Monday, May 31, 2004



As our goals in Iraq shift from democracy-building towards trying to prevent a failed state, the inevitable question – the question that will no doubt occupy historians for many generations – is beginning to be raised about the neocon vision: Was the neocon plan for transforming the Middle East inherently flawed, or was it merely implemented poorly (to put it lightly). It’s an important question. If the neocons’ democracy-building was the right idea (and not inherently flawed), that means that we should try it somewhere else (presumably with better planners). Dan Drezner weighed in on this question in his TNR essay last week. Drezner maintains, with caveats, that “[w]hile flawed, the neoconservative plan of democracy promotion in the Middle East remains preferable to any known alternatives.” I’m not sure that’s right – here’s why.

First, I should say that I am normally a big fan of Drezner (though his whole any-Iraq-news-is-good-for-Bush theory was fairly ridiculous). That said, I’m starting to think that the neocon vision of democracy promotion (via military force) in the Middle East cannot be salvaged by claiming that it was poorly executed by the administration. I fear the very idea – like Communism – is flawed, largely because it turns a blind eye to many realities of human nature.

First, I should point out a post by Kevin Drum, who has also argued that the vision itself could not possibly have been implemented successfully because of practical and systemic reasons. Practically, he explains, we simply don’t have the 450,000 troops that Drezner claims was probably needed. Second, we have the more systemic problem of not being able to use full force against insurgents who hide within urban populations. It would contradict our claim about being a “liberation” force if we didn’t occupy with a light hand. I agree with Kevin, but I would add a couple of other thoughts.

One of Drezner’s key claims is that “appeasement” was a bad policy and that the neocons are the only group who have presented any credible theory for dealing with the problems in the Middle East. Here’s what he had to say:

To be sure, democracy promotion is far from easy. Indeed, regime change in the Middle East looks like a lousy, rotten policy option for addressing the root causes of terrorism, until one considers the alternatives--appeasement or muddling through. The latter option was essentially the pre-9/11 position of the United States and its allies, and has been found wanting. Appeasement or isolation has the same benefits and costs that the strategy had in the 1930s: It buys short-term solace but raises the long-term costs of facing a stronger and potentially undeterrable adversary.

For all their criticism of Bush's grand strategy, Europeans and left-wingers have offered very little in the way of alternatives to his vision. Some say that American soft power could bring about change in the Middle East. But decades of alternately coddling, cajoling, and ostracizing Arab despots has not led to liberalization or democratization. We have showered Egypt with aid, but have succeeded only in propping up an authoritarian monster in Hosni Mubarak.

I’m not sure that’s right. Drezner creates a straw man by labeling our pre-9/11 strategy as “appeasement” (which is loaded with Nazi connotations). A better word would be “containment” (remember the first Gulf War). That’s exactly how we dealt with communism. We contained it, engaged it, and threatened it when it tried to expand. It was a long-term strategy. Everything that Drezner is saying about the long-term costs of “appeasement” could have been applied equally well to Communist regimes in the 1950s. Wisely, we decidedly that a mix of containment and long-term engagement would be a better strategy. As for Mubarak, I agree that he’s no Thomas Jefferson. But Egypt hasn’t threatened Israel in quite some time.

The bigger problem is simply that the neocon vision – like Communism – is too idealistic. It has been a central tenet of conservative thought at least since Rousseau and the French Revolution that man cannot be made good. The Constitution is dripping with pessimism of the capabilities of man to act good, and to act in the public interest. The Constitution, however, recognized man’s flaws and designed our government with those flaws in mind (i.e., checks and balances, divided government). As bad as certain regimes may be, we must be aware of the limits of our transformative powers. Men are rarely changed by the barrel of a gun. Instead of hoping to change the Middle East by force, we should start sending in radio stations (like Radio Free Europe) and McDonalds.

Just as the neocons erred by viewing terrorism through the old Cold War nation-state lens, I think they (and others) are erring by not understanding that economic force works better than military force in the globalized 21st century. The key to containing a potential enemy is to make them economically dependent on you. The South didn't integrate, for example, until Congress threatened to take their money away. Similarly, we have wisely made China dependent on global markets. Our China policy - containment and economic engagement - is working well. China is an important trading partner, a WTO member, and will host the Olympics in 2008. With China, like Russia, we are simply creating the conditions in which democracy can emerge organically (or at least creating conditions in which the old regime can pass away peacefully). With respect to the Middle East, we should be directing our economic focus toward Iran, where a strong, young middle class is yearning to throw off the old regime. It's like Friedman said yesterday - we should aim at "tilting" a country in the right direction "[so] that the process of gradual internal transformation can take place over a generation."

Is that enough to stop terrorism in the short-term? Probably not. But nothing will - and foolish military invasions make things worse. Modern terrorism is the result of various historical policies and contingent events that we cannot change. Sadly, as long as people want to attack us, they will find a way to do so. The only viable long-term strategy is to make them stop wanting to attack us. In my opinion, this goal can only be achieved over the long-term through a policy of containment, stabilization, and economic engagement (carrots and sticks).

Before I conclude, I also want to take issue with this line from Drezner’s essay:

The craft of foreign policy is choosing wisely from a set of imperfect options. While flawed, the neoconservative plan of democracy promotion in the Middle East remains preferable to any known alternatives.

Here’s my question – do we really want Middle East democracy right now? I don’t think that Israel would be that excited about being surrounded by a democratic Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Remember, democracies are not inherently good. In theory, they reflect the mood of the populace. That mood can be good, or it can be bad. I mean, the South was democratic from 1865 to 1965 and it wasn't exactly tolerant or free from hate.

I guess I would just say be careful what you wish for. If the democratic will in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan were unleashed, I'm not sure we'd like what we would see.

[Update: I should add that the containment/engagement strategy requires the credible threat of American military force. If only America had stopped after Afghanistan, and hadn't halted Arab self-reflection in its tracks by invading Iraq, our position would be much stronger. Today, however, with our overstretched military and domestic skepticism, other countries will no longer see us as a credible threat - which is really "ironical" (from "Waiting for Guffman" - great movie) given that one of the supposed benefits of invading Iraq was to show that we mean business. For this and other reasons, I fear that the negative ripple effects of the Iraq war, especially with respect to our foreign policy, will become much worse as time goes on.]

Saturday, May 29, 2004


I'm outta here for the day. In the meantime, I'd encourage everyone to go visit "Books For Soldiers." If you don't have some books lying around, you can also give money.

Oh yeah - Billmon is back!

[Update: You know, I just heard a song that sums up the Chalabi affair. As it turned out, the man to whom many wanted to hand over Iraq turned out to be an Iranian double agent (oopsies!). If that's overstating it, it was clear that he had long had ties to a regime that we, to put it lightly, aren't big fans of. Anyway, the song lyrics from Guns N Roses pretty well sums it up:

"I used to love her, but I had to kill her."

Friday, May 28, 2004



(Via Atrios) One of National Review Online's contributors (John Derbyshire) points out that we're overlooking some of the "minor secondary benefits" of the war:

Another secondary benefit is the workout our military got. I'm willing to take instruction from military readers on this, but it seems to me that a military recently experienced in the organization and fighting of a hot war has, other things being equal, a tremendous advantage over one that has not been so experienced. Soldiers want to fight, and soldiers like ours and Britain's, who have recent experience of hard fighting, are keener, better motivated, swifter, calmer, and more skilled at their trade than armies that have spent 20 years doing training exercises and "peace-keeping" missions.

Maybe John should go ask these people if they enjoyed their "workout." Ask all 806 of their families too. And while you're at it, John, ask the 4,327 people who have been wounded if they feel better after their "workout."



I’ve often viewed the Bush economic policy like one of those credit card deals you get in the mail that offers 0 % APR for 12 months or so. With the new card in hand, you rush out and buy as much as you can because there’s no interest. But the interest will kick in eventually. In a sense, Bush has been loading up the national credit card with massive, imbalanced tax cuts at the same time he has increased spending – and don’t forget that the Baby Boom retirement is looming on the horizon. In other words, the APR is about to kick in - hard. According to the Washington Post, it might start next year.

Here’s an excerpt from “2006 Cuts in Domestic Spending on Table”:

[A] May 19 White House budget memorandum obtained by The Washington Post said that agencies should assume the spending levels in that printout when they prepare their fiscal 2006 budgets this summer. . . . The funding levels referred to in the memo would be a tiny slice out of the federal budget -- $2.3 billion, or 0.56 percent, out of the $412.7 billion requested for fiscal 2005 for domestic programs and homeland security that is subject to Congress's annual discretion.

But the cuts are politically sensitive, targeting popular programs that Bush has been touting on the campaign trail. The Education Department; a nutrition program for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeownership, job-training, medical research and science programs all face cuts in 2006.

From an economic perspective, it’s pretty simple what’s going on. The tax cuts are being paid for by cuts to programs that help middle class people. When Bush cut taxes, he wasn’t reducing the costs of government. He was merely shifting those costs – shifting them to the middle class and shifting them to future generations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knee-jerk anti-tax cut. Targeted tax cuts are often necessary to jumpstart the economy. And taxes were too high in 1979 and were strangling innovation. But. . . Bush’s tax cuts weren’t designed to be a short-term stimulus. They were designed to be a long-term, structural shifting of the tax burden to the middle class (or away from the upper class - which is the same thing, economically speaking). And the reason he gets away with it is that most people simply don’t understand economics and don’t understand the federal budget.

Let’s look at the budget first. (I’m cutting and pasting liberally from a prior post when my traffic was much lighter). I’m basing this on the 2002 fiscal year budget (just because I had done some research for a side project). I would argue that people support tax cuts and spending cuts because they have bought into the admittedly powerful narrative of “limited government.” It sounds nice and it’s easy to understand. So, when conservatives advocate lower taxes and lower spending, they have a very compelling narrative. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hold up to reality.

Here are the numbers. In 2002, the total budget was about $2.01 trillion dollars. Of this $2 trillion, approximately $1.3 trillion went toward mandatory spending and paying off the debt. “Mandatory spending” includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and various smaller items like veterans’ benefits. Unless you are a political idiot or want to see America default, no politician in America dares to cut these. To me, that means that we have a pretty strong consensus in favor of this massive federal spending – nearly 2/3 of the entire federal budget. Thus, 66 cents of every tax dollar goes toward things that nearly everyone supports.

The remaining third is the so-called discretionary spending. That’s what Congress fights over every year. So we’ve got about $730 billion left. Of that, nearly half went to defense ($345 billion). Given 9/11 and our two recent wars, politicians risk political suicide by questioning even a dollar of defense spending. When we combine defense spending with the other untouchable spending programs, we’re up to 81%. Thus, 81% of the federal budget is not even up for debate. That’s 81 cents of every dollar.

Even if Congress voted to cut all of the remaining $365 billion from the budget, we would still be living under a very, very “big” government. And as we have seen, no one wants to cut any of the $1.7 trillion, or at least none have the political courage to say so. But cutting the entire $335 billion is also unrealistic politically. This money (representing around 19% of the entire budget) includes ALL the discretionary funds allocated to the Departments of Education, Justice, State, Homeland Security, Labor, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs – to name a few. This money also funds agencies like the EPA and important branches of governments like, oh say, the judiciary. Even if there are some conservatives who want to make some cuts in these programs, the size of any cuts would be limited both by the needs of the federal government and by political reality.

The point here is that only a tiny, miniscule fraction of the federal budget is ever up for debate from year to year. I certainly don’t mean to say that small cuts would not have serious consequences. They would. My point is that small cuts (which are the only possible kind) will not usher us into an age of “limited government.” Not by a long shot. What the cuts will do is allow upper-class people to save some money on taxes at the expense of programs that serve people with less money.

That’s what so dishonest about the administration's tax cut. They essentially threw some pennies at the middle class, who thought they were getting a great tax cut, while they delivered buckets of cash to wealthy people. In doing so, they shifted the cost of government to the middle class. I mean, look at the sorts of programs being cut – “nutrition program for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeownership, job-training.” Who do you think benefits from these programs? When’s the last time a Bush (or a Kerry) got “job training”? By cutting these programs, the savings can be used to partially subsidize massive imbalanced tax cuts. Conservatives will object that these programs are wasteful and could use some cutting. I would ask in return, "Have you been to a public school recently?" Cutting "waste" in these sorts of programs won't do a damn thing but hurt people. As the article said, $2.3 billion isn't a lot compared to the total budget - but it's a lot to take away from all of these smaller progams' budgets. Everyone MUST understand - these spending cuts don't cut "waste" in any statistically meaningful way. These cuts only hurt programs that help people, and subsidize tax cuts for people who won't need them. They certainly won't usher us into a utopian age of Jeffersonian "limited government." If you really want to reduce government, you've got to cut defense, Social Security, and Medicare. And good luck doing that in the age of the demagoguing television ad. Get past the pretty narrative, get past the Wizard's curtain and see these cuts for what they are - straight-up interest group give-aways.

That’s why the culture wars are so important. Mustn’t distract the working classes while we literally take their money and give it to richer people.

It’s astounding. I blame it on linguistics. Conservatives have successfully defined the debate in terms of “big” versus “small” government. What’s crazy is that most people would be appalled at the reality of “small” government if they ever had to live through it (which thankfully they don't - unless you live in Alabama, which has the most regressive tax system in the country).

Progressives should refuse to debate using these terms. Instead, they should point out that they merely want to fund the programs that Americans want, at the levels they need to be funded. The funding levels necessary to do this have been (successfully) labeled as “big government.” This linguistic triumph creates the conditions in which people favor tax cuts that literally cost them more money over the long-term than if the cuts had never been passed. Here’s the hypothetical conversation that I wrote earlier that sums it up:

Q: So do you prefer big or limited government?
A: Limited government. That’s why I vote Republican.
Q: Can you tell me exactly what government spends money on that is so wasteful?
A: Not really, I just think it’s too big and big government doesn’t work.
Q: So you’re for cutting the current spending levels Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?
A: No.
Q: What about defense?
A: No way.
Q: Are you for cutting education, or defaulting on our interest payments?
A: No.
Q: That’s almost 83% of the budget, assuming everything else gets cut. Are you opposed to at least some levels of funding for the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and all the other administrative departments and agencies?
A: Maybe we could cut some of their funding, but we should definitely fund them.
Q: So, are you for big government or limited government?
A: Limited government.
Q: But you support the funding levels for all these programs I listed?
A: Yes.

Marx is somewhere laughing his ass off - or perhaps crying.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

BY THE WAY. . .  

When did Al Gore become . . . AWESOME?

(CSPAN has a video feed - under "most watched video")

The long successful strategy of containment was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of "preemption." And what they meant by preemption was not the inherent right of any nation to act preemptively against an imminent threat to its national security, but rather an exotic new approach that asserted a unique and unilateral U.S. right to ignore international law wherever it wished to do so and take military action against any nation, even in circumstances where there was no imminent threat. All that is required, in the view of Bush's team is the mere assertion of a possible, future threat - and the assertion need be made by only one person, the President.



The conventional wisdom says that there is nothing good about the Nader candidacy for John Kerry. That’s probably right. But on the day Kerry is set to launch his foreign policy vision, I can’t help but wonder if Kerry couldn’t use Nader to his own advantage. In other words, could Kerry use Nader – especially on issues of foreign policy, Iraq, and patriotism – as a foil, or as his own Sister Souljah. It would be a big gamble right now, and thus probably not worth it. But for now, let me lay out what I’m talking about – and then we’ll look at the pros and cons.

“Sister Souljah,” for those who don’t know, refers back to Clinton’s denunciation of rapper Sister Souljah in 1992 after her extremist statements following the Rodney King beatings. The term “Sister Souljah moment” has even become a political term that you can find in the encyclopedia. Wikipedia defines it as follows: “A Sister Souljah moment is a political tactic wherein a politician publicly repudiates an allegedly extremist person, statement, or position nominally having some affiliation with the politician, in order to appeal to a large centrist base.” Bush did the exact same thing in 1999 when he said:

Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah. . . . Too often, my party has focused on the national economy to the exclusion of all else. . . . Too often, my party has confused the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself.

That’s pure Clintonianism – and I hope to write more about the benefits of “triangulation” (properly understood) later today or tonight (which is slightly different than the Sister Souljah moment). But back to Kerry. . .

The most obvious possibility for contrasting himself with Nader is on Iraq. Nader is quickly making the war his trump card and he has been calling for a rapid withdrawal by the end of the year. Kerry has so far (and wisely, I think) avoided the temptation to set an arbitrary date for withdrawal when the facts on the ground are changing so rapidly. So, Kerry could pick a speech in which he attacks the Nader “cut and run” position. It would have to be artfully done – Kerry would have to portray the Nader position as irresponsible in the worst possible way. He would also have to remain vague enough so that he could in fact withdraw troops if it turns out that Bush has so hopelessly ruined the operation that our continued presence becomes a destabilizing (rather than a stabilizing) force. He would have to throw in the obligatory “I reject the views of some in my party, etc. etc.” - just like Bush did and just like Clinton did.

That’s the strategy. Here are the benefits. As Stanley Greenberg has said (in his wonderful “Two Americas”), modern Democrats have a “threshold” problem. Majorities of Americans support Democratic economic views, but they are unwilling to listen to, or even consider, these views unless they are satisfied that the Democrat isn’t soft on national security and “values” (I’m sorry to use that much-abused word). In other words, before Americans will consider anything Democrats have to say, the candidates must first meet a minimal “threshold” on national security. That’s why Kerry’s national security speeches are a good strategy. The point isn’t necessarily to win over everyone – Kerry only needs to establish a threshold credibility on national security so that swing voters will listen to him on health care, education, and energy independence. Bush, by contrast, had to convince everyone in 2000 that he wasn’t a radical religious zealot, so that people would be willing to consider his other policies.

By challenging Nader, Kerry can establish (in the minds of voters) that he’s not too liberal on national security, and that he’s willing to stand up to certain elements in his own party who would prefer to abandon Iraq to its fate.

There are risks though (and there are some big ones). For one, 53% of Democrats (according to this poll) now prefer leaving Iraq now (see here too). By moving to the center, Kerry threatens to lose even more votes on the left to Nader. That’s a huge risk – and it might be one that he shouldn’t take. On the other hand, Kerry might still be able to do this because of none other than Karl Rove (you know, the genius). By abandoning Bush’s centrism in 2000 and adopting an aggressive energize-the-base-and-screw-the-middle strategy, Rove of all people may have secured Kerry’s left flank. In other words, because people hate Bush so much (in large part due to Rove’s less-than-genius campaign strategy), Kerry can pretty much do whatever he wants and won’t lose that many people to Nader. In addition, Rove’s screw-the-middle strategy may also prevent Nader from getting on a number of ballots (because of lack of support). If that’s the case, and Nader doesn’t get on the ballots in major swing states, Kerry should definitely distance himself from Nader at strategic moments. Remember, Republicans hated Clinton so bad in 2000 that they tolerated a largely centrist, soccer-mom campaign. Clinton secured Bush's right flank.

I suppose this would all have to be polled. If denouncing Nader’s Iraq policy would cost more votes than it would gain, then it’s obviously a bad strategy. Also, it might put Nader in the news, which would only help him gain support. It’s a tough issue – but that’s why they pay campaign advisors the big bucks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Terry Holt, Bush '04 campaign spokesman, was on Hardball yesterday. His logic is impeccable:

HOLT: And we didn‘t choose this war. . . .

MATTHEWS: Well, who did choose it? Who did choose it? Who did choose this war with Iraq, if the president didn‘t?

HOLT: When, on 9/11, almost 3,000 people were killed on our soil.

MATTHEWS: What did Iraq do that day?

HOLT: In fact, Iraq has been a hotbed of instability in the neighborhood.


HOLT: Saddam Hussein is a war criminal by anybody‘s imagination.

MATTHEWS: So the war—so Iraq led the fight against us on 9/11?

HOLT: Well, in fact, they had been inspiring terrorism all over that region for years and years.

MATTHEWS: Well, this is a question we‘ll have to get an answer to at some point. I haven‘t seen any evidence yet. But I accept the argument. This is part of this campaign.

Question - if "inspiring terrorism" is the relevant test, does that mean we can invade the White House? Or Sharon's offices?

[Update: And while we're exploring honesty today, I might as well throw in this passage from Jim Hoagland (who I think is safe from the charge of liberal media bias - hat tip to Peter):

Your speech Monday night carried stirring visions of the change you want to bring to Iraq and the Middle East. What it lacked was more important: a clear recognition of the ever-widening gap between those uplifting visions and the explosive conditions produced in Iraq by what has become a self-defeating U.S. occupation policy. Your words lacked the minimal dose of honesty a leader owes his nation in times of crisis.


I was literally just watching CSPAN'S Washington Journal and had to spit out my Oatmeal Raisin Crisp. Laurie Mylroie - the neocon conspiracy theorist who Richard Clarke spent half of his book ridiculing - just said (I may not have every word right, but I have the last part right for sure):

"A lot of people thought after 9/11 that Iraq was involved, and it was!"

These people - especially the Perle wing - just lie and lie and lie.



I’m currently reading Dan Carter’s book called “From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994.” It’s good, and I’ll have more to say about it in future posts. For now, I wanted to point out one passage that struck me as interesting. It was describing some of the views of Nixon’s campaign advisors regarding the nature of television (then a fairly new medium) and the American voter. I thought about this passage as I watched Bush’s speech last night. And suddenly I realized that, if these Nixon people are correct, Bush is going to win. And based on what I have witnessed over the past three-and-a-half years, these Nixon people seem to be right on.

The passage from the book is describing how Nixon and his team recognized the possibilities of exploiting television in the campaign:

Nixon’s men knew the tools of their trade. Television would allow minimum uncontrolled exposure of the candidate and an opportunity for maximum manipulation of the electorate. As one of Nixon’s media advisers told him even before his nomination: “Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we’re talking about. . . . Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration. . . . The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable. . . . It’s the aura that surrounds the charismatic figure more than it is the figure itself, that draws the followers. Our task is to build that aura.”

Nixon’s chief speechwriter, Raymond Price, was even more explicit. For most voters, he said, the decision to support a candidate was a “gut reaction, unarticulated, non-analytical, a product of the particular chemistry between the voter and the image of the candidate.” It’s “not what’s there that counts, it’s what’s projected.” And this projection “depends more on the medium and its use than it does on the candidate himself.”

Kinda makes you rethink your negative views of Nixon, eh? Seriously though, Bush’s team understands this stuff clearly. His speech last night showed it. I suspect Karl Rove laughed to himself when he heard Biden and the Washington Post claim that the plan lacked specifics, and that it was only a repackaging of the current failed policy, and so forth. Rove is smarter than that. He knows that (1) these people are not the target audience; (2) his target audience doesn’t care about the specifics of the policy, and can’t be bothered to learn. The point of the speech was not to lay out a policy or answer difficult questions – it was about projecting an aura, rousing emotions, and creating “gut-level” connections. And Bush succeeded.

It was a good speech. Above all, it was an emotional speech. It made you want to grab a flag and go track down the people who beheaded Berg. That’s because it followed the same basic formula as all Iraq-related speeches. Stir up fear and anger, with a healthy dose of terrorism and 9/11. Portray it in pure black-and-white, us-vs-them terms. Use stirring rhetoric of freedom and liberty. Calm fears by projecting an image of control and clear strategy. The tactics are good because they’re based on basic human emotions – forged through millennia of evolution. We respond to fear. We respond to patriotism (because it mimics our genetically-based impulses to rally around and protect our family). We’re human, and television exploits our humanness (that’s why “Girls Gone Wild” sells).

I should add, however, that the speech was only good if you were completely uninformed about the situation in Iraq. I mean, come on. Bush took the exact same old policy and repackaged as a “five-point plan,” while being less than completely honest to people about the strength of our coalition, the Iraqi links to terror, etc. No major questions were answered – will Iraq have a veto over military operations? What if they ask us to leave? But again, that wasn’t the point of the speech. The point of the speech was to reaffirm Bush’s gut-level connections with Americans and to project (emotionally and visually) an image of control in a tightly orchestrated speech given at a military institution. (This is one of the many reasons we need a constitutional amendment banning television.)

The larger point I want to make, though, is that Bush showed his true strength last night – connecting with “Joe Public” through carefully orchestrated television appearances. Whatever flaws he has as a leader and thinker, he emits a warmth and resolve in his speeches – even if what he’s saying has absolutely no connection with reality. People, in their gut, relate to him – especially when he’s stirring up their fears or appealing to patriotism. Reagan had this gift too. Kerry, to put it lightly, does not.

Television, like patriotism, plays on our genetic impulses, though it does so in a different way. Television creates the illusion that we know Bush personally - just as if he were talking to us on the street. Because we find his personality so appealing, we tend to trust and support his administration's policies -- even though his individual personality has absolutely zero rational connection to the policies themselves. Bush is, like all presidents to some extent, emotional wrapping paper.

So that’s the problem for the anti-Bush crowd. To argue against Bush, you are forced to use reason. You have to show just how disconnected the Iraq rhetoric is from the reality on the ground. You have to get through the undisprovable assertions such as “Invading Iraq made America safer” or “Cutting taxes creates jobs.” But these sorts of empirically-based arguments only work if empiricism is relevant in the minds of the American voter. If they’re voting only on the basis on “gut-level” feelings and auras, then why should Bush even bother laying out specific policies? If the Nixon crew is correct, then it’s an absolute waste of time to publicly wrestle with difficult questions. It’s much better to merely make shit up, so long as you’re showing “resolve” when you do so.

Bush doesn’t usually just flat-out lie. He merely stretches the phrase “plausible interpretation of certain facts” to its breaking point. Again, the goal is to project emotional strength, and to create an emotional attachment with the audience. As long as the RNC can get up and make some connection – regardless of how tenuous – between what Bush is saying and what the facts are, then he can keep on making emotion-based arguments. One example is “Saddam supported suiciders.” Yes, Saddam supported Palestinian terror, which is a completely different beast from al Qaeda terrorism, which is a completely different beast from the Iraqi insurgents (and Saddam himself). But "suiciders" is a plausible way of saying it – and it certainly stirs up the right emotions.

In short, if Nixon is right, Kerry is screwed. (This is why Edwards would have been a stronger candidate despite his inexperience – his ability to connect is much stronger.) I should add that I’m not saying that ALL Republicans vote Republican for emotional reasons. Many people vote Republican for very intelligent reasons – economic principles, judicial philosophy, foreign policy, etc. In fact, I think many intelligent Republicans have lost faith in Bush, but would prefer a Republican executive branch and so they're holding their noses and voting for him. But still, it's hard to deny that many people support Bush because of purely emotional, and thus irrational, reasons - such as because they think he would be a good guy to go to a barbeque with. It’s all about emotion – Nixon knew it and Rove knows it too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Finally. Just to let everyone know, Blogger gets a glitch from time to time that makes the site inaccessible using the normal URL. If and when this happens in the future, you can still usually access the site by removing the "www" from the URL. For example, instead of typing in "http://www.publiusrocks.com"; type in "http://publiusrocks.com".



Today's WP (citing the annual report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies):

Far from being crippled by the U.S.-led war on terror, al Qaeda has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world and the war in Iraq is swelling its ranks, a report said Tuesday. . . .

And the Iraq conflict "has arguably focused the energies and resources of al Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition that appeared so formidable" after the Afghan intervention, the survey said. The U.S. occupation of Iraq brought al Qaeda recruits from across Islamic nations, the study said. Up to 1,000 foreign Islamic fighters have infiltrated Iraqi territory, where they are cooperating with Iraqi insurgents, the survey said.

President Bush (yesterday):

The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the region.

This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world.

Pretty words - no facts. I hope Andrew Sullivan is reading. I've said it once - and I'll say it again - one can agree that the war on terror is a war, and disagree that Iraq was an appropriate tactic in that war.

CALLING A SPADE A SPADE - Bush's Pretty Speech 


This is why I've abandoned the NYT for the Washington Post (and why I love Robin Wright):

Nor did Bush try to answer some of the looming questions that have triggered growing skepticism and anxiety at home and abroad about the final U.S. costs, the final length of stay for U.S. troops, or what the terms will be for a final U.S. exit from Iraq. After promising "concrete steps," the White House basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan.

In effect, the president said his current plan is good enough to win, and he set out to rally Americans to his cause with rousing language that placed the conflict in Iraq in the context of the larger, more popular battle against terrorism.

I'm going to have a lot more to say about Bush's speech later today. Briefly, I thought it was a good speech. Bush's problem isn't that he can't give a good speech, it's that his words have little correlation with reality. Hell, I could give a good speech if I could just get up there and make shit up, linking Iraq to the war on terrorism without a second thought, using vague Jeffersonian platitudes. It's a highly effective - though deceptive - rhetorical strategy, and that's what I'll be focusing on later today. Bush is great at the pathos - but he sucks at the logos. He's all pretty words - Will Saletan (as usual) has him pegged.

Monday, May 24, 2004

YOO 2 - More on the Berkeley Protest 


Over at Mere Dicta, Mike Anderson has responded to Juan Non-Volokh's ("JNV") claim that the Berkeley protests against Yoo were attacks on academic freedom. Mike explained, as I did below, that "academic freedom" does not apply to government actions, but to academic viewpoints. JNV responded - and his response shows all too clearly why you shouldn't trust lawyers. He says:

Note, however, that the infamous memo did not advocate torture; it did not even advocate forgoing Geneva Convention protections for Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. To the contrary, it explicitly took no position on the matter and made clear that the President could, pursuant to his authority as commander-in-chief could impose the Geneva Convention's requirements on military personnel. It was a legal memorandum written on behalf of a client, not a policy recommendation.

That's a typically legalistic way of avoiding the argument. The first sentence is a straw man. The really interesting sentence is the second one ("it explicitly took no position"). Yes, it's true that the memo took no position, as a matter of policy, whether the President should ignore the Geneva Conventions. But that's not really the heart of Mike's (and the other students') arguments. What they're saying, and what is undeniably true, is that the memo concluded that ignoring the Geneva Convention AND ignoring customary international law were legal. And this position, Anderson alleges, is not legal at all. The memo stated:

We further conclude that these treaties do not apply to the Taliban militia. . . . [Here's the kicker] We conclude that customary international law, whatever its source and content, does not bind the President, or restrict the actions of the United States military, because it does not constitute federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. The President, however, has the constitutional authority . . . to interpret and apply the customary or common laws of war in such a way that they would extend to the conduct of [al Qaeda, the Taliban, or our own military].

In other words, we'll do what we damn well please. If Yoo is right about customary law being nonbinding always (regardless of source and content), then my international law professor owes me some money for erroneous lecturing. But the point is that Anderson and the students are alleging that Yoo advised a client that a clearly illegal position was legal - something that lawyers cannot do. His advice was a public action, and it arguably helped create the conditions in which abuse occurred. I don't think this was a war crime (as the student petition seems to), but I do think it's misleading to dismiss the students' complaints as an attack on "academic freedom." And I certainly think it's fair game for students (who once upon a time asserted their power at universities) to protest.

JNV shifts the battle (subtly) by invoking policy, when the real debate is over the legality of the memo's conclusions. Surely JNV would admit that, if Yoo recommended a clearly illegal position, then the student protest would not merely be attacking "academic freedom." But hey, perhaps Yoo is right - again, I'm no expert on international law. Some courts have said it's not binding in some circumstances, while the State Department has said it is binding in certain circumstances. I'm not trying refute Yoo (I'll leave that for experts) - I'm merely pointing out that this is more than an attack on academic freedom. If JNV favors Yoo's position as a matter of law or politics, then he should explain why Yoo's conclusions were legal - indeed, he may have a strong case.

But JNV is being disingenuous by dismissing the merits of the protests as a bunch of fuzzy-headed liberals attacking academic freedom (which is a caricature that appears too often over at VC). Perhaps JNV needs to lay off the David Bernstein books. He certainly needs to lay off the citations to Douglas Feith, who better pray his inbox doesn't have a message that reads "Dear Ahmed, Here's the US Classified Intelligence You Asked For."

[Update: I was thinking last that there might be a way to reconcile the seemingly inconsistent positions of the courts and the State Department with respect to whether customary international law is binding. Again, this is speculation, so I'd welcome anyone who actually knows the answer to this question. But, is it possible that a president could be subject to two different sets of law - federal law AND international law? For example, every American is subject both to federal law and state law. To argue that a given action isn't a violation of federal law doesn't insulate you from being charged with violating state law.

Similarly, it might not be enough to say, as the memo does, that "customary international law cannot bind the executive branch under the Constitution." Perhaps the President (and the American military more generally) always has to answer to (1) federal law; and (2) customary international law - and the two may not be coextensive jurisdictions. Again, I'd welcome anyone with real expertise.]

[Update 2: Also, I should clarify my views on the Volokh Conspiracy. It's a group blog, so you need to judge the individual contributors. Eugene Volokh is awesome (except when he's whoring his abilities to defend Cheney's lies), as is Jacob Levy. Randy Barnett is hit-or-miss, depending on whether he's in a "natural law" sort of mood. David Bernstein is the biggest dumbass in the entire legal profession - and he's scary. I don't know enough about the rest of them.]

JOHN YOO - International Law is for Wussies 


One of the Volokh contributors links to and discusses the Berkeley law students' protests of Professor John Yoo at their recent graduation. Yoo is a former DOJ attorney who helped craft, and assess the legality of, the administration's post-9/11 military actions. Specifically, Yoo's memos concluded that al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were not subject to the Geneva Convention. Even more striking, Yoo concluded that even though America would hold other nations accountable to international laws, America itself was not bound to follow those same laws.

The Volokh contributor is disturbed that this is an attack on academic freedom (indeed, the whole site is rather obsessed with the alleged rise of Nazi-esque political correctness limiting speech on campus). I'm not sure, however, that this is an attack on "academic freedom." As I understand that term, academic freedom is about giving faculty the widest possible latitude to teach, write, and research any topic - regardless of how controversial that topic might be. I'm fine with that. Let the Marxists and Straussians compete for students, I say.

But the Yoo protests strike me as something different. Yoo is being attacked, not for controversial academic theories, but for his public actions as a government lawyer. A strong case can be made that Yoo's legalistic and arguably disingenuous memos led to international law violations at both Gitmo and now Abu Ghraib. I'll concede that al Qaeda is probably not subject to the Geneva Convention, but it's a stretch to say that the Taliban fighters should not have been afforded those protections. But even assuming Yoo is right on all of that, it strikes me as absolutely ridiculous and unjustifiable to say that America will hold others responsible for international laws that she herself will not follow. The State Department went nuts when they read Yoo's memos, but (as usual) they lost.

If you buy the argument (as I do) that Yoo played an integral role in creating the conditions for Abu Ghraib (by consciously ignoring international law and allowing others to do the same), I think it's perfectly acceptable for Berkeley students to demand Yoo's resignation to the extent they are protesting his actions as a DOJ lawyer. I mean, would it be an attack on academic freedom if Duke law students protested Professor Richard Nixon for his Watergate-related activities (assuming he was given a post)?

Volokh is usually reasonable (even in error), and I applaud their efforts to expose the Young Liberal Taliban when they show their ugly faces on campuses and thwart free speech. But the Yoo protests seem to be different - I wonder if "Juan Non-Volokh" might be masking his political views under a pretty facade of "academic freedom."

[Disclaimer: I'm no expert on the meaning/understanding of "academic freedom." But still, it seems that protesting a professor based on his/her non-academic actions is very different from protesting their academic teachings and writings.]



Just returned - I'm pretty beat, so I haven't had time to review all the latest Chalabi news, but Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum have some good links. It seems that the man to whom we were going to hand over Iraq is an Iranian spy. And, remember, that's our "best friend." This revelation is huge on so many different levels. But to me, the most striking thing about the Chalabi scandal is how it points towards a much greater, and much more terrifying, ignorance and incompetence among the people who planned this war. In other words, what's truly significant is not that Chalabi is a weasel, it's that the people who executed this war were too ignorant to realize it. And that lack of recognition itself is indicative of a much wider, systemic ignorance and incompetence that we are now paying for with blood.

When I read the Salon article about Chalabi and the neocons, I already knew that he had offered some bogus intelligence about WMDs and about how the Iraqis would view us after the invasion. But what I didn't know - and what is shocking - is that Chalabi promised that the new Iraq would recognize Israel, sign a treaty with it, and supply it oil through the old Haifa pipeline - and the neocons believed it. Here are some excerpts:

Chalabi assured them that the Iraqi democracy he would build would develop diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and eschew Arab nationalism. . . Had the neocons not been deluded by gross ignorance of the Arab world and blinded by wishful thinking, they would have realized that the chances that Chalabi or any other Iraqi leader could deliver on such promises were always remote.

One of the key promises he made concerned the revival of the Iraq-Israel oil pipeline. . . With Chalabi's encouragement, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure, which is responsible for oil pipelines, dusted off and updated plans for a new pipeline from Iraq. . . . With Chalabi in power in Iraq, either in front or behind the scenes, L. Marc Zell confirms, the neocons were told there would be such a treaty with Iraq. "He promised that. He promised a lot of things."

Look - I'm no Middle East expert. But even I know that the chances of an exile persuading the Iraqi people to recognize Israel (during reign of Sharon/Likud, no less) and supplying it oil is zero. In fact, you have to be the fucking stupidest person on Earth to honestly believe this could happen (Gen. Franks description of Feith, the Pentagon's No. 3).

Here's what truly troubling about all of this. If the people who are in charge of developing the Iraq strategy could be so grossly ignorant about this most basic fact of life in Arabic culture, isn't it fair to assume that they were ignorant about a LOT of other things too? Doesn't this suggest that the people responsible for planning and executing this war charged into Baghdad without the first clue about Arab culture?

Think of it this way. Assume you just had a major, and risky, heart operation. You soon develop complications. While you're at the doctor's office, you hear the doctor say that the aorta is the artery in your upper leg (it's by your heart). Now, that itself is not evidence that the doctor's error caused the complications you're now experiencing, but it's a pretty good indication that he shouldn't have been operating on your heart in the first place. In other words, if he's wrong about that, then chances are that he could have been wrong about a great many other things - things that related more directly to your botched heart operation.

And that's what's so terrifying. If Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Feith were too damned stupid to realize that Chalabi could not (and would not) rebuild the Haifa oil pipeline (along with granting full diplomatic recognition that would trigger a pro-Israel wave across the Middle East at the same time Sharon is razing houses in Gaza), then it's clear that our war was planned and executed by people who had no clue what the hell they were doing. This is terrifying to me. I realize that it's more comforting to think that our military planners know what they're doing. But believing this Iraq-Israel fantasy is roughly equivalent (in terms of sheer ignorance) to a cardiologist not knowing where the aorta is.

Again, the problem is not Chalabi himself - it's that everything surrounding Chalabi shows how ignorant our Pentagon was of the realities on the ground in Iraq. They believed the terrorist connection stories, even though Saddam's regime was secular and he hated al Qaeda (and the feeling was mutual). They thought they could charge in with a Christian army with no international legitimacy and be treated as liberators. They initially wanted to allow Turkish troops into Iraq (horrible idea). They thought they could create a democracy out of an artifical country drawn up on the tables of Paris in 1918. They didn't seem to understand that Iraq's three ethnic groups hated each other and were united only because of Saddam's ruthlessness.

Our current troubles are linked to these instances of ignorance. For example, because we thought we would be loved, we sent in one-third of the total troops needed for security. Because they lacked numbers, the troops could not secure the country immediately after the invasion. Our ignorance also led us to try to win the Iraqi hearts and minds by imposing an exile puppet government headed by a bullshitting Iranian spy upon them (anyone remember the Iraq-Iran war?). The spy persuaded us to disband the army (probably the single stupidest move of the entire occupation). And let's not forget the whole prison abuse scandal - which itself is a product of the instability and lack of intelligence that led to the insurgency. And finally, just when you thought we couldn't get much dumber, according to Sunday's Post, we're letting Iraq be rebuilt by young Americans with absolutely zero experience or qualifications. They do, however, all have "strong Republican credentials."

You see?? It's all connected. The common theme is utter ignorance of Islam and Arabic culture more generally. Obviously, you can't predict everything that will happen in a war - that's why they're called "wars." But, when you reject the State Department and the UN for interns at the Heritage Foundation, these things should be expected.

It's truly terrifying to step back and think about how our entire Iraq policy was based on ignorance (in the literal sense - "lack of information"). The reality is - as Dr. Johnson said of King Lear - "too horrid to be endured."

[Update: KnightRidder has an article today on some of the consequences of listening to Chalabi. As I said above, our ignorance is being paid for in blood:

If Chalabi didn’t talk the administration into invading Iraq, his dubious intelligence underpinned much of its case for war, and his prediction about how Iraqis would greet American troops encouraged Pentagon civilians to spurn advice from their own generals about how many and what kind of troops it would take to secure Iraq. Among the troops the Pentagon left out were sufficient numbers of military police.

Chalabi’s assurances that he had a secret network of allies inside and outside Iraq, meanwhile, encouraged Pentagon planners to ignore a State Department effort to prepare for a post-Saddam Iraq. Instead, Pentagon officials assumed that with their help, Chalabi, a Shiite Muslim like 60 percent of Iraq’s population, could assemble a new government and get the battered country back on its feet.]

Friday, May 21, 2004



Unfortunately, I'm preparing to leave town for the weekend and I doubt I'll have Internet access (though it's possible). It's too bad because I really wanted to write a post tonight about the implications of the raid on Chalabi's house. Needless to say, I would have paid a substantial amount of money to see the look on Richard Perle and David Frum's faces when they turned on Fox News and saw that American soldiers had raided Chalabi's house - and left a bullet hole in a portrait of his face for good measure. Yes, my friends, this thing is approaching Shakespearian levels of tragic absurdity. Don't forget - this is the guy we picked to run postwar Iraq.

Anyway, if I can get to a computer tomorrow, I'll be posting on this. If my flight weren't so damn early, I'd write it tonight.

For those of you are unfamiliar with the new Martin Luther King of Baghdad (he actually had the nerve to tell America "Let my people go"), you can read this Salon article by John Dizard entitled, "How Ahmed Chalabi Conned the Neocons." (you have to watch an ad first). In fact, I actually had a temporary soft spot for Bush after I learned (from Kos) that he told the King of Jordan that he could "piss" on Chalabi. I'll have much more later.

Oh, and one last thing. The award for most hypocritical article ever goes to David Frum in a discussion of how Islam is inherently militant:

Islam, like all religions, teaches respect for human life. But Islam also contains unique elements all its own. For unlike Judaism and unlike Christianity, the spiritual elements of Islam are mixed with an ideology of war and conquest, even in the pages of the Koran itself. And both the text of the Koran – and the personal example of the Prophet Muhammad – justify killing in general and beheading in particular as legitimate weapons against unbelievers.

That's horrible, and nothing at all like the teachings found in "An End to Evil," eh Dave?

Thursday, May 20, 2004



OK - I’m assuming everyone did their homework and read Lithwick’s Slate article on the “slippery slope” argument that is so commonly cited in opposition to gay marriage. Lithwick’s point seems to be that in assessing gay marriage, we should look to gay marriage itself and stop looking at the parade of horribles that people often link it to. This is the “slippery slope” – gay marriage leads to legal incest, then polygamy, and then dogs and cats living together, etc. In other words, Lithwick is taking issue with the comparisons – or more precisely, the relevance of the slippery slope (and parade of horribles) to the actual issue of gay marriage. As much I sympathize with Lithwick’s politics, her argument is only half right. Unfortunately, it’s also half wrong. Lithwick’s problem is a common one – she is conflating “is” and “ought.” In debating the legality of gay marriage, it’s absolutely critical to keep the is/ought distinction in mind. There are important differences between saying, “The law is such and such,” versus saying “The law ought to be such and such.”

Let’s look at the “is” part first. As much as I favor gay marriage rights, there is simply no good legal argument that the Constitution permits them (I’m assuming this is true for state constitutions too). Unlike Brown (which can at least fall back on the anti-race discrimination provisions of the Constitution), there is no text in the Constitution that would allow a court (in good faith) to legalize gay marriage. The only two possible avenues are equal protection and substantive due process. With respect to these two provisions, conservatives like Bork are correct when they say that these provisions are simply ways for judges to project their personal preferences into the Constitution. “Substantive due process” literally means whatever judges say. Both Lochner and Roe are substantive due process cases, and I don’t see how you can conclude anything other than that, in both cases, the judges imposed their political preferences on to the Constitution. Now, you can certainly conclude that the Constitution would be better if these rights were included, but that’s an “ought” argument, not an “is” argument.

The second avenue is equal protection. For courts to say that equal protection requires gay marriage, they would have to conclude that states have no rational basis for banning them. “Rational basis” is an exceedingly easy test to meet, and I think gay marriage opponents could make a rational (though misguided) argument as to why they should be banned. The larger point is that the equal protection question is merely a subjective question on the merits of homosexuality dressed up like a legal question. I discussed this point in a prior post in which I argued that every legal debate surrounding gay marriage is in reality a question on the merits of homosexuality. So, because majorities and legal precedent oppose gay marriage, judges would be imposing their political preferences upon majorities (even though I agree with the judges’ sentiment). Again, there’s nothing wrong with judges resisting majorities (that’s why we have them), but there must be some textual basis for their counter-majoritarian actions that doesn’t open the door for all judges of all ideologies to impose all their preferences on to the law.

So back to Lithwick. Lithwick argues that the slippery slope argument isn’t a good legal argument to apply to gay marriage. She says we should look at the “case or controversy” before us, and stop worrying about hypothetical cases. As a matter of the deciding what the law “is,” that can’t be right. When judges decide cases, they are (1) reaching a result; and (2) using a process to reach that result. If a given result can only be reached through a sketchy process (say, using substantive due process), then hypothetical, slippery-slope-type arguments are very relevant. The basis for legal gay marriage is that individuals should have the right to consent to marry whom they please. But, as a matter of logic, that rationale could easily be applied to consenting brothers and sisters/cousins, or even polygamy (though polygamy is somewhat easier to argue against). The larger point is that when we’re discussing what the law “is,” slippery slopes and parades of horribles are very relevant.

A different question, however, is what the law ought to be. With respect to this question, Lithwick is absolutely correct in saying that parade of horribles is irrelevant and, in my mind, ignorant. Thus, when legislators are debating bans on gay marriage, their invocation of slippery slopes is both misguided and irrelevant. First, I think the line we have drawn around male-female marriage is inherently arbitrary. We could just as easily decide to draw the line around consenting two-person marriage, or even two-person non-incest marriage. Lithwick herself describes some of the policy arguments against polygamy (I would add that a two-person marriage would fit neatly into the existing family law regime, whereas polygamy would not).

That’s the beauty of the legislature – with respect to some areas, it’s omnipotent. It can draw arbitrary lines to reflect democratic will, and in theory, the courts must respect that. So, when legislators say, “gay marriage will lead to X and Y,” you can respond, “then draw the line so it doesn’t.” The slippery slope is irrelevant to the question of what ought to be.

This is another reason why progressives should return to their early 20th century roots and seek legislative solutions (which requires fixing the gerrymandering, along with making the administrative state more accountable). Legislative solutions are more legitimate, and they are not constrained by the dictates of logic (obviously). That’s why I think a good strategy would be to chip away at the most obvious forms of discrimination. For example, instead of going for marriage all at once, push for visitation, custody, and adoption rights. Then health benefits, and then full civil unions. In certain states, advocates can fight for civil unions now. When civilization doesn’t come crashing down, then other states might realize how ridiculous their own slippery slope fears have been.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love see legalized gay marriage in all fifty states tomorrow. But we do live in a democracy, and we have not yet ratified any Constitutional text that would give courts a free hand to be counter-majoritarian in this area. If you believe in a strong rule of law (which is not self-evident, though I favor it), then you can’t pick and choose when you want to apply it.



I've been pretty much slammed with work tonight, so I didn't have time for a post. But I will be posting tomorrow (hopefully late morning/early afternoon - depending on what I can get done) and I'll be commenting on this article by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick entitled: "Slippery Slop: The Maddening 'Slippery Slope' Argument Against Gay Marriage."

So that's your homework - go read that, and we'll dissect it tomorrow (or, errr..., today, I guess). Lithwick is sort of mixing up two very different concepts.

Oh - but before I leave, is Bill Safire completely crazy? Iraq has literally driven some war supporters to insanity (Reynolds, Hitchens, Safire). I mean, just read the first paragraph of his op-ed yesterday:

You probably missed the news because it didn't get much play, but a small, crude weapon of mass destruction may have been used by Saddam's terrorists in Iraq this week.

Saddam's terrorists? It only gets worse from there. It's truly horrible - Krauthammerian, even. And while we're at it, I hope everyone saw this little jewel by Glenn Reynolds (via Atrios):

And here's a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?

First, he's mischaracterizing the doctrine. The free speech right itself arguably goes back to the Founding (and before), but its modern form traces back to the years following World War I when people like Reynolds tried to punish war critics and socialists under the Espionage Act. If I remember correctly, the First Amendment was applied to the states in the 1940s (it was the first to be incorporated, I think - before that, the Bill of Rights only applied to action taken by the federal government). Yes, certain aspects of the doctrine were strengthened and expanded in the 60s, but it's a bit of a stretch to say that the right "didn't exist, really, until the 1960s" as if Justice Brennan dreamt it up while tripping at a Dead show.

But here's the bigger problem. This guy - this LAW PROFESSOR WITH THE MOST WIDELY-READ BLOG ON THE INTERNET - is essentially saying, "Look, you media people either need to agree with Bush and his Iraq policy or else we might rise up and take away your rights." This truly isn't that far from the fence that divides America from Facism-land. Reynolds used to be readable, but he has lost his ever-loving mind over Iraq. Matt Yglesias (only 23?!?) said it best: [T]he coverage of the war indicates that the policy is failing because the policy is failing, not because the press is out to get the president. To make this strategy work, you need some new facts, not a new press corps.

Just sit back and watch them. Just as Josh Marshall predicts, when these people realize what an absolute, world-historical, tragic mess we've made by invading Iraq and/or occupying it incompetently, they're going to try blaming it on the people who never supported it in the first place. And Clinton.

Wow - this post got longer than I intended. Anyway, Lithwick for tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


This is pretty funny.


Via the Wash. Post:

An Israeli tank and helicopter fired on rock-throwing Palestinian demonstrators Wednesday, killing 8 to 12 people and wounding dozens of others, according to witnesses.

Let's assume for just a second that the Gaza "operation" is justified. Is right now really the best time to launch this operation - at a time when Israel's closest ally is struggling with fallout from the prison scandal?

"POST-RACISM" - The Search for a New Vocabulary 


In my recent Brown post, I argued that blacks should not seek re-segregated education because, among other things, majority white legislators would not fund the black schools adequately. Obviously, it seems as if I was accusing white legislators of being “racist.” But that’s not exactly what I meant. I mean, I was accusing them of being something, but I’m not sure “racist” is the best word to describe what I meant. This confusion led me to realize that we desperately need a new vocabulary to discuss contemporary issues of race. So, I need your help. We need some new words to discuss the racial problems America faces. The current debates rely too heavily on the word “racism” – a hyper-loaded term that is often inaccurate and polarizing. For now, I’ve adopted the word “post-racism,” but I’d like to abandon the word “racism” altogether (in the context of certain modern racial debates). To me, that term is fast becoming an obstacle to both understanding and progress in the areas of race. Let me explain why.

Whenever linguistic labels no longer adequately describe the things or concepts they’re applied to, we need to abandon them. For example, we have adopted the word “apple” to describe a specific type of object possessing certain characteristics (red, sweet, etc.). But what happens when that object’s (i.e., the apple’s) essence begins to change? Let’s assume, for instance, that genetic engineers create a apple/pear hybrid. The word “apple” would no longer be a good descriptive label for this new object (i.e., the fruit) that we’re applying it to. Neither would “pear.” In truth, the new fruit is something different and should be called by a different name.

The same is true for the word “racism.” If that term no longer describes the underlying motivations and attitudes to which it is applied, then we need a new word that does. For example, it’s perfectly legitimate to classify support for slavery and segregation as “racist.” Similarly, if parents don’t want their children dating someone of a different race because they don’t care for people of that race, that’s racist. The problem, however, is that many modern-day blacks and whites (especially from certain regions or socioeconomic backgrounds) have adopted diametrically opposing positions on a whole host of issues that implicate race (i.e., affirmative action, welfare reform, No Child Left Behind, inner-city spending, criminal sentences, death penalty, busing, Confederate flag, etc.). Now I’ll be the first to admit that many whites (and many blacks) take positions on these issues based on pure racism. But many don’t. For some, the motivation is not “racism,” as we understand that term. But still, race (somehow) seems to be playing a motivating role. For example, even though a white person can oppose affirmative action without being racist, I still believe that race – not “racism” – is coloring that person’s view. So what gives?

Here’s the problem. The word “racism” has become hyper-loaded and, at the same time, over-invoked. It works well when it’s applied to people who favor segregation or slavery, but are there really that many people who still believe in forced segregation? We’ve at least made that much progress, right? Today, the word “racist” is generally a conversation-stopper, and usually results in a pointless “You-are/I-am-not” screaming match. For example, using the term “racist” to describe, say, a modern opponent of affirmative action immediately links that person with slave-holders and the white supremacy movement. And that’s just not fair. White people (including legislators) can oppose affirmative action out of a motivation other than racial animus. And that’s true across a wide range of other issues as well (including education funding of black schools). That said, it does seem strange that blacks and whites see so many issues in such different ways, statistically speaking. This divergence of views seems to suggest that race is still playing an important role in people decision-making process.

Here’s the challenge. We need a way to say that race is influencing certain policy preferences, without saying that race-ism is doing so. Residential segregation has created a world in which we are simply unaware of the perspectives and experiences of other races in America. For example, if you’re white and you’re reading this blog, do you have a good black friend? (And vice-versa, and change the races if necessary). When was the last time you talked to someone of another ethnicity about race? I suspect many of you answered “no” and “never” – and this is a liberal blog. I don’t mean to preach – I asked the questions so we can clearly see the heart of the problem. The problem America faces in dealing with issues of race is no longer racism (or pure racial animus) – the problem is racial ignorance that is itself a product of the tangled history of race, economics, and discrimination in America. Because of this history (which is the source of the modern residential segregation that shields us from other races), whites only think about how certain policies affect whites. Blacks only think about how certain policies affect blacks. Latinos only think about Latinos, and so forth. This limited vision is not based out of animus (in most cases), it’s merely a logical consequence of our segregated society. If you grow up in an ethnically homogenous neighborhood and attend an ethnically homogenous school/church, you will likely seek out ethnically homogenous friends later in life, even when you’re in a multi-ethnic setting such as college or the workplace. That’s not racist, though race plays a factor. I don’t know what to call it, but for now I’ll call it “post-racism.” (Because the innocent, race-influenced views are a byproduct of the old non-innocent racism.).

Here’s how this “post-racism” works in the real world. Take affirmative action. Whites see it only through the lens of white people. They think it robs them of college spots, and refuse to see what advantages their “whiteness” has brought them as a result of publicly and constitutionally-mandated discrimination over centuries. Similarly, blacks only see the centuries of discrimination and ask themselves how any moral white person could possibly object to affirmative action. Whites see the world through a white lens, blacks through a black lens. Both can do so without being “racist,” though race influences and infects their perceptions. The same is true for crime-related issues such as sentencing and the death penalty. Blacks view this differently because they are more likely to be familiar with someone (or someone who has a cousin, etc.) who has gone to jail for many years for a non-violent drug offense. They are also more likely to know how unfairly the death penalty is applied. For many American whites, the criminal justice system is an abstraction. It doesn’t affect them, nor does it affect anyone they know. Thus, for blacks, race motivates them to oppose harsh sentencing and the death penalty. Whites don’t feel this same motivation. It’s not racism, but the views are influenced by race – or post-racism.

And that brings me to my final point – school funding. When I said that white legislators wouldn’t fund black schools, perhaps a better way of saying it would have been that white legislators won’t feel much motivation to ensure that black schools get adequate funding. For example, schools are generally funded by local property taxes. That’s great if you’re in a wealthy district. But it sucks if you don’t. The answer is that the property tax funding must be supplemented through taxes (higher taxes if necessary to make sure that poor kids don’t get the shaft). But race is an obstacle to this redistribution. Not racism – race. For many whites, their schools are just fine and so they don’t want any extra taxes. By never being exposed to the conditions of inner-city schools, white legislators will not be motivated to act.

I just watched a special called “Beyond Brown” on PBS that discussed the real-world effect of No Child Left Behind. I now understand why so many minority groups have opposed it. They see first-hand the damage it’s doing to their kids. I don’t have the link, but apparently one-quarter of all third-graders in Florida failed the test recently (you can see other stats here). From what I gathered, this means that schools have no choice but to fail them. And these are not dumb kids. Honor students failed. They explained that they had simply never been exposed to many of the questions on the test. Perhaps failing children at such a high rate will help education over the long-term, but it’s destroying lives in the short-term (on the micro-level). I watched, heart-broken, as the PBS show interviewed an honor student who lost her college scholarship because she failed that test. Another girl wept openly as she prepared to take the test for the second time. If she failed, she would have to attend third-grade again (for the third time). All of her friends, she claimed, made fun of her. Needless to say, I am now very opposed to No Child Left Behind, or at least whatever provision of it was responsible for what I saw. Like Iraq, it might have been a good idea in the abstract, but it’s a disaster on the micro-level. But again, because many whites are shielded from the real-world effects of NCLB, race prevents them from understanding why it’s so bad. Not racism, but post-racism.

So if anyone can think of a better word to describe what I’m talking about, I’d love to hear it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004



President Bush, today, speaking to the AIPAC:

Prime Minister [Sharon's Gaza withdrawal] plan is a bold, courageous step, that can bring us closer to the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. The Prime Minister's decision has given the Palestinian people and the free world a chance to take bold steps of their own toward peace. . . . Our vision is a Middle East where young Israelis and Palestinians can play and learn and grow without living in the shadow of death.

Reuters, today:

Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles have demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes in one of the most destructive incidents in the Gaza Strip in recent years. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 2,197 people have already been made homeless and 191 homes razed throughout Gaza in the past few days.

The worst affected area is Rafah, on the border between Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where 1,064 people lost their homes in 48 hours. More than 30 Palestinians have died and many others who are critically injured are unable to reach hospitals due to curfews and restrictions on movement imposed by Israeli forces

Scott McClellan, today:

The government of Israel has informed us that these operations are aimed at stopping smuggling of arms through tunnels and at preventing the distribution of those arms -- not at destroying homes.

Amnesty International, in a report released today:

More than 3,000 homes, vast areas of agricultural land and hundreds of other properties have been destroyed by the Israeli army and security forces in Israel and the Occupied Territories in the past three and a half years. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been made homeless or have lost their livelihood. Thousands of other houses have been damaged, and tens of thousands of others are under threat of demolition, their occupants living in fear of homelessness. House demolitions are usually carried out without warning, often at night, and the occupants are forcibly evicted with no time to salvage their belongings. Often the only warning is the rumbling of the Israeli army's US-made Caterpillar bulldozers beginning to tear down the walls of their homes. The victims are often amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged. In most cases the justification given by the Israeli authorities for the destruction is "military/security needs", while in other cases it is the lack of building permits. The result is the same: families are left homeless and destitute, forced to rely on relatives, friends and humanitarian organizations for shelter and subsistence. . . .

According to Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly" is a grave breach, and hence, a war crime.

Monday, May 17, 2004



Although it’s been crowded out by bigger events such as the IGC assassination, the anniversary of Brown, gay marriage, and the possible sarin bomb, the Washington Post just published a very interesting two-part article on Bush’s fund-raising network of Pioneers, Rangers, and yes, Super Rangers (maybe the next the category will be “Super-Duper Double Dog Rangers”). You can find the articles here and here. I want to use these articles to provide some support for my earlier argument that it’s wrong to conceptualize the presidential election as a competition between individuals. To see the race in this way, or as a contest between two individual personalities, is a fundamentally misguided way to think about the election. But let’s back up.

My basic point in my earlier post was that the election was a contest between rival executive branches (and judicial appointees). As I explained, Bush’s personality traits have almost nothing to do with 99.9% of the everyday activities of the executive agencies. Likewise, Kerry’s wordiness would have approximately zero relevance to the activities of the executive branch. The real question people should be asking is: “What types of people do I want running the EPA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and DOJ?” The answer to that question – and not Bush or Kerry’s personality traits – should determine your vote.

To help you decide, the WP articles make it very clear just what type of executive branch Bush has been and will be creating. First, the Post provides an insight into the actual individuals who have been appointed (and what their backgrounds are). Second, the Post shows which specific interest groups have benefitted and will continue to benefit from Bush’s executive branch.

The first article in the series provided a good summary of the history and inner workings of Bush’s fund-raising network. As most people know, the Bush campaign team institutionalized its fund-raising by creating a rather ingenious system of “Pioneers” – individuals who raised at least $100,000 for Bush. The genius of the system is that it created competition and essentially subcontracted the fund-raising to individuals who were otherwise unaffiliated with the campaign. Though I certainly admire the business model, there is much not to admire.

First, the Post article makes clear just who Bush was depending on to fund his presidential campaign. Essentially there were four groups: (1) his former business partners in his oil and baseball ventures; (2) “the Texas political elite and business community” – many of whom were energy executives; (3) his father’s extensive financial donor lists; and (4) Republican governors’ supporters, especially Jeb’s. It’s not a large group, nor is it diverse under any definition of diversity that I could think of. Of the nearly $300 million Bush has raised since 1998, at least a third and probably more than half have come from a mere 631 people.

The problem with depending this heavily on such a small number of people is that you become forced to pay these people back at some point. And as the Post explained, the Pioneers have been well-rewarded:

Of the 246 fundraisers identified by The Post as Pioneers in the 2000 campaign, 104 -- or slightly more than 40 percent -- ended up in a job or an appointment. A study by The Washington Post, partly using information compiled by Texans for Public Justice, which is planning to release a separate study of the Pioneers this week, found that 23 Pioneers were named as ambassadors and three were named to the Cabinet: Donald L. Evans at the Commerce Department, Elaine L. Chao at Labor and Tom Ridge at Homeland Security. At least 37 Pioneers were named to postelection transition teams, which helped place political appointees into key regulatory positions affecting industry.

A more important reward than a job, perhaps, is access. For about one-fifth of the 2000 Pioneers, this is their business -- they are lobbyists whose livelihoods depend on the perception that they can get things done in the government. More than half the Pioneers are heads of companies -- chief executive officers, company founders or managing partners -- whose bottom lines are directly affected by a variety of government regulatory and tax decisions.

. . .

For the 2004 election, the composition of the Pioneers has changed, reflecting the broad support the Bush administration has given and received from industries ranging from health care to energy. Of the 246 known Pioneers from the 2000 election, about half -- 126 -- are Pioneers or Rangers again. They are joined by 385 new Pioneers and Rangers whose backgrounds are less from Texas and the Bush circle than from the nation's business elite, particularly Wall Street and such major players as Bear Stearns & Co. Inc., Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.; Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., Credit Suisse First Boston Inc. and Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc.

The campaign's most productive Zip code this year is Manhattan's 10021: the Upper East Side, bounded by Fifth Avenue, East 80th Street, East 61st Street and the East River.

It’s really quite simple. The people mentioned in the paragraphs above are the executive branch. Bush can go to NASCAR events and talk in his Texas accent all day (the accent he presumably developed at Phillips Academy, Yale, and Harvard). But the bottom line is that the working-class people he panders to have no influence in his executive branch. In fact, his executive branch has, from day one, set out to undermine or remove regulations and programs that disproportionately help middle-class Americans even though they may hurt corporate profits. That’s what’s so fundamentally dishonest about the GOP culture wars. They try to stir up rage against gays, “activist judges,” environmentalists, and other libruls, at the same time that they allow the nation’s top executives to dictate the policy of the executive branch. As our nominee for the Sweden ambassadorship aptly put it:

"You wouldn't have direct access if you had spent two years of your life working hard to get this guy elected president, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars?" he said. "You dance with them what brung ya."

Now, to be fair, it’s not self-evident that businesspeople will act against the public interest. I admit that I can be a little knee-jerk anti-corporate. I’m not anti-business, and I generally support free trade. My problem with this arrangement is that I think that business executives (whose interests are inherently concerned first and foremost with profit) cannot be trusted to control government policies (whose interests should be the greater good of the people). In many areas, such as environmental policy and workers’ rights, there is simply a zero-sum game between business and the public as a whole. There always has been. Just look at article number two, which describes how the EPA rolled back a Clinton-era regulation affecting a billion-dollar laundry company (run by a Pioneer) that opponents claim will result in contamination of groundwater. According to the article, laundry lobbyists were allowed to edit the proposed regulation – environmental groups were not.

Think about the following passage the next time you hear some idiot on TV talking about Bush or Kerry’s personality traits, accents, or clothes (sorry, that last one was Gore):

Twenty-four Rangers and Pioneers are either drug industry executives or lobbyists whose companies stand to get more business from the administration's Medicare drug benefit bill passed last year. Twenty-five energy company executives, along with 15 energy industry lobbyists, are either Pioneers or Rangers. Many have been deeply involved in developing the administration's energy policy. Seven of those Pioneers served on the Bush energy transition team. The administration's energy bill, which remains stalled by a largely Democratic filibuster in the Senate, would provide billions of dollars in benefits to the energy industry.

But in response, Kerry looks French and Gore's clothes were chosen by Naomi Wolf.


Kos has some touching photos from today's marriages. I don't see how you can view these people (and the people in SF) and see them as a threat to the family. Today is an opportunity for a new day. Perhaps we can abandon our militant anger against religious opposition. Instead, progressives should use the images from today to urge religious conservatives to rethink whether their current interpretation or belief is consistent with the larger religious themes of love, compassion, and family. This much love can't be wrong.

Sunday, May 16, 2004


I've updated the sidebar with some new links and more recent posts. I haven't checked all the links yet (it's late and I'm sleepy), so let me know if any don't work. I'd also encourage people to visit the link "Books for Soldiers" that I've added. You can disagree with Bush, but still have empathy for what the people on the ground are going through.

BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION - The Most Overrated Case Ever 


This week marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education – the landmark Supreme Court case ruling that “separate but equal” education was unconstitutional. In the popular mind, Brown is one of America’s triumphs – a long overdue recognition of equality by the nation’s highest judicial body. In my opinion, it’s not only the most overrated decision in the Court’s history, it’s actually become an impediment to integration. I have three fundamental problems with Brown: (1) its effect is overrated; (2) it gives the wrong people credit for desegregating American schools; and (3) it is now an obstacle to integration.

Before I review each of these problems, I should direct you to an excellent New Yorker article by Cass Sunstein, which outlines many of the critiques of Brown from both the left and the right (and by whites and blacks). Sunstein anticipated some of the arguments I wanted to make, largely because we are both relying heavily upon the work of Professor Michael Klarman in assessing certain aspects of Brown (Klarman has an excellent new book here). Anyway, I’d urge you to read the New Yorker article too.


Many people know that Brown declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954. Most people don’t know that, throughout most of the South, it had zero effect. After Brown, integration did occur in the old “border states” such as Kentucky. As Sunstein pointed out (citing Klarman), in the Deep South states (i.e., AL, MS, SC, LA, GA), exactly zero black children attended integrated schools in 1960. Even in 1964, a full decade later, 98% of black children in the South still attended legally segregated schools. True desegregation only happened when Congress got into the act in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. It took the grotesque abuses of Alabama police officers in Selma and Birmingham to prick the national conscience to demand action. Even then, Senate leaders had to struggle to get enough votes to overcome a Southern filibuster – a filibuster that included a fourteen-hour address by Senator Byrd (D-WV), the current Ranking Minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill was also opposed by the godfather of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater. In fact, the passage of the Civil Rights Act gave rise to the modern Republican South. From 1964 on, Republican leaders such as Goldwater, Nixon, and Gingrich have all used race to gain the Southern white vote, which had been solidly Democratic. But I digress. . .

As Klarman has explained, Brown is also a lesson on the limits of the ability of the judiciary to bring about social change. Integration (or to be more precise, the attempt at integration) only happened after Congress got into the act. [Though I should add that the Court dropped the ball in Brown II when it allowed states to implement integration slowly. I doubt it would have mattered, however, even if the Court demanded immediate compliance, which it didn’t.]

Credit Where Credit’s Due

My second problem with Brown, which follows logically from the first, is that too many people think that nine old white men were responsible for bringing about integration in America. It’s doubly wrong in that, first, the old men’s ruling didn’t even have that much of an effect. But second, the Civil Rights Act (which got integration going) was the culmination of a generations-long grass-roots struggle by civil rights organizations, churches, students, and community activists. For example, just think about all the effort that was needed just to create talented black lawyers in light of the centuries of slavery and discrimination. Thurgood Marshall’s courage and brilliance would never have been known if, decades earlier, a black law school at Howard University had not been founded (and that itself had its own complex sets of causes). The NAACP only got to the Supreme Court because of its intensive, decades-long efforts within the newly emerging black middle class to create a grass-roots network that would help identify favorable cases and donate funds. Post-Brown, the 1964 Civil Rights Act would never have happened without Dr. King’s organization, along with the black-white student alliance of the early 1960s. In short, integration happened as a result of the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of civil rights activists. Obviously, the Court acted bravely to strike down Plessy, but it borders on profane to give the Justices credit for integration to the exclusion of the churches, activists, and other grass-roots networks that created the necessary conditions for integration to take place.

The credit given to the Supreme Court is actually an example of a much more common error that many people make about history and the nature of historical change. Too many people subscribe to an individual-centric version of historical change. For example, many people think that nine Supreme Court Justices ended segregation. In reality, the Supreme Court was merely riding the wave of the much larger social, economic, and demographic forces (Great Migration, World War II, etc.) that led to Brown. The Court’s action was merely an effect of these greater causes – it was not itself a cause. It’s sort of like saying that a raft on an ocean current caused the current to flow the way it did. This individual-centric error is also common today in discussing terrorism. For example, people think Osama caused 9/11, when a whole host of larger causes were actually responsible.

Impediment to Integration

Probably my biggest gripe about Brown is that it is now an impediment to integration. Much of the 50th anniversary articles on Brown have noted that America is re-segregating. CNN has an article that links to Gary Orfield’s Civil Rights Project, which has some wonderful statistics on this issue. Although you can and should read about re-segregation from more knowledgeable people than myself, I want to focus on the issue from a somewhat different angle.

It’s clear that, despite Brown, America remains very segregated. This is largely a result of residential segregation that itself has a myriad of causes including discriminatory housing policies and white flight to suburbs (For a good discussion, see Thomas Sugrue’s history of modern Detroit - "The Origins of the Urban Crisis."). Most importantly, there is an unwillingness to take the steps necessary to fulfill Brown’s legacy. For example, one of the Court’s worst decisions (not quite up there with Dred Scott and Bush v. Gore, but it’s up there) was a case called Milliken in 1974. In response to white flight, school districts had been drawn up to include suburban whites and inner-city minorities. The Court (5-4) struck this down, finding that suburbs that had not contributed to segregation (i.e., non-Southern suburbs) didn’t have to provide a solution. In other words, the suburbs could stay white. My law professor summed it up as follows, "Brown gave whites a reason to leave, and Milliken gave them somewhere to go."

There has been no public outcry to overturn Milliken, for many reasons. But one important reason, in my opinion, is Brown. Brown validates the American education system for guilty whites. Knowing that nine old men on Court struck down Plessy allows America to sleep easier while its school systems become more and more segregated. Brown puts a stamp of approval on a education regime that should not be approved. Brown helps America forget that we have a problem. There will be no solution to segregation until we realize there’s a problem.. Brown, in 2004, makes that recognition more difficult. People can say, “Hey, we solved this problem in 1954. There’s nothing unfair now. It’s all de facto.” De facto - the magic incantation that supposedly makes the problem disappear. [As I hope to explain in a future post, America has never fully come to terms with the reality of slavery and its effects.]

I am – to say the least – outraged by the unwillingness to follow through with Brown. I’m not only mad at content whites, I’m also very mad at black communities in cities such as Louisville and Nashville who have successfully argued in favor of ending desegregation orders. This NYT article takes a fascinating look at the arguments the black communities made. At first glance, they seem reasonable. It’s racist to assume that all-black schools are inferior; they help create a community; etc. But as the article eventually points out, some are seeing that they made a mistake. And they have. If people think that white state legislators (especially in certain states) are going to fork over extra funding for all black, inner-city schools, they’re crazy. (Sorry, I'm still pessimistic about race relations.) One of the whole points of integration was prevent white majorities from defunding black schools. With re-segregation, black communities will lose funding and legal protection. Thurgood Marshall is no doubt cursing in his grave.

Integration works. In some places, though, it’s been implemented unwisely. If that’s the case, then let’s think about new ways to implement it. But let’s not abandon integration and give in to the David Brooks world where everyone only wants to be with their own race for their entire life. I reject that vision of America.

[Update: Coincidentally (I honestly didn't know), Klarman has an op-ed in today's NYT. Klarman raises many of the points I made, in large part because my points rely heavily on his work.]

[Update 2: Based on some the comments I'm getting, I wanted to clarify one point. I think people are focusing too heavily on my comments about how the Court was "riding the wave" (perhaps I should have been more clear). I certainly didn't intend to get into a free will/determinism debate by suggesting that integration was merely the product of larger events over which individuals exerted no influence or agency. Yes, integration was the product of larger forces other than the Court, but I include among those larger forces the volition and individual actions of a wide, organized, collective civil rights movement.]

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