Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The "real" elections.

Ever since Michael Jordan left the Bulls, the Western Conference has had a disproportionate amount of the better teams. Unfortunately, this means that the finals are sometimes lopsided and not very exciting. This year was one of the more extreme examples, with the Spurs rolling over the Cavaliers in the Finals. It seems likely as well that 3 or 4 other Western teams wouldn't have had much more trouble. This leads to boring championships, and since championships are where you get the marginal fans interested in the game, this is bad for the NBA.

Sportswriters are aware of this and respond by calling the Western Conference finals the "real" Finals. That will be the most the most difficult series that the (likely) eventual champion will have to face. And again, this year's match-up between the Suns and Spurs bore this out.

I suspect there is a similar dynamic in this presidential election. The Democrats are coming off of a convincing victory in the 2006 election and Bush, unlike Clinton after the Republican victory in 1994, has not substantively changed the controversial policies or rhetoric that led to this victory. Thus, any Democratic candidate will go into this election as a strong favorite to win--meaning that the "real" election for president will be in the Democratic primaries.

I suspect this is one of the reasons why the primary season has started so much earlier and the candidates are spending so much more money now. You focus most on your toughest opponents, and this election it looks likely that will be the Democratic primary candidate.

But then why are the Republican candidates also doing the same? I think a lot of the attention focused on the Republican candidates is due to spillover, or equal time considerations. Like an arms race, if the Democrats start earlier, the Republicans must as well. Perhaps this is also why the Republican field seems so muddled right now--they just aren't ready for the media onslaught of the primary season.

Of course, there are other reasons as well for the early primary season. Bush and the Republican Senators have fairly clearly shown that they are unwilling to work with the Democratic Party's policy goals. The Democrats justifiably feel that they will just have to wait until Bush is gone to make substantive changes in foreign and domestic policy. Hence, focusing on putting a Democrat in office is the best way for the Democrats to achieve the goals that led to their victory in 2006.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Does the (future) President have religion?

One of the things I find most interesting about the upcoming elections are the choices facing conservative Christians in the Presidential elections. Conservative Christians generally hold that the religious beliefs of prospective political candidates are relevant to their fitness as American leaders. But this puts them in a bit of a pickle in the upcoming election. While the major Democratic candidates are quite vocal about how their Christianity has affected their political commitments, the major Republican candidates are rather less . McCain has always had a distrustful relationship with the Religious Right. Giuliani disagrees with conservative Christians on most social issues and seldom discusses his religious views. And Romney, who has positioned himself as the most conservative candidate is a Mormon--which many, if not most, conservative Christians would place him outside of Christianity altogether.

Some liberals write fairly scornfully of evangelical Christians. I think some evangelical ideas deserve this. And evangelicals have certainly been at least as scornful and vituperative in writing against liberal ideas. But I am not sure that the liberals are very good at understanding or predicting how Christians will react politically. It is occasionally asserted that Republicans engage in dog-whistle politics--where as long as they say the right buzz-words they will get the Christian vote. I don't know if this is true. After all, this would be effective only as a signalling device--a way to show Christian voters that you are one of them. The reason this worked so well with Bush is that he really did convince evangelical Christians that he was one of them--a born-again Christian with the same religious and spiritual concerns they had. Will this work as well for a Republican candidate that cannot identify religiously with the evangelical community? I don't know, but I suspect not. If the Republicans fail to mobilize the evangelical vote again in this election, will the Bush presidency be anomalous? And if so, can the Democratic party peel off some of these voters by presenting strongly religious candidates?

I am doubtful. While I do think that the failure of the Bush presidency will deservedly tarnish and hamper most efforts to mobilize evangelical Christians, I am unconvinced that these voters will switch parties. It is not enough to just be religious. After all, even the Muslims are religious. What is important is that you be of the proper religion. And frankly, liberal politics has overwhelmingly been identified with liberal Christianity amongst the evangelical community. And evangelical Christians has defined itself in opposition to liberal Christianity.

Furthermore, I think many underestimate how well evangelical Christianity meshes with the current policies of the Bush administration. For instance, why are evangelical Christians so fervently in support of the war in Iraq? Shouldn't they, as Christians, be against war a la Jesus's many sayings on humility and forgiveness? Is is just group identification? Or is it that they've believed the (formerly) cunning lies of the Bush administration? An unjustified assumption is that these Christians wouldn't support the war on the basis of their religious beliefs. After all, evangelical Christians are Christian. That is, they believe that God is on their (the U.S.) side. And with God on their side, how can they lose? Only by a lack of faith--i.e. by giving up because the war looks hopeless. And not only Christian, but evangelical. Their ultimate goal is not peace in the Middle East, but a Christian awakening. Of course they will support the overthrow of governments they view as anti-Christian (i.e. not run by Christians). This would be a policy goal vitally important to them in a way that is almost invisible to secular people.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dirty Hippies Wearing PJ's In Mom's Basement Eating Cold Cereal

The world would be minutely better if bloggers refrained from signaling sarcasm by capitalizing the first letter of each word in a phrase. I don't need to see another reference to The Very Serious and Respectable Group of Beltway Living, Cocktail-Downing, And Whatever Other Stereotype We Like To Use To Describe The Media Or Party Establishment to realize that the blogger thinks some of these people claim to to be smart, educated, and eloquent and that she disagrees with this claim.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Scandals everywhere

I haven't paid a lot of attention to the Scooter Libby brouha. It seems he is guilty, which evidently has surprised no one. The commutation of his sentence by the president is also the predicatably squalid conclusion to the whole affair. However, I don't really care much whether Scooter Libby is punished. The purpose of Mr. Libby's proposed punishment would be symbolic, a way of telling the country that even the President and his associates are not above the law.

However, send Mr. Libby to prison for life and I, and I suspect most others, would not be convinced. After all, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and Mr. Gonzalez have themselves repeatedly argued that the President is, in effect, above the law when dealing with U.S. citizens declared, by the President, as unlawful combatants. I'm supposed to believe a President with this attitude won't also use this ability to protect his political power? Or, as attested by the numerous scandals afflicting the spectacularly misnamed Justice Dept., that Mr. Bush will disapprove of the dishonourable and illegal methods used by Mr. Libby to attack Mr. Wilson? This is just more of the same we've come to expect from this administration.

Nor is this, as some have claimed a case of Mr. Bush threatening the foundations of the "rule of law." Sure, we, the jury, and the judge might think that Mr. Libby deserved to be punished for his crimes, but obviously Mr. Bush (and many members of the media establishment as well) did not. Mr. Bush used the legal powers granted him by the Constitution to make sure that Mr. Libby is not punished. So where is the rule of law being disrupted? I don't see it. After all, if the country believes that this was an abuse of power by the president then we can change the law so that future presidents cannot pardon their own associates.

Update: I am not saying that we should ignore these situations. After all, Scooter did commit a crime and should be tried and punished. The crimes he committed were significant enough to be very embarassing to the administration. However, I'm not convinced at this point this further aspect to the scandal means much. If anyone didn't already realize that the Bush administration encourages the unscrupulous, corrupt, and/or incompetent behavior such as that exhibited by Mr. Libby then they will not be further convinced by this pardon.

Corruption and incompetence are problems that can afflict both parties. And every election, both parties run against the other party on this basis (e.g. see Edwards' populism and the refrain of Republican Congresspeople everywhere that they are for small government and are going to go to Washington and protect their constituents against the bureaucrats, etc.). In other words, no one is for corruption. However, some of the people who are going to run in the next election will support scandalous ideas such as the legalization of torture, the stripping of human rights and civil liberties from even U.S. citizens, and even more unprovoked attacks against nations such as Iran. Whatever your views on homosexuality or abortion, I would hope no one in the U.S. would support those ideas by voting for the candidates representing them.