Archive for November 3rd, 2008

November 3, 2008

Blogger sneers at reporting

Matthew Yglesias:

Not only is this business of traveling with the candidate not very useful, with its huge ratio of time spent traveling to time spent doing stuff, but it’s also quite expensive for the news organization paying for your travel. And yet, it’s considered essential to do it. After all, that’s “reporting.” And reporting, as we all know, is the essence of “journalism.” Spend hours on planes and buses and so forth and vast sums of money and then you can report on what John McCain said at a rally. Sit at home and watch the rally on television or look up transcripts, and that’s not reporting at all.

Idiot. You wouldn’t be able to watch the rally on TV if it weren’t for the TV crews following the campaign. And while it could be argued that there is wasted manpower in the pack-journalism of a big presidential campaign trip, nevertheless, the blogger — or other news consumer — benefits from the opportunity to see events through multiple pairs of eyes. If the candidate gives a 2,000-word speech, which 25-word quote is the most important? Aren’t reporters who’ve been following the campaign for several days best qualified to notice what’s new in today’s speech?

As someone who does both blogging and reporting, I appreciate the value of reporting. One of my big beefs about journalism today is the perverse esteem given to pundits who’ve never done first-source reporting. There is a lamentable tendency to take for granted the people who do the basic 5Ws-and-an-H stuff, while idolizing the “big picture” guy telling us What It Means. (Hey, just give me the facts and let me worry about the meaning.)

There are competing tendencies in presidential campaign reporting. Local press tends to be straightforward about what the candidate said — to quote the speech as a meaningful expression of the candidate’s positions — and to supply lots of quotes from local supporters about how great it is to have the candidate in town. The traveling national press corps is more concerned with the topline narrative of what the candidate’s strategy is and how well (or how poorly) the strategy seems to be working. My own forays onto the campaign trail have been episodic, and I’ve tried to use each event — the quotes from candidates and supporters, the “color” details — to supply some particular insight into the campaign.

However reporting is done, or by whom, there is simply no substitute for direct observation. If you didn’t see and hear Republican crowds go wild when the “Straight Talk Express” bus rolled into an arena with “Eye of the Tiger” blasting from the speakers, if you didn’t talk with the folks who turned out for those rallies, you can’t claim to know who these people are, or what their moods and motivations are. Some things simply can’t be done by watching TV and reading transcripts.

(Cross-posted at AmSpecBog.)

November 3, 2008

Vote ’08

Mrs. Other McCain and I urge all progressive Democrats to exercise their right to vote on Wednesday, Nov. 5!

November 3, 2008

Traffic fascism

Seems the Gigantic Blog Woman has fallen afoul of the revenue-hungry gendarmes:

Apparently, if you pass a stopped emergency vehicle (including a trooper on a traffic stop) without pulling into the left lane, you can be liable for a huge ticket in Virginia. DC area drivers, take note; they can pull you over even if you’re going to the limit and not endangering the trooper. I don’t know about other parts of the country, but around here governments are partially dealing with their revenue shortfall by upping their traffic enforcement to outrageously persnickety levels; my sister got a ticket the other day for stopping at a stop sign for three seconds instead of the apparently requisite five. There were no other cars around–except for the cop who handed her a gigantic ticket.

When Bill Clinton promised to put “100,000 new cops on the street,” most of us pictured Officer O’Malley walking the beat in New York City, rousting hooligans and ne’er-do-wells. What we got instead seems to be a three-fold increase in the number of state troopers doing radar speed enforcement. Dozens of those “100,000 new cops” are staked out daily on I-70 and I-270 just waiting to catch me on a run to DC.

Some communities are now absurdly overpoliced. When I lived in Montgomery County, my mind boggled at the fact that no motorist was ever pulled over by a single patrol car. Every routine traffic stop seemed to require at least three additional units responding as backup. I recall one memorable occasion when someone’s party (not mine) got a little rowdy on a Saturday night and no fewer than 11 cars responded to the apartment complex where I lived.

Traffic enforcement ought to be oriented toward safety. I am 49 years old and haven’t been at fault in an accident since my sophomore year in college. (About 15 years ago, I got rear-ended by an unlicensed driver, and this spring I got my front bumper whacked by a young idiot woman who ran a red light in DC.)

My long record of highway safety, however, does not protect me from state troopers doing what they do best: Hiding on the interstate during off-peak hours and busting me for doing 80-something on the open road. This is nonsensical, and does nothing to improve safety. Cato or some other libertarian think tank should do a study, because I think it could be demonstrated that very few accidents can be attributed to middle-aged men merely driving fast in light traffic on the interstate.

Between Clarksburg and Germantown on I-270, there is a glorious downhill stretch of wide-shouldered freeway with three southbound lanes. At 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the traffic is so light along there that no one would be endangered by my driving that highway at 120 mph, a fact of which I am certain (and never mind how I obtained that certainty). However, there is a spot, just above a tree-hidden curve at the end of that stretch, where every other afternoon the troopers await with radar to surprise any driver who doesn’t slow down to 70 mph in time (71 mph being the point at which the 55 mph speed limit is actually enforced).

The motorist who happens to get stuck in afternoon rush-hour traffic going north on I-270 about 6 p.m. on a weekday can’t help but notice that on the southbound side of the highway — where traffic is light to non-existent at that hour — he will periodically see troopers doing traffic stops on speeders. What earthly sense is there in that? The big problem on weekday afternoons in Montgomery County is not the speed of motorists going south, but the lack of speed of those going north.

What causes most accidents on freeways? From what I’ve seen — due to near-misses with various morons — it’s people who fail to check their blind spot before lane-changing to their left. This astonishingly common error most often occurs in medium-to-heavy traffic, and speed has nothing to do with it. The culprit is either stupidity, inattention or bad eyesight. (People wearing glasses have very limited peripheral vision, and the next time you find yourself swerving or braking to avoid some idiot lane-changer, take note of whether the idiot is wearing glasses.)

Traffic enforcement fails to take account of the reality of the road. The DMV keeps issuing licenses to half-blind subnormals — so the roads are jammed full of those who by rights ought to take the bus — and the troopers keep slapping tickets on us aristocrats of speed who were Born to Drive. Procrustean injustice!
November 3, 2008

McCain without Palin

Not exactly firing ’em up in Florida:

About 30 minutes before John McCain is scheduled to lead a rally outside Raymond James Stadium, looks like there’s maybe 1,000 people here.

Meanwhile, Palin is in Ohio:

Speaking before an enthusiastic crowd of 4,000 at Lakewood Park . . . .

If anybody is hurting the GOP ticket, it ain’t Sarah.

November 3, 2008

Jeffrey Hart, right and wrong

Jeffrey Hart correctly criticizes the nonsense of Bush’s nation-building schemes:

Like the French radicals of 1790, Bush wanted to democratize Iraq, turn it, as he said in a speech at Whitehall, into a “beacon of liberty in the Middle East.” Now, Robespierre and the other radicals were criticized by Burke for wanting to turn France into a republic. Not a bad idea, but they tried to do it all at once, and according to republican theory.
Maxmillien Robespierre himself would have been horrified by the notion of democratizing Mesopotamia. That may — possibly — happen. But it will take a long time, an Enlightenment, and the muting of sectarian hatreds.

While I share this disdain of Bush’s egalitarian universalism, Hart then goes on to defend Social Security (!) and makes a bizarrely unconservative defense of abortion:

Ever since Roe vs. Wade, abortion has been a salient controversy in our politics. But the availability of abortion is linked to the long advancement of women’s equality. Again, we are dealing with social change, and this requires understanding social change, a Burkean imperative that Obama understands.
On my Dartmouth campus, half the undergraduates are women. They do not want to have their plans derailed by an unwanted pregnancy. In Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the Court ruled that the availability of abortion “enables women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the country.”

So the career ambitions of Dartmouth coeds and the “advancement of women’s equality” are now conservative projects — indeed, “a Burkean imperative” that trumps all else? (If Dartmouth girls so fear the consequences of “unwanted pregnancy,” would it be too much to ask them to keep their britches on?) Behold the prophesied fruit of “infidel democracy”:

In our day, innovations march with so rapid a stride that they quite take away one’s breath. The fantastical project of yesterday, which was mentioned only to be ridiculed, is to-day the audacious reform, and will be tomorrow the accomplished fact. Such has been the history of the agitation for “women’s rights,” as they are sophistically called in this country.

So we now have abortion defended in the name of Burke, and its defenders anointed as “conservative.” So much for “standing athwart history” et cetera.

November 3, 2008

Beinart: ‘Palin is the end of the line’

The culture war is over and it’s all economics now. Would you care to wager money on that proposition, Mr. Smarty-Pants?

What actually happened during the Bush administration — as opposed to all that tendentious historical trend-mongering that Beinart indulges — was a self-conscious choice by Rove, et al., to make three consecutive elections (2002, 2004, 2006) into foreign-policy plebiscites, casting all opposition as unpatriotic. It worked twice, but failed the third time. Now, having trotted out a hawk’s hawk as their super-patriot candidate, the Republicans are paying the inevitable price for having failed to build support for a coherent limited-government domestic agenda.

Campaigning on foreign policy is ultimately a losing strategy, because most Americans don’t give a damn about foreign policy. What Beinart derides as the “culture war” — debating issues like immigration, gay marriage, education, etc. — has proven far more effective for the GOP, since these are domestic quality-of-life issues that actually engage organized constituencies of religious conservatives. Yet if Republicans aren’t willing to push hard on the fundamental issue of economic freedom and limited government, they surrender the game. Big-government conservatism (i.e., “National Greatness”) is not conservative at all, and no amount of Republican posturing on abortion or patriotism can disguise this fact.

UPDATE: The Hill’s Walter Alarkon seems to have misread this as a criticism of Palin. In saying the GOP “trotted out a hawk’s hawk” — i.e., McCain — as their ’08 standard-bearer, I meant to show how the party was continuing to repeat the mistake of overemphasizing the flag-waving foreign policy stance. Seven years after 9/11, the public has gotten burnt out on the jingo trip.

McCain was never a domestic-issues wedge-and-hammer conservative like Newt Gingrich, and McCain himself has said he doesn’t know much about economics. McCain was running on his war hero biography and “the surge worked,” and when the financial crisis reared its ugly head in September, he misplayed it badly. Whereas Obama (despite his personal ties to Fannie Mae, ACORN, etc.) was able to fit the financial crisis within his previously established narrative of “eight years of failed Bush policies.”

Thus, my argument that the GOP had weakened itself by repeatedly campaigning on the war/patriotism message. I contrasted this to Beinart’s (mis)interpretation that saw the impending McCain defeat as a negative referendum on the “culture wars” — with Palin as “the end of the line.” Beinart’s spin is nonsensical because (a) McCain was never a culture warrior and (b) the McCain campaign didn’t push cultural issues. And I am absolutely certain that cultural issues will continue to be relevant during the Obama administration.

November 3, 2008

Video: Obama on bankrupting coal


(Via Hot Air.) Note how blandly he asserts that the “cap-and-trade system” he supports would bankrupt any American firm that might try to build a coal-power plan. He can say the most radical things in the most moderate tone.

November 3, 2008

Olbermann’s paranoid style

Of the many things that “Saturday Night Live” writers got right in their parody of Keith Olbermann — the angry certainty, the hyperbole, the self-righteous indignation — none was more right than Olbermann’s penchant for the elaborately long sentence. Ben Affleck opens his Olbermann diatribe with this 92-word rambler:

That he is the worst president in our nation’s 220-year existence, indeed, that he is the worst president ever to head a government of any kind in the whole of human history is beyond dispute, but even Mr. Bush’s harshest critics had until this week credited him with a modicum of human decency, a decency utterly belied by the tape you are presently to see, a tape in which, at a White House press conference, Mr. Bush abruptly launches into a stream of ugly racist invective that would embarrass even David Duke.

Note the backward construction of the sentence. You go 33 words before you get to “is beyond dispute,” without encountering an antecedent for the pronoun “he” en route. Affleck/Olbermann then pivots on “but” and goes off in another direction for 48 words.

This show-off, self-conciously “smart” type of discourse is the intellectual equivalent of the nouveau riche ostentation of wealth. I know rich people whom you’d never suspect were rich if you were to meet them in the stands at a ballgame. They’re not some Thurston Howell III stereotype. In the same way, geniuses don’t generally declaim in entire paragraphs full of GMAT vocabulary words.

What Olbermann does with his “aren’t I smart” style is to play on his audience’s conviction that liberalism is smarter than conservatism. They’re like chess-club nerds, sneering at the jocks and preppies. Olbermann is reinforcing their smug condescension, and they love him for it.

November 3, 2008

Don’t believe the hype!

CNN wants you to believe that Sarah Palin is a net negative for the Republican Party. The only candidate who’s generated any enthusiasm for the GOP this year — yeah, she’s the problem.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman (another guy who has the Republican Party’s interests at heart) offers this subtle analysis:

But the G.O.P.’s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.

This is exactly the spin I predicted. Krugman, however, does make a useful point:

A recent Democracy Corps poll found that Republicans, by a margin of more than two to one, believe that Mr. McCain is losing “because the mainstream media is biased” rather than “because Americans are tired of George Bush.”

Indeed, the reality of “Bush fatigue” is undeniable, although it does not mean (as Krugman seems to suggest) “a verdict on conservative policies.” Which policies of Bush does he mean? The No Child Left Behind Act that Bush negotiated with Ted Kennedy? Medicare Part D?

The mainstream media are indeed biased, but the Republican Party has failed — as an institution — to address that bias appropriately and proactively. Instead, they’ve retreated to a Fox News echo chamber and allowed liberals to dominate the mainstream media even more than ever.

November 3, 2008

Bill Kristol & the Idiocy of Hope

Tuesday, I’m voting for Bob Barr. On Feb. 7, the day Mitt quit, I swore a blood oath that I’d vote Libertarian this year rather than vote for Crazy Cousin John. (I live in deep-blue Maryland, so it’s a “free” vote.)

My vow, however, did not mean I wanted the Democrats to win. I never want Democrats to win anything. So my Libertarian vow didn’t make me neutral, but it did make me more objective than some of the GOP cheerleaders who are now doing backflips and shaking their pompons on Fox News, telling you there’s still a chance of Republican victory.

Those people are not your friends. They are not helping you. When Bill Kristol starts talking lunatic gibberish about McCain filling “an inside straight,” he’s only making himself ridiculous, and if you believe his crap, it makes you ridiculous, too. And let me remind you that the GOP has reached its current pathetic state by heeding Kristol’s advice.

The Monday before Super Tuesday, Kristol endorsed McCain and accused McCain’s Republican opponents of indulging “a temper tantrum.” At the time, I wrote:

McCain got 48% in Illinois, 51% in New York , 52% in Connecticut, and 56% in New Jersey — all states that Democrats will carry easily in November. But in Florida
he got only 36%
, and today, he didn’t even break 50% in Arizona. These aren’t the kind of numbers that indicate a strong Republican candidate. McCain is not a conservative, he will lose in November, and Kristol doesn’t even seem to care.

When all was said and done, McCain only got 47% of the GOP primary vote. So 53% of Republican primary voters had “a temper tantrum” according to Kristol, and they are the problem with the Republican Party, not him. Think about that, and then ask yourself if the New York Times would give a column to someone whose advice might actually help the GOP.

Conservatives scoff at the idiocy of Obama supporters who actually believe all that “Hope” crap he’s peddling. (Obama’s going to pay my car insurance!) We recognize this as the kind of absurd naivete that demagogues exploit. So what about the naivete that Kristol’s exploiting? How are Republicans who heed his bad advice — who watch Kristol on Fox News and say to themselves, “Yeah, he’s right, Mack can win this thing!” — really any wiser than those idiots who think Obama can work miracles?

Objectively, it was wrong to believe in February that McCain could win in November. But tomorrow night, when the GOP absorbs one of the worst beatings in history, Republicans will tune in Kristol on Fox News and listen to his explanations of what went wrong without acknowledging his own role in what went wrong.

If conservatives don’t understand that you’re being misled and swindled in this process, that bandwagon psychology is being used to convince you to support candidates and policies that aren’t conservative and lead to political disaster, you’re going to keep wandering blindly down the road to oblivion.

I’m voting for a loser Tuesday, but at least I’m doing it with my eyes open.