Thursday, July 21, 2005

It's (Still) the Economy, Stupid

Here's a very interesting post from Ruy Teixeira on Democrats and the economy, with data from two new polls. In it, he highlights opportunities and challenges for the Democrats on the economy; it's definitely worth reading.

Teixeira also makes reference to Matt Bai's piece on framing in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and argues that framing is not the answer. Couldn't agree more. It's just amazing that Lakoff's political analysis continues to influence so many otherwise sophisticated political thinkers.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

London, Rove, etc.

It's been a while since my last post - I know there's nothing worse than an "occasional" blog, but I've been feverishly working on a number of projects that simply take priority over this. One of those is prepping a class on British politics that I'm teaching in Bath starting on July 25. Needless to say, I've watched coverage of the London bombings closely. I'm not by any means an expert on terrorism, so I have nothing original to say here. But, as someone interested in ideology and political culture, it just seems amazing to me that the bombers were home-grown, suicide bombers. Having grown up in Britain, how did they come to accept suicide bombing as a political tactic?

One of them, reportedly, studied religion in Pakistan and the others, of course, had become radicalized. I basically understand the radicalization part - we have radicals willing to kill for their ideology too (e.g., Timothy McVey). That's explained by some combination of psychological, religious, and/or socio-economic factors. But suicide bombing? Well, according to Professor Robert Pape, who has studied cases of suicide attacks worldwide since 1980 (and reports his findings in his book Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism), the basic goal of terrorists who are willing to kill themselves is "to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland." He claims that "every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw."

For Pape, it's the homeland of the terrorist that matters. He has
"the first complete set of data on every al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004, and they are not from some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world" including Iran and the Sudan. Instead, "Two thirds are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops since 1990."

But this doesn't seem to explain the London bombings. The bombers might want UK withdrawal from Iraq, but that's not their "homeland" even in an ancestral sense. Whatever the cause, this is an ominous development.

(By the way, we can't ignore the role of our foreign policy in all of this. To say that it plays a role is not to say Bush or Blair are to blame for these attacks; just that our policy has consequences. As Pape says in the interview I link to above, "
The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life." He points out that in Lebanon "there were 41 suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S. withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they virtually ceased. They didn’t completely stop, but there was no campaign of suicide terrorism." And while we're at it, John Judis has a very interesting piece on The New Republic website about the need to change our strategy in fighting Al Qaeda.)

The other story to have developed since I last posted is "l'affaire Rove." My money is on Rove to survive this. Assuming nothing else comes out - like that Rove identified Valerie Plame by name to Robert Novak, for example - this will just be viewed as hardball politics. That's something people expect from politicians in general, Republicans in particular, and Karl Rove specifically. It's unseemly, it's borderline illegal, but it's not a threat to national security. Remember, people give the parties wide latitude to act in ways that they would not tolerate of the other party, depending on the issue. It's going to be hard to convince the average person that Rove - Bush's closest political advisor - would sacrifice national security for political gain. I'M NOT SAYING HE DIDN'T DO THAT, JUST THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON WON'T BELIEVE HE DID.

There's another reason Rove is still an odds-on favorite to survive. Republicans are, as usual, united in their defense of him. The culture of the Republican Party is one of loyalty and hierarchy. Their guiding ideology just doesn't embrace dissent as a value. On top of all this, President Bush hasn't shown a willingness to hold ANYONE in his administration accountable for mistakes. In fact, it's not likely that Bush sees what Rove did as a mistake in the first place. If Rove was eliminating a roadblock to Bush's march to war, and if the war was seen as necessary for national security (which inside the administration it still is, despite all the evidence to the contrary), then a little breach of national security for a much larger gain in national security was itself necessary. Ends justifying means and all that.

The bottom line is that I just don't expect to see Karl Rove leaving the White House anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Felons and Terrorists: Democratic Constituencies?

Gov. Vilsack (D) of Iowa has signed an executive order restoring voting rights to roughly 50,000 ex-felons in Iowa. As you might imagine, conservatives are using this to make outrageous claims about the Democratic Party's base.

Don't ask me why I was listening to Rush Limbaugh today, but I made the mistake of doing so. By pure coincidence, I tuned in right before Mr. Limbaugh launched into a tirade about what Gov. Vilsack had done. He said that Democrats favor the restoration of voting rights because criminals are their biggest constituency. And then he said, with clunky sarcasm, that the Democrats would next be giving voting rights to their "second biggest constituency, terrorists."

I'm not sure why I'm even addressing him, since no one really cares what Rush Limbaugh has to say anymore. Still, any serious conservative should be embarrassed by the use of such intellectually dishonest rhetoric. Terrorists, a Democratic constituency? Give me a break. Even though I believe that Osama bin Laden is better off as a result of Bush's policies (that is, he can achieve his goals - chief among them, recruitment - more easily given the war in Iraq), I'd never suggest that terrorists are a Republican constituency. Bush is doing what he's doing because he honestly thinks it is the way to defeat terrorism. Many Americans happen to disagree with the means, but no one disagrees with the ends. And for Limbaugh or anyone else to suggest otherwise of the Democratic Party is just pathetic. Terrorists don't discriminate between Republicans and Democrats.

Anyway, Limbaugh ended by saying Vilsack acted as he has because "Democrats need every vote they can get." Let me remind him that a Democrat got more votes than his beloved Mr. Bush in 2000; that a Democrat received the votes of over 59 million Americans in 2004 (far more than any previous candidate for president of either party); and that more people have voted for Democratic Senate candidates (99.7 million) than have voted for Republican Senate candidates (97.3 million) in the last three election cycles.

As for Vilsack's executive order, Limbaugh's reaction illustrates why it was such a courageous act. The public is not likely to be sympathetic to any sort of rights for criminals. And if he is contemplating a run for the presidency in 2008, as many think he is, this won't help him (even in Democratic primaries, Mr. Limbaugh). So I tend to think Vilsack was doing the right thing as he sees it and for no other reason. Why can't conservatives like Limbaugh just acknowledge that and argue on the merits?

Speaking of the merits, I think Vilsack did the right thing and I hope to explain why in an upcoming post.

Friday, July 01, 2005

O'Connor's Retirement and the Dems' Response

Justice O'Connor has announced her retirement which, by being the first of the expected resignations, complicates the Democrats' strategy for how to respond. Had Rehnquist left first, the Dems would have been smart to give way to whomever Bush wanted to nominate. Replacing a conservative with a conservative is to be expected and doesn't change the ideological balance on the Court (even if the nominee is more conservative than Rehnquist - we're only talking a matter of degrees). They couldn't reasonably make the argument that a conservative president should replace a conservative with a moderate. And, by not fighting Rehnquist's replacement, the Dems would also have gained significant good will among the public (through the media), which would have helped make a credible case for fighting later nominees.

But now they have to hold the line by insisting on a (relative) moderate to replace O'Connor. That means they have to fight right off the bat.

One could argue that the Democrats could still give way on the first Bush Supreme Court nominee, no matter who it is or whom it replaces (within reason - they'd have to fight for Stevens' slot), and then fight to ensure that the second nominee is a moderate. That way, the balance is the same in the long run. But it doesn't quite work like that. O'Connor's replacement will be seen as just that - a replacement for O'Connor, just as Rehnquist's replacement will be viewed as a replacement for him. People aren't likely to approach this from the aggregate perspective.

So Democrats are going to have a hard time not fighting this tooth-and-nail. Batten down the hatches!