Top Five Blog Posts

Because you know how I love memes:
1. Juan Cole, “If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?”. This was, for years, my go-to post when someone tried to convince me that the situation really wasn’t that bad.
2. Ezra Klein, Health of Nations. Okay, this is a series of posts rather than a single post, but they gave me – and the rest of the blogosphere – a badly needed tutorial on health policy.
3. Belle Waring, “No One Is That Crazy. Right? Ummm…right?”. It would be on here even if its only virtue was the phrase “OMG THE HIDDEN IMAM”. But the rest of it is funny as sin too.
4. Michael Bérubé, “On the Production of Fresh Wingnuts”. A brilliant dissection of the liberal hawk phenomenon, complete with the sentence “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.”
5. Josh Marshall, 2005 Social Security blogging. The invention of the Conscience Caucus and the Fainthearted Faction was instrumental in stopping privatization. It was great writing, and even better activism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The deification of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been one of the most disturbing examples of Islamophobia in recent years. The woman, who grew up in Somalia and then immigrated to Netherlands, and has since become a fellow at AEI, converted from Salafist Islam in her teens and since grown to hate all Muslims with vehemence that would make Charles Johnson cringe. Just check out the Reason interview Sam Boyd links to:

Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?
Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Reason: Militarily?
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

Reason: George Bush, not the most conciliatory person in the world, has said on plenty of occasions that we are not at war with Islam.
Hirsi Ali: If the most powerful man in the West talks like that, then, without intending to, he’s making radical Muslims think they’ve already won. There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims who are passive, who don’t all follow the rules of Islam, but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.
Reason: So when even a hard-line critic of Islam such as Daniel Pipes says, “Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” he’s wrong?
Hirsi Ali: He’s wrong. Sorry about that.

As Sam points out, no less of a mainstream figure than Anne Applebaum called Ali “possibly the greatest womens’ rights activist of our generation” this morning. A woman who has very clearly advocated the genocide of 1.5 billion people, a “women’s rights activist”. You know there’s something wrong with the public discourse when someone this despicable is considered more mainstream than Mearsheimer and Walt.

The Problems with Dodd

So, Dodd opposes retroactive immunity on wiretapping for telecoms. Good for him. That doesn’t mean anyone should so much as consider voting for him.
Really, he has no redeeming qualities as a candidate. One of his main draws is experience, but Biden’s been in the Senate for eight more years and chaired two important committees (Judiciary and Foreign Relations), whereas Dodd chairs the comparatively unimportant Banking Committee. Dodd’s from a solid blue state and thus brings no new states into the fold. And he’s so patrician in manner (check that accent) as to make Kerry sound positively populist. Speaking of which, didn’t we learn in 2004 that running a New England aristocratic Senator with 20-year voting record is a really bad idea?
Moreover, Dodd – like Hillary, Biden and Edwards – voted for the war in 2002. He also voted against the Levin amendment requiring UN authorization to invade, just as Edwards, Biden and Hillary did. And as last night’s debate showed, he still defends his vote for war, saying it was really just a vote for diplomacy (sound familiar)? Dodd proved be lacked the judgement to be president when he voted for war, just like Hillary and Edwards did.
But the most important reason you shouldn’t vote for Dodd is that he isn’t running a serious campaign. I once met his staffer in my region, and found out that she was organizing four of New Hampshire’s ten counties. Many Obama staffers, by comparison, only organize one or two towns. But what’s really telling is that that staffer is not in New Hampshire anymore. She, along with the vast majority of Dodd’s staff, got a transfer to Iowa, leaving Dodd without any organization outside of that state. He simply doesn’t have the resources to run a real primary campaign; even if by some fluke he does decently in Iowa, he won’t be able to follow it up in the slightest.
Yes, Dodd is right about telecom immunity, and I do like his carbon tax proposal. But he’s a completely disastrous candidate in so many other ways.

On Kojève

It’s just plain bizarre that Matt Zeitlin and myself share an interest in Alexandre Kojève:

Chris Hayes mentions Alexandre Kojeve, the Russian-French Hegelian who is a key influence on Francis Fukuyama and his End of History thesis. Fukuyama develops the theoretical side of his argument — that liberal democracy is the fulfillment of human governmental evolution — using Kojeve’s idea that, as Chris puts it, “[the]constitutive feature of what it means to be human is the desire for recognition.” Fukuyama contends that liberal democracy allows the most recognition for individuals, and thus is the natural endpoint for capital H History. And while Fukuyama is very persuasive and presents his point well, the methodology always troubled me.
How do we know that humans desire recognition? Sure Kojeve says so, and Fukuyama is able to construct a plausible historiographical extrapolation of that theory, but besides their assertions, there’s no great way to verify their conception of human nature. Hobbes said that humans desire security, Rousseau said that humans are, as Mark Lilla put it, “theotropic” (desiring religion), Marx thought that man was fundamentally productive and so on and so forth. Some political philosophers just sidestep this debate, or at least don’t make a conception of human nature axiomatic the same way, say, Hobbes does. Rawls’ assumptions about human nature is that in his highly abstract veil of ignorance, people will use maximin reasoning. Nozick just starts out with Lockean natural rights and moves on from there.
But putting aside Rawls and Nozick, how do we sort out these competing claims about human nature?

For the time being, it looks like Evolutionary Psychology is the way to go. So from now on, if you have a political theory that’s based around a specific conception of human nature, you must talk about alleles. Peter Singer agrees, and Robert Wright has gotten the closest to using evolutionary psychology and theory as a basis for large scale political and social thought. Kojeve and Fukuyama, haven’t really managed this feat, and so I’m forced to put their theory of politics and history into the “sounds interesting, but not really verifiable in a systemic way” pile.

I haven’t gotten around to reading The End of History and the Last Man yet, but I think the Kojève end of this is slightly wrong. Kojève is, as Matt says, a Hegelian; his main work is a set of lectures on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Kojève philosophy is, at the end of the day, just a quirky interpretation of Hegel. And Hegel’s most notable feature was his idealism; as much as Marx tried to create a materialist Hegelianism, the dialectic worked only because it applied to ideas, the only thing that’s truly real in Hegelian thought. So when Kojève talks about liberal capitalism being a logical endpoint of the dialectic, what he means is that the idea of liberal capitalism won the ideological debate; this explains his claim that history ended with the French Revolution, despite the fact that the vast majority of the world wasn’t yet democratic then. Kojève isn’t making an empirical claim that democracy will triumph because people inherently want recognition; he’s saying that it’s won an ideological debate. So I think he would have objected to justifying his views with ev-psych, since he would say that such materialist reductionism is base and counterproductive.
This isn’t to say that his conclusion isn’t supported by ev-psych; I think Robert Wright’s Nonzero provides an excellent evolutionary psychological explanation of the rise of man from hunter-gatherer society to the liberal democratic society we have today. But I think that Kojève and Wright work in different realities, and that Kojève would have objected to merging them.

Bias and Live-blogging

Matt Zeitlin spots a disparity between my liveblog and that of TAPPED. He’s right: there is a discrepancy.
Some of this is that the style of liveblogging was different. I was jotting down thoughts as it went along, not really analyzing closely. The TAPPED liveblog had fewer postings but they were more polished, and more conceptual than observational.
Also, I’m very clearly biased. If you want a completely objective, un-tinted view of the debate, I’m not your man. I’ve worked for Obama since March, and I am sure I’m putting an Obama-positive (and, thus, Hillary-negative) spin on the debate, whether I’m conscious of it or not.
But I do think it’s clear that Hillary was ganged up upon by Edwards and Obama, who both strongly attacked her on a variety of issues. I thought she got angrier and responded less gracefully than she has before; Adele Stan, for example, clearly disagrees. I thought their criticisms were effective; Dana Goldstein thinks Hillary answered them well. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. At the end of the day, that’s all a live-blog can do: provide one interpretation of the events at hand. They are not, and cannot be, an objective account of the debate.

Debate Live-blogging

9:03 – Williams gives Obama a big opening to attack Hillary, and he takes it, very explicitly accusing of Hillary of flip-flopping on torture, NAFTA, and Iraq. This might get ugly.
9:04 – Hillary thinks her getting attacked by Republicans makes her a progressive. Um…not so much.
9:07 – Russert gives Edwards a similar opportunity to lay into Clinton, this time on Iran, and he does, unsurprisingly. He accuses her of being a tool of lobbyists, of supporting a continuing war in Iraq, of enabling a war in Iran, and of flip-flopping on Social Security. I’m liking the way this is going.
9:08 – Wow, Hillary is really dodging the issues. She counters criticism on foreign policy by talking about “standing up for women and children”. WTF?
9:09 – Whoa, where’s the “trillion dollar tax increase” business coming from? I’m pretty sure lifting the FISA cap wouldn’t do that.
9:11 – Russert presses Hillary on Kyl-Lieberman. She repeats her talking points about how KL is just “tough diplomacy”, which is bull. Saying you’re keeping troops in Iraq to threaten Iran isn’t “tough diplomacy”, it’s saber-rattling.
9:12 – Dodd defends his vote on Iraq as a vote for diplomacy. This is the netroots’ favorite candidate? Really?
9:14 – Biden is weirdly conspiratorial, talking about how KL drove up oil prices. Not what I’d expect from him.
9:15 – Obama stakes out a strong, unequivocal stance against an attack on Iran, refusing to buy into a Williams hypothetical. I like this.
9:17 – Wow, he’s even talking about Iran joining the WTO. This is fantastic.
9:18 – Hillary is really getting pissed off. She’s not looking good.
9:19 – Edwards really digs into Hillary on Iran. I like the Obama-Edwards tag team.
9:21 – Why does Richardson look like he just got up from a nap? Why does Richardson always look like he just got up from a nap?
9:24 – Kucinich uses international law as an argument against the war in Iraq. I really think violating the UN Charter was the least of our problems there.
9:25 – Clinton: “I will do anything I can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.” I’m pretty sure that’s a promise of war.
9:26 – Obama reiterates that war should not be under consideration now.
9:27 – Biden: “I will do all in my power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” I hope he doesn’t mean that.
9:28 – Dodd: I have teh experience! I really don’t see why anyone who cares about how long someone’s been in Washington would pick Dodd over Biden.
9:30 – I have to admit, Richardson is doing well at talking up his resumé.
9:31 – Kucinich opposes nuclear power. Maybe, while it’s freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, it helps the aliens infiltrate his mind. He can’t have that happen again.
9:32 – Awesome. Williams asks Hillary about her advisor’s quote saying she opposes the war. Hillary responds by equating opposing the war to opposing the troops. That’s what the pros call “a bad move”.
9:36 – Obama does what he’s been doing all night: making it totally obvious how he’ll be less belligerent and more humble in his foreign policy than Clinton.
9:38 – Edwards explicitly accuses Hillary of being calculating on Iran. She responds with a death glare and a strange definition of “combat troops”.
9:43 – Williams challenges Hillary on her experience. She gives a pretty good answer, including her time as First Lady. As a voter said to me a few months ago, “I don’t want the husband of a brain surgeon operating on my head.”
9:44 – Did she just say “turn the page”? I believe she did.
9:45 – Russert asks about the classification of her pages in the National Archives. She denies that they’re classified. Russert makes it clear that she’s not being truthful about that.
9:46 – Nice. Obama notes her theft of “turn the page”, and Obama compares her secrecy to Cheney’s. This is a good night.
9:47 – Whoa. “Republicans talk about you because that’s a fight they want to have.” Barack’s pushing at her hard.
9:49 – Edwards calls her the candidate of lobbyists. She’s really on the defense tonight.
9:50 – Did Edwards just say he believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy? Well, I guess if Kenneth does…
9:51 – She’s getting testy. Really, really testy.
9:52 – Obama details his legislative accomplishments on the death penalty, nonproliferation, and ethics reform. He doesn’t do this enough, and it’s good.
9:54 – Richardson is defending Clinton very explicitly. He’s not running for VP or Secretary of State or anything. She @#$%ing nodding as he speaks!
9:55 – Hey, Bill? 2007-1960 ≠ 40. Just for the record. Also, being a Governor isn’t the same as “being a CEO”.
9:55 – Why does Chris Dodd have to sound like an aristocrat? Really, he makes Kerry sound like a pauper.
9:58 – Edwards is really fumbling over his words now.
10:00 – Kucinich: “Americans have a right to know the differences between the candidates.” Yes, like which of them have conducted diplomacy with little green aliens. I’m pretty sure that’s an experience unique to him, and maybe Richardson.
10:01 – Does Biden sound like a drunken Grandpa when ranting about Giuliani, or is it just me?
10:03 – Russert asks Hillary about her different public and private positions on the FICA cap. She denies there’s a conflict between the two. That’s, um, totally wrong.
10:04 – WOW she’s pissed off. This is not a good night for her.
10:06 – Obama states clearly that Social Security is “not in crisis” and is “fundamentally sound”. Happy now, Krugman?
10:09 – Hillary really likes her bipartisan commission idea. This seems like a cop-out. And there’s the trillion-dollar tax increase claim again. WTF?
10:11 – Williams asks Obama about the Muslim meme. Obama: I’ll respond “rapidly, forcefully, and truthfully”.
10:16 – Williams asks about heating prices. I really hate the media’s focus on this and gas prices; they should be increasing. That’s a good thing.
10:18 – Predictability, everyone proposes conservation and moving away from oil.
10:19 – Ooo – Obama ties oil prices to saber-rattling. Good move.
10:20 – Kucinich calls for an impeachment of Bush and Cheney. I thought he just wanted to boot Cheney.
10:21 – Richardson is really rambling on energy policy.
10:23 – Dodd pushes the carbon tax. I hope Obama brings up auctioned cap-and-trade.
10:25 – Edwards is not answering Williams’ question about natural disasters at all.
10:26 – I didn’t know Charlie Rangel endorsed Hillary; that’s disappointing. Hillary’s kind of rambling about the AMT. And reminds us that she’s kind of rich.
10:28 – She really just sniped at Russert. There seems to be a pattern here.
10:30 – Obama plugs his tax plan, and does it well.
10:32 – Kucinich’s rant reminds me: Dodd’s talk-o-meter for this debate is going to be really frontrunner-heavy.
10:34 – Am I the only one who finds it really annoying that Edwards takes really strong stances on issues now that he’s out of the Senate which he never made when he was actually in office?
10:35 – LIGHTNING ROUND! Wow, these never go as fast as the moderators want.
10:36 – Annnnnnnnd Richardson goes way over.
10:37 – Annnnnnnnd Kucinich goes way over. Who called it?
10:38 – So, everyone wants math and science education. Who would have guessed?
10:40 – Biden wants a minimum of 16 years of education. So…K-12 is 13, then pre-K is 14, so he wants everyone to get an associate’s or something?
10:43 – Here’s the Dodd-o-meter right now:

Yep, frontrunner-heavy.
10:46 – Really? We need to attract people to medicine? Because I’m pretty sure that many more people apply to med school than get into any. If anything, there’s excessive demand.
10:47 – Edwards is right: the nursing shortage is more of a problem.
10:48 – Hillary sounds testy even when she’s not challenged. Is anyone else noticing this?
10:49 – Richardson: two years tuition for one year of service. That seems like the wrong ratio.
10:51 – They’re asking Obama about the airline industry? Really? He clearly knows his stuff, and is articulating solutions well, but that’s a bizarre topic to ask about.
10:52 – And as someone who lives an hour and a half from the nearest major airport, I’d like to thank Obama for mentioning helping residents of “remote areas” access air transportation.
10:53 – Hillary has a decent answer on immigration. And Dodd is surprisingly nativist on driving licenses.
10:54 – And, again, Hillary is getting snippy with Dodd.
10:55 – Edwards just totally ignored a question about cultural decay to attack Hillary.
10:56 – Obama piles on, to audience approval. He specifically accuses her of political calculation.
10:57 – Russert asks Kucinich about the UFO incident. Laughter ensues. Kucinich confirms the account. He’s really coming across as what he is: a crazy person.
10:58 – Obama has a cute answer about extraterrestrials, which gets a lot of applause.
11:00 – Hillary says what any candidate would say about cancer.
11:01 – Dodd is in favor of marijuana decriminalization. Interesting.
11:02 – Obama will be going as a two-faced Romney for Halloween. Good call.
11:04 – Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman think Hillary really screwed up on driver’s licenses, and think Edwards and Obama did well at being aggressive. Interesting. I think I’ll call it a night. Overall, I think Obama did very well, Hillary had her worst performance, and Edwards did fairly well.

What’s So Libertarian About A Basic Income?

I think McMegan and I will be able to agree on something:

As libertarians go, I’m close-ish to a “left libertarian”; among other things, I think there’s a role for government in guaranteeing a decent life for the needy, and intervening to right environmental problems that stem from unpriced negative externalities.
So what’s different from liberalism? To the extent that the problems of the poor are inadequate money, I think that we should solve this problem by . . . giving them money. Not giving them food, shelter, or health care; just giving them money, and letting them decide what they want to buy. If they want to eat cornmeal mush for a month while watching cable television, let ’em. I think the government’s job is to make sure people have the ingredients of a decent life, not to tell them what that decent life is.

It seems that she’s hinting at replacing most of the welfare state (Social Security, food stamps, housing vouchers) with a basic income; she’s endorsed a negative income tax before, which effectively creates a basic income, so I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. And, as loyal blog readers know, I’m completely on board with implementing a basic income. Come to think of it, I’m a big fan of Megan’s previously proposed health care plan, which would provide very generous catastrophic coverage and pay for all health expenditures of people under 200% of the poverty line.
My question, then, would be, “What so libertarian about this?” Funding Megan’s health plan and a meaningful basic income would cost a considerable amount of money; even if we got rid of Social Security, welfare, and all existing government health care programs in the process, we’d probably end up with a budget equivalent to or slightly larger than what we have today. I’d be fine with that, but I doubt most libertarians (or, for that matter, Megan) would be. I think Megan’s answer, that no specific spending is encouraged, isn’t enough; believing in limited government means more than saying that government should tax the hell out of you and then let you spend the benefits however you like, it means believing we should limit spending and taxation period. Sure, if this is what mainstream libertarians believe, then mark me down as a libertarian. But I really think it’s closer to mainstream liberalism than to mainstream libertarianism.

The Case for Cohen

Obviously, Will Safire’s running mate predictions (Clinton-Emanuel? Obama-Feinstein? Feinstein’s endorsed Hillary!) are completely wrong and more or less useless. That being said, this is as good a time as any to suggest William Cohen as the perfect running mate for Obama. He’s a liberal Republican, which supports the themes of national unity and bipartisanship which drive the Obama campaign. He was in the Senate for eighteen years and the House for six, which would help Obama to counter the inexperience critique. And he was SecDef for four years, giving Obama credibility on national security issues. Sure, he doesn’t provide regional balance the way, say, Mark Warner would, but he would help the ticket – and an Obama administration – more than any other possible candidate.