Full Speed Ahead

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 2:48 PM EST

FULL SPEED AHEAD....As regular readers know, I consider Fareed Zakaria an extremely reliable indicator of trends in mainstream Beltway thinking. So if he says Barack Obama should damn the fiscal torpedoes and move full speed ahead with his legislative agenda, that probably means most of Washington is starting to come around to that idea too.

Well, guess what? That's what Zakaria says. It's yet another piece of evidence that the battleship of state is turning before our eyes.

Advertise on

Big Spender

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 2:21 PM EST

BIG SPENDER....National Review editor Rich Lowry addresses the party faithful today about the reason Republicans got trounced so badly this year:

One temptation will be to say that if only Republicans had stayed truer to the faith, especially on fiscal discipline, none of this would have happened. Earmarks unquestionably contributed to the culture of corruption that has so bedeviled Republicans in recent years. But fighting them became an overriding obsession of some conservatives and of McCain, as if opposing earmarks alone — 1 percent of federal spending — would constitute a winning economic agenda.

As for Bush, he didn't run as a strict fiscal conservative when he was elected in 2000, and he wasn't any more profligate in his second term, when he was roundly rejected by the public, than in his first term, when he was on his way to reelection.

Lowry is right, but it's actually even worse than that. Bush's big spending ways have been overdramatized by the right, but it's true that domestic spending went up during his first three years in office. So did earmarks. And his big Medicare bill was passed in 2003. Did conservatives revolt over this? It sure doesn't look like it. The next year Bush rode a triumphant conservative coalition to reelection and Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate.

But then, starting in 2004, Bush got fairly stingy with his domestic budgets. Result: Republicans took a shellacking in 2006, and two years later took yet another shellacking. This is not exactly great evidence for a nationwide rebellion over profligate spending. In fact, you might even conclude that Americans like profligate spending. Conservatives don't seem to mind it that much either: their rebellion against Bush mostly started after 2005, three years after the 2003 budget was put in place and lower spending had become the order of the day in the Bush White House.

As for earmarks, can we get real here? Lowry is right that they represent a tiny portion of federal spending, but even at that he doesn't tell the whole story. Earmarks merely redirect spending, they don't add spending to the budget. If we got rid of earmarks completely, we'd still spend the same amount of money. It would just get allocated a little differently.

Bottom line (so to speak): Reining in spending and cutting back earmarks might be good things to do from a conservative perspective. But was it spending and earmarks that turned the American public against the Republican Party? Not a chance. My guess is that the answer is pretty much the obvious one: a combination of policy incompetence, an unpopular war, economic dogma that didn't even pretend to take middle class wage stagnation seriously, and an increasingly hard-edged social conservatism that turned off Latinos, seculars, and the young. But big spending? Not so much.

Religion Watch

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 1:21 PM EST

RELIGION WATCH....In the LA Times today, Cathleen Decker repeats the claim that Barack Obama kicked ass among religious voters this year. Let's deconstruct her argument. The first problem is that she has her facts wrong:

Exit polls showed the dramatic effect: Obama won 43% of voters who said they attend church weekly, eight percentage points higher than 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry.

That's not true. Kerry won 39% of weekly churchgoers in 2004. Obama did four percentage points better than Kerry, not eight.

The second problem is that it's irrelevant. Check this out:

"Obama did better than Kerry among pretty much every religious group," said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life who analyzed the poll results.

Even among voters who describe themselves as born-again Christians or evangelicals, a group that tends to vote Republican, Obama improved on Kerry's standing....Yet there is no doubt that secular voters were more supportive of Obama than religious ones, according to the exit poll.

So Obama did better among every religious group and he did better among seculars. Hmmm. It's almost as if Obama did better among everyone!

Which he did. He beat Kerry's overall 2004 total by 4.3 percentage points, which means that doing four points better among weekly churchgoers doesn't mean a thing. What's more, the reason he did even that much better is pretty obvious: blacks and Latinos, who are heavy churchgoers, voted strongly for Obama this year — and needless to say, that had nothing to do with Obama's outreach to the religious community. (In fact, Obama underperformed with white evangelicals.) Decker mentions this, but then plows right through to provide nearly a thousand additional words of anecdotal explanation for Obama's nonexistent surge of support among churchgoers.

Please. Can we stop this? I know we all need stories, and liberals are hungry for evidence that we're making inroads among religious voters. But we aren't. In fact, Obama made up more ground among the nonreligious than he did among the religious. For some reason, though, no one seems interested in writing a story about that.

Obama's Priorities

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 2:07 AM EST

OBAMA'S PRIORITIES....Peter Baker of the New York Times writes today about Barack Obama's plans once he's in office, which start with financial stimulus, an energy plan, healthcare reform, and several other items:

During the campaign, Mr. Obama identified many other priorities — withdrawing from Iraq and talks with Iran, tackling immigration and the issue of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and trade negotiations with the country's North American neighbors.

At the same time, his team is tamping down expectations of instant action by discouraging talk of a 100-day program.

That's music to my ears. Allowing the press to implicitly compare everything you do with FDR's first months in office is a guaranteed way to look like a failure. Besides, while it's true that honeymoons don't last forever, there's no reason they can't last longer than a hundred days, especially when you have substantial congressional majorities working with you. Luckily, Obama seems to understand this:

Mr. Obama's transition advisers studied how Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan and Clinton used their first months. The lesson many drew was that even if various agencies moved forward in many directions, a new president must husband his time, energy and political capital for three dominant priorities at most. Several Obama advisers cited Reagan, who concentrated his early efforts on pushing through major tax cuts and increased military spending.

....In an interview on CNN days before the election, he explicitly ranked his priorities, starting with an economic recovery package that would include middle-class tax relief. His second priority, he said, would be energy; third, health care; fourth, tax restructuring; and fifth, education.

Those priorities sound about right to me. Obviously dealing with the economy is Job 1, but energy and healthcare were the main domestic policy items Obama campaigned on and he has a pretty clear mandate to act on them. (Unlike, say, 2004, when Bush barely mentioned Social Security during the campaign and then pretended he had a mandate to privatize the system. Didn't work out so well for him.) Add Iraq to the mix on the foreign policy side and Obama has a pretty full plate of major policy initiatives for his first year. Add in the usual slew of more modest measures, and we could be in pretty good shape by the end of 2009.

Assuming, of course, that congressional Dems have learned their lesson from 1993 and can put their egos in check enough to actually take some guidance from the guy in the White House. Here's hoping.

I Was Right to Worry About Black Homophobia

| Sat Nov. 8, 2008 6:43 PM EST

Dan Savage savages black homophobia:

Seventy percent of African American voters approved Prop. 8, according to exit polls, compared to 53 percent of Latino voters, 49 percent of white voters, 49 percent of Asian voters.

I'm done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they're out there, and I think they're scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not there are only a "handful of racist gay white men" (and what of racist lesbians and non-white gays?) Dan, as usual, has the biggest pair out there. He's right to demand that blacks explain themselves on this issue.

Lock and Load

| Sat Nov. 8, 2008 2:40 PM EST

LOCK AND LOAD....Turns out that Barack Obama's victory on Tuesday has already stimulated the economy in North Carolina:

Starting in the days before the election, gun shops across the state have been mobbed by buyers who fear that Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress will restrict firearm sales.

...."It's been an absolute madhouse," said Trey Pugh, a manager at Jim's Pawn Shop in Fayetteville, which is selling 15 to 20 AR-15 assault rifles a day. "I'm getting guys come in and say I always wanted that gun, and give me that one too and that one and, oh, I need a gun safe, too." Distributors are running out of assault rifles, he said, and prices are rising.

On the stump, Obama didn't discuss sweeping changes to gun laws. But his stance that local authorities should be able to make "sensible" laws has worried some.

I hope the Colt people are grateful. You can't buy a marketing bonanza like this.

Advertise on

The Fairness Doctrine

| Sat Nov. 8, 2008 1:33 PM EST

THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE....It's true, as Matt says, that the gang at The Corner has been kind of obsessed lately with the idea that Democrats plan to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine after Obama takes office. Bye bye Rush Limbaugh! I started noticing this chit chat a couple of weeks ago and did a bit of desultory googling to try to figure out what they were talking about, but I couldn't find much. It turns out that a few senators over the years have made occasional ritual calls to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, but the bulk of the conservative hyperventilating always eventually linked back to a single sentence in The American Spectator:

According to two members of the House Democrat Caucus, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have informed them that they will "aggressively pursue" reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine over the next six months.

So the Spectator, not exactly known for its deep sources with the Democratic Party, reports that "two members" of the House Democratic caucus claim that Pelosi and Hoyer are going to aggressively pursue reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, this was reported in May of 2007, and unless I missed some big news, Pelosi and Hoyer failed to make their big push.

So why are conservatives in such a tizzy about this? It's a mystery. There do appear to be a few members of Congress who think it's a shame we got rid of the Fairness Doctrine, but as near as I can tell, "few" equals four or five in the Senate and maybe a dozen in the House. There are probably more Republicans who believe in a return to the gold standard than there are Democrats who seriously want to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine.

So I'm still in the dark about why this has taken on such currency in conservative circles. Maybe someone can enlighten me. In the meantime, in other radio-related blogging news (nice segue, eh?), Nick Carr compares the blogosphere to the radio industry here:

When "the wireless" was introduced to America around 1900, it set off a surge in amateur broadcasting, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the airwaves. "On every night after dinner," wrote Francis Collins in the 1912 book Wireless Man, "the entire country becomes a vast whispering gallery."

....But it didn't last. Radio soon came to be dominated by a relatively small number of media companies, with the most popular amateur operators being hired on as radio personalities....That's not to say that the amateur radio operators didn't change the mainstream media. They did. And so, too, have bloggers. Allowing readers to post comments on stories has now, thanks to blogging, become commonplace throughout online publishing. But the once popular idea that blogs would prove to be an alternative to, or even a devastating attack on, corporate media has proven naive.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a panel at UC Irvine and said much the same thing, though I compared the professionalization of the blogosphere to modern talk radio, not 1920s amateur radio. Either way, though, I think Carr is essentially right. To a large (though not complete) extent, the blogosphere doesn't really oppose the MSM anymore, it is the MSM — and vice versa. This was probably inevitable, but it's still kind of a shame. Surely this means that there's now a market for yet another new medium, this time dedicated to criticizing the blogosphere?

CO2 Levels Already in Danger Zone

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 7:08 PM EST

toc-cover-310x250.jpg If we want to avert climate disaster we have to reduce atmospheric CO2 below present levels. Like Right Now.

This is a big change in thinking. Until recently many believed we could emit a wee bit more before calling calamity down upon ourselves and everything else. The new paper in Open Atmospheric Science Journal echoes Bill McKibben's piece in the current Mother Jones: The Most Important Number on Earth.

The number is 350. That's parts per million. Atmospheric CO2 is currently at 385 ppm and increasing by about 2 ppm a year from the burning of coal, oil, and gas and forests. Many thought we could get to 450 ppm before disaster. But the new research is based on improved data on Earth's climate history and ongoing observations of change, especially in the polar regions. The researchers combined evidence of Earth's response to past CO2 changes with recent patterns of climate changes. The results show that atmospheric CO2 has already entered a danger zone.

Melissa Etheridge Says "You Can Forget My Taxes"

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 6:40 PM EST

mojo-photo-melissaetheridge.jpgYou go. Singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge has published a blog entry on Tina Brown's upstart web site "The Daily Beast" in which she responds to the recent passage of California's Proposition 8 by promising she won't pay state taxes any more:

Alright, I get it. 51% of you think that I am a second class citizen. Alright then. So my wife, uh I mean, roommate? Girlfriend? Special lady friend? You are gonna have to help me here because I am not sure what to call her now. Anyways, she and I are not allowed the same right under the state constitution as any other citizen. Okay, so I am taking that to mean I do not have to pay my state taxes because I am not a full citizen. I mean that would just be wrong, to make someone pay taxes and not give them the same rights, sounds sort of like that taxation without representation thing from the history books.

Hey, can we do that? Well, as much as I'm all about a creative class tax cut, my meager, scattershot, and often-cash income, plus the ability to write off just about everything I do (please don't audit me!) means the whole "not paying taxes" thing wouldn't be much of a protest in my house. Here's my suggestion: let's make Mormons' fears real, and try and destroy as many happy heterosexual marriages as we can. I'll meet you at the Pitt-Jolie mansion, Melissa. Wear something sexy, we've got work to do.

Bush Appoints Lee Greenwood to National Arts Council

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 5:48 PM EST

mojo-photo-leegreenwood.jpgBoy, good old George W. Bush sure is going down fighting. It turns out that his efforts to screw things up as much as possible before he leaves office aren't just confined to the environment: Vulture catches that right before the election, Bush snuck "God Bless the USA" singer Lee Greenwood on to the National Council on the Arts, a 14-member commission that reviews and recommends grant applications to the NEA. Council members serve 6-year terms, and I'm pretty sure Bush can count that high--Greenwood will be the only Bush appointee to serve all four years of Obama's first term. My suggestion to Obama: Maybe appoint the surviving members of the Wu-Tang Clan as seats open up?