Thursday, November 20, 2008


Obama cabinetry that is. Obama has invoked Lincoln as an executive role model for forming a cabinet for a long time. Lincoln famously put his chief political rivals in his cabinet - William Seward to Secretary of State, Salmon Chase to Secretary of the Treasury and Edwin Stanton to Secretary of War - as immortalized by a brilliant series of novels by Gore Vidal, a superbly-timed book by underrated public intellectual Doris Kearns Goodwin and books innumerable. There are a number of things to be said for this kind of approach. One's enemies are kept close, their fortunes yolked to yours. Ideally they altogether cease to be enemies as the national project moves forward, but idealizations are idealizations. I wouldn't take either the cynical view or the lotus-eating view. It looks to me that our man is stocking up on political power, both within the Democratic Party and beyond, and in this respect is indeed closer to the Lincoln model than the other model currently on offer, the Kennedy "best and the brightest" model. His cabinet decisions so far have been lining up political heavyweights for the battling ahead.
I think that this a good thing. What I liked about John Edwards 2.0 was his understanding that reform of government policies involving the automotive, banking, financial, insurance, medical, pharmaceutical and oil and gas industries would necessarily involve fights that some would win and others lose, and that some of these antagonists are very powerful and will not concede anything easily. We do need to revalue and reemphasize intelligence and analysis, as the Kennedy brothers consciously tried to do after the sleepy 50s, but the situation calls for some tough political battling, and in turning to Clinton, Daschle, Emanuel and such Obama is clearly shopping for political firepower.
An example of the battle that is unfolding right now is the fight over how to protect the automotive industry. Although many advocates of bankruptcy are sincere in their good intentions for the industry, it is true that taking that course would be hugely advantageous to the stockholders at the expense of the workers. I say, money comes with strings attached. The US does indeed have an interest in a population of several hundred thousands of workers, many of them highly skilled and experienced as machinists, electricians and for many other trades, not to mention a huge physical plant for manufacturing and transportation that extends from western Pennsylvania to Minnesota. Not only that, but auto markets worldwide are expected to greatly expand as demand rises from developing countries in Asia and elsewhere, where most consumers want cheap, efficient, reliable cars. The US ought to do what is in the best interests of the country, and that is to take this opportunity to rebuild the auto industry from the ground up. An American auto industry that had a cultish devotion to energy conservation, minimizing the carbon footprint, capitalizing on waste flows, fuel efficiency and economy would be a very formidable industry internationally. I suspect that it would not be the younger generation of workers who would resist such a cultural shift, but the older managers and owners. Just a hunch. Meanwhile it is an ideal opportunity to design such a retooling and reform with a new labor dispensation in terms of pensions and above all health insurance.
Neither management types nor union types much like this kind of liberal ranting from the blogosphere, I know, but calm down: all of these things can be achieved well short of any sort of nationalizing or union-busting or choose your poison. It is not unreasonable to point out the obvious outlines of a national manufacturing policy, and liquidity should not simply be pumped out into the monetary ocean. Companies that have the will to adapt should be helped. In fact, the US automobile industry has demonstrated great adaptability in the past. At the same time, Obama's need to amass some political authority could not be more clear.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

George W. Bush is a True Conservative

"He ran as a conservative," goes the line from the Republican Party apologists, "but he didn't govern as one." All those people who supported him for reelection in 2004 can't wait to throw him over the side now. The claim is that the massive spending and resulting cosmological debt-hole are, by definition, non-conservative. Conservatives stand for fiscal responsibility, right? And if this administration ends in fiscal disaster that means, by definition, that this is a non-conservative administration, right?
Not so fast. Here are three ways in which Bush Administration spending, and the resultant problems, are straightforward products of conservative thinking:
1) The biggest elephant in the room is military spending. All empires, from the Athenians and Caesarean Romans of antiquity to the Spanish and British Empires, have declined when their international commitments, and therefore their military burdens, broke their banks. It's like any other burst of energy in nature, the bubble expands until the energy is spent. There is no sane reason for the United States to sustain the current level of military spending. It doesn't make us safer. We must stand down as gendarme of global security. Conservatives (who have morphed over the decades since WWII into messianic imperialists) simply refuse to face the fact that the foreign entanglements that Jefferson warned about, and the economic and social militarization that Eisenhower warned us about, are not sustainable under contemporary economic reality. Today's conservatives either think that the US can maintain global military supremacy for all time (in denial about the plain fact that all things come to be and pass away), or worse, think that the US is destined to fulfill Biblical "end times" prophecy. George W. Bush isn't their problem, they are our country's problem.
2) Conservatives espouse "fiscal responsibility" in only the narrowest, most selective sense. They mean, for the most part, that the government ought not to fund programs that help the poor, that protect the environment, that support public and higher education, and so on. Pro-business conservatives have an economic model that is predicated on consumer spending. That nice check for $1,200 or so that you got last year? You were supposed to go down to the mall and spend it. That was the idea. That people ought not to consume more than they need, that saving is a virtue, that usury is a moral wrong: none of that is any part of contemporary conservative philosophy. "Fiscal responsibility" is not a real philosophy for conservatives: it's a code for limiting the size and role of government. Thus the question as to whether helping the poor, protecting the environment, supporting education might actually be fiscally responsible policies in the long run has no interest for them. Deregulation of the financial industry is itself a deeply perverse expression of "responsibility," as conservatives seek to lessen, not maintain, financial protection for ordinary citizens. Their resistance to progressive taxation is also not an instance of "fiscal responsibility," rather it is an expression of faith in supply-side economics.
3) The current administration has very self-consciously spent the federal government into the ground, as a way of weakening and diminishing it. Whether or not that is a good goal, consider the hypocrisy of conservatives who now run away from this project, that they supported in the most full-throated way while they were supporting Bush and Cheney through two elections, much as all the macho talk about how the federal government ought not be in the business of paying for regional disasters was forgotten in the face of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Now they want to tell us that these are not conservative policies after all. Nonsense.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Amazing Lieberman

I can't say I much care for Joe Lieberman's foreign policy views. He would, by all appearances, gladly court global war and human catastrophe on an historic scale in the pursuit of his support for Israel. He is hostile to any attempt to reach out diplomatically or economically to the Palestinians, whose very existence he questions. He thinks, for reasons that elude me, that escalation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would further Israel's interests, and he advocates attacking Iran for the same reason, although what would happen next if the US attacked Iran is anybody's nightmare: it would be a classic instance of the dog catching the car. He is an Israeli defense hawk more belligerent than majority public opinion in Israel itself, sitting in the United States Senate. And he pursues this apocalyptic agenda at the expense of any other political interests he may have: amazingly enough, this is someone who votes with the Democrats 90 percent of the time. You read that right.
Which brings me to my reason for discussing him today: you've got to love the audacious political career that this man has charted for himself. He was Al Gore's vice-presidential candidate in 2000, the first Jew on a national ticket (and a practicing Orthodox Jew at that). In that election, Lieberman's credentials as a foreign policy hawk and (remember?) an avatar of "values" were considered to be an asset to the ticket. And of course he was very nearly elected. Then, by 2006, anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party had built up such a head of steam that Lieberman lost the Connecticut Democratic primary for nomination to the Senate to the anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. At that point, politics being what it is, his old cronies (ie Chris Dodd) went over to campaigning against him. But wait: the Republican candidate was a disaster, and the meltdown of that campaign freed up enough conservative voters that Lieberman was elected as an independent. That was, I thought, tip-your-hat sort of stuff: now Lieberman could do anything he wanted, and that included continuing to caucus with the Democrats. If that were the end of the story it would be a great story.
But it goes on! Lieberman, caucusing with the Democrats and continuing to vote with the Democratics on most Senate votes, went out on the stump for McCain in the 2008 election. He didn't just say "I support McCain." He traveled around at McCain's elbow for months, whispering handler's instructions in his ear, and the final audacity was to go to the GOP convention in Minneapolis and address the delegates. At which point many Democrats said OK, you've pushed us too far, you're out. But wait: the Dems didn't get the 60-seat majority they needed to have a veto-proof Senate (and there will be battling over filibusters as well). So Lieberman goes on. Harry Reid talked tough about throwing him out as Homeland Security chairman, but when their post-election meeting finally came it was Lieberman who was calling the shots, walking away from the meeting saying that the Majority Leader's propositions were "unacceptable." And there we sit. After all, Lieberman is an independent, and not only that but it was the Party, not him, that declined to put him forward as the Democrat senator from Connecticut. He asked for the nomination.
No, I don't like a messianic Middle East hawk. Don't like that one bit. But the career? Brilliant. At some point you've just got to hand it to the guy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Inventory of the Goodies

Friday night Sophia went trick-or-treating for the first time, it was great to see her carefully sorting through her bag of goodies like I remember doing as a kid. Last night lifelong liberal Democrats like me got a treat, not a trick, for once and I've done a little sorting today myself.
State by state, the news is better than I thought it was last night. All three contested Rocky Mountain states, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, went for Obama. New Mexico was expected, Colorado was in play the whole campaign, Nevada is striking and reflects demographic changes in the region. One of the McCain campaign's scenarios was to flip the Rocky Mountain states, didn't happen. That's a new map, I voted for Jerry Brown in 1992 in the Colorado caucus when Gov. Moonbeam won it, 16 years later we've got a growing, politically fascinating region that the Democrats should fight for. Indiana is maybe the single biggest win for the Democrats, a true upset and Obama did it with increased turnout by urban African-American voters combined with white working class support: it wasn't suburban liberals, it was a brilliant campaign by Obama and the 50-state strategy of the grossly underestimated Howard Dean. Obama won in Florida and Virginia, and appears to have won North Carolina by a slim, 5-digit margin. As recently as August the pundits were out there saying that the Democrats had no chance in Florida. Three big southern states for the black Democrat and his Yankee running mate.
Which brings me to the big picture. This time around, the Democrats won California, New York, Illinois, as usual. They also took Florida. If they can build on the win in Florida, the Republicans are left with: Texas. One big state. And that's not enough. Not only that, but Latino voters went big for Obama. That was a real unknown (like so many things that we could only know by actually having a black candidate for President). There were real indications that Latino voters wouldn't go for a black candidate, that the two ethnic identities could be played against each other (by the Republican Party: who else?). Well no: Latinos went for Obama by 73 percent in Colorado, 76 percent in Nevada, 69 percent in New Mexico, 57 percent in Florida. And have you heard? There are lots of Latinos living in Texas! I've heard it on good authority!

Don't Forget Jesse Jackson, Don't Forget 1988

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watchin' TV and Cookin' Food on Election Night

6:55 PM: Collateral Damage: Pat Buchanan (of course I'm watching MSNBC, I'll flip around later) says that people have invested high expectations in Obama, but do they really know what they're getting in terms of policy agenda? Buchanan's purpose is to question a liberal mandate, but I think also that the fact that the great mass of these people about to vote for Obama aren't political animals means that the McCain-Palin campaign managed to insult a lot more people than they were aiming at with all these attacks on socialism, anti-Americanism and so forth. We were all asked to accept the suggestion that the sitting Speaker of the House, the sitting Senate Majority Leader, and the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees of the Democratic Party, as well as large geographic swathes of the country, were anti-American, socialist, etc. Sarah Palin, by the way, advertised herself as the "first Christian" mayor of Wasilla, unlike, say, the Lutheran man she displaced for that position. Bullies insult people, but they need to know when to stop. To put it in terms that the GOP nominee might understand: you were dropping too much ordnance. Too much collateral damage. Sound familiar?
7:39 PM Watch Where You Aim That Thing: Howard Fineman reports on MSNBC that African-American voter turnout is up everywhere that the Pennsylvania state GOP ran Reverend Wright ads this week. (The McCain campaign wasn't running them.)
Indiana (admittedly it's a tiny number of precincts reporting) is going for Obama. Another Pat Buchanan moment earlier today was when he started explaining one possible McCain scenario: "Say McCain wins Indiana and..." Say he wins Indiana? If McCain loses Indiana it's the end of civilization as we know it. Meanwhile I just flipped, as promised, over to Fox and glory be: they're reporting from the same planet as everybody else. Much better graphics, even.
8:24 PM (7:24 Eastern, remember): Both Maine and New Hampshire showing 67% for Obama. Iowa isn't the only place where a whole lot of white people are voting for Obama. New Hampshire is significant as a place that's been very kind to John McCain over the years. Meanwhile Indiana and Virginia are showing for McCain. Maybe deciding to do this running post thing will turn out to be more dramatic than I thought. I hope not.
10:39/9:39 Eastern: Fox has called Pennsylvania and Ohio for Obama. By my calculations McCain can't win without Pennsylvania. Anna K. just called all excited, but also reminding that it's not over. I don't think that any unexpected states are going to flip either way, but Obama is well ahead in Florida, Virginia isn't called yet and interestingly North Carolina is actually looking stronger for Obama than Virginia. Meanwhile Louis Fortuno has won the governer's race here, and that means that the whole university administration will be replaced, which under the circumstances is good news for us professors. I'll stay up a little later but this does look like a wrap - because no surprises either way. Hundreds of thousands of people gathering along the river in Chicago, I wish we were there.
Chris Matthews reports that there are as of tonight no Republican congressmen (or women) in New England. Not a one. Not that Christopher Shays was a bad guy.

Noon in Puerto Rico on Election Day

It's 11:47 AM Atlantic Time here in Puerto Rico, an hour ahead of Eastern (they "fall back," we stay the same, no DST). From everything that I can see (OK, obsessively stare at), we're on course for victory for Obama tonight. But it's not in the bag or at least if it is in the bag we can't yet tell. Like everyone else, I just want it to be over so we can move on, an apparently universal emotion today aggravated for G. and me by the closure of the university here since last Wednesday because of political and labor problems. Sophia has got her wading pool set up outside. When cars go by we can hear the party flags flapping in the wind.
Speaking of that, Puerto Rico is going through some political changes itself. Anibal Acevedo Villa, the Popular Party governer who initially got good marks when he took over from the patently oligarchic Sila Calderon (PR's first woman governor), has seen the public sour on him as he was unable to tame the endemic corruption that undid the last Nuevoprogressista governor Pedro Rosello as well (stateside readers: the Populares/PPD are the party of the status quo, the Nuevoprogresistas/PNP are the pro-statehood party). These are structural problems with a deep cultural dimension and it's going to take a lot to change things; people are more just angry than they are resolute to do anything in particular. They are, however, likely to turn the government back over to the Nuevoprogresistas today. This was helped by the effective ousting of Rosello who very typically tried to claim the nomination for himself once again (he had one of his loyalists step down to free a senate seat for him after losing both the last election and extensive legal challenges). Fortuno, the PNP candidate this time, thus represents a fresh face in contrast to both Acevedo and Rosello.
An interesting development here is the visible evolution of Puerto Rican party politics past its traditional focus which has always been the status issue. The younger faction that has taken over the PNP may develop the party along Democratic Party lines (something Rosello also tried to do), and if that succeeded, and the PPD came to represent an essentially conservative posture (they are the party of the Catholic Church as well as other populist/conservative elements), politics in PR would indeed be transformed. Meanwhile the same evolution of a more rational political discourse is evident regarding the PIP, the independence party. They are under intense pressure this election from yet a fourth party, the new Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico (PPR? I'm not sure), which is polling around 6 percent vs. the PIP's truly dismal 2 percent (it's true that a likely PNP victory tends to bring out the "melones," so called because they talk a PIP (green) line while voting a PPD (red) line in the voting booth. I cannot yet make out what the new party stands for: for the moment they are the Cinderella ticket and are catching basically a free ride. The problem for the PIP considered as a nationalist party is that, for various historical and social reasons, it is also the self-styled vanguard party of the left. This turns out to be disastrous over the long term. Without the people the PIP is a party but not a movement. There is no reason that the nationalist movement needs to be the socialist movement, and some very practical political reasons why it shouldn't be. That might sound like an opinion hostile to independence, but the opposite it true: my view is that the single biggest political problem for Puerto Rican nationalism is the identification of the movement with the left, and with (inevitably) anti-US sentiment. What an irony that the left-wing intelligensia that dominates the PIP is itself the single biggest obstacle to the nationalist movement's success! But as I say, we can see things changing and today is a big day for local politics here.
Meanwhile the US election is more important and will make more of a difference here as well as in the States. The Republicans can try to hold the line and not suffer too big of a defeat, and I'd say that's more likely than a blowout. But a blowout would be much better for the country, that is several notches too far over to the right. Progressive taxation, regulatory enforcement, health insurance for all Americans: that's the way to put the middle class back in power, and it's not going to be easy to do.
I'm getting slightly more traffic today than usual, at least for a Tuesday. Anybody who does happen to read this: everybody's got to vote. More is better. If we could flip a couple of red states and break 300-325 on electoral votes Obama's first hundred days will be much more successful.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama Wins Iowa Caucuses January 2008

Sarah Sinks It

I haven't been of the mind that John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was one of the definitive issues of this election. We've got catastrophic war for empire, the Great Depression II, the first black president...plenty of more important stuff to think about. Although like all liberal bloggers I've expressed dismay about her candidacy, I've also been thinking that she was a bit too easy to gang up on, that that courted a kind of populist backlash and besides, the real issue here is John McCain and his fitness to be making this kind of decision. This morning, though, an hour before Meet the Press and two days before Election Day, we wake up to this amazing prank interview with Palin by two notorious shock jocks out of Quebec. The issue is not that her staff is so inexperienced that a phony phone call got through (that sounds like how they're going to try to spin it). The issue is, once again, how she handled herself in an unmanaged encounter. She was so excited, I think, that she failed to listen to any of the substance of what was being said, and so the fault is more a lack of seriousness of purpose that can perhaps be chalked up to a lack of experience. That's the charitable take. But I can't see even the most loyal GOP operatives gritting their teeth and defending her over this one. I won't mention any of the details other than the cartoonish fake-French accent. The rest I leave for you to explore and digest on your own. And I think that this incident is a sort of tipping point, if we haven't passed it already, where it can definitively be said that the selection of Palin has been a disaster, just all by itself, for this campaign. And I say that in full knowledge that we will very likely be living with this person for years to come.