October 2008

Ugliness Knows No Party

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2008

Republicans are not the only party that engages in gay-bashing to try and win elections. Over in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is in what is thought to be a competitive race. McConnell is the minority leader in the U.S. Senate, so it’s a high-stakes election. As recently as two weeks ago, some polls showed the race as being neck and neck, but most give McConnell a three-point to ten-point advantage over his Democratic challenger.

However, there are rumors that have surrounded McConnell for much of his career that he is a closeted gay man. Which makes the running of anti-McConnell advertisements by a labor union that has endorsed the Democrat asking “Isn’t it time Mitch McConnell was straight with Kentucky?” more than a little bit objectionable. And no one is taking credit for this flyer, which apparently someone is going to attempt to circulate in churches all over Kentucky this Sunday (right before the election).

Now, some might say that McConnell has a bad political record on gay rights. He voted yes on amending the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. (If you think I’ve been on a crusade about the California Constitution, just wait and see what I say if the issue seriously threatens to go national.) He would not add homosexuality as a basis to expand hate crime laws, or job and housing discrimination. Now, I can think of principled reasons for the latter. He might think that the Federal government has no place making it a tort to discriminate at all. I disagree with that stance but I can think of intellectually honest ways to justify it. He might think that the federal government has no business passing laws that make regular crimes also Federal crimes. I kind of agree with that one — while murder, rape, and assault are certainly bad things and should be punished sternly, they are not typically the province of the Federal government to legislate and that is the sort of thing left to the states.

The question is — does this justify “outing” him? Obviously he would rather not be outed if he is gay, and if he isn’t, then I can understand why he would be annoyed at being improperly portrayed as gay. This is different than the Larry Craig “outing” in that Senator Craig went and did something dumb and clumsy that identified him as a gay man. McConnell, if he is closeted, seems to have been more subtle and discreet. I have my doubts about disrespecting the desires of a closeted gay person to keep that part of himself private, even if that person’s voting record is, like McConnell’s, displeasing to a large number of gays and the kinds of people who (like me) think that discrimination against gays is as abominable as discrimination based on race or gender.

So if you wanted to call him a hypocrite for being gay and yet voting to promote discrimination against gays, that would be one form of attack and perhaps there is legitimacy to that. But that is also problematic; just because someone is gay does not mean that they necessarily have to agree with “gay politics.” There is no “gay agenda” that I know of any more than there is a “black agenda” or a “women’s agenda.” And again, this is something about himself he’s tried to keep private and my default position on that would be to respect that claim to privacy even though he is a public official.

But I’ve little doubt that the union accusing McConnell “not being straight” is not doing so to encourage him to change his voting patterns so as to provide a more “gay-friendly” legislative agenda or even to call him a hypocrite. They are doing it to subject him to ridicule and thereby get him thrown out of office. They are clearly suggesting that it is a bad thing to be gay and therefore that you should not vote for him because he is gay. That is a disgrace and the authors of this campaign should be ashamed of themselves.

And this proves is that Republicans do not have a monopoly on using gays as whipping boys and using churches as boostraps for political gain. It’s every bit as despicable to see Democrats doing that sort of thing and I condemn the Democrats behind this attack.

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The Reason For The Season

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2008

An important point discussed by the talking heads here:

If you want to learn more about Al-ghul, the evil spirt that dwells in graveyards, click here. And may you have a bountiful harvest.

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Last Poll Numbers

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2008

We can’t expect any more polling numbers on Prop. 8 until the only poll that really counts — the election – takes place on Tuesday. So here you go. Today’s Field Poll is showing Prop. 8 trailing by a margin of 44% to 49% with 7% undecided. The margin of error is 3.3% within the 95% confidence range and an absolute margin of error beyond that of 4.6%.

Over sixty million dollars have been spent on this initiative. I’ve never heard of an initiative campaign, anywhere, that has attracted this much attention, this much money, and this much activity. A tremendous amount of the resources for the “Yes on 8″ campaign have come from religious sources. In a very real sense, Proposition 8 is a measure of the political strength of religious groups to effect their will on the rest of us.

The “Yes on 8″ campaign has tried to spread what I have called a pack of lies and deceit, intended to gloss over the fundamental prejudice against gay people upon which the initiative is based. It has done all that it can to provide elaborate rationalizations so that its supporters — who are probably otherwise fundamentally decent and good people — can convince themselves that they are acting from a position of moral correctness. It is not true (ultimately, the only argument against gay people getting married is “Ewww”) but I will grant that many people have convinced themselves that it is nevertheless right.

The result is that it is simply too close to call. The Presidential race is a foregone conclusion now; everyone who is not professionally obligated to say otherwise (either because they are Republican partisans or because, like sports announcers broadcasting a one-sided rout, they are contractually obligated to try and keep viewers interested) knows full well that Obama will win. But this one will be a nail-biter.

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Twelve Deadly Sins Of Leadership

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2008

A leader need not have all the answers to all of the problems that the leader must confront. This is to say, not personally. The point of leadership is that you are the one in charge of a team of people who do things. You can’t do everything yourself; instead, you have to rely on others to do certain things for you. A good leader does not insist on holding a monopoly on good ideas. Your job is to get other people to do the things that need to be done. Your job is to set the agenda so that problems are solved and goals are reached. Your job is to identify those problems and determine those goals.

So I think Sister Toldjah got this one wrong. In microcosm, she takes a quote from Bill Clinton to indicate that as the financial crisis was running through its initial, scary, and confusing public stages, Barack Obama did not really know what the right response to it was. Instead, he saw his job as that of a salesman — he would find a product somewhere and sell it. This, she implies, is a great gift to the Republicans because it exposes Obama as a poor and unintelligent leader. That is not a good read on the situation.

Now, there certainly are things to criticize about Obama with respect to this issue. Most prominently, Obama went to Bill Clinton for advice about how to solve the financial crisis. This, it seems to me, could very well be picking the wrong kind of assistance. President Clinton is certainly in a position to offer some insights about the Presidency based on his experience, but he was also blessed during his Presidency to have a thriving economy for nearly the entire time he was in office. Clinton never confronted a problem of the nature facing America now.

For more topical advice, Obama might want to look to George Bush The Elder instead — the senior Bush confronted a serious recessions from 1990-1991 which resulted in a substantial and unprojected decrease in government revenue. This probably was his undoing because he could find no way out of the situation but to go back on his “Read my lips – no new taxes” campaign pledge. That Bush the Elder is a Republican was probably the stumbling block here; if that is right, Obama is guilty of letting his partisan affiliation get in the way of obtaining the information he needs, which is a form of picking the wrong kinds of assistance.

Another thing to take Obama to task for would be not ever moving into an action mode. I can’t recall, off the top of my head, what Obama has actually suggested what, if anything, we should do in response to the credit and financial markets melting down. By “we,” I mean any number of collective responses, whether it be as consumers, as stockholders, as citizens, or as a government. Obama has looked cool and in command but if he has put together any kind of a plan, I haven’t seen or heard very much about it. While I don’t discount the importance of inspiring confidence in the population to be led, valuing appearances over substance is something he might be able to get away with as a candidate for office, but he will not be able to afford such superficiality once he actually holds that office. So I think Obama can be legitimately criticized for not advancing any kind of a plan when confronted with the crisis.

This could have happened for a variety of reasons. One, he might still be trying to put a plan together. At this point, if that’s what’s going on, Obama may be guilty of paralysis by analysis. Second, and substantially related to the the previous pitfall, maybe he’s got a plan but he’s trying to make it be the best plan possible. This is a related pitfall, which is letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. In some situations (in fact, I would suggest “most” would be a better word than “some”), a mostly good but still somewhat flawed response timely made is better than a perfect response made too late.

Third, he may have found a plan but in his political judgment, it is unpopular and would hurt his chances of winning the election next week, which would indicate a lack of political courage. In my humble opinion, this is what’s really going on. The sorts of policy proposals necessary to address the financial problem are politically unpalatable, and Obama doesn’t want to disturb a favorable political dynamic by suggesting something unpopular unless he absolutely has to. And by one kind of political calculus, he doesn’t absolutely have to advance unpopular ideas right now, because he’s still only a candidate and only needs to project an image that inspires confidence in his ability to later come up with a plan.

A fourth possibility here might be that a plan with unpopular but necessary elements is something that he doesn’t think he can sell, which would indicate an inability to persuade those he would lead that his plan is the right now. I rather doubt that Obama lacks the ability to persuade people of things — he is an inspiring leader and a gifted communicator. But as he has pointed out himself, you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig afterwards.

Fifth, it could be that the people he’s turned to for assistance have offered multiple and contradictory ideas, and are arguing amongst themselves. This would represent an unacceptable tolerance of discord within the team that in this case prevents the team as a whole from even formulating a coherent plan, much less attempting to act on it. Certainly, a difference of opinion between people can be used to test competing ideas; a debate is a crucible for those ideas and the ones that survive meaningful criticism are likely to be good ideas. But this decision-making aid does need to be controlled and an end must come to it — eventually, the leader must decide which is the right decision, based on the merits of the ideas as tested in the crucible of competition. At that point, the leader’s challenge is, as I’ve described above, getting the team to all buy in to the ideas (particularly the team members who had been proposing alternatives to the plan the leader settles on).

Finally, it’s possible that despite having the ability to tap nearly the entire intelligentsia of the economic world (excepting only a few partisan economists and politicians who would be unwilling to work with him during the election) he has not yet put together any kind of a plan to respond to the crisis at all, which would represent a failure of imagination.

These are all flaws or failures as a leader which we could legitimately look to and criticize. It seems more likely than not that some combination of at least some of these things are going on. I think it is fair to acquit Obama of failure to appreciate the problem, since this problem is so obvious and has been in his face for so long now that a man of his intelligence and political acumen cannot possibly have seen it. Nor do I think that he can be said to have offered a misdirected response to the problem, since it seems to me he has offered little substantive response at all.

But I don’t think that pointing out that Obama would go looking for advice about how to confront a complex problem is a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Presiding over the macroeconomy is an extraordinarily complex thing. One can only presume that Obama solicited advice from people other than Clinton, too — from his own economic policy advisors, at minimum. His job as a leader is to formulate a plan. If the problem arises in an area where he personally lacks expertise, then his job is to acquire enough knowledge to respond to the problem intelligently. That seems to me to be what Obama was doing. And I, for one, am glad that he is smart enough to know what he doesn’t know and both humble and intellectually curious enough to seek advice and information from other people who may have better insights than he can cook up in his own skull.

To ask that the President, or in this case the President-elect (and he isn’t even that just yet but can reasonably expect to be) come pre-armed with the kind of detailed knowledge necessary to confront an issue of this magnitude, and also come pre-equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge of foreign policy, and be an expert in the subtleties of Constitutional law and governmental mechanics, and know all of the functionally useless trivia that an eighteen-month political campaign demands (how many counties are there in Iowa? what’s the third-largest circulation newspaper in New Hampshire? will Floridians like it or take offense if I eat a conch fritter?) is to demand an inhuman level of mental ability — and to demand it come packaged in a politically savvy and personally scandal-free human being on top of all that is completely unreasonable. We are electing a President, not a demigod.

Let me suggest, then, that we not criticize Obama for not personally possessing sufficient personal expertise to respond, unaided, to a problem that has been (debatably) nearly fifty years in the making and which completely blindsided the very best brightest financial, economic, and political minds out there. He will have a Secretary of the Treasury and a variety of other policy experts as advisors to help him once he’s President. Rather, let us take this opportunity to instead assess Obama’s qualities as a leader, which is, after all, what we are about to select him to become.

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Last night, I went to class with The Wife. Instead of a regular English composition class, there were four half-hour lectures about Charles Darwin and applications of his ideas in science. Well, there were supposed to be. The first lecture wound up being kind of about climatology and kind of about important figures in the environmental movement and kind of about, well, I don’t know what it was about.

But the other three were quite interesting. The Wife’s professor gave the most creative performance, with a Disney video (query if copyright was violated), a reading from Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, and a prose reading of the professor’s own composition, all relating to the Bubonic Plague. My critique here was that the emotional impact of the content — the Tuchman passage is one of the most compelling in popular history, and the professor’s story was pretty damn scary, too — overshadowed the insight that the plague as it it exists today is different than the plague as it existed in the fourteenth century. And interestingly, pockets of humanity developed resistances to it; the plague spread to Bohemia but did not take very many victims there. Bohemian people today are also much more resistant to other diseases like HIV.

Anyway, the modern plague bacterium, yersina pestis, is different from its fourteenth-century ancestors in that it now kills its human host much more slowly. Where there were cases of healthy people dying overnight, doctors attending to their patients dying before their patients did, and corpses piling up like cordwood in shallow graves, today the modern plague victim begins to feel flu-like symptoms and does not show buboes for nearly a day. After that, it takes another two to three days before the bacteria begins to seriously assault internal organs and contaminate the blood. This gives the victim time to seek medical help and antibiotics, which is what the professor did after developing plague-like symptoms while observing prairie dogs and birds in New Mexico.

So what has happened in seven hundred years? Well, thirty generations of humanity and something like thirty thousand generations of yersina pestis have adapted to one another. Since much more opportunity to evolve has taken place on the bacterium side, it seems likely that this is where the bulk of the adaptation has taken place — the plague bacterium today has “learned” to work slower, so as to give its host more time to come in contact with other potential hosts and spread the organism around so as to breed better. By being less virulent, the bacterium has survived better.

Humans, too, have adapted better survival techniques, although in our case this manifests in technology and behavior rather than profound biological change. But we cannot rule out the fact that for people of Asiatic, African, or European descent, we are all by definition descendents of people who survived the plague, and therefore we are more resistant to it than those poor souls who died of it. The plague weeded out those members of the human population who did not have the resistance and left the population better-adapted to resist the disease.

So that Darwinian lesson was kind of lost in the terror and horror that this particular interaction of parasite and prey evokes. But the lesson is still there.

The third speaker was easily the most charismatic and he had a very charismatic subject — top-of-the-pyramid predators. These are in many cases some of the most beautiful animals out there and their activities are some of the most dramatic in nature. In particular, the focus was on the re-introduction of grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas. Gray wolves had been eliminated from that ecosystem in the 1930’s, but in the late 1990’s, about thirty wolves were captured in British Columbia and re-introduced into the Yellowstone. They’ve done well there, although in the five or six generations since introduction, many of their descendants have developed black fur instead of gray. No one is quite sure why.

More interesting than that, though, was the big concept that the speaker — the curator of a natural history museum in Cody, Wyoming — took the lesson to. In the midst of some spectacular photographs of the Yellowstone area, he was able to show that the re-introduction of these top-level predators had effected a cascade of changes in the area. The wolves mainly prey on elk, which expands the availability of grazing land for moose (who, unfortunately, are still feeling the effects of the great fires of 1988). The elk population has done just fine, producing larger specimens. The elk have learned to be more vigilant while grazing themselves, and have adopted social patterns of posting sentries while the herd is feeding. They have also avoided certain areas where they feel more vulnerable, and in those areas, aspen and willow trees are returning — previously, those sorts of trees had not been doing well for fifty years or so in the park. Now, the elk are avoiding the stands of young aspen because aspen grow in areas that wolves like to hunt, and not eating them while they are still saplings. So, aspen are returning to Yellowstone and that is good for different species of bird. The return of willow trees is also good for beaver, who have returned to use this renewed building material. But the big losers have been the coyotes — they have had to give up a lot of territory to the wolves and have been the victims of wolf attacks. The wolves attack the coyotes not for food but rather to eliminate competition, and coyotes have abandoned their behavior of hunting live prey and are making their living by scavenging and living closer to human areas (which wolves try to avoid).

Now, a lot of this adaptation is behaviorial. But the point is that nature adapts very quickly to the change. And some of the adaptations do produce physical changes — the bigger elk, the darkening of the wolves’ fur. The species that are best-equipped to adapt to the new environmental factor (the presence of the predators) thrive, like the beavers and the aspen. Ohters who have more difficulty adapting dwindle in numbers, like the coyotes.

The last speaker discussed his trip to Madagascar and his observations of lemurs on the world’s fourth-largest island. He was, unfortunately, not a very charismatic speaker, but he could have made the most compelling case for evolution and its study of all of them. The raw materials were certainly there.

What it boiled down to was that the fossil evidence suggests that a single raft of lemurs somehow made it from the mainland of Africa to Madagascar about 40 million years ago. Genetic markers in modern-day lemurs indicate that every lemur on the island has a single common ancestor — there may only have been one female on that raft. Since then, lemurs have flourished on Madagascar (unlike on the mainland where they were displaced by monkeys and are now largely extinct). Madagascarian lemurs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are mouse lemurs, giant lemurs, furry ones, long-tailed ones, short-tailed ones, ones with bat-like skin flaps, ones with long claws, short claws, big eyes and little eyes, and the list goes on and on. These cute little critters have adapted to all sorts of ecological niches and developed into at least forty different species.

The story goes that Darwin very much wanted to land on Madagascar on the return voyage of the HMS Beagle, but was overruled by the captain. The professor made the case that had Darwin been able to observe lemurs (and other animals) on Madagascar, he would have found them an even better study in adaptation by natural selection in the lemurs than he did with the finches and tortoises in the Galapagos.

The science was fascinating. The speakers were of varying quality, but that’s what you get sometimes. Mainly, the engagement with scientists and their work was the profit — and the pleasure. You can do things like this too. Universities and museums all over the world are doing a variety of special presentations and exhibits and such to celebrate Darwin. The 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species was a few months ago, and his 200th birthday will be in Februrary of 2009. I encourage all of you Readers to find these events in your area and learn more.

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by Burt Likko on October 29, 2008

Last night I went to meet up with a friend at the Barnes & Noble after work. Along the way, I drove past the busiest intersection in the area — the one where all the big-box stores are, the one where the mall is.

Every corner of the intersection had been taken over by hundreds of kids. They were all waving “No on Proposition 8″ signs and having a big “No on 8″ rally. People were honking at them in support. I assume the ones who disagreed with them, or who did not care about the issue, kept their cars silent, but that the people who, like me, agreed with their message responded to the “Honk For Equality” signs.

If there is a big anti-bigotry rally here, in one of the most conservative parts of the state, then there is hope for the defeat of Prop. 8 after all. It gave me hope for the future. You go, kids!

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Hijacking An Intellectual Pedigree

by Burt Likko on October 29, 2008

Quoth Pope Benedict XVI:

“The Catholic Church is eager to share the richness of the Gospel’s social message, for it enlivens hearts with a hope for the fulfillment of justice and a love that makes all men and women truly brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. … She carries out this mission fully aware of the respective autonomy and competence of Church and State. Indeed, we may say that the distinction between religion and politics is a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions.

“The Church is equally convinced that State and religion are called to support each other as they together serve the personal and social well-being of all. This harmonious cooperation between Church and State requires ecclesial and civic leaders to carry out their public duties with undaunted concern for the common good.”

His Holiness the Pope is an intelligent, educated man. He is surely aware of history, particularly Roman and Medieval European history, in which the Church (there was only one Church in Europe at the time) was hardly distinct from the affairs of state. He has also made renewal of Catholic Christianity in the western world his particular mission, seeing a revival of faith as a necessary response to what he calls the “nihilism” that has poisoned the thought of the West and in particular Europe. So that’s where he’s coming from.

Now, at the same time, I think we can fairly trace the roots of the concept of separating church and state to Europeans, and the thinkers who created and advanced this concept were Christians. The modern understanding of the idea probably traces its roots back to Martin Luther, who advanced what he called the “Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.” Some of the Enlightenment thinkers who developed the idea were Catholics and most were Protestants, but people like Rousseau, Locke, Montesquieu, Paine, Penn, and Williams were certainly Christians. Voltaire was an atheist, and he did his part to advance the concept, too. Later, in the post-Revolutionary United States, James Madison was a deeply devout Christian, but also deeply dedicated to the idea of keeping religion and government separate, and Thomas Jefferson, at best a cipher as to his personal beliefs, is the one who coined the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” and described it as a good thing and the right policy to pursue.

So while some Catholics participated in developing and popularizing the idea, it really seems to me that its origins lie in Protestantism rather than Catholicism, and looking at the sorts of people who really pushed for it, they are in this context better-understood as political philosophers. Some of them — William Penn and Roger Williams in particular — were themselves both clergymen and political leaders who founded English colonies in America based on the creation of secular governments and fostering religious tolerance.

All of which is to say, it seems to me that historically the Roman Catholic Church has been remarkably cool towards the idea of separation of church and state, having so lengthy a pedigree of co-opting the state (beginning with the reign of Emperor Theodosius I) and itself at times having been a state governed directly by the Pope (the Papal States existed as a sovereign nation until subsumed into a unified Italy in 1870). Protestants have a better claim to the idea than do Catholics; they can trace it to Martin Luther and most of the people who pushed for the idea were Protestants.

But it’s better to say, except in the case of Luther himself, that they happened to be Protestants. Their Protestant religious beliefs did not motivate and may not even have informed their embrace of this concept very much. Puritan Massachusetts and Calvinist Geneva are examples of how some Protestant leaders were perfectly comfortable with the concept of theocratic government, as long as it was Protestant ministers and not Papal delegates who were called upon to apply the word of God to the challenges of civil government. (I submit for your consideration that in practice, except for the style of dress and the shape of the holy icon, those two societies had more in common with the Taliban and Wahhabist Saudi Arabia than they do with what we would tend to identify as “free” nations.) So I do not think it can be said that Protestantism, any more than Catholicism, lends itself to cleave to the concept of separation of church and state.

Credit for the modern concept of separation of church and state should not be given to Christianity but rather to the Enlightenment. Although the Enlightenment had its roots in the Renaissance and the Reformation, these were the seeds and the soil in which the Enlightenment later bloomed and came to full flower. It was a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century phenomenon and Christian authorities, Catholic authorities in particular, were never all that enthusiastic about it.

So for the Pope to suggest that separation of church and state is a gift of Christianity to the world is more than a little bit dishonest. It is a gift of the Enlightenment — a direct product of shedding superstition and mythology from one’s mind and instead adopting a rational, naturalistic way of looking at the world.

It is no more accurate to claim that separation of church and state is a Christian invention than it is to say that the modern steam engine is a Christian invention — James Watt may have been a Christian, but his religion had little to do with his engineering innovation.

Pope Benedict XVI has attempted to hijack one of the best things about modern society and to claim it for his own institution, and I am here to do my part to thwart that theft.

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Just A Hypothetical

by Burt Likko on October 29, 2008

What if I had been right a year ago? What if the parties had nominated Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama and John McCain? Would the race be as one-sided with those candidates?

Personally, I think that if that had happened, Senator Clinton would still be the favorite to win, but the numbers wouldn’t look quite so grim. I think there would have been two reasons for that.

Hillary! would have been faster than Obama to concede certain states to the Republicans. Hillary! would have run a campaign much like her husband had run in 1996, raising money from similar sources and not being as exciting as Obama has been. She would have been more vulnerable in states like Virginia and Missouri and Ohio; Rudy! would be competing there as per the playbook. I think that her running mate would have been Phil Bredesen.

Rudy! for his part, would probably be a lot like McCain has been. It seems likely to me that Rudy! would have had to have confronted most of the same kinds of pressures that McCain did by way of trying to keep the Republican house of cards together — meaning he would probably have nominated someone with the same sorts of social conservative credentials as Sarah Palin. He might not have picked her, though, facing a female opponent directly. Instead, he might well have looked to J.C. Watts instead. But he’d have had to figure out how to run his own campaign while integrating the RNC machine and running their playbook, too — which means that organizationally and thematically, a Giuliani-Watts campaign would have worked out more or less like McCain-Palin.

The Georgia crisis would not have been as big a political football as it was. Hillary! and Rudy! would have had essentially the same reaction to the War In The Caucasus and both would have had the same level of credibility going out of that event as they had going in. As it was, the War In The Caucasus was politically good for McCain because regardless of the wisdom of the respective candidates’ reactions, they were different and the spin worked better for McCain.

The more profound domestic economic collapse, though, is the big question. Rudy! would have taken a hit, no doubt, for the same reason that McCain did — when the shit hits the fan at home, you do not want to be the nominee of the incumbent party, no matter how striking a difference you’ve been able to draw between yourself and the incumbent. So I think that would have been to Hillary!’s net advantage. But I think Rudy! would have had a savvier reaction to the crisis and the bailout than did McCain — not having to go to the Senate himself and be expected to vote in favor of it, he could have criticized it from the outside. This would have gained him big political points.

I’m assuming that no one would have dragged out any more skeletons from Rudy!’s closet, that the conservative right wing would have rallied around Watts as the running mate and drummed itself up into a frenzy about the evils of another Clinton Presidency, and that the public in general would have suffered from no small degree of Clinton fatigue. Some of these are the same kinds of hazards that Obama has weathered, some are not. And then there’s the fact that Rudy! is just plain more charismatic than Hillary!, counterbalanced by Rudy! having to thread the needle just so on abortion to keep his party unified, something that his actual candidacy simply could not finesse.

By this point, most of the country would have become sick to death of both of them. Why? Because it would have probably been the most negative, nasty, personal, and dirty campaign since Adams took on Jefferson in 1800. And people get tired of that. The result would be a dramatically depressed voter turnout — and low voter turnout tends to favor Republicans, whose electoral base is better-trained to show up and vote whether they’re happy about their choices or not.

There’s a good chance that I’d have grown disaffected with Rudy! by now, myself, and still wound up voting Libertarian.

But, based on all of these wild speculations, if it had been Hillary! versus Rudy! I’d say that Hillary! would have an overall sixty to sixty-five percent chance of winning right now, with the Electoral College map looking a lot like it did in 2004, and battlegrounds in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, and Colorado. Yes, Rudy! would have to run the table of those states, but he’d have a realistic, although not probable, shot at doing that by now.

That’s how I think it would have looked a week out if the two pre-primary favorites had succeeded as projected.

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Executive Order Of October 9, 2008

by Burt Likko on October 29, 2008

I have seen and heard some people – mostly self-identified political progressives – fret about the possibility that George W. Bush would find some excuse to postpone or cancel the election, some reason to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law and hang on to power after the expiration of his term. I have never once given a moment’s credence to this sort of thing. Bush has not given even the tiniest hint of wanting to do anything remotely like that – and to do it, he’d need the support of the military and the courts, neither of which have given the slightest hint that they would go along with such a thing no matter how exigent the circumstances.

Well, here’s another assurance that there will be no suspension of the Constitution and an orderly transfer of power on January 20, 2009. President Bush has signed an order expediting and fast-tracking transition team members into formal office to take effect after the election. The order clearly contemplates the end of Bush’s service as President and the beginning of his successor’s, which is to say Obama’s, and evidences a desire by Bush that his successor be able to get his people in positions of power and authority quickly. Which is more than Bush’s predecessor did for him, which partially explains why it was that on September 11, 2001, there were still key administrative positions of several response agencies vacant.

Rest easy, high-strung progressives. Democracy yet thrives. There’s less than a week to go.

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By Now It’s Old But It’s Still Funny

by Burt Likko on October 28, 2008

And it has good production values!

H/T to Melinda.

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