Towards A Good Samaritan World

Sunday, October 31, 2004


Larry King interviewed John Kerry tonight. There was one really funny moment. I can't find a transcript anywhere, but from memory, he said:

[Talking about Edwards] This is a guy who can look me in the eye and say,
"John, you're wrong." And that's the kind of leadership we need in this

Just in case you needed any more evidence that John Kerry dislikes taking responsibility for his decisions...


To me, it seems pretty clear that Osama wants to hurt Bush. Whether he will hurt Bush is another matter, though he might be doing that, according to Josh Marshall. I think Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, who both think bin Laden was trying to help Bush, are being way too clever for their own good. Mickey is actually of two minds:

Insta-OBL: 1) At least judging from the Drudge transcript, it doesn't
read like a pro-Kerry pitch. It's a straddle! 2) If it was a pro-Kerry
pitch, OBL would of course know that would help Bush, so what
would that say about which candidate he really wants to win? 3) Why should
this have such a big effect on anything (unless Bush overreacts
opportunistically by trying to play it as pro-Kerry, or Kerry overreacts
opportunistically as he's done to virtually every big news story for the
past two weeks)? 4) It mainly shows bin Laden is alive, which
hurts Bush (OBL's still out there!) and helps Bush (OBL's still out

I think 1) bin Laden wanted to hurt Bush, who is Enemy #1 for Islamofascists of all stripes, 2) he realized that he would help Bush if he made the speech too obviously pro-Kerry, however 3) he doesn't really understand American culture/electoral politics that well, and he took for granted that the combination of mild threats and showing that he was still out there would make Americans support Kerry, whereas actually it may play out differently and backfire.

This plays into Kerry's hands really well because he has been strongly emphasizing the adminsitration's failure to capture bin Laden, particularly the "outsourcing" of the operation at Tora Bora and the "distraction" of Iraq. If you read the transcript, bin Laden talks about Iraq and obviously sees it as a setback for his cause; he is also willing to cooperate with socialists, debunking the claim that Saddam and bin Laden would never have cooperated. But most people won't read the transcript.

If Bush is defeated, terrorists will see it as a huge victory, and if you don't realize that, you're either an idiot or in denial. It's arguable that if Kerry pursues the war on terror as aggressively as Bush, this will be more valuable in the medium run, because terrorists will realize American determination to beat them is not a function of Bush but of America. Indeed, there may be a morning-after effect on both sides: Kerry will wake up after the celebration and think, "Whoa, now I'm responsible for fighting al-Qaeda! It's all me! Yikes!" And the terrorists will think: "Yay, Bush is gone... but, uh-oh, now we have this Kerry guy to deal with..."

But that terrorists will celebrate a Bush defeat as their victory is like 2+2=4.

Friday, October 29, 2004



In some of the endorsements of Kerry from market-friendly and conservative sources that have come out lately, the prospect of gridlock is part of the argument for electing Kerry. The Economist writes

If the test is a domestic one, especially an economic crisis, Mr Kerry looks
acceptable, however. His record and instincts are as a fiscal conservative,
suggesting that he would rightly see future federal budget deficits as a threat.
His circle of advisers includes the admirable Robert Rubin, formerly Mr
Clinton's treasury secretary. His only big spending plan, on health care, would
probably be killed by a Republican Congress.

Andrew Sullivan has mentioned the issue of gridlock before, and he is presumably thinking the same thing in his endorsement, since he states that

Domestically, Kerry is clearly Bush's fiscal superior. At least he acknowledges
the existence of a fiscal problem, which this president cannot.

even though Kerry proposes more new spending than Bush, even net of his proposed tax hikes. The claim is probably based on the belief he blogged earlier this year that

If you take seriously the fact that this country is headed toward fiscal
catastrophe in the next decade, then restraining spending and raising some taxes
in the next four years is almost as essential as tackling the entitlement
crunch. Neither Bush nor Kerry wants to help. They're both cowards (although
Kerry seems to have a better grip on fiscal reality than Bush does). So gridlock
is the best option. The combination of Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress
was great for the country's fiscal standing. Independents and anyone under 40
concerned with the deficit don't need a Perot. They just need to vote for Kerry
and hope the GOP retains control of at least one half of Congress.

Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute lays out the case for gridlock with stats to back it up:

Consider the record. William Niskanen, former acting chairman of the
Council of Economic Advisors, has put together a fascinating analysis of
government spending since 1953. Real federal outlays grew fastest, 4.8%
annually, in the Kennedy-Johnson years, with Congress under Democratic control.
The second-fastest rise, 4.4%, occurred with George W. Bush during Republican
rule. The third-biggest spending explosion, 3.7%, was during the Carter
administration, a time of Democratic control. In contrast, the greatest fiscal
stringency, 0.4%, occurred during the Eisenhower years. The second-best period
of fiscal restraint, 0.9%, was in the Clinton era. Next came the Nixon-Ford
years, at 2.5%, and Ronald Reagan's presidency, at 3.3%. All were years of
shared partisan control.

Bush officials argue that it is unfair to count military spending, but
Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan also faced international
challenges that impeded their domestic plans. Moreover, if you do strip out
military spending and consider only the domestic record, GOP chief executives
emerge in an even worse light. In terms of real domestic discretionary outlays,
which are most easily controlled, the biggest spender in the past 40 years is
George W. Bush, with expenditure racing ahead 8.2% annually, according to
Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth. No. 2 on the list is Gerald Ford, at 8%.
No. 3 is Richard Nixon. At least the latter two, in contrast to Bush, faced
hostile Congresses.

Given the generally woeful record of Republican Presidents, the best
combination may be a Democratic chief executive and Republican legislature. It
may also be the only combination that's feasible, since in 2004 at least, it
will be difficult to overturn Republican congressional control: Redistricting
has encouraged electoral stasis in the House, while far more Democrats face
reelection in the Senate. Thus, the only way we can realistically keep Congress
and the President in separate political hands is to vote for John Kerry in

This voting strategy is an application of game theory. Gridlock voters anticipate that politicians play a game with the following parameters:

1) Each politician wants to help members of his own party, to make them look good and help them to serve the interests of their constituency and get re-elected.

2) Each politician wants to hinder members of the other party, to make them look bad and prevent them from serving the interests of their constituency and getting re-elected.

3) All politicians like to spend.

In that case, a Democratic president, for example, would have an incentive to veto bills proposed by a Republican Congress. A Republican Congress would have an incentive to refuse to pass bills sponsored by a Democratic president. Politicians might end up playing a game of chicken, as Clinton and the Gingrich Congress did in 1996; who can refuse to budge longer? A divided government, therefore, would accomplish little, a frustrating situation for politicians, but salutary for voters.

The problem with this is that once politicians recognize that voters like gridlock, that changes the parameters of the game. Let's add a new parameter:

4) Voters like politicians to be gridlocked so as to slow the growth of government.

5) Assume the president typically gets most of the blame for a deficit, whereas members of Congress get credit for local pork.

Once politicians realize this, their incentives change.

Suppose Kerry is elected with the help of a significant number of conservative voters who expect a divided government to spend less than a unified one.

It is not in the interests of the Republican Congress to see voters get what they want, gridlock, which will only encourage them to vote for Democratic presidents in the future. The Republicans in Congress will, instead, have an interest in spending as much money as possible, in order to discredit Kerry.

True, Kerry has an incentive to veto their bills. But Kerry has a domestic spending agenda too. So the Republicans could give Kerry some of what he wants in return for Kerry signing off on their pork projects. Republicans will eviscerate the bills and make them as pork-laden as they can without triggering Kerry's veto.

Republicans hope that Kerry will be blamed both for the deficit and the ineffectiveness of the bills. For them, it's a win-win situation. They can spend a lot and be helping the party by governing badly, since if the voters decide gridlock isn't working, they're more likely to elect a Republican president.

Kerry could just veto everything, which is what his gridlock voters wanted. But most of his constituency prefer that he pursue his domestic agenda, and he may feel that he has campaign promises to fulfill. The deeper problem with voting for gridlock is that politicians won't know what their mandates are. If Kerry is elected on the basis of anticipated gridlock, should he conclude the people elected me, so they must want my health plan to pass? Or should he conclude, since the people also elected a Republican House of Representatives which doesn't want to pass my health care plan, that's probably not be part of my mandate?

Each side calculates that voters' desire for gridlock will keep them in power. At the same time, they hope that voters will get disillusioned with divided government, and that their party can claim all the branches of government then.

The basic problem is that when voters let the gridlock phenomenon affect their vote, this changes the parameters of the game so that gridlock no longer works.

Fortunately, there's a flip side to this. If Republicans realize that voters like gridlock, and if Bush wins but realizes he lost a number of conservative voters to Kerry on gridlock grounds, it's in his interest to create a little gridlock, sparring with Congress to restrain spending, so that voters won't elect a Democrat to do that instead.

In conclusion, I would not counsel people, or high-flying bloggers, or London-based publications, to engage in amateur game theory when deciding how to vote. Just stick with straightforward common sense. If you want small government, don't vote for the liberal.


From the BBC:

The economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.7% in the July to September
period, the Commerce Department said.

The figure marked an increase on the 3.3% growth recorded in the second
quarter, but fell short of the 4.2% rate pencilled in by forecasters.

The increase reflected the biggest jump in consumer spending in a year.

If this keeps going for four years of a Bush second term, we'll have buoyant revenues to deal with the deficit. Better yet if it accelerates. The economy grew fastest last year right after the Iraq war. I suspect the election is creating uncertainty right now.


The argument in this PoliPundit post from October 7th has been brilliantly vindicated:

I believe that Osama Bin Laden is dead.

No, I don’t have any secret CIA sources or new facts about Bin Laden.
But I still think he’s dead.
Consider: If Bin Laden were alive, what would he
be thinking now? Bin Laden really, really hates George W. Bush. This president
turned Bin Laden’s Excellent Afghan Adventure into a deadly serious manhunt
where Osama has to worry daily about getting whisked off to Guantanamo Bay in
irons. Few things would give Bin Laden more pleasure than exacting revenge by
having Bush lose his re-election bid.

So what can Bin Laden do to influence the US elections? He could try a
large terrorist attack in the US; but that’s become almost impossible to
achieve. There’s a simpler thing he could do: Pop up and say “I’m still alive!
Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!” All it would take is an audio tape released
to Al Jazeera, with Bin Laden crowing about the infidels’ failure to catch him.
And what better time to do it than in October, 3 weeks before the

The fact that Bin Laden isn’t sticking his head up is proof enough.
He’s dead. Madeline Albright and Teresa Heinz should get over their insane-lefty
fears of an Osama-captured October Surprise.

They just made one mistake: timing. The best time to pop up and say "I'm still alive, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah" was a few days before the election. I.e. now.


So bin Laden is alive.

Once upon a time, the Arab nation, the umma, newly converted and fired with spiritual enthusiasm by the holy vision of the prophet Mohammed, swept outwards from the Arabian deserts to overcome the decadent empires of Byzantium and Persia. Soon they swept as far as the Indus in the east, Spain in the west. Like the Romans, they called the Mediterranean "our sea." They raided India.

The Arabs became masters of a flourishing civilization, heir to Babylon, Persia, Egypt and Carthage. Scholars translated the works of Greek philosophers, wrote beautiful poetry, and invented algebra, merchants traveled as far as China and Indonesia, and crossed the Sahara into the kingdoms of Africa, and architects built beautiful mosques. Though Islam has suffered many centuries of decline and disgrace, the dream lingers.

A young man in Saudi Arabia had that dream. He was born to wealth but embraced the poverty of the warrior, fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He and his comrades won their struggle and brought down the mighty Soviet empire, opening the lands of central Asia to the practice of Islam, which the Soviets had suppressed. Then they challenged the next enemy.

The Arab inhabitants of the holy city of Al-Kuds [Jerusalem] and the lands roundabout had been driven from their homes by the Jews, who lived as refugees in a patch of crowded and waterless territory, hounded and destitute but still dreaming of their eventual return.

And the Jews were supported by America. America was also stationing troops in the peninsula of Saudi Arabia, profaning the lands sacred to the memory of the Prophet, and bombing Iraq, and imposed sanctions which reduced the country to destitution, depriving the country of medical supplies and thereby destroying many tens of thousands of innocent lives.

This young man could have lived like the corrupt Saudi princes, who abandoned their Bedouin origins, who spent their oil money on luxury hotels and prostitutes and villas on the French and Italian Rivieras, but instead he chose the austere existence of a hunted exile, organizing a band of brothers, unafraid of death, that operated worldwide to defy America and Israel.

Maybe I shouldn't admit this in public...

But in a way, I admire bin Laden.

Pundits and public figures insist that there is a difference between war and terrorism. That the first is sometimes honorable, the latter a crime and dishonorable. This is probably right, but philosophically, I'm not sure I understand why. Is it because honorable war kills combatants, whereas terrorism kills innocent civilians? But war usually kills civilians too. True, democracies waging war try not to kill civilians, whereas terrorists try to kill as many as they can: an important moral difference.

On the other hand, any set of rules that permits warfare but forbids terrorism rigs the game in favor of technologically advanced countries. Are we perhaps letting our self-interest trip up our moral reasoning?

I prefer to see the difference between us and bin Laden in terms, not of means, but of ends. He tells us:
"We fought you because we are free .. and want to regain freedom for our nation.
As you undermine our security we undermine yours."

What? What nation? The Arabs, I suppose. But what kind of freedom? Independence, the Arabs have already.

The irony is that Bush and bin Laden have the same goal: freedom for the Middle East. But while the Americans grasp the nuts-and-bolts of freedom-- freedom of speech and of the press, to begin with-- for bin Laden, as for so many radicals and revolutionaries from Lenin to Castro and Che Guevara to Abdel Nasser and Saddam Hussein, this freedom is a mad dream that in practice can only become murderous nihilism. In the streets of Iraq today, bin Laden's and Bush's versions of freedom for the Middle East are battling it out. We build schools. They blow up school children. Ours is messy, complex, full of anomalies like allying with Communists and with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, backtracking, zig-zagging, the beginnings of the contradictory and "incompetent" form of government called democracy. Theirs is as simple and heroic as a suicide bomber's "martyrdom."

One libertarian has kept his head. Dan Griswold's case for Bush.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


Alive and kickin'. Check it out. I liked this article. It's against Kerry. It notes that:

Where have all the protestors gone? Where have all the “libertarian” intellectuals gone? They have effectively channeled into supporting the pro-war, pro-Sharon candidacy of John Kerry.


“Anybody but Bush” is a short term “solution” which sacrificed the tactical and strategic possibilities of the mass movements of 1999-2002. What makes the capitulation of the Left intellectuals even more tragic is the fact that a bona fide third party choice does exist: Ralph Nader and Peter Comejo. Nader/Comejo are campaigning energetically and courageously for everything that Seattle and the anti-war movement fought for before their leaders capitulated to Kerry: opposition to US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense of Venezuelan sovereignty against the Kerry-Bush promoted coup, powerful defense of the Palestinians against Israeli state terror, and for a national public health program with universal coverage.

And an especially good point here:

Black Democratic politicians and religious notables are silent as Kerry totally ignores black workers’ demands and channels all of his attention to what he calls “middle class” (white) voters.

For the record, I'd take Ralph Nader over John Kerry by a long shot.


I feel sick. The Economist has endorsed John Kerry.

I've been looking forward to The Economist's endorsement for a long time now. The reason? The East Coast and Western European elite despises Bush and likes to pretend that no intelligent person can approve of him. The Economist is a source they respect. The Economist had to support Bush. Kerry's platform is anathema to them: protectionism, middle class entitlements, soak-the-rich tax policy, opposition to the war in Iraq, three decades of liberal politics. Bush, meanwhile, reversed the steel tariffs, is proposing much-needed Social Security reform, has proposed little new spending, and led two Economist-endorsed wars. Weirdly The Economist even supported the prescription drug bill at one point. The inevitable (so I thought) Economist endorsement of Bush would have blown out of the water the notion that intelligent people were united behind Kerry, and driven the East Coast snobs crazy! It would have been so delicious.

Instead, they caved.

I saw Bill Emmott speak at Harvard two years ago. I was fairly impressed. The high point was when a student asked what he thought of the claim that the Iraq war was fought for oil. Emmott's answer: "I don't quite understand this argument. Would the purpose be to lower the price of oil or to raise it? What constituencies in the United States would this serve?..."

But there was a revealing comment in his answer. "I'm not at all sure I'd win a vote within my own staff" on the Iraq war, he said.

The Economist's support for the Iraq war was surprising. The journal hobnobs with, and represents the interests of, a global elite. Elites, by definition, are doing well out of the status quo, so they generally don't like to change it. The Iraq war was a challenge to the global status quo, with its "sacred" borders and Hobbesian conception of sovereignty. International bureaucrats and ivory-tower types despise Bush.

At the end of the day, Emmott probably faced a revolt from his staff. And he was afraid that the publication couldn't afford to alienate its global-elite audience anymore. So he sold out.

I'm going ad hominem because the arguments are so bad that we can rule out the possibility that they're the real basis for the endorsement. But I'll go through the motions.

[The Iraq war was right but...] changing the regime so incompetently was a huge mistake.

Oh, brilliant. Journalists call the invasion incompetent; military people (who actually know) are with Bush (see here, here, and here) and terrified of a Kerry presidency.

So has America's reputation in the Islamic world, both for effectiveness and for moral probity.

"America's reputation in the Islamic world?" A lot of Iraqis and Afghans liked us, which by itself is more Islamic world-ers than liked us before.

In Iran the conservatives have become stronger

And this is Bush's fault? When you have to use "arguments" like this, you're desperate.

Of Mr. Kerry, they say

His record and instincts are as a fiscal conservative,

What?!! Kerry has proposed $2 trillion. Write that on the blackboard a hundred times. Then wash your mouth out with soap.

They remark hopefully that

He has failed to offer any set of overall objectives for American foreign policy, though perhaps he could hardly oppose Mr Bush's targets of democracy, human rights and liberty.

I beg to differ. Kerry has been thunderously silent about supporting liberty or democracy in Iraq, or even Afghanistan. All the signs are that he doesn't care. Nixon and Reagan both backed a host of dictatorships. Pro-democratic foreign policy by a US presidential administration cannot be taken for granted. Kerry shows bad signs.

They then add helpfully

If Mr Bush is re-elected, and uses a new team and a new approach to achieve that goal, and shakes off his fealty to an extreme minority, the religious right, then The Economist will wish him well.

No thanks. The line is drawn. The curse is cast. This is the time to choose: are you for the forward strategy of fredom, or for relativism and retreat; for the transformational power of liberty, or the ancien regime, where freedom is for the few? If The Economist doesn't have the guts to defy the journalistic consensus for the sake of its principles, what's it good for?

"Our confidence in [President Bush] has been shattered," says the editorial.

And my confidence in The Economist is shattered. For this, there is no forgiveness.


Tom Friedman coins a pretty powerful metaphor in his op-ed "A Hole in the Heart." Literally, he means that there's a hole in the center (the heart) of the political spectrum:

American politics is so polarized today that there is no center, only sides. Israeli politics has become divided nearly to the point of civil war. In the Arab-Muslim world, where the moderate center was always a fragile flower, the political moderates are on the defensive everywhere, and moderate Muslim spiritual leaders seem almost nonexistent.

Europe, for its part, has gone so crazy over the Bush administration that the normally thoughtful Guardian newspaper completely lost its mind last week and published a column that openly hoped for the assassination of President Bush, saying: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. - where are you now that we need you?"

But the phrase strikes other notes too.

Bleeding. We've seen decapitations. Car bombs. Murdered school children in Beslan. War.

And hate. Hate personified in killers like Zarqawi, but also between Republicans and Democrats, and by western Europeans towards George Bush. Hate manifest in films like Fahrenheit 9/11.

But then Friedman claims that

The Bush-Cheney team bears a big responsibility for this hole because it nakedly exploited 9/11 to push a far-right Republican agenda, domestically and globally, for which it had no mandate. When U.S. policy makes such a profound lurch to the right, when we start exporting fear instead of hope, the whole center of gravity of the world is affected.

What is he talking about? Al-Qaeda exported fear. We exported hope, to Afghanistan, to Iraq. Who can deliver a message of hope like Bush, with his "transformational power of liberty" and his "I see the valley of peace"?

And, what far-right Republican agenda? The Medicare bill? No Child Left Behind? A tax cut that took millions of poor people off the tax rolls and increased the share of income tax revenues paid by the wealthy? More money to fight AIDS in Africa? Increased government spending on veterans' health? An embrace of nation-building?

Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe begs to differ. To him, the election is "Radical Bush vs. Reactionary Kerry":

And there in a nutshell is the choice in this election: forward with Bush into a difficult future or backward with Kerry to the familiar ways of the past. It would be an easy decision, except for one thing: The familiar ways of the past led to Sept. 11.

James Klurfeld at Newsday agrees that Bush is a radical, and that's why he can't understand why the election is close:

Bush hasn't been conservative; he has been radical, self-righteous and too easily manipulated by simple-sounding but impractical ideas. To name just a few:

Fighting a preventive war. That is, invading another country with little or no support from most allies and against much of world opinion without any evidence of an imminent danger to our security, or, for that matter, taking the steps to make sure the outcome would be successful.

Or: Cutting taxes across the board, especially for the wealthy, while fighting a war.

Or: Saying part of Social Security can be privatized without any idea of how it will sabotage the program or how much a transition to a new one would cost.

Has Kerry been that poor a campaigner that he has failed to provide a reliable alternative to Bush? Has the public been so easily convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong with Kerry that the nation shouldn't take a chance on him, although Bush has failed in so many areas? Is that tough-guy-from-Texas act really so believable?

Matthew Manweller of RealClearPolitics explains explains what Friedman and Klurfeld don't understand:

This November we will vote in the only election during our lifetime that will truly matter. Because America is at a once-in-a-generation crossroads, more than an election hangs in the balance. Down one path lies retreat, abdication and a reign of ambivalence.

Down the other lies a nation that is aware of its past and accepts the daunting obligation its future demands. If we choose poorly, the consequences will echo through the next 50 years of history. If we, in a spasm of frustration, turn out the current occupant of the White House, the message to the world and ourselves will be two-fold. First, we will reject the notion that America can do big things. Once a nation that tamed a frontier, stood down the Nazis and stood upon the moon, we will announce to the world that bringing democracy to the Middle East is too big of a task for us. But more significantly, we will signal to future presidents that as voters, we are unwilling to tackle difficult challenges, preferring caution to boldness, embracing the mediocrity that has characterized other civilizations.

The defeat of President Bush will send a chilling message to future presidents who may need to make difficult, yet unpopular decisions. America has always been a nation that rises to the demands of history regardless of the costs or appeal. If we turn away from that legacy, we turn away from whom we are.

Second, we inform every terrorist organization on the globe that the lesson of Somalia was well-learned. In Somalia we showed terrorists that you don't need to defeat America on the battlefield when you can defeat them in the newsroom. They learned that a wounded America can become a defeated America. Twenty-four-hour news stations and daily tracing polls will do the heavy lifting, turning a cut into a fatal blow. Except that Iraq is Somalia times 10. The election of John Kerry will serve notice to every terrorist in every cave that the soft underbelly of American power is the timidity of American voters. Terrorists will know that a steady stream of grisly photos for CNN is all you need to break the will of the American people. Our own self-doubt will take it from there. Bin Laden will recognize that he can topple any American administration without setting foot on the homeland.

It is said that America's W.W.II generation is its 'greatest generation'. But my greatest fear is that it will become known as America's 'last generation.' Born in the bleakness of the Great depression and hardened in the fire of W.W. II, they may be the last American generation that understands the meaning of duty, honor and sacrifice.

Maybe not. I believe my generation may have learned the meaning of duty, honor and sacrifice from George W. Bush. April 9, 2003 is our defining moment, when we realized that people all over the world want freedom, and that evil can be confronted and beaten. A sense of high calling was born in us. As Pearl Harbor awakened our grandparents from their isolationist sleep, 9/11 awakened us. As Roosevelt articulated a great global mission for our grandparents, Bush expressed one for us.

Tom Friedman complains about the missing center. But the times, they are a-changin'. The political spectrum has become a wheel. The wheel's still in spin, as the bard put it, but left is becoming right and right is becoming left. There is a hole in the heart. And that's how it should be. We should bleed with compassion for the hungry, the sick, the poor, the narrow horizons of hope within which so many of this world's people live out their lives. We should be willing to bleed alongside those who fight for freedom, to overthrow tyrants, to do the dirty work of establishing order in failed states. "With great power comes great responsibility," as Spiderman puts it. It's time to embrace that responsibility.

(Hat tip: all links from RealClearPolitics.)

Arnold Kling explains four myths on Social Security reform. And he links to my article about it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


This gets to the heart of the matter:

President Bush comes from a position of love for his fellow man. Senator Kerry comes from a position of love of power and love of self.

I truly believe that the President has sound moral judgement, comes from a position of love for his fellow man...

As a Christian, a father, an American, a husband, a Naval Officer, as a man - I'm voting for George W. Bush.

[UPDATE: I wrote some commentary last night, then deleted it. But here's a case for Bush I wrote last May.]

[UPDATE II: Are bloggers allowed to do that? To delete stuff they wrote?

Well, we can do it, quite easily. It's a Blogger feature.

But if someone has quoted you and linked to you, you leave them high and dry if you delete the link. If you do it often, people might be reluctant to link to you. (To potential linkers: I won't do it often.)

Arguably, it might be part of the blogging ethic that once you post, it stays. Like the rule in a chess match that if you take your hand off the piece, the move is final. You can change your mind. You can apologize. But you can't delete the evidence that wrote it.

Most of the time, if I want to add something to a post, I will throw in the words "UPDATE" to let readers know it was added after the original post was written.

But heck. I used the word "crude" to describe this post, which was unfair, and the author was offended. I felt rotten about it. I didn't mean that, and I didn't want it on the blog. It's only been a few hours.

So, here's my ad hoc rule, which I'll follow from now on: I reserve the right to delete stuff within 24 hours. After that, it stays. I'll make it as rare as possible. And if something's been deleted, I'll leave an "UPDATE," just in case someone linked and quoted me.]


Get a load of this:

The organisation [the IMF] says the Iraqi gross domestic product (GDP), or total economic output, should soar 52 per cent this year.

Then 17 per cent in 2005 and 9 per cent a year on average from 2006 to 2009.

The analogy to Japan and Germany was right all along. (Hat tip: Chrenkoff.)


At first, I thought this alarmist column was just silly. Then I began wondering, is there some truth in it?

We fools thought that votes could be fairly counted, that elections measured and formed the popular will, and that the law was a shield to protect our elections, not a sword to shred them. We thought we were most Americans. But others, dangerous strangers, people alien to our sense of ourselves, have homegrown in our midst. They have usurped us in our own country. They are Americans by birth, but they might as well be Martian reptiles for all the moral kinship they have with us.

Al Gore and his band of terrorist lawyers are plundering our innocent laws, and are cynically using those very laws to render meaningless the election those laws were meant to protect. In the past week it has become quickly fashionable to claim that we have plenty of time, that they just want a full and fair count of the votes, that no harm can come from these little manipulations of the process. But to paraphrase Albert Camus: No one should think that an election victory torn from such convulsions will have the calm, tame aspect that some enjoy imagining. This dreadful travail will give birth to a monster.

By the time I read the conclusion, I was almost convinced:

The corrosive cynicism of the last half-century, the deep sense of irony that sees all things at an angle instead of straight on, abetted by the swift and massive flow of supporting evidence in our information age, has remorselessly undermined respect for our great institutions — religion, church, parents, the military, business, Congress, the courts, the presidency, heroes. We have seemingly taken these blows in stride. Now this denigrating impulse is hitting bedrock — our fundamental organizing mechanism, the elective process itself. It is time for wise men to tremble.

I'm almost convinced. It sounds a lot like Chapter 6: The Death of Authority, in Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy At Home And Abroad.


James Lileks takes a shot Andrew Sullivan's endorsement of Kerry. It's very funny, but Lileks' task is a bit too easy.


Glenn Reynolds' new TCS column is a bit chatty and cluttered, but a couple of his conclusions make good jumping-off points.

And when "making" media is cheap, and an unlimited supply of people are "making it," what happens to journalism? Something that journalists may not like: Journalism, right now, is in the process of reverting to its earlier status as an activity, rather than a profession.

So journalism won't be a profession anymore? It's an interesting thought. Can the middlemen be eliminated in the news-media economy?

Blogs don't do their own reporting, it is said. But is this true?

Take the Iraqi bloggers. They deliver impressions from the Baghdad street straight to American computer screens.

Or take the letters page of Andrew Sullivan, a phenomenon seemingly easy to duplicate. Readers from all over the country write in, usually providing either expertise or on-the-ground experience.

Also, it may become more in the interest of organizations to do their own reporting. Politicians, corporations, government agencies and NGOs will have an interest in doing their own reporting about themselves. Of course, they may have biases, but bloggers will punish them if their self-spin is implausible.

If the blogs can match Big Media on the reporting front (not yet by a long shot), they already have an edge on other fronts (logical thinking, creativity, personality, brains), so they should dominate Big Media. But don't underestimate technological inertia. Millions of people will go on receiving the newspaper on their doorstep, day in, day out.

I don't think the middlemen in the news economy will be eliminated. The NYT and the WaPo will remain. But it's worth thinking through how an economy of public discourse minus the MSM would operate.

Glenn adds that:

[quoting himself] "[I]f Big Media let their position go without a fight to keep it by fair means or foul, they'll be the first example of a privileged group that did so. So beware." I think we're already beginning to see signs of that backlash... and the press establishment's general lack of enthusiasm for free speech for others (as evidenced by its support for campaign finance "reform") suggests that it'll be happy to see alternative media muzzled. You want to keep this media revolution going? Be ready to fight for it.

Hmm. The Communists in Eastern Europe in 1989 are one privileged group that pretty much gave up their position without a fight. Still, point taken. But it's hard to imagine the press establishment urging that blogs be forbidden.

However, I wonder if Andrew Sullivan's strange surrender is an indicator of the type of the "fight" that this "media revolution" will face. Having lost a bit of his mojo in the blogosphere (yeah, he still gets tons of readers, but I don't think he convinces them anymore), he seems suddenly eager to embrace the establishment. (But to continue the revolution metaphor and call Sullivan a fifth-columnist would be going too far.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Almost all the editors and contributors at Slate support Kerry, but some of them have awfully negative things to say about them.

Kathleen Kincaid:

On Nov. 2, I will cast my ballot for John Kerry. Is he a strong candidate? No. Do I agree with all his positions? No. Does he truly represent me? No.

Mickey Kaus:

I'm voting for Kerry, mainly because I think Bush is prosecuting the fight against terrorism in a way that will make us dramatically less safe unless we have a conspicuous change at the top. Even if you supported the war in Iraq, now is the time to a) try to preserve our gains in that country and Afghanistan while we b) let the world calm down so that fewer people hate us (and hence fewer people try to come and kill us).

I don't expect Kerry to be a successful president in any other respect. It doesn't matter.

Paul Berman:

I'm voting for Kerry, with no great belief that he will be a first-rate president. I cringe a little at where Kerry's line on terror and Iraq has lately ended up.

Timothy Noah:

Sen. John Kerry is the least appealing candidate the Democrats have nominated for president in my lifetime. I'm 46, so that covers Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Gore. McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis get the worst press in this bunch, but I liked all three of them and still do. I can't pretend to like John Kerry. He's pompous, he's an opportunist, and he's indecisive. Although I'm impressed by Kerry's combat record in Vietnam, I can't suppress the uncharitable suspicion that what drew him there wasn't patriotism so much as a preppy passion for physical challenge and the urge to buff his future political resume.

Still, I'm voting for Kerry. Two main reasons...

If this is what Kerry's supporters think, imagine how his opponents feel.


... I think you'll like this essay. (I wrote it last fall, just posted it tonight.)


If you follow the RealClearPolitics poll-of-polls average, the 3-way spread always seems to be smaller than the 2-way spread. It seems Kerry is better off with Nader in the race. Why?

My theory: when Nader is included in the question, the anybody-but-Nader voters switch to Kerry.


I like how Andrew Sullivan's endorsement of Kerry starts off:

The phrase "lesser of two evils" often comes up at this time every four years, but this November, I think, it's too cynical a formula. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry can be credibly described as "evils." They have their faults, some of which are glaring. They are both second-tier politicians, thrust into the spotlight at a time when we desperately need those in the first circle of talent and vision. But they are not evil. When the papers carry pictures of 50 Iraqi recruits gunned down in a serried row, as Stalin and Hitler did to their enemies, we need have no doubt where the true evil lies. The question before us, first and foremost, is which candidate is best suited to confront this evil in the next four years. In other words: Who is the lesser of two risks?

And the rehash of the case for war, new-and-improved with help from the Duelfer Report, is useful, since so many people are still confused about it:

Equally, [Bush's] presidency can and should be judged on its most fateful decision: to go to war against Iraq without final U.N. approval on the basis of Saddam's stockpiles of weapons and his violation of countless U.N. resolutions. I still believe that his decision was the right one. The only reason we know that Saddam was indeed bereft of such weaponry is because we removed him; we were going to have to deal with the crumbling mafia-run state in the heart of the Middle East at some point; and the objections of the French and Germans and Russians were a function primarily of mischief and corruption. And what we discovered in Iraq--from mass graves to children's prisons to the devastating effect of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqis--only solidifies the moral case for removing the tyrant. The scandal of the U.N. oil-for-food program seals the argument.

But Sullivan's does too much armchair-generalling, he's wrong about which candidate is better on the deficit, and he's paranoid about the social right and Christian fundamentalists. My take on fundamentalism here.

[UPDATE: Andrew is right to mention Abu Ghraib too. He writes:

I would add one more thing: Abu Ghraib. In one gut-wrenching moment, the moral integrity of the war was delivered an almost fatal blow.

My reaction to Abu Ghraib, from last May, here. Do read it. In my opinion, it's one of my best.

As for Sullivan, he doesn't ask this but: has Kerry every mentioned Abu Ghraib? Not that I know of. Why not? He criticizes the president for the Patriot Act. He criticizes him for shifting his attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, even though he advocated that at the time. Yet somehow, supporting democracy in Iraq, supporting democracy in Afghanistan, highlighting human rights abuses, these things just don't occur to Kerry. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. He is a self-confessed war criminal after all. He said in 1971:

"Yes, I committed the same kinds of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed," Kerry said in the sound bite. "I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages."

Yeah. No wonder he doesn't think Abu Ghraib is worth complaining about.]


There are already a lot of reasons to think a Kerry presidency would be a disaster.

Kerry has called the Iraq war a mistake, yet refused to withdraw. He is likely to become a hostage to his own most famous remark, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Kerry calls for more diplomacy and yet insults our allies. If he does stay in Iraq he will have to work with a man his campaign advisor Joe Lockhart dismissed as a puppet.

His compulsive pandering has led him to forswear tax hikes on Americans earning under $200,000, yet he has also promised an expansive health care plan, promised not to cut Social Security benefits, and promised to grow the military. Unless gridlock with a Republican Congress prevents him from fulfilling these promises, Kerry will balloon the deficit even more than Bush did. And Kerry has no plan to deal with the Social Security crisis.

Kerry's disdain for his Republican opponents does not bode well for his ability to work with a probably Republican Congress.

The anybody-but-Bush rationale that holds the Democrats together at president would disappear once Bush was gone, leaving Kerry little real support.

Terrorists and Islamofascists worldwide would celebrate a Kerry win as a victory over their most hated enemy, George W. Bush. "If [international terrorists] succeed [in seeing Bush defeated], they would celebrate a victory against America and the anti-terror coalition, and this could lead to more acts of international terrorism," warned Russian President Putin. Meanwhile, millions of partiotic Americans despise Kerry for "stealing the honor" of Vietnam veterans and would probably withhold from Kerry the automatic loyalty most presidents receive.

Now, add another reason to worry about a Kerry presidency: Kerry will probably be elected with a minority of the popular vote.

Why? Look at the RealClearPolitics' (national) poll of polls. Bush has held a consistent lead since late August. It was at its largest in September, and at its narrowest after the first debate. Now it seems to be holding at around 3%. Polls are sometimes collectively wrong, but if they're right, Bush will win the popular vote by a wider margin than Gore did in 2000.

But the national polls don't matter for the outcome of the election. What matters is the electoral college. RealClearPolitics' electoral college projection is especially interesting this morning. Bush leads 234 to 228. 270 electoral votes are needed to win. Six states are in play.

Let's assume that Kerry takes Ohio. In that case, Bush must win Florida. He probably will. If so, Bush needs Wisconsin, Minnesota, or New Hampshire and New Mexico. On balance, Bush is the likelier winner. But the polls suggest a Kerry victory in the electoral college is very possible.

If Kerry wins the electoral college by the skin of his teeth but loses the popular vote by 3%, it shouldn't affect his mandate. The president is not elected by popular vote in this country, but by the electoral college. It's in the constitution.

The electoral college is counter-intuitive, but there's actually a good reason for it: candidates must have a geographically dispersed base to win. America is fortunate not to be afflicted with the capital-versus-provinces animosities that haunt Argentina, Russia, and many other countries. We are a multi-polar country, with one financial capital (New York), another political capital (Washington, DC), still a different cultural capital (Los Angeles/Hollywood, like it or not), a technology capital (San Francisco/Silicon Valley), an academic capital (Boston/Cambridge), an energy-industry capital (Houston) and so on. We owe this in part to the electoral college, which gives our leaders an incentive to spread the wealth. Democrats can't rack up 90% majorities in the urban Northeast to offset losing everything else. Republicans can't ignore the rest of the country and just super-mobilize the South.

For all that is said about Red America and Blue America, it could be much worse. Each major candidate this year will probably win at least one-quarter to one-third of the vote in every state.

That said, we could change the constitution if we wanted to, and elect the president by popular vote. We haven't done so. Rules is rules.

Unfortunately, the Democrats were poor losers in 2000 and have sneered for four years that Gore really won. They have turned the electoral college into an issue. And it will be very hard for Republicans to resist the logic of "turnabout is fair play."

Monday, October 25, 2004


I went to the Blogjam DC last night, as posted on Andrew Sullivan's blog. Turned out to be a gay blogjam rather than the political blogjam I was expecting. There were some brilliant writers, some sad, some funny, all of them offering more insight into what it's like to be gay than I've ever experienced. One guy bought me a drink, when I still thought it was a political blogjam and had no idea I was being hit on. A few reflections.

For straight people, there's a default life laid out: get an education, find a job, get married, have some kids and raise a family. By that time you're 50, with another two or three decades to kill, worn out and ready for some peace, fat, complacent. You run out the clock.

For gay people, there's no default life. The existential problem is more urgent. Marriage and kids are not an available option. Alienation and misunderstanding haunts relationships with family. Gays are more at risk of loneliness than most people. There's a sense in which they're not needed, not needed by their wives and children, and in the open or hidden opinions of a lot of people, not needed by society. To compensate, their communities have an intimacy which I could sense right away. And because they have to confront the existential problem (why I am here? what should I do? what's the meaning of life?) more urgently, and without traditional familial roles to guide them, they become a bit more interesting than the rest of us, on average.

The intimacy of their community is partly sexual. Gays are to the sexual economy as Americans are to the world economy: they consume far more than others do, and suffer health problems as a result. Many of the stories told were about AIDS. A lot of the people there had AIDS. Maybe that was why people seemed to be more face to face with the existential problem. I've lived in a country in Africa where much of the population suffered from AIDS. The tragedy proceeded silently. I never knowingly saw an AIDS victim. I saw ads for coffins along the road with disturbing frequency. Teachers had died and left swollen classrooms with hundreds of kids. The population was frighteningly young, with a median age of 15, which I noticed right away when a minibus from the City Centre to the Old Town was full of little people who seemed to be mostly under 20. These were the signs. But no one there ever talked to me about having it. Last night's Blogjam gave me some retrospective insights about my time in Africa. About how AIDS affects a life, and a community.

Some people think that homosexuality is a cause of cultural decline. It seemed to me last night (is this a confirmation of the claim?) that the romantic had bled out of heterosexual culture into the gay community. I lived in Russia for a while (a more homophobic culture) and sensed that it was a much more romantic culture than ours. More passionate. More in love with beauty. I love Russia for that. I almost wonder if, as homosexuality becomes more acceptable, straight guys get scared of showing affection for each other, and the strong masculine friendships that are an important element of chivalric culture are weakened. In which case homosexuality is an indirect cause of cultural decline, though it's the straights' fault. This is just speculation, of course.

As a Christian, I believe that homosexuals are sinners... just like the rest of us. That realization diminishes the urgency of the question, is homosexuality a sin. I don't feel called upon to answer it. But I think Jesus, were he to come today, would choose the gays (among others) over upstanding bourgeois Protestants, as he once chose tax collectors and a woman taken in adultery over the Pharisees, and would cure the AIDS victims, and comfort the lonely.

One more event: I met Andrew Sullivan. Face to face. Yeah. His British accent took me by surprise, even though I'd read all about his British public schools and supporting Thatcher and surprising American professors for being a European who loved Reagan and all that. All this time, I'd had a voice in my head when I read his blog, my imaginary Andrew Sullivan brain voice. I read his blog today. The brain voice is still there.


A commenter writes:

...but on gay marriage he is an extremist, writing a strange newspeak where "pro-marriage" means "pro-gay marriage" and anyone reluctant to overturn thousands of years of human tradition is hounded as a dark-age homophobic bigot......but on [interracial] marriage he is an extremist, writing a strange newspeak where "pro-marriage" means "pro-[interracial] marriage" and anyone reluctant to overturn thousands of years of human tradition is hounded as a dark-age [racist]...

Clever but not valid, because the ban on interracial marriage was a local phenomenon in time and space, and never represented thousands of years of human tradition. Race is also a social construct in a way that homosexuality is not. I like to illustrate this with a story from my childhood. In 4th grade I had two friends who were black. I think. The thing is, I don’t remember. I remember that Jason was tall and cool but treated me nice, and I was jealous because Jenn Hull was in love with him, and that Ticora and I were rivals for smartest kid and in choir. I remember Ticora and I were in a class where we read a Kurt Vonnegut story together. I’m sure Jason and Ticora had somewhat darker complexions than I did. But were they black, or Asian, or Mexican, or Arab? I don’t remember. I hadn’t been trained to assign those categories to people based on arbitrary physical features like skin color. You can’t have an analog for that in the case of gays.

Mickey Kaus, though, provides a more persuasive precedent (relevant remark in boldface):

Kerry was puncturing the "hypocrisy" of Bush's position, as some Kerry defenders claim, only if the sole reason to oppose gay marriage is homophobia. I support the idea of experimenting with gay marriage, but surely it's possible to be a non-bigot and be reluctant to immediately tinker with such a venerable social institution (even if modern monogamous marriage is itself a tinkering with the much longer-standing human tradition of polygyny).

The change from polygyny to monogamy is a plausible precedent for a change from heterosexual monogamy to marriage between any two individuals. [UPDATE: I think someone who advocated allowing inter-racial marriage at a time when 90% of the country was against it would be an "extremist." Extremists are sometimes right.]


Sullivan posted this morning:

"THE BETTER BET": The pro-war, increasingly centrist Washington Post endorses Kerry.

Centrist? Pro-war? I beg to differ.

The Washington Post has been on a crusade against Bush ever since the Abu Ghraib scandal last spring. But they are shrewd about it. The WaPo is centrist in the same way that David Brooks is centrist; they know how to play sympathetic to selected arguments and characters from the other side in order to enhance their credibility, but underneath they remain ruthlessly partisan. The contrast between the WaPo and the NYT is instructive. If you read the New York Times, you will learn either nothing (if you resist the spin) or less than nothing (if you succumb to the spin) about the real world. The NYT contains some true facts, of course, but you will forget the facts, and the impression is false. For a conservative or a moderate to read the NYT is all pain, no gain.

The WaPo is a much more dangerous newspaper for conservatives (I mean that as a compliment) because it is worth reading. Its stances are not wholly predictable, since they are influenced the real world. Whereas ideology at the NYT is a blindfold, at the WaPo, it’s a distorting lens. For example—but before I give this example, I should mention that I haven’t read most of the Washington Post’s coverage of Iraq in the past year, since there are better places to get Iraq news, such as Arthur Chrenkoff and Iraqi bloggers like Iraq the Model, Salaam and Zeyad… Still, I’ve read enough to say this: if the Washington Post reported on America in the 1990s the way they reported on Iraq this year, David Koresh would be a resistance hero, Tim McVeigh an insurgent, and Rush Limbaugh an authoritative, venerated commentator voicing popular anger at an arrogant and illegitimate regime. And after all, this is one piece of the truth. That is what the 1990s were like for some Americans. Which is why it is always tempting to read the WaPo, try to de-spin it, and learn something from it.

So by all means, read the WaPo’s endorsement of John Kerry, which summarizes the choice in 2004 pretty well for the most part, but beware of a few traps. I'll highlight one. Says the editorial:

Mr. Bush's rationales have shifted, but his prescription -- tax cuts -- has remained constant, no matter what the cost to future generations. The resulting fiscal deficit has dragged down the national savings rate, leaving the country dependent upon foreigners for capital in an unsustainable way. Mr. Bush says the answer lies in spending discipline, but he has shown none himself; see, for example, the disgusting farm subsidies he signed into law.

Yes, but there's no use punishing the incumbent if the challenger is worse. Of Kerry, the Post writes:

Mr. Kerry, like Mr. Bush, offers no plan to cope with retirement and health costs, but he promises more fiscal realism. He sensibly proposes to reverse Mr. Bush's tax cuts on the wealthiest and pledges to scale back his own spending proposals if funds don't suffice. He would seek to restore budget discipline rules that helped get deficits under control in the 1990s.


On many other issues, Mr. Kerry has the better approach. He has a workable plan to provide health insurance to more Americans; the 45 million uninsured represent a shameful abdication that appears not to have concerned Mr. Bush one whit.

But Kerry cannot be more fiscally responsible than Bush and pass his health care plan. The health care plan costs more than Kerry's tax hikes will raise, and will thus increase rather than reduce the deficit. If you think Kerry will sacrifice his health plan to reduce the deficit, you can support him on fiscal grounds. If you think he'll pass the health care plan, that might be a reason to support him despite the fiscal problems it will cause. But you can't do both.

Also, don't fall for this:

[Kerry] understood early on the dangers of non-state actors such as al Qaeda.

[UPDATE: There's more bashing of the WaPo's wrong spin about the deficit in my whimsical, just update, Social Security reform piece, "Land and Sea:"

In one of the Washington Post's more egregious misrepresentations in recent memory, a headline stated "$3 Trillion Price Tag Left Out as Bush Details His Agenda" This was picked up by blogger Andrew Sullivan as indicating that Bush's proposed second-term domestic agenda would cost $3 trillion. But if you read the article, it said something quite different. Of this $3 trillion, $1 trillion was the "cost" of the extension of the tax cut. Hmm. I probably don't have to explain to anyone that there's a difference between the government spending your money and the government not taking your money.

The other misrepresentation was more understandable. The Post, like everyone else who talks about "transition costs," claimed that if part of younger workers' payroll taxes goes into private accounts, then there will be fewer payroll taxes left over to pay current retirees, which will drain the Social Security "trust fund" (smoke-and-mirrors, that "trust fund," but never mind) and require the government to pay current retirees out of other revenues, either taxing or borrowing. This is true. But at the same time, as younger workers shift to private accounts instead of the traditional Social Security program, the government is being unburdened of future Social Security obligations to these workers. So even if the government borrows all the money it needs to pay current retirees, this will represent no increase in the government's total liabilities.

The Washington Post, then, had it completely wrong. There was actually no "price tag" at all, properly speaking, for the programs they were reporting on. (Other Bush programs do have “price tags,” of course, but overall, the new spending Bush has proposed is small.)]

Sunday, October 24, 2004


In an earlier post, I linked to the scaremongering draft rumor and then added

If anyone would implement a draft, I think Kerry would be more likely to do it than Bush. Kerry is starting to look ever more Nixonesque, after all, insisting that we will stay in a war that he considers a mistake. He mentioned sending troops to Sudan; Bush didn't. And Bush has mostly kept his campaign promises so far, even the bad ones like steel tariffs and the prescription drug benefit. Bush highly values trust, and keeps his word. And he's a party builder, who knows that a draft would destroy the Republican base. Kerry, on the other hand, reverses himself, morally compromises himself right and left, and is a poor tactician who is always getting himself into jams.

I was remiss in expressing this as an off-the-cuff opinion when there was evidence for it. Many thanks to the anonymous commenter who reminded me of this link. I've actually read this before, back in February, and was horrified by it; it's one of the reasons I've hated Kerry so much all this time, and yet I unaccountably neglected to link to it. Here's a quote:

As President, John Kerry will have the courage to lead and call on all Americans to make our nation stronger. Whether it is protecting America from the threats of terrorism or addressing the problems we have at home, America's new challenges will not be met by the same old answers of big government or big tax cuts for the wealthy. John Kerry will call on all Americans - tapping into the idealism and ingenuity of Americans and putting it to work on building a safer, stronger, and more secure nation. Americans already make an enormous difference in their communities, volunteering, in Boys and Girls Clubs or homeless shelters. Many Americans do full time service. John Kerry believes that in these times, we need to bolster these efforts with a nationwide commitment to national service. Whether it is a Summer of Service for our teenagers, helping young people serve their country in return for college, or the Older Americans in Service program, John Kerry's plan will call on every American of every age and every background to serve. John Kerry will set a goal of one million Americans a year in national service within the next decade.

"National service?" In my book this is a draft, even if it's State-side and non-military. And once the principle of self-ownership was violated this way, it's a short step to a military draft. Imagine. In May of your graduating year, the recruiters come to your high school, some from the military, some from the national service board. "So where would you like to do your service? Go to the military and you'll learn some valuable skills. You can be a hero. Or you can work on the highway. Which will it be?"

It gets worse. The Investor's Business Daily reports that:

As John Kerry barnstorms swing states in the election's final days, he has harsh words for President Bush on the Patriot Act: It doesn't go far enough.

Kerry and other Democrats who once called the law, which gives the federal government sweeping powers to fight terrorism in the U.S., a threat to the Constitution are now praising it.

The shift is likely because the act remains popular. A Gallup poll earlier this year found 64% said the act was "about right" or "didn't go far enough."

I don't know much about the Investor's Business Daily. I pray that it's a partisan hack paper, and this is just spin that can't be trusted. If it's true, it's very grim news.

My position is: I think the Patriot Act is a useful law-enforcement tool, which probably keeps us safer from the terrorists, and may be the reason there was no repeat of 9/11, and I think the Bushies are good people whom I trust not to abuse the powers it grants; but I still oppose the Act, because in the long run an oppressive government is far more dangerous than terrorism, and if/when the Patriot Act powers fall into the hands of bad future presidents, wicked deeds could happen.

Power corrupts. Suppose roving wiretaps enabled Clinton to discover Linda Tripp's impending treachery before she went public. There would be a temptation to, say, assassinate her to protect his legacy. I don't think Clinton would do that, but I also believe that even the best of us are capable of wicked crimes under strong pressure and when we think we can get away with it. The Patriot Act would make this easier.

Bush said in the second debate that he doesn't think the Patriot Act infringes our rights. Kerry said it does. I agree with Kerry. Except that Kerry voted for the Patriot Act. So which would you rather have, a man who respects people's rights as he understands them but whose views about what rights we have is somewhat authoritarian; or a man who understands civil liberties but will violate them for his political advantage?

The problem is not that Kerry flip-flops. Flip-flopping can be good. Clinton's post-1994 flip-flop was the making of his presidency. But Kerry flip-flops on issues of conscience. Or rather, on what are issues of conscience to other people. I'm waiting for evidence that the word "conscience" can be applied to Senator Kerry. [UPDATE: But I don't think Kerry really will pass a draft, so maybe I should calm down. Josh Claybourne rebukes the draft rumor.]


C.S. Lewis once compared the humor of G.K. Chesteron to a swordsman, whose blade gleams brightly in the sun, not because he is showing off, but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. The same words apply to Mark Steyn, one of the few people in our times who gets it. You'll rarely get the chance to read something that packs in so many sound positions in such a devastating and hilarious way.


Is it just me, or has Andrew Sullivan improved sharply in the past few days, since linking to my Judas column? It's just me, of course! In the words of William Blake

I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

Judging by the commenters who liked the piece a lot (though some disagreed), I think I was speaking for a lot of people. [UPDATE: If you didn't read the article, link here.] [UPDATE II: And there no doubt was some, as Sullivan wrote in an e-mail to me, "hyperbole."]

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Don't miss Mickey Kaus exposing the spin in this WaPo story. The IRI reports the poll in question quite favorably:

IRI's latest Iraq public opinion poll, fielded between September 24 and October 4, 2004, suggests that the Iraqi public remains optimistic about the country's future and determined to hold elections in January 2005.

Despite the continuation of terrorist violence, which the IRI poll indicates has eroded confidence in the Interim Iraqi Government and support for the Interim Prime Minister, over 64 percent of Iraqi's believe that their lives will improve over the next 12 months. Only 15 percent expressed a fear that their life will get worse.

The positive long-term outlook may reflect the strong belief that the horrors of the past will not repeat themselves. While many observers and commentators have discussed the possibility of intensified inter-ethnic violence or even civil war, Iraqis remain confident that such will not be the case. Well over two-thirds of poll respondents claim that the prospect of civil war is "not realistic". An additional 14.8 percent believe such a catastrophe is "always possible, but unlikely".

Iraqis by and large also disagree with those that continue to doubt the likelihood of national elections taking place as planned by the end of January. Over 58 percent of those polled believe that elections will, in fact, be held by the January 31st deadline. Not only do Iraqis expect the elections to take place, they also plan to participate in large numbers. Over 85 percent of respondents say they are determined to cast their ballots in this historic election.

It has been reported that IRI's poll found "religious parties" and their leaders to be most popular with potential Iraqi voters. In fact, the poll found less than 40 percent of Iraqis indicating any level of support for a political party, and no single party receiving more than 8 percent support.

IRI's poll also suggests that Iraqi voters are far less attracted by politically militant forms of Islam than many in the West have suggested. While 40 percent of poll respondents indicated that the endorsement of a cleric or religious organization would make them more likely to support a candidate, 52 percent of respondents expressed the opinion that religion and government should respect each other, but remain separate.

Moreover, those that said their vote could be influenced by the opinion of religious leaders overwhelmingly indicated that more moderate leaders would be most likely to influence them. When asked, for example, which Cleric might sway their vote, over 53 percent cited Ali Al-Sistani, who has clearly expressed his support for democratic reform in Iraq. The militant Muqtada al-Sadr, by way of contrast, was mentioned by only 5 percent of respondents.

As the world's attention turns to American politics, the Iraqi people continue to look forward to elections and to putting the foundation in place for a new democracy and a brighter future. IRI, as part of its overall program to support these noble objectives, will continue to conduct periodic opinion polls as a means of helping Iraqis and non-Iraqis better understand the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The religious leaders don't worry me. While I support the worldwide spread of freedom and to a lesser extent democracy, when it comes to separation of church and state I'm a cultural relativist. I support it here for traditional reasons, but I don't think the concept would make sense in our cultures, nor, ultimately, does it make sense in ours. I think Iraqis, including clerics, are smart enough to realize that Iran is not a model worth following. The trouble with secularists is that they don't understand religion and have all sorts of lurid fantasies about it; hence the WaPo story's negative spin.

I suspect that democracy won't be all that popular among Iraqis once they get it. Let a beggar dine at a rich man's table every day, and soon he'll be complaining that the steak is too dry and the rolls are not warm enough to melt the butter and why are the chefs taking so long? People get used to improvements quickly and forget them.


People find my idea that Bush will show up in Iran and normalize relations a bit "fantastic." But if you told me in 2000 that both the Taliban and Saddam would be removed from power within three years, by US troops, and elections would be held in Afghanistan, that would have seemed like fantasy then.

My own perception is that the Bush administration's foreign-policy intuition has been uncannily brilliant, but the commentators are too muddle-headed and thick-skulled to get it. Take the Duelfer Report. That Saddam didn't have WMDs, but intended to get them as soon as the sanctions were lifted, is often taken as a partial vindication of the Iraq war, but it would have been better if there were WMDs. On the contrary. If Saddam had had WMDs, he would have used them against us in the war, and it would have been very costly. The best time to attack is precisely when he plans to get them but doesn't have them yet.

Or, again, the lack of a plan to win the peace is often taken as evidence of Bush administration failure. But because we lacked a plan, we were able to let Iraqi leaders like Sistani and Allawi emerge.

Contrast Bosnia and Kosovo with Afghanistan and Iraq. The Balkans, going on ten years later, remain protectorates, with foreign troops staying to prevent the outbreak of violence among groups whose hatreds linger-- on Europe's doorstep. But Afghanistan, land of warlords and mujahideen and opium and abysmal literacy rates, is holding elections; and Iraq will be come January, Allawi will see to that!

My rule is: Figure out a smart but bold policy solution; Bush will probably adopt it. It's worked for me so far at least half the time. And I think talks with Iran to end the war with radical Islam (at some well-chosen moment when we're in a position of maximum strength) would be a smart move.


Christophers Hitchens' endorsement of Bush and Dan Drezner's endorsement of Kerry make for an interesting contrast. If conservatives are going over to Kerry, I suspect that it may be the less appealing kind of conservatives. The lefties coming over to Bush, meanwhile, are the cream of the crop. [UPDATE: On second thought, I shouldn't have suggested that Dan Drezner is the "less appealing kind of conservative." I like Dan: his nerd-professor persona is funny and he's certainly right about trade. By "less appealing kind of conservatives," I really meant John Mearsheimer. I had to read a bit of his book The Tragedy of the Great Powers for a class I was thinking of taking at Harvard. I dropped the class right away, and I didn't finish the book, quickly perceiving that my time could be better spent, but I've hardly ever read anything more repellent. And, despite the "realist" label of the school, more surreal. Meanwhile, the epitome of the "less appealing kind of conservative" is Pat Buchanan, and he endorsed Bush.]

Friday, October 22, 2004


A commenter remarks, in response to my piece "Bush's Second Term":

That is perhaps one of best thought out, logical optimistic fantasies I've ever read. But, I am just enough of an optimist to believe it has a smidgen of a chance of coming to pass... but what about the anguished insanity that will occur the day, or night, Bush is declared re-elected? How much, if any, of the vitriol will be expressed in a revengeful, obstructionist congress?

That's up to the Democrats. I am of the opinion that it is the Democrats who have refused the chance for moderation in the past two years. Moderate critiques were available and would have served them better. They chose extreme ones instead. Some examples:

Moderate critique: The recession was just part of the normal business cycle, after a ten-year boom. It wasn't terribly deep, and now the economy is growing strongly. Overall, the economy has grown rather than shrunk, so we're not poorer. Still, Bush's economic management has been a bit subpar. Clinton did better, no? Let's go back to balanced budgets and get that New Economy shine back!

Extreme critique: This is the worst economy since President Hoover, and it's all Bush's fault! (see The Democrats Cry Wolf.)

Moderate critique: We took out one of the world's nastiest regimes-- good. A lot of people have their freedom, sort of-- good. There were no WMDs, but everybody thought there were-- no score. Yet really, we paid a very high price in diplomatic capital, soldiers' lives, and money. Even with WMDs, Iraq wouldn't have been a huge threat. And if we think of this as a humanitarian mission, there were probably better uses for the money. Let's agree to have no regrets, but even so... maybe we should plot a different course for the years ahead.

Extreme critique: This was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time! Bush lied, people died. It was all a mistake. It's a quagmire. A second Vietnam! We're gonna lose, whatever that means!

Moderate critique: The Patriot Act gave law-enforcement agencies useful powers and probably helped us to prevent a second terrorist attack, but at the cost of some sacrifice of civil liberties. While it was an understandable move in a time of emergency, we should bear in mind that in the long run an oppressive government is more of a threat than terrorists are. We need to restore some checks and balances.

Extreme critique: John Ashcroft is a fascist! The Patriot Act is an Orwellian device which is turning us into a totalitarian state! The government is treating us all like suspects!

I think the Democrats would be in a better position if they'd used the moderate critiques, but who knows? Maybe hyperbole and slander work. That's why a Bush landslide this year would be a wonderful thing. It would force the Democrats to embrace moderation, to look for the center, to rediscover the role of loyal opposition, to re-invent themselves. To be the party of Clinton.

Will they?

We have one good political party in this country. We need two.


This blogger asked me to help him spread the word about a supposedly neutral but actually Kerry-slanted flyer distributed on campuses. I don't have time at the moment to form my own judgment but you can.

There are some articles promoting the draft rumor.

If the editorial writers of the New York Times are talking about a new draft that would send young men and women to die in the deserts of Iraq fighting crazy religious fanatics, then the idea is certainly being whispered about in the upper echelons of American society. A draft would not be proposed before the election -- if it were, Bush would be wiped out in a landslide. But a wise person would not bet against the draft being proposed next January.

I have a friend in the military who insisted with great vehemence that the military hates the idea of the draft. "Everything we do is based on people wanting to be here," he said. The volunteer army has been winning wars; the last conscript army we had lost one.

If anyone would implement a draft, I think Kerry would be more likely to do it than Bush. Kerry is starting to look ever more Nixonesque, after all, insisting that we will stay in a war that he considers a mistake. He mentioned sending troops to Sudan; Bush didn't. And Bush has mostly kept his campaign promises so far, even the bad ones like steel tariffs and the prescription drug benefit. Bush highly values trust, and keeps his word. And he's a party builder, who knows that a draft would destroy the Republican base. Kerry, on the other hand, reverses himself, morally compromises himself right and left, and is a poor tactician who is always getting himself into jams.

Follow the pattern here. Kerry opposed Reagan. Now he quotes him. Kerry supported the Patriot Act. Now he's against it. Kerry opposed the tax cut. Now he wants more tax cuts for the middle class. Kerry supported the war in Iraq. Now he's against it. Kerry opposed the $87 billion for the troops. Now he's sort of for it. Kerry opposes the draft...


Who's Salaam? An Iraqi blogger, who has this must-read for every American voter:

Hi Friends,

Actually, the American elections are rather more crucial for us at the moment than our own . That is not to belittle the importance of the latter, but taking a really hard look at the present situation, one cannot escape this conclusion. This statement may annoy a lot of people, but we are not particularly concerned about sensitivities at the moment. The thing is that we have to admit that despite the fact that most emphatically, the majority of the Iraqi people are for the new Iraq, and that the “insurrectionists” do not represent but a small minority, nevertheless the balance of forces on the ground would be seriously upset were it not for the support of the American and allied forces and nations. This small minority is dangerous, desperate, ruthless and absolutely prepared to commit any kind of atrocity to further their aims and vent their spleen, as has been clearly demonstrated almost everyday. They are well financed and connected with parties and interests beyond the border who consider it a matter of life and death to thwart all U.S. efforts and abort this attempt at creating a democratic state in the area. There are even larger international forces at work behind the regional players. So with all these foes it cannot be expected that the fledgling new Iraqi state and the largely peaceful and unarmed people can withstand the assault on their own in the present stage of development. It is a foregone conclusion that any abandonment or retreat would result in the most catastrophic consequences both for the Iraqi people as well as within the context of the wider global war on terrorism. Having said that, it is also important, to ease the burden on the Multi National Forces and keep them as much as possible out of harms way and stop the losses altogether. This can be done by transferring as much of the routine tasks to the Iraqis while keeping the MNF in secure bases from which they can be deployed for strategic tasks. For us, they are a most valuable asset and must be shielded and used only with the utmost care and parsimony. I believe it is possible to devise such a strategy and that it can be implemented.

Now, do we have a right, as Iraqis to express our opinion about the U.S. elections, which are of course an entirely internal affair for the American people? Or are they?
It seems to me, that since this matter is going to have a direct impact on our lives and very existence and since the U.S. government and people have seen fit to intervene and initiate this profound revolution in our country; it would not be extravagant nor incorrect for us even to demand to take part in those elections, rhetorically speaking of course.

So, I have been, personally very attentive to the debates and positions of both candidates, and I have some thoughts which I would like to share with you, my American friends. To start with, Senator Kerry may be a very good man and quite patriotic. Also we have to respect the almost 50% of the American people who lean towards the democrats. I don’t know much about domestic issues in the States so naturally, as might be expected, the position of any Iraqi would be mainly influenced by the issue that most concerns him. Thus, regardless of all the arguments of both candidates the main problem is that President Bush now represents a symbol of defiance against the terrorists and it is a fact, that all the enemies of America, with the terrorists foremost, are hoping for him to be deposed in the upcoming elections. That is not to say that they like the democrats, but that they will take such an outcome as retreat by the American people, and will consequently be greatly encouraged to intensify their assault. The outcome here on the ground in Iraq seems to be almost obvious. In case President Bush loses the election there would be a massive upsurge of violence, in the belief, rightly or wrongly, by the enemy, that the new leadership is more likely to “cut and run” to use the phrase frequently used by some of my readers. And they would try to inflict as heavy casualties as possible on the American forces to bring about a retreat and withdrawal. It is crucial for them to remove this insurmountable obstacle which stands in their way. They fully realize that with continued American and allies’ commitment, they have no hope of achieving anything.

On the other hand if President Bush is reelected, this will prove to them that the American people are not intimidated despite all their brutality, and that their cause is quite futile. Yes there is little doubt that an election victory by President Bush would be a severe blow and a great disappointment for all the terrorists in the World and all the enemies of America. I believe that such an outcome would result in despair and demoralization of the “insurgent elements” here in Iraq, and would lead to the pro-democracy forces gaining the upper hand eventually. Note that we are not saying that President Bush is perfect, nor even that he is better than the Senator, just that the present situation is such that a change of leadership at this crucial point is going to send an entirely wrong message to all the enemies. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many in the U.S. don’t quite appreciate how high the stakes are. The challenge is mortal, and you and we are locked in a War, a National Emergency; and in such circumstances partisan considerations must be of secondary importance. If you lose this war, you are no more, and you will have to withdraw within you boundaries cringing and waiting for terror to strike you in your homeland, afraid to move around, afraid to travel, afraid to do business abroad. You will have to see all your friends abroad annihilated and intimidated and nobody will have any confidence or trust in you anymore. And you will have to watch from far with bitterness the forces of darkness and evil taking over in many parts of this earth, with feelings of impotence and inability to do anything about it. In other words you would lose all credibility, and the fiends of terror and obscurantism would go triumphantly dancing the macabre dance of mayhem and death, and darkness would descend and obliterate the light and the hope. You think I am exaggerating, you think I am being paranoid? I just pray that destiny would not prove all these things; I pray that these horrors will not come to pass. And all this for what? For failing to confront few thousands ex-baathists and demented religious fanatics and some common criminals, concentrated in some rural areas of a country of the size of just one of your states; and that for a nation that has defeated Natzism, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Empire!

Well if Senator Kerry is such a good man, and he may well be, then it would be prudent to wait just another four years to elect him, after the job is done. And if this is interference in your national affairs by a foreigner, I am not going to give you any apology for it.


Salaam has a great sense of history, and tends to post thoughts of the profound variety, while also relevant. Keep an eye on his site.


The goods news is: last I checked, I've had almost 4000 page views. That was before Andrew linked to me.

The bad news is: if I had to pick an article to hit it big, it wouldn't have been this one. But so be it.

Here's Andrew's answer:

NOW, I'M JUDAS: Here's an over-wrought attack on yours truly as the Judas of Bush-supporters. Please. Oh, and I'm also "Zarqawi's microphone." Actually, I'm even more important that that: "I suspect Andrew Sullivan has done more damage to the president, and more help to Kerry, than George Soros and MoveOn with all their billions." My power, it frightens me. A simpler explanation is that I'm a blogger who tries to call things as I see them. When facts change, I try and adjust. I never believed the Iraq liberation would be this botched; and it behooves those of us who supported it to be accountable. (God knows, the Bush administration won't take responsibility.) I've learned in life that error is not something to be afraid of. But fear of admitting error is. And so my mounting misgivings about this administration are simply a function of watching and thinking. I could be wrong again - especially about Iraq. (I've enthused about progress in Afghanistan and wherever I can find it) All I can say is: I hope to God I am wrong. And if I am, and my worries turn out to be baseless and Bush pulls this off somehow, I will not stint in giving myself multiple retroactive Von Hoffmann awards. Promise. Nothing would give me more pleasure. And if Bush wins the election, I will draw a line below all of this and do all I can to support a war I believe in. But first: accountability. And the truth, as far as I can see it.

Okay, first, I'm amazed at the efficiency of the blogosphere! When I wrote this article a week ago, I would never have imagined that it would get four pageviews, let alone 4,000.

Second, this was a quick lesson in how "soundbites" get picked out and spun through the web in a manner that might be somewhat unfair. My first reaction to this commenter who wrote

After reading articles from your blog and your 'Judas' article on Andrew Sullivan, I've come to the conclusion that I will vote for Sen. Kerry. Even though I'm a Republican, I don't consider myself an evangelical, or right wing, however supporting Pres. Bush is something I cannot do. The virulence of the most of the Blogs on both the right and the left do more trashing than discussion; all say anyone who disagrees with them are traiters or a Judas (your money quote). Your 'Judas' article (no matter how you may view yourself, right, left,or centrist)does much to undermine any balanced approach that is referenced on the blog. Your caustic rebuke of Mr. Sullivan has made my choice easier. I'm sure you will label me a Judas, and if so, I will wear it with pride

was to think that he hadn't understood the subtlety of the piece. No, I won't call this commenter a Judas, and I'm not calling Andrew Sullivan a Judas either, in the sense of "a traitor, like history's most famous traitor." After all, there's another side to the piece: I was trying to use a contemporary figure (Andrew Sullivan) to cast light on a historical figure who has been too much maligned, Judas Iscariot. I claim, for example, that Judas did not realize he was betraying Jesus to his death. I emphasize that Judas made the admirable step of following Jesus in the first place.

Let me add that the greatest tragedy in Judas's life (in my opinion) was not that he betrayed Jesus. It was that he killed himself in despair afterwards. If he had only waited three days, he could have been embraced by Jesus and forgiven. Years later, after Judas had joined the apostles in preaching the Gospel, after Judas was martyred by Nero after many years of successful missions, Jesus would greet Judas at the Pearly Gates, and the memory that Judas had betrayed Jesus would have been something they'd laugh about together, in joy. That was my point, too. Isn't that something worth writing?

But to this defense, my commenter might answer, "Yeah, you can claim it was subtle and so on, but you knew 'Judas' would be the 'money quote.' All that subtlety, including your first line, 'I want to begin with a few words in defense of Judas Iscariot,' was just for plausible deniability when you got labelled an extremist."

To which I would answer, I'm new at this. And anyway, I would never have believed that Andrew would be linking to me a week later.

I was impressed by Andrew's response. One commenter says:

Your "Judas" article is magnificent. It didn't change my vote, but provided a much needed justification for why I should continue to read AS.

Yeah, me too. I haven't read Sullivan much lately, but I will now. Honestly, I still do admire the guy. And honestly, I really do have nothing against Judas Iscariot, other than the deepest pity. I think Andrew was complimented by my piece. And he should be: it's full of praise for him, after all. Consider it a longer version of Mickey's criticism, that Andrew's "too excitable." And I sure am complimented by the link!

Comment freely. E-mail is also welcome.

By the way, some more initiatives. I was thinking of inviting other people to join the LancelotFinn blog (not the web page). I'll be the boss for now, but if you think you have some good writing skills and you want to get on board a blog that may be picking up a fair number of links, send me an e-mail, a description of yourself, and a writing sample. This might be a bad idea, but it's worth a try. I would love to make this a collaborative effort.