Tag Archives: Christopher Beam

Galt Has A Moment And A Movement

Christopher Beam in New York Magazine:

Just before Thanksgiving, in an impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Ron Paul called for Congress to be groped. The Transportation Security Administration, having rolled out its new airport body scanners, had decreed anyone who opted out could be subjected to the now-infamous enhanced pat-down. “Let’s make sure that every member of Congress goes through this,” Representative Paul said, waving his finger in the air. “Get the X-ray, make them look at the pictures, and then go through one of those groping pat-downs.” Perhaps this would put Congress in touch (quite literally) with real Americans.

Paul, the 75-year-old Texas libertarian and quixotic 2008 Republican candidate best known for his quest to abolish the Federal Reserve, is used to fighting lonely battles. But this time, he had company. Fox News went wall-to-wall on the (nonexistent) health hazards of body scans, naked outlines of passengers, and pat-down paranoia. “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested,” said newfound freedom fighter John Tyner to a TSA agent in a video that went viral. The left backed Paul too. Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald argued that the screenings had “all the ingredients of the last decade’s worth of Terrorism exploitation.” Blogger Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake called the X-ray devices “porno-scanners.” For one beautiful moment, the whole political spectrum—well, at least both vocal ends of it—seemed to agree: Too much government is too much government.

Maybe it was inevitable that the National Opt-Out Day, when travelers were going to refuse body scans en masse, failed to become the next Woolworth’s sit-in (how do you organize a movement that abhors organization?). It turned out most Americans actually supported the body scanners. But the moment was a reminder of just how strong, not to mention loud, the libertarian streak is in American politics.

No one exemplifies that streak more than Ron Paul—unless you count his son Rand. When Rand Paul strolled onstage in May 2010, the newly declared Republican nominee for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat, he entered to the strains of Rush, the boomer rock band famous for its allegiance to libertarianism and Ayn Rand. It was a dog whistle—a wink to free-marketers and classic-rock fans savvy enough to get the reference, but likely to sail over the heads of most Republicans. Paul’s campaign was full of such goodies. He name-dropped Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s seminal TheRoad to Serfdom. He cut a YouTube video denying that he was named after Ayn Rand but professing to have read all of her novels. He spoke in the stark black-and-white terms of libertarian purism. “Do we believe in the individual, or do we believe in the state?” he asked the crowd in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Election Night.

It’s clear why he played coy. For all the talk about casting off government shackles, libertarianism is still considered the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged. And Rand Paul’s dad is the craziest uncle of all. Ron Paul wants to “end the Fed,” as the title of his book proclaims, and return the country to the gold standard—stances that have made him a tea-party icon. Now, as incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Fed, he’ll have an even bigger platform. Paul Sr. says there’s not much daylight between him and his son. “I can’t think of anything we grossly disagree on,” he says.

There’s never been a better time to be a libertarian than now. The right is still railing against interventionist policies like TARP, the stimulus package, and health-care reform. Citizens of all political stripes recoil against the nanny state, which is nannier than ever, passing anti-smoking laws, banning trans fats, posting calorie counts, prohibiting flavored cigarettes, cracking down on Four Loko, and considering a soda tax in New York. All that, plus some TSA agent wants to handle your baggage.

Libertarianism has adherents on the left, too—they just organize around different issues. Whereas righty libertarians stew over taxes and bailouts, lefty libertarians despise de facto suspensions of habeas corpus, surveillance, and restrictions on whom you can marry. It’s not surprising that the biggest victories of the right and the left in the last weeks of this lame-duck session of Congress were about stripping down government—tax cuts and releasing the shackles of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Much of Americans’ vaunted anger now comes from a sense of betrayal over libertariansim shrugged. Right-wing libertarians charge that the Bush presidency gave the lie to small-government cant by pushing Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and a $3 trillion war. Left-wing libertarians are furious that Obama talked a big game on civil liberties but has caved on everything from FISA to DOMA to Gitmo. Meanwhile, the country faces a massive and growing deficit (too much government!) that neither party has the power or the inclination to fix. If there were ever a time to harness libertarian energy—on left and right—it’s now.

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up

Beam and Julian Sanchez at Bloggingheads

Matt Welch at Reason:

Beam’s piece ends on an extended Big But, in which we hear warnings about doctrinal purity, extreme Randian selfishness, Brink Lindsey leaving Cato, and minarchy being “an elegant idea in the abstract.” In the real world, not bailing out banks “would have unfairly punished a much greater number” of homeowners, and so on. Plus, that one Tennessee house burned down, and: Somalia! He ends the piece like this:

It took 35 years for Ron Paul to reach the center of American politics. And it could take another 35 before he or someone like him is back. It’s certainly a libertarian moment—but it’s not liable to last too long. Libertarianism and power are like matter and anti-matter. They cancel each other out.

Radley Balko at Reason:

The first two-thirds of the article are a sort of tour guide of libertarian personalities, factions, and general philosophy. It comes off a bit like Beam describing to Manhattanites some exotic new species discovered in Madagascar, but I suppose that probably is how libertarians come off to people outside the politics/policy/media bubble. This portion of the article is mostly fair, though are still some revealing word and phrase choices. (For example, the Koch brothers are only “infamous” if you don’t happen to agree with them. Just like George Soros is only infamous if you’re opposed to the causes he funds.)

Still, the first two-thirds of the article is mostly a quick and dirty introduction to or primer on libertarianism and the movement surrounding it, with Beam largely playing a neutral storyteller, interviewer, and interpreter.

It’s in the last third of the article there’s a noticeable and disruptive shift in tone. After establishing a certain trust with the reader that casts himself in the role of a mostly neutral observer and chronicler of this libertarian uprising, Beam then stops describing libertarianism, and starts critiquing it himself. The critiques are selective. He picks a few issues, broadly (and sometimes inaccurately, or without appropriate detail) describes the libertarian position, then describes why libertarianism fails on that particular issue. Taken as a whole, these critiques are supposed to support his thesis for the latter third of the article, which is that libertarianism is utopian and impractical. (He neglects to explain how the current system has produced better results, but that’s a different discussion.) I don’t think much of Beam’s critiques, but then I’m also a libertarian.

But it’s not the critiques themselves that I found off-putting. If this had been a straight Jacob Weisberg-style trashing of libertarianism, we could evaluate it on those terms. But this is more subtle and, I think, in some ways more pernicious. This was a thrashing disguised as a primer. That Beam makes these critiques himself comes off as abrupt and, frankly, condescending. There’s an aesthetic I’ve noticed among some journalists that libertarianism is so crazy and off the rails that it’s okay to step outside the boundaries of decorum and fairness to make sure everyone knows how nuts libertarians really are. (A couple years ago, I emailed a prominent journalist to compliment him on a book he had written. His strange response: He thanked me for the compliment, and then ran off several sentences about how dangerous and evil he thought my politics were.)

Reihan Salam:

Radley Balko has written a characteristically astute critique of Chris Beam’s New York magazine article on libertarianism. I think Radley says all that needs to be said on the subject.

Instead, I’d like to throw out a few other approaches to the subject that might have worked better:

(1) While talking to a good friend, we came to the conclusion that while cultural conservatism’s influence has been fading (something we both lament, albeit in different degrees) and while social democratic thinking is moribund, certain kinds of libertarian incrementalism (think Ed Glaeser and Tyler Cowen), not just resigned but comfortable with the idea of a social safety net in an affluent society, have grown more influential. Libertarian purists hate it. But they’ve grown less relevant. This piece might have focused on criminal sentencing, the war on drugs, etc., with a “we’re all libertarians now” coda. The trouble with this piece is that it might be really boring. But it would make sense. And it would avoid a lengthy discussion of minarchism.

(2) A much more fun piece, attuned to a New York audience, would open with the Tea Party’s libertarianism and make a strong case for its hypocrisy: they call themselves libertarians, but here are the subsidies they love, the un-libertarian restrictions they champion, etc. This section would be tendentious and unfair, but that’s the fun of it. And then the piece would argue that modern-day New York city, for all its taxes and regulations, is the real home of liberty: look to the cultural freedom, and also to the entrepreneurial energy of Silicon Alley, etc. Bracketing whether or not this is fair, it would be a provocative piece about who really owns liberty.

(3) Drawing on Amar Bhidé and Tim Wu and Tyler, one could also write a straightforward piece on how Tea Party libertarians and minarchists are misguided because more freedom and more affluence and more government tend to go hand in hand. We get more free and less free at the same time, along different dimensions. Again, this piece might be boring, but not necessarily.

David Weigel:

Beam’s history and etymology are going to be useful to outsiders, who don’t pay attention to this stuff. It’s a better case against libertarian policy, if you want that, than a shouty “investigative” blog post at some liberal site that connects a congressman’s staff to the Koch family with the assumption that evil has just been uncovered. But no case against libertarianism sounds very compelling right now, because any alternative to the managed economy sounds great to a country with 9.9 percent unemployment.

Do libertarians promise utopia? Sure. So do the socialists who came up with the ideas that motivate Democratic politicians. Voters don’t care much about where ideas come from as long as they have jobs. Now, the real test for libertarians will come if a year of Republican austerity budgeting is followed by economic growth. In the 1990s, the new, libertarian-minded Republican congressmen and governors discovered that fast growth allowed them to cut taxes and grow budgets for services that voters liked. In the 2010s, if unemployment falls, will the libertarian Republicans keep cutting budgets and reducing services? It doesn’t sound impossible right now.

E.D. Kain at The League:

In any case, I suspect the many reactions to Beam’s article are not because of any of its insights but rather because it is long and in a prestigious publication, and because it is written in such accessible language. It may not do anything but scratch a few surfaces and regurgitate a number of old anti-libertarian tropes, but that’s to be expected. Look, here I am commenting on it myself, largely because it is long and because so many other people are commenting on it and because I’m surprised at how little it really says about the Libertarian Moment in question.

Matthew Yglesias:

I liked Chris Beam’s NY Mag article on libertarians, but I want to quibble with this:

Yet libertarianism is more internally consistent than the Democratic or Republican platforms. There’s no inherent reason that free-marketers and social conservatives should be allied under the Republican umbrella, except that it makes for a powerful coalition.

People, especially people who are libertarians, say this all the time. But we should consider the possibility that the market in political ideas works is that there’s a reason you typically find conservative and progressive political coalitions aligned in this particular way. And if you look at American history, you see that in 1964 when we had a libertarian presidential candidate the main constituency for his views turned out to be white supremacists in the deep south. Libertarian principles, as Rand Paul had occasion to remind us during the 2010 midterm campaign, prohibit the Civil Rights Act as an infringement on the liberty of racist business proprietors. Similarly, libertarians and social conservatives are united in opposition to an Employment Non-Discrimination Act for gays and lesbians and to measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that seek to curb discrimination against women.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Let me refine the point a bit. The left-right division tends to center around the distribution of power. In both the economic and the social spheres, power is distributed unequally. Liberalism is about distributing that power more equally, and conservatism represents the opposite. I don’t mean to create a definition that stacks the deck. It’s certainly possible to carry the spirit of egalitarianism too far in either sphere. An economic policy that imposed a 100% tax on all six-figure incomes, or a social policy that imposed strict race and gender quotas on every university or profession, would be far too egalitarian for my taste. Soviet Russia or Communist China are handy historical cases of social and economic leveling run amok.

But in any case, there’s a coherence between the two spheres. Liberals see a health care system in which tens millions of people can’t afford regular medical care, or a social system in which gays face an array of discrimination, and seek to level the playing field. The inequality may be between management and labor, or rich and poor, or corporations versus consumers, or white versus black. In almost every instance, the liberal position is for reducing inequalities of power — be it by ending Jim Crow or providing food stamps to poor families — while the conservative position is for maintaining those inequalities of power.

Economic liberalism usually (but not always) takes the form of advocating more government intervention, while social liberalism usually (but not always) takes the form of advocating less government intervention. If your only ideological interpretation metric is more versus less government, then that would appear incoherent. But I don’t see why more versus less government must be the only metric.

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Not Exactly A Moment Of Zen

Jon Stewart’s last show of 2010

Jay Newton-Small at Swampland at Time:

In his last show of the year, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Congress and the media to task for not making the Zadroga bill a priority. Named for James Zadroga, a 911 first responder who died in 2006 of respiratory disease, the bill would create a trust fund to cover the health care costs of surviving police, firemen, emergency medical technicians and clean up crews who toiled for months in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The bill passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate due to GOP concerns that it would, in essence, create a new — albeit relatively tiny — entitlement.

(Stewart may have taken outrage lessons on the issue from his buddy Rep. Anthony Weiner with whom he’s shared a South Hampton summer sublet.)

In the wake of Stewart’s show, ABC’s Jonathan Karl ran a story on World News and the cable nets seem to have woken up to the bill’s existence. On Sunday, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced that a revised version of the bill, which reduces the cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion – the measure is offset by closing a corporate tax loop hole – had gained at least some GOP support. Indeed, several prominent Republicans have come out in support of the bill with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace calling it a “national shame” that the legislation has yet to be enacted.

With Senate Democrats upping the pressure for passage of the bill giving health benefits to sickened 9/11 responders, it’s going to get increasingly hard for GOP Senators to maintain their opposition. That’s because even right-leaning commentators and political operatives are growing mighty uncomfortable with the Senate GOP’s stance.

Case in point: This morning Joe Scarborough ripped into GOP opponents of passing the bill, which is called the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. He said Republicans were taking a big risk, and the crucial point Scarborough made is that this should be a national issue, not a New York one

Matt Negrin at Politico:

Paging Jon Stewart: The White House needs your help.

Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that he hopes the Comedy Central host can persuade enough Republican senators to vote for a 9/11 health bill so it can head to the president’s desk.

“If there’s the ability for that to sort of break through in our political environment, there’s a good chance that he can help do that,” Gibbs said in his briefing. “I think he has put the awareness around this legislation. He’s put that awareness into what you guys cover each day, and I think that’s good. I hope he can convince two Republicans to support taking care of those that took care of so many on that awful day in our history.”

Stewart has dedicated lengthy segments on “The Daily Show” to the legislation that would help the first responders on Sept. 11.

“It seems, at the end of a long year around the holiday season, a pretty awful thing to play politics about,” Gibbs said Tuesday. “That’s a decision that 42 Republican senators are going to have to make.”

Steve Benen:

I’m glad Stewart’s efforts are garnering attention, because it’s really not an exaggeration to say the bill would have no chance without his coverage. Indeed, major media outlets — at least in broadcast media — almost completely ignored the Zadroga bill every step of the way. When a GOP filibuster blocked the most recent attempt at passage, despite 58 votes in support of the proposal, it looked like Republicans had killed the bill.

But then “The Daily Show” ran a bunch of segments on this, noting not only the legislation’s merit and the inanity of Republican talking points against the bill, but also calling out news organizations for blowing off an important story regarding 9/11 heroes who need a hand.

And sure enough, Stewart’s public shaming paid off — news shows that couldn’t be bothered to even mention the bill in passing started talking about it. The visibility took a story that was entirely overlooked by the mainstream and made it a national issue, which in turn prompted Republican senators to begin talking to Democratic sponsors again.

The New York Daily Newsnoted this morning, “Thanks in large part to relentless television advocacy by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show,’ the 9/11 bill has risen up the agenda.”

It’d be an exaggeration to say Stewart was solely responsible. Other voices in media (including, ahem, the one you’re reading now) were reporting on the importance of the bill several weeks ago, and as soon as the tax deal was settled, Republicans who were at least open to the Zadroga bill were willing to start talking again.

Christopher Beam at Slate:

In the never-ending debate about whether Jon Stewart is a comedian with opinions or an activist who happens to make jokes, he’s always argued for the former. When Tucker Carlson accused Stewart of liberal hackery on Crossfire in 2004, Stewart famously played the joker card. “You’re on CNN,” he said. “The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

It’s true—Stewart leans left, but the jokes always come first. At October’s Rally To Restore Sanity, which many observers considered his coming-out party as the anti-Glenn Beck, Stewart was careful not to cross the line into advocacy. He didn’t even tell people to vote. He’s just not “in the game,” he told Rachel Maddow in an interview in November. “I’m in the stands yelling things, criticizing.”

Last week, Stewart stepped onto the field. The change came after Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would provide $7.4 billion in medical benefits to firefighters, police officers, and health workers who got sick from working at Ground Zero on and after 9/11. Stewart didn’t just mock the 42 Republicans who refused to consider the bill until the Bush tax cuts were extended. He ripped them apart. “I can’t wait for them to take to the floor to talk about why their party hates first responders,” he said. He shredded Sen. Mike Enzi’s argument that the bill would lead to waste, fraud, and abuse by pointing to Enzi’s support for corruption-riddled spending in Iraq. Last week, he did a follow-up segment, “Worst Responders,” in which he called the refusal to pass the 9/11 bill “an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11.” The bill would even be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes. “It’s a win-win-win-win-just [bleep] do it!” he yelled. He also blasted the media for failing to cover the story, noting that the only cable news network to devote a full segment to the issue was Al Jazeera. He then interviewed four first responders—a fireman, a police officer, a Department of Transportation worker, and an engineer—who suffered illnesses as a result of their work at Ground Zero. The segment had funny moments. But the jokes didn’t come first.

[…]

Stewart would probably argue that pushing for 9/11 workers comp—9/11 workers comp, for Chrissake!—isn’t taking a political stance. It’s taking a stance for decency, heroism, and the American people. Indeed, he called it “the Least-We-Can-Do-No-Brainer Act of 2010.” But stripped of the funny, that sounds a lot like what a politician would say. So did Stewart’s cheap shot about Mitch McConnell crying over the departure of his friend Sen. Judd Gregg—but not, Stewart seemed to suggest, about 9/11. Republicans may have had a flimsy case for blocking the bill, and Stewart rightly mocked the GOP for failing to help 9/11 workers after milking the tragedy all these years, but by shaming them in the name of 9/11 workers, he was engaging in demagoguery himself. It may have been for a good cause, but it was political demagoguery all the same.

Atrios:

If Jon Stewart Can Do It

Then maybe a charismatic fairly popular tall skinny guy with a fancy podium and the ability to get people to point TV cameras at him almost any moment can figure out how to do it.

Glenn Thrush at Politico:

New York Democrats hoping for quick action on a bill to give health care compensation to ground zero workers are about to run into Tom Coburn.

The Oklahoma Republican senator and physician — known in the Senate as “Dr. No” for his penchant for blocking bills — told POLITICO on Monday night that he wouldn’t allow the bill to move quickly, saying he has problems with parts of the bill and the process Democrats are employing.

Another Republican, Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, said he had concerns with the measure and that it should instead move through the committee process.

“I’m not trying to fight it; I’m trying to get it right,” Enzi said. “There are 30 things that ought to be changed real quick in committee but very difficult on the floor. To finish a bill at this point of time, we’re not going to be able to amend it.”

Mark Joyella at Mediaite:

It’s a huge victory at the very last minute–the lame duck Congress delivering the 9/11 First Responders bill–and a moment in history.On Fox News, Shepard Smith, who railed against the Republicans who blocked the bill in the face of 9/11 heroes, asking “how do they sleep” at night, was on set to report the passage this afternoon.

At times visibly teary-eyed, Smith called it a “compromise of utmost importance for those who put their lives on the line.”

Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni described how the deal got done:

“Everybody saw the writing on the wall, the time was running out, Republicans might get a black eye for not supporting the 9/11 responders if they blocked the bill, and Democrats wouldn’t have a chance to get quite as good a deal if they waited for the next Congress.”

Smith’s coverage of the 9/11 First Responders bill even earned him praise from the most unlikely of quarters–at MSNBC, where Rachel Maddow gave due props for Smith creating a “hullabaloo” about the bill: “All hail Shep Smith at Fox News,” she declared. “And I’m not kidding.”

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But Then How Will I Know If It’s Chicken Noodle Or Cream Of Mushroom?

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up:

On Monday, organizers for the nascent centrist/bipartisan group No Labels expected a thousand Democrats, Republicans and Independents to gather in New York City to decry hyper-partisanship and listen to a star-studded line-up of speakers including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and many others. The movement says it is not a think-tank, a third party, or any “stalking horse” for any centrist candidate to get elected. It also eschews endorsing a single issue, preferring to say that it seeks “common sense,” “less ideological” approaches to governing. Since No Labels is abstaining from any position other than noting that it would like to get away from “hyper-partisanship,” pundits are speculating what, exactly, the purpose of the movement is, and how it will work.

Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo:

Among No Label’s goals are to “establish a Political Action Committee that can operate in the 2012 primary races of members who get challenged by the ideological extremes of either party,” to “monitor and track the activities of all members of congress to ensure they are not playing hyper-partisan games,” and to “recruit one million Citizen Leaders to be part of No Labels effort.”

The list of speakers today included:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Congressman Bob Inglis
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Congressman Tom Davis
David Brooks
Joe Scarborough
Mika Brzezinski
Senator Joe Lieberman
Senator Evan Bayh
Senator Joe Manchin
David Gergen
Governor Charlie Crist
Lt Governor Abel Maldonado
Congressman Michael Castle
Ellen Freidin

And though the logo is a red and blue bison, the group takes inclusiveness seriously: The gift shop offers a veritable menagerie of bipartisan animal swag. Just don’t try to to find a donkey or elephant.

Christopher Beam at Slate:

Everything you need to know about the new political group No Labels is contained in its slogan: “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” It’s smug. It sounds like an Obama campaign catchphrase. And it ignores the whole reason politics exists, which is that not everyone agrees on what “Forward” is.

A group of political and media A-listers descended on Columbia University Monday morning for the group’s big launch event, which co-founder Mark McKinnon dubbed in his introductory remarks “our little Woodstock of democracy.” No Label seeks to be the voice of reason in an increasingly hyper-partisan environment—a counterweight to interest groups at either end of the political spectrum. Instead of rewarding candidates who spew partisan talking points, No Label says it will raise money for moderate candidates who embrace what co-founder Jon Cowan calls the “three C’s”: co-sponsors, common ground, and civility.

The guest list at Monday’s confab said as much about the group as its slogan. Attendees were a mix of media commentators (David Brooks, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski), recent political losers (former Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist), politicians who aren’t seeking re-election (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh), and moderates who have special permission to buck their party (incoming West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman). In other words, a bunch of people with nothing at stake.

Allah Pundit:

That’s what they’re calling it — the “No Labels Anthem,” presumably to be played whenever Mike Bloomberg walks into a room or “Morning Joe” goes to commercial or, I guess, as mood-setting music whenever RINO candy asses like myself have a lady friend over. According to the description at the site, here’s all it took to make it happen:

It only took one conversation with Lisa Borders, one of the founding leaders of No Labels, for Akon to immediately understand the meaning of this movement’s message. Never give up your label, just put it aside to do what’s best for America. With lyrics like “See a man with a blue tie, see a man with a red tie; so how about we tie ourselves together and get it done,” Akon shares his passion for politicians to put the labels aside so we can find practical solutions to our nation’s problems. Akon stayed up all night to create this song and now you can listen to it for free and share the song to help inspire others to put their labels aside.

So Akon’s on board with the RINO/DINO fusion message of No Labels? (A “fusion” soundbite from this morning’s launch via Jim Geraghty: “You just have to look to Arizona to see extremists who are trying to divide us.”) That’s interesting, because here’s what he had to say right before the 2008 election:

If he [Obama] doesn’t get into office, I’m gonna change my citizenship. I’m moving back to Africa. You can hold me to that. I’m afraid to live there if he [McCain] is President. The decisions he makes scare me: he’s making selfish decisions, he’s doing whatever it takes to get into office.

Either this guy’s views of Hopenchange and liberalism have changed profoundly over the past two years or he’s under the impression that Obama himself is beyond labels. (An Obama soundbite does feature prominently in the song.) Which, if true, would likely come as a surprise to potential independent presidential challenger Mike Bloomberg and perhaps to No Labels co-founder David Frum, who once wrote a long post in defense of the candidate whose policies had Akon ready to, er, leave the country in 2008. In fact, the man himself was supposed to show up at today’s big launch to perform the tune but got caught in a midwestern storm. Instead we got … what you’ll find below.

David Weigel:

I’m in D.C., not New York, but in slow moments I’ve been checking in with the video feed for the launch of No Labels, the most important post-partisan trojan horse for generic liberal politics since either Unity08 or HotSoup.com. It’s easy to mock — I notice that the mountains of derisive Twitter comments are not being quoted when moderators dip in to quote from social media — but what strikes me is how the rhetoric for a bland, good government-and-handshakes “movement” is identical to the Glenn Beck 9/12 movement.

Contrast this with Evan Bayh’s comments at the event — his first since disclaiming interest in a 2012 comeback bid for governor of Indiana. Bayh, who suggested that the problem with the Senate was that members of different parties gathered in caucuses (“it’s almost tribal”), cited a few examples of Republicans and Democrats coming together for the greater good. He cited the aftermath of September 11 and the financial crisis of 2008. He described a scene from 2008 where Ben Bernanke warned senators that the sky would collapse if the banks weren’t rescued. “We looked at each other,” said Bayh, “and said, okay, what do we need.”

This made me double back to the March 13, 2009 launch of Glenn Beck’s “We Surround Them” movement. Beck told viewers that if they remembered how they felt in the grip of an existential crisis, they would be inspired to come together.

On September 10th, Americans were playing politics and they had chosen to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the coming threat. I remember how picture perfect the day was. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and America seemed invisible, and yet, in the blink of an eye. That airplane appeared to hit a little bit down the building around the 50th or 60th floor. Again, it struck flush. The skies were filled with black cloud and our hearts were full of terror and fear. We realized — for the first time how fragile we really were. Then something happened. We came together. We promised ourselves that we would never forget. On September 12th, and for a short time after that, we really promised ourselves that we would focus on the things that were important — our family, our friends, the eternal principles that allowed America to become the world’s beacon of freedom. So once again, America has a choice. Tonight, we can choose to be the Americans of September 10th with our heads buried in the sand. We can be the Americans of September 11th who were unprepared and then paralyzed by fear, despair or anger. Or, we can choose to renew the promise that we all made to ourselves.

It sounded exactly like Bayh, who fantasized again and again about what sort of apocalyptic events could force politicians to be bipartisan. “Look to the vote on the debt ceiling or a run on the dollar,” said Bayh. “It may take that kind of exogenous event, that kind of forcing event, to make it happen.”

Jennifer Rubin:

The group is comprised of a lot of midterm losers (oops, mustn’t label) and retirees. And while they decry name-calling, Avalon immediately denounced partisan loyalty as “cowardly.” (Do these non-labelers put a dollar in the jar every time they use a label?)

It turns out it’s hard to operate without labels. “We’re going to call ourselves the radical center, the people who care about results, not rhetoric,” said former congressman Tom Davis. “Radical” and “center,” Mr. Davis? For shame.

The group says it has raised $1 million already. That suggests that people will spend their money on anything, or rather nothing. Really, why is disbanding “labeling” a virtue? It’s a con job, really to demean those who have strongly held beliefs for which they rigorously advocate. That is, after all, what small “d” democracy is all about. So as for me, I’ll stick to candor, truth in advertising and robust debate

John Podhoretz at Commentary:

Today marks the announcement of the new crusade called No Labels, which is about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about, except that there’s too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done. Various politicians (L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, and, of course, Michael Bloomberg) are speaking about moving the country forward by finding common ground without vilification.

Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

Anyway, I’m watching the No Labels webcast. And guess what? At this very moment, as I type, a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast

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In Times Of Yore, There Was Tenure

NYT had a Room For Debate on tenure. Mark C. Taylor:

Tenure is financially unsustainable and intellectually indefensible. The fundamental problem is liquidity – both financial and intellectual.

If you take the current average salary of an associate professor and assume this tenured faculty member remains an associate professor for five years and then becomes a full professor for 30 years, the total cost of salary and benefits alone is $12,198,578 at a private institution and $9,992,888 at a public institution. To fund these expenses would require a current endowment of $3,959,743 and $3,524,426 respectively and $28,721,197 and $23,583,423 at the end of the person’s career. Tenure decisions render illiquid a significant percentage of endowments at the precise moment more flexibility is required.

Capital is not only financial but is also intellectual and here too liquidity is an issue. In today’s fast changing world, it is impossible to know whether a person’s research is going to be relevant in five years let alone 35 years.

If you were the C.E.O. of a company and the board of directors said: “We want this to be the best company of its kind in the world. Hire the best people you can find and pay them whatever is required.” Would you offer anybody a contract with these terms: lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal, regardless of performance? If you did, your company would fail and you would be looking for a new job. Why should academia be any different from every other profession?

To those who say that the abolition of tenure will make faculty reluctant to be demanding with students or express controversial views, I respond that in almost 40 years of teaching, I have not known a single person who has been more willing to speak out after tenure than before. In fact, nothing represses the free expression of ideas more than the long and usually fruitless quest for tenure.

Brian Leiter:

Professor Taylor–whom we’ve encountered previously arguing for “transforming” universities by destroying them and cheerleading for Derrida, has now weighed in, with his characteristic lack of insight and knowledge, on the subject of tenure.  Put aside the absurdity of a postmodernist religion professor peddling the “tough talk” of the marketplace; let’s overlook too that salaries are not paid out of endowment (as he bizarrely suggests), but a combination of tuition, endowments, and research grants; and let’s even grant him his make-believe numbers about what a professor costs over 35 years; the facts remain that:

1.  Tenure does not mean “lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal,” it means only dismissal for cause, with associated procedural safeguards;

2.  Dismissal only for cause is a less common employment arrangement in the United States than it used to be (though is still enjoyed by significant numbers of school teachers, police, firemen, and by many civil service employees, among others), but is far more common in other Western industrialized nations with stronger labor movements and established civil service systems; that it is not the norm in the U.S. is one of the pathologies of American society, to be lamented, not lauded;

3.  Tenure is an important part of the non-economic compensation for academics, and its abolition would raise the costs of hiring faculty astronomically;

4.  At the best research universities, the percentage of senior faculty who remain research-active 30 years after tenure is extremely high, which puts the lie to Taylor’s absurd claim that “it is impossible to know whether a person’s research is going to be relevant in five years let alone 35 years”;

5.  Taylor’s claim that “in almost 40 years of teaching, I have not known a single pereson who has been more willing to speak out after tenure than before” is such obvious bullshit, it’s hard to believe he had the audacity to say this in public; in 17 years of teaching, I can think of at least a half-dozen cases of faculty who, after tenure, became markedly more outspoken and undertook more controversial research.  And bear in mind that the biggest threats to academic freedom are likely to come not from, e.g., state legislators pissed off by dumb or controversial reilgion professors (though without tenure there will certainly be more cases like that, as we have noted previously), but from powerful economic interests adversely affected by work on health and safety issues by scientists.  (One might also think that the recent experience in the U.K. without out-of-control administrative bureaucrats would give even Taylor some pause.)

There are two real problems with the current tenure system:  first, that universities are often too reluctant to seek dismissal for cause; second, that the academic freedom rights of untenured and non-tenure-stream faculty are insufficiently protected in the current system.  The AAUP could take the lead on the first issue, including by standing on the side of universities that terminate tenured faculty for cause and following proper procedures.  The AAUP might also help with the second, by being more aggressive about calling out universities that trample on the academic freedom of the non-tenured.

Megan McArdle:

The arguments for academic tenure have always struck me as pretty weak, and more to the point, transparently self-serving.  The best you can say of the system is that it preserves a sort of continuity in schools that is desireable for the purposes of cultivating alumni donations.  But the cost of such a system is simply staggering.

Consider what the academic job market now looks like.  You have a small elite on top who have lifetime employment regardless of how little work they do.  This lifetime employment commences somewhere between 35 and 40.  For the ten-to-fifteen years before that, they spend their lives in pursuit of the brass ring.  They live in poverty suck up to professors, and publish, for one must publish to be tenured.  It’s very unfortunate if you don’t have anything much worth saying; you need to publish anyway, in order to improve your chances.  Fortunately, for the needy tenure seeker, a bevy of journals have sprung up that will print your trivial contributions.  If nothing else, they provide a nice simple model which helps introductory economics professors explain Say’s Law.

At the end of the process, most of the aspirants do not have tenure; they have dropped out, or been dropped, at some point along the way.  Meanwhile, the system has ripped up their lives in other ways.  They’ve invested their whole youth, and are back on the job market near entry level at an age when most of their peers have spent ten years building up marketable skills.  Many of them will have seen relationships ripped apart by the difficulties of finding not one, but two tenure-track jobs in the same area.  Others will have invested their early thirties in a college town with no other industry, forcing them to move elsewhere to restart both their careers and their social lives.  Or perhaps they string along adjuncting at near-poverty wages, unable to quite leave the academy that has abused them for so long.

Is this producing better education?  Doubtful; there’s no particular relationship between scholarship and the ability to teach.  How about valuable scholarship?  Well, define valuable–in many liberal arts fields, the only possible consumer of the research in question is a handful of scholars in the same field.  That sort of research is valuable in the same way that children’s craft projects are priceless–to their mothers.  Basically, these people are supporting an expensive hobby with a sideline business certifying the ability of certain twenty-year olds to write in complete sentences.

And what about the people who do get tenure, and are producing scholarship in areas that other people care about?  Doesn’t tenure protect free intellectual inquiry?  Diversity of thought?  Doesn’t it allow teachers to be more demanding of students?

Perhaps–but the question is, at what point?  Most scholars in their sixties are not producing path-breaking new research, but they are precisely the people that tenure protects.  Scholars in their twenties and thirties, on the other hand, have no academic freedom at all.  Indeed, because tenure raises the stakes so high, the vetting of future employees is much more careful–and the candidates, who know this, are almost certainly more careful than they would be if they were on more ordinary employment contracts.  As a result, the process of getting a degree, getting a job, and getting tenure has stretched out to cover one’s whole youth. So tenure makes young scholars–the kind most likely to attack a dominant paradigm–probably more careful than they would be under more normal employment process.

More McArdle

Instapundit:

MEGAN MCARDLE: Tenure: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone. Some pushback in the comments, but with a higher education bubble set to burst I think we’ll hear more along these lines. Gulp.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

But so what?

First of all, other industries have models, whereby you kill yourself for several years in hopes of achieving some brass ring. Law and Wall Street have similar models, though to varying degrees. Most folks at the top law firms don’t make partner.

But beyond that particular rigid structure across business, there are plenty of models where there’s a huge reward for those at the top, which only a select few can make it to.

The thing is, lots of folks want to live the academic life? Who wouldn’t want to spend their careers on a nice idyllic campus, getting paid to just think, study, write (and possibly teach) all the time. It sounds freakin’ awesome.

But because the life is so desirable, the system will inevitably be brutally competitive, with few winners. That would be the case, with tenure or not.

If you don’t want to be in a tournament, so to speak, with few winners, and huge rewards, you can become a public school teacher. You definitely don’t want to become a lawyer, or go into Wall Street, or something like that.

But as long as you know what you’re getting into beforehand, there’s really nothing wrong with it*

—–

*Disclosure: The author’s father is a tenured physics professor, though he’s at a small, teaching (not scholarship) based institution, and the situation is not really the same. But just in case someone were going to point it out, there you go….

John Schwenkler at The American Scene:

I want to highlight one important point that Brian Leiter makes in the last of those three links, namely that tenure is a form of non-monetary compensation, and that academic salaries would likely skyrocket in its absence.At least the first half of this claim is, I think, obviously right. The average tenure-track academic has spent nearly a decade in graduate school during which he or she did full-time work for a salary barely above the poverty line, then endured a brutal job market resulting in a stressful and often thankless job, likely with a salary that’s about half that of his or her friends who bailed out of academia and spent a measly three years in law school. I’m not complaining, of course! – but let me just say that this arrangement is made significantly more attractive by fact that those who make it through the crucible don’t have to face the usual worries about getting fired when times get tough or the management shifts around. Would many academics be doing this anyway, if the pay were still poor but the job less secure? Speaking for myself, probably yes, which is part of why I’m not quite sold on Leiter’s claim that the abolition of tenure would have “astronomic” impacts on the costs of hiring faculty. (It might just as well make it so that the overall quality of the professoriate was not as good.) But the prospect of tenure does do quite a lot to offset the various things that might otherwise steer people away from careers in academic, and it’s important not to overlook that influence.

UPDATE: Christopher Beam at Slate

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“Make A Bomb In The Kitchen Of Your Mom” Was A Dead Kennedys Single, Was It Not?

Lloyd Grove at The Daily Beast:

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known by the acronym AQAP at the CIA, is about to release its first English-language magazine. It’s a Web-based journal of propaganda aimed at inciting violent acts among would-be terrorists living in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and other Western countries.

American officials are deeply concerned.

The magazine, which came to light in a slick banner advertisement on various jihadist websites in the past two days, is called Inspire—after a verse in the Koran urging faithful Muslims to “inspire the believers to overcome all fear of death” and “fight in Allah’s cause.”

The banner ad, over the caption “Soon,” features a slide show touting the magazine’s first issue: “A SPECIAL GIFT TO THE ISLAMIC NATION.” “The first magazine issued by Al-Qa’idah in the English language.” “INSPIRE… and inspire the believers.’” “An exclusive interview with Shayk Abu Basir [a top aide to Osama bin Laden] and with Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaki as a guest writer.”

It’s apparently the project of New Mexico-born jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based former imam who is said to have “inspired” three of the 9/11 hijackers; the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan; the Christmas Day underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad. The 39-year-old Awlaki—dubbed “the bin Laden of the Internet”—is a prime target of U.S. counterterrorism operations.

Marc Ambinder:

It’s called “Inspire,”  and you can read parts of it below. A U.S. official said early this morning that the magazine appears to be authentic.

“Inspire” includes a “message to the people of Yemen” directly transcribed from Ayman Al-Zawahari, Al Qaeda’s second in command, a message from Osama Bin Laden on “how to save the earth,”  and the cover includes a quotation from Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who is believed to be directly connected to the attempt to destroy an airplane over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day. (The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, made that disclosure at a security forum in Aspen, CO, Fox News reported.)

The table of contents teases an interview with the leader of AQAP who promises to “answer various questions pertaining to the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.”  It includes a feature about how to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.”

AQAP’s first effort to post the magazine to jihadist websites failed Wednesday, as many of the pages were contaminated with a virus. (I half seriously believe that U.S. cyber warriors might have had a hand in that little surprise.)

The U.S. is quite worried about Al Qaeda’s new publishing ambitions, which mark a more sophisticated effort to engage the English-language world and to recruit English-speaking Muslims to join the cause.

The copy was obtained from a private researcher. AQAP had advertised for days that the magazine would appear with the interviews specified in the table of contents. It is possible, although not likely, that the magazine is a fabrication, a  production of a Western intelligence agency that wants to undermine Al Qaeda by eroding confidence in its production and distribution networks. The U.S. is engaged in direct net-based warfare with jihadis; this sort of operation would not be too difficult to pull off.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

Marc Ambinder gots his paws on a copy of the first issue, and it’s as ridiculous as you might imagine. One article, by someone named “the AQ chef,” is called “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” There’s an essay by Yahya Ibrahim, a radical Canadian-born  preacher, entitled “The West Should Ban the Niqab Covering Its Real Face.” There’s a “message to the people of Yemen” from al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, a column by Yemeni-American sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, an interview with the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Basir al Wahishi, and various practical lessons on such topics as sending encrypted messages and what you can expect when you join the jihad. It also has a page for “contact us,” which is intriguing — how does that work?

Granted, I’m not the target audience for this rag, and Brookings analyst Bruce Riedel makes a good point here: “From the standpoint of al Qaeda, it’s not intended to be a bestseller. They’re just looking for one guy who will be inspired by this to bomb Times Square, and this time maybe he will put together the bomb correctly.”

Still, I’d wager that the folks who are producing Inspire are going to get killed or captured before they inspire any such attacks. I also don’t think we’ll be seeing an al Qaeda iPad app anytime soon.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Online and viral media is the most efficient distribution mechanism for the extremist message, which is why al-Qaida’s as-Sahab media unit is so prolific. And as-Sahab products run the gamut of information offerings, from high-production-value online films to cellphone videos, serving as both a recruitment tool and a rapid-response messaging shop for the numerous attacks from Muslim clerics on al-Qaida’s Islamic credentials. In its creation of a distributed virtual training camp for propaganda, recruitment and development of al-Qaida’s bench, as-Sahab is the literal version of Lifehacker.

Which makes Inspire look anomalous. It’s not, apparently, online yet. Ambinder reports that a virus corrupted an attempted upload on extremist websites on Wednesday. And it’s not apparently an as-Sahab product: It bears a banner of al-Malahem Media, the publishing arm of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a franchise of al-Qaida that trained Abdulmutallab on putting bombs in his underwear. And that’s even more fishy: Al-Jazeera’s Gregg Carlstrom tweets that it’s not al-Malahem’s typical logo.

“It is difficult at this point to confirm its authenticity,” says Marc Lynch, a George Washington University political science professor who specializes in Arabic-language media. For one thing, al-Qaida PDF uploads tend not to be corrupted by viruses. That’s not to say it couldn’t be a glitch — what magazine editor hasn’t experienced the pain of technical difficulties on launch day? — but for now, Lynch cautions, “We shouldn’t leap to any conclusions about what this means for al-Qaida strategy.”

In other words, don’t cancel your subscription to Technical Mujahid just yet. That magazine, at least, is not afraid to be service-y.

Max Read at Gawker:

And they said the magazine industry was dead! Well, they must have meant only the decadent, Godless, Western magazine industry, because al-Qaeda’s bold new English-language venture, Inspire, hit the internet on Wednesday. (Sort of. Apparently, only the first three pages were available, and the other 64 “were just garbled computer code.” Good job, guys.)

So, what’s the al-Qaeda editorial strategy? Service journalism, of course (it’s 2010, for God’s sake; magazines don’t sell themselves). Inspire, published by the terrorist group’s Yemen franchise, offers up how-tos (“Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” which is “a detailed yet short, easy-to-read manual on how to make a bomb using ingredients found in a kitchen”), guides (“What to Expect in Jihad”) and listicles (“6 Calls of al-Anfal”). There is even an “exclusive interview,” with Shaykh Abu Basir, the leader of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, and regular columns, including (excuse me while I LOL) something called “Open Source Jihad.” These guys should buy Newsweek!

Jon Bershad at Mediaite:

What, no Justin Bieber interview? Come on, Osama, you’re not going to sell jack without the Bieb!

So, are scary terrorists around the world now reading Inspire on their scary terrorist iPads? Well, not yet. It turns out the first versions of the magazine that were uploaded contained viruses that Ambinder proposes may have been put there by US operatives. I guess those operatives are just working overtime to make up for not shutting down that damn Rolling Stone article…

UPDATE: Christopher Beam at Slate

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The End Of Orszagmania Is Nigh

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Obama budget director Peter Orszag–he of the power engagement, love child, and famously baffling sex appeal–is resigning. Set to leave in July, according to The New York Times, he would be “the first official to leave the Obama cabinet.” Here’s the roundup of regulars on what that means:

Why Now? Because It’s Time “Eighteen months is approximately the median amount of time for the OMB director position,” notes ABC’s Jake Tapper. Furthermore, “Orszag was director of the Congressional Budget Office for two years before becoming OMB in January 2009.”

Noam Scheiber at TNR:

If nothing else, the press reports stress that Obama wanted Orszag to stick around, something I’ve heard independently. To the extent that members of the economic team hold somewhat different policy views, I get the impression the president likes it that way, as the administration official quoted above suggests.

As I understand it, the reason Orszag has decided to step aside now is that the upside to sticking around just wasn’t that great after he’d successfully overseen two budget cycles and helped manage a once-in-a-generation healthcare reform effort. (To say nothing of that stimulus bill…) What you have to understand about Orszag is that he’s an extremely bright guy who’s excited by intellectual, as opposed to, say, managerial, challenges. What you have to understand about being OMB director is that it’s an incredibly taxing job—there’s a huge amount of work that has to get done in a short period of time, year in and year out. Put that together and what you had was a grueling job that Orszag found pretty exhilarating when the learning curve was steep, and which became a little less exhilarating but no less grueling once the learning curve flattened out. Between that dynamic and his impending wedding in September, which roughly coincides with the start of the new budget season, it makes perfect sense for him to hang his slide rule elsewhere.

Update: I shouldn’t minimize the role of Orszag’s upcoming marriage. He is known to be very devoted to his fiancee, which makes the decision not to sign on for another grueling year all the more understandable.

Alan Mascarenhas at Newsweek:

While Orszag is not exactly a household name, he is something of a celebrity inside the D.C. Beltway (and, among other things, surely the first ever OMB chief to inspire his own fan site; evocatively titled Orszagasm with the tagline “Putting the OMG back into the OMB”). Rumors of his departure—which would represent the first from President Obama’s cabinet—have been building for some time. He is getting married in September and is reportedly keen to leave enough time for his successor to organize President Obama’s next budget in February.

Orszag’s office has not publicly confirmed the reports. “Peter’s focused on his work, not on Washington speculation,” said his spokesman, Kenneth Baer.

Christopher Beam at Slate:

Peter Orszag became famous for making health care cost control sexy. His replacement will have an even harder task: Doing the same for deficit reduction.

Reducing the deficit is the Washington equivalent of eating one’s vegetables. It’s preached mainly by stern fogies, who don’t make it sound very appetizing. Whoever replaces Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget—the top names floated so far are Clinton administration vets Laura Tyson and Gene Sperling—will have to change that.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

The two pillars of Orszag’s legacy are the massive $800 billion stimulus bill passed in early 2009 and the health care reform bill passed about a year later. It’s fair to say that both bills were policy successes and popular failures. The Recovery Act was the macroeconomic equivalent of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the recession. It included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for working families, extended unemployment benefits, unburdened the states of massive Medicaid and education responsibilities, and seeded infrastructure projects across the country.

The Recovery Act might have stimulated the economy — or at least built a floor to the downturn — but it did not stimulate much gratefulness. Poll after poll in the last year and a half demonstrates consistent pessimism that the stimulus did much to create jobs. This is easily explained: the administration said that unemployment wouldn’t rise above 9 percent after the bill passed. Instead it rose above 10 percent since the recession was deeper than predicted. That looks like failure, even if it’s relative success.

Orszag’s second achievement is another kitchen-sink bill and another liberal policy success that failed to inspire public approval. Health care reform created a new entitlement for tens of millions of uninsured Americans, planned cuts to Medicare and threw a smorgasbord of missiles at the real long-term monster of medical inflation, including: comparative effectiveness research, a Medicare advisory counsel, an innovation center and more cost-cutting experiments. But once again, folks aren’t applauding. In a June Gallup poll, 50 percent of respondents said they wanted health care partially or completely repealed.

James Pethokoukis:

But there is little doubt Orszag will depart as the most consequential Office of Management and Budget director since the notorious David Stockman nearly torpedoed Reaganomics in the early 1980s by calling supply-side economics a sham. In hindsight, of course, Reaganomics looks pretty good, including 17 million net new jobs and a collapse in inflation.

But Orszag was no whistle-blower of some perceived fiscal sleight-of-hand. Instead, it was just the opposite. He was a facilitator and enabler, providing the intellectual firepower and energy behind Obama’s drive for healthcare reform. Orszag made the case to the president that reducing healthcare costs was an important element to slashing the long-term budget deficit. More importantly, he persuaded Obama the U.S. healthcare system was so inefficient, overall spending could be restrained while also providing near-universal health insurance coverage. In effect, “bending the curve” was a free lunch. Or at least close enough for government work.

It was an audacious claim, mostly based on a single controversial academic study. Republicans never bought into the theory, and neither did Orszag’s successor at the Congressional Budget Office, Uncle Sam’s fiscal scorekeeper. In the end, Obama was forced to cut future Medicare spending and raise taxes to make the numbers balance out — at least on paper. Few Washington observers think those cuts will happen, meaning that the budget deficit could explode if Orszag’s novel theories don’t pan out. And even if the cuts occur, many budget hawks were counting on them to make Medicare sustainable over the long-term, not create a new entitlement.

Too bad Orszag didn’t use his considerable political skills – Larry Summers was supposedly warned to be careful of the guy “wearing the cowboy boots and bad toupee” – to make the case for entitlement reform first. In that regard, Orszag’s legacy is uncertain at best.

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What If Jazz Musicians, Botanists, And Sushi Chefs Wrote The News?

Christopher Beam at Slate:

A new article in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the differences between political journalism and political science. What if academics started writing the news?

A powerful thunderstorm forced President Obama to cancel his Memorial Day speech near Chicago on Monday—an arbitrary event that had no affect on the trajectory of American politics.

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Chief among the criticisms of Obama was his response to the spill. Pundits argued that he needed to show more emotion. Their analysis, however, should be viewed in light of the economic pressures on the journalism industry combined with a 24-hour news environment and a lack of new information about the spill itself.

Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the administration has not been sufficiently involved in the day-to-day cleanup. Their analysis, of course, is colored by their minority status in America’s two-party system, which creates a strong structural incentive to criticize the party in power, whatever the merits.

At the same time, Obama’s job approval rating fell to 48 percent. This isn’t really news, though. Studies have shown that the biggest factor in a president’s rating is economic performance. Connecting the minute blip in the polls with Obama’s reluctance to emote or alleged failure to send enough boom to the Gulf is, frankly, absurd.

Democrats have also slipped in their standing among “independent voters.” That phrase, by the way, is meaningless. Voters may self-identify as “independent” but in almost all cases they lean toward one party.

John Sides:

Brendan Nyhan and I supplied Beam some of our pet peeves — e.g., this one and this one — although the humor is all his.

Steven Taylor:

The Slate piece, penned by Christopher Beam, attempts to write a news story as if it was written from a polisci perspective.  The basic observations in the piece are fairly accurate, although the tone is hardly academic (which, for readability purposes, it probably a good thing!).

Some paragraphs that struck me:

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Indeed.  While many of these events are significant in and of themselves, the overall economy is far more likely to determine Obama’s electoral fate—but that is pretty boring to note over and over again.

Really, the piece is far more a critique of mass media than it is an exhortation of political science.

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

I’m loving this piece from Chris Beam in Slate entitled “The Only Politics Article You’ll Ever Have To Read.” It’s a rather brilliant and hilarious plumbing of the puddle-deep political tropes that the political media and political academics reflexively dials up, as if they were half-dissected frogs who occasionally get the twitchy benefit of an electric current.

Andrew Gelman:

In 1993, Gary King and I published an article, ” Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?”, in which we argued (with 10 figures and no tables (except for a brief summary of data sources in the appendix)) that short-term swings in public opinion during presidential election campaigns (for example, the predictable post-convention bounce) have little if any impact on the vote. The bit about elections being so predictable was not original to us—we leaned heavily on Steven Rosenstone’s 1984 book on forecasting presidential elections. What was new in our paper was to take that finding seriously and work through its implications for campaigns.

When we wrote the article, Gary and I wanted to make a difference, to elevate public discourse. It was so frustrating to see the news media focus on the horse race, especially given that there was no evidence that these horse-race stories made any difference. We thought our article might change things, because instead of the usual strategy—criticizing the media for distorting politics with endless stories on the horse race—we were taking the opposite tack, essentially mocking the media for running story after story about campaign gaffes etc. that had no effect. If it’s really true (as we found from our analysis) that what’s most important are the so-called fundamentals (political ideology, party identification, and the economy), then the way the media could have the most influence would be to report on the fundamentals—report what’s happening in the economy and report the candidates’ positions on major issues—rather than the trivialities.

We really hoped that, if our goal was to change how campaigns were reported, we’d do better to portray the standard media practices as ineffectual, rather than as harmful. If you want someone to change, it’s better to describe him as a loser than as a bad boy.

I was frustrated for many years at how little difference our argument seemed to have made. But, if Beam’s article is any evidence, maybe our message really has been getting through!

Matthew Yglesias:

Note that I think it would be a better world if that’s how political news was covered. The articles about horse-race politics would be boring—and rightly so—which means that if you wanted readers for your articles about politics, you’d have to try to find a way to make policy writing engaging. It’s a bit of a hard challenge because it doesn’t involve the same obvious level of human narrative drama, but at the end of the day superficially dry policy debates actually have massive consequences for very real human beings all around the country and the world, so it should hardly be impossible to bring this stuff down to earth

Ezra Klein

Conor Friedersdorf:

It’s a wonderful piece, but Mr. Beam frames it as if all academics are political scientists.

What if sociologists wrote the news instead?

Untangling Race & Gender from Catastrophic Incidences of Corporate Exploitation In Semi-Natural Ecosystems: A Case Study

by Tenure C. King, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tulane University

NEW ORLEANS — Absent from the dialogue surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began on April 20, 2010 following an explosion that killed eleven workers, are the roles of class, race and especially gender. Due to the environmental devastation wrought by the catastrophe, which is likely to fall heaviest on the working poor, it is understandable that attention is largely focused on efforts to plug the oil well undertaken by British Petroleum, a corporation founded in imperial Britain to exploit the oil resources of people of color.

It is not insignificant to cleanup efforts, however, that even today BP’s leadership lacks adequate gender diversity, its board of directors being made up of fourteen persons, only one of them who self-identifies as a female, and all of whom earn significantly more than the median income in Louisiana, Alabama, and even the relatively privileged residents of coastal Florida.

Among other things, this raises important questions as to whether Gulf Coast populations most affected by the spill will see mitigation efforts as legitimate. Asked about this issue, Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers, a legal researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, noted that “any comprehensive investigation of the impact of providing legitimacy by female board members on corporate performance should not be limited to profitability (which is mostly concerned with shareholders profit), but should include, for example, social and market performance and the satisfaction of relevant stakeholders.”

Thus far, however, neither a protocol for evaluating the satisfaction of stakeholders nor a safe space where they might be interviewed has been established by the disproportionately white, male pubic servants with a responsibility to respond..

Despite the fact that the United States has institutional frameworks insufficient to adequately safeguard environmental assets through federal intervention, other observers are calling for President Barack Obama to assume a greater role over efforts to stop the spill. While his participation would certainly improve upon the actual and perceived diversity of oil mitigation efforts, a long pattern of institutional racism in American history and the resulting exclusion of African Americans and other people of color from the Oval Office means that scholarly data cannot predict how an increase in racial diversity would impact performance in mitigating the environmental impacts of an oil spill.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I foresee a progressively less-amusing internet trope. By the time this devolves into “What if biologists wrote the news?,” we’re all going to want to kill ourselves. In the meantime, Friedersdorf’s piece is pretty darn good.

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