Balkinization  

Saturday, January 31, 2004

JB

Will Dubya Dump Dick?

The Asia Times wants to know, (link via MaxSpeak) and gives reasons why Cheney is in more trouble than most people think.

Dumping Cheney, however, would probably cause more problems for Bush than keeping him, unless Cheney falls victim to a significant scandal, involving, for example, his former company Halliburton, from which he still receives deferred income.

But Bush is a gambler, and he might try a bold move to split the Democratic coalition in half. The boldest of the bold choices? None other than Condi Rice, the National Security Advisor, who would be the first African-American (and only the second woman) on a national ticket. Take that, Democrats!


JB

Free Lunch Conservatism

I agree with Nick Confessore's observation (also made here) that President Bush's spending policies make perfect sense if you stop thinking of him as a fiscal conservative. Rather, he is a social and religious conservative who also happens to be a very canny politician and who believes in doing whatever is necessary to stay in power. Bush has hit on the perfect formula for doing this: free lunch conservatism:

The key concept is not that Bush is a traditional small-government conservative -- which would involve difficult and politically costly policy trade-offs -- but that he and his party have consistently and unabashedly used the mechanisms of government to reward and enrich key allies, mainly business interests, wealthy individuals, and -- to a lesser extent -- religious conservatives.

Sometimes this has involved traditionally conservative mechanisms, such as cutting taxes or reducing regulation. Sometimes it's involved traditionally liberal methods, such as new government spending. There has been no consistent principle involved, except the determination to stay in power. Nor has there been much attention to the long-term effects of the inherent contradictions in such a policy. So the administration passed a Medicare "reform" that buys off seniors with a drug benefit and hands billions of dollars in subsidies and government spending to HMOs, drug companies, and doctors -- all while specifically prohibiting cost-saving measures like using federal bargaining power to reduce the price of pharmaceuticals. The result is -- all at once -- generous corporate pork; a massive entitlement program; and deregulation. It's a combination that boosts the GOP's ability to stay in power in Washington. But the resulting cost -- ballooning health care costs that in turn will further balloon the deficit -- gets kicked down the road. If a Democrat president is elected to clean up the mess, that's about all he'll be able to accomplish before the next Republican is elected.


Put in these terms, most of Bush's fiscal decisions during his Presidency make perfect sense. They may not be good policy, but they are good politics, especially if the goal is to win a second term, and your governing motto is apres moi, le deluge.

But wait, you might object, how can this be good politics? The election of 2004 may turn out to be very close if the economy doesn't recover soon. The key point, as articulated by political scientist William Riker (no, not the Star Trek first officer) many years ago, is that the most efficient way to stay in power is to form a coalition of approximately 51 percent, not 90 percent. The reason is that if you plan to stay in power by distributing money from your enemies to your allies, you want to give your allies as much as you can to keep them on your side. The spoils of power must be spread more thinly the larger your coalition gets, but you can lay it on thicker if your coalition is smaller. The sweet spot is a coalition of exactly 51 percent. Conversely, the smaller your opposition, the less resources they have to bleed that you can distribute to your allies; so you don't want them too small. The magic number for your opponents, it turns out is 49 percent.

Does this sound familiar? A recent New York Times op-ed by former Al Gore speech writer Daniel Pink showed that the majority of Bush Red states were net recipients of federal largesse, while the majority of Gore Blue states were net givers. Bush has formed a coalition of states that mostly suckle at the national teat, paid for disproportionately by his political adversaries, states that vote Democratic.

I know that many liberals and progressives like to comfort themselves with the notion that President Bush is not very intelligent. This continues to be the most dangerous myth about the man. He is, in fact, quite shrewd and cunning. He's just not interested in public policy debates. (Remember, there's more than one way to possess intelligence.) The term "Mayberry Machiavelli" is entirely apt, although I suspect that for many lefties the use of the term "Mayberry" suggests that he is a dumbed down version who isn't quite as smart as he thinks he is. This is, I repeat, a dangerous delusion. George W. Bush is a political animal par excellence. Liberals and progressives argue that he can't be very smart because his policies are so stupid. But what they don't understand is that Bush is not particularly interested in good policy in their sense of the word; good policy is always secondary to staying in power. The policies he has adopted make sense if you start with the assumption that he wants to cement a durable 51 percent majority coalition using federal pork and redistributive programs as a central ingredient.

Recently David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy wondered aloud why liberals don't like George W. Bush more since it seems clear that he likes to spend lots of government money, particularly on programs like education and drug benefits that liberals should like. The answer by now should be clear: George W. Bush doesn't like to spend government money in ways that liberals think are wise and good for the country's long term interests. (For example, liberal Dems tend to think that No Child Left Behind is underfunded and uses the wrong incentives, while the recent Medicare bill has too much privitization and will shift too much money to drug and insurance companies) Rather, Bush likes to spend lots of money (and redistribute lots of money from liberal states) in ways that satisfy core Republican constituencies and help keep him and the Republican party in power.

From the standpoint of pure power politics, the objection to Bush's strategy is whether he can keep it going long enough to get reelected and, if reelected, whether the Republicans will be punished in the 2008 and 2012 elections when the bill starts to come due. Most liberals who fulminate about these unwise policies believe that eventually the Republicans will be punished. But I am not so sure. Bush may be counting on the fact that no one will remember that the fiscal crisis of 2008 or 2012 is largely his fault, just as Reagan does not get enough blame for his huge deficits and deregulatory policies that helped foster the huge S&L scandal later on. Moreover, Bush may be counting on the fact that even if the Democrats are returned to office for a short time, they will find themselves largely devoted to acting like adults and cleaning up the mess Bush has created. The fiscal discipline required will not be popular, and thus it will not help them form a majority coalition through spending in the way that Bush has done. Thus, Bush may believe that he and his party will escape most of the blame for any fiscal problems his policies create down the road because (1) the public's memory is short, (2) the Democrats will be prohibited from making any new spending initiatives that would gain them a new majority coalition because of the huge deficits Bush has created, and (3) the image of the Republicans as the party of fiscal discipline will remain firmly ingrained in the public's imagination.

Many liberals have believed that Bush's deficits are designed to "starve the beast," i.e., to prevent the Democrats from spending money on egalitarian social and economic programs. What they have not sufficiently considered is that the "starve the beast" approach has another goal besides the promotion of an anti-New Deal/Great Society ideology. It seeks to keep the opposition from using the public purse in the future to create their own 51 percent coalition in the same way that Bush is now soaking (mostly) Blue states to pay (mostly) Red states. If you stop thinking about what Bush is doing in terms of ideology and start thinking about his actions in terms of pure power and how to maintain it, he doesn't seem so stupid after all. The Democrats fail to understand this at their peril.



Friday, January 30, 2004

JB

You say Missouree, and I say Missourah

Jacob Levy has a fun post on the question of how to pronounce "Missouri." Is it Missouree or Missourah?

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and everyone I knew always pronounced it Missouree. Only people from Cape Girardeau in the southeast pronounced it Missourah. (Other people, by the way, swear that only people in the southwest say Missourah).

There was, however, one major exception to this rule:

During campaign season, when politicians wanted to engage in a little faux populism, they would sometimes affect a bit more of a drawl and say Missourah.

This was their way of showing that they were in touch with the people. But I have to confess that whenever I heard a politician do that, I always wished that they would just support policies that were good for the average citizen and pronounce the name of the State any way they wanted.



Tuesday, January 27, 2004

JB

Bill O'Reilly Avoids Apology But Blasts "Right-Wing Spin"

On March 18, 2003, on Good Morning America, Fox News political commentator Bill O'Reilly made the following promise:

"Here's, here's the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world, nobody knows for sure, all right? We don't know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let's see. But there's a doubt on both sides. And I said on my program, if, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right? But I'm giving my government the benefit of the doubt."

He made a similar claim in this interview with Condoleeza Rice:

Last March, I stuck up for you guys. After Colin Powell (search) went to the United Nations -- and I said on "Good Morning America" that I believed that we were right to go to war, the United States, based upon weapons of mass destruction and the danger that Saddam posed. And I also said to "Good Morning America" if the weapons found to be bogus, I'd have to apologize for my stance.

Now that David Kay has confirmed that Saddam destroyed his WMD's long before the invasion, O'Reilly has not apologized or confessed that he no longer trusts the Bush Administration. Rather, he has argued that the Bush Administration was hoodwinked by the CIA's lax intelligence gathering into believing that the WMD's were real and therefore the President should investigate the reason why this occured. Because of the intelligence failure, Bush cannot be said to have lied to the American public.

Unfortunately, O'Reilly's argument overlooks the fact that the Administration cherrypicked CIA reports to hear what they wanted to hear, and conveyed this information to the American public, and in some cases relied on questionable or completely bogus information that they knew was unreliable in order to justify repeated statements to the American people that Saddam was creating WMD's-- including nuclear weapons. So O'Reilly's portrait of the Bush Administration as having been completely hoodwinked by the CIA and having made all of these representations to the country through no fault of their own is simply not plausible.

O'Reilly should apologize as he promised. He should criticize the President for hyping the intelligence sources and relying on information he should have known was unreliable. Even if Bush did not lie, he seriously misled the public. O'Reilly needs to confront that fact.

Nevertheless, O'Reilly does come out strongly in favor of having the President publicly admit that there was a mistake and publicly investigate the causes of the intelligence failure, something which the Bush Administration has so far been unwilling to do. Indeed, Administration officials have tried to bluff their way through the problem. Dick Cheney has brazenly insisted that the WMD's are there after all, while the President has been reduced to talking about the existence of "weapons of mass destruction related program activities." (Does the President really think he's fooling anyone when he talks like that?)

And in the following interview with Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, O'Reilly bluntly tells conservative defenders of the President to stop making excuses and that there must be some public accountability in light of the Kay report:

O'REILLY: [H]ere is the problem. We live in a republic where the people are supposed to decide crucial issues, all right? And the people can't decide the issue if they're given erroneous information. And the Bush administration gave us erroneous information, not because they lied, but because they got erroneous information from the Central Intelligence Agency. And I believe President Bush hasn't been nearly aggressive enough in holding those people in the agency accountable.

MAY: I think we need to totally refurbish the CIA. The question is whether George Tenet, who served Clinton, served Bush, is the best man to do it. And if somebody thinks not in the Democratic party, they should say what they're going to do the about it.

O'REILLY: Well, what about Bush, though? Why isn't he doing it now? He knows the 9- 11 situation better than anyone on the planet. . . .

. . . And he knows this is a screw-up.

MAY: His marching orders to George Tenet ought to be, we need to do - - overhaul the CIA so they can do the kind of intelligence gathering we need. . . . the most important thing to understand, it seems to me is this. Saddam Hussein was himself a weapon of mass destruction.

O'REILLY: No, that's baloney. That is right-wing spin. And a guy as smart as you, I don't want to hear you say that.

MAY: No, no, no, no.

O'REILLY: I don't want to hear you say that right-wing talking point business. Look, let's get back to the issue here.

. . . The Americans can decide for themselves whether that policy was good for America or not. But we got hurt overseas. We still hurt overseas. This Colin Powell went to the U.N., put this big WMD scenario in play. And it turned out not to be true. Our image overseas is hurt. OK?
. . . .

O'REILLY: But here's the fundamental constitutional question. All right? You have an administration, which is closed. The Bush administration is not open with the folks. Everybody knows that. All right? Now you have, and I believe this report, and I've got to say, I will say this in President Bush's defense, President Bush could have booted this. He could have said to Kay, hey, find something and this and that. He wanted the truth. He told Kay, even if it's black and bad and going to hurt me, you get it. I think we all -- that reflects very, very well on the president, but he's got to now step up. And he's got to admit the mistake. And he's got to take strong action to protect us, Mr. May.
. . .

O'REILLY: That's right. But we also need openness on the part of the president. And he can't be sitting up in the White House not saying anything about it.


I still think O'Reilly should apologize. But I think that he is starting to get it. The problem is that this President does not like to be open or honest with the American people on any number of issues, including Iraq. And his Administration never likes to admit that it has ever made a mistake: The Washington Post reports that at a recent "private meeting between Bush and congressional leaders," Bush and Tom Daschle had what sources described as a "testy exchange" when Daschle dared to suggest that "it is important to determine what went wrong to produce the flawed prewar weapons charges." Acting like a petulant child when someone shows real flaws in your decisionmaking process is not leadership.



JB

The Price of Loyalty, or, Why Iraq is Such a Mess

An article in today's Washington Post and a longer story in the Atlantic Monthly explain why (links via Atrios): The Bush Administration refused to listen to contingency planners, shut out or stepped on people who told them unpleasant truths, and promoted people who told them what they wanted to hear.


JB

Has the Media gone AWOL?

Earlier I noted that Bush's 1970's service record is less important than what he is doing today, for example, in stonewalling and hampering the 9/11 Commission's work. Nevertheless, I have to agree that Jonathan Chait is probably right when he says that the media have applied a double standard and given Bush too much slack on the fact that he didn't show up for National Guard service during 1972 and 1973.

Consider this bizarre passage in a recent New York Times article focusing on slip ups by General Wesley Clark:

But General Clark has spent much of his time here explaining controversial statements. Perhaps most damaging has been his failure to repudiate comments by Mr. Moore, who called Mr. Bush a deserter for his unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973.

Mr. Bush's actions did not meet the technical definition of desertion.

"President Bush was not a deserter," said Eugene Fidell, a Washington expert on military law. "To desert in wartime is a serious offense, potentially punishable by death. It requires an intent to remain away permanently."


The article is trying to show that Moore's statement was technically inaccurate as a matter of military law and an exaggeration. But in doing so, it certainly makes one think "well, why was his absence unexplained?" So he's not technically a deserter. Well, so what? Being able to say that you were "not technically a deserter" is not exactly a badge of honor. And yet there's no hint in this story that any of this might be a problem for the Commander-in-Chief.

Although to my knowledge George W. Bush was not ever formally charged with being AWOL (absent without leave, which is different from being a deserter), you don't have to be formally charged to be in violation of military regulations that prohibit skipping out on military service. Why didn't the press make more of it in 2000? Perhaps it was because foreign policy wasn't a big issue in that election (although you may recall that one of Bush's campaign themes that year was strengthening the military). In any case, given that the President has shown little compunction about sending American troops into dangerous combat situations, it certainly seems worth a look today. Let me put it this way: If any of the Democratic candidates (or Bill Clinton for that matter) was thought to have skipped out on months of military service, the press would be all over it.


UPDATE: Paul Waldman compares media treatment of Clinton in 1992 and Bush in 2000.

And in the interests of fairness to George W. Bush, here is the New York Times story from November 3rd, 2000 which criticized the Boston Globe story that originally raised the allegations. Although it does not completely rebut the Globe story, it does argue that some of the Globe's concerns may be unfounded. Clearly one has to take this story into account in assessing the seriousness of the allegations made against Bush:

Two Democratic senators today called on Gov. George W. Bush to release his full military record to resolve doubts raised by a newspaper about whether he reported for required drills when he was in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973.

But a review of records by The New York Times indicated that some of those concerns may be unfounded. Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question.

Dan Bartlett, a Bush spokesman, said that Mr. Bush had fulfilled his military obligations "or he would not have been honorably discharged."

The senators, Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, both Medal of Honor winners, were responding, in a telephone conference with reporters, to an article in The Boston Globe on Tuesday.

The article, citing military records for Mr. Bush, raised questions about whether Mr. Bush performed any duty from April 1972 until September 1973, when he entered Harvard Business School.

A review by The Times showed that after a seven-month gap, he appeared for duty in late November 1972 at least through July 1973.

Mr. Bush was assigned to the 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston, from November 1969, last flying there on April 16, 1972.

In a report dated May 26, 1972, his commander, Maj. William D. Harris Jr., said Mr. Bush had "recently accepted the position as campaign manager for a candidate for the United States Senate."

Mr. Bush went to work for Winton M. Blount a few days after Mr. Blount won the Republican primary in Alabama on May 2, 1972.

From that time until after the election that November, Mr. Bush did not appear for duty, even after being told to report for training with an Alabama unit in October and November.

Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush had been too busy with the campaign to report in those months but made up the time later.

On Sept. 5, 1972, Mr. Bush asked his Texas Air National Guard superiors for assignment to the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery "for the months of September, October and November."

Capt. Kenneth K. Lott, chief of the personnel branch of the 187th Tactical Recon Group, told the Texas commanders that training in September had already occurred but that more training was scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8 and Nov. 4 and 5. But Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush did not serve on those dates because he was involved in the Senate campaign, but he made up those dates later.

Colonel Turnipseed, who retired as a general, said in an interview that regulations allowed Guard members to miss duty as long as it was made up within the same quarter.

Mr. Bartlett pointed to a document in Mr. Bush's military records that showed credit for four days of duty ending Nov. 29 and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May.

The May dates correlated with orders sent to Mr. Bush at his Houston apartment on April 23, 1973, in which Sgt. Billy B. Lamar told Mr. Bush to report for active duty on May 1-3 and May 8-10.

Another document showed that Mr. Bush served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973, a period of time questioned by The Globe.


Sunday, January 25, 2004

JB

Political Organization and Political Discussion on the Internet

This is a follow up to my previous post on Internet speech.

The New York Times ran a provocative article today noting the familiar claims that the Internet divides people, and prevents democratic deliberation:

The Internet became the ultimate tool for finding like minds and blocking out others long before supporters of candidates began seeking one another out on Meetup.com. With online dating sites where searches can be tailored by age and income, e-mail forums for the most narrow band of subjects, bookmarked sites and even spam filters, the Web allows users to tailor the information they consume more than any other medium. Social scientists even have a term for it: cyberbalkanization.

The article runs together two different kinds of democratic activities: One is organizing followers for a political campaign, where you want people of like minds to get together, the other is engaging in democratic discussion about public issues with people who may disagree (and disagree strongly) with you. These two activities are part of democracy, *but they are not the same activity.* Both are necessary, but it is often difficult to do both at the same time.

As the key examples of the trend toward cyberbalkanization on the Internet (I love that word, for obvious reasons) the article points to sites like Wesley Clark's website, Clark04.com, Meetup.com, and MoveOn.org. The problem with these sites, the article suggests is that people only want talk to people who think the way they do, and people who have different views are shunned.

That may well be the case, but these websites are being used for *political organizing* of like minded people, so this is to be expected. It does not prove the claim that online deliberation is rapidly becoming fractured and that "the Internet is in danger of narrowing the spectrum of debate." What it shows is that the Internet can be used for and is quite good at bringing like minded people together. And if you look at the way sites like Meetup.com and MoveOn.org are designed, you can see that they are designed for this purpose.

It certainly does not follow, however, that Internet sites do not promote discussion among people with different views, or that sites can't be designed to facilitate this purpose. I've already spoken about how weblogs facilitate exposure to a variety of sources in my previous posting. The argument the article is making is somewhat like saying that automobiles are bad for families because you can't seat more than two people in them comfortably, and then offering as your key examples sports cars. Sports cars are not designed for families; that's why we have station wagons.

The key point is that the Internet is protean. It does not have to be any particular way, and different combinations of code can facilitate different forms of democratic activity better than others. Weblogs-- in conjunction with other technologies that allow you to see who is linking to you-- are a good example of a code that is structured to promote discussion of public issues, even if the discussion is often quite heated.

At one point the article does refer to blogs, but in a misleading and potentially self-contradictory way:

Blogs - or Web journals - are also more about monologue than discussion. President Bush's re-election campaign blog, for instance, does not include a largely standard feature that most online journals have: the ability for readers to reply to the posts.

Note that in this passage the one example given of a blog is distinguished from "most online journals" on the grounds that it does not have a comments section. This sentence is quite misleading to people who don't know anything about the blogosphere. Blogs are online journals. Some blogs have comments sections, others don't. Kos and Atrios have comments sections, this blog and Instapundit do not. President Bush's campaign reelection blog is not a very good example of the form, and it is a terrible example if you want to understand how democratic discussion online occurs.

Perhaps more important, it is deeply mistaken to infer from the fact that some blogs don't have comments sections that the blogosphere is monologic. As I noted in my previous post, individual blogs link to each other and comment on each other all the time, just as they link to and comment on stories from the mass media. That is precisely what I am doing right now. The practice of linking and commenting is the most characteristic feature of democratic deliberation in the blogosphere. Comments sections help that, but they are not necessary. Tools like Site meter and Technorati allow bloggers to discover who is talking about them and responding to them and what they are saying. The claim that blogs are "more about monologue than discussion" is exploded by even a casual acquaintance with what it means to operate a weblog devoted to the discussion of political issues.

I must also note that the article quotes only people who believe that the Internet technology is bad for democratic discussion. In particular, the article highlights Cass Sunstein's arguments in Republic.com, which, as I noted in my previous post, were technologically naive. In this way, ironically, this newspaper article enacts the very thing it accuses the Internet of: listening to and presenting the views only of people who share one point of view.

Unfortunately, this article continues a meme that I have often found among progressive people-- that the Internet is bad for democracy. I think that this view is deeply mistaken. The Internet has its strengths and weaknesses, just like the traditional mass media have. The question is not whether the Internet is good or is bad for democracy. The key question is how the Internet changes the ways that democratic activities of organization, discussion, protest, and decisionmaking occur, and how the code of the Internet can be altered in different ways and different contexts to promote these different forms of democratic activity.


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