27

This is Why We Have a Constitution, and Why the Alternative is Tyranny

New York’s Trespass Act of 1783  offered relief for Patriots who had fled New York City during the time of the Revolutionary “by permitting them to recover damages from persons who had occupied or used their premises during the war.” Common law had typically required  “that actions for trespass must be tried where the property was located, but the act allowed Patriots to sue in any court where the defendant could be found.” It also denied the laws of war by prohibiting the accused of arguing that they had been acting “under orders of the occupying British army, and the act also prohibited the defendants from appealing to a higher court.” (Citations from Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum.)

The New York Trespass Act was but one of many factors that led to the creation of the written United States Constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation government, the states had almost unlimited authority to pass any laws they pleased. The only check on the state governments were the citizens of the several states. Unfortunately, the people themselves were often the impetus behind the enactment of unjust laws.

The Constitution was a reaction to life under the Articles of Confederation. Though conservatives like to point out that the government created under the Constitution is one of limited powers – a fact which is undeniably true – the Constitution actually enhanced the powers of the federal government and was meant, in part, to curb some of the excesses of unlimited state authority.
In truth the Constitution was a perfect balancing act. The Federalists hoped to strengthen the federal government while simultaneously placing significant limits on the powers of said government. They wanted to mitigate the excesses of democratic government in the states while continuing to leave most of the day-to-day governing authority in the hands of local government. The Constitution is a document designed to prevent the outbreak of democratic despotism, but which also aimed at limiting the reach of government. These are not contradictory aims. As much as it may surprise political philosophers such as Piers Morgan to hear, purely democratic governments can become tyrannical – ask Plato and Aristotle about that.
If we understand the genesis of our Constitution then we can better understand why we revere it and strive to live as much as we can by the letter of said Constitution. It’s not because it’s some old, musty document and we just have a blind devotion to old things. There was a wisdom and a theory behind the Constitution that made as much sense in 1787 as it does in 2013.
And now, due to the gun control debate, we have proof of why the Federalists were right, and why we are inching closer to tyranny. Continue Reading
22

Doing the Job Big Media Won’t Do

My friend Jay Anderson linked to this excellent piece from a Fox affiliate in Cincinnati addressing crime statistics in Great Britain and the United States.

As Jay remarked, it’s sad that it takes a small affiliate news station to do the sort of fact checking that major news networks are incapable of, 0r, more likely, unwilling to do.

As for Piers Morgan, watch what happens when he is forced to interview someone actually tethered to reality.

I think “your little book” is going to be an instant classic.

9

Portents of Doom

Yes, Congress and the White House managed to punt on any real solutions to our ever-growing debt crisis, reaching a deal that raised a lot of taxes but cut no spending. Yet the real signal that we are truly doomed as a country  may have come from a bill that did not pass – not yet. The House of Representatives failed to pass a $60 billion relief bill for Hurricane Sandy, prompting Republican Governor Chris Christie to act like a petulant child who didn’t receive all that he wanted on Christmas morn.

“There is only one group to blame,” Christie said. “The House Majority and John Boehner.”

“Last night, the House Majority failed the basic test of leadership and they did so with callous disregard to the people of my state,” he said. “It was disappointing and disgusting to watch.”

“Shame on you, shame on Congress.”

Following his remarks, Christie doubled down on his criticism in a lengthy — and incredibly candid — press conference in which he laid into House Republicans for putting “palace intrigue” ahead of their actual jobs.

“Our people were played last night as a pawn…and that’s why people hate Washington, D.C.,” Christie said later. “They forget that we’re the ones who sent them there.”

Representative Peter King (“R” – NY) also blasted his party and even threatened quitting in anger – hours before throwing his support for Speaker John Boehner when others within the caucus attempted to oust him from leadership.

But King and Christie are just speaking out for their poor constituents who desperately need federal aid. Ummm, not exactly. Daniel Foster lists some of the items contained in this bill:

•$2 million to repair damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C., while many in Hurricane Sandy’s path still have no roof over their own heads.

•$150 million for fisheries as far away from the storm’s path as Alaska.

•$125 million for the Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and drought.

•$20 million for a nationwide Water Resources Priorities Study.

•$15 million for NASA facilities, though NASA itself has called its damage from the hurricane ‘minimal.’

•$50 million in subsidies for tree planting on private properties.

•$336 million for taxpayer-supported AMTRAK without any detailed plan for how the money will be spent.

•$5.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers – more than the Corps’ annual budget – with no statement of priorities about how to spend the money.

•$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies, without identifying a single way to pay for it.

As Foster notes, money has already been appropriated to deal with the immediate situation. And as Katrina Trinko adds, only 15 percent of the money allocated in this bill would actually be spent this year. Some emergency funding, huh? But of course the esteemed Senators from Alaska will not tolerate any criticisms of their pork requests.

These are two very real and very serious disasters that Alaskans are facing. The first being the salmon disaster which was declared a disaster by the federal government this past September – Alaskans are still waiting for relief after the devastating impact on fisheries. After Japan’s generous gift of $5 million, the U.S. government needs to step up to the plate as tsunami debris poses serious navigational hazards and risks to coastal communities. Sandy remains the priority in this bill, but given that many of the dollars allocated for debris will go to charting and mapping it, this bill is a more than appropriate vehicle to bring up these disasters which have severely impacted Alaska’s communities.

This fiasco highlights some things you need to know about our government, and why things will never improve. As Senator Begich’s comments illustrate, there is not a dime of federal spending that will not be defended by someone. No matter how trivial, no matter how seemingly wasteful, there will always be someone out there to defend that dollar (or millions) of appropriation.

More importantly, Christie’s childish reaction shows that even s0-called fiscal conservatives cannot be relied upon to remain level-headed. Surely Christie must be aware that some $20 billion or so of this bill is completely unrelated to dealing with the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. Instead of criticizing those in Congress who decided to weigh down this bill with unnecessary measures, Christie decides to demagogue the issue and blame the people who are at least trying to behave responsibly. Surely Christie could have called upon Congress to mass House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers’s much more reasonable disaster relief bill. But that’s not the Blusterer’s style. This was a moment to get on the evening news, and he wouldn’t have done so had he criticized Democrats.

Chris Christie is the golden child of “fiscal conservatives.” If even he is unwilling to patiently await passage of a reasonably considered bill that would focus on actual hurricane relief, but instead would prefer to scream about the need for IMMEDIATE PASSAGE NOW!!!!!!!!! – then what hope is there that we can ever achieve fiscal sanity in this country.

Ace has some sobering words to consider in light of this fiasco.

Watching “fiscal conservative” Chris Christie fail to say one word about those who demand that relief for his state be bought with unrelated spending for their own states, which weren’t hit by catastrophe — shouldn’t it be noted that Lisa Murkowski and Don Young of Alaska won’t vote for those left homeless by Sandy until some local businesses get their “cut”? — it occurs to me that he is accommodating himself to reality.

The reality is vox populi, vox dei — the voice of the people is the voice of God. And the voice of this particular shabby god has decreed that we shall be financially reckless and we should go through a national bankruptcy, and there’s no sense trying to avoid it, so we’ll just run up a huge tab buying multiple 65 inch 3D tvs before we crash.

Given that the people wish to spend money they do not have, and soon will not have (for all the same reasons that people with bad credit can’t rent a car — your ability to borrow is precisely related to your projected future ability to make good on your loans), and will not be diverted from this disastrous course, what can anyone do?

. . .

But for now, let’s go get a few of those sweet 3D TV’s and watch Pirates of the Caribbean IV.

You’ll think I’m a wonderful, well-providing father… for the next month or so.

After that, you may hold a different opinion of me. Major negative changes in circumstance tend to do that.

But for now– 3D TVs. Have you ever seen such a clear, sort of three dimensional picture? Aren’t I your hero? At this moment, I mean.

We deserve the government we have.

———————————————

Oh, and before I hear from any wiseguys, two of my brothers had to abandon their flooded homes because of the storm.

 

13

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

When I was a kid I looked forward to Christmas with much eagerness. Certainly I was excited about the gifts, but there was something else that was even better about the holiday: the food.

As a family of Italian heritage, Christmas Eve was really the main event. It featured an endless array of fish, pasta dishes, and Italian pastries. We also exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. Sure Christmas day itself was important – Santa brought the gifts, we went to Church, and then another hearty meal. But the Eve was what I anticipated the most.

What I never knew was that there was a name for all this seafood consumption: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Wikipedia has a barebones explanation for it. Being that Christmas Eve was traditionally a time of abstinence from meat, unsurprisingly Italians do what we always do best an just made a bunch of seafood dishes instead. Technically the feast did not have to have seven fish courses – it could have less, but it could have more.

Now that I am older and have my own family we’ll be spending Christmas at home. Which means it is up to me to provide the seafood fest. Here is what the Zummo menu looks like for tomorrow:

Fish curry (supplied by friends)
Crabmeat and artichoke dip (they don’t all have to be hearty courses)
Baked clams
Mussels with spaghetti
Shrimp scampi
Smoked salmon

And of course the most important element of the whole thing: octupus, or polpo as we called it.

Oh I guess I’ll make a vegetable as well, but this is about the seafood.

Anyway, that is my family tradition. Consider this a semi-open thread to discuss what your Christmas traditions are.

By the way, I’ll be blogging more about the feast on my personal wesbite – paulzummo.com. Look for the “Food and Booze” section where I also have written about the best cocktail in the world.

12

Our Contemptible Media

One takeaway from the tragedy in Newtown is that if there’s an element in the Bill of Rights that needs revisiting, it’s the first and not the second amendment. The absolute gleeful joy that members of the media have taken in using the tragedy to advance an agenda is exemplified by the likes of Piers Morgan, who at least has the decency to admit as much:

Okay, Piers was being sarcastic, but this is a case where sarcasm revealed some truth. Morgan has been a leading crusader for gun reform in light of the shootings, and he has used his platform to bully gun rights proponents. Here is Morgan embarrassing himself on national television with Larry Pratt a few nights ago. And here he is with John Lott.

When a media personality causes you to yearn for the insight and wisdom of Larry King, you know you have reached the absolute bottom of the barrel.

Now Morgan’s rank opportunism in the wake a tragedy is not even the most disgusting aspect of media behavior in the past week.  Matt Lewis details some of the more egregious behavior.

The media originally reported the wrong name of the alleged shooter. (The suspected killer was Ryan Lanza, they breathlessly reported. Turns out it was actually Ryan’s brother, Adam.) Then, some in the media advertised Ryan’s Facebook and Twitter pages. (This, of course, brings to mind Brian Ross’ irresponsible and premature on-air suggestion over the summer that the Aurora shooter was a Tea Party member.)

As if those cases of egregiously mistaken identity weren’t enough, producers and reporters began trolling Twitter, seeking to proposition friends and relatives of the victims for an interview.

Meanwhile, others staked out the young survivors, and then proceeded to conduct on-air interviews with these young children. This was unseemly and superfluous. As TIME‘s James Poniewozik wrote, “There is no good journalistic reason to put a child at a mass-murder scene on live TV, permission of the parents or not.”

While the media preens about gun control, the fourth estate ignores its own role in potentially prompting these horrific events. A forensic psychologist named Park Dietz thinks the media has blood on their hands.

“Here’s my hypothesis,” he said. “Saturation-level news coverage of mass murder causes, on average, one more mass murder in the next two weeks.” The reason, he says, has something to do with the USA’s size. In a country so large the likelihood of one or two people snapping becomes quite high.

“It’s not that the news coverage made the person paranoid, or armed, or suicidally depressed,” Dietz said. “But you’ve got to imagine this small number of people sitting at home, with guns on their lap and a hit list in their mind. They feel willing to die. When they watch the coverage of a school shooting or a workplace mass murder, it only takes one or two of them to say – ‘that guy is just like me, that’s the solution to my problem, that’s what I’ll do tomorrow’. The point is that the media coverage moves them a little closer to the action.

The 24/7 news cycle may not be the cause of these massacres, but the intense coverage . . . doesn’t help.

What the past few days have shown is that the media’s leftist tilt is not the primary problem. While there are some noble and decent reporters – Jake Tapper comes to mind – overall they are a wretched hive of scum and villainy. All right, maybe they’re not that bad, but one wonders what motivates certain members of the press. One relatively minor incident from the world of sports demonstrates what I mean. Continue Reading

32

The Need for Order, or “Do Something” Syndrome

In light of the horrific massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, it is disappointing but not altogether surprising that the calls to just do something to stop the violence rang out before the middle of the day. I’ll address the disgusting behavior of the mass media in a later post, but wanted to focus this post on the reactions and what they might say about our overall attitudes about life and society.

Gun control activists, grieving with obvious sympathy and empathy for the victims, and of course concerned primarily about the human toil of this tragedy, took to twitter and other outlets to immediately call for stricter gun laws. Ignoring that Connecticut is hardly a modern incarnation of the wild west, they seemed to imply that if we only tightened regulations and banned guns with menacing-sounding names, then we could ensure that no more mass murders of this kind would ever occur again, so long as we all shall live.

There are many legal, constitutional, and logical arguments to be made against further restrictions on gun ownership, and Jeff Goldstein makes just about all of them here. To me the strongest arguments against the gun control crowd are the practical ones. An obviously troubled young man murders his mother, then walks to her school and guns down children  and the thing we’re discussing afterwards are guns? Aside from the fact that even worse crimes have been perpetrated without a single firearm being deployed, we’re missing the big picture when we’re debating the mechanism for carrying out a massacre and not the underlying cause or causes.

Another recurring theme is that this incident is further proof that there is no God. Deroy Murdock expressed this sentiment in the conservative on-line journal of opinion, National Review online.

 Just in time for Christmas, a reputedly almighty God must have been on break Friday morning when Adam Lanza massacred 20 Connecticut school kids. These six- and seven-year-olds were far too young to choose wrongly between good and evil — that choice being the way that believers typically explain how a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibeneficent God allows such atrocities. Atop the ongoing mayhem of Hurricane Sandy, the carnage in Syria, and the burgeoning power of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, it should be clearer than ever that no one up there watches over us Earthlings. We are on our own.

Of course we’ve all heard this before and have addressed this in myriad ways.

What hadn’t occurred to me is there is a certain commonality between those who use tragedies like this to further the fight for control and others who use it to push an atheistic agenda. Granted there is overlap between the categories, but for now we’ll treat these as separate attitudes. Continue Reading

7

The Perfect Gift for Christmas

People shouldn’t go broke at Christmas, so I am doing my part to help you all out by providing the perfect gift. For a mere $2.99 you can download the surefire hit novel of the season: Dirty LaundryDirty Laundry is a bit of media satire written by yours truly. From the not wholly adequate product description:

CF Stone is a columnist for a well-regarded but not well-read Washington DC newspaper. After having written a column that has all but guaranteed him a Pulitzer he runs into blogger and all-around gadfly Darius Gilbert, who lets him onto a story that will guarantee them a place in history next to Woodward and Bernstein. Stone goes undercover in order to expose a right-wing plot to bring down the American government. Stone dreams of the accolades that he will receive after publishing his expose of the ultimate manifestation of political extremism in the United States – that is if they don’t find out who he is first.

You’ll especially love the antics of Gilbert, the gay, Irish blogger who has an unhealthy obsession with a former candidate for high office.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, the Kindle app is available on just about any device that you use to read this very blog.

A slight content warning: the book isn’t quite G-rated, but it’s a solid PG. Some salty language is employed, but it’s not Pulp Fiction.

I’m doing this all on my own, so please spread the word around if you can. I’ll also be launching a webpage – paulzummo.com – to help promote the book and also to serve as a platform on other random musings.

Thanks.

1

The Fine Line Between Snark and Humor

Last night I posted a link to this brilliant bit of satire about internet snark. Here’s a taste:

Hey, 2005? Your meme is calling. Get into the weeds. Shorter generic liberal blogger: I’m angry and don’t understand syntax. Teh gay, it burns!… The stupid, it burns. There, fixed. Awesome sauce, the Villagers have held their grand powwow and declared that all the Very Serious People must use Abundant Capital Letters to convey irony. Line of dialogue from The Simpsons during the Clinton era.

That gerund-employing, chain-of-modifiers-involving, consumer-items-invoking, would-be rant directed at middle-class liberals? Meh. Just breathtakingly meh. Worst. Recycled. Gimmick. Ever.

Further useful phrases. Stay classy, concern troll! A smart take on entitlements “reform.” That whole coherence thing? Whatever. Smackdown. Beatdown. At a time when [minor incident involving identity politics] and [another minor incident involving identity politics] and [another minor incident involving identity politics], why behave “reasonably ” regarding [another minor incident involving identity politics that is in no way the responsibility of the person being addressed]?

It is easy to rely on snark as a means of dismissing other viewpoints, I might be guilt of occasionally employing snark as a rhetorical weapon. Yet it can be overused, and writers who use snark as a rhetorical crutch can choke on their own nastiness to the point that it becomes a bore to read them.

As if to demonstrate this point comes this piece from Think Progress titled “We Could End Homelessness With The Money Americans Spend On Christmas Decorations.” The post itself is not intensively snarkish, although substantively its premise is absurd, as aptly demonstrated by Stacy McCain. The comments to the Think Progress piece, on the other hand, are a virtual wasteland of snark. A sampling:

how dare TP open a front in the war on christmas by using christmas as a way to do christian things instead of engaging in celebration!

Hahaha… how dare they indeed. Who do they think they are Fox News!

I wonder which one Jesus would really like for his birthday?

the real Jesus or supply side Jesus?

If those of us who love and admired Jesus just lived and loved Jesus this would be a moot discussion.

To be fair, there are people who left meaningful and more insightful comments. Also, snarkiness is certainly not endemic solely to the left.  But look at how those responses basically dehumanize and debase people who might have different viewpoints. They display obvious disdain towards Christians and our supposed hypocrisy for hanging Christmas lights as though we are not also devoting time, talent and treasure to help the homeless. It’s an easy way to demonstrate one’s moral and intellectual superiority without actually addressing the issue.

On the other hand, while snark can be overused, there is a role for humor and light-heartedness in our communications. The flipside of the snarksters are those dour individuals who are under the impression that laughter is a mortal sin. Seriously – there are people who point out the lack of bible passages referring to Jesus laughing as positive proof that he never laughed, and as such neither should we. One wonders what other human activities not attributed to Jesus in the Scriptures these literalists also forgo, but we’ll leave that one to the imagination.

Sure, some topics merit nothing but serious discussion, but the perpetually straight-laced and humorless are frankly tedious. I know Rush Limbaugh is not everyone’s cup of tea, even for those on the right, but one of the primary reasons – if not the primary reason he has been as successful as he has is that he is able to treat political topics with humor. Contrary to popular belief he doesn’t just go on the air and scream into a microphone. And as his show has aged his satire has grown sharper. If Limbaugh just went on the air and day after day just ranted and raved unhumorously, he would not have 20 million listeners. Okay, he might have ten million listeners, but he still wouldn’t be as popular. Similarly, Mark Steyn is able to get away with publishing columns full of doom and gloom because he does so with a sharp wit that prompts the reader to laugh and cry at the same time. Glenn Beck is at his most enjoyable when he’s not going off about Agenda 21 but instead when he’s simply satirizing some bit of liberal sillyness. I think one of the reasons MSNBC is so unwatchable – other than its decided left-wing slant – is that most of the on-air talent lacks that element of light-heartedness and humor.

It’s hard to distinguish between snark and humor, and at times they are in fact indistinguishable concepts. In the end, one can be satirical without necessarily being nasty, a concept obviously foreign to some of the followers of “Think” Progress.

43

It’s the Culture, Stupid

It’s a sign of how much time I’ve had to blog that I’m just now getting to this post from Ace of Spades regarding comments made by Rush Limbaugh. The content that Ace quotes is crucial to understanding the problems that we truly face. Here’s Rush:

As you know, I’m a big technophile, and I read every tech blog there is, particularly those related to Apple. And all of these people contributing and writing and posting these blogs are under 30. And they live in a different world than I do and they live in a different world than I grew up in. The things that they just assume are true, like there is no doubt whatsoever that we are destroying the planet with global warming, no doubt. They can’t even conceive of what you and I both know to be the truth, and that is, the whole global warming thing is a hoax. They do not even think it’s a political issue. They do not realize that everything they believe in has been totally corrupted by politics. What they think is science is nothing more than corruption by the left, but they don’t know any better. It’s what they’ve been exposed to from as early on in their lives as their brains were capable of learning anything. And that happens to be the kind of thinking that populates the entertainment culture and so forth. I really think that the solution to our problems are not really political. I think conservatives are seen by young people and the left and the pop culture the way they are not because of what these people have been taught about conservatism. It’s purely cultural. They don’t know ideology. They don’t know liberal versus conservative. They’ve not been told, for example, that Romney is a skunk or whatever because he is a conservative. It goes far deeper than that.

So the battle that we face is not really an ideological one. I must confess, I think the solution will be found in ideology, but I must confess, I think I’ve been a little wrong. I have waxed eloquent here on this program. I have longed for the day where people understand what liberalism is ideologically. I have begged the Republican Party to campaign on ideology and to explain to people what liberalism is by pointing liberals out. You want to see liberalism, look at Detroit. You want to see liberalism, look at California. You want to see liberalism, look at Cuba. You want to see liberalism, look at Venezuela. The Republicans haven’t done it. I don’t know why, don’t care right now. But the young people do look at Cuba, and they lionize Che Guevara. They wear his T-shirts. They look at Cuba, they don’t see any big problem there. They don’t know. My only point here is I’m just scratching the surface on this, by the way, so I’m speaking off the top my head here, but I really think that the way this is going to have to be attacked and dealt with is not to set politics aside. I’m not saying that none of this is political, but it’s a cultural problem we face. The reason conservatives have been so maligned and are so maligned, the reason people who don’t know us think of us the way they do is not because they understand politics. It’s a cultural thing.

A lot of the post-election analysis missed this point. Well, maybe it would be more accurate that most of the people offering post-election analysis simply didn’t care about this point. In the narrow world of electoral politics, shifts in party popularity occur with great frequency. Those predicting doomsday for the Republican party are completely wide of the mark. And yet the chicken littles miss the much more troublesome gap – the cultural gap that slowly destroying this country. We’ve seen the stories about apartment complexes telling their residents to take down Christmas trees in common areas, and schools being prohibited from doing productions of Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. But of course there’s so much more than that. Young people are indoctrinated in schools and from television and movies. Conservatives have abdicated – both by our own choice and through design from the secularist left – any role in these cultural institutions. As Rush describes, these young skulls full of mush start out with a set of assumptions about traditional morality and other cultural issues that are foreign to most of us running around Catholic and conservative blog circles. This is not something that is magically going to be fixed by legislation or more tax credits for middle class families.

Unwittingly, I think Josh Trevino gets to the heart of this in a single tweet: Continue Reading

114

Steven Crowder and Bad Arguments for Pot Decriminalization

Via the Right Scoop comes this video from Steven Crowder, exposing some of the more ridiculous argument from those who support the decriminalization (or legalization) or marijuana:

Please note that Crowder does not address the constitutional issue surrounding federal marijuana prohibition. In fact he goes out of his way to emphasize that there are legitimate arguments to be made that this is not an issue that justifies federal intervention. But as the video highlights, none of the people he interviewed brought up the constitutional argument. Instead, his interviewees relied on tropes that are untrue. He also makes a point about prohibition that I have often made: namely, that the 18th Amendment prohibited the use of a substance that was already legal and widely used by most Americans. Marijuana legalization would make available a previously criminalized substance used by a minority of Americans.

Like Crowder, I believe that the constitutional arguments against federal marijuana prohibition are, at a minimum, compelling. But if you are going to take up the cause of decriminalization, at least make better arguments than these people.

44

Is Media Bias An Even Bigger Problem Now?

One of the reasons my more pessimistic (and, as it turns out, realistic) friends cited for believing that Mitt Romney would lose is media bias. I dismissed this not so much because I don’t believe that media bias isn’t an issue, but because I thought that there were enough countervailing forces to push Romney over the hump. Whoops.

I’m still leery of citing media bias as a principle cause of Barack Obama’s victory because doing so would diminish the more serious issues, and there are no shortage of reasons explaining why Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney. That said, it’s clear that a compliant media helped. From Candy Crowley giving a big assist at the second debate, to media silence over Benghazi (which followed years of silence on Fast and Furious), to harping on every minor (and not so minor) GOP flub, it’s clear that conservatives have been swimming upstream against a media tide.

But Ronald Reagan dealt with a biased media, and he managed to defeat Jimmy Carter, and then went on to win an even bigger landslide against Walter Mondale. Moreover, Reagan accomplished that in an ere where the only major national news sources were left wing networks and a handful of national daily newspapers. Now there are institutions like Fox News, talk radio, and blogs and other alternative media outlets. Haven’t these leveled the playing field?

Well, the problem is there are left-wing new media outlets, and they are just as well-read and well-watched as the right-wing outlets. Sure Fox is the king of cable news, but the sum total of the other television and cable networks outdraws the Fox viewership. And while talk radio may be dominated by the right, the left has outpaced the right when it comes to electronic media.

More importantly, while right-wing alternative media outlets may draw some non-partisans, we have become a polarized country even when it comes to our sources of news information. David French linked to a very informative graph that shows how conservatives and liberals are simply digesting news in very different ways, and left-leaning sources are ones which are very influential in the broader culture. We may shake our heads in disgust over the fact that many young people actually rely on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart as a credible news source, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As French notes, so-called moderates tend to read or watch left-leaning sites and programs, thus the new right-wing media isn’t penetrating the core demographic of younger voters. As someone perhaps more tuned into pop culture sites than most in these parts, I can testify that there is a definite leftist tilt that certainly influences those who are otherwise not especially tuned into current events.

I would also argue that the 24/7 news cycle hasn’t redounded to the right’s advantage. Sure Rather, Cronkite, Jennings, Brokaw and others were heavily influential, but they were on for 30 minutes a day – 22 if you factor in commercials. If a conservative politician made a blunder, they could plaster it on the nightly news, but then it was largely forgotten for another 23 hours. Now that blunder will be tweeted and re-tweeted, blogged about, joked about by Colbert and Stewart, mentioned on “apolitical” humor and culture sites, and broadcast on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and even Fox. There’s no place to hide. So while news outlets ignore the  president’s dithering while his ambassador was killed, everyone is sure to hear about “legitimate rapes” over and over again.

I maintain that there are bigger problems than media bias to overcome, but it is a larger problem than I had thought previously.

25

It’s Not Cooperation with Evil If One Side is Not Evil

Mark Gordon at Vox Nova explains why he is voting for neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney.

For my part, I won’t be voting for either Obama or Romney because both promise to pursue policies that violate my understanding of fundamental Catholic teaching. To invest my democratic franchise in either would, in my opinion, be an abrogation of my first responsibility, which is to to witness to the Gospel in all its dimensions. For me, there can be no disjunction between the two. To permit any other allegiance, identity, issue or ideology to trump the Gospel – even temporarily or provisionally – is, again in my opinion – a form of idolatry. Christian discipleship must be marked first of all by an unyielding evangelical integrity: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Matthew 6:6). And just as I would hope not to choose a “lesser” evil in my personal or business life, neither can I do so as a citizen. As I’ve often written here, when you choose the lesser of two evils, you still get evil. Christians shouldn’t be in the business of choosing evil.

Such is his right, and if he genuinely believes that voting for either candidate would involve cooperation with evil, then the choice is understandable and perhaps commendable. The problem with Mark’s analysis is that only one candidate affirms positions that are clearly in opposition to dogmatic Church teaching. Continue Reading

13

Priorities (Updated)

This is a Catholic blog, so I am not capable of fully sharing my feelings regarding Mayor Michael Bloomberg right now. The man who has spent a good chunk of his mayoralty sticking his nose in the lifestyle choices of his citizenry, supposedly out of concern for their health, doesn’t seem very interested that some of them are lying dead or are missing. No, it’s not as important as making sure this crucial marathon is run.

As Drew M says, the “getting back to normal” thing doesn’t start until relief efforts are fully exhausted and there’s a full accounting of the damage, and all the missing have been accounted for. The idea that they’re going to divert resources away from Staten Island and other parts of the city in order to accommodate a bunch of people who want to run a long distance is sickening. Staten Island is fairly large, but there are few means of getting in and out of the island. Closing down the primary means of getting to the island and delivering relief items for any amount of time is criminally insane.

What a disgrace.

Edited to add: If anyone wonders why this is madness, read this:

 As hundreds of thousands of Big Apple residents suffer in homes left without power by Hurricane Sandy, two massive generators are being run 24/7 in Central Park — to juice a media tent for Sunday’s New York City Marathon.

And a third “backup” unit sits idle, in case one of the generators fails.

The three diesel-powered generators crank out 800 kilowatts — enough to power 400 homes in ravaged areas like Staten Island, the Rockaways and downtown Manhattan.

As of Friday morning, 11 generators sat outside of the park and a food services truck dropped off hundreds of cases of water, sparking angered responses from hurricane victims.

Update: They finally came to their senses and cancelled.

46

Numbers Look Grim for President Obama

Superstorm Sandy has largely passed my area by, and Pepco has been spared another round of calamitous outages. Luckily for you that means I get to write a post digging deep into presidential election statistics.

Though the election polls have produced differing results, a general consensus has seemingly emerged. Mitt Romney is, at worst, tied with President Obama, and has upwards of a five-point lead. The Real Clear average of polls puts Romney up by less than a point. On the other hand, RCP has Obama up 201-191 in the electoral college, with a 290-248 edge in the “no toss-up” scenario. Obama has held a consistent edge in the battleground state of Ohio, though Rasmussen’s most recent poll now has Romney up by two.

In general, I agree with Jim Geraghty that it appears almost certain that Mitt Romney will win the popular vote. It takes polls with rather generous Democrat advantages (in the range of D+7 and up) to even get Obama tied. I trust Gallup’s likely voter screen more than other polls, and Gallup has had Romney with a steady advantage of three-to-five points.

It’s certainly possible that Mitt Romney could win the popular vote and lose the electoral college. It has happened to several presidential candidates in our history, and we are all familiar with what took place in 2000. What is fairly unlikely, however, is for Mitt Romney to win the popular vote by a substantial margin and still lose the electoral college. If Mitt Romney wins the popular vote by more than even just a percentage point, than he will be the next President of the United States. Of course we can never be certain in politics, but it seems like a safe bet that the electoral and popular vote winner will the the same person.

One of the reasons that an Obama electoral college victory in the face of a popular vote defeat is unlikely is that massive swings in national vote totals are reflected in all states. President Obama won the popular vote by seven percent over John McCain in 2008. Assume for the moment that Mitt Romney wins by just one percent – that would signify an eight point swing in favor of the Republicans. Such a huge shift in the electorate is not going to be limited to a small number of states. And as history has shown, when the incumbent party loses support, it loses support everywhere.

I have taken a look at each presidential election since 1976. Since that election, the incumbent has lost twice, the incumbent party has lost two additional times, the incumbent has won three times, and one time the incumbent party has won once. In all but two of the elections since 1980 there has been a net shift of at least eight percent. Let’s take a closer look: Continue Reading

31

Richard Mourdock and the Illogic of the Rape Exception

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is in trouble. When talking about his opposition to abortion and whether he believes that there should be an exception in the case of rape, he had this to say:

“I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception,” the tea party-backed Mourdock said. “The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother.

“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said, appearing to choke back tears. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

There have been hysterics from the usual quarters, and Mitt Romney has even had to distance himself from the remarks. Pro-life candidate for governor, Mike Pence, even called on Mourdock to apologize.

Apologize for what?

Mourdock’s phrasing was awkward in that it he could be interpreted as saying that the rape itself was God’s will. Clearly Mourdock is referring to the pregnancy. Therefore what Mourdock is relating here is the true pro-life position. It’s nowhere near as bad as Todd Akin’s legitimate rape comments, and therefore those trying to make hay out of these comments are simply being disingenuous.

I was irked by something that Drew M at Ace of Spades said on this topic. Even though Drew thinks the backlash is unwarranted, he had this to say about Mourdock’s position:

I think Mourdock’s position is appalling (not his thoughts on God’s unknowable plans but the idea a rape victim should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term)

Normally I agree with Drew, but how can one find Mourdock’s position appalling, especially if one is otherwise generally pro-life? I can understand why people take the pro-life with exceptions position, and I would definitely accept a political compromise that prohibited abortion in all cases except rape, incest and where the life of the mother is at risk (though I think the practical application of such a law would be fraught with difficulties, but that’s for another discussion). And while I certainly don’t want to distance myself from people who are with me 99% of the way on an issue that is of the utmost importance, the pro-life with exceptions stance is logically untenable.

If you are pro-life it is because you presumably believe that life begins at conception. So if you advocate for the prohibition of abortion while simultaneously allowing exceptions, are you saying that the lives of those conceived via rape are somehow not fully human? Does the means of conception somehow instill greater value in certain forms of human life than others? If you are pro-life “except for rape,” what you’re basically saying is that abortion is murder and unacceptable, but murdering a child conceived in rape is somehow permissible. Well why should the method of conception matter?

In truth I understand why people are reluctant to commit to a 100 percent pro-life position. It is uncomfortable arguing that a woman who has experienced a brutal crime should then be forced to keep her child – a child that is a result of no choice of her own, and which could compound the trauma of what she has gone through. But by doing so, you are allowing sentiment to override reason.

The “with exceptions” pro lifers concern me because I wonder if they have fully thought through their positions. It is why polls that show a majority of Americans now turning towards a pro-life position are not necessarily cause for rejoicing quite yet. Again, I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and in no way would I want to turn these people away from the pro-life movement completely. Yet I think the instant revulsion to the sentiments expressed by Mourdock on the part of even some pro-lifers is worrisome.

12

So I Am Voting for Kodos After All

Jeff Goldstein left this comment on his own blog.

The wife and I reversed course and did in fact pull the trigger for Romney. But only as a stop gap to get Obama out.

Having voted for him, I now own part of him, should he win. And I’m going to be a very very very strict owner.

Beyond that, though, I think whatever the outcome of this election, the GOP establishment and the conservative / classical liberal / TEA Party base are going to engage in a huge existential battle. And I think the GOP is either going to have to get in line with us or head over to the Democrat side. Which won’t be terrible, because it’ll dilute the hard left with a lot of moderate mushiness and move it more toward the Democratic party of, say, JFK.

I agree with those of you who say enough is enough, and no more lesser of two evils. And I don’t begrudge you voting libertarian or writing someone else in. I really don’t. I just feel like we can not afford 4 more years of this guy without bringing the whole thing crashing down. And with two small kids, that literally terrifies me. In my state, every vote counts.

But it will be moot if we don’t also take the Senate and the House, and not with establicans, either. Any GOP office holder who has pimped for a Democrat instead of a TEA Party challenger should be primaried and cast out, whatever his or her voting record. There cannot be a permanent ruling class. And it’s time these entitled suited monkeys learned that.

We also need to change leadership — at least in the House. I think McConnell will, confronted with the reality of a bunch of new conservative / TEA Party Senators (should we get them; the GOP isn’t too terribly concerned with helping most of the serious ones, many of whom are in tight races), act in the interests of that particular trend. Boehner, on the other hand, needs to go. As does Cantor. Period. Full stop.

To me, it’s completely unacceptable that the GOP is allowing the Dems to beat up on Bachmann, King, and West — along with a number of very good constitutional conservative Senate candidates.

And that needs to be made clear as well, forcefully, once this election is over.

Ditto.

As I type this I am watching the third party debate on CSPAN. Yes, I am watching more of this than I did the debate that took place between Obama and Romney last night. Here’s the thing. While it’s nice to say that you are going to vote third party in protest, the people who are actually running for president on third party tickets are, shall we say, less than serious. Jay Anderson’s friend Virgil Goode seems like a decent man and the one third party candidate who is tethered to reality. On the other hand, the rest of the people on the stage seem more interested in vital issues like ending drug prohibition and combating climate change. Gary Johnson is under the impression that when he’s inaugurated he will wipe out the income tax and balance the budget, evidently as unicorns and mermaids dance around the maypole. The candidate of the Justice Party, Rocky Anderson, seems like he has gotten a head start on the end of prohibition. And then there’s Jill Stein of the Green Party, who makes one long for the seriousness of the Nader campaign.

All of the candidates for president – those polling in the 40s and those polling in the .40s alike – are simply not attractive. As is almost always the case we have to choose the least bad candidate. The least bad candidate of this election cycle happens to be Mitt Romney. It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but when the available protest candidates are even more revolting than the primary candidates (and my only options in this state are Johnson and Stein), then there is little choice.

That being said, I think that Goldstein’s points are going to be worth keeping in mind. Assuming that Mitt Romney is elected as the next president of the United States – and I believe he will be – that is but the first stage in what is going to be a long battle not just between Republicans and Democrats, but between Republicans and Republicans as well. (And presumably there will be the same serious soul searching internally for the Democrats.)  But that’s a post for another time.

As for now, I’m going to watch Larry King do a better job moderating the clown debate than anyone who moderated the “real” debates.

6

2012 Election – The Senate (Part Three)

We’re in the home stretch now as we look at the final set of Senate races. Each of these contests are either complete tossups or utter blowouts.

Pennsylvania – Republican: Tom Smith. Democrat: Bob Casey (Incumbent).

This race had flown under the radar as it appeared that Casey was cruising to re-election. Smith started gaining momentum at a time when nearly every other Republican was losing it, and he has now narrowed the gap. Even when Casey was well ahead he was failing to poll at the magical 50% number. Casey’s problem is representative of the shift in the Pennsylvania Democratic party. While his father was a true social conservative, and therefore a good fit for the state, the younger Casey pays only lip service to abortion and other issues. I think that Casey will survive, but only barely, and for just one more term. Prediction: Democrat hold.

Rhode Island – Republican: Barry Hinckley. Democrat: Sheldon Whitehouse (Incumbent).

A Republican polling firm has this race in single digits. Until I see other polls showing it that close, it still looks to be a pretty safe seat for Whitehouse. Prediction: Democrat hold.

Tennessee – Republican: Bob Corker (Incumbent). Democrat: Mark Clayton.

Corker was just about the only Republican to win a close election in 2006. He won’t have to sweat this time. Prediction: Republican hold.

Texas (open R) – Republican: Ted Cruz. Democrat: Paul Sadler.

Democrats in Texas must feel like Republicans in New York and California. One would think in a state as big as Texas, as Republican-dominated as it is, Democrats would be able to field a semi-competitive candidate. As it is, the real election occurred over the summer when Cruz upset the state’s Lieutenant Governor in a primary runoff. The only question about this contest is how big Cruz’s margin of victory will be. Prediction: Republican hold.

Utah – Republican: Orrin Hatch (Incumbent). Democrat: Scott Howell.

For once Orrin Hatch had to battle for re-election, but it wasn’t the general election that he had to worry about. Hatch was able to avoid the fate of his former colleague, Bob Bennett, and successfully fended off a tea party challenge for the nomination. Hatch had a little more conservative credibility than Bennett, obtaining the support of figures like Mark Levin. Having won re-nomination, Hatch will cruise in the general. Prediction: Republican hold.

Vermont – Republican: John MacGover. Independent: Bernie Sanders (Incumbent).

If there is a silver lining for Republicans, it is that this will continue to be technically a non-Democrat seat. Yeah, I’m stretching. Prediction: Independent hold.

Virginia (open D) – Republican: George Allen. Democrat: Tim Kaine.

In a year of tossups, this might be the tossiest-up of them all. Allen is running to regain the seat that he macaca’d himself out of six years ago. Allen has done better than he did during the last campaign, when he spent the better part of the Fall running negative ads against Jim Webb in a desperate effort to deflect attention away from his macaca moment. The 2006 election was one where partisans on both sides wished both candidates would just go away. Now, in an election pitting two former, relatively popular governors, once again it seems there is surprisingly little enthusiasm. At times it appears that both candidates are kind of going through the motions to win a seat neither really desperately wants, but feel compelled to run for out of some sense of party loyalty. It is truly a strange dynamic, and the voters have expressed their own confusion by failing to break for either candidate. It’s almost impossible to pick a winner, but I’ll go with Allen to win back the seat. No matter who wins, I sense that this will be an open-seat contest again in 2018. Prediction: Republican pickup.

Washington – Republican: Michael Baumgartner. Democrat: Maria Cantwell (Incumbent).

Another seat that the Republicans had some hopes for at the beginning of the year, but this was never a race. Prediction: Democrat hold.

West Virginia – Republican: John Raese. Democrat: Joe Manchin (Democrat).

Manchin has done a masterful job of persuading Mountaineers that he’s a rogue independent while siding with his party when it really matters. Prediction: Democrat hold.

Wisconsin (open D) – Republican: Tommy Thompson. Democrat: Tammy Baldwin.

This race has followed a path unlike most of the others. When former governor Tommy Thompson won the nomination this seemed like a prime Republican pickup opportunity, and Thompson did hold a double digit lead over the summer. Baldwin received a nice post-convention bounce, and she and Thompson have swapped leads it seems with every other poll. Thompson may have seemed like the safe choice for many Republicans in the state, but this is a case where the other candidate’s relative youth may be too much to overcome. Prediction: Democrat hold.

Wyoming – Republican: John Barrasso (Incumbent). Democrat: Tim Chestnut.

I don’t anticipate we’ll be up late waiting to hear a winner announced here. Prediction: Republican hold.

FINAL ANALYSIS: I have the Republicans picking up Florida, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Virginia, while losing Maine. That would be a net gain of five seats for the GOP, giving them a 52-48 majority (assuming the independents caucus with Democrats). I’m starting to rethink my Florida and Missouri calls, though I can see Ohio, Pennsylvania, and especially Wisconsin breaking in their favor (though Massachusetts can also swing the other way). Whatever the case may be, my most fearless prediction is this: we will know the identity of the next president much earlier in the evening on election night than we will which party will control the Senate.

9

2012 Election – The Senate (Part 2)

Minnesota – Republican: Kurt Bills. Democrat: Amy Klobuchar (Incumbent).

Minnesota feels like the mirror image of Arizona. It’s a state that a lot of people keep expecting to turn more purple, but it just never does. While Romney could eek out a victory here if the presidential election turns into a blowout, Klobuchar is quite safe. Prediction: Democrat hold.

Mississippi – Republican: Roger Wicker (Incumbent). Democrat: Albert N. Gore.

Yes, Gore is indeed a distant relative of the former Vice President. And he has about as much of a chance of winning here as the other Gore would. Prediction: Republican hold.

Missouri – Republican: Todd Akin. Democrat: Claire McCaskill (Incumbent).

Originally thought to be one of the Republican’s surest pickup opportunities, Akin had to go and open his mouth. Despite pleas to drop out of the race, Akin stubbornly stayed in and seemingly doomed the GOP here. Of course he had a secret weapon ready to deploy: his opponent. The fact is, McCaskill is a deeply unpopular Senator who is far too left-wing for her state. Throw in some corruption, and suddenly Mr. Legitimate Rape has a shot. With the polls narrowing, Republicans will have no choice but to throw some money Akin’s way. Looks like he’ll have the last laugh. Prediction: Republican pickup.

Montana – Republican: Danny Rehberg. Democrat: John Tester (Incumbent).

Tester defeated incumbent Conrad Burns by less than 3,000 votes in 2006, and it looks like this is turning out to be another nail-biter. With Montana and North Dakota having close Senate elections, we might be up late on election night wondering who has control of the Senate long after the presidential race has been decided.  Rehberg is the at-large Representative for Montana, so he is as familiar face with the electorate as Tester. Considering that this is a more favorable year for Republicans than 2006, I think Rehberg will win a squeaker. Prediction: Republican pickup.

Nebraska (open D) – Republican: Deb Fischer. Democrat: Bob Kerrey.

This race was decided the day Ben Nelson decided to accept the “Cornhusker Kickback” in exchange for voting for Obamacare. The Democrats had to pluck Bob Kerrey out of retirement in New York in order to even pretend that they had a chance, but this is the one GOP layup for the evening. Prediction: Republican pickup.

Nevada – Republican: Dean Heller (Incumbent). Democrat: Shelley Berkley.

The polls have been narrow throughout, but Heller has maintained a consistent edge in the range of 2-5 percent. Most worrisome for Heller is that he has only cracked 50% in one poll, which is always a danger sign for incumbents. Once again the momentum of the presidential race might determine the ultimate outcome, but it looks like Heller should be able to hang on. Prediction: Republican hold.

New Jersey – Republican: Joe Kyrillos. Democrat: Bob Menendez (Incumbent).

Every now and then New Jersey tantalizes Republicans. Once a fairly strong suburban stronghold for the GOP, it has become a solid blue state since the Clinton years. Though Republicans have done well on the gubernatorial level, and though they do actually have an even split with Democrats in the House caucus, the GOP just has never been able to breakthrough in the Senate. That will not be changing this year. Prediction: Democrat hold.

New Mexico (open D) – Republican: Heather Wilson. Democrat: Martin Heinrich.

New Mexico has been the one semi-swing state that hasn’t turned towards the Republicans this cycle. President Obama seems safe here, and Heinrich has opened up a comfortable double-digit lead. Prediction: Democrat hold.

New York – Republican: Wendy Long. Democrat: Kirsten Gillenbrand (Incumbent).

Believe it or not, but when I was a kid growing up in New York the Republican party in the state wasn’t a joke. Prediction: Democrat hold.

North Dakota (open D) – Republican: Rick Berg. Democrat: Heidi Heitkamp.

For the second cycle in a row, a Democrat retirement has opened up an opportunity for the Republicans to pickup a Senate seat in North Dakota. Unlike last time, this will not be a cakewalk for the Republican candidate. Congressman Rick Berg is running against Attorney General Heitkamp. The polling here has been sparse, so it’s difficult to know how the race stacks up. Even though Romney will win here fairly comfortably, and even though the state trends pretty heavily towards the GOP, this is far from a lock for Berg. I predict he will pull it out, but this is going to be very close. Prediction: Republican pickup.

Ohio – Republican: Josh Mandel. Democrat: Sherrod Brown (Incumbent).

Mandel had this race close, but then Brown started to pull ahead after the Democratic convention. The race has tightened up again, but Brown has a decent-sized lead. Once again, though, Brown fails to poll above 50%. Since Ohio could be viewed as the Democrats’ firewall for both the presidency and the Senate, I do not envy anyone living in the state. My advice – turn off the television. At any rate, though Brown is far to the left of the majority of the state, he is a tough guy to beat. I think Brown will hold on, but this race could easily shift towards Mandel in the closing moments. Prediction: Democrat hold.

9

2012 Election: The Senate

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems that even the Senate races are getting less attention than usual this year. I live in proximity to one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country, and it’s gotten relatively little attention. It’s all the more amazing considering that almost half of the races are fairly competitive, and the gap between the parties is small. Currently, Republicans hold 47 seats while Democrats have 53 (including two independents that caucus with them). If Mitt Romney is elected, Republicans will need to pickup a net of three seats in order to win effective control of the Senate. Considering recent Senatorial history, Republicans would do well to win a few extra seats.

Since Democrats have to defend two-thirds of the seats up for election this cycle, it would seem that Republicans should have a good chance of winning back control of the Senate. Unfortunately a couple of key retirements and several inopportune gaffes have made the Republican road to Senate control all the more difficult.

All that said, I will briefly analyze each of the Senate races. With 33 seats up for grabs, I will be splitting up these posts in batches of 11 each, working my way through them alphabetically. So let’s get to it. Continue Reading

2

2012 Election: The House

With it being a presidential election year, it is easy to lose track of the fact that there is an institution called Congress. You may not have heard, but as is the case every two years, approximately one-third of the Senate and all 435 House seats are up for election. I hope to look at the Senate races in the coming week, but this post is for the House of Representatives.

The least suspenseful aspect of the 2012 election are the House races. Certainly there is some drama within individual races, but in the aggregate, the Democratic chances of recapturing the House are somewhere between slim and are you kidding me. Real Clear Politics already has the GOP at 226 seats with lean-R and likely-R districts, with an additional 26 races listed as toss-ups. No matter what happens with the presidential election, Republican control of the House is a near certainty. The main question with regard to the House is how big will the Republican majority be? Even though the Republicans had an historic mid-term pickup, there were a number of close elections that Republicans lost in 2010, many of them in districts favorable to Republicans. Throw in post-census re-districting, and the GOP should retain a fairly strong majority.

I’m not going to go into detail into every tossup race. Consider this an open invitation for those of you either in swing districts or neighboring swing districts to inform us how things are shaping up in your neck of the woods.

I’ll kick things off by taking a look at the People’s Republic of Maryland. Currently two of Maryland’s eight House districts are held by Republicans, which is just too many for the overwhelming Democratic majority in the state. In attempt to knock off the longest-serving Republican – Roscoe Bartlett in the sixth district – the Democrats drew up a laughably gerrymandered map. This is actually a map of Maryland’s 8th district, currently served by Democrat and Nancy Pelosi lackey Chris Van Hollen (click on 2012 map). What they’ve done is place a part of heavily Reublican Frederick County in the northern part of the state and magically patched it with Maoist Montgomery County to the south. At one point the district basically just runs up I-270. The area to the west is the sixth district, which now combines portions of Montgomery County with the more conservative northwest section of the state. In other words, they’ve taken one heavily Democratic district and one Republican district and converted them into two Democratic-leaning districts. The gerrymander is so ridiculous that it is one of the five major state-wide ballot initiatives in Maryland. (Even if the voters decide to reject the altered districts, those elected will serve the districts as currently designed for the next term, and the Democrats just get to re-draw the lines).

Bartlett is facing challenger Joe Delaney, and things do not look good for Bartlett. It would be the ultimate justice if instead of ousting Bartlett, the re-drawn eight district winds up in the Republican column. Ken Timmerman is challenging Van Hollen, and has drawn the support of luminaries such as John Bolton. The district is now “only” 50% Democrat, which means that instead of this being a lock-solid Democrat district, it’s just a very strong Democrat district. Timmerman is going to have to pull a lot of independents to have any chance, but stranger things have happened. In the end, it looks like the state of Maryland will be a net pickup of one for the Democrats.

11

Is Intrade Really a Valuable Predictor?

Intrade is an online trading platform where participants actually place (legal) bets on the outcomes of certain events. For close to a decade political pundits have been using it as a reference to predict election outcomes. Indeed it seems to have a good record, correctly predicting the outcomes of the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, and getting all but two states correct in 2008. Currently, Intrade gives Barack Obama a 62.4% chance to win re-election.

So is Intrade a valuable resource that can be relied upon to accurately predict election outcomes? Not in the least.

This Business Insider article sums up several of the problems with Intrade, and hits upon the point that has bugged me the most about it, namely that all it does is distill current conventional wisdom. Take, for example, that 62.4% number above. Sure that looks good for Obama, but over a week ago that number was well over 80%. In other words, as Obama’s poll numbers moved down so did confidence by Intrade investors. As Joe Weisenthal put in when discussing the Republican primary:

So why ignore InTrade? Well, basically, because all it does is distill conventional wisdom. Seriously, what good is it to know that on InTrade Mitt Romney is far ahead, and that Hermain Cain doesn’t have a chance? All you have to do is read any DC-based political pundit, and they’ll tell you the exact same thing.

And when the conventional wisdom changes, so does the market.

Rick Perry is down in the dumps on InTrade now, but back in August — when everyone was talking about how he was the frontrunner — he was the frontrunner on InTrade as well.

Weisenthal then tracks Perry’s chances on InTrade, and notes how they basically just mirror Perry’s poll numbers.

Even the 2004 and 2008 results aren’t that impressive in retrospect. When people woke up on election day 2008, did anybody really doubt that Barack Obama would win, other than people who clung to fleeting hopes of a miracle McCain victory? And in 2004, Bush’s chances were just over 50% – meaning that the market as a collective was leaning the same way as most polls which, with a few exceptions, generally gave Bush a slight edge. In fact, if you look at Intrade activity on election day itself, Bush’s chances plummeted as early exit poll leaks suggested a Kerry victory, and then rose again as actual election results came in and a Bush victory became more apparent. In other words, Intrade just reflected the polls. And while the state predictions seem impressive, again, how many states were truly up for grabs? Intrade was therefore no more useful a guide than any reasonably informed individual with access to polling data.

Some fans of Intrade like to point out that participants literally have to put their money where their mouth is. I don’t really see how this makes the platform any more valuable as an index. Bookies all over the country would be the ones fearing having their legs broken if money induced wiser gambling behavior – and Intrade is, in essence, simply a gambling platform.

Long story short, Intrade offers no more insight into how the election will play out than some cranky guy writing on a blog who can look at the Real Clear Politics average of polls (which has Romney up by 1.3 percent, incidentally). So then why do pundits insist on citing it, and why do people continue to think it has any meaningful predictive value?

 

7

The Subtle Art of Political Advertising

Back in graduate school a professor of mine discussed the 1984 campaign. One of the national nightly news telecasts (I believe it was ABC) ran a segment basically running down the Reagan economy. It was one of those voiceover features that had a lot of stock footage of Reagan in various places: the Rockies, Mount Rushmore, and other locations featuring Reagan speaking. It was meant to be a devastating piece, but one of the members of Reagan’s campaign team called ABC afterwards and thanked them for the feature. Why? Because the visuals were all of Reagan in these fabulous settings, and in a visual world what appears on screen often trumps the content of the spoken word behind it.

That all crossed my mind when I saw this Barack Obama ad attacking Mitt Romney. Watch this video with the sound down first:

The content of course is absurd. “Partisan experts on our payroll say that Mitt Romney will raise taxes on the middle class to pay for the tax cut for the rich he’s not proposing.” Whatever. It’s par for the course for the Obama administration, and it’s an attack that is resonating less and less each day.

What struck me were the visuals. It shows an authoritative Mitt Romney at the debate. He’s talking in what appears to be a very passionate and confident manner. Meanwhile, President Obama is nodding along with his head down. It just seems like such a bizarre image to portray to the electorate. It’s an almost submissive, timid looking Obama being lectured by Mitt Romney. Considering how people drown out the content of these ads, it’s a visual that essentially reaffirms the post-debate sentiment that Mitt Romney took Barack Obama to school. No matter what was actually said in the ad, the voter is left with a visual image of a beaten-looking president being shown up by an energetic challenger.

Obama may have had a very successful fundraising month, but he might want to reconsider how is money is being used.

Update: Just saw this from Aaron Goldstein where he also ponders why Obama keeps running ads that seem to help Romney.

11

Supreme Court Justices in Church? We Can’t Have That

At the Bench Memos blog at National Review, Mathew Franck linked to a rather hysterical screed written by Marie Griffith. The object of Griffith’s scorn: the annual Red Mass that takes place at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC before the opening of the Supreme Court term. Griffith is not at all pleased that two-thirds of the Supreme Court attended the latest Red Mass a couple of weeks ago.

Last Sunday, September 30, witnessed one of the most vivid and, to many (emphasis mine), disturbing examples of this religion/politics paradox.

Right out of the gate we get some good old-fashioned intellectual dishonesty. Who are the “many” that are disturbed by this visual? I would wager that the overwhelming majority of people have no idea that this Mass even exists, and that a scant few who are aware of its existence are very bothered by it. Rather than taking ownership of an opinion and writing that she is offended by the Red Mass, Griffith assigns a feeling to a mythical many. It’s a passive aggressive trick employed when a writer either lacks the guts to openly state their feelings, or when they want to conjure up support for an opinion that is not wildly shared by actual open beings.

She continues: Continue Reading

7

A New Low

Just when you thought the Obama campaign couldn’t sink any lower in its shamelessness, you realize there really is no bottom. Yesterday the Obama website posted this letter from “Brittany,” a 25-year old woman with Downs Syndrome.

Hello! My name is Brittany and I live in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. I am 25 years old (but I will be 26 on October 3rd!). I am a registered Democrat and I have been voting since I was 18. I am one of the 47% of Americans who fall under Mitt Romney’s definition of “entitled” and “unable to take responsibility for my life.” I have Down syndrome.

. . . I have also included my picture, not just because I’m cute, but because I wanted to give you a face of one of the 47% to share with Mr. Romney.

Patterico helpfully points out that this is rich coming from the website of an admirer of Andrew Sullivan. But that’s not the most infuriating aspect of this letter.

Brittany says she is the face of one of the 47%. But you know what – she is the face of an even smaller percentage, and that is the percentage of children with Downs Syndrome who are actually carried to term. The statistics vary from study to study, but anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of parents who receive news that their child is going to have Downs Syndrome choose to abort. That means that a child with Downs Syndrome has as little as a one in ten chance of surviving until birth, assuming their parents have advance notice. (To be sure, many parents refuse to test in the first place as they have no intention of aborting a child with Downs Syndrome.)

The idea that an administration that has no problem with the mass destruction of human life in the womb, and that promotes the sort of cultural rot that encourages people to view precious human life as disposable, is nauseating. And yet one reads the comments underneath this letter and you learn that Republicans are the heartless ones. And yet how many of those gleefully cheering on Brittany and using her words as a cudgel would abort their very own Brittanys? Moreover, how many of them would expect the government to fully fund those abortions, as they are proposing to do in France?

But that could never happen here.

 

10

President of All the People

President Barack Obama went on the David Letterman show last night and responded to the leaked video where Mitt Romney explained why 47 percent of the electorate was basically shut off to him. Obama took the softball and hammered one out of the park, waxing poetic about being responsive to all the people.

Such stirring words, and certainly President Obama has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to respecting the values of those who disagree with him.

Continue Reading

21

Archbishop Chaput on Faith and Public Life

A friend forwarded me this excellent article written by Archbishop Charles Caput. It’s a detailed post outlining our responsibilities as Catholic citizens.

The Archbishop begins with an anecdote that hits a little close to home.

A priest I know does a lot of spiritual direction.  Two of the men he was helping died suddenly this past year, one of a heart attack and one of a stroke.  In both cases they were relatively young men and quite successful.  In both cases they watched Fox News.  And in both cases they had gotten into the nightly habit of shouting at President Obama whenever he came on the TV.  In both cases, the wives believed – and they still believe – that politics killed their husbands.

Now that’s a true story.  And it’s a good place to begin our time together today.  Henri de Lubac, the great Jesuit theologian, once said that if heretics no longer horrify us, it’s not because we have more charity in our hearts. (i) We just find it a lot more satisfying to despise our political opponents.  We’ve transferred our passion to politics.

I don’t yell at the television – well, not every night. I do spend more time than I should on the internet. Now there are some excellent sites – like this one, of course – but the cumulative effect of reading so much about politics can be bad for both the soul and the heart. And there are times when my obsession with politics truly dispirits me.

At the same time, there is the opposite temptation to completely shut oneself off from politics. There have been times over the past few months where I have felt like completely tuning out. Despair is a terrible sin, and when it comes to politics it is easy to despair when it seems like so many things are going wrong that you can’t even keep track anymore. Yet this would be just as irresponsible as shutting out all things  except politics. Archbishop Chaput explains why we can’t exactly separate the political and religious aspects of our lives.

What all this means for our public life is this:  Catholics can live quite peacefully with the separation of Church and state, so long as the arrangement translates into real religious freedom.  But we can never accept a separation of our religious faith and moral convictions from our public ministries or our political engagement.  It’s impossible.  And even trying is evil because it forces us to live two different lives, worshiping God at home and in our churches; and worshiping the latest version of Caesar everywhere else.  That turns our private convictions into lies we tell ourselves and each other.

Later on he adds:

Third, despite these concerns, Christians still have a duty to take part in public life according to their God-given abilities, even when their faith brings them into conflict with public authority.  We can’t simply ignore or withdraw from civic affairs.  The reason is simple.  The classic civic virtues named by Cicero – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance – can be renewed and elevated, to the benefit of all citizens, by the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.  Therefore, political engagement is a worthy Christian task, and public office is an honorable Christian vocation.

Read the rest of the Archbishop’s excellent article. It’s refreshing to read a cleric who can discuss these issues so unambiguously and without concern that he might be offending someone somewhere.

 

14

Sandra Fluke and Our Broketastically Brokey-Broke Nation

At his best, there’s simply no one who writes like Mark Steyn.

So this is America’s best and brightest – or, at any rate, most expensively credentialed. Sandra Fluke has been blessed with a quarter-million dollars of elite education, and, on the evidence of Wednesday night, is entirely incapable of making a coherent argument. She has enjoyed the leisurely decade-long varsity once reserved for the minor sons of Mitteleuropean grand dukes, and she has concluded that the most urgent need facing the Brokest Nation in History is for someone else to pay for the contraception of 30-year-old children. She says the choice facing America is whether to be “a country where we mean it when we talk about personal freedom, or one where that freedom doesn’t apply to our bodies and our voices” – and, even as the words fall leaden from her lips, she doesn’t seem to comprehend that Catholic institutions think their “voices” ought to have freedom, too, or that Obamacare seizes jurisdiction over “our bodies” and has 16,000 new IRS agents ready to fine us for not making arrangements for “our” pancreases and “our” bladders that meet the approval of the commissars. Sexual liberty, even as every other liberty withers, is all that matters: A middle-school girl is free to get an abortion without parental consent, but if she puts a lemonade stand on her lawn she’ll be fined. What a bleak and reductive concept of “personal freedom.”

America is so broketastically brokey-broke that one day, in the grim future that could be, society may even be forced to consider whether there is any meaningful return on investment for paying a quarter-million bucks to send the scions of wealth and privilege to school till early middle-age to study Reproductive Justice. But, as it stands right now, a Cornell and Georgetown graduate doesn’t understand the central reality of the future her elders have bequeathed her. There’s no “choice” in the matter. It’s showing up whatever happens in November. All the election will decide is whether America wants to address that reality, or continue to live in delusion – like a nation staggering around with a giant condom rolled over its collective head.

As funny as it is, it almost makes one want to weep.

Read the rest.

20

Using Prayer as a Rhetorical Weapon

We all need prayers. Every soul praying for our soul is a net positive. As Catholics, it’s one of the main reasons we ask the Saints for their prayers. Yet there are times when the phrase “I will be praying for you” sounds more like spite than a genuine offering up to God.

I’ve noticed this more and more in Catholic blog comment boxes, and it has happened here on more than one occasion. A person of a more leftist orientation disagrees with a post written by one of our regulars, and after a semi-heated exchange, goes off in a huff, but not before saying that they will be praying for the person they’ve been debating. Instead of coming off as a “I’ll be praying for you so that God may provide his abundant mercy,” it sounds more like the person is saying, “I will be praying for your poor soul to recognize the merits of a higher tax rate for the wealthy.” The underlying tone is, I am a better person than you, so God better hear from me to save you from the hellfire.

I suppose we all do this from time to time. It was common while Christopher Hitchens was alive to hear Catholics declaring that they were praying for his conversion, or simply for his soul. Now there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, and all people truly need our prayers. Yet there is a very fine line, and we can all run into the danger of using prayer almost as a rhetorical bludgeon. It might be a good idea to stop and ask yourself, am I offering to pray for this person because I am truly moved by the Holy Spirit to do so, or am I doing this to subtly indicate my own self-righteousness? Then again – and this is for the theological philosophers to muddle over – is prayer offered up even with bad motivation better than no prayer at all?

7

And Now Idiots

Hey, remember when those evil Dutch overlords refused to free all their slaves in Brooklyn? No? Because Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) sure does.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) appeared to botch American and Brooklyn political history during an appearance on “The Colbert Report” that aired Tuesday night, saying that slavery in the United States persisted under the Dutch as late as 1898.

Colbert was quizzing Clarke on the history of her borough.

“Some have called Brooklyn’s decision to become part of New York City ‘The Great Mistake of 1898,’ ” Colbert said. “If you could get in a time machine and go back to 1898, what would you say to those Brooklynites?”

”I would say to them, ‘Set me free,’ ” Clarke said.

Pressed by Colbert what she would be free from, the black congresswoman responded, “Slavery.”

“Slavery. Really? I didn’t realize there was slavery in Brooklyn in 1898,” Colbert responded, seemingly looking to give the lawmaker a chance to catch her error.

“I’m pretty sure there was,” Clarke responded.

“It sounds like a horrible part of the United States that kept slavery going until 1898,” the late-night comedian then quipped.

Colbert pressed on, asking, “Who would be enslaving you in 1898 in New York?”

At that point, Clarke responded, “The Dutch.”

Yes, that was surely a dark period of American history. Fortunately, a contingent of troops who had been training in Central Park under Joe Pepitone finally managed to free the poor, oppressed Brooklynites from the clutches of the Dutch, who were rounded up and sent back to their home country of Dutchland on a series of trans-Atlantic flights, all piloted by Howard Hughes.

5

We Belong to the Government

Some people think that Democrats have become too statist. How could they possibly have come to that conclusion?

I guess Democrats were worried that Republicans had already gotten too much mileage out of “you didn’t build that,” so they helpfully offered up another tasty soundbite that Republicans will be able to use in ads for the next nine weeks.

It’s shaping up to be a fine convention as Democrats let go of any pretension of not being governed by the far left of the party. Don’s already highlighted one odious aspect of their platform, and Ace details some more juicy nuggets.

 Small businesses employ half of all working Americans, and, over the last two decades, have created two out of three net new jobs. Democrats believe that small businesses are the engine of job growth in America. President Obama signed 18 small-business tax cuts to encourage with a tax credit to help pay for the cost of coverage. In 2014, the tax credit will grow and small businesses will be able to pool their purchasing power together to get affordable coverage.

We recognize the importance of small business to women, people of color, tribes, and rural America and will work to help nurture entrepreneurship.

It’s very helpful that the Democrats emphasized the importance of small business to people of color and tribes, though they left out several other key interest groups. I really wish someone had filmed the meeting or meetings where the platform was put together. They could have captured a great debate over which special interest groups to cover in that sentence.

“It should say we recognize the importance of small business to women, people of color, recovering meth addicts, and violinists.”

“That’s absurd. We need to mention gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, transmutated, and former NFL players diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.”

“I agree that we should include the transmutated, but what about urban hipsters and people who still use Myspace?”

“I think it goes without saying that Democrats recognize the importance of small businesses for people who still use Myspace, but we risk alienating space aliens.”

“That’s offensive! You know that we are not permitted to use that word.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Undocumented interstellar travelers.”

Break out the beer and popcorn, because this is going to be an entertaining couple of days.

 

30

A pox on a pox on both your houses

In the crazy world of politics, and in the crazier world of presidential primary politics, there were few things more quixotic than Jon Huntsman’s futile bid for the presidency. Huntsman behaved as though he stopped observing American politics the morning after Barack Obama was elected president, and didn’t bother catching up even when he announced his candidacy. In many ways he was the anti-Romney, running to the left of his actual record as governor. His debate performances were uniformly terrible, as his attempts at humor fell flat, and he otherwise offered up little more than empty bromides and bland slogans that were meant to appeal to . . . well, I’m not really sure who they appealed to other than the 12 people who voted for him.

Now, in a general election where even Ron Paul has sorta kinda made peace with the Republican party, Huntsman is on a media speaking tour. Huntsman went on CNN today and blathered about the GOP’s lack of inclusiveness and the party’s inability to offer real solutions. Video is available at the Right Scoop. The other night, Hunstman appeared on the Colbert Report. I don’t normally watch mini-Stewart, but I was in a semi-feverish state and lacked the ability to change the channel. Immediately Huntsman complained about the general state of American politics. He asked when was the last time we got together as a country and tried to work our problems out and achieve solutions to our problems. The utter vacuousness of this comment acted like a magical healing balm, filling me with the strength to pick up my remote and flip off the television, but not before hurling an agitated and incomprehensible epithet for which I must now go to Confession.

What was so outrageous about the comment? It means literally nothing. First of all, what is this great national debate that we’re supposed to be having? Is there going to be a scheduled moment when all Americans gather and hash out their feelings? More importantly, people have offered solutions – they are just solutions that Jon Huntsman doesn’t like. And that, right there, crystallizes the problem I have with so many political moderates. Continue Reading

22

The Dark Side of Ideological Inconsistency

A couple of days ago I was listening to a radio show on Sirius. The hosts were playing audio of a woman who had spent six hours waiting in line at the welfare office. The woman did not sound particularly old, and she had six kids.

There were several disconcerting elements to the story. The fact that this woman waited so long highlights the inefficiencies of government bureaucracies. More importantly, it was clear that this woman not only depended on the welfare checks to get by, the attitude expressed in the soundbite revealed how deeply she felt entitled to the government benefits.

No one should begrudge those who truly need government assistance. I know nothing of this woman’s history, so I won’t comment on her situation specifically. But I was saddened as I listened to this woman speak, and I thought of how welfare has turned many people into truly helpless individuals – not because they are so by nature, but because that is what the welfare state does to people.

The radio hosts who played this story have what can be described as a libertarian bent, and they decried the welfare state’s tendency to breed dependency. Yet I couldn’t help but laugh at their willful blindness, for they are certainly the types who would mock social conservatives. So many libertarians, or socially liberal and economically conservative individuals, fail to appreciate the nexus between social and economic issues. The breakdown of the family contributes to the rise of the welfare state. More and more children are born out of wedlock, and single mothers must turn to the state to provide financial support to their families. Yet these social libertarians (indeed some of them are libertines) see no contradiction in promoting lax cultural mores while decrying ever-increasing government dependency.

Yet libertarians are not the only ones who fail to connect economic and social issues. Looking at it from a different perspective, those who consider themselves socially conservative but who advocate enhanced government intervention in economic affairs do not see how the welfare state itself leads to the breakdown of the family. The welfare state has practically displaced the family in many situations, fostering the sense of independence from family life. The family hasn’t been wholly displaced as the primary means of financial support, but many people have been brought up to expect that the government will be there to bail them out of poor life choices. Therefore, just as the breakdown of the family contributes to the rise of the welfare state, the welfare state itself contributes to the breakdown of the family. It is a vicious cycle, and those who insist that we can separate economic and social issues perpetuate that cycle.

20

Devastating: Charlie Crist Endorses Obama, Will Speak at Democratic Convention

Devastating to Barack Obama, that is.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist says he’s backing Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race.

The former Republican made the announcement in an op-ed piece published in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times. The endorsement came as Republicans are gathering in the Tampa Bay area for the GOP convention. It also came amid preparations statewide for Tropical Storm Isaac.

Crist left the Republican Party during his unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 and is currently registered as having no party affiliation. He was elected governor of Florida as a Republican in 2006.

Yes, that “unsuccesful” bid, where as a sitting governor he netted a whopping 30% of the vote and lost by 18% to Marco Rubio.

So after being humiliated in the general election by Rubio, Crist has decided to take his marbles and endorse President Obama. Hmm, where have we seen this act before? A person’s ambitions for greater glory are thwarted, and he decides to simply switch allegiances in an effort to suck up to Barack Obama. I really feel like I’ve seen this play out before. Hmmm.

Crist will be speaking at the Democratic convention in Charlotte. I’m sure the Democrats are excited that a former Republican governor will be addressing their convention. Actually, they’re probably excited that anyone is speaking at their convention at this point.

As for Crist’s endorsement, it is interesting that the man who once claimed that Sarah Palin was more qualified to be president than Barack Obama is now endorsing the latter. What changed Crist’s mind? Well, let’s look at his op-edContinue Reading

13

Deroy Murdock Wants the GOP to Engage in Five Minutes of Hate Against Akin

Sometimes I can get heated in my writing. I recognize that I am not always the most temperate of bloggers. But if I ever write anything as hysterically removed from reality as this Corner posting by Deroy Murdock, please have me forcibly removed from the internet.

Murdock starts out semi-sensibly, expressing his disgust over Akin’s comments and stating that he should have dropped out of his Senate race. Fair enough, that’s how I felt about the matter. Then he delves into apocalyptic nonsense.

This will be an utter catastrophe for the GOP — from St. Louis to San Diego to Seattle to Sarasota to Seabrook.

Any American who does not know Akin’s name already is about to hear it non-stop, thanks to Democrats who cannot believe the beautifully wrapped gift that Akin just handed them. Rather than engage the buoyant Paul Ryan and the re-energized Mitt Romney or explain to seniors why President Obama swiped $716 billion from Medicare to finance Obamacare, Democrats will have a much more startling theme to pound home until November: Republicans are soft on rape.

Yeah. It is true that Akin has likely prevented the Republicans from picking up a Senate seat, but Murdock is just as likely highly exaggerating the ramifications of his comments for the rest of the party. Yes, Akin provides some fresh meat for a Democrat party, but really, they aren’t really saying anything new about the woman-hating GOP. Meanwhile, the economy remains a shambles, and the American public is only so willing to permit distractions to make them forget that fact. So I think that Akin’s comments, while insanely idiotic, will not have a far-reaching impact beyond his own race.

Around the clock, Democratic candidates, spokesmen, commercials, and the party’s foot soldiers in the news media will labor sedulously to transform the party of Lincoln and Reagan into the party of Akin. By Election Day, Akin will be more famous, ubiquitous, and inescapable than Kim Kardashian. His twisted comments on rape will be played again and again, with spooky music, scary edits, and every instrument in the campaign consultant’s tool box applied to amplify this message.

By November 6, the only woman who will vote for Mitt Romney will be Ann Romney — maybe.

Uh huh. The GOP will be able to replay Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment on the same repeated loop (and actually slightly more often considering the GOP money advantage). Which of these two ploys will resonate more deeply with voters this election cycle?

With women (and many men) terrified by the Party of Rape, Republican candidates and causes will fall like autumn leaves, after which some will blow away, and others will gather in piles and fester.

Sure. Moreover, failed Republican candidates will grieve for months over the shocking loss. Bereft of comfort, they will spiral out of control, dying desolate and alone, clutching nothing but an empty bottle that was their only means of warmth on the cold streets in which they dwelled. Their widows and orphans will wallow in misery. Even with Obamacare fully implemented and strengthened by the McCaskill amendment barring all private insurance, making the federal government the sole provide of healthcare, the GOP widows will be abandoned by a vengeful government. Eventually they will be killed – as will we all – by the machines that rise to power after President Biden accidentally flips the wrong switch on the day they are to be activated in our war with Canada.

Does Akin want to be the man whom history will recall as guaranteeing McCaskill’s reelection, possibly keeping the U.S. Senate in the hands of hardened liberal Democrat, Harry Reid?

Does Akin hope to be known in perpetuity as the cause of Barack Obama’s reelection, notwithstanding the multifarious merits of the Romney-Ryan ticket?

Does Akin want to lie on his deathbed and exhale his last breath while trying vainly to forget that he made it impossible to repeal Obamacare, reverse the rampant damage of the Obama years, and turn America from the path to decline?

Does Akin want to wake up in the fiery depths of hell, Satan welcoming him to an eternal torment?

Does Akin want to spend his hellish eternity watching re-runs of What’s Happening while listening to the soulful tunes of Kenny G?

Does Akin want to open the portal that allows all of the demons of hell to march triumphantly upon heaven, thus causing all of eternity to be erased in an instant?

Well if Akin doesn’t want to end all of existence, then there’s no choice but to unleash the hounds of parliamentary procedure.

On its opening evening in Tampa, the Republican National Convention should vote on prime-time television to denounce Akin, reject his wretched comments, disassociate the party from him, and pledge that no GOP resources will be deployed to support his campaign. Each delegation should express itself on this matter through a roll call of the states. The decision should be overwhelming, if not unanimous, against Akin.

His name will be stricken from the records, his mere existence denied Republicans for all eternity. Any who dare even mention the name Akin – who hereafter shall be referred to as He Who Must Not Be Named – will be arrested and jailed.

Of course this still might not be enough. Todd Akin should be dragged onto the stage and sacrificed. Sandra Fluke should be invited to be the one to plunge the knife into Akin’s still-beating heart. And she should be given a lifetime supply of contraception as a final means of atonement.

Then, and only then, will this long national nightmare finally be behind us.

Until somebody else says something stupid. In other words, when Joe Biden speaks in public again.

16

It is not Dishonorable to be Honorable

Chris Johnson, whom Donald has labeled as Defender of the Faith, sums up my feelings on the Todd Akin affair both here and here. Darwin also has an eminently sensible take. Meanwhile, Akin continues to labor under the delusion that he can still defeat Senator McCaskill this November, bolstered by this preposterously over-Republican sampled poll showing that he maintains a one point lead. Evidently his idiocy extends to issues beyond rape.

What’s remarkable is that a hefty proportion of conservatives are calling for Akin to withdraw. When Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and (kinda sorta) Rush Limbaugh are all urging you to get out of the race, it’s a sign that it’s not just establishment “RINOs” that have turned against you.

Now I do also think that Levin and our own Bonchamps make good points about Democrat hypocrisy on this issue. That said, those few who continue to defend Akin are relying on the most obnoxious tu quoque strategy in order to justify Akin’s continued presence in the Missouri Senate race. Chris and Dana Loesch have been Akin’s most ardent supporters on twitter. They haven’t necessarily defended his statement, but they have insisted that because Democrats say and do much viler things, and because leftists tend to rally around those Democrats who say and defend stupid things, it’s wrong for conservatives and Republicans to insist that Akin get out. They argue that conservatives opposed to Akin are being cowards who are chickening out in the face of Democrat aggression.

First of all, I would argue that the more cowardly and politically weak-minded thing to do is to essentially cede what should be a fairly easy pick-up for Republicans. More importantly,  blind partisan loyalty is not a virtue to be emulated, and the proper response to gutter politics is not to get in the gutter with your opponents.

Let’s take a look at two comments left on Bonchamps’ post.

Yes women get pregnant from rapes. No your body doesn’t shut that down. If a man ejaculates semen into a woman, she can get pregnant whether it’s consensual or it’s rape. I knew a woman who did indeed get pregnant after being gang raped. It happens. Apparently you folks think rape is a joke. Hardy har.

This was downright erudite in comparison to this one:

i hope all of you get raped and then you can feel what it is like, bunch of hypocrites

If you read the comments on Congressman Akin’s facebook page announcing that he is staying in, you’ll see comments from conservatives supporting him, comments from conservatives politely asking him to step down, and comments from unhinged leftists who think that Akin’s comments are a sign that he and all Republicans want women shackled and subservient. Twitter is alive with comments from the likes of Michael Moore:

Don’t let the Repubs paint Akin as a lone nut. HE is THEM. They all believe this: Gov’t MUST have control over what women do w/ their bodies

This is a sentiment that has been echoed in various corridors.

There’s really no charitable way to put it: these people are obviously out of their gourd. These are people not interested in dialogue, nor or they people who can be reasoned with. Yet these are types of people that Akin supporters, in a sense, want to emulate. Instead of being reviled by the viciousness or ruthlessness of the hyper-partisans on the left, some on the right are consumed with the idea of “fighting fire with fire.”

Don’t get me wrong. The Akin supporters (by and large) have not said anything nearly as dumb or vile as these people. Yet instead of recognizing the behavior of the other side as something anti-social and to be avoided, it’s as though certain conservatives see this, dig in their heels, and insist on playing a somewhat milder version of the same game.

A lot of the people on the right behaving like that think that they are simply following in the path of the late Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart, of course, was largely beloved on the right because of his take no prisoners attitude, and because he had an amazing ability to beat the left at their own game. But there’s a difference between sticking to your guns and blind partisan loyalty. I can sympathize with individuals who believe that Republicans are too soft at times and easily back down from political fights. Yet, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Republicans actually are willing to hold other Republicans’ feet to the fire. In other words, there is nothing dishonorable about being honorable. I don’t think blind partisanship is something we need more of.

12

Revelations from a Twitter Exchange

It has always been incomprehensible to me that we don’t require photo identification for voting. The idea that you can just go up to an election official, simply state your name, and then receive your ballot is mind boggling. We require identification for so many other important functions, yet we’re basically leaving it up to the honor system when it comes to voting. It’s simply a matter of fairness. It’s bad enough that my vote gets cancelled out by idiots – you know, people like Joe Biden – but it is even more unfair to have it cancelled out by someone who does not have a legal right to vote in that particular election. Requiring identification certainly wouldn’t eliminate all incidents of voter fraud, but they would go a long way in ensuring that everyone who votes has a legal right to do so.

Well, the major argument against these laws is that we are somehow disenfranchising people. This is utter nonsense. No one who has a legal right to vote would be barred from voting because of a photo i.d. law. Sure, there are people who do not possess photo identification, particularly the elderly. How they function without identification is a mystery to me, but most of the proposed laws have provisions to help these people get identification.

Yet that is not how some people on the left claim to see it. To them, evil Republicans just want to make sure the poor and the elderly are forced to stay home on election day. Today I had a twitter exchange that typified the attitude of many anti-i.d. folks. It hammered home a few things about their attitude that is frankly quite scary.

Continue Reading

23

That Radical Ryan

Carl Olson has an extensive post tackling the “radical” nature of evil right-winger Paul Ryan. He starts by quoting one of Ryan’s more extreme statements.

[We] will confidently proceed to unshackle American enterprise and to free American labor, industrial leadership, and capital, to create an abundance that will outstrip any other system.

Free competitive enterprise is the most creative and productive form of economic order that the world has seen. The recent slow pace of American growth is due not to the failure of our free economy but to the failure of our national leadership. …

Economic growth is the means whereby we improve the American standard of living and produce added tax resources for national security and essential public services. …

The American free enterprise system is one of the great achievements of the human mind and spirit. It has developed by a combination of the energetic efforts of working men and women, bold private initiative, the profit motive and wise public policy, until it is now the productive marvel of mankind. …

We will seek further tax reduction—and in the process we need to remove inequities in our present tax laws. In particular we should carefully review all our excise taxes and eliminate those that are obsolete. Consideration should be given to the development of fiscal policies which would provide revenue sources to hard-pressed state and local governments to assist them with their responsibilities.

Every penny of Federal spending must be accounted for in terms of the strictest economy, efficiency and integrity. We pledge to continue a frugal government, getting a dollar’s value for a dollar spent, and a government worthy of the citizen’s confidence.

Our goal is a balanced budget in a balanced economy.

Wow, that is extreme. What is Carl’s response?

Oh, wait. My apologies; the quotes above were all taken from the 1960 and 1964 Democratic Party Platforms. How did that happen? Whoops. Well, consider it a quick journey down memory lane.

• I actually started writing this post three days ago, not long after the news broke that the most right-wing, narrow-minded conservative in the history of the world had been chosen by Mitt Romney as vice-president candidate for the “Hate the Women!” party (yes, I’m struggling to control the sarcasm). A man so radical that in the early 1960s he would have been reasonably positioned and perceived as a moderate to conservative Democrat. A man so far to the Extreme Right that he is re-elected on a regular basis—by substantial margins—in a district that voted for Obama in 2008. Chew on that for a few seconds and then ask yourself, “Do the Dallas Cowboys have a shot at the Super Bowl this year? How much has changed in the U.S. in the past fifty years?”

Anyway, please read the rest.

 

23

One Term More!

This is one of the greatest spoofs of the left that I have ever seen.

Wait a second, that’s not a spoof. These people are deadly serious, as their website would indicate. Although the video is not nearly as unintentionally hilarious as the open letter attached to the video.

Amazingly, they aren’t even up to the standards of the previous time this was tried four years ago (h/t: Blackadder).

Anyway, my deepest apologies for inflicting those videos upon you. Here’s a classic rock song to cleanse the palate.  Continue Reading

8

Negativity About Negativity

We’re roughly 4,231 months into the 2012 presidential campaign, or so it seems. Even if you live in a very secure red or blue state (like me), you’ve probably already been subjected to an endless barrage of television ads if you live within about 300 miles of a swing state. And if you live in Richmond, the capital of the battleground state of Virginia, some 4,504 ads have already run (this one’s not an exaggeration), and exactly zero of them have been positive. That’s right, 4,504 out of the 4,504 ads run thus far in the market have been attack ads.

Such information usually inspires people to bellyache about negative campaigning. For instance, this past weekend I talked to my relatively apolitical brother, who said that a politician would instantly become a mass favorite by just being the first guy to run a positive campaign detailing what he was going to do, and forgoing the attacks on his opponent. I just smiled, nodded, and kept smoking the cigar he had generously given me.

I find the criticism of negative campaigning to be overwrought for three reasons. First of all, as Jim Geraghty mentions, they are simply more effective than positive ads. As he says, “if positive ads worked, campaigns would use them more frequently.” People like to complain about them, but attack ads do have an impact. I don’t know if we can accurately measure how persuasive they are, but campaigns would stop running them if they had any indication that they were ineffective.

Second, are “positive” ads any more bearable? No thirty second television spot is going to convey a tremendous amount of information. While we might roll our eyes as soon as the ominous music rolls while some low-voiced narrator explains why Mitt Romney likes to torture small animals and wants your grandmother to die in the street, the fluffy “Hi, I’m Joe McGenericcandidate, and I like puppies” ads are somehow even worse. Nine times out of ten, positive ads are nothing more than the candidate or his surrogates spouting generic nonsense that conveys almost no substantive information. Moreover, in a culture where people increasingly watch television shows through their DVRs specifically so that they can skip the commercials, we generally find all ads to be annoying. So who cares whether the tone of the political advertisement is positive or negative – they’re all equally insufferable. At least the negative ads are more likely to be somewhat funny and entertaining.

Finally, any person who bases their vote even partly due to political advertising should be banned from the polling booth. The first thing that should happen when a registered voter appears at the judges table  – after flashing photographic identification – is them being asked if they only decided their vote after watching a thirty second television advertisement. If they answer yes, or if they answer no but it’s clear that they’re lying – and we can get people there who can tell when people are lying to them – then they should be politely escorted out of the building. If after several decades of campaigning you still can’t decide who to vote for, and you finally just wave your arms and say “I guess I’ll vote for the guy who says the other guy wants to murder my children in their sleep,” then you really should have no right to vote. I wouldn’t feel much better about this voter if he instead said “I guess I’ll vote for the guy who promises abortions for some and miniature American flags for everyone else.” Political advertising is geared towards dumb people and the politically ignorant (not a mutually exclusive group, necessarily). I really don’t care if the message being conveyed to them is negative or positive. The fact that any political advertising actually sways the electorate is depressing in its own right.

44

Debunking Realignment Theory

For well over half a century political scientists have promoted the idea of electoral realignments or critical elections. Popularized by the likes of V.O. Key, the idea is that every 32 or 36 years electoral currents shift radically to favor one party or the other. Roughly speaking, the critical elections have been 1800 (Jefferson and the emergence of the Jeffersonian Republican), 1828 (Jacksonian Democracy), 1860 (the Lincoln Republicans), 1896 (McKinley and the dominance of the GOP), 1932 (FDR and the New Deal), and 1968 (Nixon and the New Right). According to this theory, we are overdue for a critical election. Some assumed Barack Obama’s 2008 victory marked such a shift. John Judis and Ruy Teixeira argued back in 2002 in The Emerging Democratic Majority that demographic trends favored the Democrats, and that the party would be ascendant for the foreseeable future.

David Mayhew wrote the definitive rebuttal to the realignment school of thought. Mayhew dug deep into the electoral data and showed that political scientists had overvalued demographic trends and missed subtle clues that completely contradicted the critical election theory.

Sean Trende builds upon Mayhew and also rebuts realignment theory in The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government is Up for Grabs – and Who Will Take It. Trende looks back at electoral data dating into the 19th century and argues that those who advocate on behalf of realignment theory conveniently ignore elections that do not quite fit in with their neat picture. For example, if the 1896 election began a period of Republican dominance, what happened in the 1910s? To argue that Wilson’s election in 1912 was a fluke ignores the fact that Democrats had won control of the House in 1910, and had done quite well until World War I shifted the electorate back towards the Republicans. Trende also points out that the McKinley-Roosevelt-Taft GOP was a different beast than the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover GOP, as the party had become much more conservative.

Trende’s most startling argument – and one which the data certainly supports – is that the New Deal coalition did not flame out in the 1960s; rather, the New Deal coalition was dead as early as 1938. Southern Democrats had tolerated FDR’s early New Deal program, but his advocacy of greater government intervention pushed the southern Democrats away. Though Democrats retained nominal control of Congress for much of this period, Republicans and conservative Democrats had an effective majority.

Along these same lines, Trende postulates that if any real realignment occurred, it took place during the Eisenhower administration. The Eisenhower coalition, as he puts it, pushed the GOP to decisive victories in seven of nine presidential elections. Moreover, the solid Democratic south began shifting towards the Republican party at this point. In fact the south’s gradual shift towards the GOP had begun as early as the 1920s, but the Depression halted Republican advances here. Once the New Deal had ramped up, the Republicans again began making inroads. Republicans began being truly competitive in presidential elections during the 1950s, then started making inroads in Congressional races in the 1970s and 80s, and are finally now the dominant party on the local level.

Trende’s thesis effectively destroys the notion that Republicans only began being competitive in the south once Nixon deployed the “southern strategy” to woo racist southerners after the Civil Rights Act. As already mentioned, the GOP vote share in the south had been incrementally creeping up in the 1930s, with GOP vote shares moving out of the 15-20% range and inching up towards parity slowly and surely. In fact the GOP vote share in the south did not noticeably increase during  the 1960s, but instead crept up in the same incremental 1-2% annual range. Where Republicans really started making dents were with younger southern voters, as older southerners continued to cling to the Democratic party even though the national party’s values no longer matched their own. Considering that younger voters tended to have much more liberal racial views, the transformation of the south into a Republican stronghold has to be explained by something other than racial matters.

Even though Trende doesn’t come right out and say this, if anything the changing electoral map can just as easily be explained by the Democrats pursuing a northern strategy. As the Democrats began appealing to elite northern voters by pushing a more liberal agenda, this drove southerners and midwesterners away from the party. This trend would continue until Bill Clinton pursued a much different strategy, crafting his agenda to appeal to suburbanites and middle income whites. Clinton and the New Democrats were able to rip into Republican strongholds by advancing a more moderate platform. The end of the Cold War, as well as the rise of the Evangelical right, fractured the Eisenhower coalition, allowing the Democrats to win presidential elections.

But the Democrats do not have a stranglehold on the electorate themselves. First of all, their coalition is an uneasy one, consisting of discordant demographic groups (upper-class and working-class whites, for instance) that have potentially conflicting interests. And despite their ability to attract large chunks of the minority vote at the current moment, Trends believes that pundits are mistaken in their belief that Democrats will continue to perform at their current rate among these different groups for decades to come. For example, Latinos vote more like whites as they advance economically. Though middle class Latinos still vote more Democratic than do their white counterparts, as they assimilate they do tend to vote more Republican. It is for this reason that he dismisses arguments advanced by those who claim that exit polls actually over-represent GOP-leaning Latinos. These individuals point out that since Republicans win around 20% of the vote in precincts that are almost wholly Latino, it is inconceivable that Republicans could be claiming 35-40 percent of the Latino vote. But these communities tend to be among the poorer ones, and therefore there is nothing incongruous with wider GOP support from Latinos living in more affluent and mixed neighborhoods.

Trende also notes that the signs of the collapse of a Democratic majority were already apparent in the 2008 election. Obama’s electoral majority was actually fairly weak considering the state of the economy and widespread disapproval of George Bush. Moreover, the Democratic Congressional majority, as large as it was, was helped by Democratic over-performance in Republican-leaning districts. When Obama pursued what was largely considered to be a very liberal agenda, this pushed those Republican-leaning districts back into the GOP fold. Finally, the state of the economy at the time of the 2010 mid-terms cannot explain in full the size of the Republican victory that night, as most models based on the economy suggested a slightly more moderate Republican victory.

In general, Trende believes that prognosticators put entirely too much stock into economic performance. Though the state of the economy certainly plays a role in elections, it hardly tells the whole story. In fact most recent national elections have gone against economy-based projections. There are too many variables at play to simply base electoral projections on the unemployment rate and GDP growth.

Long story short, Trende thinks that electoral fatalism (ie. the idea that we are headed towards a period of one-party dominance) is mis-placed. Events will always transpire that will alter the electorate one way or the other. With that being said, upcoming elections are truly up for grabs.

23

Please Pick A Nobody

I’ve made the following points before, but they are worth repeating:

1. The Vice Presidency is the most useless institution ever devised by man. With rare exceptions, the Vice President has almost no pull within an administration, and is usually shunted off to state funerals and the like.

2. Vice Presidential candidates rarely have a major impact on the polls. As with point number one, there have been exceptions – notably the 1960 election – but there is little evidence that the Vice Presidential nominee moves the polls much one way or the other. There is almost certainly no LBJ-like figure on the horizon.

3. Losing Vice Presidential candidates go on to have non-descript political careers. Again, there are exceptions, including someone who went by the initials FDR. Lloyd Bentsen would also become an important cabinet member in the Clinton administration. By and large, however, these individuals do not ever come close to reaching the prominence they did as a losing candidate.

So with all that in mind, I whole-heartedly second Warner Tood Huston’s post titled: Dear GOP, Let’s Not Waste Romney’s VP Pick on One of Our Best Guys, OK?

I don’t want Paul Ryan to be Romney’s Vice Presidential pick. I also don’t want Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, or Marco Rubio to be picked. It’s not because I don’tlike these guys, but because I do like them. It is precisely because they are good politicians, necessary politicians, effective politicians that I don’t want them wasted as a measly VP pick.

Does that seem counter intuitive? Well, as the founders always used to say, let’s let history be our guide. History tells us that the vice presidency is a career killer, a position to which we should try to avoid nominating our best guys.

Not only do Rubio, Ryan, and Jindal all have bright futures that should not be wasted by a losing Vice Presidential run that will tarnish their image, or by spending four or eight years as a non-entity, but all these individuals have important work to do in their own spheres. The GOP is going to need Ryan to be their economic leader in the House a lot more than they need him to be the guy judging spelling bees. Bobby Jindal still has work to do in Louisiana, as does Chris Christie. Choosing any of these guys to be VP would be akin to relegating the best pitcher on a Major League baseball team to mop-up relief duties.

The sad fact is that though the Vice Presidency is itself fairly worthless, the VP can instantly become the most powerful man (or woman) in the world in the blink of an eye. So some thought should go into the pick. The best choice would be someone with some executive experience who has otherwise solid conservative credentials, and who is near the end of his term in office or already out of office. It would help if nobody would really notice if this individual never had the public spotlight again should Romney go down in flames.

If only there were such a potential candidate out there.

 

11

How to Lose Employment in One Easy Step . . .

. . . . Compare Holocaust survivors to a drug dealing psycho on a television series.

Since I was 12 I’ve had an unappealing, didactic distrust of people with the extreme will to live. My father’s parents were Holocaust survivors, and in grade school I received the de rigueur exposure to the horror—visiting geriatric men and women with numbers tattooed on their arms, completing assigned reading like The Diary of Anne Frank and Night. But the more information I received, the less sympathy the survivors elicited from me. Each time we clapped for the old Hungarian lady who spoke about Dachau, each time Elie Wiesel threw another anonymous anecdote of betrayal onto a page, I eyed it askance, thinking What didyou do that you’re not talking about? I had the gut instinct that these were villains masquerading as victims who, solely by virtue of surviving (very likely by any means necessary), felt that they had earned the right to be heroes, their basic, animal self-interest dressed up with glorified phrases like “triumph of the human spirit.”

I wondered if anyone had alerted Hitler that in the event that the final solution didn’t pan out, only the handful of Jews who actually fulfilled the stereotype of the Judenscheisse(because every group has a few) would remain to carry on the Jewish race—conniving, indestructible, taking and taking. My grandparents were not excluded from this suspicion. The same year, during a family dinner conversation about Terri Schiavo, my father made the serious request that should he fall into a vegetative state, he would like for us to keep him on life support indefinitely. Today he and I are estranged for a number of other reasons that are all somehow the same reason.

I have a feeling that Anna Breslaw will not be invited back to write for Tablet magazine anytime soon.

And in case you weren’t convinced by the above, this woman has some serious issues.

H/t: Ace.

12

Because Reading Is Hard

This might be one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. No, it’s not some Womynpriest ranting about the Vatican, or a sportswriter waxing poetic about a “gritty” but otherwise terrible baseball player, or anything written by Thomas Friedman. It’s a list of “six films that improve the source material.” There’s nothing inherently wrong in suggesting that a movie is better than the book it is based upon. For starters, The Godfather movie is arguably better than the book as it doesn’t cut out any of the good parts but it does excise the superfluous and frankly bizarre sublot from the middle portion of the book. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was much powerful than Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark. And though I haven’t seen and don’t plan to see the latest film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, it’s inconceivable that it could be any worse than the source material.

David R’s list, on the other hand, is a bit different.

The Social Network: Didn’t see the movie, didn’t read the book, and I generally don’t care.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: I never saw the movie. The book does drag in certain parts, but it’s still a classic. I’ll let this one go.

And now this is where he just gets nuts:

Pride and Prejudice (2005): 

I’m probably not the target audience for this particular book, what with being a 21st-century twenty-something male. That said, Pride and Prejudice has always struck me as a pretty good story wrapped up in circuitous, indirect writing. It’s light and frothy, and entertaining to an extent, but ultimately presented in a way that prevents me from really reaching out and connecting with the characters. I’m only passingly familiar with the much-adored BBC miniseries, but am under the impression that it more or less transcribes the book verbatim.

The 2005 version with Keira Knightley, on the other hand, does a much better job streamlining the story into a vibrant, energetic romance. It still retains the story’s amusingly frivolous air, but in a way that, for this viewer at least, renders the story both funnier and more touching than the original novel. Side characters are exaggerated, losing complexity but gaining a more tangible sense of fun — particularly in the case of one Mr. Collins. Director Joe Wright manages to make the dancing and socializing so much fun to watch that you can actually understand why so many people would show up to these parties. And the movie is simply gorgeous in a way that only a movie can be.

Speaking as a fellow 21st Century male, this is heresy. As I wrote on facebook, this isn’t even the best film adaption of this story.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 

While the Harry Potter books are enjoyable for the most part, there are some notable problems with the series. One of the most obvious is J.K. Rowling’s tendency to veer off on wild tangents that derail the forward momentum of her stories. It looks like her editors were able to keep her on track for the first three books (with the third being the series’ best), but by the fourth she had become too popular for that. The Goblet of Fire— which, at 752 pages, is a whole book longer than any of the first three books — was filled with wandering storylines: S.P.E.W., the Quidditch World Cup, and plenty of other bits nearly cripple the already improbable storyline.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Mike Newell took a scalpel to the book, skillfully extracting the core plot and character threads while leaving behind nearly everything that didn’t matter. Gone are the unnecessary distractions, bringing the characters and growing menace of the story to the forefront. And the movie still retains much of the detail that makes up the world, like Rita Skeeter, the Unforgivable Curses, or the eerie world of the Triwizard Tournament. It just never gets so enamored with any of these ideas that it forgets why we came in the first place.

Kloves and Newell didn’t take a scalpel to the book; they obliterated essential sublots and cut out fun little diversions. I recognize that tastes vary, but Goblet of Fire is the best book in the series in my mind particularly because of the fun little side excursions. Yes, I might be one of the few people who doesn’t hate the S.P.E.W. supblot, but that aside the movie just falls flat. Also, as my wife has pointed out, the climactic maze scene in the race for the Triwizard Cup is completely bland, as though they just ran out of money in their CGI budget. Rowling’s description of that part of the tournament is so much more vivid than what the filmmakers came up with.

It only gets worse.

Troy 

This is kind of an apples-and-oranges situation. The Iliad (not The Aeneid, like I thoughtlessly wrote earlier) is an ancient epic poem; Troy, a modern action film. They’re going after completely different things, going about their aims in completely different ways, and generally couldn’t be further apart from each other without being entirely unrelated stories.

That said, I don’t get a whole lot out of Homer’s original. The way the gods act in his text is distracting, particularly when they swoop into the middle of a battle to remove key players from the action. Homer’sOdyssey includes gods and fantastical creatures much better. Then again, the main conflict in The Odyssey is between men and gods (or at least men and fate). The Iliad’s conflict is much more between men; two nations are at war. In the film Troy, the gods were taken completely out of the story, allowing the focus to fall squarely on the war waged over petty revenge and hubris. The human element is much more important, allowing the story to resonate more for its human viewers.

This make me weep openly, as Achilles did at the death of Patroclus. Leaving aside Homer’s epic, Troy was one of the most wretched movies ever put on screen. Troy wouldn’t be  an improvement over a Dan Brown novel, let alone freaking Homer.

And for number one:

War of the Worlds (2005):

Before you burn me at the stake, let me clarify. I’m a huge H.G. Wells fan, and if you remove the different versions from their cultural context I don’t know that one is better than the other. However, War of the Worlds is one of those stories that deserves to be retold every now and then, as it can offer a lot of commentary on different periods in history. The first film adaptation was of reasonably high quality; it (like much of that era’s science fiction) pitched the story against the fears and imagery of the Cold War.

In the early 2000s, Spielberg came to a realization, “I thought that this story’s time had come again.” It was a stroke of brilliance to deal with 9/11 through H. G. Wells’s century-old classic. The images in the movie arise very organically out of the story, but the specter of 9/11 hangs over the event. Missing-person posters, victims covered in dust, military trying to keep the peace. This allows Spielberg and writer David Koepp to use the text to examine the paranoia and weaknesses of our current society, and as a member of that society, this is somewhat more compelling and noticeably more relevant today than Wells’s book, while still retaining the lean structure and addictive concept that make up the core of the story.

It’s not as bad as favoring Brad Pitt’s version of Achilles over Homer’s, but it’s still pretty silly. Spielberg is a great director, but his inability to constrain his own innate Spielbergness fails to do Wells justice.

The frustrating thing is that the author doesn’t appear to be some high school kid who really hates books. He seems fairly literate, and he’s a decent writer. Yet his reasoning for most of these selections is that he just can’t deal with the long slog of reading books that have plot points he can’t relate to. Or, as one commenter put it:

This is less a post about movies that improve the source material and more about the author’s inability to enjoy a complex novel.

I can understand, and as I said, tastes vary. That being said, David R should be banned from public commentary for the rest of eternity.

Oh, I do need to address one of the comments to the linked article:

Just wanted to say that the Lord of the Rings movies are worlds better than the books for a number of reasons, but the one most worth mentioning being the total excision of Tom Bombadil from the screen.

Not only should this person be banned from public commentary for all eternity, he should be shunned by polite society and forced to live in seclusion with nothing but the Twilight books to keep him company.

3

A Recall That Needs to Happen

Last week I mentioned my change of heart on secession. Now I have to backtrack on another long-standing principle: my opposition to recalls.

Actually, I still think that recall elections are absurd and even anti-democratic. Attempting to cast out an elected politician halfway through his term because you disagree with his policies is worse than bad sportsmanship. The threat of recall could prevent leaders from making serious attempts at reform. No, you just have to suffer through the term and hope to vote the sonofagun out.

On the other hand, recall efforts to oust corrupt politicians who refuse to give up their office even in the face of growing evidence that they are borderline (or not even borderline) criminals: I’ve got no problem with that.

So I am all aboard the DC Recall movement to get rid of Mayor Vincent Gray. For those who have not been following this story (and I suppose that entails just about everyone outside of the metro DC area), this story provides a succinct rundown of why Gray needs to go.

Three of the 12 members of the city council on Wednesday called for Gray to resign after it was revealed that supporters ran a shadow campaign on his behalf during the 2010 Democratic primary race against then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, and did not properly report financial contributions.

Then on Thursday, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart reported that Gray knew about unreported expenditures as far back as January — before federal law enforcement officials raided the homes and offices of consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris and businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, who is accused of spending $650,000 on the shadow campaign.

In addition, Harris pleaded guilty Tuesdayto spearheading the scheme and now faces three years in prison. She is the third person from Gray’s campaign to plead guilty.

We’ve known for a while that Gray was in trouble; now he’s fighting to keep his job.

By all means, please follow the links in the story if you have the time.

Gray is clinging to the argument that he had absolutely no knowledge of the shadow campaign. The mayor is also attacking those City Council members that are demanding his resignation.

Gray (D) appeared Friday morning on NewsChannel 8’s NewsTalk. HostBruce DePuyt asked Gray to respond to the resignation calls, which came Wednesday afternoon from David A. Catania (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).

“I think it depends on which of the three you’re talking about,” Gray said.

Gray dismissed Catania’s critique as politically motivated: “Let’s be honest, David Catania is a Republican who became an independent. We forget that we have partisan politics in the District of Columbia. … He never supported me; he certainly didn’t support me in the election.”

Catania departed the GOP due to President Bush’s push for a constitutional amendment protecting marriage, so that gives you an idea of what kind of partisan hound he is. It’s true that Catania is the closest thing that comes to being a Republican on the City Council, but that simply shows how far left the Council has become.

That there are only three Council members seeking Gray’s ouster is an indictment of the rest of the Council. This was hammered home as I listened to at-large Council member Michael Brown spinning for Vincent Gray this morning on the radio. Instead of addressing the allegations, Brown decided to tapdance around the issue while waxing poetic about all the improvements the city has made. Not only was this beside the point, any credit for the city’s improvement must go to the previous two mayors, Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty, who have been about the only elected officials in the city who have had any sense of fiscal sanity. Listening to Brown inarticulately ramble for ten minutes caused me to quip on twitter that perhaps it’s time end home-rule for the District. I was only half-kidding.

So if the City Council is unwilling to do its job, it might be up to the citizens of the nation’s capital to throw Gray out on his behind. Then again, this is the same city that re-elected Marion Barry after he had been busted for possession of crack cocaine. Perhaps Washington isn’t the same city it was two decades ago, and maybe they are willing to finally let go of their corrupt elected officials.

Hmmm. I wonder what City Council member Marion Barry thinks about that?

40

President Obama: No One Actually Achieves Anything On Their Own

That’s a paraphrase, but I don’t think I’m too far off from what the president actually said.

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Here is some video from the speech: Continue Reading

21

The Congress Party Needs to Step Up

The frequency with which the Obama administration has gone rogue and completely ignored Congress’ will seems to increasing at an exponential rate. I fear that by the end of the campaign Obama will be issuing executive fiats on a daily basis. The latest: gutting welfare reform.

The landmark welfare reform law President Bill Clinton signed in 1996 helped move nearly 3 million families off the government dole — the result of federal work requirements that promoted greater self-reliance.

Yesterday the Obama administration gutted those federal work rules, ignoring the will of Congress by issuing a policy directive that allows the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. “The result is the end of welfare reform,” wrote Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley of The Heritage Foundation.

Surely there was a provision in the legislation that permitted the president to grant such waivers, right? Yes. And no.

Today the Obama administration issued a dramatic new directive stating that the traditional TANF work requirements will be waived or overridden by a legal device called a section 1115 waiver authority under the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. 1315).

Section 1115 allows HHS to “waive compliance” with specified parts of various laws. But this is not an open-ended authority: All provisions of law that can be overridden under section 1115 must be listed in section 1115 itself.

The work provisions of the TANF program are contained in section 407 (entitled, appropriately, “mandatory work requirements”). Critically, this section, as well as most other TANF requirements, is deliberately not listed in section 1115; its provisions cannot be waived. Obviously, if the Congress had wanted HHS to be able to waive the TANF work requirements laid out in section 407, it would have listed that section as waivable under section 1115. It did not do that.

Remember all those crocodile tears during the Bush years about the unitary executive? Leaving aside the fact that critics completely misrepresented the doctrine and its application, it seems the left has no problem with a president truly implementing the unitary executive doctrine. Only this time instead of the President being supreme within the Executive branch, he is evidently supreme over the entire federal government.

There will of course be no repercussions from this action. While it might be cathartic to pound the keyboard about the spineless Republicans, no amount of caterwauling can change the fact that the overwhelming majority of Democrats will ensure that no corrective action is taken. It was hard enough to get a contempt vote in the House against Eric Holder. Do you think the Democrats will really allow a serious investigation, or even more?

And that’s a true pity. There used to be a time when partisan identification was almost secondary to institutional concerns. Congressmen valued the independence and authority of their own branch of government, and simply sharing party affiliation with the president didn’t prevent Congressmen from jealously guarding their prerogatives. Inter-branch rivalries were an essential element in safeguarding our republic. Today that is gone. The same committee (Oversight) that has been commendably fastidious in investigating Fast and Furious will lay down like neutered dogs should Mitt Romney win the presidency. The committee was sure loath to investigate President Obama when controlled by Democrats two years ago.

This is truly a bi-partisan issue. Congress has completely abandoned its role as an independent, co-equal branch of government. The very fact that we are so consumed by the presidential campaign is a sad reflection of how pre-eminent the presidency has become.

Congressional Democrats should be just as furious as Congressional Republicans over Obama’s actions, regardless of how they feel about the policy. Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress as a whole regained a sense of institutional pride and reasserted their place in the federal framework? Sadly that’s as realistic an expectation as hoping that John Boehner will become John Rambo.

32

A Change of Heart on Secession

Those who have been reading me for some time know my feelings on secession. So you will be surprised to learn that I have had a change of heart. No I am not now of the opinion that states should be able to secede for light and transient causes. Rather, it is time we should forcibly make states secede. And we should start with California.

Despite deepening doubts about the cost and feasibility of a $70 billion high-speed rail proposed to cross California, the State Senate on Friday narrowly approved legislation to spend $8 billion in federal and state money to begin construction, starting with a 130-mile stretch through the rural Central Valley.

The vote came as the federal government threatened to withdraw $3.3 billion in financing for the 520-mile project if the Legislature did not approve the release of state bond money to begin construction. Democrats and Republicans expressed fear that the project could be remembered as a boondoggle passed when the state is struggling through a fiscal crisis.

So the state’s almost bankrupt – what’s a another $70 billion for a project that the citizens desperately want. They do want it, right?

Polls suggests that voters have turned against the project after voting for it in 2008. Several Democrats, in arguing against the expenditure, warned that voters would be less likely to approve a tax package on the ballot this fall that Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said was necessary to avoid more cuts in spending on education and other programs.

But at least high speed rail is itself a necessary public works project that will reduce traffic congestion and provide millions with a low-cost means of travel.

Weeellllll . . . .

While these criticisms all have merit, we can’t lose sight of the fact the biggest reason high-speed rail won’t work in the U.S. is that it doesn’t make sense as a project funded from general tax revenues. High-speed rail is not a public good and it’s not mass transit. It is corridor transit. At best, it’s a niche market serving a highly specialized, relatively wealthy, and narrow customer base (high-income business travelers with expense accounts and tourists). It won’t relieve urban traffic congestion and its contribution to improving air quality (or reducing carbon dioxide emissions) will be negligible because it won’t carry enough riders to make a big difference. These factors undermine high-speed rail justificatons based on public good arguments.

That said, a more important factor may be more straightforward and direct: Certain preconditions are necessary for corridor transit to work, and they don’t exist in the U.S. Most fundamentally, intercity rail needs to connect major urbandowntowns or large employment centers that are close together–withing a couple hundred miles of each other. (In this respect, the emphasis on density per se is misplaced; the key is the density of the destinations.)

We simply don’t have that many large downtowns in the U.S. We have several midsize metro areas, but the downtowns are mere shadows of their former selves and contain a very small minority of the region’s job base. High-speed rail is doomed to failure under the best of circumstances because it simply can’t generate ridership. Spain and Europe is an interesting case in point: high-speed rail connects very large urban centers with populations in the millions that are closely connected as the “bird flies”: London-Paris, Paris-Brussels, Paris-Lyon, Hamburg-Berlin, Florence-Rome, Madrid-Barcelona. Many of these cities are also very large: London and Paris both boast populations greater than 10 million. Rome, Berlin, Madrid, and Barcelona have populations between 2 million and 5 million.

To recap: the state is bankrupt, the voters don’t want to fund the high speed rail project, and the project would very likely have nowhere near the benefit its proponents suggest it will have.

Why of course it only makes sense to proceed.

Meanwhile, the state is cutting out a few things which might be a tad more critical.

California may very well sink into the ocean one day. Can we just cut it off before it sinks the rest of us?

15

The Worst Supreme Court Selections in American History

Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, as well as his vote to overturn much of Arizona’s illegal immigration law, has made conservatives think that yet again a Republican president was bamboozled. Personally I think it’s a bit early to completely write off the Chief Justice. For most of his tenure he’s been a fairly reliable conservative vote, and there is still much time (presumably) before he retires. Then we will be better able to assess his legacy.

It did get me thinking, though. What are the worst Supreme Court selections in history? I’m looking at this question in terms of the president doing the selecting. Someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a doctrinaire liberal, wouldn’t make the cut because no doubt she has voted in much the way Bill Clinton would have wished when he picked her. Similarly, I do not include someone like John Paul Stevens. Though over time he veered much further to the left than Gerald Ford or his Attorney General , Edward Levi (who basically made the selection) could have anticipated, Stevens’ jurisprudence was not that radically removed from Ford’s own preferences. In fact, Ford wrote of Stevens:

For I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination thrity years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court. I endorse his constitutional views on the secular character of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, on securing procedural safeguards in criminal case and on the constitution’s broad grant of regulatory authority to Congress. I include as well my special admiration for his charming wit and sense of humor; as evidence in his dissent in the 1986 commerce clause case of Maine v. Taylorand United States, involving the constitutionality of a Maine statute that broadly restricted any interstate trade of Maine’s minnows. In words perhaps somewhat less memorable then, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” Justice Stevens wrote, “There is something fishy about this case.”

He has served his nation well, at all times carrying out his judicial duties with dignity, intellect and without partisan political concerns. Justice Stevens has made me, and our fellow citizens, proud of my three decade old decision to appoint him to the Supreme Court. I wish him long life, good health and many more years on the bench.

Well, if Ford was willing to base his legacy on his choice of John Paul Stevens, then I’m happy to call Gerald Ford a miserable failure.

This, then, is a list of the biggest mistakes in Supreme Court selection.  Continue Reading