Friday, February 19, 2010

Icebergs Ahead? Increase Speed!

[by Mr.Hengist]

My two favorite columnist piƱatas at the WaPo are Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne Jr.; despite their race-hustling and chronic mischaracterizations of the positions of their political opposition, the consistency of their political hackistry never fails to amuse me. I was almost surprised to see the lede of Dionne's latest rub-a-dub rubbish, "What's holding the Democratic Party down":
If you want to be honest, face these facts: At this moment, President Obama is losing, Democrats are losing and liberals are losing.

Honesty would be refreshing from E.J., but could it be that this won’t end up as another pandering paen to progressivism? Will E.J. be conceding some deficiency in the Democrat Party? Might there be something they're doing wrong, or, more plausibly from this reliable Liberal cheerleader, might there be some reason to change course - even a little? Perchance, might it be in the best interests of the Democrats to steer around the iceberg?

He continues:
Who's winning? Republicans, conservatives, the practitioners of obstruction and the Tea Party.

Let me just interject here that, although it may appear that Dionne is logically separating these four groups, he considers them all - Republicans, conservatives, and the Tea Party protesters - to be practitioners of obstruction. Just so we're clear.

The two immediate causes for this state of affairs are a single election result in Massachusetts and the way the United States Senate operates. What's not responsible is the supposed failure of Obama and the Democrats to govern as "moderates." Pause to consider where we would be if a Democrat had won the Massachusetts Senate race last month. In all likelihood, health reform would be law, Democrats could have moved on to economic matters, and Obama would be seen as shrewd and successful.

Ah, there we go. Darn that Scott Brown: he ruined everything. Never mind that the Democrat supermajority in the House, the Democrat majority in the Senate, and the Democrat Executive Branch combined could not manage to get this passed over the course of the summer. It is apparently unconnected that Tea Party candidate Brown won the seat uber-Liberal Edward Kennedy held for thirty years, a seat held by his father for twenty years previous to his terms. Take it from E.J. Dionne: Brown’s election was a cause, not a result.

But that's not what happened, and Republican Scott Brown's victory revealed real weaknesses on the progressive side: an Obama political apparatus asleep at the switch, huge Republican enthusiasm unmatched by Democratic determination, and a focused conservative campaign to discredit Obama's ideas, notably his economic stimulus plan and the health-care bill.

There's the E.J.Dionne I know! The failure to pass a health-care bill is the result of weakness in the Administration - they're just not enthusiastic enough, asleep at the switch, lacking only in sufficient quantities of determination. The Tea Party protests are like the barking of dogs: as meaningless as the sound of breaking glass, and the caravan moves on.

Icebergs sighted? Cruise Director E.J. of the DNC Titanic urges the bridge: Full Steam Ahead! If we go faster we can just plow right through!

The Obama administration argues that both the stimulus and the health bill are better than people think. That's entirely true, and this is actually an indictment -- it means that on the two big issues of the moment, Republicans and conservatives are winning an argument they should be losing.

Not for lack of trying on your side, Dionne. POTUS Obama has used his bully pulpit, the Dem Congresspeople have been making their case, the Liberal MSM has given them coverage ranging, by and large, from sympathetic to adoring in copious quantities, but, somehow, they can't close the deal with the American people.

The evolution of their health-care bill arguments is instructive: Doncha want free health care? OK, you’re right, that’s silly, it’s not free, but it’ll be cheap, and alls you want! Like Europe and Canada! OK, like them but without the rationing, the months-long waiting lists, and the high taxes! We'll cut out the fat cat insurance companies and have single payer! OK, if you don’t want a government monopsony, hows about a public option? No? Well, how about we just stick it to the insurance companies?

I mean, when you think about it, Dionne is arguing that Democrats should be winning people over to a health-care bill that's been shape-shifting like a T-1000 Terminator for the last year, and we still don't know what it will look like when they're ready to move it out of the shadows and vote on it. Somehow the Democrats aren't winning people over on a massive overhaul of one-sixth of the economy, the outline of which is still being secretly negotiated. Go figure.

The dreadful Senate is a major culprit here, and that's why Sen. Evan Bayh's complaints in explaining his retirement rang partly true, but also partly false. What's true is that the Senate isn't working. What's false is that there is no room for moderation. The fact is that the legislative outcomes on both the stimulus and health care were driven by moderates.

Well, that's the outlook of many a hard-core Liberal who sees themselves as being close to moderate. Why, of course the 800 bazillion dollar "stimulus" bill was moderate - it didn't go nearly far enough for the likes of Dionne. For Liberals, the failure to achieve stated goals never means that they did the wrong thing, but that they should try harder and be more ambitious next time – and maybe change the rules in their favor, like getting rid of the Filibuster (see below).

Slightly to the right of hard-core Liberal does not land you at moderate, E.J.

Economists agree that the stimulus worked to create jobs, but Senate moderates made it less effective by shrinking its size and including irrelevancies -- notably $70 billion to fix the alternative minimum tax -- that did little to create jobs.

I won't dwell on this except to say that Liberal and Conservative economists disagree sharply on the effectiveness of the "stimulus", and the standard set by the POTUS was "saved or created", thus making measurement of results effectively impossible. By design. At any rate, the Obama Administration sold us on the “stimulus” with the promise that, if passed, it would limit unemployment to 8.2%, and would go above 10% if it wasn’t passed. The bill passed and unemployment numbers blew past 8.2% as if nothing happened.

It should also be noted that a recent study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia showed that Democrat districts received nearly twice as much of the “stimulus” as did Republican districts, and that there was “no correlation between economic indicators and stimulus funding. Preliminary results find no statistically significant effect of unemployment, median income or mean income on stimulus funds allocation.” Democrats rewarded their voters and shortchanged the rest of us, and now they want to do it again with a second “stimulus”, and oh, also, they want to control our health care.

The moderates got their way because the stimulus needed 60 votes, an absurd standard now that we have an ideologically polarized, parliamentary-style party system. We can waste time mourning that development or we can recognize it and act accordingly.

Liberal pundits are now on-message that the Filibuster should be dispensed with as soon as possible. The possibility that they might need it again one day is irrelevant; if and when that day comes, they'll switch from this pretext and adopt their previously-held principle: that the filibuster is a pure form of free expression and debate in a thriving democracy. They'll expect you to forget their previously-held opposition to the filibuster when the time comes, just as they expect you've already forgotten their previously-held support for it. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

On health care, months of delay in a futile quest for Republican support got the Democrats the worst of all worlds. The media gave them no credit for reaching out to the other side but did blame them for an ugly, gridlocked process.

This kind of rewriting of history is entirely plausible to blinkered Liberals like Dionne, but an affront to their political opposition. Democrats "bipartisanship" consists of denying Republican input in crafting the bills, denying Republican amendments to those bills, and then inviting them to vote "yes". With majority control it's as obvious as can be that the problems the Democrats had were entirely within the Democrat Party, except that this would conflict with the Liberal maxim that all problems are ultimately the result of their political opposition.

The demands of moderate Democrats for concessions -- remember the politically lethal Nebraska payoff for Sen. Ben Nelson? -- made the process look even seamier. The bill's conservative opponents shrewdly focused on such side issues and on made-up issues such as the "death panels."

The shamelessness of Dionne is hard not to admire, in its own crass sort of way. Remember that $100 Million payoff? From the Treasury, of money we don’t have, which we’ll either have to borrow or print or tax. That legal bribe, out of your wallet one way or another, was a side issue. It was those crafty Republicans who got the hoi polloi upset over little stuff like that.

Nobody wants to admit that on health care the moderates won all the big fights. Single-payer was out at the start. The public option died. A Medicare buy-in died. The number of Americans who would be covered shrank. The insurance companies kept their antitrust exemption. If a bill eventually becomes law -- as it must if the Democrats are not to look like a feckless, useless lot -- the final proposal will be much closer to the moderate Senate version than to the more progressive bill passed by the House.

Follow what Dionne is saying here: all the above proposals were denied by the moderates. A majority of Democrats supported those proposals. OK, so if the moderates put the brakes on all these proposals, how shall we characterize the proponents of those ideas? Hard-core Extremists? No, they call themselves Progressives.

"Progressive" - the happy-fun Liberal substitute word for Socialist.

While liberals were arguing about public plans and this or that, and while Obama was deep into inside dealmaking, the conservatives relentlessly made a straightforward public case based on a syllogism: The economy is a mess. Obama and the Democrats are for big government. Big government is responsible for the mess. Therefore the mess is the fault of Obama and the Big Government Democrats.
Simplistic and misleading? Absolutely.

"Do you like my strawman? Here, watch me swat it aside!" Simplistic and misleading? Absolutely.

Moderate and progressive Democrats alike have eight months before this fall's elections to change the terms of the debate and prove they can govern.

... and, by "change the terms of the debate", he means they should change the Congressional procedural rules to eliminate the filibuster, and/or craft the bill in secret and then vote it's passage before anyone's had a chance to read it.

Otherwise, they'll be washed out by a tidal wave.

Yes, that's right, E.J.: a tidal wave of angry voters who are in no mood for the wishy-washy Democrat moderates; an electorate that will retaliate by, um, voting for right-wingers like Tea Party candidates like Scott Brown, or something. I'd buy a ticket for E.J. to board the clue train but wild horses couldn't drag him to the station.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The One-Off

Busier than I'd been, and grateful of it, the times being what they are. But blogging has been bogging.

Still, I have been trawling the Tubes with scarcely-abated vigor (what it says about me that this is how I unwind is a topic worth revisiting!). Of particular fascination to me has been the precipitous decline of what Election 2008 was judged by some to have constituted a Progressive Moment in the USA. Obama's ascension, in conjunction with overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, were seized as an auspicious Mandate for a Leftward lurch of historic proportions. But, as some have noted, the narrowness of the election, coupled with the abiding Center-Right orientation of this society were lighthouses past which Obama's Ship of Statism has blithely steamed. And love on the rocks is hard on the back.

The above-linked Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics hit another one out of the park in his spot-on deconstruction of Obama's style of governance...or rather its lack. He most effectively challenges the emerging meme (mainly, and not un-ironically from the Left) that the US has become ungovernable. In short, it's not. It's just that Obama has done a positively dismal job of governing. It is a devastating piece, so abundantly well worth a read, I'll refrain from even a block-quote.

This evening, I also came across this characteristically eloquent and scathing piece from Fouad Ajami. Where Cost ably describes the political mechanics whereby the Obama Administration has failed the Nation, Ajami goes after the mythology of the thing. It is a tale of Icarus (that is, of waxing and waning).

OK, Jack Bauer then Morpheus for me now. I am terribly excited for the changes which stand to occur on the American political front, and at last daring to hope that this unnerving experiment in the Republic's ability to stave off hubristic juggernauts may not turn out so badly after all...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Night Music (Part six)

With this, the sixth and last installment of Night Music, we reach the end of our journey. Not all questions are answered (are they ever?). Still, all the main character arcs are resolved, and I take my cue from some of my favorite SF books and films (2001, Rendez-Vous With Rama, Ringworld [the first one], etc.). In those works, I rather liked that questions were left hanging; the universe is not a place which lends itself to tidy resolutions to all of the queries we put to it.

Will I ever go back and revisit this tale, and flesh out some of the threads which dangle at the end of this one? Maybe. Time is not as forgiving as it was when I wrote those words (hell, it was borrowed time as it was!). I'd like to, and have rather extensive notes on a potential sequel. Still, all the best SF (and fiction in general) is less about the situation and the setting than it is about the characters, and I do think that Seth and Nadia have achieved a resolution to the journeys they were set up to take. I would love to get into Nick's Masai heritage, his love of speed, the tension between his promising athletic career and his love of space (a second part would probably start with Nick running round the rim of the backward crater lake, with the languid, low-gee waves of the Northern Sea rolling up to its shore, reflecting on his history and bringing us up to date...). I would love to get into Ellison's alcoholic family and the origins of his self-designated role as peace-maker and facilitator. I'd really like to get into Luczac a lot more (one of my favorite characters...could you tell?), and his rebellious early life of unwelcome privilege. And that's not even getting into the Zubrin Base inhabitants (I feel like I could do a lot with Yuri).

And what's up with the Waves and their Senders?

Yah, a lot there. But at some point you have to pare it down to the essentials, which in this case was these people and the things they have to learn in order to create the conditions for them to become the fully-integrated humans they were blocked by history and choice from developing into. I think the tale stands on its own...for now.

For those who have taken the trip with me, thanks! And for those who may have been waiting till all installments were up before diving in, please have at it now. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Since posting these, I have taken the step of self-publishing Night Music for the Kindle platform. Since it is now for sale ($3.00 US), it seemed a mite counterproductive to keep it up here for free (hence the now-broken links). But hey, if you read the rest of this blog, you'll see that the idea of being a Capitalist is not exactly alien to me! Hope you'll have a look at the sample, and, if you like what you see, download the Whole Thing. Here's a link to a suite of free Kindle reading apps for those who don't have a Kindle reader, but do have a smart phone, tablet, PC/MAC, or Blackberry.