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October 30, 2006

ABRACADABRA. Having tracked the religious right's rise over the last two decades, I must say that, unlike Scott and Sam, I find the argument, rendered via Amy Sullivan, over whether or not the religious right is a tool of the man, or poised to become the man himself, largely irrelevant; either way, we wind up with law written by self-appointed religious sages.

The most prescient thing ever said to me about a Republican Party high on religion came from the late Rabbi Arthur Hertzerg, a celebrated scholar whom I interviewed for a 1995 Mother Jones cover story on the religious right. (The cover featured a Photoshopped picture of the White House with a cross on its gable, and the headline, "House of God?" A decade later, the Prospect offered a new riff on the theme):

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Ph.D., of the Interfaith Alliance, a coalition of clergy formed to oppose the religious right, sees something sinister in the language of the right: the exploitation of a religious impulse felt by the economically strapped middle class to further an agenda that will only fill the coffers of the rich. "They are putting on the magic act of family values," says Hertzberg, "while the pickpocket in league with them goes through the crowd and steals their wallets."
As for the rest of it -- whether or not Democrats are too pro- or too anti-religion -- why do liberals accept that frame? We focus on religion at the expense of spirituality. There are a great many "unchurched" among the electorate, and most of them vote Democratic. And most of them believe in God.

--Adele M. Stan

EVANGELICALS FOR AGNOSTICS. To vaguely weigh in on whether Christians are getting used by the right or taking it over, this point of Amy's struck me as interesting:

I, and many Democrats, supported expanding the charitable tax exemption so that more Americans could donate more money to charity. I think you'll agree that it was a supremely conservative idea--increase private giving to private charities so they can do good work without the public sector getting involved. It was the most significant and dramatic part of Bush's original faith-based plan, and it would have resulted in enormous injections of funds into the charitable sector--certainly much more than the faith-based initiative has already dispersed. (One respected estimate projected an increase of $160 billion in charitable giving over ten years.)

Unfortunately--and this gets back to our original question of whether the White House has delivered on its promises to religious conservatives--the Bush administration turned its back on the charitable giving provision. Why? Because it couldn't justify the cost of both that and the elimination of the estate tax. It shouldn't be a surprise that the estate tax won out, but what is most disappointing is that it actually hurts charitable giving even more. One popular way of getting around the estate tax for many wealthy individuals has been to donate money to charities and write off the gift. Eliminating the estate tax cost more than $5 billion per year in charitable giving by those wealthy Americans who can keep their money to themselves now.

I'm rather agnostic (ha!) on whether Democrats should be targeting evangelicals, but they can surely be targeting repulsive policy decisions like that one. It's a precious instance where Democrats could champion a policy consonant with their principles and popular with white churchgoers. Go in for such easy targets and maybe they won't have to hunt down so many hard ones.

As for the larger debate on whether to target evangelicals, such discussions always put me in the mind of a report finding that, if you put together the findings of all those studies saying that X amount of productivity is wiped out by the flu, and Y from smoking in cars, and Z from picking your nose, you're eventually left with a number far larger than the entire global economy. Democrats, it seems, are supposed to be fighting for libertarians, Southerners, Westerners, churchgoers, Indians, blacks, whites, "ideopolises," rural voters, and all the rest. Add them up and I'm sure you'll have a couple electorates stacked atop each other. Seems to me the party would be better off crafting a compelling message that assembles a broad coalition, not adopting the specificity needed to wrest a single group.

--Ezra Klein

SULLIVAN VS. LEMIEUX. Amy responds to Scott here.

--Sam Rosenfeld

GOLD IN THEM THAR CREDITS. Last week the investment bank Morgan Stanley announced it was investing almost $3 billion in emissions credits made possible by the much-vilified Kyoto protocol. The announcement happened to coincide with the release of the World Bank's annual "State of the Carbon Market" report, at Carbon Expo Asia, trumpeting the news that the carbon market grew from nearly $11 billion in 2005 to almost $22 billion during the first three quarters of 2006. The Stern report flagged by Kevin Drum, which contains dire warnings about the economic consequences of global warming, is making Morgan Stanley's investment look prescient indeed. News that many European countries won't be able to meet their Kyoto targets means there is ample opportunity to make a killing while doing good for the environment. Businesses are more likely to heed the clarion call of the almighty dollar than earnest newspaper editorials. As for the Bush administration, that's another story.

--Blake Hounshell

POPULISM WITHOUT XENOPHOBIA? Peter Beinart has a smart column this week on the downsides of Democratic populism:

For writers like [Thomas] Frank, the tragedy of that era was that the free-trading, Wall Street-friendly Bill Clinton did not use economic populism to permanently lure these angry white males into the Democratic fold. Now Democrats have another chance. But renouncing future naftas won't be enough. Many liberals would like to pick and choose their anti-globalization politics--arguing for more regulation of international trade and investment, but resisting punitive measures to regulate the flow of international labor. Morally, that's perfectly defensible. But, politically, it is likely to fail. There is a reason that the late nineteenth-century populists Frank admires were nativists: While low-skilled immigration may benefit the United States as a whole, it rarely benefits low-skilled Americans. And, for many blue-collar Americans today, Mexican immigration--whether legal or not--is not just linked to broader anxieties about globalization; it has become the prime symbol of those anxieties. In the coming years, unless Democrats take a hard line on immigration, their hard line on trade is unlikely to do them much electoral good.
Squaring this circle really does strike me as hard. A century ago, populism had anti-Semitic and anti-intellectual overtones. In a strange inversion, the current strain focuses on the weaker element (illegal immigrants) rather than (assumedly) more powerful elite forces. Doesn't mean such sentiments are easier to overcome, though. The best bet would be focusing on the corporations that hire illegal workers and create the demand, not the workers themselves. Among the truly pernicious effects of illegal immigration is the ability of corporations to use these unprotected and unknown laborers to evade labor regulations entirely, dropping the floor far below the minimum wage, and making it definitionally impossible for any American to compete. Attacking that practice may go some of the way towards focusing that anger on a more deserving target. On the other hand, it may not. Labor, which has done a remarkable job integrating unionized Hispanics into their coalition when, somewhat recently, the movement was still antagonistic toward immigrants, may prove able to show some leadership here also.

--Ezra Klein

IRANIAN NUKES. I was all ready to write a long post on Noah Feldman's article about the Iranian nuclear program, but that determination foundered upon my inability to figure out what Feldman was actually arguing. Feldman included a long, interesting, and rather pointless discussion of the Islamic position on suicide bombing, danced around a realist analysis of the nuclear situation in the Middle East without really committing to it, and soldiered through a discussion of Islamic theology without coming to any conclusions. Marty Peretz liked it, which means that it must have been incoherent. Fortunately, Matt Yglesias is a better man than I, and managed to slog through and produce some observations. Most notable, I think, is Matt's observation that contemporary Western discussions of suicide bombing suffer from some fatal definitional flaws:

And, again, why all the talk of suicide bombers in the context of nuclear deterrence? The West lacks a significant tradition of literal suicide missions, akin to those of kamikaze pilots or Sri Lankan or Muslim suicide bombers. We do, however, have a quite robust tradition of asking soldiers to undertake near-suicidal missions. Infantrymen are asked to charge fixed defensive positions, to go "over the top" of the trench lines, or to be in the first-wave of amphibious assaults. The 1st Infantry Division's official history of the Omaha Beach landing states that "Every officer and sergeant" in the leading company of the assault "had been killed or wounded" within ten minutes. This isn't exactly the same as suicide bombing, but it's a lot more similar to suicide bombing than suicide bombing is to deliberate, utterly foreseeable, national suicide.
I would add that Feldman's treatment of suicide bombing simply ignores the work of Mia Bloom and Robert Pape, which demonstrate that suicide tactics are not solely or even predominantly Islamic in practice.

--Robert Farley

THEOCRACY HYPE. Scott, I agree with you that Amy Sullivan's prescriptive arguments about Democratic outreach to evangelicals are thin. (And for a small-but-perfect illustration of the limited efficacy of even the rather ostentatious rhetorical gambits that Hillary Clinton has attempted in an effort to reach religious voters, see here.) But I do feel compelled to take Sullivan's side on the broader issue of liberal "theocracy" narratives. You're right that the "religious right taken for suckers" notion is widely understood by plenty of liberals, that it is central to Thomas Frank's argument, and that it renders David Kuo's book more banal confirmation than explosive revelation.

But I think Sullivan's right that there is some real tension and dissonance between that understanding of Republican political dynamics and works such as Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming, Jesus Camp, to a limited extent Garry Wills's latest in The New York Review of Books, and many many more. The reality is always complicated and contradictory, of course, but it seems to me one that of these two narratives -- the religious-right-as-suckers, and the encroaching theocratic takeover of the GOP (and the country) -- has to be more true than the other one. And I really think the empirical evidence -- the substantive policy outcomes under Republican rule -- lends credence to the former rather than the latter notion. Sullivan debated the conservative Joseph Loconte last week ostensibly on this question, though unfortunately the discussion got a bit sidetracked into more talk about the Democrats. I would prefer to see Sullivan debate someone like Goldberg on this, because this issue specifically is one where I think Amy has some real value to add.

--Sam Rosenfeld

AND THEN WHAT? I have a lot of problems with Amy Sullivan's recent piece about the opportunities allegedly presented by David Kuo's new book. First of all, I reject her entire premise that Democratic politicians don't reach out to religious believers, and since she never mentions the names of prominent Democrats who treat believers with contempt it's impossible to evaluate her claims. Second, Sullivan's claim that liberal bloggers have "spent so much time fear-mongering about American theocracy that a book illustrating the opposite simply makes no sense to them" is belied by the fact that what is surely the most-discussed liberal book of the second Bush era makes the well-known case that evangelicals are being played for suckers by the business elite that really holds the power in the GOP. Kuo's revelations aren't so shocking as to be incomprehensible to knowledgeable liberals, but are rather banal.

But my biggest problem with Sullivan's argument continues to be that she's frustratingly vague about how, exactly, Democrats should "reach out to disaffected evangelicals." My understanding is that she's not saying that Democrats should sacrifice core principles such as reproductive freedom. But if that's the case, I don't know what more Democrats can do. Sullivan seems to think that there are large numbers of voters who 1)like Democratic economic policy more, 2)vote Republican because of social issues, but 3)would stop voting Republican on social issues, not because of substantive shifts in Democratic policy but because of shifts in rhetoric. I suspect that these voters could fit in a good-sized walk-in closet. I think most voters who vote on cultural principle care about substantive positions, and with the Roberts and Alito homeruns they're being rational to vote Republican no matter how much Karl Rove disdains them.

Another point to keep in mind is that a concern for social justice doesn't necessarily translate into support for Democratic economic policy. Consider this from the recent New Yorker profile of Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter often cited as a true "compassionate conservative":

Gerson defends Bushís tax cuts, which the Presidentís critics believe not only favor those with the highest incomes but have also left less money for important domestic programs; Gerson believes that free markets and free trade are the best means of lifting people out of poverty, and that lower taxes stimulate both. "The part of Mike I have the most trouble understanding, perhaps because we simply disagree, is how he can square his support for pretty substantial spending for the very poorest among us with a defense of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest people," Dionne said. "Maybe Mike just buys supply-side economics in a way that I donít, but most supply-siders donít think like Mike."
The fact is that most Republican evangelicals are strongly committed to Republican policy positions, and it's condescending to think that they can be persuaded by subtle rhetorical shifts (and Sullivan concedes at one point that depressing turnout is more likely than actually convincing the religious right to vote Democratic.) What Democrats can do to broaden their base -- run more socially conservative candidates in more conservative states, and claim that religious values support progressive goals and solutions -- they're already doing. So I just don't see what talking more about David Kuo is supposed to accomplish.

--Scott Lemieux

GRAND OLD PORNO. There are better reasons to vote the Republicans out of office, but it's certainly delicious to see that the GOP has taken money from pornographers, including one who reportedly has expressed a desire to do the Bush twins. Josh Marshall reported this weekend that even as the Republican National Committee tars, in a spectacularly vicious television spot, Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford for allegedly having taken campaign money from "porn movie producers," the party has apparently had its own traffic with the adult video industry. Topping, perhaps, Marshall's revelation of the RNC's lucrative relationship with porn distributor Nicholas T. Boyias, is John Aravosis's post on porn queen Mary Carey's largesse, bestowed last year on the National Republican Congress Committee (NRCC). Writing of Ms. Carey and "her boss," Aravosis asserts, "Their $5k donation got them dinner with the president and a slew of top Republican congressional leaders, and even lunch with Karl Rove.

Later, says Aravosis, Carey expressed her lust for the Bush twins. "I totally want to have sex with them," she reportedly told the blogger.

--Adele M. Stan

A BRIEF LOOK BACK. I'll be writing about this at greater length in a piece for New York Times Select coming out tomorrow, but with Election 2006 just a week away and the narratives already emerging about its significance, I though we ought to pause to first clarify what happened two years ago, in 2004.

First, the basic recap:

  • Presidency. A 3-point national bump for Bush over 2000, the smallest gain for an re-elected president since McKinley's 1900 re-election. Just three states switched, the fewest since George Washington ran the table the second time, in 1792, prior to popular voting. Because Bush's gain of New Mexico (five electors) was essentially negated by his loss of New Hampshire (four), the president picked up 3 points plus Iowa.
  • Congress. Three net House seats for GOP, which were more than accounted for by the re-redistricting of Texas (four seats directly plus one party switch). Net of four senate seats for the GOP, arguably their biggest achievement, but one that, again, was more than accounted for by the five southern Democratic retirements.
  • Governors. A push: Democrats picked up New Hampshire and Montana, GOP gained Indiana and Missouri, the rest did not switch control.
  • State legislatures: Democrats gained about 60 seats nationally, and captured eight new chamber majorities to just four for the Republicans.

    So, for the GOP victory can be summarized as 3 points plus Iowa in the presidential contest, 3 House seats, 4 senators, no governors, and losses in the state legislatures. And this, despite the fact that the GOP had control over the entire national governing apparatus, and Bush was the incumbent, with all the advantages (bully pulpit and a two-year head start in building his field campaign over John Kerry) thereunto pertaining. Oh, and this is not to mention, as the national media chorus all seems to agree, that the Republicans are better strategically, tactically, and rhetorically; have better, leaner, meaner consultants and candidates with a tougher, clearer message; and the conservative movement has a more developed media echo chamber, think tank infrastructure, and field campaign apparatus.

    The truth is 2004 was a fizzle, not a boom. Democrats didn't win, to be sure, but should the GOP really be rejoicing given how little they were able to budge the needle? Karl Rove claims that 2004 was just the next stage in a "rolling realignment." Maybe. But that rock seems to have rolled as far up the hill (or Hill) as possible, and is soon headed in the other direction.

    Still, watch for the Democrats to win just as many Senate seats, far more House seats, more governors, and continue their progress in the state legislatures next week -- and it still will be depicted as the Democrats somehow having come up short.

    --Tom Schaller

  • HERE WE GO AGAIN. Well, this was a nice little present a week out from the election, wasn't it?

    Raise your hand if you've heard Ellen Tauscher's name any time in the past six years.

    I thought as much. Why doesn't The New York Times just dig up Carl Albert and ask him what he thinks? He's been about as relevant to the politics of the day as la Tauscher is, and he's a damn sight better Democrat having been dead for six years than she is alive and yapping.

    Why, oh Lord, why do Democratic politicians cooperate with stories like this? Mind you, I'm not arguing for freezing out the NYT, or that the story isn't it a legitimate one, but how hard can it be for professional politicians and professional political activists to keep from tossing rocks at each other in public? The correct answer for everyone in this piece goes something like this: "The important thing for all of us is to strike the power from the hands of a corrupt, reckless, and criminally negligent Republican Party, which refuses to police the lunatics in its own ranks because its political success has depended for almost three decades on catering to an extremist agenda and to the worst of our human impulses."

    Repeat until reporter's eyes glaze over.

    But, no, let's all have a wonderfully productive conversation (again) on what chunk of the privacy rights of 51 percent of the American people we're willing to pitch overboard, and how scary even we find Nancy Pelosi. Or, alternatively, let's line up with the MoveOn guy and talk about why we'd run someone against Heath Shuler, who hasn't even been elected yet.

    God, as Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, what I wouldn't give for a large sock full of manure.

    --Charles P. Pierce

    NM-1: DOWN TO THE WIRE. Democratic Attorney General Patricia Madrid is going into the last full week before elections in New Mexico's first district with a razor-thin lead over incumbent Republican Heather Wilson. Of course, the poll was run before the televised debate last week. Who won the debate largely depends on who you ask, though most observers found the incumbent to be more polished. Wilson, indeed, has jumped on a verbal stumble of Madrid's during the debate and turned it into an attack ad -- using a bit of creative editing to make it stick:

    The ad uses a portion of the debate where Wilson asks Madrid, "Can you cite something that would give the people of New Mexico some kind of reassurance that you will prevent a tax increase?"

    Madrid pauses before saying, "Your president and you have -- have voted for a tax relief."

    Here was Madrid's full answer from the debate:
    Madrid: "Your president and you have voted for tax relief for the top 1 percent of taxpayers in this country, costing us an immeasurable amount of money. If I go to Congress, I will vote to repeal that tax relief. I do support tax relief for the middle class, even the upper middle class."
    It isn't exactly a dirty ad, but it is misleading -- but with so little time left, that may be all that is needed to stall a surging Madrid.

    --Thurman Hart, (crossposted at Midterm Madness)

    THE MAJORITARIAN DIFFICULTY II. Looks like it's Jonah Goldberg Monday here on Tapped. Kevin Drum finds him claiming that the last "100 years" of liberalism has been about "shoving things down people's throats." Drum identifies the most obvious problem: the core elements of the liberal accomplishments of the last century -- most importantly the New Deal/Great Society safety net and civil rights protections -- are very popular, which is why conservatives get power only when they don't oppose them.

    But what's particularly remarkable is Goldberg's list of examples: "bussing, racial quotas, gay marriage, Title IX." He can't even cherry pick four without destroying his underlying argument. Busing, I'll give him, was unpopular and in some cases ordered by courts (although I'd love to hear what he would have done as a federal judge facing school boards with long histories of transparent constitutional violations trying to nullify judicial opinions striking down school segregation). But the states in which judicial decisions have legalized gay marriage or civil unions are also states where the practice is hardly unpopular. But, you might say, maybe he's discussing institutional procedures rather than public opinion per se? Then it gets worse for him, because affirmative action is a case where conservatives want judges to ram a policy "down the throats" of publicly accountable officials. (It's also worth noting that the claims of conservative heroes Scalia and Thomas that the Constitution forbids affirmative action in all cases, while a plausible reading of the text, is completely inconsistent with their alleged "originalism." The idea that the 14th Amendment was understood at the time of its ratification to forbid even racial classifications that were intended to ameliorate injustices is frankly absurd, which is presumably why neither Scalia or Thomas has ever bothered to defend their outcomes in "originalist" terms.) And Title IX was dutifully passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. There's no coherent democratic theory here; just a bald conviction that if reactionaries don't like a policy outcome it must be undemocratic irrespective of what institution is responsible or whether or not the policy is popular.

    --Scott Lemieux

    JONAH GOLDBERG, WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION? Brad's Battlestar Galactica article reminded me of this gem (discovered by Scott) from Jonah Goldberg, written in response to episode 2-17:

    In a society scientifically so much more advanced, it seems to me that the issue would no longer be controversial one way or the other. Either contraceptive technology would have "solved" the problem. Or moral dogma about abortion's acceptable parameters would have been long established.
    I'm left to wonder exactly what Jonah is thinking about when he's imagining a technological fix for the abortion problem, but that's not really the funny part. Ron Moore has left us some subtle hints indicating that he's not optimistic about the ability of technology to solve basic societal problems. These hints include the low level of much Colonial technology, the vulnerability of high tech equipment to Cylon attack, the emphasis on religion as an enduring element of the human experience, and, last but not least, the fact that he's produced a show about killer robots who overthrow and try to exterminate humanity. This speaks to a certain skepticism regarding the impact of technological progress on human happiness...

    --Robert Farley

    October 27, 2006

    RISK ASSESSMENT: HACKER RESPONDS. Don't miss Jacob Hacker's response to Schmitt, Klein, and Yglesias.

    --The Editors

    BUT WHAT KIND OF POPULISM? My friend Cliff Schecter has a new article lauding the populist approach of Midwestern and border state Democrats. I'm always happy to see such pieces, mainly because it would be good if part of the post-election narrative for Democrats, assuming they win, is that a resurgent populist appeal pushed them over the finish line. I would, however, be grateful if writers began defining their terms a bit. The fact that these politicians are populist is simply asserted -- what the label means beyond thinking economic hardship is bad is never explained.

    There are many different types of populist appeals and many different ways to frame them. Among those which Democrats are assumedly not engaging in are tirades against the Jews and rants deriding intellectuals. Hopefully, they are recognizing the value of some healthy anticorporate sentiment. But it would be good to know who's doing what, and how it's working. Looking at poll numbers, overwhelming majorities of Republicans feel power is too concentrated among corporations and believe government regulation is necessary to protect the public interest. That bespeaks a potential for an anticorporate, pro-government populism we've not seen in awhile. But these articles rarely explain if Democrats are taking that step, or if they're puttering to a close with boilerplate about health care costs and profits.

    ----Ezra Klein

    INCOHERENT LIKE A FOX. OK, do your best with what in the world this means. This is Bush during his roundtable with conservative columnists:

    This stuff about "stay the course" -- stay the course means, we're going to win. Stay the course does not mean that we're not going to constantly change.
    So he is staying the course now? An endlessly-mutable course? I give up.

    --Spencer Ackerman

    LOOK OUTWARD. Iíve admired Katha Pollittís work for years and was thrilled to see she took the time to respond to my essay on the lack of women opinion columnists. Pollitt makes some excellent points; indeed, Gail Collins was hardly the sole decision maker when it came to hiring and promoting New York Times columnists. Thatís why I wanted to take the focus off Collins and ask some larger questions about the significance of the debate on women in journalism. I believe itís important to expand the parameters of this discussion: If weíre going to obsess over the number of women with magazine bylines and on newspaper op-ed pages, we shouldnít disconnect those discussions from concerns about the lack of women congressional representatives, governors, mayors, and state legislators.

    This doesnít mean, as Pollitt writes, that I issue ďan invitation to editorial complacency.Ē In fact, I argue explicitly in my piece for byline gender quotas, as put forth by Ann Friedman, to force editors to reach out to female writers as well as expand their definition of the topics worthy of emphasis and coverage. What I'd like to see is a broader conversation about why the media favors certain topics within which female thought-leaders are vastly underrepresented. Itís almost too obvious to point out that as long as our government is dominated by men, our public institutions will continue to favor men and our political debates will continue to be limited, giving women and their concerns short shrift.

    Committed feminist editors like Katrina vanden Heuvel make a huge difference in the pages of their publications. But committed feminist legislators are just as important when it comes to shifting our political discourse and engaging women in policy debates. It is the same phenomenon keeping women out of electoral politics that keeps them out of opinion journalism and other fields: self-perpetuating institutions built to favor men and advance their interests. So while journalists should certainly look inward to address the inequities in our profession, we must also look outward, and remember the widespread gender disparities that exist across American life. Journalism doesnít exist in a vacuum, and neither should debates about womenís role in it.

    --Dana Goldstein

    BAD OMEN. There's a great moment near the beginning of the movie Tootsie, in which Dustin Hoffman and his agent are arguing about a play that Hoffman's roommate has written for him. In the play, Hoffman is to play a man who moves back into the toxin-poisoned neighborhood of Love Canal. The agent (played by director Sidney Pollack) finally explodes, "Nobody will pay to watch people living next to chemical waste. They can see that in New Jersey."

    This came to mind earlier this afternoon when, while listening to Al Franken's radio program, he told me to stay tuned to hear from Howard Fineman.

    Good god, Al. Howard Fineman?

    Is there a broadcast outlet of any kind in America where I can't see Howard Fineman, so reliably banal a fount of conventionality that he makes David Broder look like Thomas Pynchon? I swear, last week, I saw Fineman marching in the Texas band at halftime of the Nebraska game, bidding high on a nut straight on the World Series of Poker, warming up in the Cardinals bullpen, chasing sharks off New Zealand, and being trussed up and stuffed into an oven on the Food Network so as to be served this season as the Christmas goose.

    Nobody is rooting harder for Air America to succeed than I am. I like the new morning zoo crew, and Randi Rhodes is a hoot. (In Boston, we get lovable goofball Stephanie Miller at midday and stolid old deerslayer Ed Schultz on evening-drive, instead of the AA shows in those timeslots.) But the network's flagship program can't be giving me Howard Fineman. It just can't. Maybe, instead, it should just run the audio of Bob Corker's new TV ad from Tennessee.

    --Charles P. Pierce

    SEPERATE AND UNEQUAL. To follow up on my general concerns about federal rules intended to make single-sex education more common, Brad Plumer cites the details of the ACLU's suit against gender-based education in Louisiana, which persuasively cites evidence that this education reinforces gender sterotypes. More concerns expressed here and here. I also agree that it's important to make distinctions between K-12 and higher education here; unless the programs involved are very specialized (like VMI), having single-sex univiersities is much less likely to foreclose opportunities for women than single-sex high schools.

    --Scott Lemieux

    JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: BATTLESTAR GALACTICONS. Sadly, No!'s Brad Reed analyzes the pervasive and frightening phenomenon of sci-fi-influenced conservative foreign policy punditry. Galacticons, dorko-fascists, and jingonauts -- read the whole thing, it's an eye-opening assessment.

    --The Editors

    TRYING TO STEELE YOUR VOTE. They just love to distort. Michael Steele's got a new ad featuring his sister defending his position on stem cell research. "Thereís something you should know about Michael Steele," she says. "He does support stem cell research, and he cares deeply for those who suffer from disease. How do I know? Iím Michael Steeleís little sister. I have MS, and I know he cares about me." Anyone remember this?

    Even as [Steele] berated the president, the candidate allowed that he opposes a pullout from Iraq, agrees with Bush's veto of human embryonic stem cell research, and supports constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and flag burning.
    Obviously, the devil is in the details. Steele supports adult stem cell research. He doesn't support embryonic stem cell research. He's trying to confuse voters on the issue, and using his sister's condition to imply that he'd never oppose treatments that could help someone so close to him. But he does. In case you were wondering, the National MS Society supports "using all human cell types that might further the development of treatments and a cure for MS. Thus the Society -- along with the American Medical Association, other voluntary health organizations, and many scientific societies -- opposes regulations that would limit the full exploration of this important area." Thus, they oppose Michael Steele.

    --Ezra Klein

    AFGHAN WIGS. Rob, I liked your piece defending the worthy invasion of Afghanistan. If I can make one criticism: early in the piece you ask, "If weíve come to the conclusion now that the Iraq invasion was a mistake, then how do we evaluate the disaster on the other side of Iran?" I don't see how a reevaluation of Afghanistan follows from the disaster in Iraq, except as something of an academic exercise. For the reasons that you ably explain, these are really different wars, with really different objectives and fought for really different reasons. It's an annoying trope of Christopher Hitchens's, among others, to intimate that calls for withdrawal from Iraq are merely one symptom of a general bug-out tendency on the left, rather than a discrete analysis of Iraq qua Iraq. I know that's not what you're up to, but it's worth keeping the distinctions in mind.

    Second -- and at the risk of undermining my point -- the question we need to be asking ourselves about Afghanistan is: what now? That is, evaluating Afghanistan qua Afghanistan, we're certainly not seeing much in the way of clarity from the Bush administration on what the objectives are, and if ever there's a recipe for an open-ended military deployment, there it is. Not that that's a bad thing -- with Pakistan opting to give up fighting al-Qaeda, and a resurgent Taliban, there's quite a lot of opportunity for al-Q to reestablish operations in their lost Afghan home, which readers of Peter Bergen's books know has a seriously romantic mystique for them. That's the sort of situation where we should be keeping U.S. forces around -- but we should be, you know, debating this, rather than watching it happen through drift.

    --Spencer Ackerman

    IF YOU LIKE THE WAR ON (SOME CLASSES OF PEOPLE WHO USE SOME) DRUGS, YOU'LL LOVE ABORTION CRIMINALIZATION. Jill Filipovic, while discussing the incredibly draconian new abortion ban set to be enacted in Nicaragua (which doesn't even have an exemption of the life of the mother), points us to data which reinforces a point that should be central to pro-choice discourse: abortion bans are failures even on their own terms. The Latin American nations which best reflect the combination of draconian bans, miserly social services, moralistic sex "education," and reactionary gender relations favored by most American pro-life groups also have very high abortion rates, much higher than those in most countries where abortion is not only legal but state-funded. Because affluent women have access to abortion even in regimes far more serious about enforcing bans than the United States ever was, and many women without the connections to get safe abortions will seek them on the black market, abortion bans are a remarkably ineffective (and inequitable) means of reducing abortion rates, and have all kinds of negative externalities (starting with the maiming and killing of women). If your primary goal is to punish women who engage in sexual choices you don't like, abortion bans make sense; if your goal is protecting fetal life, not so much. The combination of policies favored by pro-choicers are not only better for women's autonomy, but usually lead to fewer abortions as well.

    For those interested in comparative abortion policy, with the caution that the law on the books doesn't always reflect the situation on the ground, Ann Friedman points us to this very valuable resource (which breaks down the current law within the states as well.) It makes a fellow proud to be a Canadian...

    --Scott Lemieux

    A WEBB OF LIES. A few quick points on the ostensibly grotesque sexual scenes in James Webb's fiction. The first is that it's rather remarkable how few of them there are. The guy's a war novelist -- and somehow, the testosterone pumping through those stories tends to enable no end of pornographic asides. And yet only three of the examples on George Allen's list are actually sexual in nature. One is a scene set in strip club where a stripper mounts a banana. Another has two male prisoners engaging in furtive mutual masturbation. And then there's the the real excerpt:

    ďA shirtless man walked toward them along a mud pathway. His muscles were young and hard, but his face was devastated with wrinkles. His eyes were so red that they appeared to be burned by fire. A naked boy ran happily toward him from a little plot of dirt. The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boyís penis in his mouth.Ē
    That seemed a bit odd to me too. It's fiction, to be sure, and if Scooter Libby can indulge his demented fantasied of brown bears raping little girls -- repeatedly -- Webb can do what he wants. But as the commenters at my other site pointed out, this isn't Webb's fevered imagination at work. One linked to this anthropological piece on crosscultural treatment of children:
    The authoritative Growing Up: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia covers 87 cultures in which it says there is no incest, just adults playing with, stroking, masturbating and sucking their baby's genitals: "Truk adults play with an infant's genitals...In China, Manchu mothers tickle the genitals of their little daughters and suck the penis of a small Thailand, a Banoi mother habitually strokes her son's genitals."

    Judge that how you want, but it's important confirmation for Webb's explanation this morning:
    "It's not a sexual act," Webb told Plotkin regarding the "Lost Soldiers" excerpt. "I actually saw this happen in a slum in Bangkok when I was there as a journalist. The duty of a writer is to illuminate his surroundings."
    So what we're left with is rather remarkable: Webb, who fought in Vietnam and spent much of his lifetime exposing that experience in his fiction, documented a real and unsettling feature of daily life there. It was non-sexual, but testament to his actual experience in the country. The Allen campaign is warping it, ripping it out of context and pretending that it stems from Webb's own fantasies of pedophilic fellatio.

    My guess? This is going to come out. Days one and two of this story will be very bad for Webb. Day three will not be. It's going to come out that these were strange and nightmarish remembrances from when Webb was overseas, fighting for his country. And Allen will look like a fool and a knave for trying to turn evidence of his war record into proof of perversion. This will give Webb the opportunity to speak of all he saw in Vietnam without seeming exploitive or opportunistic about. And Webb's service there, and the lesson it taught him, are not issues Allen wants on the agenda.

    The book, by the way, was a terrific seller. And it did so well in no small part because it was endorsed and enthusiastically blurbed by one John McCain. Wonder what he'll say when he's asked about it.

    --Ezra Klein

    WHAT WE DIDN'T DO. Rob, in your piece defending the Afghanistan war, you imply that the massive support the U.S. enjoyed both in that moment and for that mission could've been used to achieve a variety of other goals: Iran, for instance, approached us in the days following, anxious to follow up on their cooperation with a Grand Bargain that would derail their nuclear program in response for security guarantees, better relations, and possible incentives from America. That about right? And given that our decapitation of the Taliban made us look strong (while our failed occupation in Iraq made us look weak), we could've bargained from a position of power and intimidation. In some ways, it's always seemed to me that the least forgivable aspects of the Iraq war aren't about the war itself, but the extraordinary moment and opportunities we sacrificed to pursue it.

    Update: Iran's overtures, I'm reminded, where in the Spring of 2003, so after we'd entered Iraq. The groundwork, as Gareth Porter explains in his definitive article on the subject, was laid by the cooperation during the Afghanistan conflict (which the Bushies declined to use to open negotiations towards Iran), but the actual overture was nevertheless a few months after we invaded Iraq.

    --Ezra Klein

    GROW, MY MONSTERS, GROW! Yes, yes, economic growth (or possibly total collapse) is important for keeping the country relatively progressive, satisfied, and welcoming. Ben Friedman's book is genius, and we all forget it at our peril. The one thing about that thesis nobody mentions, though: The distribution of that growth matters. If we have a lot of economic growth (as we do now), but it's mostly going to the rich (as it is now), and the middle class is dissatisfied with the economy (as they are now), they're going to, among other thing, hate on the Mexicans (as they're doing now). Much as Friedman would predict. Growth matters, but it's not much without a modicum of just distribution. And right now, we don't have that. It's something the growth-boosters in the audience might want to keep an eye on.

    Oh, and our growth is also slowing down. So that's two problems.

    --Ezra Klein

    TO COMRADE ADELE: Here here!

    --Ezra Klein

    OUTTA DA MARRIAGE BIZ. As a queer native of the Garden State, I applaud the state Supreme Court decision that orders the legislature of my native land to do the right thing and give us our rights. Like Scott, I'm down with the decision of the best damn state supreme court in the land, but perhaps for less thoughtful and realistic reasons: It gives me hope that the government might, one day, get out of the marriage business altogether.

    Really, folks, marriage is a religious institution in which government has no business, except for the enforcement of the contract inherent in that sacred institution. I say, civil unions for everybody -- straights, gays, transgendered, omnisexuals, whomever -- and let the religious institutions determine on which couples they will confer the blessing of marriage.

    --Adele M. Stan

    JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: STILL THE RIGHT WAR. As the Iraq debacle has continued to lay bare the pitfalls of occupation, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and Western forces remain bogged down there, five years after the initial U.S. invasion. Some observers are now starting to reconsider the wisdom of that war as well. Today, Rob takes up the question of Afghanistan and assesses in retrospect the case for invasion.

    --The Editors

    PROCEDURE MASKING SUBSTANCE. Tom Maguire objects to my suggestion that objections to the Supreme Court of New Jersey 's recent decision from (nominal) supporters of civil unions are, at bottom, substantive rather than procedural:

    My personal opinion is that gay marriage or civil unions is fine if enacted by the state legislature but wrong if crammed down by judicial fiat. How would pollsters, or Mr. Lemieux, score that? Surely I am not alone in believing that process counts.

    Maguire is, of course, correct that the fact that a majority of New Jersey's citizens support civil unions goes only to the questions of whether the decision is "countermajoritarian," and neither here not there in terms of the merits of the opinion. But he doesn't quote the passage where I actually address his point:

    I would be interested in a more robust explanation of why nominal supporters of gay marriage such as Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds oppose these judicial decisions, which are based on a perfectly plausible (although contestable, and opposed by precedent) reading of equal protection clauses. It certainly can't be a general commitment to judicial deference to the legislatures in cases where the constitutional text is ambiguous--when the Supreme Court deferred to state legislatures in Kelo, for example, Reynolds and Volokh strongly disagreed, arguing that the Supreme Court should adopt a plausible (but contestable, and opposed by precedent) reading of the takings clause that would have the federal courts use a broad conception of "public use" to trump the judgments of elected officials.

    The problem is that I don't see any evidence that, as a general rule, Reynolds or Volokh believe that exercises of judicial review based on ambiguous constitutional provisions represent cramming policy judgments down the throats of the public. (This may not be applicable to Maguire, although the stray references to Kelo I found on his blog suggest that he believes that the federal courts should, to use his purported vision of the democratic process, "cram" a judicially-determined conception of public use "down the throats" of the public against the will of elected officials.) And it's not just Kelo; Reynolds and Volokh also seem to support more aggressive Supreme Court policing of federal powers, for example. Moreover, given that Reynolds, Volokh and Maguire pre-empitvely oppose any judicial decision expanding marriage benefits irrespective of the text, history and precedents of an individual state's constitutional order, it's implausible that this is simply about the fine points of legal doctrine. "Process" matters here only in the trite sense that of course the courts shouldn't strike down laws without a constitutional basis, but given that there's surely at least a plausible argument that the denial of marriage benefits to same-sex couples is inconsistent with broad guarantees of equal protection, that doesn't do any real work in this case. What's going on here is that Reynolds et al. place a higher substantive value on the rights of property owners than on the rights of gay people. That's their privilege, but they should defend that rather than hiding behind banalties about judicial restraint that are clearly intertwined with substantive judgments about the merits of rights claims.

    --Scott Lemieux

    October 26, 2006

    YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT. Ezra, I really, really don't like disagreeing with Peter Bergen on al-Qaeda. You generally should be extremely wary of telling a guy who interviewed bin Laden that he's off-base. But, dude, you asked. Thanks, Ez, you're a good friend.

    Let me start by saying that Peter is 100 percent right that bin Laden & co. want to take over Iraq. But, to expand a bit on a point that Blake made, "want" and "can" are two different things. Peter may be a bit skewed by his deep knowledge of Afghanistan here. It was pretty easy for al-Qaeda to adapt to a post-Soviet Afghanistan. From the evidence so far, that's really not the case in Iraq: not only do the Iraqi Sunnis really dislike al-Q, but Anbar province has even assembled its own anti-Qaeda death squad. There's only one thing that could stop the Sunnis from fighting al-Qaeda: their greater desire to fight us instead.

    There's also a Machiavellian aspect here. To be extremely callous (given that we're talking about human life here), it's not exactly against U.S. interests to let Iraqi Sunni (and Shiite, for that matter) fury at al-Qaeda take its course. One of the most valuable, if underappreciated, weapons in our war-on-terrorism arsenal is the recognition among Muslims that no matter how bad they think we are, bin Laden doesn't exactly offer them a bright future. We would definitely reap the blame -- and we should -- for the ravages of the Iraqi civil war, but from the perspective of fighting al-Qaeda, as long as the bodies of the jihadis pile up, that's probably tolerable.

    --Spencer Ackerman

    RISK ASSESSMENT: SCHMITT CRASHES THE PARTY! Ok, not really. Mark Schmitt has swooped in with a worthy intervention into the Hacker-Klein-Yglesias discussion of The Great Risk Shift. Check it out, and wait for Hacker's response tomorrow.

    --The Editors

    JUST A GAME. Shakes on Limbaugh:

    Limbaugh is just one of many loathsome characters who have made names for themselves by treating politics as a game, a fun and profitable little pastime that has no real-world consequences -- and the richer he gets, the more real a lack of consequences becomes for him. The luxury of staggering wealth means never having to worry about Social Security, or healthcare, or how much gas costs. Itís a game. Who cares.

    And in that game, people like Michael J. Fox arenít real people. Theyíre images on a screen, theyíre pawns to be played. Stem cell research isnít a real thing. Itís a political football. Safely nestled away from the real world in a radio studio, Limbaugh doesnít want or need to think about the people he mocks, the people he uses to score a goal.

    That's quite right. But there's another element too: For the wealthy, and even for many in the middle class, it's hard to viscerally understand the importance of the safety net and the relatively small dollar amounts usually involved in important features of it. We're so often talking about a few more bucks an hour here, a $3,000 deductible there -- these are mild sums to plenty of folks. And when the stakes seem so low, it's no wonder partisans can stomach using those who theoretically depend on them as pawns.

    I like to say that if a neocon is a liberal who got mugged, a progressive is a conservative who got sick. You see it over and over: Andrew Sullivan is a lefty on gay rights, Nancy Reagan came to appreciate the importance of stem cell research, Bob Dole was for intervention in Bosnia (his doc in WWII was a Slav), and so on. A bit of personal experience goes a long way. But it's hard, when you're rich, to experience being poor. And it's hard, if you got rich, to realize you were lucky as well as good. And that paucity of insight impoverishes the discussion. It's not that folks who've had membership in a group will necessarily come to the right conclusions -- see my friend Ben "Badler" Adler for more on that -- but they'll at least know the stakes.

    --Ezra Klein

    PETER BOYER. Over at Open University, David Greenberg has a good post criticizing Peter Boyer's latest New Yorker piece, which in typical fashion combines plenty of good writing and colorful material with an unseemly internalization of right-wing talking points and caricatures of liberals. This reminds me to plug one of Matt's first web pieces as a young whippersnapper here at TAP -- the definitive (the only?) Peter Boyer hit piece. Give it a look.

    --Sam Rosenfeld