Friday, November 10, 2006

Election Postmortem

My attitude before the election was best summed up as, "Vox populi, vox dei." In contrast to prior years, I never got the sense that either party was worthy enough that I could really have a rooting interest behind it. The general contour of the election had been set for the better part of the year: the Iraq was was increasingly unpopular, but there was no real positive enthusiasm for the Democrats. I was really wondering how the American people would sort the whole thing out, and expected that they would do a good job.

After the fact, I'm less than impressed. Not so much that the GOP lost, because they deserved that much, but the merciless repudiation of everybody associated with the party. I can see, when Conrad Burns or Mike DeWine loses, it's just culling the herd. But the GOP also had some outstanding candidates, without any hint of scandal or responsibility for the Iraqi failure: Steele, Santorum, Kyl, Pawlenty, etc, and the voters took it out on them too. As my dad says, "When the paddy wagon comes, they take the good girls along with the bad." (Of course, he's talking about the stock market, but the point is the same.)

In the 2004 aftermath, there were odes and paeans written about the wisdom and good judgment of the American voter. I didn't believe it, because the fact that a circus act like John Kerry won 48% of anything ought to be an embarrassment. I thought this year would be different. It wasn't.

Even allowing for all that, the real responsibility for the election has to be split between the institutional GOP establishment and the conservative base. The establishment got itself drunk on power, and the base let it happen. This is in addition to the voter dissatisfaction with Iraq. Because the base couldn't or wouldn't discipline their guys the Washington, the voters had to, with the only means that they had. I have a feeling that in other circumstances the American people might have had more patience with the stalemate in Iraq. But it's hard to give the benefit of the doubt to someone you have no respect for, and with things like the Mark Foley/Congressional page scandal and the bridge to nowhere, the contempt was well-earned.

One thing I've read over the past couple of days is that the GOP lost but conservatism didn't. I don't buy that at all. As I mentioned before, that the voters had no interest at all in trying to make a distinction between limited government true-believers and perk-hoarding timeservers. The Hugh Hewitts of the world should bear this in mind. There's also the practical reality that the Democrats didn't just win contoro of the House, they also have a little cushion as well. Enough to make it more difficult than it ought to be get it back once we have regular order restored to the GOP.

Global Hot Air, Pt 2

My friend JR recently emailed me on this subject again, specifically regarding the Stern report. The Stern report is a document prepared by a senior British civil servant. It's been a while since I've written about it, and there were a couple of extra points I wanted to mention. So I decided to share them with you, my multitude legions of loyal readers.

1. Regarding important or controversial issues, when people have a legitimate case to make, they usually make it. If they don't, they tend to bring up side-issue distractions. For that reason, we should be very suspicious regarding disparagement of oil companies. In the big scheme of things, it's just not relevant. And the fact that it's as central to environmentalist activism as it is, should make us wonder that there's really no there there.

2. A scientific consensus on something, is often not particularly relevant and doesn't necessarily mean the underlying assertions are true. This is a little bit different than when I wrote there was no scientific consensus behind certain aspects of global warming, and probably more important. Like a lot of things, global warming in toto is a complex issue, but is also very simple in many ways. In particular, there are many parts of it which are not too complicated for a reasonably intelligent person to think through themselves.

And so it is with the Stern report. (Truth be told, we really shouldn't take the Stern report as a statement of scientific consensus. But JR cited it that way, so I'll just let that go for now.) As the editors of The Business Online point out*,
the Stern report makes no allowance for interest in evaluating cost. This is ridiculous, to the point where anybody should be able to see it. Millions of Americans own their residences, and the size of the check they write to the mortgage company every month is largely a function of the interest rate on the loan.

Or consider that the main case for global warming is the fact that scientists haven't been able to make any reasonably accurate atmospheric model without it. That's substantial evidence, but it's not necessarily conclusive. It depends on the quality of atmospheric models in circulation. We certainly don't need a scientific consensus to tell us the difference between software that works and software that doesn't. And atmospheric models are notoriously unreliable, the Windows95 of that corner of the world.

3. Like many other things, the case for global warming depends on looking at our current state and trends and extrapolating them far into the future. And in that context, derived quantities are in general less reliable than directly observed ones. Inaccuracies in the fundamental data are compounded the more analysis done on it, especially in this case where the inaccuracies are large in comparison to the phenomena they are supposed to measure. More concretely, there are substantial concerns about the quality of atmospheric data behind the global warming case. Ie, questions about how many tenths of a degree the earth has warmed over the last decade, how many fractions of a millimeter sea level has risen, how many parts per million CO2 is in the atmosphere. There are boiling debates about the heat-island effect and methodological controversies about data gathering, etc, that I don't have the time or patience too wade into to deeply. We should just allow that for the moment they are significant in their own right, but more importantly they illustrate that speculations about cause, effect, adaptability etc. are more haphazard than the existence of the underlying phenomenon.



He's not dead, of course, just gone. There has to be some measure of accountability for the Republicans' poor performance on Election Day, and at least for now, the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld is it. He leaves now at a low point of his reputation, where he is widely criticized by many who would like to support what he represents. Plus there are others (and not just dyed-in-the-wool peaceniks either) who have criticized him mercilessly. In the latter case I'm thinking of Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch in particular. I sympathize with him, though he is increasingly adopting the polemic tone of the Unmedicated Left.

Ultimately though, I don't agree with him. The responsibility for the failure of the Iraq war is at a higher pay grade than Rumsfeld. It's Bush's fault (maybe Cheney's too, though he is not public enough to know exactly what he is responsible for). The short of it is for two or three years now, Rumsfeld has been trying to implement Bush's ends with Rumsfeld's means. The Rumsfeld modus operandi was always to do more with less. And though his reputation for brusqueness was well-earned, he did it as well as anyone could.

Well, the American people have pulled the plug on that particular strategy, which those of us who like living in a democracy should appreciate is their prerogative. But as far as I'm concerned, we should understand that even though it's Rumsfeld who has to go, it's Bush's failure.


What he said.