Monday, January 28, 2008

What Impressed Me This Week: 935 Lies

Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. -- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

No WIMTW next week; I'm on the road. But if you happen to be in Quincy, Illinois on Sunday, you can hear me preach at the Unitarian church. The text will show up on my religious blog sometime after I get home.
Let Me Count the Ways
In this quantitative age it seems like nothing is really real until it's been counted. Well, this week the deceptions that led to the invasion of Iraq became a little more real: The Center for Public Integrity released its tabulation of the lies told by top Bush administration officials to promote and justify the invasion of Iraq. They found 935 lies in the two years following 9/11. The lies are broken down by speaker and subject, and there's a precise little bar graph totaling them up month by month. (The graph has two peaks: September, 2002 as Congress was debating the resolution to authorize the war, and February, 2003 as the last feeble attempts at peace-making were being swatted aside.)

Now, the charge that Bush, Cheney & Associates lied us into the Iraq War is not new. There are at least three standard responses to it:
  • Outrage. I've seen Bill O'Reilly do this more than once. Merely saying out loud that Bush lied marks you as such a rabid partisan that you're not worth listening to. Somebody who plays the outrage card right never has to look at the evidence at all.
  • Complete Denial. There's no way to discuss the evidence without admitting that administration officials said a lot of things that turned out not to be true. But the complete deniers say that those were all honest mistakes; the real fault lies with the CIA, which was giving the White House bad intelligence. Complete deniers usually point to similar statements by Clinton officials, or by the Germans or the French. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino (starting at about the 3 minute mark in this video) said this about the "flaws" in the CPI study: "They only looked at members of the administration rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world. Because as you remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence."
  • Partial Denial. Pro-war pundits and bloggers sometimes admit that a certain amount of deception was at work, but say that the cheerleading for the invasion was merely "spin" -- the kind of deception that is routine in Washington, not nearly rising to the level of "lies." And they're this close to being right: Bush frequently implied false statements without actually saying them -- like all the times when he put "Saddam" and "9-11" in the same sentence without directly saying that they were linked. "I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America," Bush said on March 20, 2006. When you think about it, that was an unintentional confession. Honest people don't have to be "very careful" not to say something they know is false. But you do have to be "very careful" if you want to put a false idea into someone's head without actually saying it.
Outrage continues to work as well as it ever did, but neither kind of denial stands up when you look at the statements that the CPI is calling lies.

What the intelligence services were saying before the invasion boils down to this: Saddam had poison gas in the early 90s and used it against the Kurds. He claimed to have gotten rid of it, but no one could verify that claim. Iraqi defectors with an ax to grind against Saddam told stories about other weapons programs, but the CIA did not consider them reliable sources. (That didn't stop Colin Powell from quoting them to the UN, saying: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.") Saddam supported Palestinian terrorists, but he and Al Qaeda had different objectives and we could find no reliable evidence of a working relationship between them. Stories of attempts to import material for a nuclear program popped up occasionally: Some of them had been shown to be false, like the report of a uranium buy in Niger. Others, like the aluminum tubes, were hotly debated within our intelligence community; some experts (who ultimately proved to be correct) argued that the tubes weren't suitable for a nuclear program and had other uses. There was no evidence whatever that Saddam was planning an attack against the United States.

Having read such reports, Vice President Cheney said this: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." That's not an honest mistake. That's not spin. Simply stated, there is no doubt that Vice President Cheney is a liar.

On June 11, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld said:

I was asked a question about Iraq announcing the day before that they do not have weapons of mass destruction, and they asked me what I thought about that. I said "That's a lie," and I may have said even that "That's a world-class lie."

Now that's true; it is a lie. They do have weapons of mass destruction. They've used chemical weapons on their people, they have had an aggressive program to develop nuclear weapons, and there is no question that they are developing biological weapons. Now why did I say that? I said that because it is true. The truth has a certain virtue, it seems to me.

A lot gets shoved under the rug when Bush-defenders point to the other people who believed that Saddam had WMDs. Many people believed he still had poison gas left over from the early 90s. But if that was the whole story, then time was on our side -- just keep him contained as his weapons get older and less reliable. (That was my position at the time of the invasion.) The case for an immediate invasion depended on further assertions: Saddam was making new and better WMDs, so we had to attack now before they came on line. (As Paul Wolfowitz said on May 25, 2002: "They [the Iraqis] are working on more [WMDs], and the longer we wait, the longer it takes, the more such weapons they'll have.") Or Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda, so we needed to act before his WMDs made it into their arsenal. Those further assertions were not supported by the intelligence, and most of the experts who believed in Saddam's left-over poison gas either didn't believe them or had serious doubts.

The coolest feature of the CPI's report is the searchable database of administration statements, false or otherwise. I searched the false statements for the phrase "no doubt" and got 17 hits. And that, I think, is the meta-lie of the whole propaganda campaign: that our intelligence about Iraq ever provided the kind of certainty our government should demand before it starts shooting people.

The FISA Debate Gets Confusing
I'm unable to find the exact quote, but I have dim memories of some 19th-century commodities trader comparing the gyrations of the wheat market to watching men wrestle under a blanket: You can tell that something is happening, but you can't tell what. Well, that's how I feel about this week's FISA maneuvering in the Senate.

Here's what I do know: In August Congress passed the Protect America Act (love those names), which amended FISA to increase the President's power to spy. I was at the YearlyKos convention when this happened, and it was widely perceived there as a betrayal by the Democrats in Congress. The Democrats did manage to put a six-month sunset on the bill and promised to undo the worst of it. Instead, six months later, we're looking at a bill that not only makes the August concessions permanent, but also includes amnesty for the telecom companies who helped the administration illegally spy on American citizens without a warrant. (If that characterization is unfair, then there's no need for amnesty.)

Last week, Harry Reid seemed to be doing everything he could to carry water for the administration while appearing not to. He brought the administration's version of bill to the floor rather than an alternative that didn't have the amnesty provision, under rules that made it hard to amend. It looked like another Democratic capitulation was inevitable.

And then on Thursday, the Republicans apparently upped the ante. They did some further maneuvering to impede the passage of the bill, presumably so that President Bush could use Congress' inaction as an issue in the State of the Union address tonight. The Democrats seem to have had a reaction of "How dare you refuse to accept our surrender?" It looks like they got annoyed. There's an important vote later this afternoon about sustaining Senator Dodd's filibuster. If there aren't 60 votes to close off debate, the Senate will be all but forced to pass another temporary extension that doesn't include amnesty.

President Bush has threatened to veto such an extension, but that's a little like the scene in Blazing Saddles where the sheriff faces down a mob by taking himself hostage. Bush has been telling us for months that we're all going to die if his spying powers are allowed to lapse. He'll look ridiculous if he vetoes them.

Anyway, that's as clear as I can make it. Glenn Greenwald has more detail. The best place to keep up with events on this issue is on the FireDogLake blog.

BTW: Glenn points out an important piece of the spin war on this issue: Republicans are trying to push the false idea that FISA itself is expiring on February 1. It isn't. Only the extensions to FISA that got made in August are expiring. So if you're listening to the news and you hear something about FISA expiring, you know that you're listening to a lazy reporter who'd rather push administration spin than look up the facts.

The Horse Race
Interesting times in the Democratic presidential race. Just when it looked like Hillary Clinton was inevitable again, Obama won South Carolina with a margin that is hard to ignore. I've heard a lot of coverage of Bill Clinton's remarks reminding us that "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice." And more than one Clinton supporter has told me that Bill stepped over the line there. The Sunday talk shows were all about the theory that Bill is hurting Hillary's campaign.

The Obama campaign has done a good job of building momentum since then with high-profile endorsements. As I write this, Ted Kennedy is endorsing Obama and appears willing to campaign extensively for him. In Sunday's New York Times, Caroline Kennedy gave Obama the highest praise she can bestow: A President Like My Father. And an endorsement that is very interesting to political wonks like me is apparently coming from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius after she's done giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union. Sebelius is a fascinating character. She's made Kansas a two-party state again by taking advantage of the disillusionment of moderate Kansas Republicans. In both of her elections, she ran with a former Republican as her lieutenant governor -- two different ones.

Now, when it comes down to Obama vs. Clinton, I'm rooting for Obama. But we need to remember that all this sturm and drang is an artifact of the campaign. Before you vote, try to put all the who-did-what-to-who out of your mind and think about who you want to be president.

On the Republican side, it looks to me like Romney is going to catch McCain in Florida, and from there who knows? Huckabee had a chance to expand his appeal in a populist direction, but it hasn't worked: He's the evangelical candidate and nothing more. Giuliani has run maybe the worst campaign of modern times, so unless the McCain and Romney campaign planes collide in mid-air, it's over for him.

Studying the exit polls, I've concluded that Romney has re-assembled the voters who elected Bush. If you think Bush basically had the right policies, but you're looking for somebody to execute and communicate them better -- then you're for Romney. Among Republicans, that's probably a majority. But I think it will result in a Democratic landslide in November.

Short Notes
This story is just too good and too symbolic: President Bush has had a painting on his wall since his days as governor of Texas. It shows a rider on horseback galloping up a trail, with a couple other people in the background. Bush believed that this painting, called "A Charge to Keep," was based on a Charles Wesley hymn whose name is similar. He seemed to think the rider was a Methodist missionary in the old West. But in fact it is an illustration for a Saturday Evening Post story from 1916. It shows a horse thief escaping a lynch mob. That's about how I would like to see Bush leave Washington next January. I don't want the mob to catch him, but they should come really, really close.

The Mike Huckabee squirrel-frying story is silly, but for some reason it's irresistible. (Maybe this is how conservatives feel about John Edwards' hair.) In this clip, Slate Video examines whether it really is possible to fry a squirrel in a popcorn popper.

The recount of the New Hampshire primary vote found what most New Hampshirites expected: The count wasn't perfect, but it was so close that the mistakes didn't matter. There was no evidence of an intent to falsify the totals. But I'm glad Dennis Kucinich demanded and paid for the recount. Hand recounts of a few random precincts ought to be standard procedure for any machine-counted ballots.

If you had planned and promoted a disastrous war, and then got booted from your next job for giving lucrative favors to your lover, you might expect to be unemployed for a while. But that's because you're not part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. After leaving the World Bank in disgrace in May, Paul Wolfowitz landed on his feet, taking a job with the conservative American Enterprise Institute on July 2. But that was just a place to wait for the dust to settle. This week he got a new position at the State Department, as head of the International Security Advisory Board, which reports to Condoleezza Rice. You don't have to be competent, you just have to be loyal. The VRWC will take care of you.

In order to fill the ranks, the Army has to keep lowering its standards for recruits. But counter-insurgency requires a smarter, more insightful soldier than ever before. Over on Slate, Fred Kaplan explains why something has to give.

You know how the public is supposed to be even more disgusted with Congress than with President Bush? It depends on what question you ask. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked: "Who do you want to see take the lead role in setting policy for the country: George W. Bush or the Congress?" Answer: Congress 62%, Bush 21%.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What Impressed Me This Week: Krugman's Conscience

This week I finally deliver on my promise to review Paul Krugman's new book The Conscience of a Liberal. If you don't like mine, DHinMI also reviewed the book on DailyKos.

Paul Krugman's New Book
In a readable, 273-page book, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman retells the political/economic history of the United States from the Gilded Age until today. He does it to make a point: The amount of economic inequality in America is largely a political decision, not a result of impersonal economic forces. America became a middle-class society fairly quickly in response to the New Deal, and inequality has grown back to Gilded Age proportions because of the conservative economic policies that have been dominant since Ronald Reagan.

It's easy to imagine two ways to make this argument: In a 900-page tome dense with economic jargon and mathematics, or in a breezy polemic that sounds plausible but has no connection to rigorous thought. Krugman does neither. I wish I had a comparison that would be meaningful to a wider group of people, but what Conscience reminds me of most is the kind of discussion that used to happen every spring in Bill James' Baseball Abstract. James revolutionized the way we look at baseball -- the recent Red Sox teams were largely built on his principles -- by testing baseball's folklore against its statistics. It turned out that a lot of the stuff that "everybody knows" was wrong. And instead of inspiring a wonky priesthood that could feel superior to the game, James made those ideas accessible to enough people to change the way baseball is actually played. (The reason you don't see as many sacrifice bunts as you used to, for example, is that in most situations a guy on second with one out is actually a little less likely to score than a guy on first with nobody out. Who knew?)

Today, our national conversation about economics is full of folklore: A rising tide lifts all boats. Tax cuts pay for themselves by encouraging growth. Free trade creates more jobs than it destroys. Regulation gums up the natural efficiency of the market. Government spending is wasteful. The current stress on the middle class is nobody's fault; it's due to impersonal forces like globalization and technology.

Is any of it true? It's hard for the ordinary person to say. Those statements sound plausible. There might be a universe that works that way. But does ours? If you challenge this received wisdom, you're met with just-so stories about clever entrepreneurs who create new industries or self-important bureaucrats who write rules no one can fulfill. The stories may even be true, but maybe there are other stories that would make the opposite point, if only you knew them.

Meanwhile, there's academic economics, full of complex statistics and mathematical models you can't manage without a computer. Does any of that analysis say anything that voters can understand and use? (It turns out that occasionally it does: Tax cuts don't pay for themselves. This has been modeled five ways from Sunday, and it just doesn't work. It's no accident that both the Reagan and the Bush tax cuts led to huge deficits, while the Clinton tax increase created a surplus.)

Paul Krugman is bridging this gap.

The story without the numbers. The overall story Krugman tells can be understood without any statistics: When America was founded, it (like all other western countries at the time) had a great deal of inequality. For the next century and a half, economic growth benefited the social classes more-or-less equally, so that while America as a whole got richer, the gap between rich and poor stayed roughly the same and the middle class remained small. This persisted right up to the Great Depression, when the working class got desperate enough to throw its political weight behind a truly radical program, the New Deal. The New Deal created the safety net of social security and unemployment insurance; established a minimum wage; made government the ally rather than the enemy of unions; used wartime economic controls to raise the pay of workers in general and especially the workers at the bottom; and raised taxes on the wealthy.

The result was something Krugman calls the Great Compression. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, inequality in America shrunk drastically. Median income increased spectacularly while the rich actually got poorer. Factory workers (like my Dad) could buy houses and send their children to college. America became a middle-class-dominated society.

Politically, this went hand-in-hand with a decrease in partisanship. From Eisenhower to Nixon, Republicans stopped trying to roll back the New Deal. Truman's Cold War foreign policy was carried forward by both parties, until it ultimately resulted in victory over the Soviet Union during the administration of Bush the First. While the gap between the parties didn't go away, there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. You couldn't guess how a congressman would vote just by looking at the R or D after his name.

The snake in this Garden of Eden is what Krugman calls "movement conservatism." Starting with Goldwater, movement conservatives rejected the bipartisan consensus and re-instated the project of undoing the New Deal. First they took over the Republican Party, and then the U. S. government. Taxes on the rich were slashed and government once again became the enemy of unions. Inflation was allowed to eat away the value of the minimum wage. Policies across the board were directed towards making the rich richer.

It worked. Today, inequality is back to Gilded Age levels and we are in what Krugman calls the Second Gilded Age.

Why? One interesting question is why this worked in either direction. Krugman provides two very insightful observations: First, the working class has an inborn fear of change, even change that promises to improve its lot. If you're just barely hanging on, you put more energy into worrying about things getting worse than into hoping for things to get better. So even though there have always been more poor voters than rich ones, prior to the Depression the poor were skeptical of progressive innovations like the minimum wage. If the bosses told you that a minimum wage would get you all fired, you believed them. But after World War II, the deed was done and a new status quo ruled, so the working class supported it.

Second, in five words Krugman sums up the political shift from Lyndon Johnson to Newt Gingrich: Southern whites started voting Republican. He's got the numbers to back that statement up, and it's pretty compelling. In what is probably the book's most controversial point, he sums up the reason for that change in one word: race.

As Krugman tells the story, southern whites had been Democrats since the Civil War, but in particular they signed on to the New Deal because they were poor compared to the rest of the country. The South benefited tremendously from New Deal spending, and comparatively few southerners made enough money to give them a serious tax headache. But the southern congressmen balked when Truman tried to complete the New Deal by instituting national health insurance, largely out of fear that they'd have to integrate their hospitals. Lyndon Johnson was right when he speculated, after passing the Voting Rights Act, that he had given the South to the Republicans for a generation.

I think Krugman oversimplifies here: southern whites differ from northern whites in more than just their racial views. (The difference in religious heritage -- New England Congregationalists and midwestern Lutherans versus Southern Baptists -- also plays a role.) But this much is inarguable: The conservative coalition relies on working-class whites voting against their economic interests for social or moral reasons. A lot of people who need government help to pay for health care will vote against that help if it means that their tiny pile of tax dollars might pay for somebody else's abortion.

Quantitative reasoning. What I've told you so far is nothing more than an alternative just-so story. It's plausible. If you're already a liberal, you'll buy it just because it supports your previously-established beliefs. But what if you're not? That's a big part of what's wrong with politics today: Our political discourse is a bunch of competing monologues rather than a conversation. Liberals tell stories about homeless veterans and kids who need liver transplants. Conservatives tell stories about small businesses being taxed or regulated out of existence. How do you pull it all together?

That's what numbers are for. I can tell a story where we bunted the runner over to second base and the next batter singled him in, or I can tell a story where somebody drew a walk instead of sacrificing and we went on to have a big inning. Both stories are true, but which one points us in the right direction? There's a correct answer to that question, but you need statistics to figure it out.

Krugman is brilliant at finding the right statistics, walking an ordinary person through an economic analysis, and sending you off to chase a reference at just the right point (the point at which most people are ready to give up anyway). On page 218, for example, is a table comparing the American health care system to Canada, France, Germany, and Britain. There are two columns of numbers: spending per capita and life expectancy. The United States spent $6102 per person on health care in 2004, while none of other countries spent more than $3165. The US life expectancy was 77.5 years, while none of the other countries had less than 78.5. (Numbers come from the World Health Organization.)

How hard is that to grasp? We spend almost twice as much money and we don't live as long. You can tell plenty of true stories about Americans whose lives were saved by state-of-the-art treatment or of foreigners who died, but statements like "America has the best health care system in the world" are simply false.

OK, but even then you have competing stories about why. Maybe the explanation is that Americans choose to live a less healthy lifestyle. We do, but that only accounts for about $100 of the $3000 cost difference. Maybe we're just hypochondriacs and waste our doctors' time. Nope, Americans go to the doctor about as often as people in the other countries. Maybe it's all our frivolous malpractice suits and the extra tests doctors have to run to protect themselves. It could be, but it isn't. The difference comes down to this: The public healthcare system in other advanced countries is just more efficient than the public/private hybrid we have in this country. We'd be much better off if we adopted, say, the French system -- which the W.H.O. rates #1.

Then you run into the horror stories about people in other countries who wait in long lines to get care. Are some of them true? Yes. Are they typical? No -- look at the numbers. Americans don't get their problems dealt with any more promptly than the French or the Germans.

Good, understandable quantitative reasoning is what sets this book apart from books by other progressive authors. The reality of growing inequality, when it happened, whether it preceded or followed political change -- Krugman acknowledges other plausible explanations and shows why he rejects them.

Dissecting the conservative movement. Krugman explains very clearly something I've been puzzled by for years: Why do Republican congressmen stay in line when the Republican leadership chooses some unpopular course?

The answer is that conservatives have built an institutional structure that turns conservatism into a career rather than a philosophy. If you're loyal, you'll be taken care of for life -- no matter what the voters say.
Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy. That is, there is an interlocking set of institutions ultimately answering to a small group of people that collectively reward loyalists and punish dissenters
Krugman contrasts two Republican senators defeated in 2006: loyal conservative Rick Santorum, whose landslide defeat was cushioned by immediately landing a cushy job as director of the "America's Enemies" project at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, and maverick Lincoln Chafee, whose loss was in large part engineered by a well-funded right-wing primary challenge, and who managed to find a one-year teaching position at Brown. Politicians get the message: It's better to stick with the party leadership than to represent your constituents.

An interesting tangent is to point out that the incompetence of the Bush administration isn't a coincidence. Loyalty-over-competence is a generic trait of the conservative movement. Mitt Romney is a much smarter and harder-working person than George Bush. But if he's elected he'll be appointing the same collection of ideologues whose main qualification is their loyalty. Brownies will continue to do a heckuva job.

The take-home message. The shrinking of the middle class was a political decision, not some unfortunate side-effect of impersonal market forces. We could fix it by reversing that political decision: make healthcare coverage universal, tax the rich, raise the minimum wage, and tilt the playing field back in the direction of unions.

This Week in the Huckabee Campaign
I'm not making this up. On MSNBC's Morning Joe show, Mike Huckabee told about frying squirrels in a popcorn popper back in his student days. And that led to this photoshopped image by DailyKos humorist Dood Abides.

I wish I were making this up: Huckabee advisor Jim Pinkerton thinks we should put a cop in front of every mosque in America. Or this quote from the candidate himself:
I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.
In case you haven't received a call from a Huckabee push poll, here's what they're like.

And finally, people are starting to go back and read Huckabee's writings and connect them to the Christian Dominionist movement. His 1997 book Character is the Issue contains this:
Ours will either be a worldview with humans at the center or with God at the center. Standards of right and wrong are either what we establish as human beings (standards which can be changed to suit us), or they are what God has set in motion since the creation of the world. … The winning worldview will dominate public policy, the laws we make, and every other detail of our existence.
Short Notes
If you've been wondering what's really behind all that crazy behavior from Britney Spears, Kung Fu Monkey has it all figured out: It's a spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold operation.

A few weeks ago I told you about the Washington Post spreading baseless rumors about Obama being a Muslim. Well, this week the Post's Richard Cohen wrote a column drawing some tenuous connection between Obama and Louis Farrakhan. It was roundly denounced as an attempt to scare Jewish voters away from Obama. The best debunking I found came from novelist Michael Chabon.

Steve Emerson, who Sean Hannity introduces as a "terrorism expert", tells the Fox News audience about a conspiracy of jihadists within the Pentagon. There are only so many ways to go paranoid, so the crazies tend to go into re-runs. Can't you just hear Joe McCarthy talking about Communists in the State Department?

Al Franken's former teacher wanted to help with his campaign for the Senate seat in Minnesota, so he had her make a campaign ad for him.

The Asia Times isn't buying the Pentagon's account of last week's incident in the Persian Gulf.

Glenn Greenwald keeps us up to date on the FISA bill. Reports of the death of telecom immunity were greatly exaggerated. More and more, Harry Reid is turning into the villain of this story.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Impressed Me This Week: the Clinton Upset

I met a lady who had traveled three times round the world in order to escape circumstances, but she always came to a world where there were still circumstances. -- Carl Jung

I don't know what hurt worse Wednesday morning: That Clinton-Obama-Edwards was the reverse of the order I was rooting for, or that my predictions were so embarrassingly wrong. In case you forgot: I thought the polls were underestimating the size of the Obama wave. Remember that the next time I predict something.

Last Tuesday Night
So Deb gets home from work and we walk over to a nearby school to vote. There's a Hillary hanger on our apartment door. We meet some Hillary people on the walk over. At the polling place, only Hillary people are waving signs.

We vote, and then decide we're going to walk over to Martha's, the brewpub on Main Street, with the idea that we're going to make a cheap if not very healthy dinner out of the half-price appetizers they serve until six. Turns out, that's where the Obama people are, having a pre-victory-party party. The guy sitting next to me at the bar is some kind of freelance political operative who tonight is a driver for Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, the rep from New Hampshire's other congressional district. He claims to recognize my pseudonym (Pericles) on DailyKos, so we're best buddies. (Tip for political types everywhere: Don't try to bribe bloggers, just treat them like they're important. We respond like geeks who suddenly find themselves hanging with the cool kids.)

Deb spots HBO star Larry David over on the other side of the room. At some point I turn away from the TV above the bar and see Senator Dick Durbin standing over my shoulder, watching the returns come in just like me, except that I've got a seat. Other nearby people are on the phone. One says, "Manchester's going for Hillary. That can't be right."

Another local guy at the bar reports voting for Hillary, but he can't for the life of him figure out why. He seems genuinely puzzled, like the victim of a post-hypnotic suggestion. A female high school teacher steals my seat while I'm in the bathroom and winds up sitting between me and Deb. She keeps talking about "Chillary", a nickname she claims to have coined herself. I think she voted for Edwards.

The actual victory party -- assuming there's a victory, which is starting to look questionable -- is supposed to be at one of the Nashua high schools. But the rumor is that Obama is coming here at eight. Most polls closed at seven, so that should have allowed plenty of time for the networks to project him the winner. (McCain's victory is called by then, and that race was supposed to be close.) But Clinton's early 2-4% lead barely wavers as the returns keep coming in.

By nine, Obama still hasn't shown. My new best friend went outside to take a phone call and hasn't been seen since. Shea-Porter and Durbin might have vanished into puffs of smoke, if smoking hadn't been illegal in New Hampshire bars for a year now. Larry David is looking glum. I really shouldn't have drunk that last scotch ale somebody bought me, and if I hang around much longer I'm going to get glum too. Time to go home.

Did Hillary Really Win?
Yes. A bunch of blogs have speculated that the vote might have been hacked, and some unscrupulous newspapers have picked up the story, but it doesn't seem very likely. The big reasons to suspect fraud are (1) the surprise of Clinton's win; (2) that Clinton won in precincts counted by machine while Obama won in precincts counted by hand.

A couple of good analyses of the situation are here and here. The main points are:
  • Clinton's win was a big surprise based on the pre-election predictions of an Obama landslide, but the exit polls pointed to a much closer race.
  • New Hampshire votes on paper ballots, not on those awful touch-screen voting machines with no paper trail. "Machine counted" means that the paper ballots were tabulated by running them through optical scanning machines. The machines are made by Diebold and are known to be hackable, but they aren't networked. You'd have to hack them one by one.
  • Machine-counting happens in the cities, hand-counting mainly in the small towns. It's not really surprising that they might favor different candidates in a close race.
Anyway, the paper ballots are still around and Kucinich has asked for a recount -- not because he thinks he won, but because he wants to insure the credibility of the process. I'm glad he did, because I think the recount (by hand) will show that the counting was honest.

So What Did Happen?
There are two questions here: Why were the results different from the pre-election polls? And why were they different from the Iowa caucus results? The polling question is technical and I find it less interesting, so I'll point you to this reference. But what changed between Iowa and New Hampshire?

Let's start with facts and work back to explanations. The election results are the hardest facts, followed by the exit polling about who the voters were and why they voted the way they did.

Turnout. As in Iowa, there was a huge turnout advantage for the Democrats: 270,000-210,000. If this were one big primary, McCain would have finished third behind Clinton and Obama. (In Iowa, Republican winner Huckabee would have finished fourth.) The New York Times' Ron Klain sums up:
In the three decades since 1980, there have been four primary years when both the G.O.P. and the Democratic nominations were contested – 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008. In all three of the previous elections, there were more votes cast in the Republican primaries than in the Democratic primaries. The G.O.P. margin was almost 40,000 votes in 1988 and almost 80,000 votes in 2000. So to see more votes cast in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary last night than in the state’s Republican one — not to mention 60,000 more votes — is almost as historic as seeing a one-two finish by a woman and an African-American.
This is part of a larger trend in New Hampshire. In 2006 we not only re-elected a Democratic governor with over 70% of the vote. We also put Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature and turned over our entire Congressional delegation: We replaced our two Republican congressmen with two Democrats. We're a blue state now. Senator Sununu should be worried about November.

Clinton's edge. Clinton had a 2% margin over Obama, 39-37%, or about 7,500 votes. The only thing that makes this primary feel like a rejection of Obama is that expectations were so high going in. Edwards was third with 17%, which has to be a huge blow to him. There's going to be a lot of pressure for the non-Hillary vote to unite behind one candidate, which has to be Obama at this point.

According to the exit polls, Clinton got her margin over Obama from women (46-34%, a 12% margin), older voters (16% margin in the over-65 group), and the less well-off (15% margin among those with household income less than $50K).

Now let's compare to Iowa. Obama got 35% in Iowa and 37% in New Hampshire, so you're not looking at a voters-abandon-Obama story. And Clinton-plus-Edwards got 56% in New Hampshire versus 59% in Iowa. So the question to be answered is where Edwards' support went to Clinton.

The age factor also showed up in Iowa. According to the Iowa entrance polls, Obama had a 46% margin over Clinton in the under-30 age group, but Clinton had a 27% edge in the over-65 group. The interesting difference is that Edwards won the 45-64 age group in Iowa with 31%, but he got only 21% of the 50-64 group in New Hampshire. (I'm not playing tricks with the groupings; CNN is.) Obama got 30% of the 50-64 group in New Hampshire, almost the same as the 27% of 45-65-year-olds he got in Iowa. So one answer is: Middle-aged people shifted from Edwards to Clinton.

Obama narrowly won the under-$50K income group in Iowa (34-32% over Clinton). In New Hampshire he loses it (47-32%). The only notable difference in this group between Iowa and New Hampshire is that Clinton's support shoots up. It comes in dribs and drabs from all the other candidates.

Now let's look at gender. In both New Hampshire and Iowa, women were 57% of the electorate. (There's a corresponding male advantage among Republicans. It's not that women vote and men don't.) But Obama won the women's vote in Iowa 35-30% over Clinton. He lost it 46-34% in New Hampshire. His margin over Clinton among men was almost the same: 12% in Iowa and 11% in New Hampshire. Obama didn't lose female support; Clinton gained it. Edwards+Richardson is 30% of the female vote in Iowa, but only 18% in New Hampshire. Women shifted from Edwards and Richardson to Clinton.

The temptation is to lump the three factors together and imagine that middle-aged working-class women moved in one big lump from the non-Obama male candidates to Clinton. None of the polling data I can find is refined enough to say anything about that small a niche of the population, but let's imagine it. Why would they do that between Iowa and New Hampshire? And why would they poll differently on the weekend than they voted on Tuesday?

I'm not buying the Clinton-humanized-herself-by-crying explanation. I don't know why; maybe just because I haven't bothered to watch the video. But I remember several political conversations I've had with women over the last year. They'd claim to be undecided, but if anybody criticized Clinton they'd bristle as if they'd been criticized themselves. Here's what I think happened during the Clinton-bashing media orgy between Iowa and New Hampshire. At first those middle-aged working-class women got depressed, so when the pollsters called on Saturday they said they were undecided or that they weren't voting. And then somewhere around Monday night they got mad and decided to do something about it.

I have no idea whether such an effect would carry over into the next primaries.

Did I Do the Right Thing?
Last week, right before I voted for Edwards, I wrote: "I would like to live in an America where Kucinich is a viable candidate."

I expected to get comments on that, and I did. "Kucinich is viable if you vote for him," someone wrote. "Don’t let the media tell you who is viable. They have their own agenda."

I thought about that, and I wrote an answer so long I decided to make a separate post out of it. You can find it on my own blog or on DailyKos.

Short Notes
Remember the National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had discontinued its nuclear weapons program? Newsweek claims that Bush is privately telling other world leaders that he doesn't believe it.

We're supposed to give amnesty to the telcom companies for spying on us because they're so patriotic. They are, that is, until the government doesn't pay its bill. Apparently the FBI fell behind on its payments due to some bookkeeping snafu, and the telephone companies cut off their wiretaps.

As the Democrats apparently realize and the Republicans don't, negative campaigning only works in a two-candidate race. Unfortunately, we seem to have arrived there now. TPM-TV pulls it together.

My nominee for the most wrong-headed article of the week is the NYT op-ed We Still Need the Big Guns by Air Force General Charles Dunlap. Dunlap is worried that we're learning the wrong lessons from our success in Iraq -- the whole "hearts and minds" thing. "Starry-eyed enthusiasts [of the new counter-insurgency manual] ... dismiss as passé killing or capturing insurgents." He worries that this attitude might lead to something truly awful: less money for new airplanes. Dunlap points out that success in Iraq has come the old-fashioned way: more troops, more bombs, killing and imprisoning more people. JesseLE on DailyKos asks the obvious follow-up question: "Why not just kill everybody?" This is a good time to plug one of the most popular things I ever wrote, Terrorist Strategy 101: a Quiz. It's from 2004 and I predict an attack that still hasn't happened, but otherwise it holds up very well.

Quoting a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, The Financial Times says that the United States now has a higher rate of deaths due to treatable diseases than any other industrialized country. We've slipped behind medical powerhouses like Portugal. The authors note that the U.S. slide in the rankings "has coincided with an increase in the uninsured population." Jerome a Paris sharpens the point by comparing our death-due-to-treatable-disease rate to the world's best: "Each year 101,000 Americans die needlessly because they're not French."

The Supreme Court is getting set to rule on one of the centerpieces of the long-term Republican project to keep marginalized citizens from voting: the Indiana law that requires voters to have a picture ID. Slate covers the issue pretty well. This is one of many interesting legal cases covered by Christy Hardin-Smith in her "Between the Briefs" summary.

CNN pundit Paul Begala relates a ridiculous story about Fox News. After Iowa, they reported he was joining the Clinton campaign. It wasn't true, but OK, these things happen. So Begala called Fox reporter Major Garrett to deny the story. Instead of correcting the story, Garrett kept repeating it. He emailed Begala that "the sourcing is strong, very strong, or I wouldn't go with it." So somebody more authoritative than Begala himself was telling Garrett that Begala had taken a new job.

It would be interesting to hear a thoughtful conservative columnist's assessment of the Democratic turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire, which (as I described above) swamped Republican turnout. Is the sky falling on Republicans, or does some other explanation not point to a Democratic landslide in November? Here's David Brooks' thoughtful assessment: It didn't happen. His #1 Surprise of the New Hampshire primary was: "Republicans voted in nearly the same numbers as Democrats." That's why he gets the big bucks, I guess.

I disapprove of Democrats voting Republican to screw up the Michigan primary, but the Democrats for Romney spoof is hilarious.

Two Huckabee links: Huckabee telling MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that Fred Thompson needs some Metamucil. And Dave Sirota urging Huckabee to keep talking about class issues.

Last week I promised a review of Paul Krugman's new book Conscience of a Liberal. Another bad prediction: I didn't get it written in time. I'll try again next week.

Arguing With the Ghost of Eugene Debs

It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it. – Eugene Debs

In my last pre-primary post – when I re-affirmed that I was voting for John Edwards -- I wrote: "I would like to live in an America in which Kucinich is a viable candidate." I knew I would hear about that, and I did. A Kucinich supporter reminded me of all the issues where Kucinich and I agree: single-payer health care, impeachment, leaving Iraq, no torture, civil liberties. "Kucinich is viable if you vote for him," his email said. "Don’t let the media tell you who is viable. They have their own agenda."

Now that New Hampshire is quiet again, I can think more calmly and clearly: Was he right?

The Pragmatic Ladder
Looking back, framing my decision as pragmatic compromise (Edwards) versus idealism (Kucinich) is too simple. Because I had a whole ladder of choices, each of which balanced pragmatism and idealism differently.

At the one extreme is Clinton, who I will happily vote for in November if it comes to that, but would rather not see nominated. I’ve searched my masculine heart for sexism and decided I’d feel the same way if Bill could run for a third term. The Clintons are skillful at managing problems as they come up, but they don’t change the agenda. I want a new national agenda.

Next comes Obama, who (if you believe the polls and pundits) is our best chance to get a nominee other than Clinton. On Tuesday, as the returns rolled in and it was clear how close Obama came to winning, I wondered if I had made a mistake by not compromising enough. But Obama’s inclusive conciliatory campaign rhetoric seems wrong-headed to me. The Republicans don’t compromise with us because they don’t respect us. And maybe they shouldn’t: We haven’t proved that we can take a principled stand and hold it to the bitter end.

Then Edwards, whose combative stance is the one we’re eventually going to have to come to if we’re not going to surrender this country to the super-rich and the theocrats. But his positions represent a compromise: His health plan could eventually lead to a single-payer system, but he doesn’t just take a stand and explain to the voters why single-payer is the way to go. And seriously defending the rule of law means impeaching Bush and sending a bunch of people to jail. Edwards isn’t willing to go there.

Then Kucinich, for the reaons I’ve already given. (And Dodd and Gravel, for different but similar reasons).

But it’s an illusion to imagine that the ladder stops here – that Kucinich represents uncompromising idealism. Because the truly uncompromising thing would have been to write in a vote for myself.

Nobody represents my views as well as I do. Nobody agrees with me 100%. Nobody would do exactly what I would do. There’s nobody I trust as much as I trust myself. In a campaign of ideals, a campaign that takes place entirely within my own head, without reference to polls or pundits or what anybody else thinks -- I win. Me for President.

It’s only when you recognize that last option that the real issue starts to take shape. Compromise isn’t some evil that needs to be banished from our electoral process. Compromise is one of the two great virtues that democracy is based on.

Courage and Compromise
Now let’s get theoretical. In order for a democracy to work, the people need to have two virtues: courage and compromise. Courage means standing up and saying what you believe, even if it’s unpopular or if someone is trying to intimidate you. Think Nelson Mandela. Think Martin Luther King and all the people marching over the Edmund Pettus bridge. As Pete Seeger sang: "I ain’t scared of your jail."

If nobody has that kind of courage, democracy doesn’t last. It doesn’t matter what your constitution or your laws say. Our constitution says that American citizens have a right to due process of law. But when President Bush declared Jose Padilla an enemy combatant and imprisoned him indefinitely, hardly anybody stood up for him. I could have taken a protest sign and tried to see how close to Padilla’s brig I could get before they arrested me, but I didn’t. If we’d all done that, if we’d made them lock us all up, something would have happened. Maybe those words in the Constitution would have meant something again.

But if you want to see the opposite problem, look at Iraq. Iraqis have a lot of courage – some to the point that they’re willing to blow themselves up for their beliefs. In their December, 2005 elections even voting required a certain amount of courage, yet they had a turnout that puts us to shame: 80%. If courage could make a democracy, Iraq really would be the shining model Bush promised.

The problem – and this was predictable from Day 1 – is that the Iraqis can’t put together a consensus to get anything done. Even the "winners" of the Iraqi elections (with 41% and 22% of the vote) were loose coalitions of parties that had to divvy up seats in Parliament until nobody had more than a handful. Those parties themselves seethe with internal distrust, and few voters trust any of them. So nothing happens. If nothing happens for long enough, people will give up on democracy and demand either (1) a dictator like Saddam or (2) a division of the country into units that do have majority coalitions.

Choosing the right leader or putting together the right program – something we keep trying to do for them from the outside – isn’t enough. Programs and leaders don’t make majority coalitions by themselves. People have to make them by compromising wisely.

Making the Trade-off

In order for democracy to work for you, you need to have the courage to stand up for your highest concerns even if no one agrees with you, and you need to compromise enough to find your way into a majority coalition. You usually can’t do both at the same time. So when do you do which?

The rule of thumb is pretty simple, and it works in small groups, in Congress, and in the electorate as a whole: Be courageous and idealistic early in the process and shift gradually towards pragmatism and compromise as the decision approaches.

That corporate-media-with-its-own-agenda my critic was writing about tries to get us to compromise too soon, before we’ve said what we wanted at all. Anything other than what the Powers-That-Be are ready to give us is impossible, and you’d do best to keep your powder dry and not ask. That’s the way it’s always been. American independence was impossible. Abolition of slavery was impossible. Old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, college scholarships – why even talk about such things?

The destructive thing about the cult-of-the-possible is that it’s self-fulfilling. People don’t want to "waste" their energy on impossible dreams, but some things are only impossible because nobody is willing to try them. People don’t speak out because they think they’d be alone, but maybe millions of people are silently having the same ideas. You don’t really know something’s impossible until you try.

But at some point people have tried and you do know – at least for this cycle. By the time I voted, Kucinich had argued hard for his program and I knew that he had gotten no delegates in Iowa. The entrance polls there gauged his support around 1-2%, and the pre-election polls in New Hampshire were similar. He wasn’t going to be elected in 2008 whether I voted for him or not.

The polls were also running against Edwards, but an Edwards victory and ultimate nomination was within the bounds of a reasonable upset. That’s where I decided to put the small weight of my vote.

As the Process Continues

If I had a vote in South Carolina or Nevada, I’m not sure what I’d do. Maybe I’d still hold out for Edwards, but I can also see the argument that it’s time to compromise a little further on Obama. And if Clinton is nominated, it will be time to compromise further yet. Because that’s the only way I can see my concerns making it into a majority coalition.

That, by the way, is why I respect Dennis Kucinich more than Ralph Nader. Kucinich in 2004 raised the liberal agenda in the primaries, argued hard for it, and supported Kerry in November. He was idealistic early in the process and pragmatic late. I expect him to do the same this year.

Nader, on the other hand, treated compromise as a vice. Whenever someone points out that the Nader voters could have made the difference and elected Gore rather than Bush, they raise a lot of sophistic arguments about Nader’s right to run and so on. Of course Nader had a right to run for president. We all have the right to run for president and we all could vote for ourselves. But that would show an Iraqi-like lack of the compromising virtue. It would be stupid.

The Long Run
Of course, you get to decide for yourself what time frame you’re working on, whether you’re playing for 2008 or for 2020 or whenever. A lot of Debs’ radical ideas eventually did make it into a majority coalition – in the New Deal. Maybe Nader’s ideas will too.

But if they do, I don’t think it will happen by slowly growing Kucinich's totals from 1% to 5% to a majority. Or by the Greens growing into a majority party. Instead, I think watered-down progressive ideas will make it into a Democratic administration, and they’ll work. And people will want more of them. I don’t know whether a President Obama or President Clinton can achieve national health insurance at all, let alone single-payer. But I think s/he will be able to get all the children insured. And it will work and people will like it. And then it will grow.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What Impressed Me This Week: In the Spotlight

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. -- Franklin Roosevelt

With the Iowa caucuses over, New Hampshire moves into the spotlight. Everything that has been building for months is coming to a peak: The phone rings constantly. We get about half a dozen glossy color brochures in the mail every day. I suppose it speaks well for the integrity of the American voting process that in spite of all the money being spent to persuade me, no one has offered me any of it directly. At least not yet.

What Happened in Iowa
Obama did exactly what his people said he would do: He inspired large numbers of new voters, especially young voters, to come out and participate. Iowans did not reject Clinton or Edwards, each of whom produced supporters in numbers that should have been enough to win. But Obama did better.

The turnout story means two things to me: First, it is huge news for Democrats looking ahead to November. Iowa is a swing state. It went for Bush in 2004 and for Gore in 2000 -- both times by less than 1%. But despite the fact that the Democratic caucus process was more cumbersome and time-consuming than the Republican process, they drew 239,000 participants to the Republicans' 116,000. If you lump the two parties together, Huckabee finished fourth behind Obama, Edwards, and Clinton.

Second, it means that Obama has to be on the ticket somewhere. If he doesn't win the nomination, he has to be the first choice for vice president. The Democrats absolutely cannot let the energy he has raised turn sour. I remember the conversations on DailyKos four years ago, as the first-time voters that Dean had inspired got discouraged by his defeat. As a group, young people tend to be skeptical of politics, and they easily lapse into an attitude of "I tried voting. It didn't work." It's fine if their candidate falls short, but it's a disaster if they come out feeling that the Democratic Party has rejected them.

Meanwhile, at the Center of the Universe
For months I've been keeping track of the candidates through the BirdDog Calendar of PriotiesNH. Sunday they listed 28 separate candidate appearances: three in Nashua, where I live, another three in the neighboring towns of Milford and Hollis, and seven just up the road in Manchester. I went to none of them. It's all gotten to be too much.

This year I failed in my goal of seeing all the candidates in person. I saw Clinton, Richardson, and Obama, Edwards twice, and Edwards' wife once. And I got to sit down one-on-one with Mike Gravel, which was a hoot even if he has no chance to win. I regret not seeing Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd, with whom I agree on most issues. I would like to live in an America where Kucinch is a viable candidate.

On the Republican side I saw Thompson and McCain, which was really about all I could stand. I confess to being curious about the people who go to Huckabee rallies. But Huckabee hasn't spent much time in New Hampshire, and for reasons I can't fathom he has mainly campaigned in the far north where no one lives. (I suspect he has the moose vote all wrapped up.) If I were younger I would absolutely go to a Giuliani rally, which would be like staying up late to watch a horror movie. (Check out Rudy's scary ad.) Afterwards, I'm sure I would have nightmares about torture and wars even bigger and more pointless than the ones we're fighting now. And Romney ... I've come to believe that the real Romney is the image you see on television. At rallies I'll bet they hand out green-and-red glasses to make him pop into three dimensions.

Why I'm Voting for the "Angry" Candidate. For months now I've been telling people I'm voting for Edwards, and most of them have looked puzzled. Usually they assume that I support the white guy because I think the country isn't ready to elect a woman or a black as president. Or maybe because I'm not ready.

Actually, that's not it. If Obama or Clinton get nominated, I think they'll do fine -- though I expect Obama's young supporters to be shocked by how nasty things get in the general election. (Remember the Harold Ford "call me" commercial from the 2006 Senate race in Tennessee? That kind of nasty.) But Hillary is tough and Obama will surprise people in the one-on-one debates the same way the too-young, too-inexperienced Jack Kennedy did.

I'm supporting Edwards because of something positive about Edwards: He's done the best job putting forward a progressive message and bringing substance to the campaign. Clinton and Obama were just spouting vague intentions about universal health care when Edwards put forward his plan, which they then had to try to match. And Edwards openly says that (if the government part of his plan outperforms the private-sector part, as it probably will) his plan could evolve into a single-payer plan, which is what makes the most sense. Other than Kucinich, I haven't heard anybody else say the words "single-payer".

That's typical. On issue after issue, Edwards has been the candidate forcing the others to offer more substance. But if you get your news from the mainstream media, you know only two things about Edwards: He got an expensive haircut, and he's the "angry" candidate.

"Angry" is the label they hung on Howard Dean four years ago, and I think they're going to apply it to anyone with a strong progressive message. I wonder what our pundit class would make of the candidate who said this about the big-money interests:
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred.
That "angry" candidate was FDR in 1936. (Thanks to Paul Krugman for finding this example. I plan to review his book next week.) Roosevelt recognized something that often gets swept under the rug today: If you try to improve the lot of the general population, some very powerful people will fight you. Not because they have a different idea of how to improve the lot of the general population, but because their interest runs in the opposite direction.

So, for example, Exxon-Mobil has spent millions of dollars to obfuscate the global warming issue. Why? Because making the world a better place for Exxon-Mobil necessarily means making it a worse place for future generations. The Exxon-Mobil people understand this very clearly.

If the next administration gets serious about universal health care, drug and insurance companies will spend millions to obfuscate that issue, as they did in 1994. They will do this not because they have a better way to offer health care, but because their profits depend on restricting access to health care and making it as expensive as possible. They also understand this very clearly.

We need to understand it too. We need leaders who will tell us these things, and who will rally public support in favor of the public interest -- as Roosevelt did. But in the current climate, all you will hear about such leaders is that they are "angry".

What I Expect to Happen. I think Obama's going to win New Hampshire, probably by a wider margin than the polls predict. There's a psychological dynamic going on here that I don't think the major media understands: New Hampshire Democrats don't see why this process needs to go on any longer. We're generally happy with all the major Democratic candidates, and we're very tired of the campaign. We're looking for a way to end it as fast as possible.

I feel that pressure myself. When I picture an Obama landslide that convinces everyone that the nomination is wrapped up, I get this pleasant opiated feeling. When I picture Edwards or Clinton winning, I think: "This could go on for months." It's a wearying prospect. I intend to fight that feeling and vote for Edwards, but I expect a lot of people to give in to it -- especially people who have been supporting candidates with no chance to win like Richardson or Dodd or Kucinich.

On the Republican side things are completely different. Republicans are not ready for the process to be over, especially if it means nominating one of the current candidates. I heard Bill Kristol fantasizing on TV about a deadlocked convention that turned to Cheney. (Go, Bill! Democrats could take all 50 states in that scenario.) That's extreme, but I think it reflects a larger mood: Republicans have been hoping for a year that someone would ride over the hill and save them. Fred Thompson was supposed to do that. Maybe Newt Gingrich will. Or somebody. If the Republicans had an Al Gore, which they don't, they'd be begging him to run even at this late date. If Ahnold the Governator were native-born, there'd be a movement to draft him.

McCain has a small lead over Romney in the polls, and I expect it to stand up. But perversely, I believe McCain is being hurt by the media types who have been fawning over him lately. If New Hampshire Republicans think there is a chance they might start a juggernaut that will sweep McCain to the nomination, they'll get cold feet. They're not ready for that. Romney's negative ads aren't helping either McCain or Romney, so look for one of the minor candidates not to win, but to do much better than the polls predict, as a none-of-the-above vote. Ron Paul, maybe. (I'm rooting for Paul to finish ahead of Giuliani again.) Or maybe even Fred Thompson.

High Points of the Republican Debate
Here are some quotes from the transcript of Saturday's Republican debate. Rudy Giuliani on President Bush:

GIULIANI: The president set a whole different mindset. It was: Let's anticipate, let's see if we can prevent another attack. That led to Afghanistan, it led to Iraq, it's led to the Patriot Act, it's led to electronic surveillance, it's led to changing our intelligence services. All that is very, very good.

And there's no point asking whether Muslims or Arabs have any legitimate gripe with us:
GIULIANI: there's an Islamic, terrorism threat against us. It's an existential threat. It has nothing to do with our foreign policy. It has to do with their ideas, their theories, the things that they have done and the way they've perverted their religion into a hatred of us. And what's at stake are the things that are best about us: our freedom of religion, our freedom for women, our right to vote, our free economic system. Our foreign policy is irrelevant -- totally irrelevant.
When challenged by Ron Paul, Giuliani lumped together any terrorist act ever committed by Muslims against anyone, including the PLO's Munich Olympic massacre in 1972. Palestinian nationalism, jihadism ... it's all the same. And Huckabee agrees that there's no reason to try to remove the beam from our own eyes before going after the mote in the eyes of radical Muslims:
HUCKABEE: They are prompted by the fact they believe that they must establish a worldwide caliphate that has nothing to do with us other than we live and breathe and their intention is to destroy us.
Romney has learned the fine art of embedding evangelical Christian code words in his answers.
ROMNEY: I believe it's essential for America to stand for principles of an eternal nature.
Ron Paul undoes the New Deal:
PAUL: Free market economics is the truly compassionate system. If we care about the poor and want to help the poor, you have to have free markets. You can't have a welfare state in order to try to take care of people.
Giuliani, Thompson, and McCain all made some version of this statement: "America has the best health care system in the world." (In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked France first and us 37th.) And here's what Mitt Romney thinks is wrong:
ROMNEY: The reason health care isn't working like a market right now is you have 47 million people that are saying, "I'm not going to play. I'm just going to get free care paid for by everybody else."
And then McCain took a page out of John Edwards' book:

MCCAIN: How could pharmaceutical companies be able to cover up the cost to the point where nobody knows? Why shouldn't we be able to reimport drugs from Canada? It's because of the power of the pharmaceutical companies. We should have pharmaceutical companies competing to take care of our Medicare and Medicaid patients.

ROMNEY: OK, don't leave me. Don't send the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guys.

MCCAIN: Well, they are.

ROMNEY: No, actually they're trying to create products to make us well and make us better, and they're doing the work of the free market.

God bless those benevolent pharmaceutical companies, Mitt. God bless us one and all.
This week I have two non-political books to recommend. The first, Edmund and Rosemary Go To Hell by Bruce Eric Kaplan, is for adults but is written in the style of a kids' book, with Thurber-style line drawings and only a sentence or two on each page. It takes about ten minutes to read. Edmund and Rosemary are a middle-aged couple who come up with a novel explanation for why everything from cellphones to air travel is so annoying: They're in Hell. How they cope with this epiphany turns into a very sweet story.

The second, Gentlemen of the Road, is the latest novel from one of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon. Chabon is a serious writer -- he won a Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay -- who is not afraid to write in genres that are not considered serious. So Gentlemen is a medieval adventure set in the sort-of-Jewish silk-road kingdom of Khazaria. (Chabon claims his working title was "Jews With Swords.") You get the Arabian-Nights flavor of the book from its first sentence: "For numberless years a myna had astounded travelers to the caravansary with its ability to spew indecencies in ten languages, and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue-tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foulness and verve."

Correction: Iowa Actually Has Immigrants
Tom Stites (who used to edit my stuff until he retired from UU World last June) points out that Iowa has more illegal immigrants than I implied last week. They come to work in the meat-packing plants, and I don't think my Illinois home town (which I used as a basis for comparison) has any of those. Iowa Public Television estimates that 55-85,000 non-citizens live in Iowa. (That's total non-citizens, not just illegal immigrants.) McClatchy Newspapers says: "Since 1990, the number of Hispanics in Iowa has increased from 32,647, which was then 1.2 percent of the state's population, to 112,987, or 3.8 percent of the current population of 2.9 million." (Again, including legal residents.) An article in the Communist newspaper Revolutionary Worker makes an interesting connection between the immigrants and union-busting by the meat-packers.

I was definitely too snarky about it last week, but I don't think this information alters my basic conclusion: I still believe illegal immigration is largely a scapegoat issue. The Iowa meat-packing problem would be most easily handled by cracking down on the packers, but the popular anger focuses on the immigrants. An MSNBC entrance poll from the Iowa caucuses says that 33% of Republicans named illegal immigration as the most important problem facing the United States. I continue to think that statistic requires a psychological explanation.

Short Notes
I'm getting very tired of hearing the media tell me that the Surge has worked. In Saturday's Democratic debate, ABC's Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy presented the Surge's success as a simple fact and moderator Charles Gibson challenged the candidates to admit that they'd been wrong about it. (The Republicans, by contrast, were asked questions like "What principles will you stand on?") In December, 23 American troops got killed, the lowest number since February, 2004, and down from 126 in May. When you put it that way, it looks great. But try putting it like this: What goal did we achieve in December that was worth the lives of 23 Americans? What is this entire war going to accomplish that is worth the life of one American?

On Fox News Frank Lunz seems to be pushing Romney. Lunz's "focus groups" are always more propaganda exercises than attempts to understand the public mood, but the one after Sunday's Republican debate was particularly striking. Remember, Lunz not only manages the discussion, he picks the participants.

TPM announced the Golden Duke Awards for 2007. And Tom Tomorrow finished his review of the year.

Several liberal heavy hitters have weighed in on the presidential race. DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas talked through the candidates and concluded that he's undecided. The DailyKos community continues to be solidly for Edwards. Michael Moore didn't formally endorse anyone, but his letter sure reads like an endorsement of Edwards. Bill Bradley endorsed Obama.

Bush is pushing for another unnecessary Constitutional crisis. Will Congressional Democrats ever meet the challenge?

The leaders of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission all but accused the Bush administration of obstruction of justice in regard to the now-destroyed CIA interrogation tapes. That was a one-day story that seems to have vanished from the national agenda. I almost forgot it myself.

Finally, I'm giving serious thought to making this weekly series its own blog and changing its name. Originally, I thought it would be almost entirely links to other articles, and that I'd write very little of it myself. But as I write more, the title makes it sound like what impressed me this week was me. My current favorite title is: The Weekly Skim.