Friday, November 26, 2004

Republican Anti-Intellectualism

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I noted that the current state of electoral affairs privileges "style" over substance. The reticence of Americans to truly engage the issues and think critically about world affairs makes appeals to the basest of instincts--prejudice, bigotry, fear--an extremely effective electoral strategy, one at least partially responsible for recent GOP victories. Now, a paper by George Mason Government and Politics Professor Colleen J. Shogan gives some background and further analysis on this phenomona. She argues that Republican anti-intellectualism allows them to appeal to the "common man" and thus gain votes.

I got the link from Oxblog, whose David Adnesik gave a strong critique of the paper. I don't think it defeats the overall point, but I don't think that was the objective of the criticism.

Adnesik essentially argues that Shogan's article is biased because it presents academia and intellectuals as flawless. Isn't it possible that Republicans dislike the academy because of the certain (liberal) biases contained within it?

This is true, to an extent, and I think it represents a key weakness in Shogan's argument. I do not, however, think it is ultimately overriding. Even if Republicans have good reasons to ignore academics, this section struck me as almost definitely true:
"First, presidential power in the plebiscitary era relies upon the strategy of “going public.” Television is a medium that encourages images of activity and exalted rhetoric. The political era of the sound-byte frustrates an extended intellectual discussion of complex policy issues. Americans now identify directly with the presidency through fleeting visual images, and this connection is more easily forged when the presidency is depicted as “personal” rather than disconnected, antiseptic, and intellectual.

Furthermore, the plebiscitary presidency is dependent upon the creation of “spectacles” that encourage awestruck citizens to become passive spectators rather than active participants in politics.15 Spectacles lend themselves to the portrayal of presidents as energetic, dynamic, hyper-masculine individuals who defeat evil in the name of American democracy, exemplified most recently by George W. Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The intellectual process of deliberation cannot constitute a spectacle. As images replace political debate, the plebiscitary presidency becomes more anti-intellectual
The glaring dilemma is that domestic and foreign policy have become progressively complex. An inverse relationship has developed between the demands of presidential leadership and its current institutional incentives and capacities. In this sense, anti-intellectualism is an indicator of the larger structural tensions that inhibit presidential leadership. The political benefit of anti-intellectualism is the pseudo-egalitarian connection it forges between presidents and the public. The danger is that the political importance of this connection has supplanted the more intricate demands of executive governance and democratic leadership."

I think this claim is true, as is Adnesik's. Republicans can reject the academy for perfectly solid, principled reasons. However, at the moment it is also in their political interests, because a) their base is motivated by issues that recieve the LEAST argumentative (as opposed to rhetorical) discussion in America (abortion, gay marriage, etc) and b) it allows them to maintain their advantage on national security even as they oppose the very programs (Homeland Security, Nuclear Plant Security, Nunn/Lugar, etc) that protect us. Furthermore, the rational reasons for rejecting intellectualism doesn't mitigate the negative impacts of anti-intellectualism: The impoverishment of political discourse and government via soundbites. Ultimately, the rejection of analysis and debate in favor of rhetoric and assertion will cause the death of American political institutions.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Tom Friedman Puts The Hammer Down

Tom Friedman has written a superb article that brings home the selfishness of House Speaker Tom "The Hammer" Delay and other Americans who have forgotten what it means to be an American. A must read.

And Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Never Let a Political Science Professor Tell Any Story, Ever

Earlier, The Debate Link reached the conclusion that Political Science Professors should never be allowed to tell a bedtime story. Now, it appears we must extend that injunction to prohibit them from creating any stories, period.

From Harvard Prof extraordinare Joseph Nye's new book, The Power Game:
"Alexa led me to the bed in the middle of the enormous room and pulled me down beside her. I kissed her breasts and ran my hand between her thighs. She gripped my shoulders tightly. Unlike the first time I made love to Alexa, when the ecstasy had been eroded by a sense of anxiety and uncertainty, I was sucked into this moment as quickly and completely as if I had placed my feet in quicksand. Memories from years ago blended with intense physical excitement in a driving, pounding torrent of passion."

What could be worse than that? Apparently, a story written by an International Relations specialist:
"Diane had longed to bandwagon with Jack since their first year in grad school. In their own prisoner's dilemma, she now knew that she wanted more than just tit-for-tat -- she had to have Jack's grim trigger.

It was taboo for her, as a realist, not to prefer balancing. If word got out, her reputation was ruined. But Jack's social constructivism was too seductive for her feeble rationalist defenses.

"Oh... Jack," she whispered into his ear, "I give in -- reconstitute my identity!"

He smiled and slowly began his discourse...

Afterwards, she turned to him and purred, "Now that's what I call utility maximization." He laughed.

Then her tone changed. "Seriously, I've never had such a shared meaning with anyone before. It was so.... intersubjective."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Winter Break

Winter Break has begun! In accordance with my jetsetting schedule, blogging may be a bit more sporadic (though I'll try to update as regularly as I can). Expect a roaring return when I get back to school on January 3rd.

Shadow Cabinet?

Well, well, well. It looks like The Daily Kos might have stumbled across a good idea. They recommend that the Democrats form a "shadow cabinet" (similar to what is done in Britain or Australia) to respond to actions taken by the real (Bush) cabinet.

Though there are obviously significant structural hurdles to implementing this, I don't think they are insurmountable, and the upsides of having a shadow cabinet are very positive (I should note that I think these same positives apply to whatever party is in the minority, which right now happens to be the Democrats). It would provide one-stop shopping for media outlets looking for Democratic responses to GOP plans. It would give the Democrats their own "bully pulpit" to combat the institutional one given to the party in power. It could serve to elevate and sharpen Democratic critiques of flawed Bush policies. And that's just for starters, the possibilities extend well beyond that.

I disagee with Kos' implication that the cabinet should be partisan by default, preferring that it simply propose good policies. If the good policy happens to agree with the GOP's, then so be it. But considering the nature of the Republican party, it doesn't seem likely that the Democrats will run out of things to principally oppose any time soon.

Any nominations for who to serve where?

Iraqi Debt Relief

Daniel Drezner links to a Financial Times article that says European officials have agreed to write off up to 80% of Iraq's debt. This an important step toward insuring Iraq's future, and I join Prof. Drezner in applauding the Bush administration for getting it done.

In other Drezner news, the good Professor has just finished the manuscript for his next book, entitled "Who Rules." Its about the structures of power and influence that exist in the globalized world. He argues from the standpoint that the Great Powers still control the process, but non-state actors and minor states can still influence and manipulate the procedures in important ways. If you want to READ the manuscript, he's posted online here.

Congratulations are in order, for a job well done.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Resurrecting Bush the Elder

Perhaps we've all been a bit too hard on ol' George H. W. Bush. Certainly, a lot of us Democrats would trade him for our current President in a heartbeat. Tom Friedman offers Bush the elder as a paradigm of who he would have endorsed in 2004 (hint: its not someone named "Bush"). And while breaking the "read my lips" pledge may have been politically idiotic, it was a necessary move to revive a flagging economy. Bush exercised rare political courage in running a tight economic ship, which set the stage for the 90s economic boom that took off under Bill Clinton's spectacular economic stewardship.

And to top it all off, it appears that Bush has a sense of humor as well. Speaking at the dedication of Bill Clinton's Presidential Library, he said:
"Of course, it always has to be said that Bill Clinton was one of the most gifted American political figures in modern times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way...

And seeing him out on the campaign trail, it was plain to see how he fed off the energy and the hopes and the aspirations of the American people. Simply put, he was a natural, and he made it look too easy.

And, oh, how I hated him for that." (hat tip: Wonkette)

Funny man, that H.W. is. Let's all give him a round of applause for being a standup guy, as well as a model of what the Republican party used to be.

Activists Push For Gay Adoption Ban Repeal

Activists in Florida are pushing to repeal the states ban on gay adoption, The Orlando Sentinel reports (thanks to How Appealing for the link). Florida is currently the only state in the country that bans gay couples from adopting children, though it does not place similar categorical restrictions on felons, herion addicts, or any other group of persons.

The state law was upheld in Lofton v. Department of Children and Family Services. I noted my dissatisfaction with the shoddy Constitutional reasoning in that case earlier, and I have seen nothing to make me shift my views in the slightest. But even beyond the (tragically ignored) Constitutional mandates for equality, this regulation is simply bad policy. With an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence showing that children of gay couples do no worse than those of heterosexual couples, and the adoption crisis in our nation which locks thousands of kids in a broken foster system, keeping otherwise qualified gay couples from adopting children is a crime.

The Iranian Regime Reads "The Debate Link"

A few days ago, I noted that the Bush administration's actions in Iraq (both the act of invading and our post-war fiasco) have given Iran the perversive incentive to speed up its WMD programs.

And lo and behold, look what The New York Times is reporting: "Bush Says Iran Speeds Output of A-Bomb Fuel".