Saturday, August 21, 2004

Waldman Gets Called a Gad-Liar

I have a couple of friends on the staff of the Gadflyer, one of them a PhD student of mine from years past. Pretty good stuff, some of it funny on purpose, some by accident.

Quite a bit of funny stuff in the post (by Paul Waldman) on his appearance on O'Reilly, on Fox. Some of it funny by accident. He makes the usual argument about people on the right being "well-funded" (I have heard that so many times, when I make a radio or other appearance: "Who is paying you?" Liberals can't believe anyone with an IQ over 50 could actually disagree with them, so they assume that bribery must be involved. I'm not saying I wouldn't take the money. But no one has offered. I keep checking the phone: yep, dial tone. But still no calls).

Then, Paul tops his previous comic efforts with this howler:

"Much has been made of liberals' anger at President Bush, and that anger is certainly real. But if Bush loses in November, that anger will dissipate. You'll be able to find liberals angry about one issue or another at one time or another, but you won't find them simmering with a generalized fury. But many conservatives remain angry, even at the height of their power. They'll be angry if Bush loses, and they'll be angry if he wins."

Excuse me? Paulie, lad, if Bush wins, you know it can only be because he stole the election. The only possible bases for disagreement with the well-funded (hee-har!) liberal support network for John Kerry and Johnnie Edhairs are (1) confusion and stupidity of the electorate or (2) corruption and cupidity of the Republican party and its supporters.

Now, this (1) and (2) argument is absurd, but I have heard exactly these claims, in only slightly varying forms, from dozens of my colleagues on the left. They like to be mad; it reminds them of their youth when they were protesting and felt vital and alive and thin enough that they could still see their private parts (frankly, I doubt that Michael Moore can even reach his). If Bush wins, they will be furious.

Should I really conclude from the uniformity of the liberal response to Bush that there is a "well-funded" conspiracy where people on the left are having secret meetings, and getting paid by George Soros or any of the other monstrously wealthy supporters of the left (like, say, John Kerry?)?

No, I think there are some real disagreements here, and reasonable people should try to think about that. Paul gives the people on the left a pass, and he shouldn't.

But to be fair (and I hate doing that), the point of the article is about the anger on the right. And that is where Paul ends up winning the argument, as far as I'm concerned. His account of what happened after the O'Reilly show is disturbing, but insightful. I have had some pretty bad encounters on talk shows, but nothing like the one Paul describes. It appears that the very possibility of disagreement is infuriating to many people. Those of us on the right need to acknowledge we have a problem.

I just wish Paul Waldman would fess up that a lot of his people are religious zealots, too, attending the church of Burning Bush.

Low Stakes Poker

Will the congressional Republicans up for reelection start to distance themselves from the administration? I keep getting this question from reporters.

I have trouble with the premise, frankly. I think all the reporters’ friends dislike Bush so much that they think everyone else must, too. Recent polls (see pollingreport.com) have varying leads for Kerry or Bush, depending on how they treat “likely” voters. (The problem is that people lie: “Yes, I’m going to vote” or “Yes, I voted last time”). But the election isn’t over. The Repubs are going to get a lot of sympathy at their convention. It is going to look like the Bronx Zoo opened its doors and let the wild animals run loose. Interviews with liberal street protesters who want to return mankind to the time before we used gasoline, electricity and possibly even the wheel will make the Repubs look pretty calm and rational.

Besides, I would read the poll numbers differently. Bush has had the worst six months of any Prez since Nixon, and his negatives have not gone up that significantly in the past year, in most states. His problem is that independents have started to swing toward disapproval, though only by a narrow margin. (source)
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?"
Percentages--ALL VOTERS--
--Approve: 46 --Disapprove: 45 --Have been living in cave: 9
Republicans
Approve: 85 DisApp: 11 Cave: 4
Democrats
Approve: 15 DisApp: 77 Cave: 8
Independents
Approve: 41 DisApp: 44 Undecided: 15

Why is Kerry treading water, if Bush is doing such a bad job? The answer is that Mr. “I’m JFK, and I served in a PT…er…Swift Boat” is missing his opportunity, by running like an incumbent. The only message Kerry has is (1) I was in Viet Nam, and (2) contentless optimism ("don't be a hater!"). Kerry is NOT an incumbent. He may screw this up. I have talked to several well-connected Democraticos lately, and they just shake their heads at Kerry’s “strategy.” Sure, it could work, but Kerry should have won this on the merits over the past month.

But, okay, suppose. Suppose Bush really does start to sink in the polls. (It is true that his negatives are very high. Negatives are a measure of the susceptibility of voters to negative advertising, and Bush is obviously susceptible, even for people who haven’t made up their minds. The rule of thumb is that a candidate becomes literally unelectable if their negatives go much above 45%. By many recent measures, Bush is at or near this “threshold of political death”).

The Republican members of Congress can’t bail out. In for a penny, in for a pound. The control of the Oval Office, and control of the Senate, are tightly connected. Bush showed that in 2002, when he pulled a rabbit out of hat and the Repubs gained seats in a race where everyone (yes, including K. Grease) predicted early on they would lose them.

I would say the change is this: The race was Bush's to lose. Now it is Kerry's to lose. But Kerry is not winning it. Inexplicable. Why don't they jump on it? Kerry seems to think that if he just avoids mistakes he will win. I think it is much closer than that, and Kerry is taking a huge risk.



So, for the GOP in House and Senate, it's like a poker hand where no one is betting. They might fold if the stakes went up, but since no one is raising the ante, why not stay in the hand and see what cards turn up? If the other side keeps checking, you might as well stay in the game.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Flapping the Taliban Wing

It is barely possible I went a little over the top. This is rare, usually happening only when I am awake.

On a radio show yesterday, I mentioned that the attack ads and moral certainty in some of the Republican primary run-offs in NC were a little distressing. I can’t quote exactly what I said, but it was something like: “This ascendancy of the religious right in politics is new, and disturbing. If the Republicans can’t control their ‘Taliban wing’, they may start to lose moderate voters.”

Some emails I have since received (and others sent to the show’s host) have been a bit miffed. One fellow suggested that the comparison of North Carolina campaign operatives (who are, after all, loyal American citizens) to the Taliban was less than felicitous. In fact, he suggested I do something that is not only anatomically unlikely, but would be profoundly undignified.

(If it matters, by the way, I was raised Presbyterian and now attend a Catholic church with my wife and family. My sons are both raised Catholic, and take Communion).

On thinking it over, my email interlocutors may have a point, but I do not recant. The idea of government in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or in any Sharia state, or for that matter in any theocracy, is very different from a democracy. The general will is found, in a theocracy, by reading and interpreting sacred texts. The application of the (usually ancient) texts to current situations is analogical, with disputes decided by narrowly but deeply trained theologians. They act more like judges, interpreting and extending the law, than like a legislature (which, in a Sharia state, is a weak figurehead body). The citizens, public opinion…that all counts zippo, nada.

In a democracy, by contrast, one has to make arguments, to convince people. The general will is discovered by counting votes, either in direct votes such as referenda or in a representative body (i.e., a republican form of government). It is possible that general will (if it exists) is more clearly embodied in the constitution than in any law, but even then most would agree that the law should be responsive to changes in the views of the public. Given our system, it takes much more than a majority to change the law, since the House and Senate have such different bases of power and the President has to sign the legislation.

But more and more, the Republicans are consulting ancient texts, and insisting that the dictates of those ancient texts now be enacted into law. This seems odd, since Jesus said there should be but one law: love one another.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Galatians 5:14 King James Version)

But our new Christian theocrats consult instead the Old Testament, and find restrictions on homosexuality (so laws should ban gay marriage) and find theological definitions of life (which mean that even nonbelievers cannot get access to birth control or abortions) (This is why people want the Ten Commandments, not a cross, in the courthouses).

The line between religious beliefs and policy is a difficult one. The U.S. has long been an anomaly: A mostly secular nation with many citizens with very strong religious beliefs. We have been committed to separation of church and state because our sectarian diversity prevented any one group from achieving ascendancy. (Just as Madison predicted in Federalist #10). That meant that our religious leaders, for the most part, were dedicated to a transcendent principle: one must not use religious texts as shut-up arguments for policy. You have to make arguments that even non-believers find persuasive, and the basis for law is the will of the people.

So, I persist: If Republicans want to win converts, not just a Pyrrhic election or two, they are going to have to stop flapping their Taliban wing.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Embarrassing Admissions

Duke keeps getting in trouble for "letting" in children of wealthy alumni. For some reason, this makes people furious. Me, I like the idea of tradition, and if you know the kid loves the school that ought to be a plus.

But my colleague (in state, if not institution) and fellow blogger Craig Newmark found an another argument that is interesting in this article....

Soil-ed Green: I voted FOR it before I voted AGAINST it

"We were presuming at that point in time, though, that they were going to do a safe analysis," Kerry said. "My opposition has been on the basis of the analysis that has come back."

Second-guessing on Iraq? Nope, playing the same song, different words, on Yucca Mountain. See this article by Jonah Goldberg, at TownHall, for background.

I have some sympathy with the argument that Kerry, and for that matter Edwards, make about voting for permitting the Prez to take military action, and then criticizing him for using it. They really may have expected him to do things differently.

But now that Kerry is pulling the same garbage on nuclear waste disposal, it makes me see red. Listen to this, from Goldberg:

"Now, I've been to Yucca Mountain and interviewed the scientists there and read quite a few of the studies. And, frankly, I have no idea what Kerry is talking about. Yucca Mountain is indisputably the safest conceivable installation for nuclear waste in America - and, quite probably, on the planet... "

"Anyway, I could go on, but the science on this issue is so settled that no one really disputes it. That's one reason why we've heard so much hyperbole in recent years about how dangerous it would be to transport the waste to Yucca Mountain. Once the waste is there, it's not going to bother anybody."

That's really what is going on here. Putting the stuff in the Nevada desert solves the problem of nuclear waste disposal. That is the LAST thing that anti-nuke activists actually want. They love the fact that, as Goldberg puts it, nuclear waste "is currently strewn across the country like socks and beer cans in a frat house."

Why? Isn't it terribly unsafe that way, spread in literally dozens of different facilities, each requiring redundant storage, monitoring, and armed protection? Doesn't that multiply exponentially the risks to the public?

Of course. That's the point. The anti-nukies want people so afraid of the nuclear bogeyman that we will all vote to end the nuclear power program. Michael Moore accuses the Bushies of using scare tactics, but Sierra Club, the Green Party, and "Enviro-Nazis United to End the Use of the Wheel and Return Man to the Stone Age" all depend on scaring citizens for their contributions. Direct mail solicitations tell entirely fanciful, fully fabricated scare stories about "Mobile Chernobyls" and other demogoguery, when in fact opening Yucca would make most of us much safer.

And Kerry is pandering to these people, with his now standard story: "Sure, I voted for it, but I who knew that I could more votes by denying it later? Since I can get votes, I'll just lie!" Kerry knows perfectly well that science and rational policy require Yucca to be opened up soon.

Makes me see red, to see Kerry pretend to be Green.

(thanks to NP, for the tip)



Still the Thing Itself

It has happened, again. Bureaucrats shut down a lemonade stand. How can they do that? Wrong question: Fact is, the youngsters are breaking the law. The answer is not to give the bureaucrats discretion to ignore stupid laws.. The answer is to get rid of stupid laws, to reduce the bureaucrats’ actual authority in the first place. Life-arrangers shouldn’t be granted authority over small businesses. The power to regulate is the power to destroy.

A loyal reader recently suggested that Walter Peck, EPA movie fall guy, should be the poster boy for this post (sorry). And that’s right. Remember Walter Peck (played well by William Atherton) in GHOSTBUSTERS? There were two memorable exchanges.

1. Peck comes in, with police, and a court order. The court order is cease and desist, for operating an unlicensed facility. He looks around, gloating: “Shut this down, shut it ALL down.” The containment field is shut down, the spook trap explodes, and ghoulies are released into the city.

2. The exchange in the Mayor’s office:

Egon: "We were doing fine until Dickless here shut off the power!"
Peck: "Mr. Mayor, these men are con artists!"
Mayor: "Is this true?"
Venkman: "Yes, it's true. This man has no dick."


That’s what it comes down to. We blame government for hiring jerks like Walter Peck at the EPA. But all he was trying to do was enforce the law. He really did have the best interests of New York, and the U.S., in mind, because he was trying to do his job, having sworn to uphold the law. Why do we all laugh at a hapless bureaucrat trying to enforce stupid, repressive laws, but never connect our scorn to the laws themselves, or the government that needs such repressive machinery to survive. I don’t get it. Congress is the one doing the damage, demogogue-ing and passing new, repressive laws with vague provisions that people like Walter Peck are trying to enforce. We are the dickless ones for putting up with it.

At the end of GHOSTBUSTERS, Walter Peck gets hit by the goo(re) of the Stay-puft man’s explosion. What they actually used was shaving cream, fifty gallons of it. The poor actor had a hard time getting out of the slick, choking foam. And, that’s the last we see of this evil force. Ha ha, bad guy got his. But all the laws are still the same. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

France Drops Out

Interesting point of view, from the NYTimes story yesterday..

But the author of the article gets the lead wrong. The story here is not that some young people in France are rejecting the Anglo-Saxon work ethic. The story is that lots of people in France are rejecting the legacy of socialist ideals of forced equality of mediocrity, and the invidious class structure it always creates. Socialism cannot reward merit, because it operates on the conceit that effort, creativity, and character either don’t really exist or are morally arbitrary characteristics.

Listen to this, from the linked article:

Part of the problem, according to Ms. Maier, is that French companies are frozen by strict social norms.
"Everything depends on what school you went to and what diploma you have," she said, arguing that advancement is slow and comes less from ambition than from endurance. "French corporations," she says, "are not meritocracies."
Workers remain at their jobs until retirement, stymieing the promotion of those below them, she argues, yet a system of patronage and stiff legal protections make it difficult for employers to fire anyone. Years of such stagnation in France's hierarchy-obsessed society have produced elaborate rituals to keep people busy. "Work is organized a little like the court of Louis XIV, very complicated and very ritualized so that people feel they are working effectively when they are not," she said.
Her solution? Rather than keep up what she sees as an exhausting charade, people who dislike what they do should, as she puts it, discreetly disengage. If done correctly - and her book gives a few tips, such as looking busy by always carrying a stack of files - few co-workers will notice, and those who do will be too worried about rocking the boat to complain. Given the difficulty of firing employees, she says, frustrated superiors are more likely to move such subversive workers up than out.

Only a reporter from the Times-Izvestia could think that this is a description of Anglo-Saxon work rules. The description is actually the logical consequence of what most liberals claim they want: a "fair" system, where hard work is either ignored or punished.

[Except the very last part of her quote, of course, where she rediscovered the “Dilbert Principle”: Move the least competent people into management, where they can do the least harm. That is very Anglo-Saxon. American universities certainly do it. How else could K. Grease have become a department chair at the World Wrestling University? (as the Nature Boy, Ric Flair, would say: “WWUUUUUUUUUUU!”)]





Not a Dime’s Worth of Difference

For those who, like Ralph Nader, think that there is no difference between the major party candidates, consider the regulatory process, which largely operates under the media radar, but affects all of us. Interesting in-depth story in the WaPo today.

In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan.

It seems an easy bet that John Kerry, if elected, would have plenty of new regulations for us. You may think that is good, or bad, but it represents an enormous difference. As for me, I am going to send another contribution to Ralph Nader’s campaign. Given the way that the economy is sputtering, the forces of anti-regulation need all the help they can get, and (strangely) Nader is the best friend of regulatory rollback right now. You go, Ralph!.

This reminds me of my first “professional” job, at the Federal Trade Commission in the first Reagan Administration (1984). In the afternoon, we would take a break from our exhausting day of blocking asinine regulations, and go have a big frozen yogurt at a place right beside the entrance to the Washington School for Secretaries. Sitting there having a yogurt, watching dozens of attractive women walk by, we would sometimes say to each other, “You know, this is criminal. We are just stealing our money.”

But then one of us would state the standard defense, one all of us believed fervently: “Not true! If it weren’t for us, occupying these crucial desks, they might very hire someone who would write new regulations! We are doing God’s work here, gentlemen! We are constipating the intestines of the cow of regulation!”

And then we would all click our foam yogurt cups, and argue about where we would go for happy hour that night. Now, those were the days.