Libertarians going to be able to win over the other markets? Is the grass-roots support for Mike Huckabee (and later Sarah Palin) the face of the new GOP? Or is the grass-roots support for Ron Paul the future?

Considering as most who voted for Ron Paul in the primary wound up supporting Barack Obama, and considering as Paul raised far more money and got a comparable level of votes, I think the Paul direction is the best for the Republican Party. It appeals more to the center, who want to dissociate from the absolute failure of the Bush Administration without capitulating to the opposite direction.

If a politician appears in the GOP with the savvy of Ron Paul and a little less of the extremism, he's poised to start making a killing. That's why I think Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is the future or the party. He's a smart man--smart enough to say No to John McCain. He seems to understand that in an election that seemed overwhelmingly to back Health Care, Republicans can't simply say "no" to health care, they need to find the Republican answer to it. His new Medicare reforms are the first step to finding that answer.

I don't know that much about Bobby Jindal, but if these sorts of things turn out to be consistent in his record, he's going to be positioned for a very interesting 2012 run. And as I almost always say before an election, my mind will be open to him. I have a lot of faith and support for Barack Obama, and if he has accomplished 1/10 of what he's setting out to do by 2012 then he can probably count on my support. But I will make that decision in 2012. It all depends on what the new GOP looks like.

Obama Transition: Two Weeks

President-Elect Obama celebrated two weeks from the election this week (actually, he celebrated VP-E Joe Biden's birthday).

So, what's going on? What's the news? He's made the following appointments:

Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton.

After an agonizing week+ of rumors, hemming and hawing, with both sides giving themselves plenty of room to back out (for Clinton, it was rumors that she might decline the offer; for Obama, it was the intensive background check on Bill Clinton), today NBC News is reporting that after Thanksgiving this will be made official. This positions Clinton to run for President in 2012, if she so chooses. It also sets off a new battle in New York State over her empty Senate seat.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle.

Another heavyweight from Democratic Party Past, Daschle's appointment has certainly put to rest any discussion of Howard Dean as HHS chair. The HHS position is more important than ever before, with this new healthcare mandate. In fact, the exposure might position him for either a 2012 run for Presidency, or a return to the Senate. At any rate, a political career which could have been ended years ago has been given a solid boost.

Secretary of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano.

This one is a little further from being confirmed, but the scuttlebut seems to be very set on this. Governor of Arizona (a border state, the first Governor to call for the President to release some of her National Guard from Iraq to serve on the border), she was pegged to run for a seat in the Senate in 2010 against John McCain--and may have given him a strong run for his money. This may be a life-line for John McCain, pulling her out of that position of competition, or it may be a death-blow, if she returns from SecHS with even more good repute and political chops in 2010.

Attorney General: Eric Holder.

There is very little of interesting meat on this appointment, even if he is the first African-American attorney general (a fact that might have drawn more attention if not for the first African-American President). A member of the Clinton Team.

Chief of Staff: Rahm Emanuel.

Old news, but he's part of the theory I'm working up about Obama's selection process.

OMB Head: Peter Orszag.

Not an interesting position, but I am excited on a personal level by Orszag: a blogger (hooray for 21st Century transparency) and one of the first people to use poetry in a CBO budget, as part of a joke he shared with David Brooks during a public event. Otherwise, irrelevant.

What's Going On?

Barack Obama, like many Presidential hopefuls since Andrew Jackson, positioned himself as an outsider. He came promising "change." His transition website is called "" Why is he choosing a staff of almost exclusively beltway insiders?

Well, actually, I think that fits right in with his message of change, as much as I'm irritated by certain individual picks (Clinton, basically; Napolitano a bit; don't know how to feel about Daschle). See, when George W. Bush entered Washington back in the day, he was the outsider candidate, who would shake up beltway politics. And unlike Barack Obama, a lot more of his team were composed of his team from Texas.

So Obama is not picking "outsiders" for his transition cabinet. Because he doesn't think changing faces is what "change" is about. Obama came to change the policies of Washington; and to change its dysfunctional me-versus-you politics. But if he's going to change the policies of Washington, he's going to have to be effective. And that means people who know the levers, how to grease the wheels of Congress, how to make things run.

It remains to be seen whether his message will be diluted. But I don't think it will. Because he's the President now. He calls the shots.

The election was about "Change." These cabinet picks are about whether "we can believe in" that change. If Tom Daschle is the man to get a comprehensive health-care bill passed, then it doesn't matter what the political narrative is.

And there's also this Team of Rivals theory he's apparently married to. He believes that Iran should be talked to. Hilary Clinton is skeptical. Between the two of them will be a fiery debate as to what to do about Iran. The plan they come up with will be better for it.

Obama is not making things easy for himself. He's got an ambitious platform, and he's taking a bunch of determined, ambitious people on board with him to get it done.

We can't judge these choices now, I don't think. There will always be a rationale that makes these choices make perfect sense, and an opposite rationale as to why it will have been a huge failure. What matters is the results.

Stay tuned. The next four years will not fail to be interesting.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Affirmative Action For The Poor

Required Reading

Richard Kahlenberg would like to see a new Affirmative Action scheme target the poor, rather than minorities. I agree wholeheartedly. I also would like to point out that Nebraska and, seemingly, Colorado have rejected their previous Affirmative Action schemes in the most recent election.

It reminds me of the reason that the Estate Tax was first introduced: in order to redistribute the wealth, to help buttress against wealthy families simply passing wealth along.

That is all. Please pay attention, President-Elect, and incoming Congress.

The Return Of The Liberal

Paul Krugman says that Obama is a return to FDR.

It's not a very surprising sentiment, on the face of it. After all, FDR is to the modern Democratic party what Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan is to the modern Republican party. It's also not surprising because we've all been hearing about how this is the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression--i.e., since Roosevelt appeared on the scene to make it better. And lastly, of course, the loser in the most recent Presidential Election espoused certain positions which haven't been endorsed since President Herbert Hoover (notably, McCain's spending freeze).

What I was interested in, in Krugman's article, was a throwaway line from Rahm Emanuel, the new Chief of Staff. He said, of the opportunity that Obama has to really hit the progressive agenda, “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste.”

Naomi Klein's provocative book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism talks about how the Bush Administration and corporations like Haliburton cooperated to find ways to profit from the rebuilding necessary after large-scale destruction; usually through the Bush Administration's waves of privatizations after disasters. The argument always struck me as being similar to 1984, where the governments described in the book spend money, resources, and time building massive seafaring fortresses, and then sink them so that they'll need to build more. The idea is to use whatever situation exists to your own profit. Plain opportunism.

Rahm Emanuel is an opportunist. He wants to see the crisis as an opportunity to pass reforms. I would merely caution him to use the crisis to pass needed reforms. The PATRIOT Act is a fantastic example of using a crisis to pass unneeded reforms; and overexploiting the moment will only hurt your legacy and lead to a backlash in the future. Part of bipartisanship is knowing how hard to press the minority you're working with.


I am a Californian, and thus am part of the collective Californian shame that is Proposition 8. Furthermore, I decided (before I had heard of Prop 8) to register to vote in New York, rather than in California; that increases my personal guilt over the matter--after all, my vote was a vote that wasn't cast on behalf of the LGBT community.

I'm watching the LGBT/fellow traveler community pull back, and consider their strategy. Some are reacting with anger. Some are turning to the judiciary; the ACLU promptly filed a lawsuit to have Prop 8 declared unconstitutional (a long shot) and a movement was born to demand the IRS review the Church of Latter Day Saints' nonprofit status (with good cause, from a tax-law perspective). Others are counseling outreach (and I agree with them completely, aside from any other consideration), saying that what we failed to do was to reach those communities who were in favor of Proposition 8 and really convince them of the right of homosexuals.

One aspect of the debate which sticks out to me is this obsession over whether homosexuality is a choice or is genetic. I strongly believe that genetics determines sexual attraction. The question is, can we reach people who think homosexuality is a choice?

I would like to think that the science and the testimony of homosexuals (every gay person asks the same question: "Do you really imagine me one day waking up to decide to become a part of a marginalized community at the age of eight?") would eventually reach all of those who currently oppose the rights of LGBT. But what I resent is the implication that, if homosexuality were a choice, that it would be banned.

Take, for instance, adultery. Adultery is something that is inherent in us, but the specific action of adultery is a choice (in the way that a homosexual can decide whether or not to partake in sex in particular instances--they're not compulsive, after all). Adultery is no longer banned in most countries; in the United States it varies from state to state with various penalties (Michigan: life sentence; Maryland: $10 fine). But ever since the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas struck down sodomy laws, it has been questionable whether even those few adultery laws hold.

Of course, we're not talking about Federal bans on LGBT marriage. But we are talking about withholding rights from people who are in the LGBT community. The question on that issue should not revolve around whether or not its a choice.

Let's invent, as a mindgame, some sort of ridiculous law that uses the same logic. Let's say that California said that "in order to register as a member of the Democratic Party, you must be married to a person who is also registered as a member of the Democratic Party." After all, people who survive in bipartisan marriage must have some divided loyalties.

Clearly, you can choose to change your party registration. You can also choose to marry, but not have the rights and privileges accorded to someone who is happily married to a fellow Democrat. All the Californian government is saying is that some bipartisan marriages will not be recognized. Even though the element of choice enters into the equation, it is irrelevant: the Californian government should not force you to choose between your desire and your rights.

That's why the interracial marriage argument is so interesting: it compares gay marriage (which involves a non-chosen sexuality) to interracial marriage (which is a choice). But why are they actually comparable? Because love is a private matter. If you are in love with something, you may have a choice in terms of your action, but love is an emotional state that cannot truly be tamed.

The point that I'm laboriously working towards is that even if we can choose to overrule our emotions, it is not healthy to do so. When Thomas Jefferson amended "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property" to "the pursuit of happyness," the implication is that you should not have to choose between the law and your own happiness, whether that should be peace of the home (the little-used Third Amendment and the privacy rights in the Fourth), or of opinion and association (the First Amendment).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Next Appointment

President-Elect Obama will be facing an important appointment in the near future. More important to the Obama household than the Treasury Secretary, or the Secretary of Homeland Security: the first pet.

Obama has, like many presidents before him, has had pets. He'll need to set an example, in his pet selection, that he understands the problems that face America. He cannot repeat Herbert Hoover's mistake of owning 2 alligators at a time when America was facing its worst crisis in history.

His family is agitating for a puppy. Republicans, I've heard, oppose that, and are staunchly in favor of the new President being a cat-owner--after all, dogs are naive, and many experts agree that a puppy will not have the experience with people required to be the first dog. After all, the First Pet should be house-broken on Day One. How will it look if the First Pet piddles on the leg of a foreign dignitary? If he digs up the Rose Garden?

But I part ways with the Republican Party, and I buck the Democrats who are firmly in the hand of Big Puppy. I have my own nomination for the role of first pet.

A ferret.

PLEASE MR. OBAMA NOMINATE A FERRET TO THE WHITE HOUSE. We have never had a ferret in the white house. We've had alligators as first pets, a pygmy hippo, cows, goats, horses, ponies (Kennedy had plenty of ponies, fitting in with his platform of promising everyone a dream), rodents (Andrew Johnson fed white mice he found; he was a fairly spineless President), and a lion cub. But even with these forward-thinking appointments, we still have a White House which has been dominated by a Dog Majority.

Ferrets are smart. They are sleek and attractive--setting a good example on the obesity front. They are playful. But they are also aggressive: like Rahm Emanuel, they'll bring a sharp set of teeth to your staff.

Some may say that they smell, or that they shed. Isn't that a small price to pay for the opportunity to make history, Mr. Obama?

Seriously people, he's getting a dog. Calm down.

My favorite part of writing this post? Looking at the list of presidents. Hoover had alligators? Coolidge practically had a menagerie! What is it with the 1920s and RIDICULOUS PET CHOICES.

Open Letter To Dr. Ron Paul

Later this month, the Republican Party in Congress will be meeting to elect new leadership in the House. Any leadership challenge for the party is an opportunity to define a new direction, as I'm sure you understand from your run for the Presidency. Much noise is being made that the most recent election is the end of conservatism, or that the Republican Party has nothing left to offer the American People except the same rejected platform that President Bush offered America for the last eight years.

I'm writing to urge you: please challenge Rep. Boehner for House Minority Leadership.

When you first appeared to me on the national stage, challenging the more likely Republican presidential nominees in the beginning of the primaries, I was instantly struck by what you stood for. Every step of the way, you fought for a return to conservative principles, calling for the Republican Party to openly repudiate President Bush, to return to its small-government principles. This is the message that the Republican Party should have communicated in 2008. Perhaps it would have won on this message, or at least come closer to winning. But in choosing John McCain, it chose to continue standing by the Neoconservative movement.

You saw John McCain try to pretend to be you. He tried to pretend to oppose his party, when nobody has made such a clean break with President Bush while still remaining a true conservative as you. You saw John McCain pretend to be against redistribution of wealth, even though he never truly opposed it in a flat-tax scheme such as the one you have proposed. As a result, it never really rang true in the electorate.

You were one of the few people who was questioning Alan Greenspan's policies back when he was still at the Fed. Many else were buying into the Cult of Greenspan, assuming that his knowledge of the situation far dwarfed their own, and allowing him to do his work. You also voiced your opposition to the Iraq War, which most Americans now agree with. If the Republican Party is going to move forward, they're going to need to prove that they have more than ideology: that they have foresight, the ability to see problems as they approach, not just react to them once they're here.

People are also discussing how the Republican Party has lost the young, the educated. How Barack Obama captured an excitement around his ticket that the Republican Party could never capture. But you, in your primary run, proved to be exciting and inspiring to a large block of conservative independents who could not continue to support Bush, but didn't want to turn to a liberal agenda. When John McCain became the candidate, most of those who supported you wound up supporting Barack Obama.

Your fundraising and organizational skills proved to be incredible. You set a record for a single day of fundraising; you outshone all of your opponents in fundraising during the primaries; while John McCain was going bankrupt, you were showing the same internet savvy that Barack Obama was using to his own great success.

In short, if the Republicans in the House choose to reelect John Boehner, then the conservative movement will be out of touch with the people. They will still be trying to appeal to the voters as if it were still 2002. They need a new direction, and they need to be in touch with reality. They need someone who is willing to say, "This is where we went wrong," because until the Republican Party can do that it can never truly win the trust of the American people again.

It will be an uphill battle for you. Even if you don't win the Minority Leadership, however, it will benefit the House Republicans to have an open debate about their future. The idea that they may simply retain Boehner without even wondering if there is an alternative is possibly the worst outcome at all,

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Winner: Nate Silver

Congrats, also, to Nate Silver, whose polling website was by far the most accurate tracking of the election.

I was skeptical when Nate Silver appeared on the scene (from my perspective), decrying Real Clear Politics' polls as being slanted to the right. I agreed with him that RCP should publish their math. Polls are, in my mind, political science, and as such they should have open, repeatable methods. Also, as journalism, they shouldn't be a black box.

But his own method struck me as fishy. He purported to "adjust for the bias" in various sources; trying to take the right out of Fox and the left out of MSNBC seemed to me to be a very interpretive battle. And anything interpretive becomes open to bias.

But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The most important test for scientific theory is whether it can accurately model and predict reality. And seeing how accurate his numbers were, Nate Silver won on that score in this election. Congrats, Nate Silver. I'll keep watching your coverage of politics in the future to see if you can keep it up. As long as you continue to accurately model reality, you're my pollster.

"An Historic Night"

Last week's election was truly historic. Not because of race.

Yes, I mean, it was historic because of race, but something which I find to be equally important is another reason: class.

There were four candidates running head to head. One came from a reasonably successful family (a distinguished military, the McCains) and had married into even more wealth.

The other three came from truly working-class backgrounds.

P-E Barack Obama grew up in the tough parts of Chicago. His father left him when he was young, he went to live with his grandparents, he got involved with drugs.

I'm not saying P-E Obama was poor when he got elected. I'm just saying that he started out poor.

VP-E started on the streets of Scranton. He also is not poor nowadays, but even with the setback of losing a wife and child in a car accident, he managed to keep struggling forward until his success today.

Sarah Palin, say what you will about her, was born to two teachers in a rural community. With not the most prestigious of degrees (sports journalism) she too worked her way up to something you will call a reasonable amount of success.

What history showed is that you don't have to have a name from a well-known family (the Clintons actually go back to the founding of the country; George W. Bush is at the end of a dynasty, the Kennedys became a dynasty) and he didn't grow up in a rich white background. They're not the first in this respect, but to have so many--and for them to be so successful, it still something very important to note.

The Changing Definition Of "Pro-American"

I was listening to Prime Minister's Question time, listening to Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron compete for ownership over Obama's mantle. Of course, neither of them have it; Gordon Brown is connected to the liberal policies of Obama's positions, but the sentiment of change against an unresponsive government is easily picked up by David Cameron.

But that's not really the point, from my perspective (I'm not in England). I'm fascinated by the way the Obama election has completely changed the idea of "pro-American" and "anti-American." Was the break in sentiments toward America so transformed by Bush in 2000? Clinton in 1992? I think they were when Reagan succeeded Carter, but that's pre-history to me.

Sarkozy and Harper are two world leaders who spring to mind as having been labelled as "pro-American." Really, what it meant was that they're in favor of the neoconservative agenda. Will they continue to support America in the way they have, or will they be more connected to America's Republican Party?

Will anti-Americanism in the Middle East really be transformed? Within a few days of the election, the Shiite and Sunni blocks of the Iraqi Parliament were already progressing much faster in their negotiations with the Bush Administration over the political and military handover. Several cited the fact that although they distrust the Bush Administration, they have more confidence in an Obama Administration being fair to them.

Some places are less than enthused. Pakistan, for instance, which Obama said he would be willing to launch raids into (with clear intelligence and facing resistance from Pakistan), has reason to be less than enthused. Other countries who are feeling excited about Obama might slowly discover that Obama is not necessarily on their side.

Russia and China both took a full day to respond to Obama's win. They truly expected a McCain win, according to some, and don't know how to react. How will Prime Minister Putin relate to Obama? How will President Hu?

Syria voiced its praise for Barack Obama, and that it was looking forward to working with him. Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister (who is looking to win in elections in February against hardliner Benjamin Netenyahu and labor party leader Ehud Barak--who may himself be replaced before February) warned Obama that speaking directly to Iran might be interpreted as "weakness" (I wonder if Tzipi Livni has ever met Rahm Emanuel?). It will be difficult to stay on Israel's side, in the coming years, but certainly other countries will be closer to us.

Change has arrived already.

Conversationalism: Pot Smokers Stand Up For Themselves

The Agitator is making a list of successful pot-smokers.

I think that's the best, best, best way of going about this conversation about marijuana. Constructive. Illuminating. Even I, who knew that there were successful pot-smokers, was unaware of the scope and scale.

On Rahmbo

Now, before I talk about Rahm Emanuel's appointment to the position of Chief of Staff, I'd like to point out that I'm 20 years old. I started really following politics after 9/11, at the age of 13, so much of the Clinton Administration really is "before-my-time." He's the President I came of age under. My family has very strong support from him. I had a more idealized image of who he was back then; since then, I've had my impressions of him moderated. I still respect his Presidency: I think he struck a tone of bipartisanship and, on a number of issues, left a lasting positive change. On issues like NAFTA and Yugoslavia, I think President Clinton will be remembered well. It is highly unfortunate that his own personal failures overshadowed the Administration's vision and successes.

That being said, Rahm Emanuel is part of that team, but at the time he was there, I was never in any way aware of what he did. I didn't, at the time, know what the Chief of Staff did; I assumed it was just a sort of secretarial position. I was, remember, less than 13.

Well, since then, I've learned a lot about government (and watched a lot of West Wing). But I still don't have the same insights on members of Clinton's administration, except from what I've read in hindsight; looking back.

That's how I'm learning about Rahm Emanuel, aka "Rahmbo." I had heard his name bandied about with consternation by the right wing; now that he is the Chief of Staff I've read the stories of him stabbing things, giving people rotten fish. It sounds like he has an incredible wrath. Will he listen? Will he be the bipartisan man to bring about Obama's agenda? Will he really prove the counterpoint to Nancy Pelosi?

I'm concerned.

I do have to say one thing though. It's encouraging that man who shares a background that is to a certain extent similar to mine has a career in politics. I hope I'm not a divisive figure.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Expelling Heretics

The term "dissident" comes from a latin word, "dissidencia," which was first used in the Middle Ages during meetings of various factions of The Church (pre-schisms), and the term meant "Those who seek the same goal by a different path." The importance of the emergence of that term was that it gave space to those in The Church to voice their dissent without being heretics. This is important, because a healthy movement cannot remain healthy unless it gives space for its members to have less than 100% loyalty. Martin Luther King Jr, as an example, did not think America was perfect. But he loved it, and he helped it change for the better.

The Republican Party is in the middle of asking itself: dissident or heretic?

For the right, from Red State (I refuse to link to them) via Matthew Yglesias:

RedState is pleased to announce it is engaging in a special project: Operation Leper.

We’re tracking down all the people from the McCain campaign now whispering smears against Governor Palin to Carl Cameron and others. Michelle Malkin has the details.

We intend to constantly remind the base about these people, monitor who they are working for, and, when 2012 rolls around, see which candidates hire them. Naturally then, you’ll see us go to war against those candidates.

Clearly, RedState has an answer: Heretic. Anyone who opposes Governor Palin, anyone who doesn't toe the... well, not even the party line, but the party-base line, the ideological line, must be cast out. Expelled. They're a heretic.

Now, I have to say that these McCain campaign workers who are going around after the fact complaining about Sarah Palin and talking about how bad she was even though they worked tirelessly to try and get her in the White House... well, I have as much respect for them as I have for Scott McLellan or Colin Powell, who may have discretely voiced dissent at the time but pretended to be 100% partisans in public, thus denying us the ability of private debate. But that's a different issue, that stems to me all the way back to the Saturday Night Massacre, when a huge chunk of the Attorney General's Office were fired because they refused to replace the Independent Prosecutor in charge of Watergate.

But still, they are members of the Republican Party. Even if they're complete hacks, they get to choose their political affiliation. If Republicans will hire them, or they win primary elections for the Republican Party, they're in the Party, and they can lend their voice. They can dissent, even if they choose not to when it matters.

The Soft-Bigotry Of High Expectations

Daniel Larison:

What I am trying to say is that we should not set up the next President for failure by making such grandiose, unfounded claims about what his election will mean for our relations with the rest of the world. The next administration is going to enjoy a long honeymoon, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but we should all be as sober and clear-eyed as possible about what a President Obama is realistically going to be able to do and what he isn’t.

Well, yes and no. Conventional wisdom in all quarters is that either Barack Obama will prove to be the Second Coming, or there are going to be a lot of disappointed people. When it turns out his Health Care Plan isn't just a laying-on of hands and curing our collective leprosy, but probably will be a human system with human problems--and may or may not pass, may or may not conflict with his other problems, etc. etc.--well, on that day, certain folks will look at us and smile.

Larison is correct that it's important to distinguish between the tone of the Obama campaign and the substance. As one commenter noted, it's hard to tell the difference between a President who sees cross-border raids into Pakistan and supported Israel's incursion into Lebanon as a substantive change in policy.

These concerns are well-founded. I, myself, as an Israeli in the Jewish-American community, was extremely upset at the sucking up Obama did at the AIPAC event during the primary election; for many years I have believed that Israel's position of privilege in our politics that have complicated our role as a mediator.

On the other hand, there is still a substantive change in the policies that are coming. It has to do with the style in which decisions will be made. Barack Obama looks at the facts. He listens to allies and to enemies. He speaks and he thinks before he acts.

Are those substantive changes in policy? They don't sound like it. But they actually are. When we talk about war being "the option of last resort"; how often is Obama going to be forced to resort to it? President Bush was forced to resort to it repeatedly (and would have more, if he had the resources) because he lacked the patience and the listening skills to be able to cooperate. He was willing to fabricate facts and gun it alone.

Specifically on the issue of Pakistan raids: one of the conditions he attached to that is if they have a very clear intelligence on Bin Laden and the Pakistanis refuse to do anything about it he would strike. Yes, I understand the various complications around that. But at a certain point, Obama is going to have to go it alone sometimes. And yet I have more optimism that Obama would be more successful at getting the Pakistanis to do something about it.

In general, Larison's point stands: let's not be too hyperbolic in expectation about Obama. But talking up Obama's opportunities is not a negative gesture: in The Audacity of Hope (I don't have my copy with me, so I'll paraphrase), he talks about "split-screen vision"; with one eye, you see things as they could be, and in the other eye, you see things as they are. Yes, Obama's presidency will not be all of our hopes and dreams. But we should have hopes and dreams, and continue to evaluate Obama's presidency in those terms.

And unlike President Bush, when he fails to live up to the original deal, it should be us, the followers, the supporters, the ones who fought hard to get him there and bought into his hope, need to be the ones to keep him on the right path.

The Independent Voter

Megan McArdle:

Every time we have an election, the partisans confuse the fact that the independents disliked the opposition candidate, with the idea that the independents joined their party. The independents did not want to stomp the Democrats in 2004, and they do not want to stomp the Republicans now. They are not interested in advancing the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party, any more than they were preparing to hand the Republicans a "permanent majority" in 2004. And when the various parties act as if it is so--as if the independents had actually voted to join their power-hungry two-minutes-hate, rather than voting for the guy they thought would best shelter them from the vicissitudes of fate . . . well, for the last few elections, they've had their asses handed to them on a silver platter two years later.

Yes. McArdle's original point was that partisans take such an election to be a broad mandate for the destruction of the other party. I agree with her on that point: just because Republicans have been handed electoral defeat does not mean the independent voters want their destruction, are stomping them out.

In order for independent voters to be satisfied one way or the other, one basic thing must happen: they must be satisfied that one guy is better than the other guy.

Now, if one guy sounds like the guy who's in power, and people are unhappy at the people in power, that guy will probably lose. But, the other guy has to show that he is going to be better. So: loser must be shown to be bad, and winner must be shown to be better.

I mean, that's basically the heart of the election. John McCain did not manage to distinguish himself enough with Bush, and Barack Obama managed to convince people that he (despite inexperience and, for some people, despite race) would be better.

That's what happened. And ironically enough, the catch-word in this election was change. Not just from the Republican Party (which is what I loathed about Dean's "Anyone But Bush" approach) but to something. And Change encapsulated changing the Democrats too--after all, the Democratic Congress was the one that set the record of unpopularity, beyond the Republican ones under Bush. Independent voters are very open to change. In four years from now, they may change back, if they feel like it.

What makes a party partisan is an ideology; ideology implies a long-term sense of history. Party partisans think they see into the future and see the past clearly; they think that an election is a referendum on ideology. How much of the actual debates, the actual campaign ads, etc. are actually devoted to the esoteric field of political philosophy? Not much. That is left to the politicians and the highly informed journalists; to the partisans and to the people who speak their language.

The independent voter, on the other hand, is looking at today's problems and looking at the candidate's in terms of today's solutions. That's why they're accused of having a short memory span; for instance, when John McCain made his talking points "earmarks" I think people looked at that and said, "Yeah, that's nice, but that's not today's problem." Terrorism as a concern came in at 8% because, well, only 8% of Americans are actually concerned about it at the moment. Duh. Today's problem is not terrorism: it's the economy. It's the Iraq War. It's health care.

In the year 2000, what were the problems on people's minds? I can't really point to anything specific over all. After all, we were still riding the gravy train. The result? A near 50-50 election. Why? Because it didn't really matter one way or the other. Now, if someone had sorted through the difference in Bush's ideology and Gore's ideology they would have probably come to a clear decision one way or the other. But most independent voters don't. That's what makes them independent.

Two Misconceptions

1) The "Center-left" "center-right" kerfuffle: many commentators are taking to task the assumption that the United States is a "Center-right" Country. My question: how do we judge "center right" versus "center left"?

If you go by international opinion, we are clearly far to the left fringe in terms of democracy, civil rights, and freedom; economically we're somewhat to the right but not very far. But I don't think the pundits are comparing us to countries like China, Indonesia, Iran, or Afghanistan (just to name a few).

In terms of comparing us to "The West" or the other first-world countries, I think it would be accurate to say we're "Center right." After all, Barack Obama is considering a National Health Care plan, and will meet into a lot of opposition; but even his plan does not go as far as England's, France's, or Canada's (unless I'm misunderstanding his plans and theirs, which is possible). Then again, one question that comes up is how much does this "left-right" polarization actually mean when you leave the conventional two-party system and compare different world multiparty governments?

Why the pundits are wrong: when I heard CNN consultants and other talking heads defend this claim, they said that yes, the election did lean to the left, but Barack Obama and many of the Democrats ran a fairly centrist ticket. One commentator (and her sentiments were echoed) said that the Dems couldn't win without endorsing "certain right-wing philosophies: anti-abortion, pro-gun" etc.; basically, the social conservative litmus tests. This is a bad argument, because firstly, it ignores the more important issues of economic and foreign policies in favor of the old "culture war" model (why did the Democrats and Obama win? because they abandoned the "culture war" model).

2) McCain's Campaign Is No Worse Than Any Other Republican Campaign. Perhaps. Perhaps it's true that McCain is no less or more toxic than Bush in 2000, or Reagan in 1980. That is not the point. The point is is that this time, we've decided that it's not acceptable. The point is not that McCain's campaign's race baiting and McCarthy-era rhetoric is unprecedented, or that it conforms to the previous norm. The point is that we've decided to change the norm. We just won't put up with it any more. A politician who goes down that road will be punished. If we reward the politicians who play cleaner, and knock the politicians who go on the offensive, we'll get a better class of politicians. After all, the entire meme of "Change" is precisely that the old norms no longer apply. We are not content to have our politicians match up to the politicians of 2002, or 2000. We're out to change politics.

Open Letter To Barack Obama

President Barack Hussein Obama.

Congratulations sir. As someone who saw your speech in 2004, and instantly heard your call to transcend the red-versus blue to create United States as one of the most genuine calls to unity in our time, you've had this coming, sir. I had initial doubts about your readiness in 2004, and you answered them--not through stunts, or through loudly insisting that you were ready, you were ready, you were ready, but simply by being ready. You've earned the "historic" label that has been foisted upon you; you've earned a 64% turnout.

Now, it is government time.

There are incredible opportunities across the world, and you've got to act quickly to make sure you're taking full advantage of them. The strange world of the "President-Elect" is odd to navigate, and it may not be fully proper to be starting until the transition period is over, but you need to keep these things in mind.

The Democratic Party is yours. We in the party (I have never conceived of myself as being in the party until today) are looking to you for guidance. And while the past eight years have been an indictment on the failed policies of the neoconservative movement, they're also an indictment on the failed leadership of Nancy Pelosi; especially in the last two years, where as Speaker of House she failed to use her position to significantly advance a progressive agenda past the first 100 days. Our inability to create a useful opposition to Bush is our collective burden. But our partisanship, our tendency to cast blame and not provide solutions, that is part of what created the huge rally to your side.

The Democratic Party will look to you for leadership, and you must be willing to take on those in the party who "fight" Republicans, who "fight" conservatism, who take your Presidency or their ideals as dogmas which cannot be questioned. If Nancy Pelosi squelches debate the way Dennis Hastert did when he Spoke for the House, if she drives out those Republicans who are still in congress, you may still be able to win votes, but the bipartisanship that you have staked your claim to the presidency on will be ruined.

Turning our attention abroad, there is another even more incredible opportunity overseas. Unnoticed by the media, a great excitement has built up in the moderate Muslim and Arab worlds; the idea that someone of your unique heritage and background can succeed in "The Great Satan" is a repudiation of the fundamentalist view of the United States, which sees the very worst in us. Tentative optimism has been heard from all quarters, expecting solid talks. Syria is optimistic. Muqtata al Sadr is optimistic. You will have an important moment to leverage in the Middle East. You need to use it. It will be difficult, because the financial crisis at home will want to take a lot of attention. And yet, as a President (as you said yourself), you need to multitask. You need to be exploiting that goodwill before it goes away.

A new, young generation has come out for you; you and us are taking the baton of American leadership from an older generation, one that served in Vietnam and ended the Cold War. But in the Middle East, a new, young generation is coming of age as well. There is a danger that this new, young generation will come of age in a broken world, with warlike leaders and inspirations, thinking that America is all that is bad in the world. My professor Jan Urban quoted Gallup polls that indicated that 80% of these young Arabs hate the West; but 56% hope to live there one day. Many are fanatic, but they may not be as unreachable as older fanatics like Osama Bin Laden. The hope that you brought to the young in America needs to be hope you bring to the young all over the world. A young man who has just reached voting age in Iraq needs to be just as exuberant over his voice making a difference as the young man in North Carolina who helped turn that state Blue for the first time in decades, as all of the young men and women who proved that they can turn the country if only they get out there, organize the community, and make a difference.

These are the two big opportunities in front of you. There are many more. One of them is that you may, interestingly, have an influence over the face of conservatism for the next generation, as a broken and injured Republican Party looks for a new message. You'll have the opportunity to extend them a hand, to invite their fiscal sensibilities to the table. The libertarian movement, underrepresented by both candidacies, is looking for a seat at the table; Ron Paul proved that the promises of libertarianism can get people as excited as your own progressive agenda. In engagement, you can shape the form they take in the same way that your engagement with China, with Syria, with Iran, and with Cuba will help shape their futures.

I draw this letter to a close with my own intentions. If you stand for what you believe in, if you take advantage of these situations, if your presidency tolerates the dissent that I and many others may sometimes voice; if you turn our hope into a definite agenda that reaches to all of America, not just those who agreed with you in this past election, then you will have my resources to put them into action. There are a lot of IF's attached to that, and I make no apologies for putting strings attached to my support. You have an incredible opportunity, and an incredible responsibility.

Your humble servant
(another gawky kid with a funny name)
Guy Yedwab

Election Reaction. Duh.

Three days ago, the President of the United States was elected to be a black man, for the first time in history, with over 300 electoral votes and a 64% turnout, the highest since women won the vote.

I'm not going to talk about that for very long. I have a few posts in mind as reactions to various people. This first one is a reaction to this article by Will Wilkinson

The government of the state is profoundly important. And I think American voters picked a competent, decent, and sober executive officer. But this is not, headline writers, Barack Obama’s America. He is not your leader, any more than the mayor of your town is your leader. We are free people. We lead ourselves. He is set to be a high-ranking public administrator. Sure, there is romance in fame. But romance in politics is dangerous, misplaced, and beneath intelligent people. Were we more fully civilized, we would tolerate the yearnings projected on our leaders. Our tribal nature is not so easily escaped, after all. But we would try to escape it. We would discourage and condemn as irresponsible a romantic politics that tells us that if we all come together and want it hard enough, we’ll get it. We would spot the dangerous fallacy in condemning as “cynicism” all serious attempts to critically evaluate the content of political hopes.

I both agree and disagree.

Agree: You're right. We must remember we are still free people. We must allow the critical evaluation to take place; through criticizing Barack Obama, we can force him to be an even better president; to live up to his full potential. We need to balance out Obama's flaws as they emerge, we need to represent those in this country who are still strongly conservative, and we cannot let Rich Lowry's "starbursts" (I can't bring myself to link you directly to that post without the sane counterweight of Andrew Sullivan) distract us from Obama's reality.

But I want to very quickly take issue with one part of that argument, even though I have a hunch you don't actually mean it in the way I'm taking issue with it.

He is not your leader, any more than the mayor of your town is your leader. We are free people. We lead ourselves.

It is true that we lead ourselves, and are a free people. But he is our leader; we in the left movement, we who banded together, made him our leader. Now, "our" leader still has our criticism coming, and he needs to be our leader not just someone who leads us, but I want to defend the use of the possessive pronoun, and the ownership that implies.

We Obamanauts are invested in this Presidency. That means from this day forward, a duty falls to us to keep fighting, to keep engaged. Yes, we voted in record numbers. But if 2010 goes back to apathy, goes back to the old way of community disengagement... well then, everything reverses. If we think our job is done on Election Day, that now we can just sit back and snipe on the President, we can't. We own this presidency.

One of the failures of the Bush presidency, I think, is that conservatives did not own the President enough, with the exception of a few neoconservative thinkers who did. Those on the right who went into the conservative movement back during its Contract With America days... what did you do to keep the Contract alive? What did you do to keep the principles that you fought for in action? Where were you in the Primary season?

Now, the other failure of the Conservative movement is exactly what Mr. Wilkinson said; they took President Bush to be their leader, they marginalized and finally (when they latched onto Sarah Palin) closed the door on dissent. And that, too, will be coming in the near future. We shall see if Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can fulfill their duties the way they have until now, dispassionately. I am optimistic.

We own this presidency. We have to keep it ours--not in the sense of fighting to defeat its opponents, but in the sense of making sure it remains the presidency we fought for.

Monday, November 3, 2008

More About Language

I was exchanging a few emails with a friend of mine, and at a certain point she was grasping for a word to describe a complex emotion she was feeling. "I wish there was a word for it" she said.

I kind of don't. Neologisms are fine--I'm rather a fan of them sometimes, especially if they're witty--but I have been thinking about how we speak about our emotions lately, and I've got a bit of a bone to pick.

Sometimes it is nice to have a label at our hands, but we Americans have a tendency to like to label that I'm starting to get really uncomfortable with. Not just really damaging labels, like "anti-American" or "terrorist," but even labels like "family values," "pro-life," "pro-choice," etc. Not all these labels are political of course, but right now, that's what's on my mind. "In love" or "out of love," "happy" or "sad."

To a certain degree, a symbol is always reductionist. "Liberty" is something we can all agree on; the face of liberty is more complex. Politicians sense that, and that's why political speech basically trades on symbols. But art, too, has been trading on symbolism to a certain extent. And we do in our lives. "How are you doing?" "Fine." What does "fine" really tell you about your state of life?

I think we need to start describing. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it's the elaborated phrase that sinks to the depths of character. Two words reveal a level of nuance that one alone simply can't.

Sometimes, I think, the urge not to explain things is a fear of wasting other people's time, or a fear of sharing too much. That's fear. Sometimes that fear is justified. But when we are talking with those we know and love, those we feel safe with, we shouldn't keep the habit of poor speech.

A second thought about language and emotion: I was in my Czech language class today, and we were talking about how in Czech, you "have" fear as opposed to English, where you "are" afraid. Many European languages are constructed similarly. What I like about that construction is that it allows you to operate independently of your emotion, without denying it.

Think about what it means to be afraid. That in that instant, you equal fear. After all, if you think about what function "to be" serves in a sentence, its an equation. I am afraid. It's more than an attribute: it's a state of being; it is said to define me in that moment. Who is he? He is afraid.

Instead, European languages make your emotion a separate entity. It exists separately. Perhaps that separate entity is inside of you (filling you up with emotion, perhaps) but it does not take you over. I was struck by Andrew Sullivan, describing his relationship to marriage, and the implication that his entire private life was swallowed up by his emotion; and because that emotion was condemned, his whole private life went inward. I sympathize with that.

Casting that emotion that exists but does not define may be an empowering way to deal with it. I'm sure psychologists agree. But do linguists?

Side note: it also reminds me of when we were in Spain, and my brother pointed out that in Spanish it isn't "I lost the camera," it's "The camera was lost by me." The event happened. The culprit is at the end of the sentence. You could, easily, say "the camera was lost" without self-implicating, without making it sound a little odd. I have often by chastised for using the passive voice. I think the passive voice is not always bad grammar. You just have to use it wisely.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Words I'm Sick Of

To refer back to this post of mine, I thought I'd toss together a quick list of phrases that have become meaningless, jingoistic phrases that, after November 4th, I'd like to have disappear.

1) _______ We Can Believe In.

2) Redistribution of wealth.

3) Socialism.

4) [name] the [occupation].

5) Maverick.

6) Real America.

7) Main street / wall street.

8) Ya know.

You can toss those in the bin with Mission Accomplished. I'll add to this list as more occur to me. I just... I want it to stop.

Good lord, I hope William Safire is willing to update his political dictionary.

Comment On Election Law

Again, Matthew Yglesias's post (itself a reaction to Rick Hasen)

I think having a national standard of elections is a good idea. A few issues:

1) The Legal Issues: I think the Civil Rights Act of 1960 sets a legal precedent that the Federal Government can regulate elections of local elections. But that law really is only a negative law: it says what states can't do. Again, standardized state and local elections might come under a lot of legal battle, but I think overall the Constitution will back it up, and the Supreme Court (which, although Republican leaning, tends to be very pro-Federal) wouldn't really strike it down.

2) Political Issues: There are interested parties who will stand up for states' rights and such, but I think it'd be a hard battle to convince people that making our elections cleaner, simpler, and less open to fraud is somehow a good thing.

3) How to do it: The posts I pointed at talked about having every interaction with the government interface register you. They talked about a voter registration ID number. I think I would like to take it one further. A Citizen's ID Number. I mean, I think we should have National Identification--not one that stores all your information in a central database: all it has to verify is three things: 1) Name 2) Address 3) Citizenship status. That's all. This amalgam of drivers' licenses, passports, state IDs, birth certificates, social security numbers, etc. does not work.

I went to get a job once I turned 18, and I discovered that although I had been naturalized at the age of 8, the Social Security Administration had not received notification from the INS that I was a citizen. Thus, my Social Security Number indicated to my employer that I was a legal alien, not eligible for work. Rather than using a SSN as my identifier, I'd like to have some administration, I don't care whom, have a name, address, and my citizenship status. Then, whenever I try to do something with the government, they just look up my name, and go, "Ah, he lives there and he's a citizen." If they need more info, they can ask me themselves, but those three facts are, at this point, public knowledge.

Racists For Obama?

Required reading for this post.

A few thoughts:

1) I didn't realize anyone could make Palin's shouting mobs sound centrist.

2) I didn't realize we still had organized groups of supremacists. It's a good thing someone's out there asking for their opinion.

3) I feel kind of guilty giving those people space... it's like the old "Should we be showing this?" conundrum.

4) My first response was "Oh my God... we've got Nazis judging Barack Obama by the content of his character, not by the color of his skin." Isn't this fantastic? I mean, when we reach the point that Nazis or Klan members hatred of black people just isn't enough to turn them away from a black candidate to a white candidate--and when their dislike of the white candidate is basically based on issues (granted, incredibly reductionist, distorted issues)...

5) I think this speaks to two facts: one, that it is hard to remain racist against an individual that you've gotten to know and like; secondly, that this whole "Who is Barack Obama?" tactic appears not to be working against its most targeted audience. (And if you think that tactic isn't a racial tactic, then I'd like to point out Arlen Specter basically hoping for the Bradley Effect to bring Obama down)

6) On the other hand, these people are still incredibly racist, misguided people. The fact that today they've done the right thing does not forgive the fact that they clearly continue to bear a lot of hatred and close-mindedness.

That is all.

Question I Wish Someone Had Asked

As this election season winds down, with only twenty four hours left (for only the most inane and ridiculous moments for decisionmaking left), I look back on this election process (which I think has been better than most, up until September--as the polls confirm, I think), and there's one question which I wish somebody is asked:

What is your decisionmaking process on __________ ?

We sit in these campaigns, trying to suss out the "judgment" of the candidates, mostly through sifting through their record. Did they make good judgments during the campaign? Did they make good judgments as public officials before? Are they a good judge of friends?

But you know what? We could have also asked them about their judgment. How do you judge?

The question was asked about Judicial nominations. How do you select a judge? But let's say, economic policy. How do you select economic policy? How do you decide about taxes? How do you decide about cuts? How do you you choose priorities? What compass do you set sail by?

There are many different ways of thinking about these issues. In terms of taxation, unfortunately, both candidates seem to have gone with "What do people want?" Which is lower taxes on most people, to be picked up by the rich.

I think the distinction which has appeared between Barack Obama and John McCain is that John McCain still appears to be flying by the "gut"-decisionmaking championed by President Bush and Stephen Colbert. He chose Palin after meeting her once. He decided to suspend his campaign, and then quickly returned to the campaign trail when it didn't play out. He tacks to the right. He tacks back to the center. He tacks back to the right.

Barack Obama appears to do more reflection. He appears to weigh both sides of the issues. If you ask him about any issue, chances are he'll talk about both sides before he'll talk about his own decision. His inclusionary way of making decisions has gotten him into trouble: after all, in order to make a decision about Israel/Palestine, he might have to listen to someone like Khalidi (a Palestinian intellectual with reservations about Israel! Horror!). He might have to listen to someone like Reverend Wright to understand the black community he comes from. He might have to work with someone like William Ayers if both of them are committed to the cause of education.

McCain-Palin (mostly Palin, to be fair, but McCain hasn't come out against it) has endorsed the strategy of using ideology to lead. After all, no matter what happens, McCain remains "fundamentally a deregulator." Even when he's calling for more oversight. People who let ideology lead them will apply their ideology in inappropriate situations. Deregulation, after all, is good...if you have too much regulation. I don't think, however, that after Ronald Reagan and Phil Gramm that we have too much regulation in the financial market. Especially when McCain's theory of blame for the financial crisis also comes from deregulation (deregulating Fannie and Freddie).

At any rate, I wish more questions had been asked about decisions that they're going to make, not decisions they've already made. Let's remember that for (oh God...) the next election.

I'm glad we only do this Presidential thing once in four years.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

2008: Election

I'm going to write it down right now, just to see how my predictions stack up. You can all mock me as these predictions turn out not to be soon.


Presidency: Obama
VP: Biden

Obama selects cabinet:

Secretary of Defense: Robert Gates (or Wesley Clark, but not likely)
Secretary of State: Bill Richardson (or Colin Powell, but not likely)
Secretary of Homeland Security: Richard Clarke
Secretary of the Treasury: Warren Buffet (or somebody we've never heard of)
Attorney General: Patrick Fitzgerald (or Cuomo, but not likely)

The rest of the cabinet will be nobody we've ever heard of. I don't think Hilary Clinton's going to make an appearance.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman: Dan Bernanke remains
UN Ambassador: Somebody we've never heard of, or possibly Richardson if he doesn't get State.

House: Dems: 350 Seats
Senate: Dems: 55 seats (not counting Bernie Sanders or Joe Lieberman)

No appointments in the first term of Presidency.

PROP 8 Fails (but by a terrifyingly narrow margin)
PROP 1A [High Speed Rail] Succeeds

Federal Justice Department blocks term limit lengthening Bloomberg's term. Sucks to be him. Christine Quinn does not win the primary to run to replace him. This may just be wishfulfilment on my part.

2012: These predictions on my part are sketchier. It depends on the leadership of the Republican Party after this election. My guess is that RNCC Chair Mike Duncan is going to be forced to step down after this disastrous election. Now, the RNCC Chairmanship is selected by the Republican President, or by the association of state party chairs; depending on who winds up selecting the new RNCC Chairmanship, it might have different results.

My hunch: Sarah Palin emerges as party chair of a party that's tacking even further to the right, but in 2012 Mike Huckabee wins over the nomination by appealing to the same right-wing values that Palin has tapped into in a manner not seen to be as self-destructive.

(UPDATE: I originally posted this on my Facebook, and decided to put it over here. In the meantime between my posting that there and posting it here, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten an important name in my considerations of Obama's cabinet--Holbrooke! I'm not going to change the prediction, but I really should have remembered that Holbrooke is almost certainly going to feature in the foreign policy. Also, while I'm at it, I should point out that while I didn't mention this before, I think that John McCain will not stand for re-election in 2010. In the off-chance that he is bloody-minded enough to run, I don't think he'll make it. Right now, he's on the verge of losing the Presidential election in his own home state.)