Friday, October 14, 2005

Just Wait Till Next Time!

George Will dismisses the importance of Tom DeLay's indictment and even suggests, with a clever silver lining in the cloud analogy, that the turnover in House leadership will help the conservative cause of good--read, less-- economic government. Will points out the excess of pork in the recent transportation bill and notes the explosion of lobbyists in Washington since 2000, who are not committed, as Will is, to the goal of "less government". He points fondly, instead, to conservative purists, like Indiana's Mike Pence, who leads something called the republican study committee as a shining example of the kind of representative who will duly help turn the direction of government back to the agrarian days of yesteryore.

Will seems to think the demise of DeLay will finally usher in the dawn of true conservative governance, complete with relentless budget slashing, except for defense spending for which the sky is the limit, and further tax cutting utopia.

I don't think Will gets it. DeLay was a cog in The Machine. He'll be replaced by sojmeone else and business will remain the same. Conservative Republicans may have helped create the monster, but they're no longer driving the ship of state. Chopping government down till it can be "drowned in a bathtub" is the holy grail of "movement" conservatives. But it doesn't work in practice. It's unpopular, it's dysfunctional for the service of power, and its ultimately unrealizable.

Nonetheless, conservatives will continue to believe that THIS time, they really mean it. Just wait till they get THEIR man in as the Majority leader; Just wait until they get THEIR man elected president; just wait until THEIR man is confirmed to the Supreme Court. Just wait till THIS tax reduction package is approved. And on and on.

Please Nominate This Man

The NYTimes today has a piece on Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. The Senator is making an appearance in New Hampshire--an obligatory trip for all prospective presidential candidates. Should he run in 2008, Brownback would no doubt campaign on what has got him here so far--his religion or religions (once an evangelical protestant, he converted to Roman Catholicism a few years ago and on Sundays hits both churches), his new found committment to saturating political and social life with even more religion than it already has or can endure, and ultimately, his apparent thirst to propogate a "culture war":

At the Republican National Convention in 2004 he rallied a closed-door meeting of Christian conservatives with calls for a "cultural war."

The call for a "culture war" was a number one hit for Republicans in 1992. If most of the public is as tired of wars, culture and otherwise, as I suspect they are, a Brownback candidacy would be a most helpful boost to the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Really Off Center

From Christopher Hayes' review of Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson:

The second half of Off Center describes in detail how the Republican Machine works, how it rewards friends and punishes enemies, and how it has neutered or annihilated the moderates in its midst. Broken up into clear subsections with apt coinages like backlash insurance, the ways party leaders protect legislators from constituent disgust with the partys radical direction, Hacker and Pierson lay out in sober detail the various ruses the New Power Brokers employ: robbing committee chairs of their independence by instituting term limits, using the House Rules Committee (which has nine Republicans and four Democrats) to quietly kill threatening amendments, utilizing obscure administrative rules to institute broad policy changes, holding floor votes open while arms are twisted to pass legislation, shutting Democrats out of conference committees where corporate pork can be larded onto already passed legislation away from the minority partys prying eyes, tightly coordinating different factions of the right, and, as Nicholas Confessore first reported in these pages, bullying lobbying firms into hiring only Republicans.


As lurid as the details are, one cant help but ask: Why didnt previous majorities do this sort of thing? Tip O'Neill was a smart guy. Why didnt he provide his members with backlash insurance, or change the Ethics Committee rules so that the majority party could single handedly stop an investigation? While Off Center never explicitly addresses this question, the implicit answer is a simple as it is disturbing. Much of what kept prior governing coalitions in check were informal, generally agreed-upon norms rather than black letter law or immutable rules. Consider that for years state legislatures have, as a matter of custom, redistricted congressional districts only every 10 years, following new census data. There was nothing stopping a majority party from engineering a mid decade redistricting for its own partisan advantage other than a generalized sense it would be cheating to do so. Such considerations mean little to Tom DeLay and Karl Rove.

This seems about right. But consider Democratic threats to filibuster ideologically radical judges. Republicans cried using the filibuster in this way was abusing this time-honored instrument. With the exception of the Republican-led filibuster of Abe Fortas in the 1960's, maybe they were right (although during the Clinton Administration many nominees never even got to committee). And ultimately, Republican counter-threats to scuttle the filibuster intimidated Democrats into compromising. So be it. But how come Republicans have not been made to pay for the Texas redistricting? How come Democrats haven't threatened (at least to my knowledge) to open up redistricting decisions in Democratic states? I think under the current circumstances, Democrats should consider all bets off. If the Miers nomination is withdrawn or defeated, and a more reactionary nominee is offered, Democrats should give no quarter. The Republicans have shown no concern for congressional or political norms. Or for recognizing the prerogatives of the minority party. Democrats should respond in kind. If Republicans threaten to filibuster nominees in a future Democratic Administration, Democrats should say they'll be happy to reopen redistricting cases in Democratic states. Until there is a substantive change in the Republican leadership, Democrats shouldn't feel obligated to play by rules that Republicans have long since abandoned.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Those CD case stickers

I came across this post over at Approximately Perfect the other day. First, I laughed, because it was hilarious. I am usually many minutes in my car, engine running, trying to pry my new CD's from their tightly sealed, plastic wrap, and then from that annoying sticker over the top of the CD cover that always comes off in little sticky pieces.

Fortunately, commenter Pinko Punko has a solution for the sticker on top problem:

Here's the trick with the sticker over the top. unhook the jewel case from the other side, and use the whole half of the case to peel the sticker off, then hook the jewel case back together. that should do it.

Thanks, Pinko Punko. I'll try it next time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Is the Conservative Movement Worth Emulating?

Even when it is judged on its own terms--as a struggle over values, patriotism, national honor, and the correct way to worship the Almighty, the (conservative) backlash has pretty much been a complete bust. Culturally, it has achieved almost nothing in the past three decades. TV and movies are many times coarser than they were in 1968. Traditional gender roles continue to crumble. Homosexuality is more visible and more accepted than ever.

This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history. Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act.

This is vexing for observers, and one might expect it to vex the movement's true believers even more. Their grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless, they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off.

Thomas Frank, What's The Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, p. 121; pp. 6-7.

Since George Washington ran for reelection in 1793, there have been 53 presidential elections...twenty-nine of those elections involved incumbents running for reelection, of which the incumbent won 20, or 69 percent. The other 24 elections were open races with no incumbent, and in half of them, the party out of power won the election. In other words, if you take incumbents out of the picture, a party has a 50-50 chance of winning the next presidential election. I take this to mean that winning elections is a random sort of thing and not something that parties have much control over. Any sort of effort to rethink the Democratic Party and what it stands for is a rather futile proposition because events will outrun even the most perspicacious observers.

Philip Klinkner, "The Winds of Change", in The Stock Ticker and the Super Jumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party; pp. 98-99.

There is more I intend to say about these references, but for now, I think it's enough to use them as a bit of context as Democrats look to 2006 and beyond. In surfing liberal blogs, there's an almost unstated awe and fear one finds on the part of liberals when assessing the Conservative Movement. They have big, well funded Think Tanks. They have a stable of wealthy, conservative financiers. They have a monopoly on Talk Radio. Now they have Fox "News". They have the TV evangelists, mega-churches, and "family" advocate groups on their side, completely dedicated to them and committed to eradicating us. Many liberal bloggers, and even this blog from time to time, have expressed an interest in replicating the conservative success, of restoring Democracy's golden era, much as down and out conservatives once teared up and plotted to restore their own heritage.

But is the conservative movement successful and is it worth emulating? The above quotations provide some evidence that the answer to these two questions is no. First, because despite its nominal hold on federal power, the conservative movement has not come close to achieving its aspirations, a fault line that has been at least partially exposed in the Harriet Miers nomination. Two, because despite all their money, organization, and rhetoric, they're success rate isn't much better than 50-50. And given that the last century was a liberal era, both politically and socially, it stands to reason that even if only by chance, Republicans were bound to win a period of elections at some point.

So what I conclude, at least part of the time, is that the conservative movement isn't all its cracked up to be. Liberals shouldn't necessarily fear it, and shouldn't worship it. On the other hand, that doesn't mean Democrats shouldn't confront conservatism's excesses and warn the voters of the harmful choices the Republican Party and its sponsors are offering.

O No

Looks like the Baltimore Orioles are going to keep Sam Perlozzo on as their skipper next year. Perlozzo became the interim manager when the O's let Lee Mazilli go on August 4. But Perlozzo didn't exactly endear himself in the win column.

The O's went 22-32 under Perlozzo, but faired particularly poorly against the Red Sox and the Yankees down the stretch, leading one commentator to wonder if the O's weren't guilty of fraud in not putting up more of a game against the contenders. The Orioles lost nine straight games towards the end of September, and went 12-18 for the month, a record greatly enhanced by the team's final weekend sweep of the Devil Rays.

Sam's a good guy, everybody likes him, but the O's needed to clean house this off-season, and with the exception of letting one of their two general managers go, they don't appear to be doing that.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Monday Morning Quarterback (Special Columbus Day Edition)

Ravens 17
Lions 35

Ravens flagged for 21 penalties and 2 ejections during the game; after the game, additional penalties were handed out for the following infractions: Neon Deon Prime Time Sanders actually on Ravens' roster--and playing--15 yard penalty; Brian Billick once known as "offensive genius"--10 yards; False start, Ravens' bus driver--5 yards.

Redskins 19
Denver 21

Redskins caught looking ahead to 49'ers game in two weeks.

Saints 3
Pack 52

Gee, ya think the Pack was pissed about its 0-4 start, and Favre about rumors of his retirement?

Pats 31
Falcons 28

Michael Vick a last minute scratch and Pats still have to barely hold on against somebody named Matt Mauck.

Bucs 12
Jets 14

Vinnie Testaverde returns and the Jets recover their ground game.

Texas Tech 34
Nebraska 31

Nebraska defense intercepts Texas Tech pass deep in its own end in final seconds to preserve certain victory, BUT THEN forgets to just down the ball, electing instead to RUN with the thing, resulting in a fumble back to Texas Tech and a last second Texas Tech toughdown pass to seal the game.

Braves 6
Roger Clemens 7 (18 innings)

I turned this game off in the ninth inning, Braves ahead 6-5, went out to do yard work, returned three hours later, AND THE GAME WAS STILL ON.