Thursday, December 21, 2006

How About Richardson?

Maybe it's due to six years of the Bush II administration. Maybe it's a reaction to the in-coming Democratic Chair of the House Intelligence Committee not knowing which branch of Islam Al-Qaeda is affiliated. Maybe it's a response to Bayh bowing out, leaving us with a media focused on HRC and Obama.

But having the Democrats nominate a seasoned, knowledgeable pol, like say, Bill Richardson, sounds a bit better to me than it did just last week. There's obviously a long way to go here, and I've already been all-over-the-map on the 2008 field. So, no endorsement. Just a thought.

You can read more here.

My reservations about Richardson include: he's not particularly telegenic; his ethnicity may be a deterrent for some angry white voters; there was some problem while he was the Sec of Energy having to do with the security conditions at Los Alamos laboratories, which reflected pretty poorly on him several years ago.

Counter observations: I may be wrong about Richardson's popular appeal, but even if I'm not, a candidate's visual appearance or verbal qualities shouldn't necessarily dictate who the nominee is; a large portion of angry white voters that won't vote for a Hispanic probably wouldn't vote Democratic anyway; the Los Alamos controversy didn't hurt Richardson's gubernatorial ambitions, and my recollection of the aftermath of the situation there was that there may have been more smoke than fire.

Ideally, the primary and caucus process would contribute to a substantive and reasonably fair opportunity for qualified candidates to be heard and make an impact. The reality is that impressions, media coverage, money and other factors tend to influence or outweigh a simple straight up or down policy evaluation. So whether Democrats will be able to put forward their most qualified candidate two years from now is tenuous, but the long lead in before the primaries might end up benefitting second-tier candidates, who stand to gain from any other candidate's slip-ups or over-exposure.

Big Bucks

I'm curious about what sort of health insurance the National Review Online's John Derbyshire has that costs $857 a month.

Does NRO not cover its employees?

Maybe Derbyshire needs to invest in one of those health savings accounts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Foiled Again

Under the headline of A Realistic Approach to Iraq, Washington Post op-eder David Ignatius writes,

America's security interests are not served by remaining indefinitely as an occupying power in Iraq. This is precisely the trap the enemy laid when Bush invaded in 2003 -- drawing U.S. forces into hostile terrain and then slowly picking away at them.

Ponder that second sentence for just a moment. It would be preferable, admits Ignatius, that America not end up occupying Iraq. Not in America's Interest. Uh uh. And we wouldn't have, continues Ignatius, if the enemy in Iraq hadn't bothered engaging the invading Americans on terms favorable to them--the guerilla strategy, that is.

But doesn't Ignatius recognize that if we hadn't --

Oh, never mind.

Kirkpatrick and Pinochet: Perfect Together

For a summary of the lives, and recent deaths, of former Ambassador Kirkpatrick and former Chiliean dictator, Pinochet, read Neocon Games at The Phil Nugent Experience.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Permanent Surge

Bush plans to put more troops in Iraq

So says the AP.

Here are the last 'graphs,

Bush said his decision to increase the size of the armed forces was in response not just to the war in Iraq, but to the broader struggle against Islamic extremists around the globe.

"It is an accurate reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while and that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our efforts and to help us achieve peace," he said.

"...this ideological war...going to need a military capable of..."

increasing the size of the military to fight this ideological war...

But wh--

Oh never mind.

Whither Pluralism?

So I have Democracy Now! on in my car this morning and as is not infrequently the case, Noam Chomsky is on, giving a recent speech in Boston and having just returned from a trip to South America.

Anyway, you probably know Chomsky's schtick: Our Democratic System is being manipulated by The Man or The Men in Suits; our so-called democracy is a farce, distorted by the Money Power, the media and other elites who finance the two political parties and suppress the Wishes of, or at least the Opinions of, The People.

Now, it so happens that I tend to agree with much of Chomsky's schtick, so I poke him in well-meaning jest. I do think he's too much of the kind of moral absolutist I deplore when it wears right-wing garb. And I also tend to think he overemphasizes economic structures to the neglect of religious and cultural ones, but more about that later.

For now, if I think Chomsky is largely correct about American political power, how do I square his "elitist" view with the classic pluralist case made famous by James Madison in Federalist 10? Put more broadly, where do Chomsky and his ilk fit in with the various Theories of Democracy?

Chomsky, like C. Wright Mills before him, and blogger/authors such as David Sirota subscribe to what is known as the "elitist" theory of power and of politics. Whereas classic American Constitutionalism, articulated best by the writers of the Federalist, and reinforced by generations of American political scientists in the centuries afterward, viewed power and political conflict from the lense of pluralism.

In Elite theory, political conflict and decision-making were carried out among a relatively small circle of power brokers, with the masses playing small, negligent roles. Mills sketched a system comprised of (1) business and wealth elite; (2) military elite--what Eisenhower would a few short years later call The Military Industrial Complex; and (3) political elites--namely the President and members of the Executive branch. The legislative branch, in this system, was subservient to the three pillars of power and typically rubber-stamped their decisions.

Under pluralist thought, power was more evenly-distributed. A federalist system with checks and balances in both the national government and between the national government and the states made it difficult for any particular group to exercise power.

According to James Madison,

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.


The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

So, while not actually uttering the word, Federalist #10 sets out the basic parameters of political pluralism, for which the establishment of a federal republic was designed to promote.

In Who Governs? the political scientist Robert Dahl examined the distribution and implications of power in New Haven, Connecticut and what he found largely conformed with Madison's ideal: decision-making was widely dispersed and no one power or group exerted power for any length of time across or within any set of issues.

Dahl's conclusions about New Haven attracted a spirited and elaborate set of responses, mostly by theorists who argued for a more thorough treatment of decision-making, emphasizing not just those decisions that could be easily identified (and which might have achieved that level by virtue of a pluralist-like process of compromise) but those decisions made elsewhere, or those decisions not made, and those conflicts not raised by virtue of the system of political control, which excluded certain types of conflicts.

This latter notion of conflict expansion and conflict suppression was treated at some depth by the political scientist E. E. Schattschneider in The Semi-Sovereign People. Schattschneider wrote that political minorities, in seeking representation or resolution of a problem, first needed to expand the zone of conflict to which they were subject, bringing other groups into the conflict and hoping to reverse current policy. Beneficiaries of the status quo, quite understandably, sought to minimize conflict, as many "neo-elitists"--as they came to be known--argued.

Which brings us back to Chomsky and Sirota. What of Madison's concepts of power dispersion? Was Federalist #10 wrong, or was it relevant to Madison's day but inadequate to describe today's political realities? If so, Why? Under what conditions does pluralism not work?

I'll try to develop this line of questioning in future posts, perhaps taking as my point of departure, such recent "reform" initiatives as tort legislation and bankruptcy "reform". Under typical pluralist theories, pro-business reforms should face the same obstacles as do other groups--varieties of interest that impede the interests of any one group (say the credit card industry) and minimize the likelihood of any one group's having its policy ambitions carried out. But with a unified Republican government, some business interests were yet successful in realizing their wishes. In what sense did American pluralism not function in this case, or others? Why?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

No Bayh

So Bayh is out, less than two weeks after announcing the opening of his exploratory committee.

I tend to agree with the remarks he put out, suggesting he and his advisors took a hard look at the scene and decided the current Senator, and former Governor, of Indiana faced a pretty rough road in winning the nomination. But not an impossible one. And given the inexperience of Obama (even if he runs) and the liabilities of HRC, Bayh would probably have been the kind of "consensus" candidate that might emerge in the event the others self-destruct late in the game (see Dean, Howard). And although Bayh wasn't high on the charisma chart, he would have been a much candidate than Vilsack, another DLC'er who's already announced, and at least the equal of others, be they Wes Clark or Bill Richardson.

But as I heard someone on CNN say the other day, it wasn't as if there was some groundswell in support of a Bayh candidacy. But the lack of any real constituency or grassroots support isn't a hinderance to most other candidacies, which also tend to have a top-down flavor to them. Bayh will probably get a long look as the VP.

So that leaves us with Vilsack already announced, Edwards soon to announce, and Obama and HRC headlining the media coverage. Biden, Richardson, Clark and Dodd are presumably on the bubble.

Two years out and the field is already shrinking and getting less interesting. Edwards remains about the only liberal in the race, but I don't know if he has lifted his gravitas enough to convince a wide enough section of the country he's up to the job. And while he will want to run on an anti-poverty platform, foreign affairs, particularly Iraq, will no doubt dominate the issue agenda.

Clark could make things interesting, but like Edwards and Obama, is somewhat unseasoned politically. Biden has called for a partitioning of Iraq, which may or may not be a good idea, but it has the merits of sounding both original and doable. Richardson is supposed to have foreign policy credentials, but I have yet to hear his solution in Iraq.

Freedom is Slavery

From the NYT:

SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 16 — President Michelle Bachelet of Chile is a feminist and physician who used to practice pediatric medicine at public clinics in poor neighborhoods. So it was hardly surprising that her government recently liberalized contraception policy by making the so-called morning-after pill available free at state-run hospitals.

But since Chile is perhaps the most socially conservative country in South America, the measure has generated complaints and challenges not only on the right, but even from some of her allies. Opponents of the policy are furious because girls as young as 14 are being allowed to have access to the emergency contraception without any requirement that their parents be notified.

“It is hard to understand the motive for such a reaction,” Maria Soledad Barria, the minister of health and a physician, said in an interview here this week. After all, she noted, the age of consent in Chile is 14, and the morning-after pill, also known as Plan B emergency contraception, has been available at private pharmacies catering to the well-to-do for five years and has survived court challenges.

According to government statistics, 15 percent of all births in Chile are to mothers 18 or younger, most too poor to afford private care. Ms. Bachelet has framed the issue as one of social justice, arguing that because “not everyone is equal and not everyone has the same possibilities,” her duty is “to guarantee that all Chileans have real options in this area, as in others.”

The influential Roman Catholic Church, however, has condemned distribution of the pill as a form of abortion that encourages promiscuity and intrudes on personal freedoms. In a statement, the national conference of bishops said the government’s actions are “reminiscent of public policies established in totalitarian regimes, by which the state aimed to regulate the intimate lives of its citizens.”