Electability

Back to the 2008 theme (I've got a couple more thoughts on the State of the Union I hope to get around to), one knock against Hillary is that she cannot win in the general election.  I used to believe that myself, but am not so sure anymore.  Partly because the Republican party is imploding under the weight of its bad policies, especially Iraq.  Perhaps more importantly, if polls like this keep showing up,

The new poll finds statistical dead heats in different scenarios
involving John McCain or Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton, Barack
Obama or John Edwards. In a hypothetical match-up, Clinton gets 48
percent while McCain gets 47. A Giuliani-Clinton race finds the same
numbers but with the former New York City mayor as the hypothetical
victor.

The public, especially Democrats will actually believe Hillary can win, and I think this is, to a considerable degree, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If average Democrats and media elites are convinced Hillary cannot win, then she really can't.  But if people, especially the beltway elites, look at enough polls like these, the electability knock against Hillary will have to disappear. 

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State of the Union– initial reaction

The thing about Bush is that he talks a great game of bipartisanship in the abstract, but when you get down to the details, there's really not much bipartisanship there.  He really sounds like he's trying to be the “uniter, not a divider” and then delivers a health care proposal (which I'll say more on later) that is not only stupid, but completely dead in the water with a Democratic Congress.  Having not looked at the specifics of his energy proposal yet, I can only imagine that they will not be much more palatable (though, its not like anyone opposes alternative energy– except Dick Cheney and the oil companies).  For Bush, bipartisanship means, the Democrats are free to do things his way if they want.  I thought Webb did a nice job with the Democratic response, by keeping it very simply and focused and hitting on two winning themes for Democrats: 1) the growing economy is only benefiting a small slice of the country; and, 2) not only has the president really screwed up Iraq, he's ignoring the American people on the issue.  For my of my thoughts on the matter, you can, of course, check out Pravda, Slovakia's largest circulation daily newspaper.

Also, just wanted to add that the MSNBC crew pointed out that on at least one occassion Bush's prepared remarks referred to the “Democratic party,” but Bush just could not resist the somewhat perjorative “Democrat party.”  How's that for changing the tone. 

Richardson

In keeping with the 2008 theme, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, has declared his intention to run for the Democratic nomination as well.  On most every objective factor, he would make a better choice.  He's got a great resume: 15 years in Congress, Secretary of Energy, Ambassador to the UN, and twice elected governor of New Mexico.  And to top it all of, he's Hispanic, but with a name like Bill Richardson, much less likely to scare of xenophobic voters.  Of course, lacking the name recognition or star power of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, he falls immediately into the second tier candidates.   Yet on the face of it, he is doubtless the best prepared to be president.  I am a strong believer that we are much better off having former governors than former senators as president.  From what I can tell, he just does not seem to excite the pundit class (NM voters seem plenty happy with him).  Hmmm, maybe I should join the Richardson for President bandwagon.  What I would really love is for a candidate with the charisma of Edwards or Obama to have the resume of Richardson.  Alas, it seems not to be. 
 

Hillary and the blog slump

As my regular readers know, I've been in a real blog slump.  Part of me feels I should write something pretty close to every day, but I decided that the blog should be something I really enjoy doing, not something I have to do.  If I am not inspired to comment on anything in the news or life or just too busy, so be it.  So, last week, I was lacking both inspiration and time.  Hillary's announcement kicked me out of the slump, as I have a lot to say on the topic, so, time permitting, I've got a lot I want to say this week.  Anyway…

Although we've all known a long time that Hillary is going to run, my initial gut reaction when I saw the headline on-line was something between annoyance and disappointment.  I am just not a Hillary fan, I do not think she would make a particularly good president (though I would certainly vote for her if nominated), and I just think the Democrats can do much better.  I think what it all comes down to for me is that Hillary would be nothing without Bill.  We just wouldn't be having this conversation if she did not happen to be married to one of the most skilled (and liked) politicians of recent times.  Why is Hillary such a formidable candidate? It is because she can raise money like nobody else and has an amazing team of advisers and consultants?  Why does this have these advantages?  Quite simply, because she is Bill Clinton's wife.  I do believe that Hillary Clinton is a very bright woman, has good liberal bona fides, an excellent understanding of public policy, and some pretty good political skills, but being elected president because of who your husband is is no better than being elected president because of who your father is. 

While I'm at it, in my personal experience she just doesn't seem to inspire people.  Obviously, there are other important criteria in electing a leader, but it sure is nice when people can actually get excited about the candidate they support, i.e., Bill Clinton, rather than just support them without excitement because they think they have a good chance of winning, i.e., John Kerry.  I think where there is excitement, a lot of it is what she represents as such a serious contender for the presidency as a woman, not as Hillary Clinton per se.  Heck, I teach Women and Politics– I'd love to see a woman president.  Just one I think is more genuinely deserving.

Where have all the mentally ill gone?

Behind bars.  As anybody who has had a class with me knows, I have long been fascinated by prisons and our prison-industrial complex.  In today's New York Times, Bernard Harcourt, a criminology professor at Chicago has a very intersting op-ed that shows quite clearly that our huge prison populations are tied to the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill.  We have roughly the same amount of perons intstitionalized now as we did 50 years ago.  The difference is that the vast majority are now in prisons whereas generations ago this vast majority was in mental asylums.  Some highlights from the column:

According to a study released by the Justice Department in
September, 56 percent of jail inmates in state prisons and 64 percent
of inmates across the country reported mental health problems within
the past year.

Though troubling, none of this should come as a
surprise. Over the past 40 years, the United States dismantled a
colossal mental health complex and rebuilt ? bed by bed ? an enormous
prison. During the 20th century we exhibited a schizophrenic
relationship to deviance.

After more than 50 years of
stability, federal and state prison populations skyrocketed from under
200,000 persons in 1970 to more than 1.3 million in 2002. That year,
our imprisonment rate rose above 600 inmates per 100,000 adults. With
the inclusion of an additional 700,000 inmates in jail, we now
incarcerate more than two million people ? resulting in the highest
incarceration number and rate in the world, five times that of Britain
and 12 times that of Japan.

What few people realize, though, is
that in the 1940s and ?50s we institutionalized people at even higher
rates ? only it was in mental hospitals and asylums. Simply put, when
the data on state and county mental hospitalization rates are combined
with the data on prison rates for 1928 through 2000, the imprisonment
revolution of the late 20th century barely reaches the level we
experienced at mid-century. Our current culture of control is by no
means new…

But the graph poses a number of troubling questions: Why did we
diagnose deviance in such radically different ways over the course of
the 20th century? Do we need to be imprisoning at such high rates, or
were we right, 50 years ago, to hospitalize instead? Why were so many
women hospitalized? Why have they been replaced by young black men?
Have both prisons and mental hospitals included large numbers of
unnecessarily incarcerated individuals?

Whatever the answers, the pendulum has swung too far ? possibly off its hinges.

It
would be naïve, today, to address any of these questions without also
considering the impact of imprisonment on crime. One of the most
reliable studies estimates that the increased prison population over
the 1990s accounted for about a third of the overall drop in crime that
decade.

However, prisons are not the only institutions that seem
to have this effect. In a recent study, I demonstrated that the rate of
institutionalization ? including mental hospitals ? was a far better
predictor of serious violent crime from 1926 to 2000 than just prison
populations. The data reveal a robust negative relationship between
overall institutionalization (prisons and asylums) and homicide.
Preliminary findings based on state-level panel data confirm these
results.

The effect on crime may not depend on whether the
institution is a mental hospital or a prison. Even from a
crime-fighting perspective, then, it is time to rethink our prison and
mental health policies. A lot more work must be done before proposing
answers to those troubling questions. But the first step is to realize
that we have been wildly erratic in our approach to deviance, mental
health and the prison.

A recent article in the Raleigh News & Observer told how with the dismantling of NC's mental health system young people with schizophrenia were being housed in nursing homes sharing rooms with patients in typical elderly decline.  You don't need a degree in public health to know that's stupid.  Seems like we could use some more rational policies with regards to both how we deal with criminals and the mentally ill.  Alas, these are areas where emotion rather than reason to often rules the policy debates. 

The unmentioned dangers of the Wii

As has widely been reported in the media (and surely great for marketing) people are having all sorts of problems with their Wii remotes flying off and breaking their plasma TV's etc., while using the amazing virtual reality remote control.  In fact, a rather interesting website, wiihaveaproblem has sprung up to catalog Wii injuries to person and property.  Up till now, I had just had a couple of minor finger injuries from overly-enthusiastic bowling, but today I reached a Wii low– I knocked over sweet little baby Evan with an overly-enthusiastic backhand while playing tennis. Don't worry, after the initial shock of being knocked to the floor (and it doesn't take much, he's just learning to walk) by Daddy, Evan was fine.  But it did cause me to question my parenting– not only was I ignoring my baby to play a video game, I actually hurt him in the process.  I think there should be some belated New Year's resolution in here somewhere.  

And if the Iraqi’s don’t step up?

Bush's speech and commentary coming from the White House and its supporters has emphasized the point that we are calling on the Iraqis to really step up in this “new strategy.”  Everything I have read suggests that the Iraqis will be both unwilling and unable to meet their responsibilities as the Bush administration sees them.  So, what happens when the Iraqis don't step up?  A few friends of mine think that Bush is setting things up for an exit strategy, (“see, we gave them a chance and they couldn't handle it, so we're getting out of here.”)  I wish this were the case, but I really do not think so.  Nothing Bush has said or done for the past 4 years gives the least indication that he will be willing for the military to leave on anything but his terms of victory– even as those terms become ever more unlikely.  Bush has argued that it will basically be a disaster and the whole Middle East will blow up if we withdraw before achieving “victory.”  What about this argument will change just because the Iraqis fail to step up?  Bush had his chance to withdraw with cover due to the Iraq Study Group report and he didn't take it.  We are in Iraq full-scale, and with seemingly ever-diminishing chance of real success as long as Bush is president.   

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