Sunday, February 22, 2009

Updike on Science

Quote from here (via Andrew Sullivan):
The non-scientist's relation to modern science is basically craven: we look to its discoveries and technology to save us from disease, to give us a faster ride and a softer life, and at the same time we shrink from what it has to tell us of our perilous and insignificant place in the cosmos. Not that threats to our safety and significance were absent from the pre-scientific world, or that arguments against a God-bestowed human grandeur were lacking before Darwin. But our century's revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know.

-- John Updike (1985)
-- an oft-said sentiment, but, as is his wont, Updike just expresses it so bloody well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Bushian Policies

What Hilzoy said about Obama's endorsement of Bush's use of the state secrets program. ("What Hilzoy said" is the new "what Digby said", I think...)

Shame, shame, shame on the Obama administration.

Glenn Greenwald's two posts on this issue are also highly recommended.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why Obama's Losing (Control of) the Debate

I don't dissent from the emerging (left) blogosphere consensus on why Obama is getting kicked around on the stimulus bill, and losing a lot of momentum in general in his presidency in the process (see e.g. Josh Marshall, Steve Benen, Digby and company; etc). In fact, it seems to me that you could sum it up in a sentence:

Post-partisanship is an extremely successful political strategy, but an extremely poor governing strategy.

Obama's penchant for post-partisanship -- which shows every sign of being quite sincerely held -- was always the thing I liked least about him; and it damaged him in one of the few areas I thought he needed real improvement, namely his inconsistency in articulating a powerful liberal philosophy (which he did well when he wanted). But I was the exception here. A lot of people have a vague sense that the problem in politics is all the political bickering, and that politicians need to sit down, get past ideology, and be practical -- indeed, this is a belief that unites (ironically) those who pay very little attention to politics and the David Broders of the world who compose the American political & media elite.* It sounds adult and serious; when Obama said it, it sounds uplifting and hopeful. It made you want to vote for him. So it's good politics: it gets votes.

But it's terrible for governing. Because to govern, you need to actually pass bills that deal with issues people disagree vehemently about. Because the Republican party is terrible at running the government (as we all learned these past eight years of misgovernance), but are far, far better than the Democrats at being the opposition party: controlling the debate, blocking things that need doing. Because the Republicans know that if nothing gets done -- and dear God there are a lot of things that need doing, desperately and urgently -- then whatever the reasons for the failure, however much there may be good arguments that it was an obstructionist minority party that messed it up, voters will (in their recurring and basically sound strategy of low-information voting) throw out the ruling party when things go badly. So as long as they care only about power and not about the country -- and frankly I think that's pretty clear (if you disagree, simply read this as: "as long as they, like Rush Limbaugh, are rooting for Obama to fail") -- then they can win simply by blocking every attempt at solving the mess we're in. Because, ultimately, the Republicans aren't going to try to work with the Democrats in good faith; they're going to try to sabotage them. And they're very, very, very good at sabotage.

Having won the election on a campaign that included both a host policy proposals and a vague rhetoric of post-partisanship, what Obama needed to do -- and still needs to do, since I don't think it's too late, although if he doesn't change course soon it might be -- was confine the post-partisanship to symbols like giving Rick Warren an inauguration slot and going to dinner with conservative columnists, and get his damn agenda through the Congress. Get us out of Iraq. Stimulate the economy. Start to deal with global warming. Repair some of the damage Bush did to our constitution. Make things better.

Because if hope and rhetoric about a new politics are what get you elected, things getting better are what get you reelected.

Not to mention the fact that we're in deep shit and the country really needs a lot of help.

Focusing on post-partisanship lets them control the debate, and the Republicans just want Obama to fail (as their liege-lord, Limbaugh, said plainly; and woe betides any Republican who crosses Rush!). So throw them a rhetorical bone and get to work repairing the country already.

When Republicans controlled everything, they dominated the political debate, marched in lock-step, and passed through Bush's program... which resulted in a generational disaster for the country in practically every area of life, since conservative policies are almost uniformly disastrous when put into application. Now that Democrats control everything, they need to push through their agenda to show that it works (which, I think, it will... in a sufficiently strong form, one that isn't emasculated with pre-negotiation giveaways to conservative grumbling). Otherwise nothing will happen... and conservatives will get back into power, and resume their destruction of our country.

Act like the damn majority party already. Write your ideas as if the Republicans didn't exist, pass the bills and let Obama sign them. If they work, no one will remember the process. But if they're not tried, no one will care what the process was.

All they want is for Obama to fail, even if the country goes with it. So stop taking them seriously, stop negotiating with them, and save the country. That's what matters.

Update: Theda Skocpol puts the matter succinctly (via): "Obama is, sadly, much to blame for giving the Republicans so much leverage. He defined the challenge as biparitsanship not saving the U.S. economy."

Ryan Avent, guest-blogging chez Yglesias, says something close to what I'm saying here too:
A changed tone in Washington, if costless, would be a wonderful thing. But voters put Obama and Democratic majorities into office in order to get results. If Obama chooses to embrace Republicans even as they actively work against the interests of the vast majority of Americans, then we have to question his judgment. It takes two to change the tone. Republicans aren’t interested, and they’re using his overtures to undermine the American economy and the Obama presidency.

So far, Obama's done some good things -- e.g. good appointments at Justice and the beginning of the work undoing Bush's lawless torture regime -- but he's not doing well at his main task. Now, he's a good counterpuncher, or was in the campaign anyway, so I still hope he'll pull this out. But I think it's reasonable to worry at this point. Particularly since we no longer have much leeway for error.

Update 2: This is a good start. More like this, please. Much, much, much more.

Update 3: Krugman writes his version of what I called above the left blogosphere consensus, with some added emphasis on the level of economic doom we're facing.

* Ironic, but not really, because neither really focuses much on policy: the former because they lack the time or energy or aptitude or interest or whatever to focus on politics at all; and the latter because they're much more interested in politics as gossip about people they know and something akin to spectator sports, their for strategy bull sessions and entertainment. People who care about actual policy are rarely prophets of bipartisan utopia because they actually care what happens, and the parties differ on most issues. (And on most of the issues they are fairly similar on -- intellectual property, the drug war, blind support for Israel, etc. -- the are uniformly bad and not uniformly good).

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Poem of the Day: American Poetry

American Poetry

Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.

Like the shark, it contains a shoe.
It must swim for miles through the desert
Uttering cries that are almost human.

-- Louis Simpson, 1963