In Other News, Obama Did Not Sleep With Joe Biden

Really? People actually think that Barack Obama was homophobic last night at the debate? Just to recap, here’s the video, via Dave Weigel:

Now, unless you’re crazy, Obama is either joking about him not having slept with Biden, or about him not sleeping around on his wife; Biden’s comments could have been taken (wrongly) to imply either of those things, and Obama was humorously clarifying.
Unfortunately, some people are crazy. Such as Alex Belenky at TNR:

So while he’s all for combating homophobia within the African American community, it seems he also doesn’t want anyone to get the impression that he’s on the down-low.

Um, no. It mainly seems that he doesn’t want anyone to get the impression that he slept with Joe Biden or anyone otherwise not his wife. It also seems, or, rather, is completely obvious, that he was joking. Anyone who seriously thinks that Obama is a homophobe would be well-served to consider this statement of his from the debate:

“One of the things we’ve got to overcome is a stigma that still exists in our communities,” Obama said. “We don’t talk about this. We don’t talk about it in the schools, sometimes we don’t talk about it in the churches. It has been an aspect of, sometimes, our homophobia that we don’t address this issue as clearly as it needs to be.”

Real gay-basher, that guy. That quote, by the way, is from Jon Cohn’s excellent recap of the debate, which focuses on Obama’s unique ability to speak tough truths to the black community. Like most of Cohn’s writing, it’s well worth reading. Go check it out.


Michael Gerson has a problem with Barack Obama:

Sen. Barack Obama’s speech on religion and politics this month lacked this kind of sparkling clarity, but it had virtues of its own. He spoke frankly of his faith: “I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him.” Obama recognized the central role of religion in the history of American social reform, from women’s rights to the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement. And he made a sophisticated distinction between the religious right and American evangelicalism, rather than lumping them together as a monolithic menace.
For Democrats, the speech was a class in remedial religion. But Obama still missed an opportunity. By speaking at a gathering of the United Church of Christ — among the most excruciatingly progressive of Protestant denominations — he was preaching to the liberal choir. And he did not effectively reach out to an evangelical movement in transition.

So this is what it’s come to: one can publish an op-ed in the Washington Post bashing a presidential candidate for speaking to a church of the denomination to which he belongs. It’s as if someone were to attack Rudy Giuliani for giving a speech in a Catholic church.

You Forgot Kissinger

Here’s Ezra attacking Anne-Marie Slaughter’s latest book:

Save for the introduction and the conclusion, each chapter is devoted to the explication and application of a particular American value. Liberty leads off, followed by democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith. “These values,” Slaughter writes, “are not abstract concepts.” Oh, but they are!

To convince the country that we need a foreign policy that serves those concepts is to cede the ground to those with the most compellingly idealistic narrative. Those concepts do not, themselves, suggest a foreign policy.

I’ll grant this. Both Kosovo and Iraq had idealistic causes behind them, and the results were wildly different. But this isn’t a criticism that’s specific to idealism; it works equally well as a critique of realism. Both Henry Kissinger and James Baker worked from realist impulses, and yet while one got Nixon to bomb Cambodia and Laos and in other ways further entrench itself in an unwinnable war, the other was a model of responsible, multilateral war-planning and handed the US its greatest military victory since World War II.
The larger point is that competence, not ideology, is the greatest determinant of a policy’s success. I mean competence not in terms of executing a policy, but also in determining which policies would best further one’s ideological goals. Kosovo and the first Gulf War were competent foreign policy decisions; ordering air strikes in Serbia and using a large international force to expell Saddam from Kuwait were policies which were very likely to succeed, and which successfully furthered the ideological goals of both Albright (ending the slaugher of the Kosovars) and Baker (furthering American interests in the Middle East). Comparatively, the Cambodian air strikes and the invasion of Iraq were bound to fail and did not further the ideological goals of Kissinger (serving the US national interest in Indochina) and Bush (spreading democracy in the Middle East). The problem isn’t with the use of ideals; the problem comes when one fails to actually serve them.
Perhaps Ezra has a point in his call later in the piece for a consequences-based foreign policy. But given as the success or failure of specific foreign policies is mostly a question of whether or not they furthered the ideological goals of the people proposing them, it seems counter-productive to banish idealism, a significant foreign policy ideology, from the table.

A Setback Supreme

Unless I’m totally crazy, it seems like the Supreme Court came very close to overruling race-based affirmative action. Here’s the SCOTUSBlog, via Steve Benen:

Concluding its current Term with a historic ruling on race in public policy, the Supreme Court divided 5-4 on Thursday in striking down voluntary integration plans in the public schools of Seattle and Louisville. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote the majority opinion in the combined cases. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy did not join all of the majority opinion, but joined in the result. Kennedy suggested in a separate opinion that the Chief Justice’s opinion, in part, “is at least open to the interpretation that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore the problem of de facto resegregation in schooling. I cannot endorse that conclusion.”
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote. On the two school plans, the majority found that the districts have “failed to provide the necessary support for the proposition that there is no other way than individual racial classifications to avoid racial isolation in their school districts.”

Justice Kennedy recited from his separate opinion, in which he declined to join the Roberts opinion as it discussed the lack of a compelling interest in achieving racial balance in public school classrooms. The Chief Justice’s opinion notes that Seattle was never officially segregated by race, and that Louisville is no longer under a court order to desegregate its once-segregated system. Kennedy said in his concurrence that ending racial isolation may sometimes be a compelling interest in public education, and can be pursued with race as “one component” of the plan to achieve racial diversity.

I say “almost” because Kennedy’s concurrence is necessary for the opinion to hold, and while Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas seemingly think that there is no compelling interest behind racial diversity, Kennedy is not willing to go there. This is seemingly inconsistent with Kennedy’s dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger, not that that’s a bad thing.
The Century Foundation (via Kevin Drum) has made a compelling case that the time to end race-based affirmative action has come and that income-based preferences produce better results without much acrimony. But one of the main reasons such a system works is that it creates racial diversity in much the same way that race-based affirmative action does. The point still stands that racial diversity is a worthwhile and necessary goal for schools both public and private, and for four Supreme Court justices to denigrate it so is distressing and harmful.

The Garance Numbers

Garance Franke-Ruta has done some number-crunching on the Democrats’ second quarter fundraising, and it’s looking good for Barack:

Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math here, shall we? Last quarter, Obama brought in $25.7 million from 104,000 donors. This time around, he is shooting for 250,000 donors (his campaign currently reports 245,272). Even assuming that all Obama’s second-quarter growth was from low-dollar donors (an assumption that’s almost certainly incorrect), I don’t see how this adds up to less than $37 million. The average online political donation tends to be around $80 per person. Multiply that by 150,000 and you get $12 million, which can be added to a presumed mix of high and low-dollar donations from the other 100,000 equalling $25 million, as was the case for Obama last quarter. Even if the number of high-dollar donors among the first 100,000 was lower this time, reducing his per-donor average among the first 100,000 from close to $250 to, say, $200, his minimum total for the 250,000 would be $32 million. And a per-donor average of just $160 for all 250,000 donors would still add up to $37.5 million. His per-donor average would have to fall to $140 or below for him to raise less than $35 million; last quarter his per donor average was nearly $250.

As Garance notes, the Clinton people have already stated that they’ve raised about $27 million, so unless they’re purposefully low-balling it seems like Obama has out-raised Hillary by $10 million. Considering what institutional and fund-raising juggernauts the Clintons are, that’s mighty impressive.

“It’s Still Up”

I don’t watch cable news, so I hadn’t actually watched Nancy Grace before today, though considering the ruthless mockery SNL has subjected her to over the past year or so, I had thought she was pretty awful. Thanks to Neil (of the Ethical Werewolfery), I now know just how awful she is:

Elizabeth is clearly a national treasure.
P.S. Just to be clear, as Arlen notes in comments, this is a hoax. Elizabeth is awesome, but not that awesome.

Schools Out

Listening to a 50-something write about how great the US News rankings are for high school students is always more than a little rich, but Robert Samuelson goes from rich to totally stupid very, very fast:

You might think that the last group to embrace censorship would be college presidents. After all, they’re interested in expanding knowledge, right? Well, no. The incipient revolt against the college rankings by U.S. News & World Report says otherwise.

Dear God – does Samuelson even know what the word “censorship” means? Look, let’s use an analogy. Let’s say that you own a car dealership, and there’s an organization that ranks car dealerships in your area. To do this, the organization needs information from you. You provide it, but the organization then proceeds to manipulate it in such a way that makes the ratings totally distortionary and worthless. Do you keep giving the organization the info its needs? Of course not – because that’s totally insane.
It’s actually worse than that. The problem’s not just that US News plays fast and loose with the facts – though it does. It’s that US News creates distinctions where there aren’t any or, if there are any, they’re minor. A while back, after Princeton and Harvard had been tied for first for a three years running, Princeton pulled ahead and Harvard took second. Does anyone honestly think that enough changed in a year that Princeton was significantly better than Harvard?
The sad thing is that these rankings matter to a lot of kids. The US has 4,000 colleges, which are difficult to sort through, and having schools ranked is an easy way to narrow the list down. But ranking only makes things worse. Rankings can be gamed, for one thing. More importantly, though, they aren’t very good at suggesting schools for kids. A high school senior who’s interested in working in government would be far better off going to George Washington than to Notre Dame – and yet, while Notre Dame is #20 on the list, George Washington is #52. A wee political junkie might be persuaded by the good folks at US News to go to Notre Dame instead of George Washington, and will be worse off for it.
Oh, but Samuelson has more:

What’s so shameful about this campaign against the rankings is its anti-intellectualism. Much information is in some way incomplete or imperfect. The proper response to evidence that you dislike or dispute is to supplement or discredit it with better evidence. The wrong response is to suppress it.

Anti-intellectualism? I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. What’s anti-intellectual is persuading kids that there’s some kind of platonic ideal of college excellence, that US News and US News alone has a formula to determine particular colleges’ proximity to it, and that the difference in proximity makes a dime’s worth of difference in the school’s appropriateness for them as a student.
And yes, I will be a high school senior this August. And yes, I’m already irate about having to deal with stuff like this.

Six Friedmans Ago…

I sympathize to a certain degree with what Tom Friedman is trying to say here, but I still find this kind of amusing:

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me! I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, even though I was clearly there first.
If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”
Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!

“Thanks to the Interwebs, I have to be a nice person. Yikes!” What’s even more amusing is that that woman probably is blogging about that encounter right now. And about how she was totally in line first.

WaPo, Mock Thyself

To follow up on my post on Emily Yoffe’s atrocious Washington Post op-ed, here, via hilzoy, are a couple excerpts from a Post live-chat featuring columnist Eugene Robinson:

“Kensington, Md.: I see where the Post underscored Al Gore’s thesis from “Assault On Reason” by inviting Dear Prudence to “argue” with the climatology community on some of its findings. Any word on when Dr. Paris Hilton’s invited piece refuting Fermat’s Last Theorem will run?
Eugene Robinson: I hear that Paris has found a problem on page 37 of her Fermat proof — she was scratching it out on the wall of her cell and broke a fingernail, with the result that a minus-sign was omitted — so I think that piece will be delayed.

Silver Spring, Md.: I think Copernicus, Galileo and the modern astronomy community are all wrong about the sun-centered solar system. I don’t have any data, or any particular expertise in the field. All I know is that it bothers me to have people saying we orbit the sun, when I can clearly see it moving across the sky. Plus it is scaring the children to hear people talk about it. Could you tell me how to get an pp-ed piece published at The Post? I hear they have no standards for this anymore. Thank you!
Eugene Robinson: I think there must be a Bush administration science panel that has a spot for you!”

I always liked that Robinson fellow.

Daschle on Trade

Want evidence that the Hillary (D-Punjab) thing didn’t show the real Barack Obama? See this op-ed by Tom Daschle, Obama booster extraordinaire:

Trade agreements have always been difficult for Congress. Rarely are the debates about the merits of the deals themselves or even about our economic strategy or trade policy. Presidents prefer to make trade agreements congressional referendums on how the United States views the country in question. It is a high-risk strategy that puts all our interests in a particular country on the line, even if the trade impact of the agreement itself is minimal (as is often the case).
There are important regional economic and political imperatives in favor of the Colombia agreement. It would affirm America’s interest in and commitment to Colombia’s economic development while also increasing market access for U.S. goods. Currently, the United States provides tariff-free access to many Colombian goods under the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Enforcement Act, but we are not afforded similar treatment in Colombia. This deal would change that.

This is quite possibly the most cogent and clear-headed op-ed on trade I’ve ever read. It recognizes the absurd over-reach most congressional debates on specific trade deals take on, as if one’s vote on a single trade deal is indicative of one’s view on trade writ large. It recognizes the importance of such deals for foreign relations, and relative lack of importance of their tearing down of relatively minimal tariffs and trade barriers. But it also affirms the good trade can do for the US and, most importantly, poorer countries like Colombia. Just another piece of evidence that the Obama campaign is far more sensible on trade than Hillary or Edwards.