Monday, January 31, 2011

Roundup: Nothing Egypt Related

Because there's enough talk about Egypt without my two cents.

(1) There is reasonably broad support for the thought that Republicans should consider Tea Party ideas, even among those Americans who are not themselves Tea Party "supporters".

(2) It looks like a recent Chinese propaganda video ripped a scene from Top Gun.

(3) Interested in a funeral pyre to send your loved one into the great beyond? Head to Colorado.

(4) Your Chris Christie love of the day.

(5) Apparently the band Nirvana is old enough that people can rip them off without seeming like a "me too" wannabe grunge band. Here's my take on Warpaint's "Undertow".

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paul Ryan's Response, Pt 2: Evidence

Here's the problem with using an ideological message rather than a specific one: Independents aren't overly in love with the abstract notion of free capitalism.  Watch this dial-group video of Paul Ryan's speech...

While Ryan does pretty well, you see in this particular segment that Democrats unsurprisingly trail off when he talks about lower taxes, and more importantly, Independents start to fade when he asserts that the American system has done "more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed".  The marginal independent voter moves parallel to the marginal Democrat voter on ideological assertions about capitalism.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Didn't Like About Paul Ryan's Response

The job of responding to the President's State of the Union address is by all accounts a thankless one.  If you're lucky, nobody remembers what was said.  If you're unlucky, as Jindal was, people start writing your political obituary.

The task is difficult for several reasons.  The responder has second billing, (usually) no live audience, and must respond to a carefully prepared address that has been delivered just moments before.  Stylistically, the responder must be critical of the President.  It is de rigueur for Presidents to project optimism in their SOTU speeches, and it is difficult for such a response to burst the optimism established by the President while simultaneously establishing a competing cheerful vision.

As if this task wasn't impossible enough, it is also necessary to lay out one's criticisms and alternative visions in a way that that is psychologically accessible to non-ideological voters.  If you pull out the usual trick phrases from your ideological bag of tricks, you'll find that they don't work as well with swing voters.

But regardless of the difficulties, that is the established task.  And while Congressman Ryan did a respectable job criticizing the President with his bulletproof logic, the few sunny statements he made seemed bolted on like miscellaneous body parts on Heidi Montag.

We got a promissory note that the upcoming budget will "cut spending to get the debt down… help create jobs and prosperity … and reform government programs".  We heard sincere yet vague talk about the Declaration, the Constitution, and the vision of self reliance and limited government.

Great. So what?

We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs and opportunities for all people, of every background, to succeed and prosper. Under this approach, the spirit of initiative – not political clout – determines who succeeds. 

I wholeheartedly believe every word of this.  And there's no doubt in my mind that Paul Ryan does too.  And yet, many will see this as empty rhetoric.  More importantly, success and prosperity are necessarily vague terms.  Tuesday evening quite a few of us poked fun at Obama's vision of teachers accessing their high-speed wireless internet on bullet trains while sitting next to gay ROTC recruits, but Obama presented an accessible vision.

This is an inherent weakness in selling a dynamic, unpredictable, freedom-loving system; government can't project a specific vision into the future.

If I was re-writing this speech, I'd address some scenarios voters might find themselves in --starting a new business, planning for retirement, looking for a job, sending children to college, filling a gasoline tank, etc. -- and contrast the consequences of the Obama plan/vision against a brighter future enabled by potential conservative governance.  Even a metaphor such as Tim Pawlenty's "cash bar at a wedding" bit would have been useful.  The listener must find him/herself engaged in a contemplation of the future that the speaker is guiding.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Can't Believe It's Not Centrism!

Republicans have taken notice that Obama’s new “centrist” pivot seems to involve a lot of “investment”, i.e. more government spending.  What they don’t seem to realize is that swing voters probably won’t be able to tell the difference between real centrism and the fake stuff.

Please, GOP politicos, by all means try to convince the public that Obama’s additional spending is more of the same stuff that voters rejected in November.  But don’t be surprised when the public scoffs at our opposition as shallow partisanship.

You see, swing voters are not especially ideological. You might think this is an uncontroversial and uninteresting idea until you start to apply it.  I usually argue the “irrational independents” line from the position of supporting more conservative candidates instead of the empty-headed supposed moderates our party organizations often try to promote, but this knife cuts both ways. When we hear that Obama is attempting to shift to the center, we must remember that this shift needn’t be more than cosmetic in order to be effective. Obama’s “new” ideas  only need to pass a superficial test of sounding plausible to those voters who are least likely to have established ideas about the proper size and scope of government.

The public will see Obama talking about specific “investments” in particular things that they like, such as education and R&D.  The public will hear about business tax breaks recently enacted in the Great Tax Compromise. (Of course, they will not hear about Obama’s previously longstanding opposition to those ideas.)  The public will see Obama’s new corporatist “jobs” panel (or whatever they’re calling it) headed by sycophant CEO Jeff Immelt of General Electric. Obama is “pro-business”, you see!

You can criticize Obama’s policies, but you can’t do it from a perspective that even smells of ideology.  The swing voter will tune you out quicker than a “Best of Ashlee Simpson” video marathon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Magazine Size and the Insurrectionist Doctrine

Daily Caller shares this video as an example of the New Tone on MSNBC strongly resembling the Old Tone, but I want to address what Lawrence O'Donnell is saying, and marry it to another aspect of the gun debate.

O'Donnell is complaining that if magazine sizes were smaller there would have been fewer people killed in the Arizona massacre.  I don't know about that.  There are a lot of ways to kill people.  He could have used a bomb.  Heck, he could have brought two or more guns and not bothered to reload.

But rather than address the limited (and more fruitful and constructive) issue of keeping the mentally ill from getting guns, O'Donnell wants to make sure everybody's gun rights are diminished.

Of course, the gun control crowd doesn't buy into the Insurrectionist Doctrine -- the idea that the people have a natural right of rebellion against any tyrannical government that might arise, and that the right to bear arms acts as a deterrent force against the abuse of power.  Hypocritically, the anti-gunners scoff at the potential effectiveness of an armed rebellion while wailing incessantly about how the guns currently available to the public are too effective.  Sorry, but you can't have it both ways.

Admittedly, this slippery slope has two directions.  It's not unreasonable to suggest that individuals shouldn't be armed with guided missiles, or bio/chemical weapons, etc., but it's just as ridiculous to suggest (as Saturday Night Live did recently) that individuals be limited to muskets and other weapons available in the late 18th Century when the Constitution was written.  Individual arms must be effective.  The crowing about magazine size is a pretext for smothering the real meaning of the Second Amendment.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Partial Defense of Ron Jr

In his new book, Ron Reagan Jr. makes some claims about what he believes were early signs of Alzheimer's disease seen in his father.  Generally speaking I have little respect for Ron Jr., and some of his claims warrant further inspection, but the vehement denials from some of the former President's allies also seem a bit overwrought.

Allahpundit cites this WaPo medical Q-and-A as evidence that Reagan did not have Alzheimer's while in office.  Read it and judge for yourself.  Here is a quote from it, bold added for emphasis:
Wallace, N.C.: Do you think that Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer's during his term as president?

David Shenk: Everyone wants to know that about Reagan, understandably. The short answer is no -- he did not have diagnosable Alzheimer's in the White House.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that creeps up very very slowly, and it was certainly creeping up on him during the late years of his Presidency. He knew that better than anyone, and joked frequently in speeches and with his White House doctors. But it's clear from looking at the evidence that his memory troubles in the White House were much too slight to be considered Alzheimer's.

I'd say that's at least a little ambiguous.

A few points pro and con-Ron Jr.--

  • Family members can often know when something is wrong, even when others are not as perceptive.  Numerous times I was told that my grandfather "seemed fine" when he had been symptomatic for a while -- even after diagnosis.  And no, I don't think these individuals were all just being polite.
  • After consulting with a MD friend of mine, it is possible that a visual inspection of the brain as described in Ron Jr.'s book might have revealed hints of the disease, though certainly not a diagnosis. 
  • By the time Reagan was diagnosed in 1994 he was probably in the "moderate" stage of the disease given the motor deterioration evident in his handwritten letter. It is entirely reasonable to presume that pathological origin of the disease had begun during his Presidency.
  • Even if the disease had begun during his Presidency (as I feel was likely), there is little reason to doubt the sound judgment of President Reagan on policy matters in the earliest stages.  It's not like he was going to forget what the little red button did and accidentally nuke anybody, or do anything idiotic like try to take over health care.  We joke about Zombie Reagan coming back to restore conservatism, but in all seriousness I'll take a 95% capacity Reagan over a 110% capacity Obama.
  • Reagan had a significant cognitive reserve, and would have adapted and performed rather well during the early stages of the disease.
  • While many Americans are emotionally and ideologically attached to Reagan and his legacy, he was, after all, a mere human, subject to human ailments. We should be concerned with the historical facts, not political posturing.

  • Reagan was diagnosed in 1994. Ron Jr.'s claims of symptoms in President Reagan's first term are stretching the believable boundaries of perception of the disease.  Late second term sounds more reasonable to me.
  • Ron Jr. has already had to walk-back part of the story about the surgery to relieve pressure from his brain.  He initially claimed that Reagan was treated in San Diego, then later at the Mayo Clinic, but has revised his story to claim that the initial treatment for the fall happened in Tuscon, and the skull pressure treatment happened two months after the incident of being thrown from his horse.  
  • In revising his story, Ron Jr.'s initial account of "[opening] the President's skull" became "[burrowing] a hole".  This should diminish the likelihood that anything significant was seen.
  • Ron is an idiot with a book to sell.

My doc friend (-who is a Democrat, for what it's worth) called Ron Jr's story (as cited in the above-linked Salon article) "a mix of both plausible and less plausible elements..."  

That sounds about right to me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Halperin Ironically Makes Case For Conservative Vigilance

Today's Morning Joe program was a pretty kum-ba-ya affair with painfully self-aware supposed even-handedness about a "wake up call" for overheated political rhetoric on both sides.  And while the deliberate appeal to the center did not do particular justice to the facts that unfolded, MoJo at least made some effort at common ground.

Yet, in the midst of this saccharine sweetness and appeal to our better nature, Mark Halperin demonstrated that he wasn't paying the least bit of attention to the tone Scarborough was trying to establish.  Rather, he felt the need to denigrate conservatives for doing little other than defending themselves against a baseless attack (via Newsbusters):

You see, Mr. Halperin, we're sick of turning the other cheek. The nutjobs always get blamed on conservatives no matter what their ideology turns out to be, or if they have any at all. Ace-of-Spades listed a number of such instances where conservatives where initially imparted with some or all of the blame: the IRS plane-bomber, the Discovery Channel shooter, the hanged census worker, and the Fort Hood shooter (who according to Chris Matthews was driven by vicarious PTSD).  I'd add to that list the Holocaust museum shooter (who was anything but a conservative) and Lee Harvey Oswald (a defector to the USSR and Cuban sympathizer).  And we shouldn't forget the apparently fabricated reports of the Tea Party's alleged racist insults at black members of Congress.

Many of these fallacious allocations of blame are still to this day reported as fact.  Nobody bothered to report that the census worker actually committed suicide.  Nobody bothered to report that the plane bomber quoted the Communist Manifesto in his writings.  It is still reported as fact that Tea Partiers shouted the "N-word" at black Congressmen despite an utter lack of evidence and an outstanding $100k reward for the same.  We're still stuck with the JFK assassination, for Pete's sake!  ("Deep in the hate of Texas!")

So it doesn't exactly wash with me when Mark Halperin tells conservatives to turn the other cheek.

What Scarborough (let alone Halperin) fails to understand is that the media narrative of "overheated rhetoric" is inherently biased against conservatives since, according to the established media perspective, it is conservatives who are pre-supposed to be more guilty of this than the Left.  This disingenuous appeal for calm is little more than the "shut-up" tactic we know all too well:

Never mind that there is no evidence whatsoever that political rhetoric played any factor in this shooting.  As Halperin's comments confirm, once the topic of popular conversation turns to the tone of our political discourse, the conservative side is already at a disadvantage in the mainstream media.