Tag Archives: Paul Waldman

Huh, Don’t Trust Someone Named Curveball. Got It.

Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd at The Guardian:

The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],’” Janabi recalled.

So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).

And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.

We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd tracked down Alwan in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized city along the French-German border. They speculate his admission “appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did,” or maybe just a last-ditch attempt “to resurrect his own reputation” in the hopes of moving back to Iraq. They acknowledge Curveball’s attempted “reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded” by his fabrications.

Alwan’s motives, not surprisingly, were of little interest to pundits based in those countries that devoted seven years of blood and treasure to the fight in Iraq. “Yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat,” writes Guardian columnist Carnie Ross. “We should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.” Wonkette’s Ken Layne echoed the sentiment. “Tell whatever lies you want for whatever ends you desire. That is the lesson.”

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

Things move fast these days, and 2003 can seem like ancient history to some. But given that the run-up to the war in Iraq was the greatest media failure in decades, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the tears of joy and gratitude that greeted Powell’s U.N. speech. What’s important to keep in mind is that a lot of Powell’s bogus claims were known at the time to be false or baseless, if reporters had bothered to ask around. But they didn’t, because they were so blinded by how awesome Powell was. Think I exaggerate? Let’s take a look back:

“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strong, plain-spoken indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime before the UN Security Council Wednesday embodies something truly great about the United States. Those around the world who demanded proof must now be satisfied, or else admit that no satisfaction is possible for them.” — Chicago Sun-Times”In a brilliant presentation as riveting and as convincing as Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 unmasking of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Powell proved beyond any doubt that Iraq still possesses and continues to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction. The case for war has been made. And it’s irrefutable.” — New York Daily News

“Only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell’s case.” — San Antonio Express-News

“The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” — Richard Cohen, Washington Post

That’s just a small sample, but you see the pattern: Not only was Powell’s show presented as settling the matter of whether Iraq had this terrifying arsenal and would use it on us, but if you didn’t agree, you were either an Iraqi sympathizer or at the very least anti-American. At that point, the debate over whether we would invade was pretty much over — the only question was when the bombs would start falling. It may boggle the mind that so much of the case for war was based on the testimony of one absurdly unreliable guy. But that was what passed for “intelligence” during the Bush years.

Doug Mataconis:

The Germans returned to Janabi in May 2002, just when the propaganda run-up to the Iraq War was beginning. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this likely occurred at the behest of the United States, which was eager for as much information proving that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a WMD program in violation of UN sanctions as it could find. Despite the fact that he had been previously established as a liar, he was apparently taken seriously and given incentives for sharing as much information as he could come up with. Which he obviously did.

At the same time, there’s no evidence that the United States knew about the problems with Janabi’s credibility, or even that they knew who he was other than “Curveball,” the code name assigned to him by German intelligence. So, absent additional information, this doesn’t strike me as implicating the Bush Administration in Janabi’s lies. What it does demonstrate, though, is the extent to which, during the period from late 2001 through early 2003, the United States was singularly focused on finding any evidence it could to justify war against Iraq to the exclusion of anything to the contrary. Obviously, the Germans, as our allies, picked up on this and provided us with the information we needed. The problem is that nobody in Berlin or Washington seems to have bothered to make any effort  to independently verify what Janabi was saying before deciding to use it as the basis to go to war. And that’s a problem.

So far at least, this story seems to be be drawing very little attention in the blogsphere, and none at all among conservative bloggers. That’s too bad, because the fact that we fought a war based not only on bad intelligence, but on intelligence that was based on evidence provided by someone who was already a known liar strikes me as something that we ought to be concerned about.

Moe Lane:

I probably wouldn’t be on Colin Powell’s Christmas card list, nor he on mine – not for any particular enmity on my part, or (hypothetical) on his; we’re just not the same kind of Republicans – but I have to admit:

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.

…I’d like to know the answer to this one myself.  I mean, contrary to Lefty mythology, the liberation of Iraq did not hinge on the presence of WMDs (although I will admit that their proven past existence and use on civilian targets by the late, unlamented-by-civilized-people Hussein regime did make quite a few Democrats at least temporarily capable of being swayed by reason); but the failure to find any in significant amounts after the fact was definitely embarrassing to the Bush administration, and I join former Secretary Powell in wanting to hear the bureaucrats explain themselves.  Because we’re still counting on these people to tell us what the heck is going on, and President Obama needs to be better served by them than former President Bush was.

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This Really Annoys People. Yes it Does. Oh Yes, It Does.

Farhad Manjoo at Slate:

Last month, Gawker published a series of messages that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had once written to a 19-year-old girl he’d become infatuated with. Gawker called the e-mails “creepy,” “lovesick,” and “stalkery”; I’d add overwrought, self-important, and dorky. (“Our intimacy seems like the memory of a strange dream to me,” went a typical line.) Still, given all we’ve heard about Assange’s puffed-up personality, the substance of his e-mail was pretty unsurprising. What really surprised me was his typography.

Here’s a fellow who’s been using computers since at least the mid-1980s, a guy whose globetrotting tech-wizardry has come to symbolize all that’s revolutionary about the digital age. Yet when he sits down to type, Julian Assange reverts to an antiquated habit that would not have been out of place in the secretarial pools of the 1950s: He uses two spaces after every period. Which—for the record—is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

Oh, Assange is by no means alone. Two-spacers are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste. You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slate would know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; every third e-mail I get from readers includes the two-space error. (In editing letters for “Dear Farhad,” my occasional tech-advice column, I’ve removed enough extra spaces to fill my forthcoming volume of melancholy epic poetry, The Emptiness Within.) The public relations profession is similarly ignorant; I’ve received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces. Some of my best friends are irredeemable two spacers, too, and even my wife has been known to use an unnecessary extra space every now and then (though she points out that she does so only when writing to other two-spacers, just to make them happy).

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space “rule.” Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. “Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.

Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.

Tom Lee:

I’m sorry, but no. It’s a lousy polemic. Here’s its structure:

  1. SEO-friendly statement of controversy
  2. Presentation of opinion A. Assertion that people who hold it are rubes.
  3. Presentation of opinion B. Invocation of authority.
  4. History lesson! Discussion of old technology; no mention of enforcement of author’s preferred orthodoxy by newer technology (e.g. HTML rendering multiple spaces as one)
  5. Rumination on beauty. Grecian urns, etc.

For now let’s ignore the ignore the bullying nature of this argument (it should be obvious to anyone that those of us who believe in two spaces are a minority that’s relentlessly and mercilessly persecuted by the bloodthirsty masses, both through jeremiads like Manjoo’s and through the technological eradication of our ability to express our beliefs). Which of the points in the above argument are rhetorically meaningful?

Only point 3 really carries any weight with me. I’ll take Manjoo’s word that all typographers like a single space between sentences. I’m actually pretty sympathetic to arguments from authority, being the big-state-loving paternalist that I am. But, with apologies to friends and colleagues of mine who care passionately about this stuff, I lost my patience with the typographically-obsessed community when they started trying to get me to pay attention to which sans-serif fonts were being used anachronistically on Mad Men.

I love you guys, but you’re crazy. On questions of aesthetic preference there’s no particular reason that normal people should listen to a bunch of geeky obsessives who spend orders of magnitude more time on these issues than average. It’s like how you probably shouldn’t listen to me when I tell you not to use .doc files or that you might want to consider a digital audio player with Ogg Vorbis support. I strongly believe those things, but even I know they’re pointless and arbitrary for everyone who doesn’t consider “Save As…” an opportunity for political action.

Nor should we assume that just because typographers believe earnestly in the single space that their belief is held entirely in good faith. They’re drunk on the awesome power of their proportional fonts, and sure of the cosmic import of the minuscule kerning decisions that it is their lonely duty to make. Of course they don’t want lowly typists exercising their opinions about letter spacing. Those people aren’t qualified to have opinions!

Shani O. Hilton:

I thought Manjoo’s argument was weak, for many of the reasons Tom mentions, but that doesn’t change facts. Here’s a little-known law of graphic design:

The number of people wishing to fit a document onto the same or fewer number of pages as a previous edition of said document, despite the new draft being longer than the previous edition, is directly proportional to the number of people who turn in said document to their graphic designer with double spaces after every period.

Okay, maybe I made that up. But real talk: Double spaces are bad.

Megan McArdle:

Let me just add: if you’re spending time worrying over whether my emails contain one or two spaces, you need to ask them to let you out of the asylum more often so you can pursue a more interesting hobby.  I double space after sentences because I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and it’s not worth the effort to retrain myself.  Even if typographers groan every time they open one of my missives.

Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

As Manjoo explains, there are still teachers out there infecting students’ minds with the idea that they should put two spaces after a period. Why? Because that’s the way they learned. And I did too, when I took a typing class in 1985. But now we have computers, and fonts that use proportional spacing, which makes two spaces after a period look wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

We’re never going to maintain our global dominance if people keep doing this. You think that 10-year-old kid in Shanghai is being taught to put two spaces after a period? No way.

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“The Celebration Of Lifelong Heterosexual Monogamy As A Unique And Indispensable Estate”

Ross Douthat at NYT:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Again, this is not how many cultures approach marriage. It’s a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish and Christian beliefs about the order of creation, and supplemented by later ideas about romantic love, the rights of children, and the equality of the sexes.

Or at least, it was the Western understanding. Lately, it has come to co-exist with a less idealistic, more accommodating approach, defined by no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy.

In this landscape, gay-marriage critics who fret about a slippery slope to polygamy miss the point. Americans already have a kind of postmodern polygamy available to them. It’s just spread over the course of a lifetime, rather than concentrated in a “Big Love”-style menage.

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

Rod Dreher:

I don’t think most people realize how epochal the social shift we’re living through now, with regard to the big tangled ball involving sex, sexuality,marriage, civilization and Christianity. I take it for granted now that we are going to have same-sex marriage in this country, because the elites are all for it, young adults are all for it, and their support of it makes sense for the reasons of “postmodern polygamy” Ross identifies. But few people seem to have thought through the deeper ramifications of this civilizational shift. Most people seem to think this is merely a matter of moving the lines a bit more to the side, to bring gay couples into a stable social framework. In fact, it’s revolutionary to the core.

Andrew Sullivan:

Look at how diverse current civil marriages are in the US. The range and diversity runs from Amish families with dozens of kids to yuppie bi-coastal childless couples on career paths; there are open marriages and arranged marriages; there is Rick Santorum and Britney Spears – between all of whom the civil law makes no distinction. The experience of gay couples therefore falls easily within the actual living definition of civil marriage as it is today, and as it has been now for decades. To exclude gays and gays alone is therefore not the upholding of an ideal (Britney Spears and Larry King are fine – but a lesbian couple who have lived together for decades are verboten) so much as making a lone exception to inclusion on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is in effect to assert not the ideal of Catholic Matrimony, but the ideal of heterosexual superiority. It creates one class of people, regardless of their actions, and renders them superior to another.

Ross’s view is increasingly, therefore, one faction of one religion’s specific definition of Matrimony out of countless arrangements that are available for cohabitation in civil society and world history. It’s a view freely breached within his own church itself. And it has already been abandoned as a civil matter in some of the most Catholic countries on earth, including Spain and Argentina. And heterosexuals-only marriage is only a microcosm of civilization if you exclude all other relationships from civilization – friendship, citizenship, family in the extended sense, families with adopted, non-biological children, etc.

And – this is my main point – Ross’ argument simply ignores the existence and dignity and lives and testimony of gay people. This is strange because the only reason this question has arisen at all is because the visibility of gay family members has become now so unmissable that it cannot be ignored. Yes, marriage equality was an idea some of us innovated. But it was not an idea plucked out of the sky. It was an attempt to adapt to an already big social change: the end of the homosexual stigma, the emergence of gay communities of great size and influence and diversity, and collapse of the closet. It came from a pressing need as a society to do something about this, rather than consign gay people to oblivion or marginalization or invisibility. More to the point, it emerged after we saw what can happen when human beings are provided no structure, no ideal, and no support for responsibility and fidelity and love.

If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life – however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people – helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic’s indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil.

What, in other words, would Ross have gay people do? What incentives would he, a social conservative, put in place to encourage gay couples and support them in their commitments and parenting and love? Notice the massive silence. He is not a homophobe as I can personally attest. But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a “microcosm of civilization”, then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand. It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma – not a contribution to the actual political and social debate we are now having.

Glenn Greenwald:

First, the mere fact that the State does not use the mandates of law to enforce Principle X does not preclude Principle X from being advocated or even prevailing.  Conversely, the fact that the State recognizes the right of an individual to choose to engage in Act Y does not mean Act Y will be accepted as equal.  There are all sorts of things secular law permits which society nonetheless condemns.  Engaging in racist speech is a fundamental right but widely scorned.  The State is constitutionally required to maintain full neutrality with regard to the relative merits of the various religious sects (and with regard to the question of religion v. non-religion), but certain religions are nonetheless widely respected while others — along with atheism — are stigmatized and marginalized.  Numerous behaviors which secular law permits — excessive drinking, adultery, cigarette smoking, inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, homosexual sex — are viewed negatively by large portions of the population.

The State’s official neutrality on the question of marriage does not even theoretically restrict Douthat’s freedom — or that of his ideological and religious comrades — to convince others of the superiority of heterosexual monogamy.  They’re every bit as free today as they were last week to herald all the “unique fruit” which such relationships can alone generate, in order to persuade others to follow that course.  They just can’t have the State take their side by officially embracing that view or using the force of law to compel it.

But if the arguments for the objective superiority of heterosexual monogamy are as apparent and compelling as Douthat seems to think, they ought not need the secular thumb pressing on the scale in favor of their view.  Individuals on their own will come to see the rightness of Douthat’s views on such matters — or will be persuaded by the religious institutions and societal mores which teach the same thing — and, attracted by its “distinctive and remarkable” virtues, will opt for a life of heterosexual monogamy.  Why does Douthat need the State — secular law — to help him in this cause?

Second, Douthat is quite confused about what Judge Walker actually ruled.  He did not decree that there are no legitimate moral, theological or spiritual grounds for viewing heterosexual marriage as superior.  That’s not what courts do.  Courts don’t rule on moral, theological or spiritual questions.  Such matters are the exclusive province of religious institutions, philosophers, communities, parents and individuals’ consciences, but not of the State.  That’s the crux of this judicial decision.

Thus, one can emphatically embrace every syllable of Judge Walker’s ruling while simultaneously insisting on the moral or spiritual superiority of heterosexual marriage.  There would be nothing inconsistent about that.  That’s because Judge Walker’s ruling is exclusively about the principles of secular law — the Constitution — and the legitimate role of the State.  That legitimate role ends where the exclusively moral and religious sphere begins.  That’s why we call it “secular law.”  Judge Walker’s ruling concerns exclusively secular questions and does not even purport to comment upon, let alone resolve, the moral and theological questions which Douthat frets can no longer be “entertained” in a society that affords legal equality to marriage.

The court ruled opposite-sex-marriage-only laws unconstitutional not because it concluded that heterosexual and homosexual marriages are morally equal, but rather, because it’s not the place of the State (or of courts) to make such moral determinations.  Moral and theological debates are to be resolved in the private square — through the kinds of discussions Douthat claims he wants to have — not by recruiting the State to officially sanction one moral view or the other by using law to restrict moral choices.  Judge Walker, citing decades of clear precedent on that question, made as clear as can be that the issue Douthat seems to think was resolved by his ruling — namely, whether heterosexual marriages are morally or spiritually superior — is the exact issue he refused to adjudicate, precisely because those are the issues that courts have no business addressing and the State has no business legislating

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Now, I gather that Greenwald is a pretty radical civil libertarian (of the hard leftist variety, of course), but we aren’t talking about his preferences. When he writes that racist speech is a fundamental right that is (and should be) widely scorned, I’m with him. But is it really treated as a fundamental right? What about speech codes? Hate-crimes laws? Similarly, secular law does permit cigarette smoking, but lots of states regulate it and essentially ban it in all public areas. Try smoking in public in California. Try getting a job at some hospitals if you smoke.  Meanwhile, tax dollars are routinely used to stigmatize smoking and excessive drinking. And then there are the countless exhortations in public schools and elsewhere against racist speech and attitudes as well. Whatever the merits of these policies, I don’t see anything like the state neutrality Greenwald is alluding to and he would certainly be livid if the state of California (or the federal government) countenanced public-service advertisements against gay marriage or homosexual behavior (I wouldn’t like it either, for the record) or if government treated gay couples the way it treats smokers (“Do that in the privacy of your own home, but not on the job or near children!”).

Douthat responds to Greenwald:

Well, first of all, I don’t believe that having the truth on your side is any kind of guarantee of success in public debate. (Nor, I’m sure, does Greenwald, or else he would have abandoned his views on torture and executive power long ago.) This is particularly the case when the truth in question asks men and women to engage in sacrificial and frankly counter-biological behavior, in pursuit of an ideal that few societies in history have even attempted to achieve. I will return to this point again and again throughout my responses, but let me be clear: The marriage ideal that I’m defending would be in equally serious difficulties in contemporary America if homosexuality did not exist, because what it asks of straight people is in deep tension with what straight people want to do, and with the way that the incentives of modern life often line up. This is why I’ve spent much more time writing about divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates (and pornography, for that matter) than gay marriage over the years — and I wouldn’t be writing about gay marriage today if Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision wasn’t poised to throw the issue before the Supreme Court, where it might be settled legally once and for all.

Second, I think that most of Greenwald’s examples of cultural norms that aren’t legally enforced actually tend to back up my belief that law and culture are inextricably bound up, rather than his case that they needn’t be. A stigma on racism, for instance, would hopefully exist even in a libertarian paradise, but it draws a great deal of its potency from the fact the American government has spent the last 40 years actively campaigning against racist conduct and racist thought, using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright. The state forbids people from discriminating based on race in their private business dealings. It forbids them from instituting policies that have a “disparate impact” on racial minorities. It allows and encourage reverse discrimination in various settings, the better to remedy racism’s earlier effects. It promulgates public school curricula that paint racism as the original sin of the United States. It has even created a special legal category that punishes crimes committed with racist intentions more severely than identical crimes committed with non-racial motivations. In these and other arenas, there isn’t a bright line between the legal campaign against racism and the cultural stigma attached to racist beliefs; indeed, there isn’t a line at all.

Or take alcohol and cigarettes. Why are Marlboros more stigmatized than Budweisers in contemporary America? Well, in part, it’s because there’s been a government-sponsored war on tobacco for the last few decades, carried out through lawsuits and public health campaigns and smoking bans and so forth, that’s far eclipsed the more halting efforts to stigmatize alcohol consumption. Here again, public policy, rather than some deep empirical or philosophical truth about the relative harm of nicotine versus alcohol, has been a crucial factor in shaping cultural norms.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at The American Scene:

In his column, Ross puts forward the most eloquent defense I’ve seen of “lifelong heterosexual monogamy” as an institution that should be afforded special status by a society’s laws.

Unfortunately, responses to Ross’s column have been predictably dire. Supporters of gay marriage are increasingly candid about their belief that there can be no legitimate, non-bigoted argument against gay marriage, a view which I believe to be false and says more about a certain kind of narrow-mindedness than about anything else. (At this point I should probably produce my non-troglodyte Ausweis and state that I am in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.) Most responses make a spectacle of the author’s incapacity to consider viewpoints that do not fit neatly into her own biases.

Two interesting responses to Ross that stand out from this sorry lot have been from Hanna Rosin and Andrew Sullivan, two writers whose work I admire.

I’ll start with Andrew Sullivan. Reading Mr Sullivan is often frustrating to me because of what I take to be a reflexive tendency to cast anathema upon ideological opponents with inflamatory language (I don’t find it correct or useful, for example, to describe the Catholic Church’s stance on women in the priesthood as “un-Christian”).

Yet Mr Sullivan put forward what I think is the best response to the column, largely even-handed, generous, and very touching. His post is very much worth reading. If Ross puts forward the best argument on one side, clearly Mr Sullivan puts forward the best response. Even though at times Mr Sullivan comes close to reaching for the flamethrower (I don’t believe, as he seems at one point to imply, that Ross is “indifferen[t]” to gay victims of the AIDS epidemic; and I don’t know what it means to say that the Church is in a “High Ratzinger phase”), he is very generous and lucid.

He (and one would not think it should be noted, but given the other responses it must) actually understands Ross’s argument and gives what I think are the two best responses. That while the ideal Ross extols might be wonderful as a religious or even a moral ideal, it does not necessarily follow that the law should promote it at the exclusion of everything else. And that even if that were true, the fact of countless homosexual unions exists, unions that are worth something, and that denying them the legal protections of marriage is a very heavy, to the point of being inhumane, price to pay for a theoretical protection of another kind of ideal.

But really I don’t do it justice. I basically agree with Mr Sullivan, and felt more attention should be given to a great piece of writing.

“Hanna Rosin’s take”!http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/marriage-was-awesomein-17th-century is also worth reading, considerate and rooted in the teachings of history as it is, although she fails to actually grapple with Ross’s argument in certain key respects.

Where Ms Rosin fails is that, after acknowledging that Ross’s argument is substantially different from the regular litany of gay marriage opponents, she still takes it as a nostalgia argument. Ross wants to “go back” to an era where marriage was defined a certain way. She asserts that the kind of marriage that Ross defends never actually existed, or only existed at the cost of “love or choice.” I actually think that’s highly debatable, but I also think it’s beside the point. Her assertions that “[t]here is no barbaric Orientalist marriage which contrasts with a pure, Western one” and that “[m]arriage in the Bible was almost always polygamous” are correct but also irrelevant, because Ross never claimed any of that.

Just as Ross is a very effective critic of the sexual revolution because he recognizes that it has had many positive repercussions, his critique of gay marriage is worth taking seriously precisely because it doesn’t harken back to some mythical era which he starts out by acknowledging never existed.

If Ross wants to “go back” to anything, it’s not so much an era as ideas — ideas that have been with us for a very long time, even if they were all too rarely practiced.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

I can’t speak to the Catholic view of marriage, but I will say this: My parents met in the 1950s when they were teenagers in a small town in upstate New York. They married in their early 20s, and went on to raise two kids. In many ways they are the embodiment of Douthat’s religiously inspired ideal of heterosexual marriage. Except that for about the first five years or so of their relationship, it would have been illegal in many parts of this country for them to get married, because my father is white and my mother is black. My parents’ relationship was startlingly apolitical given the era — they told me they weren’t even aware of Loving v. Virginia at the time despite being married only two years later.

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay and not be able to marry one’s partner, but knowing that my parents, who are more in love with each other than any two people I’ve ever known, could have been legally prevented from getting married within their lifetime because they are not the same race has always framed the issue of marriage equality for me. It’s heartbreaking for me to think of my parents not being able to be married for no other reason than because of entrenched cultural taboos against miscegenation, because their kind of love is so rare that denying it implicates the state in an indefensible act of cruelty. Reducing marriage to a matter of procreation seems ridiculous to me because I don’t consider myself or my brother the most meaningful product of my parents’ marriage; it’s the fact that more than 40 years into it, my mother and father are still each other’s best friend. I’m not in awe of me, I’m in awe of that.

I can’t help but reflect on my own parents when I think about how many people are denied that experience simply because they happen to share the same gender. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could see that as any kind of justice.

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

These are the words of a defeated man. And they may reflect what’s currently going on in the conservative elite. If you’re a part of that elite, by now you’ve probably had plenty of exposure to gay people — at college, in the course of your work, and in the place where you live. So you probably find the kind of naked bigotry still expressed by some in the religious right to be repellent. The rhetorical shift of recent years — in which conservatives take pains to stress that they aren’t denying gay people’s humanity or rights, just trying to defend tradition — is something you genuinely believe. But that leaves you with the sentiment reflected in Douthat’s column, which is this: Yes, gay unions are meaningful and worthy of respect. But straight unions are really, really awesome. The problem is that marriage-equality opponents can’t define what gets taken away from the straight couple when the gay couple gets married, so they have nowhere to fall back to except vague encomiums to marriage between a man and a woman. Which is all very heartwarming, but it still doesn’t tell you why same-sex marriage should be illegal. And I’m pretty sure Douthat and other people making this argument know it.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The reason I always make fun of low-level Times semi-conservo-wonk Ross Douthat being unwilling to publicly explain his opposition to gay marriage is that he said it was too personal, essentially. (I know: quite unlike being singled out by society your entire life for being gay—though I guess some people take that personally too? Anyway, that’s why they call it privilege, Ross! Privilege literally means you don’t have to deal with such things.) So good news! He has laid it out, and I really encourage everyone to sit down and read it slowly. I found it an amazing experience. I won’t spoil the actually stunning conclusion—I was actually stunned! I had to sit down for a few minutes to gather myself!—but, in short, he apparently believes that gay marriage is some seven-week-old fetus that needs to be thrown out along with the bathwater of the society that straight people have so thoroughly fouled. After that, you can read the incredibly well-reasoned comments that were allowed on the Times site before they were shut down (hmm!) and then Glenn Greenwald picking apart a few points nicely—but in an incredible way, Douthat is literally unaddressable. Douthat really does want people to be happy, I think. But this all reads like he’s never met a person before, so how would he know?

UPDATE: Noah Millman at The American Scene

More Douthat

And even more Douthat

Ezra Klein

UPDATE #2: Douthat responds to Sullivan

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place responds

2 Comments

Filed under Families, Gay Marriage, Mainstream, New Media

The Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani Case

Joshua Jamison:

Iran loves to kill its own people.  The country, second only to China (population being a factor), executed 388 people last year – most were hanged.  Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, has already received 99 lashes from a whip, five years in prison, and is allegedly scheduled for stoning as early as this weekend.

Ashtiani’s son has pleaded with authorities to spare his mother’s life on the grounds that there’s no evidence.  Ashtiani’s judge sited “judges knowledge” as an explanation for the sentence-a rule allowing judges to sentence without evidence.  As a last resort Ashtiani’s son reached out to the international community, in the hopes that his mother’s life will be spared.  Explain again how Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution will coexist here in America?  Newsweek has the full story:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, convicted of adultery in Iran, may be stoned to death unless a last-minute campaign saves her.

Human-rights campaigners say that Ashtiani, who says she was under duress when she confessed to adultery, could be buried up to her breasts and stoned to death as soon as this weekend.

Ashtiani has been in prison since May 2006, when she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 99 lashes. Later that year she was accused of murdering her husband. Those charges were dropped, but an inquiry into the adultery charge was reopened. She was, according to The Guardian, sentenced to death under a rule that allows judges to cite “judge’s knowledge” and convict without evidence.

Ashtiani, represented by prominent human-rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, has failed in her appeals. AOL reports that a panel may convene as soon as Saturday to decide her fate. According to Amnesty International, the Iranian penal code specifies that “stones are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately.”

God Bless this poor woman, and may her life be spared.  Sharia law is nothing more than cowardly Muslim men committing horrific crimes against women, and doing so in the name of religion, law or whatever-the United States needs to reject this pathetic ‘excuse’ for a ‘set-of-laws’ and ban it forever.

Nicki Kurokawa at The Washington Examiner:

For the past several days, CNN has been documenting the case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani in Iran, who has been condemned to death by stoning. Fortunately, her case has caught the attention of the international human rights community – offering some hope that the sentence will not be carried out (although, to be fair, with Iran having executed 126 people this year already, there’s certainly no guarantee.)

Despite condemnation from countries around the world, stoning is still extremely widespread; Women News Network recently posted on Twitter (follow them at @womenadvocates) that the practice still exists in Nigeria, India, Nepal, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Even the United Nations has condemned stoning – although they did recently consider Iran for a slot on their Human Rights Council, and gave them a slot on the Commission on the Status of Women – so let’s be honest, they don’t have a lot of gravitas on this issue.

However Ashtiani’s case is settled, it is important that the international community remain vigilant about both the cruel and unusual nature of the punishment and the uneven way that this “justice” is doled out.  Women in particular are singled out for this barbaric punishment – which should be of concern to feminists around the world (of all stripes). According to a (very informative) 2008 Amnesty International report:

“Women suffer a disproportionate impact of the punishment of death by stoning in Iran.

  • One reason is that they are not treated equally before the law and courts, in clear violation of international fair trial standards. …
  • Women are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because they are more likely than men to be illiterate and therefore more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit. In addition, women from ethnic minorities are less likely to be able to speak Persian – the official language of the court – so they often do not understand what is happening to them in the legal process or even that they face death by stoning. …
  • Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more susceptible to conviction for adultery. …
  • Women face strict controls on their behaviour that are imposed and policed by the state, controls that are discriminatory and restrict their right to freedom of expression and movement. …
  • Poverty, drug addiction and domestic violence also play a part in making women more vulnerable to stoning than men. …
  • Finally, the very procedure specified for carrying out executions discriminates against women. Article 102 of the Penal Code states that, during stoning, the man shall be buried in a ditch up to near his waist and the woman up to near her chest. Article 103 states that if the condemned person manages to escape from the pit, they will not be stoned again if they had been sentenced after confession, but clearly it would be harder for a woman to escape than a man, since she would have been buried more deeply.

Many of the countries that still practice stoning are eager for the prosperity (and foreign aid) that accompanies expanded relations with the world; as such, they are particularly sensitive to any international outcry that may jeopardize their standing. The Obama Administration’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world offer an excellent opportunity for the United States to remind these nations of the priority that we as a country place on human rights – and how seriously we take violations.

Reza Aslan at Daily Beast:

News that Iran has suspended the stoning of a 43-year-old mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, for the crime of adultery certainly came as a relief. But the case has once again focused international attention on a barbaric and draconian form of punishment that, in some Muslim states, has become an effective and horrific tool of misogyny.

Stoning is a brutally precise punishment with a host of specific procedures and regulations. The convicted person is wrapped in a shroud, placed into a pit, and buried either to the waist if a man or the chest if a woman. If the adultery was proven in court by confession, the judge has the responsibility of throwing the first stone. But if the case was proven through witnesses, they start first, followed by the judge, and then by any others who are present, the number of which cannot be less than three. The stones are then hurled one by one until the accused is killed. And if the person manages to wriggle out of the pit, she or he is set free (which explains why these pits are so often little more than loosely packed holes in the ground).

The Iranian Penal Code is chillingly explicit regarding the proper stones to use. Section 119 states: “The stones for stoning to death shall not be so big that one or two of them shall kill the convict, nor shall they be so small that they may not be called ‘stones.’”

Islamic law considers adultery, or zina, to be one of six Quran-mandated offenses whose punishment is prescribed by God (the other five are false accusations of adultery, theft, robbery with violence, apostasy, and drunkenness). These are essentially a random collection of crimes whose only connection is that their punishment is mentioned somewhere in the Quran. Consequently, these “crimes” receive special treatment in Islamic law.

But the punishment for adultery in the Quran is lashes, not stoning. In fact, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is stoning prescribed for any crime—though this is a point of endless debate for legal and religious scholars.

Although zina literally means adultery, in practice it refers to any unlawful sexual act, whether adultery (illicit sex between married persons), fornication (sex between unmarried persons), sodomy, rape, or incest. However, even the simplest definition of zina can become hopelessly entangled in the complexities of Muslim sexual ethics. For instance, some legal scholars suggest that zina should not be applied in instances in which a married person is unable to enjoy his or her spouse due to legally acceptable conditions, such as prolonged travel or life imprisonment. Then there is the problematic relationship between adultery and rape in some Islamic penal codes. Rape victims can themselves be charged with adultery if they are unable to definitively prove sexual coercion. Indeed, there have been some cases in which the victims of rape, rather than the rapists, are convicted of zina and stoned to death for adultery.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

But the worst joke of all is the United Nations. Here is a headline from April: U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights.

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women….

Just days after Iran abandoned a high-profile bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, it began a covert campaign to claim a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” according to its website.

Buried 2,000 words deep in a U.N. press release distributed Wednesday on the filling of “vacancies in subsidiary bodies,” was the stark announcement: Iran, along with representatives from 10 other nations, was “elected by acclamation,” meaning that no open vote was requested or required by any member states — including the United States.

Fast-forward three months, to today’s headline: Iran human rights chief defends stoning sentence.

Andy McCarthy at NRO:

I wonder if Elena Kagan knows about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Ms. Ashtiani is about to be stoned. That’s where they bury you up to your chest and hurl rocks at you until you die. The rocks can’t be too big. You see, this is real torture, religion-of-peace torture. It’s the kind that happens every day but that Democrats prefer not to talk about. With stoning (or “lapidation” as the press gently call it on those rare occasions when it is mentioned at all), the ordeal must not end too quickly. Otherwise, it might not make the right impression, as it were, on the victim — the sinner — and the community at large.

Had the solicitor general heard about Ms. Ashtiani’s plight, one imagines, she’d have told her to get herself to the nearest courthouse and seek the protection of the law. Alas, it is pursuant to the law that this barbarity will take place. The stoning of this 43-year-old mother of two has been ordered by a court in her native Iran, where the only legal code is Allah’s law, sharia. It is the Islamic sentence for adultery, the crime to which Ashtiani confessed after serial beatings by her interrogators.

During her a stint at the Clinton White House, we now know, Ms. Kagan struck the pose of a champion of women’s rights — at least if you weren’t an unborn girl. So fierce was her devotion to the cause of “reproductive freedom” that she subverted science in the service of abortion on demand — specifically, to preserve the partial-birth abortion procedure, which exceeds even stoning in its ghastliness. She then went on to Harvard Law School where, as dean, she became the champion of sharia.

Not of stoning and other grotesque penalties, of course — nothing so obviously offensive. To hear progressives tell it, we can do nice, clean, friendly sharia, just like we do nice, clean, friendly Islam. “Lapidations,” they will tell you, are no different from jihadist suicide bombings: outmoded vestiges of a long-forgotten time. Except they’re not. They are undeniably rooted inIslamic scripture, and they are happening today, with frequency, wherever sharia reigns. That is because the “moderate Islam” progressives like to banter about is a mirage in search of a cogent set of principles. There is no moderate Islam that can compete with the mainstream, sharia Islam. Thus the crimes and punishments, in all their ghoulishness, endure.

Paul Waldman at Tapped on McCarthy:

You may have heard of the heartbreaking and outrageous case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who has been convicted of adultery (which she denies) and sentenced to death by stoning. We might want to note, as we rightly condemn this kind of brutality, that the Old Testament mandates death by stoning for a large number of crimes, including worshiping other gods, not being a virgin on your wedding night (just for the ladies, of course), disobeying your parents, failing to keep the Sabbath, and — you guessed it — adultery. Just something to keep in mind next time you run into someone who says the Bible is the inerrant word of God and the foundation on which the American system was built.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Predictably, this case has been seized on by some conservatives to argue that liberals are on the wrong side of our war on Islam. What, you didn’t know that liberals support harsh punishments for people accused of transgressing sexual norms? Then you’re just not thinking creatively enough. Take a cue from National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy, who manages (as Adam mentioned yesterday) to argue that Elena Kagan is for all intents and purposes a supporter of this kind of vicious punishment. (Follow the logic: When Kagan was at the Harvard Law School, the university — not the law school, but the university — accepted a large donation from a Saudi prince to establish an Islamic Studies center. Therefore, Kagan is OK with the imposition of Sharia law in the United States, and therefore soft on stoning, like all Democrats. Makes perfect sense, no?) But I have to highlight this passage from McCarthy’s piece:

Ms. Ashtiani is about to be stoned. That’s where they bury you up to your chest and hurl rocks at you until you die. The rocks can’t be too big. You see, this is real torture, religion-of-peace torture. It’s the kind that happens every day but that Democrats prefer not to talk about. With stoning (or “lapidation” as the press gently call it on those rare occasions when it is mentioned at all), the ordeal must not end too quickly.

That’s a very interesting claim: The liberal media, loath to say anything that might reflect poorly on fundamentalist Islam, almost never mention stoning, and when they do, call it “lapidation.” I found that rather striking, since I had never even heard the term “lapidation.” But it couldn’t be that McCarthy is just making this up, based on his general presumption that everything the media does is bad, since they’re a bunch of liberals — could it? Fortunately, this isn’t a statement of opinion but an empirical claim, and one we can test using an obscure instrument called Lexis/Nexis.

As a first try, we’ll go with the U.S. Newspapers and Wires database. And let’s use the last five years, shall we? All right: The number of mentions of the word “stoning” in the last five years in that database was 2,558. That seems like quite a few, but if McCarthy is right, there ought to be at least five or 10 times as many mentions of “lapidation,” right?

The number of mentions of “lapidation” in the last five years was … three. So for every mention of “lapidation,” there were 852 mentions of “stoning.” Incidentally, one of those “lapidations” did come in that most hated liberal media outlet, The New York Times (it was in a book review, but still). How many times in the last five years has the Times mentioned “stoning”? It came up in 120 Times articles.

But wait — maybe it’s on television where McCarthy has seen the liberal media so often refer to stoning as lapidation, in order to make it seem less barbaric. Let’s search the Transcripts database. And the the results are: “stoning,” 2043 mentions; “lapidation,” 0 mentions. Zero.

The Hollywood Gossip:

We put nothing past Lindsay Lohan. Nothing.

That said, she did not overtly compare her legal plight to that of an Iranian woman being tragically stoned in her latest Twitter rant. But you still have to wonder.

Maybe she’s just so moved by Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who may be stoned to death for adultery, that she linked to Newsweek article to draw attention to it.

Or she’s trying to subtly draw a ridiculous parallel to herself, having been sentenced to 90 days in jail Tuesday for repeatedly, brazenly violating her probation.

Come on. Has Lindsay ever cared about anything besides herself? We’re talking about a spoiled brat who walks into court with the words “f–k u” on her nails.

Voice Of America:

A judicial official in Iran says a woman’s sentence of death by stoning is not being carried out “for the time being.”

Iran’s state-run news agency attributes the statement to the head of the Justice Department in East Azerbaijan province, Malek Azhdar Sharifi. He told the news agency that while the guilty verdict is definitive, its application has been halted by Iran’s judiciary chief due to humane considerations.

However, the provincial official said the death sentence will be carried out whenever the judiciary chief deems it expedient, regardless of what he termed Western media propaganda.

Many Western nations and human rights activists have urged Iran not to stone the woman to death.

UPDATE: BBC

2 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Middle East

The Green Depends On Whether You’re Red Or Blue, Part II

Veronique De Rugy at The Corner:

Using recipient report data from Recovery.gov, as well as economic and political data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, GovTrack.us, and others, I have compiled a series of facts about stimulus spending. The complete dataset used for this report is available for download at Mercatus.org — it covers the fourth quarter of the calendar-year 2009 Recovery Act contracts and grants only — but here are the main facts.

First: The idea behind the $787 billion stimulus bill is that, if the government spends money where it is the most needed, it will create jobs and trigger economic growth. Hence, we should expect the government to invest more money in districts with higher unemployment rates.

Controlling for the percentage of the district employed in the construction industry, a proxy for the vulnerability to recession of a district, I find no statistical correlation for all relevant unemployment indicators and the allocation of funds. This suggests that unemployment is not the factor leading the awards. Also, I found no correlation between other economic indicators, such as income, and stimulus funding.

Second: On average, Democratic districts received one-and-a-half times as many awards as Republican ones. Democratic districts also received two-and-a-half times more stimulus dollars than Republican districts ($122,127,186,509 vs. $46,139,592,268). Republican districts also received smaller awards on average. (The average dollars awarded per Republican district is $260,675,663, while the average dollars awarded per Democratic district is $471,533,539.)

Of course, there are more Democratic districts than Republican districts in the Congress. So I checked for the correlation between political indicators and stimulus funding. I found that with the exception of the district’s party affiliation (whether the district’s representation was Republican or Democratic), political variables had no effect on stimulus funds allocation.

So how much did party affiliation matter? Well, while the effect was significant, because of the specifications of the model more confidence should be placed in the relationship between the two variables than on the quantification of that relationship. In other words, while we know that whether the district is represented by R or D mattered for funding, I can’t tell you how much this factor mattered compare to other factors.

Third: In this second quarter for which Recovery.gov reports are available, over 65,000 contracts and grants were awarded. The total spending topped $170 billion.

Fourth: The total number of jobs claimed as created or saved overall by the stimulus actually declined from last quarter, shrinking from about 634,000 to a little over 597,000.

This job shrinkage could be the result from changes made by the White House to its method for counting jobs. However, I doubt it. The new job count considers that every job paid for with stimulus dollars is a job created. This logic applies to pay raises.

Five: I found that an average cost of $286,000 was awarded per job created, a 16.3 percent increase over the previous period.

More de Rugy at Big Government:

I received many emails on Friday and this weekend about the data published here showing that on average Democratic districts are getting almost twice the amount of stimulus money than Republican districts. Republican districts also received smaller awards on average. The average dollars awarded per Republican district is $260,675,663, while the average dollars awarded per Democratic district is $471,533,539.

Several readers asked if the difference could be explained by the fact that Democratic districts have many more people than Republican districts have. So I looked at the numbers and here is the result. It’s not.

stimuluspending

Republican districts get $362 per capita on average

Democratic districts get $692 per capita on average

Also, on average, Democratic districts received one-and-a-half times as many awards as Republican ones. Democratic districts also received two-and-a-half times more stimulus dollars than Republican districts ($122 million vs. $46 million). Of course, there are more Democratic districts than Republican districts in the Congress.

Is the politics part of the allocation decision?

Well I checked for the correlation between political indicators and stimulus funding. I found that there are no effect of political variables (leadership, tenure in office …) on stimulus funds allocation with one exception: the district’s party affiliation (whether the district’s representation was Republican or Democratic) does matter.

So how much does party affiliation mattered? While the effect is significant, because of the specifications of the model, more confidence should be placed on the relationship between the two variables then on the quantification of that relationship. In other words, while I am confident that whether the district is represented by R or D matters for funding, I just can’t tell you how much this factor matters compared to the other factors that went into the allocation decision.

Allah Pundit:

Not only that, but the number of jobs “created or saved” has actually declined in the last quarter, leaving the amount of money spent per job at a cool … $286,000. As for the accusation of political favoritism, I’ll defer to de Rugy since she’s the economist, but I actually never understood the stimulus to be targeted specifically at districts where unemployment was highest. My understanding was that, yeah, the money would be spread around the country, but that the intended effect was systemic: Money directed to district X would stimulate its economy, which would in theory increase demand for goods or services produced locally or in far-flung district Y, just as an injection in the arm can be aimed at curing a problem in some other part of your body via circulation. But even assuming she’s right, is it safe to draw an inference of favoritism? Here’s what USA Today reported in July 2009, shortly after our Keynesian experiment got up and running:

Counties that supported Obama last year have reaped twice as much money per person from the administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package as those that voted for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, a USA TODAY analysis of government disclosure and accounting records shows. That money includes aid to repair military bases, improve public housing and help students pay for college…

Investigators who track the stimulus are skeptical that political considerations could be at work. The imbalance is so pronounced — and the aid so far from complete — that it would be almost inconceivable for it to be the result of political tinkering, says Adam Hughes, the director of federal fiscal policy for the non-profit OMB Watch. “Even if they wanted to, I don’t think the administration has enough people in place yet to actually do that,” he says…

The imbalance didn’t start with the stimulus. From 2005 through 2007, the counties that later voted for Obama collected about 50% more government aid than those that supported McCain, according to spending reports from the U.S. Census Bureau. USA TODAY’s review did not include Alaska, which does not report its election results by county.

The report concluded that the money was doled out “guided by formulas that have been in place for decades and leave little room for manipulation.” Sure would be nice to see a follow-up piece springboarding off of de Rugy’s work now that we have another nine months of data in the bank. I’m sure everything’s kosher: Surely a president who showed such fierce resistance to special interests during the ObamaCare process wouldn’t let political considerations affect his stimulus awards.

Rick Moran:

De Rugy rightly points out that she can’t account entirely for the statistical relevance of party affiliation but that the data strongly suggests a political element in the granting of stim, money contracts.

I’d love to see a study on a comparison between the economic health of areas that received stim money and those that didn’t. I’ll bet that kind of analysis would show no difference between those who got the pork and those who didn’t.

Nate Silver:

The study, by Veronique de Rugy of George Mason University and the National Review, claims that congressional districts which elected a Democrat to the Congress received a larger amount of stimulus finds by a margin which is statistically significant even after controlling for certain other effects like the unemployment rate. However, the study does not control for at least one other variable that is overwhelmingly important in determining the dispensation of stimulus funds.

The variable in question is in fact pretty obvious if you simply look at the districts that have received the largest amount of stimulus money, according to de Rugy’s dataset.

The district that received the largest amount of stimulus funding in the 4th Quarter of 2009, according to de Rugy’s tally, is California’s 5th Congressional District. Is there anything notable about the 5th Congressional? Well, it is home to the state capital, Sacramento. Let’s keep that in mind.

Next on the list is New York’s 21st Congressional District. The largest city in the 21st is the state capital of New York, Albany.

Third is the 21st Congressional District of Texas. It contains parts of Texas’ state capital, the wonderful city of Austin. (Another district that contains parts of Austin — the 25th — ranks 14th on de Rugy’s list.)

At this point, it ought to be pretty obvious what is going on. The three districts receiving the largest amount of stimulus funds are home to the capitals of the three largest states — New York, California, and Texas. Let’s pause for a moment and make a bold prediction. I’ll bet you that the district that ranks 4th on the list will contain the capital of the 4th largest state, Florida.

Bingo. Up 4th on the list is Florida’s 2nd Congressional, home to Tallahassee.

Fifth is Pennsylvania’s 17th, which hosts the state capital, Harrisburg.

The sixth through tenth districts contain the capital cities of other large states: Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. They are followed by districts that include the state capitals of Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia — then another part of Austin, Texas — then Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Finally, in 19th place is South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which does not host a state capital. (Ironically, it has elected a Republican — J. Gresham Barrett — to the Congress).

This, of course, makes perfect sense. A lot of stimulus funds are distributed to state agencies, which are then responsible for allocating and administering the funds to the presumed benefit of citizens throughout the state. These state agencies, of course, are usually located in or near the state capital.

[…]

That de Rugy has testified before Congress on the basis of her evidence, and never paused to consider why the top five congressional districts on her list overlap with Sacramento, Albany, Austin, Tallahassee and Harrisburg, is mind-boggling. The presence of a state capital is the overwhelmingly dominant factor it predicting the dispensation of stimulus funds. This could have been discerned in literally five minutes if she had bothered to look at the apparent outliers in her dataset and considered whether they had anything in common — a practice that should be among the first things that any researcher does when evaluating any dataset.

de Rugy responds to Silver:

Nate Silver, the respected blogger at 538.com, has taken issue with my study of how stimulus funds have been disbursed. This is a good thing, because we really need to have more discussions to determine where the stimulus dollars are going and why they might be headed in particular directions. In fact, this is the reason why all my data is up at the Mercatus Center website for everyone to see and discuss. This is also why I have detailed my methodology in the paper. This report is part of a series that will come out every quarter as more data becomes available, and it is a work in process.

Mr. Silver characterizes the findings in my study by saying, “My bet is that this is all a bunch of noise resulting from an incomplete — and possibly deliberately biased — research design.”

However, there is more to my analysis than Mr. Silver’s post suggests.

1) I agree with Mr. Silver that checking for urban/rural populations and race may be a good idea, and I’d like to re-run the regressions per his specifications. I will gladly give him the Stata printouts when I am done.

2) I will also check for state capitals. While is no doubt that since the reporting only includes primary and sub recipients, it might be the case that money is being disbursed from the capitals. However, after skimming government documents about how the money is allocated there is no clear evidence that this is the case. I will look into it with Mr. Silver’s comments in mind.

I worked within the confines of $18 million Recovery.gov website, a website that we were promised would allow us to track the money to the last cent. Obviously, that is not the case. The money trail ends at the level reported, and from the website one cannot tell where the money went next.

As for this point alone being evidence of a lack of political bias, I would like to quote Mr. Silver’s own words: “By the way — if you throw out the districts that are home to state capitals, those which elected Democratic members to Congress still rank higher, receiving 31 percent more stimulus funds, on average, than those which elected Republicans. So, perhaps there is hope for her analysis yet.”

So even after I use his methodology I will find that Democratic districts, other than state capital ones, are getting 30 percent more than Republican ones. That does seem like a possible political bias to me, which would be worth looking into.

How much of a bias? I don’t know. Let’s not forget that my take on the data has always been the following: The regression analysis shows that district’s party representation matters. However, I cannot say how much it matters compared to other factors (such as the formula used by different agencies). I said it loud and clear each time I presented my findings. Indeed, I explained it in plain language to Chairman Oberstar last Friday when I testified before his committee.

If it is not possible to nail down the precise amount that party affiliation matters, does anyone truly want to argue that there are no political factors influencing this stimulus or stimuli in the past (whether put into place by Republicans or Democrats)? There is a lot of literature in economic-history journals on similar patterns in New Deal spending, and it consistently shows that New Deal spending correlated rather strongly and negatively with the margin of votes in the previous election. Areas where Roosevelt won by a little got more New Deal bucks than ones where he won by a lot. (I was directed to one article in particular by a reader this morning, and it is worth looking into: Price V. Fishback, Shawn Kantor, and John Joseph Wallis’s “Can the New Deal’s Three Rs Be Rehabilitated?: A program-by-program, county-by-county analysis.” Explorations in Economic History 40 (2003), pp. 278-307.)

I am confident that a similar pattern can be found with President Bush’s stimuli, which, by the way, I was publicly and consistently against.

Silver responds:

Veronique de Rugy has issued a fairly gracious response to my critique of her study on the disbursement of stimulus funds, the crux of which was that she had failed to account for a variable (the presence of a state capital) that was extremely important in predicting the allocation of stimulus funds (because much of the money is intermediated by state governments).

Most importantly, she has promised to evaluate some of my concerns and to re-run her analysis. This is terrific — and she is to be commended for her responsiveness. de Rugy is also to be commended for having released portions of her dataset** on the Mercauts Center website (something which she had done originally). Nevertheless, some further comment on her response — and the issues in research design that her study raised — is warranted:

— I share de Rugy’s disappointment with the quality of the data available at recovery.gov. Frankly, I am not sure that testing her hypothesis to a peer-reviewable level of robustness is possible given the middling quality of data and the inherent ambiguity with how particular projects must be assigned to particular congressional districts.

— de Rugy writes: “The unemployment data for the regressions has in fact been used by congressional district, not by MSA. The confusion comes from the fact that the Excel file on the website includes unemployment by MSA.” Good: that particular issue is cleared up, as well as the reason for my confusion.

— For me, personally, the notion that the allocation of stimulus funds could have reflected a broad-based and widespread effort to benefit districts represented by Democrats seems implausible — something which is well worth examining but something which should have received especially rigorous scrutiny. This is particularly so given that many of the funds were intermediated by state governments, not all of which are controlled by Democrats, as well as federal agencies that were constrained by formula rules.

There are two other variations that I find less impluasible:

I find it less impausible that the funds could have been directed toward those sorts of districts which tend to vote Democratic (e.g. as measured by PVI or by Obama vote share) — even after controlling for other demographic variabes — a possibility that de Rugy raises in her response but which was not the focus of her hypothesis. The difference is that that this could have resulted from a sort of unconscious bias in the design of the stimulus rather than a deliberate conspiracy.

I also find it less implausible that some *particular* projects could have been directed toward those districts that had a Democratic representative who was either especially influential or who a key swing vote in the House. (This is what we call pork.) However, de Rugy ran various tests on the types of Democratic districts that benefited from the stimulus and did not find any relationships with the characteristics of the Democratic members of Congress that tended to represent them.

Paul Krugman:

Wow. Read Nate Silver’s takedown of a study that’s been making the right-wing rounds, claiming that stimulus funds have been funneled to Democratic districts. It turns out that most of the districts receiving big funds are Democratic, but that’s because … most of them are districts that include state capitals (usually urban, and typically Democratic), and a lot of the aid is funneled through state governments.

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Mark Kleiman:

Nate’s analysis shows that the underlying study was ludicrously wrong, but not that it was dishonest. But the response by Veronique de Rugy of George Mason is inconsistent with any attempt to do honest work. When someone points out that the result you’ve trumpeted is actually a data artifact, the correct response is “Ooops!” not “The dataset made me do it!”

If Ward Churchill deserved to be fired for scholarly misconduct (as opposed to his obnoxious opinions) so does de Rugy. No one even vaguely competent would have made such a blunder, and no one even approximately honest would have done anything but make a forthright retraction once it had been revealed.

Of course there’s a big overlap between the wingnuts who have been trumpeting “climategate” and the wingnuts who claimed that de Rugy had found the smoking gun proving that the stimulus bill was just Democratic pork. You can count on them not to correct either of their false assertions.

Instapundit:

VERONIQUE DE RUGY: “Stimulus” money turns out to be political pork. “Republican districts get $362 per capita on average. Democratic districts get $692 per capita on average.”

UPDATE: Shockingly, Nate Silver disagrees.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

In fact, the argument that Republicans are footing the bill for lavish spending on Democratic states might be backward. Harvard’s Jeff Frankels finds that the relationship between federal spending and conservatism in the states actually flows in the opposite direction: conservative states get more government largess per buck.

He plots the relationship between federal expenditures per dollar of taxes paid on the X-axis (2005 data) against percent of Republican votes per state on the Y-axis. In other words, as you move to the right along the X-axis, states receive more federal spending per tax dollar. As you move north on the Y-axis, states get more Republican. Here’s the graph:

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

To follow up on Tim‘s discussion of Nate Silver‘s takedown of Veronique de Rugy‘s bogus study claiming to find that the stimulus has been distributed in a partisan way, this is yet more evidence that the Internet is awesome.

In the old days, a completely disingenuous argument like De Rugy’s would find its way into influential hands due to her institutional connections with establishment Republicans, get repeated a million times, and perhaps even have an impact on future debates. It would be countered only by somebody at a liberal think tank, who might write a paper showing why it was wrong, and nobody would notice. But now, the mighty Nate Silver, who has a tremendous amount of credibility built not on connections with important people but solely on merit, can quickly gut de Rugy’s argument like a trout, and people will actually notice. That’s because he has a large audience that he’s built up without any kind of institutional support. I’m guessing Rachel Maddow will do a segment on this tonight, and pretty soon de Rugy will be utterly discredited. Or we can hope, anyway.

EARLIER: The Green Depends On Whether You’re Red Or Blue

UPDATE: de Rugy responds

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason

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Filed under Economics, New Media, Political Figures, The Crisis

Mittens And The Brain

First, Karl Rove’s new book:

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Karl “The Architect” Rove came by the NR offices this afternoon to talk about his new book Courage and Consequence. The conversation spanned from Social Security reform and Medicare Part D to Iraq and the Surge — all topics on which Mr. Rove’s nimble command of even the finest-grained political and policy details helped frame in light of current political battles.

On the domestic politics surrounding the invasion of Iraq, Rove said he made a “critical mistake” in late 2003 by not squarely confronting what he saw as a calculated and coordinated effort by national Democrats to suggest that President Bush had willfully lied in making his case for war.

“I think they polled it and focus-grouped it,” Rove said, noting that, within days of one another, a half-dozen prominent Congressional Democrats had made public comments suggesting the president lied. But Rove said the campaign was intellectually inconsistent.

“You had Ted Kennedy, for one, voting against the authorization of force and then two days later going to Georgetown and saying Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” Rove said.

“If Bush was lying, so were the 60-plus Democrats who said on the floor of Congress that Saddam had WMD,” he observed.

Rove acknowledged that “we weren’t winning the war for a long time,” but said President Bush was “ahead of his commanders” by 2006, both in realizing that he needed to change course, and in expressing interest in the counterinsurgency strategy of General Petraeus.

On the decision to push the troop surge, “Bush said there are two ways for the military to break, either by over-use or by losing a war, and he said it was more dangerous to lose a war.”

Asked if the administration should have replaced Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sooner, Rove said they began to “quietly find out our other options,” but that it would have been a mistake to “pull Rumsfeld in the highly politicized environment” leading up to the 2006 midterm elections, a move that would have created messy confirmation hearings.

Rove also talked extensively about the Bush administration’s domestic-policy agenda, especially Social Security Reform and Medicare Part D.

Paul Begala at The Daily Beast:

Rove is witty and smart. He likes hunting and loves Texas. If it weren’t for lying us into a war and leading us into a depression, I might even be pals with Rove. And so I opened his book without the level of hostility most of my fellow Democrats might.

At first, he exceeded my expectations for candor as he wrote about his personal life. Your heart aches for him when you read about the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the disorientation he must have felt when an aunt and uncle casually told him he was adopted and thus the man he thought was his father was no biological relation. His account of his first wife leaving him is unflinching and admirably non-judgmental: “She then looked at me and blurted, ‘I don’t love you. I have never loved you. I never will love you.'” Ouch.

He brings the same unblinking style to the topic of his mother’s suicide: “Like her mother before her in 1974, my mother had dealt with life’s punishing blows by attempting suicide. But unlike my grandmother, Mom succeeded. I was stunned when I got the news but at some deep level I had always known she was capable of this. My mother struggled, even in placid waters, to keep a grip on life.”

Not everyone can confront their family’s failings with such frankness. But when the topic switches from the personal to the political, Rove admits no weakness or mistakes. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that the George W. Bush of Mr. Rove’s tale is strong and brave and wise and kind. He is a man—well, that’s unfair, a god, really, or at least a demigod—possessed of valor and vigor, poise and pluck, humor and humility. His description of his first meeting with the future president sounds like something out of Tiger Beat: “George W. Bush walked through the front door, exuding more charm and charisma than is allowed by law. He had on his Air National Guard jacket, jeans, and boots.” This passage works best if, while you’re reading it, you listen to Donny Osmond sing “Puppy Love.”

One wonders if the admiration was reciprocated. Doubtful. President Bush repaid Rove’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-like loyalty by bestowing a nickname on him. No, not “Bush’s Brain” as the press called him—nor something cool like “M-Kat”, Bush’s name for the ever-fashionable media man, Mark McKinnon.

Turd Blossom.

Matt Latimer at The Daily Beast:

I sat next to him while he shouted on the phone with some poor soul in Idaho over the then-unfolding Larry Craig scandal. As we landed in Nevada, he pointed out, somewhat wistfully, where he grew up. When the president and First Lady gave him a surprise farewell party, complete with red velvet cake, he surprised everyone with his visible emotion. Then, when Bush came into the airplane’s conference room to question the necessity of an upcoming political event, Rove flatly refused to hear him out. “Never give an inch,” he muttered as the president walked off.

That mantra, of course, was the secret of his remarkable success and the root of his ultimate undoing. An effective advocate when things were going his way—such as rallying support for the invasion of Iraq—he proved needlessly divisive when things went wrong. He, and Bush, suggested that conservatives who opposed his immigration proposals were xenophobes, racists, fools, or cowards, earning lasting enmity in the process. He supported big-government conservatism that alienated many in the base, some of whom joined the tea party movement. He failed to articulate a conservative vision in favor of short-term tactics and maneuvers. “They were determined to run a base mobilization, narrow margin victory,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich recently charged, “largely because they were SO uncomfortable with ideas.” The result was one election in which we lost the popular vote, another when Republicans barely defeated liberal John Kerry, and two disastrous elections in 2006 and 2008. President Bush left office with a 22 percent approval rating and the GOP, as Jed Babbin, the editor of the conservative newspaper Human Events once put it, was left “a smoking hole in the ground.” In short, Rove’s approach left the GOP about as popular as the dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the Oscars.

And yet Rove still doesn’t seem to have figured it out. He advised Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to wage last week’s losing campaign against the sitting Republican governor of Texas—wounding both officials and the Texas GOP in the process—to score points in his ongoing feud with Governor Perry. The worst-kept secret in Washington is that his associates are behind many of the anonymous Republican attacks on the current chairman of the Republican National Committee, attacks which by complete coincidence of course always seem to make Rove and his allies come out in a better light. And though he is a useful, sometimes brilliant commentator on Fox News, one hopes that he and his compatriots are not trying to run the network as they ran the White House, by urging bookers to keep disfavored people off the airwaves. One suspects Roger Ailes would not put up with that.

One day soon perhaps Rove, with his love of history, will learn the lesson of the former president he says he reveres. Ronald Reagan kept a sign on his desk that said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Reagan, at least, didn’t believe in his own greatness as much as he believed in the greatness of the ideas that he stood for.

Ed Morrissey:

Karl Rove’s long-awaited memoir of his White House career, Courage and Consequence hits the bookshelves on Tuesday. Rove has quite a rollout planned for it. He’ll have a Ustream launch at noon ET, which I’ll embed earlier in the morning. After that, Rove will join me on The Ed Morrissey Show to discuss the book, following Andrew Malcolm’s appearance, which begins at 3 pm ET.

It’s already generating some of the histrionics and nastiness we saw from the media during the Bush administration. Dana Milbank today lets his wit run, or rather crawl:

As a White House reporter during the Bush presidency, I often worried that I wasn’t getting the whole story. Now, Karl Rove has finally given it to me.

His new book, “Courage and Consequence,” promises to “pull back the curtain on my journey to the White House and my years there.” What he divulges nearly made me choke on a pretzel.

That business about President George W. Bush misleading the nation about Iraq? Didn’t happen. “Did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not,” Rove writes.

Condoning torture? Wrong! “The president never authorized torture. He did just the opposite.”

Foot-dragging on global warming? Au contraire. “He was aggressive and smart on this front.”

I’ve written dozens if not hundreds of blog posts refuting these claims, but we’ll save that for Rove on Tuesday. (Getting bad intel is not the same as lying, Democrats made the same WMD claims from 1998 forward, waterboarding as performed by the CIA is arguably not torture and Congress didn’t object to it as such at the time, and Bush reduced carbon emissions in the US more than Europe did.) Meanwhile, Hot Air readers can get a jump on sales by placing orders now!

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

I’ve just started the book today, but it’s a fascinating and substantial work. It is well written and copiously annotated; not a casually tossed-off memoir, but a book intended as a serious historical document. The chapters on Rove’s youth are touching, and his discussions of campaign strategy are candid and illuminating. I’m looking forward to asking Rove some questions I’ve wondered about for a long time, like: whose idea was it to retract the “16 words,” a decision that began the downfall of the Bush administration? Tune in on Saturday to learn the answer. In the meantime, anyone who wants to understand politics in our time should read Rove’s book.

David Weigel at The Washington Independent:

Rove’s pride and tunnel vision about his campaign tactics aren’t anything new in the Washington memoir genre. Much of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” featured the same sort of finger-pointing about her brief bid for the vice presidency. If anything, Rove takes more obvious relish in attacking the people who made his campaigns difficult — it’s mostly “the kooky left-wing blogosphere” that thinks he ran a dirty campaign against John McCain in 2000, or that only an “imbecile” could have believed the 2004 exit polls that showed a Kerry-Edwards win, and so on.

But unlike Palin — unlike most people with his portfolio — Rove was in the cockpit for much of a consequential presidency that launched two wars and dramatically expanded the size of the federal government. He writes about this the same way he writes about minor tiffs and campaign tricks. He spends a page trying to debunk the idea that Bush ever told Americans to “go shopping” after the September 11 attacks. Technically, he’s right. The closest Bush ever came to using those two precise words — the moment that most people remember as the “go shopping” moment — were his September 27, 2001 remarks at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport when he urged Americans to “get down to Disney World in Florida” and “take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” But Rove insists that the “closest he ever came” was a different speech in which Bush praised Americans for “going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball.” Even there, Rove skips past the argument made by critics — that Bush, in a unique position to demand more of Americans, gave an “all-clear” sign and moved on. In writing about Hurricane Katrina, one of his only regrets is “flying over the region in Air Force One on Wednesday, rather than landing.” In one of Rove’s few admissions, he admits that he’s “one of the people responsible for this mistake.”

“Courage and Consequence” is filled with such arguments. Pre-release excepts about Rove’s take on the Iraq War — that his biggest regret was that he should have worked harder to spin the fallout over the lack of WMD in Iraq — foreshadowed the way Rove would tackle most of the controversies of his tenure. At several points, he simply misstates facts. He impugns the character of former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who was removed from his position in New Mexico after not pursuing politicized prosecutions, by claiming that Iglesias was incompetent and gunning for electoral office. Paragraphs later, he claims that the only qualm that Democrats have with former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin — who resigned after negative attention on his own politicized appointment — is that they feared it would help Griffin’s career. Left unmentioned is the real Democratic argument, that Griffin helped the Bush-Cheney campaign challenge the voter registrations of voters in largely African-American, Democratic-leaning areas. But to Rove, the most important Republican political strategist of his generation, Democratic worries about election integrity are basically one big joke. In an unsurprising chapter about the 2000 presidential election recount — revelations are limited to the angry looks and sighs that various players gave to Rove — he refers to the Bush team in Florida as “freedom fighters whose homeland had been occupied as they grappled with a blitzkrieg of lawsuits filed by Gore’s attorneys and street protests led by Jesse Jackson.”

Very little of this should surprise observers of Rove in power or out of power, as a quotable White House aide and then as a Fox News pundit who has reliably attacked the Democrats. Rove’s disinterest in policy or consequences of policy isn’t surprising, either. (”I didn’t pretend to be Carl von Clausewitz or Henry Kissinger, but I knew the Iraq War wasn’t going well,” Rove writes of his thinking in December 2006.) The historical value of the book itself is minimal. It functions, instead, as a test of whether Rove’s combination of pique and pride will be helpful as Bush administration veterans argue that they spent eight years changing America for the better, over the cries of critics, only to watch their work be ruined by Barack Obama and his pack of elitist liberals.

Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum:

Earlier today, Karl Rove participated in an online chat session to answer questions about his new book.  Viewers were able to tweet questions for Rove to respond to.  The chat was fascinating to watch for two reasons. First, it actually gave an impression of what Karl Rove might be like as a real person, and second, because it validated how online media can be more constructive and interesting then a cable TV interviewer in an echo chamber.

The setting was not glamorous, but that may have helped the authenticity of the event. The lighting was terrible and Rove was not wearing stage make-up.

When Rove was asked what it was like to work on Fox News, he replied that “For every seven minutes that I’m on television, I have to do an hour of prep work.” Yet here he was, for an entire hour, answering questions with little prep work at all. Rove had no way to know what sort of questions he would get from the thousands of followers on Twitter.

Rove seemed fairly relaxed, and took questions on a wide range of topics, including some that were not very serious. One questioner asked Rove what reality show he would most want to be on. Rove admitted that while he was not very aware of the reality TV scene that “I would like to visit one of those ‘real wives of Orange County’ sets, to see if they are real people.” He also noted that the Sci-Fi channel was his favorite source of entertainment, but he didn’t say which shows he watched.

Although some questions were trivial, the strength of the format was that the questions were not part of a predefined topic. This allowed Rove to answer questions that may normally not get asked in the Fox News echo-chamber. When asked straight up “What has Obama done right?” Rove did not miss a beat before praising Obama’s military decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, as well the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and strengthening No Child Left Behind. Rove stated: “We ought to look for things he does right, and support him.”

It’s highly unlikely that Rove would have ever been asked this question on a cable news show. Even if he had, it’s not hard to imagine a left-leaning site (such as the Huffington Post or Media Matters) grabbing the clip, embedding it, and then placing it under the headline (naturally, in all-caps): “WATCH: ROVE PRAISES OBAMA!” This would have left out how Rove then went on to attack Obama’s healthcare plan. When Rove is just chatting with followers on Twitter, there is less attention on him, and he was probably freed up to give more honest answers.

More Morrissey

Kathryn Jean Lopez’s interview with Rove

Spencer Ackerman:

Check this insane idea Rove pursued in advance of the post-2006-election firing of Donald Rumsfeld:

That summer, I looked into whether FedEx CEO Fred Smith, Bush’s original choice for the post in 1999, was now available. He wasn’t.

There but for the grace of God! They went to a FedEx CEO before Robert Gates. I suppose on the other hand he would’ve been better than Rumsfeld… Funny bit: Rove says that getting rid of Rumsfeld — which, of course, the Bush administration ultimately did — would’ve “damaged the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief.” Actually, you know what really did damage the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief? Retaining Donald Rumsfeld in the face of failure after failure after failure.

Marc Ambinder:

Mark Halperin and ABC’s The Note helped to build the Rove mythology. We called him “SMIP” — the Smartest Man In Politics. And he was: a walking rolodex and encyclopedia, expostulating about political history and able to drill down deep inside Congressional districts. At one White House meeting with him, he asked why the Poland Springs water bottle he had handed me (yes, I carried Karl Rove’s water, hah hah) was so special.  No idea. He proceeded to give me a political history of the company. He courted reporters, knowing whom to respond to and whom to ignore (he never once responded to my e-mails — kr@who.eop.gov didn’t reply), and he had a very well developed sense about the biases and structure of the traditional media.  A serious appraisal of Rove’s political work can be found here.

He was a brilliant campaign strategist. His singular achievement, I think, was in the way he rendered the George W. Bush persona he helped craft as (a) the heir to the Republican throne, the inevitable nominee, and (b) acceptable to evangelicals AND Catholics. It was always an open question about whether Rove himself was religious or not. Many detractors today point to Terry Nelson or Ken Mehlman or Karen Hughes as the real forces of genius behind the Bush political brand, but it was Rove who knew someone everyone, who was plugged in, who used his intergovernmental affairs portfolio to harness the Bush campaign machine to government. Rove had little to do with the national security policies and consequential decisions about Iraq that enemies suspected, but he designed and implemented the successful strategy that played upon Americans’ fear of terrorism to portray the Democratic Party as feckless. (The Dems were feckless — about standing up to Rove.) And Rove knew how to recruit candidates, he knew how to scare (some) members of Congress. He was an enforcer of discipline. And of loyalty: there are many GOP operatives today who owe Rove their thanks for their careers.

I will read his book, and I’m sure I’ll learn much from it. I bet it will be better than critics might think — more personal, certainly.   But for me, it will be less than it might once have been.

And now on to Mitt Romney’s new book

David Frum has a multitude of blog posts on the book. Here’s the list at FrumForm. Frum:

But here are the final thoughts as one puts it down:

No Apology is the work of a highly intelligent, very well informed man with a proven record of successful executive leadership. Romney was much disliked by the other Republican candidates in 2008, but as a pro-McCain friend joked to me: “I have to admit – Mitt Romney would make the greatest Secretary of Transportation ever.

What kind of president would he be?

Peggy Noonan once wrote of the first President Bush that he saw it as his job to sit behind a big desk and wait for important decisions to be brought to him to be made wisely and well.

Romney has some of that Bush spirit, topped up with an additional measure of technocratic expertise.

Yet it’s never been enough for a president to be a very smart guy who is good at running things. America has lots of smart guys who are good at running things. Why this smart guy of all the possible smart guys?

That’s the question that remains unanswered at the end of No Apology – and maybe the core weakness of the Romney political campaign.

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:

Romney’s central contention is that there are four “strategies” for global power: the United States’ blend of benevolent, market-based hegemony; the Chinese model of political autocracy and unrestrained industry; Russia’s energy-based path to resurgence; and the “violent jihadists,” an agglutination of scary Muslims. Trouble in paradise, according to Romney, comes from President Obama’s “presupposition” that “America is in a state of inevitable decline.” As a result, Romney must warn the nation to continue to lead the world, lest one or more of these competitors overtake America. “[T]here can be no rational denial of the reality that America is a decidedly good nation,” writes Romney, or perhaps a third grader. “Therefore, it is good for America to be strong.”

So many things are wrong with Romney’s view of an imperiled America that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, the idea that the U.S. is locked in a struggle for global supremacy with “violent jihadists” overlooks the exponential differences in economic resources, military strength, and global appeal between America and an increasingly imperiled band of Waziristan-based acolytes of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda can attack us; it cannot displace the U.S. as a global leader. It manufactures nothing, trades with no one, and has absolutely nothing to offer anyone except like-minded conspiratorial murderers. In order to disguise these glaring asymmetries, Romney has to use an empty term — “the jihadists” — which he cannot rigorously define and with which he means to absorb the vastly different aims and ambitions of rival terrorist groups and separate nations like Iran.

“Violent jihadist groups come in many stripes across a spectrum,” Romney writes, “from Hamas to Hezbollah, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda.” But al-Qaeda exists because it considered the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt too accommodating of the Egyptian government; Hamas has literally fought al-Qaeda attempts at penetrating the Gaza Strip; and Sunni al-Qaeda released a videotape just this weekend that derides “Rejectionist Shiite Hezbollah.” There is absolutely nothing that unites these organizations in any programmatic manner except Romney’s ignorance, and the expansion of ignorance is insufficient to topple an American superpower.

Daniel Larison:

Ackerman also draws attention to Romney’s bizarre view on how to conduct U.S. diplomacy, which seems to boil down to having one diplomatic attache for each regional command around the world. Ackerman writes:

Such an individual would “encourage people and politicians to adopt and abide by the principles of liberal democracy,” something that “would be ideal if other allied nations created similar regional positions, and if we coordinated our efforts with theirs.” That’s it for diplomacy, and he doesn’t have an agenda for global development. Why the world will simply do what America says simply because America says it is something Romney never bothers to consider. High school students at model U.N. conferences have proposed less ludicrous ideas.

Then again, those high school students have probably given the subject more thought. That is what I find most inexplicable about Romney’s decision to spend any time at all trying to fill in gaps in his record on foreign policy that he and everyone else know are there. He seems to think that making enough of the conventional noises on the right issues will persuade doubters and fence-sitters that he really does know what he’s talking about. As a political matter, this is folly. Bush was and remained famously clueless and incurious on foreign policy, but during the 2000 campaign he did not waste time trying to match Gore on national security and foreign policy credentials. He covered his glaring weaknesses by playing to the strengths that he did have. Romney seems to be intent on doing the opposite.

Ackerman also notes that the war in Afghanistan receives no mention in the book. As Romney still cannot make up his mind whether Obama has handled Afghanistan well or poorly, it is no surprise that he has not yet figured out how to demonize Obama for doing something that was promised and which Romney would normally support.

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

If you had any doubts about who he is, you’re seeing the real thing now. Watching Mitt Romney on the No Apology tour thus far, he’s talking about what he wants to talk about, what moves him: being a Mr. Fix-It businessman — on the economy, on diplomacy, on health care. He wants to do this because he believes America is great and should and can continue to be. He appreciates — in a firsthand and in a practical, sociological way — that families are the building block of a great country, and he sees how good policies help them. And that’s what he wants to talk about.

And if a social issue hits his desk — based on his Massachusetts record — he’s going to do what he can to preserve families and life. (And that, by the way, makes a huge difference. We don’t, for instance, have such a person in the White House right now. And it can have a chilling effect: in executive orders, in the courts, on staffing, in health care, etc.) No matter if doesn’t happen to be what gets him up in the morning — stuff like the opportunity to talk about D.C. gay marriage, for instance.

Speaking of his Massachusetts record: It seems clear that he is not going to apologize for trying to tackle the health-care problem there. Their final plan was clearly imperfect, but it’s more right than what Washington is doing now. He’ll be stubborn in defense of it because governors tackling health-care reform — with the input of the likes of the Heritage Foundation, by the way — is to be encouraged.

And so, on Letterman last night, you didn’t see pizazz or stand-up. You heard dorky jokes — the rapper on the plane broke my hair — and a serious guy. That’s who he is. His CPAC speech this year and his book reflect that. He’s uncomfortable changing his emphases to fit Iowa or anywhere else, and he doesn’t pull it off convincingly when he tries it. If he runs again, don’t expect him to.

Allah Pundit:

Granted, it won’t sell remotely as well as Palin’s book did, but for a guy who sometimes seems lost in the shuffle of outsized conservative personalities, it’s a nice prize.

Romney’s book tour has, so far, attracted pretty large crowds, serving — along with the book sales — to reassure his supporters that, though he may not draw Sarah Palin style hordes, he’s a figure of genuine popular interest. He reportedly attracted more than 1,000 people to a book signing in Naples, Fla. last night.

That’s the good news for Romney fans. The bad news is that Mitt 2.0 is starting to sound like Mitt 1.0 again, which is also surprising since he appeared to have learned his lesson lately by not flip-flopping on RomneyCare in interviews. Click the image below to watch the clip from this morning’s Imus of Mitt claiming he’s never really called himself pro-choice.

[…]

I honestly think the perception of opportunism is a bigger liability to him than RomneyCare, which will, one way or another, be off most people’s radar screens come late 2011. And the worst part is that his record on this subject is so well known to conservatives that there’s no point in being weaselly anymore; just own up to your prior record, say you’ve changed your mind, and let it lie. Fudging the facts only gives people an excuse to make it an issue again.

I’ve always liked him personally, but between stuff like this and “true conservatives” hammering him for endorsing McCain, I get the feeling that he’s being set up as the Charlie Crist of the Republican presidential primary. Although if that leads him to accuse Huckabee of waxing his back, it’ll all be worth it.

Robert Costa at National Review:

Romney does not mean to scare his readers with No Apology, and the book’s tone is far from polemical. But he does intend to be frank: “As long as there are people out there, politicians in particular, that say ‘no worries, no problems, all we have to do is adjust the taxes a little bit and things will get better,’ then I think people are not getting the straight story.”

[…]

The most notable aspect of No Apology is how, for its first third, the book functions as a rumination on the nature of American power. Romney does not see international relations as a web of competing nation-states seeking a balance, but as a competition between four models of geopolitical order — the American model of freedom and democracy, the authoritarian and commerce-heavy Chinese model, the Russian authoritarian energy-based model, and the violent-jihadist model. To win, he writes, America must “be wary and vigilant,” because “by mid-century, out grandchildren may well view Russia with the same concern which we and our parents once did.”

[…]

While Romney is an avowed supporter of military power, he also spends time in No Apology advocating “soft power.” President Obama, he says, has misunderstood that term’s meaning.

“The greatest shortcoming between our ability and our performance in foreign policy comes in our exercise of soft power,” Romney says. “Our inability to sway and influence affairs in the world without military might has been disappointing over the past year. It is extraordinary to me that we have not been able to dissuade Iran, for instance, from its foolish course. Or North Korea, a nation that is puny in its capabilities, from their course. It just underscores our inability to effectively use diplomacy, the sway of our economic vitality, our cultural advantages — we’re just underperforming in those areas. If we were to organize our effort as effectively in the diplomatic sphere as we do in the private sector, we’d have a lot bigger impact.”

While working on his chapters about foreign policy, Romney found that objective measures of power were hard to come by. So, he developed his own, calling it the “Index of Leading Indicators.” He is the first to say that his model is “easy to criticize,” but hopes that his 14-point outline on everything from GDP levels and tax levels to health-care costs and national-security preparedness is a move toward providing some sort of “corrective” for future leaders trying to make sense of America’s place in the world.

“I really wanted to be able to go back 25 years and calculate for each one of the indices, to see what they said then and see what they said today,” Romney says. “To be honest, I found it beyond my capacity as a writer to get all that data. It was really hard to try and go back 25, 50 years and pull out that data. But we can certainly collect it now. If others have other points they’d like to add to the data index, great, but I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and actually track the progress that we’re making in preserving our values and shoring up the foundation of our national strength.”

Shawn Healy at Huffington Post:

Romney also writes about education policy and laments the relative decline in America’s competitiveness, embracing standardized testing, merit pay, mechanisms to remove incompetent educators, charter schools, school choice (though he questions its political viability), and distance learning. He reserves terse words for teacher unions, bodies he considers detrimental to requisite educational reforms.

His energy policy relies on alternate energy sources including nuclear power, natural gas, clean coal, even hydrogen. He holds solar and wind power as promising complimentary energy sources, but doubts that either represent a panacea. In an early bid for support in the Iowa Caucuses, he touts his support for ethanol subsidies and production. Romney is highly critical of the cap and trade legislation passed by the House last year, and also dismisses the wisdom of a more direct carbon tax. However, he does tout the potential of a carbon tax coupled with reciprocal tax offsets in sales or payroll taxes.

No Apology is a serious work that departs from standard campaign biographies. Indeed, its closest parallel is arguably Obama’s Audacity of Hope. Romney intersperses brief biographical footnotes throughout, but its policy-orientation reigns. While he shares anecdotes from his failed 2008 presidential run, he avoids ex post facto analysis, and also strays from foreshadowing a future run for the nation’s highest office. This means there is no dissection of how his Mormon faith proved an obstacle among conservative Christian voters, or his repositioning on major social issues that led many to conclude that he was a “flip-flopper” of convenience. He does make several references to his faith, and reaffirms his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

The irony is that Romney’s 2008 campaign largely trumpeted social and military issues, peripheral to his core competency as an economic turn-around agent. In No Apology, he takes the opportunity to press the reset button, recasts himself as a more centrist, pragmatic technocrat, and lays the groundwork for a repeat presidential run during the most devastating economic times since the Great Depression.

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

Foreign policy is not really Romney’s wheelhouse, but I suppose he feels the need to check off the “Grrr…I hate terrorists!” box. Look for him to pivot away from foreign policy, particularly since Republicans are having a hard time saying Obama is destroying our standing in the world. The GOP primary will be about the domestic scourge — the socialist tide oozing from the White House — and who can capture the spirit of the aggrieved, bitter, angry white man. Romney could make an argument about why, with his managerial experience and business success, he’d be a better steward of government and the economy than his opponents. But that’s not the ground on which they’re going to be competing.

I imagine Romney looks at his probable opponents with frustration, knowing that he’s far more capable of being president than your Palins and Pawlentys. Though we have yet to locate the depth of pandering to which Mitt won’t sink, his efforts at identity politics just don’t come as naturally as they do to the others. But he’s certainly going to give it the old college try

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

Here are my odds: I think Mitt Romney has a 1 out of 5 chance of gaining the nomination in 2012 for the presidency if the Democrats do not pass health care legislation. This is in my estimation the modal probability in the field for individuals which we know of. That is, I think this is better odds than any other potential candidates currently on offer (remember, I think there’s a serious chance that a “dark horse” may rise to prominence and win the nomination, so I would still put “someone-we-don’t-know/aren’t talking about” as a higher probability than any of the “top-tier”). If the Democrats do pass the individual mandate I put Romney’s odds at 1 in 20, and would guess that other 2012 hopefuls such as Tim Pawlenty would now have a greater probability of gaining the nomination (for what it’s worth, I think Sarah Palin’s odds are around 1 in 20 with our without health care).

UPDATE: David Frum in FrumForum on Rove’s book

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Filed under Books, Political Figures

Braaaains…Braaaains… Braaaains….

This begins with a book The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History” written by Patrick Allitt. There’s an adapted excerpt at NRO here and a podcast the author did with John J. Miller here.

Jonathan Rauch on the book:

IF CONSERVATISM is to get a new brain, it will need to know where it left its old one. Patrick Allitt’s new intellectual history of the American right, The Conservatives, makes an excellent starting place. “Where did American conservatism come from, what are its intellectual sources, and why is it internally divided? This book is dedicated to answering those questions,” begins Allitt, a historian at Emory University. The author strives “to keep the rhetorical temperature as low as possible and be descriptive rather than prescriptive.” No politics. No polemics. Just conservative theories and theoreticians, in chronological order, from John Adams to David Frum. Yawn.

Or so I thought when I first picked up the book. The more I read, however, the more impressed I became. The book’s self-imposed limitations turn out to be strengths. By keeping politics offstage (here is the entirety of Allitt’s account of the seminal 1980 election: “Conservatives felt exhilarated by Ronald Reagan’s election victory in 1980”), Allitt brings ideas into sharp focus, and his sketches of people and philosophies more than make up in accuracy and concision what they lack in color. He frames controversies fairly, takes no cheap shots, cuts no corners. Amazingly, his own political views are undetectable. Accuracy, concision, disinterest: These are virtues we could use more of in modern academia.

But Rauch also talks about the modern conservative movement:

We know what happens when movements or parties continue to stagger forward after running out of ideas: They become zombies. Zombie parties are a recurrent feature of electoral democracies. Unable to articulate any coherent or workable governing philosophy, they mindlessly jab at cultural hot buttons, mechanically repeat hardwired tropes (“cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes”), nurse tribal resentments, ostracize independent thinkers. Above all, they feel positively proud of their doggedness. You can’t talk them out of it. Think of the Republicans in the FDR years, the Democrats in the Reagan years, the British Labour Party in the Thatcher period, and the British Conservative Party in the Blair period. Think of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party for most of the past half-century, or France’s Socialists today. To get a new brain, zombie parties usually need to spend years out of power or wait until a new generation rises to leadership.

[…] A second myth misunderstands Reagan, reducing him to a far less subtle figure than he was. An admirer of FDR and the New Deal, he had no interest in dismantling the welfare state. He never tried to do that. He raised taxes as both governor and president, and in 1983 he shored up Social Security, thus demonstrating, as he proclaimed, “for all time our nation’s ironclad commitment to Social Security.” True, he preferred a smaller government to a larger one, but his governing priority was to reduce the burden of government, and he understood that the most realistic way to do that was by limiting (not reversing) government’s growth while expanding the economy. Restrain the numerator, yes, but focus primarily on increasing the denominator.

Reagan was a conservative, all right: He sought to conserve the welfare state by making it sustainable and by expanding the zone of liberty around and beneath it. He largely succeeded. It was this achievement, not some non-existent assault on the New Deal or Great Society, that won Republicans the allegiance of millions of former Democratic voters.

Alas, a subsequent generation of conservatives, like the Apostles of the New Testament, never really grasped the master’s teachings. They accepted Reagan’s rhetoric at face value and imagined that what the public wanted was smaller government. That was the third myth. There is not a scintilla of evidence that voters, when presented with real trade-offs instead of merely with slogans, want government to shrink. Not even most conservative voters want that. Nor has any conservative, Reagan included, succeeded in chopping back the government’s size.

Steve Hayward at The Corner on Rauch:

To be sure, there is a problematic diary entry from Reagan in 1982 where Reagan asserts:

The press is trying to paint me as now trying to undo the New Deal.  I remind them that I voted for FDR four times. I’m trying to undo the “Great Society.” It was LBJ’s war on poverty that led us to our present mess.

The problem with this is that Reagan had been complaining about big-government liberalism and the welfare state for at least a decade before LBJ’s Great Society commenced. This is a somewhat selective recollection on Reagan’s part, although it is partly accurate as a description of his budgetary objectives in 1982. However, it is not true that he celebrated “shoring up” Social Security. He had his head handed to him in the spring of 1981 when he proposed delaying COLAs and reducing early retirement benefits. He had to be forcefully talked out of a TV address in the fall of 1981 aimed at cutting Social Security, and that’s when he punted to the Greenspan commission. When the Greenspan commission endorsed tax hikes to save the system in is present form, Reagan wrote in his diary that “I’m afraid our bi-partisan commission has failed us.” He was clearly hoping for more serious reform. I’ve heard Rauch point out that Reagan punted again in 1985 when the GOP Senate voted narrowly for a Social Security cut; true — but Reagan felt he had to honor a 1984 campaign promise, made at a moment of weakness, not to touch Social Security, and moreover feared he was walking into a Democratic campaign trap. (And sure enough, Dems attacked Republicans lustily in the 1986 election over Social Security.)

The point is, Rauch’s unstated theme that Reagan was something of a New Deal double agent is problematic. Don’t forget, as I’ve argued on this page before, Reagan’s constant call for constitutional amendments to curtail the growth of government. That would seem to tip the scales in my mind.

We can combine both Reagan and zombies in this trusty graphic right here:

zombie-reagan2

And for the Democrats:

timemagazinecoverzombiejfk

A lot of people writing about conservatives or Republicans have used the “zombie” theme the past couple days.  And by a lot, of course, I mean two others. One is a Republican, John Batchelor, who writes in the Daily Beast:

The attack of the living dead Republicans does have the camp fascination of a George Romero movie as pieces of brains fall out. Last week, Deputy Minority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, in some quarters regarded as cunning, boasted soberly not only that, without any polling evidence, “I think we’re got a shot at taking back the House,” but also that the Obama administration was comparable to Putin’s rule in Moscow. Cantor did not explain if he meant that the Obama administration is Soviet socialist, which is balmy, since Moscow is a robber baron paradise these days, or if he meant the Obama administration stands for tyrannical one-party rule, which is dopey, since Cantor appears to think of himself as virile leader of the opposition.

Last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a generalissimo of zombies, fresh from smearing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for “new racism,” presented more startling delusions at a congressional fundraiser in Washington when he claimed that the Republicans were the “majority party.” He offered no facts to counter the Gallup poll’s certainty that the Republicans are a minor minority party. Nor did Gingrich, who increasingly pontificates with the bravado of the vacuous TV anchor from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted Baxter, note that the cash raised in the ballroom of swells was down by a third from last year; nor did he explain his demagogic remark that the Obama administration “has already failed,” with bailouts that are chiefly a continuation of a Republican administration’s panicky policies.

Gary Kamiya calls the neoconservatives zombies in Salon:

Like Rasputin, the unhinged “Mad Monk” whom they sometimes seem to have adopted as an intellectual role model, the neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq war refuse to die. Although they have been figuratively stabbed, poisoned, shot, garroted and drowned, they somehow keep standing, still insisting that history will vindicate George W. Bush’s glorious crusade. In a world governed by the Victorian moral code conservatives claim to uphold, they would be shunned, shamed and forbidden to appear on television or write Op-Ed columns. But because Beltway decorum apparently requires that disgraced pundits be given a permanent platform to bray their discredited theories, the rest of us are condemned to listen to their ravings.

I believe Vigo the Carpathian of Ghostbusters II fame was also stabbed, poisoned, drowned, but he was also drawn and quartered. But that’s neither here nor there. The real question is, what are the politics of zombies themselves? Are zombie movies liberal or conservative?

Paul Waldman in the American Propsect:

While one can certainly use zombies to express all kinds of ideas, I would argue that at heart, the genre is a progressive one. It’s true that fighting off the zombie horde requires plentiful firearms, no doubt pleasing Second Amendment advocates. And in a zombie movie, government tends to be either ineffectual or completely absent. On the other hand, when the zombie apocalypse comes, capitalism breaks down, too — people aren’t going to be exchanging money for goods and services; they’re just going to break into the hardware store and grab what they need (and if you think your private health insurer is going to be paying claims for treatment of zombie bites, you’re living in a dream world). But most important, what ensures survival in a zombie story are the progressive ideals of common cause and collective action. A small group of people from varying backgrounds are thrust together and find that they can transcend their differences of age, race, and gender (the typical band of survivors is a veritable United Nations of cultural diversity). They come to understand that if they’re going to get out of this with their brains kept securely housed in their skulls and not travelling down some zombie’s gullet, they’ve got to act as though they’re all in it together. Surviving the tide of zombies requires community and mutual responsibility. What could be more progressive than that?

Never Yet Melted disagrees:

I admire the audacity of Waldman’s thesis, but we all know that in a truly Progressive society, there wouldn’t be any privately owned guns, chain saws, or edged weapons competing with the state’s monopoly of force, so the zombies would have munched everybody’s brain without serious resistance as a disarmed humanity waited passively for an answer to its 911 calls.

Barack Obama would be noting the long record of the living’s mistreatment of the dead, and apologizing, while calling for negotiations and predicting a new era of vital to post-mortem relations.

Idea of the Day blog at NYT on the liberal zombie idea.

UPDATE: Damon Root in Reason on Waldman’s piece.

UPDATE #2: Hayward again on Allitt and Reagan and other things.

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Filed under Books, Conservative Movement, Go Meta, History, Movies