Thursday, 29 January 2004
I've written before about how President Bush has missed opportunities that a better politician would have recognized—so, in the spirit of fair play, here's one that Howard Dean missed: He should have smacked down Al Sharpton in the pre-Iowa debate. Sharpton had attacked Dean for not having a person of color in his cabinet during his term of office as Vermont governor, conveniently ignoring details like Vermont's population (97% white) and the size of Dean's cabinet (five). But a politician can't hide behind facts and figures on a personal issue like this one, because the resulting response sounds too much like the classic racist's lament: I'd like to hire more people of color, really I would, but I just couldn't find any qualified candidates. Oh darn.
Dean is usually fast on his feet, but for this challenge he didn't come up with a good response: He simply replied with a soft "no," which avoided the trap of making excuses but failed to deflect the attack. The slam-dunk response was: "No, but if that's how you measure a person's commitment to diversity, then George W. Bush is your candidate. Bush has more African-Americans in his cabinet than I ever had in Vermont—but my support for diversity is more than skin deep," etc., and then segue into a list of diversity-related Dean achievements. It would have been a two-fer attack on Shartpon and Bush that ended on a Dean high note, reminded pundits of Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment in '92, and gave Dean leverage to expand his appeal to the center—which is exactly what he needed (and still needs) to do.
Instead, Dean now faces the more difficult task, especially in this shortened primary season, of broadening his support base while laboring in Kerry's shadow. If he'd played to the center while the spotlight was still on him, it would have paid more dividends: Maybe not enough to counter the five-on-one mugging that Dean received in Iowa, but perhaps enough to make a difference in New Hampshire and the February states. It's way too early to roll out Dean's political obituary (which, if it ever gets written, will not suffer from a lack of co-authors), but his road to the nomination is now steeper than it could have been.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:48 am. comments.
Thursday, 22 January 2004
Jekyll and Hyde.
The question now for Howard Dean and John Kerry is: Who'll be more successful at fixing his image problem in the next five days? If New Hampshire nominates John Kerry, do they get the savvy veteran candidate we saw in Iowa last week, or the dead man campaigning we saw the month before? If they vote for Howard Dean, do they get the centrist governor with the record of fiscal responsibility, or the scary angry man who frightens moderates away?
In some ways Dean has the bigger problem: The GOP spin machine has been ruthlessly attacking him since the day he jumped out in front—and his fellow Democrats, in their usual circular-firing-squad formation, have done their level best to hamstring their own front-runner. If Kerry had emerged as the lead candidate months ago, millions of dollars would have been spent by now to convince you that Kerry is a tempermental, unelectable, elitist, flip-flopping coward who's against war when he's in uniform and supports a war when he's not. If Kerry emerges as the nominee, millions of dollars will be spent on exactly that kind of mudslinging; the question is whether Kerry will rise to the challenge, as he did in Iowa… or flop around like a dying fish, like he did from July to December.
But Kerry wasn't the front-runner, and so Dean has all the baggage. Seven days a week, for three solid months, the drum has been beating: Dean is angry, the GOP whispered. Red-faced, murmured Fox News. Unfit for office, said the cynical reporters. Mentally unstable, thundered the right-wing columnist. A raving lunatic, screamed the call-in radio show! A dangerous threat to the very foundation of our society! My God, it's Howard Dean! He's come for the children!! RUN!!! RUUNNNNN!!!! AAAAGGGH!!!!! …and so it goes.
The good news for Dean is that it's fairly easy to poke a hole in the "Dean is angry" premise: All you have to do is relax, laugh, and enjoy yourself. Four years ago the GOP whisper campaign was "Gore's a liar," are Gore never found an effective counter—in spite of the fact that Gore had been a squeaky-clean Boy Scout throughout his political career. If Dean were as angry as the smear campaign says, there'd be a parade of Vermont politicians on the talk-show circuit telling us about the day Dean ransacked the Governor's mansion or had to be restrained from striking a fellow politician. But there isn't, because he wasn't. Dean's not really an angry guy… but he only has five days to demonstrate that, before the people of New Hampshire make their choice.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:04 am. comments.
Tuesday, 20 January 2004
For the benefit of my Australian readers
who are wondering what's happening with American politics right now (or, more to the point, are wondering what the heck I'm talking about these days), here's a brief summary of the American political scene.
First, the basics. America has two major political parties, and a Presidential election every four years. The Republicans are America's right-wing party, and their candidate is George W. Bush; his domestic policies have centered on cutting taxes (and, some would argue, on spending money like a drunken sailor), and I'll assume you're already familiar with his foreign policies.
The Democrats are the left-wing party, formerly led by Bill Clinton, and they're now in the process of deciding who will run against Bush in 2004. (America also has a Green Party, which got about 2% of the vote in 2000—which, if Al Gore had received those votes instead, would have given him a narrow victory over George W. Bush.)
There are eight candidates running for the Democratic nomination, which is decided by a series of caucuses and primaries in the 50 U.S. states. The first caucus is always in Iowa (it's a tradition), and the first primary in New Hampshire, so these states become very important for building early momentum and winning the later contests.
The eight candidates are from a variety of backgrounds, and each has his own set of strengths and weaknesses. (The lone female candidate, former U.S. Senator and New Zealand Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun, dropped out of the race last week.) Keeping in mind that I've already declared for Dean, here is a brief and mostly unbiased rundown of each candidate:
Dean served for ten years as the Governor of Vermont, a small state (bordering New Hampshire) in the upper northeast corner of the United States. He was a doctor before he entered politics, and in Vermont he balanced the budget and addressed health care needs. Dean opposed the Iraq war on the grounds that the Bush Administration misled the American people (and the world) in making its case for war, and that the administration failed to plan adequately for Iraq's post-war reconstruction.
Strengths: Dean has created the most innovative political campaign in recent memory, a self-organizing juggernaut that uses the Internet to rally supporters from across the 50 states (and around the world). He has raised a volunteer army and collected an unprecedented $40 million in funding, relying on millions of small donations instead of the usual big checks from the wealthy, and his candor and "Washington outsider" status resonate with voters who are tired of politics-as-usual. Dean's appeal is strongest among young voters, the upper middle class, and those who opposed the Iraq war.
Weaknesses: With his anti-war position and his "I want my country back" slogan, Dean's opponents have portrayed him as being "too angry" for the mainstream, and suggested that Dean will be "unelectable" against Bush. Dean's off-the-cuff remarks have landed him in hot water on occasion; his comment immediately after Saddam Hussein's capture—that America was no safer as a result—left him open to a series of harsh political attacks. Dean has little foreign policy experience, and is perceived as unlikely to win votes in the American South. To date he has refused to unseal the records from his term of office as Vermont governor, which weakens his claim to improve over Bush in matters of openness and accountability.
Analysis: Dean needs a win in either Iowa or New Hampshire to prove he can expand his support beyond his base; if he wins either race, he is likely to be the nominee. Dean is probably the only candidate who can raise enough money to approach Bush's $170 million war chest; with a running mate who appeals to the South and brushes up his foreign policy credentials, Dean has a good chance to unseat Bush in November.
Clark was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the war in Kosovo. A four-star general, he played a vital role in the Dayton peace accords and recently testified against Slobodan Milosevic before the International Criminal Court. Clark's position on the Iraq war was that Bush failed to enlist the support of NATO and the United Nations, both of whom are necessary to ensure our post-conflict success. Clark is from Arkansas, a Southern state that was also the home of President Bill Clinton.
Strengths: Clark can go toe-to-toe with Bush as a strong military leader who can protect America from terrorists, and has the Balkans example to illustrate that he can also win the peace. Clark has assembled his own grassroots campaign on the Internet, which—although not as impressive as Dean's—has helped him gather momentum and donations. For Democrats who worry that voters prefer Republicans when it comes to matters of national security, Clark is the antidote that puts the party back in contention.
Weaknesses: Clark has never held public office at any level, and his campaign got off to a slow, late start: He conceded the Iowa race before it began, and focused instead on New Hampshire. He's perceived as a candidate who "looks good on paper," but who may not be the real deal; opponents have accused him of being a Republican in sheep's clothing, and his appeal to women voters has been highlighted as a problem. Clark's position on the war was initially unclear and he has since been accused of flip-flopping, although his supporters will vigorously defend him against this charge.
Analysis: After Dean, Clark is the most likely candidate to win the nomination—primarily on the strength of his military background and the tacit support from Bill and Hillary. He appeals to swing voters who preferred Clinton's domestic policies, but mistrust the Democrats' foreign policy instincts; if enough people fall into that category, and enough people trust Clark to be a genuine Democrat, then he could defeat Bush in the election.
A Vietnam veteran, Kerry rose to prominence when he testified before Congress in 1971, urging future Senate colleagues to end the war and bring his fellow soldiers home. Kerry has represented Massachusetts (which shares a border with New Hampshire) in the U.S. Senate since 1984, and as a Senator he supported deficit reduction, campaign finance reform, and public education improvements. Kerry voted in favor of the Iraq war, but has since expressed his displeasure with Bush's handling of the effort.
Strengths: A last-minute surge in Iowa has propelled Kerry back into the limelight; at one point he was considered the likely front-runner. Kerry has a military background and political experience, which means he can challenge Bush's wartime credentials and appeal to dyed-in-the-wool Democrats.
Weaknesses: Until last week, Kerry's campaign was considered dead on arrival. His on-again, off-again support for the Iraq war has cost him dearly on both sides of that fence, and his polling numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire had been in free-fall. Kerry was forced to dip into his own personal fortune to keep his campaign alive; he faces questions about whether he has the funding and support to go the distance. Kerry's wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry (heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune), is a loose cannon who could easily damage his chances.
Analysis: If Kerry can pull off victories in both Iowa and New Hampshire, his campaign will come off life support and rally the "anybody but Dean" vote. Kerry needs for Gephardt, Lieberman and Clark to drop out of the race quickly, because he doesn't have the stamina or the funding to outlast them.
Gephardt is a 26-year veteran of the House of Representatives, representing the state of Missouri (which borders Iowa). As the Democratic Party's leader in the House, Gephardt steered Clinton's budget proposals through Congress, helped enact campaign finance reform laws, and has been a consistent supporter of American farmers and labor unions. Gephardt voted in favor of the Iraq war, but has since criticized Bush's handling of the reconstruction.
Strengths: Gephardt won the Iowa caucus in 1988, when he last ran for President, and has a veteran campaign organization there. His protectionist stance and universal health care plan appeals to voters who feel threatened by economic uncertainty.
Weaknesses: Gephardt is a loyal, hard-working, and widely admired party leader, but he lacks the crucial ability to spark passion—his supporters admire him, but they don't put their lives on hold and campaign for him. He is at least partially to blame for the Democrats' poor showing in the 2002 mid-term elections.
Analysis: Gephardt will withdraw after the New Hampshire primary.
A trial lawyer serving his first term in the Senate, Edwards represents the East Coast state of North Carolina. Edwards has run an issues-oriented campaign with comprehensive proposals on taxation, health care and education reform.
Strengths: Edwards is a dynamite public speaker, and he's running a campaign with an optimistic message. His campaign has avoided personal attacks, and he is slowly rising above the fray as the other candidates drag themselves into the mud. Everyone expects him to be back in 2008 or 2012.
Weaknesses: His youth and inexperience make him a fresh face in the primaries, but would likely count against him in a general election. Bush operatives would have a field day with his trial-lawyer background. He has very little foreign policy experience, and the first candidate to turn his guns on Edwards will pop him like a balloon.
Analysis: Look for Edwards to become a rising star in the Democratic Party, but not to win this year's nomination.
Lieberman was Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 election, and is a third-term Senator from Connecticut (near New Hampshire). He was among the first Democrats to condemn Bill Clinton's behavior during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and championed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. He supported and still supports the Iraq war.
Strengths: He appeals to "liberal hawk" voters who strongly supported the war but are less enamored with Bush's domestic policies.
Weaknesses: Lieberman's support for the war is a tough sell to Democrats who want a lot of daylight between their standard-bearer and George Bush. Lieberman skipped Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, where he'll be overshadowed by Clark and the Iowa winners; without a New Hampshire victory to breathe life into his campaign, and without Gore's support in 2004, Lieberman has little hope of winning the nomination.
Analysis: Lieberman will withdraw after the New Hampshire primary.
A Congressman from Ohio since 1994, Kucinich is best known for his campaign promise to remove American troops from Iraq within 90 days of taking office.
Strengths: By refusing to bolt for the Green Party, Kucinich encourages the 2.74% of Americans who voted for Ralph Nader to stick with the Democrats in '04.
Weaknesses: While a significant number of Americans may feel that Bush misled them in the buildup to the Iraq war, the overwhelming majority realize that it would be the height of folly to withdraw our troops now. Bush would easily defeat Kucinich in a national election.
Analysis: Kucinich will use his might-defect-to-the-Greens card as leverage to extract a few promises, but then fall faithfully in line behind the party's nominee.
An African-American minister from New York, Sharpton is best known to national audiences for a 1987 incident involving an African-American teenager named Tawana Bradley, who falsely accused a group of white men of rape.
Strengths: He appeals to African-American voters, particularly in New York.
Weaknesses: He is not taken seriously as a candidate, being perceived more as a kingmaker-wannabe than an actual contender for the nomination. Sharpton has so many skeletons in his closet that it's a wonder he can fit any clothes in there.
Analysis: He will extract what promises he can from the party's eventual nominee, and then throw his support behind that person.
The Iowa caucus will begin about 12 hours from now, and we should know the results by mid-afternoon, local time; the polls are showing a dead heat between Kerry, Dean, Edwards and Gephardt, but Dean and Gephardt have much stronger teams on the ground, which is important in a caucus. (A caucus is a series of "town meeting"-style events across a state, each of which selects a candidate according to a set of rules that probably made more sense back in 1880 when they started doing this. A primary is just like a regular election, except that it chooses the nominee. Also, caucuses allow preferential voting under some conditions, so it may be important who your second choice is; primaries and general elections in the USA do not use preferential voting.)
Hope this helps illuminate something, other than the fact that I have too much free time. Stay tuned for a post-Iowa analysis of who's likely to win the nomination.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:00 am. comments.
Saturday, 17 January 2004
I Fought the Law:
Of all the blogs I've discovered over the past few years, the one that never ceases to amaze me is Howard Bashman's How Appealing. Day in, day out, the man takes a topic that by all rights should be deathly dull — appellate litigation — and makes it enjoyable, informative, and even educational for an engineer like me. If someone had told me two years ago that I'd be reading federal appeals court decisions for the entertainment value, or that a site dedicated to that narrow topic would rank among the web's most popular destinations, I'd have never believed it.
That said, I am going to destroy Howard Bashman in the Best Australian Blog competition. Why, you ask? Because I'm actually in Australia, that's why! Who the heck nominated a blog about the U.S. legal system as the best darn blog in the Land Down Under? (Not that I'm exactly dipped in vegemite myself, what with being an American and all, but at least I'm here in Oz, gosh darn it!)
I don't care how many times Bashman sends his swarming minions to the polls: I'm going to beat him anyway. You hear me, Howard? I even cover Australian legal issues, in a completely haphazard and incomplete fashion! How can you possibly compete with that, huh? Huh? Didn't think so.
I'd withdraw and spare myself the embarrassment, really. There's just no contest.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:16 am. comments.
Saturday, 17 January 2004
Three months later
the photos from my six-week vacation to Japan, Sweden, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia and the Czech Republic (not in that order) are finally online. (Check the blog archives from October and November for some on-the-spot blogging from various exotic places.)
My photos are all free for the taking under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial license; you don't need my permission to use them in your non-commerical newsletter, web site, or other work, provided you (1) give me a photo credit and (2) use your own bandwidth. (There's a home page on the Free Republic web site linking directly to one of my photos of Cambodian torture victims [and using it as the punch line for a joke about a local homeowner's association, I think], which is why I bring this up.)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:17 am. comments.
Thursday, 15 January 2004
Piiigs… iiinnn… SPAAAAACE!
I'd be the first in line to support a serious proposal for revitalizing America's manned space program—but when the proposal arrives sandwiched between two billion-dollar helpings of election-year pork, I begin to suspect that space exploration isn't really the goal here.
I'm a big, big believer in Dr. Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" proposal for a manned mission to Mars. Zubrin, an aerospace engineer, worked out a plan for visiting Mars that is dramatically cheaper and simpler than the alternatives: It uses the Martian atmosphere and high school-level chemistry to manufacture rocket fuel on Mars, allowing spacecraft to arrive with empty tanks and refuel for the return journey. Given NASA's budget, Zubrin's plan could not only send men to Mars but establish a permanent base there within ten years.
Bush's plan, like his father's, calls for a mission to Mars. It also calls for a space station on the moon, retiring the shuttle, building a next-generation spacecraft, and apparently for sending every registered voter in Texas, Florida and Alabama on a joyride into orbit. Like Bush's other proposals, it has no provisions for how to fund these wonderful things—except for the dangerously popular "borrow the money from Japan and China" technique, which has become our approach for everything from Medicare to immigration. Supply-side economics were irresponsible in the eighties; when the baby-boomers are a few short years away from draining our federal treasury dry, they're a recipe for ruin.
So, while I'm glad to see NASA getting attention and publicity (and goodness knows the agency could use a little revitalizing), I'm not impressed by yet another brazen attempt to buy my vote—and with borrowed money, no less. We'll talk about space travel when the government is on a sound financial footing again, but right now I want a return to fiscal sanity more than I want a return to the moon.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:32 am. comments.
Tuesday, 13 January 2004
because it's true.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:38 am. comments.
Tuesday, 13 January 2004
Why you green-blooded, inhuman—
I stopped reading Steven Den Beste several weeks ago, after one of his Tolstoy-sized epics began with the disclaimer "This is preposterously long"—the idea of an article so long that Steven was obliged to issue a warning sent me screaming off to Instapundit for some short and pithy right-wing blogging. Since then I've skimmed a few of Steven's more digestible novels, but I haven't really paid full attention.
I think what Steven has been saying lately, though (in his own uniquely wordy way), is that we're living in a Harrison Bergeron world, and the players are divided into three camps:
- The Harrison Bergerons (a.k.a. the Right) are the strong, powerful types that the other two groups want to keep in chains. They have rational minds, believe in equal opportunity (but not equal outcome), want to achieve their fullest potential, and think of the less fortunate as weak and inferior beings.
- The George and Hazel Bergerons (a.k.a. the Left) are slavishly devoted to equality of outcome, even if it means that everyone is held to the lowest common demoninator. They're willing to handicap themselves in order to "make things fair" for the disadvantaged, and they value consensus regardless of whether it's right or wrong.
- And the Diana Moon Glampers-es (a.k.a. "the Islamists") would rather see Harrison dead than allow him to soar above his fellow beings. In Vonnegut's story, Glampers is a government official called the Handicapper General, but she suffers from no self-imposed hardships; she merely imposes them—forcefully—upon others.
At least, these are the nuggets of content I've panned out of a river of authentic frontier gibberish (p-idealism? Transactional possessives?) that Steven has penned as of late.
John W. Gardner was the founder of Common Cause—a public-interest group dedicated to public accountability and open government—and was the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Gardner wrote a book which I highly recommend to anyone concerned about "equality of opportunity" vs. "equality of outcome:" Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too?
Gardner recognized a few basic points about the two kinds of equality that are worth repeating here: Equality of opportunity, while highly desirable, is often impossibly difficult to measure by scientific means. You can't get an MRI scan of the hiring manager's head that will tell you whether she's screening by qualifications or by color, and human beings are differentiated in so many ways that it's almost impossible to isolate the variables. You can't find a person who is identical to yourself in every aspect but gender, and then run you both through some double-blind tests in order to have a control variable.
Equality of outcome, on the other hand, is seductively easy to measure: You just divide people into categories and then compare the percentages to the general population. Simple. Reproducible. Scientific, to an extent—although the Harrison Bergerons of the world will immediately shout out "correlation does not prove causation!" and be justified in doing so. Science (or, more properly, the "scientific method" of experimentation and peer review) doesn't offer nearly as many tools for investigating a situation that can't be reproduced and repeated: There isn't any way that a model of "global warming" can be proven, for example. We can just go around in circles indefinitely, questioning the initial assumptions of the modelers, until the earth either boils or freezes over—at which point somebody will be proven right, but it'll be too late to take action.
Gardner also recognizes that "equality of outcome" should not be a goal in itself, although a reasonable concern over outcomes is healthy for our society: If failed business ventures led directly to starvation, there'd be a lot fewer entrepreneurs… and if there isn't any movement from poverty to wealth and vice versa, then society stagnates and becomes politically unstable. True equality of outcome, if enforced, would remove all incentive for excellence and leave us with a lazy man's socialism: The hardest worker and the least competent slacker would both get the same paycheck. What we (as a society) really want is equal outcomes for equal input, which is extraordinarily difficult to measure, and which leads us into all sorts of difficult gaming-the-system traps.
Gardner didn't offer any pat answers to this dilemma, because there aren't any; he did argue, though, that the underlying ambition should always be to produce excellence in every endeavor—that a society which passively accepts mediocrity was already in a state of decline.
Going back to Steven's dissertation—which, as I understand it, will be concluded with a third part (Return of the King?) sometime in the near future—I'm obliged to point out: Steven is setting up an elaborately detailed straw man, for what will undoubtedly be an epic demolition. Steven's caricature of the lit-crit professor in his ivory tower, turning his back on the scientific method and spinning out subjective jargon/babble for other solipsists to digest and validate, is what you get when the Right fantasizes about the opponent it would most like to debate. This isn't going to lead to any valuable insights about the gap between Left and Right; it's not even going to lead to a reasoned, objective examination of opposing views.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:18 am. comments.
Tuesday, 13 January 2004
Last month I wrote that President Bush had a window of opportunity to capitalize on Saddam's capture, and announce changes to his Iraq policy from a position of strength: Like Lincoln after Antietam, Bush had a rare chance to issue proclamations that at other times might have been dismissed as desperation.
But where Lincoln took advantage of the opening provided by Antietam, Bush has allowed the leverage he could have gained from Saddam's capture to slowly ebb away without any action on his part. Having Saddam behind bars boosted initiatives that Bush had already begun, such as James Baker's arm-twisting junket to convince foreign leaders to forgive Iraqi debts—and, of course, it helped our troops' ongoing efforts to establish the rule of law in Iraq. But Bush didn't capitalize on the moment of Saddam's arrest to announce any new policies or improve existing ones.
Bush could have presented a timetable for Iraq's first democratic elections, a plan to reconstitute the Iraqi army, or even recycled his ill-timed speech from November announcing a shift in U.S. policy and our newfound desire to promote democracy in the Mideast. (Imagine how much more effective that speech would have been, had it come on the heels of Saddam's incarceration!) In mid-December Bush could have enacted these policies and thrown a combination punch at his political foes; instead he landed a glancing blow, one that Dean and company will shake off before November. In another month Saddam's capture will be old news (if it isn't already), and Bush may be defensively explaining how our armies got into the briar patch—or why he diverted our troops from more pressing concerns, such as the continuing pursuit of Osama.
In any case, changes to Iraq policy will now (once again) be spun as evidence that Karl Rove is desperately trying to shore up Bush's polling numbers in time for the elections. The window has closed, and Bush missed the opportunity.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:15 am. comments.
Monday, 12 January 2004
If Russell Crowe can win American movie awards…
then apparently I can be a nominee in the 2004 Australian Blog Awards, in spite of my distinct lack of Australian-ness. (I'm in Australia, yes, but I'm not of Australia, if you know what I mean. Then again, I am a permanent resident now—and the other nominees include both an Aussie in Japan and the ubiquitous Howard Bashman, who at last count was an American citizen based in Philadelphia who blogs about decisions of the U.S. appellate court system. What was I worried about again?)
I'm not sure what the prize is (a Dave Winer-shaped statuette?) but of course (ahem) it's an honor just to be nominated.
Memo to self: Take out full-page ad in Variety, send out screener copies of blog…
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:45 am. comments.
Monday, 12 January 2004
"70% of success in life is showing up."
Believe it or not, the Howard Dean campaign is mobilizing here in Sydney, Australia. Regardless of your political views, you have to admit that Dean and his team have reinvented the modern election campaign (and, possibly, the modern Democratic Party): No one will run for office in the future without studying Dean's techniques.
I think it was back in October when I first read that the Dean campaign was using meetup.com to organize its supporters. Out of curiosity I visited the site, and discovered there were about a dozen Dean supporters in the Sydney area; they were trying to organize their first meeting, and didn't quite have the numbers to pull it off (a meetup requires at least five RSVPs).
So I signed myself up. I hadn't made up my mind yet on a candidate, but I wanted to see first-hand the results of Dean's little experiment in applied democracy: How would it work? What could American expats in Australia possibly do that would make a difference to the Dean campaign, aside from sitting way over here on the sidelines?
The November meetup came and went, without enough people in Sydney to have one. But in December there were exactly enough RSVPs: We had the minimum of five, and no more. I had signed up for something called "meetup plus" when I registered (it was an extra $20—I chalked it up to research), so I was nominally the host of the meetup, and dutifully printed out the materials the Dean campaign sent me. I also brought along all the information I could find about requesting an absentee ballot from overseas, since I figured anyone living abroad would need to know that.
Five people attended December's Dean meetup in Sydney: Myself, three people from the Australian media (!), and the head of the Democratic Party's expat chapter in Australia. We had a lively off-the-record discussion of Dean's campaign and American politics in general, which didn't do very much to boost Dean's chances in Iowa or in November—but you know the old saying about how avalanches start: One pebble at a time.
Last week we had the January Dean meetup, with nine people in attendance. Most had never been to a political meeting before, and their enthusiasm ranged from fence-sitters to passionate Dean supporters. We're sending hand-written letters to undecided Iowa voters (won't they be surprised by the airmail stamps) and talking about how we can reach out to other expats.
Somewhere along the way (in life as well as this narrative) I started referring to "Dean supporters" with words like we and us. It's surprising how that can happen; heck, it's downright amazing that it can happen, considering that I'm over 10,000 miles from Vermont and (until now) my political activism had been limited to voting. (Admittedly I've been writing about politics quite a bit lately, but this is also a recent development: When I lived in the States I mustered up just enough energy to vote every couple of years, but otherwise I was a bystander at the coliseum.)
Every human being has the desire—the need—to be a part of something that is greater than themselves. It's a permanent condition of the human spirit, and it motivates people to move mountains. When Howard Dean gets up in front of an audience and says his signature phrase, "you have the power," he is speaking directly to that want. And I respect and admire him for that, even as I may disagree with some of Dean's positions (which, I'm sure, I'll be writing about in the future). In no small part, though, I've gotten involved in the Dean campaign because I could—and because the Dean campaign made it easy. You just have to show up.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:38 am. comments.
Tuesday, 06 January 2004
Alert reader Joshua Scholar is the first, including myself, to realize that I accidentally enabled comments earlier this afternoon. I've been fiddling around behind the scenes for about a week now, trying to get the Blosxom "writeback" plugin ready for prime time, and I inadvertently left it turned on when I posted my most recent article.
The plugin still has a few configuration issues, though (as Joshua was also first to notice, alas): I've managed to quickly fix the problem where paragraph breaks were being ignored, but the counters that show the number of comments per entry are still not updating in real time. (I also suspect that comments will look terrible on any style sheet other than the default one, but I haven't had time to check this yet.) I suppose having the comments "go live" will give me an incentive to fix these bugs right away, rather than procrastinating for another week… so, depending on your perspective, my blunder might be considered a good thing.
Anyhoo, I am delighted to discover that people are leaving comments, even if the technology isn't all there yet—I think I secretly suspected that my readership consists of my immediate family, four other bloggers, and LiveJournal's jackslack, so I'm glad to know that other people are reading, and to provide a forum for debate. (I should probably develop a comments policy or something; for now just pretend that my mother is reading the comments, since she probably is.) I'll see what I can do about smoothing out the rough edges, but in the meantime feel free to kick the tires.
Update: I think it's ready for prime time now (or, at least, no less ready than the rest of the blog). Jeff from Canned Platypus has also confessed that, although his blog is named after an item found in every tourist-trap souvenir shop from Sydney to Perth and back, he isn't actually an Aussie or an expat… so I've updated my blogroll to respect truth-in-advertising laws, and while I'm at it to include some new and interesting expat voices. (Besides, how can I not link to a blog named A Geek in Korea?)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:13 am. comments.
Tuesday, 06 January 2004
An Officer and a Scoundrel:
On occasion I've read some thought-provoking articles by one Ralph Peters, a retired Army Intelligence officer. Peters has shown himself capable of intelligent, coherent debate on the subject of Mideast policy, for example; I don't always agree with everything he says (heck, I don't always agree with everything I say), but until now I respected him as a rational person whose insights were worth reading.
Until I read this lapse of judgement in today's New York Post, that is. In a paroxysm of rage and loathing, Peters has unloaded his bile ducts into a vile op-ed piece about the Howard Dean campaign: He compares Dean to Hitler, Dean's supporters to the Brownshirts, and Dean's Internet campaign to the Gestapo. Listen to this:
Dean was already practicing the Big Lie. Montreal was just a stop on his journey from Munich to Berlin. He was already looking around for his Leni Riefenstahl.
Listen to Dean's rhetoric, especially on security and international issues. He never offers specifics; it's all hocus-pocus. He knows how best to deal with terrorists. We voters from the humble Volk need to take it on trust.
This is not the stuff of which a rational argument is made. Nor, for that matter, does it contribute to a discussion of the various Presidential candidates and their merits. It is, in fact, exactly the sort of thing that Ralph Peters would condemn (while a chorus of Bill O'Reillys and Glenn Reynoldses tsked in outrage) if it showed up at, say, MoveOn.org in a homemade campaign commercial by some random nobody.
But apparently if the same odious comparisons are directed at a Democrat, and with the same lack of evidence to justify them, that's just fine and dandy. No problem there. Heck, we don't even need to assume that the author is some no-name minority of one: A paid columnist of the Post can compare Howard Dean to the Führer, and apparently no one will blink an eye.
If I took these same paragraphs, and changed one word in each…
Bush was already practicing the Big Lie. Montreal was just a stop on his journey from Munich to Berlin. He was already looking around for his Leni Riefenstahl.
Listen to Bush's rhetoric, especially on security and international issues. He never offers specifics; it's all hocus-pocus. He knows how best to deal with terrorists. We voters from the humble Volk need to take it on trust.
…the Right would be screaming to high Heaven. If Robert Fisk or Noam Chomsky or one of the Right's other whipping-boys had written the above, you'd have read about it by now in every blog from here to Tacitus and back.
You're a hypocrite and a scoundrel, Ralph Peters. You're a symptom of a larger problem, where the extreme Left and Right of our political spectrum have given up trying to work with—or even speak to—each other. Instead they trade charges of treason and fascism across the no-man's-land of the political center, turning our elections into winner-take-all contests that deny our democracy the free exchange of ideas. I had once thought Ralph Peters held to a higher standard than that, but in the future I'll regard his words with the same low esteem I give to Ann Coulter or Michael Moore: Just another clown in the demagogue circus; not to be taken seriously.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:33 am. comments.
Friday, 02 January 2004
Vote early, vote often.
If you're an American citizen living abroad (like me), it's time to mail in your 2004 request for an absentee ballot—don't wait until the week before the polls open, because it'll be too late by then. Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) web site, download the instructions for the U.S. state you last lived in, and mail in the forms with your signature. It takes all of ten minutes and a stamp.
If you're not already registered to vote, then (a) shame on you, and (b) the site also has instructions on registering to vote from overseas, although this is slightly more difficult (the requirements vary by state). I don't care whether you're a Democrat, Libertarian, Free Soil, Whig, or even a (shudder) Republican—you should participate in the grand American experiment in democracy, no matter what your political stripe.
The 2004 election could make a huge difference in the lives of Americans living abroad, to say nothing of everyone else. Don't miss it!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 4:06 am. comments.
Thursday, 01 January 2004
Secrets and lies.
While John Ashcroft's recusal from the Valerie Plame investigation made waves throughout the blogosphere, the other story that broke this week got little ink from our circle of pundits: Condi Rice is trying to avoid testifying under oath before the federal commission investigating the 9/11 attacks.
There's a reason why our National Security Adviser might not make full disclosure when answering certain questions, or why she might not even be able to answer them in public. There is one legitimate reason, and it is this: The answers to certain questions might reveal to Our Enemies things that We The People would prefer they didn't know. For example, if someone were foolish enough to ask Rice "Do we currently have a mole inside Al Qaeda?", then Rice would be justified in refusing to answer; we wouldn't want to reveal to Osama that a member of his inner circle was on our side. Not now. Maybe in 2040 when it's a moot point, but not today.
But, aside from the case where the public good requires a private confidence, there is no other reason why a United States Government official can justify keeping secrets from the American people. (There is one other reason for the government to keep a secret—to respect a citizen's right to privacy, on something like tax returns or medical records—but that doesn't apply here.) Representative democracy requires accountability to the people; without it, we have no basis for deciding how to choose our representatives.
The question of when a government official can lie to the people is even more extreme: Aside from an actual battlefield maneuver (the D-Day invasion, say, or Iraq's "Shock and Awe" campaign), I can't think of any reason that a public servant could justify lying to the public. It mocks the idea of a well-informed electorate, and violates the principles of a government by the people; it opens the door for unethical politicians to take advantage of our trust, and to use "national security" as an insincere ploy for putting their own petty interests ahead of ours.
With that in mind, I have no sympathy for Condi Rice's desire to avoid testifying under oath. The people have a legitimate, bipartisan interest in understanding the events that led to the 9/11 attacks, and how we might prevent terrorists from succeeding again in the future; this isn't a partisan witch hunt in disguise, unlike certain other "investigations" I could mention.
I really can't see how the public interest would be served through Condi Rice lying to the 9/11 commission—and I can't think of any other reason why Rice would seek to avoid testifying under oath. I have no qualms with Rice or other officials responding to a question with "I can't reveal that information at this time," but seeking to evade the oath outright is simply seeking to evade the legal consequences of breaking the oath.
The oath is there for a reason, and the reason is to protect the public interest. I'd like to see Rice take it.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:39 am. comments.