Thursday, November 04, 2004

I'm not Partisan, I'm Opinionated

The folks over at Tapped (weblog of the American Prospect) make an excellent point about the difference between being a partisan and having an opinion. They are very seperate entities. To boot:
Can we get something straight here? There is a difference in kind between "partisan" and "opinionated." In fact, in a political context, these words often mean the opposite. True political partisans say whatever is best for their party. They don't have any opinions of their own, merely a line of the day. A journalist with an opinion is, one hopes, someone who has gathered enough facts to come to a conclusion about whatever it is they're writing about. You can be opinionated without being a partisan, and you can be partisan without being opinionated. (Nor is partisanship proportional to ideological fervor: You can be highly partisan as well as centrist, as Tom Daschle was, or highly conservative and also bipartisan, as John McCain is. Why is this so hard to understand?)

I try my best to be opinionated, not partisan. To be clear, my opinions tend to lean Liberal. Does that make me partisan? I don't think so, because I evaluate issues independent of what the Democrats say on the matter. If you don't think that's true, then you can think I'm a partisan. That's fine. All I'm saying is that I do my best to be as non-partisan as I can, and call the issues as I see them. And all I expect of my colleagues in the blogosphere is that they do the same.

This issue is important to me, because I think it aptly synthesizes a couple of very core beliefs I hold. When one has opinions, rather than blind faith in a party, it makes for a stronger Democracy. The tendancy of people to substitute party affiliation in place of actually thinking about and discussing issues of importance to our nation is extraordinarily damaging to democracy as a whole. At the same time, the people can't take all the blame. Partisan politicians are every bit as bad, in fact they're worse, because they feed the cycle and actively prevent the nation from breaking out of its hyperpolarized mindset. Hence the anger bordering on rage I feel towards Tom DeLay and his ilk. People like him are ruining the country. I pray for a day when we have more McCains and Liebermans in office, and the DeLays and Roves and Moores of the world are off writing wingnut blogs like they should be. But the key point is that one can still hold deep, abiding, sincere convictions, and fight for those convictions, without turning into a reckless partisan. John McCain is a perfect example. Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama are others. These men are models that the rest of us should hold ourselves up to, and I think it's in keeping with the ethical standard I hold myself to as well.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Odds and Ends, and a Slice of Optimism

First off, I'm going to judging at the Apple Valley debate tournament this weekend. So no blogging from Friday till Monday. I probably could use the break. And listening to dozens of high schoolers talk and argue intelligently about democracy promotion is real break from election watching (the sad thing is, I'm serious. It's been awhile since I've been able to see anything substantive on the topic).

Now, some more post-election thoughts, responding to the commenters on the last post. A lot of people argued that democrats were in trouble with "value voters," IE the famous "God, Guns, and Gays" crowd. They're absolutely right. As Noam Schieber reminds us, the Conservative vote came out in force this election, with 34% of the electorate describing itself as Conservative (compared to 29% in 2000). That's a huge shift. What's more, according to polling the most important issue for voters this election wasn't Iraq, or the Economy, or Terrorism. It was "Moral Values" (edging out "economy" 22-20). To paraphrase Andrew Sullivan: For Bush's base, it wasn't about the war on terror. It was about the war on gay unions.

All of this, I think, only reaffirms my point though. The "moral values" issues probably have the least substantive discussion of any major campaign issue. You never see a real debate about gay marriage or abortion. Republicans just say "GAY PEOPLE!" and voters run screaming to the polls, while Democrats just try and play damage control. In other words, 1) Bush won due to 2) "values-voters" who 3) are voting off issues that get no discussion beyond bumpersticker platitudes. Style 1, Substance 0.

So to win, the Democrats either have to shift the ground of debate onto areas where they have stronger platitudes, or they need to push the debate beyond cute sound bites. Not only do I find the former morally abhorrent, but I think that it won't work. Abortion and gay marriage are important concerns for many people, and Democratic efforts to ignore them are likely to backfire. And yet, the latter option is a paradox. As former guestblogger Greg Ihrie points out, the mainstream media presents an irreconcilable obstacle to these goals. I think that, in the long term, blogs may counter the influence of the MSM. But what are to do in the short run, when it appears that voters care more about isolating gays and lesbians than annihilating Al-Qaeda? At times it seems we need a silver bullet.

And yet, hope remains. Today, polarization has divided America into Republican and Democrat. Politicians get votes by appealing to the worst in voters. We face grave threats abroad, and yet we fight amongst ourselves at home. Honest disagreement is presented as betrayal, the slightest hint of bipartisanship is seen as traitorous. I do not argue that Americans must ignore legitimate grievances. The solution to partisan vitriol is more speech, not enforced silence. The politics of deceit and deception; bigotry and apathy; prejudice, fear, hate, and anger, can only win out for so long. In the long run, justice will reign in this great land. In place of fear, we can offer hope. In place of bigotry, we can offer brotherhood. In place of partisanship, unity, in place of factions, community, in place of lies, honesty. The legions of justice stand battered but not broken. There is a better way out there, and it is up to us to seize the initiative. And when the gauntlet is thrown down, we will meet the forces of wrong, fight them, beat them, and stand victorious in a stronger, safer, more just America. In cities and in towns, villages and in hamlets, in farms and in apartments, from young to old,Democrat to Republican, Christian to Jew to Muslim to Atheist, black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, north, south, east, west and all over this great land, we will not be silenced, we will not be quiet, we will not equivocate, and most of all we will not be ignored.

There is hope yet for America. It is a hope based on what binds this nation together as one. The principles of liberty for all, justice for all, equality for all, are what unite this country together as the greatest country in the world. Barack Obama said it best: "The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America." And I believe that, whether or not the standard bearer is a Republican or Democrat, a Liberal, Conservative, or Independent, the day of reckoning draws upon us. The era of hate is over. The American people will not let their government, their churches, their synagogues and their mosques be hijacked in the name of exclusion and bigotry. The party of Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who desegregated the schools, and of Anthony Kennedy, who affirmed that yes, Gay people too are full and equal Americans, cannot be allowed to become the party of Jerry Falwell, Tom DeLay, Pat Robertson and others who wish for a divided, infighting, spiteful America. There is too much at stake for that, and Republicans and Democrats of wisdom and moderation must reach out and fight back the forces of intolerance that threaten to overcome our nation. We will prevail, because we must prevail.

In the coming four years, I hope that Americans can work together, Republican and Democrat, across party lines, for the good of the country we all love so much. I pledge my support to any politician, no matter the party, who will stand beside me and work with me in the pursuit of justice. We owe it to our parents, we owe it to our children, we owe it to our country, to make America all that it can be. Much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done. The hope of America lies in the hands of the millions of American citizens who remain committed to our founding ideals, the ideals that shine as a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples around the world. And so, now more than ever, God Bless the world, God Bless the Democrats, God Bless the Republicans, and God Bless America!


I'm going to write as honestly as I can in this post. Since we're in the immediate aftermath of a bitterly fought election, it may come off a bit raw. All I can say is that I hope I've purchased enough moderate credibilty that you can all indulge me for awhile. And since it seems only Republicans read my blog, please no mocking. I'd do the same for you. Here are my thoughts on how this election will impact everybody:

Well, my forecast of an impending GOP civil war has been forestalled, at least for now. In the long run, I think my prediction still holds true: The GOP's mismatched coalition simply can't last much longer. But election day victories work wonders for keeping status quo alliances intact.

The real question is how Bush will govern in his second term. Part of me wants to think he'll be a bit more sensible, in part because it would be hard not to, and in part because without the need to win another election, there isn't any reason to keep playing the pander game. But a much greater part of me is pessimistic, since without an impending election to keep him honest, there is nothing pushing Bush to the center. It seems unlikely that Bush would have risked so much in polarizing America by governing from the right, if he would have been content to be a centrist. Furthermore, even more than 2000 or 2002, this election has given Bush a semi-solid mandate to continue his policies. This shouldn't be taken as a vindication of these policies, the relevant morality or advisibility of any given action exists independent of its electoral popularity. But Bush and the Republicans will almost certainly use this election as an excuse to make even more radical changes in our society. This is their right, and I don't contest it. But I don't have to be happy about it either.

An unmitigated disaster. We lost key senate races. We lost key house races. We lost the presidency. Right now, Democratic activists are so hung up on the idea of four more years of Bush I think that they haven't even noticed just how bad of a shape we're in. I think the prevailing mood amongst Democrats was that the worst-case scenario for us was that we'd maintain the status quo: IE, Bush would still be president, and the house and senate would stay in approximately the same margins as they were before. But it looks like we're going to be worse all the way around.

Not only that, but this whole election is devastating to Democratic morale. In 2000, we had righteous anger driving us after Florida. We kind of lost a step after 9/11, and got nailed in 2002. But I think everyone thought that the Democratic machine was going to make a roaring return as a relevant player in the political process. We threw everything we had into this election, and we still lost. Whereas we had that drive and determination after 2000, all I see now is despair and hopelessness in the eyes of the Democrats around here. The electoral map is slanted against us, our best turnout efforts failed to win contested races, and in many cases 2004 was our only chance to win these races (does anyone think the Oklahoma Senate spot will be competitive again anytime in the next, oh, 35 years?). This is really, really bad.

Here's where I start to descend a bit, I think. First, let me say that for all appearances this election was reasonably fair. Sure, there were scattered reports of random this and that around, but on a whole, it does not look like there will be any Florida repeats. That's a positive by any measure.

I will say that I am extremely disillusioned at the moment. To gather why this is, allow me to share an anecdote. When I was in elementary school, we had elections each year for our school president, VP, secretary, treasurer, and class reps. And every year the principal would get on the intercom and remind us that "we should vote for who we thought would do the best job, not just your friends." And we'd all kind of chuckle, because we knew that everyone just voted for their friends and no one gave the slightest thought to who would do a better job. But I thought, and I think we all thought, that this was because we were kids, and when we were grownup then we would look at the candidates seriously and make decisions based on issues and hard analysis.

Fast forward to 2000. In 2000, I was still a hyperliberal, not the center-leftist I consider myself now. I watched an election race where the biggest issue was that Gore was "too brainy" and Bush was "folksy" and "an average Joe." I was totally in shock. What the hell did "folksiness" have to do with Presidential qualification? Why was being smart considered a disadvantage, of all things? It was like the voters were all 10 years old again. In the first presidential race I followed carefully, I was dismayed to see virtually no attention paid to issues of substance, and hours upon hours of coverage dedicated to Gore's sighing or Bush's malapropisms. Why did I bother to inform myself on the issues, if issues were irrelevant to the process? It just didn't make sense to me.

Moving again to 2004. Towards the end of the election, I formulated a theory that matched my new centrist perspective. I argued to my friends that the majority of Americans weren't polarized archenemies. Rather, we had alot of disillusioned moderates angry that both parties appear to make decisions based solely on political concerns. The particular voting tendancies of these moderates was based around which party better dealt with their "pet issues," but as a whole, they were unhappy campers who wanted to see a third way. In light of this election, I revise that theory to incorporate my thoughts in 2000. The majority of Americans consider themselves moderates, but they aren't concerned with issues. They care about style. They want a candidate who matches their style, who makes them feel good. What did Clinton and Reagan have in common? They both made Americans feel good about themselves again. Now, when things are going well, this is an asset. But in times of trouble, it creates a disturbing catch-22, where incumbants are encouraged to pretend that problems don't exist so that voters feel good about themselves, and stick with status quo. I understand the electoral reasons for this, but the point is its bad for the country. It's dangerous, and while some electioneering may be tolerable when we're just talking about pushing numbers around the budget, when we're fighting a war, when American lives are at stake, its simply not acceptable anymore to subordinate principle to politics.

If I'm a politician gathering lessons from this election (and the last), here's what I learn:
1) Style is 80%, substance 20%
2) The 20% substance should pander only to the base, since they're the only ones paying attention to the issues anyway.

What does this give us? A political system that encourages and rewards personal sliming, politics of demagogery, and substantive extremism. That frightens me. What frightens me more is that I don't see a way to counteract it. It might very well be inherent to democracy. This election saw an unprecedented effort toward the politics of personal destruction, but it also gave voters more resources on which to learn about issues than ever before. From the blogosphere to, the ability to learn about the world around us and the truth about political issues reached incredible heights. Groups went crazy trying to get out the vote, from ACT to Vote or Die. None this seemed to do anything. There is almost a willful resistance to anything that threatens America's well-entrenched ignorance. And I don't see anyway to stop it.

Before I get jumped on, I'm not denying it's possible to support Bush from a policy standpoint. It certainly is, and I'm sure there are plenty of principled, informed Bush supporters who weighed the facts and decided Bush was their man. All power to them. However, I think that it is indisputable that what put Bush over the top was not an agreement with his policies but an appreciation of his style. Americans want to put on a tough face against terror. We are resolved to win this war, and we want a leader who is an embodiement of that resolve. Noble qualities, for sure. But not substantive differences by any stretch. That's what I mean when I say these elections are decided on style. And no matter how many times Kerry says he's going to be resolved, and determined, when people get it in their heads that he's a weak-kneed flipflopper, they are going to be very reluctant to change that.

In my last post before the election, I made a pledge to support the president, even if I didn't vote for him. That pledge still holds. I wish President Bush the best, and hope he can lead America to a better tommorow. I don't know if there is any way to restore substance to politics. But I do pledge that my little corner of the political world will remain dedicated to intelligent, rational, and objective discussion of the issues, regardless of political origin. That is all I have to offer to America.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Post Election Pledge

I'll take this pledge* from Buzz Machine:
After the election results are in, I promise to:
: Support the President, even if I didn't vote for him.
: Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him.
: Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.
: Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.

*Nothing in this pledge shall be construed to require me to support an unfair tallying of the votes. The Debate Link reserves the right to support post-election litigation to make sure all the votes are counted, pursuant to the democratic ideals that make our nation great. All rights reserved. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Final Election Prediction

UPDATE: 11/1 @ 7:00. West Virginia was a typo, I think Bush will win it (the electoral vote tally was right originally)
From now until we find out who our next President is (IE, sometime in December), I'll be having a slow, progressive heart attack. Before I succumb to immobility and the fetal position, here are my electoral predictions.

POPULAR VOTE: Kerry by less than 1%, +/- 1% (IE, it will be very close in either direction).

Alabama: Bush
Alaska: Bush
Arizona: Bush
Arkansas: Bush
California: Kerry
Colorado: Bush
Connecticut: Kerry
Delaware: Kerry
District of Columbia: Kerry
Florida: Kerry
Georgia: Bush
Hawaii: Kerry
Idaho: Bush
Illinois: Kerry
Indiana: Bush
Iowa: Kerry
Kansas: Bush
Kentucky: Bush
Louisiana: Bush
Maine: Kerry
Maryland: Kerry
Massachusetts: Kerry
Michigan: Kerry
Minnesota: Kerry
Mississippi: Bush
Missouri: Bush
Montana: Bush
Nebraska: Bush
Nevada: Bush
New Hampshire: Kerry
New Jersey: Kerry
New Mexico: Bush
New York: Kerry
North Carolina: Bush
North Dakota: Bush
Ohio: Kerry
Oklahoma: Bush
Oregon: Kerry
Pennsylvania: Kerry
Rhode Island: Kerry
South Carolina: Bush
South Dakota: Bush
Tennessee: Bush
Texas: Bush
Utah: Bush
Vermont: Kerry
Virginia: Bush
Washington: Kerry
West Virginia: Bush
Wisconsin: Kerry
Wyoming: Bush

Keeping the fingers crossed...ackkk, my heart!

Sunday, October 31, 2004


UPDATE: 10/31 @ 9:25 PM

Things just aren't working for us in Iraq. Newsweek reports (tip off: Kevin Drum) that we're in an even worse situation than has hither to been acknowledged. Quote:
"But the truth is, neither party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq—which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. 'Things are getting really bad,' a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told NEWSWEEK last week. 'The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness.'
Washington has declared several times that the insurgency would soon be defeated or at least mostly neutralized. Senior officials made such statements when electricity was restored to its pre-occupation levels in 2003, when Saddam was captured in December, when sovereignty was handed over on June 28. Each time the insurgency has only grown. Now even military officials who are hopeful the insurgency can be defeated—or perhaps just reduced to a violent annoyance—say it will be a long haul no matter who is U.S. president.

We've got a mess on our hands, no doubt about it. And yet, inexplicably, some trust the man who caused the mess to get us out of it. Presumably, if Bush had a plan to fix Iraq, we'd have seen it by now. That Iraq is still mired in an insurgency, indeed, that the insurgency has only grown as time has passed, is a powerful indictment against the Bush administration.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner also runs with this issue for awhile. Specifically, he uses it to utterly dismantle the Chicago Boyz's (by way of Instapundit) claim that Bush has done a great job on this war. They write:

Now the one thing that strikes me about the military efforts to date is just how incredibly successful they've been, and how masterfully planned and executed they turned out to be. Not perfect, of course (You mean there's terrorists setting off explosives? Against Americans and their supporters? In the Middle East, no less? Say it isn't so!). But a lot of the toys that John Kerry voted against turned out to be damned useful in the War on Terror. I don't want to even think about how an Afghanistan operation with Vietnam-era technology and tactics would have gone for us - I think in that case we'd have been wishing for another Vietnam. And if you've ever cracked a history book, you'll realize that only 1200 deaths in a year and a half of invading a dictatorship, overthrowing its dictator, and fighting a chronic insurgency is astoundingly good news, especially when added to the fact that the long-predicted flood of refugees never materialized, the terrorists that Saddam's regime had nothing whatsoever to do with suddenly got extremely interested in the fate of Iraq . . . and Iraqis are still signing up to take on the battle for their country against these thugs and getting set to vote in their first-ever real election in a couple of months.

And the Commander-in-Chief at the helm during these amazing accomplishments is called incompetent? You've got to be kidding me.

Drezner notes that
"There is one point in this narrative on which I absolutely agree -- the observable costs of the insurgency in Iraq, measured in either men or material, is nowhere near the cost of what transpired in Vietnam. We're talking about differences by several orders of magnitude.

There is, of course, the question of unobservable costs -- and read Ambassador Peter Galbraith's disturbing account in the Boston Globe on that issue.

More importantly, there is the question of trend -- are things betting better or worse in Iraq over time? And here's where I part company with the above narrative."

He then quotes from the above Newsweek article to illustrate this point. The point that I think is relevant here is this. Whether or not Bush has done a good, or even remotely competent job of fighting this war goes beyond simple body counts. Whether or not we are "succeeding" in Iraq is a direct function of how likely it is that country is going to end up as a stable, functional democracy. If it becomes a new haven for terrrorists, then we are losing even if we don't incur a single new casualty. If it replaces its old dictator with a new dictator, we've failed even if we don't incur a single new casualty. The proper measure of Bush's policies in post-war Iraq is whether or not they've been facilitative of our goals for the region: Democratization and Anti-terrorism. The fact is, they haven't been. They haven't been because our hubris has turned the local population against us. They haven't because our spurning of offered international assistance has reinforced the perception that this is an imperial mission. They haven't because the interim government loses credibilty every time it identifies itself with the US. They haven't because increasingly, democrats in the region like Ayatollah Ali Sistani are viewing the US as an obstacle, rather than an aid, to democracy. They haven't because the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to the point where the National Intelligence Estimate foresees a reasonable chance that the country will fall into civil war. All of these issues are problems for which the Bush administration can, and must, be held culpable for.