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LeBron James is just Sick

Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wow. I mean, wow. I used to be a huge basketball fan but kind of got away from it after Michael Jordan left (and because sports in time-consuming!). But I kept hearing about "LeBron James" this and "LeBron James" that and decided to check out a playoff game with the Cavaliers in Detroit.

James scored 48 points in double overtime, scoring like the last 29 of 30 points for the Cavs. It was the most amazing performance I have ever seen. Just amazing.

Okay, now I'm going to go to bed. If I can sleep!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:59 PM

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Okay, NOW I have something to say.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Namely that Maureen Dowd is a cretin. Her attempt to understand the influence of ancient Greek thought & history on modern conservatism is as vapid as....well.. the interpretation of ancient Greece by conservatives. I mean, honestly.

Some examples:

1) "...[conservativism's] lofty ideals and nobility and character in American politics — while Democrats merely muck about with policies for the needy."

2) the execrable Harvey Mansfield's belief "why politics should be about revolution rather than equilibrium."

3) the pedant Kagan's statement regarding the Iraq War: "Professor Kagan said that one reason the Athenians ended up losing the war was because in the Battle of Mantinea in 418 B.C. against the Spartans, they sent 'a very inferior force' and had a general in command who was associated with the faction that was against the aggressive policy against the Spartans."

4) her odd quote from Thucydides that Athenian democracy was characterized by a belief that "The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

One at a time, then...

1) Why is a concern for the needy lacking in idealism, Ms. Dowd? Where is the nobility of character in challenging your opponents' character and railing about gays? Is this just more of your callow schoolyard smears of man's requirement to demonstrate humanity to man? And do you have notion of how vital a role class politics played in Greek political and intellecutal life? No? What a suprise.

2) Uh, Harvey? Establishing equilibrium, i.e. political stability, was the principal object of Greek political philosophy. Examining the necessary preconditions for it was the center of EVERY major Greek thinker. Remember Aristotle's "mixed regime"? And Thucydides in fact criticized the internal revolutions breaking out all over Greece in the run-up to the war.

3) Kagan has clearly read the comic version of Thucydides or something. The Battle of Mantinea wasn't the turning point of the Peloponnesian War. According to Thucydides, it was the expedition to Syracuse. And the lesson of Syracuse was not to over-commit to risky imperial adventures - precisely the opposite point that Kagan is trying to make.

4) I don't whether it's Maureen or Harvey that's bungling this. Likely both. Thucydides argued that the spirit of domination was a perversion of Athenian democracy. Athens failed because she was hated by the rest of Greece - hated because she was always throwing her weight around. (Update: I looked this quote up and it's from the Melian dialogue - piece devoted to the evils of imperialism. Nice example, Mansfield. Is this the America you want to live in?)

Ugh. What a disaster. I need a drink.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:02 PM

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My 862nd post...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
...will not be one of my more exciting. My memorial day weekend was kind of a waste, since Brazen was gone. I had intended to take the dog to the park, but it was rainy and he has a hurt foot, so that plan did't quite work out. I also took the weekend off of politics, since I'm a little weary already of the presidential race (normally I wouldn't feel like this until June of 2008).

I haven't made a great deal of progress on the dissertation because of a series of annoying obstacles - but I am making incremental advances. That's something, I suppose. One little tidbit at a time. I feel like a World War I general on the Western Front. No big breakthroughs, I'm just nibbling it to death in a war of attrition. Yegads what a clunky metaphor.

The only constructive thing I have really accomplished is reading books. I think I've gotten through half a dozen in the last 3 weeks. My "constructive" plan for this evening is to go to our local Drinking Liberally and try to kill off one more evening. Ah the lovely properties of beer.

On 4 days until Brazen gets back! Yay!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:29 PM

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Saturday, May 26, 2007
Hi everybody. Today is May 26, which makes it 3 years since my very first post. During that time I have written 860 blogs. Goodness, that sounds like a lot, doesn't it? I originally started because Brazen was sick of hearing me rant about national politics during the 2004 elections. Of course, she soon joined the collective too! She's a much bigger blogger than I am, but I don't mind (much). The best thing about this has been able to "meet" so many nice people through blogging. So thanks for reading! And don't worry, I'm not going anywhere - ever.

I will now celebrate my running errands, working on my dissertation, and missing my wife. Hrm. Something's not right here.....
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:40 AM

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The Duh Factor

Friday, May 25, 2007
Christopher Hayes referring to "heterodox economists" resisting the neo-classical mainstream:

What they routinely find is that the rational utility maximizer of the neoclassical model is a convenient fiction. A growing literature shows humans to be systematically biased in their calculations of risk, disposed to punish antisocial behavior, even at a cost to themselves.

Like moral philosophers haven't been saying this for, oh, 300 years or so. Sigh.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:48 AM

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Dissertation Update

Thursday, May 24, 2007
I'm trying to remember if I ever told everybody that I got that extension. Well, I did. I have until next May to finish.

Oh and factor analysis sucks. Just in case you didn't know.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:53 PM

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A Thought On Strategy

So far Barack Obama has not lived up to his potential as a candidate. This doesn't mean I don't like him, or that he's going to be a big disappointment. But I do think he's made a couple of strategic error thus far. His biggest obstacle to the nomination isn't Hillary Clinton, but John Edwards, who is doing well with the change-oriented, liberal, anti-war base of the party. Whoever wants to beat Hillary is going to have to consolidate that constituency.

Barack shouldn't run with an eye to Hillary, but with an eye to Edwards. With his superior media position, Obama can basically steal Edwards' platform. If he had done this at the start, he would have suffocated Edwards' candidacy from the beginning and would now be the only alternative to Clinton. This is particularly the case when considering Iraq, where Barack's anti-war bona fides are much better than Edwards.

The Democratic candidates for President need to understand something about the Iraq War: there is no serious downside to being strongly anti-war. Everyone knows that running against the war helps in the Democratic primaries. What people haven't seem to have grasped is that running against the war is also the best strategy for the general election. If we are still in Iraq in November 2008, then the Presidential campaign will be solely about that issue. The Republicans are going to be trapped being pro-war, and the Democrat will be very much in line with the majority of the population. Heightening the contrast on Iraq would be the key to victory. However, if we are out of Iraq, then the war won't be an issue. An anti-war candidate can say "See, I said we should get out and I was right." And he or she can then talk about other things.

Whether we are in Iraq or out of it, an anti-war position is the smartest play for a Democratic Presidential candidate. The idea that Democrats need to prove they are "tough" by being hawkish on Iraq indicates a profound misunderstanding of the political dynamics. Being a hawk isn't going to be much an asset in the post-Iraq era.

The fact is that it's not the Democrats who have an Iraq problem - it's the Republicans. Their candidates can't separate themselves from Bush because the war is still popular with Republican voters. Nobody who runs against the war can win the nomination. But running as the pro-war candidate will be death in the general election.

None of this is to say that the Democratic Congress don't have an Iraq problem - they do, since they have an immediate influence over the continuance of the war. But even then, the Republicans still have a larger problem. If they keep voting in favor of fighting in Iraq, they are doomed come 2008. They know it, but they can't find an escape because their own voters won't allow them to change positions. They're simply stuck.

So Barack, John, Hillary, whoever - run as a dove in 2008. It's not just the right thing, but the shrewd thing.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:09 PM

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You Didn't See This Coming Or Something?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
So what I'm hearing is that Reid and Pelosi are going to cave into Bush on war funding. Um, was this the plan? Dare the President to veto something, and then when he does, give him what he wants? Did you think he was just going to roll over? Now you've just reinforced the "Democrats are weaklings" meme. Nice.

Something about taking control of Congress seems to make a new Leadership forget the President even exists. Newt tried the same thing with Clinton - dare him to veto the budget. And then Clinton did veto it. And Gingrich had no Plan B so he had to shut down the government.

Swift guys. Real swift. Look, if you're going to dare someone to do something, you'd better prepare for him doing it. Anything else is just being unprofessional.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:50 PM

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Something Other Than Politics

And now to speak entirely about me. Me is tired of working on his dissertation. Me is frustrated by crucial variables missing from important data sets collected by others. Me is also not happy about paying tuition AGAIN, which me has been doing for YEARS and has HAD ENOUGH. Me is also missing his wife very, very much. Me is lonely.

Me sounds a little like cookie monster, doesn't me?

Cookie Monster
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:12 PM

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Are They Out Of Their Minds?

Monday, May 21, 2007
Rumors have been going around for quite some time that Bush wants to attack Iran, but nothing thus far has come of it. But now according to ThinkProgress, the mysterious "Plan B" if the surge fails might is this long-suspected offensive against Iran.

The stupidity of such a move is beyond description. Leaving aside our depleted military and Iran's potential defensive strength, has Mr. Bush considered the response in the rest of the world? Is there any domestic political support for this course of action, or is he just planning to lie us into another war?

As anyone who has read this blog awhile will know, I am a obsessed with history, especially that of early modern Spain. In the 16th century Philip II was bogged down in a war in the Netherlands, unable to reach a decision, alienating the rest of Europe, and bankrupting the Spanish monarchy. His last desperate effort to break the deadlock was to eliminate the main supporter of the Dutch rebels - Elizabeth of England. So he gambled Spain prestige and treasury on a harebrained "grand design" that became known as the Spanish Armada. We all know how that turned out, don't we?

The parallels with out present situation are more than a little alarming.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:17 PM

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That's Right

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Your Power Bird is an Owl

You are beyond wise. You are so smart, you're almost prophetic.
Your inner voice always speaks the truth, and you take the time to listen to it.
You are good at seeing who people are... including the darkness of others.
As a result, you tend to have a rather dark - yet realistic - outlook on life.
What's Your Power Bird?

And don't you forget it!

(via Lina)
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:06 PM

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Things To Worry About

Friday, May 18, 2007
The National Journal has a piece discussing the possibility that the U.S. is going into decline. What's odd about the piece is that it dwells almost exclusively on U.S. foreign policy influence. Frankly I'm much more concerned with the decline of the U.S. economic position vis a vis the rest of the world, with the attendant pressure on the middle class. I'm concerned about massive public, corporate, and individual debt. I'm concerned about the decline of the global environment because of global warming and mass extinction. I'm concerned with the active suborning of our democracy by a reactionary political faction. I'm concerned that a third of our citizenry appears to delusional. But the de facto American Empire? Not so much.

Look, being #1 is nice and all, but do we really expect it to last forever. The sooner the U.S. wakes up and realizes that it is in our long-term interest to build a structure of international relations that is committed to peace, democracy, environmental stability, and shared prosperity, rather than preserving U.S. hegemony for its own sake, the better off we'll be. Power is judged not by its existence, but by its use.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:24 PM

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Another Example Of My Contrariness

Thursday, May 17, 2007
The Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House appear to have reached a compromise immigration bill. There's one little piece which gets my attention:

A separate, temporary-worker program would be established for 400,000 migrants a year. Each temporary work visa would be good for two years and could be renewed up to three times, as long as the worker leaves the country for a year between renewals.

That looks suspiciously like a guest-worker program. I'd have to see the details, but if such a program allows companies to determine who stays and who goes - well that's indentured servitude. Thanks, but I have no interest in re-creating the institution of slavery.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:29 AM

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Christopher Hitchens is hard core. I mean damn.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:56 PM

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I Feel Funky

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Not the smelly kind. At least I hope not.

So Brazen Hussy has left town again, this time for three long weeks. It's much worse than last time. I've been surly and distracted ever since she left. You know, that feeling when you can't do anything for more than 10 minutes, i.e. watch a lot of mindless TV (NOT in character for me)? Today I had to give more tests to little kids. It was a particularly bad class, but still - I was ready to kill some of them. Plus, last night our upstairs neighbor's teenage kid was singing Avril Lavigne off key at the top of her lungs in the middle of the night. I hate summer.

Sigh. I think I might go home early today and sulk.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:52 PM

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Declaring War On Your Allies

One of the hard things about coalition politics - i.e. the politics of actually holding power - is that you have to work with people with whom you frequently disagree. I don't mean arguing over your favorite color, I mean real, substantive issues you feel passionately about. I got a very close look at this problem last week when I cross-posted my previous post on Iraq as a diary on Daily Kos.

The Kossacks get a lot of grief for being angry bloggers, and the basic criticism of them by Jonathan Chait and others is that they are hewing to a dogma just as vociferously as the Ditto-heads. Chait claimed that anyone who disagreed with them on issues like Iraq were labeled as enemies. I had suspected this for some time, but decided to test it by writing something on Kos that went very much against the conventional wisdom of the "netroots."

It was something I happened to believe - that those Democrats who voted for continuing funding were not being irresponsible cowards. From a political point of view, Bush might just leave the troops there without funds, creating a first class disaster which he would then attempt to blame on the Democrats. Why knows, it might work. I am uneasy about risking the lives of our troops in this way, and have no interest in giving Bush a lifeline. Substantively speaking, I'm not sure I trust Bush to handle an extrication from Iraq in a competent way even if he wanted to. Given how incompetent this administration is, I fear that even if Bush made a good faith effort to extricate us from this mess, he would do so in such a ham-handed fashion that a genocide in Iraq would become inevitable. And once again this would give him a chance to say "I told you so."

I am not saying that I wouldn't have voted for the funding cut-off - I very probably would have. But there is a reasonable case to be made on the other side.

Which brings me to the reactions of Daily Kos. While there were some supportive comments, on the whole I was attacked for being a troll, for furthering Republican talking points, for being a coward, etc. This for what I thought was a pretty mild difference of opinion.

The precondition of working well with another is to assume that the other person is operating in good faith - that they mean well. If you don't then the other becomes a rival and will inevitably join your opponents. While I admire the purity of the Kossacks' passion, I have to question the degree to which they direct it at Democrats. Whether it's Hillary Clinton being too centrist, Barack Obama too religious, Edwards saying that we shouldn't forswear the use of force in diplomacy - all of them have been attacked by some for being insufficiently liberal or committed or whatever.

But I have to say, if we are going to apply such stringent test, such absolute lock-step for our purported allies and leaders, how do we expect to build a party capable of winning a stable majority? Will the last Kossack please turn the lights out?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:17 AM

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Why the Democrats Can't Cut War Funding

Friday, May 11, 2007
It's more complicated than you think. I expect that the Democrats who voted against McGovern's phased withdrawal bill yesterday are going to come under a lot of fire from the left for being warmongers in bed with Bush. But I think it's important not just to note the political peril swing-district Reps are in, but how Karl Rove might like nothing better than for Democrats to end war funding.

The key requirement of good strategy (be it military, political, or otherwise) is to consider what happens next. Frequently we just think A, then B. But unless we consider C, D, E, and F, then we are risking a gigantic blunder. The Iraq War itself is the best example of this.

Let's say that the Democrats just refuse to pass any legislation funding the war (A). Then (B) the troops have no funding. What is C? We could assume that C = Bush withdrawing the troops. But what if he just leaves them there to be cut up in a hostile land without supplies or reinforcements? What then? Why, D = Bush says "Look, the Democrats voted against the troops, who are now being killed. I told you so!" E = the country turns against the Democrats.

Now many people might not believe that George Bush would deliberately endanger the lives of American soldiers for political advantage. To which I would respond - are you kidding? When has the worst expectation of the Bushies not turned out to be the right one? It's long past time that we realize that Republicans are not bound by any principle but vanity and ambition. There's precious little they won't do.

So get it through your heads - the Democrats can't end the war. Only the Republicans in Congress can, or come November 2008, the voters.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:00 AM

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Giuliani Is An Idiot

Thursday, May 10, 2007
I mean, really.

1) He declares he's the pro-choice Republican running for President. Who does he think he is, Nelson Rockefeller?

2) His strategy is to skip IA and NH (via Hotline):

Giuliani’s campaign is pursuing a “Feb. 5 Strategy,” in fact, hoping to effectively bypass the earliest, most conservative primary contests and leverage his popularity in bigger states with bigger prizes and less conservative voting stocks.

Um, that's just not going to work. If he loses NH, he's toast. The End.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:00 PM

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More Evidence For Tom Frank's Thesis

In What's the Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank argues that conservative Culture Warriors are nothing more than useful fools for the big business elite in the Republican Party. Every election we hear about gay marriage, abortion, immigration, etc., etc. But after the election all we see are de-regulation and tax cuts. The corporate conservatives don't have the votes to win elections on their own, so they use symbolic rhetoric to win sufficient working class support to ram through their agenda. Once in power, these allies of convenience are safely ignored. Until the next election year, that is.

Frank came in for a lot of criticism for his book, mainly because it implies that cultural conservatives aren't just hate-filled rednecks, but stupid hate-filled rednecks. Setting aside the pejoratives (I've been sun-burned a time or two myself), what I find interesting is the 2008 Republican Presidential race. The top 3 candidates have all waffled on abortion and gay rights over the years - all three of them are social "moderates," or have tried to position themselves as such at one time or another. Meanwhile the red meat Christian Right candidates (Brownback & Huckabee) are practically invisible.

Of course it's been amusing for me to watch McCain, Romney, and Giuliani perform contortions worthy of circus performers in their efforts to ameliorate the religious right. But I must say, if I were a culture warrior I would be pissed. The reason Huckabee and Brownback aren't "top tier" candidates are because they have no money or organizational support. In other words, the elite in the Republican Party just doesn't give a damn about the religious right's agenda. They have too many gay friends, you see. And what if their daughters get pregnant?

I'd like to think that the Christian Right will get so disgusted that they'll just give up and go away. But they've become so conditioned by decades of dog-whistle politics that I doubt it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:34 PM

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Cognitive Dissonance, Anyone?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007
People really are amazing. Just amazing. (via Andrew Sullivan)
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:10 PM

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Now There's No Need To Be Silly

There's this big to-do because a Republican congressman quoted Nathan Bedford Forrest on the House floor. Now I understand why people don't like Forrest - he was the founder of the KKK, after all. But the quote in question is in reference to Forrest's military career, which was by anyone's definition a remarkable one. Shelby Foote called him one of the two authentic geniuses to emerge from the Civil War, after all. If Congressman Poe's quote had concerned racism, I would support the critique of him. But to attack Poe for quoting a famous general about military matters because of that general's political beliefs in more than a stretch. I quote Napoleon and Machiavelli all the time - does that mean I'm implictly endorsing Bonapartism and assassination?

Let's not engage in ridiculous smears like the opposition, shall we? There's plenty to criticize Republicans for without being petty about it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:04 AM

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How Much Influence Do Drug Companies Have?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007
This much. Some absurd percentage of Americans think we should be able to import pharmaceutical drugs into the U.S. - I think it's like 80% - and we can't gather more than 40 votes for it in the Senate? The safety concerns are pretty absurd, since we are supposed to scan imports anyway. The underlying bill was about improving the FDA, after all. And I'm not impressed with the argument that we can't include the drug import provision because the President was promising a veto. Shouldn't we force the President to veto popular bills, and then force Republican Senators to vote to sustain the veto? Hello! Political strategy 101, people!

No, what this is really about is that Senators are surrounded 24 hours a day by drug company lobbyists, and gave $20 million in campaign contributions last year.

And folks think we're going to get National Health Care without campaign finance reform. Feh.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:19 AM

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Rudy Giuliani Exists To Entertain Me

Monday, May 07, 2007
No. Stop. Ow. My sides. I can't stop laughing. Really, Rudy, you're killing me!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:19 PM

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Light Posting Lately, Huh?

Friday, May 04, 2007
So there's been several news stories I'd planned on commenting on, but haven't. I have also not responded to others' posts, or given any meaningful information about my life lately. The last couple of weeks I've been thoroughly obsessed with my dissertation and exhausted from giving tests to little kids. My remaining mental energy has gone to my wife, with a bit left over for my pets.

Heck, I didn't even watch the Republican Presidential debate last night! Instead Brazen & I had a yummy dinner, drank wine, ate cake and watched an old Buffy episode. Doesn't that sound nicer than watching a bunch of pandering old white men, none of whom are going to be President? I think so too.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:18 AM

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Oh no. I'm never going to hear the end of this.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007
via Rageyone

You Belong in New Zealand

Good on ya, mate
You're the best looking one of the bunch
Though you're often forgotten...
You're quite proud of who you are
What English Speaking Country Are You?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:17 PM

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Conservativism as Voodoo

Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The Republicans are completely obsessed with Ronald Reagan. Whether it's fighting over his legacy or searching for his successor, they just can't seem to move on. It's not surprising that Reagan would hold such a powerful place in their hearts, since he was the only straightforwardly ideological President the Republicans have had who wasn't a total disaster (unlike Bush). If they can reincarnate Reagan & Reaganism, they can put Bush safely behind them. If not, not.

But like the DLC Democrats in regard to Clinton, conservative Republicans have learned all the wrong lessons from Reagan's victories. Reagan won in 1980 through a unique confluence of circumstances: the "eastern establishment" was in disarray, Carter was incredibly unpopular because of stagflation and the hostage crisis, and Anderson's 3rd party candidacy won a bunch of moderate voters who had no interest in the California Cowboy. Reagan would have won without Anderson on the ballot, but with Anderson off the ballot and no hostage crisis? Or no oil shock? No way. As for 1984, Reagan ran a campaign so devoid of substance that the Democrats actually gained seats in the Senate. Some landslide. I'm sorry, but I'm never impressed with campaigns that get incumbents re-elected in times of peace & prosperity. It's just not that hard.

The fact is that ideological candidates almost never win the Presidency. Bush I ran as a centrist in 1988, Clinton as a neo-populist moderate in 1992, Bush II as a "compassionate conservative." One can go back even further - Carter was a conservative Democrat in 1976, Nixon was a Peace candidate in 1968, Kennedy ran against the Missile Gap in 1960, Eisenhower was a temperamental moderate, etc. etc. etc. Before Reagan, the last successful candidate who ran as an ideologue was Harry Truman in 1948 - and he was an incumbent.

Like or not, this is a moderate country. Republicans can convince themselves that they just need the right messenger in order to fashion their night watchman state/theocracy/empire, but the reality is that even if they could overcome those self-evident contradictions, the country as a whole kind of likes the New Deal, personal liberties, and peace.

So go ahead and keep wasting your time trying to create zombies. Meanwhile we'll be busy running real live candidates and winning real live races.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:48 PM

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