Why Did Europe Win?
Sunday, July 31, 2005
The airing of a Guns, Germs, and Steel
documentary has sparked some interesting discussion. The book itself is attempting to explain why Europe, the Middle East, China, and India developed economically and the rest of the world didn't. Some people are wondering why Diamond didn't also answer why, among the civilized regions, it was Europe that ended it being the most advanced region by the time of 1600 or so (via Kevin Drum
I agree with Kevin that this is an interesting question but not a fair critique of Diamond's book, since it's a question he never really asked. But the "geography as destiny" principle at the heart of Guns, Germs and Steel
can also be applied to question of Europe's modern success. India, the Middle East, and China are dominated by river valleys and great plains. This means that whenever one military power gains a marginal advantage, it can usually control the entire region. So there has been a tradition of political unity in those three areas of the world. Rulers tend to like as little change as possible in order to preserve their authority, and as such promote cultural homogeneity and encourage ethics of hierarchy and subordination. Such cultural patterns tend to inhibit commercial or intellectual development in any truly radical ways. Hence the basic continuity of Indian, Middle Eastern, or Chinese civilization.
Europe's history is very different, in part because its geography is so different. Rather than a region dominated by a few big river valleys, it is divided by mountain ranges, has a lot of large peninsulas (Spain, Italy, the Balkans, Scandinavia), and a bunch of islands. This phenomena has made Europe a region characterized not by political unity but political pluralism. The diversity of politics has prevented any one cultural, ethical, or religious model from maintaining any real long-term dominance. The competition between these states created a motive for continuous improvement given the permanent military and technological "arms race." If you as a ruler are constantly at war with states just as strong as you are, you're always going to be ready to try new things and will always need a lot of money - making merchants and industrialists a heck of a lot more important than they would be with no local rivals. Finally, this political fragmentation & competition probably had something to do with European exploration, since all of the European Great Powers were always on the lookout for any extra territory or trade that might give them an edge.
Now I don't think that geographic determinism is the only reason why some regions prosper and others stagnate. Europe could have gone in a very similar direction if the Roman Empire hadn't collapsed (a fall which was in no way inevitable) or if someone like Charlemagne or Charles V had managed to create a durable political supremacy (which they very easily might have done).
So dumb luck and individual leaders can also make a difference in the fate of civilizations. But geography is one very important explanatory factor, one Diamond is simply using to analyze the grand sweep of human history. As such it's something we shouldn't minimize when wondering why even individual nations, like the United States or Britain, have done as well as they have.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas
has been the most talked-about political book in years. His basic thesis is that Democrats have permitted conservatives to displace class-based populism with culture-based populism, in part because Democrats have forgotten how to talk intelligibly about economics.
Frank has gotten his fair share of criticism, most lately by Todd Gitlin
in TPM Cafe (via PolySigh
). Gitlin argues that Frank is engaging in "crass Marxism" by asserting that economics should be foundational to politics. Gitlin suggests that cultural and ethical motivations are fundamental motivations too, both on the left and the right. Civil Rights and Feminism weren't driven by economics but "values." Frank's materialism therefore neglects what might be the central feature of American politics. Gitlin also points to the dark side of populism in America, as well as its persistent political failures.
Frank defends himself by saying that Marx isn't the only one who has argued that economics are the most important motivator in human behavior, or to believe that "false consciousness" is a real political problem.
I'd like to re-frame the issue a little bit. The problem with cultural populism isn't that it's ignoring economics - I have no real problem with that. The problem is that its value concerns are other-regarding
. The cultural traditionalism of right-wing populism seems obsessed with extinguishing ways of life (feminist liberation, gays, minorities, foreigners, people who live in cities, etc., etc.) it finds objectionable. No one is forcing these people to become homosexuals or have abortions. What they hate is the fact that other people can make these choices.
This focus on how others are choosing to live their lives is in fact a sterling example of false consciousness, or what Dr. Brazen Hussy
calls "look at the funny monkey" politics. The right-wing populists are being told that they should ignore their own lives and focus on destroying other people to make themselves feel better. Frank is suggesting that today's conservative politics have abandoned their own
interests in order to compromise the interests of someone else
. It is the evil flip-side of the altruistic social justice liberalism of the 1960's.
My other objection to Gitlin's analysis is political. Populism does in fact have a dark history - the plumbing of that dark side is precisely what Frank is analyzing. But it also has a good side - namely its alliance with the progressives and social justice liberals during the New Deal coalition. It is the fracturing of this alliance that has allowed conservatives to create a political majority. Frank's work suggests that by re-engaging populists, by reminding them of their old economic motivations, we might win some of them back and re-gain our majority. While populism alone does not win elections, I have never seen an example of Democrats winning without it.
Liars or Fools
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Either the credit card companies are liars or the news media are fools. Tough choice.
When I read in Digby
that the credit card companies were doubling their monthly minimums, I freaked out. That would drive me and a lot of other people over the financial edge. But after my breathing resumed, I decided to do a little digging. The report came from an NBC affiliate in South Carolina. I saw this and relaxed a little, because a) the local news isn't always so reliable, and b) if this were a true story, the major papers should have picked it up.
After jumping over a bunch of hurdles, I finally got someone from the MBNA media relations department on the phone. He told me that while there is going to be a change in the formula so that minimums will always result in a paydown of the outstanding balance, he doesn't know where in the world WYFF got the idea that the minimum payment had to be 4% of the outstanding balance.
Assuming he's telling the truth, it means that the local news station has really screwed up. I am going to call them and find out - I'll tell you more when I have more information. In the meantime, I'm going to treat what I read from penny-ante media sources with even more scepticism. If that's possible.
Of, By, and For the Rich
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
In an article in the Chicago Tribune (via Pandagon), Meg Kreikemeir, a self-described stay at home mom and former market analyst, displays a level of insight that makes me hope that she is a far better mother than thinker.
Moving on from the cheap ad hominem attacks....
Meg (can I call you Meg?) is trying to rebut charges from prominent Democrats that Republicans are the party of the shiftless rich. She is attempting to unite two strains of criticism: first, that the Red States are in fact sucking off the teats of blue states; and second, that Republicans don't do any real work. Meg suggests that these two positions are mutually irreconcilable: you can't be lazy and dependent on government AND super-rich at the same time.
Meg deploys four arguments:
1) The Blue States only appear to be contributing more to Red States because they are home to big corporations, which donate a lot of money to the federal treasury. And
2) Even if blue states did contribute more, it doesn't give them the right to dictate policy. Poor people deserve a say as well.
3) If we look at county-level data rather than state-level data, we find that red counties contribute more than blue ones.
4) Democrats are really the party of the rich, since they rely on big individual contributions.
Let me just reply to these in turn:
1) Meg needs to demonstrate that the bulk of the federal taxes that are coming from blue states are from corporations, which she scarcely does. Given that corporate taxation has been falling at a dizzying rate - GM pays NO taxes, for one - I'm skeptical that this explains the difference in contributions to the federal treasury. And she ignores the expenditure side, which shows that a disproportionate amount goes to Red states on a per capita basis. Looks like dependence to me.
2) Thanks for rebutting the basic conservative economic and political argument for me. You doknow that their basic position is contribution = influence, right? And that the liberal position isthat everyone deserves a voice, particularly the less advantaged?
3) This is probably true, and part of why I think the whole "Red States are dependent" argument is silly. Both sides are committing the ecological fallacy - namely ascribing characteristics to individuals based on what we know about groups. Racism feeds off the same sort of sloppy reasoning.
4) Meg neglects to include soft money or corporate contributions into her analysis, which is typical.
Meg is just confused. Her definition of what it means to be the "party of the rich" slips between rich voters, rich contributors, and elite economic policy. The evidence indicates that the Republicans have all three, which as far as I'm concerned makes one a party by, for, and of the rich.
Are we winning the war on terror yet?
Monday, July 25, 2005
Can we please finally have a discussion about our strategy for ending the threat of religious fundamentalism? You can't fight ideas with bombs. Ideas are bullet-proof.
What's particularly amazing about all this is that the Theocons are so good at political strategy and ideological warfare here in America, and so feeble at it abroad. You'd think that Republicans were really more interested in consolidating their personal power than defending America........
Impossibilities & Contradictions
Friday, July 22, 2005
According to the Washington Post, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' wife Jane is a self-described anti-choice feminist
. As well say that one is a Christian Atheist, a Pacifist Warrior, or a Liberal Republican. It's a logical impossibility.
Oh sure, she can claim
that she holds these two fundamentally incommensurable positions at the same time. And I can claim to be the Emperor of the Moon.
At minimum poor Janice is just deeply confused. Perhaps she isn't aware that the ability to make choices about reproductive decisions is the cornerstone of female liberation; without them women would be too busy getting pregnant to finish college or have a career. Or maybe she doesn't realize that the anti-choice position betrays an essential misogyny - that women are incapable of making a reasoned decision about their own future without some Man telling her how to do it. It's possible that she hasn't realized that without the ability to choose not to have a child, a woman is nothing more than a baby-making machine deprived of real autonomy. Perhaps Janice thinks that sex is naughty and that people shouldn't do it unless it's for the purpose of procreation, which amounts to imposing her highly idiosyncratic and unnatural theology on everyone else.
Or maybe she's just stupid.
So Much for Promoting "Freedom"
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Wasn't one of the reasons we invaded Afghanistan to stop this sort of crap?
The recently drafted Iraqi Constitution
removes protections for women that existed under Saddam Hussein. That's right: women will have fewer
rights under the new Iraqi regime than they did under a brutal dictator. Now that's progress. The new constitution restricts gender equality in areas like divorce and inheritance. As a (female) coworker of mind pointed out, this conveniently prevents women in abusive marriages from seeking any recourse.
This is all being done in the name of traditional family values, i.e. religion. One of the dangerous things about the new contitution is that it allows members of a religous sect to regulate the personal lives of its own members. If you are Shia, you fall under Shia law; Sunni, you fall under Sunni law; etc. This is of course a) encourages the ethno-religious tensions in Iraq, and b) does nothing to protect the private rights of its members. Instead of dis-establishing religion, it establishes several sects of Islam. Rather than one grand theocratic tyranny we will have many petty ones.
But what is most gruesome is that we are implicated in this oppression. We put this government into place, and hence we are responsible for what it does. Do you really think that Bush spared the time for one phone call to oppose these provisions? Will the State Department make statements condemning these actions? Of course not. Why? Because the Theocons here at home would do the same thing here if they had the chance.
Bush Makes His Play
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
So John Roberts
is Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court. Yeah, like we needed another rich white guy on the Court. They're such an oppressed minority, y'know.
(This is a real blunder on Bush's part - if he'd nominated a woman or minority he might be able to put on more pressure, but with this nominee allows us to focus on the issues)
Roberts is part of the D.C. establishment and has a very thin paper trail - he's only been a judge for two years - so it will be very difficult to block his confirmation. The NYT and the Washington Post have been pretty generous to his candidacy so far, given the tone of the coverage. NARAL has come out blasting (via Pandagon
) on his suggestion that Roe be overturned. In the latter case he was working for the Solicitor General's office, and it has been argued that this might not reflect his true views. In the 2003 confirmation hearings he said that Roe was the "settled law of the land," but we all know what confirmation promises are worth.
What has this guy done as a judge? There are a couple of decisions that stand out. According to Moveon, he has questioned the validity of the Endangered Species Act as a violation of property rights. He has also argued that the Geneva Conventions don't always apply. So we have Alberto Gonzales junior. Wonderful.
I have two very simple arguments as to why Roberts should be opposed. The first is that he is a Republican partisan (as noted by MyDD
). He worked for the Bushies during the Bush v. Gore decision, one of the worst travesties of law in American history, and for that alone he deserves to be barred from the court.
The second is his background. This man is a son of privilege who has never had to do a day of work in his life. His daddy was a corporate executive, and Roberts went to all the best schools en route to a job at the White House, followed by a lucrative stint at a corporate law firm. In other words, John Roberts is a man who has had everything handed to him on a silver platter, who has never had to struggle or suffer to survive. And I just don't want someone like that being the guardian of the Republic.
Having said all that, I think that the best strategic move by the Democrats is to use his very quality as a stealth nominee against him. He is inexperienced, with no major accomplishments as a jurist. All of his positions have come from political patronage and family connections. Why does Bush want this man on the court in light of his shallow credentials? Why a judge with less than two years
on the bench? For a man with so little to indicate his capabilities or preferences, it is incumbent on the Senate to probe him with the greatest scrutiny before we appoint him to the highest court in the land.
You ain't seen nuthin' yet!
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
While everyone is focusing on Karl Rove, I've been looking for other important news. And lo and behold, I find out from the Washington Post
that the Bushies are continuing their efforts to dismantle civil service protections for the federal bureaucracy. Apparently they want to "streamline" the firing process and create individual performance reviews. The former would make it easier to fire people. The latter sounds good, but there is little evidence that they work, and the process is very liable to abuse.
Boring, you say? Horrifying, I say. If you think there's a lot of corporate cronyism in government now, try making the federal civil service a tool of the Theocons.
P.S. Check out my buddy Ben Ross's piece
at Dissent on Bush and the Neocons. Good stuff.
Now We Know What They Were Really After All Along
Monday, July 18, 2005
Do you remember when the Republicans were the party of liberty? Of states rights? Of small government? The conservatives of the 1980's and 1990's, whatever their other (innumerable) faults, at least seemed to have a real concern that government not become a threat to personal freedoms, that we preserve the republic from external danger and domestic passivity? Wasn't that the whole point of the otherwise lunatic projects of Hayek & Rand, Reagan & Gingrich, Goldwater & Taft?
Well that's over now: Exhibit A
, Exhibit B
There's an old line by Henry Clay: pay no attention to my words, watch where my feet move. These folks have finally won power in the name of liberty, and they are now working energetically to dismantle the Republic. This is not a new story. Hamilton predicted it a long time ago....
"This is the old story. If I were disposed to promote Monarchy and overthrow State Governments, I would mount the hobby horse of popularity - I would cry out usurpation - danger to liberty - I would endeavor to prostrate the National Government - raise a ferment - and then 'ride in the Whirlwind and direct the Storm.'"
Getting Some Perspective
Friday, July 15, 2005
The last week or so it's been all Rove all the time. As much as enjoy the prospect of Rove going to prison, I must admit that I've been concerned that once again liberals are missing the point. Rove himself is just a person. If we concentrate our efforts on ruining him, we may well succeed. But when he's gone they'll just be some other fascist apparatchik to replace him as the Republican's political guru. We've fallen into the same trap with Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and George Bush.
So I'm glad to see that some have tried to develop broader themes during the Rove imbroglio. Krugman
talks about how Rove has debased political discourse, Dionne
suggests that Rove's sliminess might rub off on the President, and AaronBurrFan
(shudder) at BOP points out that Rove is an integral part of the Republican political machine. The essence of all of these posts is that we should be using Rove to attack the Republican party as a whole, rather than directing all of our fire at one guy.
This is precisely that right approach to take. In the end I don't care what happens to Rove or Bush or DeLay or any of these anti-democratic demagogues. What I care about is that we marginalize them and the party that represents them. This is a war against those who would destroy the Republic, not a feud with a couple of piddly little corrupt politicians.
This %#$!*&! really pisses me off.
One of the biggest labor unions in New York City has endorsed Michael Bloomberg
for Mayor. Why should you care if you're not a New Yorker? Because this is yet one more example of how parts of the Democratic coalition seem to be more interested in their own narrow, short-term interests than their long-term good or the good of the liberal movement as a whole.
Seriously people, are you really trying to tell me that a Republican will ever
be a better advocate of labor rights than any Democrat? Or choice? Or the working class? Or the environment? It's long past time that people realize who the enemy is. It's NOT other liberals who, while they agree with you, have slightly different priorities. It's the people on the other side who want to destroy you. Sure the Theocons might throw you a bone or two to get re-elected, but after that you know what happens? You're at the back of the bus again.
Maybe Harry "Reids" My Blog
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Okay, so I'm not funny.
Remember when I suggested that the Senate Democrats propose their own names for the Supreme Court
? Well it looks like they're doing precisely that
Democrats were said by two officials familiar with what took place to have broached the names of at least three judges of Hispanic background who they believed had a strong chance of being approved without a tumultuous confirmation fight: Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Judge Edward Prado of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa of Federal District Court in Texas.
Now if I can just get the White House Press corps to pay attention.......
What Took So Long?
After years of intimidation, deception, and manipulation, the White House Press corps is finally turning on the White House. The lies and incompetence in Iraq didn't do it, the smears of John Kerry didn't do it, the religious radicalism didn't do it, not even unbelievable corporate cronyism or the subordination of federal agencies to partisan purposes could inspire the press to be critical of the Bush Administration.
So why now? Because now it's their ox being gored. Digby has it exactly right
: the press didn't sit up and take notice until one of their own was put behind bars for what all of them have done.
Any of the White House press corps can easily imagine themselves in Judith Miller's position. Putting plants in the room (like Gannon) or paying off columnists (like Armstrong) are one thing, but this is of an entirely different order. No one likes going to jail.
Will it last? Will the press continue to hammer away
at Rove until he's gone? Probably - it's quickly reaching feeding frenzy proportions. Although you can never be sure, given the press's pusillanimity and Bush's sheer stubborness and loyalty to his subordinates. Will the press actually learn anything from this experience?
I doubt it.
Who Are You Calling "Comfortable"?!
Monday, July 11, 2005
I've written about this already
, but recent discussion about Steven Rose's article
continues to bubble, and I feel compelled to clarify some things. The gist of his argument is that economic populism is a mistaken (or at least limited) strategy because there simply aren't enough people out there who are economically distressed. Bradford Plumer
, Kevin Drum
, and Maxspeak
have piled on, arguing that liberal economic policies simply don't have enough to offer to middle class people to make voting for them worthwhile.
Which I would argue is precisely the point. No there are not enough people in poverty
to make a meaningful electoral majority. But living through the middle class squeeze right now - with high debts, high housing costs, low economic security, spiralling college costs, and deteriorating schools - I am aghast to hear good liberals suggest that America's middle class is simply too comfortable for class politics to get much traction.
Drum may be right in that the Democratic party at present lacks the credibility to offer solutions to the problems of middle class anxiety, but to say that because we have lacked the clarity and boldness to convince people is no argument for timidity. Instead it's an argument for pushing these issues more
National health insurance is the classic example of good "anxiety" politics. Most people have health care, but they are afraid of losing it either because they may lose their job or because they can no longer afford it. That's why only 20% don't have insurance but 80% want national health care. It is the failure
of Democrats to deliver on this issue that hurt us, not the fact that we tried to do it. To believe so is just a mis-reading of history.
The problem isn't that there's not enough stress in the middle class. The problem is that the Democratic party hasn't had the stones to do
anything about it.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
One day I hope to be as cool as Sarah Vowell.
I first discovered her in the DVD extras to the Incredibles (she gave voice to Violet), where the interview with her just cracked me up. Then I read her book Assassination Vacation, which is erudite, funny, and subtly subversive all at the same time. And now she's writing excellent op-eds
for the New York Times.
When I grow, I want to be just like her. Except taller.
The Problem of Evil
Friday, July 08, 2005
I hadn't planned to talk about what happened in London, but Pandagon
President Bush calls terrorists "evildoers," which is certainly true. But his reaction to evil betrays a serious misunderstanding of the nature of evil.
Evil is a particularly human thing. Bad things happen to good people all the time. This is a sad truth. But it takes more than the presence of suffering to make an evil. We don't call a hurricane or an earthquake evil. Natural disasters or accidents are not evil. We could even argue that crimes that are the products of momentary passions, or insanity, or desperation, are not evil.
Evil is simply the deliberate inflicting of harm on humans by humans. What is shocking about the attacks in London or New York or Madrid is that they are a product of rational consideration. Someone somewhere made a calculated decision to massacre a bunch of people in the name of some other purpose. They transformed innocent people into things, depriving them of their essential humanity and every choice they would ever make.
How does this happen? How is it that a person in a state of cool rationality chooses to destroy others? There is only one answer - that the perpetrator of evil has severed any and all emotional connection with other people. He assumes responsibility only for himself, and everyone else becomes simply an instrument of his will. The only way a person can do evil to another is to decide that the other is not a person at all. This disassociation from others is the psychological precondition
Evil is a permanent problem for human beings. We can't eradicate it, because it is an inherent flaw in the human species. But what we can do is choose how to respond to evil .We can chose to assume the blame, which excuses the evil. We can pretend it didn't happen, which is an insult to those who have suffered. We can even use the evil to other purposes, as our corrupt President and amoral media have done, which makes one an accomplice to the evil.
But the real danger is to lash out blindly, which risks making us as evil as those we profess to despise. To label those who have done evil as beyond the pale of humanity, to "get revenge," we must define those who do evil as "other." Which makes us capable of all the cruel acts - torture, the killing of innocents - for which we hate them. This is of course the usual fate of those who seek out monsters to destroy.
And this is where conservatism comes in. The ideological predispostion of conservatism is to sever our connections to one another. Modern conservatism is very quick to label people as "others." Virulent nationalism, a quickness to wage war, a focus on individual spiritual salvation, a love of Horatio Alger-style social darwinism: they all have in common an obsession with personal
responsibility which eclipses any social
responsibility. All these forms of conservatism are eager to divide us from one another.
Which is precisely the danger. An ethic which has too little consideration for interpersonal responsibility or compassion; a social philosophy which is all too ready to label my fellow men & women as "other," makes evil more possible
. This may not be the intent of conservatism, but it is certainly the result. A society which is always marginalizing other groups, of dividing them from human sensibilities like pity, is to encourage the very psychological state that evil requires: the belief that others don't matter.
In other words, conservatism encourages evil, because it encourages the sociopathic state of mind that leads to evil. This is not to say that conservatism is evil, only that its theories can readily lead to evil. Which is why you have so many on the right who hate gays, hate women, hate Muslims, hate Mexicans, hate liberals, hate hate hate. Because this belief that I am not
my brother's keeper is part and parcel both of conservatism and of evil.
So let's go fight evil. But let's make sure that we don't encourage it at the same time.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Growing up in the small-town South, I didn't have much exposure to labor unions. But that's precisely why they are so important to me now. I've seem what the lack of them is like: poor working conditions, low pay, no job security, etc., etc.
Down there, all I ever heard was the stereotypes; that they're corrupt and incompetent, or simply out of date. As I got involved in the Democratic Party, I realized that they were an important part of our electoral coalition and needed to be accommodated. After a few years experiencing the evils of Corporate America I became a real believer. I'm convinced that liberalism and the labor movement are indeed like a very old married couple: the two depend on each other, and if one dies the other won't be far behind.
Which is why I was so disturbed to hear about some of the negative reaction to labor unions at the TPM Cafe site
. While I'm gratified about Digby's
responses, I'd like to throw my own two cents in. First of all, labor unions are
what the Democratic party seeks to be: an organization of working people united around common interests and characterized by high levels of participation. As such we should pay a great deal of attention to where they succeed or fail.
Second, whatever their faults, they alternative to having them is worse. No labor unions means unfettered corporate abuses. Without them, workers are simply in no bargaining position at all. Theoretically the government could protect them, but as we have seen all too often government agencies more often fall under the influence of corporations without unions to apply counter-pressure.
Finally, unions are in fact more necessary than ever. The global economy and the creation of megacorps mean that we need more unionization, not less. Rather than being rendered obsolete, these changes are in fact increasing the number of people who are under pressure from corporations. What we are in fact seeing is the proletarianization of the professional classes: doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers - all are losing their economic independence with the creation of bigger and bigger companies.
So rather than consigning unions to the dustbin of history, liberal should be championing their re-invigoration. Otherwise we'll all end up in the garbage heap.
This is in fact part of a broader problem: the isolation of the various elements of the liberal coalition into self-serving factions. Like Chris Bowers
, I am tired of the tunnel-vision displayed by the constituencies of the party. Both labor unions and
their critics need to realize that we really are all in the same leaky boat.
P.S. Why did it take so long for this story
to make the papers? Yeesh.
Democrats and the Middle Class
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
One of the basic explanations of Democratic difficulties in the last few elections is that we haven't effectively championed middle class economic interests, allowing them to be displaced by cultural ones.
Now some people are coming along saying this approach is all wrong. According to them, Democrats need to do is go after affluent voters. This is because of the rising electoral importance of wealthy outer exurbs (from Stephen Rose) and the sheer number of well-off voters (from CQ) that the Democrats are writing off.
This is pretty horrifying advice, and wildly off base to boot. Ruy Teixeira has written before about how the exurb/rural combined vote is no different than it ever was (about 25%), so the net effect is unchanged. And Alan Abramowitz describes lucidly how Democrats are for middle class voters, who are a far larger chunk of the electorate than Rose likes to pretend.
I'd like to follow up on Abramowitz's point by arguing that the middle class is also far more economically distressed than we sometimes realize (no matter what Rick Santorum seems to think). There are the usual facts at hand, like the 30-year stagnation in median income and rising debt levels. But there are a host of other economic pressures the people in the middle class face. The spiralling cost of going to college, which is the essential gateway to a middle class standard of living, is threatening to put a university diploma out of reach. There are the fears about outsourcing, the decaying schools, and even simple issues like the loss of time to spend raising our kids our just resting our brains.
Let me tell you something: the middle class squeeze is very real. I live paycheck to paycheck, always teetering on the brink. The anxiety about the future is a big part of why I am a Democrat. And I doubt that I am alone.
Having said that, Democrats do have to stop making explicit peasonal appeals to economic self-interest, since in many ways that just advances the basic Republican argument of selfish material acquisition. Political science research indicates that most people don't vote based on their present financial circumstances (improving, declining, or whatever) but on how they believe the country as a whole is doing. So if Democrats can make the case that conservative economic policies are fundamentally compromising the American way of life - that is a message that will move voters.
Happy July 5th!
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Hope you had a nice July 4th weekend. Now it's time to make sure that we still have an America to celebrate:
1) There's a gigantic imperial power growing in the Pacific that might want to kill us
2) We are run by folks who are increasingly indistinguishable
from another group of people trying to kill us right now.
3) This same group of leaders is trying to pack the court with American Taliban. To do so, they first make a compromise that makes only personal problems acceptable standards for rejecting a nominee
, and then restrict the release of FBI files
so that any such problems will be impossible to discover.
4) Meanwhile they are trying to exterminate all life on earth
themselves. Just in case.
The Siren Song
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Most liberals are horrified at the prospect of Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, myself included. Her replacement by a Theocon would tip the Court from a narrow 5-4 moderate majority to a 5-4 conservative one. As I and many others have said, abortion rights, the environment, labor laws, etc. would all be on the chopping block.
But wait, says Matt Yglesias
. The last big abortion case was Casey, and we won that one 6-3. The pro-choice movement is better off than in was with the Webster decision (in 1989) because Byron White (who was anti-choice) was replaced by a Clinton appointee. So stop worrying.
This is a very dangerous line of reasoning. First, as DavidNYC
at Dailykos and others have argued, abortion rights is a clear political position that can mobilize activist support. The other cases which will be overturned if any more wingnuts get on the court lack the clear definition that Roe does. In other words, Yglesias is right in all that ways that don't matter. Even if Roe survives, but a lot of other important issues will go down the tubes. We can't start a war while throwing out all of our ammunition.
Secondly, I'm not sure that Roe would
survive. The key vote Yglesias is counting on is Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the angels (i.e. with the pro-choice side) in the Casey decision. However, Kennedy is famous for being a weathercock: he swings depending on the amount of political pressure. It is very possible that he would suddenly change his position to emasculate or kill Roe. I'm not willing to gamble abortion rights on Kennedy's intestinal fortitude.
So go enjoy your holiday weekend, but get ready to fight to the death come Tuesday.
P.S. I just watched The Phantom Menace for the first time since it came out, and it's even worse than I remember. Pee-yew!
The Whole Ball of Wax
Friday, July 01, 2005
In case you're hiding in a cave, Sandra Day O'Connor just retired
. I'm sure you all know what this means: that abortion rights, and so many other vital issues, hang by a thread. O'Connor has been the swing vote on the court for years, and now the court may very well swing against us.
We have to get deadly serious. We need to be determined, organized, and relentless. This is no time for internal squabbling or faint-heartedness.
I suppose I can't say it any better than this
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind, We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous [radicalism], never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of [American demagogues]. That is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory - victory - at all costs, victory, in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for [America]; no survival for all that [America] has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, 'Come, then, let us go forward together with our united strength.'
Ah! Not Again!
needs to stop using Newt Gingrich as a model for Democrats.
In his latest post, the Moose proposes that Democrats run on a reform agenda. That's fine. What I object to is the substance of his latest idea: shortening the congressional session and cutting congressional pay. Yes, this would get people's attention. But it would also further the "government is bad" theme that the Republicans are always pushing. I don't seem how imitating the government-bashing right is really going to help the Dems. Newt could push this line and be consistent. We can't.
There's another problem with Moose's suggestion; effectively what you would be doing is converting the Congress from a professional to an amateur legislature. This sounds really good on paper. Unfortunately, if you read some other papers (written by political scientists), you will learn that amateur legislatures (ones with shorter sessions and less pay) tend to weaken legislatures vis a vis the executive, interest groups, and permanent staff. In other words, you would be making Focus on the Family and President Bush a lot more powerful.
Which doesn't sound like a reform agenda at all. It sounds a lot more like making things worse.