Monday, November 24, 2008

Politico Might Have Jumped the Shark seemed like an interesting concept when it launched in January 2007 - it was an attempt to break the stranglehold on the news from established newspapers and news channels. In recent months, however, I've become less impressed. On the surface, they spent much of the last three months finding every possible negative in everything Sarah Palin did during the campaign - a feature they've continued even after the election. They've also had a new story up just about every day since the election reporting the same story of how the Republican Party is "in turmoil" or "searching for itself," or something along those lines. Then they admitted that their reporting was biased, but explained it away as the result of Obama having such a great campaign.

Of course, this doesn't make them much different from the rest of the press, much of which has admitted that their reporting was tremendously biased towards Obama. On a more substantive level, Politico simply doesn't seem to offer anything to make it more than a gossip tabloid. They take to a whole new level this silly habit of calling political happenings a "conversation." Their blogs say they're "advancing the conversation or Joe the Plumber was "driving the conversation" the day after the third debate. Despite these claims, however, you'll be hard pressed to find any treatment of the issues on the website. No analysis of Obama's tax proposals, comparison of the health care plans of the two candidates or in depth look at the proposals for winning in Afghanistan. It was all focused on the process - where candidates bought ads, fundraising totals, latest polls, etc. This is all well and good for an election, but what do you do after?

Well, Politico has launched Politico44 as an answer to that question. Right now its mostly gossip about Cabinet selections and where the Obama girls will go to school, which is fine for the two months or so of the transition. But not all of a president's four year term is as newsmaking as the election and transition. If they have to keep reinventing what they offer, they might find they get fewer and fewer readers, especially if each new idea is as ridiculous as their previous new idea. Take for example their latest new idea: a calendar of Obama's whereabouts during the transition. The only problem, however, is that each day consists of Obama going to the gym, going home, going to his office, and going home. Every day. Occasionally he'll go to a restaurant, but not often. When there is any additional information, it includes the exact number of minutes he spent at the gym and details on how his motorcade took a wrong turn through Hyde Park. You can scroll through three weeks of this.

I can't decide yet if this consists of Politico jumping the shark. For their entire existence, there's been an election to cover. If this is how they adjust to new demands, I'm sure their future offerings will be as ridiculously entertaining as this.

Captain Obvious Award

As far back as this summer, when gas prices were at record highs, has been doing these front page stories about how awful high gas prices are. Before the economic crisis really hit in mid-September with the fall of Lehman, every day there'd be a story about record high gas prices and some story about someone who couldn't go as far away for Fourth of July vacation. These stories were relentless, hitting what seemed like every day. At the time, this was supposed to be the proxy story for how awful the economy was.

In the months since Lehman fell, and the Dow crashed along with it, they've been able to put stories on the front page about each successive drop, along with pictures of brokers with their hands on their faces that looked like that had been taken in 1994. At the same time, however, gas prices dropped sharply as well. Oil is currently under $50/barrel and average gas prices are currently under $2.00.

Well, the good news is, they've since found a story on gas prices worth accompanying the stories of the falling market on the front page. With a headline in large font that says "End of Gas Price Crash is 'Either Here or Near,'" they have a story that quotes Trilby Lundberg, the editor of a survey of gas prices nationwide.
Lundberg attributed the price reductions to a drop in crude oil prices and demand, and also because of low refining margins.

"Crude oil remains [the] main driver," for the decline, she said, noting that crude oil futures settled on Friday below $50.

Demand is always low in November, she said, but the weakening economy is reducing it further.

However, Lundberg said that if crude oil prices do not fall further, "then the end of this [gasoline] price crash is either here or near."
You got that? No one actually knows that the end of low gas prices is "either here or near." Trilby is just stating the obvious that gas prices depend in large part on the price of crude. Neither Trilby nor CNN know what's going to happen to the price of crude which, of course, closed at a three year low on Friday, after closing at the previous three year low on Thursday. Furthermore, the declining price of oil is largely due to the weakening economy. In fact the only thing likely to increase prices by any significant amount in the immediate term is a cut in output by OPEC.

This is what passes for reporting these days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fissures in the Party

A number of mainstream media organizations have spent the last 2 weeks since the election beating the drum about how this is the end of the Republican Party. As you can see, Politico has led the way with this theme (as it did throughout the campaign), but today the New York Times has a story about the alleged end of intellectualism at the National Review. The reasoning behind this claim: Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker and David Frum. Which brings us to the second theme of the media these past weeks: the conservative movement has come to an end because a lot of conservatives liked Sarah Palin.

Parker and Buckley are allowed to support whatever political candidate they want (Frum continued to support McCain, and even laid out a cogent argument for supporting McCain). The circumstances surrounding Buckley's departure from National Review strike me as slightly embellished on his part. As for Parker, she wrote a column after the Couric interview suggesting Palin was not prepared for the job. I disagreed with her, but fine - that's her prerogative. She got a fair amount of vicious email for the column. I'm sorry that happened to her, but that's life. Just because someone is a conservative doesn't mean they are nice or a good person. Unfortunately, she felt the need to be just as childish by writing in a subsequent column that McCain picked Palin because, well:
But there can be no denying that McCain's selection of her over others far more qualified — and his mind-boggling lack of attention to details that matter — suggests other factors at work. His judgment may have been clouded by ... what?
What indeed. If I can say so, the departure of Buckley does not mark the end of intellectualism at National Review (he only wrote the column for a matter of months), and, should National Review stop running Parker's column, it certainly would not mark the end of intellectualism at the magazine. The departure of David Frum is a bit more disappointing. I often disagreed with him, but enjoyed his writing. I can't seem to figure out his reasoning, though.
Mr. Frum said deciding to leave was amicable, but distancing himself from the magazine founded by his idol, Mr. Buckley, was not a hard decision. He said the controversy over Governor Palin’s nomination for vice president was “symbolic of a lot of differences” between his views and those of National Review’s.
To be honest, the Palin pick was one of the first times I've seen Frum in broad disagreement with the rest of the folks at National Review's blogs. Given Frum's post-election analysis that the Republicans need to drop social conservatives, perhaps this is what he has in mind. It's true, of the major conservative magazines (NR, Weekly Standard, Commentary, American Spectator), National Review is probably the most socially conservative (and I'm referring to the part of NR I am most familiar with: their blogs). Most of the comments on social conservatism, however, are usually posted by a handful of individuals (Kathryn Jean Lopez, Ramesh Ponnuru), and are often countered by (I believe) atheists such as John Derbyshire and Heather Mac Donald. In fact, National Review's blogs are the most active, and contain more robust debate among varying conservative viewpoints, than any of the other conservative magazine blogs.

The Times article claims that the National Review has become the mouthpiece for the Bush administration, and has "run out of ideas." This claim is patently absurd. National Review has broken with the Bush administration on any number of topics, the most notable one being immigration reform. In fact, this is where I differ from the magazine, as I think, during the immigration debate last summer, the content on National Review's blogs was particularly unhelpful. I think they made a mistake giving the platform on immigration to commentators like Mark Krikorian, Mac Donald, Derbyshire and others, who are not just against illegal immigration, but against most kinds of legal immigration as well, a position that I suspect will not find much support on the right, let alone in the rest of the country.

Throughout this debate, Frum was in complete agreement with his colleagues at the magazine. I thought his contributions to this debate were some of his less impressive posts, for example, arguing that open borders was actually protectionism. At one point he defied all logic and tried to blame the coming loss of the Hispanic vote on those pushing for immigration reform:
The deal will worsen Republican prospects among Hispanic voters. Over the years, the Republicans have done not too badly with Hispanics, typically winning about 35%-40% of the Hispanic vote as compared to under 10% of the black vote.

Republicans have done so well because until now, the highly diverse Hispanic population has not voted as an ethnic bloc. Now we ourselves are forcing that to change. It's as if this Republican president and these Republican senators have said, "Hmm. Can we invent an issue that will teach Cuban-American doctors, Honduran day laborers, and Mexican-American army officers to think of themselves as a unified ethnic group? Can we then provoke a fight that all of them (whatever their diverging practical interests) will treat as a symbol of acceptance in American society? And can we then stage-manage this fight to ensure that two-thirds of our party will have no choice but to fall on the wrong side of it?"

I find it hard to buy the argument that the "shamnesty" crowd forced stalwart opponents of immigration reform to scream "amnesty" every time the issue came up, come out against all forms of immigration (legal and illegal), and alienate Hispanic voters. To argue such would suggest the opponents of immigration reform had no self-control.

The other recent point of disagreement between Frum and his colleagues came regarding a column written by Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post, in which, despite professing long-held admiration for John McCain, she endorsed...anyone but McCain. The reason, of course, being Palin. Certainly, this was somewhat better than those on the right who said they'd vote for Obama in the hopes that he'd run away from his far left record, despite any evidence at the time to give reason for hoping such. Nevertheless, Applebaum's column consisted of a less than cogent argument. Two individuals at National Review responded as such. On the media blog, Kevin Williamson:
There are all sorts of good reasons to not vote for McCain — e.g., if you prefer Obama's policies — but this bit from Applebaum is shabby nonsense. And I find it difficult to believe for a moment that this was some sort of wrenching, soul-searching exercise for the one DC-born/Sidwell Friends-and-Yale-alumnus/Europe-dwelling member of the Washington Post editorial board who was seriously thinking about going Republican this year. Spare us the opera; you're an Obama voter. Big deal.
Williamson later apologized for his tone, while sticking to his claim that Applebaum's argument was silly. The other criticism came from Ponnuru:
Max Boot writes, “There have been a number of absurd reasons given recently by self-described conservatives who are endorsing the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in his bid for the presidency, but none are quite as unconvincing as Anne Applebaum’s.” Her effort did seem oddly perfunctory—Mickey Kaus makes sound criticisms of it—but I think Boot is overstating the case. I can think of a few Obamacons who edge out Applebaum in the most-unconvincing category. My sense is that Francis Fukuyama has been the most honorable and serious of the Obamacons (although it would probably be more precise to call him an Obama-neocon).
Ponnuru was probably a little harsh with the "honorable" charge, but again, he's right, it was a silly argument from Applebaum. In any case, Frum, a friend of Applebaum's, took exception to this talk, and got upset that Ponnuru and Williamson failed to mention Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gulag. To some degree, I get his point, he's as annoyed as I am with conservatives who react quite so harshly to other conservatives with whom they disagree, even if their argument for supporting Obama is full of logical holes. Nevertheless, this seems like a silly incident to get worked up over, especially coming five days before the election.

But look, just as Frum is wrong to advocate dropping social conservatives, or to get worked up over disagreements on Palin, Applebaum, or whatever the issue may be, so are other conservatives wrong to run around afixing the "RINO" label to anyone who doesn't have all the boxes ticked on the "True Conservative Checklist." I think Frum is wrong about the way forward for the party, in part because of his antipathy towards social conservatives, even if they had nothing to do with losing this year's election, but also because of his mixed-up views on the role immigration played in losing the Hispanic vote. A post-mortem he recently posted from a Democratic friend mentions the significant drop in the Republican share of the Hispanic vote, even with "Amnesty John" (as he was once called on a NR cover) at the top of the ticket. I'm glad he recognizes this as a major problem for the Republican future, but I'm not sure his positions on immigration reform, as well as what seems to be support for for severely constricting legal immigration is the solution we need.

That said, I think our party is stronger for having Frum and Buckley as members (assuming Buckley still considers himself as such). Frum's book on the War on Terror, for example, was excellent. I hear his previous books on the conservative movement are just as good, though I have not read them. At the same time, I'm not going to leave the Party or stop reading NR or other magazines simply because I disagree with them on some issues, such as immigration. If the departure of Frum and Buckley really comes down to the Palin pick, or the presence of social conservatives, or the Applebaum tiff, or whatever the area of disagreement, then they hold as much responsibility for fissures in the conservative movement as the people following Ted Nugent around on "RINO hunts."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cats and Dogs Living Together

We're a week past the election, and some corners of the Republican Party are already set to write prescriptions for improving its electoral fortunes. David Frum writes:
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues. That’s a future that leaves little room for Sarah Palin – but the only hope for a Republican recovery.
Likewise, Max Boot writes:
One area where I do see some room for adjustment is on the issue of abortion. I am by no means suggesting that Republicans jettison their anti-abortion ideology, which would alienate the party’s base even if it might make the GOP more attractive on the coasts. What I am suggesting is that Republicans should not fear to nominate an otherwise attractive candidate who happens to be pro-choice. The insistence on abortion purity has cost the GOP during the past year. It was a major contributing factor to Rudy Giuliani’s crash and burn, since he has always been a pro-choicer, and a major factor, indirectly, in Mitt Romney’s downfall too, since he had to flip to the “pro-life” side before seeking the nomination, thus making him appear insincere. This issue also made it impossible for John McCain to pick either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge as his vice presidential candidate–both men who were better qualified for the job than Sarah Palin and likely would have proven to be bigger draws for the independent voters McCain needed to win.
I should pause here to mention that both Frum and Boot are very smart guys - and the Republican Party is lucky to have them. The first thing the Republicans should do is throw out the use of the term "RINO" (Republican In Name Only). There is no checklist that has to be completed before someone can be approved as a conservative or Republican. Republicans from New York City aren't always going to agree with Republicans from Nebraska. Instead of fighting to see who can cast the other side out of the party first, we should be looking towards ways to coexist together under the same label of Republican.

That said, I also think they are both wrong on this. Frum argues that we're losing the youth vote because of social issues. A 2007 New York Times/CBS/MTV poll of youth ages 17-29, 62% believe abortion should either not be permitted, or should be made available under much stricter conditions. This is compared to 58% among all adults. Likewise, 54% of youth are against gay marriage (30% saying no legal recogntiion and 24% saying civil unions, but not legal marriage). This is by no means a harbinger of a new generation of fundamentalist Christians, but it does suggest that Republicans are losing the youth vote on other issues rather than social issues.

As for Boot's comments, it is not a surprise that he would have preferred Giuliani or Lieberman as a president or vice president. They are both very strong on foreign policy, Iraq, Afghanistan and other aspects of the war on terrorism - Boot's area of expertise and passion. It is hard to argue, however, that absence from the ticket was the fault of social conservatives. Giuliani lost in the primaries because he ran a terrible campaign - to the point where no one (right, left or center) was able to figure out why he adopted the strategy he did of putting so few resources into Iowa and, particularly, New Hampshire, and instead gambling everything on Florida. By the time the Florida primary came around, Giuliani was entirely out of the news.

As for Lieberman, I suspect a lot of Republicans, social conservatives included, would have been happy to see him as Secretary of Defense in a McCain administration. Likewise, they will likely hope Connecticut will continue sending him back to the Senate instead of a Ned Lamont-type, and should also welcome him with open arms to the Republican caucus if the Democrats punish him for not falling in line in support of The One. All of that, however, does not mean that he should be our vice presidential nominee, a "heartbeat away" (as they like to say) from being president and (ostensibly) leader of a party with which he agrees on very little else besides foreign policy.

Besides, a McCain-Lieberman ticket would have had an average age of 69, and would have attracted Max Boot, myself and probably 10 other people to each of their rallies. Finally, it remains unclear that independents would have voted for McCain-Lieberman while the other ticket continued to promise them unicorns and rainbows. It's false assumption that independent voters aren't necessarily any smarter, savvier or more analytical than partisan voters. When a candidate promises them the world, they are just as likely as any other voter to get suckered into voting for that candidate.

James Antle has a good piece at The American Spectator on what seems to be a somewhat recurring tradition in the Republican Party: blaming any and all electoral misfortune on social conservatives.
This illustrates the folly of divining lasting political trends on the basis of a single election result, as well as the perils of declaring the death -- or dominance -- of social conservatism. Looking back at the postmortems of the 1992 election, it is easy to find political writers arguing that it was time to abort the pro-life movement and look toward socially liberal Northeastern governors like Christine Todd Whitman and Bill Weld (remember him?) for the Republican future. Coming just before the GOP congressional takeover of 1994, such analysis -- written not just by smart liberals like the New Republic's John Judis but also center-right commentators like Charles Krauthammer -- seems as overwrought as the social-conservative triumphalism just two years before the 2006 elections restored the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.

In truth, there is very little evidence that the country has moved left on social issues since 2004, when values voters were said to decide the presidential election. Polls have been shifting somewhat more pro-life since the mid-1990s. Even leftward movement on same-sex marriage, which has gone from being unthinkable in the early '90s to a live issue today, seems to have stalled around late 2003. Republicans emphasized their social conservatism much more in 2004, when they won, than during their losing campaigns of 2006 and 2008.

Antle raises a good point at the end there. At what point in the election this year did social conservatism play anywhere near as much of a role as the 2004 election? Sarah Palin was just a sop to the right wing crazies, right, we know. As I mentioned earlier, even Palin rarely brought up the social issues during the campaign - it was the left and the media that depicted her as an abortion-banning, book-burning, contraception-outlawing, anti-gay fire breathing radical. Thanks to a general lack of pushback from the campaign over the first weekend after the announcement of her as the nominee, this caricature stuck. What is particularly noteworthy is that abortion played such a small role in the campaign despite the Democratic nominee being one of the most pro-abortion nominees ever on a major ticket.

That's not just a clever use of words. Obama isn't just pro-choice - when you want to cut funding to teen crisis pregnancy centers but use taxpayer money to fund abortions abroad, abortions at home, remove the restrictions of partial birth abortion and born alive infant protection, you are pro-abortion. Yet it never came up as an issue outside a couple 527 ads with sporadic coverage across the country. The closest Palin came throughout the rest of the campaign to any kind of social conservatism was one speech on abortion and the small-town boosterism. Small town populism is not the same thing as social conservative red-meat issues - take a look at the soaring attendance at megachurches in cities and suburbs. I live in a major metropolitan area that also happens to be one of the most conservative Catholic dioceses in the country, and there are about eight Catholic churches within five miles of me.

There is nothing, therefore, to show that social conservatism cost the Republicans this election. The fact that moral values was low on the list of the most important issue driving voters is also not a sign that the American people don't care about that issue anymore, or that it didn't still play a role in how they voted. With the economy tanking, the bottom falling out in the market, 401(k)s disappearing, home foreclosures skyrocketing, unemployment rising and prices increasing, very few people are going to tell an exit pollster that anything weighed on their minds more than the economy, be it Iraq, terrorism or moral values. That does not mean, however, that people consider moral values to be unimportant. For evidence of this, look at the gay marriage bans in Florida and Arizona, which passed by 12% in Arizona, 24% in Florida and even 3% in California. The measure passed in Arizona after a similar one failed there in 2006. It's difficult to contend that the people of Arizona are becoming less socially conservative.

The problem with the Republican Party and its various factions is not that foreign policy conservatives, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives can't co-exist. (If that were the case, I'd be in the middle of a very existential crisis right now, because I consider myself all three.) There is the impression among some, particularly fiscal conservatives that social conservatives are big spending, moral crusading nanny-staters, particularly on social programs and "wars on..." such as poverty, obesity, etc. To be fair, significant parts of "compassionate conservatism" gave them reason to think that, and some social conservatives like Mike Huckabee, though he has plenty of good attributes, also embodies some of this approach. In actuality, much of the social conservative wing doesn't think like this at all. Sure, they feel compelled by their faith to help the less fortunate, but not necessarily through the state. Huckabee did fairly well in the primaries, but that had as much to do with the lack of any other consistently pro-life candidate than it did agreement among social conservatives with the nanny-state aspects of Huckabees platform.

There is plenty of evidence disproving a general preference for big government among social conservatives. For those fiscal conservatives who like to talk about things like incentives, I would recommend one study, in which Daniel Chen, a law student at Harvard and formerly a fellow at the University of Chicago, finds that social conservatives are more likely to oppose a big spending welfare state. There is one twist: this is particularly the case in countries with strong separation of church and state, such as the United States.

Fiscal and social conservatives...tend to come hand in hand. Religious groups with greater within-group charitabe giving are more against the welfare state

[...]If church-state separation does not exist or the government were to become fundamentalist, the alliance would revere: social conservatives would become fiscal liberals

[...]As credit markets develop, elites gain access to alternative forms of social insurance and prefer less religious and government insurance. They legislate or judiciate increasing church-state separation in order to create a constituency for lower taxes, if religious voters exceed non-religious voters

In other words, in a country with church-state separation, churches have to look to their congregations for support. As such, a small state means marginal individuals look to the church for support. This provides the incentive for churches to support a small government. If you were to remove the church-state barrier, there would be less of an incentive for a church to oppose small government as the funding came pouring in from the state. Chen argues that this explains much of church history - as church-state separation became popular, emphasis on the social gospel (funded by the state, of course) went the way of the dinosaurs.

Now, the arguments that economics explains all human behavior always strike me as a bit cold and impersonal. Of course, church pastors are not all this cold and calculating. I suspect the social conservatives, more interested in human stories than talk of incentives, have nevertheless noticed that some of the most robust and effective charities are run by religious organizations, both at the individual parish level and on a national and international level. When the government tries to do the same things, their organizations eventually turn into bloated bureaucracies with multiple people performing the same job, large amounts of overhead, and billions of dollars go to waste.

It is true government has the resources and logistics required to deliver aid around the country and around the world, but local and nationalprivate charities (including religious ones) are often more streamlined, quicker to act and more efficient than local, state or federal government. Continued cooperation between government and private charity, particularly local organizations, would likely yield the more efficient outcomeon the ground. To the extent that government involves itself in social programs, disaster relief an d other activities, the federal government should devolve as much control over resources and decision-making authority to the state and local governments.

From a purely anecdotal standpoint, it's worth noting that the most socially conservative members of Congress are also the most fiscally conservative, according to the Club for Growth rankings. Below are the top 10 most fiscally conservative senators from the 2007 rankings, with their rankings from National Right to Life to the right of the Club for Growth rankings.

SC R DeMint, James 100% 100%
OK R Coburn, Tom 97% 100%
NC R Burr, Richard 97% 85%
AZ R Kyl, Jon 92% 100%
OK R Inhofe, James 91% 100%
NV R Ensign, John 90% 100%
TX R Cornyn, John 88% 100%
CO R Allard, Wayne 88% 100%
WY R Enzi, Michael 85% 100%
KY R McConnell, Mitch 84% 100%

It's also worth noting that social and fiscal conservatives have been shouting past each other in recent debates as well. Social conservatives feel like the people for whom they've played a major role in sending them to Washington have let them down. They argue that their national politicians have used them, playing on the abortion and gay marriae debates simply to get their votes. Meanwhile, the fiscal conservatives argue that social conservatives are a major drag on the ticket, beating the drum on abortion and gay marriage when there are far more important issues that the American people care about at stake.

What the social conservatives need to realize is that Bush and Republicans in Congress have actually done a great deal for them, from banning federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, to the ban on partial birth abortion, to the Bush administration's support for faith based initiatives, to the emphasis on abstinence education in the Africa AIDS initiatives, to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, just to name a few. Many social conservatives (at least from my very unscientific and anecdotal survey) have also come to realize the futility of hoping for a repeal of Roe v. Wade, particularly in the short term, and are looking for more pragmatic ways of meeting their political goals. Likewise, I think most social conservatives will come to realize just how much progress the Bush administration made in enacting the social conservative agenda, even if in increments, if Obama (as has been reported) plans to repeal the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, repeal the Mexico City law against using taxpayer money to fund abortions abroad and all the other tenets of the Freedom of Choice Act that Obama has said he would sign .

For their part, fiscal conservatives need to realize that social conservatism is not nearly the drag on the ticket as they like to think. As I mentioned, social issues played a negligible role in this election, and played a major role in electing Bush in 2004. Likewise, they need to realize that America is fundamentally closer to social conservatism than they are to social liberalism. They also need to realize that just because voters do not list moral values as the most important issue driving their vote, does not mean that moral issues do not play a role in their voting behavior. It also suggests that social conservatives are much more pragmatic than they are often given credit for. No matter how strong their positions may be on moral issues, they obviously recognized this year that the economy was the most important issue. That does not mean, however, that voters have to choose between the two - to say otherwise simply presents a false choice. There are a plethora of candidates out there who are both socially and fiscally conservative. Fortunately, they also happen to be more prevalent in the younger generations of leadership: Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawelenty, Paul Ryan, Mark Sanford, Mike Pence, John Shadegg, Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, and so forth.

I should also add, I am not opposed to pro-choice Republicans running in their districts, particularly if that is the only way to get a Republican from that district. When we elect a president, however, we should look more towards the candidates that unite the various factions of conservatism.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Misdiagnosing the Problem

David Brooks has a column in today's New York Times on the split in the conservative movement following last week's election.
In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed.

[...] To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

[...] The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.

Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.

The Reformist view is articulated most fully by books, such as “Comeback” by David Frum and “Grand New Party” by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, as well as the various writings of people like Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin, Jim Manzi, Rod Dreher, Peggy Noonan and, at the moderate edge, me.
Brooks' list of "reformers" isn't really a list of people agreed on anything - including the fundamental direction in which to take the Republican Party. Rod Drehers condemns wars like the one in Iraq and opposes society's consumer mentality. In that sense, he's a bit more paleocon than most. David Frum argues that the party should moderate its social conservatism,
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues.
Dreher, no fundamentalist to be sure, would nevertheless object to such a proposal. In fact, he does.
Let me make a point that's going to be overlooked among secular conservatives of Reformist impulse: no conservative movement that hopes to be successful can do so without religious conservatives. It will be very easy for secular Reform conservatives to sell op-ed pieces to newspapers, in which they argue that the GOP will not be revived until and unless it cuts itself free from the Religious Right. It'll be easy for them to sell that point because it suits the prejudices of the kind of secular liberals who run the media. But it's quite wrong.
Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan's break with the party is as follows, in a column on her opposition to Sarah Palin
For seven weeks I've listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.
In other words, Noonan's prescription? More Reagan. Seems like a traditionalist to me.

In other words, Brooks' column sets up a false dichotomy. His "reformers" do, however, have one thing in common: they all opposed Sarah Palin as the VP nominee. So, either you're with Hannity and Limbaugh (and thereby discredited) or you're with the really smart people in the party - the anti-Palin crowd. If you think the solution should be to make sure government does the things it needs to do more efficiently, you've got blinders on. If you think government needs to start doing a lot more, even if it remains as inefficient as it is today, you're enlightened and a "reformer." If you happen to think smaller, more efficient government is the way to go, you also hate Hispanics. If you think bigger, less efficient government is the future, you're also enlightened enough to know that the Hispanic vote is important for the future of the Party. Here's what Yuval Levin, one of Brooks' "reformers" has to say:
[T]he David Brooks column...gets the basic picture wrong. I don’t think the notion of reform conservatism should be contrasted with or opposed to the views of the people Brooks calls the “traditionalists.”

As I see it, the basic idea is to apply conservative principles and ingenuity to a broader range of problems than we have been used to thinking about—to think in concrete policy terms about the worries of American families, and offer concrete conservative proposals for reforming our governing institutions. These need to be extensions of conservative successes in the past, like tax and welfare reform: applications of our basic view of the world to the problems of the day.

This kind of reformism is the conservative tradition, not a substitute for it. And its aim is not to move conservatives to the center, but to move the country to the right. It is not, to my mind at least, opposed to what Brooks’s “traditionalists” are trying to do, let alone is it trying to exclude social conservatives—as you might imagine, that’s not something Ramesh, or Ross Douthat, or I would want to see.
In other words, if Brooks can't accurately assess the problem, whatever his solution is is bound to fail.

Monday, November 10, 2008


On Obama:
Barack Obama figured out early on that he had better limit his media consumption before it consumed him.

After three months of campaigning, he stopped reading blogs. After six months, he stopped watching cable news shows. After nine months, he stopped reading the clips, relying instead on his staff to flag important stories.
On Bush:
He walks into the Oval Office in the morning, Bush said, and asks Card: "what's in the newspapers worth worrying about? I glance at the headlines just to kind of (get) a flavor of what's moving," Bush said. "I rarely read the stories," he said.

[...] Instead, Bush is spoon-fed the relevant news from his staff. Top aides usually know the buttons not to push when it comes to bad news. More often they will tell the president what he wants to hear -- the good news if there is any. Or they may just sugar coat the news that is tougher to swallow.
The reaction to the revelation that one of these men doesn't read the news, but instead relies on aides, was outrage. The reaction to the other man was runderstanding and empathy. I'll let you figure out which was which.

About That Civilian National Security Force

There has been a lot of buzz lately on Obama's plan to create a Civilian National Security Force:
We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.
Now, this comment has evoked images in some corners of brownshirts, Gestapo and the SS. I think its something much more mundane than that. There is a debate in the field of counterinsurgency on the role of the military and the role of civilian agencies like State Department and USAID. Most counterinsurgency professionals agree, and Secretary Gates has echoed these thoughts, that civilian capabilities are not where they should be, leaving the military overworked as they try to create security, as well as the state-building activities normally undertaken by civilian agencies. Secretary Gates has called for increased funding for our civilian agencies, and has even mentioned that if he legally could (in other words, he doesn't want to, he's just making a point), he would give the State Department some DoD money.

The military's role in counterinsurgency is to create security so that civilian agencies can go to work rebuilding a country and consolidating gains made. Recently, State created a new division - the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, also known as S/CRS - to coordinate civilian response in counterinsurgency, stability operations and other state-building activities. It is woefully underfunded and undermanned. I suspect this is what Obama was speaking to - however clumsily. If this is what he meant, I can guarantee you it will get strong support from the Pentagon, as it would take much of the excess burden off the military to let it get back to doing what it does best - killing terrorists.

As for that mandatory national community service that the Obama had up - and then subsequently altered - on its transition page, that's concerning. I suspect these are two separate initiatives though.

UPDATE: No sooner do I write this that someone goes and gives a perfect example of the criticism.  Of course, it would be helpful if Obama clarified what this it would be helpful if he clarified his position on, um, everything.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Defense of Sarah Palin

In the days after the announcement of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, I was talking with an acquaintance of mine - Ivy League educated, now a college professor - about the pick. One of the first things he did was to mock her for only having a journalism degree from the University of Idaho, and that her goal of a Sportscenter job must not have panned out. I didn't really know how to respond at the time, as I wasn't expecting that, so I just let it go. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of a steady barrage of such attacks that would be thrown at Palin - by Democrats, the media and even some Republicans - over the next two months.

I. The Recriminations
In the last couple weeks of the election, and particularly since the end of the election, McCain campaign aides (anonymous, of course, so as to ensure they can continue sabotaging future campaigns) have launched a full-scale offensive against Palin in an attempt to blame her for the ticket's defeat in the election. We've been told she was unbelievably dumb, and didn't know that Africa was a continent and not a country, and that she didn't know what NAFTA was. We were told she was a "diva" and racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses on clothing for herself and her family. We're told she refused to prepare for her now-infamous interview with Katie Couric. We're told she "went rogue" and brought up Bill Ayers before anyone signed off on the topic. We were told that she answered her door at the hotel in Minneapolis during the convention to let in "senior campaign aides" in either a towel or her bathrobe (stories vary, of course) because she had just gotten out of the shower. She also apparently refused to go on stage at one New Hampshire rally with John Sununu and former Rep. Jeb Bradley, who was running for his old seat, because Sununu was "pro-choice" and Bradley opposed drilling in Alaska. This is just the beginning.

Of course, most of this sounds entirely implausible. One of Palin's aides from Alaska who accompanied her on the campaign trail recently told ABC News that the comment on Africa was human error, like when Barack Obama said he had traveled to all 57 states in the country. Another aide said she was well aware of a number of African issues, including Darfur, failed states, and AIDS initiatives, making it unlikely that she wouldn't know what Africa is. As for NAFTA, the same foreign policy aid has stated that it is also untrue, as he was the one briefing her on various trade agreements. (Besides, does anyone really think a governor of a state that does a great deal of business with Canada, a governor who negotiated a natural gas line to run through Canada from Alaska to the lower 48 wouldn't know what NAFTA is?)
One aide also explained that Palin was opposed to wearing a $3,500 shirt, but was given clothes she was told to wear. As for Sununu and Bradley, on the surface this is pretty funny that she didn't know what Africa was but she knew the voting records of a Senator and former Congressman, who got voted out of office before she even became governor, from a state on the other side of the country. Of course, this is wrong, as Sununu had a 100% pro-life voting record. Also, she had no apparent problem appearing on stage with them at other New Hampshire rallies.
Finally, Randy Scheunemann, McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, claimed that the Ayers attack was fully vetted and approved by HQ. Scheunemann has worked with McCain before, and is well respected in the foreign policy world, and he was assigned to Palin to help with debate prep, in which he played the role of Joe Biden. He called her "brilliant" and said she had a photographic memory. There were reports, since denied, that he was fired for telling reporters that there was a faction of the campaign that was getting ready to savage Palin in order to blame her for the coming electoral defeat.
II. The Roll Out
The real scandal in the whole Sarah Palin ordeal, however, began shortly after she was picked as McCain's running mate. The idea, I have to imagine, was to roll her out as a Young Turk of sorts, a reformer who had been cleaning out the Alaskan Republican Party from that which had made it a symbol of all that was wrong with the national party. When she served as ethics chair and member of the Alaskan Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the regulatory body for the industry, she was responsible for submitting regular, signed reports that there had been no ethics violations under her watch. Randy Reudrich, chair of the state Republican Party and member of the Commission, had been conducting Republican Party business from his commission office, received deferred compensation from companies under investigation by the commission, lobbied for a coal-bed methane developer and undermined the work of the commission while he was supposed to be regulating the industry. No one else did anything, so Palin sent incriminating emails to her boss, the state Attorney General, Gregg Renkes. Reudrich resigned, and eventually settled for a $12,000 fine, but there was no follow-up investigation. As a result, Palin herself resigned in protest. Eventually, it came to light that Renkes himself was tied to coal technology companies, negotiating trade deals that benefited the company whose executives Renkes knew and in which he owned $120,000 in stock. Within two months, Renkes had also resigned.
She would then go on to challenge the governor, fellow Republican Frank Murkowski, whose administration was plagued by these scandals, among others. She won the primary, and then defeated a former two-term governor in the general election. Once in office, she continued efforts to clean up the mess from an entrenched and corrupt Republican party, including the corruption tied to the earmark process. Though she did not eliminate all earmark requests, she significantly reduced the amont requested and distanced herself from an increasingly corrupt congressional delegation, some members of which had engaged in questionable deals with a major oil services company in Alaska tied to abuse of the earmarking process. Her Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, even ran against At-Large Congressman Don Young in the primary earlier this year, losing by only a few hundred votes. Palin also looked at a number of deals engineered by the previous (Republican) administration, including a natural gas pipeline deal with the same oil services company that resulted in the conviction of Murkowski's chief of staff, Jim Clark, earlier this year for arranging illegal payments from the company to Murkowski's re-election campaign.
This is, presumably, how the campaign wanted to present Palin to the people. If this was the plan, it failed miserably. The campaign made no mention of any of this record, except that Palin wanted to do something about earmarks. The press took this to mean that she was claiming her record, like McCain's, was earmark free - which it wasn't. McCain's admirable ability to avoid ever having to request a single earmark aside, the objection is not to federal funding of local projects, but rather to abuse of the system in which it is carried out. Instead of saying Palin was working on reforming the earmarking process from within a hopelessly corrupt state Republican Party while simultaneously reducing requests so as to cut unnecessary spending, they pretended she was adamantly opposed to all earmarks. This claim was shot to pieces within days when the media found out that she had asked for earmarks as governor, even though she had greatly reduced the amount requested during the previous administration, and had even requested some earmarks while mayor of Wasilla. Within days, therefore one of Palin's strongest and most nonpartisan attributes had been called into question by the press.

When McCain revealed Palin as his pick in Ohio on August 28, her speech did not mention a single social or cultural issue. She talked about her family, her reform efforts in Alaska, McCain's presonal story and character, and the role of women in politics - including Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro. After that appearance in Dayton, Palin did not reemerge until the next Thursday, September 4, when she gave her convention speech in Minneapolis. In that period of less than a week, the media and Democrats threw everything they had at her, including the kitchen sink.
III. The Attacks
The media and bloggers engaged in some of the most vicious rumor mongering about Palin's personal life. Within a day, bloggers, including those at prominent media outlets, speculated that her infant son Trig was not actually her son, but rather her oldest daguhters's son. Other media organizations apparently demanded to see proof that Trig was Palin's son. This was about the only attack on which the campaign did hit back, revealing that Palin's daughter Bristol was five months pregnant. (Of course, the same individuals at prominent media outlets nevertheless spent the remainder of the campaign demanding to see Trig's birth certificate). Shortly thereafter, the National Enquirer alleged that Palin had had an affair with a family friend. When a family friend happened to file to have his divorce records sealed, reporters rushed to Wasilla to sue for their release. Of course, it turned out that there was nothing there, but that didn't stop the rumor mongering.
As some parts of the media were dragging themselves through the gutter, Democrats, including the Obama campaign, proceeded to mock Palin as nothing more than a former small town mayor - ignoring her record as governor of Alaska and acting as if the only experience she had was just as mayor of a small town. The day she was picked, I was at the airport, and Jack Cafferty was gleefully reading emails from viewers, nearly all of which mocked her description of herself as a "hockey mom" and her experience on the PTA. Like my friend mentioned above, the fact that she only graduated from Idaho (especially after spending time at a number of other schools for financial and personal reasons), that she only had a journalism degree and that she had started her career in sports broadcasting were somehow signs that she just wasn't quite up to the job.

Throughout all of this, during the first weekend and week prior to the Republican convention, nobody bothered to look at her record. Even a simple wikipedia search would have told you more about Palin's record than the media did then (or ever). This would be the biggest problem, and the campaign's biggest failing. They not only let the left and media call into question her reformist credentials, they let them completely rewrite the narrative that would shape Palin's entire time on the campaign. Not content to mock Palin's college, small town and isolated state, they caricatured her as a fire-breathing social conservative - quick to resort to class warfare and wedge issues.

They claimed she supported Pat Buchanan, the best known class warrior of them all, because, as mayor, she wore a Pat Buchanan button to a rally when Buchanan was visiting Wasilla during one of his presidential runs. Rep. Robert Wexler then went on TV and accused her of holding Buchanan's views on Israel while an Obama spokesman accused her of supporting a Nazi-sympathizer. The only problem is, she didn't. She had written an op-ed to a local paper after it mentioned that she was supporting Buchanan in which she asserted that she did not support him and that she was merely welcoming a presidential candidate to her town, as she would have done with any candidate. She was, in fact, co-chair of the state's Steve Forbes campaign.

Next, she had supposedly been a member of an anti-American Alaskan "secessionist party," which actually turned out to be a fringe mainstream political party comparable to a crazy uncle in the attic rather than the Confederacy circa 1861. She was never a member, but had once attended a conference and, as a courtesy as governor, had made a very brief welcome speech for their 2007 convention in which she gave lip service to something the party had in common with Republicans: small government.

Next, they claimed she wanted to teach creationsm. In actuality, she said she wouldn't oppose schools teaching whatever they wanted - she wasn't going to try to block either creationism or evolution.
In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:

"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum.

[...] "I won't have religion as a litmus test, or anybody's personal opinion on evolution or creationism," Palin said.

She was also accused of cutting special needs funding, which I guess was particularly incriminating because she was the mother of a special needs child, and had claimed it as a cause close to her heart. In actuality, however, she raised the funding levels quite significantly - just not quite as significantly as the legislature had requested.

Next, she supposedly tried to ban books in the local library upon taking office as mayor of Wasilla. The story, however, was much more mundane. The department heads in the government had served under previous mayor John Stein, a fellow Republican with whom Palin had a contentios relationship. Palin made clear that the department heads would not be able to remain loyal to Stein, but would have to transfer their loyalties to the new mayor. She then went about testing their loyalty. She asked library director, Mary Ellen Emmons, what she would do if Palin requested a book be banned. Emmons gave her an honest answer, saying she'd fight such a request.

The media has since reported that the subsequent resignation demanded by Palin was retribution for Emmons' unwillingness to ban the book, and that Palin only rescinded the demand following outcry from the town. In fact, Palin requested resignations from all department heads, another test of their loyalty. Most offered their resignation, and they subsequently got their jobs back. Some, however, were fired, including Police Chief Irl Stambaugh, a Stein ally who had made his opposition to Palin well known. Stambaugh, Stein and another Stein ally from the City Council then went on to form Concerned Citizens for Wasilla to discuss the option of launching a recall against Palin. In the end, the group disbanded without making any such attempt. Stambaugh sued the town for contract violation and gender discrimination. He lost.

All of this came out in the first five days following the announcement of McCain's pick of Palin, and the campaign made no apparent attempt to hit back on any of it. Just about every last accusation against her proved to be untrue, but the media and Democrats nevertheless used it to establish the narrative that the campaign had not vetted Palin and that this fit into the narrative that the Democrats were trying to paint about McCain being "erratic." The spinning of this new narrative continued. Palin gave a terrific convention speech, which was tremendously received, even by many skeptics. Since the Obama campaign had hit her on the small town mayor claim, Palin and the campaign hit back with a defense against the attacks on small towns, and included a few digs on community organizers. She spoke about special needs children, touched on energy, foreign policy and other issues, while throwing in sufficient amounts of red meat given the convention setting.
IV. Bunker Mentality
Soon after, however, something happened. Whether it was, as rumored, the Bush-Cheney people who were responsible for some of the bunker mentality of the early days of the second Bush term, I don't know. Gone were the attempts to highlight Palin's record. Without allowing her to start campaigning on the issues, the Democrats continued to succeed with lies about her social policies and painting her as little more than a class warrior and a sop to the right wing crazies. They continued using a shorter version of her convention speech for her stump speech. When questioned by the media what her qualifications were on foreign policy, the campaign did not take the Bush/Clinton route. These two were also once governors with little foreign policy exposure, but they relieved fears by bringing out their foreign policy advisers. Bush made sure to bring Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Armitage and others into the campaign, and while he didn't know Musharraf's name, it wasn't that big a deal in the end. Granted, foreign policy plays a much bigger role today than it did in 2000, but Palin was also running for VP, with a foreign policy expert at the top of the ticket.

Instead, the campaign decided to make up foreign policy credentials. Though they are best known coming from Palin on Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, staff members were the first ones to use the talking points that the Alaskan governor was commander in chief of the Alaskan National Guard, or that Alaska's proximity to Russia provided the requisite experience. Palin's use of these lines (or at least the proximity to Russia) in her interviews - and the subsequent mockery on Saturday Night Live - was one of the primary reasons why some voters came to see her as too inexperienced for the job. Yet, the campaign pumped her full of these kinds of talking points and sent her into interviews with Charlie Gibson, who spent the entire interview sighing loudly as if he had someplace better to be and staring down his nose over his glasses at Palin like a school marm scolding a misbehaving student.
Though she asked some perfectly legitimate questions, Couric also asked some inane questions, including one about details of John McCain's legislative records after Palin had only been on the ticket a couple weeks. You could almost see her reaching for the appropriate talking point during her interviews, which is how health care made its way into an answer to a question about the bailout. Meanwhile, there were no call-ins to talk radio and no attempt at easing her into the limelight with interviews in more friendly atmospheres, with the exception of Hannity and Colmes. Even then, though, you could tell she was still reaching for the talking points rather than talking about the issues she knew. But if this was a result of her alleged stupidity, what does that say about the campaign staffers who negotiated the deal with ABC and CBS to allow individual segments to air over a number of days? This arrangement guaranteed that any embarrassing moments from a single interview would air night after night, thereby giving the impression that Palin had blown several individual interviews, one after another.
Then came the Vice Presidential debate. By all accounts, Palin and her husband had become fed up with her handlers by then, and they wanted to get out of the bunker mentality. Some members of the campaign, however, had already started to turn on her. Whether it was her handlers or not, I don't know. Whether it was the claim about Africa referred to above or not, something caused "anonymous sources" to start leaking that Palin was a disaster in the debate prep. Randy Scheunemann, McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, handled Palin's debate prep and would later become her staunchest defender. Whatever problems there may have been in the prep, she more than held her own against Biden in the debate. This was the tunrnaround point for Palin. She obviously shook loose her minders and started holding more impromptu chats with her press corps, gaining a reputation for being the most accessible candidate from either ticket. (Incidentally this is also the point at which the anti-Palin leaks became more frequent. I won't speculate as to whether there is a connection there).

The campaign nevertheless kept Palin on the culture attacks (somewhat cynically, these were the same people who now deride her and her family as "Wasilla hillbillies.") They now accuse her of using the Ayers attack before it was approved by the senior staff and McCain, but, as mentioned, Scheunemann hit back at the time saying that it had been completely vetted and approved. Nevertheless, the leaked comments still give off the impression that the culture war tact was hers all along. According the media, she was the one stirring up the crowds, race-baiting and refusing the denounce alleged, and some of which have since been disproven, shouts of "kill him" and "terrorist." All this by daring to mention the fact that Obama had extremely questionable acquaintances, reflecting poorly on his judgment.
V. Substance
In the last couple weeks of the campaign, Palin gave major policy speeches on special needs children and energy policy. Both were well received, and the media speculated as to whether she should have been doing them from the beginning. While it is a bit ironic that the same people that defined Palin from the beginning as lacking substance suddenly became shocked that there was substance there, I nevertheless agree. Hitting back at the convention against criticisms launched by the Democrats about her small town roots was brilliant, but beating that approach to death made Palin appear to be an empty slate. (It was particularly cynical now that we know what these campaign aides think of small towns like Wasilla and the "hillbillies" who live there).
And while the attacks on Obama for his association with Ayers was entirely legitimate, the way the campaign handled it was self-defeating. By only mentioning one person, it was easy for voters to think that their relationship had been either a coincidence or a single error in judgment. By not creating the narrative of a history of poor judgment calls in forming social and business relationships, from Wright to Pfleger to Governor Blagojevich to Tony Rezko, and so on. Instead they their commercials about Obama's associates included obscure people from Chicago politics and never mentioned what they or Obama had done wrong, instead flashing text headlines across the screen too quickly for anyone to read. They tried to tie Obama to William Daley, the mayor's brother, forgetting that the Daley machine has become more a national punch line (vote early, vote often) than anything else.
Their primary focus from the beginning should have been energy. They could have mentioned her role as chair of the National Governors' Association Natural Resources Committee. They could have had her focus on the same smart takedown of the Obama-Biden record on energy issues that Palin gave before she was even picked by McCain. Palin was added to the ticket on Friday, the day after Obama's speech on the last night of the Democratic Convention and a little under a week since Biden had been picked as Obama's running mate. Earlier that same week, during the Democratic Convention, Palin (at this point just in her role as Governor of Alaska) did an interview (skip to about the 3:00 mark) with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo where she had this to say:
It seems to be almost a naive notion of their's that we can automatically just jump right into a renewable supply of energy to feed hungry markets across our nation when these renewables are not yet proven to be economic nor reliable. We're going to be in a transition period for quite some time when we're going to have to be reliant on conventional sources of energy as we're working on the renewables, and we certainly have to head in that direction also, but it's got to be doing everything, everything we can to allow the domestic supplies, renewable and nonrenewable, to be tapped...and not just skip the oil and gas developments, and the coal development also, that we have to have as part of a comprehensive plan.
Palin and her husband Todd have often touted vocational training opportunities available in the oil and gas industry, a program he benefited from when he first went to work on the North Slope for BP. John McCain lost the Michigan primary to Mitt Romney in part because Romney told workers from the automotive industry who had been laid off that he would be able to bring those jobs back to Michigan. McCain, to his credit, avoided making such impausible promises, though it did contribute to his loss in that state in the primaries. After the convention, the campaign made a big push for Michigan, but soon decided to pull out of the state due to a lack of funds and inability to make headway in the state. Perhaps the Palins could have gone to Michigan to propose a workforce development initiative similar to the Alaska Works Partnership, which provides training and placement within the construction industry, or the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, which provides training in a number of fields, from technology to the health industry. Palin could have talked about the educational tax credits she provided to businesses that support vocational education.

They also could have had her address the difficult economic situation she inherited, and her ability to find solutions to these issues, such as cutting unemployment insurance taxes two years in a row and increasing unemployment benefits, moving Alaska from fourth from last to the midpoint of all states in terms of its unemployment benefits. They could have mentioned her focus on public health and crisis management abilities from planning for potential avian flu outbreaks since, at the time, many public health officials feared that Alaska, a crossroads for migratory birds, could be the site of the first cases of a "highly pathogenic strain of bird flu known as Asian H5N1." From Alaska, infected birds would be able to enter into the continental United States. They could have had her talk about her efforts to increase transparency and competition in Alaska's healthcare system, an effort that was ultimately defeated in the legislature in a sop to the hospitals in the state. They could have talked about her creation of a Climate Change Subcabinet and signing Alaska onto the Western Climate Initiative, a regional cap and trade program, as an observer. They could have talked about how she established the Senior Benefits Program, which "provides support for low-income older Alaskans."
VII. Socially Conservative Libertarian
In short, the campaign failed to focus on her record. They let the media and Democrats turn her into a caricature of the social conservative culture warrior based not on her record, but simply on her own personal beliefs After successfully hitting back at the convention, they should have moved on to how her experience and her record would contribute to the ticket, with some populist red meat thrown in along the way. They should have demonstrated that Palin is a good example for how the different wings of the Republican Party - social conservatives and fiscally conservative libertarians - could easily work together, as she is essentially a social conservative who has governed as a libertarian. She has not tried to legislate social issues, but nevertheless spoke about her beliefs, worked to persuade, and ensured that no roll back occurred in the other direction occurred. She holds very conservative views on issues like abortion and gay marriage, but as governor vetoed a bill that would deny same sex couples domestic partner benefits provided to state employees. She has avoided red meat issues like abortion, but stated that she would hope that women considering an abortion would instead "choose life." Instead, we now have a President-elect who is ready to placate liberal interest groups by rolling back restrictions on federal funding of unproven embryonic stem cell research as well as restrictions on using taxpayer money to allow foreign aid to be spent on abortion.
Palin now returns to Alaska and the Governor's office where, with the falling price of oil, she will face a tougher budgetary challenge. This will provide an opportunity to show that she can govern as a fiscal conservative, even when times are tough, and not just when oil revenues are flowing into state coffers. Some are suggesting she run for the Senate should Ted Stevens win re-election and then be kicked out of the Senate. I think this would be a mistake. One of her biggest strengths during the campaign was that she was a Washington outsider with executive experience. I would stay in Alaska and run for re-election. Since the 2012 race may start soon after her 2010 re-election race, voters might be hesitant to vote for her if she were to then immediately enter the presidential race. She may therefore want to consider serving two full terms in Alaska, with an eye toward 2016. (This is assuming Obama's presidency has been farily successful by the time the 2012 race gears up. If his presidency has been at all bumpy, circumstances may change). Along the way she can continue her work that, even after the partisan rhetoric from the presidential race, still has her approval ratings near 70%. Along the way she can find ways to get involved at the national level, and improve her foreign policy knowledge and participation.
As for the red meat issues, she should probably avoid them when possible, except for when Obama starts catering to Planned Parenthood, as she's already established her pro-life bona-fides. When she does bring up the issue, it should be coached in the language of moderation and compromise in order to highlight Obama as the radical. She could say that while there is debate on issues like Roe v. Wade that we could discuss as a nation at a later time, most Americans can nevertheless agree that issues like partial birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion are too radical for this country. This could easily allow her to position herself as the reasonable moderate and Obama as out of touch with mainstream America by catering to ultra-liberal interest groups.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Different Kind of Paradox

Retired General and former CENTCOM CINC John Abizaid believes that we could abide a nuclear-armed Iran.
"Iran is not a suicide nation," he said. "I mean, they may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon."

The Iranians are aware, he said, that the United States has a far superior military capability.

"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

Nevermind that he insists Iran is not suicidal and then admits that he's not entirely sure that its leaders are rational. Even if the Iranian leadership is rational, and precisely because the United States has superior conventional military capabilities, a nuclear Iran would pose a great threat to the United States.

The problem with Gen. Abizaid's thinking is that he falls right into the realist trap. Sure, there's no difference between a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Soviet Union - so long as you believe that states are black boxes. This isn't even just in regards to regime type, or whether the regime is rational or not. This also means you ignore capabilities of states relative to one another as well as their interest in the status quo. Mearsheimer and Walt made this same argument in their original Israel Lobby article.
One might argue that Israel and the Lobby have not had much influence on policy towards Iran, because the US has its own reasons for keeping Iran from going nuclear. There is some truth in this, but Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US. If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran.
Iran has displayed a knack for using terrorism as a form of blackmail, as well as the ability to back off just enough when necessary to ease international pressure. Whether it was claiming to end support for terrorism after the US ratcheted up the pressure after Khobar Towers, or when it withdrew its Quds Force from Iraq shortly after it leaked that the US was considering labeling it a terrorist group, the Iranian regime is quite adept at public relations. A nuclear armed Iran would not have any need to be seen as backing off - because the US would be far more wary of upping the pressure.

Paul Kapur, a professor at the Naval War College and Stanford, has done a lot of work on the current and Cold War-era relationships between emerging nuclear powers, balance of conventional forces and revisionist states using the case study of present-day India and Pakistan. In the early Cold War, the Soviets had conventional superiority as well as a desire to change the status quo and gain territory.

The Cold War therefore followed pretty closely the Stability-Instability Paradox, whereby the low likelihood that a conventional war will escalate to nuclear reduced the danger and costs of starting a conventional war and made such conventional war more likely. The revisionist power was more confident in its superior conventional abilities and confident that any such wars would not turn nuclear if it played its cards right. The result was a great deal of low level conventional violence, with neither side willing to escalate to the nuclear level and the Soviet Union enjoying conventional superiority.

The situation in Pakistan and India is different, and so would a nuclear Iran-US dyad. India is conventionally superior to Pakistan, but its Pakistan that wants to change the status quo, particularly in Kashmir. Pakistan therefore has to find a way to make sure it avoids a full-blown war with India, a war Pakistan would certainly lose. Pakistan therefore attempts to change the status quo in Kashmir by bleeding India dry with support for terrorist attacks, and attracts international attention to the issue at the same time. To ensure India won't respond with its overwhelming conventional superiority, Islamabad allows for instability at the nuclear level, prehaps by hinting that it has few qualms about taking the conflict to the nuclear level, or that it might not even have full control over its own nuclear arsenal.

With situations like this, you end up with "skirmishes" like Kargil in 1999, where Pakistani forces actually cross the Line of Control into Indian-controlled territory. The whole world at the time was convinced we were about to have our first nuclear war. India shared in this worry as well, so it severely limited its response to foreign incursion into Indian territory. Depending on who's figures you believe, anywhere between 1,000 and several thousand people were killed in the conflict.

The key here is that India has overwhelming conventional superiority, while Pakistan only has nuclear weapons as its trump card in carrying out its revisionist policies. Does this sound familiar? Kapur concludes an article on the subject with the following:
If the leaders of newly nuclear states are dissatisfied with the territorial status quo, they may engage in limited aggression, believing that the danger of nuclear escalation will reduce the risk of full-scale conventional retaliation by stronger adversaries and will attract international attention.
In other words, "If Iran is unhappy with the status quo (in the Middle East or on a wider geopolitical scale), it may engage in acts of terrorism, while simultaneously giving the impression (or perhaps protraying the reality) that parts of its government (the ones that control the nuclear weapons) are not entirely sane and/or rational, believing that the danger of nuclear escalation will reduce the risk of full-scale conventional retaliation by the United States, simultaneously attracting international attention to its causes." Not exactly a positive scenario for the United States.