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The Third Estate
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What Does It Want To Be?
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The State of Play

Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Democratic and Republican nomination contests are finally reaching the final stage. On the Republican side, McCain has managed to assemble plurality support in a badly divided field, which because of the Republicans' winner-take-all rules will allow him to secure the nomination with ease, assuming that he performs to expectations on February 5.

The Democratic side has also crystallized into a 2-person race. As an aside, I'd like to wish John & Elizabeth Edwards well. They ran an excellent and impassioned campaign, and but for the hostility of the national press and Obama's entry into the race, I think Edwards would have stood an excellent chance at becoming the nominee. I very much hope to see him sitting in the Attorney Generals' chair a year from now.

Edwards' departure introduces yet another element of instability into the Democratic contest. Two weeks ago, Clinton had piled up large leads on the February 5 states based on her institutional support and popularity among women, hispanics, & white working class voters - and seemed the likely nominee. Her surprising thorough defeat in South Carolina gave Obama's campaign a new surge of momentum and put her nomination once more in doubt. Obama's campaign since then has been nearly flawless, as he has dominated media coverage and reduced or eliminated the gap in many state and national polls.

All South Carolina did was put Obama back into contention, however - Clinton still would have to favored. Except for Edwards' withdrawal. Edwards' voters fall into 2 distinct camps - self-styled "progressives" who will likely gravitate to Obama, and white working class voters who were attracted to Edwards' background and populist message. It remains to be seen whether the latter group are anti-Clinton "change" voters who might support Obama, or will gravitate to Clinton, who has done well among that demographic thus far.

Edwards himself has the ability to play a decisive role, if he wishes. The fact that he dropped out of the race the day after the Florida primary ruined the Clinton strategy to build momentum and blunt the effects of the South Carolina disaster - the media focused all of its attention on Edwards, and Clinton's success in Florida disappeared from the front page. If Edwards were to endorse on Sunday or Monday, he would again probably dominate coverage and give one or the other candidate a tiny bit more momentum - which could prove decisive on February 5. One suspects that he would be more likely to back Obama, but you never know.

Clinton's best strategy is to focus on economic issues and concentrate her resources on California. If she wins that state by a comfortable margin, she can reasonably claim victory that day. I would also get Bill Clinton off of the campaign trail - hard as it is to believe, he was a liability in South Carolina, and his prominence has made Hillary look weak.

Obama's task is harder. While he has had a very good few days, he needs to continue to control the national media narrative to have a chance next Tuesday. He's already begun working to improve his support among Latinos (a Bill Richardson endorsement would be handy here, if he could get it), and Edwards' backing would be extraordinarily helpful. He is also hitting the electability question, making the argument that he has a better chance against McCain (which I and a lot of other people, including some Clinton supporters, think is true). But what's missing thus far is the economic component to his message that has been lacking since the beginning. There's no need to get bogged down in specifics, but a general policy that seemed pretty bold would probably do him wonders among working-class undecideds. My personal favorite would be for him to address the question of consumer indebtedness, and maybe he could propose a "Hope Grant for America" - substantial tuition grants to anyone who does well in high school and forgiveness for current student loans. Attacking the problem of high credit card and mortgage debt would be good too. Obama has the spotlight at the moment, and deploying such a proposal in the next few days might put him over the edge.

I have to say, this election season has been the most dramatic and unpredictable since at least 1968. Let's hope it ends on a better note.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:46 PM

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Getting Back in the Game

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
My long-time readers will know that I was very involved in politics back in New York, but ever since moving Uville, I've been laying low. Part of it was because I needed a break, but I also needed to focus on my dissertation. Politics can be a very time consuming hobby! I got to know a few people around town, but pretty much kept to the fringes. So other than doing some work the month before the 2006 elections, I was essentially invisible.

Or so I thought. It turns out that when I told people that I was going to be a lot more involved in 2008, they listened. Apparently there's been widespread speculation about what candidate I'd be working for this year. Who knew? It's pretty flattering, actually.

I've decided to manage the campaign of someone running for a local office. I won't say which office or where of course, but the candidate is a very earnest man who I know moderately well and comes highly recommended by people I like. He doesn't have much experience as a candidate, but he's got a lot of substance. The downside is that the primary race is contested, which means I'll have to be fighting with other Democrats. There are three seats open and four candidates - two women and two men (everybody runs on the same ballot and the top three vote-getters get in).

To make matters somewhat more awkward, one woman ("S") and one man ("W") are incumbents, which means in the eyes of many people, the race will be between my male candidate (call him G) and the other nonincumbent female candidate (call her J). I don't really know J, but I can count: there's a very strong women's political organization here, and Democratic primaries are usually overwhelming female. So if it's a straight-up contest that falls along gender lines, we lose. Which means I'll have to focus on defeating the incumbent man, W (no relation to Bush!), who is about 80 years old and whom no one thought was seeking another term. Frankly I'd much rather try to defeat an old man who doesn't campaign much than a woman who's been involved in local campaigns for years. I'm going to have to hope that my candidate, G, can out-campaign and win over women by avoiding the impression he's running against J - all without going negative on W. Very tricky.

It's all quite exciting, and Brazen Hussy has been very supportive (she encouraged me to do it, even). I've missed being involved in electoral politics, and I've never been the principal campaign manager before. I'm sure I'll make a lot of mistakes, but then again who doesn't. I'm trying to persuade myself I won't be that upset if we lose. Sure I won't.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:37 AM

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There's Negative, and There's Just Mean

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I admit it - I find negative politics sort of entertaining. I think there's an art form to the good slam, in the same way that you like to light up your buddies over a beer: you're always really "kidding on the square," and it's particularly delicious when you actually don't like your "buddy." In politics, it's easy (and emotionally satisfying) to attack your opponent, to reduce their career to shivering pieces for having the audacity to challenge your preferred candidate. It's not the most admirable part of the human personality, but there it is.

(BTW if I were running a campaign against me, I would have a field day with the above paragraph. Which perhaps is a very good reason for me to never run for anything).

BUT, there's a not-so-fine line between going on the offensive against an opponent and just being a creep. Which is where Paul Waldman's latest piece in the American Prospect comes in. Waldman accurately points to a long-running desire among Democrats for "our own Karl Rove" - someone who will do to Republicans what they've been doing to us. Now I've always rejected these calls, because a) I don't Rove is that smart (whatever happened to that Permanent Republican Majority anyway?) and b) we don't have to lie like they do. I mean, if my opponent is a crook, why would I have to make it up?

Waldman suggests that Hillary Clinton's campaign is precisely what the aforementioned frustrated Democrats have been looking for: Clinton has misrepresented a number of things about Obama, and pushed memes that have only a slight association to the truth. To be fair, Obama's folks have occasionally done similar things. But Clinton's people have clearly been much more effective at it, and if what you want is a "fighter," then maybe Clinton is what you're looking for. However, notes Waldman, a lot of liberals have been left with a bad taste after watching a few weeks of these sorts of shenanigans. We are supposed to be the good guys, aren't we?

I think Waldman is making a pretty serious error here. He's assuming that tough negative attacks are inherently slimy, and therefore anyone engaging in them is going to become covered with said unappetizing substance. But I don't think this is necessarily the case, as long as the attacks are fair. It would be very easy to lay out a case against Obama on the grounds that he lacks substance, experience, or any obvious examples of leadership in the Senate. All of these accusations are contestable, but all of them also have an element of truth - in the same way that Hillary Clinton is an incrementalist and a hawk, or that Edwards' positions today are very different from his record in the Senate. Fighting a primary campaign on those grounds would give the voters the option of making their decision based on the real characteristics of the candidates - rather than the freakish caricatures we see now.

Which is what makes me so discouraged about the current state of the Democratic primary campaign. Rather than crafting an aggressive form of politics that highlights the real distinctions between candidates - a skill we will desperately need in the general election and while governing - our candidates have been indulging in the lowest, most pointless, stupidest form of electioneering policy: mud-slinging without merit. Moral considerations aside, tell me, how in the world can we expect to out-dirty the Republicans? How is cultivating cynicism or bringing politics into disrepute going to help the cause of reform?

So fight the war, by all means. Just don't cheat.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:33 PM

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Happy Birthday, Roe vs. Wade!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Or as I like to think of it, Happy Women Are People Too, Dammit Day.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:40 PM

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A Meme Wherein I Reveal That I Am Bourgeois Slime

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college but she did it through night school years later
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers. I'm not sure what this means.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home. Well, they were mostly my books....
9. Were read children's books by a parent
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 Only because I lived with my Dad for a few years, who had money.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs. I wish!
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school Only for one year.
17. Went to summer camp
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home My mom did rent when I was 15-16.
25. You had your own room as a child
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 Only to go see my Dad, or when he flew me back to see my Mom.
31. Went on a cruise with your family
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up I have this vague memory of one....
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family Well, I never knew the specific amount, but by Mom was very firm on how high the temperature was supposed to be.

So I basically grew up a white suburban kid, except for a couple of years living with my Dad where I was loaded, and then a couple of years in high school living with my Mom when we were broke.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:30 AM

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Saturday Morning Animal Blogging

Saturday, January 19, 2008
I swear these have nothing to do with puke.

It's been ages since I put up any cat and dog photos, so here we are:

Here's Gatsby wearing a Christmas present from my mom -

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And Nikita last night. She used to sit under the monitor on my desk when I worked there, but it's been a while and I don't think she realizes that she doesn't fit any more. Misha was just trying to get warm sitting next to the lamp, I think.

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A fight soon ensued between the two of them.

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Yes my desk is messy. What of it? So is Barack Obama's, apparently.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:29 AM

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Hey!

Friday, January 18, 2008
Where'd everybody go? It seems like everyone has joined the Facebook Imperium lately.

P.S. Sitting on the couch in animal vomit for an hour before you realize it's there is...unsavory.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:31 PM

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Stress Management

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I spent the weekend recuperating from last week's disasters, and I've also re-written the "lost" chapter of my dissertation. I'm not thrilled with it, but I'm hoping that it's either better than I think or that my advisor will have some helpful comments during the editing process.

I'm hoping to sit down with my boss sometime next week and figure out exactly what my portfolio is going to be. Whatever went on last week just can't continue. I was ridiculously stressed out and exhausted from over-work.

Speaking of, how do you super-academic types deal with stress? I'm not a very good multi-tasker, and all this lurching from deadline to deadline makes me a little crazy. Brazen Hussy says that she makes lists to give her some feeling of control, but I don't know if that would work for me. The last time I had a high-stress job, I'd tried a sort of Hellenistic/Zen approach of emotional detachment - just treating as something peripheral to my real, internal life. The approach had some advantages, but it was a lot of work and I wonder sometimes if this is an unhealthy way to deal with the world. Aren't I suppose to care about things?

P.S. I'm going to try and ignore the Presidential nomination contest until it's over. Watching good candidates attack each other every day over stupid stuff is just demoralizing.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:11 PM

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January, I Bite My Thumb At You!

Monday, January 14, 2008
So do you remember how thrilled I was on January 1, when I finished the last chapter of my dissertation? Well that wasn't just the high point of the year, that was the only bright spot. I started working in my new job on the 2nd, and had to work every single day, at least 10 hours a day (sometimes more) and frequently on the weekend. I've also been sick - yes I worked over the weekend while I was ill. How's that for dedication? But apparently this level of work wasn't good enough, because I was essentially attacked by my boss and one of the senior researchers because they didn't like how I did it. And afterwards it turns out that my "screw-ups" were a)extremely minor, or b) the result of edits to my work by the very people yelling at me. I've been given huge projects to do with little time to do them in and no consideration from my superiors of what they're asking, or that the pursuit of one ridiculous deadline is compromising every other deadline. And instead of appreciation, I've gotten nothing but criticism. To make matters worse, I've been responsible not just for my new job, but I've continued to be treated like an assistant and given all the work from my old job too. I even have the same office, which I share with a graduate student. Everybody else in my position has their own office. I know that's a small point, and I feel kind of silly making it, but it's certainly an important symbolic gesture.

To make matters worse, yesterday afternoon I discovered that my bright spot wasn't really a bright spot at all. When I went to edit my last chapter, I discovered that all the work I'd done on the 1st was gone. Completely evaporated. Poof. It turns out that, like Weezy, I saved an older copy of the chapter over the new one. So my backups were useless, and I've been wandering around thinking I was done when I still had my most difficult chapter to write.

Things had better start looking up soon, or I'm just going to wig out.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:51 AM

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Looking Silly in a Crowd of Silly People

Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Like virtually every other political analyst, pundit, and informed observer in the United States, I expected Barack Obama to win the New Hampshire primary. The state looked like a good fit for him, he had momentum, and the Clinton campaign was reeling from negative coverage and an incoherent strategy. And, like everybody else, I was stunned by Clinton's victory. To risk sounding uncharitable, I think her victory was a little flukey - it had less to do with her organization or campaign and more to do with other factors: sympathy from women who didn't like how she was being bullied, late-deciding and Biden/Dodd voters breaking for Clinton, Obama's own weaknesses with working class white voters, Edwards' weak performance, the fact that a lot of male independents probably took Obama's victory for granted and voted for McCain - there are a ton of potential reasons.

But you can't take away the fact that Hillary has lived to fight another day. The onus is now on Obama to win in South Carolina. If he loses there, he's finished. If he wins, then the campaign really is a toss-up. Any number of factors could shape the outcome: when Edwards drops out and where his supporters go (which really isn't clear), what Florida does even though no one is allowed to campaign there, how the media treats the delegate-less Florida and Michigan, how Nevada votes. But the ultimate test will, I believe, be controlled by the rival campaigns of Obama and Clinton. Whoever is the best candidate, with the best message, will probably win. Which is exactly as it should be.

This really is the weirdest election cycle I can remember.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:05 PM

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My Most Unexpected Blog Post Ever

Friday, January 04, 2008
I'm going to talk about...the IOWA CAUCUSES! Can you believe it?

You can read all about the meaning of the results at innumerable news sites and blogs, but I'd like to point a few things that really interested me:

1) This the first election I've ever heard of where the under-30 vote showed up in proportion to their population. These folks NEVER turn out at a decent clip, ESPECIALLY not in caucuses. It's just amazing. If Barack Obama can do this everywhere, we are looking at a fundamental change in the way campaigns have to be run - besides that fact that Obama will be the nominee and cream whatever chump the Republicans put up.

2) Barack Obama has to be the favorite for the nomination. Now I'm not saying Clinton is a goner, but Obama was close in NH anyway, and the favorable media attention from this victory should put him over. The next primary is only 5 days away, which probably isn't enough to stop Obama's momentum and change the narrative. Plus Obama is perfectly suited to New Hampshire's democratic primary electorate, being an intellectual bipartisan reformer type. If Obama wins there, he is almost certain to defeat Clinton in South Carolina, where the Democratic Primary will be half African-American. If Obama wins three in a row, he's going to cruise to the nomination. Clinton HAS to win New Hampshire - and I think her people know it.

3) If Barack does become the nominee, he will do it almost entirely on his own - solely with the strength of his personal organization. He doesn't have a ton of endorsements, he's not being supported by any of the major constituencies of the party - labor, women, environmentalists, or even the black leadership (my mustn't they be kicking themselves right now), or the liberal blogs. I'm not sure if I want a candidate that independent, but it's not totally unprecedented - John Kennedy did the same thing back in 1960.

4) Speaking of liberal blogs, I'm eagerly awaiting furious backpedaling by a bunch of "netroots" Obama-haters - strictly for the amusement factor. There's a reason I haven't spent my time attacking any of the other Democrats: they're all good candidates I could support, and there's no point saying anything you're going to regret later. I think that there are a lot of smart, well-meaning progressives out there, but sometimes I think they let their enthusiasm get away from them. We aren't electing a messiah, after all.

I will no go back to work and pretend I'm not getting sick with the crud Brazen Hussy has given me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:43 PM

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2nd Christmas

Thursday, January 03, 2008
I'm so excited at the prospect of the Iowa Caucuses that I'm having trouble focusing on work. Yes I'm a big old political nerd, but I can't help it. I have a preferred candidate, but I'd be satisfied with any of the first OR second tier candidates (except Kucinich). I'm also VERY ready to stop hearing Democrats bash on Democrats. It's just silly.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:36 AM

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Say What?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008
So...

A long time ago, in a state sort of far away, our hero started graduate school to get a PhD in political science. He wasn't sure why he was doing it - he basically just couldn't think of anything better to do. I mean, how hard could it be? Our hero was, of course, an idiot who didn't know anything, and had the inestimable pleasure of spending the next TEN YEARS taking classes, passing his comps, deciding he didn't want to finish, being instructed that he was GOING to finish, getting married, moving across the country, setting the damn thing aside, picking it up again, working full time jobs, getting an extension, etc., etc., goddamn etc.

A while ago our hero decided that unless he finished by January 1, 2008, there was no way he'd be able to complete the dissertation on time. Well, today is January 1, 2008, and he finished the accursed bane of his twenties about 10 minutes ago (a few years into his thirties...).

Now he will sit back in shock with a glass of scotch and a head full of disbelief. Because he is (that is, I am) done writing my dissertation. It just doesn't sound right, does it?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 5:49 PM

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