Friday, October 31, 2008

Before The Election

I might write the what I see to the positive consequences of a hypothetical McCain win (and there aren't that many). But the one obvious one that springs to mind is that in many many cases it would piss off the right people. Here is Erica Jong going through her quadrennial anxiety spasms. For God's sake, move to Canada already and get it over with.


I suspect, without any real evidence, that the McCain boomlet over the last few days has run its course, and that Barack Obama will be the next POTUS. I think this not because anything in particular has happened since yesterday, but because essentially nothing has. The polls are where they are, and I think they're more or less accurate. Though I still do expect a break toward McCain of about 3% from undecideds and weak Obama supporters on Election Day, it won't be enough, and Obama will win with a popular vote majority of 0-5%. (The usual caveats apply. In particular, 3 three days is a long time in a situation like this, and I reserve the right to change my mind.)

In any case, let's say I'm right, or stipulate that Obama is going to win in some scenario. What should center-right America do, in the next three days and the next three months before President Obama takes office?

Well, for starters let's try to get a straight story on the current economic crisis. And to acknowledge that it is in fact a crisis. And for the various interventions and bailouts that have occurred or are going to occur, they are done in the context of a crisis and with the intention of ameliorating the crisis. In an ideal world this ought to go without saying, but for all the uproar and debate in the genesis of the Paulson plans and their journey through Congress, it's not at all obvious to me that everybody expects this will happen.

People might not care about this now, but I suspect they should very soon. My gut feeling is that economically speaking, the crisis stage is going to be over soon but a severe cookie-cutter type recession is just starting. And God willing, we'll work our way out of this recession just like we've worked our way out of prior ones. But if this is in fact the case, the various bailouts aren't going to help and will probably make things worse. In fact, the best scholars of the Great Depression (in particular Amity Shlaes) think that New Deal did not end the Depression but instead prolonged it.

Moreover there's a simpler point to be made to anyone who's still listening. Most of our federal money is spent on programs that were started in the attempt to address a crisis. (Defense is an exception: that money is spent before the crisis). We (as mainstream conservatives) are willing to spend money to address a crisis, but we need to insist that when the crisis is over the money flow stops. Otherwise, the federal government doesn't have any money left over to pay for its response to the next crisis. That ought to be especially clear now, where the combination of ballooning entitlements, the bailouts, and the Iraq War have left the government straining near the end of its ability to borrow money, as enormous as that is. And right now, we have the chance to empahsize this while George W. Bush is President so that we have the opportunity to hold Barack Obama to it later.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The other thing underlying the substantial support for Obama among people who ought to know better is the yearning to elevate the level of public discourse after eight years of George W. Bush's public torture of the English language. I have a particle of sympathy for this, except that many of them are inflating their hopes for Barack Obama on that score way above any kind of rational expectation. He speaks well from a prepared text, but beyond Hamlet-style hand-wringing over an uncertain racial identity, there's very little interesting thought there.

Beyond that, I'd recommend _Intellectuals_, a fascinating study of the private lives of prominent intellectuals by Paul Johnson that's about twenty years old now. We need smart people obviously, but it's very dangerous to other parties to hand them privileges them on that account. It encourages a very weird sort of moral hazard for them to shade their personas in order to maintain those privileges.


For a while now, we've seen the phenomenon of various "conservatives" or prominent people who for some reason ought to be aligned with the Republican Presidential candidate supporting Obama. Off the top of my head, there's Doug Kmiec, Wick Allison, Christopher Buckley, Jeffrey Hart, Kenneth Adelman, Colin Powell and several formerly rightish libertarians. On top of that, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, and Quin Hillyer have been publicly critical of the selection of Sarah Palin while still supporting the Republican ticket on balance.

And just now I've figured out why, and figured out why I've never been strongly tempted to be one of them. Essentially, for most or all of the people above, there is strong resentment against, say, Sean Hannity and the sort of media figure he represents, and Sarah Palin and who she represents. So these, above all else, want to repudiate the Hannity-Palin axis. This is most depressing in the case of Anne Applebaum, a very thoughtful woman whose reasoning on behalf of Obama is specious to the point of embarrassment.

I can see why some people don't like Sean Hannity very much, though I personally don't watch much of Fox News. But for all our current problems, Sarah Palin and the people who support her are about as blameless as it's humanly possible to be, and represent a substantial part of our hope in America.

The Identity Politics Election

Every election is about identity politics to some extent, but this one, at the Presidential level at least, has turned on identity politics more than any other that I can recall, in the United States at least. The demographic polarization of this election is unusually stark. It's the cognitive elite and the various ethic minorities versus Middle America.

John McCain has ran a decent campaign in some ways, but his ability to articulate a forward-looking message has been abysmal. Given all that, and the desire of a large number of Americans for a clean sweep of Republicans, it's a near miracle that John McCain has any chance at all. But he does have a chance, and I have a sneaking suspicion that McCain is doing better than the polls would indicate. The problem is, even if he is, he is still a long way from winning.

But, if somehow he does pull it off, one of the few things we can genuinely look forward to is an improvement in race relations in a very bassackwards way. The Left will have to rethink its strategy of bulldozing over the mind of Middle America, and will have to work to engage it instead.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fat Lady

Last week I wrote that the McCain campaign isn't quite dead but is on life support. I stand by that. If anything, they look better now than they did then. So what has to happen for McCain to pull this out?

The bad news is, Barack Obama is clearly a plausible President to anyone who's paying attention. But he's not quite an inevitable one, and it's crucial for McCain that Obama doesn't become until he's actually elected. There are a huge number of weak Obama supporters who will vote for Obama just out of intertia if appears that the election is functionally over. Similarly, the lesser committed McCain supporters will probably just stay home.

To keep this from happening, McCain needs some poll movement in his favor. Optimally sometime between now and Friday he needs at least one major national poll showing him in the lead (by any amount, even 1%). It would be even better if there were two. This way a significant number of voters will have to reconsider exactly who they want to be the next President of the United States. As it is, we've seen several polls showing Obama leading by 2-4%. My gut feeling is that isn't quite good enough, but we've got a couple of days yet before the weekend.

Then assuming that happens, McCain needs to have a plurality of these leaners and undecideds to break for him on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Maybe it's just wishful thinking but I actually expect this to happen.

Finally he needs to have the right states break in his favor to win the Electoral College. Remember, the whole business about winning the EC while losing the popular vote only works if the candidates are within say 2% of each other. I think it's beyond hope to think McCain will beat Obama by more than that so he'll need to have some luck in picking up votes in the right places.

Even if McCain is losing, he is definitely not out of the picture, but he needs help from the polls tomorrow and the next day.

Strange New Respect

Strange New Respect is the name usually given to some conservative who "shows maturity" by moving away from his previously-held troglodyte views. In that vein, I hope my new overlords will show me some mercy when the Change We've Been Waiting For finally arrives.

Mostly though, I'm talking about strange new respect in the literal sense, taking a look at what the other team has done right. The first thing is Bill Clinton's handling of the economy in the first two years. Like the rest of the world I've been thinking of our economic troubles over the last few months or so, and I reread parts of _The Agenda_, by Bob Woodward. He definitely wanted to fund the usual dogooder giveaways. But out of necessity, he "cut" the rate of increase in government programs and let the economy catch up the to the size of the state it was supporting. It seems that many if not most people who support Barack Obama are expecting him to do the same thing. Maybe they're right, but frankly I'm not nearly as confident as they are.

The other item is the Howard Dean campaign in 2003-2004. The crash and burn was widely ridiculed among those of us on the Right, but this one especially has had very substantial long-lasting impact. The Dean campaign successfully disciplined the Democratic political establishment to accept the authority of the Democratic base. The substance doesn't matter so much to me because as far as I'm concerned there's not very much worthwhile from either one. But on our side, it's not so much that the Republican political class has ran off the rails as opposed to the reality that the conservative pundit class and the Republican base have utterly failed to enforce accountability on it, and that reality continues to this day.

I was reminded of this when I see that a Federal jury has just convicted Sen Ted Stevens. Maybe he's not even really guilty of anything except the quasi-crimes prosecutors like to use to get rid of inconvenient people. Nonetheless, it doesn't speak very well of us that the Department of Justice is doing our dirty work for us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Anti-Honeymoon

I suspect part of the reason that so many prominent conservatives have gone for Obama is the weariness of having to keep one's own house in order while at the same time assuming some measure of responsibility for government. If I vote this election, I'll vote for McCain but truth be told I'm wavering on just how much I hope he wins. I am fairly secure on this, though. If McCain wins, I hope he gets an anti-honeymoon. I for one would like to see some Republican bigshots announce their total commitment to opposing McCain's immigration policy before he even gets the chance to announce it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The New Alinskyites

One of the undercurrents of this campaign is Sen. Barack Obama's work history as a community organizer. From what's been written about it, he actually accomplished little or nothing. But it is important nonetheless as it the key data point to be able to pigeonhole Sen. Obama, for both ends of the spectrum. The Right can say, "Oh look, he was pinko rabble rouser, the horror!" The Left will give him street cred for the same reason.

But to me the most interesting aspect of the whole thing is how the career of Saul Alinsky fits into all this. Alinsky is considered to be the godfather of community organizing, including DCP and the Gamaliel Foundation where Barack Obama cut his teeth. As much as Obama's period as a community organizer has been a rhetorical flashpoint for the campaign, there's been very little attention to Obama's failure to accomplish anything as one. And in the process, Obama rejected the defining feature of the Alinsky model, the nature of leadership. As John Judis wrote in The New Republic,
"As a result, the job of an organizer is to discover what citizens think is in their self-interest and then help them fight for it. Alinsky also instructed that the organizer himself should not become a public leader, but should operate behind the scenes to encourage "natural" or "native" leaders among the people he is organizing. That is, the goal of an organizer is never to create a movement based on his own charisma. ("We're trying to build an organization with staying power, not a movement based on instant power and charisma," Ernesto Cortes Jr., a prominent Alinsky disciple, explained in 1988.)"

He took a turn into politics instead, an endeavor that by its very nature requires charismatic leaders and smooth-talkers. How very convenient, like so many other things about the young Obama.

But if Obama is not a true disciple of Alinsky then who is? Well, I suspect that we'll find out that it will be Joe the Plumber and the more or less apolitical conservative base. The complement to Alinsky's view of leadership was his view of "consciousness raising." People in general best learn the value of abstract principle in the struggle for their own interests. I suspect this is going to come home to bourgeois America in ways that we haven't seen for at least a couple of decades.

The right to own guns, the right to politically incorrect speech, the right to take exception to the establishment's line on the usual hot-button issues, they are all going to come under tremendous pressure. They will also be defended, but not just by blandly invoking words on a piece of paper, but also by force and through repeated clashes against authority.

It's very possible that American will be entering a period of substantial social unrest no matter what happends. But, in contrast to some others I see more of it if Obama wins than if he loses.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Other McCain

Blogger Robert Stacy McCain (no relation) has extensively taken up the subject of the Pundit Wars, both in his own blog and the group blog of the American Spectator.

His angle is mostly a generational one, that this is a symptom of the reality that the Right has too many callow 20-somethings, Ross Douthat in particular. I don't buy it. Ross is one of the fresher voices on the Right, and if the Right suffers from too many Ann Coulter wannabes, Ross isn't one of them.

McCain's bigger point is correct, though I personally like to think of it terms of sovereignty. Ultimately, the people in flyover country are sovereign and if the United States has any future will remain so. Others can and do speak on their behalf in Washington and elsewhere. But even if that is sometimes useful, it's not always necessary. The point of Sarah Palin is to illustrate that they can speak for themselves.

The people who don't like it just have to deal. Some of the complaints of some of the pundits may even be legit. Frankly I don't care very much if they are. They should have worked harder against the GOP political class when they had the chance.


The Pundit Wars are a multifaceted thing, and Ross Douthat has been near the center of most of the controversies. Here and here he defends the need for the GOP (and the Right in general) to have associated elites. I'm sympathetic to his conclusion but I think his reasoning is specious. The Right needs to have elites for the obvious (to me, at least) reason that there are important circumstances where knowledge or expertise is not widespread amongst the grassroots and somebody with that expertise has to be in position to make decisions or communicate the state of the game. Ross' concern with the conservative cocoon is well-placed, I think, but doesn't imply what he thinks it does. In fact, it's way more plausible to say that it's the nature of the cocoon is that various members of the conservative elite talk to each other and no one else, which belies the theory that the elite will stop us from putting ourselves in a cocoon.

The Economy, Stupid

Most of the drama of the Pundit Wars has centered on Sarah Palin, but to some extent that's a proxy for the inability of the GOP and the Right in general to compete in the debate over the economy. What a farce! In his heart of hearts, everybody knows (or ought to know) that the Republicans are the party of prosperity whereas the Democrats are one or two steps away from the Politburo for the sake of social acceptability.

So now, we are in the major of a huge economic crisis, and we have a Presidential candidate whose supposed strength is the ability to handle crises. What is our response? Hope it goes away so we can talk about Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko.

Finally, it's interesting to see how the recriminations against McCain's poor standing at the polls have been directed at the right wing pundit class. It's as if everybody already knows there's no hope of any accountability from the GOP political class.

The Pundit Wars

With a slight uptick in John McCain's fortunes, I'm willing to concede that the prospects of his becoming President aren't completely dead but are merely on life support.

Much more interesting is the various sniping amongst people who are generally considered right-wing pundits of one stripe or another. I for one don't buy the theory "Let's wait till after the election for this sort of thing." First of all, McCain's prospects aren't worth that much. Second of all, it's precisely "this sort of thing" that has been long over due on the Right for say, two or three years at least (longer if you're particularly cranky).

And finally the subject is much more entertaining, unlike the McCain campaign which almost hurts my head just to think about (and even allowing for the possibility that he has some chance of winning).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm John McCain and I Approved This Recession

We've all heard the dreary economic news over the last few weeks. Credit is collapsing, bailouts may not be working, inflation is a problem and so on. But of all those and any others, the one I'm the most worried about is the economic illiteracy of the American people.

John McCain isn't the worst of the lot of course, but he's still pretty bad. This is why he's running behind in the polls, and likely to lose if things don't change in a hurry. And here's another thing. I think it's fair to say that neither candidate has a real good grasp of the immediate crisis in our economy. That being the case, why are they running? Can't there be anything else except winning the status game?