Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nancy Pelosi and the Australian press.

Interesting profile of House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi here,
The 66-year-old San Francisco lawmaker is an aggressive, hyperpartisan liberal pol who is the Democrats' version of Tom DeLay, minus the ethical and legal problems of the former Republican House leader. To condition Democrats for this fall's midterm elections, she has employed tactics straight out of DeLay's playbook: insisting other House Democrats vote the party line on everything, avoiding compromise with Republicans at all cost and mandating that members spend much of their time raising money for colleagues in close races. And she has been effective. House Democrats have been more unified in their voting than at any other time in the past quarter-century, with members on average voting the party line 88% of the time in 2005.
Pelosi may become the closest to the American equivalent of Prime Minister. A search on Factiva for references to her in the Australian press pulls up only 11 references all relating to appearances by Bush and the Iraqi PM before Congress. Nothing on her likely role after the elections. But of course the quality press is full of another American story.

Don Chipp

I discussed Don Chipp on the ABC this morning. From a historical viewpoint the Democrats were the last of a long series of 'dissident right' parties, such as the citizens' movements of the Depression, the various 'middle-class' parties of the mid 1940s and even to a degree the early Country Party. But all of these formations were soon incorporated back into the right. The Democrats have survived (if only just) because the forces of radicalism in Australia now come from the right rather than the left. Their problem recently has been that with Labor now the party of Deakinite liberalism it is difficult for the Democrats to find a niche. Labor has taken over the Democrat's ground, this has made Labor vulnerable on the left hence the Greens.

Monday, August 28, 2006

'Marxist' muddles

Via Brad de Long come some words of Jeff Winetraub I would largely agree with:
my appreciation of Marx has only increased over the years--a process in no way diminished by my growing awareness of the limitations, errors, weaknesses, and even dangers of his thought and influence. .. The major complication was that for decades Marx and his thought were surrounded by a cult. At every level from students to professors and in between there seemed to be hordes of academic Marxists, semi-Marxists, neo-Marxists, Marxologists and the like (as well as non-academic Marxist scholars and intellectuals, such as Perry Anderson for most of this period), most of whom tended to assume that Marxism of one form or another had an exclusive lock on reality, and that no idea could be taken seriously until it had first been 'translated', however clumsily or implausibly, into Marxist (or pseudo-Marxist) idiom. I must admit that I sometimes found all this a bit irritating and distracting--and occasionally comic. And out in the larger world, of course, Marxism remained a major world religion with millions of followers. But then, sometime in the early 1990s, these hordes of academic & intellectual Marxists suddenly became almost extinct.
The cult lingers on in a few tiny circles. Class and Struggle in Australia makes some good points but it won't convince anybody who doesn't want to be convinced.

History muddles

The Australian misreads the history of:
the 1930s when elite wisdom in Europe held that having been hard done by at Versailles, Germany should be allowed to re-arm - despite Hitler's stated feelings about the Jews and easily discerned desire for global conquest.
Germany was hard done by at Versailles and this contributed substantially to the fall of German democracy, for democracy was seen by many as associated with national weakness and humiliation. Versailles sought to limit the size of German military forces. To impose this on a major European power was never a viable position unless as part of a general European disarmament. How once Germany began to rearm under Hitler could it be prevented from doing so except by a pre-emptive war? European public opinion, not just 'elite' opinion, was hostile to this. I don't think anybody, including Churchill, argued that a pre-emptive war should be launched against a rearming Germany. The only viable policy was to match the German military build-up. This was done but too late. 'Appeasement' as a policy was never a debate about whether Germany should be 'allowed' to re-arm. Hitler claimed throughout this period that his sole wish was to unite into one Germany Australia and the German areas of Czechoslovakia (the 'Sudetenland'). 'Appeasement' was about whether to accept this. It should not have been accepted. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Austria and Czechoslovakia should have been guaranteed. Once it became apparent with the German conquest of the rump Czechoslovakia in 1939 that Hitler’s ambitions extended beyond the incorporation of German speaking areas into Germany the line was drawn by Britain and security guarantees were extended to countries under threat from Germany. If people want to argue for a pre-emptive war against Iran they can do so but don't misuse history. Picking through the history of politicians long past is of limited value, but Menzies strongly supported appeasement. It was also the case that the reluctance of the democracies to support Czechoslovakia owed much to the fear of the Soviet Union, because Soviet troops would have required for any defence of Czechoslovakia. It would be a better, but still I think incorrect, argument to claim that Israel’s control over the West Bank and Gaza, despite the wishes of their population, is justified on the grounds of secure borders as Czechoslovakia argued about the Sudetenland.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Generic vs. Individual votes

Interesting comparisons of generic Congressional preference polls with individual polls in key districts by a GOP supporter. He argues that the Republican candidates poll well ahead of the generic vote.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Connecticut problems and potential lessons

Interesting poll here suggests that Lieberman has been able to squeeze the Republican vote and combine this with a portion of the Democratic vote to carve out a 12% lead. Just as I predicted. The pollster describes this as 'astounding'. He should look to Australia where it is quite common for independents to squeeze the vote of one major party. Tactical voting is however unknown to a two-party system. Lieberman needs to be tied to Republican policies in the eyes of voters. His campaign to market himself as a 'moderate' may be infuriating given how the Republicans have tacked away from the path of moderation towards relentless partisanship, but progressives need to respond to this rather than allow the right to set the agenda. They should heed the words of William Galston:
it is hardly reassuring to learn that according to a 2005 Pew Research Center survey, only 29 percent of Americans regard the Democratic Party as friendly to religion, down from 40 percent a year earlier. Nor is it comforting that Al Gore lost the married vote by 9 points and John Kerry by 15. (Bill Clinton just about broke even among these voters in both 1992 and 1996.) And it is astounding to learn that Republicans are winning majorities among voters who are moderates on abortion...Because there are at least 50 percent more conservatives than liberals, Democrats can win national elections only if they gain supermajorities of voters who are neither liberal nor conservative. John Kerry's 54 percent of the moderate vote was good, but not good enough. And while moderates are a bit more like liberals than conservatives, their outlook and policy preferences are not identical to those of our liberal base, which gave 85 percent of its vote to Kerry. There is no - repeat - no-possibility that a politics of liberal purity that fully satisfies the base can garner a national majority anytime soon.

Words from the old man

Given that aeroplanes have been in the news lately I thought the following from Trotsky is sadly accurate today even more than when he wrote it just after Hitler's coming to power:
Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

History summit

This is little that can be said about the silly 'history summit. Some argue that one should participate in such processes on the grounds that any platform is better than none, but this seems to me like assuming that a genuine pacifist would have received a fair hearing at the World Peace Council. There is a tendency for some people on the left to allow themselves to be bullied and intimidated by people who don't play by any rules. Stalin-era Communist parties demonstrated this. Then there's flattery Bob Carr flatters intellectuals and some lap it up, Carr's historical thoughts seem to derive from a dim recollection of Triumph of the Nomads. One of the tropes of American neo-conservatism is the moment when liberals capitulated to thuggish new left or black power advocates, see essays here and here. There were people in the new left who were thugs (as in any other political movement) and sometimes left-liberals did allow themselves to be intimidated. The current bullies of the right have learnt this lesson they thrive on weakness. It's a free country and they can say what they like but why engage with them? There is little point in analysing the outpourings of The Australian's Michael Sutchbury (who sadly has a B. Ec (Hons) and could once write coherently as in his critique of the Playford legend in South Australia). His musings deserve no more analysis than those of Osama bin Laden. The hoped for aspiration of some would-be academic entrepreneurs involved in this history summit shambles would seem to be the American model of survey courses largely taught from 1200 page seven pound textbooks (so large because they have to mention every group) and largely assessed by tests.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Queensland Platonic puzzles

Betting markets strongly favour the re-election of the Beattie government. Some have concluded that given polls showing Labor and the Coalition level-pegging and the heavy by-election swings against Labor recently the Coalition's chances are much better than the markets suggest. It will be a test of the markets for they are factoring in the view of observers about how the campaign will go. What does history suggest? The infamous early election is that of South Australia in 1979 where new Labor premier Des Corcoran sitting on a substantial if not landslide margin from 1977 rushed to the polls, lost ground steadily through the campaign and fell on an unexpected 10% swing. In 1984 NSW Labor plagued by corruption allegations but sitting on a landslide margin from 1981 called an early election and lost about half its margin but was comfortably returned. The 1976-78-81 NSW cycle was an early example of the current narrow win-landslide-landslide cycle we saw in Queensland in 1998-2001-04 and NSW in 1995-99-2003 and which Bracks looks likely to repeat. The market assumption is I think that Beattie's margin is too big. But what is a margin? Queenslanders have voted strongly for the Coalition federally since 1993. It is true that having sitting Labor MPs is an asset to the campaign but if the swing is on they will be swept aside. Several are also retiring and Mt Isa for example is by no means secure. Some analysts after 2001 and 2004 talked of a Labor 'hegemony' but this is a meaningless word. The idea of hegemony was brought to Australia by Neal Blewett in 1971 in "A classification of Australian elections". It was based on the American idea of partisan identification: that voters had a basic predisposition to support one party, sometimes voters might deviate in their voting behaviour from this identification due to short-term circumstances, such as Democrats voting for Eisenhower in the 1950s, but in 'normal' elections they followed their identification. Occasionally there were 'realigning' elections where the partisan identification of a group of voters fundamentally shifted due to a major crisis such as war or depression. These realigning elections saw a transition from one hegemonic party to another. The post-1896 Republican hegemony was only interrupted by Wilson in 1912-20 due to a split in the Republican party, but Roosevelt effected a major partisan realignment in 1932-36 and established the Democrats as the hegemonic party, Eisenhower's victories like Wilson’s, were an aberration against the trend. In the Australian context 'hegemony' is an example of what Galvano della Volpe in his excellent Logic as a Positive Science called hypostatisation, a Platonic elevation of a description into an Idea seperate from what it is describes. With the very partial exception of Tasmania none of the recent ALP state landslides have shown any sign of such realignment. Rather an increasingly volatile electorate has been more prone to translate approval of a government into actually voting for it. Labor's Queensland primary vote has oscillated from 30.8% (1998 federal) to 50.3% (1989 state) over the last 20 years. They could just as quickly shift the other way. Commentators have misunderstood the 2004 Queensland election rather than showing that landslides are somehow set in stone it rather illustrated the likelihood that if voters are wildly enthusiastic about a government at one time it is unlikely that the performance of a government is unlikely to decline so quickly that support for it will fall dramatically over only three years. It is possible and in Canada extraordinary seat turnovers have occurred

Friday, August 11, 2006

Left parties and education

The Truman Project paper I discussed in my last post has an interesting graph on voters' evaluation of which party is best on education. Striking to see how the Republicans made up ground, and this is like Australia where Labor's advantage on education has declined.

DLC confusions

Lieberman’s defeat is seen as setback for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, the American third wayers. Their material is often insightful but sometimes prone to mixing up perceptions and fact. An interesting paper from the Truman Project on why the Democrats are less favoured on national security than the Republicans (from which comes graph) is however full of arguments like:
Carter's initial missteps poisoned public perception of his fitness to handle America's security, particularly in the midst of a crisis abroad. After initially rallying around the President in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis, the public quickly grew impatient with his inability to bring the hostages home safely. When a daring rescue attempt ended in failure, public mistrust of Carter only grew. Similarly, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was blamed on Carter's conciliatory stance toward the Soviet Union. By the end of his four years in office, the American public "felt bullied by OPEC, humiliated by the Ayatollah Khomeini, tricked by Castro, out-traded by Japan and out-gunned by the Russians." The narrative of Democratic incompetence spoiled Carter's foreign policy successes, most notably the Camp David Accords. To be sure, Carter was wise to recognize the security relevance of "soft" foreign policy tools such as human rights promotion (the Bush Administration has lately come around to this view itself). But whatever the wisdom of Carter's policies, their political symbolism was disastrous, feeding into the perception that Democrats shy away from projecting American power and leave our security vulnerable. Because Carter's policies were seen as weak, his symbols began to seem weak as well. Concepts like peace, cooperation, and human rights came under Carter to imply weakness. Together, these fueled a negative narrative. Without intending it, Jimmy Carter drove home the notion that Democrats were skeptical of American strength, determined to scale back the military, and too timid to stand up to our enemies' acts of aggression.
Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute is similar:
There is no doubt that the Iraqi insurgency has been a catalyst for the growth of the global jihad. But that doesn't mean the jihadist fever will subside if the
United States suddenly leaves Iraq. On the contrary, driving the American Goliath out of Iraq would burnish the jihadist mystique and convince many fence-sitters to sign up.
So the criteria for foreign policy is what our enemies think? I’ll take wisdom over symbolism any day. That being said there are some good points in the Truman Project paper on how to mobilise public opinion.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Connecticut lessons

The Connecticut result has attracted attention even in Australia. It is an exceptionally poor performance by an incumbent senator. Lieberman became the focal point of much angst and anger that should have been spread more broadly perhaps, I wouldn't hold his ignorance of popular music against him for example. I agree with Reed Hunt on what Lamont should do:
You need to go on TV right away to start selling who you really are. This is gut check time. What is in front of you now dwarfs what you just did. Now is when you win. I don't mean you didn't do well: you were fantastic. But the last couple of days showed fatigue and lack of focus. You have to rally. You have to go on the attack. Now.
The geographical distribution of the vote was fairly even as shown by map, but Lamont's support did correspond with more affluent areas and an analysis of exit polls at Political Arithmetik backs this up, however income does not have a huge impact. Blacks were more likely to back Lamont and this would have reduced the effect of income. Are there lessons here for the Democrat pursuit of the white working-class? Lieberman did have the unenthusiastic endorsement of the AFL-CIO. It is less that Lieberman uniquely appealed to lower-income Democrats than they stuck with the incumbent. It is an overstatement to present this as a triumph of the latte belt and high income voters are more likely to vote in November anyway. But on a national level it would be an equal overstatement to see what one of the net roots described as:
However, with the victory of Ned Lamont this week, the momentum has begun to change. Whereas once the more progressive Senators had to worry about being outflanked to the right -- a sign of the rightward drift of American politics over the past several years -- now overly hawkish and regressive Democrats will have to worry about losing the party base. If ever there were proof of ascendency of progressivism, this is it.

The Republicans can’t be defeated by falling to their level of demagogy. Real answers are required to security fears. It seems agreed that the Republican Senate candidate is very weak. The threat to Lamont comes from Lieberman as an independent. How far could he squeeze the Republican vote? A lot I think given that Americans often vote for candidate over party, how else could the Republicans win Maine and the Democrats Nebraska?
PS: the first poll on Lamont is better than I expected, he trails Lieberman 40 to 43, so long as he remains focused he should win from here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

American political poll puzzles

The American elections remain curious. Democrats argue that the campaign is 'nationalised' that a general dissatisfaction with the Republicans will impel major gains. Republicans espouse the conventional wisdom that 'all politics is local' and that strong MPs will resist the tide. It is the uniform swing argument again. Democrats cite generic polls (and here) that show them ahead, but if this is the case why are they tied with Republicans in Vermont of all places?

American conservatives

Stuck in the 19th century recently but this article from the NY Times on a camp for young American conservatives is interesting. Australia lacks this social phenomenon I think (it is sought by those such as Jason Briant), but an examination of grass-roots conservatism sheds more light on how it functions than mulling over 'neo-liberalism' or micro-analysing John Howard's rhetoric yet again. The young conservatives' attitude to books is interesting; they want books to arm them to defend what they already know, rather like the Marxist left.