Friday, November 3, 2006

Comments are down and help is wanted

The comments feature is not working, due to comment spam overload.

This and other persistent problems lead me no choice but to put out a "help wanted" sign. The hardworking but HTML-illiterate staff here at needs to remote hire someone for a quick fix for the blog. In particular, we need someone who will:

1) Install vigorous anti-spam measures
2) Restore trackback features
3) Fix the comments feature so that they are a) more legible; and b) time-stamped
Contact me at the e-mail address on the right. Remuneration to be negotiated.

UPDATE: All should be well now. New posts to follow soon!

posted by Dan at 11:52 PM

The A-Rod quagmire

Tom Peyer and Hart Seely, "Yankee Go Home." New York Times, November 3, 2006:

TRADE A-Rod’s continued failure to deliver in the clutch is diverting critical resources and dividing our team. He must go. We need to move on, now!

KEEP Trading A-Rod would lead to a disaster in the American League East. It would embolden other teams and threaten future Yankee clubs. To cut and run is not an option....

TRADE We’re sending our kids to fight an endless war in Boston, when it’s Detroit that attacked us. After we swept the Red Sox in August, you hung out your Mission Accomplished banner, but nothing has been accomplished.

KEEP The Yankees never said it was over. The news media said it was over. And I acknowledge the challenges. We must adapt. We must heed the experts. Joe Torre and his coaches have said they believe A-Rod should come back. We must listen to them.

TRADE Those are the same “experts” that batted A-Rod eighth!

KEEP You would stoop so low as to attack Joe Torre? Have you no shame? Have you no shame!

Best. Op-ed. Ever.

posted by Dan at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts? -- a review

I'm one of the many participants in John Holbo's Liberalpalooza 2006 -- i.e., a blogathon about Michael Bérubé’s What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts?

My (lengthy by blog standards) take on the book is below the fold:

UPDATE: Comments are down here -- but this review has been cross-posted over at The Valve, so say what you think over there.

What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts? By Michael Bérubé. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

As a professor who hails from the conservative side of the political spectrum, I truly loathe the debate about liberal bias in the academy. It’s one of those questions that rears its head every year or two, at which point the same stale arguments are trotted out and not much of note is said.

About the only thing I like about this debate is how it forces both sides of the political spectrum to subvert their traditional arguments and appropriate the other side’s rhetoric. Conservatives wind up arguing that the bias problem is a structural one – and therefore the way to fix it is through some kind of ideological affirmative action program. Liberals, when confronted with the numbers, nevertheless insist that the academy is a strict meritocracy with no old-boy networks whatsoever – and that aspiring conservative academics should quit whining and pick themselves up by their bootstraps.

It is to Bérubé’s credit, then, to say that I enjoyed reading What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts. Actually, to be more specific, I really enjoyed one of the books Bérubé has written. What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts is really two texts – one about what it means to be a professor, and one that responds to the conservative critique of the academy. The first one is great; the second one is slapdash.

Bérubé’s explanation of the actual craft of teaching American literature is an utter delight. He accessibly relates the difficulties of coping with obstreperous students in seminars, or why gender is a salient factor in teaching My Antonia. Bérubé’s excellent, pithy summation of how to evaluate a paper will be familiar to many a professor:

All I ask is that their interpretations be plausible, and my criteria are lawyerly and austere. One, I read their essays to see how well they handle textual evidence, that is, how well they support whatever claims they make by reference to the material in front of them; and two, I want to know how well they anticipate and head off possible counterarguments. That’s it. Meet those two criteria in my classroom, and the field of interpretation is open.

Bérubé’s discussion of Rorty’s non-foundationalist approach was also useful in shining a light on what is often reflexively labeled “post-modernism” in colloquial discourse. As What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts presents it, Rorty’s philosophy is more the intellectual successor to the pragmatist tradition in American thought than a child of Foucault or Derrida. These sections make me want to buy Bérubé a beer to see whether he thinks Rorty’s anti-foundationalism meets its match in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

As Bérubé intended, these chapters are also the best rejoinder to the conservative accusation of liberal bias subverting the aims higher education. University research and teaching is a profession, with a set of rules, norms and practices that are not connected to one political ideology or another. This is the “procedural liberalism” that Bérubé discusses – though he is hardly the first. Even if the academy is overwhelmingly populated by substantive liberals, the professional norms evinced by Bérubé should serve as the most important bulwark against political corruption. It is for this reason, incidentally, that liberals should not fear institutions that are both professionalized and predominantly conservative – like the United States armed forces.

The chapters that explicitly address the conservative critique are more of a mixed bag. What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts devotes a lot of pages to debunking David Horowitz and his ill-informed jihad against the academy. In these sections, Bérubé gets points for marksmanship – he does a great job of shooting a big fish in a small barrel.

Look, Horowitz is a guy who got bored with studying English literature because there was “nothing to research that was interesting anymore.” He’s now pissed off because Harvard professors don’t assign his books in courses and convinced that he’d be a Harvard department chair is he was liberal. In other words, it’s very hard to take his rantings about the academy seriously. As Michael pointed out in his blog, “Mr. Horowitz himself is not very appealing”. The best way to inoculate commentators and politicians against Horowitz’s crusade is simply to expose them to greater doses of Horowitz.

Horowitz’s prominence in the text underscores the fact that there are thornier questions about the sources and effects of liberal bias that Bérubé either elides or treats in a cursory manner. He acknowledges that, “there’s really no question, then, that campuses are teeming with liberal faculty, especially when campuses are compared with the rest of the country.” This is explained away as a matter of personal choice – liberals are more likely to pick a job that’s not terribly remunerative but has lots of security and flexibility. Here Bérubé commits an error similar to what Thomas Franck did in What’s The Matter With Kansas – he assumes that people are guided strictly by their material preferences. Surely, just as middle-class Americans might identify more strongly with the GOP's cultural values over the Democratic party's economic program, conservatives might value living the life of the mind ahead of the monetary rewards of a non-academic career?

As for the effects of liberal bias, Bérubé admits that this is not a good thing within his own discipline. The absence of traditional conservative scholarship creates the Millian problem of “dead dogma” – without being challenged, some tenets become accepted as given when they shouldn’t be. The other problem, which Bérubé does not discuss in detail, is one of power. In almost every social setting, those with less power tend to exaggerate the extent to which they need to please the more powerful to advance in life. So it is in the academy. Bérubé maintains that undergrads do not read is essays in Dissent or The Nation. That’s probably true – but I bet they read his blog, and I have to wonder if some potential English Ph.D.’s fear the ideological gap between them and their instructor, and choose to take a pass? This problem is not Bérubé’s fault, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

On the whole, Bérubé thinks the liberal bias problem is overblown – and therefore the conservative opposition must be masking a more sinister agenda – the academy, like Social Security, is an existential affront to conservatives:

on some level, the American right attacks universities not because they don’t work but because, by and large, they do….

America’s cultural conservatives may despise us for the obvious reasons—our cosmopolitanism, our secularism, our corrosive attitude of skepticism about every form of receive authority—but the economic conservatives, I think, despise us precisely because we work so well.

As an economic conservative, there are a few flaws in this line of argumentation.

Bérubé implies that American universities work so well because of Liberals Like Him. However, as he points out elsewhere in the book, it might be precisely those parts of the university that “conservatives heartily endorse” – basic science and R&D in nanotechnology or agribusiness – that’s providing a lot of the value-added. Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that even though the state plays a significant role in tertiary education in this country, its role is considerably smaller when compared to other countries. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the competitive, non-state aspects of the American university that make them such a global attractor. True, for these parts of the university to work, they do have to adhere to Bérubé’s procedural liberalism – but this is an insight that is hardly original to either Bérubé or the left side of the political spectrum.

I'd recommend the book to those interested in seeing how humanities professors go about their work. As a refutation of the condservative critique, What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts leaves something to be desired.

posted by Dan at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

How Kerry helped the Democrats in 2008

Over at The Guardian's website, James Crabtree makes a great point about how Kerry has helped his party for 2008:

Yesterday was, in fact, a tremendous day for the Democratic Party. John Forbes Kerry, uniquely among his fellow Americans, genuinely appeared to believe that the next President of the United States could be John Forbes Kerry. Much in the same way as Nixon ran against Kennedy, was defeated, and came back, Kerry thought his phoenix could rise again. That is now not going to happen. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. John Kerry 2008. RIP....

[T]here is something uniquely unfortunate about Kerry - his caution, his pratfalls, his pusillanimity - that invite this sort of attack. And somehow, the ways he overcompensates for his weaknesses ("reporting for duty", duck hunting, saying yesterday he had nothing to apologise for) only make it worse.

For Republicans, Kerry comes with an easy-hit red target painted right in the middle of his high-brow Brahmin forehead. Two little-known stories illustrate why. In the first, Kerry attended a campaign event in Missouri, in 2003. He was asked by a reporter if, hypothetically, Saddam actually had WMD and refused to disarm, would Kerry have invaded? He answered resolutely: "You bet I might have."

The second comes from a chapter in Joe Klein's book Politics Lost. Kerry was dithering over his address to the 2004 Democratic convention. His brilliant young advisor Andrei Cherny had drafted a brave, lyrical speech. In particular, the speech had Kerry taking on his opponents and addressing honestly the issues on which he and America disagreed. He was against the death penalty, but for reasons of Catholic faith. He was pro-life, in principle. He believed in a Kennedy-esque call to service and sacrifice.

What happened? Kerry nixed the speech. It was too risky. Frustrated, Cherny told Kerry he would have to take a risk somewhere if he was going to win the presidency. Kerry replied that he knew this. He would take a risk. On early years education policy.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Kerry reminds us why he lost in 2004

From David Stout, "Kerry and G.O.P. Spar Over Iraq Remarks," New York Times, October 31, 2006:

Debate over the Iraq war seemed to reach a new intensity today, with President Bush and other Republicans accusing Senator John Kerry of insulting rank-and-file American troops and Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, lashing back at some of his critics as “assorted right-wing nut jobs.”

The latest flap, in which Mr. Kerry accused Republicans of distorting what he said on the West Coast on Monday, was another example of the heated rhetoric surrounding the war issue as the Congressional elections approach. President Bush said Monday that a Democratic triumph in the races for the House and Senate would amount to a victory for terrorists.

Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who is believed to be considering another run for the White House in 2008, set the stage for bitter back-and-forth as he addressed a gathering at Pasadena City College in California.

The senator, who was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides, opened with several one-liners, joking at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas but now “lives in a state of denial.”

Then, Mr. Kerry said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

President Bush, campaigning this afternoon in Georgia for a Republican House candidate, condemned Mr. Kerry’s remarks as “insulting and shameful.”

“The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots — and Senator Kerry owes them an apology,” Mr. Bush said, according to the White House.

Earlier today, Mr. Kerry’s remarks were denounced by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and, like Mr. Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, as well as by a group of House Republicans.

“Senator Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. McCain said any suggestion that only the poorly educated would agree to serve in Iraq is “an insult to every soldier serving in combat.”....

But if anyone should apologize, Mr. Kerry said, it is President Bush and his administration officials who started the ill-conceived war. He said his remarks, which he conceded were part of a “botched joke,” had been distorted and called the criticism directed at him the work of “assorted right-wing nut jobs and right-wing talk show hosts.” (emphasis added)

[OK, on a gut level this is pretty offensive to someone in the military. But is Kerry right about a lack of education being correlated with military enrollment?--ed.]

The evidence seems mixed. Consider this Terry Neal summary in the Washington Post from last year:

David R. Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organizations at the University of Maryland, said contrary to conventional wisdom both the poorest and the wealthiest people are underrepresented at the bottom of the military ranks, for completely different reasons. This trend held for both from the conscription years of Vietnam through at least the late 1990s.

Poorer people, he said, are likely to be kept out of the military by a range of factors, including higher likelihood of having a criminal record or academic deficiencies or health problems.

Back during Vietnam, "the top [economic class] had access for means of staying out of the military," said Segal. "The National Guard was known to be a well-to-do white man's club back then. People knew if you if joined the guard you weren't going to go to Vietnam. That included people like Dan Quayle and our current commander in chief. If you were rich, you might have found it easier to get a doctor to certify you as having a condition that precluded you from service. You could get a medical deferment with braces on your teeth, so you would go get braces -- something that was very expensive back then. The wealthy had more access to educational and occupational deferments."

Today's affluent merely see themselves as having more options and are not as enticed by financial incentives, such as money for college, Segal said.

The Army was able to provide socioeconomic data only for the 2002 fiscal year. Its numbers confirm Segal's findings that service members in the highest and lowest income brackets are underrepresented, but because those numbers chronicle enlistments in the year immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks, it's difficult to ascertain whether this was a normal recruiting year.

Also of note: Jerald G. Bachman, Peter Freedman-Doan, Patrick M. O'Malley, "Should U.S. Military Recruiters Write Off the College-Bound?" Armed Forces & Society 27 (July 2001): 461 - 476:
This article examines trends and relationships involving high school seniors' military service plans, their college plans, and their actual entry into military service. Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the Monitoring the Future project show that, although individuals planning to complete college are less likely than average to plan on military service, the upward trend in college plans cannot account for many of the year-to-year changes in military propensity. Moreover, it now appears that the majority of young men expecting to enter military service also expect to complete a four-year college program. Most important, planning for college does not reduce enlistment rates among high propensity males, although for some of them it may delay entry by several years. These findings suggest that educational incentives for military service are now particularly important, given the high proportions of potential recruits with college aspirations.
And, finally, Meredith A. Kleykamp, "College, Jobs, or the Military? Enlistment During a Time of War," Social Science Quarterly 87 (June 2006):
This article questions what factors are associated with joining the military after high school rather than attending college, joining the civilian labor force, or doing some other activity. Three areas of influence on military enlistment are highlighted: educational goals, the institutional presence of the military in communities, and race and socioeconomic status.

The analysis uses data from a recent cohort of high school graduates from the State of Texas in 2002, when the United States was at war, and employs multinomial logistic regression to model the correlates of post-high-school choice of activity in this cohort.

Results confirm the hypothesis that a higher military institutional presence increases the odds of enlisting in the military relative to enrolling in college, becoming employed, or doing some other activity after high school. Additionally, college aspirations are clearly associated with the decision to enroll in college versus enlist and also increase the odds of joining the military rather than the civilian labor market, or remaining idle. Unlike previous studies, few racial and ethnic differences are found.

Voluntary military enlistment during wartime is associated with college aspirations, lower socioeconomic status, and living in an area with a high military presence.

Tim Kane, "Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005" Heritage Center for Data Analysis:
[I]t is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pen­tagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005....

the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) sup­port the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas.

Anyway, although I do like the description of Rush Limbaugh as "doughy," perhaps it would be best for the Dems if they took Kerry and locked him in a closet for the rest of the week.

UPDATE: Here's Kerry's explanation in fuller detail:

My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops. The White House's attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe.
OK, so the line as Kerry says he intended it is not as offensive as the New York Times story suggests. YouTube has video of Kerry making the quote in context.

The title to this post still stands, however -- this is a classic replay of Kerry's "global test" statement during the 2004 presidential debates. As Andrew Sullivan puts it: He

may not have meant it the way it came out. That doesn't matter. It's wrong to talk about the military that way - wrong morally, empirically and ethically. And the way he said it can be construed as a patronizing snub to the men and women whose lives are on the line. It's also dumb politically not to kill this off in one news cycle. Is Kerry not content to lose just one election? Does his enormous ego have to insist on losing two?

posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

The Chinese tightrope walk on North Korea

People seem to be pleased about the DPRK decision to re-enter six-party talks.

Many commentators are also giving the credit to China for this breakthrough. Michael Moran at points out:

China’s actions merit most attention. Susan Shirk, an Asian affairs specialist at the University of California, says “the North Korean nuclear test, by driving China to become part of the solution and averting conflict between China and Japan, shifted strategic ground in Northeast Asia” (YaleGlobal). More than ever, agrees CFR Vice President Gary Samore, China is in the driver’s seat.
This leads to an interesting question -- why did North Korea agree to jaw-jaw? I suggested earlier this month that Chinese economic pressure was the source for DPRK moderation. This New York Times report by Joseph Kahn does little to change my mind on this point:
China cut off oil exports to North Korea in September during heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Chinese trade statistics show.

The unusual move — the figures show China sold no crude oil at all to its neighbor in September — reduced sales for the year by about 7 percent from the similar period in 2005. China’s oil exports to North Korea, though uneven, had been averaging about 12,300 barrels a day.

North Korea depends on China for up to 90 percent of its oil supplies, much of which is sold on credit or for bartered goods, according to Chinese energy experts. Any sustained reduction could cripple its isolated and struggling economy.

There is no clear indication that the September figures represent a policy shift by China on providing vital food and fuel supplies to its neighbor and ally in the Korean War. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Oct. 9, after the period covered by the latest customs data.

But North Korea tested ballistic missiles in July, defying sharp warnings from Beijing. China supported a United Nations resolution condemning the missile tests, and urged that North Korea not take any steps that might “worsen tensions.”

“It is a sharp and sudden reduction at a sensitive time, so political considerations cannot be ruled out,” said He Jun, a Beijing-based energy expert and consultant. “China could be sending a clear signal.”

If that analysis is correct, it suggests that Beijing may seek to punish North Korea in a variety of ways, both open and unspoken, in the aftermath of its nuclear test.

Although China has long protected North Korea against outside pressure, analysts said the nuclear test surprised and angered the Chinese leadership. Many here considered North Korea’s nuclear technology primitive and argued that the country was using the threat of developing atomic bombs as an economic bargaining chip....

[L]ast spring Beijing followed Washington’s lead in freezing North Korean assets that the Treasury Department identified as connected to money laundering, according to Bush administration officials. Chinese officials never announced that they had done so, suggesting that they take some tough actions quietly.

Chinese experts on North Korea who took part in discussions of the nuclear issue this month said officials had discussed reducing oil shipments if North Korea continued to defy the outside world. Beijing’s response would be especially sharp if North Korea conducted more nuclear tests or declined to resume negotiations about dismantling its nuclear program, these experts said.

If Beijing was already using oil to warn North Korea in September, its response to the October test could be more severe.

What's really interesting about this is that the Chinese are denying any efforts at economic pressure.

I'd deny if I were them too -- because successful Chinese coercion opens up a can of worms Beijing does not want to see open. The moment that Chinese economic pressure against North Korea is perceived as successful, the question becomes, "When will China use its economic lever to put the squeeze on the DPRK regime?" Indeed, this was the point Anne Applebaum made a few weeks ago in Slate. If Chinese pressure turns out to have worked, then it becomes that much tougher for China to take a backseat to the United States on this issue.

The thing is, China -- and South Korea -- want the impossible. They want a declawed but intact DPRK to act as a buffer between Beijing and Seoul. If this were possible, then China wouldn't need to worry about the long-term regional threat posed by a unified Korea, and Seoul wouldn't have to worry about the costs of bankrolling North Korea's transition.

It's not possible, however, because this regime wants absolute domestic control, and that's incompatible with the kind of reforms that would be necessary to survive.

I don't have a great answer to this problem, by the way -- but Beijing doesn't either.

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Beware the reverse Michael Moore effect!!

Does everyone remember how the release of Fahrenheit 911 triggered a debate about whether its huge box-office success presaged Bush's downfall in the 2004 election?

I bring this up because of this Reuters report by Steve Gorman:

The provocative film "Death of a President," which imagines the assassination of George W. Bush, bombed at the North American box office with a meager $282,000 grossed from 143 theaters in its first weekend.

The pseudo-documentary played at 91 U.S. theaters and 52 Canadian cinemas during its first three days of release, averaging an estimated $1,970 per screen, according to distributor Newmarket Films, which reportedly paid $1 million for U.S. rights to the picture.

"That's a very poor opening," said Brandon Gray, an analyst at industry watcher Web site

Newmarket distribution chief Richard Abramowitz called the opening tally for "Death of a President" "a little disappointing" in light of the "enormous awareness" generated by the film since its premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival.

posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Congress gets body-slammed in Foreign Affairs

Neither Peter Beinart nor Matthew Yglesias will make libertarians feel all that sanguine about how a Democratic takeover would affect U.S. foreign economic policy. Beinart fears, correctly, that any Democrat taking their economicpolicymaking cues from Lou Dobbs is going to wind up having to embrace a full-throated economic nationalism that in the end won't do much but lower economic growth. Yglesias fears, correctly, that Democrats have not properly appreciated the way in which trade policy helps advance U.S. security interests.

So I'm not feeling good -- and then I stumble across Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann's "When Congress Checks Out" in Foreign Affairs:

One of Congress' key roles is oversight: making sure that the laws it writes are faithfully executed and vetting the military and diplomatic activities of the executive. Congressional oversight is meant to keep mistakes from happening or from spiraling out of control; it helps draw out lessons from catastrophes in order to prevent them, or others like them, from recurring. Good oversight cuts waste, punishes fraud or scandal, and keeps policymakers on their toes. The task is not easy. Examining a department or agency, its personnel, and its implementation policies is time-consuming. Investigating possible scandals can easily lapse into a partisan exercise that ignores broad policy issues for the sake of cheap publicity.

The two of us began our immersion in Congress 37 years ago, participating in events such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's extended hearings on the Vietnam War. Throughout most of our time in Washington, tough oversight of the executive was common, whether or not different parties controlled the White House and Congress. It could be a messy and contentious process, and it often embarrassed the administration and its party. But it also helped prevent errors from turning into disasters and kept administrations more sensitive to the ramifications of their actions and inactions.

In the past six years, however, congressional oversight of the executive across a range of policies, but especially on foreign and national security policy, has virtually collapsed. The few exceptions, such as the tension-packed Senate hearings on the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2004, only prove the rule. With little or no midcourse corrections in decision-making and implementation, policy has been largely adrift. Occasionally -- as during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year -- the results have been disastrous.

That Ornstein and Mann wrote this in Foreign Affairs is telling for two reasons.

First, Ornstein and Mann are about as mainstream as you can get in the world of congressional analysis. We're not talking partisan hacks here. To quote Joe-Bob Briggs, "These guys are the feedlot." For Mann and Ornstein to co-author this kind of article at this point is telling.

Even more telling -- that it ran in Foreign Affairs. I say this because if there's one thread that runs through most foreign policymaker wannabes, it's a desire to have Congress butt out of foreign policy. No one who works in the executive branch on foreign policy ever wants to deal with Congress on anything -- because it's a colossal pain. The natural inclination of most foreign policymakers is to work for the executive branch. And yet, this argument gets the Foreign Affairs imprimatur.

I don't like seeing U.S. foreign economic policy shift in a more populist direction, and I look forward to bashing Pelosi and company if that happens. But if forced to choose, I'll trade that off for greater congressional oversight.

UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett offers his support for gridlock as well.

posted by Dan at 12:15 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 30, 2006

The good, the bad, and the ugly books I have read recently

Longtime readers of have made their displeasure known to me about my lack of monthly book recommendations. When we last left off, I had posted my summer book recommendations -- and let's face it, we're pretty much past indian summer as well as the real thing. For this, I offer my profuse apologies and no good explanation, beyond the fact that I've been traveling a lot.

However, sitting around in airports waiting for planes has allowed me to read a fair number of books in recent weeks. So, without further ado, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly books I have read over the past six weeks:


1) The Elephant In The Room, by Ryan Sager. A dissection of the growing regional and intellectual fissures within the GOP. If Ryan is lucky, his book will be to the 2006 election what Tom Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas? was to the 2004 election.

2) America Against The World, by Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes. Polling guru Andrew Kohut and National Journal columnist Bruce Stokes compare and contrast American attitudes with those of twenty other countries that are polled in the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Their book is not only about questions of foreign policy – they want to know if Americans hold views on God and man that put them out of step with the rest of the world. The most intersting findings are the issues in which it is Europe, rather than the United States, that holds truly distinctive beliefs.

3) The Foreign Policy Disconnect, by Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton. A great companion piece to the Kohut and Stokes book, this one examines the gaps between the foreign policy beliefs of ordinary Americans and those of its policymaking elites. Compared to America Against The World, this book is both more scholarly and more ideological -- tucked inside one of this book's footnotes is an almost random suggestion for a "worldwide workers movement" as a way to close the foreign policy disconnect.

4) Blessed Among Nations, by Eric Rauchway. If Open University has done nothing else, it encouraged me to read this great short book by my co-blogger about how the United States was influenced by the globalization of the 19th century -- most obviously, it sustained the maket-friendly approach to economic policymaking. The empirical chapters are fascinating, and marred only by a truly bizarre conclusion where Rauchway bemoans the Federal Reserve's failure to keep around a World War One committee that had to approve major bank loans to the private sector!!

5) What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts? by Michael Bérubé. I'll have more to say about this book in the near future, but for now I'd just say that what's good about this book is Bérubé’s attempt to explain the actual craft of teaching American literature. The book shows that university teaching is a profession, with a set of rules, norms and practices that are not connected to one political ideology or another. Even if the academy is overwhelmingly populated by liberals, the professional norms evinced by Bérubé serve as the most important bulwark against political corruption.


1) Making Globalization Work, by Joseph Stiglitz. Think of nice thing to say, think of nice thing to say.... OK, this book is a marked improvement over Globalization and Its Discontents. It offers a much fuller articulation of how Stiglitz would like to see the global economy organized. The only problems are that there's very little treatment of the economic objections to his advice, and that the set of proposed recommendations creates so many political contradictions that the whole thing is a nonstarter. Beyond that, this book confirms the best short assessment of Stiglitz I've read, which comes on p. 193 of Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker:

Stiglitz had helped to create a branch of economics that explained the failure of standard market assumptions; he was like a boy who discovers a hole in the floor of an exquisite house and keeps shouting and pointing at it. Never mind that the rest of the house is beautiful--that in nine out of ten cases, the laws of suply and demand do work; Stiglitz had found a hole, a real hole, and he had built his career on it. Naturally, this had consequences for the way he viewed the world.
Making Globalization Work does a great job of explaining how to fix the hole, but doesn't ever address the question of whether fixing that hole would collapse the rest of the house.

2) Public Intellectuals: An Endangered Species?, Amitai Etzioni, ed. A cut-and-paste job of essays -- many of which are badly dated -- about public intellectuals going the way of the allosaurus.


1) Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is a great book, but I felt dirty reading it. The idea of highlighting Lincoln's greatness by examining how he treated both his political rivals (William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edwin Stanton, and Edward Bates) and his generals (McClellan, Grant, Meade) is ingenious. Goodwin suggests that two sources of Lincoln's greatness: his ego, which allowed him to tolerate with grace the machinations of his cabinet, and his political acumen, which allowed him to move on the slavery issue in such a way that he led the country without overreaching and antagonizing public opinion in the Union. This latter, populist skill is usually looked at askance in political commentary, so it was facinating to see a great man use it to good purposes.

And yet, after Goodwin's plagiarism scandals, I can't say I felt good after reading this book. There was always a part of me that was detached during my read, wondering who had written the page I was reading -- Goodwin, her RAs, or someone else entirely. Perhaps this book is a good example of Richard Posner's argument that plagiarism is an overrated sin. As a member of the academic guild, however, I fear I will never be able to embrace Posner's argument completely.

That should tide you all over for the month.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)