Sunday, August 31, 2008
In the Aloha State, the Presidential election may turn out to have elements of a referendum on the proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (the "Akaka Bill'). (For my views on this bill, go here, here, here, especially here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Barack Obama has promised to sign it into law, while John McCain declared his opposition in today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
Q: "Proponents of the Akaka Bill see the measure as overdue federal recognition of the rights of native Hawaiians to form their own government. Opponents see it as a 'Balkanization' of America. Please explain your views on the bill."
A: "I recognize the importance of preserving both Hawaii’s indigenous culture and its unique island culture. Hawaii is the most diverse place on earth, and I honor the extraordinary blend of races and cultures that have made the state such a special place. The Akaka Bill would compromise that special blend of peoples and cultures by creating a race-based separate nation that would differentiate treatment for the inhabitants of Hawaii based on blood type. The Hawaiian government has never been a race-based government, as a kingdom, a constitutional monarchy, a republic or a territory. I believe it would be a violation of King Kamehameha’s principles that — “All men are of one blood” — to divide Hawaii and Hawaiian families along racial lines.
I believe the Akaka Bill would be bad for the economy of Hawaii, all the people of Hawaii and for indigenous Hawaiians. Dividing people by race inevitably leads to racial discrimination and conflict. I am committed to helping those of every race who need assistance, and deeply committed to federal programs that preserve Hawaiian culture and identity for the benefit of all."
Hawaii, of course, is a usually an easy win for the Democratic candidate, and probably will be this time too, especially since Obama was born and raised there. The only Hawaiian poll, taken by SurveyUSA in February, has Obama ahead by 30 points. If McCain does better than expected, the large part of the explanation may be his opposition to the Akaka bill, which appears to be opposed by most of those who understand its provisions.
What Maureen Dowd needs to bear in mind is that if she and Sarah Palin were at a party in Manhattan or anywhere in the world, everybody at that party would rather talk to, be seen with, or be photographed with Palin than with her. This is because Palin is much smarter, better looking, and accomplished than Dowd.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Much wringing of hands in the RINO blogosphere. Puzzlement and recalibration in the Obama tent. Lawyers from Harvard and Stanford are boarding Air Alaska to go prowling around Juneau and Anchorage looking for something, anything they can tar her with. They can count on a very chilly reception. I wish I could be there to see it.
I don't know if picking Palin as VP will work out in the end for McCain. Is it a risky choice? Well, duh. The way you win when you are behind is by taking some chances. Putting in Sarah is like pulling someone off of the bench and putting her in a key position. If she performs brilliantly, McCain will be a genius. If not, the hand wringers will say I told you so. And honestly, most of the hand wringers will vote for Obama anyway, the most crypto-libertarian candidate in the history of crytography. A kind of collectivist-statist libertarian, I guess.
I like McCain more now, because he has shown he can make clever decisions outside of the box. Or so it seems for now.
The professed worries about Palin's inexperience reveal so many layers of irony and hypocrisy one hardly knows where to begin. (Though granted, reasonable people may have such worries in good faith. I just think a lot of them aren't.) To begin with the obvious, Obama has practically no relevant experience for being CEO of one of the largest and most dysfunctional organizations on earth, and he's vying for the number 1 slot. He is running on the mind-numbingly repeated slogan of "Change" and yet his career has been one of almost preternatural conformity, first to Hyde Park progressivism, then to the leftish-liberalism of the urban wing of the Democratic party. His record of actually changing anything, a club, a law, an institution, or his mind, is as far as I can tell, perfectly void of content, a vacuum rarely found in nature. His agenda for change is apparently just to take the entrance ramp back onto the superhighway to serfdom, and make the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years just a prolonged rest stop. That slowing down wasn't history ending, but just going into reverse.
Obama's inexperience, his apparent unwillingness to risk his career for anything, and what seem to me the hallmarks of an utterly opportunistic character, are to me his best points. They suggest he wont be willing to stand up to determined opposition and may tack to the center to govern. You can call this "pragmatism" if you like. They seem to turn out pragmatists from Chicago at an alarming rate. But that sort of pragmatism is not how reform happens.
Palin is a very different story. Her career may be brief, but she has spent it running head on into some very powerful interests, the oily Alaskan GOP, and winning. She has doubtless had opportunities to be bought off, and hasn't sold. I worked one summer for one of Anchorage's established law firms that represented oil and gas interests, big Native corporations and the like. It may not be a big arena, but it is one where the play is rough. Saying Palin's 20 months as governor in Alaska is not much experience in government is like saying 20 months as marshal in Dodge City is not much experience in law enforcement. It's long enough for some things, like finding out if you are made of the right stuff or not. Obama also spent time as a public servant in a jurisdiction, Chicago, notorious for its corruption, but all I know he accomplished there was getting himself a really nice house at a great price, and moving on to a higher office. It's that pragmatism again.
The main thing about experience as an issue, however, is that it distracts from the substance. When I look at Joe Biden, all I see is an old school Democratic party hack who never was the brightest bulb in the box, who has plenty of experience doing things I wish he hadn't. Experience is not the same thing as being on the right side. Besides, Joe Biden. Please. Efforts to get me to think of Biden now as Solomon the Wise rolled into Winston Churchill insult my intelligence and ignore my experience watching him over the years. But even if he were a genius, that would just make him more dangerous. And if Obama had more experience, I'm sure it would be the same. I don't worry that he will be ineffective as a leader, but that he will be all too effective, leading us in the direction of being France without the food and the style.
Palin's a very different story. She's apparently a small government conservative with sufficient gonadal mass to take on entrenched interests in the most macho state in the union, and enough charm to make most of them love her for it. She doesn't like taxes or abortion. She's appears fearless. She's religious, which is relevant because it means she's more likely to think it's unacceptable to take bribes. She sounds like exactly the sort of person I'd like to tie up in a ribbon, deliver to Washington, and say have a nice day. As to inexperience, I'd rather have a smart young resident who wants to save my life, than a highly experienced professor of medicine who wants to take my liver and give it to one of his pals and then have a press conference before fawning reporters to say it was the compassionate thing to do.
Palin has a child with Down syndrome. Her remarks on her baby boil down to, my husband and I are blessed to have this beautiful child. Not, we weighed up all the qualies and he just made the cut. Nor some Pelosiesque incoherencies. It was a decision not above Palin's pay grade. Among plenty of Catholics in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan and evangelicals in North Carolina, she won't have to say anything. Her choices have told them everything they need to know.
Like Professor Rappaport, I don't like identity politics. But also like Professor Rappaport, I like a strong woman. Palin has five children from 19 to toddling, and still has managed to be governor in a very challenging state. She was back to work three days after delivering her last child. She runs marathons. Her husband works oil rigs and Alaskan fishing boats (some of the hardest and most dangerous work there is). It's not that I want a woman as such in any particular job, but that there is a certain kind of woman you find out West (I'm sure there are plenty back East as well), tough as nails, incorruptible, yet full of the womanly virtues as well, whom I admire and would love to see in office. I could be wrong, but she looks like one of the good ones. It makes such a wonderful contrast to the phony baloney our political class specializes in, and the idiom of which Obama has mastered to an impressive degree.
So instead of experience, I will take character and commitments. Granted, it could be Palin will disappoint. If she has a boyfriend stashed in Seattle (though I don't see how she'd have time) and a bank account in the Caymans, I'll have to take it all back, or if she turns out to be some kind of nut. But it could turn out to be a brilliant choice, a kind of anti-Obama. The University of Idaho instead of Harvard. Warring with the establishment instead of making it purr. A big family, not a perfect family. A beautiful walker instead of a beautiful talker. Dorothy instead of the Wizard of Oz.
I'm just a member of the conservative-libertarian base, but she sure as heck works for me. I was pretty weak on McCain, but I feel much better now. Whatever else he has done, he has amused me highly, and for that I am grateful.
HERE is a relatively fair-minded analysis of the politics in WaPo. Why cant the NY Times manage this?
BILL KRISTOL gets it right.
THIS is very interesting, from an Alaskan blogger.
Tom beat me to the punch in posting on the Rosemary Radford Ruether Affair earlier this week. But let me add a little detail (especially since it's already written).
When the San Diego Union Tribune reported that USD had withdrawn its invitation to Dr. Ruether to become this year’s John M. Portman Chair in Roman Catholic Theology because of her views on abortion, I assumed that somebody had simply made a mistake. Arguably just a little mistake. USD officials must have known that USD had accepted $2 million from an anonymous donor to establish a visiting chair for a Roman Catholic theologian who “‘thinks with the Church’ in the fullest sense of that term,” and they thought they had a plausible candidate. Either they failed to check into her views on abortion or thought that a single disagreement with the teachings of the Church would not be important to the San Diego Catholic community. Either would simply be an error in judgment.
The truth may be a bit more complicated. Nobody in his wildest imagination could have thought that Ruether fit the donor’s vision of a conservative theologian. Either the person who made the selection didn’t know what the Portman Chair is all about or didn’t care. Of course, if it’s the former (and I hope and suspect it is), it’s still just an error in judgment and hence forgivable. But if it’s the latter, resignations are in order.
Take Ruether’s curious diatribe entitled Gaia and God: A Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. The book (which begins with a dedication to the victims of American smart bombs in the Gulf War) is not exactly taken from the Catholic Catechism.
She begins with the usual verbiage about the close relationship between Christianity and the patriarchal domination of women, workers and the earth. Along the way she suggests that if “dominating and destructive relations to the earth are inter-related with gender, class, and racial domination,” then a “healed relation to the earth” cannot be achieved easily. Instead, our situation “demands a social reordering to bring about just and loving interrelationship between men and women, between races and nations, between groups presently stratified into social classes, manifest in great disparities of access to the means of life. In short, it demands that we must speak of eco-justice, and not simply of domination of the earth as though that happened unrelated to social domination.”
As you might guess, a little of that goes a long way with me. And when she starts talking about worshiping an earth goddess as a plausible alternative for Christians, I start thinking ... well ... I bet she didn’t get that idea from Pope Benedict.
“The term Gaia has caught on among those seeking a new ecological spirituality as a religious vision. Gaia is seen as a personified being, an immanent divinity. Some see the Jewish and Christian male monotheistic God as a hostile concept that rationalizes alienation from and neglect of the earth. Gaia should replace God as our focus of worship. I agree with much of this critique, yet I believe that merely replacing a male transcendent deity with an immanent female one is a insufficient answer to the ‘god-problem.’” (Boldface supplied.)
Really? The problem with tossing away Christianity and replacing it with the worship of a pagan earth goddess is just that it’s “insufficient”? That doesn't sound like a Vatican talking point either.
Ruether does try to position herself as some strange kind of moderate. She argues that it isn’t necessary to totally reject what she calls “the classical western cultural tradition” (in which she includes Christianity). Occasionally, those dead white guys did “struggle with what they perceived to be injustice and sin,” and evidently Ruether thinks they’ve made a few good points here and there (although curiously she doesn’t give any examples). But at this point, the whole thing has the ring of a “good cop/bad cop” routine. I can’t help hearing her say, “My friends here want to throw Christianity down the rat hole and have us all dance naked around trees, but I think I might be able to talk them into preserving Christmas. Just let me do the negotiating.”
Ultimately, the book descends into a long and tiresome vision of the “good society.” New age theology drops out at this point, and what’s left is a secular kind of new age chatter, which seems to owe more to Paul Ehrlich than to St. Paul. For example, in her “good society”:
* “[T]he private automobile becomes an unacceptable mode of transportation.”
* “Land reform also suggests an eventual reversal of the trends to urbanization, decentralizing the mega-urban centers and creating regional configurations in which business, educational, political, and cultural centers are integrated with their agricultural base. More hand labor and less mechanized labor would also mean more people working on and living directly from the land.”
* “Humanity has no real alternative to population control. The question is, do we want population control to happen voluntarily, before conception, or violently by war, famine, and disease?”
Although she purports to care about the Earth, she endorsed the very unsound practice of using wood for fuel. This can be accomplished, of course, only by decimating the world’s population–something that Ruether is okay with. None of that “suffer the little children to come unto me” stuff here ( ... or maybe she doesn’t realize that “suffer” means “permit” here). In any event, the real game evidently isn’t to save the Earth, but rather to push us all back to the Stone Age. I can’t help thinking of the Khmer Rouge.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is cutting edge theology today. After all, when Isaiah and Amos predicted famine and floods, it was cutting edge theology. And they, like Ruether, don’t appear to have had any firm scientific basis for their predictions. Maybe that’s what theology is all about these days. Here is a small sample of Ruether's apocalyptic vision :
“After  major disasters of famine and collapse of life systems, under the pressures of exploitative use, will take place, and there could well be very dangerous militarist and totalitarian responses from threatened elites, as indeed is already happening.”
All of this is not to say that Ruether shouldn’t be invited to speak or teach on campus (provided she doesn’t mind if a lot of us roll our eyes at this sort of talk). If the faculty of the Theology Department wants to invite her, then I’m for it. She just shouldn’t be invited to fill the Portman Chair. The donor specified that the chair was to be filled by someone “who think[s] from within the Roman Catholic tradition.” If USD had a problem with that, the time to raise it was 2000, not now. If it didn’t intend to follow the donor’s intent, its actions were simply theft–-something that I hear the classical western cultural tradition considers unethical. USD was thus entirely correct to reject Dr. Ruether for the Portman Chair. (By the way, the classical western cultural tradition also has a problem with breach of contract. If USD had already entered into a contract with Dr. Ruether when she was rejected, it may have to pay her damages. Call it a learning experience.)
((Was it wrong to accept the money for the Portman Chair in the first place? I don’t think so. It seems obvious to me that the conservative viewpoint is under-represented on most campuses these days. But that’s a subject for another day ....))
Friday, August 29, 2008
McCain turns out to have a Zen quality. (If he wins the election we will certainly upgrade him to Zen Master.) Even before Palin, he was deftly turning his opponents' apparent strengths against them. The Democrats are rolling in money, so McCain runs sly and funny no-budget YouTube ads - ads that people actually talk about, unlike the solemn network buys for the Messiah. Likewise with Obama's empty speechifying, the Hollywood groupies, and the rock star treatment from his followers.
Now Governor Palin. The Obama campaign, its media alter egos, and Believers across the country jump to denounce her. Surprised, blindsided, not quite knowing what to denounce her for, they go for the obvious: "Inexperience!" She has more executive experience than Obama of course, and political experience too: she trounced both the state Republican Establishment and a formidable Democrat to become governor. The denunciations can only remind everybody how new Barack Obama is.
Then there is the anger factor generally. Since 2000, if not before, "liberal rage" has been a fixture on the scene. It did seem - as a mass phenomenon among people who had been ordinary liberals, not leftist sectarians - that there was a synthetic, ersatz quality about it, at least at the beginning. Almost as though they decided that anger might help them win, so they would be angry, even if they didn't really feel terribly angry. And of course most liberals (like most Americans) have pretty good lives, and hardly much reason to be enraged. But it became a fashion. And words change you, even if you don't fully mean them at first. The self-righteous, angry, intolerant liberal or evangelical leftist is now someone that everyone has encountered. Not necessarily a very attractive type.
Barack Obama himself doesn't seem to be a basically angry man. Conservatives who knew him at Harvard say they like him personally. Obama is pickled in leftism, to be sure, and a lot of the people in his life are very angry types. But if anything, Hilary was the angry one, not Obama.
McCain seems to have spooked him though. (Zen.) Obama's convention speech was competent, but it was angrier than perhaps it should have been. The angry Henry Wallace "Progressive" types who are now the rank and file of the Democratic Party obviously loved it. But the lasting impression on not-yet-committed voters might not be so good.
The reflex attacks on Sarah Palin may likewise not help Obama. Not with women. Not with lots of people. The New Republic hit the strident note - "An Astonishingly Arrogant V.P. Selection" - that has been common today among Obama's followers. (Shocked, shocked at her inexperience...) And there are already dark mutterings about "investigations".
Meantime, McCain put out a YouTube ad yesterday, graciously congratulating Obama on his nomination.
UPDATE: Nat Hentoff, the veteran political writer and civil libertarian - leftward, but always smart, tough, and independent - suggested Sarah Palin as McCain's VP last May. Hentoff called it. Well done. (Actually, Hentoff first made his name as a jazz writer in the 1950s. He is an enormously interesting and independent man - a genuine original.)
I judge a VP nominee based on several factors. (1) Does she help the ticket? (2) Is she someone who should be a contender for the presidency in the future? and (3) Could she serve competently if the President dies? Here are some preliminary thoughts I have about the new nominee.
Does she help the ticket? Well, my initial guess is yes. She is likely to help with three groups: Some soccer moms and others who want to see a women; the Republican base; and some blue collar swing voters. That is a neat trick to appeal to all of these groups. Her biggest downside politically is she makes it harder to criticize Obama's lack of experience.
Is she someone who should be a contender for the presidency in the future? Simply because she is the VP nominee, and especially if she serves as VP, Sarah Palin is likely to be a contender to be the Republican presidential nominee in the future. I don't know that much about Palin, but based on what I have heard -- which is very iffy -- she could turn out to be better on policy than most if not all of the usual Republican suspects. If true, then this would be a big plus in favor of her nomination.
Could she serve competently if the President dies? Hard to say at this point. Just focusing on her experience (and putting to the side how her experience compares with Obama's), I think if McCain were to die in the first year, that would be a big problem. She would have limited experience. But one would expect a McCain Administration to give her some significant duties so as to allow her to become more experienced. If that occurs, then if McCain died in the second half of his first term, her experience might be acceptable.
Other considerations: I regard it as very disturbing how much identity politics has become part of the standard business of Democrats and Republicans. (In part, we can thank George W. Bush for that.) That said, there is a limited defense of this aspect of Palin's selection. Assuming, again, that her views are good ones, then perhaps one could only get a VP nominee with such good views, because she was a women. A man with those views would have been ruled out on political grounds. In that event, there is less identity politics at work.
(For what it is worth, I believe something like this last point was true of Clarence Thomas's appointment. George H. W. Bush famously said that Thomas was the best candidate available, which liberals attacked. But I believe that was true, even though others were more qualified and probably even closer to my views of judging. The others simply could not have gotten through a Democratic Senate. Thomas, in part because of his race, could.)
Update: I should emphasize that my post above was premised on the view that Palin's views were attractive. Clearly, a big if, as I indicated. As more information comes out, we will see if my premise turns out to be correct. Obviously, if she has problematic views, then she becomes far less attractive.
Sarah Palin was born in Sandpoint, Idaho and graduated from the U of I in 1987. Thus she comes from the coolest state in the union figuratively before she moved to the coolest literally. She takes the unauthorized killing of moose very seriously and is against tasering children. She has stood up to environmentalists regarding shooting wolves from planes, so bush dwellers can have more to eat. She's a lot better looking than Joe Biden. She has actually taken on a very deeply entrenched corrupt political system in Alaska, and so must be majorly gonadal (n.b. the sex-neutral terminology). It's definitely an intriguing choice. It hints at change I could believe in. She's relatively young and inexperienced, but that would be a dangerous point for the Dems to stress.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Some interesting analysis from Posner and Becker.
Posner, who discounts the liberalism of Hollywood and seeks to explain political extremism, writes:
But why should actors and other creative workers in the Hollywood film industry, and indeed "cultural workers" more generally, be drawn to political extremes? The nature of their work, which combines irregular employment with high variance in income, an engagement with imaginative rather than realistic concepts, noninvolvement in the production of "useful" goods or service, and, traditionally, a bohemian style of living (a consequence of the other factors I have mentioned), distances them from the ordinary, everyday world of work and family in a basically rather conservative, philistine, and emphatically commercial society, which is the society of the United States today.
Becker believes Hollywood is not just extreme, but liberal. He writes:
Creative contributors to films divorce in large numbers, often several times. Many have frequent affairs, often while married, they have children without marriage, they have significant numbers of abortions, have a higher than average presence of gays, especially in certain of the creative categories, who are open about their sexual preferences, they take cocaine and other drugs, and generally they lead a life style that differs greatly from what is more representative of the American public. By contrast, an important base of the Republican Party is against out of wedlock births, strongly pro life and against abortions, against gays, especially those who adopt an publicly gay lifestyle, against affairs while married, and very much oppose the legalization of drugs like cocaine and even marijuana.
It becomes impossible for Hollywood types who adopt these different lifestyles to support a political party that is so openly and prominently critical of important aspects of their way of living. That the majority of the relatively few conservative filmmakers lead more ordinary lifestyles confirms this hypothesis: they tend to be heterosexual, married, have children while married, are less into drugs, and in other ways too have more conventional lifestyles.
I don't know what evidence Becker has for his claims about the lifestyles of creative contributors. If his claims are true, however, then it would provide an interesting explanation for the predominance of liberals in the creative category.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008