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Um, What's Loyalty Good For, Anyway?

Saturday, March 29, 2008
I've been in politics long enough to think that I was beyond outrage, but it turns out I was wrong. In this morning's op-ed at the Washington Post, James Carville defended his assertion that Bill Richardson was a "Judas" for endorsing Barack Obama. Carville claims that since Richardson's cabinet appointment, Richardson was obligated to at least remain neutral:

I believed that Richardson's appointments in Bill Clinton's administration and his longtime personal relationship with both Clintons, combined with his numerous assurances to the Clintons and their supporters that he would never endorse any of Sen. Hillary Clinton's opponents, merited a strong response.

Let's break this down, shall we? Richardson is friendly to Bill Clinton, was appointed to a Cabinet position by Bill Clinton, and said he wouldn't endorse anyone else, and this makes him a traitor. Well, I would hazard a guess that Clinton didn't nominate Richardson because they were friends - I expect he also wanted to make use of Richardson's political talents, for which Clinton derived a great deal of benefit - the relationship was a 2 way street, not a gracious boon to a subject from a generous monarch. Hence, no obligation would be generated. As for going back on his (supposed) word that he would endorse no one else, this act (if true), would make Richardson a liar, but not disloyal - not an attack Carville can really make with a straight face, given Bill's track record. As for being "friendly," this might generate some personal obligation, but would only amount to treachery if Richardson actually said mean things about Clinton, which he didn't. I'm friendly with lots of people - people I would never hire for a job, by the way.

Finally, Carville is conflating Richardson's (supposed) obligations to Bill Clinton. Where, may I ask, is BIll Clinton running for office? I really don't remember his name anywhere on the ballot. I know in a biblical sense husband and wife are supposed to be of "one flesh," but this is taking it a little far.

After eight years of the Bush administration, and a year of watching Clinton's campaign follies, I've come to the conclusion that loyalty may be a vice masquerading as a virtue. As Brazen Hussy just said to me a minute ago, loyalty is fundamentally unprincipled - it is without any moral content beyond personal history. How many times have we watched excuses made horrific actions on the grounds of loyalty? Loyalty is a we-feeling, the cousin of flag-waving xenophobia that trumpets liberty while endorsing torture. It is detached from any independent consideration of what is right or wrong, or even expedient, in favor of some half-baked personal attachment. Look, I love my dog, but I'd never let him drive the car - does that me disloyal?

I greatly fear that recent discussions of "loyalty" to one's political allies is just another manifestation of the creeping power of aristocracy in American politics - where politics is a matter of family and friends, rather than principles and law. I hope I'm wrong.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:45 AM

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Cue Tension-Filled Music

Friday, March 28, 2008
It is now Friday March 28, which means my defense is in 3 days. Tomorrow morning we're hopping in the car to drive to the state where my university is. Sunday I'll panic. Monday I'll defend my dissertation. I can't seem to decide whether 3 days is too much time or not enough.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:37 PM

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Wherein I Demonstrate My Brilliance. Again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The Massachusetts health care plan is collapsing because there isn't enough cash for the subsidy and they can't get the insurance companies to cooperate. Hmm. Now who would ever have predicted that?

Oh, and uh, pay no attention to the many times I've been completely wrong, okay?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:33 PM

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Ingredients for Doing Soul-Crushing Data Collection

1. Ipod playing the Pixies
2. Frequent checks of email and bloglines (slackers!)
3. Plans for attending Scotch Tasting This Evening
4. Boss out of town.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:11 AM

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No More Nightmares?

Monday, March 24, 2008
Almost every night for the last month I've had bad dreams in which I've failed my dissertation defense. Nearly every time one person was the lead actor, the head of the department who is also on my committee and is very, very picky. How have I been feeling about my defense? Dread is not the word.

Well about 10 minutes ago I got an email from said Scary Professor, who said that he really liked my dissertation. To quote:

"This is an extremely thorough and careful investigation of [the stuff I study]. It reflects an enormous amount of work on your part..."

Maybe now I can get some sleep at night.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:52 PM

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Brains! (updated)

Sunday, March 23, 2008
Happy Easter. Or, as amusingly noted by the folks at the Superficial, Happy Zombie Day.

I can't believe I never thought of that before.

To make today even better, Duke lost in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament to West Virginia. I hate Duke. I really do.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:45 AM

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Third Thoughts

Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I haven't seen Obama's speech. I was at work when he gave it, and read the transcript instead during lunch. Now so much has been said about it that I'm afraid that I'll never be able to watch it with an objective eye. I also think that perhaps it is a work better read that seen or heard, because it less a speech than an essay - a meditation on the role that personal relationships and our view of them play in our politics.

Yes the speech was about race, but interestingly enough it was about far more than race. Race was an example of Obama's larger thesis - that we must look for the good in one another. I have relatives who I disagree with on virtually everything, family members whose choices I strongly disapprove of - but I forgive them and move one. I try to accept what they are, to treat them with the charity they deserve. And I think that is what Obama was attempting to communicate. We as Americans have to cease dwelling on our differences in favor of our common citizenship. The personal is not political - it is simply personal.

The call for racial healing meant a great deal to me, of course. I'm a Southerner by upbringing, with all that comes with that legacy. I've anguished not just over what others have done, but over my own conscience - because none of us are truly free of prejudices. It's what we do with them that matters.

In the final analysis the problem of race in America, while a central to our national experience, is only the most prominent instance of essentially artificial tribal distinctions, distinctions that have always been the most cruelest weapon in the hands of the powerful.

Finally, while I've always supported Obama's candidacy, I always kept in mind that he is just a politician, likely to disappoint as often as he inspires us. But now I'm beginning to think he really is what so many have wished him to be - the sort of leader that comes along once in a generation. And just in time.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:27 PM

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Scary Paragraph

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
So I was reading a book the other night and this passage struck me with particular force:

...I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one has blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try and make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life has become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard, said they were.

- William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

I know I'm breaking Godwin's Law, but you have to admit it's a little spooky.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:39 PM

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An Honest Question

Monday, March 17, 2008
If the U.S. (and global?) financial system is in a state of near-meltdown, why are the most important political issues of the day sex scandals, ministers, and whether women or blacks are more oppressed?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:41 AM

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Thursday, March 13, 2008
I'm not going to get into the details of the Spitzer scandal, but just let me say that after having been involved in New York politics during his rise to power - it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. More interestingly, the scandal has sparked a debate over the legal status of prostitution. Bradford Plummer and Kerry Howley (via Matt Yglesias), and sort of Samhita at Feministing are all arguing for decriminalization - on a variety of consequentialist, feminist, and autonomy grounds.

The issue of legalizing prostitution has always been philosophically tricky for me. I remember an argument with La Blonde Parisienne over it while waiting at a train station in Italy I understand the basic (good) arguments: that people have a right to do what they like with their own lives, that criminalizing sexual behavior only forces it underground and makes life worse for prostitutes, among others.

But I've never been convinced. I can't get past the inherent exploitation, the uniquely degrading situation of people selling sex for money. For the same reason that we don't permit people to sell themselves into slavery or sell their organs, I think we probably shouldn't condone selling sex. It's dehumanizing in a way that sitting at a desk or building houses for a paycheck isn't. The latter is a question of time, or sweat, or thought, but it isn't intimate the way prostitution is. Prostitution makes people into things, into pure commodities for another's use. I suppose one could argue that having any job at all is to be treated as a means to some other's end, but can you really tell me that a blow job is commensurate with typing on a computer? Would you do your friend a favor doing the latter, but I sincerely doubt you'd do the former.

And by the way, I don't like the way employers treat their employees as commodities anyway. Let's not exacerbate the problem, shall we?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:03 AM

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Horrifying Thought Of The Day

Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I'm listening to 80's tunes on my ipod and it just occurred to me that the kid they put in my office wasn't alive when most of these songs were released.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:39 PM

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I'm Incredibly Frustrated

Friday, March 07, 2008
The attacks of the Obama and Clinton campaign on each other are to be expected - they're competing for the presidency, and I expect a certain degree of emotionalism. I think Clinton's campaign has been a bit nastier, and has walked very, very close to the line of acceptability, but Obama has gotten in some good hits as well. Yes I'm an Obama supporter, and on occasion I've indulged in emotions that aren't constructive because I want my candidate to win. But at the end of the day I recognize that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama are the enemy. If Clinton gets the nomination I'll sulk for a few days and then get over it.

What disturbs me is the level of vitriol out there on the internets. Obama and Clinton supporters accuse the other candidates and the other bloggers/commenters of being despicable human beings, pseudo-Republicans, fanatics, or tools. I have had enough of this infantile bickering. Make the affirmative case for your candidate or be quiet. Criticize the other candidate, but don't get so wrapped up in your own loyalties that you lose all perspective. John McCain is running to perpetuate the disastrous policies of the last eight years, and Clinton and Obama are running to change them. The only appreciable difference between Obama and Clinton substantively is their history on Iraq, but even those who are strongly anti-war should prefer Clinton, because McCain is the quite simply an imperialist warmonger. Whatever her ambiguities on Iraq, she's better than McCain.

The idea that a Clinton or Obama supporter would either vote for a third George Bush term or passively enable one because they didn't get their way in the primaries is just juvenile. People need to grow the hell up.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:33 AM

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Greatest Lip Sync of A Sitcom Theme Song Ever

Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Youtube rocks.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:40 PM

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Pyrrhic Victories

Upon defeating a Roman army in a particularly bloody battle, the Greek general Pyrrhus was congratulated upon his triumph. Pyrrhus's reply: More such victories, and we are ruined.

Last night was a disaster for the Democratic Party. Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas will extend the nomination contest for at least another six weeks, and likely until the convention in late August. Now this is no comment on Hillary Clinton's candidacy or qualifications per se - if the situations were reversed, I would writing a very similar post about Barack Obama.

Thus far, the Democratic contest has been relatively cordial. Democrats liked both candidates, and the prolonged contest was in many respects strengthening the Democratic Party by assisting in grass-roots organizing and popular attention. However, last week the Clinton campaign, narrowly behind in Texas and narrowly ahead in Ohio, realizing that defeat in those primaries spelled the end, chose to wage a so-called "kitchen sink" negative campaign. They threw up lots of stuff hoping something, anything, would stick. They also cleverly bashed the press for favoring Obama, which resulted in somewhat more negative coverage of Barack.

Obama is now faced with a major dilemma. He can respond in kind, making his own negative attacks on Clinton. This would drive up his negatives, weaken him among independents in the general election, and risk the specter of the "angry black man" that would doom his candidacy in the long term. Or he can continue to run a positive campaign making only subtle jabs at Clinton, and risk Pennsylvania turning into another Ohio. There are no good choices. The Clinton campaign, recognizing that a purely negative campaign worked in Ohio and Texas, will likely heighten the intensity of attacks. The results? Two badly wounded candidates, with sharper divisions among their supporters and a party struggling to unite in August.

Last night was the worst possible scenario - a Clinton campaign with sufficient momentum to continue the campaign, but insufficient delegates to win the nomination. The fact is that there simply aren't enough delegates left for Clinton to pass Obama in pledged delegates. Obama is strongly favored in Mississippi, South Dakota, Montana, and has a better than even chance in North Carolina and Oregon. Clinton is favored in Kentucky and West Virginia. Indiana and Pennsylvania are, as far as I can tell, toss-ups. To win the nomination, she has to do more than win a majority of the popular vote in most of the remaining contests, particularly Indiana and Pennsylvania. She has to do well enough to win a floor fight to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations, and THEN persuade enough superdelegates to give her the nomination.

If she succeeds through negative campaigning, support from party officials, and by changing the primary rules (by seating Florida and Michigan), she will hopelessly alienate Obama's supporters (who would view her nomination as illegitimate) and reinforce the worst stereotypes about her personality. The party would be crippled going into the general election, with only 8 weeks to restore the damage. McCain would likely cruise to victory.

Remember, this is Clinton's best case scenario, and it is extremely unlikely. She might lose Pennsylvania, which would likely end the campaign. If she wins though, then Obama and Clinton will probably win the contests where each is favored, i.e. trading victories through the Convention. Obama would retain a 100 or so lead in pledged delegates, enough to control the credentials committee. Clinton will make a major push to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations as is, lose at the credentials committee, and take it to the floor - where she loses again. The Superdelegates, realizing that Obama has the advantage, support him. Obama wins the nomination, but with an angry Clinton bloc, months of negative attacks against him, and unhappy state parties in two swing states.

It's possible to mitigate the bloodletting, I suppose. Perhaps there will be a compromise over Florida and Michigan, but I doubt it. Why? Because Clinton's hopes for victory rest with the large margins she won in those 2 states. A do-over, or a reduction in the size of their delegations, would deprive of her of much of that margin. And selecting her as Obama's running mate isn't going to magically alleviate a year of bad feelings. How much influence do you really think she'd have in an Obama administration, anyway? Would she really be willing to wait another 8 years to try for the Presidency (when she's 68)?

I've come to the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that Hillary Clinton will become President. She'll either lose the nomination, or take it under conditions that would make it impossible for her to defeat McCain. I can't blame her for doing everything necessary to achieve her life's ambition. I might do the same thing. But I'm afraid this contest is beginning to resemble a prisoner's dilemma, where Clinton's personal interest is undermining the general interest. It's sad, but we are where we are.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:31 PM

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Dazed and Bewildered

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
I mailed my dissertation manuscript to my committee yesterday. My defense still has to be scheduled, but it looks like it'll be late march. It just doesn't seem real.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:59 AM

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