State your peace tonight

16 08 2013

I’m not a Republican—you’ve sussed that out, haven’t you?

A civic republican, yes, but GOPper? Nope.

Still, as much as I’m not a GOPper, I nonetheless believe that the US’s 2-party democracy needs two functional parties—that is, two parties prepared to govern—and that the Republican Party’s descent into madness is bad for us all.

Thus, as much as I’m not a Republican, I’m very glad that there are Republicans who are unwilling to leave their party to the nutters.

So, yea to North Dakota Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo:

Have you ever considered switching parties or a third-party option? 

Have I thought about it? Yeah, I have. But there are reasons that I am a Republican. When somebody tells me I’m not really a Republican, I say, “I really think I am. I’m not sure you are. I’m not sure how you define what it means to be a Republican.”

She’s a pro-choice moderate, so it’s not that much of a stretch for me to cheer her, but good for her for not giving up her seat (metaphorically) to those who want to push her out of it.

When I was younger I was frustrated by the ideological hash of the two parties—conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans: it made no sense! Put the lefties on one side and the righties on another, and let it all be clean and neat and clear.

Except politics is not meant to be neat and clean and clear; tidiness tends to work against politics. No, politics is a mess, and political parties which cannot take account of that mess are unsuited to governance.

So, to the extent that Kathy Hawken is keepin’ it messy in North Dakota: Good for her!

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Between ideals and fact

26 01 2013

I said I wasn’t going to concern-troll the Republicans, right?

Well, what about concern-imp-ing? Concern-nixie-ing? Is it really concern-monster-ing if my recommendations apply to all political parties?

Whatever.  Here it is: Focus on governance.

Shockingly original, I know, but its obviousness has been obliterated in the past decade or so by Republican operatives (Karl Rove) so intent upon winning that they forget that winning is only the beginning, and not the end, of electoral politics.

I’ve described election campaigns as free-for-alls, governed solely by the standard of “what works”, i.e., solely by what increases the chances of winning. Another shockingly original insight: if you want to win, you have to concentrate on winning, full stop.

But after  you’ve won, you have to do something else: You have to govern.

Now, however distinct are the ways of the campaign from those of governance, it is worth considering whether a platform for governance can help you to win. Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes all you have to do is remind the voters of what a great guy you are or what a great team you’re on and how terrible is the other guy or team. You go for fear or pride or collegiality (“I’d like to have a beer with that guy”) and don’t say much about the Eurozone crisis or CAFTA or the eligibility standards for SSI and bim bam boom, you’re in.

At some point, however, folks might wonder just what it is you plan to do once you’re in. A backbencher representative might be able to get away with platitudes and ideas to nowhere, but party leaders—governors, senators, presidents—have to do something. They have to govern.

If, therefore, you want your candidate or party to win, it might just help to have some ideas of how to govern. It’s not enough simply to say “there’s a problem and the other team caused it”; you have to offer solutions.

Edward L. Glaeser gets this. He’s an urban-conservative, and as such focuses on what can done to make things better. I disagree with both his analyses of and suggestions to fix the problems of urban life, but I really like that he grounds the symbolic appeals to conservatism in practical policy-making. I really really like that he thinks Republicans should engage in governance as something other than acts of arson, and that he doesn’t consider conservative policy-making a contradiction in terms.

He thinks Republicans should compete for cities, and points to what he sees as the accomplishments of Republican mayors as both reasons and guides for a GOP commitment to urban America. Focus on what we have to offer—what good we can do—he counsels Republicans, and go from there.

In other words, build an electoral strategy based on policy accomplishment, and you might just win.

Elections and governance are way too messy and contradictory for a simply Competence=>Victory equation to pan out (see: Michael Dukakis). Dirty tricks and fear-mongering and lies and money and error and passion and whole tangled nest of interests and reasons and desires will all play parts in electoral campaigns, as will the always-important backdrops of economic performance and unpredictable crises. Arguably, policy achievement might not play much of a role, at all.

And yet, it’s just possible that policy achievement might matter, perhaps even enough to cross that line from defeat to victory. There’s so much that can’t be controlled in elections; why not focus on what you can control, what you can do?

Unless, of course, you think it’s better just to control the elections so that you don’t have to worry about governing at all.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Wrap it up

11 11 2012

And so ends the election season.

A few last points before I lay this theme to rest:

1. Winning is nice. I’ll enjoy it while I can, because wins don’t last. (And for those who lost, don’t despair:  losing doesn’t last, either.)

2. I understand how and why it happened—Gingrich, Trump, Cain, Santorum, Perry, Bachmann—but I’m still amused that the Republicans nominated the man who lost to the man who lost to Barack Obama in 2008.

3. Similarly, while I understand why it happened, it seems to me that a man who made his fortune as a financier was not the best person to send into the ring in the midst of a shaky recovery from a savage recession. It could have worked—turnaround specialist!—but that’s not really what Romney did, and his political personality didn’t allow him to transcend the sense that he was the boss who fired you, not the boss who hired you.

4. I won’t diagnose the ills of  the Republican Party or recommend fixes because a) I am not a Republican and b) concern-trolling is annoying, and c) I’d rather put my efforts in trying to figure out a left-political program than a right-political program.

(And that, it seems, is necessary. Barack Obama deserved the votes of leftists not because he was leftist but because, unlike his opponent, he would at least inch us toward something better. Those of us on the left need continually to make sense of that something better, and to find effective ways to blunt policies which are decidedly not better, e.g., regarding secrecy, surveillance, and the drug war. Oh, and that whole capitalism and immiseration thing.)

5. That said, developing some sort of philosophy of or program for governance might be worth considering. “No!” is a slogan, not a platform.

6. It is entirely too soon to begin speaking intelligently about the chances for possible candidates in 2016. For those who might want to run, however, it is not, unfortunately, too soon to begin thinking about it, and in a year (and certainly in two) to begin working toward it.

That is among the many reasons I am very glad that I am not now nor will I ever be a candidate for president of the United States.

7. That presidential campaigns are multi-year endeavors is a pox on our polity.

Election campaigns and governance are not the same thing, and what is required to win in elections can be detrimental to good governance. To the extent that we are fully in an era of the permanent campaign bodes ill for said governance.

8. I take back nothing I said about the “everything goes” nature of presidential campaigns, and I expect that same sensibility to drive the 2016 race.

Now, that lying didn’t always work this campaign doesn’t mean it won’t be a part of the toolkit for future campaigns—although, again, smart tacticians will recognize when such lying is counterproductive. Romney was able to make deft use lies during the primary, but the Obama campaign was much swifter (first debate excepted) in rebutting those lies than were Romney’s fellow Republicans, which meant that lying should have been abandoned in favor of more effective tactics.

The Romney tacticians didn’t do so, which speaks poorly of their abilities.

9. To be fair to those same tacticians, however, the road to the White House is always steeper for the challenger than for the incumbent—that’s just how it is.

There’s plenty of easily-available information on the advantages of incumbency, as well as the role that a declining, advancing, or stagnant economy plays in the election. The US economy was/is still weak in 2012, but it is also clearly in recovery. The Romney campaign focused on the first part without taking account of the second, and thus were unable to shape a message which matched the reality.

10. How much campaigns matter is still up for debate, but in the face of uncertainty, it seems prudent to act as if the campaigns mattered more than anything.

Romney said in his concession speech that he and his staff “left it all on the field”, and I don’t doubt that. But it’s also clear that the Obama campaign was demonstrably superior in organization, especially in voter mobilization. Whatever Romney left on the field, Obama had more, and better.

And, of course, Obama was a good candidate. Yes, he was flat in the first debate, but that misstep was so magnified in part because it was so rare. Romney wasn’t terrible as a candidate, but as the challenger he needed to be much, much better than the incumbent. He was not.

~~~

Herein lyeth the end of the Mayan campaign mashup of 2012. May we all find some peace and comfort before the circus beginneth again.





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: misc bits

15 01 2012

So unfair. So irresistible.

Greg Marmalard

Mitt Romney

I  should be better than this: comparing a presidential nominee to a fictional character from Animal House.

I really should. But like I said: irresistible.

~~~

On a more serious note, some conservatives in the Republican party are wondering if Mitt is really one of them, or whether he’d govern as a moderate if elected president.

To which I respond: not really, and probably not.

Not really: He’s an establishment guy, through and through, who smiles when he’s irritated and whose voice falls to a faux-whisper when denouncing the perfidy of the president. In the past, presenting as an even-keeled establishment type would have been more than enough to, well, establish oneself as a presentable conservative Republican, but today, among the excitables,  if you’re not constantly outraged, you’re suspect.

So he is, justly, suspect.

As to how he’d govern if elected, there’s a good chance, as others have pointed out, that he’ll try to do what he says he’ll do.

Yes, he governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican—just as he said he’d do. Now he espouses conservative social policies, has surrounded himself with conservative advisers, and says he’ll govern as a conservative Republican.

Take him at his word. Really.

So to all of the excitables hyperventilating about the true shape of Romney’s malleable heart, settle down: he may not really be one of you, but he’ll govern as if he were—and isn’t that enough?

~~~

The former senator of Pennsylvania is shocked, shocked! that someone is lying in campaign politics:

The new ad by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future hits [Rick] Santorum on supporting earmarks, backing the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” raising the debt ceiling five times and voting to “let convicted felons vote.” The ad will be broadcast in South Carolina and Florida. . . .

“That is an absolute lie,” Santorum said of the ad’s claim. “I voted for a provision that that said if a felon serves his term, serves his parole and probation, and then after that period time he can be restored his voting rights, which is exactly the law that’s here in South Carolina. But we had a federal law at the federal level. … Gov. Romney should be saying to his PAC say take that ad down, it’s false. It gives the impression that I want people to be voting from jail.” [emph added]

Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

(Credits: still photo from Animal House footage; WBUR.org)





In between all the cracks upon the wall

31 08 2011

Coupla’ thoughts:

1. I know I am not the first to take up the issue of the twilight of labor (or, to put it less poetically, of the replacement of the value of labor with that of productivity)—this gent Marx may have had a thing or two to say on this subject, or so I hear—but it seems to be crucially not simply an economic matter but a political one, that is, that the question of value is not simply an economic matter but a political one.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist has covered this issue ( start here, then click on the “class warfare” category at the bottom for more) and ThinkProgress does a pretty good job highlighting the contempt for working people among politicians and some pundits, so I don’t know that I need to repeat their efforts (or those of the Economic Policy Institute, The Nation, and other usual suspects) in documenting this contempt.

Still, because this seems to me to be a crucial political issue, I do feel the need to work through this issue myself. Is this contempt new? When did it begin? How did it manifest itself previously? What kind of pushback was there? Does the contempt arise mainly from the right, or are the politics of it more complicated? Is contempt even the best way to describe the attitude toward labor? What kind of variation is there across different forms of labor? And, perhaps most urgently, how to respond to the replacement of labor with productivity, that is, to the erasure of labor itself?

This might be a way for me to approach this subject without having to take an econometric approach. I’ve held back on getting into this both because I lack training in economics and because econometrics won’t necessarily get to what really matters about this issue. In other words, I want to consider this as a political matter, not an economic one.

And it is a political matter, a deeply political matter. We Americans have managed historically to suppress and mollify labor in turn, but in the last thirty years the grudging acceptance of labor has turned into a grudge, full stop, and labor consciousness itself  has been dissolved. Why this matters, politically, well, that’s what I’m going to have to figure out.

2. I snarked the other day at TNC’s joint that libertarianism is not a real political philosophy, but didn’t say much beyond that. Later, prior to reading Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concept of Liberty”, I wrote that as a

general matter, I dismiss libertarianism as a serious theory of governance, not least b/c it appears to have contempt even for the notion of government, that is, as a form of organization over and above civil society. Instead, I posit, its chief use is as a critique or as a leavening agent to various legitimate political theories. In short, I question its ability to provide any sort of overriding guidance to those charged w/governing, its applicability to any sort of society beyond a small, like-minded group (i.e., fails test of pluralism – this charge of anti-pluralism requires particular care), or its ability to last beyond a generation or two w/o dissolution or degenerating into authoritarianism.

All find and good; there’s something for me to work with, here, But then I realized:

Okay, but what of the critique of Marxism as lacking a serious theory of government? Could not the same charged [sic] be lodged against it – that it works as a critique or adjunct to Liberal theories, but that it, too, exhibits its own kind of contempt for govt? Gramsci might offer one kind of response, but even there. . . .

I then headed into a dead end, backed out, and wondered

Perhaps, then, the question of whether libertarianism or Marxism offers its own theory of democratic (understood broadly) governance? And it not, why do I take Marxism seriously in a way I don’t take libertarianism?

I’m fine going after libertarianism, not least because its noxious fumes are currently polluting the political air, but for my own sake, I gotta take up at some point that question of what would a socialist government look like.

3. Those candidates who insist that nothing good comes from government need to be forced to explain how they will govern. Cut cut cut ought not be accepted as a governing philosophy, and opponents to these anti-government politicians should hammer them on what they will do, besides less-than-nothing.

4. I really was not able to put together a coherent post tonight, but I thought if I didn’t get these thoughts out, I wouldn’t get these thoughts out.





You can’t always get what you want

28 07 2011

Completely irresponsible.

Yes, I disagree with the Republican agenda in general and the Tea Party agenda in particular. No surprise there.

And I’m not particularly happy with the Democrats, either—see my various Bam! posts—and their apparent inability even to generate an agenda (which is likely related to their lack of overall purpose).

But there are certain realities which are indifferent to ideologies and agendas, realities which include a high unemployment rate, divided government, and a wary global economy. There are, in other words, constraints on one’s aspirations, constraints which ought to discipline one’s behavior.

And yet they do not. Or, to put this another way, “limits” are apparently to be used only as an ideological battering ram by the TeaPers, rather than marking out the boundaries of a difficult debate.

Difficulty? What difficulty? We’ll simply wave our “don’t-tread-on-me-flag” and declare that our will is what is.

Why deal with reality when you are the Master of Your Own Universe?

It must be admitted, of course, that life in the real world is a little less heady, a little more complicated, and contains more than its share of frustrations. The notion of living within one’s means requires that we nail down just what we mean by “living with” and “one’s means”, and that the old Rolling Stone lyric is wrong only in that, honestly, you don’t always get even what you need.

We can change the world (the universe? not so much), but not by declaring the world changed. We have to do the work.

So, members of the House of Representatives, put down the flag and do the fucking work.

If you don’t like how and how much the government spends, you deal with that in the budget process. Want less spending? Then allocate fewer funds. Lower taxes? Ditto.

If, however, you want to increase defense spending, maintain agricultural price supports, protect subsidies for oil companies, fatten up the transportation/highway spending budget, fence out all illegal immigration, give money to survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and fire, well, then, you have to make some decisions about those taxes.

You don’t get to say “no deficit spending” and then vote for deficit spending.

You want a balanced budget? Then produce a FUCKING BALANCED BUDGET.

And after you’ve produced an unbalanced budget, don’t pretend to have been victimized by your own actions.

Don’t say “hey, spend money on this,” and then refuse to hand over the credit card.

I’d prefer more spending: on multiple high-speed rail routes, a single-payer health plan, scientific and medical research, aggressive development of green technologies, elder care, day care, welfare, environmental protection, job (re)training, mixed- and low-income housing, education—the whole social welfarist shebang. Higher taxes, more and better services.

You want more, you have to pay more, full stop.

But maybe you don’t want to pay more. I think the anorectic approach to governance is wrong, but legitimate—or it is only legitimate if you actually lower your spending levels to match your revenues (and, frankly, if you don’t off-load any costs on to other entities). If you’re willing to tell people that they’ll receive precious little in return for the precious little they pay, then, okay.

But you don’t get say “I’ll cut—and there will be no blood.” And then double-back and proclaim your courage in dealing in “hard truths”.

Don’t paint yourself as a martyr—“I’m willing to risk my seat over this!”—for doing your fucking job, especially when you’re not doing your fucking job.

You took a job in government, a government which has obligations which predate your arrival and will incur obligations after you’re gone. Whether you like it or not, you’re responsible for those obligations.

So start acting like it.





Incompetence as credential

28 09 2010

You’ve heard the old line: Even the mediocre deserve representation.

A version of this was offered by Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska, in defense of Richard Nixon’s nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court, and a man many considered manifestly unqualified:

Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

Ha ha, right?

Okay, but how about this: Christine O’Donnell, Senate candidate in Delaware, argues that her financial difficulties (being sued 5 times by her college for not paying bills, threatened foreclosure on her home, a declared income in March 2009-July2010 of under 6 grand) not only do not disqualify her from office, but that “I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic.”

Or consider Michael Caputo, campaign manager for New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who had a lien placed against his assets by the IRS: “Most people I know have had problems paying their taxes,” he said. “I am just like everybody else.”

And then, of course, there is the half-guv, who winked her way into political celebrity and decided that the problem with not knowing answers to basic questions was with the questions, not the not-knowing.

My expectations for political actors isn’t high, and no, I don’t think past problems ought automatically to disqualify someone from political participation. That Sarah Palin mucked about a couple of different colleges before she settled on one which worked for her, well, hell, so what: she was a college student, fer cryin’ out loud.

And financial and job difficulties, yeah, a lot of people have gone through them, and that doesn’t mean they ought to be banished from public life.

The problem isn’t with the difficulties, the problem is that these difficulties are brandished as a badge of honor: Whoo-hoo! I fucked up! Vote for me!

Hey, guess what, I’ve fucked up, too! Does that mean I should be a senator or vice president? Whoo-hoo!

Yes, I am in my bones a democrat (and civic republican—but that’s another post), but to state that the people ought to be involved in their governance is not to say that a people proud of their pig ignorance will govern well.

And no, you don’t need an Ivy League education (Go Big Ten!) or a Ph.D. in political science or even a college degree to govern well. But you need to pay some goddamned attention, and to do the goddamned work necessary to make yourself able to govern.

Mother Jones is instructive here: Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict.

That’s just smart—and that, of course, is the problem.

h/t: Robert S McElvaine, HuffPo; Ginger Gibson (story pasted to anti-O’Donnell site); Michael Barbero, NY Times;