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.