Dynamist Blog

Convention Observations

Odds & ends from the convention coverage:
1) The Democrats don't have a monopoly on dumb Baldwin brothers.
2) The Bush daughters need much better joke writers.
3) George P. is cute, but he's too young to be talking about home-ownership statistics. Maybe he and dad talk real estate at the dinner table, but he looks barely old enough to buy a drink, let alone a house.
4) Bill Frist sounds like he's bullshitting even when he's presumably sincere (as in his attacks on malpractice lawsuits). He should stick to backroom deals.
5) I am very lucky to have missed Elizabeth Dole's speech.
6) Sam Brownback is uncomfortable answering questions about his opposition to gay marriage. He seems afraid he'll say what he thinks.

Optimism, the GOP, & the Generation Gap

Glenn Reynolds writes, "Arnold's speech evoked optimism, and enthusiasm for America and for the common man, in a way that -- once -- was associated with liberalism but that has now become a hallmark of the Republicans." Alas, Glenn is about 15 years out of date. Arnold's speech evoked the Republican Party, and the California, of the 1980s. (Remember when immigrants were considered a good thing--a sign that America had something wonderful to offer the world?) Hearing it on the radio, as I drove around L.A., I was greatly nostalgic for both.

Watching this election season on the blogs, I'm struck by the generation gap among people who hold basically the same political views--say, Dan Drezner and me. Children of the 1970s, like Glenn and me, may not exactly be Republican partisans but we don't trust Democrats, especially those from the liberal wing of the party, with national security or the economy. Youngsters like Dan are less cynical, or more naive (take your pick), about the Dems and more likely to vote on social issues. This isn't simply a matter of priorities. It's also a product of associations and culture: What personalities and issues define the parties in your mind?

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Come Back When You're Ready to Kill Yourself

Traditional British stoicism ("suffering builds character") meets socialist financial constraints in the latest attack on pharmaceutical companies. The Telegraph reports:

In evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, the [Royal College of General Practitioners] accuses the companies of over-playing the dangers of conditions such as mild depression or slightly raised blood pressure.

Dr Maureen Baker, the college's honorary secretary, wants the Commons health inquiry to investigate the companies' practices.

"It would be fruitful to look into the increase in disease-mongering by them," she told The Sunday Telegraph.

"It is very much in the interest of the pharmaceutical industry to draw a line that includes as large a population as possible within the 'ill' category. The bigger this group is, the more drugs they can sell. If current trends continue, publicly funded health-care systems will be at risk of financial collapse with huge cost to society as a whole."

The college lists hypertension, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression as examples of common conditions that, in mild forms, are often inappropriately treated with drugs.

As someone who suffers from mild depression--which doesn't seem mild when you have it--I'm glad these people don't get to decide whether I'm sick enough to merit medication. Of course, some members of the Kass Commission might welcome that prospect--a valuable reminder of the dangers of government provision of health care. He who pays ultimately determines what's worth paying for. (As for cholesterol and hypertension, I guess they're not "diseases" until you've had a heart attack or stroke.)

Rudy Speaks

I'm in L.A., where the work day doesn't cooperate with East Coast showtimes, so I watched Rudy Giuliani's speech on tape delay, a.k.a. a C-Span rerun. By the time I saw the actual speech, I'd seen his jokes about John Kerry's fickleness several times. Judging from the coverage on all the cable networks, I thought the whole speech had been an attack on Kerry.

It wasn't, of course. It was an extraordinarily comfortable, even conversational, argument about foreign policy and leadership. Giuliani argued for George Bush and also for himself--for fighting bad guys by being a stubborn hard ass. The core of the speech is not the jokes about John Kerry. It's this passage:

Terrorism did not start on September 11, 2001. It had been festering for many years.

And the world had created a response to it that allowed it to succeed. The attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics was in 1972. And the pattern had already begun.

The three surviving terrorists were arrested and within two months released by the German government.

Action like this became the rule, not the exception.

Terrorists came to learn they could attack and often not face consequences.

In 1985, terrorists attacked the Achille Lauro and murdered an American citizen who was in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer.

They marked him for murder solely because he was Jewish.

Some of those terrorist were released and some of the remaining terrorists allowed to escape by the Italian government because of fear of reprisals.

So terrorists learned they could intimidate the world community and too often the response, particularly in Europe, was "accommodation, appeasement and compromise."

And worse the terrorists also learned that their cause would be taken more seriously, almost in direct proportion to the barbarity of the attack.

Terrorist acts became a ticket to the international bargaining table.

How else to explain Yasser Arafat winning the Nobel Peace Prize when he was supporting a terrorist plague in the Middle East that undermined any chance of peace?

Before September 11, we were living with an unrealistic view of the world much like our observing Europe appease Hitler or trying to accommodate ourselves to peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union through mutually assured destruction.

President Bush decided that we could no longer be just on defense against global terrorism but we must also be on offense.

On September 20, 2001, President Bush stood before a joint session of Congress, a still grieving and shocked nation and a confused world and he did change the direction of our ship of state.

He dedicated America under his leadership to destroying global terrorism.

The President announced the Bush Doctrine when he said: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.

It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

"Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."

And since September 11th President Bush has remained rock solid.

It doesn't matter how he is demonized.

It doesn't matter what the media does to ridicule him or misinterpret him or defeat him.

They ridiculed Winston Churchill. They belittled Ronald Reagan.

But like President Bush, they were optimists; leaders must be optimists. Their vision was beyond the present and set on a future of real peace and true freedom.

Some call it stubbornness. I call it principled leadership.

One could tell a similar story about crime in New York City. Giuliani probably assumed listeners would make the connection, though I'm not sure how many people outside New York did. (Based on what I saw on TV, pundits weren't providing much context.) The speech might also remind New Yorkers, especially those who dislike Bush, why, before 9/11, they may have disliked Giuliani. Stubornness is useful in the face of determined evil, but it also tends to run over innocent--or, in some cases, less guilty--bystanders.

When Giuliani talks about terrorism, I think he's right, and persuasively so. When he was making headlines with dubious Wall Street prosecutions--most famously of Michael Milken--I thought he was a dangerous fanatic. Even as mayor, I distrusted his authoritarianism. But like most people who prefer their streets clean(ish) and safe, I do prefer New York today to New York before Giuliani. Unfortunately, the two sides of his crime-fighting persona are inseparable.

What to make of all this? The usual lessons, I suppose: Life is full of tradeoffs. Power requires checks and balances. And you probably don't want John Lindsay fighting terrorism.

The most remarkable thing about the speech wasn't its content but how it was delivered. Giuliani spoke fluidly, but in an utterly conversational way, as though he had no text. Instead of trying for old-style oratory, which works for few contemporary speakers, he gave a model 21st-century performance. If you didn't see the speech, check out the video, available via this C-Span page.

I Told You So: Reform Party Edition

The Reform Party, previous home of Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, has officially picked Ralph Nader as its presidential nominee. Some experts are surprised. Readers of The Future and Its Enemies should not be. From the WaPost account:

"It shows how desperate Nader is, to have to join up with these people. He basically has nothing in common with them, aside from an anti-corporate leaning and a desire to rehabilitate his image," said Cal Jilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas who has written extensively on third parties. "And when a party nominates Buchanan one election and Nader the next, it shows there's no there there."

Nader spokesman Kevin B. Zeese sees it differently. "It's actually surprising how much Ralph and the Reform Party agree on," he said, citing electoral reform, ending corporate welfare, and opposition to the Iraq war as examples.

For those who aren't familiar with him, Cal Jillson (the correct spelling is the Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of Dallas (or to flatter both, the Norm Ornstein)--always good for a quote that suits the reporter's needs but shows no particularly deep understanding or interesting analysis of what's going on.

For more background, see the first chapter of TFAIE.

Dynamist Dissent on the 9/11 Commission

Richard Posner's analysis in the NYT Book Review is a must-read from start to finish. Here's the dynamist point:

The commission thinks the reason the bits of information that might have been assembled into a mosaic spelling 9/11 never came together in one place is that no one person was in charge of intelligence. That is not the reason. The reason or, rather, the reasons are, first, that the volume of information is so vast that even with the continued rapid advances in data processing it cannot be collected, stored, retrieved and analyzed in a single database or even network of linked databases. Second, legitimate security concerns limit the degree to which confidential information can safely be shared, especially given the ever-present threat of moles like the infamous Aldrich Ames. And third, the different intelligence services and the subunits of each service tend, because information is power, to hoard it. Efforts to centralize the intelligence function are likely to lengthen the time it takes for intelligence analyses to reach the president, reduce diversity and competition in the gathering and analysis of intelligence data, limit the number of threats given serious consideration and deprive the president of a range of alternative interpretations of ambiguous and incomplete data -- and intelligence data will usually be ambiguous and incomplete.

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