March 24, 2004

Speed demon? Of course!

When I say that in the humanities more generally you have to be prepared to read fast, the idea is that you have to make yourself not so much go back over a text as go on from it. You respond in a sense oppositely to the same fact as discovered in philosophy, namely that a text worth reading carefully, or perpetually, is inexhaustible. You always leave it prematurely. And a reason for leaving is that the next text may be more apt to illuminate it than another look at the same text.
--from Stanley Cavell's forthcoming Cities of Words
-- Brad Plumer 2:17 PM || ||

Heaving lungs

The post below, naturally, turned into a long-winded attempt to say something relatively simple. How indecent of me.

Here goes. Basically, Spitzer and Celli, Jr. trek through a whole rainforest full of world-saving ideas. Good on them! And they got plenty of mileage out of a timeworn truism-- that government intervention is needed to correct market failure. My "problem" boiled down to the fact that market failure results from perfectly rational market decisions, so the case for intervention really must be a moral case. Otherwise, "market failure" would simply be "market irrationality," and it would correct itself in due course.

And that, friends, is how typing out 1000 tortuous words can lead you to perfectly obvious and non-controversial conclusions. Good night!
-- Brad Plumer 12:28 AM || ||

March 23, 2004

Market efficiency vs. Market morals

I'm reading the latest TNR issue in which Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Celli Jr. lay out the case for market regulation. Unfortunately, I was hoping for an article that laid out the economic case for market regulation, chock full of enticing economic reasons why a regulated market "works better" than an unregulated one, using some intuitively appealing definition of "works better." But as far as I can tell, the Spitzer/Celli case for the regulated market is largely a moral one, riding hot on the heels of a semi-sappy slogan: "The market is there to serve our values, not the other way around."

Noble-sounding, yes. But while that might convince me, and other doe-eyed readers of In These Times and Mother Jones, but it's not going to convince those who, realistically, need to be convinced: the capitalists and industrialists themselves. Here's what I mean. Consider Eliot/Celli's hammer against air pollution:

Take air pollution in the Northeast caused by coal-buring power plants in the Midwest. Corporate players, acting in their rational self-interest, have failed to bear or equitably spread the costs associated with their activity. Instead, they have shifted those costs to others, for whom their is no market recourse. In this case, the costs were acid rain and airborne pollutants, and their devastating effects on the environment and human health--not in the Midwest, where the plants generate and sell their energy, but hundreds of miles downwind, in the Northeast.
Er, okay. Complaints like these offer nothing new-- even Adam Smith talked about externalities, and his argument for government intervention hewed largely to moral principles, just like his arguments for labor laws, workers' rights, etc. But Spitzer and Celli try to suggest, oddly, that it's in the "market's" best interest to curb these unpleasant social costs:

In a perfectly functioning market, the costs imposed by this conduct would be borne either by the producer in the form of reduced profits or by the consumer in the form of higher prices... Northeasterners have been left holding the bag, and the market alone offers them no way to respond. They are stuck-- unless and until government intervenes.

Alas, the Bush administration has refused to do that. Even as it spouts the rhetoric of free-market efficiency, the White House has allowed the polluters to avoid bearing the economic and health-related costs they have imposed.
I hate to say it, but this is a bit ingenuous. You can't convince power plant owners that their economic interests would be served by a dose of environmental controls, on the grounds that that would lead to a "more efficient market." This is just social crusading masquerading as good economic sense. Stale bluster to the people doing the polluting.

Now, even if Spitzer and Celli foundered here, they have the right idea. Democrats should try to make the business-friendly case for regulation and other policies, because ultimately, the big policy hurdle is almost always convincing businesses to hop aboard. Good start: Ruy Teixeira suggests here that Kerry could make the pro-corporate case for health care reform, since socialized medicine does potentially put US firms on a more competitive keel. I'm just not sure you can formulate a compelling, pro-business, non-moral argument for regulation.
-- Brad Plumer 11:48 PM || ||

Um.... sure, okay

I am so applying for this! How can I resist, they pay 20 bucks a page!

Paper/Thesis/Dissertation Writer

Reply to:
Date: 2004-03-21, 11:54PM EST

Custom papers website is searching for writers to write term papers, theses, dissertations on the following topics: business, education, literature, psychology, science, etc... Papers will range in length from 6-25 pages.

Must be well-educated(master's degree or higher prefered), able to write technically, able to work independently. This is a homebased job. As long as you have a computer, you can work from anywhere in the world.

Ideal for people who like to research, travel, work from home, or not have a boss over their shoulder.

MUST ATTACH 2 SAMPLES OF WORK with your email response, otherwise will not be considered.
Right, then.
-- Brad Plumer 11:23 PM || ||

Quote for the Day

"Families teach us how love exists in a realm above liking or disliking, coexisting with indifference, rivalry, and even antipathy."

--John Updike, "Brother Grasshopper"
-- Brad Plumer 11:18 PM || ||

March 20, 2004

Some aged Americans

Haven't had much time to read today, what with more of the great cover letter push. But I got through two (really) short books-- Saul Bellow's The Actual and Philip Roth's The Dying Animal. Both were books, I should note, about growing old and decaying. Hard to take, since as Roth's narrator David Kepesh says, it's hard/impossible to imagine any stage later in life.

So, so, the evaluations. Bellow's book, eh. Little excitement there. It's a long drop from The Adventures of Augie March or Herzog (two of my favorite books when I was younger) to The Actual.

Roth, on the other hand, is astounding. I've read, like everyone else, Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint, and decided to quit there, thinking that I didn't really need much more of this. But Roth has departed considerably from those early days, and it's time to admit, I'm going to have to read everything he's ever written. Favorite line:

No matter how much you know, no matter how much you think, no matter how much you plot and you connive and you plan, you’re not superior to sex.
Worth pointing out that this is a rather elegant degradation of a more nuanced and subtly fierce line by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

He had made notes of these premature observations, intending to write a practical supplement to the Lovers' Companion, but the project met the same fate as the previous one after Ausencia Santander sent him tumbling with her old dog's wisdom, stood him on his head, tossed him up and threw him down, made him as good as new, shattered all his virtuous theories, and taught him the only thing he had to learn about love: that nobody teaches life anything.
The difference between the two writers, I guess, is that Garcia Marquez accepts this, while Roth seems in awe at this wisdom, returning to it constantly, fighting it, masochistically accepting it, making a very bitter comedy out of it. Yes, comedy. If comedy amounts to resigning oneself to fate--while tragedy is about resisting it--then I suppose Roth is a comic writer. He's certainly a funny writer, and a talented writer ("That body is still new to her, she's still trying it out, thinking it through, a bit like a kid walking the streets with a loaded gun and deciding whether he's packing it to protect himself or to begin a life of crime").

But it all seems so painful. A sixty-two-year-old teacher falls for a twenty-four-year-old former student, reflects on sex and where sex leads, until a break-up and then cancer intrudes. Lots of good quotes in the book-- lots-- but it all comes down to the simple idea that Kepesh would never trade away the bloody power struggles-- the battle for dominance-- that characterize his affairs. Imagine going through life with that on your brain... By the time Kepesh is quoting Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium," late in the book, we have no idea what his relationship to anguish is, which, I suppose, is the mark of any great comic novel:

Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is
-- Brad Plumer 11:35 PM || ||

Devaluing devaluation

While I'm at it, might as well take a quick swipe at another economics canard I've heard floated about lately. Devaluing the dollar will not help American producers. In fact, it would prove quite the little catastrophe. Three reasons:

1. US manufacturing industries simply don't have a lot of unused capacity waiting to be filled. They wouldn't be able to export a whole lot more stuff, they'd simply find that the stuff they did export would become a whole lot cheaper. Profits would plummet. Bad.

2. A lot of stuff we import simply can't be made in the US, including a lot of high tech equipment, key components, and capital goods. Prices rise. Bad.

3. Oftentimes, as Japan did in the 1980s, foreign competitors will simply lower the prices to remain competitive, and then make up for the profit loss by taking advantage of the exchange rate. More bad!

The doomsday scenario, of course, is that a devalued dollar leads to higher import prices, which leads to inflation, which in turn causes the Fed to raise interest rates, which in turn attracts foreign investors, which in turn pushes UP the value of the dollar, exacerbating the trade deficit. That's a raunchy downward spiral.

Also, the problem with manufacturing is not weak domestic demand either, as our favorite marxists over at EPI explain. This doesn't really relate to the above, but it's another myth that gets bandied about, most recently by the Congressional Budget Office. Tsk, tsk.
-- Brad Plumer 11:13 PM || ||

Who's afraid of outsourcing?

In the midst of an otherwise excellent piece that debunks myths about outsourcing, Dan Drezner trots out a few dubious statistics to show that American manufacturing is doing just fine:

There is no denying that the number of manufacturing jobs has fallen dramatically in recent years, but this has very little do with outsourcing and almost everything to do with technological innovation. As with agriculture a century ago, productivity gains have outstripped demand, so fewer and fewer workers are needed for manufacturing. If outsourcing were in fact the chief cause of manufacturing losses, one would expect corresponding increases in manufacturing employment in developing countries. An Alliance Capital Management study of global manufacturing trends from 1995 to 2002, however, shows that this was not the case: the United States saw an 11 percent decrease in manufacturing employment over the course of those seven years; meanwhile, China saw a 15 percent decrease and Brazil a 20 percent decrease. Globally, the figure for manufacturing jobs lost was identical to the U.S. figure -- 11 percent. The fact that global manufacturing output increased by 30 percent in that same period confirms that technology, not trade, is the primary cause for the decrease in factory jobs. A recent analysis of employment data from U.S. multinational corporations by the U.S. Department of Commerce reached the same conclusion.
I've heard this argument elsewhere-- that rising productivity is responsible for manufacturing job loss, in the US and elsewhere. But notice, Drezner's statistical argument is a bit ambiguous. It could very well be true that China's decrease in employment is due to productivity gains, while ours are due to outsourcing. And that scenario seems highly likely, when you consider America's miserably high current account deficit.

Drezner's point rests on the fact that "global manufacturing output" has increased in recent years. But America's penchant for outsourcing may actually be helping to inflate that number artificially. A good chunk of American manufacturing these days involves throwing together a bunch of imported, high-tech components. As Eamonn Fingleton has noted on a number of occasions, the US has outsourced nearly all of their difficult manufacturing tasks, including the production of advanced materials, key components, and sophisticated capital goods. More and more, our manufacturing 'role' consists of importing these materials, and then exporting them again. That's why our output numbers seem so healthy, even as the trade deficit balloons exponentially.

Granted, I haven't done the research to back up what I'm saying, so I can't match Drezner statistic for statistic. But he certainly hasn't proved that rising productivity is responsible for the decline in manufacturing jobs, not with those numbers.
-- Brad Plumer 10:36 PM || ||

Papering over the issues

William Rubenstein makes a much-needed point in the Times today:

Politicians generally like a constitutional discussion because it allows them a way to avoid controversial topics by reframing them in terms of the two organizing principles of our system of government: separation of powers and federalism.
Rubenstein's point is that, publicly, there's not much debate about whether gay marriage is right or wrong, or whether gay marriage should be part of a 'good' society. Instead, we get cavorting speeches about "states' rights" and "judicial activism." Out with Plato, in with Hamilton, is it now? The same goes for the debate over Roy Moore's Ten Commandments. Everything then hinged on the "accurate" interpretation of the establishment clause.

Maybe this is the real problem with judicial supremacy: our public debates have become too legalistic, and not philosophical enough. Have we stretched our faith in the Founding Fathers a tad too far?

This short answer is: it's complicated, and hefty writers have grumbled over these issues for decades, if not centuries. The innocuous answer: I'll have to think about it some more.
-- Brad Plumer 1:21 PM || ||

C-Span has ruined our country!

The Weekly Standard chimes in to let us know that today is C-Span's 25th birthday:

Brian Lamb, the network's founder, told Broadcasting magazine in 1980 that part of C-SPAN's mission "is to show that [politics] isn't always exciting." Exciting or not, C-SPAN has become a cable TV institution that has, quite literally, shaped the way constituents view their representatives, even those that former representative B.F. Sisk (D-Calif.) once called the "nappers and nosepickers," according to a 1979 article by the Los Angeles Times. Viewers could see their representatives in law-making action minus the commentary and analysis of reporters. Since day one, the network has broadcast over 24,346 hours of House floor proceedings. On March 19, 1979, the live broadcast could be seen in 3.5 million households. Today, 87 million homes have C-SPAN.
Well, yes, in theory "viewers could see their representatives in law-making action," but how many actually do? How many have time for this sort of thing? C-SPAN's own surveys say that 22 million tune in each week-- breaking down to 30% Democrats, 26% Republicans, 28% Independents. Pew concurs. And, not surprisingly, tend to be much better informed, vote more frequently, and are far more likely to ring up their representatives.

But those are just numbers. What does C-SPAN actually mean? Brian Lamb is probably right when he says that C-SPAN has deglamorized and de-romanticized politics, although the advent of rapid-fire media shorts has almost certainly counterbalanced that trend. On the other hand, John Sullivan and Steven Frantzich have called C-SPAN "revolutionary," arguing that the show has allowed citizens direct access to their representatives, through open phone lines and the like.

My guess is this. C-SPAN has probably caused millions to see that politics is rather humdrum, that the workings of government are rife with compromise, machinations, tediousness. And this has possibly-- possibly-- led to a renewed fascination with scandal, personalities, campaign showboating, as a means of getting away from that tedium. Where once we held widespread public debates-- in every barber shop and barroom!-- over New Deal programs, now we can't be bothered to argue about policy in public, because we now know, thanks to C-SPAN, that the reality consists of a bunch of bills and resolutions with dull names and duller sponsors. So rather than turn on C-SPAN and bonk heads over the details of arcane programs like SCHIP, it's easier to just turn on Fox and hear about Monica Lewinsky.
-- Brad Plumer 12:54 PM || ||


Scant blogging of late, for any number of reasons: much harried at work, trying to dash off endless cover letters, writing some "articles" that won't ever see the light of day. Late Friday night (during which, you'll notice, I'm doing nothing carousing) seems to be my best bet.

Well, then, nothing rouses me back into the blogging spirit like a reading list. So without, well, any ado, I present "Books that have lightened up the laggard moments":

1. Mario Vargas Llosa, In Praise of the Stepmother. Off the charts on the fetish scale, this book brings stepmother-stepson incest to life-- shockingly honest and honestly, genuinely shocking life! Llosa intersperses this short tale with brief vignettes or prose poems inspired by various paintings. It's a wonderful way to 'do' art criticism. My favorite is his interpretation of Fernando de Szyslo's Road to Mendieta 10 (Note, I'm linking to another Mendieta in the series, but does it really matter?). Llosa has critiqued (ie: lavished praise upon) Szyslo elsewhere, but this abstract chapter on an abstract work of art probably deserves to be called a full-scale revision:

The geometrical figure in the middle band, at the exact center of the painting, that flat silhouette of a three-legged pachyderm, is an alter, a tabernacle, of if your mind is allergic to religious symbolism, a stage set. An exciting ceremony, with delightful and cruel reverberations, has just taken place, and what you see are its vestiges and its conseuquences. [...] Understand me: myself: seen from inside and from below, when you calcine me and express me. Myself, erupting and overflowing beneath your attentive libertine gaze of a male who has officiated with competence and is now contemplating and philosophizing.
And it goes on, bringing the picture into focus as a portrait of intersecting lovers: "we were a woman and a man and now we are ejaculation, orgasm, and a fixed idea." I don't know if this is fluffy, a perfect example of the blathery imprecision that Dale Peck decries, or if this hits at the abstract air surrounding the moment of falling into love (lust, even!). Here's the end of the chapter, where, for me at least, the painting is seen and the sexual act is evoked, and they meet in a wonderful haze of image and word:

Now leave off looking. Now close your eyes. Now, without opening them, look at me and look at yourself the way we were shown in that picture that so many look at and so few see. You now know that, even before we knew each other, loved each other, and married, someone, brush in hand, anticipated what horrendous glory we would be changed into by the happiness we learned to invent, each and every day and night of the morrow.
Bravo! Yes, I cheerlead sometimes, and this deserves cheerleading. By the way, for those concerned, the somewhat pervert-like (or seducer-like, whatever) tone of voice fits in well with the rest of the book. Sign me up for more Llosa books. Supposedly he hocks his neoliberalism creed all over the pages of his other books, books about wizened dictators and feisty lovers and feisty lovers who happen to be dictators, real or otherwise. I simply can't wait.

2. Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? Really enjoyed this one, and it probably deserves its own post, or series of posts... which is not to say that I'll actually get around to putting those posts up. So for now, I can only pipe out that Pejman Yousefzadeh has unfairly squished-up Alterman's argument here. You'll notice I left a little comment, which still sits there, duly ignored. Such is fate for this little-known blogger.

3. Joan Didion, Political Fictions. I can't praise this one enough. So good, and as far as I can tell, Didion's talent lies almost entirely in her ability to quote, to put facts together without overt editorializing, and let the tacts make a point far sharper than she could make herself. Here's her slant on Newt Gingrich, whose secret charm, she suggests, resided with his ability to present his views "in outline form, with topic points capitalized":

In Window of Opportunity, Mr. Gingrich advised us that "the great force changing our world is a synergism of essentially six parts," and offered "five simple steps to a bold future." On the health care issue, Mr. Gingrich posited "eight areas of necessary change." On the question of arms control, he saw "seven imperatives that will help the free world survive in the age of nuclear weapons." Down a few paragraphs the seven imperatives give way to "two initiatives," then to "three broad strategic options for the next generation," and finally, within the scan of the eye, to "six realistic goals which would increase our children's chances of living in a world without nuclear war."
Who else would have noticed this, or characterized it so cleanly? Martin Amis, I should note, is another writer who can work selective quoting into a marvelously frenetic and off-kilter portrait of a writer. But this is good stuff. More on this later...
-- Brad Plumer 12:46 AM || ||

March 14, 2004

Really cool

American Museum of the Moving Image has put up an archive of every presidential campaign's major TV commercials since, well, since they started doing these commercials, back in 1952.

The first thing I noticed was how lame most of these commercials are, in the same way that old movie previews always seem a little hokey and arthritic (not that modern movie previews are much better...). The much-maligned Johnson ad with the girl picking the daisies, for instance, just seemed so devoid of drama and terror. Although naturally, different era, different sensibility, etc. etc.
-- Brad Plumer 1:23 AM || ||

March 06, 2004


SMU Professor Randall J. Scalise provides us with a one-stop shop for all things crackpot science, including proof that relativity is illogical, the always hot Immortality Rings, and a manifesto entitled Why Software is Bad. My, but these professional physicists are territorial...
-- Brad Plumer 5:41 PM || ||

Ah, technology

Boy oh boy, the combination of Bloglines and the Google Toolbar (which allows you to instantly blog about whatever page you're on) has really simplified my life.
-- Brad Plumer 5:15 PM || ||

Fine detail

I'm reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Love in the Time of Cholera right now, in a new (and downright stunning) translation by Edith Grossman. Plenty has been said and written about this novel, making commentary a bit superfluous. I do, however, want to point out that Marquez reminds us what a novelist's erudition should and should not be. Here's his description of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, having returned from his schooling in Paris, confronting the medical superstitions of his hometown hospital:

He tried to impose the latest ideas at Misericordia Hospital, but this was not as easy as it had seemed in his youthful enthusiasm, for the antiquated house of health was stubborn in itsattachment to atavistic superstitions, such as standing beds in pots of water to prevent disease from climbing up the legs, or requiring evening wear and chamois gloves in the operating room because it was taken for granted that elegance was an essential condition for asepsis. They could not tolerate the young newcomer's tasting a patient's urine to determine the presence of sugar, quoting Charcot and Trousseau as if they were his roommates, issuing severe warnings in class against the mortal risks of vaccines while maintaining a suspicious faith in the recent invention of suppositories (108).
I cringe when I try to imagine how a younger, flashier... ugh, postmodern author would have constructed this scene. David Foster Wallace would splatter out pages worth of medical terminology and minutely detailed histories of this or that superstition. Thomas Pynchon might opt for lumbering ethnographies, to similar effect. Now both of those writers are good writers, and their digressions would no doubt be well-written, lively, and informative. But neither Foster Wallace nor Pynchon would further the story along so elegantly, amplifying it in so few carefully measured words, as Garcia Marquez does.

Borges no doubt deserves some credit here-- and some blame. Of course the usual studies on Borges and Marquez try to gather both writers under the net of 'magical realism.' I know little about this, and at the moment don't care. But I do want to imagine that Marquez, Foster Wallace, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and others have all stumbled on some massively erudite passage of Borges, something like the following (from "Etcetera," an early piece, when Borges was more interested in this sort of detail-laden writing):

History records that the cruelest of the governors of the Sudan was Yaqub the Afflicted, who abandoned his nation to the iniquities of Egyptian tax collectors and died in a chamber of the palace on the fourteenth day of the moon of Barmajat in the year 1842. There are those who insinuate that the sorcerer Abderramen al-Masmudi (whose name might be translated "The Servant of Mercy") murdered him with a dagger or with poison, but a natural death is more likely--especially as he was known as "the Afflicted." Nonetheless, Capt. Richard Francis Burton spoke wiht this sorcerer in 1853, and he reported that the sorcerer told him this story...
Every American postmodernist (etc.) who has read a passage like this thought to himself: "Hey, I like that! I know a lot of stuff. I can load up my novels with baubles like those." And that's what we got. Baubles.

For his part, Garcia Marquez, on reading the same passage, probably thought, "Hey, I like that. But there's no way I can match Borges' bookishness. So I'll have to pick my details carefully, elegantly, with a view towards creating a similar atmosphere, if not quite so intellectual." And he succeeded. Few people-- even Pynchon-- know as much stuff as Borges. There's no sense in trying to outduel him.
-- Brad Plumer 3:29 PM || ||

March 05, 2004

Wonderful idea!

Forget Gary Hart. Forget Mark Udall. And Gov. Bill Owens, forget you too! The next junior senator from Colorado should be the blogosphere's very own Jeralyn Merritt.
-- Brad Plumer 12:31 AM || ||

NYT drops it

On the other hand, The New York Times is never going to help trounce Bush if they can't stop tripping over their own clumsy metaphors:

At the same time, Republicans close to the White House say they view Mr. Bloomberg's Democratic background with suspicion and have clashed with his aides over logistical and financial details of the convention.

It is as if Mr. Bloomberg will be host of a dinner party where half the guests cannot stand the other half, and it is only the salad course.
What was that phrase about the masturbating uncle again...?
-- Brad Plumer 12:23 AM || ||

WaPo nails it

This Washington Post editorial boils down to one sentence:

Mr. Bush isn't one to let the facts get in the way of a good political argument.
It's on. Lord, keep our liberal media healthy and wise during campaign season.
-- Brad Plumer 12:18 AM || ||

March 03, 2004

Kerry's VP

Ryan Lizza argues for and against the wisdom of Kerry selecting his sidekick early. On the bright side, Kerry would grab some much-needed attention just as the media seems poised to focus on the beginning of Bush's counter-campaign. Plus, the VP could help Kerry campaign in a big way.

On the downside, Lizza points out that Kerry's political needs could change drastically between now and September. This seems about right. No one knows whether the economy or national security or gay marriage will dominate the headlines (and the debates) this fall. Kerry will probably want to maximize the value of his running-mate. If jobs are still a big issue, Gephardt might get the nod in order to rally out union support-- remember, Bush did snag a worrisome 43% of union voters in 2000. Likewise, a smart foreign policy hawk like Bob Graham or former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn might help if terrorism pops up again (although Kerry needs to do a better job of talking about terrorism right now). I don't know who would help Kerry out most if the much-prophecized gay-marriage culture war ends up materializing.

...come to think of it, I really do wonder how much a vice-president can help on matters like these. Could a popular Florida Senator like Bob Graham or Don Nelson really deliver Florida? I just can't see it. Who are these swing voters that go pull the lever for Kerry instead of Bush simply because there's a Florida ex-Senator on the ticket? The names 'Graham' and 'Nelson' will only strike a positive chord with people who follow politics reasonably closely, and you would think that those people would base their votes on other, better reasons. The logic of the 'vote-delivering VP' really boggles...
-- Brad Plumer 8:37 PM || ||

Don't Say You Can't Say Uh-Huh... what?

From The Washington Post:

President Bush said privately yesterday that he believes Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) will be a tough and hard-charging opponent, but said he feels he is starting the general election from a stronger position than he did in 2000.

Bush's views emerged from an unusual 80-minute session in the Oval Office with five network correspondents who agreed that his comments would not be directly quoted or attributed to him.
I don't get it...
-- Brad Plumer 8:26 PM || ||


George Packer has written a big think-piece in the New Yorker, on what the Democrats should do about that whole national security thing. The best part of the piece might be his early description of the near-passage of the Biden-Lugar amendment:

By the fall of 2002, the Bush Administration had begun mobilizing for the invasion of Iraq. Biden’s view was that Saddam Hussein, who had violated every international agreement he had signed but was not an immediate threat, would have to be confronted sooner or later. But he also worried that a unilateral war with Iraq would distract America from the tasks it had only just begun—stabilizing Afghanistan and defeating Al Qaeda—and seriously damage the alliances necessary to eliminate terrorism and other problems that freely cross borders: weapons proliferation, disease, environmental damage, ethnic conflict, impoverishment. “The burden was on Saddam,” Biden said. “But I would not have prematurely forced the world’s hand on whether or not to go to war, because I’d get the wrong answer.”

Instead, he tried to slow the Administration’s momentum without shifting the burden from Saddam. It was in his party’s power to do so—Democrats still held the majority in the Senate (though they were about to lose it, in part because the public didn’t trust them on the issue of national security). Together with Senator Richard Lugar, of Indiana, the committee’s ranking Republican, Biden drafted an alternative to the Administration’s Iraq resolution that would have placed various restraints on the President, making it harder for him to wage war unilaterally and forcing him to bolster his case that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. Lugar had assembled a surprisingly large number of Republicans—twenty-five or so out of the forty-nine—who were uneasy with the Administration’s bellicose stance. In order to deliver their votes, Lugar needed Biden to line up at least forty Democrats; and Biden was sure of only thirty-eight.

As Biden recalled, on September 30th Lugar, who was in touch with the White House, called him. “Joe, I fear in the next twenty-four, forty-eight hours, the President’s going to cut a deal with Gephardt,” he said.

Biden was stunned. “Gephardt? Gephardt’s not going to do this.”

“Joe, I’m telling you. They’re working two sides here. They’re working us, keeping us occupied, but they’re working just as hard meeting with him. Whoever they reach an agreement with first, they’re going to go with.”

If Richard Gephardt, the House Democratic minority leader, came out for the Administration’s resolution, it would be politically almost impossible for any Republican to support the Biden-Lugar alternative. Biden had to gather the Democratic holdouts immediately and persuade them to stand behind his resolution so that he and Lugar could move it onto the Senate floor the next day.

That evening, Biden met with half a dozen leading Democrats who were opposed to any war resolution at all. “They said, ‘It’s not right, you’re not principled, asking us to do this,’” Biden recalled. “I said, ‘Wait, wait, wait. Please spare me the lecture. I thought our job was to do as much as we could to prevent this President from going off to war half-cocked. Does anybody in here believe that we’re going to get any resolution remotely approaching the constraints this resolution has?’” Biden warned his colleagues, “Guess what? Your principle is going to kill a lot of Americans.” But the antiwar Democrats were intractable. At the end of the meeting, Senator Paul Wellstone, of Minnesota, and Senator Barbara Boxer, of California, left the room arm in arm, chuckling.
There you have it. Boxer and Wellstone: the great simpletons of their time. By refusing to compromise, by standing by principles drawn with crayon, Boxer and Wellstone hastened the path to war. This anecdote deserves to be blown up, highlighted, and handed out to every 'principled' leftist who thinks that taking an absolute stand is always the right think to do.

Also, it surprises me that Dean got trounced for supporting the Biden-Lugar resolution. This alternative did not amount to the same thing as the war resolution that actually passed. If anything, Dean should have been commended for being willing to compromise slightly on his antiwar bonafides in order to, y'know, slow down the march to war. Instead he was lambasted as an inconsistent weasel by simpletons who think that principles must be absolute and unwavering at all time.

Now John Kerry is getting the same treatment, and it's really quite baffling. Not all wars are equal: The First Gulf War was very different from the Second Gulf War, and for Kerry to cast different votes in very different situations and contexts should not automatically count as 'inconsistent.'
-- Brad Plumer 8:00 PM || ||

Get! Get! Gone!

A big hug and a send-off to all the cherubs on Ben Nighthorse Campbell's staff! Colorado will miss you!

What can we say about the man? A former Democrat, this turncoat quickly fell into line with the other Republican duckies, boasting an 88% approval rating with the American Conservative Union last year. Isn't that adorable? But other than that, his biggest claim to fame was this sparklin' Harley. And little else.
-- Brad Plumer 7:21 PM || ||