Monday, December 30, 2002
WHAT'S SO WRONG ABOUT U.S.
WHAT'S SO WRONG ABOUT U.S. FOREIGN POLICY?: The growth of anti-Americanism as a successful campaign tactic has prompted some musings about whether U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration is too aggressive, too unilateral, and/or too tone-deaf. Josh Marshall argues yes; Jackson Diehl and Glenn Reynolds say no. Let's review the list, shall we?
Too aggressive? Hardly. Too aggressive implies that the force of arms is used when alternative means of statecraft, including diplomacy, could be used as effective substitutes. One would be hard-pressed to find such an instance over the past two years. Consider:
Too unilateralist? Not recently. In its first six months, the administration committed the cardinal sin of assuming that it should reflexively oppose any policy initiative supported by the Clinton administration. No doubt, this led to some process-oriented mistakes, such as pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. However, both domestic and foreign critics need to get over their first impression on this score. Consider:
[The Financial Times agrees with this assessment (link via Sullivan): "Under his [Bush's] leadership, the US has acted more multilaterally, more cautiously and more wisely than many had feared after the provocation of September 11 2001."]
Too tone deaf? Depends on who's listening. The broad majority of Americans support a U.S. foreign policy built on peaceful ideals carried out in a multilateral manner. A broad majority of Americans also supports Bush's foreign policy. A vocal minority of Americans and a lot of foreigners don't like either Bush or his foreign policy. What gives?
Let me start with an anecdote. A few weeks ago, a high-ranking White House official gave a talk on homeland security at a University of Chicago workshop on security. This person is respected among international relations specialists, so there was no ivory tower animosity. Nevertheless, the talk didn't go well. The presenter's cocksure demeanor and refusal to recognize the valid questions from the audience led me -- an administration supporter -- to find the administration's arrogance insufferable. It's this arrogance, this refusal to even consider the value of alternative viewpoints, that causes so many within the chattering classes to label it tone-deaf.
This boils down to the following criticism: this administration doesn't take the time to listen carefully to an alternative position and then delineate in full why that position is wrong -- it just says so at the outset. In diplomacy, such things matter. At the same time, as I've previously posted, there's a reason this administration seems so sure of itself -- it has a good read of the current threats to the U.S. As Diehl points out, "In a recent meeting at The Post, my colleague David Broder asked a senior administration official why Bush had come to embrace "an almost imperial role" for the United States. The answer was long, eloquent, and revealing. 'A few years ago, there were great debates about what would be the threats of the post-Cold War world, would it be the rise of another great power, would it be humanitarian needs or ethnic conflicts,' the official said. 'And I think we now know: The threats are terrorism and national states with weapons of mass destruction and the possible union of those two forces.'
'It's pretty clear that the United States is the single most powerful country in international relations for a very long time. . . . [It]is the only state capable of dealing with that kind of chaotic environment and providing some kind of order. I think there is an understanding that that is America's responsibility, just like it was America standing between Nazi Germany and a takeover of all of Europe. No, we don't have to do it alone. But the United States has to lead that.'"
When weak states become a security risk, the hegemonic power has to be involved everywhere. The administration knows this. I suspect that it's critics do as well, but they either don't like the implications of such a policy, or -- more likely -- they don't like the people currently in charge. So the tone-deaf charge is a mutual one. The administration might not be the best listeners of other views, but the administration's critics are also hard of hearing. Because the critics are equally tone-deaf, they fail to notice policies that contradict their entrenched about this administration.
CHILD CARE 1, BLOGGING 0:
CHILD CARE 1, BLOGGING 0: Back from the East Coast. I had three, count 'em, three posts erased when my mother's AOL connection decided to disconnect. After that I gave up.
This week, I'll be at home taking care of my boy, as his day care is still down. Needless to say, blogging will be light, but trips to the Museum of Science and Industry will be heavy.
UPDATE: Hmmm... maybe no museum trips. I tried to go today and it was a mob scene.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
THE NEWAXIS OF EVIL: As
THE NEWAXIS OF EVIL: As 2002 draws to a close, our world faces a number of serious threats -- terrorism, AIDS, smallpox, anthrax, nuclear proliferation, chemical weapons, the return of Star Search, etc. However, the Blogosphere has completely missed the most serious threat to emerge -- vampires colluding with governments. From Reuters:
"A rumor that Malawi's government is colluding with vampires to collect human blood for international aid agencies in exchange for food has led to a rash of vigilante violence.
President Bakili Muluzi accused unidentified opposition politicians on Sunday of spreading the vampire stories to try to undermine his government.
Spreading paranoia has set off several attacks on suspected vampires. Last week a man accused of helping vampires was stoned to death, and three Roman Catholic priests were beaten by villagers who suspected them of vampirism. Both attacks happened in Thyolo District, in the south.
At a news conference on Sunday, Mr. Muluzi called the vampire stories malicious. 'No government can go about sucking blood of its own people,' he said."
Here's the AP story, which has some first-person accounts of the vampire attacks.
Well, at least we have a fictional deterrent to this sort of fictional menace.
UPDATE: An alert reader e-mails in another angle to this sinister conspiracy:
"It's obviously aliens, not vampires. Just look at the witness testimony:
'Edna Kachisa said the vampires drilled a hole in her mud-and-thatch house and sprayed a suffocation gas inside. The attackers fled after she banged on a drum and awoke the village, she said.'
Why would vampires drill a hole in someone's house? Vampires are known to mesmerize people and get them to invite them in, because it's a well known fact that vampires cannot enter a home uninvited....
'Another woman outside Blantyre showed journalists a mark on her forearm she said was where vampires inserted a needle to try to draw her blood.'
Again, why would vampires need a needle? It's aliens that probe people and collect samples from them."
STUPID JEWISH GUILT!: Y'know, I
STUPID JEWISH GUILT!: Y'know, I was fine with the notion of not blogging for a week until I read Glenn Reynolds three-hanky post, which made it sound like he was the last blogger standing in a massive echo chamber.
This of course triggered the standard Jewish guilt that takes place during Christmas -- the need to work when Gentiles rest, so society can continue to function. Normally this is counterbalanced by the desire to have the traditional Jewish Christmas -- Chinese food and a movie. However, I'm NOT leaving my blogging wingman! I'm gonna provide content, dammit!
Forgive me. This AOL setup is making me a bit giddy.
Monday, December 23, 2002
MY DEFINITION OF BLOGGING HELL:
MY DEFINITION OF BLOGGING HELL: I'm on the East Coast this week celebrating a rash of family birthdays. As a result, my only Internet access for the next couple of days will be my mother's veeeerrrrryyyyyy sssslllloooooooooowwwww AOL account. I believe that blogging with an AOL interface was in fact Dante's sixth concentric circle of hell. Far-sighted man, that Dante.
Needless to say, blogging will be extremely light this week. Instead, check out Andrew Sullivan's adorable beagle, who's almost as cute as my own beagle (actually, they're the same age look a lot alike).
Friday, December 20, 2002
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?:
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?: Some thoughts on the end of the Lottroversy:
1) Kudos to Josh Marshall. Lott would not have resigned if the uproar over his remarks hadn’t also come from conservatives like Andrew Sullivan or David Frum (oh, and George W. Bush as well), but give credit where it’s due – Josh Marshall sunk his teeth into this one early and never relented. Josh, staple that shellacked hair on the mantle – although if this is the best dirt you can gin up on Frist, I’ll sleep very soundly tonight.
2) Short-term Republican prognosis – mixed. It’s going to be tough for liberals to argue that conservatives were reluctant to pull the trigger on Lott – the denunciations from the right came pretty quickly. At the same time, liberals have had a field day using this episode to highlight the recent Republican history of catering to the unenlightened on racial matters. As Marshall phrased it:
“Many Republicans want to rid their party of this ugly baggage. Many more refuse to play this sort of politics for advantage. But over the last forty-odd years, many Republicans, in many small and large decisions, decided to organize much of our national and even more of our regional politics around race. They shouldn't whine. They shouldn't cry. They shouldn't make up excuses. They made their bed. Now they should sleep in it.”
As I said before, I think this is overreaching. But despite the Weekly Standard’s best efforts, I can’t deny that it’s smart politics. So this will sting a while for Republicans. However, this leads me to my last point:
3) Long-term Republican prognosis – quite good. Liberals want the distinction to be between enlightened liberals and Machiavellian conservatives. Krauthammer wants the distinction to be between good neocons and bad paleocons (here’s Goldberg, Sullivan and Reynolds in response). I want the distinction to be between optimists and pessimists.
Pessimists come in two forms. The repugnant ones are simply racists, and don’t want to see any progress on racial matters. The more conventional pessimists do want to see progress, but are convinced that racism is embedded in the American soul and will never be successfully purged. They are therefore comfortable with solutions that might achieve material results but compromise American principles. They will also be on guard to interpret any ambiguous statement or action as motivated by racism. Most liberals fall into this camp.
Optimists acknowledge the history of racism but believe that matters have improved dramatically over the past few decades. We might be naïve about this, but we also escaped the weight of the past by growing up in a post-civil rights era. Optimists are, to quote Sullivan, “completely at ease in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society, enjoy it, value it and are grateful for it.” Optimists will condemn episodes like the Lottroversy even more fiercely than pessimists because such occurrences clash with their basic worldview.
So why the rosy prognosis? First, over time, optimists will increasingly outnumber pessimists. Second, in politics, Americans like optimism much more than pessimism. Optimists have the imagination that Shelby Steele so eloquently points out is a cancer to racism. What Reagan and Clinton had in common as politicians was the gift of projecting a belief that America would only get better. Perhaps liberals will eventually switch to being optimists on race, but this going to be a conceptually longer trip for them to make than libertarians, neocons, and Christian conservatives.
UPDATE: Virginia Postrel has some good thoughts on this as well.
DING DONG, LOTT IS GONE:
DING DONG, LOTT IS GONE: Here's the AP story.
I'll be posting more soon.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
LOTT IS TOAST: Bill Frist
LOTT IS TOAST: Bill Frist has now put his name forward to replace Lott as Senate Majority Leader. The Washington Post reports: "Frist, who talked with dozens of members and party strategists this week, wouldn't run for the job if he wasn't confident he would win, his allies said." A CBS/NYT poll shows that, "Just one in five Republican National Committee members interviewed this week think Lott should stay on as Senate majority leader; more than twice that number say he should step down. And three times as many RNC members expect Lott to either resign or be voted out as the party's Senate leader as think he will continue in the job." This is among Republican National Committee members.
Putting my (badly damaged) prognosticator's hat on, the final obit will be written when one of Lott's main supporters, seeing the handwriting on the wall, puts their name forward as a substitute for Lott in a (probably vain) effort to deny Frist the leadership post, either Santorum or McConnell -- probably the latter. At that point, Lott steps down voluntarily.
REMEMBER THE SEPARATION OF POWERS:
"Bush smacked Lott pretty good -- again, it was too late -- but Bush is the president. If he wanted Lott gone last week, Lott would be gone. Come election time, the Bush team will be making daily excuses about why they took so long to take down the old racist. All of Bush's efforts to make his party welcoming to all races -- and I believe he's sincere about it -- will be worthless if he doesn't at least force Lott to resign the leadership.
I've lived and worked in D.C., and I realize the place is deeply out of touch with the rest of the country."
Fair point? Not really. I'll concede that when Bush made his speech a week ago, I also wanted him to more forthrightly show Lott the door. However, upon reflection, I'm coming to believe that he's walking a very slippery tightrope here. The big constraint Bush faces is precisely the fact that he's the President and not a Senator. The separate branches of government guard their institutional prerogatives very carefully -- this is why the Executive branch goes bonkers every time Congress tries to act like an engine of foreign policy. If Bush tries to stick his nose too much into how the Senate, or even Republican Senators, organize their own affairs, it could trigger a backlash of support for Lott. I suspect what Bush and Rove are trying to pull off is a way for the members of the Republican caucus to oust Lott without feeling the heavy hand of the White House pushing them. Hence Ari Fleischer's daily tap dance.
I could be wrong and Ken right. But the Lottroversy could be a harbinger of the institutional conflicts that will emerge over the next two years between a Republican executive branch that is in touch with the rest of the country, and a Republican legislature that is more concerned with feeding the special interest beasts.
ANTI-AMERICANISM AS A CAMPAIGN TACTIC,
ANTI-AMERICANISM AS A CAMPAIGN TACTIC, CONT'D: Running on an anti-American platform, South Korea's center-left candidate Roh Moo-hyun narrowly won yesterday's presidential election. [Anti-American? Might that be an exaggeration?--ed. Not much of one. On the eve of the election, National Alliance 21 chairman Chung Mong-joon withdrew his support for Roh after the latter indicated a preference for neutrality in the US-DPRK cconflict, stating, "South Korea should be able to mediate the possible quarrel between North Korea and the U.S. I will call for concessions from both countries so the nuclear issue can be resolved peacefully."]
If my hypothesis about the long-term effects of anti-American campaigns is right, in six months Roh will be an incredibly unpopular leader. Given the meager fruit born from South Korea's "sunshine policy" towards North Korea under Kim Dae Jung, I'm feeling pretty confident.
As an aside, click here for a pretty interesting FT article on how the Korean parties used the Internet to woo South Korea's younger voters. Given that South Korea has "the world's highest penetration of high-speed internet connections" this could be a harbinger of the 2004 presidential election in this country.
UPDATE: Alert reader J.K. e-mails a salient upside I failed to mention: "The election signals the demise of regionalism in Korean politics. Just as recently a decade ago, bitter regionalism fueled presidential politics. A candidate would routinely receive greater than 80% of votes in his home region and receive less than 20% in hostile regions.... political allegiances in this election are realigning along generational lines. I see this as significant step in Korea's maturing democracy. Reduced regionalism will mean less corruption and nepotism in government (and business), a greater national identity, and a more stable political landscape."
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Bad economics. Oh, and more musings on Krugman
The Chicago Tribune is in the midst of a multipart series by William Neikirk on how overproduction in the manufacturing sector is leading to unemployment and potentially, deflation (click here and here and here and here for the four-part series). It would be easy to read the articles and despair of the economy ever getting on track again. The stories are well-researched -- it's clear that Neikirk talked to a lot of workers, managers, and analysts to write the story.
The problem is, the series flunks the same Economics 101 course that William Greider failed a few years ago when he published a book that stressed the same theme of overproduction and technology-related job losses. The key flaw in the Tribune series is the assumption that if jobs are being shed in key parts of the manufacturing sector due to technological innovation, this must also be taking place in the rest of the economy. Don't take my word for it, though: read Paul Krugman's evisceration of this logic when Greider first posed it five years ago.
[Ahem, you're going to use Krugman to make your point? Does this mean you take back your critique of him?--ed. Not at all, since I'm linking to one of the 90's pieces, which I praised in that post. Plus, there's something in his essay that bears repeating:
Krugman's right. But this applies not just to economics, but any kind of social analysis. The problem I have with his columns is that the sense of whimsy is gone, replaced with a relentless, redundant grimness that easily curdles into shrillness. But what about Krugman's poke at your link to Andrew Sullivan?--ed. I'll admit it was not the wisest link to select, but I stand by my assertion of increasing shrillness. In the Editor & Publisher piece, one newspaper editor says that Krugman "sometimes beat up too much on Bush."; The Confessore story observes, "To read through his (Krugman's) columns about Bush is to watch disdain pass through frustration into rage." If you want more proof, click here. Beyond that there's nothing to rebut -- Krugman did not respond to the substance of the post. If you want to read more on this, Jane Galt has been kind enough to host a lively discussion.]
UPDATE: Virginia Postrel has more on the importance of play as a public intellectual.
THE LATEST SIGN THAT THE
THE LATEST SIGN THAT THE END IS NEAR FOR TRENT LOTT.... PART 2: Fat Joe has called for Trent Lott to resign.
Fat Tony has yet to comment on the Lottroversy.
Students to professors: drop dead!!
David Brooks seems to publish a "State of the Student" essay every year or so. His latest is in the Weekly Standard. It's a good, rambling read, although many of the mating rituals he describes were in place when I was an undergraduate twelve years ago, so I don't know how much has changed there.
The more disturbing passage is as follows:
Sigh. Brooks is right about the lack of student interest in academia. It's always depressing when my best students ask for letters of reccomendation for admission into law school or B-school -- not that there's anything wrong with those choices, but there are more than two flavors of career in the world. Even as someone in the ideological minority, I love my job. I get paid to sit around, read, and think deep and not-so-deep thoughts all day. On regular occasions I'm asked to impart my thoughts to some students, who actually write down a lot of what I say. I'm something of a specialist in what I write, but I'm certainly not a specialist in what I read. The hours are flexible, the dress code is minimal. It's a good life.
THE MERITS OF LIBERAL MARKET
THE MERITS OF LIBERAL MARKET ECONOMIES: A recent trend in comparative political economy is to stress the "varieties of capitalism" among the advanced industrialized states. Essentially, these varietoes boil down to the "liberal" and "coordinated" variants. Liberal market economies -- the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada -- operate along roughly laissez-faire principles. Coordinated market economies -- Japan, Germany, France, Italy -- are more comfortable with non-market (i.e., governmental) forms of resource allocation. Researchers who push this typology argue that both kinds of systems are equally valid providers of economic growth/social welfare.
There is, however, one big difference that tends to get overlooked. Liberal market economies age better than coordinated market economies. Last month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published an "Aging Vulnerability Index" for twelve advanced industrialized states. What vulnerability? To quote the report:
"Today, there are 30 pension-eligible elders in the developed world for every 100 working-age adults. By the year 2040, there will be 70. In Japan, Italy, and Spain, the fastest-aging countries, there will be 100. In other words, there will be as many retirees as workers. This rising old-age dependency ratio will translate into a sharply rising cost rate for pay-as-you-go retirement programs—and a crushing burden on the budget, on the economy, and on working-age adults in any country that does not take serious steps to prepare."
The report rank orders the twelve countries in terms of vulnerability. Surprise, surprise: the four least vulnerable states are also the four liberal market economies in the survey -- the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada. Coordinated market economies suffer because their pension systems are unreformed public behemoths, and because their birth rates have plummeted. All is not sweetness in light in the Anglo-Saxon economies, but comparatively speaking, they're in much better shape.
Monday, December 16, 2002
TRANSLATING LOTT: I know I've
TRANSLATING LOTT: I know I've been harping on l'affaire Lott, [What, you can't think of a snappier name for the current imbroglio?--ed. How about Dixiegate? Still, anyone with a better name, e-mail it in.], but at this point it's like trying to avert your eyes from a grisly car wreck. Plus, if Drudge is to be believed, this is not going to last much longer. So, in the wake of Lott's BET interview, and given the tendency for Lott's statements to be... misinterpreted, let's parse some highlights of that interview:
WHAT LOTT SAID: "another thing that I picked up on, the need for perhaps us to develop a plan, working together in a bipartisan way, bicameral, and multi-racial, you know, young and old, men and women from all sections of the country to have a task force of reconciliation; sit down and talk.
A lot of, I think, what is wrong here is not enough communication, not enough understanding of how people feel..."
MOST GENEROUS TRANSLATION: "It's starting to occur to me that race is an important issue in the United States."
My dad was a sharecropper. He raised cotton on somebody else's land. My mother did teach school in a three-room schoolhouse. When they came to Pascagoula, my dad worked in a shipyard.
And so, you know, there was a society then that was wrong and wicked. I didn't create it and I didn't even really understand it for many, many years."
MOST GENEROUS TRANSLATION: "I didn't want to support segregation -- society forced me into it."
I'm not sure we in America, certainly not white America and the people in the South, fully understood who this man was; the impact he was having on the fabric of this country.
GORDON: But you certainly understood it by the time that vote came up, Senator.
LOTT: Well, but...
GORDON: You knew who Dr. King was at that point.
LOTT: I did, but I've learned a lot more since then. I want to make this point very clearly.
I have a high appreciation for him being a man of peace, a man that was for nonviolence, a man that did change this country. I've made a mistake. And I would vote now for a Martin Luther King holiday."
MOST GENEROUS TRANSLATION: "No, I had no idea what Martin Luther King's legacy was fifteen years after his death."
MOST GENEROUS TRANSLATION: "Charles Pickering is no Trent Lott."
COOL TOYS: The Financial Times
COOL TOYS: The Financial Times runs a pretty funny piece about a reporter who travelled with the U.S. military during a 5-day live fire exercise in Kuwait. The money quote:
"Some people look natural in a tank helmet, some look ridiculous. I belong in the latter category. But that doesn't matter: I don't feel ridiculous in a tank helmet, I feel like a WAR GOD."
Some will dismiss this as "boys with toys," but it's not just boys. A few years ago I was part of a group of postdocs that the Navy flew out to an aircraft carrier -- the USS John C. Stennis -- to observe carrier flight qualifications in the Atlantic. We got the full tour, which was just goddamn cool. Towards the end of the tour, one of my colleagues, who is a pretty hard-core peacenik, turned to me and said, "We only have fifteen of these carriers? We need twenty! No, thirty!"
WHEN LIBERALS OVERREACH: Trent Lott's
WHEN LIBERALS OVERREACH: Trent Lott's decision to fight for his leadership post means the story will stay on the front pages for quite a while. Which means that liberals will use the battle as a way to tar the entire Republican Party as a bunch of racists. Paul Krugman did this on Friday, Josh Marshall did it yesterday, and Salim Muwakkil does it today. Marshall has the best summary statement of this line of thinking:
"The modern Republican party had its roots in the white backlash against the civil rights revolution in the South of the 1950s and 1960s. Over time, a broader Southern Republican politics was created, one that wove in tax-cutting, hands-off government, cultural conservatism, bellicose foreign policy and opposition to abortion. But at the foundation, the hard-edged politics of racial animus remains - an embarrassment to some politicians but an important asset to others."
There's an element of truth to Marshall's historical point -- although on the question of which party has been the party for out-and-out racists, Democrats are still walking away with a score of 160 years to at most 40 years for Republicans. I'm more intrigued with Marshall et al's insistence that racism remains a foundational element of Republican/conservative thought today. To say this requires a pretty powerful set of blinders.
First, consider the president's behavior, both this week and during his tenure in office: Even the New York Times pointed out on it's editorial page last week that, "For all the disagreement that many African-Americans have with his policies, few can doubt Mr. Bush's commitment to a multiracial America." Then there was his denunciation of Lott's statement. Now consider the Note's observation:
"Sometimes, we all know, reporters take liberties with blind quotes from "White House" and/or "Bush" advisers, but there have been too many of them in the last 48 hours, under the bylines and in the voices of too many good reporters, for there to be any mistaking things here: the White House, at a minimum, would not be sorry to see Lott gone, and a textual analysis of all that is being reported suggests that they are softly engineering his departure."
Second, liberal columnists writing this trust that their readers will buy into the stereotype of the Christian right being racially intolerant. However, as Virginia Postrel points out today and David Frum pointed out last week, this accusation doesn't correspond to reality. To quote Frum: "As the Republican right has become more and more explicitly religious, it has become more and more influenced by modern Christianity’s stern condemnation of racial prejudice as a sin. My own guess is that the kind of talk Lott engaged in is much more likely to be acceptable at a Connecticut country club than it would be at the suburban evangelical churches in which the Republican base is found."
Finally, playing the racism card gives liberals an easy out in the battle over ideas. This card works with Trent Lott -- as John Scalzi put it, "people prefer to have the impression that when one's apologizing, that one is actually sorry about the thing they've said or done." -- but it doesn't describe conservatives writ large. As I pointed out last week, and Howard Kurtz points out today, conservatives were genuinely appalled by Lott's statement and his post-statement cluelessness, because those statements contradicted Republican ideals. To quote Frum again:
"The political right has been battling against racial preferences, set-asides, and quotas for close to three decades now. Over the course of that fight, conservatives have articulated a clear and consistent message of equal justice regardless of race. That message has become a central defining principle of the conservative movement."
Liberals can oppose that philosophy with their own -- and they have some decent arguments on their side. However, they can't ignore those arguments by pretending that all of their political opponents are racists. Well, they can, but doing so will relegate them to permanent loser status.
GOOD RIDDANCE TO: Bernard Law,
GOOD RIDDANCE TO: Bernard Law, Henry Kissinger, Michael Bellesiles, and Al Gore (just to be clear, I'm not equating Gore's flaws with the others on that list. But c'mon, the man could be astronomically grating). Take the hint, Trent Lott and Hugo Chavez.
UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens makes a similar point. I think he's right in his rank ordering of improprieties as well.
Friday, December 13, 2002
FINAL MEMO TO TRENT LOTT:
FINAL MEMO TO TRENT LOTT: Let's make a list, shall we? There's Peggy Noonan, William Bennett, Charles Krauthammer, Andrew Sullivan, William Kristol, David Frum, Edward Brooke, Jack Kemp, Robert George, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Weekly Standard, at least a dozen mainstream newspapers, and, oh yes, the entire liberal half of the political spectrum on one side.
On the other side is you, Sean Hannity, and Pat Buchanan. How do you like your odds? What do you think the story will be next week at this time if you're still the incoming majority leader?
You had a chance to defuse this early, and passed. You now have a chance to step down with some shreds of dignity left. Take the opportunity -- resign.
THANKS FOR CLICKING!: This was
THANKS FOR CLICKING!: This was a busy week for the blog -- more than 15,000 unique visits. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, and Mickey Kaus for the generous links. Even though I study political science, this was a rare week when I actually felt engaged in politics.
Kaus correctly warns against the "revival of 'blogger triumphalism.'" [Didn't you commit this sin less that 24 hours ago?--ed. Irony does not travel well in the blogosphere. Despite InstaPundit's musings, my memos to Rove were likely epiphenomenal, i.e., had no effect on what actually transpired. But aren't White House and congressional types perusing your blog?--ed. That's what Sitemeter tells me -- but that could be the unpaid interns surfing the web.] That said, go back to Howard Kurtz's Tuesday column, and you'll see that the Blogosphere kept the story on life support for enough news cycles to cross over to the old media -- "if the establishment press is largely yawning, the situation is very different online."
WHEN ARE FAILURES ALLOWED TO
WHEN ARE FAILURES ALLOWED TO FAIL?: The Note points out that most Washington insiders think that Lott's viability as Majority Leader is now in serious trouble, and David Frum (who should know) astutely deconstructs the White House's message.
Lott's response.... is to go on vacation. He has yet to hold a press conference on this (Larry King does not count). To quote Frum: "As revolted as conservatives were by the moral obtuseness of Lott’s words last weekend, they were if possible even more aghast at their amateurism and irresponsibility." If Lott survives the current imbroglio -- I don't think his chances are great, but I reluctantly believe it's a possibility -- how effective can he possibly be as a political leader?
This leads to a bigger question: what does it take for failed political leaders to be given the boot? Obviously, failed presidents are voted out of office. Other leadership positions, however, have a more tenuous connection to electoral outcomes. For example, what the hell are Tom Daschle and Terry McAuliffe still doing holding their positions? Weren't these the guys that blew the last election to someone that half the Democratic Party believes is a moron?
There is a sharp contrast between politics and economics on this issue. Capitalism works because failures are allowed to fail. Bad ideas disappear from the economic landscape, while successes are allowed to thrive. One of the big reasons that the American variety of capitalism has more robust job growth, economic growth, and productivity growth than the continental or Japanese modes of capitalism is that the American system has far lower barriers to entry and exit for entrepreneurs. In theory, elections should function in the same way as markets, and in the long run, political failures do eventually exit the stage. However, in the short run, the "political market" is much more sluggish, which leads to the interregnum we have right now.
Thursday, December 12, 2002
The latest sign that the end is near for Trent Lott
Charles Barkley says Trent Lott should resign on the halftime report of TNT's NBA game (to be fair, it's a pretty dreadful Pistons-Bulls game and I think they were fishing around for topics of conversation). A debate then ensued among the sports broadcasters about whether George Bush had gone far enough in his statement today.
Barkley's position is certainly consistent with David Shields' assessment of Barkley.
THE BATTLE FOR AFRICA: Last
THE BATTLE FOR AFRICA: Last month I blogged about how AIDS would have a dramatic effect on the fortunes of states. Now the Economist has a fascinating story on the battle between former South African President Nelson Mandela and current president Thabo Mbeki on the AIDS issue. To understand the effect of AIDS on South African society, consider the following:
"The disease has already killed hundreds of thousands of South Africans and is set to claim the lives of at least 4.5m more, over 11% of the population. Already, 300,000 households are headed by orphaned children. Unsurprisingly, a recent survey showed that 96% of South Africans consider the disease to be a “very big” problem for the country.
AIDS is already striking hard at the professions, notably teachers and nurses. Some analysts worry that the disease has weakened the capacity of the army (with an infection rate of well over 23%) and the police. Life expectancy is slumping as child mortality rises. Ill-health is also entrenching poverty: for a middle-income country, surprisingly large numbers of people report being short of food."
The way to fight AIDS is to reward the provision of accurate information and innovation. The battle between Mandela and Mbeki is over the latter's steadfast refusal to tackle the problem:
"Mr Mbeki questions figures that show the epidemic has taken hold in South Africa. He argues that anti-AIDS drugs may be more dangerous than AIDS itself. He refuses to single out AIDS as a special threat, preferring to talk of general “diseases of poverty”, and will rarely speak about it publicly... Mr Mbeki also refuses to encourage people to know their HIV status and to lessen stigma around the disease. He will not take a public AIDS test, and has only once been pictured holding an infected child. Taking their lead from the president, no members of his government and very few MPs, civil servants, or public figures of any sort admit the obvious when their colleagues die of the disease."
Africa is becoming a vital part of the U.S. war on terrorism (click here and here). If the most powerful leader of the most powerful state on the continent continues to pretend that AIDS is not a problem, the already weak states of the region are going to get weaker.
Drezner gets results on Trent Lott!!
Click here for the full text of President Bush's remarks on today in Philadelphia. Here's the part on Trent Lott.
To which all I can say is, AMEN.
Mr. Rove, thanks for reading -- you made the 24-hour deadline.
UPDATE: Stephen Green's read of Bush's statement sounds on the mark to me.
THE PATH TO FREE TRADE:
THE PATH TO FREE TRADE: Among trade policy wonks, there is a ongoing debate about whether the pursuit of bilateral or regional trade liberalization augments or diverts efforts to liberalize trade at the global level. This question comes up today because the U.S. just announced a free-trade pact with Chile. This comes after last month's announcement that the United States and Singapore had "completed the substance" of a free-trade arrangement. This is an ongoing strategy -- the story notes, "U.S. negotiators turn next to discussions with five Central American nations, Morocco, Australia and several southern African states."
This U.S. strategy has some international policymakers worried that these bilateral deals are slowing momentum for the Doha round of WTO negotiations. However, the evidence points to the opposite conclusion -- this is a crafty way for Bob Zoellick to push trade liberalization on multiple fronts -- what he and Fred Bergsten call competitive liberalization.. The Post story notes, "Some trade experts say the burgeoning number of bilateral deals is undermining the WTO, but the administration's theory is just the opposite. According to Zoellick, countries will be more willing to join broader deals if rival nations sign free-trade pacts with Washington, because they will fear losing access to the lucrative U.S. market."
There's no question that Zoellick's strategy is beginning to pay off. Following a meeting between Bush and President Lula of Brazil, the Free Trade Area of the Americas just gained momentum. [Sure, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?--ed. Yes, it does! Click here to read more.]
One suggestion -- add Turkey to the list of countries for such a deal. Despite U.S. pressure, I'm dubious that the European Union will ever admit the country as a full member. Surely, if Jordan qualifies for a free-trade agreement with the U.S., Turkey -- as a more democratic regime, a more reliable ally, and a more market-friendly economy than Jordan -- deserves the same treatment. For both economic and strategic reasons, if the EU falls down on the job, the U.S. has to be prepared to step up.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Memo to Karl Rove -- part 2
I warned you last night that duck and cover wasn't going to work on the Lott story. Now look -- it's on page one of the Washington Post, and I'm betting it's on page one of the New York Times as well. Look at the transcript of Lott's conversation with Sean Hannity. Even scarier, read the summary of his phone-in with Larry King -- he's still waffling about whether Truman was a better president than Thurmond would have been! This is going to get uglier. Democrats aren't that stupid -- they know a gift from the gods when they see one.
Karl, you want to be the Mark Hanna of your day? You're not going to be able to do that if you convince an entire generation of potential Republicans that it's the party for nostalgic segregationists. Andrew Sullivan is right about this -- there's a generation gap in the reactions. If you fail to take action now, a lot of impressionable young minds will be convinced Bob Herbert -- God help me -- is right.
You've got a chance to prove that the Republican Party knows what century it is, but your window of opportunity is closing. The longer you wait to act, the less it seems like Republicans were genuinely offended by Lott's comments and five days of non-apologies and the more it seems like you're reacting to the news coverage. This is why Lott's contrition today will only feed the beast -- if he'd done it on Saturday, the story would have gone away. I'd say you've got another 24 hours, tops, before this turns into a genuine media frenzy, and the dominant question becomes why Bush has said nothing.
A lot of conservative pundits have called for Lott to step down as majority leader, but conservative pundits are trumped by Democratic politicians in news coverage. It looks like Republicans are stonewalling. Peruse the Post story -- isn't it getting a bit embarrassing that no elected Republican has publicly criticized Lott's remarks? (UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Anne Northup has stepped up to the plate.) Instead, you have Arlen Specter saying, "His comment was an inadvertent slip, and his apology should end the discussion." That's a great defense -- he didn't mean to say he favored segregation in public, it just slipped out accidentally! Worthy of Ron Bonjean, that line. Jesse Helms is also defending him.
Privately, Republican politicians are clearly upset about this -- they need a signal that it's OK for them to speak their peace about this. Karl, give them the go sign, and give it soon.
UPDATE: Click here for UPI's roundup of today's editorial page reaction to Lott.
ANTI-AMERICANISM AS A CAMPAIGN TACTIC:
ANTI-AMERICANISM AS A CAMPAIGN TACTIC: A lot of attention has been paid recently to how the "Arab street" perceives the United States (click here as well). Last week's release of the Pew Global Attitudes survey suggests the problem is more widespread: "While attitudes toward the United States are most negative in the Middle East/Conflict Area, ironically, criticisms of U.S. policies and ideals such as American-style democracy and business practices are also highly prevalent among the publics of traditional allies."
A lot of this anti-Americanism is structural -- the U.S. is the world's hegemon and is currently projecting its power. This sort of behavior is naturally going to trigger resentment. It also doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. should alter the substance of its policies, if the alternatives are worse. However, a disturbing long-run trend is that among our allies, anti-Americanism is becoming a useful campaign tactic for those on the left that would otherwise lose elections on substantive grounds.
Gerhard Schroeder was the first example of this sort of behavior last fall in Germany. We may be seeing a replay of his tactics in South Korea. This New York Times story from last Sunday does a nice job of describing how anti-Americanism is affecting the current presidential campaign. Now this Financial Times story shows that the ruling centre-left Millennium Democratic party will repeatedly exploit the anti-American resentment as a way to win the election.
Two concerns: first, this phenomenon (obviously) is going to make life more difficult for American foreign policy for the next couple of years. Second, this could, in the medium run, lead to a lot of political alienation among our allies. Schroeder's tactics got him elected, but now he's more unpopular than ever. If leftist candidates use this tactic to get elected but then pursue unpopular dirigiste policies once in office, we're going to have allies led by politicians whose only mandate is to pseudo-balance against the U.S.
"FLOODING THE ZONE" ON LOTT:
"FLOODING THE ZONE" ON LOTT: In no particular order:
1) The press smells blood. This story made the front page of the Chicago Tribune, and was the topic of two syndicated op-ed columns (click here and here). The story is slowly creeping towards the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post with the discovery that Lott's utterance last week echoed a statement he made in 1980. ABC's Note makes a good point on why the story will continue: "this is a TV Nation, and while he has offered three written statements, he has yet to apologize or seek to explain his comments on the air. Until he does that, despite his wagon-circling press strategy and strategizers, we aren't sure he has put things to rest."
2) Fire Ron Bonjean. Joshua Micah Marshall offers some sympathy to Lott's press spokesman: "Bonjean's attempt at damage control is so sorry and pitiful that it's almost like watching a car wreck. You want to look away. But you just can't help watching the carnage unfold." I actually think Marshall is underestimating Bonjean's incompetence. Consider this passage from today's Times story:
"A spokesman for Mr. Lott, Ron Bonjean, said the remarks at the 1980 rally also did not pertain to race but were made after Mr. Thurmond, then a top draw on the Republican circuit, had complained mightily about President Jimmy Carter, the national debt and federal meddling in state matters.... He noted that a campaign rally has a similar celebratory feeling as the party last week (my italics)."
So let me get this straight -- according to Bonjean, whenever a political event takes place in which celebratory feelings are present, Lott is allowed to get all wistful for the days of racial segregation?! Don't most political events -- campaign rallies, honorary occasions, national conventions, victory parties, Gridiron dinners -- have similar celebratory feelings? Doesn't Bonjean's defense of Lott suggest that perhaps the man should be relieved of his Majority Leader duties, so as to cut down on the number of celebrations he has to attend?
3) Is the administration position "evolving"? At yesterday's White House press briefing, Ari Fleischer said, "[Lott] has apologized for his statement, and the president understands that that is the final word from Senator Lott in terms of the fact that he said something and has apologized for it … The president has confidence in him as the Republican leader, unquestionably."
Now read Michael Kramer's column: "Unofficially, the Bushies are beside themselves. 'We need this like a hole in the head,' says one. 'At a time when we're trying to reach out to black voters, Lott's an embarrassment. Gore's right on the substance and also on the politics. If he runs again, blacks are going to remember that Gore was the one who bashed Trent early, and I can easily see all those Democratic commercials replaying [Lott's] words ad nauseam.'" Is this a subtle signal to Lott to take a flying leap?
4) The role of conservatives: Jacob Levy is right on the money here -- the New York Times has a lot of nerve saying that conservatives are belatedly joining the Lott-bashing. As Clarence Page noted today, "you don't have to look far to see the crackerjack job that Lott's fellow conservatives have done in taking him to the woodshed without any outside help." Or, to quote Jonah Goldberg, "For several days now, I've been searching for a conservative to come to the defense of incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. I haven't found one." I'm glad the CBC, Gore, and Pelosi have called for Lott to step down, but the Times is inaccurate in saying conservatives have just been sitting on their hands.
5) A bigger story than Kerry's hair: Josh Marshall -- will you admit that the media is now taking this story more seriously than John Kerry's haircut?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Arthur Silber reports that Lott was interviewed by Sean Hannity and sounded more contrite than in his previous statements. At this point in the game, however, Silber's correct in pointing out that a chastened Lott in a leadership position is the worst of both worlds -- the Republicans will be politically vulnerable to the racism charge in 2004, and to compensate, Lott will acquiesce to a lot of Democratic proposals that should be opposed on substantive grounds. Chris Lawrence thinks Lott is going to pull a Clinton and gut it out.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Memo to Karl Rove
Did you see the Nightline episode on l'affaire Lott? I was impressed by all of the participants, and grateful that Julian Bond went out of his way to acknowledge that younger conservatives were particularly appalled by Lott's comment. Still, I kept thinking, "where are the f@&%ing senators?!!" Duck and cover is not a successful long-term strategy, and this problem is not going away. The bigger this issue gets, the more people are going to ask what the President thinks about it. Karl, it's time for some pre-emptive action on the home front -- give Trent the boot.
Senate Republicans are missing a golden opportunity here. If they act quickly and forthrightly to remove Lott from a leadership position, they not only eliminate this as a future campaign issue, but they actually look better than the Democrats. Removing Lott after Daschle tried to sanitize the situation sends a clear signal about which party has principles (click here for another example of a hypocritical Democrat). The other option is to try to ride out the current hullabaloo, but that won't work. Newt Gingrich was a polarizing figure, but imagine what Trent Lott will look like after his quote is spliced into every campaign commercial and flyer in 2004. You really want this dogging the President on the campaign trail?
ON CARTER'S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: Given
ON CARTER'S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: Given that I defended awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Jimmy Carter, it was not without some trepidation that I perused his acceptance speech. The BBC probably has the most overt anti-American spin on his words, but in truth most of it is harmless. I did find one useful point and one cringe-worthy point.
The useful point is banal but worth remembering: "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good." I still favor attacking Iraq, but I certainly don't relish the prospect. No one should.
The cringe-worthy point is on global inequality: "I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them." The concern for global inequality is touching, but empirically inaccurate. To quote Surjit S. Bhalla -- again:
"World poverty fell from 44 percent of the global population in 1980 to 13 percent in 2000, its fastest decline in history. Global income inequality has dropped over this period and is at its lowest level since at least 1910. Poor countries have grown about twice as fast as rich countries (3.1 percent annually versus 1.6 percent) during the era of globalization in 1980-2000, reversing the pattern of the prior two decades. The poor in poor countries have grown even faster; each 10 percent increase in incomes of the nonpoor has been associated with an 18 percent increase in incomes of the poor. There has been strong convergence in world incomes over the entire postwar period and the developing countries' share of the world's middle class has risen from 20 percent in 1960 to 70 percent in 2000." Click here for more.
ON LOTT'S APOLOGY: Bloggers with
ON LOTT'S APOLOGY: Bloggers with hit counts greater than mine have already commented on Trent Lott's lukewarm apology -- Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Virginial Postrel, etc. Howard Kurtz has a nice story on the metastory -- the fact that it was "online pundits" that initially pushed the story forward, not the mainstream media. The latter are now catching up -- click here and here.
The fact that Lott issued this weak statement only a few hours after he again tried to dismiss the incident as in the spirit of "a lighthearted celebration." merely confirms what I said before: a) Lott doesn't get it when it comes to the substantive politics of race, and b) Lott is becoming increasingly tone-deaf as a party leader. As Robert George put it, he's gotta go.
THE SECRETS OF CONDI'S SUCCESS:
THE SECRETS OF CONDI'S SUCCESS: In last week's post comparing the fortunes of Condi Rice and John DiIulio in Washington, I said that academics who succeed in government "recognize that other sets of skills matter, skills that go way beyond social science. What those skills are, I'll get into in the next couple of weeks." The Newsweek cover story on Condoleezza Rice does a nice job of highlighting a lot of those skills.
The article states, “Rice’s aides call her the ‘anti-Kissinger,’ meaning that she does not need to show off her influence or present herself as a master global strategist like Henry Kissinger. That may be in part because Rice is not a strategic genius, but no one doubts her power.”
Here’s the thing – putting “strategic geniuses” into policymaking positions is a combustible idea at best and a cataclysmic idea at worst. The only successful one I can think of is John Maynard Keynes. I put quotes around the term "strategic Genius" -- SG for short -- because of problem #1: a lot of so-called SGs are nothing of the sort – they’re merely second-order intellectuals (popularizers of pre-existing ideas) who believe they are first-order intellectuals (creators of new ideas). Kissinger, for example, is an ardent advocate of the realist theory of international relations. However, it would be hard to point to any innovation in Kissinger’s own work that advanced realism’s explanatory power. [OK, in the past week you’ve dissed Paul Krugman, Trent Lott, and now Kissinger – you plan on assailing the Dalai Lama anytime soon?—ed. I'm pacing myself.] A good policymaker should be an ardent consumer of ideas, and have the ability to integrate those ideas into a coherent framework. That’s a different job description than “strategic genius.”
Problem #2 is that SGs, real or imagined, are often so wedded to their own world view that they can’t admit when they’re wrong. For example, Kissinger’s vision of realpolitik ignored the relevance of advancing democracy and human rights to U.S. foreign policy, which led to a backlash in the Carter/Reagan years. Rice, in contrast, was smart enough to adapt her pre-existing worldview to a post-9/11 world.
Problem #3 is that SGs are usually lousy bureaucrats. Such people believe that the rightness of their ideas is so obvious that they will win policy debates by the power of their arguments alone. SG’s usually can’t be bothered with the mundane tasks of management. George Kennan, one of the best strategic thinkers of the last century, was a persistent failure as a bureaucrat, and as a result his stays in the higher echelons of government were always brief. Kissinger is an admitted exception to this rule, but most policymakers today don’t have the luxury of wiretaps.
Most academics enter government with the expectation of putting their ideas and only their ideas into practice. They inevitably become disillusioned when they discover that 90% of what policymakers do is manage the process rather than engaging in substance. As the Newsweek story makes clear, Condi Rice is good at her job because she knows what her job entails and what it doesn’t.
[Full disclosure -- I described my prior professional relationship with Dr. Rice in this post.]
Monday, December 9, 2002
THE ZAPATISTAS IN THEIR FULL
THE ZAPATISTAS IN THEIR FULL KNOW-NOTHING GLORY: I've consistently railed about the idiotarian views of the anti-globalization movement, but this story on the Mexican rainforest encapsulates exactly why these views are so pernicious. The Mexican rainforest is disappearing in Chiapas because of poverty-stricken farmers "whose only path from starvation lies in slashing and burning the jungle to plant a patch of corn." Whose fault is this? The Times trots out the usual suspects -- uncaring governments and multinational corporations -- but that dog won't hunt. Multinationals support rainforest preservation, the Mexican government has announced plans to invest in regional infrastructure to prevent this ecological degradation, and USAID is quietly funding a program for poor farmers to cultivate alternative crops.
No, the chief culprits are the Zapatistas, who denounce the usual suspects, but also "shopkeepers trying to develop eco-tourism" in Chiapas as "fools trying to change our lives so that we will cease being what we are: indigenous peasants with our own ideas and culture."
I think it's time to rename this strand of "thinking" from "the anti-globalization movement" to "global Know-Nothings."
LOTS (WELL, SOME) MORE ON
LOTS (WELL, SOME) MORE ON LOTT: In the wake of Trent Lott's reprehensible remarks last week, the Blogosphere bandwagon is piling up denouncements. Since my last post, Andrew Sullivan, Kevin Drum, Jacob Levy, Jeff Cooper, and my personal favorite, R. Alex Whitlock, have called on Lott to go.
With regard to to old media, I still have faith that the story will gain momentum, although Slate does notice the absence of play so far -- Howard Kurtz doesn't say anything at all about the topic. The Chicago Tribune reports that Jesse Jackson has called for Lott to resign, but Jackson calls for someone to resign every other day, so I doubt it will carry much weight.
The Tribune story also includes a new statement from Lott: "My comments were not an endorsement of [Thurmond's] positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life." Now click on the C-SPAN video and go to time index 32:01 and see what he actually said -- how could his statement not be an endorsement of Thurmond's positions of over 50 years ago?
UPDATE: This story suggests that it's hypocritical to bash Lott for his comments but not Robert Byrd for his "white nigger" comment to Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday in March 2001 -- see Michell Malkin's summary and takedown of Byrd when it happened. Well, I wasn't blogging back then, but to be clear: I'd be delighted to see Robert Byrd, the personification of Tartuffery, take his leave of the Senate as well. But I would still argue that Lott's comments are far, far worse. As David Frum points out:
"What came out of his mouth was the most emphatic repudiation of desegregation to be heard from a national political figure since George Wallace’s first presidential campaign. Lott’s words suggest that one of the three most powerful and visible Republicans in the nation privately thinks that desegregation, civil rights, and equal voting rights were all a big mistake."
Furthermore, Lott has done nothing since Thursday to corrrect his mistake. I disagree with Josh Marshall about a lot of things, but he's right about this.
UPDATE: Lott now merits "top of the page" treatment for Drudge.
Saturday, December 7, 2002
THANK YOU, ANDREW: As someone
Trent Lott acting like a jackass -- again
There is simply no excuse for Trent Lott's statement at Strom Thurmond's birthday lunch. According to today's Washington Post:
Click over to Tim Noah to get a glimpse at Thurmond's precise beliefs as a 1948 "Dixiecrat" presidential candidate.
As the Post story indicates, this is not the first time Lott has shot his mouth off on this subject.
If Senate Republicans allow him to stay on as Majority Leader, they will deserve whatever political misfortunes befall them as a result. It’s up to voters in Mississippi to decide whether they want Lott to continue to represent them in Washington. However, the Majority Leader position is a national one, and Senate Republicans need to think long and hard – oh hell, what am I saying, this takes ten seconds – about whether they want this man to be the visible face of Republican authority.
Beyond the moral reprehensibility of the comments, it’s also clear that Lott’s lack of political acumen is growing, not shrinking. That he made this comment in front of a C-SPAN camera is idiotic. His press spokesman’s statement – “Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong.” – is delusional. This wasn’t something stripped of its context or twisted beyond its original meaning. This was just wrong, and Lott seems to be exerting no effort to make it right.
Senator, I say this as a Republican -- do all of us a favor and get off the national stage.
Friday, December 6, 2002
Earlier in the week, I promised a sociological exegesis of Paul Krugman. Here it is. [Full disclosure: Krugman was the outside chair of my Ph.D. dissertation at Stanford, and he’s thanked for it in my book. “Outside chair” sounds impressive, but what it basically means is that he was there to keep the process intellectually honest. We interacted for a grand total of three hours. He did pass me, for which I am certainly grateful.]
Paul Krugman should have felt good about himself this Thanksgiving. Editor & Publisher named him as one of four Features of the Year. Nicholas Confessore heaps a great deal of praise on Krugman in an a fair and balanced Washington Monthly piece. Plus, he has great luck in bringing out the rabid nature of his enemies – see Brad DeLong’s witheringly accurate takedown of Dan Mitchell’s uninformed caricature of Krugman as a “doctrinaire, left-wing, big-government type.”
That said, there’s a palpable sense that since Krugman started his New York Times op-ed column, the ratio of shrillness to insight has been increasing (Click here and here….). Implicit in Confessore’s story is that his current columns pale in comparison to his sparkling mid-1990’s essays for Slate and Foreign Affairs. Krugman admits that, “I'd like to make a big difference, but I'm not sure I have much of a chance of doing that.” Why does Krugman seem less influential now even though his megaphone is larger? Here’s my two-part answer, employing as much economic logic as I can muster:
Quality is a function of quantity. For some production processes, as output increases, the quality of each additional unit of output declines. Krugman is writing more now, but the quality has deteriorated. His earlier work was longer, more polished, and closer to his area of expertise – international economics. As he needs to generate more and more output for his Times column, he resorts to two strategies that drastically lower quality. First, he repeats himself ad nauseum. As Strunk and White point out, sometimes a little repetition is good to hammer home the point – this is what Mickey Kaus would call “flooding the zone.” After a while, however, diminishing marginal returns kick in. The benefit of each repetition shrinks, while the cost – in this case, to Krugman’s reputation – increases. Even Krugman’s admirers acknowledge this problem. Second, he branches away from his area of expertise to other topics of the day. Since his capital stock of knowledge in these areas is smaller, the product is less impressive.
On politics, he’s not moving down the learning curve. Krugman, along with many economists, has some serious blind spots in his political analyses. He’s consistently shocked when politicians engage in strategic or opportunistic behavior. He’s always stunned when leaders take actions that maximize their own power rather than benefiting the greater good. He’s flummoxed by the idea that nation-states might care about their relative economic power. These are all rational motivations – they’re just not ones that economists really consider when they do their own work. [Isn’t this a really cynical view of the world?—ed. Not necessarily. Politicians can desire power in the short run so as to pursue their desired ends in the long run. The logic of Bush's National Security Strategy is to prevent other great powers from rising in order to ensure the long-term growth of freedom, democracy and prosperity. For a great example of this kind of behavior in the domestic arena, check out John Barry’s The Ambition and the Power.]
Economists that focus on politics eventually begin to acknowledge these sorts of motivations. Krugman, however, seems perpetually befuddled when politicians act politically. Since his readers trend in the politically savvy direction, this failure to learn has become an ever-increasing handicap.
There’s more to say, but sociological exegeses are exhausting, and unlike Krugman, I’m not getting paid for penning these thoughts. So I’ll end with a plea for Krugman to switch papers from the New York Times to the Washington Post. I suggest this because the Post has op-ed columnists that write bimonthly or monthly. Krugman is the rare economist that can write well, and as such he has a duty to contribute to public discourse. His effect on that discourse would be more positive if he contributed less frequently.
UPDATE: Brad Delong has a post that links together my musings on Krugman and O'Neill.
CLARIFICATION: Much obliged to Mickey Kaus for the link. To clarify, I am not a student of Krugman's -- my Ph.D. is in political science, not economics. Here's Krugman's clarification (though, to be fair, Mickey said Krugman was "an" advisor, not "the" advisor). And click here for another Krugman assessment.
The postmortem on Paul O'Neill
What to make of his tenure? The most positive spin the Bloomberg piece can put on it is that "O'Neill's assessments were often accurate even if they weren't always politically savvy." As someone who worked at Treasury during his tenure, and someone who wholeheartedly agreed with him when he opposed the steel tariffs, I'd judge him a little more harshly.
O'Neill fundamental strengths were his intelligence and his willingness to say what he though even if it roiled markets and politicians. His fatal flaw was that he knew he was intelligent, and therefore never considered the possibility that he could be wrong. Also, saying what you think is not the most useful skill for a job that requires a fair amount of tact. Since O'Neill had no political ambitions, his incentive to correct these flaws were nil. Therefore, he never learned on this job.
This led to three substantive mistakes. First, he believed that all aspects of government can be run like a business. Now, some aspects of government can, but by design, democratic governments operate differently from firms. His exasperation about this was palpable from day one.
Second, O'Neill never really understood the international dimensions of his job. The purposes of the G-7, one of the most successful forms of international policy coordination that exists, eluded him. The statements he made about the Brazilian and Argentinian economies were factually wrong and politically inane.
Third, O'Neill doesn't know squat about politics. He considered this a virtue, as someone who could speak truth to power. But politics does matter. Without an understanding of the way the process works in Washington, nothing substantive can ever get accomplished. In the end, because of his multiple gaffes, O'Neill had successfully alienated Congress, Wall Street, the G-7, the financial press, and the bureaucrats in his own department. It takes real effort to simultaneously piss off that many groups.
O'Neill is a man of extraordinary gifts. Unfortunately, those gifts had nothing to do with being a good Treasury Secretary.
Wednesday, December 4, 2002
The war on leisure
The Bush administration now believes Al Qaeda is responsible for the latest attacks in Kenya. The Times ran a piece right after the Mombasa attack pointing out that Al Qaeda was now focusing on "soft" targets, but the pattern is even more specific than that. The attacks on Bali and Mombasa are attacks on the very principle of leisure. The pursuit of happiness is an essential part of Western liberalism, and an anathema to the brand of Islam that Al Qaeda espouses.
Three thoughts on this. The first is that, in the pursuit of homeland security, our focus may be off-target. The major concern is that Al Qaeda will hit major population centers or somew component of our critical infrastructure. However, given Al Qaeda's philosophy and it's post-9/11 material weakness, the likeliest places to be attacked may be vacation resorts -- Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Key West, and of course, any Disney theme park.
The second thought is that these attacks highlight the degree to which Al Qaeda and the fringe anti-globalization crowd often swim in the same waters. The latter tend to decry the whole notion of developing countries serving as vacation resorts for first-world travelers as some kind of neo-colonialism. Read this excellent Jane Perlez story on how tourism affects the Balinese economy, however, and you realize the vacuousness of this message:
The tourist economy in Kenya tells a similar story.
Finally, many pundits criticized President Bush for his exhortation last year to fight the war on terrorism by going shopping. Both Democrats and "national greatness" Republicans said that was the time to marshall Americans towards some greater collective goal. I sympathize with this response, but it smacks of an attempt to match Al Qaeda in their humorless puritanism. I say Bush didn't go far enough in the other direction. Given Al Qaeda's current predelictions, the best way to fight the war on terror is to put our decadent brand of hedonism on full display. So my advice is to take a long, luxuriant vacation. From personal experience, might I suggest Captiva island in Florida? [Boy, you really know how to dispense tough love --ed. Yes, I am a harsh taskmaster that way.]
Tuesday, December 3, 2002
Europe and pseudo-balancing
OK, back to world affairs. Eric Olsen goes off on Charles Kupchan's new book, The End of the American Era, which is summarized in this Salon interview. To condense the summary, Kupchan's basic argument is that 1) Europe is emerging as a counterweight to U.S. power, and 2) U.S. domestic politics will force U.S. foreign policy to be simultaneously more isolationist and unilateralist.
I know Kupchan and like a lot of what he's written, but I think he's dead wrong in this book, albeit for different reasons that Olsen. On Europe, let's be generous and assume that the EU is on the path of becoming a real state. Is Kupchan right about Europe becoming a great power peer balancing against the US? No, because even Kupchan doesn't think this will happen. In the Salon interview, he admits, "The likelihood of military conflict between the U.S. and Europe is very low, almost beyond the stretch of imagination." He acknowledges that Europe is highly unlikely to invest in the necessary defenses. Without that, any talk of actual balancing behavior is moot. If you read the interview, you see that what he's talking about is really "pseudo-balancing," adopting different positions on issues like Kyoto, the ICC, and so on. Don't get me wrong, these kinds of regulatory issues are intrinsically important (they're the subject of my next book), but they are not war-starters. Contrast what Kupchan thinks is balancing with what Josef Joffe describes as simple European petulance. To paraphrase Woodrow Wilson, the battles between the EU and the US will be fierce because the stakes will be so small.
The second reason Kupchan is wrong on Europe is demography. Europe is aging a hell of a lot faster than the United States, and its immigrants are far less integrated into civil society. Even if Europe is a unitary actor, it will be a declining power. When he presented this argument last month in Chicago, I asked him how Europe would handle its demographic decline, and his answer was that it would have to be more welcoming of its immigrants. Given that most of its immigrants are Muslim and that the EU can't bring itself to seriously consider Turkey, the one secular democracy in the Middle East, for membership, I don't see this happening anytime this century.
Finally, on U.S. opinion favoring isolationism and unilateralism, consider the following two facts. First, polling data in the U.S. consistently shows that a broad majority of American favor both an internationalist and multilateralist foreign policy. Don't take my word for it, go read Stevel Kull and I.M. Destler's book, Misreading the Public. Second, because the post-9/11 world is like the Cold War era in that world affairs is considered important by voters, it is highly unlikely that foreign policy leaders are going to stray too far beyond the consensus that Kull and Destler describe.
Monday, December 2, 2002
POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS: Patrick
POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS: Patrick Ruffini has a long rant in response to the DiIulio story that boils down the basic point that political scientists -- i.e., those with a Ph.D. in poli sci -- don't know squat about politics: "For an academic, it takes time to learn that more than 90% of politics is logistical and operational, that the day-to-day mechanics of government have precious little resemblance to a luncheons at the Brookings Institution, good for the soul as they may be.... You have to endure a few lectures of Poli Sci 1 to appreciate just how truly alien the academic study of politics is when stacked up against how politics and campaigns really work."
Is this fair? A full answer would require a much longer post; the short answer is yes and no. [What do you know about this?--ed. I'm a political scientist who did policy work in the government for a year, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship.] It is undeniably true that political scientists often crash and burn when they enter the policy world -- as seems to be the case with DiIulio. I don't have tenure yet, so there's no way in hell I'm going to name names. Is this because they didn't understand the way politics actually works? It might be safer to say it's because they don't understand the art of management, a point Franklin Foer made two years ago in the New Republic.
That said, Condoleezza Rice, another political scientist, seems to be thriving in this administration, even though many DC insiders predicted she'd get eaten alive by Rumsfield, Powell, Cheney et al. Political scientists per se are not congenitally incapable of prospering in government. And the tools of political science are a vital component of their success. [What about Ruffini's argument that history is more useful?--ed. They're both useful -- but woe is the man that relies only on history as a guide to DC. Many policymakers rely on theory to guide their decision-making, but the theory comes in the form of weak historical analogies that get them into trouble.]
I suspect the real difference between those political scientists that succeed in government and those that fail is that the successes know the limits of their trade. The most useful models of politics -- like the most useful models of any set of complex behaviors -- are abstracted from reality. The most capable political scientists know the proper limits of those models. They recognize that other sets of skills matter, skills that go way beyond social science. What those skills are, I'll get into in the next couple of weeks.
P.S.: This phenomenon is not unique to political scientists by any stretch of the imagination, nor does it apply only to Republican administrations. Joeseph Stiglitz and Laurence Summers were both distinguished economists who took reasonably high offices in the Clinton Administration. In 1992, If you were to predict which of them would do better, it would have been Stiglitz, since he was the more affable of the two of them, and Summers already had some bad blood with Al Gore. But Stiglitz crashed and burned, leading some considerable bitterness, as this Atlantic Monthly piece makes clear. Summers, in contrast, managed to thrive because he learned from his early mistakes, as David Plotz pointed out.
Esquire's secret formula
The White House press corps can't stand the Bush administration. The motivation isn't ideological. It's that the Bush team is rarely off-message, which leads to a dearth of interesting stories.
This leads to the following question: how the hell is Esquire getting the dirt that no one else can? In the spring, you might remember, they were the ones to publish a bizarre Andy Card confession about the behemoth that is Karl Rove. Now, according to Drudge and the Times, the magazine has scored another tell-all interview. This one's with John J. DiIulio Jr., the former head of Bush's faith-based initiative. He confirms Card's gaffe -- Rove is running everything. This latest dust-up just prompted a White House denial. (Update: Drudge has posted DiIulio's long e-mail that formed the guts of the article)
One substantive comment and one smart-ass comment. The substantive comment is that according to the Times story:
As a pragmatic libertarian, I think that DiIulio is both logically and factually wrong. He's logically wrong since on social issues libertarians will espouse views that are pretty far to the left [take it away, Jacob Levy; He has--ed.]. He's factually wrong, since libertarians are not happy with this White House on either homeland security or foreign economic policy. The latter most defintely has Karl Rove's fingerprints. Which means that despite the Weekly Standard's claims that libertarians should consistently favor Republicans, libertarians might not want Karl Rove to have that much power.
The smart-ass point: if a "sophisticated" men's magazine like Esquire can get quality dirt like this, imagine what less sophisticated men's magazines could dig up. I call on the White House to extend press credentials to reporters from Maxim, Stuff, and FHM immediately!! [Did you really have to link to those magazines?--ed. Just trying to be thorough!]
UPDATE: DiIulio now denies making the comments. Card provided similar denials last spring. Ron Suskind wrote both pieces for Esquire. Here's Suskind's response to DiIulio's denial. Maybe Suskind's just making it all up, but the guy's a former Wall Street Journal who won a Pulitzer, so I have to think there's some truth to the stories. Looking at DiIulio's e-mail, I suspect this is a case of a person upset by a reporter's spin, not the facts themselves. Patrick Ruffini disagrees. TNR's blog provides a nice summary of the plausible explanations for DiIulio's comments and retractions. Hmmm, another thought.... maybe men's magazines encourage the same kind of fantasizing with their feature articles that they do with their profiles of attractive women. In which case, having Maxim or Stuff in the White House press corps could produce "reporting" along the lines of Robert Reich's notorious memoirs, but more titillating.
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK FOR BRAD DELONG: When Brad DeLong is talking about economic policy, he's the man. Even if you disagree with him, he's an intellectual force to be reckoned with. When DeLong switches to plain-old politics, however, he becomes a boring liberal.
For evidence of the former, check out this great link on how Zimbabwe is unintentionally highlighting the virtues of the Washington Consensus, and then this piece on the problems with NAFTA (not the one's you'd think).
For evidence of the latter, see this post gleefully contrasting Ashcroft quotes from 1997 and today. Now, the libertarian in me agrees with DeLong that Ashcroft is probably more sanguine about enhanced executive powers now because he's in the executive. However, the pragmatist in me simply cannot swallow DeLong's assertion that, "the world today is about as dangerous a place as it was back in 1997. The threat of international terrorism is of the same order of magnitude now as it was then." The heightened insecurity of a post 9/11 world does provide a justification for Ashcroft's flip-flop. That might not be his actual reason, but it's still a pretty good one.
How the U.S. Media is becoming more European
For all of the talk about the U.S. and Europe parting ways, there is one phenomenon in which the U.S. is moving closer to the European model -- the overt biases of media outlets. In Great Britain, for example, everyone knows that the Guardian is left-of-center, the Independent is centrist, the Times is to the right, and the Daily Telegraph is further to the right (don't ask me about the tabloids, they all just blurred together to me).
In the U.S., media outlets ritually stress their devotion to objectivity (fair and balanced, anyone?). However, outlets are beginning to drift to one side of the political fence or the other. There are lots of ideational reasons for this (I suspect that post-9/11, the reader demand for a consistent philosophy to put news coverage into a clear context has increased) but the most important might be that it increases profits.
Consider Seth Mnookin's Newsweek piece on the "crusading Southern populist" (i.e., liberal) bias in the New York Times. The piece is mostly about the Times' leftward shift under Howell Raines, but it contains another interesting nugget of information: "their game plan is working—at least at the newsstand. During a time when many papers are losing circulation, the Times, which has aggressively pursued a national readership, has seen increases over the past six months, with most of that uptick coming outside the New York metropolitan area."
Now, contrast this with the following information contained in the New York Times' favorable Sunday piece on Fox News: "Fox News reported that its prime-time viewership had grown 17 percent for the month, compared with November 2001, while CNN's prime-time ratings fell 31 percent, continuing a pattern of dominance by Fox in the cable news wars. In the 24-hour cycle, Fox has a solid lead over CNN, and has left MSNBC in the dust."
For all the talk about the Blogosphere fracturing into snug ideological cocoons, it's the mainstream media that could be headed in this direction. I'm on the fence about the implications. One clear downside is the tendency for ideological zeal to overwhelm a concern for accurately nailing down the hard facts of a story. All sides are guilty of this -- click here for the New York Times' headline fiasco and here for brouhahas involving the Washington Times.
Still, I suspect it won't be an entirely negative phenomenon, so long as a market still exists for an Independent-style of neutral publications. A chief virtue of an ideological press is that when a media outlet goes against its natural ideological biases, it carries great credibility. If Fox News were to argue in favor of stricter gun control laws, it would make people notice; ditto if the Times were to ever argue in favor of restricting abortions. [Why haven't you mentioned Paul Krugman's criticisms of media bias this past Friday?--ed. Because Krugman wasn't thinking like an economist in that piece, he was posting as a liberal. An economist would celebrate the 67% increase in market competiotion for television news, and point out the utility of ideological brands as a useful signal in a market defined by imperfect information. His concern is the growth of conservative media outlets. This tendency of Krugman will be the subject of what the Times would label a "sophisticated exegesis of a sociological phenomenon" -- and what I will simply call a lengthy post -- later this week).
Developing.... over the next couple of years.