October Suprise, Much?

Well, the first day of October is technically Sunday, but this sure as hell counts:

During the period examined by the committee, Bush administration officials repeatedly intervened on behalf of Abramoff s clients, including helping a Mississippi Indian tribe obtain $16 million in federal funds for a jail the tribe wanted to build.
Abramoff was able to block the nomination of one Interior Department official using Christian conservative Ralph Reed as a go-between with Rove, according to e-mails between Abramoff and Reed.
Abramoff also tried to oust a State Department employee who interfered with their efforts on behalf of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of Abramoff s most lucrative clients.

Linking Delay, Ney and Burns to Abramoff was significant enough; Delay and Ney stepped aside and Burns is now headed toward defeat in one of the reddest states in the nation. But this is several orders of magnitude bigger than any Abramoff connection that’s come before. The best thing for Democrats this November is an image of a corrupt Republican party. Bush has been able to keep ethical issues out of the public eye through legalizing torture and the like. But there’s no way this isn’t going to set the national agenda for weeks to come. It’s enough to make one believe in karma.

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Best Negative Ad Ever

Just watch this and revel in the sheer genius of it. Any idiot can accuse his opponent of not funding the troops adequately. But only a truly brilliant challenger would accuse the incumbent of caring more about female-targeted porn and Vietnamese hookers than the war on terror. That’s greatness, my friends.

Trade Politics

Ezra writes:

Strategies built on smaller, more intensely supported policies have been more successful, at least to judge from the Republican Party’s recent history. And many of these issue are asymmetrically intense — someone in agreement will vote for you because of your support, but someone in disagreement will not vote against you because of that issue. My guess is trade is one of those issues, where those affected will make it a first-order priority, while the rest may vaguely believe in free trade, but won’t particularly allow it to influence their vote. And if that’s right, you may see a lot of Democrats mounting stronger-than-expected challenges in the Rust Belt.

I don’t know many Ohio factory workers, so I’m not in a particularly good position to assess Ezra’s analysis of the intensity of their opinions on trade. But I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea for Democrats to adopt a protectionist platform to lock up Ohio and Pennsylvania. Let’s begin with the assumption that the Democratic leadership is not economically illiterate, and thus is pro-free-trade on principle. It follows from said position that a Democratic administration would propose more trade agreements involving tariff reductions harmful to working class constituencies, or, even better, would propose unilateral elimination of said tariffs (please, Jesus). If a Democratic administration proposed either of those measures it would alienate the aforementioned working class constituencies. This would be doubly true if the Democratic administration had campaigned, as Ezra suggests, on an anti-trade platform to curry favor among these constituencies. In fact, it would be better to not mention trade during the campaign (as Ezra acknowledges, being pro-trade doesn’t help one with these constituents, but it doesn’t hurt one either) so as not to create an enormous backlash, as would occur if the Democrats campaigned on protectionism and then proposed tariff reductions. It doesn’t hurt, either, that this is the more honest position. Unless, of course, the Democratic party is economically illiterate, and its next president doesn’t propose any tariffs reductions. Now there’s a scary thought.

It’s the Dirty Tricks, Stupid

Being the wife of the Polish Defense Minister and all, one would think that Anne Applebaum knows her Central European politics. But this strikes me as just wrong:

“We have screwed up. Not a little, but a lot. … If we have to give an account to the country of what we have done in four years, what are we going to say?”
I wish I could gleefully report that the words quoted above had been spoken by an American politician, preferably at a large public gathering with lots of media. But, alas, they were pronounced by a foreign politician with an unpronounceable surname: Ferenc Gyurcsany, the prime minister of Hungary. For those readers who don’t follow Hungarian politics on a daily basis, he also said that “we lied, morning, noon, and night” and conceded that his country had stayed afloat during his government’s first term thanks to “divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy, and hundreds of tricks.”
Gyurcsany made these refreshingly frank comments during a private meeting. They were taped, and leaked. He now says he spoke that way to impress upon his colleagues the urgent need for radical economic reform in Hungary, by which he means higher taxes (his party had promised lower taxes) and tighter budgets (his party had promised few cuts). Shakily, he’s sticking to that line.
It won’t be easy. In Budapest, his comments sparked several nights of riots, about 250 injuries, and daily demonstrations. Hungary’s currency and credit rating took sudden dives. The opposition is calling for his resignation. Inexplicably, Gyurcsany still managed to show up late last week at a conference on European Union reform in Berlin, where I watched him make an emotional and not entirely comprehensible speech. He warned, among other things, of “radical nationalism,” by which he presumably meant all of those people angry at him for “screwing up.” He looked close to tears.
The lesson here is clear: Prime ministers, presidents, and other sundry statesmen beware. In democratic politics, you get in trouble not for what you do but for what you say—particularly if it’s true.

No, it’s not. It’s that if there’s ironclad proof that if someone lies his way to an election victory, that person is going to be punished – and rightly so. Suppose that Gyurcsany had started an unsuccessful school voucher program, say, that it didn’t work out, and that he announced that he was wrong and would eliminate the program. Then suppose that there were protests in the street. That would be an ironclad case of a leader being punished for honesty. This, on the other hand, is a case of a leader secretly admitting to serious campaign malfeasance, and being appropriately punished for said malfeasance, as well as for not telling his constituents. It’s not about honesty. It’s about the dirty tricks.

Where Have You Gone, Daniel Ellsberg?

At first I wasn’t very interested in the NIE on Iraq’s effect on terrorism that Bush has just agreed to declassify. It’s been known for a number of years that Iraq – being an occupation and all – has exacerbated the terrorist threat. The threat’s still very small, but it’s worse now than it was in February 2003. The NIE is just confirmation of this fact. In a way, this is the story of all criticisms of the Bush administration’s conduct. First they’re not even talked about. Then there are whispers in the more leftist strands of the opposition. Then the troops begin talking, but not the leaders. Then Democratic leadership buys in, and before you know it the CIA, DoD, and/or POTUS are agreeing. The best example of this would be the criticism of Iraq as an occupation. First only ANSWER was using that line; eventually Bush was referring to “the occupation” himself. It’s a fairly linear progression, and the Iraq/terror critique is following it. It was nice to have the Directorate of Intelligence’s stamp of approval, but it’s nothing new.
Then I heard about the other document. It turns out there’s a wide-ranging, comprehensive analysis of administration conduct in Iraq that is, let’s say, not all rainbows and ponies. If it’s as complete and damning as it sounds like, we could have another Pentagon Papers on our hands – and in time for the election no less. If in October every newspaper in the country is circulating a CIA document showing Iraq to be a quagmire, exposing those who want to stay as unserious, and proving that those who want to leave are the last honest (wo)men in the country, that’s very, very good news, both politically and policy-wise. We have to pull out all the stops to get this thing released. It isn’t just about taking back Congress. It’s about what that new Congress can force the administration to do. It can’t stop the war, but it can discredit the people who started it, and in doing so ensure that we’ll have someone in office on January 20, 2009 who’s going to pull all 130,000 troops out, immediately.

The Problem With Democracy

I didn’t like the first issue of Democracy. Its offerings were uninspiring, to say the least. From a New and Exciting foreign policy philosophy that’s really just a dressed-up version of liberal internationalism, to a highly technical piece by Jason Furman about a single tax deduction, to an exercise in liberal self-hatred that none-too subtly suggests that progressives hate the military, the issue ranged from the useless to the counterproductive. It wasn’t all bad. Gar Alperovitz was fascinating, as he always is, and Jed Purdy’s piece on biopolitics was mildly interesting. But the biggest new idea in a “Big Ideas” magazine shouldn’t be to eliminate the health insurance deduction, and the attitude of a liberal magazine shouldn’t be that liberals are just malevolent idiots who need to be fed ideas, no matter how mundane and pointless.
But I hoped the second issue would be better. It just came out, and it isn’t. There’s the token interesting piece – John Ikenberry about the inevitable backlash against US hegemony’s assault on Westphalian sovereignty – but other than that, it’s worse than issue one. Naazneen Barma and Ely Ratner’s piece on how China’s technocratic autocracy poses some kind of ideological threat to liberal democracy the way Communism did is ridiculous. There are to this day dozens of small Maoist parties in America – but how many Dengist parties can be found? But what infuriated me most was Karen Kornbluh’s piece on the need to expand social insurance. Her conclusions? Rejigger Social Security ever-so-slightly and create some vague thing called “Family Insurance” that would provide limited health care assistance, government-sponsored savings accounts, and extended work leave assistance. This combines Democracy‘s tendency toward overly-tiny ideas (SS tinkering, slightly expanded Family Leave benefits), ideas that have been already developed (government-run saving accounts), and stupid, watered down versions of old, great liberal ideas (health care tax credits and a FEHBP buy-in option). Ken Baer and Andrei Cherny complain in their editors’ note that the magazines’ critics don’t like ideas. Trust me; I like ideas. It’s just that new ones aren’t needed. Liberals have known for years how to conduct foreign policy (liberal internationalism), fix health care (national health insurance), etc. Any new ideas are going to be worse than the old ones or else so small and technical as to not be better suited for a specialists’ journal.

What’s Free Speech Got to Do, Got to Do With It?

Gah. What is it with people – Anne Applebaum being the latest – who claim that protests about defamations of Islam (the Pope’s typically idiotic ramblings being the latest example) are free speech issues? They aren’t. The concept of freedom of speech says that governments are not to censure citizens for expressing themselves. It’s a limitation on the power of governments, not anyone else. Which leads to the question – why is a dispute between a religious figure and the international Muslim community a free speech matter? Answer: it isn’t.
What it is is the latest case of overheated responses to Islamophobia overshadowing Islamophobia itself. Yes, violent protests are bad. But that doesn’t excuse Benedict or make him some sort of civil libertarian martyr. The real issue is that the world’s preeminent religious leader can get off making statements that could have been posted on Stormfront. That’s a problem, and it should be treated as such.
A side note: I get annoyed when writers (today is the LA Times‘ editorial page’s turn) act like Islam needs some sort of Reformation. One of the most interesting section of America at the Crossroads by Frank Fukuyama is when he quotes Olivier Roy’s argument that Islam is in one already. People seem to think of the Reformation as a time of moderation in Christianity. It wasn’t. Martin Luther and John Calvin were a lot of things, but they were not moderates. They differed from the Catholic Church, but in many ways they were much, much more conservative. Similarly, the leaders of the Muslim Reformation are not moderates either. They are either Shi’a fundamentalists (Sadr, Hezbollah, Iran’s leadership) or Salafists (al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas). But their more modern, personal Islam might well pave the way for a moderate and even liberal Islam. Who knows: in a few years, we might have the Muslim equivalents of Unitarians and Quakers.