Thursday, January 01, 2004
Nation Building 101
My new year's resolution for the blog was to say more about substance and less about process. The idea behind doing this is to give people who read it something they can use to decode what goes on in elections and policy-making (and to occasionally vent my spleen at stupidity or evil). Since I've never done a post on Iraq, let me give you my two cents about countries.
1. You can't create a country by drawing lines on a map. Countries created by political decisions never last. The only time-tested way to get a cohesive state--where everyone agrees on basic domestic and foreign issues and thinks of themselves as being one people is with a revolution. People have to fight for a set of ideas and win-- it's as simple as that. That's why America is so strong-- we've paid for our ideas in blood.
If there are very strong geographic boundaries, there's a chance of the country staying together until everyone agrees on common ground. But the odds of that are more remote.
Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Vietnam-- they didn't work. You could see the Soviet Union falling to pieces from a long way off. Ultimately North Korea and Northern Ireland aren't going to last. I don't know how long it'll take, but someday we'll see one Korea and one Ireland.
2. It's impossible for someone else to build a country. You can foment revolution and provide significant assistance to the mutineers. In fact, that's often necessary. It would have been awfully hard for the colonies to beat back the English without France's help. The Soviets played a major role in Southeast Asia; we've been supporting Taiwan for decades.
But if the the people you're trying to help don't want to be a country more than you want it, it ain't gonna happen. Countries require an extraordinary amount of cooperation in order to function-- if people don't want to work together, you have to have a huge army and police force to make it work.
3. All countries require time to learn how to govern themselves. If you read the history of about 20 countries, one at a time, you'll find striking similarities in the way they develop. Countries tend to make the same mistakes over and over and over again until they finally figure out what works and what doesn't.
You can try to shorten the learning process by making suggestions and offering advice, but you can't open someone's mouth and pour wisdom and experience down their throats. Either they figure it out themselves or you're just wasting time.
Nuclear weapons have limited the amount of indulgence one can have, obviously. You don't let your child play with guns and you can't let countries have fun with nuclear weapons. But the interesting thing about that issue is that, so far, everyone gets it. If India and Pakistan-- two undisciplined countries that live next to each other and have nukes-- haven't killed themselves yet, it appears that the only nations you have to worry about are the ones run by people who really believe that it's better to die for a cause than live.
The last point, in my mind, is the most critical. If you compare the timelines of countries, you'll see a lot of similarities, with the only differences being in (a) how they were founded, (b) what the geography was and (c) who their neighbors were. To give you a crude example, let's compare China and the US-- two large, populous countries founded by revolution and with immense natural resources, a large, sparsely populated power to the North, less-developed countries to the South.
For the sake of round numbers, let's say the current China has been up and running since 1949, making their government 55 years old. Let's start the clock running on the U.S. in 1787, so we were at the same spot on the timeline in 1842. At that point, we were a human rights nightmare: slaughtering the Indians, slavery, women have no rights--and aren't supposed to do anything but make babies.
Social programs? People working 12-hour days six or seven days a week, no education for children, primitive provisions for health care and seniors, no laws guaranteeing the purity of food, water or medicine.
Foreign policy? We haven't been conquered, but we're separated from everyone else by two oceans and we have the two coolest neighbors on Earth. We'd picked a fight with England and been routed (they burned the Capitol and then said "Stop bugging us"). We'd gone to war with Canada and were about to go to war with Mexico, we were going to fight a Civil War and there are several other military actions coming up.
(Imagine the bloodshed if you have neighbors who like to fight-- say if Canada and France trade places and we have Japan to the south instead of Mexico.)
If you look at all that and say "How do the Chinese compare?", the answer is "pretty well." Yes, they've had 150 more years of history and some good role models to emulate (or bad examples to learn from),. But other countries had abolished slavery and we could have decided to treat the Indians like the British threated the Scots or Irish.
Successful countries eventually notice that incessant border wars and picking fights in regions that you have no reason (other than ego) to fight with are counterproductive. Eventually they notice that the quality of life gets a lot better when they send every child to school. Educating women is still the single best way to solve population issues, infant mortality and economic production-- sooner or later, that penny drops.
So here's where I stand on Iraq. First of all, it isn't a country-- it'a partition created by Great Britan in 1918. Second, it's made up of three distinct regions-- Sunniville, Shiia Acres and Kurdopolis--whose only common beliefs are that (a) they all hate each other and (b) they hate being ruled as one unit by someone else even more. Third, two of the three factions seem to be comfortable with having an appallingly low standard of living and lacking most of the benefits that being a country provides.
Would it be desirable if they would all play nice with each other and concentrate on making Lexuses and growing Olive Trees? Yes. Does it appear that they have any interest in doing that? No. Are they going to rally round even the best attempts at nation-building (not that we've seen any of that)? No.
There are problems in this world that can't be solved by reason or force or bribing. As long as some Palestinians think the best thing they can do with their lives is to strap on bombs and try to blow Israelis up-- and the others think the best course of action is to let it happen, instead of stopping them-- there's not a lot than you can do. Everything we know about human history suggests that they'll figure out that this isn't improving matters, but our knowledge doesn't do a lot of good until it's in their heads.
Similarly, if the Israelis really believe that rebuilding the Berlin Wall is going to solve their problems-- or the Russians think the best thing they can do with their GDP is to rule Chechnya with an iron fist-- or the Chinese continue to fixate on Taiwan and East Timor-- your hands are pretty much tied. You can try to demand good behavior in return for goodies, but if that doesn't work, you don't have a lot of workable options.
This isn't an argument for ignoring human rights or accepting genocide or tyranny. I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to stop the bloodshed and suffering; you never know which effort will finally succeed, so it's vital to keep trying. It's not a partisan issue (I don't think any Democrat could succeed here, though they could do a lot less worse).
It's just a recommendation that we apply the lessons of history and basic principles of human development to this issue, and to remember that every developing countries was built on the dead bodies of innocents.
Who Are The Gang of Five?
Just came back from a New Years Party where l'affaire Plame was the big topic on the agenda. A lot of people were asking the same question that Billmon did: Is it possible that one of the five people who got the tip before Bob Novak has blabbed?
That I don't know. But the investigators would have to be brain-dead not to have gotten at least one of the five. It's not difficult to figure out who to interview, at least. Let me ask you a question:
1. Assume that the facts as stated in this Washington Post story are correct: "two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."
2. Assume the White House officials followed the etiquette of DC leaking-- You don't offer an exclusive scoop to more than one writer simultaneously. You call the person you want to write it most and don't call your second choice until the first person passes.
Given those assumptions, the White House officials called five people-- each of whom passed on the leak-- before Novak bit. Now here's the question: On what type of list would Robert Novak be the sixth entry?
The answer: A list of ultra-conservative journalists with the ability to reach a national audience.
I mean, you're talking about committing an illegal act-- something that can get you investigated, ostracized and huge legal fees. You're not going to do that to get a piece in the Carbondale, Illinois Gazette, right?
And because it's illegal, the people you call must be on your side. The worst-case scenario isn't being turned down-- it's having the writer pass on the story and then blow the whistle on you. You need someone who won't blab, because they don't want to hurt you.
And we can add one final assumption to the mix: The five people they approached before Novak were savvy enough to pass on the story. Either they weren't willing to out Plame or they realized what sort of hell they'd be in for if they ran the leak.
(That's another reason Novak would be sixth-- he has a reputation for being willing to print anything.)
So who fits that profile? I submit, based on my knowledge of the DC press corps (and seven Grey Goose and tonics) that the following gentlemen (none of whom I've met, by the way) would be the ones I'd go to first:
1. William Safire, The New York Times. The house conservative at the newspaper of record would be the ideal choice. And since he lived through Watergate, he'd know better than to touch the item.
2. George Will, The Washington Post. Another no-brainer, based on prestige and position. And also a guy who'd know better than to touch a bag of snakes like this. Also, he rarely runs leaks.
3. Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post. Also has the great platform; he's always willing to slam enemies of a Republican White House. But, again, he's seen what happens to people who get caught up in scandals. And he usually doesn't run news items.
(In both of the above, there's another piece of circumstantial evidence. The Post is an expose-driven paper-- they love breaking stories that name names. I can only think of one other case where their reporters didn't run a "who dat?" story to death-- the identity of the author of Primary Colors, who turned out to be working for an entity in the Post's media octopus.)
4. Tony Blankley, The Washington Times. It's a big step down in prestige, but he could provide a level of deniability, because he could throw the story to one of his attack dogs. Also, he gets plenty of time on Faux News. But the former press secretary to Newt Gingrich would probably be too smart to go near this.
5. Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard. Another step down in prestige. But he's got a TV show and he's a true believer.
Could be I've gotten only some of them. Could be none of them. Another way to go about this would be to pick the most probable leakers and say "Which writers have been the mouthpieces for Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the past?"
If I ran a journalism class, I'd make it a class project. Wouldn't be hard to dig this out-- if for no other reason than most DC press people drink like fishes and gossip like old ladies.
In any event, we'll eventually find out. Have a happy 2004.
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
The Nature of the Beast
Josh Marshall's assessment of what's behind John Ashcroft's decision to recuse himself is spot-on. Of the three possible reasons he gives for the movement, my money is on option three: Ashcroft just got a progress report telling him that high-ranking officials appear to be involved.
I've had some dealings with Ashcroft in the past and he reminds me a lot of his predecessor, John Danforth: an extremely bright and principled man whose religious beliefs and personal convictions make me cringe.
I wouldn't live in Ashcroft's America, but he isn't a venal, hypocritical thug like many of the people in W's regime. I don't doubt, for example, that he sincerely believes that it's better to trample civil liberties than lose the war on terror. (Of course, he's probably felt that many of them should never have existed.) Both papers of record (look here and here) imply that he blindsided the White House-- presented his decision as a fait accompli.
Why'd they permit it? Because they had to, I suspect-- the alternative was accepting the Attorney General's resignation. And those four words, I think, explain almost everything about how W's regime works.
All decisions made by elected officials are political to some degree, but the balance varies from person to person. I always draw a triangle for my clients, the each side represents a different force. Conviction is the stuff you do because you sincerely believe it is best is for the people you govern-- it's the stuff you'll do even if the polls show that it's not popular. Logistics represents the moves you make to keep the wheels of government turning. They're not things you want to do-- they're things you do to convince others to do things for you. Last, but not least, tactics are the things you do to advance your career-- to get re-elected, or position yourself for a move to higher office.
For example, suppose you're the mayor of a large city. The finance department reports that tax receipts are down; logistics require you to cut the budget. Studies show your city has 20% more policemen than other cities its size; your convictions tell you to make cutbacks there. But the police union will go ballistic if you cut them, and that will provoke the media to review your crime statistics-- meaning you'll have a tactical problem if you do.
Also, the officers who are left might punish you by increased absenteeism-- taking every single day off they're allowed under their contract. To make sure you're properly staffed (conviction), you'll need to pay the officers who will come to work overtime (logistics). But the overtime will cost you millions, so you won't really save money (tactical). But if you don't staff fully, you're risking a scandal if the media finds out (tactical). And you think it's wrong to let the union get away with blackmail.
To get things resolved properly, you have to announce the shortfall and cut more low-profile employees than you'd like to (because nobody protests when you cut the law department). You propose police layoffs that aren't nearly as high as you think they ought to be and offer the union a chance to make concessions to save most of them. If they turn it down, you can tell the media that you had to make cuts and you offered a deal. As a pre-emptive strike, you release figures showing that police absenteeism and overtime are high, and that's played a big role in the shortfall.
In a perfect world, you'd just make the cuts you think proper. But in the world of American politics, you have to play these games so you can stay in office and do the stuff you want to do.
In the typical mix of policy decisions made by the executive branch (Mayor, Governor, President), I'd guess conviction drives between 25% and 40%. Tactics (re-election or moving up) constitutes 20-40%; logistics (what you do to manage the government) makes up the other 20-40%.
(The numbers are different for legislators, because it's easy to get re-elected and you can't get anything done by yourself. Conviction and tactics probably make up 10-20%, with the rest being logistics-- trading with the leadership or colleagues. This assumes, of course, that you want to get bills passed. If you know you're in the minority and don't care, you can speak your mind on everything, but you'll never get anything done.)
Most presidencies fluctuate between conviction and logistics, because they only have one more election. Two-term presidents are usually 40% conviction, 40% logistics and 20% reelection. Both Reagan, Clinton and Nixon pushed an agenda, worked hard at getting things through and figured they'd get re-elected if their ideas worked. It's a little risky (they were both struggling at the three-year mark), but if your ideas are what people want, it will work.
Except for logistics, I haven't noticed a minimum threshold for any factor; Carter, Ford, Bush I and Truman all put 10% of their energies into seeing that things got done and they all ended up losing. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was 70% logistics, 20% conviction and 10% reelection and people loved him.
(Johnson is a special case. Since he had the luxury of knowing he was going to face weak opposition, he put most of his energy toward convictions and logistics and got scads of things done. But you can't lie to voters about something like a war and get away with it. Nixon isn't a special case; he got re-elected and would have served out his term if he hadn't been a crook.)
W's regime is the first tactical presidency since Warren Harding. His conviction/logistics/tactics ratio is absurdly skewed-- something like 10-30-60. With the possible exception of faith-based initiatives, these people simply don't think about anything except getting re-elected. Everything is geared toward energizing the base. Since the base has an extreme ideology, they're polarizing the country. But that's being done to cement political power--they're acting based on where they think they need to be to stay in charge.
Tax cuts? They get you contributions from the rich folks, support from the ideologies who want to kill the New Deal and approval ratings from blue-collar white men (whom they control 84-16).
Faith-based initiatives and wingnut judges? This regime is built upon evangelicals and of the swing voters, 75% want the president to be a man of strong religious conviction.
Iraq? The neocons had agendas-- and W. seems to have hated Saddam Hussein from Day 1. But they were pursuing an isolationist agenda until 9/11. They needed to show progress in the war on terror-- when they couldn't find Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, they needed a high-profile win. There were three widely-known Arab leaders left, and they never would have been able to get Congressional permission to wipe out Yasser Arafat or Hosni Mubarak.
The focus on re-election has even controlled the ebb and flow of personalities. Originally, they made efforts to put Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice out front, so they could serve as tools for courting the black vote. When they realized that Powell was too moderate to appeal to wingnuts and Rice got them into trouble with her lack of attention to detail and frequent gaffes in public, they've vanished from view.
The neocons, I think, rose because they were the only people insisting that they knew how to provide the decisive political victory the re-election effort needed. When that blew up, they've lost the reins.
The best picture of how these guys work has been presented by two pieces in Esquire. I present, for your enlightenment, the following links:
1. Ron Suskind's brilliant profile of Karl Rove. The backbone of the piece is the unhappy tenure of John DiIulio as head of the faith-based initiative program. For some stupid reason, Esquire has this piece offline, but the article is available on Susskind's site.
2. The text of the DiIulio letter. After DiIulio was interviewed, he sent Suskind a seven-page letter that presented additional insights. The 'money grafs' are in the piece, but the framing is equally valuable. It's available on the Esquire site.
3. Suskind's profile of Karen Hughes. Hughes, W's longtime aide, is said to be the one person who can humanize his tendency to veer far to the right to court the worst elements of his base. Esquire has this piece online too.
I keep having arguments with people who say "I don't understand why they're doing this." DiIulio's soundbite-- "Mayfair Machiavellis" tells you everything you need to know.
The only saving grace is that there is a way to beat people like this-- and, if you pay attention, they'll help you beat them. You have to hit them where they're weak-- and you can see where they're weak by watching where they move.
People who deal entirely in tactics are vulnerable because they respond to every problem in the same way. When it comes up, their first instinct is to "stay strong"--refuse to give any ground until it's absolutely necessary to do so. When they begin taking losses, they'll retreat to whatever position they think they need to hold on.
W. and Karl Rove aren't Reagan and Ed Meese-- I don't see a single issue that they'll dig in on, regardless of what it does to them in the polls. If they take a step back, it's not because they've changed their minds-- it's because they're trying to put out a fire. And because the need to seem strong is always paramount, they're always going to concede the absolute minimum they feel is required.
You can assume that there is a fallback position, a position behind that and maybe one or two more until you hit the spot where you either strike a conviction or reach a point where they can't retreat any more without getting the true believers angry with them. If you look at the original position, the new one and calculate the angle of retreat, you can guess where they're heading and why.
So, yeah, Josh Marshall is right-- something's out there with the Plame affair. It isn't bad enough to convince them to bite the bullet and announce Ashcroft is tired and returning to private life. But it's got to be something that conveys an overwhelming impression of guilt. My guess would be phone logs-- the White House switchboard or cell phone records show a pattern of calls to a series of right-wing columnists that end with conversations with Robert Novak.
Halliburton is out of the gasoline business because there's something even worse. And it's quite possible that the shift from "Read my lips-- no meat inspections" to "no downer cows" is only the first step in a chain.
The challenge to the Democrats is to stop trying to nuke Howard Dean keep pushing Bush, and to say things that compel the media to follow. Trust me on this, there's more there there, and it can be brought out. The question is merely-- are the good guys up to the job?
W's Spring Cleaning
It's been an interesting couple of days, hasn't it? After months of claiming that a political appointee of the President could so investigate goings-on inside the White House, John Ashcroft bowed out of the investigation of the leak about Valerie Plame's identity.
Meanwhile, after a week of doggedly insisting that the current level of inspections and safeguards on meat were sufficient, the Department of Agriculture has banned the slaughter of "downer" cows.
Last, but not least, the U.S. Army has decided that $2.64 is a tad much to pay for a gallon of gasoline. Dick Cheney's bubbies at Halliburton are out; competitive bidding is in.
Wassup? In a word, re-election. When politicians gear up to run again, the first step is a self-inventory. Every position that you think can hurt you (and if you have the money, you test this stuff through polling) has to be neutralized.
Elected officials can get away with murder during most of their tenure. Unless the media continually reminds the voters, they forget the various bad decisions, sleazy deals and idiotic statements you make. (How many of you, for example, remember whether W's EPA did finally roll back the standards on arsenic in drinking water?)
In a campaign-- with an opponent stirring the pot every day and a media that will report any juicy charge-- you can't get away with it. So you have to shed what liabilities you can. You tell the beef industry, "Guys, there are only 195,000 downer cows and 35,000,000 healthy ones-- we can't take the bullet for you on this."
This bodes well for the country-- if not the Demcrats-- for the next 10 months. The chances of Roy Moore being nominated to the federal bench are nil. We can expect to see a very moderate State of the Union address-- with a lot of talk about funding social programs. Maybe there will even be a few positive developments.
We'll also learn exactly where the balance of power lies between the White House and Congress. Most of the wonks I talk to think that the wingnuts in Congress are forces of nature, pretty much operating without restraints-- that they're capable of waking up one morning and enacting a law mandating the replacement of Thomas Jefferson (the only Democrat on Mount Rushmore) with Ronald Reagan.
I'm of the opinion that W's regime has a much stronger hand in the bills than people think. It's in their interest to let people think Congress does its thing unchecked (bad cop to W's good cop). My best is that they will visibly chafe under a heavy hand this year. But we'll see.
The thing to remember is that most of what we'll see and hear until November isn't real. W's regime is going to shave and get a nice haircut, trim off some extra pounds and make an effort to play nice with others. But what they say they'll do and what they'll actually do if they get the chance are completely different things.
Now, more than ever, it's important for everyone to not let up on these guys-- don't let them breathe.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Can You Hear Me Now?
Just a couple of comments about today's Mad Cow story. The more I think about it, the more I believe that this issue is the one that brings all the chickens home to roost:
1. W's guys are showing their usual knack for diplomacy. From the guys that brought you the "Invade Iraq with us because we want you to, dickheads!" coalition-building initiative, comes the "Buy our tainted meat because we need your money, buttwipes!" trade negotiations.
This approach is having no more success than the first one. And there's no reason it should. In fact, it ought to have much less. People base decisions-- at least to some degree-- on their own self-interest. The trick to getting people to help you is to persuade them that doing what you want will benefit them in some way. That, plus a sense of past obligation, future incentives and personal or professional rapport, is what gets people to stick their necks out for you.
Iraq, at least, had one viable argument. Even if you stipulate that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Quaeda or the war on terror, you could at least say "Removing Saddam Hussein will benefit the people of Iraq in the short run, make the country (at some point) a more stable place and eventually improve the climate in the Middle East."
Maybe that's not convincing enough to get a country to send troops, but it is at least something worthy of discussion. But what's the incentive to buy meat that you have reason to think is tainted? How do you benefit from that decision? Especially since you know (because you saw it with the WMD issue) that this regime lies to suit its own ends.
How do you know that the Agriculture Department's version of Paul Wolfowitz (and you know such a creature exists wthin the department, right?) won't say, several years later, "We knew there was a possibility that we had more bad meat in the system, but we felt the threat to our economy outweighed the risks of concealing this information"? What's the reward for taking that risk with your citizens?
I have no idea if that scenario is likely, mind you. But if you're running another country, why would you want to place yourself in a position to be hurt?
2. Another issue that affects the decision is the White House's refusal to provide any political cover for its partners. One of the underlying principles of politics is that you never force someone to do things that can jeopardize their career. If supporting a bill will get you in trouble with your constituents, no one expects your vote. In fact, it's considered to be in bad taste even to ask for support.
W's regime has shown total contempt for that principle-- both with Congress, with Governors and foreign heads of state. Tony Blair held onto his majority by the skin of his teeth (and immense ineptitude on the opposition). Germany, Korea-- there have been a bunch of leaders that have been put in play by W's policies. In each case, the administration did nothing to make their lives easier.
If this had happened on Bill Clinton's watch, the reponse would have been predictable: an immediate ban on the slaughter of "downed" cows (animals tooo sick to be able to stand), a ban on any animal-based feed or supplement (the disease was believed to have been caused by a supplment that used animal blood) and the announcement of stringent testing on every aninmal whose meat was designated for sale overseas.
I can almost hear the Big Dawg soundbite: "The U.S. Government will do everything in its power to guarantee that none of the meat we export is in any way harmful to the citizens of other nations." That's all it takes to stop the panic-- the announcement that you're going to take the blame and you're going to fix the problem.
W's response-- blame Canada and insist that the regulations in place are already sufficient (even though you've just had one case)-- isn't going to do it. Especially since he spit out the same "We know what we're doing" pitch when Enron and the WMD scandals hit. Maybe it's not bluster-- maybe they do sincerely believe they've got everything under control... But with that track record, why trust them?
3. Today marks the first day that I wished Joe Biden were running for President. Because what this issue really needs is one of his patented, "aw shucks" disingenuous solliloquoys of the sort he used on Robert Bork:
"Mr. President, I wish you could explain your Agriculture Department's policies to me. According to your estimates, over 195,000 "downer" cows are butchered every years. A "downer" cow is an animal that arrives at the processing plant to sick or too injured to walk.
"Wouldn't you be curious about why an animal couldn't walk? Wouldn't simple common sense make you want to test that animal before you allowed it to be butchered and sold for meat?
"But, Mr. President, your Department of Agriculture only tested 20,000 animals last year. That's only 10% of the animals that couldn't walk, for heavens sake. And there are 35 million more animals that can walk butchered in the United States every year. 20,000 cows is only one-half of one percent of all the cattle.
"According to the news reports, meat from that one infected cow went to eight different states and the territory of Guam. How many states would be affected if there were two cows? Or five-- or ten?
"Mr. President, I realize that we might not be able to test every single cow. But not testing 99.5% of them? Mr. President, how can you tell us that our meat is truly safe?
And if you really want to ratchet the rhetoric up-- if you want to generate panic-- there's even ammunition for that. One of the arguments for no new regulation is that the diseased cow was infected in 1997-- over a year before the current regulations on feed were imposed.
Sounds imposing, right? Let's give it a spin. If the animal was infected in 1997, that means the disease wasn't noticed for six years. Can you think of any other diseases that can show no symptons for six years?
If the penny still isn't dropping, let me channel a little Dennis Kucinich for you:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, almost 25 years ago, another Republican president was faced with the emergence of a new and horrifying disease with an acronym for a name. As is true with BSE, someone could be infected for years without showing any signs of illness. Like the BSE outbreak, the victims would appear completely normal-- signs would only appear when the disease was in its advanced stages, long after the victims had had the opportunity to infect others.
"Responsible scientists and doctors warned that we were on the verge of an outbreak of terrifying proportions-- that unless the government committed itself to extensive research, education and strict controls on our blood supply, millions of innocent people would suffer.
"But the Reagan administration's responded to the challenge of the epidemic by ignoring it and belittling the people who tried to warn them. There was no possibility, they assured us, of this doomsday scenario occurring.
"But Ladies and Gentlemen, time has shown us that the researchers were right. Tens of millions of people currently suffer from the deadly disease of AIDS. Current studies show that we can expect tens of millions more to suffer.
"We cannot allow this Republican administration to perpetrate another epidemic on the citizens of this country by denying that a problem exists and folding its arms and sitting on its hands again."
Yes, I know the syntax is a little garbled and the prose is purple. That's Dennis's rhetorical signature (as long as I'm imitating, I might as well do it right) and I'm caricaturing a little for emphasis. It's a nuclear attack targeted directly at a theme that resonates with voters: You can't trust the Republic Party to regulate business. They put profits first and you'll end up sick, injured or dead if you give them free reign.
I'm sure Matt Yglesias would sneer at this pandering and Kevin Drum would be appalled by the soaring demagoguery. But, hey, we're in a war and the other side is throwing terms like coward, treason and hatred around. You wanna have an ettiquette contest or you wanna win?
Monday, December 29, 2003
The Voice of Sagacity
Memo to the eight dwarves: Stories like this one are the reason that Howard Dean is whomping your sorry butts.
One of the reasons that Democrats continue to get whipped is that they don't have a clue about how they're perceived-- and, as a result, what issues resonate with voters.
Defense, for example, is an issue where it's simply not possible to make progress. No matter how much we bluster, we're going to be thought of as overintellectual commie-loving wimps who lack the testicular matter needed to do things right. Unless the opponent is card-carrying peacenik, voters will perceive you as softer and weaker.
(Sam Nunn spent decades as a vocal, unregenerated hawk-- advocating just about every weapons system ever proposed. When he thought about running for President in 1988, polls showed he was losing big on defense and foreign policy to Bush I.)
It's important not to punt the issue-- you don't want to lose 80-20 on defense questions. But the best you can do is shave points-- get the numbers to 55-45 and make people think "He's a lib'ral, but he's pretty smart and he's got good generals and they can probably talk sense into him."
Same deal on crime, social programs and taxes. If you try to stake out the high ground, you're beating your head against the wall unless the opponent is perceived as a complete whacko.
But there are issues where Democrats have the home-field advantage, and Mad Cow disease is one of them.
It is universally understood by the voters that the platform of the Republic Party is unalterably opposed to pure food, clean water, unpolluted air and medication that performs as advertised without side effects. Given a choice between a .02% difference in dividends on the stock and killing 50,000,000 people, anyone of voting age knows that 9 out of 10 wingnuts will take the money and deal with the class-action suits when and if they get into a court.
Over the last 30 years, every time a wingnut has tried to mess with a protection that affects food, water or air, it blows up. When Bush I tried to stall renewals of existing programs, his negatives mushroomed and he backed away..
I know it happened the day before the day of Christmas Eve... But four days? Jeez, guys-- you just have to do better than that. Had this been a case of a gay soldier diagnosed with AIDS, the wingnut corps would have been blasting the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy all over their airwaves.
Well, at least Dean's blast frames the issue perfectly:
1. After the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in England, their government passed laws to make sure it could never happen again. The US Government didn't make the same changes, because the wingnuts in the House and Senate blocked them.
2. The panic caused by this outbreak will cost U.S. farmers jillions of dollars.
3. The panic could have been prevented by enacting stronger laws. W's regime didn't push for them.
4. If the cost of testing every cow would add only three cents to the cost of a pound of beef, we should do it.
The last point is the truly beautiful piece of work. If you're opposed to inspecting every cow, you're arguing that human life is worth less than 3c a pound.
Dick Gephardt didn't do too bad a job, by the way. Dean's presentation was much more effective, because he related them to another country's solution to an outbreak. Gephardt's proposals just sound like more regulations (also a bad issue for Democrats) that were proposed after the fact (monday morning quarterbacking).
John Kerry's proposal-- federal aid to farmers who suffer losses from the scare-- is a "Greatest Hits" of bad policy construction. He's going to:
1. Distribute government money (always a popular idea).
2. Target a group of people who already get subsidies.
3. Compensate them for losses that can't be verified (how do you know how much beef someone might have sold?).
4. Offer sums that are probably inadequate to cover the losses.
5. Require absolutely no quid pro quo (audits or stronger standards).
Well, I suppose we should applaud Kerry for taking only four days to decide that "Mad Cow Disease is Bad". Wonder if he'll be able to stick to it.
By the way, here's a nifty article on the subject of prevention.