December 29, 2007

SC Law Grad (Class of '88) Makes Good: And it's about time, too. One of the best people I knew at law school, Rick Neuheisel had the uncanny ability to overcome all-night bar-hopping and other assorted vices shared by the other members of my Property and Criminal Law classes, and always beat back the Socratic pestering of our professors. Forget about the trivial violations at Colorado and the ludicrous excuse that UDub used to fire him (for participating in an NCAA basketball pool !!); the guy can coach, he's smart, and he always understands that no matter what question is on the final, you can never overlook the part about the Antichrist.

December 28, 2007

Prof. Krugman, on why vituperative partisan fights are good things:
I like to remind people who long for bipartisanship that FDR's drive to create Social Security was as divisive as Bush's attempt to dismantle it. And we got Social Security because FDR wasn't afraid of division. In his great Madison Square Garden speech, he declared of the forces of "organized money": "Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred."
There are several things worth noting about the above passage. First, it can hardly be said that President Bush's weak and ineffectual attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005 was "divisive," since it quickly collapsed for non-support, even within his own party. It hardly seems like a good endorsement of the strategy when the best example you can come up with for avoiding bipartisan solutions is a policy proposal that was defeated so easily.

Second, FDR could afford a bitter partisan battle when he proposed the Social Security Act of 1935; his party controlled both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins (319-102 in the House, and 69-25 in the Senate), and the measure passed with little opposition (372-33 in the House, and 77-6 in the Senate). No matter who the next President is, he will not likely have majorities even half that large in the Congress, or come close to having enough votes to invoke cloture in the Senate, for that matter.

Lastly, the MSG speech cited above was not from the "divisive" Social Security debate in 1935, but from his reelection campaign the following year. Selectively omitted in the Salon Slate column was this Obamaesque passage towards the end:
Aside from this phase of it, I prefer to remember this campaign not as bitter but only as hard-fought. There should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America. No man can occupy the office of President without realizing that he is President of all the people.
It's always a foolish thing to use FDR as a role model for the use of vicious partisanship. His campaign in 1932 was geared towards blurring distinctions and vague generalities, with the awareness that simply being the principal opponent of Herbert Hoover would be enough to ensure victory. Most of his victories in his first Administration were with Republican support, including the Social Security Act of 1935 (a point that he also alluded to in the MSG speech). Reaching across the aisle to pursue progressive goals was not merely limited to domestic issues; his War Cabinet included several Republicans, including their Vice Presidential nominee from 1936, and he even went so far as to enlist the support of his opponent from 1940, Wendell Willkie, in backing the Lend-Lease Act and related measures in support of America's pre-war build-up.

In short, Roosevelt was a canny politician, willing to take on members of his own party, as well as build coalitions with Republicans and conservatives when it served his purpose. Because of that, when he did go on the offensive against "economic royalists" and the "forces of organized money," he did so knowing he had the backing of the broad center of public opinion. I don't know if Obama is made of similar stuff, but his rhetorical style is certainly not inconsistent with the Father of the New Deal, nor is his belief that excluding half the country from the debate is counter-productive to achieving progressive goals.

December 27, 2007

Paging General Otis and Col. McCormick: Did you know that the Republic lacked a "truly partisan media" until Rush Limbaugh came along, in 1988? Me neither....
Always look on the bright side of life... Mr. Kaus notes the accelerating decline in home values, and sees a silver lining:
Are you impressed with a "drop in home values of 6.6% over a year? It doesn't seem like such a big correction, given the dramatic run-up in prices over the last decade or so. ... And don't declining prices make housing more... what's the word? ... affordable? ... This evening NBC Nightly News billboarded a "housing CRISIS." (Link available here.) I thought a "housing crisis" was when people couldn't find housing, not when it got cheaper. (NBC's expert: "It's very, very difficult to find any silver lining." No it's not.)
I like that way of thinking, because, on a personal level, I certainly see a "silver lining" coming out of all this, in the way of more clients visiting my office. I suppose morticians get the same feeling every time there's a natural disaster; with bankruptcy lawyers, it's the thought of a member of the Bush family in the White House that gives us some serious wood.

For prospective homeowners looking for bargains, however, I don't think the declines we've seen to date are steep enough either to entice them into making an investment or to lure them into establishing a homestead for their families. And since so much of the economy's growth in the past decade has been the result of people being able to invest their home's equity, the current squeeze isn't a zero-sum game, where a homeowner's loss is a potential home buyer's gain; a 6.1% deflation in home values* means that there is 6.1% less money to pay off other debts, which means more defaults in other areas, which leads to more creditors losing their investments as well. It also means 6.1% less money will now be invested in the stock market, in construction, in tuition, in tourism, and in other branches of the economy that relied on the money people obtained after refinancing their homes.

But I bet it will mean at least a 6.1% increase in bankruptcy filings....

*Based on the twenty largest metropolitan areas. When focused on the ten largest metro areas, it comes to a 6.7% decline. Yikes.

December 25, 2007

There's a spirited debate going on here over the historic racist legacy of the Democratic Party, and the more recent dominance by the GOP in the South. The Bartlett position, as I understand it, is that the Democratic Party for many years relied on the support of avowed racists in building its electoral dominance after 1930, and was for many years before that the partisan bulwark of white supremacy in the South. Such views were not the sole province of Southern rednecks, either; non-Southerners, like FDR, Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, and the editorial board of the New York Times, circa 1900, expressed views about the participation of non-whites in our political system that would, under any definition, be considered vile.

Of course, such positions were also shared by Republican officeholders of that same period. White politicians were a lot more racist back then, largely because white voters in both the North and South were a lot more racist, and it wasn't unusual for a political figure to try to court both blacks and bigots in the same election, or to zig-zag between different forms of populism, one of which embraced interracial harmony against the plutocrats who sought to divide the oppressed masses by skin color, versus another which relied on racial and ethnic stereotypes that would find their fullest expression in Central Europe in the 1930's and '40's.

It would not be hard to cherry-pick from the collected quotations of such luminaries as Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge to find instances where such politicians might have trouble winning votes in Harlem or Oakland today. The complete disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South, as well as the entrenchment of Jim Crow policies, occurred between 1876 and 1932, a period in which the Republican Party controlled the federal government for all but sixteen years. As far back as the Election of 1900, Democratic candidates for President were covertly seeking the votes of Northern African-Americans who had felt spurned by the Republican Party, and W.E.B. DuBois even went so far as to endorse Bryan in the 1908 Election. By the time of the Great Depression, it was inevitable that the party with the strongest political base in the Northern cities was also going to capture the votes of African Americans, and that proved to be the critical reason for the sudden partisan shift in how the descendents of the people freed by the Party of Lincoln became Democrats.

But just as it's false to suggest that the Democrats were the only racist political party in America for much of its history, so to is it false to claim, as Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias do, that the post-1968 dominance by the GOP at the national level was caused by its pursuit of a "Southern Strategy" followed by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. One can actually see a decided shift in partisan allegiances dating back to the 1928 election, when Herbert Hoover captured several states in the Deep South against Al Smith. Southern states like Texas, Florida, Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Tennessee were swing states thereafter, and even segregationist Louisiana voted for Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, two years after the President's nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, had helped overturn segregation in public schools.

In fact, Republican hegemony in the South is a much more recent trend, effectively dating back to the 1994 mid-term landslide. Whatever nefarious machinations may have been intended by Kevin Phillips and Lee Atwater, the net result was not immediately apparent. In 1960, JFK squeeked by Richard Nixon in a race that saw the losing Republican candidate win Florida, Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee. Eight years later, Nixon won eighty-two more electoral votes and the election, but only added the Carolinas to his Dixie tally; infinitely more important to his success was winning over former Democratic voters in Illinois, New Jersey and Missouri, states without which Kennedy could not possibly have won in 1960. When it was all said and done, the South was largely a sideshow in that election, as it would be in each Republican victory through 1988.

Even in 1980, the year Reagan famously used the code words "states rights" in the city where Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner had been lynched, the South ended up being Jimmy Carter's most competitive region. Ironically, it has been the reemergence of a new "Solid South" backing the GOP since 1992 that has proved to be most detrimental to the party at the national level. After easily winning four out of five Presidential elections from 1972 to 1988 with a national coalition, Republicans have now lost the popular vote in three of the last four, and have seen their regional bases dwindle to the South and the sparsely populated states of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. As the 2006 mid-terms show, that's a recipe for long-term political exile. It may be convenient to lay past disappointment for liberals and progressives at the feet of a malevolent racist conspiracy, but the truth is far more complicated.

1. My friends Matt and Emmanuelle depart on the morrow for Washington, DC, where he will take over the editorship of the cool libertarian rag Reason, and she will no doubt seize control of the Beltway media social circle. LA will be the poorer without them, while conscientious political reporters in the Capital shall greet them as liberators. And by all means, purchase Mr. Welch's political biography of John McCain, since it's unlikely the national media's love affair with the "straight-talking" Arizona Senator will distract them into doing anything as banal as analyzing where he actually stands on the issues. Neither a hatchet job nor a hagiography, the book is perfectly timed for the first primaries, where its subject may possibly emerge as the front-runner while the campaigns of Giuliani and Romney implode before our very eyes.

2. At last week's farewell for the couple, I ran into Ken Layne, Welch's former bandmate and partner in crime (as well as the distinguished ex-editor of Sploid, Wonkette, and his own eponymous blog back in the day). Sadly, because he feels that the collection of songs on the second Ken Layne & the Corvids album did not reach his high standards, we should not expect a release date anytime soon. Pity, that; just as any music fan would kill to hear Smile in its original form, warts and all, Transcontinental is a fine, original work, with several songs ("Happy MacKaye" is almost a Peckinpah western set to music, and "Mama Now Don't You Cry" is a truly haunting ballad) already valued members of my IPod fraternity. Hopefully, he'll return to these compositions in the future. [link via, natch, Mr. Welch]

December 24, 2007

Needless to say, however well he does in his bid for the GOP nomination (not to mention his likely third party next November), Ron Paul will be forever remembered as the first Republican Presidential candidate to have denounced Abe Lincoln for fighting a war to rid the South of the Peculiar Institution.
More School of Comedy:

A Rule of Thumb: Sketches that feature Baltic caricatures, teen mandolin players wearing only diapers, lots of blood, and the theme to "Friends" = COMEDY GOLD !!!

December 23, 2007