Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.

At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney.  The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.  He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.

You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?”  Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination.  So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.

Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control.  Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing.  Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.

Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies,  and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity.  Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:

The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…

A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures.  (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)

This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will.  For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.

Everyone is talking about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare.  But I don’t want to talk about that now.  I want to address another controversial 5-4 ruling, one that many said was the last one before this to garner such attention.  James Fallows alluded to it in his hyperbolic-yet-interesting-but-ultimately-irrelevant pre-ruling post: the curious case of Bush v. Gore.

Since I didn’t start blogging until nine years after that decision, I’ve never really talked about it on here.  It’s quite interesting.  What does our go-to source, Wikipedia, tell us? 

The Court held that the Equal Protection Clause guarantees to individuals that their ballots cannot be devalued by “later arbitrary and disparate treatment”. Even if the recount was fair in theory, it was unfair in practice. The record, as weighed by the Florida Supreme Court, suggested that different standards were seemingly applied to the recount from ballot to ballot, precinct to precinct, and county to county, even when identical types of ballots and machines were used.

So, Florida screwed up the recount, huh?  What the heck were they doing, counting in Greek numerals?  How can you screw up a simple vote count unless corruption is involved?  Well, whatever.  Then:

The Court stated that the per curiam opinion’s applicability was “limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”

I have read this over and over.  I am no legal expert, but I can read English.  I am going to write, in a separate paragraph, in bold, my reading of this.  If you are a legal expert, please explain to me if I am making mistake in the following paragraph, for I can see no other interpretation.

The Court had to make sure their ruling applied only in that case, because otherwise it could conceivably call into question many other elections in the history of the United States, and future ones as well.  Certainly, every recount was now suspect.  According to their findings, known methods of vote counting may have been unconstitutional.  I mean, if they couldn’t recount votes in a constitutional manner, how could anyone be sure they had counted them right in the first place?

I am not saying the Court was wrong.  I am only saying that if they were right, there existed a possibility that the entire system was fundamentally flawed.  At least that’s how I read it.  Am I wrong?

However, this part was a 7-2 ruling.  The 5-4 ruling was the controversial one, the one that said they couldn’t try a constitutional recount.

Conservatives have been quick to point out that the Court did not decide the election for Bush because, had the recount continued in those counties, Bush would have won anyway.  they cite this New York Times story from 2001:

A close examination of the ballots found that Mr. Bush would have retained a slender margin over Mr. Gore if the Florida court’s order to recount more than 43,000 ballots had not been reversed by the United States Supreme Court.

The story went on to note:

But[…] Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount of all the rejected ballots.

Please observe that the story is from 2001.  Not 2000.  That means that people only found out what would have happened almost a year later.  The Court making their decision knowing that if they stopped the recount Bush would win, whereas if the recount continued, it was unknown whether he or Gore would win.  Now, we learned after the fact that Bush would have won had they allowed the count in those counties to continue, thus rendering it a moot point, but they did not know that at the time.  We must evaluate their decisions based on the knowledge they possessed when they made the ruling:

  • Stop recount: Bush chance of victory = 100%
  • Continue recount: Bush chance of victory = x, where x < 100%

I think it’s clear what the dominant strategies are in this case for any political partisan, no?

But the Supreme Court is not political!  They are just a machine that ruthlessly interprets the law, not biased in any way, shape or form, right?  They wouldn’t decide an election based on anything other than legal precedent.  That wouldn’t be logical.  What would Vulcan High Command say?

Let’s hear from Justice Scalia on the matter:

There you have it.  They had to do it!  Everyone was laughing at us!

AMERICAblog notes that a recent poll found that not only is Mitt Romney less popular than Obama, he is also less popular than George W. Bush.

This is what I mean when I talk about charisma.  I mean, I like Bush better than Romney.  I don’t know why.  Bush seems like a more easy-going guy, I guess.  There’s no logical reason for it; I’ve never met either of them.  And say what you want about Romney, but he does not have a proven track record anything like Bush’s.  Romney didn’t preside over the beginning of one of the worst recessions in history.  Romney didn’t declare major combat operations had ended in a highly controversial military operation that would continue for another eight and a half years.  It’s totally irrational.

Seriously, Bush became a two-term President almost entirely because of his mysterious ability to seem more likeable than other guys.

Paul Krugman is excited that the press is calling Romney out for cherry-picking data. Krugman also believes they are treating Romney with a more critical eye than they did George W. Bush.

And he’s right. But, I suspect the reason for this is a rather depressing one: Romney is less charismatic than Bush was. This, rather than any new-found commitment to truth on the part of the national press, is what has caused this. Both Romney and Bush are rich sons of politicians, but Bush could more credibly pull off the “I’m just like the average Joe”  act. Whereas Romney just seems like an awkward rich guy when he tries that.

In terms of both who they are and, what is more important, what they mean to do to the country, Bush and Romney are quite similar in my eyes. The differences are superficial, but superficial differences are, as it happens, quite important in Presidential campaigns these days.

There’s a great  article by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone about “how the G.O.P. Became the Party of the Rich”. Overall, it’s a great read, though I do have some criticisms of it. The first is that, although the article tries to portray President Reagan as a tax-raising, pragmatic individual from whose wise leadership the party has sadly deviated, the truth is that they have were “the Party of the Rich” in his time as well, and indeed were such before him.

This isn’t, so far as it goes, an inherently bad thing. After all, political parties are made of interest groups, and “the Rich” are certainly a sort of interest group. Admittedly, not one that can win a fair democratic election, but then the Republicans of today are not just the “Party of the Rich”. They also are the party of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and many other things.

(It should also be remembered that they won many fewer elections when they were simply “the Party of the Rich”, from the 1930s through the 1960s, than they did when they became “the Party of the Rich and of other things” in the 1980s.)

The point is, it’s not like representing the rich is a new thing to the party. In fact, I think the Republicans have always been that way, or at least it has since the 1870s. Having said that, it is probably true that they are now more fanatical in their pursuit of low taxes. this is largely because whereas the Republicans of decades past were motivated by an (understandable, if not laudable) antipathy to paying taxes, the current version of the party has a Nationalistic wing which opposes the supposedly non-Nationalist liberal government, and wishes to deprive it of resources. This gives a visceral passion to their rhetoric and policy that was lacking before.

The second issue is the author’s claim that the idea of President Bush’s tax cuts providing an economic stimulus:

“…was lousy economics. The previous two decades, after all, had demonstrated that “trickle-down” tax cuts don’t juice the economy – they create bubbles and balloon deficits.”

This is sort of true, but it obscures one thing: “juicing the economy” and “creating bubbles” are almost the same thing. Bubbles almost always result from a booming economy; indeed, I do not believe it is possible for a bubble to arise without a booming economy.

This means that, in fact, the tax cuts were “good” economics, in the sense that they probably did help achieve their proponents’ promise of aiding a short-term stimulus to the economy. Of course, they did have a dramatic downside, as we can see, but this is often the way with such booms.

In my opinion, the Bush administration was right to cut taxes in 2001-2, but they should have (a) made them more favorable to working class people and even more importantly (b) raised taxes in about 2005, during the relatively good economy.

These issues aside, it’s a very good article.

A new Gallup poll puts Ronald Reagan as the nation’s greatest President. Then it’s Lincoln, Clinton, Kennedy, Washington and FDR.

Yes, in that order.

My opinion: Lincoln, Washington and FDR are the only ones out of that crowd who could conceivably have any claim to the title of “greatest President”. And where is Eisenhower? I mean, maybe he wasn’t the greatest President ever, but he ought to have been in the running.

Also, George H. W. Bush should have gotten more votes than George W. Bush, in my opinion. Finally, I think President Obama shouldn’t even be eligible for this poll yet, since he’s currently President and we have yet to see what he’ll do the rest of his term and if he’ll win re-election.

Via Andrew Sullivan, a brutally good review of Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Andrew Ferguson, who writes:

“Throughout the nineties I heard mainstream Republicans describe the president as a shameless womanizer and a closeted homosexual, a cokehead and a drunk, a wife beater and a wimp, a hick and a Machiavel, a committed pacifist and a reckless militarist who launched unnecessary airstrikes in faraway lands to distract the public’s attention from all of the above. 

How did the left-wing, coke-snorting Manchurian candidate become the fondly remembered Democrat-you-could-do-business-with—“good old Bill,” in Sean Hannity’s phrase?

Barack Obama is what happened. The partisan mind—left-wing or right-wing, Republican or Democrat—is incapable of maintaining more than one oversized object of irrational contempt at a time…. 

We should probably be grateful for this psychological limitation. Without it the negativity of our politics would be relentless. Like Ronald Reagan before him, George W. Bush was reviled for eight years by Democrats driven mad by a sputtering rage—the “most right-wing president in history”!—but it’s only a matter of time until they rediscover him…” 

It’s worth reading his review in full, but this passage is the most illuminating.

I do have to disagree with his assertion that “we should be grateful for this”, though. The phenomenon makes it incredibly difficult to tell what the hell the actual truth is.

I am sure that some liberals have experienced a little bit of nostalgia for George W. Bush and his crew, not as President, of course, but as leader of the Republican party. I myself feel that Bush was much less hostile to liberal values than, say, Sarah Palin. And I can recall Bush making many statements which the current GOP leaders would no doubt condemn in a heartbeat were they uttered by President Obama. So, I don’t think it’s entirely partisan rage.

I would also argue, therefore, that this is, at least partially, strategically sound thinking. Bush is retired; he’s not going to screw things up any more for liberals. Similarly, Clinton may make a few speeches, but he’s not going to do anything substantive to fight the Republicans agenda again. (Some would argue that he never did)

Nevertheless, Ferguson has touched on a disturbing truth in modern politics.

One of the most fascinating ideas in George Orwell’s novel 1984 was the Two Minutes’ Hate, which is an activity where all the Party members go every day to vent their fury at the enemies of the Party. Orwell describes it as “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness…turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”

In 1984, when the Two Minutes’ Hate is over, everyone goes back to their duties. The fact that it is so readily turned on and off, and so easily transfered, is what is really insidious about it; it demonstrates the way that people are manipulated by the totalitarian government of Orwell’s novel.

Therefore, I  think that the temporary nature of this fury that Ferguson describes is what is most disturbing about it–it suggests that people are being manipulated to feel it.

Andrew Sullivan is “trying to understand the Tea Party.” It’s interesting, though he doesn’t seem to have reached my conclusion, at least not yet.

One thing Sullivan realizes:

 “The Bush-Cheney presidency was, in some respects, the perfect pseudo-conservative administration. They waged war based on loathing of the experts (damned knowledgeable elites!); they slashed taxes and boosted spending for their constituencies, while pretending to be fiscally responsible; they tore up the most ancient taboos – against torture – with a bravado that will one day seem obscene; and they left the country in far worse shape than they found it.” 

 I leave it to others to be witty about this. For now, I’ll just say that I’d like it if he would explain why the hell he didn’t get Donald Rumsfeld out right after the Abu Ghraib scandal. If you want my opinion, that is the single most disastrous decision of his administration.

Any questions you’d like to hear him answer? (But know that he won’t.)

Ron Paul: Barack Obama is Not a Socialist.

He says: “In the technical sense, in the economic definition, he is not a socialist,”

I’m not sure what definition Paul is using here; but I think Socialism is so broad it’s hard to say for sure that Obama isn’t one. Obama may secretly wish to have the State take ownership of all the factors of production but he hasn’t done it yet, though, so we can’t call him a Socialist on that basis. That said, I’m pretty sure Obama does believe that the income which accrues to private firms and individuals must sometimes be redistributed in the interest of the “greater good” or, more technically, to “maximize social welfare.”

Obama is probably a market socialist of some sort. This is not a terribly unusual position for a U.S. politician; in fact, Paul is probably one of the few politicians who doesn’t fall into this category. Of course, none of them would ever dare describe themselves as such–generally, when they’re advancing Socialist/redistributionist ideas, politicians tend to use the language of the Bible. (Hence Obama’s frequent use of the phrase: “I am my brother’s keeper.”)

One huge mistake people make is to act like Obama is the first guy in U.S. history to ever advocate redistributing wealth for what he thinks is “the greater good”. He’s not close to it. Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive corporate regulator type. FDR implemented Social Security. Lyndon Johnson had his Socialist “Great Society”, a term which ought to give any individualist a fright.

 Republicans cheerfully point this stuff out to show how the Democratic Party is all secretly a bunch of Socialists. But here’s a little something they might want to think on: What’s more radical than market Socialism? Non-market Socialism! That’s where the market isn’t even involved in determining prices. Who imposed price
controls in the United States? Republican President Richard M. Nixon.

Back to Ron Paul for a minute: He says: “[Obama’s] a corporatist,”  and “[He takes] care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country.”

That sounds like something Michael Moore would say. And it’s incorrect. I think he must be thinking of George W. Bush. But it leads nicely into my point about how Republican economic Socialism works.

When Republicans redistribute the wealth for the “Greater Good”, it generally involves giving it to either corporations or particular kinds of Churches, rather than other entities–individuals, non-profits, etc. They are particularly fond of paying money to corporations that make weapons, or, in one infamous instance, secret mercenary corporations.

Some may debate whether this practice is technically Socialism or technically Fascism. In my view, Fascism is nothing more than a particularly militaristic brand of Socialism, so it makes little difference. The point is that both sides are redistributing wealth in order to serve society as a whole.

I’ve quoted him before, and I’ll quote him here:

“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.

To which I would add only that if you already have a Socialist “ethic”, and you become a powerful politician who can influence aspects of the economy, it is virtually impossible not to become an “economic” Socialist as well.

What bothers me about the quote from Paul is that he’s poking around the edges of a very deep insight into the truth of how the American political parties really act, whatever they may claim they believe. But he has somehow gotten things completely backwards.