Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Social Acceptance Cannot Be Imposed": State Civil Union Ruling May Cause Backlash

New Jersey's State Supreme Court ruled last week in favor of full equality under the law for gay couples, and directed the legislature to work up a law either authorizing same-sex marriage or civil unions within six months.

Cathy Young, a contributing editor at Reason magazine,
noted in a Boston Globe commentary that the ruling received a mixed reception by gay rights groups, with some stating that the gay movement would settle for nothing less that 100-percent equality (i.e., legalized gay marriage):

Six years ago, when the Vermont Supreme Court handed down essentially the same opinion as New Jersey's high court has now, gay rights activists almost unanimously hailed the decision. But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court moved the goalposts in 2003 by ruling that nothing short of same-sex marriage would satisfy the demands of equality . Civil unions are now seen by many as, in Goldstein's words, moving gays "from the back of the bus to only the middle of the bus."

Yet there are also plenty of gay men and women who say that as long as they and their partners can have the same legal rights and benefits as straight couples, they don't care what the state calls their unions. The decision of New Jersey's high court is a reminder that there are practical inequalities involved. While New Jersey recognizes domestic partnerships, marriage offers many additional privileges -- from survivor benefits for a deceased spouse to the presumption that a biological parent's spouse is the other legal parent of the child.

The word "marriage" carries a symbolic weight for both sides in the debate. Many people who favor full rights for same-sex couples nonetheless feel that society should accord male-female unions a special recognition -- a view that may be based on religious faith or on beliefs about psychological and biological differences between the sexes. For many gays, such views amount to a message of inferiority, and equal marriage is seen as the only guarantee of true social acceptance of their relationships as fully equal to those of heterosexuals.

The Massachusetts court stressed such acceptance in its gay marriage ruling. By contrast, the New Jersey court majority emphasized that social acceptance cannot be imposed from the bench , and can be much more effectively gained in legislatures and the court of public opinion.

Some leading proponents of same-sex marriage, such as writer Andrew Sullivan, see the New Jersey court's solution as a wise compromise that will avoid disastrous consequences. The 2003 Massachusetts ruling was followed by a series of constitutional amendments in other states that not only banned same-sex marriage but in many cases prohibited or crippled domestic partnership benefits as well. On the website of the Independent Gay Forum, Stephen H. Miller wrote, "Those with the luxury of living in true-blue states where such amendments aren't conceivable may have wished that the N.J. court had, like in Massachusetts, mandated full marriage equality delivered on a platter, the legislature be damned now. But the rest of us would have paid dearly for such a fiat."

In the past 15 years, American culture has made tremendous strides toward gay acceptance and equality. Yet, even leaving aside outright bigotry, there still remains much cultural conflict and ambivalence on the issue. Legislating civil unions today will not preclude further steps toward equality tomorrow. Using the law to push the culture further than it is ready to go might well lead to a reaction that will push gay citizens back.
Young's point is important, because support for gay rights has been growing in public opinion, with most people indicating general tolerance toward gays and lesbians.

For example, a 2004 Los Angeles Times poll found widespread acceptance of gay Americans. The survey found large majority favoring protections for gays against workplace discrimination, and a majority said that gays and lesbians should be able to serve in the military. Yet, a slim majority opposed adoption by same-sex couples, 72 percent opposed same-sex marriage, and 51 percent supported a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriages.

There's something traditional about marriage that Americans want to preserve, as Young notes in her commentary. Perhaps historic notions about marriage -- especially the notion that male-female legal unions are fundamentally about procreation -- will evolve toward a more permissive stance on gay marriage in the future. I don't think, though, that gay demands for equality in marriage should be placed on an equal plane with the historic struggle for equality among other groups,
especially that of African Americans.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Immigrant Mailer Controversy is Perfect Media Story

Gregory Rodriguez argued this weekend in the Los Angeles Times that the Orange County GOP's immigrant mailer controversy was the perfect story for politicians and the media, fostering moral posturing without any political consequences:

I DON'T KNOW what was more disturbing, the lame attempt to suppress immigrant voter turnout in California's 47th Congressional District or the breathless reporting and hyper-indignation that followed it.

Editorialists called the incident "despicable." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger labeled it "racist" and a "hate crime." The chairman of the Orange County Republican Party called it "grotesque and obnoxious." You'd think they were all talking about a lynching, or at least a cross-burning. But no, it was a rather pedantic letter sent to fewer than 14,000 foreign-born Democrats with Spanish surnames in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim.

It didn't matter that the mailing targeted only a tiny stratum of the district's 417,000 Latino voters, or that it made no mention of race or ethnicity; the media were all too happy to label this a "racial" incident. For Democrats, it was an easy don't-let-them-keep-you-down and get-out-the-vote rallying point, and for Republicans mired in an internecine battle over immigration, it was a great opportunity to say "Hey, don't mistreat Mexicans!" in front of a lot of microphones.

After a couple of years of politicians condoning ugly anti-immigrant and openly racist AM radio blather — think Schwarzenegger, during the recall campaign, kissing up on KFI's "The John and Ken Show" — you have to admit that the level of indignation in response to this incident appears at least slightly incommensurate. It makes you wonder: Why this outburst? Why now?

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez used the occasion to tell voters to stand up to the powerful right wing. But Tan Nguyen, the underdog Republican congressional candidate on whose behalf the letters were sent, is hardly a friend of Karl Rove's. In the United States, you can gauge someone's power by the number and relative status of the people who come to his defense when he screws up. And let's face it, only the loons have backed Nguyen in his hour of need. And that's the point.

Not only did Nguyen never have a chance of beating five-term Rep. Loretta Sanchez, but the letter — which was designed to confuse and dissuade some recently registered immigrant Latino voters from going to the polls — was not approved by any institution or person other than the dishonorable candidate himself. In other words, it required no great act of political sacrifice for Republican activists and officials to bash and disown a marginal candidate running against a popular incumbent.

For that matter, the pathetic letter — which didn't even target the largest segment of the Latino electorate, those born in the United States — never got close to creating anything that would amount to ethnic disenfranchisement.
Rodriguez goes on to note that Nguyen, the GOP candidate, ends up being the only real loser here. He gets blown off by the party and the media get to thump their chests in moral indignation.

What Rodriquez doesn't address, however, is the underlying issue of illegal voters. Non-citizens should not be casting votes in U.S. elections, and in fact voting by non-citizens is a federal crime. As
this article from the Federation for American Immigration Reform points out, illegal non-citizen voting is easy and electoral fraud of this type is rarely prosecuted.

Voter cards in many states -- like drivers' licenses -- are legal documents that help illegal aliens find jobs. While liberal civil rights activists denounce "voter imtimidation" mailers like Nguyen's as violating federal laws, these same groups are rarely leading the charge to purge illegal voters from the electoral rolls.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Monster Parties Put Officials on Alert

Local law enforcement officials in Santa Barbara County are gearing up for the annual Halloween bash in Isla Vista, the village of thousands of college students that abuts UC Santa Barbara.

I moved to Santa Barbara in 1992 to start grad school in political science at the university. My wife and I were warned about how rowdy Isla Vista could be, and that for an older graduate student it might be better to visit "IV" for its parties on weekends, rather than live there full time.

Isla Vista gained antiwar notoriety in 1970 when after a speech by William Kunstler, the prominent '60s-era left-wing defense attorney,
an antiwar riot erupted that ended with the burning of the local Bank of America branch.

Isla Vista's 1992 Halloween party was one of the biggest on record, and the following year the university clamped down to prevent a similar occurence. The parties get ten of thousands of revellers, especially when Halloween falls on a weekend. Here's what the L.A. Times story is saying about this year's gig:

It's a rite of autumn here.

The pumpkins have been carved, the costumes have been assembled, and the warnings about predatory, out-of-town criminals have been sounded.

A couple of hundred officers are honing their crowd-control tactics. Search-and-rescue specialists are sharpening their techniques for maneuvering through mobs to retrieve fallen revelers.

Halloween comes again to Isla Vista.

The annual bash, which starts in earnest this weekend and lasts through Tuesday night, has been the stuff of legend, inspiring admiring blurbs in such party-hearty periodicals as Playboy. Toned down over the years, it also has inspired grand jury investigations and crackdowns by local police and officials at UC Santa Barbara.

This year more than 200 officers on foot and on horseback will patrol the narrow streets of this community crammed with students near the seaside campus. Undercover state alcohol inspectors will troll parties for people serving minors. A booking center will be established outside a university building in the center of town; last year, there were 273 arrests for burglary, assault, vandalism and other crimes, not to mention public intoxication.

With three Nobel laureates on the faculty, the university has emerged as a top-tier research center. Henry T. Yang, the chancellor, and other top UC Santa Barbara officials routinely drop in on the colorful celebration, though it's heavy on the flesh tones and considerably more raucous than, say, a prize presentation in Stockholm.

Early Friday evening, preparations were in full swing. Jason Kline, 21, a Santa Barbara City College student, was helping a friend roll a keg of German beer on a skateboard from a liquor store to the house he shares with half a dozen other students. "

We've got like 20 people staying with us this weekend from as far as Hawaii," said Kline, an Oahu native. "We're all looking forward to seeing the girls in their skimpy outfits and all that good stuff."

As many as 30,000 people are expected to jam the streets, checking out the scene and each other under the bright lights erected by sheriff's deputies. To get in, they'll have to pass through barricades and surrender anything that can be used as a weapon — skateboards, Jedi light sabers, rubber knives, witches' brooms, plastic pitchforks."

One year we had a guy come as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre," said Sheriff's Lt. Sol Linver, head of the 24-member Isla Vista Foot Patrol. "We took away his chain saw."
When my first son was born, my wife and I moved over to the university's family student housing complex, which was across the street from Isla Vista's downtown. There were a couple of good Mexican restaurants in town, and a couple of coffee houses too. But I did most of my hard partying in earlier years, and thus missed out on all the famous local beer gigs. Today, people often rib me for getting my Ph.D. from one of the country's top party schools!

Apparently, Madison, Wisconsin, gets an even bigger annual Halloween bash, with an expected 100,000 party-goers this weekend, as
this Boston Globe story points out.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cardinals World Series Victory is Heavenly

The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series with a roster that included a handful of former players from the Los Angeles Angels organization. This Los Angeles Times story has the angle:

The imperfect team arrived at its perfect ending, followed by the perfect celebration.

In a place the locals call baseball heaven, amid an ocean of red, the St. Louis Cardinals became World Series champions in five games and for the 10th time, defeating the Detroit Tigers, 4-2, Friday night at Busch Stadium."

It's unbelievable," Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds said, wandering the infield afterward. "Just unbelievable."

As Detroit strung lights and bunting in hopes of a Game 6, Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright threw a slider past Brandon Inge, sending 25 Cardinals into each other's arms on an infield soon to be strewn with confetti. Wainwright followed eight taut innings by Jeff Weaver, who had his third win in the postseason, or as many as he had for the Angels in three months.

David Eckstein, the runty shortstop, clenched two fists and shouted himself hoarse. He was the Series most valuable player, less than two years after the Angels cut him loose, batting .364 and driving an offense from the top."

I can't lie to you," Eckstein said, the golden trophy clutched to his chest, "I never thought I'd go to the World Series and win the MVP trophy."

As they had in three other World Series wins, the Cardinals played well enough, played hard enough, and watched the Tigers go to pieces.

As they had in 10 previous postseason wins, the Cardinals pitched well enough, and hit just enough.

They won with Albert Pujols batting .200, with Edmonds batting .235, but with Scott Rolen answering his .000 from two World Series ago to bat .421 and Yadier Molina answering his .216 in the regular season with a World Series .412.

Mostly, however, they won with a pitching staff plugged by Weaver, whose fastball and slider had life and precision unseen in Anaheim, or Los Angeles the season before, for that matter.

So, for the first time since 1982, and two years after they were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, the Cardinals put together the pitching to be better for October. Their earned-run average for the World Series was 2.05. For the postseason, in wins against the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Tigers, it was 2.68."

Well, since the first game against San Diego, the way our pitching rose to the occasion, front end, back end," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said, "it's tough to score. You're facing good pitching. … "

Really, if we missed this one, it would have been tough in Detroit. This was a huge game, and [Weaver] was our biggest hero."

Reminiscent of Weaver, circa 2002, when he led the American League with three shutouts for the Tigers, this Weaver gave up four hits and had nine strikeouts.

Holding a bottle of champagne, speaking of his championship, Weaver said, "

Well, I was hoping to do it in Anaheim, but that didn't work…. I was just very fortunate to get hot when it counted."

Repeating a theme common in the sodden Cardinals clubhouse, Weaver added, "I don't think there's a guy in here that wanted to go back to Detroit."
For the article's slide-show photo gallery, click here.

It felt really good to see the Cardinals win. Weaver was let go by the Angels this year after his brother, Jared, made
one of the most impressive debuts for a rookie pitcher in baseball history. I watched Jeff struggle early this season with the Angels. He has a kind of stoic determination to him, often noticeable after he's given up a home run. There was a cool brotherly camaraderie when both players were hanging together in the dugout.

Then there's David Eckstein. Eckstein was my favorite player when the Angels let him go before the beginning of last season. He's a small guy, but he makes up for it with incredible hustle and strength. Eckstein's the epitome of the work ethic for me. I admire his play so much -- it just felt good watching him lead the Cardinals to victory, especially in game four, with his clutch hitting.

I wish I could have watched the series with my Dad, who passed away in 2004. Dad was a lifelong baseball fan who was born in St. Louis. He worked for the Busch family when he was growing up. He would have really enjoyed seeing the Cardinals win in 2006.

I did watch the
NLCS in 2004 with him, when St. Louis defeated the Astros in seven games. That's one of the last memories I have of spending time with my old man.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Black Turnout Threatened by Vote Supression Fears

The New York Times reports today that Democratic candidates are fearing a decline in black turnout in November, as the cumulation of suspected electoral demobilization has fostered African American disillusionment with the political system:

For Democrats...in tight races, black voter turnout will be crucial on Election Day. But despite a generally buoyant Democratic Party nationally, there are worries among Democratic strategists in some states that blacks may not turn up at the polls in big enough numbers because of disillusionment over past shenanigans.

“This notion that elections are stolen and that elections are rigged is so common in the public sphere that we’re having to go out of our way to counter them this year,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist.

This will be the first midterm election in which the Democratic Party is mobilizing teams of lawyers and poll watchers, to check for irregularities including suppression of the black vote, in at least a dozen of the closest districts, Ms. Brazile said.

Democrats’ worries are backed up by a Pew Research Center report that found that blacks were twice as likely now than they were in 2004 to say they had little or no confidence in the voting system, rising to 29 percent from 15 percent.

And more than three times as many blacks as whites — 29 percent versus 8 percent — say they do not believe that their vote will be accurately tallied.

Voting experts say the disillusionment is the cumulative effect of election problems in 2000 and 2004, and a reaction to new identification and voter registration laws.

Long lines and shortages of poll workers in lower-income neighborhoods in the 2004 election and widespread reports of fliers with misinformation appearing in minority areas have also had a corrosive effect on confidence, experts say.

The harder question is whether this jaded outlook will diminish turnout....

Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, said the reason for the rise in black voters’ cynicism could be summed up in a single word: confirmation.

Mr. Walters said that episodes of voter suppression that were dismissed in 2000 as unfounded recurred in 2004 and were better documented because rights groups dispatched thousands of lawyers and poll watchers. In addition, the first national data-tracking tool, the Election Incident Reporting System, offered a national hot line that fed a database of what ended up to be 40,000 problems.

“All of a sudden after 2004, these weren’t just baseless or isolated incidents,” Mr. Walters said.

The type of misleading letter sent this month to 14,000 Hispanic immigrants in Orange County, Calif., threatening them with arrest if they tried to vote, was hardly a first. In 2004, similar fliers appeared in predominantly black neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area, on official-looking letterheads. The fliers said that because of unusually high voter registration, Republicans were to vote on Election Day, and Democrats were to vote the next day.

Fliers sent in Lake County, Ohio, told people that if they had registered through the N.A.A.C.P., they could not vote.

Asked whether such tactics from 2004 could influence black turnout next month, the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, whose National Action Network is also mobilizing voter protection teams, said that despite insufficient action from Democrats in responding to the problems, he believed that black turnout would be high.

“Just because more of us believe that folks are trying to rob us of certain rights doesn’t mean we are more likely to give up and leave the front door unlocked,” Mr. Sharpton said.
The Orange County voter intimidation controversy is taking place in a congressional district close to mine. The GOP candidate is Tan Nguyen, and though he denies involvement, some operatives associated with his election bid must have become pretty desperate about their chances of defeating the Democratic incumbent, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

As for blacks and the Democrats? It seems to me that the party should be redoubling their voter mobilization efforts. One of the structural advantages Republicans enjoyed in 2004 was grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts. If there is clear evidence of black voter intimidation, then legal remedies should be sought and GOP party leaders should denounce the activities.

Yet, no matter what GOP candidates do, liberal civil rights activists -- ever so ready to swallow voter conspiracy theories -- will continue to cry foul at every perceived threat of black voter disenfranchisement.

I'm sometimes amazed that we're going though this stuff, more than forty years after the passage of the
Voting Rights Act, legislation whose immediate effect was to dramatically increase black voter registration across the South. Subsequent interpretations of the Voting Rights Act have, however, worked to increase black political power through the creation of gerrymandered "minority-majority" congressional districts.

I think it's self-demeaning for blacks to push for racial preferences in voting. Black candidates have shown time and again that they can compete for political office when they offer policies that appeal to broad constituencies (think of former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder or Barack Obama today), not minority strongholds intent on maintaining their quotas.
I'll look forward to the time when participants in the American voting system get past focusing on race.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tennessee Senate Race Stirs Racial Passions

This morning's New York Times has an analysis of the racially inflammatory advertisement Republicans have aired against Representative Harold Ford in theTennessee Senate campaign:

The Tennessee Senate race, one of the most competitive and potentially decisive battles of the midterm election, became even more unpredictable this week after a furor over a Republican television commercial that stood out even in a year of negative advertising.

The commercial, financed by the Republican National Committee, was aimed at Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., the black Democrat from Memphis whose campaign for the Senate this year has kept the Republicans on the defensive in a state where they never expected to have trouble holding the seat.

The spot, which was first broadcast last week and was disappearing from the air on Wednesday, featured a series of people in mock man-on-the street interviews talking sarcastically about Mr. Ford and his stands on issues including the estate tax and national security.

The controversy erupted over one of the people featured: an attractive white woman, bare-shouldered, who declares that she met Mr. Ford at a “Playboy party,” and closes the commercial by looking into the camera and saying, with a wink, “Harold, call me.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, who is single, said he was one of 3,000 people who attended a Playboy party at the Super Bowl last year in Jacksonville, Fla.

Critics asserted that the advertisement was a clear effort to play to racial stereotypes and fears, essentially, playing the race card in an election where Mr. Ford is trying to break a century of history and become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.
There's a substantial history of racial stereotyping in Republican campaign advertisements.

The article makes mention of the 1988 presidential campaign, in which
Lee Atwater and the Republicans ran the racially-charged Willie Horton ads against Michael Dukakis in a successful effort to paint the Massachusetts governor as soft on crime.

I first thought about Jesse Helms's 1990 Senate campaign upon hearing about the Tennessee controversy. Helm's ran for reelection that year against Harvey Gantt, an African American who was gaining in the polls in the final weeks of the race. The Helms campaign ran an inflammatory anti-affirmative action adverstisment in response. This 2001 article by David Broder has the background:
In 1990, locked in a tight race with an African American Democrat, former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, Helms aired a final-week TV ad that showed a pair of white hands crumpling a rejection letter, while an announcer said, "You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota."
Dukakis lost in 1988 and Helms was returned to the Senate in 1990, and racially-sensitive ads were credited with contributing to both of those outcomes. If Ford's challenger, Bob Corker, pulls out a victory in the Tennessee race on November 7, some might credit the "Hey Harold" ad as putting him over the top.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Case for a Republican Congressional Majority

Today's New York Sun editorial page looks at Republican accomplishments as the congressional majority. While the editors are critical of GOP spending profligacy and ethical lapses, and they recognize the considerable benefits of divided party control in Washington, they reject the claim that Republican rule has been a disaster:

On the contrary, the Republican controlled Congress has had remarkable achievements, too. Its tax cuts have spurred economic growth, low unemployment, and new highs in the stock market. The Senate's confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have put the Supreme Court on a track to sensibility, a track that would make the Founders happy. Republicans have funded the war effort and, for the most part, given Mr. Bush the tools he needs to fight the war.

Some of the individual senators and congressmen up for reelection this year have made distinguished contributions. We think of Senator Santorum's heroic support for funding of the democratic opposition in Iran, of his extraordinary commitment to Israel and related issues, and of his comprehension of the enemy ideology we are facing as "Islamic fascism." Some Republicans have been anything but heroic — we think of Congressman Shays of Connecticut's support for the abridgment of the First Amendment in the name of campaign finance "reform" and of Senator Chafee, the Rhode Islander who betrayed the president over Ambassador Bolton and said two years ago that he wished he could vote for George H.W. Bush.

No concern about the weakness of the Republicans on the Hill, however, compares to problems that would be presented by a Democratic accession. Rep. Charles Rangel, while not quite the caricature leftist that he is sometimes portrayed as being, would use the Ways and Means chairmanship to reverse the Bush tax cuts and de-fund the war. Congressman Conyers, who has sponsored a bill to start an impeachment investigation against Mr. Bush, would chair the Judiciary Committee. A federal judge who was impeached in connection with accepting a bribe, Rep. Alcee Hastings, is a possible chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

In the upper chamber Senators Kennedy, Biden, and Levin would all end up with chairmanships, and the Bush administration would spend the next two years answering hostile questions from Congress instead of running the country and the war effort. As far as confirming Ambassador Bolton at the United Nations or another center-right Supreme Court justice, if the Democrats win, forget about it. Extensions of the Bush tax cuts would be non-starters, and the great expansion that has been enabled by the Bush policies would be in danger.

We'd like to think the American electorate will sort this out in favor of the Republicans. Mr. Bush would be able to claim victory even if his party loses seats, so long as it retains a bare majority in the House and Senate. And if, in the Senate, the balance ends up with Joseph Lieberman, elected as an independent by a healthy margin by the voters of Connecticut, well, partisans of a Bloomberg presidential run may gather encouragement. And the Democrats will be left to wrestle with the fact that they abandoned their most thoughtful, most principled senator over the fact that under what might be called the unwritten codicils of the American constitution, politics is supposed to stop at the water's edge — a principle that is never more valuable than in a time like now when our country is at war.

For my earlier posts and comments on the emerging congressional shake-up,
click here.

The Current Panic Over Iraq

There's a striking contrast between the lead editorials from this week's New York Times and the Wall Street Journal over the question of progress in Iraq.

Yesterday's New York Times called the Iraq deployment a "disaster," with the editors indicating that they had backed President Bush as long as there was a "conceivable road to success":

That road is vanishing. Today we want to describe a strategy for containing the disaster as much as humanly possible. It is hardly a recipe for triumph. Americans can only look back in wonder on the days when the Bush administration believed that success would turn Iraq into a stable, wealthy democracy — a model to strike fear into the region’s autocrats while inspiring a new generation of democrats. Even last fall, the White House was dividing its strategy into a series of victorious outcomes, with the short-term goal of an Iraq “making steady progress in fighting terrorists.” The medium term had Iraq taking the lead in “providing its own security” and “on its way to achieving its economic potential,” with the ultimate outcome being a “peaceful, united, stable and secure” nation.

If an American military occupation could ever have achieved those goals, that opportunity is gone. It is very clear that even with the best American effort, Iraq will remain at war with itself for years to come, its government weak and deeply divided, and its economy battered and still dependent on outside aid. The most the United States can do now is to try to build up Iraq’s security forces so they can contain the fighting — so it neither devours Iraqi society nor spills over to Iraq’s neighbors — and give Iraq’s leaders a start toward the political framework they would need if they chose to try to keep their country whole.

The tragedy is that even this marginal sort of outcome seems nearly unachievable now.
The editorial continues with a five-point plan for withdrawal, a key feature of which is the firing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Today's Wall Street Journal is critical of the current American panic over Iraq policy, which the editors argue is driven by election-year politics:

As the critics describe it, all of Iraq is in chaos, its new government isn't functioning, the U.S. is helpless to act against these inexorable forces, and it is only a matter of time before we must pack up and leave in abject defeat. "We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," declares Senator Lindsey Graham, in one of the purer expressions of this elite inconstancy. Just what Mr. Graham would do about this, he doesn't say; but in the land of blind panic, the sound-bite Senator is king.

Yes, the Iraq project is difficult, and its outcome dangerously uncertain. The Bush Administration and its military generals have so far failed to stem insurgent attacks or pacify Baghdad, and the factions comprising Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government have so far failed to make essential political compromises. But the American response to this should be to change military tactics or deployments until they do succeed, and to reassure Iraqi leaders that their hard political choices will result in U.S. support, not precipitous withdrawal....

The Bush Administration hasn't helped matters of late with its own appearance of indecision, asserting on one day that we must avoid "cut-and-run" while leaking on another that the forthcoming Baker-Hamilton report might be an opportunity for a strategic retreat. President Bush has sounded resolute himself, but many of his own advisers seem to be well along in their own electoral run for cover.

A measure of rationality at least came yesterday out of Baghdad, where General George Casey and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to put the violence in some larger context. The Iraq government is in fact "functioning," as Iraqis continue to get their food rations, and as more than a million civil servants, Iraqi security force members and teachers continue to show up for work every day and get paid. Just this weekend, Iraq's oil minister announced that production had surpassed pre-war levels.

"Economically, I see an Iraq every day that I do not think the American people know about--where cell phones and satellite dishes, once forbidden, are now common, where economic reform takes place on a regular basis, where agricultural production is rising dramatically, and where the overall economy and the consumer sector is growing," said Mr. Khalilzad, who for this attempt at hopeful realism will be derided in some quarters as a Pollyanna.

As for security, two provinces have already been turned over entirely to the control of Iraqi forces, with a total of six or seven scheduled to be under Iraqi control by January. While the police forces remain unreliable, the Iraqi army is making notable progress. The joint Iraqi-U.S. operation to make Baghdad safe hasn't succeeded so far, but Iraqis we talk to say the situation in many specific neighborhoods of the capital has been vastly improved.

And while every terrorist success is broadcast far and wide, acts of bravery by Iraqi forces go unheralded. Only 10 days ago, insurgents staged a huge attack on government and police offices in Mosul, but it was successfully repulsed by Iraqi forces. Dozens of insurgents were killed or captured, and one heroic Iraqi police officer gave his life successfully defending others against a suicide truck bomber.

The truth is that the Sunni insurgents are still capable only of hit-and-run attacks, are slaughtered whenever they gather en masse, and have held down no permanent territory since Fallujah was cleaned out in late 2004. Nor have they been successful in their other goal of keeping their fellow Sunnis out of the political process. Sunnis continue to sit in the current government and parliament, despite being labelled "collaborators" and marked for death.

As General Casey observed yesterday, "we've seen the nature of the conflict evolving from what was an insurgency against us to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis." One of the main challenges now is to reassure the Sunnis that it is safe to compromise with Shiite and Kurdish leaders on issues such as the distribution of oil revenue and the shape of Iraqi federalism. Mr. Maliki must also demobilize--or at least neutralize--the militias that grew in his own Shiite community in response to Sunni violence.

But the political truth is that none of this will happen any sooner if Americans look like they are heading for the exits. Timetables and deadlines may sound like realpolitik, but they only feed suspicions that the U.S. will abandon Iraq's leaders once they have walked out onto a political limb. Iraq is not yet in a state of "civil war," and it has a functioning, if imperfect, government. If changes of tactics or force levels are needed, by all means make them. But what Iraqis most need from Washington is reassurance of support for the tough decisions and battles that lie ahead.
I'm siding with the Wall Street Journal. I have written much about Iraq. While I'm realistic about the difficulties facing U.S forces in the years ahead, I do not support an early, destabilizing withdrawal of American troops. See my Sunday entry, "The Iraq War Was No Mistake," for links to a number of recent posts debating the Iraq mission.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Democratic Majority and Public Policy

Pete Du Pont, in his essay up today at OpinionJournal.com, affirms the new conventional wisdom of the Democrats winning a congressional majority on November 7. More importantly, his commentary on the public policy consequences of a Democratic takeover is the most penetrating I've seen so far this last few weeks:

If the Democrats do take the House, what changes might be made in America's public policies?

First, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has promised that election of a Democratic House would insure "a rollback of the [Bush] tax cuts." Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who would be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, would make sure no tax cut extension bill would ever get to the floor. He voted against the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and the bill that later extended the tax cuts until 2010 (as did all but seven of the 205 Democratic House members). In September Mr. Rangel said that he "cannot think of one" Bush tax cut he would agree to renew.

Investors Business Daily recently pointed out that since the Bush tax cuts took effect in 2003, "the economy has added $1.26 trillion in real output, $14.4 trillion in net wealth and 5.8 million new jobs." But that progress doesn't seem to matter to the liberals, whose primary goal is to raise income tax rates. "Taxing the rich" will be the leading economic argument of a 2007 Democratic House, and a rollback tax bill of some kind will reach the floor.

Second, President Bush will not be able to re-energize his effort for individually owned Social Security accounts, for "preventing the privatization of social security" is in the Democratic National Committee's "6-Point Plan for 2006." Democrats don't trust people to own or invest their own retirement funds--better to let a wise government do that, for as socialist Noam Chomsky says, "putting people in charge of their own assets breaks down the solidarity that comes from doing something together." And since Congress gets to spend Social Security tax receipts that aren't needed to pay benefits, letting people invest their payments in their own retirement accounts would be a costly revenue reduction that the new, bigger-spending Congress won't allow to happen.

"Reducing dependence on foreign oil" is a good Democratic goal, and there are a number of ways to accomplish it. Building more nuclear power plants is one. Offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is another. Oil reserves in the Outer Continental Shelf and Alaska could replace foreign oil imports for 25 years, and there is a known 19-year OCS supply of natural gas.

But liberal Democrats are opposed to all of these solutions. Hillary Clinton is opposed to the construction of nuclear plants and offshore drilling. Every Democratic senator on the Environment and Public Works Committee voted against allowing the building of new oil refineries on closed military bases. When the House voted 232-187 in June to allow and encourage OCS oil and natural-gas drilling, 155 of 195 Democrats voted to block it. The Democratic alternative is to eliminate the $18 billion the oil companies now get in various business tax deductions and thereby impose a higher income tax on them.

As for the war in Iraq, Mr. Rangel observed that "You've got to be able to pay for the war, don't you?" In other words, end it by simply defunding it. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania calls for "immediate redeployment of U.S. troops" and intends to run for majority leader if the Democrats take control of the House. Ninety percent of House Democrats opposed the terrorist surveillance program, and 80% voted against the recent terrorist interrogation legislation.

Finally, when we see what the new leaders of a Democratic House are likely to do, their views are--well--very different from most Americans. Rep Henry Waxman of California would become the Government Reform Committee chairman, and believes domestic terrorist surveillance is "illegal." He would use his subpoena power to launch investigations to try and limit the president's anti-terrorism powers.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has talked about subpoenaing "Bush administration officials to answer questions and face the consequences for their abuses of power." In other words, impeachment.

Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has indicated she would like to put Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida in charge of the House Intelligence Committee. As a federal judge, he was impeached in the House by a 413-3 vote, and removed from the bench by the Senate for bribery, corruption, and perjury. Rep. Hastings would lead the oversight of America's antiterrorism policies.
Du Pont goes on to argue that congressional Republicans have it coming to them. They haven't consolidated the Bush tax cuts, Social Security and health care reform have languished, pork-barrel spending remains as high as ever, and GOP scandals are a disgrace:

Conservative principles seem to have faded away, and ethical principles have weakened -- names like DeLay, Ney, and Foley make the point.
I've blogged previously about what a Democratic congressional majority would look like, here and here. Things are going to be interesting, no matter what happens in two weeks.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Editorial Mission of the L.A. Times: "Beholden to No Individual or Political Organization"

The Los Angeles Times announced a makeover for the paper with its Sunday edition. When I went out to my drive yesterday, before I even picked up the copy, I noticed a flashy, colorful revision of the front-page, especially the new, bolder font for the feature headline stories.

In one significant change, the Times has moved the daily Op-Ed pages to the back of the paper's section one. Good move! Now, like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the Times will have all the hard news and daily editorial and commentary pieces in section "A." This makes things easier for hard-copy readers to separate politics from all the other sections in the paper, often accessed later in the day (especially if one checks political news before the business, sports or culture pages).

Today's entire Op-Ed section is devoted to explaining the changes,
and the paper's lead editorial reflects on the editorial mission of the Los Angeles Times:

Freedom is our core value. We feel a special obligation to defend civil liberties and human rights. Because newspapers and other news media, uniquely among businesses, enjoy and rely on a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects freedom of the press, we assume an obligation to defend the rights of all citizens.

We reject overreaching moves by public authorities to control the culture or private mores. Citizens' right to privacy, to decide for themselves how best to lead their lives, is fundamental. It is in keeping with our Western roots to champion individual autonomy and the freedom of conscience.

The United States has developed into one nation whose citizens are engaged in a common enterprise and are entitled to live under the same basic framework of laws and enjoy their equal protection. And much as the bonds linking Americans have grown stronger over time, so too have the bonds among nations in the global economy. We believe that lowering barriers to trade and communication will lead to greater freedom and prosperity for all.

At home and abroad, we believe that free markets are the best engines of prosperity. We are deeply skeptical of government attempts to subvert markets to engineer economic outcomes, though we also believe that a private economy requires a robust public infrastructure and a social safety net to prevent some members of society from falling prey to unconscionable levels of poverty and privation that corrode our democracy.

An abiding commitment to preserve the nation's natural treasures also is in keeping with our Western roots. Californians understand that there is a need for society and government to protect wilderness, balancing the interests of growth and conservation, and to regulate human activity to preserve the quality of our air and water for generations to come. The market may be the best arbiter of economic activity, but in pursuit of environmental and public health goals, state regulation must often encroach on private behavior.

Engagement with the rest of the world is a requirement of good citizenship. The United States should be an unabashed promoter of freedom and democracy in the world, ready to work with others to help ease the burdens of less fortunate nations. We believe that the United States should have, and sometimes must use, the strongest military in the world. It also is important to shine a spotlight on global development challenges that don't necessarily dominate daily news headlines, and that is part of our mission.
The editors go on to note that intellectual honesty is the cornerstone of the paper and that the paper "champions its principles without regard to partisanship, beholden to no individual or political organization." (I wonder here if their regulatory impulses on issues of the environment and public health contradict their claim to "champion individual autonomy and the freedom of conscious.)

The changes at the Times are unfolding in the context of the paper's business struggles as well and the dynamic news environment in which technological change is placing dramatic pressures on old-line journalistic practices.

There is some
debate on whether traditional hard-copy newspapers are on the way out in an era of growing online information. Perhaps this week's makeovers at the Times are the initial moves in the paper's attempt to become a truly national newspaper, with readily available national editions like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

I blogged about this a couple of weeks back,
when I commented on Michael Kinsley's suggestions for positioning the Times among the undisputed top ranks of the national print journalism powerhouses.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Free at Last? New Racial Segregation Issues Flaring in Alabama School District

The Los Angeles Times reports today that Vestavia Hills, a suburban school district in Birmingham, Alabama, is seeking to end a mandatory school busing program that's been in place since 1970. The district's challenge to a federal court order is part of a broader national trend seeking to overturn legally enforced integration programs:

Those fighting to keep the order in place are particularly disappointed that the issue would be revisited in Birmingham, where so much of the civil rights movement's history was made. In the last 15 years, city leaders have built museums and monuments to commemorate the four schoolgirls who died in the 1963 bombing of a black church, and the demonstrators who were met with attack dogs in a march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the same year.

But the district says its request is a matter of economics, not race — that absorbing the children of Oxmoor Valley is an unfair burden on its budget.

Vestavia Hills' desegregation order was to be in place until 25% of the school system's population was African American. Today, 7% of its students are black, with about a quarter of those coming from Oxmoor Valley. Some vestiges of the old South remain: The Vestavia Hills High School mascot is the Rebel, depicted as a white-haired man in Confederate-era garb; although the practice is now discouraged by the school, some students still display Confederate flags at football games.

After the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision found school segregation to be unconstitutional, and a follow-up ruling in 1968, many school systems were ordered to bus children from other districts to achieve integration.

This fall, the justices will hear appeals from parents in Seattle and in Louisville, Ky., who say it is unconstitutional for officials to consider race when deciding what school a student will attend. Meanwhile, over the last 15 years, courts have lifted desegregation orders in more than 100 school districts from Alabama to California — often after districts showed they were making a good faith effort, successful or not, to achieve racial integration. This year, federal courts have sided 36 times with districts seeking to overturn desegregation orders involving the Justice Department.

Only a few requests to end the orders have been rejected. In June, for example, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision to keep the school district of Little Rock, Ark., under its desegregation order, arguing it did not sufficiently appraise how its academic programs helped black students.
Opponents of the district's move argue that they're reliving the civil rights struggles of the 1960s:

"They are saying to Martin Luther King, 'To hell with your dream: This is 2006 and it's business as usual in Vestavia Hills,' " said the Rev. Jonathan McPherson, who was jailed with King in 1963 and is board chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Birmingham chapter....

"It feels like we're back in the '60s again," said Theodore Lawson, a Jefferson County attorney who lives in Oxmoor Valley and opposes lifting the order. "If this is not racism, what is it?"

The problem with these claims is that whatever "segregation" exists in Birmingham is the result of de-facto residential housing patterns, not systematic Jim Crow statutes dividing schools and children by race.

The courts are rejecting few challenges to the desegregation rulings, as noted in the article, as they should, because the country today enjoys tremendous racial heterogeneity -- from all ethnic groups -- and there's little reason to expect precise black-white racial balances in the nation's schools. Neighborhood integration in America took off after the civil rights movement, and today the percentage of African-Americans living in the suburbs is at 36 percent.

Besides, school busing programs have long been one of the most controversial remedies in the civil rights legal regime. There are certainly many majority-minority school disctricts thoughout the country, but correcting the educational difficulties associated with these demographics will not be achieved through busing.

According to Abigail Thernstrom, in her article, "
Have We Overcome?," often the demands for the continuation of such programs -- when unsuccessful -- end up fueling residual demands for reparations-like funding shifts to poorer neighborhoods, attempts to cash in on "white guilt" in extracting more money for smaller class sizes and hefty salary hikes for teachers.

The Iraq War Was No Mistake

Jeff Jacoby at today's Boston Globe criticizes Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, who has just recently called the Iraq War a mistake. Jacoby reminds us that initial justifications for war look different in hindsight, and that the future outcome of any war is uncertain:

WAS IT a mistake to go to war in Iraq? The latest voice to say so is that of conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online's shrewd editor-at-large and, until last week, a supporter of the war.

Goldberg hasn't become a John Murtha clone; he still believes that a precipitous American withdrawal would hand the jihadis a victory, and that finishing the job is preferable to bugging out and leaving Iraq a shambles.

But he has concluded that invading Iraq was the wrong choice, however well-intentioned. ``The Iraq war was a mistake," he writes, ``by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003."

Is that really how this war -- or any war -- should be judged?

In 1812, Congress declared war on Great Britain, in part because of Britain's crippling blockade of US ports and the forced impressment of American seamen into the Royal Navy. But if Americans had known in 1812 what they found out in 1814 -- that the enemy would capture Washington and burn the Capitol, the Treasury, and the White House -- would they have gone to war with Britain? Perhaps not. Does that mean the war was a mistake?

We know now that the War of 1812 ended not with a US defeat, but with Britain, a superpower of the day, fought to a stalemate by its former colonies. As a consequence, the young republic earned international esteem; never again would Britain challenge American independence. Indeed, never again would the two nations go to war. If Congress had known that in 1812, would it have voted for war? Quite likely. Maybe by an even larger majority.

Wars are routinely botched, and the Iraq war is no exception. Overconfidence, intelligence failures, poor planning -- none of it is unique to the current war or the current administration.

In 1944, the Allies were sure that Hitler was nearly beaten, that the Germans had no appetite for a counteroffensive, and that the quiet Ardennes Forest along the Belgian-German border was a good place to send rookie soldiers and exhausted units needing a breather. It took the generals utterly by surprise when Hitler threw a quarter of a million troops against the Ardennes, launching what would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was the bloodiest encounter of the war for US troops -- five ghastly weeks during which 19,000 American soldiers lost their lives, and another 60,000 were maimed or captured.

Today we realize that the Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's last gasp, and that the European war would be over a few months later. But at the time there were fears that the war might grind on for years. Doubtless some Americans found themselves thinking that the war with Germany had been a blunder -- one that could have been avoided ``if we had known then what we know now."

Iraq is not the first war to plummet in popularity. At the start of the Civil War, many Northerners giddily anticipated a quick victory. Secretary of State William Seward ``thought the war would be over in 90 days," writes historian David Herbert Donald in his biography of Abraham Lincoln. ``The New York Times predicted victory in 30 days"....

The point isn't that the violent mess in Iraq today is analogous to the Civil War in 1863, or to the Ardennes in 1944, or to the burning of Washington in 1814. The point is that we don't know. Like earlier Americans, we have to choose between resolve and retreat, with no guarantees about how it will end. All we can be sure of is that the stakes once again are liberty and decency vs. tyranny and terror -- that we are fighting an enemy that feeds on weakness and expects us to lose heart -- and that Americans for generations to come will remember whether we flinched.

I agree with Jacoby. The cause in Iraq remains as important today as when we deployed in 2003. We do need to think about a rational withdrawal, however, where we support the Iraqi government as it stands up to the insurgency.

I've blogged quite a bit about the future of America's presence in Iraq. See, for example, my posts on
Max Boot's discussion of the debate on withdrawal, Pete Hegseth's case for more troops on the ground, Reuel Marc Gerecht's argument that Iraq will be more violent upon American withdrawal, and Amir Taheri's case that the Iraqis have worked valiantly to hold the country together, an effort that will be mocked by a precipitous U.S. exit.

Do Midterm Elections Really Matter Anyway?

Noah Feldman's got an interesting article up today over at the New York Times Magazine. He argues that midterm elections are mainly expressions of the public mood, with little impact on the future direction of public policy:

Putting aside especially popular or unpopular local candidates, they offer a snapshot judgment on the president’s performance — more like a midterm exam than a final that really counts. Voter turnout reflects these diminished stakes.
Feldman goes on to note that the because President Bush has been so consistent in his positions (he's no wishy-washy flip-flopper), it's going to be hard for the Demcrats to affect real change come 2007:

So what kind of a message will we the people send to Washington? Polls show that roughly 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative and that their support for the president remains strong. On some issues, like immigration, the president has alienated parts of his right-wing base. (Of course, his views match not only those of globalist liberals but also of corporate America with its unceasing need for cheap labor.) But their frustration notwithstanding, true-red conservatives have nowhere else to go.

Another 20 percent of the electorate describe themselves as liberal, and it is safe to assume that few of them intend to vote Republican this year. That leaves the 40 percent of voters who consider themselves moderates. Those who voted for John Kerry are almost certainly going to vote Democratic again. (Do you know anybody who voted for Kerry in 2004 and wishes he hadn’t?)

The people whose votes are in play this time are ’04 Bush voters who are now disaffected by the president’s performance. Any message in 2006 is going to have to come from them, and it will necessarily take the form of regret: I wish I’d voted for the other guy.

President Bush’s low approval ratings seem to be owed to two main factors: the progressively worsening situation in Iraq and the perception, strengthened by the nonresponse to Hurricane Katrina, that the president is either incompetent himself or appoints incompetent people to important jobs. (The Foley sex scandal has been much in the news, but its impact may fade by Election Day.) It is notable, however, that neither of these serious problems — Iraq and the competence of the executive branch — can be readily affected through a midterm election. Even if the Democrats win big, they will not be able to effect substantial changes in either Bush’s war policy or his ability to govern better.

When it comes to making foreign policy, Congress has few if any prerogatives. It may have the power of the purse, but no Congress, and especially not a Democratic one, can afford to deny a president’s requests for military spending to support troops on the ground. Our armed forces in Iraq will almost certainly remain there through the next two years — and they have to be financed until they come home. In a less partisan time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could function as an active player in the day-to-day shaping of foreign policy. Yet a glance at how the Bush administration has sidelined the moderate Republican leadership of that committee — Senators Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel — suggests that a Democratically controlled committee would be even further out in the cold.

If the Democrats have little prospect of influencing Iraq policy, it is also because they have chosen not to adopt any policy of their own, except for occasionally calling for a nominal withdrawal deadline. This careful positioning reflects both the recognition that there’s little they can do to change the president’s mind and the political judgment that, for the most part, the public has not demanded more from them. Democrats do not want to be the first to declare that the war in Iraq has been lost. Although Americans overwhelmingly believe we are not doing well in Iraq, the Democrats cannot take the risk that the public will blame the messenger, equating those who acknowledge defeat with those who are responsible for defeat.

Nor can a Democratic Congress do much to make the Bush administration more competent. The Senate can block the most egregious nominees, helping to ensure that we will have no more appointments like the hapless Michael Brown, the man at the heart of the FEMA disaster. It can also keep at least some ideologues and nonentities off the federal courts — including the Supreme Court, should another spot open. But many of the most incompetent political hacks in any administration are below the radar of confirmation processes, and besides, someone has to fill the jobs that empty out late in an administration when the first-round draft picks head back to the private sector. If the Democrats do take the House, the Senate or both, many Republican Congressional aides will want to leave their now-minority staff positions for the prestige and power of the executive branch — and even if they can, Hill Democrats will be loath to block their former staff colleagues’ nominations, knowing that some day in a Democratic administration, they too could be looking to make a similar move.

What that leaves the Democrats is oversight — an idea that right now gets their hearts racing but whose limits will eventually become apparent. With Democrats at the helm, Congress can certainly act in particular realms. It can try to limit secret wiretaps, assuming it can find them, and it can call cabinet secretaries and generals on the carpet to explain just why we are doing so badly in Iraq. There are old scandals to reopen, and no doubt plenty of new ones just waiting to be uncovered. What Congressional Democrats cannot do, however, is change the basic direction of the country. The president has not presided as a flexible man, and many of the problems Congress will confront are at present intractable. Government in the sunshine is a good thing — but a brightly lit Washington will still, mostly, be George W. Bush’s Washington.
Bruce Bartlett -- who became persona non grata among Bush administration insiders a year or two ago when he attacked the president as bankrupting the country -- made a similar argument in the Times last week. Bartlett points out that President Bush will wield the veto to check Democratic ambitions, and that a Democratic majority -- if it comes -- will be so small that moderate Democrats working with the Republicans will provide the key votes on legislation.

I think both Feldman and Bartlett underestimate the significance of out-party gains at the midterm. In 1994, the GOP did overreach with talk of a prime-ministership under Newt Gingrich, but President Clinton was significantly chastened to scale back his agenda in favor of Republican priorities -- like welfare reform in 1996.

I do hope that the 2006 elections represent an expressive interlude by which the voters merely let off some steam, rather than causing dramatic change in the direction of public policy. We need more competence in government, not more liberal government.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What Do the 1974 GOP Midterm Losses Teach Us?

John O'Neill's the author of "Unfit for Command," the 2004 political bestseller attacking John Kerry's fitness to serve as president. He's got an intriguing piece up today on the lessons of the GOP's 1974 midterm debacle over at Human Events Online. O'Neill notes that in 1974 the country saw prosperity and peace, but the media gloom and voter distrust led to some unwanted consequences:

Within a short time, the mainstream media were able to dismember and destroy the Nixon Administration, using as their sword the Watergate affair. In the congressional elections of 1974, Republican candidates were pounded, losing 48 House seats and five Senate seats.

Until the 1990s, the so-called “Watergate Babies” (i.e. left-wing Democrats) ruled Congress. As its first act after the 1974 election, the new Congress cut off all aid to South Vietnam. Within a short period of time, this led to Communist conquest of all of Indochina, the massacre of at least 4 million of our friends in the killing fields of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and the displacement of millions of “boat people.”

In 1976, the left wing captured the White House with the worst President of modern times—Jimmy Carter. By 1979, the U.S. economy was in shambles with 12% inflation, 11% unemployment, and vast deficits. Our military was reduced to a shadow. With even our embassy officials held hostage in Tehran, the United States became a powerless joke to the world. It may be fairly said that but for Ronald Reagan the days of our democracy might well have been numbered by the consequences of the 1974 election.

It is not clear why the voters of 1974 thought it wise or just to indirectly cause the destruction of millions of allies in Southeast Asia because of the cover-up of a minor burglary at the Watergate. They certainly did not know that by their votes they would punish themselves severely, leaving, by the end of the Carter years, a U.S. economy that was a burned-out hulk and a nation that was humiliated.

I wonder whether history will repeat itself this year. Despite mainstream media distortion, the economy is in its strongest condition since the Reagan years with low unemployment and inflation rates and diminishing fiscal deficits. We have recovered from the implosion of the Clinton Internet bubble and the shock of Sept. 11, 2001. We have crippled al Qaeda, assembled an international coalition to deal with North Korea and made reasonable progress in defeating at least the foreign insurgency in Iraq. We have seen no terrorist attack on our heartland in more than five years.

Despite the second-guessing by Democrats who have no military experience and by a few veterans who question the Iraq policy, an overwhelming majority of active-duty personnel support the Bush policies and the Republican administration. For example, in 2004, an Army Times poll of active-duty military personnel showed less than 15% voting for Kerry and more than 80% voting for Bush. Despite the token military veterans trotted out by the Democratic Party as Trojan horses in Republican areas, it is clear that a large majority of veterans and active-duty personnel reject the “cut-and-run” policies of the fringe element now in control of the Democratic Party.

In the spring of 1975, I watched in horror our refusal to aid our South Vietnamese friends and their collapse. I watched our friends die by the millions in the gulags of Cambodia and Laos and in frenzied attempts to escape on the high seas, and I remembered my friends, who died in Vietnam, and whose sacrifice was so casually discarded by the “Watergate Babies.” I lost faith in the United States for many years.

I wonder now if we are so blind and ignorant of history to actually allow a new crop of “Watergate Babies” to install clearly unfit leaders such as Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), John Conyers (D.-Mich.), and impeached Alcee Hastings (D.-Fla.) as the guiding force in our nation. Considering that a Democratic win could mean the rise of John Murtha (D.-Pa.) from Abscam to majority leader, and Hastings from impeached federal judge to House Intelligence chairman, it is no exaggeration to say both parties have bad actors. The distinction is that the Democrats promote them and the Republicans fire them.

Finally, I wonder if voters (like those in 1974) are going to actually vote for the betrayal of our Iraqi and Afghan allies and the sacrifices of our troops. I wonder if our Iraq War veterans will watch the mass execution or flight of those who fought with them and believed in us. If so, history teaches us that in the end we will suffer terribly ourselves. This is particularly true here, where we face adversaries who have said they will not stop at the waters’ edge but have already reached across the ocean to destroy our nation’s largest buildings and thousands of our people.
Let me note first that O'Neill's dismissal of Watergate as the "cover up of a minor burglary" is either disingenuous or simply an offensive attempt to minimize President Nixon's venalty and impropriety. Besides, 1974 and 2006 are incomparable in terms of political scandals. Watergate was the grand-daddy of political malfeasance. The scandals of 2006 are numerous and may represent a widespread collapse of poltical integrity across the Washington establishment. Yet, we are not at the level of constitutional crisis that the events of 1974 represented, and so O'Neill ought to be a bit ashamed of his attempted historical whitewash.

He does make a a good case about how four years in the wilderness might have contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan, with his adminstration's record of restoring vitality to Republican ideology in American politics and to America's hegemonic role in the world. While I don't look forward to a congressional government of Nancy Pelosis, John Murtha, and the like,
GOP relegation to the political wasteland might do wonders in revitalizing the party for 2008 and beyond.

The New Iraq is Holding Its Own Against the Jihadis

Take a look at Amir Taheri's column up yesterday at the New York Post. Taheri argues that despite great odds the Iraqi people have been holding firm against the insurgency's barbarity, although concern is growing that the United States and Britain are on the way out:

TALK to Iraqis these days, and you'll likely hear one thing: What are the Americans and Brits up to? The worry is that the U.S. and U.K. political mainstreams now regard the Iraq project as a disaster, with cut-and-run, or whistle-and-walk-away, the only options.

Most Iraqis regard the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the dismantling of his machinery of war and oppression and the introduction of pluralist politics to Iraq as an historic success. The issue is how to consolidate that victory, not to snatch defeat from its jaw. Those challenging this historic victory are enemies of both the Western democracies and the Iraqi people.

Iraq today is the central battlefield in the global war between two mutually exclusive visions of the future. Yet the jihadists now know they can't win on that battlefield. After three years of near-daily killings, often in the most horrible manner imaginable, they've failed to alter Iraq's political agenda. Nor have they won control of any territory or even broadened their constituency.

The jihadists have suffered thousands of casualties, with many more captured by Coalition forces and the new Iraqi army and police. Despite more than 120 suicide operations, and countless attacks on civilian targets, the jihadists have been on the defensive since they lost their chief base at Fallujah last year. Their strategic weakness: They can't translate their killings into political gains inside Iraq.

They kill teachers and children, but schools stay open. They kill doctors and patients, but hospitals still function. They kill civil servants, but the ministries are crawling back into operation. They kidnap and murder foreign businessmen, but more keep coming. They massacre volunteers for the new army and police, but the lines of those wishing to join grow longer.

They blow up pipelines and kill oil workers, but oil still flows. They kill judges and lawyers, but Iraq's new courts keep on working. They machine-gun buses carrying foreign pilgrims, but the pilgrims come back in growing numbers. They kill newspaper boys, but newspapers still get delivered every day.

Since liberation, an estimated 45,000 Iraqis have been killed, largely by insurgents and terrorists. Yet there are few signs that a majority of Iraqis are prepared to raise the white flag of surrender.

Recent events highlight the growing isolation of the jihadists and their Saddamite allies:
* A tribal alliance has joined together all Arab Sunni clans of western Iraq in a united front to "chase al Qaeda out of Iraq"....

* Iraq's National Assembly gave near-unanimous approval to a new plan for peace and reconciliation. Backed by all ethnic and religious communities through their political parties, the plan furthers the marginalization of the jihadists and Saddamites....

* A third event is set to take place in Mecca next week at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. This will bring together prominent Sunni and Shiite clerics from Iraq and eight other Muslim countries to discuss and approve a declaration demanding an end to sectarian feuds in Iraq. An initiative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the gathering reflects growing impatience with the jihadists throughout the Muslim world. The Mecca gathering represents the first major effort by Sunnis and Shiites toward mutual recognition as acceptable versions of the same faith since 1947....

Despite the dramatic increase in terrorist attacks in recent weeks, new Iraq is holding its own because Iraqi morale is holding.

That morale, however, is under constant attack from two sources. The first is the part of the international (especially pan-Arab) media that depicts Iraq as a wayward train racing ahead with no light at the end of a dark tunnel.

The second threat to Iraqi morale is by far the most serious. It concerns uncertainty about the commitment of the United States and its allies to new Iraq.

Just as Rome was not built in a day, creating a pluralist democracy on the ruins of one of the nastiest of Arab tyrannies takes time. It took the United States and its allies 10 years to hand over the government of post-war Austria to Austrians. In Bosnia, the United States and its allies are now scheduled to hand over the reins of government to the Bosnians themselves - after a decade. In Iraq, the handover came just two years after liberation.

Iraqis are puzzled when they hear prominent Americans speaking of carving Iraq into three or more mini-states, as if Iraq were a blank sheet on which anyone could draw whatever he wanted.

The key to the future of Iraq lies in the United States. The Iraqis will not run away in the face of jihadism and Ba'athism. Is the same true of the Americans and their allies?

Taheri's is a needed voice in the debate on an Iraq withdrawal. The violence has been so sustained, however, and the Bush administration's policy is being seen more and more as static and unimaginative, that voices of perseverance may not tip the balance against a cut-an-run denouement. I posted back in May on Taheri's Commentary article, "The Myth of an Iraqi Quagmire."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bush Law Rebukes Supreme Court on Terror Policy

John Yoo published an excellent commentary on President Bush's tough new law on terror trials and interrogations in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Here's a snippet:

The new law is, above all, a stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world. It was passed in response to the effort by a five-justice majority in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld to take control over terrorism policy. That majority extended judicial review to Guantanamo Bay, threw the Bush military commissions into doubt, and tried to extend the protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, overturning the traditional understanding that Geneva does not cover terrorists, who are not signatories nor "combatants" in an internal civil war under Article 3.

Hamdan was an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy. The court must have thought its stunning power grab would go unchallenged. After all, it has gotten away with many broad assertions of judicial authority before. This has been because Congress is unwilling to take a clear position on controversial issues (like abortion, religion or race) and instead passes ambiguous laws which breed litigation and leave the power to decide to the federal courts.

Until the Supreme Court began trying to make war policy, the writ of habeas corpus had never been understood to benefit enemy prisoners in war. The U.S. held millions of POWs during World War II, with none permitted to use our civilian courts (except for a few cases of U.S. citizens captured fighting for the Axis). Even after hostilities ended, the justices turned away lawsuits by enemy prisoners seeking to challenge their detention. In Johnson v. Eisentrager, the court held that it would not hear habeas claims brought by alien enemy prisoners held outside the U.S., and refused to interpret the Geneva Conventions to give new rights in civilian court against the government. In the case of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the court refrained from reviewing the operations of military commissions.

In Hamdan, the court moved to sweep aside decades of law and practice so as to forge a grand new role for the courts to open their doors to enemy war prisoners. Led by John Paul Stevens and abetted by Anthony Kennedy, the majority ignored or creatively misread the court's World War II precedents. The approach catered to the legal academy, whose tastes run to swashbuckling assertions of judicial supremacy and radical innovations, rather than hewing to wise but boring precedents.

Thoughtful critics point out that because the enemy fights covertly, the risk of detaining the innocent is greater. But so is the risk of releasing the dangerous. That's why enemy combatants who fight out of uniform, such as wartime spies, have always been considered illegals under the law of war, not entitled to the same protections given to soldiers on the battlefield or ordinary POWs. Disguised suicide- bombers in an age of WMD proliferation and virulent America-hatred are more immediately dangerous than the furtive information-carriers of our Cold War past. We now know that more than a dozen detainees released from Guantanamo have rejoined the jihad. The real question is how much time, energy and money should be diverted from winning the fight toward establishing multiple layers of review for terrorists. Until Hamdan, nothing in the law of war ever suggested that enemy status was anything but a military judgment.
The administration's tough stance on terror suspects angers America-hating liberals to no end. A common complaint of such administration-bashers is that Bush has attempted an "end run" around the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. I got into a debate with some hopelessly liberal bloggers last month over at Tom Harper's page, "
Who Hijacked Our Country." I keep telling myself not to descend down to the level of some of these boys -- whose arguments are marked more by four-letter curse words than incisive reason -- but I'm game for some intellectual repartee. Unfortunately, the incredibly visceral hatred for President Bush (and John Yoo) espoused by most liberals obviously makes it hard for them to reason critically about foreign policy.

I guess I need to be more discerning in picking my venues for intellectual engagement. In any case, I posted previously on John Yoo, when he criticized the Court's Hamdan decision back in June.

Young Republicans Swarm Liberals at UC Berkeley

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that UC Berkeley's College Republicans have become one of the largest organizations on campus, overtaking liberal groups like the campus Democratic club:

The growth of the Berkeley College Republicans at one of the nation's most liberal campuses echoes some broader political trends. At Berkeley, while leftist students still dominate and outnumber conservatives, the liberal groups have splintered and are now spread across factions from the Cal Democrats to the International Socialist Organization to groups formed to oppose the war in Iraq. At the same time, several faculty members say, there are more conservative-leaning students than in the past, propelled by swells of patriotic feeling after events like Sept. 11 and an increase in the number of religious student groups.

The modus operandi of the Berkeley Republicans over the past few years has been to be provocative. In 2003, its members opposed affirmative action with an "Affirmative Action Bake Sale," where students paid for pastries on a sliding scale: White students were charged more, while Hispanics and African-Americans paid less. UnderMr. [Josiah] Prendergast's presidency, the group this year protested the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, by giving away hot dogs and encouraging students to eat meat. Mr. Prendergast also held an "Anti Antiwar Rally" in nearby San Francisco, and staged a "Dunk a Republican" contest. The group gets several thousand dollars a year from the Berkeley student government. It also does its own fund raising and will sometimes get donations from local Republicans and others.

The splashy tactics have sometimes aroused the ire of campus liberals. Scott Lucas, president of the Cal Democrats through last May, says the Republican club cheats on membership numbers because it doesn't charge dues as other student groups do. But Mr. Lucas acknowledges that the Cal Dems are now "a hair" smaller than the Republican club.

For Republicans, the ascendant Berkeley group is a cause for celebration. Dan Schnur, communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential run and now a lecturer at Berkeley, often speaks to Republican groups around the state and talks about how the Berkeley Republican students have become a big student club on the liberal campus. "At first, the audiences are surprised, and then they're inspired," Mr. Schnur says. "It has a tremendous motivating effect" in mobilizing Republican voters.

The strength of the Berkeley Republican students is surprising given that the club barely existed in the late 1990s. A revival began in 2000, when several new students restructured the group to hold social activities as well as engage in political debates and attend Republican conventions. They also founded a conservative publication called the Patriot. To spread the conservative gospel, the club has set up a Web site, created an alumni database, regularly brings speakers to campus and holds weekly meetings.
I see the strength of a conservative Republican club at one of the country's most liberal campuses as a sign of the continued vitality of conservative principles in the United States. The difficulties of President Bush and the national GOP in both domestic and foreign policy -- which may result in Republican losses in November's elections -- are not of the magnitude to affect a partisan realignment toward the Democrats or toward a social democratic agenda -- and that's good news for Republicans heading into the 2008 presidential election.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Spelling Doom? Polls Signal Growing GOP Disapproval as Election Nears

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds public approval of Congress at its lowest level since 1992, two years before the Democrats lost their congressional majority in the 1994 electoral earthquake:

With just 19 days until the midterm elections, a new poll shows both President Bush and his party in worse shape among voters than Democrats were in the October before they lost control of Capitol Hill a dozen years ago.

Support for the Republican-led Congress has eroded to its lowest point since the party's watershed 1994 victory that brought it House and Senate majorities.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll illustrates the political toll Republicans are paying for rising discontent over the Iraq war, as well as a spate of scandals including the disclosure that Republican House leaders knew of inappropriate emails to House pages from Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned late last month. Voters' approval of Congress has fallen to 16% from 20% since early September, while their disapproval has risen to 75% from 65%.

That 16% rating statistically matches Congress's lowest point in the 17 years the Journal and NBC have polled, set in April 1992 when Democrats were in control and suffering from a scandal involving lawmakers' overdrafts from the House bank. The latest results set other records for the Journal/NBC surveys, all ominous for Republicans -- "a harbinger," in the words of Journal/NBC pollster Peter Hart, "of what's ahead for the incumbent party. It's as simple as that."

They include:

By 52% to 37%, voters say they want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress. That 15-point advantage is the widest ever registered by either party in the Journal/NBC surveys. Also, the result marks the first time voter preference for one party has exceeded 50%.

Half of independents say they want Democrats to take charge, while only a quarter of them back Republicans. "It's very unusual to see a majority of independents pick one political party," notes Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducts the surveys with Mr. Hart, his Democratic counterpart.

Two-thirds of the electorate rates this year's Congress "below average" or "one of the worst" -- the poorest showing on that question since it was first asked in 1990.

Mr. Bush, who in the past typically drew high ratings personally even when his job-approval scores sagged, now is viewed negatively by a 52% majority -- essentially tying the worst rating of his presidency.

As for the Republican Party, 32% of voters rate it positively but 49% negatively -- the highest negative ever in the surveys for either party. On the other hand, the Democratic Party's reputation improved. After months in which it had a net negative rating only slightly better than Republicans', the party now is viewed positively by 37% and negatively by 35%.

Along with other findings favorable to Democrats, Messrs. Hart and McInturff see a potential turning point for the party. For months, the Republican pollster has espoused "McInturff's Thesis: If there's a decisive election, it's because the other party becomes a credible alternative." Until now, he has argued, voters' doubts about Democrats were standing in the way of the party making significant gains. But yesterday, the Republican pollster agreed with Mr. Hart that voters now see Democrats as at least "a marginally acceptable alternative."
Also, yesterday' s New York Times reported the results from the paper's recent poll out of Ohio. Ohio is considered a bellwether state for national politics, and the poor results there for the GOP may spell doom for party hopefuls, in the state and nationally:

Ohio is a Republican-leaning but heavily contested state that twice voted to elect Mr. Bush and gave him his Electoral College margin of victory in 2004. But it is not a perfect microcosm of the country, and in particular has higher levels of economic anxiety, the poll found.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed rated the state’s economy as bad; only 34 percent said it was good. In Ohio, 49 percent of respondents described the nation’s economy as good, and 50 percent said it was bad. In a Times/CBS News poll conducted nationally this month, 60 percent said the economy was good, and 39 percent said it was bad.

A plurality, 46 percent of voters, said the economy and jobs were the most important issues facing Ohio, while 17 percent cited health care, 15 percent said terrorism and 12 percent said the war in Iraq. Seventy percent said that both Ohio and the nation were on the wrong track, a number that often spells doom for the party in power.
I posted yesterday
on Charles Cook's analysis of congressional election trends leading into the November midterms. It's getting hard to deny the inauspicious circumstances surrounding Republican efforts to remain the nation's governing party. There are, of course, some who remain skeptical of the recent pro-Democrat punditry (check the comments from yesterday's post), but I'm getting resigned to the idea of minority party status.