August 28, 2008

Obama's Acceptance Speech

I have no complaints. Pitch freakin' perfect. Yes we can.

For What It's Worth

I just saw a McCain ad where John McCain simply and plainly congratulated Obama on his nomination. Was it politically calculated? Of course. Still, it was still a very small, classy moment in his otherwise crappy campaign. That's the kind of stuff that made me like John McCain back in the early 2000s. Now he was just as conservative back then as he is now, but he did a much better job of not seeming like a total tool back then.

August 27, 2008


Wow, the Democratic Convention got a ton better tonight. The primary speakers from days one and two (Michelle Obama, Teddy Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton) were very good, but the rest of the speakers were pretty bland and lifeless. But Clinton and Biden were both great and Biden's doing very well too.

August 22, 2008

Barrack Obama, Pragmatist

From the preview of a piece on Obama's economic policies in this weekend's NYT Sunday Magazine:

Some of the confusion stems from Obama’s own strategy of presenting himself as a postpartisan figure. A few weeks ago, I joined him on a flight from Orlando to Chicago and began our conversation by asking about his economic approach. He started to answer, but then interrupted himself. “My core economic theory is pragmatism,” he said, “figuring out what works.”

This, of course, is not the whole story. Invoking pragmatism doesn’t help the average voter much; ideology, though it often gets a bad name, matters, because it offers insight into how a candidate might actually behave as president.

I wonder if Obama's read his share of John Dewey, Jane Addams, and William James. His approach to politics certainly sounds like it.

Pragmatism (by which I mean a particular intellectual movement developed primarily in the US between the Civil War and World War II, and not a willingness to sacrifice principle on the altar of short-term gain), as articulated by Dewey, Addams, and James, is built around two key ideas. First, ideas are tools, not absolute truths. Like tools, ideas will be useful in some situations, and not useful in others, and it is this usefulness by which we evaluate them. Also like tools, ideas can be improved and replaced as better, more effective tools are developed. Second, progress comes from honestly examining the successes and failures of previous attempts. If an idea has worked well in the past, then it's worthwhile to try it again in similar situations. But no idea is perfect, and so it's equally worthwhile to try other possibilities. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of particular proposals -- whether in philosophy or public policy -- is how we develop new proposals, that enjoy as many of the strengths and as few of the weaknesses of its predecessors as possible. Both components combined lead to an opennesses and respect for ideological opponents -- they're the ones who are best situated to identify flaws with our own proposals -- and a willingness to experiment with radical and untested theories.

And Obama has demonstrated these two features of pragmatism again and again. His willingness to appear at a conservative evangelical megachurch, for example, and seriously and honestly answer their questions shows that he cares about engaging with those who radically disagree with his political views. Similarly, his admission that the Reaganite critique of the bureaucratic welfare state was partly right. He doesn't see conservatives as the enemy, to be ignored and shouted down; rather, a thoughtful exchange between liberals and conservatives helps improve the views of both sides. His market-based government initiatives, such as his health care plan and the auction-based cap-and-trade system, can be viewed as the product of such thoughtful exchanges between liberals and conservatives (or, in these cases, welfare liberals and libertarians), and also as the sort of radical and untested theory with which pragmatists enjoy experimenting.

August 15, 2008


On this, my last morning in California for the summer (since my flight leaves at 6:10 tomorrow morning, I'm not going to count it), I come across an article on the front of the Bay Area section of the San Francisco Chronicle: S.F. Democrats take a sharp turn to the left,

Since this is on the front of a prominent section of a still-respectable paper, you would expect at least a certain minimal level of professionalism: an attempt to distinguish between reporting of facts and editorializing, evidence to support claims, a professional tone, etc. All of these are missing from Heather Knight's piece.

The story is fairly straightforward: Democratic County Central Committee of San Francisco released their endorsements for the November election. The endorsements did not include a number of candidates who self-identify as progressive, and did votes on ballot measures that would decriminalize prostution, opposite JROTC in public schools, and challenge a number of Mayor Gavin Newsom's policies. Compare that summary with Knight's:

The San Francisco Democratic Party has veered dramatically to the left, telling voters that on Nov. 4 they should elect a raft of ultra-liberal supervisorial candidates, decriminalize prostitution, boot JROTC from public schools, embrace public power and reject Mayor Gavin Newsom's special court in the Tenderloin.

What makes this slate a veer, dramatic or otherwise, to the left? We're given no explanation. None of the positions of any of the candidates in the various contests around the city -- either endorsed or not endorsed -- is identified anywhere in the article, except one mention that one candidate (who was not endorsed) is a Green. Similarly, the discussion of the ballot measures is cursory; the additional details given tell me virtually nothing significant I couldn't have guessed from the three-word descriptions. This means the entire article rests on Knight's individual assessment that the slate of endorsements is "ultra-left".

The tone of the writing is also surprising. There are the usual problems of contemporary journalistic writing: run-on sentences, with far too many clauses, used as whole paragraphs; gratuitous adjectives; and paragraphs with no clear structure or point. But Knight also feels free to make use of slang and focus her report on individual reactions, making the whole piece sound more like a report on the student government election campaign in a high school newspaper: "Nathan Ballard, the mayor's press secretary, said the committee's endorsements are out of whack with Democratic values."

Finally, this is the internets, so of course there's a comment function attached to the electronic version of the story. Knight can't be blamed for this, but I was surprised at the red-baiting and racism that pervaded the comments. The inanity and irrelevant rants I expected, of course, but not the way `socialist' and `communist' were tossed around as slurs, much less the way several comments blamed `illegal immigrants' for violent crime (?), prostitution and sex trafficking (??), and panhandling (???).