I’ve had it with Hillary

In the discussion of the rules committee decision about what to do with Michigan and Florida delegates on the morning shows today they said that Hillary's campaign had actually bussed in protesters from Florida.  (Here's a nice story in the Post summarizing the whole nature and history of the dispute).  This is just too much!  though preferring Obama, I used to think that Hillary would make a good president– I think she has incredible policy smarts and underappreciated political skills.  But this ridiculous fight for the Florida and Michigan delegates has really turned me off.  I might not go as far as Jonathan Chait in his criticism, but maybe close:

Hillary Clinton's rhetoric today
about counting the results in Florida and Michigan is simply
incredible. Her speech compares discounting the Florida and Michigan
primaries to vote suppression and slavery:

 Those people, she said ?refused to accept their assigned place as
second-class citizens. Men and women who saw America not as it was, but
as it could and should be, and committed themselves to extending the
frontiers of our democracy. The abolitionists and all who fought to end
slavery and ensure freedom came with the full right of citizenship. The
tenacious women and a few brave men who gathered at the Seneca Falls
convention back in 1848 to demand the right to vote.?

It's worth repeating: They supported this “disenfranchisement.” Here's a New York Times story from last fall, headlined, “Clinton, Obama and Edwards Join Pledge to Avoid Defiant States.”

Moreover, it's obviously true that Obama not campaigning,
organizing, or advertizing in those states hurt him, and helped the
more familiar candidate in Clinton. She decided to campaign to change
the rules only after it became her interest to do so.

This gambit by Clinton is simply an attempt to steal the nomination.
It's obviously not going to work, because Democratic superdelegates
don't want to commit suicide. But this episode is very revealing about
Clinton's character. I try not to make moralistic characterological
judgments about politicians, because all politicians compromise their
ideals in the pursuit of power. There are no angels in this business.
Clinton's gambit, however, truly is breathtaking.

If she's consciously lying, it's a shockingly cynical move. I don't
think she's lying. I think she's so convinced of her own morality and
historical importance that she can whip herself into a moralistic
fervor to support nearly any position that might benefit her, however
crass and sleazy. It's not just that she's convinced herself it's okay
to try to steal the nomination, she has also appropriated the most
sacred legacies of liberalism for her effort to do so. She is proving
herself temperamentally unfit for the presidency.

I think “steal” the nomination is a little strong, but she clearly has absolutely no compunction about situational ethics or breaking rules in pursuit of power.  That bothers me.  And, I think Chait wrote this post before Hillary outrageously started comparing this to Robert Mugabe's election stealing in Zimbabwe.  Hillary's not going to win this fight, but she dramatically demeans herself by fighting it.



McClellan: The Star Witness against George Bush

If you've not read of the recent revelations from Scott McClellan, Bush's former press secretary, John Dickerson has the most interesting summary I've read so far.  A brief highlight from Dickerson:

In general, McClellan describes the president as someone who lacks
inquisitiveness and is also deceitfully self-delusional. Long money
quote: “As I worked closely with President Bush, I would come to
believe that sometimes he convinces himself to believe what suits his
needs at the moment. It is not unlike a witness in court who does not
want to implicate himself in wrongdoing, but is also concerned about
perjuring himself. So he says, 'I do not recall.' The witness knows no
one can get into his head and prove it is not true, so this seems like
a much safer course than actually lying. Bush, similarly, has a way of
falling back on the hazy memory defense to protect himself from
potential political embarrassment. Bush rationalizes it as being
acceptable because he is not stating unequivocally anything that could
be proven false. If something later is uncovered to show what he knew,
then he can deny lying in his own mind.”

McClellan's account adds
another set of insider anecdotes to the already heaping stack built by
previous Bush officials and advisers. Paul O'Neill first described the
president's blindness to inconvenient facts six years ago when he
talked about Bush's lack of appetite for “analytical rigor, sound
information-gathering techniques and real, cost-benefit analysis.” The
list of administration officials turned bashers includes John Dilulio, Larry Wilkerson, Rand Beers, Richard Clarke, David Kuo, Paul Pillar, and Matthew Dowd.

As Dickerson makes clear, we really don't learn all that much new from McClellan.  It is largely, further, stronger evidence that Bush is disturbingly lacking in intellectual curiosity, willfully ignorant of unpleasant information, and capable of amazing feats of self deception.

What's so compelling about McClellan's account is that he's truly a long-time Bush loyalist, since way back in the Texas days, not just someone who joined the administration in Washington.  For McClellan to make this strong indictment against Bush really adds something.  One of the key lessons from my Psychology of Attitudes class back in grad school was the importance of the source and source credibility in persuasion.  For a long-time, loyal supporter to make these accusations makes them all the more persuasive, despite the White House's pitiful attempts to swat them down (i.e., a “disgrunteld former employee”).  

This got me thinking, if there were a trial against George W. Bush, McClellan would now definitely be the star witness.  As for this trial, if it were a civil trial, I think you could safely conclude that the case against George Bush reaches the standard of “clear and convincing” evidence.  At this point, given the evidence on Bush's flaws of character, decision-making, and presidential management, it is simply unreasonable to reject the ever-growing chorus highlighting these serious flaws in Bush and his administration. 

The fact that Karl Rove has now famously characterized McClellan's revelations as something that seemed as if it came from a “left-wing blogger” I think also speaks tremendously well of the left-wing blogosphere.  We've been saying these things about Bush for years, and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests these criticisms are true.  When it comes to the most accurate depiction of the Bush administration, it may very well exist in mainstream, left-wing blogs.  The mainstream so-called liberal media (i.e., the Times, Post, etc.) is so hung up on “fairness” that they typically give Bush much more of the benefit of the doubt than the evidence suggests he deserves.  To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, quite simply the truth has a liberal bias (at least in the case against GWB), and to report otherwise is to introduce a new form of bias. 

“Merely” Nazi slave labor

I'm not interested in being like the right wing nuts and blaming the whole liberal establishment for the crazy statements of a few fringe elements, but Fox news is not exactly a fringe element.  The story (via The Carpetbagger Report):

On Wednesday, Republicans collectively went completely berserk
after Obama said a great-uncle had helped to liberate the Auschwitz
death camp at the end of World War II. Once they realized Obama had a
great-uncle who had actually helped to liberate Buchenwald, the first
camp liberated by Americans, and Obama just misspoke about the Nazi
camp in question, conservatives slinked away, waiting for the next
manufactured outrage to come up.

But before we leave this non-story altogether, it?s worth pausing to consider what else Obama?s GOP detractors said about this.

Fox News, for example, was even more shameless than usual. One of
the hosts of ?Fox and Friends? said, ?It wasn?t Auschwitz. It was a
labor camp called Buchenwald.? As part of the same segment, Fox News
ran this all-caps message on its bottom-of-the-screen ticker: ?Ohrdruf
was a work camp, rather than an extermination camp.?

It is amazing that some would stoop to trying to diminish the horrors of Buchenwald for cheap political points.  And, in case your curious about the reality of Buchenwald:

Menachem Rosensaft,
founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish
Survivors and a leader of the Second Generation movement of children of
Holocaust survivors, who was not at all pleased with Republican smear efforts this week.

I never thought I?d see the day when the Holocaust would
be used as a tool for ?gotcha? politics. But over the last two days, we
have seen John McCain?s supporters at the Republican National Committee
and at Fox News launch tasteless attacks on Barack Obama. In their
attempt to score a few political points, they have diminished the
experience of those who suffered and died at Buchenwald, and
disrespected the service of the heroic American troops who liberated
them. [?]

Here are some facts about Buchenwald, which is one of the most
notorious Nazi concentration camps. At this ?work camp,? prisoners were
often worked, starved, tortured, or beaten to death. Sometimes they
were simply murdered. Roughly 250,000 people were imprisoned there
between 1937 and 1945, many of them Jews. Over 50,000 people lost their
lives.

Just a “labor camp.”

How much will the electoral college matter in 2008?

Josh Patashnik has a great article in The New Republic discussing how all of the media focus on the electoral college lately is way overblown– surely in large part due to the trauma of 2000.  What I especially love about this article is that he uses all sorts of actual Political Science research to make his case.  Basically, the electoral college almost never matters unless the popular vote is extraordinarily close, and there's no reason to expect that to be the case this year:

It's
highly unlikely Obama will win the popular vote while losing the electoral
college–in fact, it's all but impossible unless the popular vote is
exceptionally close, as it was in 2000. But, on the off-chance Obama's trouble
in those states does end up looming large, history gives little reason to
believe that putting Rendell or Strickland on the ticket would do much to help.

At the moment, Electoral College obsession
is once again overtaking the punditocracy, so please forgive me if I'm pointing
out the obvious: The Electoral College very rarely matters, and our current fixation
on it is mostly a product of memories from the Bush-Gore race. Before that year,
only once in American history–1888–had a candidate won a popular-vote
plurality while legitimately losing the presidency in the Electoral College.
(The election of 1876 doesn't
count
, and in 1824 the vote went to
the House of Representatives.) In both 1888 and 2000, moreover, the national
popular vote was extremely close–a margin of 0.8 percent and 0.5
percent, respectively.

Once the national popular-vote margin gets much greater than
that, it quickly becomes prohibitively difficult for a losing candidate to
prevail in the Electoral College.

What I most appreciated about the article was the argument that we cannot say things like “if only 60,000 votes in Ohio had changed” in a vacuum.  To wit:

More importantly, though, votes don't just spontaneously
shift in one key state. A major insight
from the 2004 campaign, on the part of strategists like Bush's Matthew Dowd, is
that votes are determined less by one's physical location than by factors like
demography and lifestyle choices: A Bush voter in Ohio
looks like a Bush voter in California.
As Bill Bishop argues in his recent book, The Big Sort , as Republicans and Democrats diverge from each other in their living
patterns, they increasingly resemble their partisan compatriots across state
borders.As a result, any event or trend capable of producing a swing
of 60,000 votes in Ohio from Bush to Kerry
would almost surely have had some effect outside of Ohio. If the effect had been distributed proportionally
throughout the country, a swing of 60,000 votes in Ohio would correspond to a swing of around 1.5 million votes nationally–enough to erase Bush's 3-million-vote lead
in the popular vote. Or, in 2000, suppose Al Gore's margin of victory in the
national popular vote had been 1.5 percent, rather than 0.5. That amounts to a
net gain for Gore of more than 1 million votes, and about 60,000 in Florida, if distributed
equally throughout the country. Just a fraction of that figure would have given
him the presidency, recount or no recount.

He concludes with a nice summary of some political science that I think puts things in proper perspective:

These questions are part of a larger debate in political
science: Can the outcomes of presidential campaigns shift significantly as a
result of campaign quirks, or are they determined largely by underlying
economic and political fundamentals? For the most part, the latter view has won
out–and it suggests
that the Democratic nominee is headed for a relatively comfortable win.
Of
course, the candidacy of Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton, for that
matter)
makes 2008 the first election that won't have two white male
candidates, and therefore something of a historical anomaly. The race
could end up being
a 2000-style nail-biter–and, in that case, there's a small possibility
that electoral math and running mates will make a difference. But if
things do play
out as they have for decades, a lot of hyperventilating pundits will
have egg on their faces.

So…1) If Obama (or McCain) end us with a good lead in the polls in early November, forget about all the electoral college fuss.  2) Political Science research quite strongly suggests that this is a Democratic year, regardless of what Obama and McCain actually do in the campaign.

Rush Limbaugh really is a big, fat idiot.

Alright, you probably knew that already. Anyway, a friend of mine, Scott Fitzpatrick, is an archeologist here at NC State (I do like to refer to him as NC State's own Indiana Jones).  He recently hit the media big time– though, not the CBS Early Show :-)– with a recent paper that suggests El Nino influenced Magellan's historic circumnavigation.  From Science Daily (and picked up by all sorts of national publications):

A new paper by North Carolina State University archaeologist Dr. Scott
Fitzpatrick shows that Ferdinand Magellan's historic circumnavigation
of the globe was likely influenced in large part by unusual weather
conditions — including what we now know as El Niño — which eased his
passage across the Pacific Ocean, but ultimately led him over a
thousand miles from his intended destination.

Apparently this came across Rush Limbaugh's desk and provided further evidence for Rush's global warming denialism.  The man's ignorance truly is breathtaking.  Listen here.

How is this person writing for the Post?

So, last week I wrote a post criticizing a Marie Cocco column in the Post that made a reasonable argument that Hillary's campaign reveals that sexism and misogyny are more widespread and acceptable than racism, but made the argument with embarrassingly thin evidence.  This week she's back with a column that embarrasses last week's.  The lede:

A woman? Yes. But not that woman.

It is the platitude of the moment, an automatic rejoinder to any
suggestion that Hillary Clinton has struggled so desperately — and so
far unsuccessfully — to grasp the Democratic presidential nomination
in some measure because she is female.

It isn't the woman part, the rationale goes. It's the Clinton
part: that “polarizing” persona and “unlikable” demeanor. The
unappetizing thought of President “Billary.” The more inspirational
quest by Barack Obama to become the country's first black president.

Yet the question remains: If not now, when? If not Hillary, who?

This argument is so facially ridiculous it is hardly worth debunking.  Somehow, me and my fellow Obama supporters (heck, a bunch of academics, some of the most feminist people I know), are actually just closet sexists.  Cocco's onto me– I may teach a Gender & Politics class, but no way could I want a woman president.  Furthermore, the idea that if not Hillary we can forget about a woman president for the next 20-30 years is self-evidently ridiculous.  Who would have predicted 10 years ago that Hillary Clinton would have come oh-so-close to achieving the presidency.  The growing consensus in all the campaign post-mortems I've read this week is that if she had run a campaign as smart as Obama's, she almost certainly would have been the Democratic nominee (in a great year to be the Democratic nominee).  There's more inanity in the column, but I'm not going to waste my time writing about it further.  For now, I'll just lament that the Washington Post's very valuable op-ed space is being wasted on such poor opinion pieces.

Of gender, education, and spin

There's been a lot of talk in recent years about a growing gap in
elementary and secondary education to the detriment of boys.  The basic
idea being that our educational system is not as geared to the success
of boys, so that they are falling behind girls.  This week, the
American Association of University Women (AAUW), released a report arguing that the “crisis” in boys education is a myth
Based on the evidence presented in the report, it is definitely fair to
argue that there is not a “crisis” for boys.  Boys lag girls in literacy, but the size of the gap is not increasing, and both boys and girls are improving.  The take-away point is that, education is not a zero-sum game, i.e., girls gains are not coming at the expense of boys.  So, just because girls may be gaining faster than boys, is not a problem.  On the other hand, how would people react if we said, whites' scores are going up faster than Blacks, but that's not a problem.  Still, definitely fair to say its not a crisis. 

What really bugged me about this was the spin of the report (and the Post article).  As the article says, “The most important conclusion of “Where the Girls Are: The Facts About
Gender Equity in Education” is that academic success is more closely
associated with family income than with gender, its authors said.”  No s***.  Please!  Anybody who know anything about social science knows that socio-economic status tends to dwarf all other variables in explaining practically anything.  Again, it's like saying, well, sure there may be racism, but blacks have low incomes, so we're not going to worry about racism because income status explains more.  So, I don't doubt the empirical findings of this study, but it strikes me as intellectually dishonest to try and place the emphasis on socio-economic factors and ignore real gender differences as a result.

What to read

I've just updated my book review list for the first time since January.  It's still not quite up to date, but I'm only about four months behind.  Hopefully, my next update will bring me fully up to date.  Its been a really good run of books since my last update– I've got two to add to my all time favorites list, one fiction, The Road and one non-fiction, Good Germs, Bad Germs.  And some other really excellent books– The Terror, Omnivore's Dilemma, The Subtle Knife–of all stripes.  Anyway, take a look and see what I've been reading (other than my voracious consumption of blogs and on-line political news sources).  The Road by Cormac McCarthy probably deserves a blog post of its own (though, this is all it will get).  The tale of a father and his son making their way down the road, just trying to survive is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally intense books I've ever read. 

Racism, Sexism, and those Appalachian voters again

Even more than I like getting suggestions from readers, I like it when my wife actually finds one of my posts interesting.  Well, now I've got a two-fer, as Kim was so intrigued by the whole racism in Appalachia thing that she suggested I discuss the potential for sexism there as well.  So, this post is actually largely channelling Kim's interesting argument.  In short, isms tend to go together.  Where there's considerable racism, there's every reason to believe there's considerable sexism.  Clearly, Democratically-inclined white Appalachian voters strongly prefer a white woman over a Black man.  But does that mean we can be so sure they would prefer a white woman over a white man?  While these voters chose Hillary over Obama, it's not unreasonable to think that many of them nonetheless hold attitudes regarding gender that where trumped due to attitudes regarding race.  Put Hillary up against a white man, i.e., McCain, and it seems that many of these voters might very well defect from the Democratic party and vote for McCain.  Probably not to the degree that will happen for Obama as the nominee, but it is probably a bit naive to think that Hillary would necessarily hold onto all these primary voters against McCain in November.
 

Our currency disciminates

In a rather interesting decision, a Federal Appeals Court has ruled that U.S currency discriminates against the visually-impaired.  From the Post:

A federal appeals court today upheld a lower ruling that the U.S.
currency system discriminates against blind people because bills of
different denominations are the same size, shape and color and cannot
be easily distinguished by the visually impaired.

In a 2-1 ruling issued this morning,
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the existing system
violates the federal Rehabilitation Act and ruled that the Treasury
Department must find a way to accommodate the needs of the visually
impaired.

This decision struck me as perhaps going a bit too far– blind people are going to have trouble seeing things, but it appears that the United States is unique in the difficulty of determining denomination by sight:

In his 2006 ruling, Robertson ruled that the government must make
changes to its bills, but left it up to the government to decide what
changes would be made. He also said that of more than 170 countries
that print paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are
identical in size and color regardless of denomination.

There's all sorts of possible remedies (as the article details, if you are curious).  Who knows, maybe we'll be looking at red 5's, blue 10's and purple 20's in a few years.

With a wink and a nod

It's just an aside in his essay on how Democrats should not be so afraid of gay marraige this year, but I just love how Paul Waldman sums up the media's irrational love for John McCain:

(This Sunday, Matt Bai wrote in The New York Times
Magazine, “Like every politician I've known, McCain will sometimes
surrender to the cheap ploy or prevarication when the moment demands
it, but it is often with a smirk or a wince, some hard-to-miss signal
that he knows he's up to no good.” Attention, reporters: The fact that
he winks at you, acknowledging that he's lying to the voters, doesn't
mean he's not lying to the voters. It doesn't make him more honest than
other politicians. It just means that he's letting you in on his scam.
If because of that you fail to characterize his dishonesty as such,
then he has just played you like a violin.)

This wink and a nod approach seems to have convinced many a liberal journalist that McCain is secretly liberal on social issues and they forgive him for his obvious pandering.  Even if McCain is secretly liberal in his heart, that does not really matter if he thinks that it will always be most politically expedient to be conservative on these issues.

Foreign Policy as symbolism

As mentioned in my previous post, I was quite pleased with the way that Obama hit back hard at Bush and McCain's risible and astonishingly ignorant use of “appeasement.”  Michael Tomasky has a nice analysis on why Obama's response was so effective:

After
the Kerry loss of 2004, Democrats began to vow: we understand what
happened. We're not going to let ourselves get outboxed and intimidated
next time around, especially on national security. There was every
reason in the world to think this was an empty promise. If Hillary
Clinton were the nominee, it wouldn't be exactly empty, because the
Clinton camp does know how to return fire. But it would be a
dissatisfying thing for most Democrats to watch, because Clinton's
returns of serve would consist of hawkish statements designed to prove
that she could be just as tough as the Republicans (witness her recent
promise to “obliterate” Iran).

Obama is doing something
altogether different. He is standing for an alternative vision of how
America should operate in the world, and he is defending it tooth and
nail. I'm not sold on the idea that negotiations without preconditions
with hostile powers are the world's best strategy. If the US had some
leverage over Iran that might be one thing, but, in our current state,
we have little. Still, this is one of those cases where the symbolic
message of what Obama did last Friday is more important, for now, than
the substance. He said: These people have screwed up foreign policy and
security. I have a different way of doing things. And I'm not ceding an
inch.

In an interesting essay, Jon Chait complains that candidates are essentially forced to make foreign policy statements that we really should not put much credence in:

Obviously, campaign rhetoric of all kinds offers an imperfect guide to
how a candidate will govern. But it's particularly true of foreign
policy rhetoric. Why is it so hard to vote on foreign policy? A
president's foreign policy tends to get driven by new developments
overseas. Any number of things could happen between now and January
that would persuade McCain to pull troops out of Iraq, or persuade
Obama to leave them there. But dramatic, mind-changing data about
health care or the minimum wage is not likely to pop up.

Chait's not happy that this is how things work, but points out that Obama has learned how to play the symbolism of this game:

Four years ago, poor John Kerry tried to explain that he was for the
war given what he knew at the time, against it knowing what we know
today, but in favor of its continued prosecution given that we were
already there. It didn't end well for him. The lesson the candidates
have taken away from this episode is that you need a consistent,
easy-to-explain position or else you'll come across as a flip-flopper.
Foreign policy has become a character issue, with nuance understood as
a sign of weakness.

Obama, as Michael Crowley explained in the previous issue, understands
that events could change his plans (see “Barack in Iraq,” May 7). But
he also grasps that the risks of appearing indecisive outweigh the
risks of appearing too dovish, which is why he so quickly disowned
Power's remarks. Republicans have arrived at the same conclusion.

I know this is one of the reasons I find Obama such an appealing candidate.  Even though it may not be entirely sensible, Obama seems to really get this important political reality– you have to appear solid and firm in your own beliefs (even when that's stupid) to show “toughness” and “character.”  I absolutely love that Obama is itching for a fight on foreign policy rather than attempting to defuse the issue by being Republican-lite.

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