Saturday, October 23, 2004

Can We Ever Win?

Is it just me, or are the odds stacked against us? It seems like the electoral map is conspiring against Kerry. On the other hand, assuming Kerry takes Ohio and New Mexico (which I still think is rather likely), he only needs two of the Upper-Midwest three (Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin) to win. Or without New Mexico, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Or he could just win FLORIDA, dammit.

This is annoying. I hope that Kerry can put on some heat in the stretch.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Daniel Drezner Endorses Kerry!!!

In a move that virtually guarentees the outcome of the Presidential Election, Daniel Drezner has just announced he's voting for John Kerry!

Well, in a just world it would guarentee Kerry the election. In the real world, five Dupont Circle Libertarians decide to vote for Kerry and Andrew Sullivan gives him another look, causing a ripple effect that convinces literally DOZENS of people to vote for Kerry! But hey, I'm allowed to be excited. Congratulations on finally taking the plunge.

In other endorsement news, Josh Chafetz has also given the nod to Kerry. Oh, and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has done likewise, a move I'd be tempted to dismiss as irrelevant except that it might actually HAVE an impact on the suddenly swingy Minnesota.

Also, Bush made headway in the Newspaper Endorsement wars, picking up 8 papers today. Veteran political watchers were stunned to see that both the Washington Times AND the New York Post decided to endorse Bush. But sarcasm aside, the other 6 papers Bush picked up were all in swing states (3 in Colorado, 1 each in Oregon, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin). Kerry picked up only two papers, in the ever-competitive Alabama and Indiana. But in terms of overall circulation and total papers, Kerry still has a comfortable lead.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Beyond Tax Cuts: The Future of the GOP

Mark Schmitt posts a superb article on the undoing of the Republican Party (hat tip: Crooked Timber), a phenomona that I have blogged about ad naseum.

Money Quote
Tax cuts are not conservatism. They are not a coherent worldview. They were a part of the conservative philosophy, but not an end in themselves. Stripped out of the larger framework of smaller government, of modesty about the possibilities of change, of respect for tradition and history, and of the sense that central government can be oppressive as easily as it can be liberating, tax cuts amount to nothing more than a material benefit for a few, and a long-term liability for everyone else. Put another way, imagine that the animating ideas of liberalism were reduced to this promise: "We will create a new cabinet-level agency every single year." That's not a vision that can attract deep loyalty, and neither is the promise of a tax cut every year.

What, exactly, does the Republican Party have left? It doesn't have a commitment to Homeland Security, witness Bush's opposition to the DHS, 9/11 commission, and a myriad of other HS reforms. It doesn't have a commitment to small government, look at the Prescription Drug Coverage plan. It doesn't have a commitment to states rights, look at NCLB. It doesn't care about government non-intrusiveness, look at the FMA and the PATRIOT act. The closest thing to a coherent foreign policy it has is a commitment to democratization, which I support (and tragically, many Democrats have reflexively opposed despite it being a natural extension of liberal views), but even this appears to have stalled out beyond Afghanistan and Iraq (look at our anemic protests towards Putin's Russia, and our devil's bargain with Uzbekistan, for example). I would say Republican's like to blow things up, but then why is North Korea still on the map? It appears that LITERALLY the only thing that "unites" the Republican party is tax cuts, and that coalition simply can't hold together much longer.

What would be interesting is seeing what the "new" GOP will be. In discussing it with my friends, the most popular answer is that the Rockefellers will united with the "traditionalists" (IE, McCain and his ilk), with the libertarians still cautiously supporting them (but, like today, being relegated to the margins), and the social conservatives being the odd men out. They justify this on two grounds, first, that the social conservatives are the farthest from mainstream American thought and thus would be logically the first to be jettisoned, and second that since American youth are more tolerant than their parents, the religious right is a shrinking demographic anyway and thus won't be able to wield as much power. I lean more towards the social conservatives taking control, taking about 3/4 of the traditionalists with them. The Rockefellers, Libertarians, and remaining Traditionalists will become independents or possibly Democrats. The reason I think this is true is that, even if their numbers are naturally shrinking, the religious right still is by far their largest constituency and biggest voting bloc. Not only do they keep the deep south and plain states firmly in Republican hands (and let's remember, the south's Huey Long roots mean it doesn't have any emotional attachment to small, limited government per se, same thing for turn of the century prairie populism, neither has deep, longstanding mistrust of government), but they also represent the GOPs best argument towards otherwise democrat leaning constituencies in swing states. Look at Ohio, for example. There, the GOP isn't selling its economic message to prospective voters, it's seeking to lure voters to the polls by virtue of the anti-gay marriage initiative on the ballot. On economics, they lose, on social policies, they win, and that's why the social conservatives will have disproportionate leverage in the party. Simply put, the social conservatives can reasonably argue that they can create a winning electoral strategy without anyone else's help, which may or may not be true but gives them a lot of maneuvering room in the chaos that is to come. The Rockefellers and Libertarians simply aren't prevalent enough in the GOP base to really influence the party (the former concentrated in the solidly Democratic Northeast, the latter rarely seen outside of Dupont Circle in DC). This grip is only strengthened by virtue of the fact that the vast majority of the Republican leadership is in the social conservative wing (DeLay, Kyl, Santorum, Hastert, Bond, etc). If the moderates wish to take control of the GOP, they'd have to mount a coup, if the social conservatives wish to stay in control, they just have to let the moderates die of attrition. Ultimately, demographics work against this new party, and it will drift back towards the center. But in the short term, I expect the GOP to turn hard to the right, especially if it loses this election.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Another Defection

Joining the ranks of intelligent conservatives who are endorsing Kerry comes Former Michigan Governor William G. Milliken. After giving a slew of objections to how Bush has distorted and twisted the GOP from its old roots, he concludes with this statement:
The truth is that President George W. Bush does not speak for me or for many other moderate Republicans on a very broad cross section of issues.
Sen. John Kerry, on the other hand, has put forth a coherent, responsible platform of progressive initiatives that I believe would serve this country well. He wants to balance the budget, step up environmental protection efforts, rebuild our international relationships, support stem-cell research, protect choice and pursue a number of other progressive initiatives that moderates from both parties can support.
As a result, despite my long record of active involvement in the Republican Party, and my intention still to stay in the Republican Party, when I cast my ballot November 2, I will be voting for John Kerry for President.

Oddly enough, the Republican Party that Milliken outlines is one that I could support. But alas, I think it's days are gone forever.

Lightening Strikes Twice

UPDATE: 10/19/04 @ 1:09 PM
The National Review gives a compelling and eloquent statement about why it will not support GWB in this election:

It is one thing to swallow doubts and support the Republican candidate when he is a blur making amiable noises and there is the possibility of pleasant surprise. That is what many voters--and this journal--did in supporting George W. Bush in 2000. But when that candidate has confirmed all those doubts, to vote for him a second time is an act of political decadence. It is a ratification of failure that betrays both conservative principles and the principle of accountability. It is a message from us as conservatives to the rest of the political community that the damage done under our banner has our blessing. More urgently, it is a message from us as citizens to those who would rule over us that we can be taken in by words and gesture; that we won't measure a politician's record against objective standards or his own promises.
George W. Bush has met almost every challenge of his presidency by concentrating on the manipulation of imagery. In raising hokum to a new level of audacity and sophistication, he has relied shamelessly on the voters' short memories, on their failure to connect word and deed (let alone deed and result)...Now Bush and his advisers are using every illusion in their corpus of legerdemain to avoid running on the record they have compiled. His television commercials, and indeed his whole campaign self-presentation, are simply images of presidentiality. The Bush people know that their record of accomplishments is indefensible.
In 2000, Bush styled himself the artless outsider, uncorrupted by Washington and its evil habits. This year, in a typically brazen transformation, he is Mr. Experience, a worldly statesman in a job for which anything less than incumbency is inadequate qualification. But Bush is not the only one who's experienced his presidency for the past four years. So have his constituents. It's time to show that we've learned from experience.

Oh wait, that's not The National Review! That's The New Republic writing on why it refused to endorse Jimmy Carter back in 1980! (Just replace "conservative" with "liberal," "2000" with "1976," "Bush" with "Carter" etc etc). Silly me. What a careless mistake.

UPDATE: I'm not saying GWB is the next incarnation of Jimmy Carter. Obviously they are very different in temperament as well as policy. I'm just pointing out a) That The New Republic has an admirable non-partisan streak to it and b) That Liberals were more willing to apply the standards of accountability and holding a candidate to his record than conservatives are this year.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Politics a la Putin

Matthew Yglesias notes the similarities between Bush and Russian Democrat/Dictator Vladimir Putin (comparisons between Bush and oppressive rulers seem to be in the vogue right now!). Yglesias talks about
the creeping Putinization of American life (the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.)

I wouldn't necessarily make the comparison to Putin. Instead, I'd say that what we are seeing is the complete subordination of principle to political expediency. I've written about this before, and I write again because I think this is the single most disturbing trend in this administration. I could deal with unilateral pre-emption, I could accept necessary, even excessive bravado on the international stage, but at some point the basic responsibilty of the president has to be promoting the interests of the people EVEN AT THE EXPENSE of his own political prospect. Not only has Bush abdicated this responsibility, he's turned it on its head, making every policy decision an outgrowth of political considerations (one of the core allegations in both The Price of Loyalty and Against All Enemies). Above anything else, the American people must stand up against this action, which cheapens democracy and is ultimately disasterous to our national interest.

In fairness, I give you a post by Froggy Ruminations who notes a possible exception to this rule: The Status of Osama Bin Laden. I'm not sure if I buy it, but I feel its necessary to at least provide the opposing side when I see it. I may not be non-partisan, but I do try to conduct this blog in as honest and ethical a manner as possible.

Bush vs. Reality

Alot has been written on Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine Article on George W. Bush. The common wisdom as that Suskind is saying that Bush is at war with reality, ignoring the actual facts of the situation in a blind adherence to a preconcieved world view, in which Bush is supremely confident. Kevin Drum thinks that is a misinterpretation of what Suskind is saying. Drum thinks that
Bush's actions over the past four years are those of a person with a startling lack of self confidence, someone who's afraid that even a fleeting contact with an opposing idea will deflate him completely. Deep down Bush knows perfectly well that the facts don't always back up his instincts, and that's why he avoids them. He's afraid he might change his mind

Regardless of whether or not Drum has the right interpretation or not, U. Michigan Professor Juan Cole makes an eerie comparison between Bush and Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party. Cole is not a radical lefty, he's actually a relatively sober commentator. It's a long post, but worth reading.

Strange Bedfellows

Politics makes strange bedfellows. As it becomes more and more apparent that President Bush is not a Conservative at all, but some mutated hybrid of Religious Right and Prarie Populism, many small government conservatives have decided to cast their lot with Kerry. Stuart Benjamin gives his reasons, as a libertarian, why other small-government conservatives are better off with Kerry in office.
1) First, on the issue of this President's policies, many commentators have ably pointed out the myriad ways in which this President has been a disaster for those who believe in limited government...A few of these commentators have listed Bush's tax cuts as the one bright spot for libertarians/conservatives/limited-government types, but tax cuts without spending cuts (or, as it turns out, with massive spending increases) aren't small government - they're big government combined with borrowing. The government reduces your taxes but takes out a big loan in the name of you and your family. Brad DeLong says we should call this a tax shift rather than a tax cut. He's right, although I would also call it mandated mortgaging.

What about the "starve the beast" hypothesis (i.e., that reductions in taxes will force reductions in spending)? Two big problems: first, as long as we are running up deficits (i.e., until the beast really is starved), then the government is still taking out loans in our name. Second, "starve the beast" is a nice theory, but in reality it has never happened. In fact, William Niskanen of the Cato Institute has shown that decreases in taxes are associated with increases in spending, and vice-versa.

2) "Fine," some libertarian friends have said to me, "I admit that Bush has been bad for limited government, but won't electing Kerry be worse for our interests?" As for the short- and medium-term, the great likelihood is that the answer is no. Unless something truly disastrous happens to the Republican party (e.g., finding out that Osama Bin Laden received money from the RNC), it is going to retain control of the House of Representatives. Indeed, it is very likely that it will gain seats in the House, as it starts from a big presumptive gain resulting from the redistricting in Texas. As for the Senate, it is conceivable that the Democrats could regain control, but just about everything would have to break their way. The bottom line is that Republicans will almost certainly control one chamber, and likely will control both. This means that a President Kerry is going to be dealing with a hostile Congress - and Tom Delay is not going to roll over. In other words, we are likely to get the same sort of gridlock that we had from 1995 to 2000, with no significant new spending and no significant new tax cuts - greater fiscal sanity and a smaller government. Again, this is not just pie in the sky. Niskanen also showed that divided government is associated with lower government spending.

3) But what about the long-term interests of those who want a limited government? Here we come to the most important point that many have overlooked: if limited-government types vote for Bush and he is reelected, then the obvious conclusion for any savvy political strategist is that Republicans can take these voters for granted and thus ignore their interests. The reality of politics is that you are always working at the margins - trying to increase turnout of your base or add swing voters. If I am a political strategist who knows that a group of voters will stick with my candidate no matter what, I'd be foolish to recommend that he respond to their concerns in any way. What's the point of doing that, as a matter of political strategy? If I were Karl Rove (or whomever) and Bush won in 2004, I would tell any future Republican candidate that he can do anything he wants on the size of government, because Bush proved that limited-government types will still vote Republican.

The only way to send a message to future Republican candidates is for Bush to lose in part because of the defection of limited-government types. And, if we don't send that message, I fear that we will be in the political wilderness for a long time.

The bottom line, in my view, is that people who believe in the old Republican credo of limited government had better vote for John Kerry.

It goes beyond Benjamin. Reagan staffer Doug Bandow has also expressed discontent. And The New Republic's front page story next issue will feature Newt Gingrich aide Robert George explaining why he can't vote for GWB. Andrew Sullivan has already decided not to vote for Bush and is on the verge of endorsing Kerry. John Eisenhower (Ike's son) has endorsed Kerry. Most importantly, from my perspective (and I'm the ONLY person to think this), is that Daniel Drezner has now said it's 80% likely he'll vote for Kerry this election.

It's a shame these aren't getting more press. The point that Bush is not governing as a Conservative, but, as I said before, like a mutant should seriously bother his potential supporters (well, maybe not Jerry Falwell. I should say the intellectually HONEST supporters). This is especially important becausde many of these voters ARE uncomfortable with Bush, they're just equally or more uncomfortable with Kerry. Noting that many people with uncontestable Conservative credentials are supporting Kerry could make these people more comfortable giving Kerry a chance (or at least a second look). But most people will barely hear anything about it.

Oh, and The New York Times endorsed Kerry. Stunning. But Kerry in terms of overall circulation, Kerry has 5x the amount of newspaper endorsements as Bush does, and has picked up some key swing state endorsements in Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maine, and Missouri. The Associated Press gives a good list of current endorsements that clearly shows Kerry's advantage.

Finally, reading the NYT's endorsement made me remember something I've been wanting to say for a long time. They talk about how Bush has been pushing "ideological, activist judicial nominee[s]" on to the senate floor. Conservatives, of course, claim that liberal judges are the "activists" and these judges will "strictly interpret" the constitution. Can we just agree that, at this point, an "activist" judge is "one who makes a decision I disagree with"? Because that is all it appears to mean, judging from the rhetoric I hear on both sides. I have my own opinions on what "activist" really means (and to what degree it's acceptable), but I am SICK of hearing every single decision that vaguely annoys the Family Research Council (or on the other side, People for the American Way) being tarred as "Judicial Activism."