November 25, 2008

Ezra is puzzled

about why Clinton is headed to State:

Conventional wisdom, in this memo, was another way of saying 'Hillary Clinton, her foreign policy adviser, and the people who agreed with her about things.' And Obama just appointed her to the most important foreign policy position in the US government. She will have to carry out his overarching priorities, of course, but beneath that, she will have significant managerial autonomy, and considerable opportunity to use her judgment. The very judgment Obama oriented his campaign against. Which is not to say that this is a bad pick, or that Hillary Clinton will do a bad job. But it is a very sharp break with the Obama campaign's central message.

You mean, the central message that it's important to incorporate a wide range of points of view into the governance of the country?

And, pretty much what a guest blogger at Shakesville said:

Barack Obama has some really effective rhetoric for engaging the most energetic left flank of the Democratic Party, but beyond that rhetoric, he is fundamentally a principled incrementalist reformer with a deep affinity for coalition-building and compromise. This is not to say that he's a bad person or a liar or that I have anything other than the highest hopes for his presidency. It's simply to say that he's not the generational revolutionary he has been made out to be by some bloggers. Barack Obama isn't the angry young man who brings down the system and gives hope to a weary world, much to the dismay of angry young man bloggers everywhere. But anyone who wasn't deeply invested in their own projections and neuroses during the primaries should already know that, right?

I suppose the primary difference between most progressive bloggers and me is that I see `principled incrementalist reformer with a deep affinity for coalition-building and compromise' and I say `yay!' But then, I'm also the guy considering writing a dissertation on John Dewey.

PS also this

John Stuart Mill, je t'aime

There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it.

On liberty, 1859

November 13, 2008

Abortion and Obama

A friend of mine -- a leftist Catholic theologian who, I believe, is pro-life -- posted this open letter to Obama on Facebook a few minutes ago. The argument, in essence, is that the new administration can win a great deal of support from pro-life evangelicals and Catholics, but liberal and conservative, by building its approach to abortion policy around `reducing the number of abortions, for instance initiatives to help facilitate adoption, provid[ing] care for pregnant women and children, of a kind that will make it easier for women with troubled pregnancies to keep their children, introduc[ing a] sex education curriculum that teaches responsibility and the sacredness of sex that [Obama] ... talked about in [his] campaign'. That is, through policies that have a more-or-less immediate effect of reducing the incidence of abortion, while still being consistent with the basic pro-choice position.

I meant to write a post about abortion and Obama before the election, but never got a chance. One of the few benefits of being a leftist, pro-choice atheist at Notre Dame this past election cycle has been watching -- and helping -- my colleagues and students think through how to weigh their profound opposition to abortion against their otherwise generally Democratic-leaning views. I actually discussed the line of thought in this letter with my students in a special section of class, and with a couple of my fellow grad students over Facebook.

Some of my interlocutors did not find it convincing. They felt that either the symbolic value of an abortion ban -- or overturning Roe -- would be too important, or that Obama's voting record suggested he would not actually implement these sorts of policies recommended in this letter. I certainly respect their opinions, even as I don't understand the first (that's a pragmatist for you!) and think the second is too speculative.

But many did find it at least very compelling. And about five weeks ago I came to the same conclusion as the author of this letter: I think a genuine overlapping consensus -- an agreement at the level of public policy acceptable to all reasonable views -- is possible in the abortion debate. I don't think it's yet clear what the content of that overlapping consensus will be. That will require a lot of time and a lot of work, both intellectual and emotional. And what I'm seeing, from both pro-life and pro-choice camps, is not a willingness to compromise. Instead, there is a willingness to deliberate, to respectfully speak to and listen to each other and identify points of agreement. I'm optimistic that this will be the great social project of our generation, the détente of the culture wars, that Obama can (and, even more, will) be the leader who takes us in that direction at a national level, and that the recommendations of this letter are the right first step.

November 12, 2008

Bowling Alone and the `culture of death'

From this review on Pandagon.

If you’re succumbing to depression because of the sterile, lonely world you live in, rhetoric that promises, “Join us and your world will be teeming with life,” starts to sound good, no matter how illogical it is. I think most of us can sympathize with this problem. It also goes a long way to explaining how easy it is to freak out members of the religious right with sexual fantasies about all the crazy shit other people are supposedly doing. If you feel isolated from others, it’s much easier to imagine that their behavior is strange and inhuman. Merely knowing some gay people and seeing they don’t have fangs or scales goes a long way towards calming fears stoked by the religious right.

(And, if you don't get the post title.)

I agree with Amanda/her reading of Hedges up to this point. But I find the conclusion they draw from this analysis, frankly, horrifying: `he strongly suggests that people interested in an open society give up the idea that we can have some sort of discourse with people on the religious right'. After all, isn't increasing marginalization and alienation of anyone just going to exacerbate the root cause they've identified here?

November 11, 2008


I'm continually baffled by conservatives. Right now, conservatives are up in a huff about the Obama Administration bringing back the Fairness Act, which they have no stated intention of doing. They're all lathered up about the fact that Obama's podium during his first press conference said "Office of the President-Elect" when, I guess, there's officially no such thing in the government. That Obama is the Presiden-Elect and has an office is, I guess, not an adequate rebuttal. And now a Republican Congressman is suggesting that President Obama wants to establish his own Gestapo.

I had a conversation with a Republican the other day, and I told him that what I find most frustrating about his party is that there's a non-insignificant portion of his party which is ignorant. He threw up his arms in frustration. Danced about the room as if a great offense had taken place. "No, no, no, Ben! They're not ignorant!" He protested. "They just disagree with you!"

"No," I replied, "on some issues you are right and I'm willing to have an honest disagreement with anyone. Still, on some issues there are a non-insignificant portion of the Republican electorate which is ignorant. And it's not that there aren't ignorant Democrats. 9/11 conspiracy theorists and people who think President Obama is going to pay their mortgage for them are ignorant. The difference is that national politicians like President Obama and the national party, when they run, they run to the center; as far from they crazies as they can get. Republicans run to the right, right into the arms of their crazies, and sometimes elect them to office.

November 10, 2008

The REAL Problem With "Heroes"

They should have just hired me as the show runner back in Season 1. Seriously, at every staff meeting someone would say, "Hey, but what if X?" to which I would reply, "No, that's dumb." I'm sure the end result would be a much better show.

November 08, 2008

November 07, 2008

A superficial explanation of the fundamental difference between supply-side and demand-side economic stimulus theory

Supply-siders believe that economic productivity is driven from the top: that capitalists will take their new tax breaks (or whatever the stimulus mechanism is), invest in expanding their businesses and increasing production. Then, because this generally requires employing more people, unemployment will drop, the middle class will expand, and demand will be increased indirectly. The problem here is that the capitalists will often actually use their increased income to increase their personal spending rather than invest in expanding their firms, ie, the luxury yacht market will do great, but that's about it.

Demand-siders believe that economic productivity is driven from the bottom (or, more accurately, the middle): that the poor and workers will take their new government aid (or whtever the stimulus mechanism is), buy more food, more clothes, better housing, and generally creating more demand. Then, because this generally requires producing more stuff, businesses will have an indirect incentive to expand, and unemployment will drop. The problem here is that putting more money into the hands of consumers causes inflation.

Is racism over?

That depends on what you mean by `racism'. Are there still large numbers of racists -- people who hold racist views? Well, duh. Do they still hold anywhere near as much power today as they did twenty or forty years ago? Obama's election suggests that the answers here is clearly no. And, as much as Obama's presidency will go towards marginalizing those views (and hence, one imagines, decreasing the number of people who hold them), it will not completely eliminate or completely marginalize them. Remember that some people still think of Martin Luther King primarily as a disruptive anarchist/socialist.

But limited-albeit-sweeping progress in these two respects isn't the full picture of race in American society. As brownfemipower recently put it,

I woke up far too early this morning, and thus was incredibly beyond cranky at all the white folks speculating if racism is…could it be…DEAD???? Because, you know, if one black man could make it as a president, Katrina didn’t *really* happen just years ago. And racism only exists in the form of some ancient by-gone problem of the black community not being able to vote, right?

And, to borrow the fantastic phrase of a recent acquaintance, the elimination of racism in American society is not the elimination of structural racial injustice. Poverty, education, disaster relief, crime and punishment, the recession (honestly, the technical definition is just not helpful; let's drop the euphemism already) -- all these and more are experienced differently depending on one's race or ethnicity (and gender, sex, ability and economic class, of course). Even if racist beliefs or intentions no longer play an important role in causing injustice, injustice still has a racial aspect that cannot be ignored.

November 05, 2008

Prop 8 And Obama

As excited as I am about Obama's victory yesterday, I am really disheartened at the success of Prop 8 in California. I would have thought, as did many I think, that California would be a leader on this issue. Ok, maybe not a leader as in being the first, but as a high populous, liberal state affirming the rights of gays and producing a huge amount of gay marriages which could show the rest of the country that there's nothing to fear. I mean, if Prop 8 can pass while Obama takes 60% of the state's popular vote, well, that just really troubles me.

In fact, I think this issue is going to be tabled nationally for a while. If we can't rely on a big liberal state like California to welcome gay marriages, then it's hard to argue this issue on a national scale. Fighting hard for gay marriage nationally would probably cost Obama a huge amount of political capital and I'm not even sure anymore if he could come out the other side winning the day. Maybe we can get hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, etc. That wouldn't be nothing, but it's far short of the goal and it's far short of what's right.

This issue will be Obama's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

One Last Thing, Then Bed

Oh, it looks like (looks!) Prop. 8 in California, which would ban gay marriage in the state by Constitutional Amendment, is going to fail. Hooray!

Update: Nope, I was wrong (and I suppose, so was the story I had read online late last night). Prop 8 failed, but Props 1 & 2 passed. Small consolation, but there it is.

Obama Wins

And wow, that was a great acceptance speech. After eight years of rolling my eyes or becoming legitimately afraid every time the President addressed the nation, it was an amazing feeling to be so inspired by a leader.

November 04, 2008