Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Next Generation of Politics


Every generation goes through the vanity that they have discovered something truly unique. In some cases, the belief is renewed that the new generation has found a new truth. Sometimes it's even true.

I think we've reached that place in American Politics again. Reading through Craig Shirley's book about the 1976 Republican primary race, "Reagan's Revolution", I was struck by Shirley's insights - and his mistakes, as well. Comes with perspective, that.

There is a lot of talk right now about the Democrats being at a crossroads. That's true; the Democrats have been losing every level I can see for the better part of the last ten years. They have not won the White House since 1996, and have not had a majority Popular Vote in a Presidential race since 1976. They have lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and continue to lose both proportion of the Congress, and relevance in their participation. It is not unreasonable to say the Democratic Party is in crisis.

The same is true of the Republican Party, however. Even with the majority control in Congress, there is doubt about the fate of some major initiatives, as some Republicans refuse to follow the leadership. The "big tent" philosophy of the GOP means that they do not always have the votes to follow through.

This brings us to the next generation of voters. In addition to the traditional tools, the Internet in general, and Blogs in particular, provide options and research material, as well as in-depth analysis, that was simply never available before.

The question now, is whether people will make use of the tools. Call me cautiously optimistic.

There was a lot of talk in the blogs about Rathergate, but politically, the big event was the Trent Lott scandal. Blogs wouldn't let Lott skate on what was a relatively small mis-statement. I don't think, personally, that Lott should have stepped down as a result, but there is no question the blogs had an unexpected impact, and politicians now realize they can not afford to ignore the trend. Most Congressmen at least make an effort to be available by email and website, and while most are still unable to communicate effectiovely with blogs (preferring the comfort zone of their Old Media habits, even though the OM reaches a smaller and smaller audience), the smart ones are learning to make their positions clear on the Web.

On the other end, both Democrats and Republicans have greatly improved their grass roots organizations. Groups which used to be productive only in fund-raising are much, much better at getting information out, and in energizing their base, a fundamental reason turnout was drastically up in the 2004 elections. Of course, that means now that in addition to getting mailers about the parties, you will be a lot more likely to get emails from the parties, but this will also be more likely from the local and county level. At least, that's my prediction for the next development.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Step Up To The Plate


Every so often, I like to explore idioms. A comedian (I forget which, I’m sorry to say) once observed the United States will never successfully be invaded, because we Americans say things in ways which our formal language doesn’t understand. By the time our invaders figure out how to speak as we do, we’ll have moved on to another way of speaking. In the process though, we sometimes confuse ourselves.

Corie Schweitzer, at Insane Troll Logic, addresses the idiom, “step up to the plate”. Ms. Schweitzer did this in correcting a mis-statement by Miss Alli at Television Without Pity. Corie correctly notes that “In baseball, the question "whose [sic] going to step up the plate" is not about "whose turn is it." The question actually means, "who's going to be our power hitter?" or "who's going to hit one for the team?" . But that answer was not really satisfying enough for me, certainly not enough to explain the popularity of the term.

I love baseball. It’s part of why I became an umpire (OK, it’s also a cool feeling when Mustang League teams ask for you to work their games, because they think you do a cool Elvis impression when you call strikes) . And part of that love for the game, is seeing what players are made of.

Baseball is a good metaphor for Life, in no small part because the game will screw with you. A pitcher will be working his best stuff for three of four innings, then all of a sudden he can’t find the plate. A batter will pound two line drives for loud outs, then end up getting on base because he misjudges the swing and the ball plinks its way past two or three infielders as if it has a mind of its own. Other times, Baseball is relentlessly cruel: If you make a mistake, it will come back and bite you 90% of the time, whether you are a batter, fielder, pitcher, catcher, coach or umpire. You will also see the impossible at least once a week.

Into that strange pocket universe of the ball park, comes the question of stepping up to the plate. If you have never played baseball (no, softball does not count), you’ve never known the feeling of setting your stance with a bat in your hands, and trying to anticipate the pitch. As a little leaguer, even a slow pitch will seem fast to you. And by the time you reach the PONY league, pitchers will be able to put down a decent 80 mph fastball. I remember a rookie catcher settling into a crouch behind the plate for his first game situation in a high school game, and asking ex-Houston Astro Jose Cruz, who was visiting, the difference between a high school pitcher and a major leaguer. “Simple” shrugged Cruz, “they both throw hard, but the major leaguer can better control where the ball goes.” As if on cue, the next pitch was a high fastball, which zinged off the catcher’s facemask and my chest protector.

Now, imagine you are standing in the batter’s box, waiting for a pitch which could come in at more than ninety miles an hour. You know that if you back off a little, you will be a lot less likely to get hit, especially since you get a fraction more reaction time. And the pitcher likes it, when you give him the whole batter’s box for his own territory, forfeiting areas which would be a strike, but you can’t reach by backing off. Or, you can crowd the plate a little, forcing the pitcher to be more accurate, pitch slower, or take the chance of hitting you and giving up a base. Trouble is, the pitcher won’t like that, and more than a few will throw a ‘brush-back’ pitch, which are no fun at all. On a bad day, the pitcher will send a lesson and put one into your ribs. So, it’s not easy to “step up to the plate”; you may be sorry you did.

THAT’s what “step up to the plate” really means. It’s taking the chance you’ll get hurt for a small reward, doing the hard job because it’s necessary. There’s a lot of players who’ll choose to take the easy way, hoping someone else will do the job, and there’s plenty who’ll swing wildly and hope they get lucky. But a coach looks for the player willing to take on the tough job, to meet the responsibility when no one else will.

It’s rare anywhere, but it’s real.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

2008 Presidential Election

It must seem like a parlor game, to be discussing the 2008 Presidential election this far out, but in reality, it may be vital to consider the political landscape in order to avoid damaging mistakes.

For the Democrats, it is time to make a radical change. VP Gore couldn't win in 2000, in a period of peace and stability. Senator Kerry couldn't win in 2004, even with massive Hollywood support and foreign money, and an Old Media determined to beat President Bush, even committing fraud in the effort. Democrats control less of Congress since any time since the days of Calvin Coolidge. The Dems won't play around in '08. That means, about 98%, that they will roll out their biggest gun: Hilary Clinton.

For the Republicans, it's not necessarily a cake walk. Looking back, the Democrats and Republicans have both found it hard to hold the White House, even as the Oval Office gains more and more influence and power. GHW Bush made it 3 straight for the GOP in 1988, and before that, Truman's 1948 win over Dewey was the 5th straight Democrat White House win. Before that, you have three by the GOP in 1920-28, and before that, 4 more in 1896-1908**. I see a trend there. The Republicans have been able to rack up three straight three times, and because of FDR, the Democrats took 5 in a row at one stretch. The GOP once took six straight, from Lincoln's win in 1860 through Garfield's win in 1880 (although the 1876 election makes this one a lot more iffy). But if you take out Reconstruction (when the Democrats were too weak to really compete), and the New Deal (when Republicans were really as ignored, as the Old Media wishes they would be), the pattern is remarkablly constant: A party may get a term or two, and sometimes a popular President is followed by someone of the same party, but usually only for one more term. Except for very unusual conditions, a party doesn't get more than 3. That means that the GOP is probably looking at one of two conditions:

1. The 2008 GOP Candidate loses; or
2. The 2008 GOP Candidate should plan to have only one term.

This is not cast in stone, by any means, but if the Bush Doctrine is going to get the support it needs, we need to make sure the GOP puts the best candidate out there.

Let's clear the decks quickly: A GOP Senator or Congressman for the Nomination is a clear, loud vote - to give away the White House. Especially since there is no Senator or Congressman in the GOP right now, who excites the nation and represents the sort of vision that George W. Bush does. Yes, there are some good people there. But no Presidents, not right now.

Well, maybe we don't need to know who to pursue right now? Sorry, but yes we do. George W. Bush was a name long before he became a contender. In 1996, people across the nation knew his name. Same, as it happens, for Bill Clinton. He ran late, but got the word out early - he spoke at the 1988 DNC, as a matter of fact. Ronald Reagan was the clear frontrunner for the GOP 1980 ticket, as soon as he stepped off the RNC stage in 1976. And so on. If we don't start moving now, we Republicans are conceding the lead and the momentum to Hillary Clinton, and there's no mistake about that.

OK, so whom do we pursue? Governors are always good for Executive elections, epsecially from a Southern state or a large one. The trouble is, Jeb is not running, and shouldn't. Arnold is not eligible. And Mitt is not from a large Southern state. Sorry, our best chance is not in a governor's mansion right now. As it happens, our best candidate is already at the White House, but in a different chair. If the Republican candidate for President of the United States wins in 2008, it will be because the GOP nominates Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

I hear the disbelief from here. 'She has no resume for the office!', some cry. 'We don't know if she's Conservative enough!' cry others. The funny thing is, those work to her advantage.

Dr. Rice, to begin, is certainly smart and tough enough to run. And I'm going to laugh at anyone trying to toss off the objections about her marital status, race, or gender. The simple facts are these:

No one has to be married to be qualified. The problem in the past has always been, that parties tried so hard to look like the demographic norm (white, married, kids, mortgage) that only cookie-cutter candidates were considered. The road to a long political career is built on that image, that's true. But if you're running as an outsider, who has ideas instead of cronies, who thinks instead of needing to be told what the platform has to be, the wedding ring is as obsolete as the powdered wig.

The only reason that a black has never been President, is that the Democrat and Republican parties were not willing or able to produce a viable black candidate, with true executive skills and a firm grasp of the national priorities. Dr. Rice has those credentials; consider as an example her steely cool under fire from the 9/11 ('Get Bush') Committee. The last black American with this sort of courage and composure was another Doctor, by the name of King, and I am not stretching anything by that comparison.

There are, admittedly, issues with getting people to vote for a woman. On the other hand, the broad support for Hillary Clinton among Democrats shows that gender is not really the issue it was claimed to be, and only the severely demented think that Democrats are less sexist than Republicans. And there is no Republican with better name recognition and a more favorable rep with most voters. That's the Trump card here: Hillary owns the Democrats, Republicans will line up behind Condit, and the swing voters will have a clear choice, and I think that works strongly for Condi.

OK, but what about the issues? Let's start with the big one: We are at war with Terrorism, as in the United States is in a serious, prolonged war to eradicate state-sponsored Terrorism from the globe. With her academic work in the field, her experience as National Security Advisor, and now heading up the State Department, Dr. Rice clearly has qualifications in this area unmatched by any other living person. And there is no second issue that really rises to the level of National Security right now.

On the secondary issues, I should think the former Provost of Stanford would know about delegating tasks and picking qualified advisors in Economics, the Judiciary, and so on. And Dr. Rice has never shown any personal beliefs which are incompatible with the Platform of the Republican Party.

The "litmus" issues? Let's be serious; If Rice were extreme in any direction, we'd have heard by now, and in any case, she resonates with W. That should speak about where her head and heart are - with the Nation.

The task is simple then: Either the GOP vets Dr. Rice in preparation for her 2008 run, finds a diamond hidden in a governor's mansion somewhere in the West or South, or they can load up on lip balm for kissing the shoes of Hillary. As for me, I'm pushing to get Dr. Rice interested in being called "President Rice".

UPDATE: I was not the first, and there seems to already be a movement in the works. Thanks to Ankle Biting Pundits, I have found out about a group founded on November 14, 2004 (Rice's birthday).

Check out 'Americans For Rice'.

** UPDATE II: Boethius reminded me, that with McKinley 1896 and 1900, Teddy 1904, and Taft 1908, the GOP took four straight in that string, not three as I mis-recalled.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Nuclear Family 2005 - Why GWB Is On the Right Course


At the end of August 1945, the United States had unquestionably established itself as the dominant military force in the world. As often happens, Irony was present in this historical point, as the greatest power rested with the major country least inclined to use that power to colonialize territory or subjugate its opponents. Envy, as usual, was present in the collected councils of our enemies. The Soviet Union was well aware that the premier weapons systems in the world were American, along with the best supplies, best trained men, and so on. The Soviets had us beat for numbers, but understood well that we were unmatched strategically. That is why the desperate Soviets scrambled for the secret to nuclear weapons; the Kremlin honestly believed their survival as a regime depended upon it. In August 1949, with the help of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb.

Why the History lesson? Because of what came next. During the 1950s, the United States and USSR each worked feverishly to develop superior nuclear weapons, and to develop a strategy which could make them work for victory in a global conflict. Along the way, both countries struggled with experimental accidents, lost weapons, and incidents which threatened an unforeseen initiation of nuclear warfare. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is not only noteworthy because of the words and actions of President Kennedy and Premier Khruschev, but also the near-apoplexy of the Joint Chiefs and the Soviet Command at the rejection of their warnings and cautions in advance of the standoff. During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of incidents in the Middle East, the India-Pakistan Wars, and in Southeast Asia also provoked situations to heighten tensions. The SALT and SALT II negotiations, in addition to anything else, were attempts to get the other side to agree that a nuclear war would be prevented if at all possible, that nuclear arsenals would be kept only because they could not be safely discarded. Granted, the Soviets hoped during the Carter years to persuade the United States to abandon nuclear weapons unilaterally, but there is no evidence the Soviets believed it would ever actually happen.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a series of events changed the world radically, so far as the USA-USSR conflict was considered. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In 1980, Chairman Breshznev suggested to the Politburo that an invasion of Western Europe might be feasible, but he fell ill shortly after that meeting and never recovered. Two Chairmen later, Yuri Andropov, the former KGB head who succeeded Konstantin Chernenko ordered a test-firing of all missile silos for the first time in Soviet history. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Navy suffered a mutiny at Murmansk and Andropov suddenly died.

There has been a lot written about the discussions between Chairman Gorbachev and President Reagan, but we may never know the details behind those talks. I do know this; there is no evidence that Gorbachev ever thought of nuclear weapons as a useful strategic weapon, only as a deterrent, first against a possible US first strike, then later against insurrection by muslim fanatics to his South and Northwest. In fact , many of his agreements with the US after 1986 were intended to help protect Russia from attack by the breakaway republics.

The point to all of this, is that nuclear weapons are not weapons in the nominal sense, at all. Nations fall into four broad categories, where they are concerned:

1. Nations which do not possess nuclear weapons – there is a general consensus among the nations which have nukes, not to allow the proliferation of them. This is precisely why Iran and North Korea have tried to conceal their programs; they fear an Osirak-style raid.
2. Nations which have a small number of nuclear weapons, but not developed them into any sort of tactical/strategic plan. This where we see Iran, North Korea, and most likely South Africa. I will come back to this set in a moment.
3. Nations which possess a nuclear arsenal. This is demonstrated by aircraft of ships built and tested for the purpose of delivering the weapons reliably.
4. The United States.

Nuclear weapons are not sturdy things. They have to be carefully built and stored, and only work optimally under very strict conditions. While it is possible to set off a 'dirty' explosion using an old nuclear weapon by any number of means, all that really does is provide ample justification for a full-scale retaliatory strike, and that includes groups which acquire them. 9/11 changed the rules on fighting Terrorism; does anybody really think that a radioactive bomb will not provoke a devastating response? We don't have to know the exact location of a group to land a nuke on them, especially if we are reacting to the deaths of 10,000 or more innocents on our side. Even the most unstable dictator understands that, which is why neither Syria nor Iran, North Korea nor Cuba, has allowed a nuclear device into the hands of a terrorist group.

That brings me to the United States. Pray to God it never happens, but even if every nation which has nukes right now decided to attack the United States, we still have the capability to utterly destroy every one of them. As much as nations hate the United States (for whatever motive), you don't attack a guy if he can kill you and all of your family, but you can't kill all of his.

Back to Set 2. Many leaders believe in fairy tales. Not the ones with princesses and happy endings - the ones with them becoming some sort of world power. The reason is different, but what thy all have in common where nukes are concerned, is the myth that if they get a nuclear weapon, everyone will have to show them respect. All it really does, is get attention to the fact that they represent a danger, and that gets weapons pointed at them. I mentioned Iran - they seem to think that no one can attack them if they have a nuke. Actually, all that does is change the order of bombs, pal. And North Korea? Short Leader Kim Makes Me Ill is hoping to bargain his way into money and supplies, since his style of government is killing off his people. I don't have a crystal ball, but I'd say that what is far more likely, is that some military leader will arrange for a sudden accident for the Short Leader, followed by abolition of the NK nuclear program as a sign of good faith to the South (meaning South Korea and Japan). As for Syria, they have been on a Wanted poster for a long time. I wouldn't want to be anyone named "Assad" this year or next. The fact that the Bush Administration has not even hinted at talks, tells me Syria is going to get a special treatment, but not one Assad can prepare against.

This doesn't mean, by any stretch, that the world can relax from the dangers of nuclear weapons. There are still well over 80,000 nuclear weapons scattered over the place, and even the ones not fit for warfare are environmental risks to anyone within miles of them. Also, there is no guarantee that one or another terrorist group with more energy than brains won't somehow manage to steal a dirty bomb, and take out their host country along with a number of victims. But the issue needs to be weighed in the balance of what is possible, and who holds the power. And President Bush understands his position, well enough to act boldly in removing the threat by taking out the people most likely to make such a catastrophe possible.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Women Bloggers

Lashawn Barber writes about women who blog, and the story by Kevin Drum lamenting their relative lack of numbers. Lashawn tweaks Kevin some, by pointing out that he talks about women bloggers, but doesn’t link to them. That started me thinking.

First off, as to my own credentials. I have annoyed some people in the past, by not choosing to automatically link to everyone. My blogs is pretty small in readership, but I’m pretty picky about who I link to. That is, if someone is on my blogroll, I consider them pretty darn good. With that thought in mind, let’s look at my blogroll. I link to 21 blogs, and three of them are women bloggers (Betsy’s Page, Byrd Droppings, Kitty Litter), and the group blog I write for, Polipundit, has a women on our staff of five. Given the pickings, that’s not too bad. Also, I have mentioned Michelle Malkin and Baldilocks more than just a couple times in my work. My point is not that I am somehow a leader in the equality vanguard, but that I am reasonably familiar with the work of leading women bloggers, enough to speak to the matter.

First off, the obvious: Being man or woman is almost never a quality factoring into the quality of the article. There are some perspectives and experiences unique to the gender, but on the whole, man or woman has nothing to do with the quality of their blog. Looking at the medium, I think I see something more illustrative. Talk Radio is dominated by male personalities, especially the political side of it. I think this is in part, because of the active and energetic dialogue between the host and listeners. And bloggers are very similar to Talk Radio in their method and demographics, except that Air America seems less successful with the sort of outrageous lewd behavior that Howard Stern thrives on. Women, it appears, are more interested in presenting a finished product, free from static or distractions, than men, who are more happy with the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of disjointed debate. You get your insights in more depth from the women bloggers, in shorter shots from the men.

I also notice that there are not only a small number of female political bloggers relative to men, but also the women bloggers are less inclined to allow comments. Michelle Malkin, in particular, has chosen not to allow comments, for the valid and disappointing reason that she receives an inordinate number of profane and insulting attacks from trolls, enough that she has decided to do without comments on her work. Malkin would rather readers focused on what she is saying, and weighing her arguments without the distraction of having to step past pools of vitriol.

Malkin, as I noted, has presented an article explaining her need to exclude comments. In the piece, she printed some of the comments attacking her personally. As uncomfortable as this must be for Ms. Malkin, it also highlights an unfortunate disparity in the mater of blogger respect. To illustrate, I would like to compare Malkin’s blog to another favorite of mine, Vodkapundit. Both Stephen Green and Michelle Malkin, to judge from their photos, are extremely attractive people, model-quality (I leave my own photo off, in order to avoid Quasimodo comparisons). Both are exceptionally intelligent and articulate. Yet Green (whose Site Meter shows more than eight thousand visits on an average day) doesn’t seem to receive the sort of personal attacks and insults that Malkin (forty thousand plus a day) receives. Is it the price of fame (Malkin was an established columnist and well-respected author in her own right, when she first began to blog), or something more due to Racism and Sexism? It’s an old saying that many men fear a woman with a sharp mind and a bold identity; could it be that simple and antiquated?

Whatever the cause, two remedies suggest themselves to this pedestrian-traffic blogger. The first will take care of itself; bloggers cannot help but promote good ideas and arguments, and all bloggers can hope for eventual success if their work is good enough, although the time frame depends on who notices you and when (such is Life; my obvious brilliance is known only to a few, and outnumbered by those who find me delusional). As for the second, I will be upping my blogroll by three sites this morning. It’s an unfortunate oversight that I have not done so before, but considering how often I visit their sites, I need to add Lashawn Barber, Michelle Malkin, and Baldilocks to my roll, and I would commend the reader to consider your own list of recommended sites for an update. The Blogosphere is a community, after all, and we can correct a lot of things on our own.

UPDATE: Reading through this thread, I should also like to note a few other blogs by women that you might consider worth your attention:

The Anchoress ;
Terrorism Unveiled (proof positive I am losing my mind, to have left out this mistress of world events!); and
Insane Troll Logic.

I apologize for being remiss in these acknowledgements of leading and throughly professional bloggers.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

About the Bible, Truth, Religions, and Trusting God

I began to discuss politics several years after I began to explor and compare different religious and philosophical beliefs. The election of 2004 was a rancorous one, and discussing different political positions was often useless, leading to insults and reinforcing prejudice and long-standing assumptions. The same thing seems to be happening, for the most part, in Religion, and that’s a real shame.

For thousands of years, Mankind has been teaching truth as commonly understood, generation after generation, a mix of functional operations rules and best-case morality. Usually, the powers in place try to instill support for obedience and tradition, and those in rebellion assert a combination of justice as an ideal and consequence for evil. Throughout History, we see these elements expressed in every place and time.

One of the truly great advantages of Technology, is that a person so inclined, can find out the basic beliefs of each religion and group, and compare them on any basis the person wishes. In actual practice, however, it is disappointing how many people choose to weigh beliefs subjectively, assigning the worst qualities to beliefs they reject, and the best to their own, even in defiance of their own history. The best I can do and recommend, is to take that observation to heart, and suggest the same to everyone else.

Along the way of sorting out this comparative Religion, I have found that it is generally wise to consider the scholarly works only so far. They are, after all, attempts to examine religion on the intellectual level only, and lack the impact of personal experience. That doesn’t mean words and discussion aren’t important. I just find that a common-sense approach and a familiar tone are better-suited to any discussion where the person makes a personal decision to accept or reject the belief.

The most common attack on Christianity, is that it is at once aggressive and exclisive, demanding that people accept Jesus Christ as their savior or go to hell. Phrased that way, I can see the problem. This issue is complicated for me, by the combination of the Bible and my own consideration of the Truth.

On the one hand, I have read and studied the Bible, and am absolutely convinced the Bible is true and trustworthy. And to me, the Gospel makes perfect sense - all Men sin and need forgiveness. God loves humans so much, He came to Earth as one of us, lived the perfect life as an example, established a group to call attention to the Truth, died in our place for our sins, rose from the dead as proof of Jesus’ power over Death, and promised an eternity for us all, with Justice or Mercy as we will accept from God. Seems pretty much the best thing we could hope for, from a loving God who still respects us as individuals.

The flip side is obvious; only a minority of people could have heard the Gospel. Certainly everyone who died before the time of Christ, got no more than a foretaste of the Truth to come, and considering the way that so many people and places have suppressed or altered the Gospel, it’s kind of hard to see how someone even today, in say Iran or Nepal could receive the Gospel as Jesus taught. Considering the love and wisdom of God the Father, it seems to me that He has a plan in place, albeit one we cannot fathom.

As for the Bible, this occurs to me: The Torah is how God speaks to the Jews, and the Bible overall how He speaks to the Christians. I’m not pretending all works which claim divine inspiration are true, but it seems to me that there is more than what is immediately apparent. It also seems to me reasonable, that God knows what He is doing, and we should, whatever else we do, trust that fact.