Back in a moment.
Thank you Santa.
Monday, November 08
From the inimitable The Iraq War Was Wrong Blog:
As you can imagine I found it necessity to call emergency meeting of The Lohanim last night. We were all there except Sherrill (some lame excuse something about fender bender bla bla) so it was almost the whole gang there to wish her well Use are collective powers to raise her health back to normal (i.e. as before - healthy, vibrant the way we knew her). Cyrus brought the Thai food (I got stuck with the Pad thai which I really wanted was the red curry chicken but whatever, at least I filled up more on the spinach wrap appetizer so its even) and we (re) watched Jody's DVD of Confessions of a Teenage drama Queen at my request. I said hey we have to do this for Lindsay.
Although admittingly I missed it when they were checking out most of the DVD extras (had to scare away raccoons sniffing around trash bin outside - those guys just have no fear anymore! Anyway). But I got back in and I had to remind them we didn't pray for her returning to health yet (they were all leaving - guess they forgot) (!). No not me (atheist agnostic) but, some other's, I had them praying to (their) God ect. (I think Phung just used Buddha, thats why he went back to his room where his Buddha thing is, bTW Phung must of been really broken up actually cuz he actually spent most of the evening in his room instead, I think I heard him had the Baseball World Cup game on TV - using the sound to mask his tears? Phung theres no shame in your feelings).
Read the whole thing. Including the comments. Particularly the comments.
In our tradition of bringing you the finest in left-wing insanity, we present to you The Blogging of the President. They have some great maps, but they are insane:
Apropos of Oldman's grand entrance and general attitude, I'm going to lay out why Kerry was a bad candidate. It's really very simple, and has little to do with his electioneering. He lost, and that sucks. But whatever. People lose, and the deck was stacked against him.The election was fair, but I'll grant you that Kerry was a bad candidate. I've said it before: Joe Lieberman would very likely have won. Maybe even Dick Gephardt.
But my reasons for thinking Kerry a bad candidate are a little different from these people:
The problem is that he conceded.You would think that a party called the Democrats would have a little more respect for Democracy, but no.
He shouldn't have. He should have fought. He should have demanded all ballots be counted. When they were, he should have litigated. When the suits ended, he should have litigated more. When that didn't work, he should have used his position in the Senate to contest the election.
That's what fighting for the middle class means. It means fighting.
And their take on Rathergate is fascinating:
If this year has taught us anything, it's that there is no Democratic candidate that cannot be Gored or Swiftboated at a whim using lies and propaganda. But Rathergate taught us something as well that was very important - and it has to do with trolls.The memos were fake, you blockheads! The entire scandal was fraudulent from the get-go! That's why it failed.
Part of the strength of the RNC is that it has a huge volunteer core of irregulars who are willing to propagandize and evangelize for it. It did this oddly enough by giving up some top level control over message. This is how the right has better exploited the internet than the left. The right was able to use the internet and its whispering campaign of irregulars to counterfactualize the Guard scandal and turn it into Rathergate / Memogate. It was actually able to push the message of the mainstream media to the focus that it wanted.
They truly believe the election was stolen:
Republican Election Theft RoundupPlus, from the BOP House Crew
by Shaula Evans
The numbers don't add up
CIA-style hacking rigs election for Bush
Black Box Voting calls it Fraud
Surprising Pattern of Florida's Election Results
The Greg Palast classic: An Election Spoiled
Washington Dispatch: Vote Fraud in Ohio?
Presidential votes mis-cast on machines across the country
Reconciling voting machine and exit poll discrepancies
Institute for Public Accuracy on Ohio Elections
software flaw found in Florida vote machines
Florida numbers analysis (chart)
exit poll chart via BOP reader alyosha (thanks, man)
Stolen Election 2004
Open Voting Consortium
4000 votes missing in Pennsylvania County
Palm Beach county logs 88,000 more votes than voters
outrage in ohio
Broward County Florida voting machines count backwards
Diebold Pres Odell's 2003 promise to "deliver Ohio for Bush"
Greg Palast: Kerry Won
Diebold Machines yield fishy results
Machine Error Gives Bush Extra Votes in Ohio
More evidence of possible fraud in Darke County, Ohio
NC: 11,823 "extra" votes cast for Bush
chart: Florida voter reg vs performance
Something looks very wrong in Florida
Election Theft Bombshell: Major Security Breach
And finally, from the "We told you so" files:
A technical look at how they can steal it (from October 9, 2004)
Matt Stoller: another stolen election
oldman: speaks for itself
Barry Ritholtz: mapping out election results
Ian Welsh: Okay, it was stolen
Shaula Evans: fight fight fight
Sunday, November 07
Note: This is not satire. Not a bit. The editors of The Guardian are noted for their insensibility to irony and lack of appreciation for the absurd.
Guantanamo Serenade (an extract from The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon Ronson)
The more I've delved into the US military's psychological warfare, the more examples of New Age-style, First Earth Battalion tactics I've been noticing in the war on terror. I learned of one fact in particular that struck me as entirely incongruous, something at once banal and extraordinary.
And what might that be, we ask?
When I met Jamal, he began to tell me about the more bewildering abuses. Prostitutes were flown in from the US - he doesn't know whether they were there to smear their menstrual blood on the faces of the more devout detainees. Or perhaps they were brought in to have sex with the soldiers, and some psychological operations (PsyOps) boffin - a resident cultural analyst - devised this other job for them as an afterthought, exploiting the resources at the army's disposal.
"One or two of the British guys," Jamal told me, "said to the guards, 'Can we have the women?' But the guards said, 'No, no, no. The prostitutes are for the detainees who don't actually want them.' They explained it to us: 'If you want it, it's not going to work on you.' "
"So what were the prostitutes doing to the detainees?" I asked.
"Just messing about with their genitals," said Jamal. "Stripping off in front of them. Rubbing their breasts in their faces. Not all the guys would speak. They'd come back from the Brown Block [the interrogation block] and be quiet for days and cry to themselves, so you know something went on, but you don't know what.
Yes, I know that the last time a woman stripped in front of me and rubbed her breasts in my face, I was so distraught I... Err, enough that.
What other tricks did the fiendish Yanquis employ?
The interrogators were getting more and more cross with Jamal's apparent steely refusal to crack. Also, Jamal used his time inside the Brown Block to do stretching exercises, keeping himself sane. Jamal's exercise regime made the interrogators more angry, but instead of beating him, or threatening him, they did something very odd.
A military intelligence officer brought a ghetto blaster into his room. He put it on the floor in the corner. He said, "Here's a great girl band doing Fleetwood Mac songs."
He didn't blast the CD at Jamal. This wasn't sleep-deprivation, and it wasn't an attempt to induce the Bucha Effect. Instead, the agent simply put it on at normal volume.
"He put it on," said Jamal, "and he left."
"An all-girl Fleetwood Mac covers band?" I said.
"Yeah," said Jamal.
Aieee! The inhumanity of man's inhumanity to man's fellow man, or however it goes.
This sounded to me like the tip of a very strange iceberg.
"And what happened next?" I asked.
"When the CD was finished, he came back into the room and said, 'You might like this.' And he put on Kris Kristofferson's greatest hits. Normal volume. And he left the room again. And then, when that was finished, he came back and said, 'Here's a Matchbox Twenty CD.' "
"Was he doing it for entertainment purposes?" I asked.
"It's interrogation," said Jamal. "I don't think they were trying to entertain me."
"Matchbox Twenty?" I said.
"I thought they were just playing me a CD," said Jamal. "Just playing me a CD. See if I like music or not. Now I've heard this, I'm thinking there must have been something else going on. Now I'm thinking, why did they play that same CD to me as well? They're playing this CD in Iraq and they're playing the same CD in Cuba. It means to me there is a programme. They're not playing music because they think people like or dislike Matchbox Twenty more than other music. Or Kris Kristofferson more than other music. There is a reason. There's something else going on. Obviously I don't know what it is. But there must be some other intent."
Aha! Now I see the evil Yanqui scheme!
No I don't.
"Hm," said Joseph.
"Do you think ...?" I said.
Joseph finished my sentence for me.
"Subliminal messages?" he said.
"Or something like that," I said. "Something underneath the music."
Underneath the music!
How could you blast someone with silent sounds "without it affecting us"? This struck me at the time as an unassailable argument, one that cut through all the paranoid theories circulating on the internet about mind-control machines putting voices into people's heads. Of course it couldn't work.
The thing is, I now realised, if silent sounds had been used against Jamal inside an interrogation room at Guantanamo Bay, there was a clue in Jamal's account, a clue that suggested that military intelligence had craftily solved the vexing problem highlighted by Colonel Alexander.
"He put the CD in," Jamal had said, "and he left the room."
Aha! Fleeing the subliminal messages! Or possibly just a music lover. (Matchbox Twenty?)
Next, I dug out the recently leaked military report entitled Non-Lethal Weapons: Terms And References. There were a total of 21 acoustic weapons listed, in various stages of development, including the Infrasound ("Very low-frequency sound which can travel long distances and easily penetrate most buildings and vehicles ... biophysical effects: nausea, loss of bowels, disorientation, vomiting, potential internal organ damage or death may occur. Superior to ultrasound ...").
You know, this is actually true. Blast someone with sufficiently loud very low-frequency sound and it basically shakes their internal organs to pieces.
They tend to notice when you do this, of course.
And then, the last entry but one - the Psycho-Correction Device, which "involves influencing subjects visually or aurally with embedded subliminal messages".
I turned to the front page. And there it was. The co-author of this document was Colonel John Alexander.
So, not Matchbox Twenty?
(via Tim Blair)
In stark contrast to the writers at Slate (below), Sad American explains clearly and movingly exactly how the Democratic Party lost her. An excerpt:
President Bush won on values, yes, but not hatred of gays or any other stereotype you have in your head about Bush voters like me.
He won because he has values, clearly defined values, and even though I agree with little of what he believes, at least I know what he believes. At least I know that he really does believe in something. At least I know that he will do what he says he will do.
That's disgustingly little, but unbelievably — you offered me less.
Read, as they* say, the whole thing.
* They, of course, being Glenn Reynolds, who seem to have survived their struggle with multiple-personality disorder and are back to their usual one-post-per-fifteen-minutes schedule.
Those cheerful, chirpy boys and girls at Slate are still at it. (You can find my previous commentary on Slate's series of articles, Why Americans Hate Democrats, here.)
Katha Pollitt oscillates between lucidity and insanity in a manner that seems calculated to induce sea-sickness. At one moment, we have:
Sometimes I wonder if political commentators do much more than rationalize their own worldview.
Which is reasonably astute, though she fails to take the analysis down the obvious path. Then she starts speaking in tongues:
The scale of the suggestions is not adequate to the scale of the problem. It's tinkering around the edges. It's assuming that Christian-right voters don't really mean what they say. If a voter wants Christian Jihad, he may not be willing to desert the cause for health insurance—especially with Republicans telling him 50 times a day that the plan is really a socialist plot to raise his taxes and poison him with Canadian drugs.
From the remarkably perceptive:
My daughter, who is a high-school senior, told me months ago that Kerry would lose because people wouldn't unseat a wartime president. "What's that line about not changing horses in midstream?" She should probably have my slot in this forum.
To the frankly disturbing:
And if a crucial subtext of Republicanism is—and I believe it is—the preservation of white privilege, whole swathes of the country are a lost cause for the Democrats. The Democrats had the South—and the country—when they had the racist vote. Now, thanks to Nixon's Southern strategy, the Republicans have that very large and energetic demographic.
It's true enough that the Democrats did have the racist vote, forty years ago. But to claim that the Republicans have it now?
Steven Waldman is the first of the writers to actually offer some worthwhile advice. Although he starts off badly:
When thinking of values, faith, and how to win elections, it's useful to ask, What Would Clinton Do? Bill Clinton always combined economic liberalism with a handful of cultural issues designed to appeal to red-state voters: welfare reform, crime, and national service. He picked these issues carefully, knowing that they would show traditional Americans that he wasn't a morally permissive liberal who didn't understand right from wrong (tee-hee).
The old fake-sincerity approach - he does at least have this to say:
On some level, the hardest thing that Democratic leaders, activists, and journalists have to do is honestly ask themselves this: Do you hold very religious people in contempt? If you do, religious people will sense it—and will vote against you. And there are more of them than there are of you.
Which echoes one of my own points. If you hold the voters in contempt, you can expect the same from them.
Walter Dellinger doesn't say much of interest, really. He has little advice for his party, noting that
There have been 11 presidential elections since the dawn of the civil rights movement that have altered the shape of American politics. Five times the party's nominee has been from outside the South, and all five times the party has gone down to defeat ('68, '72, '84, '88, '04). Six times the Democratic nominee was from the South, and the Democrats won (or won the popular vote) in five of those six elections ('64, '76, '92, '96, '00).
Yes, he's trying to count Gore as a win.
To his credit, he does take Katha Pollitt to task for her remarks on the "racist vote".
Racism in Dixie is a problem, but no more today than in the rest of the country, and maybe less so. (Katha—come down to North Carolina sometime, and go with me to most any McDonald's in Durham. You are likely to see a lot more tables of whites and blacks from the office or the job site having lunch together than you will in Manhattan.)
Diane McWhorter's contribution is so bizarre it is difficult to summarize, though I can tell you that she's not going to make Mr Waldman happy. Try the opening paragraph:
Before the Democrats can cure their morality deficit disorder, they must first diagnose the insidiously effective strain of virtue advanced by the Republicans. "Morality" is the new "race"—as in racism. It is the emotional linchpin of the Republicans' latest "Southern strategy," pioneered in 1968 by Richard Nixon to lure the solid (Democratic) South from the party that had betrayed its Dixie base by ending segregation through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What can I say about this? Yes, Ms. McWhorter is saying that morality is equivalent to racism. And I'll note that although the Civil Rights Act was introduced by President Kennedy - a Democrat - its opponents were led by Senator Richard Russell - also a Democrat. She continues:
The props have changed since Nixon spoke to the smarting segregationists in the code of "states rights" and "law and order." Gun rights stood in for states rights as the animating spirit of the Gingrich Revolution of the 1990s (until the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blasted into rubble by one of the gun lobby's constituents).
She not only equates racism with morality, but also with states' rights, gun rights, and the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City. All one and the same to Ms. McWhorter. She continues:
But even as the agenda has now shifted to the sanctity of marriage, the ends and means remain remarkably consistent: Seduce the have-nots into a strange bedfellow-ship with the haves through emotional tribal markers that strike at some pre-rational sense of identity. Then they will be persuaded to vote against their own self-interest.
In other words, those stupid yokels got suckered by those city slicker Republicans who appealed to their irrational beliefs in
racism states' rights gun rights marriage. All the same thing, of course. One more sample:
That seems so obvious that Katha Pollitt and my fellow commentators invoke the Southern strategy as shorthand. But how does it work? Since I hail from a red state deep in the heart of Dixie—and claim many of "those people" as my friends and relatives—perhaps I can shed some light. Rather than isolating the "faith voters" as freaks and grotesques (as Southerners have historically been seen by the North), we should be analyzing what we all, as members of the human race, have in common.
By this point - and we're just on the second paragraph here! - I'm astonished that Ms. McWhorter is willing to concede that Southerners are members of her species and not some strange relative of the Indonesian hobbits.
Donna Brazile tells us that
Democrats can and must remain firmly rooted in the ideals of social justice.
As one of the alien mice in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Gude to the Galaxy remarked, Sounds good, but doesn't tie you down to actually meaning anything.
As one of my friends in Oregon reminded me in an early morning e-mail, this is not just about the Democratic Party. It's about the democratic rights of all Americans.
Well, it's nice to know that it's not just the Democrats who have democratic rights.
There follow several paragraphs of discussion on religion which I am reluctant to put an interpretation on. Living in Australia, one of the most secular countries in the world, I just don't have the personal experience to deal with this. But before long we find ourselves on firmer ground:
Today, as liberals, as Democrats, and as progressive voters, we must acknowledge with humility that what we stand for no longer resonates with a sizeable chunk of voting Americans.
This certainly appears to be true, and is a significant admission, but:
Democrats must speak in a language that allows all voters to know we share their outlook for a strong and prosperous country, we respect their values of tolerance, but our leaders are in public office to help make things better for us all—not worse.
So the real problem is not what the Democrats stand for, it's the resonance. If they could just speak their language people would understand that Democrats are Here to Help.
This is a new moment to identify and recruit better messengers. Perhaps it's time to tap into the "Obama" factor: Scour statehouses for young, energetic, inspiring, and emerging leaders with the ability to connect the head and heart.
Yes, it's Shoot the Messenger time. There can't be anything wrong with the Message, obviously.
In this coming season, Democrats must resist going back to using terms like affirmative action, pro choice, union, and "the movement" to describe what we're for. These words are limited and often open to negative interpretation from the right.
Translation: They reveal the fact that many of us are still holding a candle for Karl Marx and class warfare, and we can't have that.
But once we agree on a shared vision to connect our progressive social values of faith, family, hard work, loyalty, opportunity, security, and prosperity for all, we will soar again.
Yes, let me know when you work that one out. One last paragraph that I can't resist:
Democrats will build on the successes of this year. More grass-roots organizers were recruited and trained than ever before. Over $300 million was raised in one year—the most ever by the Democratic Party. We started this electoral season more unified and energized than ever before; we must continue to soar.
Continue to soar? Donna, you lost.
You know the five stages of grief? Something like this:
Numbness.Well, the left right now seems to have gotten over the numbness and is doing denial, anger and depression all at the same time.
Links? Pick a lefty blog. Any lefty blog, it doesn't matter which one.
And you know what? I'm getting bored already. It's like eating steak every day. Finest prime rib, grilled just so... And nothing else. After a few weeks it starts to pall.
Of course, I'll continue to highlight the more inspired bits of insanity when I come across them, but right now I'm back to downloading anime. (Aishiteruze Baby, in case you're interested.)
Saturday, November 06
On the same subject that I was just blathering on about, Slate asks Why Americans Hate Democrats - and what can be done to restore the party. (The sub-heading, Depressed liberals analyze what ails them, is a delight.)
The problem is, they only ask the question of liberals, and if liberals knew why they were in so much trouble they wouldn't be in trouble. (It's arguable that they wouldn't be liberals either, but let's leave that for the moment.)
Chris Suellentrop presents a reasonably clear view of what went wrong, but provides no ideas for moving forward:
My take on the election: Vision without details beats details without vision. President Bush put forward a powerful and compelling philosophy of what the government should do at home and abroad: Expand liberty. You can disagree with Bush's implementation of that vision, but objecting to it as a matter of principle isn't a political winner.William Saletan tells liberals to seek their lost sincerity. Well, it's a nice idea. But he doesn't seem to be sincere about it:
Nearly 60 million people came out to vote for George W. Bush yesterday because they think that he represents their values and that you don't. Prove them wrong and you'll be the majority party again.So, pretend to be sincere, is that the trick?
How? Start by changing the way you talk about pocketbook issues. Remember Bill Clinton's commitment to help people who "work hard and play by the rules"? Your positions on taxes and labor would be assets instead of liabilities if you explained them in moral terms. The minimum wage rewards work. Repealing the estate tax helps rich people get richer without risk or effort. Lax corporate oversight allows big businesses to evade taxes, deceive small investors, and raid pension funds.
Some of you are dismayed by the emergence of a huge voting bloc of churchgoers. Stop viewing this as a threat, and start viewing it as an opportunity. Socially conservative blue-collar workers don't believe in the free market. They believe in the work ethic. Bush wins their votes by equating the free market with the work ethic. Show them where the free market betrays the work ethic, and they'll vote for the party of the work ethic—you—against the party of the free market.The free market betrays the work ethic?
I'm sorry, could you repeat that?
Show them where the free market betrays the work ethic, and they'll vote for the party of the work ethic—you—against the party of the free market.Show them where the free market betrays the work ethic. Pity it ain't so. Well, not a pity exactly...
Timothy Noah thinks that whether the Democrats move to the right, the left, or spin in place, they're still going to lose. I'm not arguing with that, but he also accuses the Republicans of no longer supporting the "promotion of human rights abroad", which is just plain nuts. Helloo? Afghanistan? Elections? Iraq? Complete lack of fresh mass graves?
Sometimes the need to move rightward is portrayed as more a matter of style than of policy. But John Kerry didn't get anywhere with his hunting-trip photo op, or with frequent affirmations of his Catholic faith. Democrats, I fear, are doomed to be thought phonies whenever they play this game, even when they aren't. (Kerry is a phony in some ways, but I believe him to be sincere in his faith and in his enthusiasm for hunting.)Phony in some ways? Every time Kerry tried to appeal to "the people", he came across as a stuffed shirt, phony in every possible way, a Commander McBragg for the 21st century. He wouldn't even carry his own damned goose.
Robert Wright suggests that Democrats should point out that if they were elected, the world might like America better. Oh, and he suggests that they indulge in a bit of fake moralizing to sucker the evangelical types. Seriously:
If Democrats felt a little freer to moralize, they wouldn't, of course, take over Bush's evangelical base. Still, without giving an inch on gay rights, abortion rights, school prayer, etc., they can make some inroads into the "moral" component of Republican support.Robert Reich also talks about moralizing, but in the context of "social justice":
What should Democrats say now and in the future about public morality? That it's morally wrong to give huge tax cuts to the rich while cutting social programs for the poor and working class—especially when the gap between the rich and everyone else is wider than it's been in more than a century. That we have a moral obligation to give every American child a good education and decent health care. That it's morally wrong that millions of Americans who work full time don't earn enough to keep their families out of poverty. That corporate executives who steal money from their investors and employees are morally reprehensible. And that it's morally wrong to kill over a hundred thousand Iraqis and send over a thousand young Americans to their deaths for a cause that is still undefined, in a war that was unnecessary.Apart from Reich's little problem with facts, this is just taking standard Democrat talking points and sticking the word "moral" in front of each one. Ain't gonna fly.
Jason Furman thinks plans are the key. But even he recognises that if you're going to use plans to win an election, you might need to tell people what they are:
Take health care. Kerry had a great plan that would have provided health insurance to virtually every single child in America and cut the cost of medical treatment. He talked about this proposal in values terms each and every day, how health care should be a right, not a privilege. He talked about how it was wrong for 45 million people to lack health insurance in the richest country in the world. But that isn't enough. I still feel the sting from a Sebastian Mallaby column in the Washington Post that praised Kerry for his health plan but complained that he only talked about it in general, values terms. Kerry's really bold and innovative ideas, Mallaby said, "languish in his advisers' files."Tom Tomorrow is... Well, I can't even be bothered to cut and paste a quote. All he offers is excuses and projection, attributing Democrat faults to the Republicans. Yawn, baby.
Saving the best (so far, this is a continuing series, it seems), Jane Smiley, in a charming number entitled The unteachable ignorance of the red states, advises the Democrats to self-destruct:
Progressives have only one course of action now: React quickly to every outrage—red state types love to cheat and intimidate, so we have to assume the worst and call them on it every time. We have to give them more to think about than they can handle—to always appeal to reason and common sense, and the law, even when they can't understand it and don't respond. They cannot be allowed to keep any secrets. Tens of millions of people didn't vote—they are watching, too, and have to be shown that we are ready and willing to fight, and that the battle is worth fighting. And in addition, we have to remember that threats to democracy from the right always collapse. Whatever their short-term appeal, they are borne of hubris and hatred, and will destroy their purveyors in the end.This, of course, is how the far left have been behaving for the past four years, screeching and gibbering at every imagined slight. It hasn't done them a whole lot of good.
You know what this is? Well, if you're Nathan you've already recognised it. This is Cargo Cult Politics: Copy the appearance of what the Republicans are doing, rather than looking deeper to see what actually made it successful. Mind you, unlike the original Cargo Cults, in politics this can actually work. You can win office if you can fake sincerity well enough. John Kerry, of course, was terribly bad at this. Democrats think that George Bush is the Grand Master of Fake Sincerity; the problem with that thinking is that Bush is actually sincere, which is why he appears to be, uh, so sincere about his sincerity. If you try to fake his sincerity without understanding that, you'll fall flat on your face. If you try fake moralizing in the Bible Belt, likewise.
Or to put it rather more simply - though it is clear that the Democrats don't, can't see that this is what they are suggesting: Lie. Lie to the public. They're just the people, nothing more than proles, they'll never know the difference. Tell them what's good for them, loudly and clearly, using the same words they use, and you'll sucker them good.
Not this prole, guys. Not this prole.
And when you've finished reading my analysis of the political future of the Left in America and Australia (scroll down just a bit), hop on over to Ace's for more of the same, only different.
What a month it's been, with elections in both Australia and America - and Indonesia and Afghanistan and Ukraine, even if the last was badly flawed. And the right people won, at least four out of five; certainly in Australia and America, the two that matter the most to me. For Afghanistan, just the fact of a calm and fair election is enough.
But in Australia, John Howard only won by a 5.5% margin, 52.75% compared to 47.25% for Mark Latham. And in America, although George Bush won by more than three million votes over John Kerry, the percentage margin was even smaller, 51% for Bush against 48% for Kerry.
Why were both contests so close? Why did so many millions of people vote in favour of being governed by men I, quite frankly, loathe?
Well, it's complex. Sure, some people are just batshit crazy, like the trollish denizens of MoveOn.org, Democratic Underground, Daily Kos and so on, the historical revisionists and self-confessed Marxists. But even when you count San Francisco and Berkeley, and Byron Bay and Nimbin (and, frankly, whoever lives in that house on Kurraba Road...) they can only account four ten percent of the population.
Which leaves thirty-odd percent of the apparently normal populace voting for the wrong guy. I'm not going to mess about here: Latham was not fit to be Prime Minister, nor was Kerry fit to be President. Both countries would have survived; America has of course been through worse; Australia would have just shrugged its shoulders and muddled through.
Part of the reason is the nature of the political systems in the two countries. For all the differences in the details - Australia's preferential voting and America's popularly elected* President - the similarities are more important. Whenever rule of law is so well established that ignoring the result of an election is unthinkable, and politics is ruled as much by pragmatism as by ideology, this is what you'll find:
Two parties, opposed on a wide variety of issues, but each drawn inexorably towards the centre. Because the centre is defined by the people, and there are fifty percent of the population on either side. If you judge it just right, you will cross the line by just enough to pick up that crucial winning margin, be it 3% or 5.5% or even -0.5% if the districts are stacked the right way. If you cross the line by too much, you piss off your base, and they in turn piss off and vote for the Greens or the Libertarians or some other spoiler party - and you lose. Misjudge the line and drift too far from the centre and you make your base happy but you can't pick up enough of the ordinary Joes and Janes to make it.
And as long as pragmatism doesn't get forced into the back seat, one of the key jobs of the political machines is to judge public opinion and to work out exactly where and by how much and on what issues you need to shift to win the next election. It's an incredibly complicated job, because it's not a simple continuum but a space in a hundred or more dimensions, and it's not just the distributions but the dimensions themselves that are constantly changing. And at the same time the opposition is trying to do the same thing, and doing their level best to throw spanners into your works.
Which is why the parties screw it up exactly half the time.
Now, the flip side to this in recent years has been the actions of the mainstream media. For some reason - I have no idea why this is so, because I can see no benefit in it for them - they have decided to throw in their lot on the side of the liberal/left. Entirely, to the point of utterly destroying their own credibility, which is their stock in trade.**
What they have been trying to do, and they have been willing to not just misreport and distort the news but to fabricate and flat-out lie to do it, is to shift puplic opinion to the left.*** That would mean that either the right-of-centre party would have to shift to the left (pragmatism) or stay where they are and lose power (ideology).
The problem with this plan is that the mainstream media do not have a monopoly on the distribution of information. We can thank Rush Limbaugh and other talk-radio hosts, Rupert Murdoch, small-town newspapers, and the internet for acting as a spoiler. Because what happened instead was that the opinion of roughly half the public shifted to the left.
And that's no good at all; in fact, it's counter-productive. The first step in the electoral process in both countries is the selection of a leader for the party, and that selection is undertaken by the base, that same base that has now shifted to the left and opened up a public-opinion gap between itself and the other half of the population. So it was that respectable figures like Joe Lieberman and Kim Beazley, either of whom would have made an acceptable leader even to much of the other half, and might indeed have picked up some votes there; so it was that these electable men were shunted aside for someone who would appeal to the base but could never bridge the gap to pick up the votes needed to win.
Which, I think, is why both races were so acrimonious. If you can't bridge the gap, if you can't count on picking up some of the moderates on the other side, all you can hope for is to energise your own side. And if you're not a remarkable man, a gifted orator (and let's face it, none of the candidates in these two elections were that), then the best way to do that is to demonise your opponent - widening the gap still further. There's always some of that in any such contest, but this time it was the primary tool of the left because they simply didn't have much else to use.
In Australia, voting is compulsory, so there's not a lot of leeway there. In America, both parties did all they could to encourage voters to, well, vote, and indeed were extremely successful. And perhaps equally successful, which is not that surprising given the dynamics of public opinion and party platforms. Of course, the "youth vote" never materialised in America, but that should surprise no-one who can still remember their own youth.
And so, what we have is this: Michael Moore won the election. As did Dan Rather, and Martin Sheen, and Philip Adams, and Maureen Dowd, and Margo Kingston, and the editors of The Guardian, and a host of other lefty celebrities and intellectuals. Of course, they won the elections for John Howard and George Bush, which is hardly what they intended.
The problem with all this is that when pragmatism fails on the left side of the centre it is weakened on the right. If your opposition is weak, you don't need to pay so much attention to them, and you can indulge your ideology. Which is fine up to a point: George Bush is now free to finish the war, and the Iraqis know that their American liberators aren't suddenly going to depart and leave them at the mercies of the insurgency. And John Howard, with control of the Senate for the first time, can pass much-needed reforms that have been stymied until now by obstructionist minor parties.
But in the long run, this shift away from pragmatism is harmful, potentially deeply harmful. Four years isn't going to hurt America, but four decades likely would. Either the Democrats and the Labor Party need to abandon their ideologues and move to the centre again, or they are going to lose, and keep on losing, and hurt their respective countries in the process. Rhetoric from both camps so far shows no sign of any such process, but it's early days yet and the left has years in the wilderness in which to achieve this change of heart. As many years as it takes.
* More or less.
** With the exception of those parts owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is nobody's fool.
*** No, I haven't forgotten what I just said about hundred-dimensional polispace. This is shorthand here. You know what I mean.
Friday, November 05
A spokesman for the French military hospital housing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has told reporters the ailing leader is not dead.Huh? He was already in intensive care.
He added though on Thursday that the 75-year-old leader had been moved to another department within the hospital for treatment more appropriate for his condition.
The hospital spokesman said the Palestinian leader was moved into the other department Wednesday, He said Arafat's condition had become more complex.More complex, eh?
Thursday afternoon, French President Jacques Chirac was allowed to briefly visit Arafat's room.Probably trying for those Swiss bank account numbers.
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