Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Road Trip!

Yes, travel is more expensive than it used to be. Nevermind that. The family is taking its annual pilgrimage to visit family in NJ. And, we believe that the car trip is a time honored tradition every family owes to its children. So, we'll leave early tomorrow. Planned departure time is 6:30, but realistically we'll be on the road about 7.

We'll go through Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, a bit in W. Virginia and Maryland, Pennsylvania, to NJ. We're going to my 20th college reunion in Pennsylvania on the way. We'll take two days to get to the reunion, enjoying picnic lunches and cheap motels on the way.

I can hardly wait. I'll gas up before we go, and while that won't be cheap, it's just part of the deal.

Bon Voyage!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Arsenic and Old Lace-Opening Night Report

A break from politics....

Opening night last night went pretty well. The audience laughed (once the air conditioning kicked in) and we covered each other's mistakes well. And, we had fun doing it.

I do think a cast of thirteen (for fourteen roles) is tough for a community organization to pull off, especially one that doesn't have its own space. We have only had about a week to rehearse with the full set, and so we really couldn't put a lot of things into the show until pretty late into rehearsals. Also, its difficult to get that many people for every rehearsal. But in the end, we got it together. Given the disaster that was dress rehearsal, things went really well.

I've mostly enjoyed my first acting experience in a production such as this.

OK, I've got some political comments. I do think that arts policy in this country needs to pay attention to these small community organizations that really do bring arts to the public. In terms of building strong communities, there's a lot to be gained by having people participate in the creative process as actors and artists and musicians. These organizations provide people an opportunity to participate, not just spectate. The point in a democracy should not just be about bringing art to a few people in a few major metropolitan areas, but bring art out of people all over the country. There's a lot of talent and potential out there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who is the appeaser, Mr. President?

As you may have heard, President Bush is again going hat in hand to beg the Saudis to pump a little more oil. I just want to remind you that these are the people who have provided much of the funding and manpower for Al Qaeda.

What kind of man, what kind of country continues to do business with such bastards?

The President should instead say, look, we are a strong and resilient people. We don't need your oil, and we're not buying anymore. We will make the necessary sacrifices, as we have done so many times in the past. We'll walk, we'll ride bicycles. We're going high tech and low tech--new nuclear power plants and sidewalks. We'll do whatever it takes, but we're not giving you fanatics one more penny.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The coming shape(s) of American politics

For a long time, I've thought that the current liberal/conservative dichotomy have been obsolete as ways of thinking about the American electorate. Always an oversimplification of how people really think, it worked as long as outliers (people who could not be accurately labeled either but were not moderates--e.g. someone strongly committed to environmentalism and socially conservative) remained small in number.

I think what were seeing in both the Democratic and Republican parties right now is a consequence of what we might call fragmentation. For Republicans, we have a what I'll call the conservative base. Conservative in the contemporary sense across the board (they stand for low taxes, are socially conservative and want a strong military, regardless of the difficulty of doing all those things) these people are uncomfortable with McCain, and had supported either Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney. The failure of those candidates reveals the way in which the conservative base has spent too much time in its conservative echo chamber of talk radio and Fox News. The re-emergence of Southern Populism caught them by surprise. As the base becomes more alienated, they lose the ability to actually be the base, and thus the Republican party has become rather fractious. Many groups that were once reliable partners in the Republican coalition have begun to look elsewhere. Some are embarrassed by Bush's incompetence, but others are trouble by the nuttiness of some key figures in Republican politics.

It isn't as if the Democrats don't have problems of their own. The current primary between Clinton and Obama demonstrates the well known split in the Democratic constituency between young, more or less well educated, and older, and not so well educated. And of course there's a race factor here. But let's be clear about this--Obama appeals to blacks for obvious reasons, but in the past many of those voters would ordinarily be strong supporters of Clinton.

So, what links these things? We're seeing I think a tension between demographics and ideology. The debates in the Republican party are currently about ideology, while the Democrats are dealing with demographics. Obama and Clinton are ideologically fairly similar. But they appeal to different demographic elements of the party. With the Republicans, by contrast, even small deviations from orthodox ideology are the cause of fragmentation. The problem is, those deviations are in the main responses to broader changes in the political and economic environment.

So, if the old liberal/conservative split fails to explain our political future, what does? I thin we're moving towards a split between what I'll call cosmopolitans and populists. Those are the nice words. The less nice words are elitist and reactionary. We're already hearing elitist and populist in this political season.

Cosmopolitans are open to the world--they're be in favor of free trade, untroubled by immigration, socially liberal, will favor more integration with various global bodies and be reluctant to use military force, preferring "soft power". They won't mind paying lower taxes, but will want services from government, especially in fields like education and health care. However, they will also be in general willing to let market forces operate most of the time. Demographically, they'll live in metropolitan areas, be well educated, and in general young.

Populists, by contrast, will be opposed to increasing globalization. They are going to be largely socially conservative, uncomfortable with immigration, and reluctant to engage in international organizations. They will be either isolationists or advocates of hard power. They will want a safety net, be in favor of maintaining Social Security and Medicare in its current form, and will not be swayed by arguments about market forces. Demographically, they will be older, less well educated, and living in non-metropolitan areas or rust belt areas and blue-collar suburbs.

Of course this is an oversimplification, and a number of major issues aren't really touched. What is interesting to me however, is how few real life politicians seem to recognize these shifts. Huckabee did speak to the populists. But who speaks to the cosmopolitans? Not Obama, not really, though they seem to like him.

No, the real figure who comes closest to speaking to the cosmopolitans is none other than President Bush. If you leave out his social conservative positions, and see the Iraq invasion as a mistake, you see Bush is more or less advocating cosmopolitanism. Certainly, that was the direction Rove wanted to take the party.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Not a Team Player

One thing I've learned about myself is that I really am not a team player. I much prefer to work alone, and most collaborative projects I've done have been frustrating. I wonder, however, if there really are all that many people who really are good team players. In my experience, there are always going to be a few people who do nothing, a few people who will do whatever task they're specifically directed to do, and one or two people who do all the work. Thus, I am always suspicious that people who call themselves "good team players" are in fact slackers who are good at taking credit for work they did not do.

Perhaps this is why Hobbes, despite the overall grimness of his outlook has such appeal to me. Hobbes's psychology is premised on inability of people to cooperate unless coerced to do so, even when such cooperation would be to the benefit of all. Of course, it isn't just Hobbes, a similar outlook runs through The Federalist Papers and seems to underlie much of our thinking in this country.

The political philosophies that stress teamwork however, seem to me to be rather nasty. Plato, Rousseau, Marx, are the theorists of the team. And, these ideas tend to have nasty, nasty consequences. It isn't enough that I am commanded and obey. I must want to obey. Thus, the human being must be somehow transformed.

In the end, the psychology of the good team player seems almost alien to me. There's a world of difference between cooperation and even collaboration and teamwork.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who's experienced enough to be President?

The modern Presidency is demanding. So demanding in fact, that a reasonable hypothesis is that no amount of prior experience prepares you for the job. As a corollary to that hypothesis, experience is not a good predictor of a successful Presidency. I'm emphasizing foreign policy because in the current race, that seems to be where this question emerges.

Let's look at post-Roosevelt Presidents and see (Roosevelt is excluded because while his Presidency was largely successful, he had the advantage of 4 terms, a good amount of on the job training as it were.

Truman--inexperienced, good. No one would have considered Truman qualified when he took office. And he faced enormous challenges. Got the big things right. Was re-elected.

Eisenhower--experienced, good. Again, got the big things right. His experience was unique, and may have in fact been a hindrance.

Kennedy--inexperienced, bad. Didn't really accomplish all that much, despite oodles of political capital and charisma. This might be debatable in both evaluations--8 years in the Senate, 6 in the House, and some might disagree he was all that bad, but let's move on. But again, few real accomplishments, and not much of a legislative track record.

Johnson--experienced, bad. Master of the Senate. Got civil rights through, everything else more or less a disaster.

Nixon--experienced, bad. Need I say more?

Ford--hard to say. Too short a term to really evaluate, experience was unique

Carter--inexperienced, bad. Again, no comment really necessary, I presume

Reagan--inexperienced, good. While being governor of CA is a big deal, he was not a Washington type, and had little real foreign policy experience, where he probably had his greatest triumph.

Bush I--experienced, bad. One termers are usually one termers for a reason

Clinton--inexperienced, good. In these hyperpartisan times, the evaluation might be controversial. Too bad, he wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but he didn't screw up on anything big either.

Bush II--inexperienced, bad. Ideology aside, he's done little right.

So, while it's clear that lack of experience isn't a good thing, experience might be a bad thing. Look at our Presidents who came into the office with lots of experience--3 of 4 were bad. Only Eisenhower worked out well, and his experience was unique anyway. If we dismiss Eisenhower's pre-Presidential experience, we have strong evidence that experience is a bad thing.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Maybe the change in direction wasn't such a hot idea afterall

I haven't posted since this so called change in direction. Like you, I'm bored with this whole Hillary Obama thing. But that's not why I'm not posting. Between the last week of classes and finals, the normal hectic pace of Spring around here, and endless play rehearsals, I've barely had time to think about what I want to post.

I've got a few ideas, but no time to really develop them. I must note that my post on small government conservatism (And don't you think it should be conservativism?) probably owed some debt to I think a Cato piece leading up to the 2004 election, which argued that regardless of who won between Bush and Kerry, small government would lose.

Again, while normally social conservatives are cast as the villains in this piece, it is more likely business and military interests that are driving the size and scope of government operations.

Strong military=big government.