Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Why Kerry is Losing Part II: Real War-mongering,

The conventional wisdom is usually wrong. It's not that I'm a contrarian as much as ontologician. People in the aggregate are usually simply too misinformed, too underprepared, and too easily swayed by their individual prejudices to be right most of the time. If you think about it, if this weren't true there wouldn't be a need for leadership. Leadership mostly entails cajoling large numbers of people to do exactly what they have no intention of doing, because it's the right thing for them.

No matter what else one can say about them, Republicans understand this. Democrats look in horror as Republicans dupe Americans in the aggregate into accepting policies against their direct interests. However Democrats have then expressed this revulsion by rejecting the very means of persuasion that the Republicans have employed. What they have failed to understand, is that they have failed to pay attention to their basic Classics courses.

It was first Plato, whose nickname could probably be best translated as "The Rock" in modern parlance because of his prowness in gymnasium wrestling (Yes, it's true. Before there was "The Rock" of WWWF fame, there was Plato.), who defined democracy as demagogery. Aristotle followed this up with a definitive text on the subject, dispassionately analyzing the means to seizing and securing power. You may have heard of one of Aristotle's students, his name was Alexander son of Phillip of Macedonia also known as "The Great,". This line of reasoning was reprised by both Dante and Machiavelli, of the later who bore a great notoreity as a wicked man for simply refining what the great masters before him had noted including Master Kong commonly known as Confucius.

Democracy it must be remembered is the worst system of governance, except for all others. It is not a beautiful and honorable thing. If only it were. Each of the Founding Fathers and the other great men in our history were crafty aggressive men of ruthless and cunning disposition. If they hadn't been, their opponents would have eaten them alive. Even as Democrats are being eaten alive.

The genius of democracy is to substitute social dominance conflicts for violence in power struggles. Many species have adapted this instrumental process for determining the allocation of resources such as mates and food in stylized and ritualized mannerisms that minimize but do not eliminate aggression and violence: Cocks fight, rams butt heads, giraffes whack each other with their long necks, and Presidents debate.

A truly successful Democratic President would look in tactical efforts almost indistinguihsable from the Republicans. The only distinguishing factor is that he would of necessity have to be better at it than the Republicans since they have momentum on their side. The strategic difference however would be that he too would gull the public into accepting policies they had no intention of ever embracing, but these policies would be good for the whole country. The disgust that Democrats have felt is leading them to discard the tactics because they hate the strategic goals that their opponents have chosen to pursue.

In this they have played directly into their opponents' hands. Let me wake everyone up to the harsh truth, but there was never a golden age of genteel politics. What chivalry existed, existed because of mutually assured destruction - MAD - on a political level. There were certain rules, such as the old rule that it took either a dead girl or a live boy in a politician's bed to get him into trouble. These rules didn't exist because everyone was so discrete and jolly chivalrous. It was because they were deathly afraid of being exposed in return. As a matter of fact throughout the history of American politics they did break down upon occassion, by accident or when one side became too weak to create a deterrence through potential retaliation.

Gentlemen's agreements are borne when everyone lives in glass houses. In the Feudal age, there was much about Ransoming and Yielding on the field of battle between knights. Actually, the reason why this practice existed is because family economic feudal units invested far too much time, effort, political capital, and money into the development of heirs upon whose success the entire extended family would literally rise or fall in order to risk them dying out of mutual annihilation in resource competition with other family economic feudal units. It would have destroyed the entire fabric of the social structure. So that's why the peasants were all killed out of hand, but the heirs were ransomed.

It is therefore oddly enough those who advocate a more gentle approach to politics, in what amounts to unilateral political disarmanent, that are as equally responsible for the degradation of politics as those that take advantage of their political pacificism. This is why the central argument of gun-control is not morality but compliance - if you get rid of your guns but the other side doesn't ... well in Yugoslavia the military and armed forces were overwhelmingly Serbian. And we now know what that led to after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

If someone tells you that all you need to do is explain the facts, and present the truth, and let the people decide and that the Iraq war and the economy will swing the electorate to vote for you ... well they may be a nice person, but you should also look for a big "L" on their forehead. That strategy so often advocated by so many Democrats I have heard from, is the mark of a group of losers. Furthermore these losers, as a reward for their niceness, in the future will be rounded up after the "jewification" of liberals and the rise of the psuedo-theocratic nationally socialized corporatized state that was America emerges and needs a scapegoat to justify these changes.

Do my readers think that is harsh? Do they think that is wrong?

Kindly recall that the Christian Science Monitor is not a partisan newspaper and is well regarded in general for their reporting, and they are saying the very same thing the oldman is only in much nicer terms.

from the September 09, 2004 edition

Slow shift in campaign's Iraq factor

Despite a rising death toll, the war - framed as a global defense of democracy - may be tilting in Bush's favor.

By Liz Marlantes | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – Just a few months ago, Iraq looked like President Bush's albatross. Facing a violent insurgency, bodies of contractors being dragged through the streets of Fallujah, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, polls showed public opinion turning sharply against the war, dragging down the president's approval ratings.

Today, however, while the violence in Iraq continues, the war has become less of a political negative - and by some measurements a positive - for Mr. Bush. Even as the US passed the 1,000-casualty mark this week, the number of voters saying it was a mistake to send troops into Iraq has dropped, and Americans now say they trust Mr. Bush on the issue more than his rival, Sen. John Kerry.

Wednesday Senator Kerry attempted to refocus the debate, linking the high cost of the war to the budget deficit. Speaking at the Cincinnati Museum Center, where Bush made his case for war back in 2002, Kerry accused the president of making "the wrong choices" in Iraq, forcing America to bear too much of the burden, and leaving fewer resources for domestic needs.

Yet for a variety of reasons, Kerry now faces an uphill battle in turning Iraq to his advantage on the campaign trail. In part, he's contending with waning public attention, as Iraq has moved out of the headlines. In recent days, for example, amid coverage of hurricane Frances, the Russian hostage crisis, and former President Clinton's heart surgery, the deaths of US soldiers got relatively little notice.

But Kerry has also struggled to clearly differentiate his position on Iraq from the president's, which has made it difficult for him to go on the attack - and made him vulnerable to charges of inconsistency when he does.

"The news from Iraq hasn't been any better [since the transfer of power]. But there has been less public attention, and that's benefited Bush," says Carroll Doherty, editor of the Pew Research Report. "The other part of the story is that Kerry was never able to exploit the issue." [emphasis added]

Part of this issue is that Kerry has never been able to publicly evince the courage of his convictions. That he has them, I have no doubt, but I also have no doubt that he has been completely incapable of communicating them. To paraphrase an old-saying, if the choice is between incompetent war-mongers and second rate imitators the American public will choose the real incompetent war-mongers every time. It's nice that Kerry is thoughtful enough to share with the nation, that if as President he would like to get the troops back in time for his 2008 re-election effort - but this is hardly a prescription to win votes because it just makes him a second rate hack at running a quagmire.

However Americans when faced with the choice of one political party who is weak enough to assent to an illegitimate war and too weak to punish the political party that pushed it, and the political party strong enough to do these henious and wastefully wrong actions will pick the political party that was strong and wrong rather than weak and wrong. It is simply human nature. In the same way, even though Bush has been grossly incompetent on the war on terror, Americans will favor him on that subject as well simply because he's shown the willingness to bully the intelligence agencies and therefore might conceivably lash them into shape.

The reason why is simple. If you are scared of someone, like UBL, and you want someone to protect you then who will you find convincing as a leader? Someone who cannot scare you or someone who can? If you are scared of someone like UBL, if a potential leader can't make you scared - then what hope does he have of making UBL quake in his boots?

It is this form of reasoning, however capricious, that inevitably leads people victimized by outsiders to pick and support otherwise odious and nasty leaders. Need we cite Sharon and Arafat? If you want to lead a people, if you want to convince them that you can make their enemies fear them, then you've got to be one nasty customer - an "our bastard," sort of thing.

The same thing on the economy. The American people aren't completely clueless. But who are they going to believe has greater ability to rein in and control ruthless corporate interests? Bush who demands tribute from them in taxes and is willing to control their purse strings with obvious rewards and punishments (and Bush has punished certain corporate interests of that have no doubt - Enron and the airplane industry are two of them)? Or John Kerry who appears so wishy washy that he couldn't even hit back when Zell Miller got up and called him a traitor for running against Bush? When you're in a lawsuit, you want the meanest nastiest most selfish lawyer you can get your hands on. Even if you know he's going to rape you on charges or cut himself a piece of the action on the side. Because it's better than getting a nice lawyer who will be nice to you but you'll end up with nothing in the end.

Obviously in the best of all worlds, people would like to have a Perry Mason on their side. But people will take what they can get.

It is for this reason, just as the sentiment on the war is turning against Democrats that people will fail to use to economy's troubles to oust Bush. If you are waiting for "the facts" to rescue you, don't hold your breath. Either you are willing to do what it takes to win, and by which I do not mean emulate the incompentent fumbling modern Republican movement, or you are not.

That is what matters, because if you don't have power you can't do any good at all. This is a lesson that the oldman has learned late in life, after foolishly turning away from power himself, and all it did was let unscrupulous and wicked fools get it for themselves. Don't make the same mistake. I thought I was doing something good by turning my back on ruthless competition to be an idealistic science teacher. As it turned out, I merely ceded the field to idiots and dupes and confidence men. Now, late in life, I must turn back to do my part to prevent some truly terrible history from happening.

Life is tough, so get tougher and win.


At September 9, 2004 at 8:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your economic stuff but (and you've promised the possiblity of harsh words for your readers, so let me fire the first shot ;>) this stuff - and the previous post - is total crap.

You are basing everything on recent Kerry vs. Bush polls, whilst ignoring reality- actual elections. Look at the Senate. Look at the House. Look at the last three Presidental elections. Look at the Governorship pickup in 2002. The Republicans are certainly ahead, but we are hardly seeing a blowout.

And I am sure you are flat-out wrong about Bush as a "closer." Most of the talk of the final week was whether Gore was going to win the Electoral College, everybody had written off the popular vote by as much as 7%, hence Bush's idiotic trip to California, where he lost by millions of votes.

And please show me, in any national elections since, well, forever, where the Democrat out-smeared the Republican? Yet they still win elections regularly enough.

Finally, in the previous post itself you admitted hearing that Kerry's people were "nasty." For some reason, since Massachusettes is "Liberal" people have gotten the idea that it's politics are genteel. Bull-double-shit, they fight like wildcats there.

There *is* an electoral problem always for the left-of-center party in a First World (voting dominated by the middle class and up) country. Everybody, including myself, if we feel underinformed on a particular race we always "vote to the right" just because we feel that the conservative will be simply less legislatively active. If it ain't broke don't fix it, we think. So the Dems always start with that negative offset, as Labor does in England, the Greens in Germany, etc.

The more serious problem was Clinton. The vast middle of Americans are just the opposite of blog-posters: socially conservative and fiscally, well, a sort of liberalism exists there. In the sense that if you get a job, show up and work, they think you should be able to keep that job for pretty much forever. Rising pay even if you have the same exact job when you are 40 as you did when you were 25.. They don't want to hear about how good it is to offshore their jobs - they don't give a crap about the Chinese, sorry Prof DeLong.

Well, tell me which party answers to their concerns? Neither thanks to the DLC. The Republicans get the social and the "default" nod, and that's pretty much reflected in the current approportionment of DC and the Govenorships. Otherwise it's pretty much who they see on TV.

- a different chris

At September 10, 2004 at 12:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rodger here;

I think Oldman has part of the answer - the mechanics of campaigning that is.

But the Democrats are also beset by another problem that is the loss of their base - the working class. Which they abandoned during the Clinton era in hopes winning the urbanites and white collars.

And this is where I side with chris.

By all rights people are pissed at Bush and it should translate into support for Kerry, but its not. Why? Because there is no incentive for Joe or Jane Sixpack vote for Kerry when he is at best lukewarm to needs of the working class.

See, the Democrats sucked too long on the monied teat of the DLC and its cost them everything at the national level. Yet they won't repudiate DLC policies that cost them their power.

Even if they did repudiate DLC policies its too late to do Kerry much good now. Kerry is fighting not only Bush but 12 years of DLC policy that has disenchanted the working class from the Democratic Party.

Kerry may yet win, but the Democrats still have a long way to go to make up for their betrayal of the working class in this country.

At September 10, 2004 at 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the tactical level you are right about what the Dems need to do.

But at a deeper structural level the Democratic party has a much more serious problem It still acts as if we were in the 1950s world where a third of the labor force was in unions and the typical family unit consisted of a working dad, a stay at home mon, and 2.5 kids. But that is no longer the world we live in and the problems faced by the middle class are very different from the problems of the 1950s.

A union member is a cog in a wheel and depends on his unionto protect him because he knows his job or prospects are not going to change much. But in todays world the educated employee thinks more of themselves as a professional or semi-professional that can improve their well being by working their way up the ladder.
the dem need to directly address the problems this individual faces -- training, insecurity, lack of control, etc, etc., and the dems are not doing this.
At lest under Clinton they got away from being dominated by extreme leftist positions that were in contrast to most Anerican values. But they still have a way to go to really reflect the new american middle class. I'm probably running out of space so I quit.


At September 10, 2004 at 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rodger here;

From my experience only the upper end of the white collars see themselves as apart from the rest of the working class.(Engineers and such). Of course there are some folks in the lower income strata that buy into that nonsense as well.

Of course this group has screwed themselves something terrible by adopting such lone wolf practices. Big business out-sourced their jobs to asia and those that remained got less benefits and more work. IMO it couldn't happen to a better group either.

You don't hear this kind of talk from assembly line workers or those in the service industry. These people are worried about being outsourced, benefits being gutted, fired for being too old, etc.

As for as the "new middle class" goes there ain't any. This is business jargon for white collars barely holding on to their jobs. For all intents the middle-class is shrinking in this country and may go the way of the Dodo if certain trends like off-shoring are not stopped.

At September 10, 2004 at 4:31 PM, Blogger Oldman said...

Dear Chris,

If my work is total crap, then why is GWB in the Oval Office and the following has been reported?

Jersey. Kerry is slipping in Jersey.

The truth is that economics has always been my weakest point, I just write about it the most because that's where people will listen to me the most. In other areas, there's too much that's personal in the politics of the situation. People have just too much invested to listen to the oldman, and I respect that. If you don't want to live with the fact that GWB came back to beat McCain, and closed the gap and then seized the Presidency from Gore that's okay. However it's true. I gave up a long time ago trying to argue to people that blue was blue and 1+1=2.

When you want to listen, give me a ring. Until then, I'm working on the tables for the economic stuff now. At least when I post that stuff, people don't take verifiable facts and throw them back into my face as total crap. But that's the price of honesty, you're never popular especially amongst those that could use the help.

"I've learned something interesting: if you give away ice cream, eventually a lot of people will complain about the flavors, and others will complain that you aren't also giving away syrup and whipped cream and nuts."

That being the case, I will go back to my regularly scheduled economic writing. Sorry about the delays all, just working on the tables to make it all perfectly clear and accessible that GDP is being blatantly inflated.

At September 11, 2004 at 12:39 AM, Blogger J Thomas said...

Oldman is clearly onto something here, the question is what.

Democrats shouldn't try to copy republicans too exactly. Ideally they'd want it to look like republicans were for the most selfish of the rich, and democrats are for everybody who's willing to work together. They don't want it to look like both sides are just as bad. But they also don't want it to look like republicans are bad and strong while democrats are good and weak.

It's like Abu Ghraib. We want to believe that we can be heroic and beat the dictators and terrorists. We don't want to believe that to beat the bad uuys we have to be just as bad as they are -- or worse. We don't need to torture people for information because it doesn't work and we have honest methods that work better. We don't have to torture people to intimidate them because good people will see that we're on their side and they're on our side and the few baddies get intimidated looking at the odds against them. All this doesn't have to be true exactly, but we're a whole lot better off if we can honestly believe it's true without needing much censorship.

We need to believe that good can overcome evil without having to out-evil the evil. And we have to do *something* that works, or we can't believe that.

I tend to believe the media strongly favors Bush. That sort of belief is kind of subjective and may not be accurate, but to the extent that it is true it makes it very hard for Kerry to get his points across. A competent Kerry team would look at methods to get the media to report their stuff, and would try out those methods, and would get results if there are results to get. Democrats tend to get discouraged about the media, without even writing letters to newspaper editors and finding out what kinds of letters they can get published.

I noticed, talking to arabs, that they tended to demonise the israelis. Whatever happened they thought the israelis had made it come out that way as part of some trick. They imagined the israelis to be so devious that the failure of one trick had to be just a feint for another trick. I'm seeing democrats talk the same way about Karl Rove. The last I heard some of them were guessing that Rove had Bush's old military papers forged and released to the media so he could later get them declared forgeries. Anything that happens is assumed to be a Rove plot with better results for Bush than would happen if Rove wasn't so insanely great at manipulation. This sort of fantasy discourages them.

So democrats need to believe that they can tell the truth so powerfully that it will overcome Rove's lies. And they need to find out how to do that, or how to do something they and others will believe is that.

At September 11, 2004 at 1:00 AM, Blogger J Thomas said...

About the question of democrats and bluecollar workers, I don't know what to think. There was a time when america was mostly farmers, and now it mostly isn't, but the politicians haven't abandoned farmers. Do we need to abandon the bluecollars?

It's true that their numbers are shrinking and the politicians need to adapt. Here's a story -- I knew a guy who would have been a farmer 100 years ago. What he really wanted was to be a brickmason. He had the skills but he didn't have the job. So instead he had a job as a lab tech in a medical lab. He did lots of different medical tests. They each had clear instructions so that pretty much anybody who could read could do them. He was doing things that were so small-scale and so varied that it didn't make sense to automate them, but were also so important it did make sense to pay a human being considerable money to do them.

Once he had a test that didn't work; it gave inconsistent results. After some time they got somebody from the company that made the tests to come go through the routine with him. At a certain point the instructor gently shook the rack. That hadn't been in the instructions, and once he started shaking the rack the test worked. I guess where I'm headed here is that he was doing work that any person of average intelligence who could read could do, but it was him doing it and it was worth $16/hour partly because the tests themselves cost $50-$500 each and he didn't mess up very many of them.

He got very depressed every winter because he had to drive to work before sunup, and he worked in a windowless building all day, and then he drove home after sundown. Five days a week he didn't see the sun, all winter. He wanted to work outside but he couldn't get an outside job that paid enough for him to pay off his trailer. (Somehow I never thought to suggest he go outside on his half-hour lunch break. For that matter there were windows in the hall with sun-tint on them that made everything look blue. It wasn't that he couldn't see the sun at all, that's just what he said.)

He was a republican. He believed that people should work for whatever they got, and government should stay small. The director of the foundation that ran the whole building and all the doctors and technicians in it was rich. He had a parking lot with a single parking space in it, just outside the front door, under a breezeway. He parked his expensive german car there. He had a gate and a cardkey so nobody else could park there. He had a great many research grants and institution grants. The university treasurer was quoted, "We know he's crooked. We just can't catch him." I expect he worked for his MD but currently his main responsibility was to schmooze. He was a democrat, probably because the state legislature was dominated by democrats. Now the state has gone republican and I expect he's gone republican too.

The lab tech had the greatest of respect for that man, partly for working so hard and becoming successful, but I think mostly for hiring him when he could have hired almost anybody.

When the farms mechanised a whole lot of farmhands and sharecroppers got pushed off the land and into factory jobs. Now the factory jobs are closing down and the workers are getting pushed into offices. It's the same people, they just aren't in bluecollar roles any more. I'm not clear what the government should do for them. Unions are probably not the answer.

At September 11, 2004 at 3:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Martin Bento here.

The oldman quoted and wrote:

""I've learned something interesting: if you give away ice cream, eventually a lot of people will complain about the flavors, and others will complain that you aren't also giving away syrup and whipped cream and nuts."

That being the case, I will go back to my regularly scheduled economic writing. Sorry about the delays all, just working on the tables to make it all perfectly clear and accessible that GDP is being blatantly inflated."

Ah, c'mon. You're a tough ole coot. No need to go all thin-skinned on us.

As to the substance of your post, I agree, but the Dem problem has several roots, all, unfortunately, deep. One is the Enlightment roots of modern liberalism. Liberals believe in a nicer, more cooperative, world, and to some extent such works if all players see it is in their interests. In evolutionary psychology terms, cooperations serves the general interest best, but each individual can profit more by not cooperating. That's why a moral strategy to ensure cooperation requires revenge or exclusion for those who transgress. The Democrats have adapted a strategy that is too generous, because they don't know how to function outside an Enlightenment consensus. This is ironic, given that the Dems are the big multi-culturalists. I think liberals have to learn that ethics rely on reciprocity, including negative reciprocity, and exclusion, which is to say tribalism of some sort, though not necessarily the traditional sorts.

Another problem is gender skew. The Dem party is too female in membership and attitude, and the GOP too male. It distorts the psychology of both sides, making the GOP too aggressive and the Dems too conciliatory (I have written about this here.) I don't know how to fix this. Given that the genders do have different attitudes, it is not entirely surprising that they align differently politically. Any society has to try to resolve gender conflicts, since both genders are necessary. But political parties, representing by their nature only fractions of a society, are not bound by this constraint.

At September 11, 2004 at 12:27 PM, Blogger Oldman said...

That's right, you can't hurt the oldman's feelings. It can be done, but none of you is close enough to my back to do it. :-) But it was worth playing coy for a moment, to get the great comments and expressions that followed it up.

You see, just because a tactic is used toward a strategic end you don't like that don't mean you swear off the tactic. You take that tactic and you use it to do something good. The ends do justify the means. Good intentions are worth a free pass as far as blame goes, but victory goes to him who delivers. It's just that having embraced the ends justifying the means, you must deliver because you have given up any hope of justifying yourself by the means.

For instance, if GWB really had created genuine democracies in the middle-east and set off a world-wide wave liberalization and energy-stability well ... all of us would be talking different now wouldn't we? Or if he had really made us safer from Alqueda in return for more security restrictions ... I mean that's a powerful argument right?

But he didn't. He failed. That's enough reason to oppose him. Because he's weak and a failure, and trying to get off easy by playing on that people will cringe from him or fawn over him. But before we can get rid of this dufus, John Kerry has to remember who his real friends are and who's not his friends - more above.

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