Friday, June 30, 2006

Kuwaiti Landmark

Powerliner Paul Mirengoff reminds me to give a congratulations to Kuwaiti women, who voted in their first election.

Mr. Mirengoff seemed sad that so few feminists seemed to be taking note of this auspicious occassion. So I took the liberty of finding some for him:

Feministe (you can't tell from the link, but it's the only above-the-fold part of this roundup)

Feminist Law Profs


Free-range Feminist

Avast! Feminist Conspiracy

And I'm proud to add myself to the number.

Step Out

E.J. Dionne praises Barack Obama's speech on faith. As a Democratic voter whose (Jewish) faith is important to him, I am at loss for an explanation for why the Democratic platform should in any way be considered incompatible with a religious life.

A few months ago, I wrote about the need to rein in the soaring expectations that have begin to engulf Senator Obama. One of the biggest risks is that media figures will get tired of writing another "golden boy" story and will turn hostile just for the new angle.

And I fear we're starting to see it already. Howard Kurtz has a piece entitled "Senator Steps In It," remarking on the reaction of some liberal bloggers to Obama's speech--namely, the part where he chides "liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant." The theme of Kurtz's piece is that the ravenous and insatiable left is turning on their favorite son. But honestly, his support is thin, at best. Basically, I object to the meme that this is the paradigmatic progressive response becoming the conventional wisdom.

The two harshest attacks come from two bloggers no one has ever heard of. If "I Am Vince" will change parties if Obama gets on the Democratic presidential ticket, then I say don't let the door hit you on the way out. The only big name Kurtz musters is MYDD's Chris Bowers, who seems more upset over the likely political impact of Obama's comments than giving up hope on the Senator entirely. What all three have in common though, is that they deride the strategy of chasing after evangelicals in the first place, calling them the most conservative voters in the polity. For the life of me, I cannot figure out this attack. It seems that Obama is engaging in a classic "What's the matter with Kansas" maneuver. Evangelicals are a solid member of the right base now, for sure, but there is no reason why they have to be. It has been noted before that there is plenty of room for progressives to make inroads here, especially once one gets beyond the corrupt and plutocratic leadership and into the rank and file. Why we should automatically write off a major portion of the electorate that can be turned in our favor (just so we can continue insulting them?) eludes me.

But even with Bowers weighing in, it still feels like he's on the short-side of the argument. Later on, he cites two big guns in the liberal blogosphere, Nathan Newman and Matt Yglesias who both defend Obama and slam the progressives who were so quick to attack him. Newman pulls out the overriding progressive theme in Obama's speech that managed to meld traditional religious concepts with a modern liberal framework--beautifully, I might add. Echidne misses the point here: the idea isn't that religious voices are excluded from the public square, it's that a) Democrats have not found away to frame their arguments so that they are consonant with a religious worldview, when they should and b) the perception amongst some religious people is that Democrats view them as irrational pre-enlightenment hillbillies. That is not saying that one cannot make moral policy decisions based on a secular framework. It's, at root, a call for pluralism which I for one (and I'm not the only one) support.

I do think that the idea that Democrats are hostile to religious voters is a media-driven myth, but its people like Obama who are our best chance at breaking it down (and if he needs to pull a Sister Souljah moment to do it, be my guest). Folks like Captain Ed might want to label Obama a "former left-wing hero", but they're deluding themselves: the vast majority of the liberal rank and file remains firmly in his camp (incidentally, Ed, who I've had interesting conversations with, should really be worried about his comment section. The company you keep after all...).

The problem is, as The Green Knight notes, that the media spun Obama to sound far more critical of the Democrats than he was. That might reinforce the fact that this media-myth does have legs, but surely we can't blame Obama for media-created distortions. He's got the right idea, and what's more, the vast majority of the Democratic party (top to bottom) agrees.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Good Fight

Powerline's Paul Mirengoff remarks on Peter Beinart's new book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals--and Only Liberals--Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. Paul is a good guy and I'm glad that he thinks folks in Beinart's camp (I count myself among them) are "more...allies than...adversaries." Still, he subjects Beinart's thesis to some harsh criticism, most of which I feel is off the mark.

The big area of controversy is to what extent liberal domestic policies are necessary to waging the war on terror. Paul is dismissive of the idea:
Beinart's heavy reliance of the role of the civil rights movement in the Cold War seems misplaced. Similarly, the arguments made by his fellow pro-defense liberal Martin Frost are unpersuasive. Frost argues that our efforts to promote democracy abroad are being undermined by the alleged mistreatment of detainees and supposed civil liberties abuses in the U.S. Frost offers no evidence for this proposition, and a moment's reflection is enough to conclude that it is entirely implausible. Surely Frost does not believe that the terrorists in Iraq are trying to bring down the democratically elected government because of the interrogation techniques at Gitmo. Or that the Saudi government is resisting democratic reforms due to the NSA electronic intercept program. People in other countries favor or disfavor democracy based on their perception of their own interests, not their perception of the U.S.

The argument obviously fails if it's a pure X --> Y causal relationship. But I sincerely doubt anyone is making that argument. The right question to ask is whether American human rights abuses are pushing Arab citizens away from supporting Western-style democracy. That seems altogether plausible. Indeed, the argument works under Paul's own metric of individual interests.

Imagine an average Arab male, just liberated from an oppressive Ba'athist regime. After years of living in fear of an all-powerful and unaccountable state, what is one of the biggest draws of American democracy? Put bluntly, it's the promise that in America he won't be dragged off to an isolated prison for no apparent reason, without any sort of trial, procedures, or chance to clear his name, and subjected to torture. When the promise is put on shaky ground, America loses one of its greatest advantages. And remember, it's a perception issue--all jihadists have to do is cast doubt that America-the-ideal is America-the-reality. Place a picture of the Statue of Liberty next to a picture of Abu Gharib, and that point comes off rather potently. This isn't to say that democracy has no other advantages outside of the "won't-get-dragged-off-and-shot" variety, only that this is a major one and we sacrifice it at our own peril.

Contrary to Mr. Mirengoff's insinuations, there is historical precedent for this. One of the key motivators behind the landmark Brown v. Board decision was the Justice Department intervening, for the first time, on the NAACP's side in a segregation case. Why did they do that? Well, as Derrick Bell has convincingly argued, they did it because the State Department kept on receiving cables from its diplomats screaming that they were getting mauled in the 3rd world over Jim Crow. We could not simultanously preserve such a blantant apartheid system and still claim to be defending liberty and equality on a global scale. I think that argument still applies, and the political party most able to transmit a persuasive pro-democracy message abroad will be the one that shows the greatest commitment to it at home.

What Paul is really steamed about, I think, is the implication that Republicans are ill-suited to win the war on terror. He thinks this charge is most unfair, and what's more, he thinks that few Democrats really take terror as seriously as Beinart does. I'm certainly in no position to respond--after all, I echoed Beinart's claim over a year before the book came out. But I'll merely add two things.

1) This argument is a mirror image of the Rovian assualt Republican's have made on Democrats since 9/12/01. Turn about is fair play.

2) Taking Kevin Drum as my guide (and I think he's a pretty good bellweather for the Democratic mainstream), the primary reaction to Beinart's argument hasn't been to decry its militarism, its been almost along the lines of "duh, that's what we've been saying for years". As Drum writes:
I think he could give the keynote address at YearlyKos and not really say much of anything the audience would disagree with. If Beinart really is the standard bearer for a new incarnation of liberal hawkishness, then we're almost all liberal hawks now.

So if Paul thinks Beinart is mostly on target, and most Democrats also think that Beinart is on target, then I think that's pretty compelling bipartisan support for the mainstream Democratic position on anti-terror policy.

UPDATE: My latest reply to Mr. Mirengoff is here.

The Cutting Edge

Fidel Castro's niece is leading the charge for gay rights in Cuba. Nothing is more aggravating to me than watching brutal totalitarian regimes outperform the US on an issue of human rights. It's bad enough that we're now in a race with Cuba to see who can stop oppressing homosexuals first; can we please at least not lose it?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tainted Pool

Dan Filler has a great post supporting David Souter's claim--made in the Kansas v. Marsh dissent and mocked by Doug Berman--that capital cases might have higher error rates than non-capital cases.

He gives six reasons, the most interesting of which--to me, anyway--was the second:
Capital juries are likely to be less sympathetic to the defense because they are death-qualified (i.e., only people who are willing to impose death are permitted to be jurors in a capital case.) This eliminates a not insignificant portion of the population that is most attractive to the defense.

I had never thought of this before, yet now it strikes me as a significant problem--especially depending on what the exact definition of "death-qualified" is.

For example, I don't have any theoretical or philosophical objection to the death penalty. But I do think that our death penalty system is broken beyond repair, at least without a moratorium. So, as a juror, would I be willing to cast a vote for death? Maybe...but I think I'd set my standard so high that it'd be impossible to meet--it would hinge on me being absolutely certain ("beyond a scintella of a doubt") of the defendants guilt, on it meeting certain admittedly subjective criteria for severity (i.e., a rape/murder), and being convinced that there was no procedural defects apparent at trial--ranging from inadequate representation to racial bias in the DA's office. I'm not sure I'd ever be convinced of all that.

People like me, then, probably will be excluded from hearing capital cases. Which is problematic, because what makes someone like me "like me" is that we're skeptical of the state when it comes to the criminal justice sphere. I really think that given the statistics, such skepticism is warranted and those who don't have it are really demonstrating a bias towards the accused (aka, the not-yet-convicted). Even if one doesn't think that we're indisputably right in our critique, though, it still should be recognized that our presence is valuable for a balanced jury pool that will be through and complete in its deliberations.

Incidentally, this post topic dovetails nicely with Andy Leipold's findings that judges are--contra to the prevailing wisdom--less likely to convict criminal defendants than juries are. This occurs off of all cases, not just capital ones, but still, I think there may be a connection.

Political Clout

Yesterday, the good folks over at the Family Research Council got themselves in a bit of a huff over Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich (R) seeming a bit too pro-gay. Remarking on Ehrlich's appointment of an openly gay judge to a Maryland court, and his firing of a Metro board commissioner who called homosexaulity "deviant", the FRC cried:
Gov. Ehrlich's lurch to the left is deplorable. His firing of Mr. Smith is an assault on religious liberty and on freedom of speech. His election-year conversion to champion of gay issues is pandering at its worst. This once again highlights the radical impact that the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas has had on the country.

I was a bit amused to hear about "election-year...pandering" in favor of gay rights. Got to satisfy that massive gay conspiracy constituency. But hey--this is Maryland. Maybe they're right, and this is the rare state where bigotry doesn't have an election payoff. Wouldn't that be nice.

Meanwhile, James Dobson has a set of complaints about supposed media bias against the anti-gay crowd (ironically enough, published on CNN). You may remember Dobson for his bizarre claim that gay marriage "will destroy the earth." Well, he might have just topped himself:
So where does the issue go from here? Time will tell. It took William Wilberforce more than 30 years to bring about an end to Britain's slave trade in the 1800s. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of a protracted victory.

Am I reading Dobson right that gay marriage poses a greater moral threat than slavery? That's simply stunning. Folks like Dobson use and abuse the civil rights movement for their own agendas, but seem to have very little awareness of the gravity of the wrong itself.

Hmm...maybe the way Black people could properly remember their tragedy would be to support equal rights and citizenship for their gay compatriots. The most logical descendant of Loving v. Virginia, after all, is Goodridge v. Department of Health.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Patriotic Fervor

Via Rick Garnett, a really interesting claim about the role of patriotism in America's governmental system. It seems that too much of it is, well, unpatriotic:
Americans' powerful identification with their country poses a significant threat to the system of intergovernmental competition that the Framers envisioned. The Framers believed that the state and federal governments would compete with one another for citizens' loyalty and for the regulatory power which that loyalty often yields, and that this competition would give both sovereigns strong incentives to remain finely attuned to the needs and desires of the citizenry. I contend that the nation's seemingly exclusive claim to citizens' patriotism significantly shields the federal government from the competitive forces that the Framers believed would restrain its ability to govern in objectionable ways. I conclude by advancing a two-part argument. First, to ensure that the federal government does not wield monopolistic power in a vast array of domains, we should give increased consideration to treaties and other regulatory alternatives that require America's leaders to negotiate with their counterparts in other countries. Second, in the years ahead, Americans may very well develop the supra-national patriotic sentiments necessary to sustain such models of international governance.

I do wonder how many federalism supporters saw this abstract and started flailing their arms wildly, shouting for attention. But even still, it's an interesting point.

And while we're on the subject of too much patriotism undermining the ideals our nation was founded upon, I note with some satisfaction that the flag desecration amendment failed in the senate today--albeit by one vote. I wrote these letters to my senators prior to the vote, but unfortunately I believe both voted for the amendment.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Keep It Clean

Kevin Drum points out something Democrats would do well to keep in mind: We'll lose the race to the bottom. If politics goes completely into the gutter, if Democrats and Republicans fight a duel with Ann Coulter and Michael Moore as the primary combatants, Republicans will win. Every time.

There's a bunch of reasons why that's true, but here's the simple test. Compare these two attacks and see who's going to come out ahead:
REPUBLICANS: Democrats demonize people of faith!

DEMOCRATS: Republicans demonize atheists!

Yeah, that's going to turn out well. Or try with different categories. Families versus homosexuals. Soldiers versus dissenters. Immigrants versus "hard working Americans."

Note that I am not saying that these dualism are accurate characterizations of the issues. I'm merely pointing out that when things get reduced to their barest caricatures, Democrats are going to lose. Because we're a party of deep ideas. We're not good at transforming our message into a taunt, because it's about uplifting America, not trying to keep it down.

One could argue that we're too late, the political climate has already moved past the point of civility, and we need to play dirty or lose every time. I might agree with the first half, but I sorely dissent from the second. If American politics today is framed as a slime contest, then Democrats need to focus their efforts on changing that frame. We need more Barack Obamas, not more Michael Moores.

Caught in the Net

This Washington Post article about a man thought to be a fugitive because a criminal had used his name as an alias left me with chills. It's truly frightening how heartless the criminal "justice" bureaucracy has become. This man had clear, incontrovertable proof of his innocence that was easily accessible to the authorities. What hope do those persons have who are not so obviously in the clear?

Thanks to my friend Lauren for the heads. Meanwhile, the DC rain storms have flooded my basement, so I'll likely be waging war against rising water for the next few days. Wish me luck.