Politics

Why Dean is doomed

Slate’s Bill Saletan has a brilliant exegesis (is that like saying “milieu” in regular conversation?) of why I believe Dean’s candidacy is doomed in Son of a Milieu Worker:

8. Religion and the South. Having grown up in east Texas, I cringe for Dean every time he fumbles for a friendly word about the South. Here’s what he said Sunday: “I have a lot of friends from the South. In the South, people do integrate religion openly, easily into their lives, both black Southerners and white Southerners. I understand that if I’m going to campaign for the presidency of the United States, I have to be comfortable in the milieu that other Americans are comfortable. … I plan to learn how to do that.”

I hardly know where to begin laughing at this comment. Maybe it’s the part where Dean says some of his best friends are Southerners. Or maybe it’s the way he speaks of them as foreigners. Or maybe, as my colleague Chris Suellentrop suggests, it’s the way Dean talks about Southern habits in the third person, like an adult speaking to another adult about children who are in the room. Or maybe it’s the way Dean blurts out that this is all political, just as Bush’s dad used to say things like “Message: I care,” and “When Barbara holds an AIDS baby, she’s showing a certain compassion for family.” Or maybe it’s the very Bush-41 way Dean inserts and impeccably pronounces the word “milieu.” Perhaps Dean intends to run as the son of a milieu work.

I believe if nominated that Dean will lose the general election worse than Mondale (who at least won Minnesota). Fortunately, there is still a small glimmer of hope, in that a new poll shows Clark within the margin of error of Dean’s support.

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Is Voting Rational?

I keep blathering on about pluralist ideals of market democracy, and yet I live in a country where far less than 50% of people vote. Gordon Mohr argues that one shouldn’t vote unless you’re familiar with the issues.

First, rather than saying that you shouldn’t vote unless you’ve studied the issues, I would just say that you should study the issues. Voting or not is certainly a matter of personal preference, and I’m comfortable with people making the choice not to vote. Of course, I’m also comfortable with people who decide to vote even though they’re not familiar with the issues, as I believe the right to vote (even to vote poorly) is a fundamental human one.

My only concern is that voting does require a certain naive belief in democracy and even an irrational belief that one person can have an impact. That is, voting is almost impossible to justify as a matter of simple economics.

To see why, assume that your city of 100,000 is voting to raise the minimum wage from $6 to $10 an hour, which will directly mean your salary goes from $12 K to $20 K a year. What could be more obvious than that you should take the hour to go vote, right? Well, no. Technically, with majority-take-all voting (like we use in the States), your vote only matters if it’s the tie-breaking one. If about half the folks are going to vote, that’s a 1 in 50,000 chance that your vote will matter. Multiply that by the $8,000 you’ll get if the vote passes, and the expected value of you voting is 16 cents. Since you already make $6 an hour, your time is definitely worth more than 16 cents.

Now, there’s still a whole raft of reasons to vote, such as civic responsibility, the warm feeling it gives you compared to the billion or so people who don’t have the right, the huge regret you’d feel if the measure really did lose by 1 vote, etc. However, it’s just not worth doing solely for the economic basis. (And, of course, most votes have far less clear economic benefits, and your impact is diluted across more voters.)

On the other hand, all sorts of areas of modern life (from co-worker interaction, to friendships, to dating, to most areas of morality) would be quite unpleasant if they were decided solely on a rational economic basis. For instance, I don’t think we should dump our toxic waste to Africa (as former Treasury secretary and now Harvard president Larry Summers once facetiously suggested), even though resulting deaths in Africa would have far less economic impact than ones here (due to their lower incomes).

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Shortism

So, I had a great date last night with a woman who is 5’10″ tall (I’m 6’4″), and our conversation inevitably turned to the subject of shortism, which is discrimination against SHRIMPs (Severely Height-Restricted Individuals of the Male Persuasion). From the 1995 Economist, here is one of the most brilliant essays I’ve ever read, which starts from a ludicrous premise and concludes by calling doubt on all forms of government-sponsored affirmative action:
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Mark Steyn on John Kerry

Mark Steyn in the WSJ writes an exegesis of John Kerry that epitomizes the art form of character-decimating essays.

WSJ.com – Lather, Rinse, Repeat:
“If you were to create an animatronic Democrat to exemplify all the most disastrous qualities of the 2002 election — the equivocating, the fundamental unseriousness, the reliance on biography even when no one’s interested — it would look an awful lot like John Kerry.”

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Dahlia Lithwick on Winona Scissorhands:

Dahlia Lithwick on Winona Scissorhands: “This week, a jury convicted Winona Ryder of felony theft for having … self-discounted more than $5,500 worth of clothing and accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue last December. As a rule, for every paragraph the media have devoted to the legal developments in the trial, two were devoted to what she was wearing and how she wore her hair.

This wasn’t a person on trial, it was Felony Barbie.”

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The NYT amuses with a

The NYT amuses with a view on Jeffords in the minority:

Officially, the word from the Republican leadership is that there will be no retribution against Mr. Jeffords, the Vermont senator whose defection from the party last year cost Republicans control of the Senate. Unofficially, Republicans are amusing themselves with other possibilities as they return to power. Would Vermont’s Mount Snow be a good spot for the national depository of nuclear waste? Could that controversial bombing range in Puerto Rico be moved to Lake Champlain? Will Mr. Jeffords still have an office when he returns to Washington?

We all have to live with our decisions.

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Bill Keller shows more vitriol

Bill Keller shows more vitriol than is common even by op-ed column standards. Congress really is as bad as he says, but then every democracy gets the government it deserves.

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The NYT editorial page gets

The NYT editorial page gets snarky:

A correction is in order here. Last week we mistakenly wrote that William Webster lacked any relevant experience to serve as chairman of the new oversight board for the accounting profession. It turns out that Judge Webster has some very relevant experience, but of the kind that should have automatically disqualified him from being considered for the post, to which he was appointed last Friday.

John Biggs of Vanguard has a rightly-deserved superb reputation, and obviously deserves the job, which is all about restoring investor confidence in auditing standards. The NYT concludes and I agree: “As for Mr. Pitt, there appears to be no bottom to the hole he keeps digging for himself and the S.E.C.”

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I very much buy Mickey

I very much buy Mickey Kaus’s Fifty-Fifty theory, that modern polling (plus the end of history), mean that the two political parties in the US will remain in “tie” for the foreseeable future:

The “Fifty-Fifty Forever” theory suggests a possible near-future that’s both exciting and depressing — exciting because close races are exciting; depressing because close races, as we learned in 2000, tend to end in so much acrimony, litigation, and uncertainty that they undermine democratic legitimacy.

That’s exactly why I think two of the most critical and opportune political issues are both non-partisan: improving election machines (so tight races can be decided fairly and accurately), and independent redistricting (so that incumbents are not gerrymanded into forever-safe districts).

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Great obit of Geraldine of

Great obit of Geraldine of Albania, including a suitable denouement to any story about royalty, regarding a vote for king.

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