From the monthly archives:

October 2008

Studs Terkel is Dead

by Harry on October 31, 2008

Tribune obit here.

Building up the Iron Cage

by Henry Farrell on October 31, 2008

Ezra Klein has a “suggestion”:

Tim Fernholz analyzes the controversy and concludes, “no one knows who Khalidi is outside of the media and high information voters, and an even smaller universe of people cares. The attacks by McCain are reprehensible…but ultimately this is not an election about small stuff. This is a big stuff election.” If you want a one-line summary of why John McCain’s Distract-O-Tron 3000 strategy has failed to connect, you can’t do much better than that. Meanwhile, Khalidi is, as everyone keeps telling you, a well-respected and incisive scholar of the Middle East in general, and the Palestinian struggle for nationhood in particular. …

Presumably, this experience has not been a pleasant one for Khalidi. But it would be nice if some good emerged from it in the form of broader familiarity with his important works. So next time you hear Hannity explain how Rashid Khalidi urinates on a Haggadah during full moons, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Its an important book on its own terms, and its purchase is a worthy counter-statement to this type of anti-Arab fearmongering.

Background “here”:, for those who haven’t been following; it’s worth noting that even Martin bloody Peretz “is defending Khalidi”: I’ve already bought my copy. Those who want to do likewise at Amazon and, with a bit of luck and solidarity, see his sales ranking increase, can “do so here”: (nb that I am using my own standard Amazon ID here, but if someone can nominate a worthwhile organization with an Amazon ID which is really likely to _annoy_ Sean Hannity, Michael Goldfarb etc, let me know, and I will amend accordingly). Those who prefer to shop at a union-friendly store like Powells can find it “here”: It doesn’t take much in the way of prophetic insight to predict that we are going to be seeing _a lot more_ of this kind of innuendo from disgusting slime-purveyors like Daniel Pipes if Obama wins – one of the lessons of the Clinton years is that when the nastier elements of the right are losing elections, they start trying to turn the culture war back up to 11. It would be nice to get a head start on the pushback.

Simple answers etc etc

by Daniel on October 31, 2008

In the course of an article arguing that a large vote for Obama is not a vote for his policies (and, equally curiously, that the total and utter failure of conservative policies is not in and of itself a reason to try something else), Gerard Baker, who is to Thomas Friedman as Ricky Valance was to Richie Valens, says:

What, in these circumstances, would a scientific model predict as the winning margin for the Democratic presidential candidate: 10, 15, 20 percentage points? In fact, as of yesterday, Mr Obama seemed to have a solid but by no means overwhelming advantage of between 5 and 6 percentage points.

In fact, the Ray Fair model, with default values, predicts four points.

It is actually quite easy to look these things up you know.

I just watched the 30 minute spot. Very well done. In case people have been worrying that Obama’s secret socialist ‘spread the wealth’ scheme hasn’t gotten enough play, maybe because the MSM has been trying to keep it under wraps – well, Obama has gone and broken through that silence from the other side. He has gotten the socialist message out loud and clear. He is definitely in favor of raising taxes somewhat on the wealthy to offset tax cuts for the hard-hit middle class. If this be European-style socialism, if Obama wins handily on election day, then I take it conservatives will acknowledge that the American people have handed Obama a clear mandate for wholesale abandonment of American values in favor of European-style socialism. Right? (I mean: I don’t think it will be a mandate for that. I’m a sensible sort of person. But conservatives will surely see an Obama victory as a mandate for socialism. Right?) [click to continue…]

Nixonland: The Panel

by Henry Farrell on October 30, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, I organized (a fancy word for inviting a number of people who did all the talking) a panel on Rick Perlstein’s recent book _Nixonland_ for the American Political Science Association in September. The commenters were Paul Krugman, Paul Pierson, Nolan McCarty and Eric Rauchway – Rick provided a response. I’ve now written up the transcript of the panel, editing it lightly for style. The PDF of these transcripts can be found “here”: The panel’s content is licensed under a Creative Commons license – those who want to roll their own can find the .tex file “here”:

As I’ve said before, I think that this was a great panel which really shows how both history and political science can speak to contemporary issues. While it’s worth reading in its entirety, these two pieces can give a flavor of its current relevance. First, “Matt Yglesias”: and “Ross Douthat”: have been engaged in a debate over whether or not McCain talk of redistribution does or doesn’t have racist undertones. September-2008-Eric-Rauchway steps out of his time machine to say that even political scientists who discount the role of race are really saying that Matt’s side of the argument is right.

Even one of the political science books most associated with the `it’s class not race’ theory – _The End of Southern Exceptionalism_ by my friend and former colleague Byron Shafer and his co-author Richard Johnston points out that although among whites (and you have to leave blacks out of the picture for this class story to make sense) class is the determinant of partisan voting in the post-Nixon era, racial attitudes are also highly correlated with partisan voting in the South. What do Shafer and Johnston mean by racial attitudes? They mean willingness or unwillingness to have the federal government use its authority to help African-Americans. Republican voters – richer voters – are less willing to see the federal government act that way; Democratic voters – poorer voters – are more willing to see the federal government acting that way among blacks. So you look exclusively at income inequality in the South and you say aha! – it’s rational politics. If richer whites are more likely to vote Republican, it’s because they don’t want their taxes raised. They don’t want their money taken away; they’re strictly protecting their economic interest. That’s an incomplete story. You have to say they don’t want their money taken away _because_ they are afraid that it will be given to black people.

Perhaps Republican spinmeisters are _unaware_ of this pattern of attitudes among racist Southern voters when they craft messages about distributing our wealth away, or perhaps they merely don’t think that it’s _relevant_ to their political strategies. Or, perhaps, not.

Second, Paul Pierson makes a really useful distinction between electoral politics and policy regimes, pointing out the former don’t necessarily correlate all that well with the latter, and that the latter are really, really important.

I think that here are two critical things that ought to be integrated in a core vision of what modern politics is about that are pushed to the side here. One is policy, and the other is interest groups. … I think there’s a puzzle for those who see the Sixties as a crucible. If you were to look not at elections, but at what the government was actually doing, the role that government was playing in the lives of Americans, especially with respect to domestic policy, would 1968 or 1972 be seen as a turning point? I think the answer is clear – absolutely not. 1968 and 1972 come right smack in the big bulge of government activism, the rise in government activism that takes place rougly between the early 1960s and the late 1970s; I would say 1964 to 1978. If anything, all this \{textit{accelerates} while Nixon is in the White House. Social spending increases more rapidly under Nixon than it does under Johnson; you get a massive expansion in Social Security; you get the nationalization of food stamps; you get the nationalization of old age assistance. There are lots of other examples. …

When does it stop? It doesn’t stop in 1981. Roughly, it stops in 1978. The defeat of key domestic initiatives like industrial relations reform and health care reform; the passage of a completely different kind of tax bill, much more oriented towards business and the affluent than the tax bills that had come previously, but a tax bill that would look very familiar to more recent discussions in American politics. You see also the beginnings of a deregulatory push that would eventually remake government and the connection between government and the economy. And all this comes _after_ the huge Democratic electoral victory of 1974, and the recapture of the White House in 1976.

This makes it quite clear that a Democratic victory on its own, doesn’t mean much, unless there is a consequent or simultaneous shift in basic assumptions about government and the role of policy. It also presents an interesting way of thinking about the questions that “Chris raises below”: The ‘circumstances’ that politicians and policy makers face aren’t set in stone – they are the result of politicians’ beliefs and expectations. If Obama wins, as seems very likely, do we (as some libertarians, such as Ilya Somin fear) face a substantial increase in the role of the state, and in the willingness of politicians to use political power to redress economic and social inequalities? Or should we expect a more cautious managerialism? The kinds of factors that Paul highlights suggest that the answer will depend both on the willingness of external groups to push for serious ideological changes, and on the willingness (or lack of same) of Obama and the people around him to use the current crisis as a way to remake basic understandings about the role of government in American society.

Expectations for Obama

by Chris Bertram on October 30, 2008

In “Maria’s thread below”:, commenter Iain Coleman writes:

bq. My hopes about Obama are limited to my expectation that he will be much like Bill Clinton, but with a bit more political capital and fewer illicit blowjobs. If Obama can just achieve that much, I will be delighted.

Much concurring and Clintonista apologetics followed, from the likes of commenter MQ.

Well like Coleman, I’m not an American, nor an American resident. But, of course, I have lived under the Blair government, which overlapped with Clinton’s and shared some of its (non-blowjob) characteristics. And I’m inclined to say, “not good enough, people”. It is an exaggeration to say that every child can recite the achievements of the Attlee government in Britain or the New Deal in America, but if we had decent education systems, it wouldn’t be. It is hard to imagine even a well-educated child in a social-democratic future being able to tell us what Clinton or Blair managed in their time (except, of course, the bad stuff, in each of their cases).

There’s also a good deal of “in the circumstances” excusing in that thread. Well the circumstances included the post-Cold War dividend, with which they did almost exactly nothing. Clinton managed capitalism a bit better than the Republicans; Blair cemented the post-Thatcher consensus, spent some extra money in public services rather ineffectively, tried to micro-social-engineer using a confusing system of tax credits that no-one understands, and increased the independence of the Bank of England. Well, terrific.

There is a criterion that any progressive government ought to meet. It is one that I might quibble with in a seminar but not in life. A progressive (left, liberal, social-democratic government) ought to alter social arrangements so that they work significantly more to the benefit of the the least-advantaged members of society that they did when that government came to power. Well, The Wire is fiction, and I’ve never visited the West Side of Baltimore, but did Clinton make a difference in places like that? And are the Valleys of South Wales less (or more) hopeless places than they were ten years ago?

Clinton’s eight years and New Labour’s eleven were disappointing. They led (or will lead) to cynicism and demoralization and to renewed periods of conservative government. People can thrash around and find this or that good thing that they did (and no doubt will in comments) – but on the criterion I just gave their achievements were nugatory.

So I don’t think it is too much to hope that Obama will do better. Because doing better wouldn’t be doing much. And if Obama can’t do just a bit better, then we had better just stop all those seminars on theories of justice and “realistic utopias” and so forth, because it will be hard to imagine the possibility of any government making significant progress toward the goals we pointy-headed liberal academics discuss in seminars.

Which Sort of Conservative Was Hayek Not?

by John Holbo on October 29, 2008

Jonah Goldberg has responded to my “Spread The Wealth” post. A minor point: “My longstanding gripe with the use and abuse of that essay [Hayek’s “Why I Am Not A Conservative”] is that some libertarians and liberals deliberately confuse the fact that Hayek isn’t referring to American conservatives when he says he’s not a conservative.”

Well, I have always taken Hayek to be referring to American conservatives: “Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism its opposite was liberalism. There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States, because what in Europe was called “liberalism” was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense. This already existing confusion was made worse by the recent attempt to transplant to America the European type of conservatism, which, being alien to the American tradition, has acquired a somewhat odd character.”

‘Recent attempts to transpant’? Russell Kirk, I presume. “Has acquired a somewhat odd character.” Frank Meyer and 1960’s National Review-style ‘fusionism’, I presume. A halfway Hayek, halfway Kirk hybrid. That’s Goldberg, too, give or take.

Now there is a diplomatic quality to Hayek’s essay, which could lead you to miss the fact that he is, in fact, talking about American conservatives. Pragmatically, Hayek regards American conservatives as his allies, but only because he thinks they can serve as a counterweight to socialism, not because he agrees with them philosophically. He thinks they have ‘a somewhat odd character’. The essay is, in part, an attempt to tell American-style conservatives this without really rubbing their noses in it – more flies with honey and all that.

What does Goldberg make of the essay’s epigraph, from Lord Acton? “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.” I wouldn’t say this is flamingly self-evident, but I have always taken this to be Hayek’s way of expressing the somewhat delicate balance of his personal alliance/association with American-style conservatism.

Goldberg is definitely confused about the redistribution stuff. But, to be fair, my post wasn’t very clear. Later, later.

Pretty Soon You’re Talking Real Money

by John Holbo on October 29, 2008

I see Henry just linked to his bloggingheads exchange with Dan “the blogger” Drezner about the end of capitalism as we know it, and such minor political twiddles. I was just about to link to it for him (I thought maybe he was being modest.) Good stuff. I’m John Holbo and I endorse this podcast.

One quick note. Round about minute 21 Drezner remarks that “the $64,000 question is going to be: which bureaucracies are put in charge of these crises?” Funny choice of figurative figures. What is it really? The 640 billion dollar question? 6.4 trillion? (I’d link to that spot in the diavlog but, honestly, the site loads so damn slow for me. I recommend downloading the mp3 or getting it through iTunes or wherever.)

Short cuts

by Henry Farrell on October 29, 2008

(1) When I heard the kerfuffle about Obama’s radio discussion on civil rights and the constitution, I went back and listened to it, drawing two major conclusions. First – that anyone who expects him to appoint lots and lots of radical judges, is likely to be very disappointed; he has a small c conservative understanding of what the judiciary can do. Second, I was reminded how much I missed _Odyssey_ – it was the best radio show I have ever been on, and more generally, a really first rate contribution to public discussion. A full audio archive is “available here”:

(2) Via Josh Cohen, Archon Fung and ABC news have put together “MyFairElection”:, which seems a very useful exercise for those of you who are (unlike me) eligible to vote next week. It combines Google maps with data on polling stations, allowing people to report problems such as long lines etc, and (if it works according to plan), provide a ‘weather map’ of voting conditions across the country.

(3) I did a Campaign Free edition bloggingheads “with Dan Drezner”: yesterday on changes in the global economy. The dialogue stopped early because Dan had to pick up a sick kid from school, but was pretty interesting for me, at least – in contrast to many of these conversations, which involve battles over set piece positions, I found myself actually rethinking what I understood to be going on and its implications during the process (so, a real conversation, or something like it).

Before; After

by Kieran Healy on October 28, 2008

Your Cool Halloween Decorations for the Day

by Eszter Hargittai on October 28, 2008

Unfortunately, I’ll be out of the country on Halloween this year, but seeing this house and yard over the weekend in the northern suburbs of Chicago sort of made up for it. (Click for links to the individual photos.)


Your Cool Halloween Link for the Day

by Henry Farrell on October 28, 2008

“Miriam Burstein”: provides an annotated and hyperlinked list of the murderers modelled in the Victorian version of Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, taken from the 1886 Tussaud’s guidebook.

More T-shirt thoughts & Wealth Spreading

by John Holbo on October 28, 2008

While we are on the subject: I just found out one of my old grad school buddies – no, not the same one as devised the moral sense test – is selling Star Wars-themed Obama t-shirts. Proceeds go to the candidate. (It’s the sort of T-shirt that feeds hand-wringing about how liberals think Obama is ‘the One’. But they were going to do that anyway, so feel free.)

Also, I was going to make a one-line response yesterday to this K-Lo post. Something along the lines of: good idea, now I don’t have to do it. But then it occurred to me: that means I don’t have to do it. But today the results are too rich. [click to continue…]

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away …

by John Q on October 27, 2008

This story about the IMF rescue package for Ukraine (second of many to come, after Iceland) quotes Timothy Ash, head of emerging-market research at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London as saying

`The money is only half of the issue, conditionality is key. We hope the fund is maintaining its push for a more flexible exchange rate, far- reaching reforms in the banking sector and more privatization.”

Mr Ash, just returned from a six-week holiday on Mars, was reading from his prepared boilerplate script and had yet not been advised of the recent nationalisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

(found in today’s AFR)

Information and elections

by Henry Farrell on October 27, 2008

Reading Maria’s post below reminded me that I’ve meant to write a brief post about two ways in which there is much more information available about the current US elections than previously. The first is the availability of high quality polling information and analysis thereof. Here, somewhat rightwing sites (“Real Clear Politics”: ), who-the-hell-knows sites (“Pollster”: ) and definitely leftwing sites (“538”: ) provide much _much_ better information (or so it seems to me) than was available to the average politically obsessed punter four years ago, especially through the aggregation of state-level and national polls. And the fact that they lean in different directions and have different models/means of aggregating poll numbers means that you can more easily discount for ideological wishful thinking of the one or the other side than you could previously. This does, at least to some extent, help guard against the kinds of selectivity based on cherry-picked polls that lead many people (including me) to think that John Kerry was going to win in 2004. Second – there is much better information available to an _international audience._ In particular, there is a lot more good televisual content available via YouTube and the various TV stations’ own websites than there was four years ago. I suspect (but can’t prove of course) that this makes people in different countries feel more directly connected to the current US election than they have to previous ones – they’re able to observe it in a more visceral way, see speeches that would never get reported on their national TV stations etc. I don’t know whether either of these is having a broader political effect – but I do know that they are making US politics more fun for a wider swathe of people across the globe than they were previously.