Saturday, August 25, 2007

Building a Better Jury

I've been reading this fascinating study by Samuel R. Sommers of Tufts University that was published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. I mentioned the study on the blog when it came out, but I didn't get the opportunity to read it until now. Basically, it measures the performance difference between racially homogeneous and heterogeneous juries (the former being all White, the latter consisting of four Whites and two Blacks), all of whom separately deliberated on the same "case". On a variety of metrics, blind observers found that members of the heterogeneous juries outperformed their homogeneous peers. Specifically, the heterogeneous juries deliberated longer, discussed more facts, were less likely to state factual inaccuracies, were more likely to correct factual inaccuracies when they did occur, discussed more "missing" evidence (e.g., inquire as to why certain testimony wasn't presented or why there was no fingerprint evidence, and what it meant), were more likely to discuss racism-related issues, and were less likely to reflexively object when race issues were brought up. These benefits were shared by the White and Black jurors alike. That is to say, the increased deliberation wasn't because Black jurors wished to press deliberations for a longer period, pushing the average up. Rather, in heterogeneous environments, both White and Black jurors both displayed a stronger commitment to a deeper, more rigorous examination of the facts and issues surrounding the case (the specific methodology and mechanics of the study are laid out in the article).

Another interesting implication is how these findings relate to other studies which have elucidated some of the harms of diversity. These harms generally play out in terms of reduced group cohesion and morale, or increased intra-group conflict. While Sommers did not find any difference between the diverse and homogeneous juries in the perception of intra-group conflict, he argues that even where that is a significant risk, in some circumstances it might be outweighed.
But even when conflict accompanies the potential benefits of diversity, one wonders whether this is often a risk worth taking. Threats to morale can be temporary and overcome as a group acclimates to heterogeneity (Jehn et al., 1999; Watson et al., 1993). Furthermore, a little discomfort may be good if, as the present data suggest, groups’ natural tendency is to stifle discussion of controversial or unpopular topics. Many a group has goals beyond a harmonious existence, whether the decision making of committees or the performance of students in a classroom. The present findings raise the possibility that dwelling on the negative interpersonal effects of racial diversity can be shortsighted and may prevent realization of long-term performance benefits. This leads to the more general conclusion that too little attention is often paid to the threat posed by group homogeneity. Debate regarding diversity usually centers on the costs and benefits of seeking heterogeneity, but what about the alternative status quo? An extreme interpretation of the present data is that compared with racially diverse groups, homogeneous groups were lazy information processors, prone to inaccuracies, unwilling to consider uncomfortable topics, and superficial in their discussions. A kinder conclusion would be that homogeneous groups spent less time on their decisions, made more errors, and considered fewer perspectives. In either case, homogeneity was associated with performance decrements, and this is not the first time such a relationship has been noted (Janis, 1982; Kameda & Sugimori, 1993; Wilkenfeld, 2004). Nonetheless, in both popular discourse and scientific examination, cost-benefit analyses of homogeneity are too often left implied or ignored altogether in efforts to evaluate diversity. (608-609)

Where maximum performance is considered to be more important than maximum harmony, diversity should be pursued even where there are risks of fostering some reduction in intra-group morale. Juries would seem to be an obvious instance where this is the case, and I'd argue that this is also so in many of our social and democratic institutions.

I've long argued that diversity (including racial diversity) is a just end for governmental and social bodies to pursue because diversity makes institutions better at what they do. Sommers' study has laid some of the empirical groundwork that indicates that this is, in fact the case. Where racial diversity can be tied to a bona fide job requirement, even conservatives have conceded that affirmative action to pursue it is constitutional and appropriate (see Wittmer v. Peters, 87 F.3d 916, 920 (7th Cir. 1996) (opinion by Judge Richard Posner)). Sommers' study indicates the possibility that these situations exist in far more circumstances than many of us had imagined.


Samuel R. Sommers, "On Racial Diversity and Group Decision Making: Identifying Multiple Effects of Racial Composition on Jury Deliberations," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 4, pp. 597–612 (2006)

Friday, August 24, 2007


Paul Abramson's provocative new book, Romance in the Ivory Tower, argues that there is a "right to romance" implicit in the 9th Amendment to the US constitution. This right nullifies collegiate policies which prohibit professor's from having relationships with their students.

In a more foolish comment than normal (an impressive achievement), Dineesh D'Souza argues that "If professors had a constitutional 'right to romance,' then a student's refusal to sleep with them would constitute a violation of their rights." Well, no, it wouldn't, if for no other reason than rape is not romantic (and believe me, there are plenty of other reasons).

Abramson locates the right to romance in the 9th amendment to the Constitution, which states that "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Or put more simply, just because it isn't written, doesn't mean you don't have it. Of course, that raises the perplexing question of just which rights you do have. D'Souza, needless to say, doesn't even bother to answer this question, instead ducking back to the classic parade of horribles ("[D]o I have a Ninth Amendment right to take drugs? To travel without a passport? To conduct my own foreign policy?" I wish I was making these up). D'Souza may take the Robert Bork position that the 9th amendment is an "inkblot", but for the rest of us whose professions of fidelity to the constitution are more than conservative posturing, this is not a sufficient response.

Historically, the Supreme Court has given certain practices that don't have specific textual grounding constitutional protection (right to educate one's children in private schools, Pierce v. Society of Sisters; right for children to learn foreign languages, Meyer v. Nebraska. Needless to say, both of these cases refer to negative rights; they do not create positive entitlements). In my opinion, such acts gain their authority implicitly, if not explicitly, through the ninth amendment. There are two standards the court has used to determine whether an action fits within this framework, either one of which appears to be sufficient: first, if having the right is "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, and second if the right is "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition," Moore v. City of East Cleveland.

Within this framework, I think Abramson has a far stronger case than D'Souza gives him credit for. The ability to choose one's own intimate associations can fairly be said to be "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty"--it is difficult to imagine a free state in which the state tells you who you can and cannot date (or worse yet, mandates who you must date). Such a right seems to me to be very closely tied to the freedom of association recognized as inherent in the 1st amendment, and has strong precedential ties to cases like Loving v. Virginia (striking down laws barring interracial marriage) and Lawrence v. Texas (striking down anti-sodomy laws).

That being said, I still disagree with Abramson. Courts have typically allowed restrictions on the formation of relationships where there is a substantial risk of an abuse of power. Adult incest laws are partially predicated on such concerns, as are rules prohibiting fraternization in the military, and employer/employee relationships at many companies. A relationship between a professor and a student seems broadly analogous to these cases, and raises many of the same concerns.

But wishing the Ninth Amendment away is not the way to deal with these issues.


(Anti-)Primary Colors

I have to think Rudy Giuliani's anniversary letter to the Stonewall Veterans Association may come back to haunt him in the GOP primaries.

For those of you who don't know about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, they are considered a landmark event in the American gay rights movement. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Mirror, Mirror

Enik Rising (h/t: Voir Dire) links to a PEW survey ranking votes' perceptions of the ideological position of various candidate. They came up with this chart

(click to enlarge)

What's fascinating (to me anyways) is that voters rate the Democratic candidates in the exact opposite order that I'd put them, liberal-to-conservative. The polls has the ordering (from most to least liberal) as Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama, John Edwards. I'm not trying to be snide here--I genuinely would rank the exact opposite: Edwards as the most liberal, then Obama, Gore, Hillary, and finally Bill as the most conservative.

The Republican ordering, by contrast, strikes me as about right: their order (from most to least conservative) is George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani.

Why is the Democratic field perceived in a mirror-image to how I view them? I think a great deal of it is that John Edwards is a southern Democrat, and thus is kind of assumed to represent the more moderate wing of the party. I hear his accent, and even I have difficulty imagining him as a lefty. But of all the candidates, Edwards is the one most likely to be found breathing some progressive fire. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was the patron saint of the DLC and the king of triangulation, so it's tough to call him the most liberal Democrat out there today (and Hillary has specifically gained accolades for being a pretty middle-of-the-road Senator). But him and Hillary both have faced a long, long effort by the right-wing media to tar them as pseudo-communists. Clearly, some of it stuck.

In any event, this raises interesting questions. Folks have worried about whether Hillary Clinton can ever shake the "liberal" label, no matter how centrist she runs. But what about Edwards? The same (but opposite) logic would seem to apply--he can apparently take relatively progressive positions while still being perceived as a moderate candidate. That could be of great use in the general. Of course, whether or not he will be able to avoid the liberal-brush of right-wing attack that is sure to befall the Democratic candidate remains to be seen. But still, it's worth considering.

New Blog Alert

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to two new blogs that may be of interest to my readership (whoever they may be):

1) Sexual Orientation and the Law, which is part of the Law Professor Blogs network (Paul Caron, emperor-for-life).

2) Voir Dire, focusing on a social science approach to law and legal matters.

Both look quite interesting, and should be useful new resources for the blawgosphere.

Debate: The Movie

I didn't actually do policy debate (Congress and LD), but nonetheless, I pretty much lived this movie for four years in high school.

One of the more surreal moments of my life came in college last year, when I was able to make two senior girls go ga-ga over me by reading from John Dewey at spread-speed (and believe me, I wouldn't be even considered fast on the policy circuit). I guess chicks dig debaters.

Broken Family

My little brother departs for The Grape today ("The Grape" being the nickname for the University of Virginia I'm trying to establish. UVA = uva = grape. It makes sense, dammit!). My mom and dad are taking him down, but I'm not going (I'd just take up room in the car). So this is it for us. Well, until Winter Break anyway (so it's actually not any longer time apart then in the past three years. But it feels melodramatic).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Waiting in the Wings

I love my religion, but nonetheless, I'm really, really, really skeptical that Iranians are just waiting for the opportunity to convert to Judaisim.


Just Do It

I want to quickly follow up on this issue of Israel and refugees from Darfur. Casting aside for the moment the question of what to do with African refugees who aren't fleeing the Darfur conflict specifically (I'm sure, however, that we can all agree that all refugees deserve a hearing to ascertain their status and see if they qualify for asylum), I've been presented with loads of reasons as to why Israel either shouldn't or doesn't have the obligation to let the Darfuris in. Sudan is an enemy state, and the security risk is too high. It would threaten precarious diplomatic negotiations with other Arab states. It would set a precedent that other neighboring countries don't have an obligation to take care of the refugees. The refugees are of the wrong culture and religion. And so on.

Coming up with reasons not to do something is the easiest thing in the world. America and the EU haven't held off on intervening in Darfur because they are thinking to themselves You know what? It doesn't bother me in the slightest that there's a genocide going on. That's just not the way it works. When Bush wrote "not on my watch" in the margins of a book on the Rwandan genocide, I very much think he was serious. It's just that foreign policy lends itself to inertia, and there are a lot of voices whispering about why we should hold off, why we shouldn't act, why it isn't our problem. We say the African Union is the one with the responsibility. Or we fret about how the Sudanese government will react to saber-rattling. We don't start making large-scale contingency plans to airlift out refugees. We don't institute a no-fly zone. We don't do anything.

This is hardly a new occurrence. When the S.S. St. Louis (carrying Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany) bounced around all the countries of North and South America, looking for one to give it sanctuary, I'm sure each country could have given a variety of "good" reasons why it refused. The refugees wouldn't be able to assimilate. Granting asylum would threaten a policy of isolationism. The boat is from an enemy state--do we really know they are who they say they are?

The S.S. St. Louis is the paradigmatic case Jews and other anti-genocide activists have used as proof that countries will always try to find a way to duck their obligation to save those being killed through ethnic violence--even when they are literally pounding on our doorstep. Which is why a primary concern of Jews seeking to avert another Holocaust have, as one of their primary goals, tried to break through these layers of rationalization and obfuscation. Enough chatter. Just do it.

But still, they have their reasons. And they are watching very closely, to see if there is anybody, in fact who will take the plunge? Or is all the talk just talk. The world community is watching to see if the Jewish community meant what it said--that a country could have, and should have, taken them in. If they see us drop back into the same old patterns of endless excuses and justification, they will feel justified in having done the same. And in the future, when we or some other community needs them, they will undoubtedly wring their hands and gnash their teeth. But they will turn us away.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jews are Jews

Turkey has made some diplomatic moves towards Israel to register its displeasure at the Anti-Defamation League's recent reversal of its stance on the Armenian genocide. People have kind of taken it as a given that Turkey would do this (and this was one of the primary reasons the ADL held off on taking this position until now). But I have to ask: does Turkey recognize that the ADL is not an arm of the Israeli government? That they can take separate positions on issues? As Matt Yglesias says, its perfectly understandable why Israel might take more of a hard-nosed realist approach to this issue, without demanding that American Jewish groups do the same. But this conflation of every Jewish institution as if they were part of one large meta-structure is uncomfortable to me.

Who's Human Now?

The link from the Washington Post website to this article by Sally Jenkins boldly proclaims that the "[a]ctions the NFL quarterback agreed to plead guilty to are crimes against humanity." Well, no, they're not. Look, I actually hate dogs, and even I recognize that Vick's actions were deplorable (and criminal). But crimes against humanity, they're not.

Similarly, Jenkins concludes her article by writing "Commit those crimes against people, and the words we'd use for it are fascism, and genocide." I suppose so, but that's equally true of the chicken fingers I ate for dinner last night (don't comment, vegetarian friends). The position of humans and animals aren't completely transposable--its hyperbole bordering on hysteria the way in which Vick's crime has been magnified into this massive example of all that is evil and wrong in the world. Reading articles like this makes Rick Morrissey and Barry Rozner's call for perspective all the more powerful (via Feministing).

See also, this great comic.

Birth Control Pills are the New Abortions

Mitt Romney--quietly--is signaling that he opposes not just abortion, but the birth control pill. It's frustrating that any and all positions a Republican takes against a woman's reproductive freedom are grouped under a generic "Republicans are pro-life" metric, because by all rights people should know just how far the GOP base is pushing its candidates out of the mainstream here.

Meanwhile, Jill at Feministe points out the media is seriously falling down on the job when it reports on the efficacy of the pill. Referring to a quote given by an anti-abortion activist which nakedly asserts that the pill "doesn't work," she comments:
It is a medical fact that birth control pills do work. And they work astoundingly well. If you use them as directed, they’re 99.7 - 99.9 percent effective. Even the typical use rates are pretty good — BC is 92 percent effective even when women don’t use it perfectly. So this isn’t a matter of personal opinion. There simply isn’t data out there backing up the statement that birth control pills “don’t work.”

When reporting a story like this, the news media does have an obligation to present both sides, and so I certainly don’t fault them for including the anti-choice view. But they also have an obligation to inform the public and not promote false information. If someone is quoted as saying, “Yesterday, the President visited Togo,” when in fact yesterday the President was in Russia, the reporter has an obligation to point out the president’s actual location.... And if someone is quoted as saying, “Birth control pills don’t work” when in fact birth control pills work quite well, a good reporter will refuse to perpetuate untruths, and will instead allow the quote to stand next to the actual facts.

Facts are stubborn things--unless they're ignored.

Call Me David, Lord of Mathematics

I took the GREs today. As you may know, I did not really study for them that seriously. I did a few practice sections, and one full test, in which I got a better score on the quantitative section than I did on the verbal. Which is weird, because while I'm a rather verbose person on the one hand, I fear and loathe math on the other.

The GRE is a computer-based test, and has some weird quirks. The most notable is that the questions are path-dependent. If you do well on early questions, they start giving you harder ones. If you start missing questions, they become easier. I'm told they still throw in an assortment of difficulty levels regardless, for standardization purposes. But overall, the test adjusts to your ability level.

There are two main upshots to this. The first is that you can't go back to check your work. Once you input an answer, that's it, you're moving on. This is somewhat annoying, especially for someone like me who works fast (and thus sometimes makes sloppy mistakes) but generally catches them on the read-over. But that's not a huge deal. What is a big problem is that the difficulty-adjustment plays tricks on your mind. Now, I'm a pretty good test-taker. So let's say I get a few answers right early. Now I start seeing some harder questions. Oh my God, these words don't even look remotely familiar! This is so difficult! But wait, that should mean I'm doing well! Then, of course, a few questions pop up that seem easier. Good news? Nope--because now I'm convinced I got each of the last five wrong and the test as readjusted itself to "third-grader" mode. And so it goes, up and down, harder and easier. The entire ordeal is a recipe for paranoia.

But anyway, back to me. As I said, I did slightly better on the practice math than I did on the practice verbal (750 math, 740 verbal was my last practice test score). This translated very weird percentile-wise--the 740 was 99th percentile, but the 750 was 84th percentile. Nonetheless, even with a last-second review of trig with my engineering school-bound brother, I had a lot of trouble imaging I'd do better on math than verbal on the real test.

Because its computer-based, they can give you all your scores (except the writing section) right in front of you. My final score? 720 verbal....790 quantitative. For some perspective, not only is that higher than I got on my SAT (1510 versus 1500), my quantitative score on the GRE was higher than my verbal score on the SAT (780 in the latter case), after having taken a grand total of one true math class in the past three years.

Now I just have to figure out what that score means for grad school applications....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Genocide Denial

Adding to the list of cases where Jewish institutions are taking intolerable positions is the--shall we say tepidity?--of many American Jewish organizations to the demands of the Armenian community that America recognize the Turkish genocide against their people during World War I. The mass slaughter of 1.5 million people was, along with the Holocaust, one of the events that motivated Raphael Lemkin to coin the term "genocide," and the failure of people to remember the butchering convinced Hitler that nobody would mind his destruction of European Jewry. Though there is significant documentary evidence indicating that a genocide did occur, the Turkish government fiercely denies it, calls the debate an insult to its national pride, and has veiled threats of retaliation against any government or group that recognizes the event as a "genocide."

Michael Crowley wrote an excellent expose documenting the fierce lobbying that surrounds the issue in Congress. One would think that American Jewish groups, who have been so important in raising the consciousness of genocide issues and rallying around "never again", would be at the fore of those demanding recognition. You'd be wrong:
Earning a special commendation for dubious behavior is Washington's Jewish-American lobby. In one of this tale's strangest twists, the Turks have convinced prominent Jewish groups, not typically indifferent to charges of genocide, to mute their opinions. In February, Turkey's foreign minister convened a meeting at a Washington hotel with more than a dozen leaders of major Jewish groups. Most prominent groups now take no official position on the resolution, including B'nai B'rith, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (aipac), and the American Jewish Committee. The issue "belongs to historians and not a resolution in Congress," explains Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who outright opposes the resolution. "It will resolve nothing." But it's also clear that Turkey's status as Israel's lone Muslim ally counts for a lot, too. "I think a lot of Israelis agree," Foxman told me. (One person involved in the fight offers a more cynical explanation: "Jewish groups don't want to give up their ownership of the term genocide.'")

The Turks have also conspicuously hired some lobbyists with strong Jewish ties. Their payroll includes a Washington firm called Southfive Strategies, which bills itself as "a Washington D.C. consulting boutique with access to the White House, congressional leadership, and influential media organizations." Southfive is run by Jason Epstein, a former Capitol Hill lobbyist for B'nai B'rith, and Lenny Ben-David, an Israeli-born former deputy chief of mission at Israel's Washington embassy and a longtime aipac staffer whose previous firm, IsraelConsult, also worked for Turkey.

Some Jewish leaders, to be sure, find such realpolitik less than tasteful. "It is obscene for us, of all people, to quibble about definitions," one prominent California rabbi recently told the Jewish Journal. But, when I asked one Jewish-American aligned with the Turks whether he truly believes that genocide didn't take place, he stammered that "the verdict" is not in, before adding, "If you're asking do I sleep at night, I do."

Alan Wolfe also notes that the ADL has fired its New England Regional Director for insisting on recognizing the genocide, which led to the resignation-in-protest of several board members.

The ADL does appear to have recently flipped, issuing a statement saying that "the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians... were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide." But they also stress the need to avoid confrontation with Turkey, which has been one of Israel's few Muslim allies in the world.

Look, Turkey's friendship is important (for Israel and the US). But at what cost does it come? David Harris reminds us that allowing the Armenian Genocide to be held in limbo as "up for debate" doesn't bode well for those who wish to banish Holocaust denial from the realm of respectable conversation. "Picture a day," he tells us, "when a muscle-flexing Iran or Saudi Arabia seeks to make denial of the Holocaust a condition of doing business with other countries."

Jews have an obligation to the truth--on this issue more than most. Might it strain our relationship with Turkey? Possibly--though honestly, my response to them is to grow up. But in any event, there is a deep-seated ethical obligation on this issue that cannot be ignored or negotiated away. Gaining recognition of the Armenian genocide should be a top priority for the Jewish community. One cannot have "never again" when nothing is recognized to have happened in the first place.


I'd like to say that my reduced blogging of late has been due to intensive GRE studying (I take the test Wednesday), but that would imply that I've been, er, studying (intensively or no). I've taken a few practice sections, and oddly enough, I'm doing better on the quantitative sections than the verbal. Odd, I know. But in addition to test prep, I've hit a bit of a groove on the article I'm working on, so that's the real culprit in why the blogging hasn't been quite up on top of things. Post-Wednesday, at the very least, I plan on getting back on pace.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Open Up

Yesterday, CNN reported that Israel will stop letting in refugees from the Darfur conflict who have been trying to cross over from the Egyptian border. In Egypt, African refugees from Darfur have faced brutal discrimination, including state-sponsored violence. Refugees attempting to cross into Israel have been shot and beaten to death by Egyptian security forces. Israeli forces haven't beaten anybody, but they score no points by sending desperate men, women, and children back into the hands of those who would.

The Washington Post picked up the story today, and added some details.
Israel sent back the first group of 48 African refugees through the Karm Abu Salim, or Kerem Shalom, crossing with Egypt late Saturday night, Egyptian and Israeli officials confirmed. Egypt said the deportees included refugees from Darfur.

Israel apparently expelled them without hearings, in contravention of a refugee accord it has signed that requires countries to determine whether deportation will subject asylum-seekers to mistreatment, said Ben-Dor, the Israeli refugee lawyer.

More than half the members of Israel's parliament, including opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, signed a petition earlier this month urging Israel not to send the refugees back to Egypt.

"The refugees need protection and sanctuary and the Jewish people's history as well as democratic and humanitarian values make it a moral imperative for us to give them that shelter," the Israeli lawmakers wrote.

"The expulsion is an inhumane act that violates international law," said lawmaker Dov Khenin of the Hadash party, according to the Haaretz newspaper Web site.

I have absolutely no sympathy for Israel in this situation. A country founded by a people fleeing from genocidal violence simply cannot turn away those fleeing from murderous ethnic violence of their own. That they have done so in violation of refugee conventions makes the crime even worse. If Israel feels there is a potential security threat (and I've read nothing to that effect), then it should grant temporary sanctuary while negotiating third-party asylum. Sending them back is not an option.

I am intrigued by the break-down of who is lining up where on this issue within the Israeli political establishment. The Hadash party is an Arab-dominated anti-Zionist Marxist party (and a relatively small one at that, with three seats in the Knesset). On the other hand, Bibi Netanyahu is chairman of the mainline conservative Likud Party, and not one I'd expect to see speaking out in favor of the rights of Muslim refugees. The government of Israel is currently a center-left coalition, and I can't imagine there is strong support within it to send these refugees back. Since the article says that more than half of Knesset members have spoken out in opposition to the planned expulsion, there remains hope that there could be a reversal of the Israeli position on this. I hope there is, because the current stance is not just embarrassing, it's criminal.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Third Rail

Reflecting on the death throes of the Republican Revolution, Terence Samuel pin-points the turning point: the failure of President Bush's plan to privatize social security. When you think about it, that was a pretty incredible vindication of the saying that Social Security is the "third rail" of politics. It's difficult to remember now, but when Bush rolled out that plan, he was at the peak of his game--just coming off a solid re-election victory over John Kerry, majorities in both houses of Congress, and possessing a general aura, as Samuel puts it, of "invincibility." On Social Security, there was even a pre-existing narrative for reform; even many Democrats had trumpeted the "social security is going bankrupt" line in the recent memories of voters. Democrats had spent the last three years cowing before the Bush onslaught, and--with post-election "political capital" to spend--he saw no reason why they wouldn't similarly roll over here too.

But, finally finding their backbone, Democrats pushed back. For sure, they were helped by the fact that Bush's plan was not a very good idea, as well as the problem that Bush's re-election campaign was based not a whit on social security reform (I forget the particulars of his campaign--something about how voting for Kerry meant letting al-Qaeda take over Boston and the Vietcong march through Hawaii, plus wolves devouring your children--but it definitely had nothing to do with social security). And dealing Bush his first major defeat since he had taken office, the aura was tarnished. Democrats became emboldened. The Bush administration looked ever-weaker. And today, the Democrats are in a stronger position than they even have been in recent memory, with both houses of Congress, a strong chance at retaking the presidency, and a good congressional playing field in 2008.