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.