Archive for the ‘Politics/Policy’ Category

The fundamental flaw of neoliberalism

I tweeted about this Fast Co. piece briefly when I first read it a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to insert it into the record more formally in the wake of the mishegas at the University of Virginia.

The article mostly discusses how success often requires shifting among a variety of strategies, and how even suboptimal ones can generate progress. But when it turns its attention to the political process, it (inadvertently) gets at the heart of why the “run government like a business” trope is utterly empty.

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Half-baked thoughts: Are we repeating the mistakes of the Jazz Age?

Because people (and especially journalists) innately seek points of reference from the past in order to understand the present, the administration of Barack Obama has naturally drawn plenty of comparisons to former presidents and eras. Are we living through a revival of FDR’s New Deal, or the pessimism of the Carter years? Is the president an heir to Bill Clinton’s frequently base-infuriating triangulation, or Ronald Reagan’s knack for using an ideological facade to govern from a position of compromise? Or is he, y’know, Mecha-StalinHitler?

One comparison I haven’t heard often is with the era of Woodrow Wilson and his Republican successors (Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover). I’ve been reading William E. Leuchtenburg’s “The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32” recently, and keep finding myself startled at how relevant the descriptions of the 1910s and ’20s feel to today. The parallels I’m seeing are not so much between Wilson and Obama (though a few of those, some more superficial than others, certainly exist) as they are between the political and social climates of the respective eras.

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Flashback: An Elegy for Mitt

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Reprinted here, a limerick I composed in tribute to Mitt Romney and his thwarted 2008 presidential bid, originally posted as a blog comment on The New Republic‘s website Feb. 7, 2008. Why? Beats the hell out of me. Inspiration takes odd forms sometimes.

There once was a candidate named Mitt
With the right, he never quite fit
Though he wore many faces
He won none of the bases
And his prospects turned quickly to shit.

He spent and he spent very hard
Played pro-life and bigotry cards
Though perfectly coiffed
Voters thought he was soft
And he found himself feathered and tarred

He said, “Double Guantanemo Bay!
Lock all those terrorists away!
And kick out Mexicans, to boot,
Then some varmints we’ll shoot!”
Still his chances have faded away

There once was a candidate named Mitt
Whose teeth were so white that they lit
By Brooks Brothers clothed,
By evangelicals, loathed
Now finally, the bullet he’s bit.

A Modest Proposal for Climate Deniers

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

As the great blizzard of 2011 descends upon the United States, the only rhetorical device being deployed more frequently and more annoyingly than snow-based portmanteaus (or neoSNOWgisms, if you prefer, because God damn it I can’t help it either) is right-wing idiocy about how the existence of cold weather disproves all climate science. Never mind that this claim has been dismissed time and fucking again, or that the elevated intensity of snowstorms is actually evidence OF climate change. We all know that science and logic just bounce off deniers like ninja stars made of Nerf.

Instead of trying to rehash these tedious arguments over again, I suggest we instead propose a deal to any climate denier willing to put his money where his noxious mouth is:

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Public Polling and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (A nerd two-fer!)

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

On Twitter, Steve Silberman links to a new report showing that only 52% of Americans know that vaccines don’t cause autism. As another Twitterer points out, the veracity of online surveys is always tough to measure, since they tend to be self-selecting. But it raises another question for me, one I haven’t seen addressed very much: Does the very nature of polling people about empirical facts make them more likely to think that the topic is more subjective than it really is? That is, is there a Heisenberg effect in polling, whereby one cannot effectively measure public opinion without also shaping it?

A lot of noteworthy polls in the last few years fall into this category. The proven, incontrovertible facts about which the American public is regularly queried include whether anthropomorphic climate change is real and whether the President of the United States is a Muslim/Marxist/foreigner/take-your-pick. The so-called debate about autism fits more closely with the former subject than the latter, in that accepting the reality depends on at least a passing understanding of, and trust in, science. But all of these questions are about cold hard truths, not preferential matters like taxes or immigration policy.

Polling, however, is much more commonly deployed to gauge belief rather than knowledge. Is it possible that respondents make this association (polling = opinion) so easily, and so subtly, that when a question is posed to them in that format they naturally suspect the topic is a subjective one?

Of course, there are going to be hardcore true believers who need no such encouragement to cling to their conspiracy-addled worldviews. But many more people are bombarded by conflicting and disreputable information and unsure what to think. Could the very fact of continuing to ask whether humans cause climate change, or whether vaccines cause autism, introduce just enough doubt to grant the deniers broader acceptance than should be tolerable in an educated society?

I have no idea whether this is true or even plausible, but like I said it’s something I haven’t seen discussed, and I’d be curious to know if any studies have been done touching on it.

Bridges to Nowhere

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I suppose I don’t have anything against bipartisanship per se. Nor do I consider it a positive good in and of itself. It’s a helpful tool sometimes and a harmful one at others, mostly depending on who’s wielding it, like the Bible or Wikipedia. What I can’t understand or abide is the cult of Bipartisanship Uber Alles, and the notion of compromise as an end rather than a means, which is as empty as Evan Bayh’s suit.

The latest exercise in empty symbolism is a proposal that members of Congress should sit in one unified mass during the upcoming State of the Union address, rather than following the usual practice of Democrats on one side of the aisle and Republicans on the other. You can practically hear David Brooks’s heart fluttering like a 12-year old girl who’s just been given a pony wearing a Justin Bieber backstage pass around its neck.

So this is what the world looks like through beige-colored glasses. Guys, there’s still time to organize a pre-address singing of “Row Row Row Your Boat” in 535-part rounds. Okay, now just the junior senators!

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Violent rhetoric and free speech

January 9, 2011 2 comments

Many threads of debate have been winding through my Twitter feed today in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy in Arizona.  One that I’ve been particularly tangling with concerns the role played by the media and political climate, specifically the venomous hostility that’s de rigueur on much of the right. George Packer sums up the argument against “the ugliness to which our politics has sunk” in the New Yorker.  Over in Slate, Jack Shafer dismisses the notion that political speech might motivate violent behavior, specifically calling out Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose remarks have been much pored over in today’s coverage.

It’s obviously pointless to speculate on what motivated Jared Loughner’s rampage, especially until trained professionals are able to assess his clearly irregular psychological state.  It seems reasonable to presume that he was not guided by any rational political philosophy. To me, the question of whether vitriolic rhetoric inspired Loughner in any way is at best the third-most pressing issue raised by the incident, far behind 1) Our need to expand access to decent mental health care, and 2) Our unwillingness to have a serious conversation about responsible firearms regulation.

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