...can be found at: stevenwhite.wordpress.com.
...can be found at: stevenwhite.wordpress.com.
I think I'm going to stop writing this blog, at least for the time being.
I've always been torn between wanting to be a journalist and wanting to be an academic. I suppose this blog has been written with the former in mind more than the latter. But there have always been things about journalism as a profession that bother me, chief among them what seems to be a rewarding of scandalousness and counterintuitiveness over seriousness and correctness. Granted, not all journalists do this, nor do all journalistic outlets encourage it. There are a lot of wonderful writers out there, as well as some excellent magazines and newspapers. Beyond that, I really don't mean to sound like those stuffy communications scholars that spend their lives chiding people for not approaching politics in a serious and rational manner. But the professional incentives of a good deal of journalism have bothered me from time to time. I went to a youth journalism conference over the summer and one of the speakers flatly said that when faced with a truly insightful, well-researched, completely correct piece of writing, it's hard to find anything to add to it. Thus, it's hard to link to it from a blog or cite it in an op-ed column. But if someone writes something completely stupid and outlandish? Well, that you can link to and endlessly reference because it can start a conversation, albeit often a petty one. Likewise, catching a prominent person say something insulting about another prominent person will get far more coverage than decades of serious thinking from that same individual.
The Samantha Power "monster" incident comes at a somewhat appropriate time, then. I basically agree with Noam Scheiber's take on the merits of the issue. Quite simply, the journalist in question shouldn't have quoted Power as a matter of basic courtesy. The comment she made was clearly an off-handed mistake (which she immediately realized as such), not some deeply thought-out declaration. More than that, there was no serious justification for publishing it. It wasn't about policy or anything that actually might effect the citizenry. It was in no way in the public interest. No, the sole purpose in printing the quote was to draw attention to the newspaper and provide fifteen minutes of fame to the writer. It worked because, as I said, professional journalism tends to reward scandal over seriousness.
Samantha Power is a pretty remarkable person and this sort of thing demeans her life of accomplishments. Her work on genocide has been vastly influential in bringing Sudan in particular into the mainstream of liberal foreign policy discourse. She even won a Pulitzer Prize for it. But now, for most people who weren't previously familiar with her name, she's just that Obama advisor who called Hillary Clinton a "monster."
Anyway, bringing this back to my own situation, here's what's happening: Last semester I applied for Ph.D. programs and I recently learned I was accepted by a couple of them. I plan to accept one of the offers and spend the next five or six years pursuing graduate study. At some point I would love to do some journalistic writing in addition to my academic work. But while in the past I was torn between the journalism vs. academia decision, I've come to realize I'm very happy pursuing the academic route. I'm currently growing weary of the daily back-and-forth between the Democratic campaigns. While I'm sure this primary season will eventually provide excellent fodder for journal articles and conference presentations, for now I'm going to stop obsessing over the day-to-day for the sake of my sanity, not to mention so I can finish writing my thesis and graduate.
This is how Republicans will smear Barack Obama if he is the Democratic nominee. What's most interesting is probably the fact that it's almost exactly the same way they tried to smear Al Gore and John Kerry. Of course, it worked pretty well in those cases.
While my thesis research is making me a little more sympathetic to Thomas Schaller's take on the South than before, I still harbor southern sympathies that lead me to do things like hope failed Redskins quarterback turned freshman North Carolina representative Heath Shuler won't be a half-bad congressman. Mostly his Blue Dog style conservatism has been a disappointment, but Daily Kos points out at least one area where having a conservative Democrat instead of a conservative Republican is vastly better: the environment. The just released League of Conservation Voters Environmental Scorecard gives Shuler a 75 percent rating. Charles Taylor, his Republican predecessor, had an abysmal lifetime score of only 5 percent.
Jennifer Hochschild ponders how we should evaluate "flawed historical heroes." She specifically mentions the anti-Semitic H. L. Mencken and the "Savage"-hatin' Ben Franklin. One can also throw in basically all of the Founding Fathers and "dead white guys" of Western political philosophy, just for starters. Of them, Hochschild asks:
How should we evaluate, teach, and write about people like Mencken and Franklin? Some of my students are prepared simply to condemn them as racists and therefore dismiss everything they wrote, or at least to interpret all of their writings through the lens of racism. But this seems to me too stringent, if only because I don’t want my own corpus of work to be interpreted through the stupidest sentences I ever write. Others are willing to excuse people like Mencken or Franklin on the grounds that they merely reflect the common discourse of their time. That seems too lenient, if only because by definition our heroes are not participants in common discourse; if they were, they would not have been identified as heroes. So they should be evaluated differently.
I continue to look for some middle interpretive ground that neither dismisses important political actors with a glaring flaw nor dismisses the flaw because the political actors are otherwise important. Exactly how to do that, however, remains a puzzle.
Dismissal and excusal are both poor answers, I agree. But I think Hochschild blurs an important line between dismissing someone because they were a racist and interpreting their writings through the lens of said racism. It seems helpful here to basically toss Mencken out of the conversation, as while he was certainly an interesting guy with some witty things to say, he doesn't really rise to the level of national hero or influential political philosopher. But does it matter that, for example, many of the Founding Fathers who declared all men are created equal also had slaves? Or that modern political philosophy is rooted in works with seemingly off-handed references to the ignorance of "savages"? It must matter for something.
Which is why I think interpreting such writings through the lens of the racism of its authors -- while it shouldn't make up the entirety of the discussion, or indeed even the majority of it -- is nonetheless an essential part of understanding the philosophical and political heritage of the United States (and many European countries as well). A student can't appreciate the critical nuances of modern political philosophy without actually taking note of the fact that many of the authors held deeply offensive views about people that seemed foreign to them. And, likewise, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are not just mythical documents bestowed upon us by the gods. They were written by real people with real flaws. This need not necessarily detract from the power of these documents in our political culture. If anything, carefully evaluating the racism of our founders -- both philosophical and political -- might very well help us to come to grips with the tension inherent in reaching for the promise of America in a nation that so terribly often has fallen far short of it. Indeed, believing that America can transcend the bigotries of those that founded it necessarily requires engaging in an open discussion of that bigotry, not by using it as an excuse to discount the importance of the Founders but rather as an opportunity to demythicize them.
"The more fallible the mammal, the greater the example," as I believe Christopher Hitchens put it in his analysis of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jason Zengerle compares the literary output of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- and finds the latter to be in a league of his own:
Obama's literary efforts, in contrast to Hillary's at least, are an open book. As a relatively unknown young lawyer with a smallish book advance, Obama obviously couldn't afford a ghostwriter for his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, so he wrote the book himself. But anyone familiar with the story of Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish knows that editors sometimes do more than just massage an author's prose--they can also rewrite it. So I called Henry Ferris, who was Obama's editor on Dreams, to ask him how many of the words in that book were Obama's. Ferris didn't have too many specific memories of the work he did with Obama more than a decade ago. "He and his book now are seen in such different ways than I was looking at them at that time," Ferris explained. "I didn't take on the project thinking he'd be a leading candidate for the presidency." But Ferris was absolutely adamant about one thing: "He wrote it completely and totally all by himself," Ferris said. "No one helped him." He added, "The manuscript needed shaping and focus, it needed editing, a lot of which he did based on suggestions I made. He was a terrific writer, a great stylist. ... This was not a job where I went in and had to completely redo this book for him. He needed the kind of guidance any first-time writer would need."
For his second book, the 2006 The Audacity of Hope, Obama got enough of an advance ($1.9 million for a three-book deal) and was certainly busy enough with his work in the Senate--not to mention laying the groundwork for his presidential campaign--that no one would have blamed him for going the ghostwriter route. But, according to Rachel Klayman, the Crown editor who worked with him on Audacity, he didn't. "I get irritated when people ask, 'Does he have a ghostwriter?' because it's the opposite of that," Klayman told me. "Not only does he not have a ghostwriter, he's on an entirely different plane from most writers editors work with." Klayman said that Obama's writing process was similar to that of many authors: He'd write a draft of a chapter--oftentimes working at his computer late at night--and then send it to her and a group of other people (although in Obama's case these people weren't just friends but mainly political and policy advisors) for suggested edits.
As for what Obama sent in, Klayman said, "I've never worked with any other writer who needed less line editing than he did. That's how clean his writing is. That doesn't mean we didn't do some editing. I did a lot of different things. But he's sort of a self-editing phenomenon. Sometimes my role was to stand back and watch him edit himself." She added, "Working with him was so much like working with someone whose day job is being a writer. He is a writer as far as I'm concerned. [Slate editor-in-chief] Jacob Weisberg said he's more like a writer who became a politician than a politician who became a writer."
I've only read The Audacity of Hope, but it really stands out in the category of Books Written By Politicians. It does alas suffer from some of the drawbacks of literature in that category -- the ending of the chapter on family is a little cheesy -- but for the most part, it's very genuine and engaging. And while it's clearly written with the goal of advancing his political ideals -- not to mention the idea of himself as the messenger of them -- it's more effective than the standard attempts at this. I look forward to reading Dreams From My Father over the summer, which sounds like the much better book. That would make sense, given he wasn't a senator planning a presidential run at the time. It tends to make one a little less self-conscious of some of the less picture-perfect elements of life. The interesting stuff, I mean.
A new Foreign Policy survey of 3,400 high-ranking military officers is pretty interesting. 53% of respondents said torture is never acceptable, which sounds admirable but should really just be the common wisdom. As Kevin Drum notes, perhaps more interesting -- and discouraging -- is the fact that 44% apparently think it's fine. Likewise disappointing is that only 22% support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly as a way to boost enlistment. That's astonishingly low. Granting citizenship in exchange for service gets almost four times as much support (78%). Patrick Appel does point out an important caveat, however: the data set skews very old, with 89% of respondents being older than 50, 72% over 60, and even 38% over 70. 92% are retired, of whom 71% have been retired for more than a decade. So, in conclusion, this seemingly interesting survey might very well tell us absolutely nothing about the current state of military opinion on important topics like torture, gay rights, and citizenship. But it does give bloggers some numbers to toss around.
This is true:
When white people go away to college, they tend to study what are knowns as the Arts. This includes actual Art, English, History, Classics, and Philosophy. These can of course be broken down further into Film, Womyn’s Studies (yes the spelling is correct), Communications, Gender Studies, and so forth. It is important to note that a high percentage of white people also get degrees in Political Science, which is pretty much like arts, and only seems to have the word “science” in it to make white people feel better about themselves.
White people can also take that degree and go to graduate school (future post) and eventually become a professor or adjunct professor where they will still require parental support.
From: Stuff White People Like, #47.
Mark Blumenthal explains why the "Keith Number" isn't just some catchy phrase. It's actually pretty useful analytically.
It seems pundits have a habit of referring to Pennsylvania with a phrase that goes something like "Philadelphia on the east, Pittsburgh on the west, and Alabama in the middle." The obvious problem is that this isn't true. Obama won Alabama, remember, because there are a lot of black people in Alabama. If the point you're trying to make is that there are a lot of conservative white people but not a lot of black people in central Pennsylvania, Alabama is actually a pretty terrible comparison. Why this keeps getting repeated is a bit beyond me.
"I think Jesse Jackson is exactly right." -Lou Dobbs on his show tonight.
Matthew Yglesias has openly supported Barack Obama for a while. But today he seems to have reached some sort of tipping point and finally lashes out at the Clinton campaign (and, I suppose, the media):
Back in October 2007, Clinton was beating Obama in Maine by a hilarious 47 to 10 margin, but it seems he's carried the state today, once again by a large margin. My understanding, though, is that this doesn't really count because it's a small state, much as Utah doesn't count because there aren't many Democrats there, DC doesn't count because there are too many black people, Washington doesn't count because it's a caucus, Illinois doesn't count because Obama represents it in the Senate even though Hillary was born there, Hawaii won't count because Obama was born there. I'm not sure why Delaware and Connecticut don't count, but they definitely don't.
Realistically, Clinton seems to have difficulty winning anywhere she can't mobilize racial polarization in her favor. Obama has, of course, deployed polarization to his benefit in a number of states (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana most notably) but he's also dominated the states with very few black voters.
Clearly Clinton has won in states without using racial polarization (see: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, etc.). But the expectation-setting that involves marginalizing an increasingly large number of states Obama has won is kind of interesting.
I don't pretend to be a neutral observer, but I honestly think this might be the worst campaign video ever made:
Why don't exit polls track the preference of gay voters outside California and New York? Chris Crain is concerned gay urbanites in liberal states are being used as a stand-in for the national "gay vote," which might be a little more complicated:
While gay voters in places like New York and San Francisco may feel the luxury of looking past gay issues in the Democratic primary, those issues hit much closer to home in those states that lack any state or local anti-discrimination laws and where anti-gay bias is a more common occurrence.
I certainly don't feel that luxury. I know what life is like for gays who live in my native South, and I've seen firsthand how the issue can rip apart families and friendships. And laws like the Defense of Marriage Act have a direct impact on my life, since my partner and I cannot live together in the U.S. because of it. It makes a real difference to me that Barack Obama favors full repeal of DOMA and Hillary only half, and because she has consistently tried to defend the nefarious law signed by her husband in 1996.
Exit polling of gays is rarely done outside of New York and California because the sample is presumed too small. As a result, we get a skewed look at what GLB voters really think about these candidates.
Crain is an Obama supporter, so a slight bias is clear. But it's an interesting point. Now, I'm not sure that gay voters all around the country aren't also flocking to Clinton over Obama. The only gay southerner on my Facebook friends list happens to be a Clinton supporter himself, so based on that scientific methodology, maybe there's just something appealing to gay voters about Clinton. But, as is the case with so many other things, we'd simply never know based on the polls that are out there. So we are just left to assume Clinton has the gay vote to herself.
"I want the man to hope all over me." -Joel Stein, in a fairly hillarious take on Barack Obama fandom.
Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal got himself into the New York Times op-ed page and finally gets to make a number of important points in a widely circulated medium. He notes the 12 point variation from polling average to actual voting results in New Hampshire, but also aptly notes the even more disparate 17 point difference in South Carolina (polls showed Obama up by 12, but he actually won by 29). Similar bad predictions happened in Georgia, where polls showed Obama with a lead but not the complete route he ended up winning by, and in Alabama, where a lot of polls even showed Clinton with a slight lead. Obviously the one glaring similarity in this sample is the very high African American population in Deep South states. Reverse Bradly/Wilder Effect? Maybe. Undersampling of African American voters? Could be that too, but as Blumenthal's main argument points out, we wouldn't know:
[S]o many pollsters fail to disclose basic facts about their methods. Very few, for instance, describe how they determine likely voters. Did they select voters based on their self-reported history of voting, their knowledge of voting procedures, their professed intent to vote or interest in the campaign? Did they use actual voting history gleaned from official lists of registered voters?
Fewer still report the percentage of eligible adults that their samples of likely voters are supposed to represent. This is a crucial statistic, given the relatively low percentage of eligible adults who participate in party primaries. (In California, for example, turnout surged in 2008 but still amounted to about 30 percent of the state’s eligible adults.)
Incredibly, some organizations routinely report results without any indication of whether a live interviewer or a recorded voice asked the questions.
As he writes, there are two benefits to methodological transparency: (1) it would make pollsters less likely to cut corners and, thus, more likely to be accurate; and (2) journalists would be better able to analyze the validity of the polls they're constantly presented with and apparently incapable of not reporting on. "If pollsters disclosed more about how their polls were conducted," Blumenthal concludes, "we would be in a better position to know which polls are likely to be right, and which ones can be safely ignored." Sure beats just picking the one that makes your candidate look good.
2008 has been a really bad year for polls, which deeply saddens the political scientist inside me. It's no surprise the public views polling with the same skepticism it views just making things up. But it need not be so, at least if people would listen to Mark Blumenthal.
Jonah Goldberg now, scoffing at "liberal fascists" with anti-democratic tendencies:
It's Almost Like I wrote A Book On This. Authors argue that global warming proves democracy is outmoded and therefore we need to have authoritarian rule of experts.
Flashback: Jonah Goldberg on July 31, 2007:
Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people about the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?
A voting test would point the arrow of civic engagement up, instead of down, sending the signal that becoming an informed citizen is a valued accomplishment. And if that's not a good enough reason, maybe this is: If you threaten to take the vote away from the certifiably uninformed, voter turnout will almost certainly get a boost.
Consistency isn't exactly one of Goldberg's main virtues.
I was not a fan of the Kill Bill movies, but I did appreciate one scene, near the end of KB2, that displayed the genius for pop banter that had characterized Quentin Tarantino's earlier films. In it, David Carradine explains (not entirely accurately) that Superman is unique among comics: Whereas most superheroes' secret identities (Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker) are their true identities--the people they were before their parents were murdered or they were bitten by radioactive spiders or exposed to gamma rays or what have you--Superman was born Superman. It's Clark Kent that is the invented alias, the pose, the "costume." And in the way Superman plays Kent--weak, self-doubting, cowardly--we can see what he thinks of the human race overall.
It occurred to me that the same is true of Mitt Romney's desperate, if never terribly persuasive, impersonation of a conservative Republican. That persona--angry, simple-minded, xenophobic, jingoistic--is exactly what Romney (who is himself cultured, content, and cosmopolitan) imagines the average GOP voter to be.
As made by Chris Hayes:
But while domestic policy will ultimately be determined through a complicated and fraught interplay with legislators, foreign policy is where the President's agenda is implemented more or less unfettered. It's here where distinctions in worldview matter most--and where Obama compares most favorably to Clinton. The war is the most obvious and powerful distinction between the two: Hillary Clinton voted for and supported the most disastrous American foreign policy decision since Vietnam, and Barack Obama (at a time when it was deeply courageous to do so) spoke out against it. In this campaign, their proposals are relatively similar, but in rhetoric and posture Clinton has played hawk to Obama's dove, attacking from the right on everything from the use of first-strike nuclear weapons to negotiating with Iran's president. Her hawkishness relative to Obama's is mirrored in her circle of advisers. As my colleague Ari Berman has reported in these pages, it's a circle dominated by people who believed and believe that waging pre-emptive war on Iraq was the right thing to do. Obama's circle is made up overwhelmingly of people who thought the Iraq War was a mistake.
Just wanted to throw that out there, in case the last post makes it unclear why I vastly prefer Obama to Clinton. The whole article is quite good and worth a read.