Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ken Jennings' Jeopardy streak is over. The Seinfeld tie-in was crass. You got the sense he was tired, too. What next?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A variant on "Don't Vote? Don't Bother" -- this time, the futility of trying to understand undecided voters. "Decision Makers":
Members of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to impute to them a basic rationality. We're giving them too much credit. I met voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man's house, she still couldn't make sense of his decision. Then there was the woman who called our office a few weeks before the election to tell us that though she had signed up to volunteer for Kerry she had now decided to back Bush. Why? Because the president supported stem cell research. The office became quiet as we all stopped what we were doing to listen to one of our fellow organizers try, nobly, to disabuse her of this notion. Despite having the facts on her side, the organizer didn't have much luck.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Not to be confused with "Locals Only" but rather the innovative approach to rationalizing the Blue-Red divide. These guys are exploring it, and now here's a right-leaning (or libertarian-leaning) explainer:
[T]he national divide is beginning to sound a bit like the one between Vice President Cheney and Sen. Pat Leahy -- or at least the message is the same, "Go f--k yourself."

This could easily be seen as an obnoxious, reactionary stance on the part of the left. And to the extent that it is based on an elitist view of rural folk as sister-marrying, gay-lynching, Toby Keith-adoring Bible-thumpers, well, it is obnoxious and reactionary.

But it's also, in no small measure, refreshing.

First of all, the left is now openly embracing elitism -- a widely misunderstood and wrongly spat-upon value.

More importantly though, progressives are beginning to realize that it's extraordinarily difficult to foist your values on other people -- and maybe they should just stop trying. Now, this isn't quite as good as recognizing that it's wrong to try to force your values on other people. But it's a start.

. . .

We don't have to read each other's newspapers, watch each other's cable news networks, go to each other's concerts, browse each other's Web sites or sit through each other's movies. So why should the outcome of every major political debate be binding for almost 300 million Americans spread out over a continent?

Republicans have sometimes been the party of federalism, railing in the 1990s about "unfunded mandates" from the federal government making it impossible for states to run their own affairs and complaining that federal involvement in education was ruining local schools.

Unfortunately, the party has been willing to abandon this principle whenever it's convenient -- with President Bush's No Child Left Behind law recently, and for years over the issue of states wanting to legalize medical marijuana.

But now a large number of disenfranchised Democrats seem willing to form a leave-me-alone coalition. They don't want Bush and his theologians deciding whether or not to fund stem-cell research, they want California to step in if the federal government won't. They don't want a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they want their individual states to decide.

. . .

With an open-ended, complicated and potentially catastrophic War on Terrorism to occupy the federal government for the foreseeable future, might this not be the perfect political coalition to start exploring: people on the right and left who just want people on the other side to leave them alone.

Let the federal government deal with what it's supposed to -- national security. Let the states and cities sweat the small stuff. It could be the beginning of a federalist renaissance.
(Original link found here.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dig it:
Last week, more than 80% of the roughly 7,300 partisan legislative seats in the country were up for grabs, as elections for state legislators took place in 44 states. Before the election, Republicans had a narrow 60-seat aggregate nationwide lead in seats, the smallest any party had held since statistics have been recorded. Now the margin is even smaller, but this time Democrats are on top. Pending recounts, they will have 3,658 legislative seats to 3,652 for Republicans. The GOP now controls both legislative chambers in 20 states. Democrats control both chambers in 19, and 10 are split, with Democrats holding one chamber and Republicans the other. (The unicameral Nebraska Legislature is nonpartisan.)

. . .

Republicans lost control of the Oregon Senate, the Washington Senate and the Vermont House. In Minnesota, they walloped the Republicans and narrowed a 28-seat GOP advantage in the state House down to just two seats. Democrats elected half the state representatives in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, for the first time in history. One of the Rochester GOP veterans who lost was Bill Kuisle, the House assistant majority leader, who was defeated by Andy Welti, a 23-year-old substitute teacher running for his first elective office. The late Paul Wellstone, the former political organizer who became a liberal senator from Minnesota, would be pleased at the grass-roots success that left-wing activists had in his state this year.
If this is where it's all going it may not be a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Although I'm kind of feeling lazy about it right now, I'm feeling ready to jettison the cynical irony and snark to note a couple of items from last night and then posit a "Big Idea" that may or may not be hashed out in the coming weeks.

Two things jumped out at me: the successful gay marriage bans and the successful California proposition funding stem-cell research. They jumped out at me because I think they're two sides of the same coin. I'll explain in a second.

First, note Andrew Sullivan's downcast commentary today:
What we're seeing, I think, is a huge fundamentalist Christian revival in this country, a religious movement that is now explicitly political as well. It is unsurprising, of course, given the uncertainty of today's world, the devastating attacks on our country, and the emergence of so many more liberal cultures in urban America. And it is completely legitimate in this country for such views to be represented in public policy, however much I disagree with them. But the intensity of the passion, and the inherently totalist nature of religiously motivated politics means deep social conflict if we are not careful. Our safety valve must be federalism. We have to live and let live. As blue states become more secular, and red states become less so, the only alternative to a national religious war is to allow different states to pursue different options. That goes for things like decriminalization of marijuana, abortion rights, stem cell research and marriage rights. Forcing California and Mississippi into one model is a recipe for disaster. Federalism is now more important than ever. I just hope that Republican federalists understand this. I fear they don't.
Despite what some are saying, I think it's necessary for the Democrats to shift strategy and start to really think about a vision, or at least what that means. So the idea that emerged this morning was the concept of embracing federalism -- actually, owning it. It's just a matter of taking Sullivan's depressing talk and making it a positive.

Without looking at data, I'm guessing that gay marriage issue helped Bush a bunch. But I don't think that it shows homophobia more than it seems to be a reaction against "the courts" or whoever legislating. I think that's the gut reaction that's working here more than the notion that gay people marrying is a bad thing. And I think this because of the California example, which is a sort of reverse reaction to federal control over an issue. I wouldn't have supported either proposition -- one seems fiscally insane and the other morally repugnant -- but in general I think it shows that local control might be an issue -- perhaps the issue -- that Democrats can capitalize on.

I've thought for a while that the concept of local control fits into the small-L liberalism that informs the modern Democratic party -- in a strange way, I think it does.

If Democrats were to cede the notion of using the federal government to help the citizenry, it would free them up to pursue progressive goals at the local level. It seems more sensible to try universal health care this way (don't they already do this in Hawaii and I think Oregon?). It's more efficient and and the same time more palatable in that it's a community-based decision instead of a decision "handed down from above."

The model for this is one that Americans by and large all trust: public education. Excepting urban hotspots (which already are primed for a progressive tack to social problems), people believe in the public school system. And it's no surprise that public schools' mantra is "local control." I believe other social programs could be conceived of similarly.

The rebrand I alluded to above has to be hammered on, though, lest it be viewed as a "big government scheme." I say call it a "community-based solution." That shouldn't freak out people in parts of the country that wouldn't want to pursue a progressive plan.

The compromise is that Democrats have got to give up conceptualizing these aims at the federal level. I wonder if the U.S. is too large for federal programs anyway, and I'm pretty sure others agree.

The more painful compromise is that one must entirely abandon a parliamentary-style concept of party politics where one votes a straight ticket. I don't think it's too painful to vote Republican (or Republican-esque) at the federal level while supporting a Democratic (or Democrat-esque) platform at the local level. And when you get down to it, I think most voters agree; to the best of my knowledge, there are no "starve the beast" mayors -- or at least none that lasted more than one term!

There's an opening here and an opening that I encourage Democrats to take. If there's anything I gleaned from yesterday, it's that something has to change for them. The idea that the Democrats -- so unified and so energized -- couldn't defeat a president who misled the country about WMD, created a situation that allowed Abu Ghraib, let the economy tank and needlessly alienated many constituencies (I'm sketching a scene, not endorsing these viewpoints) shows how badly they have it in the way of a vision. And not only that but Bush actually did much better than before -- and the Republicans gained in Congress. That's bad. And it's symptomatic -- which is why I'm moved to write all this.

So in the coming days, Democrats, if you catch yourself blaming Karl Rove, blaming the FMA, blaming voting machines -- please think for just a moment. Those are convenient excuses. They don't fix the larger problem, which is much more ingrained.

Of the progressive voices out there, who can do it? Who can pull off the shift and lend intellectual heft to the task at hand? Who can reshape American politics for the future? The only folks I trust are these guys.
That does it -- I'm moving to Canada!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Whoops, Tom Wolfe just gave away my secret:
Would he really be happier away from New York, out on the plains, in the "red states" where everyone at dinner parties votes for Bush? Wolfe's eyes revert to that mischievous glint, and he allows himself a smile. "I do think," he admits, apparently speaking for himself, his country and his president, "that if you are not having a fight with somebody, then you are not sure whether you are alive when you wake up in the morning."
Now that I think about it, this blog should posthumously be renamed "Tom Wolfe's Nutsack." Or some such thing . . .

Don't forget to vote tomorrow!

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