Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The meteor falls to earth

A Leftist mourns the decline of Obama

Watching Barack Obama labour his way through a curiously passive, stoically disengaged appearance on US comedian Jon Stewart's The Daily Show last week, it was hard not to avert one's eyes in sympathy and embarrassment. Why, in the majesty of presidential office, would you present yourself for vivisection on the operating table of a self-aggrandising TV satirist masquerading as a moral saint? And then, even if there were some earthly purpose to this, why spend the last significant TV appearance of your election campaign in the company of a few hundred hooting and wailing college undergraduates, not a single one of whom has even considered voting Republican? "This is my fate," Obama's weary, disheartened, tolerantly amused face seemed to say. "And I must endure it as best I can." And yet, what is the purpose of expending your best and highest impulses in the public's service, when by your essential inertness and passivity of spirit you are doomed to lose all joy of it?

The Daily Show is probably as good an indicator as exists of the swamp of self-indulgence into which Left politics has slipped over the last generation. Since earnestness is by definition uncool, and since the sophistication of one's politics is chiefly to be measured by the potency of one's negative wit, clever folks who wish to be thought progressive are nowadays required to engage in a rather complicated ballet, the dual purpose of which is to appear more caring and sympathetic than other people, even as you project a general attitude of ironic disdain towards the objects of your care and sympathy.

And yet Obama's personal and emotional assets, you would have thought, were more or less the opposite of this. In The Audacity of Hope he presents a delicately observed but unsentimental portrait of his generation, sundered by the great cultural divide of the 1960s and 70s into rival camps of cultural avant-gardists and defenders of hearth and home. There he clearly imagined himself as straddling both camps, drawing upon the emotional power of tradition and continuity, and upon the "incorrigible, sweet-natured romanticism" of his beloved mother. In practice, though, his presidency has been merely a kaleidoscope of the various disembodied aspects of his persona. One moment he presents as the cool-eyed centrist pragmatist; at the next he is the cool-cat Chicago inner-city liberal. Yet in the end he has succeeded only in convincing those to his left of his political inconstancy, and those to his right of his essential insincerity of heart.

And yet, for all this, it is hard not to feel sympathy for the President's predicament. He was drawn by the overwhelming magnetic force of the Democratic Party's moral compass into a chaotic and inconclusive struggle over health policy, a struggle that disbarred him from taking any decisive stand in his own right, and in the resolution of which he was doomed to gain little credit, even as it deprived his presidency of the best part of a year's worth of borrowed time. He had no realistic choice in the first months of 2009 but to follow his predecessor's stimulus posture, even as evidence failed to prove it was having any marked effect. Now he finds himself caught between the poles of an unbalanced and intellectually irresponsible debate between scholars who assert that no money should have been spent whatever, and others, such as Princeton's Paul Krugman, who suggest that no amount of public spending on demand-stimulation could ever be enough; thus rather neatly ensuring their purity of intention by advocating a course of action they know will never be followed by any responsible president, and which will never have to be tested by events.

And yet, as honest and serious-minded scholars have shown, we know very little about why Obama's stimulus failed, or whether further stimulus would do help or harm. As Harvard's Edward Glaeser points out, there is no clear correlation in any American region between the level of economic stimulus and the quality of economic response. As a team of scholars from Stanford recently demonstrated, what we do know about the diminished multiplier effects of economic stimulus nowadays chiefly points to the differences between our world and that of the 1930s. In any case, the root cause of the global crisis lies not within the US economy itself, but rather in the extraordinary and grotesque imbalances of supply and demand within the global economy, so that the world's most dynamic industrial economy is also one of its poorest, by the deliberate design of its rulers. And yet this is a problem that excessive demand-stimulation within the US will only serve to exacerbate, even as it adds to the volume of US Treasury bonds held in the vaults of China's state banks. In these circumstances, there is in truth little choice but to proceed on a tentative, experimental course, tending to the domestic economy's frailties without adding too much to its global indebtedness.

In the hollering, wailing cadence of Stewart's studio audience, we can perhaps take some measure of the acute trouble in which centre-left parties such as the US Democrats and our ALP presently find themselves. The country's most gifted and educationally fortunate souls, it so happens, are not commonly its most political mature or worldly, even as they may be the most impatient of disappointment. And so the job of holding together the fragile alliance of social democracy - between the idealists and the worldly wise, cosmopolitans and suburbanites - is becoming almost intolerably hard. For a time Obama seemed to point towards a solution to this problem. Now he appears to have been consumed by it in his turn. And with him, you might think, goes another of the few remaining chances for America's reasonable centre-left to reinvent itself.



Simple Math and Simple Politics

If you spend anytime at all perusing the blogosphere, you will find a common theme coming from self-described liberal or progressive bloggers, and that is that those on the political right are ignoramuses. The argument is that they are just too stupid to know what's what - they are even anti-science, rejecting knowledge itself -- and consequently they support dumb candidates advocating ignorant policies. Such arguments are particularly evident in the corner of the blogosphere that discusses the climate change issue. This line of argument of course is a variant of the thinking that if only people shared a common understanding of scientific facts they would also share a common political orientation (typically the political orientation of whomever is expressing these views).

Today's New York Times explains that top Democrats, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have bought into this view, leading to charges of elitism from their political opponents. Here is an excerpt:
In the Boston-area home of a wealthy hospital executive one Saturday evening this month, President Obama departed from his usual campaign stump speech and offered an explanation as to why Democrats were seemingly doing so poorly this election season. Voters, he said, just aren’t thinking straight.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

The notion that voters would reject Democrats only because they don’t understand the facts prompted a round of recriminations — “Obama the snob,” read the headline on a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — and fueled the underlying argument of the campaign that ends Tuesday. For all the discussion of health care and spending and jobs, at the core of the nation’s debate this fall has been the battle of elitism.

And here is what the NYT reports about Bill Clinton expressing similar views:
Former President Bill Clinton has a riff in his standard speech as he campaigns for Democrats in which he mocks voters for knowing more about their local college football team statistics than they do about the issues that will determine the future of the country. “Don’t bother us with facts; we’ve got our minds made up,” he said in Michigan last week, mimicking such voters.

But if they understood the facts, he continued, they would naturally vote Democratic. “If it’s a choice and we’re thinking, he wins big and America wins big,” Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Battle Creek, pointing to Representative Mark Schauer, an endangered first-term Democrat.

The problem with such arguments is that they are simply wrong, Facts do not compel particular political views, much less policy outcomes.

But for the purposes of discussion, let's just assume that those on the political right are in fact ignoramuses. Even if that were the case, appeals to the wisdom of the educated (and the stupidness of others) would still be a losing electoral proposition as shown by the graph at the top of this post (data here in XLS): Americans older than 18 registered to vote with a college degree represent only 32% of the voting population. Those with an advanced degree represent only 11% of the population registered to vote. For those smart folks on the left, I shouldn't have to explain the corresponding electoral implications.

It should also be fairly obvious that when highly educated people tell those who are less educated that they are too stupid to know better, it probably does not lead to acceptance of claims to authority, much less reinforce trust in experts. In fact, it might even have the opposite effect.

For those on the left who spend a lot of time explaining how intelligent they are, their politics are not always so smart.



You blew it, Mr President: Sarah Palin's pre-vote TV taunt to Obama

Barack Obama's Democratic Party faces being swept from power in Washington by a ‘political earthquake’ in tomorrow’s U.S. mid-term elections, Sarah Palin claimed last night. ‘You blew it, President Obama,’ she taunted during a TV interview. ‘We gave you two years to improve the economy. The message has been sent to Democrats that they blew it.’ Most Americans want a ‘smaller, smarter’ government, the former Republican vice presidential candidate added.

Pressure was piling up on Mr Obama as he launched a last-ditch tour of the country ahead of tomorrow’s crucial ballot which is being seen as a referendum on his presidency.

Washington analysts were united in their belief the Republicans would come out on top – it was just a question of by how much. All 435 House of Representatives seats are up for grabs along with a third of the Senate, while 36 states will be choosing new governors.

The Democrat-controlled House – the party has a 39-seat majority – is expected to fall to the Republicans and the fate of the Senate is finely balanced. If there is a Republican landslide, it will pitch the White House into an implacable stand-off with Congress in attempts to push through any more Obama initiatives.

A new poll revealed just 51 per cent of Democrats believe Mr Obama should run unopposed for the White House in two years’ time. Most of the 47 per cent who say another Democrat should run against him for the next party presidential nomination had backed Hillary Clinton in her doomed primary campaign, the Associated Press-Knowledge Networks study found.

A real Democratic challenge to Mr Obama is unlikely at this stage but the findings underscored how disenchanted his own party has grown. Among American voters, 51 per cent said he deserves to be defeated in November 2012, and 47 per cent support his re-election.



Despite Democrats insisting that Tuesday’s mid-terms are not a “referendum” on the president, Obama himself clearly thinks it is

Here in Chicago, a couple of things about President Barack Obama’s final appeal to the voters has been striking. The first is that he’s even campaigning in his home neighbourhood of Hyde Park, a liberal, university enclave on the South Side of the Windy City.

Illinois is a deep blue state yet Democrats could well lose both the governorship and Obama’s old Senate seat – a major symbolic blow to his personal prestige. At one point he pleaded: “Chicago, I need you to keep on fighting! I need you to keep on believing!”

If Obama is having to defend home turf at this stage of the election campaign, what does that say about his party’s prospects? It’s as if George W. Bush found himself having to give a stump speech in Midland, Texas.

The second striking thing is the extent to which Obama’s pitch to voters is, well, all about him. Despite Tim Kaine, DNC chairman, insisting that Tuesday’s mid-terms are not a “referendum” on the president, Obama himself clearly thinks it is. But I’m not sure that Obama’s almost mournful tone in looking back at 2008 will do Democratic candidates much good.

The speech was long – 33 minutes – and this self-referential riff seemed to me distinctly odd:
You know, in the introductions, I think some people mentioned a dear friend of mine who passed this past weekend. Bishop Brazier had a church right down the street. Michelle and I used to go to church at Apostolic sometime. And here’s somebody who knew me when I was a young lawyer, had just moved to Chicago. And I remember when I was making the decision to run for President, I called him. And I said, ‘You know, Bishop, I’m really not sure this is possible. I don’t know if I’m going to make it, but I think it’s worth trying’. And he says, ‘I don’t know what God has in store for you, Barack. But he did say you won’t know either unless you try’.




The usual bureaucratic efficiency: "In the past decade, Washington sent over $1 billion of your tax dollars to dead people. Washington paid for dead people’s prescriptions and wheelchairs, subsidized their farms, helped pay their rent, and even chipped in for their heating and air conditioning bills. In some cases, these payments quietly gather in a dormant bank account. In many others, however, they land in the pockets of still-living people, who are defrauding the system by collecting benefits meant for a now-deceased relative. Since 2000, the known cost of these payments to over 250,000 deceased individuals has topped $1 billion, according to a review of government audits and reports by the Government Accountability Office, inspectors general, and Congress itself. This is likely only a small picture of a much larger problem."

From fugitive guerrilla to Brazil’s new president: "Dilma Rousseff, who was elected as Brazil's first female president on Sunday, once told reporters that as a typical Brazilian girl in the 1950s she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. But as a fighter for Brazil's left-wing guerrilla movement in 1969, she exchanged a wedding dress for fatigues and went underground, taking on names such as Luiza, Wanda and Estela to avoid the authorities. With her trademark pixie-short hair style and thick glasses, she became one of most Brazil's most wanted fugitives, branded by some as a "subversive Joan of Arc." [Pity Brazil]

The free market of religion: A privatization success story: "While the dual concepts of liberty of conscience and free exercise of religion were still being developed in the 17th century, they were sufficiently conceptualized by 1791 to warrant the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The language of the First Amendment to the Constitution not only guarantees that the federal government will not establish any religion, it also guarantees the right of each individual to freely exercise their religion according to their conscience. For the first time in Western history, a national State allowed religion to be fully privatized, no longer sheltering it from market forces of competition, and no longer subsidizing it to keep it solvent. Evidently the view of the federal government in 1791 was that religion was NOT too big to fail.”

There is a BIG new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: