Saturday, December 8, 2012

Starting my blog up again


Or maybe this is just a tease.

But I have some things to say. I might start posting those things here. We shall see. One thing that does surprise me is that according to the counter thingy at the bottom, I've had 12k hits. I don't see how that's possible, and hardly anyone ever commented.

I think what I'll do is try to make a commitment to a weekly post. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sarah Palin

Yes, the world does need another unread commentary on Sarah Palin. Because I don't think anyone really gets this right. Too many people are still looking at this through the obsolete conservative v. liberal lens.

I frankly don't care that she resigned, or what it bodes for her political future, or what it means for the populist right or the Republican Party or any of that. Despite the attention she's received, she's a marginal figure in our political life. In 2008, people with a certain set of political views were looking for an alternative, and they saw in Palin something different. But in this, she is really little different from Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, or for the older among us, John Anderson.

What I think is important is explaining her popularity. Why does she capture the imagination of so many? Yes, there is the issue of the elite, and how she is not one of them. But what remains unanalyzed is the dynamic we are facing in the country regarding populism and elites.

The crises we face right now--the economic situation, health care, the environment, the failures in response to Katrina, we can even go back to the attacks on 9/11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--are all examples of elites making huge and costly mistakes. The conclusion one must draw, the unavoidable conclusion is that


If you are a Democrat, or a liberal, you could comfort yourself that it was all Bush. But the seeds for all these crises, with the exception of the wars in the Middle East and Katrina, were sown long before Bush took office. For many in this country, the coolness of Obama is a kind of hope that we can solve these problems. But for many people, Obama is no more likely to have an answer than

Now in no way do I think Palin had any real answers to these problems. But to understand a Palin supporter, all you really need to do is to accept several not terribly difficult to accept premises.

1. The people running this country are not really determined by elections. We simply choose between factions of a single elite.

2. They are not competent, as evidenced by the problems we all face, and by the fact that their most visible members, the pundits, are wrong more often than meteorologists. In fact, it seems that most people who talk about these issues more or less make things up as they go along.

3. Since the "best and brightest" haven't got a clue, then maybe we can get someone who can at least sympathize with our plight.

Palin is in some ways much like Bill Clinton in the ability to draw upon sympathy for political support. Clinton was of course more optimistic, more positive. But I think a huge measure of support for Clinton stemmed from the fact that he had real people problems, as Chris Rock once said.

To those who believe that we live in a meritocracy, Palin seemed like a continuation of Bush style anti-intellectual conservatism. To those who think the powers that be are all equally clueless, Obama has more in common with Bush than Palin.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More on "socialism"

Let's accept the premise that government intervention in the economy over the long run depresses economic growth, that because free markets allocate resources more efficiently than government, freer markets will be more efficient. I don't think this is true in all cases, and am deeply suspicious that theories of this sort do not apply to every real world situation.

However, again, let's simply accept the premise. The question it raises in my mind is economic efficiency, in terms of increasing total economic output the only good that matters? I look around my house, and I have a ton of stuff. More than I need. If I had to move, I'd likely throw a lot of it away. Of course, I'm not poor, so perhaps the problem is distribution.

One of my core political beliefs is that there is no single account of the good that can satisfy anyone. Therefore, we should at least be willing to consider trading some efficiency for other goods.

The key is not to pretend that various policies have no cost. Rather, the key is to ask the question whether the cost is worth the benefit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What about Socialism?

As I indicated here a couple of years ago, I believe small government conservatism was dead politically, and it shows no real sign of revival. While I believe that the charges of socialism leveled at the Obama administration are overwrought, there's no doubt that economic policy will involve more government intervention than in past, probably more than in decades.

Hayek's argument in The Road the Serfdom was not exactly an argument against socialism. Rather, it was an argument against government planning in the economic sphere. The context for this argument was World War II, which had involved a massive expansion of government planning in the economy, with the government controlling wages and prices and production. Hayek conceded this was necessary--the goal of defeating fascism was more important than economic freedom.

I think that context however is important in understanding how much intervention the free market can stand. And, the experience of World War II tells we are a long way from what was of concern to Hayek. This is not necessarily an argument in favor of government bailouts of GM. Rather, it suggests that a government bailout of GM on top of government putting stricter regulations in place over the financial sector are a long way from the way government planned the economy in the early 40s.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


No, not for office. I'll take a break from politics, since I never intended this to be a political blog anyway and talk about my fitness efforts.

Yesterday, I ran a 5k. More accurately, I ran most of a 5k, but did walk bits and pieces of it. I finished under 32 minutes, which isn't great, but I was pleased. I beat a lot of my friends. It was extremely muggy. Next year, with more training and little cooperation from the weather, I'm going to try to finish under 27 minutes.

The best thing about doing this run for me is that having a goal like running a 5k got me focused on fitness. I intend to keep up the basic workout regimen I've been following for the last couple of months, adding in some weight training. I'm really starting to feel better, and I've even experience that so-called runner's high.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More on not wanting to win

There's a reason why the Republicans may not want to win anytime soon. The problems the country confronts are considerable, and none of them can be solved without significant costs. For now, of course, much of the blame for all this is on the Bush administration. And so for the immediate future, Obama will be given a considerable amount of slack and flexibility. But that won't last forever. By 2012, Obama will have to have made some considerable progress on many fronts to get re-elected.

This is a high risk strategy of course. If Obama is perceived as successful--if unemployment is down to a more tolerable level, say under six percent, if most of US troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan looks at least solvable, then given Obama's electoral coalition and demographic shifts, you'll be looking at Democratic dominance for at least a decade or two.

Indeed, the strategy has really never worked. Presidents who have come in during times of crisis and succeeded not only won re-election, they changed the electoral map--Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan are obvious examples of this. Hoping that Obama is another Carter strikes me as pretty desparate.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Do Republicans Really Want to Win?

For a long time, I was convinced that the Democratic elite didn't really care about winning. They held their safe seats, and kept the perks that went along with that. Howard Dean, in my opinion changed that, and while some Democratic elites like Pelosi and Reid seem uncomfortable with actual responsibility, the attitude from most Democratic elites is they like power.

Now, however, it seems like Republicans are not really interested in winning. If you are trying to succeed in politics in the US, you need to go about crafting a majority. Karl Rove understood that much. But the difference between the Democrats time in the wilderness and now with the Republicans is that it isn't just elites who don't seem to care about winning, it's rank and file Republicans as well. Fired up by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, they are more interested in purging so-called moderates from their ranks, and engaging in a kind of ideological purification you usually only see once you've taken power.

Is there another explanation for the current Republican obsession with casting out moderates? One way to consider the question is to look at recent events. If you are a conservative or Republican, you probably believe (with some justification) that Obama's election had more to do with dissatisfaction with President Bush than an embrace of liberalism. Similarly, the Democratic Congressional victories in 2006 can also be explained this way. To go along with this vision, many Republicans are emphasizing Bush's departure from basic conservative tenets--immigration reform most notably, but also No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D.

Indeed, a conservative critic of Bush could go further--Bush was not a moderate, he was a Progressive in the mold of Woodrow Wilson. In short, a neo conservative. The battle in the Republican ranks may not be between conservatives and moderates, but rather conservatives and neo-conservatives. This isn't to say moderates are neo-conservatives. But they share more of a common world view than either do with the populist conservatives who currently have the loudest voice in the party. I think there is a fundamental ideological split in the Republican Party, but it isn't between social and economic conservatives, nor is it really between moderates and conservatives. It's progressive neo-cons and populist conservatives.

Cheney's recent comments about Powell notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see how the winds blow going forward.