2004-11-14

Kulturkampf

In the weeks before the election, I would ask supporters of Bush or Kerry a question intended to reveal the degree of irrationality with which their support was held.  My question was: "If you alone could decide the outcome of the election, what would you accept in exchange for voting for the other guy?"  I placed no limits on demands; if you would give the election to the other guy for a lifetime of daily massages from Jude Law, well, I thought that was rather revealing.  I would always offer my answer: I would have easily countenanced a Bush victory if it meant that we could get rid of the Electoral College and go to a straight national popular vote in presidential elections.  Sometimes I would modify this with a pitch for Instant Runoff Voting, but only if my listener had shown a willingness to look at the election from a larger perspective.

In trying to come up with an answer to the corollary question, "What would you not accept in exchange for guaranteeing the election of your candidate?" it would probably have been helpful to have some suggestions, but I have no doubt I would have rejected a guaranteed Kerry victory had the price been that Kerry would have had, as Bill Clinton allegedly advised, to endorse the 11 state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.  As dreadful as this election result is (generations will weep at what is about to happen to the Supreme Court), for Kerry to have endorsed these amendments would have amounted to a national rejection of the celebration of human dignity and common sense we witnessed last spring in Massachusetts.  Not only would this have been a soul-compromising betrayal of the first order, it would also have been a political failure; as Harry Truman said, "Give the people a choice between a Republican and a Republican and they will choose the Republican every time."

The outcome of the 2004 election was determined by many factors, some of which we cannot know.  Much has been made of reports that Bush supporters cited "moral issues" as a primary motivation for their vote, and I don’t doubt that these reports are more-or-less accurate.  I take issue, however, with the notion that Democrats should somehow accommodate such narrow-minded bigotry; trying to ape the manners of zealotry comes across as condescending at best and "flip-flopping" at worst.  If one needs further convincing of the folly "reaching out" to the Fundies, ask whether, had the election had the opposite outcome, the religious right would subject themselves to self-doubt, recrimination, and calls to accommodate their opponents.

But we don’t have to ask; this precise scenario occurred just six years ago, when this electorate—currently being reviled by the Dems as hopelessly intolerant—rejected the inquisition impeachment proceedings led by Tom DeLay and Ken Starr (and funded by Richard Mellon Scaife) and added to the Democrats’ number in Congress.  Did the Fundies ask themselves, How did we so misjudge the American people?  Indeed not; they were reinvigorated for the struggle ahead and persisted in fund-raising and organizing, often below the radar of the national media.

After Pat Buchanan gave his infamous "cultural war" speech at the 1992 Republican convention and Bush-41 went down to defeat, many on the left assumed that there was no longer a need to fight.  The Cold War was over and soon the Internet Boom was upon us; getting exercised over and becoming politically active in opposition to the Blue Meanies seemed so, well, Eighties.  My wake-up call came during the Starr investigations, when I read that Linda Tripp was motivated to assist the hunting of President Clinton not (primarily) because she thought capital gains taxes were too high, but because she was offended by White House staffers wearing jeans.  That’s when I realized how dangerous it was to ignore the Bluenose Right.

More important than refusing to pander to the Fundies is reclaiming the language of morality.  By accepting this "morality gap" at face value, the left surrenders perhaps the most revolutionary idea of the American experience: that we are a pluralistic society that tolerates, respects, and even celebrates diversity of values.  From the Bill of Rights to the principle of checks and balances, the U.S. Constitution is animated by the belief that no one value system should hold enduring sway over the national conversation.  Americans who demand that all branches of government agree with their positions on not only taxation and foreign policy but also private morality and religious affectation are disregarding our basic civic traditions.  These traditions are best exercised by remaining brazen, loud, and unembarrassed about our support for stem cell research, contraception education, and weddings for homos.

Regarding conspiracy theories of (another) stolen election, of course claims supported by evidence should be vigorously investigated.  The element of gravest concern to me has to be the widespread adoption of electronic voting machines that—for very suspicious reasons—were designed not to leave a paper trail for auditing in case of controversy.  Nevertheless, if one sincerely believes that such unaccountability endangers the integrity of the election, the only proper response is enjoin the election beforehand; permitting one’s candidacy to appear on the ballot forfeits one’s claims to a priori election fraud.  Of course, I have no objection to the scandal and litigation growing so noxious as to create an environment where the controversial voting machines are more likely to be banned, but that’s a different goal from trying to prove, without evidence, that Diebold stole the election for Bush.

Keep in mind that Bush’s margin of victory in 2004 was the second smallest in history (no guesses as to the first) and there’s an argument to be made that Rove & Co. wanted it that way.  Maps like this one flatter the religious right’s position in the culture wars and denigrate that of the left (both secular and religious).  On 12 December 2000, it was impossible to imagine the number and variety of catastrophes George W. Bush would wreak on the nation, but on 11 September 2001, it was obvious before the first World Trade Center tower fell how he would obscure them.  If one is looking for a name to assign to the region (of the spirit as well as the country) that preferred to validate the leadership of a calamitously incompetent executive and unabashedly supra-Constitutional bully, go with the simplest:  Cowardland.

2004-11-01

Marching Orders

Shortly before the polls close, I plan to retreat to an undisclosed location, and I will likely be incommunicado for an indefinite period.  I have therefore compiled the following list of instructions to follow in the event of ElectoRupture:
  • Keys to the cabin are cached within the torso of our Halloween scarecrow, now returned to the back porch.  Avoid the ruts for the first five turns on Spur 12; the anti-tank mines have been armed.  If you’re approaching the lake by air, set your IFF transponder to CA41823.
  • Monitor aluminum prices.  If it rises above $1.15/pound, cease drinking anything other than bottled water (or Bushmills).
  • Credit no report of my death absent first-hand observation of DNA cross-matching with registered samples, including scanning for serial numbers to eliminate cloned tissue.
  • In the event of my verified death, I assign all authority and responsibility to Kevin Hamilton Bruce of Frederick, Maryland; he alone possesses the wisdom and resources necessary to prevail in the coming dark days.
  • Tell him "yes" on #1 and "no" on #2.
  • Under no circumstances summon intervention from Great Cthulhu.  It turns out that, when one factors in the impact on Pacific Rim trade, ushering in the Age of the Old Ones would actually be worse than a second Bush Administration.

2004-10-22

Fall Colors

I haven’t been contacted lately by the local Democrats, probably because the 32nd District is very safe.  Nevertheless, I have already been the (relatively) unwilling recipient of KE04 bumper stickers and yard signs, which languish—undisplayed—in my closet.  Now, I don’t question the marketing doctrine which shows that such advertising has a positive effect; I’m quite sure it does.  But it does so in a completely irrational manner; many people (consciously or not) simply want to vote for the popular candidate, whomever they perceive that to be.  This is basic marketing, and I would hope that any competent campaign targeting an electorate any larger than that of a local precinct would exploit it.  I cannot bring myself to participate in it, however, for reasons that approximate personal ethics.  You see, my reaction to simple bumper stickers and yard signs is to raise my hackles; how dare you imply that I should vote for someone just because a forest of colorful bunting confronts me every day as I commute to and from work.  There’s no argument, no persuasion; just, "Vote with us because we’re a big mob."  It offends my sense of civic duty.  So while I hope the swing states are carpeted in KE04 blue, our yard will devote its space to more seasonally appropriate displays and my car’s bumper will reserve its blind alliegance for a more deserving cause.

2004-10-21

Do As I Say

Here they are: Eric’s endorsements for the general election on Tuesday 02 November 2004.  Note that not every ballot selection carries an explicit endorsement; some choices were made less than rigorously.

We live in a republic, not a democracy.  We elect representatives to make our laws for us so we can get on with more immediate issues, such as following professional sports.  As a general rule, therefore, initiatives should be considered attempts by special interest groups to hijack the legislature, and referenda should be considered attempts by craven legislators to delegate their job duties to amateurs, all at the taxpayers’ expense.  I don’t know what the fuck an "Advisory Measure" is, but it sounds like a publicly-financed opinion poll.  Absent extreme overriding concerns, therefore, the dutiful citizen should vote NO on all initiatives, referenda, and ballot measures.

 
  • Initiative 872:  Yes
    This initiative, born of an infantile reaction to the elimination of the Washington’s First-Amendment-violating blanket primary, is the worst of all the primary election options yet proposed.  Nevertheless, I hope it passes because I believe the major parties when they say that if I-872 passes, they’ll pull out of primaries altogether and nominate their candidates in conventions, which is how it should be.
  • Initiative 884:  No
    This initiative is endorsed by all the right people and opposed by all the right people, and I very rarely say no to increased public school funding.  However, it also makes use of two of the worst blights upon Washington politics: sales tax and dedicated funding.  Sales tax is horribly regressive and Washington’s is already the highest in the nation.  I am sympathetic to the Leninist argument that "the worse, the better," i.e, that we should make the system worse so that the people will support revolutionary change; therefore, we should increase sales tax in order to improve the climate for the obvious solution: dumping sales tax altogether and adopting a state income tax.  Such sympathy, however, does not exceed that I extend to those in lower tax brackets whose disposable income will be eroded over the years until the Glorious Revolution.  Dedicated funding is just as benighted.  What’s next, submitting the state budget to referenda?
  • Initiative 892:  No
    Lower property taxes, more slot machines, Tim Eyman completes his political comeback; no thanks.
  • Referendum 55:  No
    I Public School Bureaucrats.
  • Initiative 297:  Yes
    What’s the worst that could happen—all our nuke waste jobs are outsourced to Nevada?
  • King County Charter Amendment, Question 1:  No
    Gridlock good, Tim Eyman bad.
  • King County Charter Amendment, Question 2:  1B
  • King County Advisory Measure 1:  Don’t ask me.
  • King County Advisory Measure 2:  Dock the pay of whoever let this crap get on the ballot.
  • President/Vice-President of the United States:  Treebeard/Pippin
  • United States Senator:  It’s Pat.
    Patty Murray is as dumb as a post and her voting record is undistingushed.  Doesn’t matter a damn; this is about blocking Evil judicial appointments and restoring gridlock to Congress, and Murray is a loyal Democratic lickspittle.
  • Congressional District No. 7 U.S. Representative:  Baghdad Jim
    I voted for Joe Szwaja in 2000 out of pure anti-incumbency pique.  McDermott’s got one of the safest Democratic seats in the House, and four years ago I thought he might be in danger of becoming too lazy and comfortable.  Whether his trip to Baghdad in the Winter of 2003 was a luxury that only a politician with a safe seat could indulge or a genuine response to the relatively strong showing by Szwaja, I think it was a tactical error.  Nevertheless, McDermott was one of the very few people in (the other) Washington who clearly, forcefully, and timely spoke out against the Administration’s fear-mongering after 9/11 (even if he should have done so from the Capitol steps rather than the Baghdad Sheraton).
  • Governor of Washington:  Sherbie
    With a divided and spineless state legislature, a visionary governor might be able make major improvements.  Unfortunately, Locke has done little but ape the worst of Clintonism’s pro-corporate centrism, surrendering the initiative (pun unfortunately intended) for statewide reform to the likes of Tim Eyman.  On the major state-level issues that motivate my vote (tax reform, gay marriage) Locke’s administration has been a whistling void of leadership.  I have seen nothing from the State Democrats to challenge the impression that Gregoire will be more of the same.  I even have philosophical reservations about Gregoire’s one signature achievement, her participation in the tobacco settlement; it was a terribly paternalistic precedent to set, everything that I hate about contemporary liberalism.  I’ve been searching high and low for something about Rossi that is so vile that I would be compelled to vote for Gregoire, but I haven’t found it.  So I’m going with Sherbie.
  • Lieutenant Governor:  Take This Job And Abolish It
    Jocelyn Langlois promises to do away with this bucket-of-warm-piss job, and I concur.
  • Secretary of State:  Sam the Eagle
    Sam Reed fought to keep the puerile blanket primary, but there’s no question that when he did so he was following the will of his constituents.  On the other hand, he understands the need for ballot paper trails.
  • State Treasurer:  Sherbie
  • State Auditor:  Sherbie
  • Attorney General:  The Owl Lady
    Deborah Senn sees through the cant that passes under the name "tort reform" and recognizes if for the corporate payoff that it is.  More importantly, she has the right enemies.
  • Commissioner of Public Lands:  The Tree Hugger
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction:  Dump the WASL
    Judith Billings is agin’ the WASL, Terry Bergeson is fer it.  Vote for Judy.
  • Insurance Commissioner:  Deborah Senn II
  • State Legislative District No. 32, Representative Position 1:  Eric Emme
    I never vote for unopposed candidates, unless I know them personally, which is the case with Emme.
  • State Legislative District No. 32, Representative Position 2:  Eric Emme
  • State Supreme Court, Position 1:  Not Jim Johnson
  • State Supreme Court, Position 5:  Sherbie
  • State Supreme Court, Position 6:  Not Richard Sanders
    Some people say Sanders "energizes" the judiciary.  I used to think the same thing about Antonin Scalia.
  • State Court of Appeals, Divsion No. 1, District No. 1:  Sherbie
  • King County Superior Court, Position 23:  Andrea Darvis
  • King County Superior Court, Position 42:  Catherine Moore
 

2004-10-07

Margin of Litigation, cont'd

Mark asks for a clarification:

What is your actual prediction on this topic?  That the networks won't announce a winner?  That there will be enough uncertainty that a significant number of people expect the election-night results to be overturned?  Or just that some lawsuits will be filed and a few will hem and haw a bit?  Or are you talking about just non-specific further disillusionment with the electoral college?

The last two seem likely, the first two not so much.

While some networks might be more hesitant than they have in the past, I’m sure they’ll all declare a winner; there’s no ratings in agnosticism.  I’m convinced that a "significant" number of people will expect election-night results to be overturned; Bush v. Gore exposed too many previously-unexamined flaws in our election regularity, and every report since then has indicated that it’s just gotten worse.  Add this to widespread perception of both parties engaging in "dirty tricks," and you’ve got an electorate ready to (dis)believe anything.  More than a few suits will certainly be filed; I’m sure both parties targeted likely districts long ago (Any Democrats hiring paralegals/legal assistants in King/Snohomish Counties?).  Further disillusionment with the Electoral College will just be a bonus.

The systematic obstacle to litigating as many results as possible is that there is a financial cost.  And some amount of public ridicule, which will vary with perceptions of legitimacy.  I think the cost of doing so twice in a row will be high enough that it's unlikely for the Dems to do it again unless they're pretty sure they'll win.  The Patricians may try it, hoping the "turnabout's fair play" defense outweighs the hypocrisy of doing so after screaming about losers who try to l[itig]ate elections.

Of course the cost of litigation limits its employment, but I’m sure the parties have come to consider it a "cost of doing business" and will spend the money where it will have the greatest effect.  What has changed is the public perception of the propriety of post-election litigation.  I’m a bit startled by the version of events of the 2000 election implied by the characterization, "the Dems … do[ing] it again."  It takes a pretty blinkered perspective to conclude that the 2000 election would have acceptably sorted itself out had the Democrats not committed the breach of submitting it to litigation.  I’m not aware of anyone outside the Republican base who believes that, and I’m not aware of anyone inside the Republican base who would let (the perception of) hypocrisy prevent them from engaging in similar litigation where they thought they would benefit from it.  As lamentable as it may be, we have "defined [electoral] deviancy down."

I think it'll (continue to) be fairly uncommon for there to be a serious amount of uncertainty regarding the next president beyond election night.  If I were to wager, I'd go as high as 5:1 against, if we could come up with some working definition of "serious uncertainty".

Sounds like whistling past the graveyard (vote) to me.

Margin of Litigation

I have received more than one invitation to attend Election Night gatherings this November, both with and without alcoholic celebration/consolation, but I fear I may have to decline them all.  Not only am I no longer in a position, as I have been in the past, to defer my responsibilities for the day after, I also stand by my prediction that the time when the outcome of Presidential elections (and probably many others) could be definitively determined on the same day that the last votes were cast are over.  Whether we ever iron out controversies over voting methods and fraud, there appears to be no systemic obstacle to litigating as many results as possible.  The only thing that will be clear on Wednesday 03 November 2004 is that there has got to be a better way of doing this.

2004-10-05

Draft-Mongering

Anyone who decries the "slimy tactics" and "politics of fear" employed by the Bush campaign should be taken equally aback by the spreading of rumors that a second Bush Administration will re-instate the draft.  No one connected with the Administration has ever indicated that a draft would be necessary, and military planners all agree that draftees make dramatically poorer troops than volunteers.  Advocates of "raising the level" of political discourse should remind Bush opponents that rumors of a return of the draft are objectively baseless and appeal to the most primitive political reflexes.  Of course, I endorse such rumor-mongering completely.

The first reason to engage in such tactics is that the Bushies won’t let themselves be bound by delicate notions of honesty or ethics.  In the more than 20 years I have been observing politics, the Republicans have only grown more shameless, while Democrats have occasionally experimented with "taking the high road."  Ask Michael Dukakis and Paul Tsongas how that worked out.  The American electorate has had plenty of opportunities to reward politicians who abjure pandering, negative ads, and propaganda, and it has consistently failed to do so.  Instead of employing campaign tactics for an electorate I would like to have, I would rather target the electorate we actually have.

The other reason to circulate draft rumors is that, while objectively false, they evoke emotional responses that correspond to a deeper truth.  The Bush Administration has repeatedly denied a need for the draft, but the most plausible scenario for a return of the draft would almost certainly be an ad hoc decision forced on the Administration well past the point of prudence.  Raising the issue of the draft focuses public attention on this failing of the Bush Administration in a way that is as accurate as it is effective: the government of George W. Bush is typified by incompetence and zealotry, and when its policies fail, rather than acknowledge reality its first response is to try to obscure its error by squandering American prestige, treasure, and blood.

2004-10-04

The Recreational Is Political

John Holbo continues to wrestle with whether he should be worried that people who read books similar to the Left Behind series (a genre that has been called "ApocoLit") can distinguish Biblical prophecies from, say, reality TV.  Of course, this is the kind of condescension that does liberalism no favors, and Holbo owns up to the possibility that fundamentalist christians might be able to read Rapture porn and still participate in civil democracy no more impaired than closet nihilists like Grover Norquist.

One of Holbo’s commenters strikes home with the comparison to science fiction.  Can one read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at least once every two years throughout adulthood and still support the Welfare Queen Party?  Why, yes.

2004-10-02

Wait For It

It’s been my experience that even Google isn’t as fast with this sort of thing as one might like.  Besides, most slash writers are straight women, and I suspect they’re still too busy with Pippin and Treebeard.

2004-09-30

I Don't Like To Watch

Part of me thinks I should apologize for preferring not to watch or listen to political speeches, but few of my acquaintances watch them, either.  I occasionally read transcripts, and I always read post-speech analysis and spin because, for better or worse, I am much more interested in how a speech is received and spun than the actual content.  Even acquaintances who do watch political speeches and share their opinions with me cannot help setting their review in the context of "how it will play;" no one I know expects political oratory to effect themselves.

Nevertheless, while I am ultimately more interested in the debates’ effect upon the electorate, I expect to (record and) watch the debates over the next few weeks.  Like many Democrats, I am dreading another rendition of Goofus and Gallant.  During the negotiations on the debate ground rules, I secretly half-wished the two campaigns would fail to agree and there would be no debates at all.  Bush is unabashedly incurious, anti-intellectual, and inarticulate, but by highlighting these...attributes (I wish I could call them shortcomings), the Kerry campaign has fatally lowered expectations for Bush.  Given that The Narrative has been established, there’s no reason for anyone who’s not paid to do so to watch the debates, right?  I mean, no one’s going to change their vote just because Bush claims to have captured "Osama bin Hussein" or because Kerry challenges a moderator’s definition of "war," are they?

Yet I have to watch.  This has been the most disastrous administration since Harding’s, and if it is somehow permitted to endure beyond 20 January 2005, I will be compelled to seek an explanation in whatever minutiae of political discourse and theater as are available to me.  If Kerry is able to persuade enough voters that George W. Bush poses a generational threat (in multiple senses) to the Republic, I will need to know how he managed it.  One way or another, to one end or another, it will be inspirational.

2004-09-20

Instant Democracy

Truncheon.net | for your posture
I’ve gotten some feedback regarding my call to support Initiative 872 because I believe it will provoke the parties to withdraw from state-funded primary elections altogether.  Bob Koerner writes:

I saw your blog entry, where you say you're supporting I-872 because you think it will get the parties out of the primary election business, and I’d like to encourage you to reconsider.  The "Top Two" deal is really bad for voters, not for the parties.  All of the independent and minor party candidates will get eliminated in the Primary, and they'll never show up on the November ballot at all.  If the parties hold some kind of nominating convention to pick the candidates before the September Primary, to make sure they have their act together and don't split their voters, that will mean the two candidates who advance to the General Election will have been chosen by even fewer people than get involved now. I don't see how that's a better deal for voters—it seems like a better deal for Party Power-Brokers.

A much better choice is Instant Runoff Voting.  On that plan, everyone who wants to run can fill out a petition and get on the General Election ballot in November, just like they do now.  We get to pick our first choice, second choice, third choice, and so forth.  When they count the votes, if no candidate gets half of the votes, you eliminate the lowest vote-getter and redistribute his votes to those voters' second choice.  If no candidate has half of the votes now, you cut the next-lowest vote-getter and move their ballots to their second choice.  And so forth until one of the candidates has 50% of the votes cast.  It's like holding the Primary and General Elections all at once, we get to choose between all the options without "wasting a vote" if we pick someone kind of radical as our first choice, and we can eliminate the expense of the primaries altogether.

There are some moves underway to get a proposal out for IRV in Washington, but they're too late for this election.  I'm afraid if we pass I-872 this fall, we'll be stuck with the really terrible "Top Two" plan because everybody will be tired of talking about the Primaries.  If we shoot down I-872, it will send a clear message to the legislature that we don't like that ugly plan, and we need a better solution.  These decisions really are important—once it's settled, we'll have to deal with it for a very long time.  I see a vote against I-872 as a vote for taking the time to do it right.

A wise man observed that in our society there are three primary elements for influencing government: political parties, special interest groups, and the media.  Weakening any one of these elements necessarily strengthens the others.  I don’’t want any one of these elements dominating access to politicians, but I think the parties are currently the weakest of the three.  As someone who more-or-less identifies as a partisan, I want the parties to stand for something, and retaining control over the nomination of candidates is both appropriate and effective to this purpose.  When it comes to nominating candidates, I’’ll take "Party Power-Brokers" over voters any day; the voters may express their disapproval when they’’re supposed to, at the general election.  (Incidentally, "Party Power-Brokers" isn’t nearly as frightening to me as "Tim Eyman" or "Frank Blethen.")

I share Bob’’s support for Instant Runoff Voting; it’s clever, it permits greater expression of relative preference (I contend voting in a representative democracy is a species of Expressionism), and it rewards adepts in marginal decision-making.  I would vote for IRV, on its merits.  I would also support IRV because it would require more effort than many Americans would be willing to expend on something they regard as ephemeral as voting, with the result that apathetic voters would be even more discouraged from voting than they are now, which I consider a good thing. (For more in this vein, read Larry David).

Of course, there’s nothing about IRV that requires it to apply to primary elections, so Bob’’s line, "it’’s like holding the Primary and General Elections all at once," isn’’t very helpful.  Clearly, my support for IRV is restricted to the general election; I would prefer it if the parties nominated their candidates on their own dime.  IRV adoption, therefore, isn’’t necessarily linked to primary reform (although I’m sure its advocates are relying on discontent with the end of the blanket primary to mobilize support).

Unfortunately for supporters of IRV, I don’t think it has much chance of passing on its own, even if I-872 had never made it onto the ballot.  I am therefore shedding no tears over Bob’’s concern that I-872 will steal IRV’s thunder; it wasn’t very loud to start with.

2004-09-15

It's Not My Party

Mark writes in with concern that my condemnation of Washington’s late blanket primary implies an endorsement of state-funding of private elections.  Mark’s point is well-taken; one interpretation of the lamentations over the demise of the blanket primary is that since the public pays for primary elections, the public ought to decide how they’re run.  Unfortunately for proponents of this argument, primaries are a seller’s market, and the parties form a cartel.

What do the parties get out of primary elections?  The parties have determined (correctly or not) that the polling data gained through publicly-funded primaries is worth the damage inflicted by non-registered voters interfering with the nomination.  If it weren’t for the polling data—the "trial run"—the parties would much prefer to handle nominations internally, at party conventions where only active party members would have a voice.

What do voters get out of primary elections?  Well, under the rules of yesterday’s primary, Washington voters got to choose among candidates for a single party, and (unlike in other states) they did so anonymously and they can effortlessly change parties in the next election.  Did you get your money’s worth?

The bottom line regarding primary elections, in Washington and elsewhere, is that they are indulgences voluntarily extended to the public by the parties on the parties’ terms and subject to withdrawal at any time.  Washington’s blanket primary was a local anomaly that voters came to regard as an entitlement, but the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and Article I of the Washington Constitution, by the way) guarantees the right to freedom of assembly, and that includes the freedom of parties to control how their candidates get nominated.

A mature electorate would refuse to pay for primary elections on the grounds that they are private affairs.  For better or worse, we seem to enjoy the conceit of participation too much to renounce it.  As little as I think of the blanket primary, it might seem surprising that I am encouraging everyone to vote for Initiative 872, which would establish a "top-two" primary in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.  I support I-872 because I believe the parties when they threaten to pull out of primary elections altogether if I-872 passes.

2004-09-13

Well I'll Be A ...

Doug referred me to the blog of David Goldstein, who seems to have come to prominence by pursuing and heckling Tim Eyman with the tenacity of a Gila monster, but now takes on other malefactors on the Washington (state) political scene as well.

2004-09-03

This Is Your Captain

Even before I read about Zell Miller’’s N├╝rnberg rally keynote address, I had been feeling uneasy with my recent dismissal of the effectiveness of political activism on my part.  I have long understood that most political activists are less worried about "being effective" than serving issues of personal fulfillment ("I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.").  What I have been slow to appreciate is that I could use a little of that fulfillment myself (that I’m currently "between opportunities" has made this more apparent).

So when my Precinct Committee Officer called and asked if I would be willing to be a block captain, I said sure.  My weighty responsibilities include knocking on the doors of the 14 addresses on my list, making sure the registered voter(s) residing there understand the new-fangled primary ballot, and offering a ride (on my PCO’s behalf) to anyone who needs a ride to the polling place on Primary Election Day.  Oh, and because the list of addresses is the product of proprietary demographic research, I have to destroy it after I’’ve contacted everyone on it.

As amusing as the confusion over the new ballot is, I am more exercised over the childish indignation over the demise of Washington’s blanket primary.  Despite their undeniable compromising by corporate contributions, political parties are ultimately private organizations with the First-Amendment-guaranteed right to free assembly, including the right to control membership and candidates.  The parties accept a public subsidy in the form of state-funded primaries, but there’s no reason they have to; Washington’s parties were quite sincere when they said in their suit to ban the blanket primary that they would sooner nominate delegates and candidates via caucuses and conventions than submit to an uncontrolled primary.  In other states, voters must register as members of a particular party months before the primary election, and it is not trivial to switch registrations.  The current Washington primary rules require no such registration; partisan declaration is as anonymous as the vote itself.  Washingtonians who complain of their "freedom being taken away" should consider that—unlike voting in a general election—nominating a party’s candidate is a privilege, not a right.

2004-08-26

2004-08-12

"My Our Truth"

I hope no one is surprised that the most pithy comment of the day goes to Wonkette:

We hope that someday it won’t mean much to go on national television and announce, "I am a gay American." Someday, we hope that kind of announcement comes at the beginning of someone’s political career, not the end.

2004-08-04

Fish In A Barrel

I think it’s fitting to post this to mark the passing of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who summed up his philosophy of photography thusly: "As De Gaulle used to say, ‘Aim well, shoot fast, and get the hell out.’"

2004-07-12

All Your Swing Are Belong To Us

I suppose if this blog has a beat, it’s plumbing the depths of epistemological paranoia and distrust of the Bush Administration, so I imagine I’m expected to weigh in on the report that the Department of Defense Against the Dark Arts Homeland Security is preparing contingency plans for delaying the presidential election in the event of "an Al Qaeda strike."  Making the uncharitable but nonetheless realistic assumption that this contigency planning is primarily motivated by political concerns of the Bushies, I am confident in declaring that no such delay would actually be implemented.

A major terrorist attack on the eve of the election would perfectly suit Rove’s strategy of energizing the Republican base and depressing turnout.  Just as it took years for the political mainstream to question Bush’s competence in possibly preventing 9/11, the immediate aftermath of another atrocity would preclude public consideration that it might demonstrate Bush’s unfitness to be President.  Bush’s constituency consists solely of: 1) Apocalyptic Christians, 2) people who believe Bush has been and will continue to be a good "war president," and 3) people who viscerally loathe Democrats and/or Kerry (Bush also has the support of the plutocrats, but they don’t vote with ballots—they voted with their checkbooks months ago).  In the event that the U.S. is attacked close to the election, it is in Bush’s interest to ensure that the election goes forward; the first two groups of Bush’s base are the least likely to be deterred from going to the polls.  Rather than attempt to win swing voters, Rove would rather they not vote at all, whether out of apathy, disgust, or fear.

This, of course, is the reason the report was publicized; no one who is offended by the thought of postponing elections was planning to vote for Bush anyway, but planting the mere possibility in the public consciousness takes the FUD strategy to the next step.  Expect an orange October and a histrionic World Series.

One unforeseen benefit of this meme is that it allows me to return to my other hobbyhorse, the dire need for electoral reform in this country, all the more appalling in light of what we should have learned from the 2000 election.  Despite such (arguably) more plausible circumstances for suspension of elections as the Civil War and potential nuclear attack, the United States has never truly acknowledged the fragility of this fundamental institution of democracy.  Any serious plan for delaying a national election would necessarily invite discussion of what I originally thought was a necessary response to the 2000 election fiasco (in addition to the thunderingly obvious reform of abolishing the Electoral College): federalizing presidential elections.  In the wake of Diebold, however, I’ve decided that the last thing the presidential election needs is a monoculture.  Teresa Nielsen Hayden has further questions as an exercise for the reader citizen.

2004-06-05

Broken News

Of the many lamentable developments to afflict our nation as a result of 9/11, the dilution/distortion of the term "Breaking News," while not the most depressing, remains among the most annoying.  Its original meaning referred to developing stories, to events that are still happening.  In these days of the 24/7 bottom-screen crawl, the term "Breaking News" (and its garish banner) is applied to any story that news "analysts" are still talking about.

Whatever else one considers the news that President Droolcup has finally repaired to God’s green room, it is certainly not "breaking;" that obit has been in the can since mid-1987.

2004-06-02

The Mithraist Candidate

Matthew Yglesias Dares Call It Conspiracy.  Alternative explanations are referred to Bill Ockham.

2004-05-28

With Malice Towards None

For most of my life I, like many Americans, was somewhat hazy on the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  The best I could come up with was "Memorial Day is for the dead veterans, and Veterans Day is for the live ones."  It was never clear to me whether veterans who survived war but died as civilians qualified for Memorial Day.  Most Americans honor all veterans (and, later, policemen, fireman, and similarly para-military civil servants) on both days, and everyone is satisfied.

Nevertheless, I’ve always held Memorial Day in somewhat lower esteem.  It lets itself be displaced to accommodate the first long weekend of the summer.  It is more readily associated with race cars than with remembrance.  It conspires with Flag Day (a truly idolatrous holiday) to incite stores to display forests of Old Glory for eight weeks prior to Independence Day.  Veterans Day, on the other hand, remains steadfastly on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, is stoically observed in reliably inclement weather, and resists all merchandising strategies.

Veterans Day has its origins, of course, in the end of the First World War, as a poignant post-Victorian gesture of resolve that the worst of the Twentieth Century should have been behind us.  Its nigh-ubiquitous observance in Western nations dampens the embers of nationalistic resentment that are otherwise endemic to war memorials.  As with many other internationalist attachments, the United States was slow to embrace Armistice Day (as November 11th was first called and still remains in Europe), but when we did, we meant it.

It is telling of my relative disregard that only recently did it occur to me to inquire into the origins of Memorial Day.  In so doing, I answered another question I hadn’t realized I had: which holiday is most suited to commemoration of the American Civil War?  When I was a lad in Tucson in the 1970s, every Independence Day the local historical recreation society put on a mock Civil War battle at a nearby park (Arizonans cannot decide whether they look up more to Texas or to Florida, which is reflected in the fact that the Confederacy won approximately two-thirds of the battles).  Despite its proximity to the anniversary of Gettysburg, however, Independence Day is too laced with (multiple flavors of) irony to decorously commemorate the Civil War.

Unlike some other nations, the United States does its best to bury unpleasant chapters of history.  While we may remember and note the dates and events, we do not observe Antietam Day, Vicksburg Day, or Gettysburg Day.  We do not even really celebrate Emancipation Day or Appomattox Day; the former reminds us of promises broken, while the latter constitutes the kind of triumphalism that America, at its best, abjures.

On 05 May 1866, the citizens of Waterloo, New York, closed their shops and decorated the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers in the town cemetery with flowers and wreaths, calling it Decoration Day.  Two years later at Arlington National Cemetery, Retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan proclaimed 30 May to be Memorial Day.  Emphasizing reconciliation, the ceremony honored fallen soldiers from both the Federal and Confederate armies while affirming all of them to be victims of a national tragedy, that nation being the restored Union.

Sadly, many communities in the South continue to observe (on various dates) Confederate Memorial Day.  I consider this practice, like flying the Confederate Battle Flag, to be completely within their rights while nonetheless utterly disgraceful and disrespectful.  Just as I would argue against flying the Stars & Bars over government buildings, I contend that segregating Confederate war dead from the rest of American memorial services obscures the resolution that all Americans should take from any commemoration of the Civil War: that our common humanity and mutual liberty are the noblest causes for which our countrymen may give their lives.

2004-05-23

Palme Doh!

The greatest crime in Michael Moore’s award of the Palme d’Or is that it tarnishes the reputation of a festival European glitterati giving that narcissistic moins que rien a standing ovation will only be surpassed when Woody Allen finally decamps for a house in Roman Polanski’s villa.

Of more immediate concern is the damage it does to the anti-Bush (not necessarily Democratic or lefty) movement.  In trying to determine how I can best influence (increasingly hypothetical) swing voters from not voting for Bush in November, I’ve come to the dismaying conclusion that the issue is beyond rational debate.1  If you’re going to vote for Bush, either you have identified yourself (correctly or not) with the subset of the population that will tangibly benefit from another four years of Bush, or you are operating from within a different epistemology than I am.  Either way, I can’t help you; this is simply not something about which reasonable people can disagree.

The only way that Bush opponents can be effective in creating the conditions for Bush supporters to drop their support is not to shame the movement; don’t give his supporters any reason to be embarrassed to criticize Bush, don’t confirm their prejudices, and don’t indulge in schoolyard taunting.  As shameful as they are, the scandals (Plame, Abu Ghraib, Chalabi) won’t sink Bush; his supporters rationalized them away long ago.  The only to way help our fellow Americans out of the Bush camp is to be more grown-up than Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter.  I’m looking at you, Franken.

[1]  Note that, in a pluralistic democracy, this sentiment is the secular equivalent of the Christian sin of despair; it is an abrogation of the civil contract that binds society.  Historically, this degree of apostasy has inevitably led to crime, insurrection, and civil war.  Check back in six months.

2004-05-22

Drop The Chalabi

Something to bear in mind when trying to guess how the Bush Administration (and its myriad supporters) will try to square Chalabi’s pivotal role in justifying the war in Iraq with recent allegations that Chalabi, in addition to being an international con man of the first order, also passed American military secrets to Iran: when Bush’s supporters are asked why they support him, they consistently cite his motivation; "his heart’s in the right place."  The Bushies may well have decided that Chalabi’s last remaining utility is as a scapegoat, exploiting the ill-conceived "Bush is an idiot" meme.  Faced with the choice between admitting that Bush recklessly pursued the flimsiest of war justifications for political gain or concluding that Bush was well-intentioned but taken advantage of by a Bad Man, which do you think the American electorate would rather believe?

2004-05-21

Slick Willi

Jim Henley gives us a lovely image: "Bush isn't Hitler; he’s Kaiser Wilhelm at best."  With his malformed arm, signifying helmet, and Freudian issues with Queen Victoria, the Kaiser seems comical and harmless from out here in the 21st century.  Then one remembers that, as Jim darkly hints, Wilhelm was a necessary (if not quite sufficient) condition for setting the stage for Adolf.

2004-05-19

Send The Marines

Apocryphally, Tom Lehrer once claimed to have retired from satire after Henry Kissinger’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize rendered political satire obsolete.  This week, The Onion is having similar difficulty.

2004-05-08

My Lai Or Yours?

There are several good reasons why a society such as ours might eschew endorsement of the use of torture.  It is notoriously poor at providing accurate informationIt irreparably damages our reputation as a force for civilizationIt invites similar retribution against our own people.

But the best reason we should renounce torture is that it unfits our torturers to return to society.  We ask our police, soldiers, and spies to test the bounds of decency and morality in the name of duty, and we are only partially successful at helping them reconcile their acts with their values.  We are no better at assimilating war criminals, nor should we aspire to be.

Unfortunately, the revelations coming out of Abu Ghraib won’t have the effect Bush opponents are hoping for.  Rumsfeld won’t resign, and even if he did, it wouldn’t matter; the policies that abetted these crimes won’t change without many more heads rolling.  More importantly, Bush won’t take much political damage.  Despite all the indignation and rending of garments, at the end of the day the only voters who have been permanently repulsed by these crimes are people who weren’t going to vote for Bush anyway.  Bush’s supporters have already condoned such "collateral damage" as the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians; why would they go wobbly over a few Mapplethorpe ripoffs?

I’m reminded of the West Wing episode where a Middle Eastern ambassador implies that exposing the President’s role in the assassination of an Arab politician would be politically embarrassing for the President.  Leo replies:

You think the President’s afraid that if he admitted complicity in Shareef’s death, he would lose votes in this country? To sweep all fifty states, the President would only need to do two things—blow the Sultan’s brains out in Times Square, then walk across the street to Nathan’s and buy a hot dog.
Far too many Americans have established—at whatever level of consciousness—a moral reciprocity between the horror of 9/11 and the horrors "incidentally" inflicted by our forces in Iraq.  This imbecility was given dumbfounding voice by Senator Lieberman on Thursday:

[The behavior of the Abu Ghraib guards] deserves the apology that [Secretary Rumsfeld has] given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military. I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized.
International law, American military regulations, and kindergarten-level ethics all proscribe torture.  Bush is therefore constrained from publicly stating otherwise.  But through his swaggering rhetoric, systemic contempt for the rule of law, and casual invocation of theological alienation, Bush has encouraged the dehumanization of any Iraqi that doesn’t 100% support the American occupation of their country.  Clearly, the Bush Administration would have preferred that the Abu Ghraib report and photos had been released differently, but that they were released at all doesn’t lose Bush anyone he hadn’t already lost and it wins him support among those who find justice in such images.  All that remains is to affect a little contrition:

People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent. They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.
It might not be the America that George W. Bush knows, but if he is re-elected in November, it is the America that will be responsible.

2004-05-06

Red State

Lileks once again poses as the Reasonable Man™:
Much huggermugger in the blogworld over the latest Rall cartoon; lots of speculation about whether he’ll be dropped from the syndicate, lose readership, meet up with an angry Tillman relative. But sometimes just being yourself is punishment enough. I have no idea if Mr. Rall is personally happy, although the one time I met him he didn’t strike me as a jolly old soul. But it has to be hard to be happy when one carries around so much bile and rage. It’s tiring. Anger wears you down, especially when your anger doesn’t seem to accomplish anything. Ted Rall’s cartoons could have run in every paper every day since 9/11 and there will still be kids who saw Tillman’s choice as a remarkable act. (Tillman’s Choice: there’s a phrase that sums up quite a lot, doesn’t it?) People like Rall are sitting on the curb, feet in the gutter, watching the parade go past, smirking at the guy with the baton, sneering at the cheerleaders. Everyone else watching the parade thinks I wonder if there will be elephants! And when they do appear, he rolls his eyes. Elephants. How obvious.

You want to live like that? I don’t want to live like that. Because when you see red all the time you miss things.
"Seeing red all the time;" why does that sound familiar?  Oh, yes.

2004-05-05

"I Love My Gay Dead Son!"

I hate funerals; no one knows how to act, and everyone tries to comport themselves with what they think others’ ideas of piety and respectfulness are.  The bulk of my experience has been with American funerals, and there’s nothing more un-American than death.

The last funeral I attended was in France, but that, too, lacked a consensus as to proper comportment and sentiment.  No one wants to disturb mourners with challenges to the treacly bromides that are the common currency of such events, and the choice between quiet dignity and moist catharsis is rarely met with universal approval.  Even dressing is a chore; only the flowers are supposed to be attractive at a funeral.

It was therefore a wry pleasure to read the words of Rich, Pat Tillman’s youngest brother.  Drink up.

2004-04-18

If The Foo Shits...

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the spectacularly obtuse den mother over at The Corner, and this evening she wrote:
MY BASIC QUESTION [KJL] Why does the president sit down with Bob Woodward in the first place? We have, evidently, in the Woodward book, based on 60 Minutes and Post excerpts, a portrait of a simple-minded Christian who thinks he was sent by God to give the whole world freedom, and who doesn't consider himself accountable to Congress, the Constitution, or anyone else. Which would just a typical Beltway book—one current account of history, from the angle of its main sources or writer—if it weren't for the legitimacy stamp it gets from having the president as one of its only on-the-record sources.
A more basic question for Lopez (and all other Bush supporters): if this image of Bush offends your sensibilities, is it wiser to impugn the legitimacy of the image or to re-evaluate your support?

2004-04-15

Caucus Update

As a duly elected alternate delegate, today I received the official call to my Legislative District Democratic Caucus on Saturday 01 May 2004.  Since I’m pledged to Dean, I occasionally receive e-mail from Washington Democrats who acknowledge Kerry’s inevitable nomination but still want to use the Dean delegation’s "influence" to get its message adopted into Kerry’s platform.  And how do they propose I aid this vital cause?  By attending the all-day caucus and pledging my support to Kucinich.

I think I’ll find somewhere else to spend the first Saturday in May.

2004-04-11

I Hate It When I'm Right

I don’t, actually, but I do share much of Jim Henley’s ambivalence and resignation.  I don’t feel guilt over my relief that the geopolitical bankruptcy of the Bush Administration’s policies has been made apparent sooner rather than later, but seven months is a depressingly long time to wait for hope of regime change, either while manning a Baghdad checkpoint or (in an obviously less courageous avocation) entertaining paranoid electoral scenarios.

2004-04-06

The Real Enemy

Foolish Spaniards; they gave in to Al Qaeda when they should have been appeasing Prince Albert.

2004-03-31

Mock Radio

Through a combination of earnestness and contrarianism, certain enterprises (such as Christian rock, the Log-Cabin Republicans, and advice from Jim’s Dad) invite mockery.  Whether one’s goal is effective political advocacy or profitable entertainment, I can’t imagine that hiring a gaggle of liberals to harangue listeners and fact-check right-wingers in a polity manifestly unconcerned with facts won’t provide a more frequent target for parody than grins or food for thought.  Al Franken’s at his funniest when he’s detached and satirical, not trying to match Limbaugh and O’Reilly bark for bark, and if I want satrical detachment Harry Shearer’s Le Show’s got me covered.  Janeane Garafolo?  Her best (perhaps only) rhetorical tactic is her withering stare, which doesn’t exactly suit the medium.

But the main reason I won’t be tuning in Air America is that radio is my least favorite news source; it’s the pushiest of Push Media.  Perhaps if I spent more time in my car . . .

2004-03-23

Ginned Rummy

In the days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Americans affected alarm when confronted by the ease with which the terrorists were able to inflict massive casualties and damage.  To anyone who spent any amount of time thinking about such things, our society’s vulnerabilities were fairly obvious and had been for many years.  There’s only so much you can do to protect the public from the suicidally insane.  Due to a variety of factors—not the least of which a fitful veneration of notions of liberty—Americans have come to tolerate certain levels of risk, such as fast cars, plentiful handguns, and securities trading.  Any attempt to eliminate such risks through legislation would offend our sense of personal autonomy and (almost as important) almost certainly fail.  After 9/11, many Americans (notoriously bad at quantifying risk) re-examined this tacit contract—the freedom of an open society along with the occasional abuse of freedom resulting in tragedy—and wondered if it wasn’t time to renegotiate.

A government that had decided to treat its citizens as adults would have, in due course, explained that while the clear and present threat of Al Qaeda would be met by appropriate responses including military, intelligence, and law-enforcement measures, terrorism itself is a permanent feature of modern civilization that can only be minimized at best.  A government that regarded its citizens as children would proclaim a state of war, both promising eventual victory and demanding exigent loyalty, while instituting restrictions on civil liberties that would last as long as a single terrorist remained at large.  Before the first tower fell, I had no doubt which course the Bush Administration would take.

As much as anyone, Donald Rumsfeld was the public face and voice of the U.S. government’s paternalism, assuring Americans that swift and just retribution was being dealt to evil-doers while reminding them that war isn’t an ice cream social.  If John Ashcroft has been our guilt-invoking mother, claiming that only terrorists and traffickers in drugs and pornography need fear increased surveillance, then Rumsfeld has been our hickory-switch-bearing father, intoning that that the War on Terror hurts him more than it hurts us.

Critics and supporters all agree that the single most important (if not only) argument for voting for George W. Bush this November is that national security is "Job One" and that Bush has demonstrated his superior proficiency at this task.  Today, Rumsfeld testified in his Plain-Spoken™ manner that, given the limitations of intelligence-gathering and the resourcefulness of terrorists, there wasn’t much that could have been done to prevent 9/11, and we will likely be attacked again.

But never mind that.  Just remember that, as Lileks said, if John Kerry is elected, then the terrorists will have won.

2004-03-20

Spain Is The New France

11-M, as the Spanish have named the Madrid train bombings (and who else should name them?), was in many ways almost eagerly anticipated by opinion peddlers, maunderers, and litterers.  Benumbed by the prospect of eight more months of fact-checking Lee Atwater’s posthumous exhalations, charges of appeasement flew fast and furious as hawks both neo- and paleo- remembered what they loved about the war as a campaign issue: its clarity.  Krauthammer declared Spain "decadent," and the wags at The Corner vied with Charles Johnson to be the first to lead a post with the Spanish translation of "surrender monkeys."

As handy an analogy as Munich is, it doesn’t really apply (if indeed it ever did).  As Krauthammer points out, no one could seriously believe that ejecting Aznar’s party would reduce Spain’s risk of attack from Al Qaeda.  The corrolary of this principle is that no one should seriously believe that re-electing the Popular Party would increase Al Qaeda’s desire to attack Spain; everything we know about Al Qaeda suggests that we are simply props in their internal fantasy, and modifying our policies in the hope that we can deter or discomfit Al Qaeda is to engage in psychological shadow boxing with an invisible shadow.  Might it then be more plausible to assume that the Spanish voters were motivated by factors other than how their nation figures in the dramatic narratives of either Osama bin Laden or George W. Bush?  Particularly when you consider the reports the Socialists were gaining on the PP prior to 11-M, and that Spaniards themselves stated that a chief motive for their rejection of the PP was that they didn’t appreciate being deceived on the eve of an election.  This is what really alarms Bush’s supporters: the refusal by an elecorate to see everything through the lens of the "war on terror."

Kevin Drum asks: how does it serve Bush-supporters’ interests to breezily generalize this single electoral result into a trend threatening to alienate all of Bush’s European allies?  Perhaps the recent Wonkette-driven Punking of the Bush re-election site unintentionally (?) handed Rove the campaign’s new theme: "Bush-Cheney '04: Thrown Out of More European Countries Than the Visigoths."

2004-03-13

Unreal Madrid

The Madrid bombings were by an order of magnitude larger than anything ETA has ever attempted.  ETA has primarily targeted government officials and military sites, and typically issues warnings before attacks.  ETA has officially denied responsibility, while a group "affiliated" with Al Qaeda has claimed it.  After Tony Blair, current Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was the most prominent European camp-follower in Bush’s démarche to Baghdad, despite the overwhelming anti-war sentiment of the Spanish people.  Spain is also featured in Al Qaeda’s animating psychodrama.  Aznar’s party is facing elections on Sunday.  So who is the current Spanish government’s usual prime suspect?  And does the current American administration—who has ignored no shred of evidence, however flimsy, in its quest to link all acts of malice to the (New) Axis of Evil—dispute the Spanish government’s suspicions?

(Attributions of responsibility to Oliver Kahn are probably premature at this point.)

2004-03-04

Absent At The Creation

Where’s Seattle’s notorious rubophobia-driven me-tooism when you need it?  Oh, yeah; protecting its ass.

2004-03-03

On The Gastronomy Of Morals

Once again, America's Finest News Source has, well, overcome (sorry) its quotidian torpor and hit one out of the parkThis is my favorite piece, of course.

2004-02-27

Consummatum Ecch

Writing a good hit piece is harder than it might seem.  You have to stay focused on the target while constantly coming up with fresh angles of attack, lest the audience conclude you are a crank.  You don’t want to sound like you’re preaching to the choir, but you should also avoid temporizing qualifications and caveats; trust in your cause, and express yourself clearly.  Stop short of hyperbole, but just.

Christopher Hitchens is spectacularly gifted in this field, which is why I continue to read him even after he succumbed to "the Orwell temptation."  As delightful as Hitchens’s most recent rhetorical sledgehammer is to read, I can’t help noticing that Hitchens requires the urgency of combatting anti-Semitism abroad to excuse this digression from his day job of rewriting Bush Administration press releases.

I have very little interest in commenting on Mel Gibson’s re-make of Battlefield Earth, and less interest in viewing it.  All I have to say is that any film whose dialogue is entirely in Aramaic and Latin wouldn’t earn a dime without a raging controversy to give it free publicity.

2004-02-24

The End Of The Beginning

For better or worse, I’m not acquainted with any passionate opponents of gay marriage, so I have few resources for judging how such opponents view their beliefs and themselves in the larger contexts of progressive politics, constitutional precedent, or human liberty.  But every single member of the political and journalistic establishment that supports the Federal Marriage Amendment has explicitly admitted that they see this as their last chance to stop the spread of this "peculiar institution;" that without the FMA, some "activist" judiciary might decide that Equal Protection actually means Equal Protection and thus require a state to acknowledge the human dignity present in an incident of gay marriage.  In asserting such urgency, proponents of the FMA are both wrong and right.

They are wrong in the legal sense, and here is where I would hope the Democratic nominee will seek the safety that Bill Clinton provided for him.  As much as I was dismayed by the Federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, the Act clearly permits the states to refuse to recognize marriages, civil unions, or other "proceeding . . . respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex" from other states.  So the claim that, say, Texas will have to honor same-sex unions solemnized in Vermont or Hawaii is entirely false.  At present, 38 states have already legislatively defined marriage as an exclusively heterosexual province, but even if (out of some anti-democratic, social-engineering, moral-relativistic "activism") more state supreme courts follow the path of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and find such legislation to be in violation of their state constitutions, the states are still free to amend their own constitutions as they see fit without requiring other states to recognize their policies.  The Democrats (and sane Republicans, if they like) can and should safely state, "Marriage has never been an issue for the federal government, and we don’t see why it should be one now.  Amending the U.S. Constitution is never to be taken lightly, and this issue simply doesn’t rise to the required level of urgency."  This position is legally sound, factually true, and will compare favorably with the more hysterical advocates that we can expect to hear far too much from in the coming months.

Proponents of the FMA are right, however, when they say that they cannot allow even a single enclave of gay marriage to endure within the Republic; the example of a community that officially endorses the rights of gays and lesbians to enjoy all the benefits of society will be ultimately corrosive to the institutionalized bigotry that imagines marriage needs "defending" and produces such shameful legislation.  The manifest absurdity will bring it all crashing down.  It is helpful to remember that the Secession Crisis of 1860 was provoked not by an attempt by the Federal government to abolish slavery in the South, but by the election of a presidential candidate who advocated merely the prohibition of slavery in newly-admitted states.  The South feared the diminution of their electoral power (60% of their slaves counted towards representation, remember), but more than that they feared the successful examples set by non-slave states; they wanted to restrict the liberty of others because the exercise of that liberty humiliated them.  Had the South simply accepted Lincoln’s program, it is likely that they could have maintained slavery in their own states for many more years.  Instead, they listened to the counsel of their pride and their fears.

Note that I don’t imagine George W. Bush to be a homophobic bigot, any more than I think he believes that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq, or that abstinence-only sex education is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy, or that 60 is the precisely ethical number of stem cell lines with which to conduct experiments.  I do think that Karl Rove approved today’s announcement while mindful that a) this controversy has legs that will be helpfully distracting over the summer and fall, and b) the Bush Administration needn’t actually do anything about it until well after the election.  Putting the FMA formally on the table also chills legal challenges to state-level legislation; if it looks like the U.S. Constitution will override any amendments to state constitution (either for or against gay marriage), few people will get behind such projects.

We are in for a struggle that will be costly in terms of industry, treasure, and spirit.  Thanks to Bush’s shot at Fort Sumter, however, we have the comfort of knowing that our opponents have declared themselves to be the enemies of dignity.

2004-02-15

Quelle Surprise

How are those petroleum futures for October lookin’?

2004-02-12

Still Haven't Ceased To Be Insipid

I’ll say it before Kaus does: it seems pretty obvious to this tin-foil-head that Kerry’s campaign is behind the most recent Dimmesdalliance; after realizing that Kerry’s base isn’t much more than an electoral Ponzi scheme, Cahill must have decided that the best way to capture some "ho-mentum" would be to engineer a rerun of the Left’s last culture war victory.  It certainly worked on me the last time; I had soured on Clinton after DoMA, but once the bluenoses decided to bet the farm on l’affaire Lewinsky, I was in Bubba’s corner for life.

2004-02-11

Snap Out Of It

Jim said this, too.  Someone tell Lileks: if you still feel the way you felt on 12 September 2001, you’re a coward.  If you want to keep feeling the way you felt on 12 September 2001, you’re a narcissist.

2004-02-10

Jesus Loves Touchdowns

Colby Cosh wonders why we don’t see more sporting rivalries grounded in religion.  Why not?  After all, whenever I’m watching a European socccer match and have no other reason to prefer one team over the other, I consult which side each team’s city was on during the Thirty Years’ War.

Tin Foil Offering

Jim said it, not me.

2004-02-09

2004-02-08

Federalist No. 10

Voters—particularly in the Evergreen State—are fond of lamenting that "there’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans," and that parties ought to "stand for something." Of course, many of these voters also wailed last year when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that, gosh, political parties are private groups after all with a 1st-Amendment-protected right to free assembly, including the right to control how their candidates get nominated.  The corollary to Duverger’s Law is that—in general elections—parties will try to minimize their differences in order to capture the political center, with the resulting focus (baffling to my French wife) on candidates rather than on ideology.  The ideological battles, then, are shifted to the nomination process.  It is no coincidence that the movement towards widespread state Presidential caucuses and primary elections has followed the increasing role of television advertising in political campaigns.

Before television came to play such a dominant role, nominees were selected by the party faithful, who were just that; they volunteered their time and energy, they did favors and kept cronies, they argued over the platform and (usually) toed the party line.  Most Americans had little input into the nomination process, which took place in the proverbial "smoke-filled room."  Meanwhile in the state of Washington, voters felt a sufficient abhorrence of "faction" to institute the blanket primary, allowing anyone to vote for the candidates of any party in primary elections "without a declaration of political faith or adherence on the part of the voter."  So long as primaries played a lesser role in nominating Presidential candidates (and so long as the Washington delegations remained negligibly small), the national parties saw little need to challenge Washington’s "impure" primaries.

As presidential politics entered the age of television, national campaigning became much more expensive.  Running for the nomination of one’s party required a greater investment of time and money.  To minimize the waste from unsuccessful intra-party campaigning, the parties decided that the first primary contests should take place in small states with "retail" political markets, so that unviable candidates could be weeded out before the candidates presented themselves to the larger television markets.  Thus the privileged status of Iowa and New Hampshire.  Soon voters in other states (and unsympathetic to the advertising pressures on the parties) began to agitate that their primaries be advanced, lest the nominees be selected before their primaries take place.  Note that while the parties are private organizations, the primary elections and caucuses are at least partially funded by the states.  The states agree to this because the (local) voters demand it, but the (national) parties agree to this because they receive state-financed polling data.

Of course, the type of primary will influence the nature of the results.  The greater party affiliation required by the primary, the more extreme the candidates will be.  As immoderate as Washington’s politics have been, Washington’s blanket primary may have been the most moderate sampling of presidential candidates available prior to the general election.  But, just as many political operatives prefer lower voter turnout to minimize statistical deviation, both national parties determined that allowing "unfaithful" voters to participate in primary elections would taint the sample, eventually compelling the state parties to bring the suit that ended the blanket primary.

My own experience with presidential primaries in Washington is limited, but I believe it illustrates that the nature of the primary matters less than the motivation of the voter.  I gave the caucus a miss in 1988, as apparently many other did; Washington’s delegations to the national conventions were pledged to Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Pat Robertson.  My youthful idealism was still intact in 1992, when I attended my Democratic caucus (in the heart of Darkest Bellevue) and voted for Al Franken Paul Tsongas.  I even hung around to insist that our district caucus consider adding "payment of outstanding United Nations dues" to the party platform (how precious!).

The blanket primary had its greatest virtue/flaw in elections when one party had no serious contest, because faithful members of the uncontested party could sabotage the other party’s results.  In 1996, I considered participating in the Republican primary in order to vote for whom I considered to be the weakest candidate, but I couldn’t make up my mind who that should have been.  In 2000, however, I wanted to vote in the Republican primary for John McCain, not just because I thought he would be a better president than Bush, but because I thought it would make for a better campaign.  Washington’s primary rules were in flux that year, and in order to vote for McCain one had to (falsely, in my case) declare that one considered oneself a Republican.  Before I could commit this fraud I had to ask my grandfather (the original Yellow Dog Democrat) for permission, which was easy enough to secure as he was voting for McCain as well.  In the end, I managed to find my own share of ignominy before Scalia could give a shout-out to his peeps.

Even though I had no grounds to question the apparent media consensus that Kerry had the nomination sewn up, I was too terrified of another four years of the Bush Administration not to do what little I could to influence the Democratic nomination, so yesterday morning I brewed a pot of dark, soul-clarifying coffee, filled my thermos and drove to the neighborhood high school for a . . . discourse with desperate Democrats, chary Independents, and devious Republicans, all claiming to be Democrats For A Day.

Proving the words of Will Rogers, the lack of preparation in evidence was cause for all faithful Democrats to despair.  Several hundred people crowded into the cafeteria, searching for their precincts, which were only demarcated by hand-made signs held aloft by the most recent arrival taller than 180cm.  Forty-five minutes of Brownian motion was brought to an end by the district chair taking wayward voters one by one calling out their precincts, and asking those precincts to make their location known.  I imagine our precinct was not alone in not already having a Precinct Committee Officer who would be familiar with the caucus procedures; as it was, our hastily-elected-by-acclamation caucus chair spent those forty-five minutes reading and explaining the caucus rules, only to have to repeat the process with a couple of late arrivals who challenged his interpretation of its Byzantine decreta.

Twenty-four registered voters signed in at our precinct, which had been allotted five delegates to the legislative district caucus on 01 May 2004.  A candidate would therefore require 4 (3.6) votes to meet the 15% threshhold to be eligible to receive delegates.  The initial vote:

Dean
9
Kerry
7
Clark
3
Uncommitted
3
Edwards
2

At this point, the caucus chair misread the rules, and no one challenged him: according to the rules, only Dean or Kerry should have been eligible to receive delegates from our precinct.  Instead, the caucus chair (who had already admitted he would sooner vote for Bush than Dean) permitted candidates who didn’t receive at least 15% of the first vote to remain eligible for the second vote.  As I had recorded my support for one such candidate (Edwards; the caucus chair was the other Edwards supporter in the first vote), I was undermotivated to correct this interpretation (admittedly, I had not totally familiarized myself with the rules, either).

We then decided to let one person make their case for each of Dean, Kerry, Clark, and Edwards, and it fell to me to champion Edwards.  I argued that, on the issues, the Democratic candidates are effectively interchangeable; I would vote for any of them over Bush.  The deciding factor in the primary, then, should be electability, and I thought Edwards presented himself best on television.  At the time of the Washington Caucus, Democrats should have been asking themselves, If not Kerry, then who?  Compared to Edwards, Kerry is so uninspiring.  Democrats who support Kerry have convinced themselves that Kerry’s record of taking orders from Gen. Westmoreland and the Senate Democrat leadership are somehow attractive to swing voters; they should talk to President Dole about the electoral importance of war records.  As an orator, Edwards combines the optimism of Reagan and the empathy of Clinton; in a debate, he’d wipe the floor with Prince George.

I guess I was too cynical for my caucus; the second vote:

Kerry
11
Dean
8
Clark
4
Edwards
1

This resulted in our five delegates being allotted as follows: two for Kerry, two for Dean, one for Clark.  Note that, according to the rules, they probably should have been allotted three for Kerry and two for Dean (the caucus chair voted for Clark the second time around).  I nominated myself for alternate delegate, and I got the #2 spot.  Some other poor sap let himself be elected Precinct Committee Officer (he gets to spend his August distributing yard signs) on the dubious grounds of his being a Poli Sci major.

In describing the "loyalty oath" that the Democrats would ask caucus participants to take following the repeal of Washington’s blanket primary, a newspaper article stated "voters will be asked to sign a declaration that they intend to vote for a Democrat in November."  That was a mischaracterization of the actual declaration I signed yesterday, but my reply to the first locution was to have been "I promise to vote for a Democrat in November if the party promises to run one."  Kerry won’t officially get the nomination until July, but he has time to re-invent himself several times over; I imagine he’ll bear a passing resemblance to a Democrat for a week or two.