Back to previous post: Sympathy for the Clintons

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Birthday

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 12, 2008

False economies and either-ors
Posted by Patrick at 10:28 PM * 356 comments

Elise Matthesen elbows her way onto the front page of Making Light:

We were discussing the comments of people who reacted negatively to Barack Obama because he is a charismatic speaker, and something occurred to me. People are saying they are suspicious of Obama specifically because he’s charismatic. They’re treating Obama (and, in some other conversations, Clinton) as if politicians are gaming characters, where there are only a certain number of points to be allocated, and therefore a high Charisma must be balanced by disadvantage points elsewhere, so either they’ve got a lowered Intelligence or a weak Willpower or some other compensatory flaw. That’s not how it works, though. Not in real life. Not unless you’re limiting people to only one facet for some reason. (I won’t speculate on possible reasons, because it would be impolite.)

I’m particularly struck by the way that charisma is seen as a quality, not an achievement.

(In Obama’s case, charisma may indeed be an achievement—at least, political charisma of the type he is now demonstrating—and a meaningful one, and one that he got with help. See the WSJ article about the role of his wife Michelle in the campaign—and their roles in each other’s lives. But that’s a whole another thing.)

In particular, all this focusing on Obama’s charisma is served up with a side order of “he’s a starry-eyed idealist with warm fuzzy rhetoric full of emotional appeal about uniting, but short on actual specifics and real-world plans.” I’m not sure exactly what people think University of Chicago law professors are chosen for, but I suspect that warm fuzzy rhetoric long on emotions but short on specifics isn’t real high on the checklist.

The other thing that it made me think of was something a little more insidious. Charisma is seen as a quality intrinsic to the person; it hasn’t any connection with their skills or their smarts, either, and by some logic, it might lessen the chance that they have any. (No, really—just listen to the criticisms. What they’re reminding me of right now is the notion that a woman cannot be both brainy and beautiful.) There’s this weird implication out there in the discussions about Obama’s charisma—or “messiah status,” to grab the current buzz-slap—that charisma leaves no room for a mind and a moral center. It’s the political equivalent of reducing him to his looks.

It reduces him to a feel-good candidate, instead of acknowledging him as a candidate we can feel good about precisely because he’s got smarts and skills, a mind and a moral center, and because he’s not afraid to sound passionate about what he believes in and what he proposes to do.

All I want to add to this is the observation that “cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom” may be the best line of the campaign so far.
Comments on False economies and either-ors:
#1 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 10:49 PM:

I note here for the record that PNH just called me "Barack Obama district delegate Elise Matthesen," and I responded with, "That's Al Franken, Keith Ellison, and Barack Obama district delegate Elise Matthesen to you, bub."

Me and my mighty elbows. Heh.

#2 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:04 PM:

Yeah, I noticed “cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom”, too, and thought "nice one".

I also liked his making concrete the accomplishments of hope, taking examples from our own history.

I've said it in here before: rhetoric does not mean "bullsh*t". Genuine rhetoric takes brains and skill, and Obama's got'em. And how.

#3 ::: Henry Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:07 PM:

I think that this is all right on target, but while I don't feel suspicious of Obama's charisma, I sometimes feel suspicious of my reaction to Obama's charisma. That is, it's very easy to get swept away by him without thinking too hard about the disappointments that are inevitable if he gets elected, given that he is more moderate than I'd like on many things, the inevitable difficulty of steering change through in a political system that is in part purpose-designed to stop it, etc etc. None of which is to say that he isn't a great candidate on the merits, but that it's sometimes necessary to pinch yourself a bit if you're one of his supporters, think realistically about what he is and is not likely to do &c&c.

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:27 PM:

What I've been seeing is more like what Henry describes in #3 -- a distrust of charisma itself. I've seen people arguing that there's something wrong with responding emotionally to stirring rhetoric, that a proper person evaluates everything dispassionately, without those messy hormones getting involved. (Yes, "hormones". I've actually seen people use that word.)

I can understand where this argument comes from. There's certainly plenty of dishonest emotional manipulation in our political process. But you can't move people without getting their emotions engaged somehow.

#5 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:29 PM:

I don't feel a particular need to remind myself that President Obama is bound to disappoint, because I know based on my own experience in the world that if I were to become President of the United States and the Inner Solar System tomorrow, I'd disappoint. I'd disappoint me.

We're savannah primates and we don't get to magically become gods or superheroes. That said, some savannah primates are preferable to others. After seven years of George W. Bush, the prospect of being angrily disappointed with President Obama looks pretty good.

#6 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:41 PM:

Genuine rhetoric I can admire, and Obama definitely can get there.

I definitely view charisma as an intrinsic; some people got it, some don't. Lots of things reinforce that view, including most of the descriptions of how an actor becomes successful. And, in the *very* rare case where somebody acquires it, it's often regarded as a veneer, a fake, a put-on.

#7 ::: Evelyn Browne ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:43 PM:

I distrust charisma, because at some level I'm convinced that if my neighbors are ever united, with sincere emotion and conviction, in any endeavor, eventually they'll get bored with their original purpose and pick up pitchforks and torches and come after me.

I am aware that this is not a rational response, and I try not to let it influence my voting unduly. I did vote for Obama today. But I have to turn the radio off when his sound bites come on; I can't listen to any effective political rhetoric without feeling threatened.

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:44 PM:

Patrick @ 5... After seven years of George W. Bush, the prospect of being angrily disappointed with President Obama looks pretty good.

Hell, yes! But I bet you that too many people will see things differently. And they'll nearly forget. They had 8 years of Ronnie Raygun, 4 of Bush père, but did they keep that in mind when Bill Clinton moved to the White House? Did he disappoint? Yes. Was he better than 12 years of the GOP? Yes. Did that matter to many of those he disappointed?

#9 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:44 PM:

What about all the people who like Obama because they recognise he's charismatic? That's one of his main talking points, after all: the idea that he can unite your country with his winsome leadership. You see it in the way he moves the polls -- he moves them, but when people see he's moving them, he moves them even further. It's a second order effect, as the evidence of his charisma boosts his claim once more.

#10 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:52 PM:

I freely it -- I distrust charisma. Three reasons:

1) The people who work hardest to learn charisma are actors, who are frankly pretending. In them it's not so bad, because they *are* acting -- but even with actors, people get caught up and forget that, of course they *seem* nice, that's what they're pretending to be. viz, Ronald Reagan.

2) Historically, charisma has a *very* mixed record. To put it mildly.

3) Charisma generates a Reality Distortion Field. You start to edge over into the areas Cannetti described in Crowds and Power, where magical thinking takes over large groups.

With the mess the US has gotten into in the last 7 years, charisma may be the only engine strong enough to get everyone pulling us *out*. But it definitely worries me, and I think it should.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:55 PM:

"What about all the people who like Obama because they recognise he's charismatic?"

Yeah, perish forbid people should be moved by an emotional connection to their ideals. Best to leave that sort of thing to the right wing, so we can continue to lose in austere intellectual purity, forever and amen.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:57 PM:

"You see my husband as a saint and so he must be right in everything he says and does; and then you see him as a devil and so everything he says and does must be wrong ... My husband's neither a saint nor a devil. He's just a human being and he makes mistakes ... What do you stand for? I believe in my husband. What do you believe in?"

(Sarah Brady to Rachel Brown in Inherit the Wind)

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Doctor Science, different people can study the same subject for different reasons. If Obama sees it as a necessary accomplishment for a politician, good for him. It means he's planning to appeal to the masses of voters. After George's administrations, I have a renewed appreciation for a politician who thinks that's worth doing.

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:00 AM:

As for Doctor Science: Absolutely, "charisma has a *very* mixed record." Unlike appeals to the body politic's pure higher intellect, unsullied by messy feeling.

For the latter, let's examine the wildly successful two terms of the Dukakis Administration. Oh, wait.

#15 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:08 AM:

Charisma is about getting people to pay attention. Charisma is viral marketing before the internet. Charisma is a tool.

I hardly imagine it's Obama's only tool, and I hardly imagine that his policy is shallow to the point of depending on his charisma to make things happen.

#16 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:31 AM:

"When religion and the state ride the same cart, and that cart is ridden by a living holy man (baraka), nothing can stand in their way."--Frank Herbert

Shall we say that Herbert had vision?

Our last charismatic President was Reagan. The one before was JFK. I fear the untrustworthy charismatic leader. I fear the impulse that leads us to follow another, rather than our own hearts. I hate the media and electoral system that makes it easy for charisma to trump all else. A great many people have put their hopes onto Obama; they would give him their standard, and follow him to the promised land. Only where is the promised land? From my viewpoint, the Presidency has come to have all the problems of any secular kingship; it would take a king anointed by god ("messiah" = "meschiach" = anointed) to do the job properly. Obama, whatever his virtues, is not that, and I wish we'd stop trying to elect messiahs.

"If your leaders say, the Kingdom is in the sky, the birds will precede you; if they say it is the sea, the fishes."

#17 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:42 AM:

I notice that it's only Obama's detractors that keep tagging him with the term "messiah."

#18 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:48 AM:

"Yeah, perish forbid people should be moved by an emotional connection to their ideals."

Re #11: sorry, but you're misinterpreting me. I've got nothing against Obama's charisma at all. I think any unmotivated distrust of charisma in a politician would be a bit misguided.

I simply think this countervailing phenomenon to the one you're describing is more pronounced: I'd be willing to bet there are more of those who like Obama more when they recognise his charisma, than of those who like him less.

#19 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:11 AM:

Elise, #17: "I notice that it's only Obama's detractors that keep tagging him with the term messiah.'"

Who do you have in mind?

#20 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Randolph #16 -- Bill Clinton has Reagan-level charisma. There's a reason he was the most popular president since WW2.

And your comments about messiahs are over the top.

#21 ::: Farah ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:55 AM:

Tony Blair.

Lots and lots of charisma. Cynicism may be a sorry kind of wisdom, but for those of us in the UK it is intimately connected to experience.

I liked Obama two years ago when he seemed to talk about Things, but I'm a bit tired of hearing about Vision and Change. I'd rather hear about policy.

#22 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:58 AM:

I don't know that a gnostic text, about how only the elite, and those who have a different spark of the Divine, can truly know what is going on, is the best way to make one's point about charismatic leaders.

And using a word reminiscent of the man's name... invidious much?

#23 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:09 AM:

elise, #17: I get the feeling that this may be a tactical maneuver.

On the one hand, it's definitely going to put up the backs of a lot of devoutly religious folks (not just the evangelists, either), because in their faith there is only one Messiah, so tagging Obama with that title brings along the connotational baggage of "false god".

On the other, it's an attempt to tar him with the evangelistic brush, and turn away people who distrust and/or fear evangelists in general, like many of us here. And it may be working.

#24 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:17 AM:

When my best friend and I say Hillary Clinton has 'more experience', we don't mean experience being a politician. We mean experience facing the Republican juggernaut.

Obama is charismatic and inspirational, and that's wonderful. He's very good at reaching out to ordinary citizens and persuading them to trust him and work with/for him: that's why he's getting so many votes. Charisma is a valuable asset to a politician; Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are both said by those who've met them to be extraordinarily charming and magnetic when they want to.

But a president doesn't work directly with the voters: he works with Congress (other experienced and charming politicians) and the Executive Branch (now stuffed with Republican partisans determined not to do their jobs).

An interviewer asked Obama his greatest weakness. This is a standard job-interview question, which every job-seeker knows to answer with blather: 'Sometimes I work too hard", or similar. Obama answered honestly, and then was surprised when his honesty was used against him. If he was surprised at that, he really is not ready to face full-out attack.

Hillary had a close-up view of what her husband went through: the jibes about 'the failed Clinton administration' mere weeks after he took office, the vicious personal attacks, the seizing on any offer of compromise as a sign of weakness. She knows what it will take to accomplish real change.

I think Obama might make a good and useful vice-president. He could rally public support for the president's policies.

#25 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:20 AM:

Randolph: I personally am more inclined to say that Herbert got carried away by a vision of the cosmos into a really loathsome quaqmire of eugenics, ubermen, and the glorification of totalitarianism, all justified by, gosh, necessity. But that's me.

I sometimes suspect that the fear of charisma is related to depression. Depression makes it hard to trust your emotions. But that's a biochemical defect, not a superior way of living. In healthy people it's good to feel enthusiasm, and if the problem is that we end up sometimes trusting the unworthy, that just means that judgment hasn't gone out of fashion.

But it's good to hope. All maturity is not contained in Macbeth and King Lear; there's wisdom in The Tempest, too.

#26 ::: GiacomoL ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:47 AM:

Rozasharn @24: Yeah, she has tons of experience in triangulating and voting for stuff that her constituency doesn't want (Iraq) in order to pander to talking points from the media... that was very useful in the last 16 years: it energized the base, brought new people to the polls, and won elections...</grin>

#27 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 03:13 AM:

I think that Obama is getting reduced to charisma-only-fluffy-candidate partly because his supporters keep going on about his charisma at the expense of talking about his substantial accomplishments. I'd love to have an Obama supporter sit me down and talk about his U Chicago career, his legislative work, etc. But I keep getting more talk about his charisma! And it doesn't seem to work on me! When I watch him speak on video, my reaction ranges from baffled incomprehension of all the fuss to actual gut-level aversion. It is, in fact, similar to my reaction to people who preach religion at me - I see a kind of magical thinking that I just don't get, and which actively repels me when pushed too hard. Too many Obama supporters come across as missionaries, and I don't like missionaries. I've found more information that inclines me to support Obama at Geek the Vote than I've gotten from all the Obama supporters I've talked to put together. And that's pretty aggravating, since I'd like to have more enthusiasm. I sort of resent having to do extra research to compensate for the way Obama supporters keep turning me off!

I'm certainly in the category of people who are suspicious of charisma - getting mobs of people worked up and enthusiastic is the sort of thing that can cut two ways. When I was weighing my vote last week, I thought hard about whether I was overreacting on that basis, and on the generally bad vibes I get from the Obama supporters and - sorry - from posts like this one that seem to suggest that wanting to hear about something more than his charisma means that I think that there isn't anything more. From where I stand, you've got it backwards. The more Obama supporters go on about his charisma and how it makes them want to join the movement, pick up the torch, etc., the more it looks like they are reacting purely on the basis of that charisma because that's what they keep talking about!

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 03:34 AM:

My own distrust of charisma is that it's a quality often associated with evangelists, con-men, and other sorts of used car salesmen. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people feel the same way.

Thus having staked out the cynical position, I'll do a 180 and say that one of the things I liked about Bill Clinton was that when the man gave a speech, I felt like he was talking about things that were important to him and to me, and that when he met with other heads of state I felt that he represented us to be an educated, intelligent, and caring people*. Speaking of savanah primates, however, the incumbent Chimp-in-Chief, makes me think of all the Dilbert-style CEOs I've had to deal with in a career in Dilbert-land.

Obama doesn't really put me off; on the contrary, it may be time to mix a bit more articulateness, grace and passion in with our politics.

* Despite all the evidence that many Americans dislike and distrust all three of those characteristics.

#29 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:00 AM:

Charisma is seen as a quality intrinsic to the person; it hasn’t any connection with their skills or their smarts...

But this is precisely what charisma means, or at least originally meant: a gift from the gods, or from the Holy Spirit. It is not something you get from hard work or study.

Now in the part of the real world without quite so obvious intervention by gods, there's obviously a mix. I'd classify Linus Torvalds as charismatic, because he essentially went to the Dreamtime and returned with Linux. Obviously there was work and study there. He's not a personally charismatic person in the more everyday use of that term, but he's charismatic in the sense that he did something transformative and miraculous, and that's the basis of his leadership of the Linux community.

But here's the rub: Max Weber posits three forms of legitimacy: charismatic (the personal achievements of the leader), hereditary (descended from someone with charisma), and bureaucratic (chosen by a system of law). Whether people are consciously applying Weber's analysis to Obama or not I don't know (well, yes, actually I do), but I think this is the root of instinctive distrust of charisma that a segment of the population has. Charisma is, by its nature, in opposition to the rule of law. The George W. Bush presidency is a case study of the cult of personality eclipsing the rule of law as the dominant argument for a leader's legitimacy.

I know I'm tired -- and fearful, and angry, and resentful -- of this reascendancy of Stone Age politics, and I'll look with some skepticism at a candidate whose followers insist that the intrinsic claim to legitimacy of a candidate is that candidate's personal charisma.

"Leadership" is not charisma, nor is oratory or rhetoric. It's a separate thing, Obama's got it, and we are right and reasonable to be cautious in the face of it, as we ought to be cautious in the face of any gift from the gods.

#30 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:32 AM:

My distrust of Obama has nothing to do with gameplaying. Among other things, I don't play, don't like it, am no good at it, and so and so on forth.

I distrust Obama because his charisma seems to incite people to adoration and fanaticism, not idealism and critical thought. I - like many Europeans who have heeded the tales told to us by our parents - am always on the lookout for demagogues. Obama mobilizes my ideological antibodies.

Oh - and since we're at it: my kind of people, which I can only describe as "European left", have had serious crushes on Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro and going far back enough, Lenin. We have learned the hard way to be suspicious of people who uplift you.

This doesn't mean being a cynic. (And what is it with this demonization of Pre-Socratic philosophies anyway?)

Anyway, since I don't have to take a decision in this, I can safely mumble in my corner. Time will tell. In the meanwhile I would much rather not be told that I am unwise because I don't get all excited about Obama.

ETA: What Alex Cohen said, better than me.

#31 ::: JDC ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:42 AM:

Maybe it is a sorry kind of wisdom. But a kind of wisdom it is. "A cynical man, with much to be cynical about."

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:45 AM:

I wonder what we'd be saying about our Democratic candidates if Al Gore were in the race. Considering to RoboGore jokes of yore, nobody would be talking about his charisma. Still, I'd have rallied around his banner, and I'd have worked on his campaign, not out of fanaticism, but because he'd have shown leadership and intelligence. As for the two candidates that we do have, they're smart. And any messianic illusions that they might harbor would quickly be shattered by their followers. We Democrats are quick at doing that.

#33 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:50 AM:

I don't think that most cynicism is wise at all, actually. I think most cynicism is a false generalization from bad luck, poor judgment, and inadequate information leading one (or people one is watching) into bad outcomes. But it's very much like a lifeguard who sees people drown from time to time and concludes that swimming pools should be banned, rather than that people need both training and supervision. Cynicism is all about refusing to concede there's anything beyond the bitter judgment of the moment. As I said above, The Tempest is as mature a work as King Lear.

#34 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:56 AM:

Part of the problem I have with most of the cynics I've known well enough to really talk about this stuff with is that they have a very, very hard time ever admitting "I was a fool. I got taken in and shouldn't have" and then learning from that. Anna above touches on the icons of the European left in past decades, and I can name American ones to match. But that doesn't mean it's wrong to be inspired, it just means that you have to keep on asking questions also. Emma Goldman, for instance, saw right through Lenin and kept on with a leftism that wasn't beholden to him. It can happen. Furthermore, people can learn from their mistakes if they're willing to admit tot hem. But most cynics I've known well have been very proud people.

There are multiple reasons I go on the wordy way I do, with the caveats and the reiterations of personal limits and all, and one of them is to keep me from that kind of pride. Or rather, I should say, from returning to it, because the cynic I know best of all is the one I used to be. I got to watch a dear friend die in unnecessary pain partly because the cynic's pride kept them from pursuing a treatment that helped me and would have helped them, because it would have meant agreeing that the wrong sort of person (in this case, an incense-burning, Tibetan bell-ring naturopathic fruitbat) actually did have something important to offer us. I don't have the luxury of pride at that cost, and even when the cost is smaller, I think cynicism exacts far greater a toll than it ever, ever, ever returns to the huge majority of those who travel with it.

#35 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 06:54 AM:

I can't say I know much about Obama's policies, how he stands on any major issue (other than he'd get all the troops out of Iraq quickly; doubtful), etc. The MSM isn't covering his platform very well, but is that because of their laziness or because he hasn't articulated it very much?

I'm prepared to vote for whoever's the Democratic candidate, but I can't say I'm an Obama supporter either.

#36 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:01 AM:

Avram, #20: the messianic tendency in US politics--and if you look back at my post, you'll see what that's what I'm writing about--is hardly news; I'm not the first person to write about it. The image of the enlightened ruler who restores the true law is a popular one in these times, and it's a stone's throw from that to the literal meaning of messiah. It's also pretty plain that that impulse is very much active at this time. We talk about W. Bush and the Republicans as bad rulers and hope for a restoration of our laws, and an end to war; the religious right wants a ruler righteous by their lights. And Obama--whose given name, ironically, literally means "blessed", "barack" is a cognate of of "baruch"--is tapping into this impulse. Playing to that impulse is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it's what all the scoundrels do in the USA, so it makes me cautious. (This also applies to Anna's comment #30.) And, yes, I think we'd be healthier if we recognized that the impulse to seek out the sacred through politics is one doomed to failure, but I'm not expecting that insight to become widespread any time soon; if Jesus commented on it, I think we'll be hearing from it for a while yet.

Whyfor "over the top", then?

As to Bill Clinton's charisma; I think if it was really on Reagan's level, he'd have been another Teflon president like Reagan. Or perhaps not; perhaps it just wasn't the time for a charismatic leader.

#37 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:06 AM:

John L, #35: "The MSM isn't covering his platform very well, but is that because of their laziness or because he hasn't articulated it very much?"

It's because of active hostility to discussion of the issues on the part of many media personnel, and because it's harder to win the Presidency if you are pinned down to particular positions on the issues. In our media environment, charisma is very important, because it's most of what the gatekeepers let through.

#38 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:15 AM:

Bruce Baugh, #35: "I personally am more inclined to say that Herbert got carried away by a vision of the cosmos into a really loathsome quaqmire of eugenics, ubermen, and the glorification of totalitarianism, all justified by, gosh, necessity. But that's me."

Herbert was explicitly critical of the totalitarianism. I think he got caught up in it anyway. Like many sf writers of his generation he was dealing with philosophically complex material and he got overwhelmed by it--hardly a new thing. At the same time, the writers of that generation were plotting out the course we are now navigating. Could we even be having this discussion without writers like Herbert?

#39 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:19 AM:

Imagine if America had a king! (I know, I know, but let's just imagine.) The king would fulfill the "figurehead" role, do ceremonial work, represent the nation, etc.

And the Prime Minister of America would do all the usual administrative work of the President except the figurehead part. He would be an elected official, wholly secular -- nothing more, nothing less.

It works for European nations. Why can't it work for America? (Quick answer: Because America never had a nobility. Quick retort: America does have its own nobility.)

#40 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:28 AM:

John L, Randolph's right about media culpability. You can see some neat examples of stuff Obama's been up to in this link-rich post from Hilzoy, though.

Randolph, I'm afraid I don't see Herbert's relevance here. We've got a collusion of philosophical rationales for totalitarianism, particularly the Straussian, and naked business interests run amok, and the cures don't seem to me to have much connection with anything I recall reading in sf beyond advocates for basic decency like Dick and Bester. The nitty-gritty of responding to such things draws on constitutional law, effective mass organization, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I also admit to being tired and in a bit of pain (if you want the background, see recent posts with "status" in their name at my LiveJournal, but for goodness sake, no obligation is intended or implied :). So I'm sure I'm missing a lot, and the only question is whether I'm missing anything relevant right here and now. If so, correct me, por favor.

#41 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:31 AM:

A.R. Yngve #39: The political system of the United States evolved out of the relationship between the colonial governors (appointed by the crown or the colonial proprietor) and the elected assemblies (voted by the landowners of the colonies), which transmogrified into the system in the US (and most other American republics) today as a result of the struggle for independence in the 18th century. In Europe, parliamentary democracy emerged from the conflicts among landed nobilities, urban bourgeoisies, and monarchies between the 13th and 19th centuries.

If you want to create a parliamentary democracy in the US, a few centuries of feudal monarchy would seem to be indispensable to the process. It does seem as if G.W. Bush wants to create such a thing.

#42 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:38 AM:

Terry, #22: "And using a word reminiscent of the man's name... invidious much?"

It's not reminiscent of the man's name; it is the man's name, or at least another form of it. I believe it's a common given name in the culture of Obama's father, much as English virtue names are common among the pious.

"I don't know that a gnostic text, about how only the elite, and those who have a different spark of the Divine, can truly know what is going on, is the best way to make one's point about charismatic leaders."

The quote I cited, at least, is critical of charismatic leaders, and a warning about being an uncritical follower. Among the very few sayings of Jesus that have come down to us there are some critical of charismatic leaders, even in the canonical gospels; that one seemed to me telling.

#43 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:49 AM:

I just went to Obama's website, skipped the registration part, and clicked on the "Issues" tab. There are a lot of policy/record statements there, and PDF position papers to download.

Seems like a good place to start if you're concerned about his alleged lack of substance.

#44 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:01 AM:

Bruce, #40: "I'm afraid I don't see Herbert's relevance here."

My sympathies on your health--what can I say beyond that?

It surprises me, really, that I have upset so many people; to me it seems I am pointing out the fairly obvious.

The quote was about the power of the religious impulse in politics, which is one of the major themes of Dune; the co-incidence of Obama's name seemed to me to give it extra resonance. I become very scared when "religion and the state ride the same cart". Another major theme of Dune is the way in which history and geography shape culture, which also seems to me very much relevant. All those things you talk about--I agree that we need them. But as a culture we are looking for the messiah instead.

#45 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:25 AM:

#28:

My own distrust of charisma is that it's a quality often associated with evangelists, con-men, and other sorts of used car salesmen. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people feel the same way.

That's part of it, but only part of it.

I don't suspect that Obama has other flaws because he has charisma and the character points have to come from somewhere; real life is obviously a pure dice-based system where some people roll 18s on multiple stats and balance be hanged. (Complain to the GM, if you believe in one.)

I suspect that he has other flaws because he's human; but charisma makes his other flaws more dangerous, because it draws people to follow him into whatever mistakes he may make. That's what charisma *is* - the ability to get someone to follow you before thinking it through, and regardless of the actual quality of your arguments. (Which is why it's so darn useful to con men and evangelists.)

Sober consideration isn't better because it's emotionless; it's better because it has a lower error rate. And those errors matter.

Charisma can work for good. But it can also be very dangerous; I don't think caution is inappropriate.

#25:

In healthy people it's good to feel enthusiasm, and if the problem is that we end up sometimes trusting the unworthy, that just means that judgment hasn't gone out of fashion.

Enthusiasm and judgment are, to a certain extent, incompatible. *That's* the problem. I distrust enthusiastic people - including, perhaps especially, myself - because I know some of the colossal mistakes people (including me) have made under the influence of enthusiasm, that they wouldn't have made if they had stopped and thought. And since charisma is (partly) the ability to impart enthusiasm, caution about one goes hand in hand with caution about the other.

Again, I'm not saying that Obama is *unusually* softheaded or reckless. He may even be smarter and/or wiser than most. But he does have some faults, and his charisma can blind others to those faults and lead them to follow his enthusiasm even when it is ill-considered, as it sometimes will be.


P.S. Talking about his faults and potential faults is not inconsistent with supporting him as the best of the reasonably available choices - which I do. I'm just not inclined to rest on his laurels, so to speak.

#46 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:45 AM:

On Obama's substance, there's also this, from hilzoy at Obisian Wings:

But I do follow legislation, at least on some issues, and I have been surprised by how often Senator Obama turns up, sponsoring or co-sponsoring really good legislation on some topic that isn't wildly sexy, but does matter. His bills tend to have the following features: they are good and thoughtful bills that try to solve real problems; they are in general not terribly flashy; and they tend to focus on achieving solutions acceptable to all concerned, not by compromising on principle, but by genuinely trying to craft a solution that everyone can get behind.

Also, on the topic of charisma as an artifact: that was certainly the case with Bill Clinton --- his debut on the national political stage was the nominating speech for Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic Convention, which went so far into Wonk Overload that it's been called the most boring in convention history. He got better, but I think it's safe to assume it took some effort.

(BTW, I'm at best a lukewarm Obama supporter, in part because his (substantive) policies on some domestic issues, particularly health care, are really pissing me off --- both on rhetoric and on substance. But he does get points for actually showing up yesterday to vote against telecom immunity; Hillary, regrettably, couldn't be bothered...)

#47 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:14 AM:

For the latter, let's examine the wildly successful two terms of the Dukakis Administration. Oh, wait.

Well said. On a different note, I don't mind pointing out Dukakis' 2+ 1 terms as MA governor weren't bad. Not only that, I still see him --regular guy--on the green line on his way in to teach classes. He never hesitates to greet or chat.

In contrast, anyone know what dark bar Bill Weld is hanging out in these days...

:)

#48 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:26 AM:

Re: charisma

Pierre Trudeau was considered a charismatic candidate when he first ran for Prime Minister of Canada.

The gloss wore off, but he still governed for 15 years; even being voted out of office, and back in.

I had a friend who commented on his ability to address the nation on some controversy, and (as she said) make you feel like an idiot for holding to your opinion, and force you to see the wisdom of his.

#49 ::: Forza ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:29 AM:

Delurking here to say that, as a moderately enthusiastic Obama supporter, I see both sides of this.

On the one hand, it feels wonderful to hear him speak (or read his book) and actually feel like there is a politician out there that I would be proud to have represent me, and can lead this country into a better place. And his charisma is part of the reason that I think that some of the "transformational" part of his candidacy isn't just rhetoric; I think he could help change the nature of politics in this country (at least somewhat) because that's what he's already doing. (Though that's not the main reason I support him; my initial introduction to him was via Hilzoy (linked above), and by reading his book).

But -- and it's a big but -- I distrust my own reactions when I recognize that they are, in part, emotionally-motivated, and I think that can be dangerous for very similar reasons to the ones that others have cautioned about in this thread. Charisma can be just as powerful of a tool for evil as it can be for good, absolute power corrupts absolutely, etc. Plus, I know that no single candidate or movement can fix all that's wrong with the world today (and the fact that he's not saying it will doesn't stop many people from hoping); I distrust my own emotions because I know they will set me up for disappointment if I'm not careful.

Still... I think, on balance, it's a risk worth taking. As a society, we'll never get the benefits of having an MLK or a Ghandi if we reflexively dismiss all charisma as automatically dangerous. The key -- and it's difficult -- is to keep straddling the balance: support charismatic people who share your values, while at the same time keeping a really really close eye on them. Hard to do, but that's what democracy is about, I guess. :)

(As an aside, I have to say I really enjoy the Making Light community -- I don't contribute much because so often all I have to say is, basically, "me too!", but y'all are fascinating).

#50 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:30 AM:

I gave up my political cynicism for Obama. (and I totally don't mean that to sound as creepy sexual, back seat of a mini van on prom night as it does but there you have it).

It does me no good, or anyone any good, to to assume Obama is just a slick jackass just putting on a show for the rubes in the corn field. Neither does it mean we should all just be Obama zombies either but Patrick covered that area admirably last week.

Embracing the possibility of a potential future leader that doesn't suck is a good thing. I'm a little dizzy, actually.

#51 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:37 AM:

I do not mind charisma. Charisma helps you get things across. I mind that "He's Charismatic!" is seen as a top-flight reason to elect.

I believe Charisma, like military power, should be used in service of something greater than itself. Certainly, his charisma combined with the bully pulpit will allow Obama to spread his ideals, which would be great, but I just prefer the idea of Hillary's slightly lesser Charisma (has anyone saying she's a bore or uncharismatic ever actually watched her speak?) coupled to the bully pulpit in service of her slightly less vibrant versions of the same ideals and a deep interest in the workings of policy.

#52 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:45 AM:

Randolph Fitz@16: A great many people have put their hopes onto Obama; they would give him their standard, and follow him to the promised land.

And those people are dumber than sand and deserve to be disillusioned, just like all those in the "George W is Our Messiah" crowd. Anyone expecting politicians to save the world on behalf of their abstract desire for relevance and power are missing the point of representative democracy. We aren't electing Sun Kings, just hoping to find a guy who can do his job competently.

#53 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:03 AM:

#7 ::: Evelyn Browne:

If you don't mind, do you have any idea why you feel that way? I've got a similar reaction, and it's from being Jewish.

#25 and #34 ::: Bruce Baugh: That's really interesting about a relationship between depression and mistrust of charisma. I tend to detest charisma when I feel it, and one of the underlying thought is "I have very little energy, and here's this person trying to take it for their own purposes". Another piece of it is a general hatred of anyone trying to take my mind over.

Fortunately for Obama, I don't feel his charisma. Instead, he impressed me at the 2004 Democratic convention by being the only person (I think-- I may have missed a speech or two) to talk about civil liberties. Since then, he's been opposed to torture, and generally Not Awful.

Could you expand on what you see in King Lear vs. The Tempest? I don't see King Lear as especially cynical. If you have a lot of power and do something really stupid, it can blow up into an irretrievable disaster.

On the other hand, the major characters are a fool (and I don't mean the official fool), monsters, and victims, so it might count as cynical. I should reread it to see if there were generally cynical statements-- I was thinking I should reread it anyway, to see if there's a plausible case that Lear's parenting style had anything to do with how his daughters turned out. (If Cordelia never got angry with him, I think she had problems of her own.)

If you don't mind, what was the healing technique?

#39 ::: A.R.Yngve: IIRC, Heinlein talks Double Star about the importance of splitting ceremonial and practical leadership between two people.

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:10 AM:

I try to keep a little perspective in these confusing times by reminding myself that a leader* who sucked less would be a major improvement just now.

But I agree with Bruce Baugh @ 34 that cynicism is itself highly unsatisfactory since it so often represents an uncritical rejection of the new or the different that's just as unthinking and just as dangerous as the uncritical acceptance of the cult of personality.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan @ 30 asks (And what is it with this demonization of Pre-Socratic philosophies anyway?).

That's just the same forces we're talking about here playing out in the politics of philosophy**. Plato liked his own PR well enough to try to embroider it a little by using Socrates as his ventriloquist's dummy in Plato's writings. So even though much of what we think of other thinkers is in comparison to Socrates (the term "pre-Socratic" implies that strongly, no?), much of the writing attributed to Socrates we have only from Plato. I haven't researched the subject, but I wonder just how much proof we have that Socrates said any of what Plato attributed to him. And it sure seems that a large part of what any philosopher says has to do with downplaying or badmouthing the sayings of his, her, or its competitors. You should read how Dennet and Searle go at it, for instance.


* "One who leads" as opposed to "one who rules"
** An ever so much more popular topic than the philosophy of politics, but much less useful to thinking your way out of historical deadends as we are doing now.

#55 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:18 AM:

ISTM that we're all (all USians, and lot of people who are worried about what US might do to them) going through that early phase of buyer's remorse in which we start to think we're the victims of bait-and-switch sales tactics. There were all these politicians who talked a great game of change and repair, and who still seem to have meant it, people like Dobbs and Edwards. But none of them got through the sieve to the endgame, and what we have now are people whose motives and values we mistrust or downright despise. So we bemoan having to fork over so much political capital to someone so dubious and wish one of the others had made it through. Though the spotlight we're putting on the hopefuls would probably show as many gravy stains on the ones who dropped out, just different kinds of stains.

#56 ::: Eleri ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:24 AM:

Obama's charisma was part of what attracted me to him, and got me to *dig deeper* into what he was saying, and what his policies are. And I doubt I'm the only one, because his reaching the 'educated, intellectual' demographic more than Clinton is. (must dig up cite...) And that's not the type of crowd to get all starry-eyed, and stay that way.

My reaction to Clinton, I fully admit, is the antithesis of charisma. She bores me to tears. She's so cookie-cutter politician, that it feels like what she says could be recited by darn near anyone in DC, and sound the same. And my feeling is that were she to be elected, sure she would run the country just fine, but it would be the same old.

We need that charisma, because people are massively apathetic. If nothing else, he's sparking people to make a decision, and it isn't just a voting for the lesser of two evils decision.

#57 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:24 AM:

John @ #47:
I think Weld's still hanging out in New York somewhere, after getting nowhere in the last gubernatorial campaign there.

#58 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:48 AM:

It's like Obama is Captain Carrot and Clinton is Commander Vimes. Obviously you need both, but unfortunately Clinton, not entirely through her own fault, has electability issues. I do think it's shameful, speaking as a backwards Bangladeshi woman who has lived under 2 female heads of state, that in the 2ist-century US there's so much misogyny aimed towards Clinton - would Pelosi have faced such hostility?

#59 ::: JDC ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:22 AM:

Bruces @ 34 and 54: I think you both have an awfully cynical view of cynicism. G'day.

#60 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:38 AM:

Eleri @56: And that's not the type of crowd to get all starry-eyed, and stay that way.

I'm not sure I can agree with that. It seems to me that the "educated, intellectual" (and generally more well-off) crowd are precisely the ones who can afford to get all starry-eyed.

I say this as an Obama supporter who fancies herself relatively clear-eyed, but is nonetheless strongly affected by his rhetoric. I think it's important that he's inspiring. I think it's important *who* he's inspiring -- i.e., the advocates for peace, civil liberties, and social justice who have been handed their asses so many times over the last 7 (or 27) years. On the other hand, I worry a bit about who he's not inspiring, as well -- lower-income, less-educated, and older Americans, and Latinos have largely been Clinton voters. I hope that that's simply a matter of Clinton being a known quantity, and that Obama can bring these groups into his coalition, represent their concerns, and inspire them should he become the nominee.

#61 ::: Evelyn Browne ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:39 AM:

#53 Nancy:

If you don't mind, do you have any idea why you feel that way? I've got a similar reaction, and it's from being Jewish.

I think my reaction springs from similar experiences to yours; I grew up the village atheist in a very small Midwestern town.

#27 Susan:

When I watch him speak on video, my reaction ranges from baffled incomprehension of all the fuss to actual gut-level aversion. It is, in fact, similar to my reaction to people who preach religion at me - I see a kind of magical thinking that I just don't get, and which actively repels me when pushed too hard.

Yes. That.

I don't know how to argue against magical thinking; there doesn't seem to be a way to do it except to be magical oneself-- to have charisma. I feel more comfortable with cynical allies who hold cynical positions, whether I agree with them or not, because I trust my ability to argue my case with them. Magical thinkers unnerve me even when I agree with them, because I have no charisma of my own, no way to get at the roots of their beliefs, and no recourse if those beliefs change into something dangerous to me.

#62 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Ana Feruglio Dal Dan #30:And what is it with this demonization of Pre-Socratic philosophies anyway?

I'm with you on this one. I see Cynicism as a virtue. Its bastard child "cynicism" has less appeal, but that position has more to do with lazy reasoning than with a philosophical stance.

Just one quibble, though. The Cynics came after Socrates. In fact, the first Cynic, Antisthenes, was allegedly a pupil of Socrates.

I'm out to restore the good name of Cynics everywhere. Woof.

#63 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:42 AM:

I devoutly hope that my phrasing in #60 didn't give the impression that I don't think of Latinos as Americans. This is not the case at all. My sentence structure just got away from me.

#64 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:48 AM:

One issue with charisma that seems worth noting is its tendency to overshadow any other competing capabilities and talents--particularly in political contests. Intelligence, capability, competence, common sense, responsibility--these (and so many others) are all crucial things for a leader to have...but when charisma is in the room, these quieter characteristics get ignored. That's what charisma is. That's what it does.

I'm as sucked in by the charismatic as anyone. Hell, I have my job, in part, because I can muster a certain amount of it myself (when I'm not hugely pregnant and even more hugely crabby). But I'm suspicious of it as well...because I know it makes me miss important things while I'm blinded by sparkle, and I know that I've found it a useful tool to make other people miss stuff when necessary.

None of this is to say that I think there's no substance beneath Obama's charisma. I think there's plenty. It's just to say that, as a general rule for voting, dating, hiring, or whatever, when faced with such strong stuff it's probably not a bad idea to put on sunglasses and make sure that we know what else is there.

#65 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:54 AM:

I'm having a hard time separating the "charisma is untrustworthy" points from "you must never vote for a politician that you like".

What is charisma? I'm assured that Reagan had it. I didn't like Reagan, though I was still just an unruly teenager at the end of his term. I feel no attraction when I hear is speeches today.

I'm told that George W. Bush has charisma, and that he's the kind of man that you can have a beer with. I can't listen to him speak three words without wanting to dump a glass of beer on his head, and I've had that visceral reaction since the first time I saw him on television.

When I hear Obama speak, I feel inspired. Is that because he has charisma that does an end run around my critical thinking abilities? I'd like to think that it's because I like what he has to say.

Is there some disconnect between what he says and what he does that I'm unaware of? Because when I look at his record (as described in that post of Hilzoy's, for example), I don't see it.

I'd like to have a president that I like. It'd make a nice change from...well, my entire adult life up to now.

#66 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:55 AM:

Randolph, @44: Oh! Der! Yes, in that light, Herbert's very relevant! Thank you. I told you I was missing something - I was right. :)

Nancy, @53: It was an herb and mineral supplement regimen intended to strengthen the immune system overall rather than targeting specific ailments. I'm now kind of out of touch with a lot of alternative medicine, but at the time this was part of the trend to focus on promoting health so that the body could then cure itself. It has its weaknesses, of course - some diseases just do respond better to targeted treatment. But it also does a lot of good. It's just that so many of its advocates were such darned fruitbats.

JDC, @59: It's true, I'm very jaded and cynical about cynicism.

#67 ::: Ariel ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Actually, what caused me to be so suspicious of Obama's charisma wasn't that it might be a tradeoff for other characteristics. It was the demagogue potential; anybody who can attract that much support because people *like* him could do a great deal of damage if he was so inclined. It's one of those history lessons I'm not convinced America has learned.

I did, eventually, end up voting for him anyway. But I had to take a long, hard look at him, his policies, and how sensible people reacted to him to get over my worry. And I'm still not entirely comfortable with it.

#68 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:03 PM:

62: IIRC (it's been a long time) the Cynics were so called because their scoffing laughter at the pretensions of others was said to resemble the barking of dogs.

If they arose today, they would doubtless be known as the LOLards.

#69 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:09 PM:

I've known one charismatic national leader -- Michael Manley -- personally. Obama strikes me as being rather like him. Good-looking, eloquent, biracial, committed to the poor, policy wonk, ambitious, smart, well-educated, heart in the right place. Of course, that's my subjective judgment at a distance.

#70 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:12 PM:

#61 ::: Evelyn Browne: Your experiences were probably quite different from mine. I've personally experienced hardly any anti-Semiitism. I think my fear level was picked up viscerally. It really does take generations for some things to fade.

Being cynical about cynicism: I think of myself as a second-order curmudgeon. The world isn't *that* bad, it mostly hasn't gotten worse, and the first-order curmudgeons are getting it wrong.

#71 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:13 PM:

Jen Roth@60

There were signs in last night's primaries that Obama was perhaps starting to break through in demographic groups that he'd been losing in previous primaries. Too soon to know whether that's a pattern or not.

One key point about this year's Democratic campaign is that the reason that (so far) we have a virtual draw is that there are TWO very strong candidates running. In most years either Clinton or Obama would have easily blown past the opposition. It's just that they have to run against each other...

(Contrast that to McCain who basically backed into the GOP nomination.)

#72 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:34 PM:

Randolph: What bothered me about the baraka note is that you didn't need it to make your point.

I don't see people using candidates names like that when those names hearken to Christian ideas of divine attributes (Michael, Daniel, etc.).

As to the comment that we have few texts of Jesus sayings... well no, we have a lot of attributed sayings, and no way to verify any of them.

Since that quotation was from the Gospel of Thomas, the best way to try reading it isn't to put it into the ways we see Jesus now, but the ways in which the writer wanted people to see him, and his message.

And the gnostics are really complex (probably best not lumped, but hard; given the lack of solid texts from them, the strangeness of the polemics against them, and the complex diversity of their beliefs, it's hard to not grab the points of consonnance and put them into a big bin. Kind of like saying, "protestants") but they did believe that only some could truly comprehend, and I still think that's not the best subtext.

#73 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:45 PM:

Nancy #70: So, then, it seems that the right strategy is to be an nth order cynic, but the difficult question is whether n should be odd or even....

Seriously, there's something I think maybe is getting lost in this discussion (or maybe I'm missing something, tired and a bit sick as I am). Sometimes, you can recognize some flaw in your reasoning or perceptions, and just fix it. Like if I used to trust some guy, and then he screwed me over, I can just know not to trust him anymore and be done with it.

But there are also biases or errors that you can't easily fix. Like, I know I will pay more attention to the same words coming from an attractive woman than from a man, or I know I will put too much weight on the risk of rare bad things (as opposed to mundane bad things) happening. For those biases, you often can't *fix* them, but you can sometimes try to correct for them. I think the response of a lot of folks to Obama's enormous charisma is of this type. You know you're being affected, and so you try to correct for it by being a bit more skeptical, questioning your reactions, etc.

The thing is, this is a very sensible thing to do. If you know you're susceptible to a certain kind of hard-to-fix bias, you're better off trying to correct for it than ignoring it. I think the trick here is to try to avoid overcorrecting, while still not handing your mind over to a politician who appears to be smart and competent and good, but who may end up using his great speaking skills and inspiring manner to lead us off a cliff.

It's not sensible to say "I will assume the worst about this person because he's so charismatic," but neither is it sensible to stop thinking about whether that charisma is leading you to make bad decisions.

#74 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Shouldn't we be only as suspicious of charisma as we are of revulsion, or of any other visceral reaction (including boredom-to-tears)?

I suppose, come to that, shouldn't we also be suspicious of revulsion, boredom-to-tears, etc.? It must be harder to act in spite of those feelings than in spite of euphoric ones, no?

#75 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:51 PM:

Gah. Previewed and everything. Please read, "as suspicious of enthusiastic responses to charisma as we are of revulsion" etc., as the parallel structure in my head didn't make it into the original #74.

#76 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 12:59 PM:

I don't think Obama wants my vote. It's like he's gone out of his way during this campaign to make sure I don't vote for him.
And I certainly can't vote for someone who says of himself:
“At some point in the evening, a light is going to shine down and you will have an epiphany and you’ll say, ‘I have to vote for Barack.’”

That's just guaranteed to make me say "No, I won't."

So count me in as cynical.

Since it looks like he's on the way to winning, I hope I'm wrong about him.

#77 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:01 PM:

It works for European nations. Why can't it work for America? (Quick answer: Because America never had a nobility. Quick retort: America does have its own nobility.)

Yes but do you really want Princess Paris to be representing anything having to do with the US?

#78 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:03 PM:

Damien Neil #65: "Is there some disconnect between what he says and what he does that I'm unaware of? Because when I look at his record (as described in that post of Hilzoy's, for example), I don't see it."

Exactly so. That's part of why the whole thing is setting off bells in my head, and reminding me of people telling me "We would have listened to your valid points about sexism if only you women hadn't gotten so gosh-darned emotional about it." (Caring about something was seen as an automatic disqualification of being capable of logic about it, let alone being capable of effective action in response. Emotion was icky girl cooties. And this tactic was deployed whether or not the points were valid! The aversion to emotion was deemed strong enough to trump even a logical argument.)

A bit from the Hilzoy post you linked to actually shed a little more light on why I, personally, respond favorably to the way Obama does politics -- and I hope other people will please note that by "doing politics" here I am talking about how he works with other elected officials to achieve important, real, badly-needed results on things like protecting suspects from being beaten to extract an acceptable confession. The quote:

It had not been easy for a Harvard man to become a regular guy to his colleagues. Obama had managed to do so by playing basketball and poker with them and, most of all, by listening to their concerns. Even Republicans came to respect him. One Republican state senator, Kirk Dillard, has said that "Barack had a way both intellectually and in demeanor that defused skeptics."

There. That combination of intellect and demeanor, and that combination of listening plus participating in regular human social activities? You know who that reminds me of? Paul Wellstone, that's who. I remember his opponents trying to paint him as this head-in-the-sky, ivory tower, idealistic impractical charismatic lefty. Those of us who knew a little more about him would sometimes go into giggles about that. Dude, he was a wrestling coach. Impractical, ethereal, floaty-headed lot, Minnesota wrestling coaches. Yeah, right.

#79 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:10 PM:

Fox #74: I think we should be, if we are convinced it is irrational. Consider someone who, perhaps because of his upbringing, simply has a visceral negative reaction to blacks. Presumably he should be pretty suspcious about his initial bad feelings about his newly-introduced black coworker.

Note that this doesn't fix the bias, it's not as good as making an unbiased assessment of whether this new coworker is bad news or not. It's just trying to externally correct for what he knows is a biased set of starting assumptions. This seems just as sensible as trying to externally correct for the impact of a very charismatic leader.

#80 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:41 PM:

mayakda @ 76:
ewwwwww!

elise @ 78:
The first paragraph still comes across as insulting the people you are (presumably) hoping to convince.

#81 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 01:59 PM:

Patrick, I agree with the post, but when and where did Elise write the things you quoted? In a mail or IM to you?

#82 ::: bill wringe ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:02 PM:

Bruce Cohen at 61 asks

how much proof we have that Socrates said any of what Plato attributed to him.

Scholarly opinions vary on this. Some people - like Charles Kahn at UPenn - think that the answer is 'not very much'. Others like Gregory Vlastos, think the early dialogues do represent Socrates views.

One thing that can be quite interesting is to compare what Xenophon says about Socrates trial with wht Plato says about it.

#83 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:10 PM:

I just have a feeling that the election won't be decided by voters who examine, analyse, and reflect upon policies & plans. I think it will be decided by voters who are moved.

#84 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Steve C, isn't that pretty much always the case? It's why I like to see people moved for good reasons rather than bad.

#85 ::: MaryL ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:33 PM:

mayakda @ 76: I took that comment as a bit of self-mockery. Of course, it won't make me vote for him either, but that's just because I'm Canadian, damn it. (And the only time I ever got to vote for Trudeau was in the one election he lost, so I'm obviously bad luck for highly successful and charismatic wonks.)

#86 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:39 PM:

Mayakada: And I certainly can't vote for someone who says of himself:
“At some point in the evening, a light is going to shine down and you will have an epiphany and you’ll say, ‘I have to vote for Barack.’”

This didn't look right to me, so I did a little digging. It was part of his stump speech, and it's missing the vital context of the preceding sentence:

"So I am going to try to be so persuasive in the 20 minutes or so that I speak that by the time this is over, a light will shine down from somewhere..."

It seems clear that this language about lights from heaven and epiphanies is just humorous exaggeration. A paragraph later he asks for a show of hands from undecided voters, and tells them "We have you now in our sights. We are coming after you, and coming after you hard." No one would assume that he literally had guns trained on the audience, so why do they think he's literal about having a supernatural epiphany?

The rest of the speech is more toned-down, about how he hopes to "make a persuasive case" and ends with the fairly humble note: "But you know what? If you're not voting for me, vote for somebody."

It seems to me that the reason people emphasize Barack's charisma is because it's one of the few points that really distinguishes him from Sen. Clinton. They're both smart, competent, organized, and have good policy positions. If you start with the premise that they're both pretty good (as have most discussion I've heard), then of course Obama supporters are going to emphasize his charisma, just as Clinton supporters emphasize her experience.

#87 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:57 PM:

I think one reason I persist in supporting Clinton is that I feel we need both a Hillary Clinton presidency and a Barack Obama presidency. I think that if Hillary's elected, Obama will try again in 2016 (or 2012, but I hope not). I think if Obama's elected, Hillary won't try again, or if she does, won't get much traction.

In other words, I think this is our only shot at getting Hillary in the Oval Office, but not our only shot at getting Barack there.

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 02:58 PM:

Sajia, #58: Yes, Pelosi would have faced just as much hostility. If you were watching the 2006 elections, you saw some of it when it became clear that she was going to become Speaker of the House -- and that was just a taste of what she'd have gotten had she entered this campaign.

Generally: I think I'm seeing a bit of a false dichotomy here between "follower" and "cynic". Isn't there a middle ground to be had, wherein one recognizes and appreciates the charisma without being swept away by it beyond the exercise of judgment? Call it "skepticism" or "critical thinking", perhaps.

#89 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 03:15 PM:

I am not, myself, a person who is fond of the argument from strong emotion, and my instinctive reaction to high-level charisma in action is to back away out of its effective radius long enough to think about what's going on.

That being said, some of the commentary in this thread disturbs me, in a way that is at least related, I think, to the way it disturbs Elise.

We should be distrustful of charisma, it is being said, because of its potential for ill if directed wrongly. The same could be said about the negative potential of wrongly-directed intellect, but if someone in this forum were to seriously propose that we should, on that account, distrust intellect and intellectuals, that person would, I have no doubt, be branded a yahoo and consigned to oblivion. (It is possible, I suppose, that no one in this forum believes that a person of intellect would ever turn their mind to evil ends; but my own perhaps naive belief in the power of intelligence insists that this is not so.)

Further -- the tenor of a number of comments seems to be that it is not necessarily for ourselves that we should be concerned (for we are persons of intellect and discernment, and can see through charisma's delusions), but for the great mass of undiscerning voters who just aren't equipped to know better, and who presumably are poised to follow whichever candidate shines like the brighter lightbulb.

Which is downright insulting, not to mention counter-productive, since the great mass of undiscerning voters are not, oddly enough, undiscerning enough to fail to notice when another portion of the electorate thinks that they're stupid.

#90 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 03:29 PM:

Isn't there a middle ground to be had, wherein one recognizes and appreciates the charisma without being swept away by it beyond the exercise of judgment? Call it "skepticism" or "critical thinking", perhaps.

Yes, there is. We should apply it to our distrust of charisma, as well as to charisma.

It's interesting to notte, BTW, that both McCain and Huckabee have their fair share of charisma, but that it's not giving either of them that much of an advantage. I don't think it's just charisma the Barack Obama has going for him; it think it's a deep desire for something positive, and that many people aren't seeing it anywhere else in that level of politics just now.

Yeah, perish forbid people should be moved by an emotional connection to their ideals. Best to leave that sort of thing to the right wing, so we can continue to lose in austere intellectual purity, forever and amen.

Look, I know eating oatmeal is good for me. I'm just as happy eating it with brown sugar and some cinnamon, or with maple syrup, or perhaps tucked into a cookie with some raisins, as I am unsalted, unsweetened, and unadulterated. I am not the only one. People like to feel a little joy, a little optimism, a little hope. It's true that they need to check and be sure that the feel-good bits have something more behind them, and that they like what the substance is, rather than just sticking a Twinkie in their pieholes*, but ignoring the desire for joy and hope and optimism is folly when trying to win over an electorate as varied as that of the US. Living in a world where the only factor in the choices we make is sober rationality and good sense seems to me to give us addresses somewhere near the intersection of Bleak Avenue and Hairshirt Street, which is no more of an attractive neighborhood than I Consume Without Thought Therefore I Am Acres.

*This desire brought us both FDR and Ronald Reagan, in the last century. By itself, it's not reliable, I agree, but telling people to ignore it altogether is going to get you bupkis.

The above brought to you by the Cakes and Ale PAC.

#91 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 03:30 PM:

Debra: I'd been thinking of comparing it to the argument that we should distrust good prose, but intellect serves, too. :)

#92 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 03:41 PM:

Bruce:
Actually, experience suggests to me that one should be careful about trusting touching speeches when they come from a professional actor and touching prose when it comes from someone who makes a living at fiction. It's not that either can't be sincere, it's that they're so good at what they do that the sincerity is indistinguishable from the b.s.

#93 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:00 PM:

...one should be careful about trusting touching speeches when they come from a professional actor...

Not sure if you are referring to their on- or off-stage acting. Okay, that sounds mean, but I had years of working with professional actors and it was my experience that some of them have a little trouble turning off their skills.

Still, I know a few who are some of the most emotionally trustworthy people I've ever met. I guess they're the ones who know instinctively that acting belongs on-stage and, er, something else, belongs off-stage.

And I know a lot of non-actors who do quite a bit of acting off-stage. It's all kind of creepy, but in an odd way this makes me trust the pros who know how to turn it off a great deal more than I trust the amateur off-stage actors who don't.

#94 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:10 PM:

"...one should be careful about trusting touching speeches when they come from a professional actor and touching prose when it comes from someone who makes a living at fiction. It's not that either can't be sincere, it's that they're so good at what they do that the sincerity is indistinguishable from the b.s."

If speeches were all we had to go by, that statement would lead me to despair. Fortunately there are records of other activities to put things like charisma in context.

#95 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:34 PM:

It had been a slow day. So slow, the bookies were giving short odds on the slugs in the wet streets versus rush hour traffic. I was just filing my whiskey bottle under "Unfinished Business" and trying to decide whether to take a nap or head down to the track to see if the mudders were faster than the slugs, when she walked into my office.

Her character sheet wasn't even a little balanced. She'd obviously rolled 18 for charisma and gotten a hefty bequest from her goddess besides. And her constitution? Let's just say she's was able-bodied, and leave it at that. The outfit she was wearing made it clear her alignment was in no way neutral. I guess she'd seen that kind of stare before; she got an exasperated look on her face and said, "Sir Shamus, I'm not to blame for my charisma; the dice just rolled that way."

#96 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:46 PM:

BC (StM) @ 95:

Heh. Nice one. But then I do like my eggs hard-boiled.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 04:50 PM:

Michael Weholt @ 96...

Otis B. Driftwood: And eight pieces of French pasty.
Fiorello: With two hard-boiled eggs.
Otis B. Driftwood: And two hard-boiled eggs. Make that three hard-boiled eggs.
Harpo: Honk!

#98 ::: Serafina ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 05:07 PM:

Weirdly, this talk of cynicism makes me think of Nader voters--a flammable subject, I know, but it's the first one that came to my mind and I think it's relevant. There's that "both parties are the same and therefore it doesn't matter who I vote for and so you can't judge me SHUT UP SHUT UP YOU'RE SAYING THE DEMOCRATS OWN MY VOTE" attitude, which ignores the fact that yes, both parties are fundamentally the same but the few differences that exist can make a real difference for those at the margins, and anyway voting for Nader isn't going to do anything to help those people at all. I think one of the most dangerous by-products of cynicism is a belief that all bad things are equally bad and since everything is bad to some degree, there is therefore no hope or recourse.

About charisma: I agree we shouldn't be reflexively biased against charisma, but we should damn well be on our guard against it and be careful not to get swept up in it. Inspiration is a dangerous drug. The important question is, what's behind the charisma? What's behind the inspiration?

I'm an Obama skeptic because I'm not at all convinced that there's anything more behind his charisma than what Clinton has. I suspect there's considerably less, as a matter of fact. And if I wins I'll be desperately afraid of him losing to McCain in the general election for a whole host of reasons. I worry that the mainstream press will start up their drooling over McCain again and that the independents who supported Obama in the primaries will go for McCain in the general, for one thing. President McCain is looking like a more and more realistic nightmare at the moment.

Also, the Dukakis example is a bad counter-argument to the dangers of charisma because Dukakis is an example of cold intellectualism not seducing people, much less seducing them into overlooking horrible things or just plain emptiness. The whole point of charisma's danger is that it's too damn seductive. I don't think cold intellectualism is dangerous. I think it's unappealing, which is precisely why it's not dangerous.

And in American politics in particular, I don't think we need to worry about intellectualism going too far. I think being swept up in charisma is a particular historical and cultural danger for us. We fall too easily for inspiration as a country and it leads us into atrocity. So, while I agree that Obama should not be condemned for his charisma, I do think it merits a closer and harder look than it's generally getting.

It should go without saying, by the way, that I respect Obama supporters and don't think they're voting without reason or simply because Obama's feel-good. But those are my concerns.

#99 ::: Serafina ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 05:10 PM:

And if I wins I'll be desperately afraid of him losing to McCain

If HE wins. I am not running for the Democratic nomination. *smacks self*

#100 ::: Serafina ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 05:24 PM:

(sorry for the spam--am looking more closely at some interesting comments now)


What is charisma? I'm assured that Reagan had it...
I'm told that George W. Bush has charisma, and that he's the kind of man that you can have a beer with. I can't listen to him speak three words without wanting to dump a glass of beer on his head, and I've had that visceral reaction since the first time I saw him on television.

Yes, and this makes me suspect that charisma can be created by the media. The media can make a candidate charismatic just by saying he is, which is what I think happened with Bush, who I don't think would have made anyone like him without media help (unlike Reagan or Clinton).

Furthermore, it's the media who determines whether a candidate's charisma is perceived as a good thing and when it's perceived as a bad thing that should be distrusted. I don't see distrust of charisma playing out much with Obama. The mainstream press cheerily depicts him as charismatic and as if this is a good thing.

Contrast this with press coverage of Howard Dean's charisma, where his supporters were portrayed as an unruly emotional mob.

That's what makes me suspicious here. Not only is Obama charismatic, but his charisma is approved by Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan and Chris Matthews and their corporate masters: a whole parade of people whose interests I despise.

Is that enough to make me vote for Clinton rather than Obama? Not by itself, definitely. But it's enough to make me justifiably wary.

#101 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 05:41 PM:

If it means anything, NPR reported today that Obama is now giving lengthy, more detailed speeches to counteract charges that he's more flash than substance. What I found weird was that, in the course of his speech, he felt the need to tell us this. I hope the clip NPR played worked better in context.


#102 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 05:55 PM:

Serafina @111: That's what makes me suspicious here. Not only is Obama charismatic, but his charisma is approved by Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan and Chris Matthews and their corporate masters: a whole parade of people whose interests I despise.

That is, to me, the first criticism of Obama's charisma that gives a rational reason to be more suspicious than normal of a person who's doing some wooing.

I do think, though, that you have the approval a little backwards. The immediate reaction I recall from his keynote address at the DNC in 2004 was a number of people saying "I want that guy to be President. Real. Soon. Now." I think he has a gravity, a sense of reality, a presence, that makes it nearly impossible for a lampooning similar to what happened to Dean post-Iowa. With that, there's not too much the corporate masters can do. Obama has too much money to be shut out. He's too popular for that, too; people would know that Something Is Fishy.

#103 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 06:20 PM:

DD@ 89

Yay!

I think that the "I can't trust Obama because he has charisma" crowd have taken the pendelum too far in the opposite direction of the "but all his words are gold!" crowd. There *must* be a balance somewhere, though I'm not sure where.

I had a discussion once with my first polysci prof- he was a staunch republican, but even he had to sit back and think about what Bill Clinton was saying in his speeches, rather than the delivery. Part of that was from charisma, part of it from oratorical skill, and part of it from a sense of leadership. He could say "follow me" in such a fashion that people felt that he knew where he was going, that he would get there, and the rest of us could help get there faster.

This country is not a flock of sheep and Obama is not a messiah. Charisma, which so many people are arguing against, is not the same thing as leadership. I feel Obama is a leader- smart, reaching for the possible with a firm grounding in the probable, and the ability to bring people with him to help with the load. From what I can tell, he belives that elected office is a team position and he inspires people to want to work on his team. That is a refreshing difference from the go-it-alone tactics of the past 7 years. Here and now, he's trying to lead from the front, taking the hits and the visibility to get us all up off our collective liberal butts and *do something*, but I lived through his senate election and part of that career as well^. There, the technique was a different style of leadership, toning down the charisma and working on leading from within the party, within the Senate, getting things done quietly and without a lot of fanfare and with other people. A lot of other people. This man knows that he does not work in a vacuum and from what I can tell, abhores the mental concept. He works *for* people and *with* people.

I think that he has learned to turn his charisma on and off, and realises that to win a presidential election he has to have it full on. The American people have a form of collective ADD, and this is the best way to get their attention. To keep it, he must take us somewhere, show us something new or different with body and substance. The shiny wore off a while ago for me, and I think...I think there is something more to this man.

Liberals esp.- We're like little kids on Christmas. "Look at the shiny wrapping paper! I wonder what it is! Could it be for me? I hope it's for me! It's very pretty!" but shortly, we're tearing the paper off and looking at what's inside. And if it's not *exactly* what we expected or wanted? Watch us moan and whine about how the paper decieved us. That's what I'm hearing- a bunch of grown-ups whining that the shiny paper has deceived them too many times. It can't possibly be what they asked for, it can't even be something good or useful or nice. All presents that come in shiny paper just disappoint, so why even bother looking?

Take a look. A hard one. At the policies, at the technique, as his ability to bring people together (and not just with him. He starts working teams in motion and then leaves, having given them a goal-- see "elect Obama, pt 1 and 2")

One of the things that I really enjoy about this election is listening to Obama speak, because he is a phenominal orator. It's a large portion of the ability to lead people- the ability to tell them, clearly, where you think you're going and convince them to come along. It is also not the same as charisma- people can have one or the other. Clinton has both. Bush does not- Bush is "comfortable, familiar, not too bad a guy" according to the polls of 8 years ago and that inspires some people, and we all know he can't string 3 words together in a logical sentance. I am enjoying a level of debate in this country that we haven't seen in years- Clinton and Obama are both speaking at an intellectual level so much higher than the Republicans. And that speaks to me as an educated, thinking voter- they believe that I have a brain and might be able to make decisions on my own! And Obama is much better at this than Clinton. He also says words that I can get behind and believe in. The "Yes We Can" speech is a good example. I read it first on a blog without context, and I loved it. Someone was saying something positive, and I believed that whoever it was was right. The American people can do great things when we've got a mind to, and a leader to show us the way. The comments gave me the context and the youtube video and it made me smile, because other people were hearing the same words, and paying attention.

Obama's charisma makes us pay attention to the world, and he's got the other qualities of leadership I think we need. I don't agree with some of his policy directives. I don't think he'll get as much done as we all hope someone would. But he'll give us progress. And something even more precious- an informed, motivated electorate.

^as many of you know, border cities cover politics on both sides of that state line.

#104 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 06:23 PM:

I do think that many of the references to Obama's charisma are really just a way of saying that he's more electable than Hillary without using the currently tainted* word, electable.

But maybe I'm saying that because his charisma, so far, hasn't worked on me. He seems pleasant, and a good speaker...

(Tainted because so many dubious people were encouraged to vote for Kerry during the 2004 primaries because of his perceived electability.)

#105 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 06:47 PM:

Patrick @ 5: I never expected to see you, of all people, unduly dignify George W. Bush with a compliment like "Savannah primate."

Bruce Cohen @ 28: ...one of the things I liked about Bill Clinton was that when the man gave a speech, I felt like he was talking about things that were important to him and to me...

Some time after he had left the White House, Teddy Roosevelt was preparing to give a speech when he was shot and wounded by a would-be assassin. With a bullet lodged in his chest, Teddy insisted on delivering his one-hour speech before he would allow anyone to take him to the hospital. Now there's a man who would convince me he had something important to say.

Bruce Baugh @33: But it's very much like a lifeguard who sees people drown from time to time and concludes that swimming pools should be banned, rather than that people need both training and supervision.

Once, at our office building, someone tripped and fell on the stairs, injuring himself. Rather than reminding us of the importance of excercising caution and using the handrails, our management decided to ban outright any use of the stairs.

I am not making this up.

I suppose if there'd been an accident in the elevators, we'd all have to rappel our way up and down the side of the building to get to work and back.

#106 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:08 PM:

On the issue of "issues", I definitely think the mainstream news media are actively opposed to talking about them. I put together a chart and list of links for head-to-head comparisons of the remaining candidates on issues, which has helped me a lot in understanding what they are actively *for*.

The striking and actually surprising thing, for me, is how brief & superficial McCain's answers were to the League of Women Voters questions, compared to the Democrats. It's almost as though they have plans to *govern*.

#107 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:10 PM:

Alex @29: I would actually argue that the Bush presidency is a type of hereditary power, lead by autocrats who believe to their cores they are above the law because of their social positions.

#108 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Serafina @98, the most recent polls suggest that Obama would perform better than Clinton against McCain:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/president/us/general_election_mccain_vs_obama-225.html

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/president/us/general_election_mccain_vs_clinton-224.html

Certainly a lot could happen in the interim, but the press could drool over McCain either way; are you suggesting that an independent who voted for Obama in the primary would be more inclined to break for McCain if the general election were Obama/McCain rather than Clinton/McCain? (I'd be interested in your reasoning, if so.)

McCain will also have a rough time playing both the "maverick independent" card and the "real conservative" card; a number of Romney and Huckabee supporters are currently claiming that they would stay home rather than vote for McCain, and his attempts to court them aren't going to sit well with the independents.

#109 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:29 PM:

I don't think that anything the candidate says or does in a modern campaign is ad hoc; the desire to stay "on message" is paramount, and the game has one objective: to win. Therefore, if Obama has been emphasizing a charm offensive, I do believe that he and his campaign manager and staff are fully aware of it and will maintain it as long as it works.

#110 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:46 PM:
We should be distrustful of charisma, it is being said, because of its potential for ill if directed wrongly. The same could be said about the negative potential of wrongly-directed intellect, but if someone in this forum were to seriously propose that we should, on that account, distrust intellect and intellectuals, that person would, I have no doubt, be branded a yahoo and consigned to oblivion. (It is possible, I suppose, that no one in this forum believes that a person of intellect would ever turn their mind to evil ends; but my own perhaps naive belief in the power of intelligence insists that this is not so.)
An evil, or even a merely misguided, intellectual can be defeated by another intellectual, because if they are actually conflicting *as intellectuals*, and behaving accordingly, the one with more evidence (usually this means the one who is right) will win, and all the onlookers will know it. That's how Copernicus and Kepler triumphed over Ptolemy, Newton over whoever the previous authority on mechanics was, and Darwin over Paley (ok, maybe only the *rational* onlookers will know it).

This does not translate well to the case of two charismatic demagogues. The truth gives little or no advantage in a contest of rhetoric, except maybe if the audience already starts out knowing it's true. So, what, you just *hope* that the strongest charisma belongs to someone with a white hat who isn't making a catastrophic mistake?


In a democracy, the sovereign is the demos. (I.e. us.) So I think we have a duty of due diligence, to use the lawyers' terms, not to negligently entrust the powers of high political offices to those who might misuse them. The buck doesn't stop in the Oval Office, it stops in the voting booth.

What I fear about charisma is that it makes us fall asleep at our post. It's the voice that doesn't just say we don't need to see their identification, but makes us believe it. But we *do* need to see their identification, because sometimes they *are* the corrupt abusers of power we're looking for, and we can't afford to let them go about their business and move along.

Once again, I don't think Obama is really evil. He will make some mistakes, and lead others to make them with him. He's probably still better than the alternatives. But we still need to watch as carefully as we can, because we might be able to stop some of those mistakes if we keep our heads clear.

#111 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:46 PM:

Something about Alex's reference to three types of power kept nudging my intuition until I paid attention to it. As a strawman starting point, I assigned each of the modern era presidents a primary power type category that reflected the main strength they leveraged to win election.

Bush: H
Clinton: C
Bush: H
Reagan: C
Carter: P
Ford: P
Nixon: P
LBJ: P
Kennedy: C
Eisenhower: C
(H = Hereditary, C = Charisma, P = Political)

I'm completely open to changing these based on the feedback of more knowledgable folk than I. However if the chart generally holds up I think there's an interesting correlation between overall effectiveness/impact of a presidency and the charisma of the President.

Feel free to tell me I've had too much _______ to ingest as this may be completely off base...

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 07:46 PM:

"Everything about you is a lie."
"It wasn't lies, Jenny. It was acting."

(Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton in The Rocketeer)

#113 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:02 PM:

Lance Weber @ 107: Yes, I agree with you - the Bush family has been a wealthy and powerful family for several generations. It's why W was able to get through life without using his intellectual skills at all, despite attending good schools. (I was very surprised by the number of people who assumed he was "bright" because he went to Yale -- I think they have no clue that there's such a thing as legacy admissions. I went to school with similar people and I firmly believe that he would have gotten into any school that Daddy wanted. Money talks, and old money talks very firmly.)

It bothers me that the Bushes and their affiliates think they are somehow more deserving of power in this country, just because grand-daddy was smart enough to get into the oil bidness back when.

#114 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:04 PM:

Terry, #72: "What bothered me about the baraka note is that you didn't need it to make your point."

Fair enough; I suppose I was taken in by the strong resonance of the quote; a lot of people seem to have found it too strong. For the record, the point was to emphasize the how deep and seductive is the convergence of personal, political, and religious behavior, not to take a swipe at Obama. I am never sure how to make such points: if not made strongly they seem to just slide off the thinking of the listeners; if made strongly they upset and offend. It is hard to find a balance, yet I think the point is important enough to make the effort. Perhaps Obama knows something about this. Hmmm. Probably Obama knows a lot about this; he seems to have made the problem part of his life's work.

As to the conflict between the "gnostics" and the kind of Christians that ultimately wrote the Nicean creed, I chose that remark as preferable to the much stronger remarks in Matthew; it does not seem to me elitist, regardless of other aspects of "gnostic" thought. Your mileage may vary, which in my view is part of the point. I am not likely to quote Thomas to a broad public again without a great deal of cautious qualification!

#115 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:24 PM:

Ginger @ 113... It's why W was able to get through life without using his intellectual skills at all

He had intellectual skills he could choose not to use?

#116 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Randolph: I'm sorry. I was too snarky. The two things together managed to trip me up (and I want to say it was the specific inclusion of baraka which made it seem you were trying to say Obama was selling himself as the, annointed, savior of the nation.

The problem with Thomas (IMO) isn't the words, per se (nor even the difficult contexts in which gnostic theology lives) but that they lost the battles of canon (and may not even have taken part in those fights... since they could find the hidden meanings in any text; once one learned to see them).

Bring up the Gospel of Thomas, and the people whom you are most likely to be trying to convince, will dismiss it (and you belike) out of hand, because you are using apocrypha. If you will do that, then the rest of your arguments are also suspect.

That, at least, is the way I see the use of non-canon in discussion.

On the other points (which your clarifications made much more clear, and apprehensible): I worry about messianic types. I don't think Obama is offering that. I think some of his supporters are seeing that.

I think that is the result of the times. This is an apocolyptic sort of thing. The foundational aspects of who we think we are are in flux. The present administration has chucked a lot of our touchstones out the window, and we need to fix that.

The struggle to reclaim them is epic, and some people (esp. in a nation so steeped in religious imagery) will reach for the images of times of trouble they know.

I think this is more Daniel than John the Divine, but the idea of all being destroyed if things don't change is a big part of the present zeitgeist, on both sides.

#117 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:35 PM:

Serafina, #98: I think one of the most dangerous by-products of cynicism is a belief that all bad things are equally bad and since everything is bad to some degree, there is therefore no hope or recourse.

I don't see that as cynicism so much as misplaced idealism. The true cynic, IME, is very good at gauging the relative evilness of two evils. Their world may be shaded from grey to black, but at least it has shading.

#118 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Richard @105: I've worked at places like that too. Sympathy.

Chris @110: What I fear about charisma is that it makes us fall asleep at our post. But it doesn't always do that. In fact, when it comes to presidential charisma, very often we're talking about exactly the opposite, about rousing people to take individual action where they are. Peace Corps volunteers during JFK's administration, voter registration and election day helpers for recent candidates, like that. If the charismatic speaker is saying "the well-being of the whole depends on each of us doing what we can where we are", and people look to find something they can do, that's waking up, not going to sleep.

Which means, as some of us have been saying, that the use to which the talent is put matters, just as it does when it comes to great prose, great cooking, or anything else.

#119 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 08:54 PM:

Serge @ 115: I'm assuming he has some basic intellectual skills, or he'd never have learned to fly a plane (which is technically demanding). Or, y'know, even walk. ;-)

#120 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:03 PM:

Lance, I'd agree that G. W. Bush was elected as a hereditary power, but I'd argue that after 9/11, he became charismatic. War leaders are the canonical example of charisma. G. H. W. Bush was hereditary as well, but because he was Reagan's VP, so he inherited the legitimacy of Reagan's charisma.

#121 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:12 PM:

Alex @120: I think that Bush picked up some charismatic appeal after 9/11, but I continue to think that much of it was among the very narrow demographic that provides the major voices in the mass media. Basically, they were scared and they found Bush's variety of inarticulate machismo consoling, and set about telling the rest of us we did too. But I never did hear as many endorsements of Bush's style or anything as I did of the idea that a violent response was in order. If the Democrats had unleashed a genuinely charismatic individual to offer an alternative, things might have gone differently.

#122 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:30 PM:

Sara Robinson at Orcinus, one of the blogosphere's best writers on matters of dogma and cult (IMHO), offers a well-informed critique of the idea that Obama's popularity is anything close to cult-like.

#123 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 09:48 PM:

On the off-topic topic of first names in workplaces... When I was working in retail, we were all addressed by first names, all the way up to district and regional managers, and I had no problem with that. When I worked at the vet clinic, I was the ONLY person on staff who referred to the doctors as Dr. S__ and Dr. N__. They certainly wouldn't have minded if I called them by their first names, but something just wouldn't let me do it.

#124 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2008, 10:46 PM:

Dr Science #106 -- Thanks for that chart. I notice that Ron Paul wants to end birthright citizenship. I knew this before, but seeing it in the context of all the other candidates' positions made me realize: Paul campaigns on a platform of fidelity to the Constitution, but he's also the only candidate campaigning on amending the Constitution. (Actually, googling around has shown me that Huckabee wants the same thing.)

In his defense, I suppose you could say that he respect the Constitution enough to change it through the formal amendment process, rather than just calling everything interstate commerce. Still, it's striking, since his proposed amendment would have the effect of making more people unfree, something you'd think might be of concern to a guy who claims to value liberty.

(Yes, yes, I'm aware of the many outright other opinions Ron Paul holds.)

#125 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:50 AM:

Lance, #111: Interesting. It does seem that the Presidents who governed through times of change were the more charismatic. I suspect that when we are ready for change we go looking for charismatic leaders. The Executive has the most freedom of action of of all the branches of government; the legislature is usually deadlocked (by design of the Framers), and the Judiciary is ordinarily precedent-bound.

Terry, #116: "The two things together managed to trip me up and I want to say it was the specific inclusion of baraka which made it seem you were trying to say Obama was selling himself as the, annointed, savior of the nation." I think it's more that the nation, or at least a huge part of it, wants to anoint someone and Obama seems to be successfully putting himself out as a candidate. And I do not trust this process, for the reasons I set out back in the post that started all this kerfluffle. And, perhaps, one more reason: I wonder if Obama has ever, as an adult, been in a situation he can't talk his way out of.

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:59 AM:

Avram @ 124... Ron Paul wants to end birthright citizenship

...and replace it with what?

#127 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:03 AM:

Raphael @81: I was making notes after some discussions with the intent of writing a post. I showed a draft of it to PNH, and he asked if he could snatch it for the front page. And then he teased me about my elbows.

(Mai mighty elbows; let me show you them.)

#128 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:36 AM:

Debra Doyle, #89: it's not that people, in general, "don't know better"; it's that many people--and at all levels of intelligence--want to be swept away by a charismatic leader. This is common in human cultures, but the USA seems to have an especially bad case of it, I think because of the many religious separatists and refugees that were among our founders. I suppose this is the political version of a romantic fantasy, and it carries all the risks of attempting to live out such fantasies in real life (well, perhaps not contagion).

#129 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:38 AM:

Doyle @#89: Yes, exactly. Thank you. Especially the last two paragraphs, the bit about the condescension.

#130 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:04 AM:

Keith, #52: "And those people are dumber than sand and deserve to be disillusioned, just like all those in the 'George W is Our Messiah' crowd."

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." I don't wish that disillusion on anyone, but if they seek the spiritual in the political, that disillusion will come; for that reason I am writing.

#131 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 07:00 AM:

Serge #126: The only alternative is by descent (ius sanguinis) as opposed to by simple birth on the 'soil' of the country (ius soli) which is what confers US citizenship under the 14th Amendment. The abolition of the ius soli is a nativist proposal that gets made every so often and is intended to restrict access to citizenship by undersirable people (these days, those with brown skins and a facility with the Castillian tongue).

#132 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 07:07 AM:

#108: McCain gets the "maverick independent" thing practically for free these days. Just as W could manage the contradiction of "compassionate conservatism," McCain can pretend to be a "maverick independent" while being thoroughly conservative. (Perhaps he's not conservative compared to Huckabee, but that doesn't make him even remotely moderate, even in our currently right-skewed standards.)

#126: I have no idea, but it would be very Heinlein if he wants to replace it with citizenship granted only after military service.

As for charismatic leaders, my own problem is that it's hard to articulate why I might not support a specific charismatic leader without sounding like a paranoid loon, or opening myself to really easy sarcastic responses. (Looking at Clinton attempts to take on Obama's message, and his snarky responses to her, I see I'm not alone.) In the case of Obama, I totally get that "Yes, we can!" But yes, we can... what? Yes, we can... how? (I only worry because I'm not sure of what I'm getting.)

It can only be a good thing, for me, that he's now addressing this. I'm not sure that it's a good thing for his chances at the general election though. Maybe it's selection bias, but I don't think the candidate with the detailed plan is the one who typically wins. It gives the other side more to pick apart. It's a fine line he has to walk.

(Clinton has to walk the same line, but I don't think she's doing it as well at this point. I also can't decide if it's poor strategy or lack of money that's made her not run a 50 state strategy. e.g, she's put very little effort in small states, and states where she thinks Obama will win anyway.)

#133 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 07:10 AM:

Sorry, I think I may really mean selective perception wrt the person with the more detailed plan losing...

Also, it just occurred to me that Bill Clinton may be an exception or, at least, he walked the line really well. Having a reputation as a policy wonk didn't seem to hurt his chances at the presidency.

#134 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 07:36 AM:

Fragano #131:

Just as an aside, is there some strong reason why it's a good policy, in general, to define anyone born on your soil as a citizen? Do most other countries do that?

I don't have a particular strong feeling one way or another on this issue, it's just not obvious to me why what we currently do is inherently right.

I think there are a *lot* of strange proposals (changing citizenship rules, building a big wall, putting the Army on the border with Mexico, not granting drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, not giving them in-state tuition at colleges) that come out of the fact that we don't actually make any coherent policy decisions on immigration. Having 12 million people here illegally, and winking at it because they're often employed by politically important industries, is nuts. But the only measures intended to address this I ever see proposed are either silly (the wall) or really dumb if we're going to keep those 12 million people living and working here (like denying illegal immigrants licenses or in-state college tuition).

I wish we could have some kind of sensible debate on this, but that doesn't appear to be happening.

#135 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 07:56 AM:

Fragano @ 131... The abolition of the ius soli is a nativist proposal that gets made every so often and is intended to restrict access to citizenship by undersirable people (these days, those with brown skins and a facility with the Castillian tongue).

Or with those who have a tendency to pronounce 'about' as 'aboot' instead of 'abawt'. Or with those who sound like Inspecteur Clouseau.

By the way, albatross, you might want to reconsider how you phrase your question to Fragano. That being said, the citizenship-by-birth system has the advantage of being simple. Besides, one would expect the Republicans to balk at increasing the size of bureaucracy to deal with the situation of all those who are here legally and who'd want their kids to become good American citizens.

#136 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 07:59 AM:

albatross:
Just as an aside, is there some strong reason why it's a good policy, in general, to define anyone born on your soil as a citizen? Do most other countries do that?

I don't know what most country's policies are, but I believe Germany is having some trouble because they do (did?) not define citizenship by born-on-German-soil, resulting in two generations of descendents of Turkish immigrants (who came as post-WWII "temporary" labor - does this sound familiar?) who have been born and raised in Germany but are not considered citizens.

I can't help but think that creating a sizable class of emotionally stateless people (who have never experienced their official country of citizenship but are rejected by their country of birth and childhood) is not a good idea. We're doing something similar by returning minors who are U.S. citizens by birth to foreign countries they know nothing of - sometimes not even the language - by deporting their parents.

#137 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:14 AM:

Serge/Fragano: Hmmm. I honestly wasn't trying to be snarky. This seems like the sort of thing Fragano might know a lot about, both because he's an immigrant and because it's related to his field.

Susan: Yeah, this seems like a huge mistake. Indeed, we've seen steps in that direction in the US with the denying of drivers' licenses and in-state tuition, the proposals to refuse to treat illegal immigrants in emergency rooms, etc.

I don't see any really appealing solutions to the problem. I wish it were at least a topic for serious debate, rather than either silence or symbolic "get-tough" measures that do more harm than good.

#138 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:32 AM:

albatross #134: The tradition in common law countries has been ius soli, as far as I know (IANAL) since time immemorial. My own British identity, for example, is based upon it (so is the Queen's, for that matter, her family's half German and half Dano-Greek).

This is particularly important in the case of the United States, because citizenship rather than ancestry is central to American identy and membership in the national political community. That is why, in the wake of the Civil War, it was made clear that the former slaves were citizens of the United States, and their citizenship was based purely upon birth (the 14th Amemdment categorically declares that citizenship is the result of birth or naturalisation, and its purpose was to deal with the question of whether or not the persons emancipated by the 13th Amendment had the rights of citizens or not -- they did).

#139 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:35 AM:

Serge #135: Yes, let those people with funny accents in and next thing you know they'll be marrying American women... Wait a minute...

#140 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:43 AM:

Susan #136: The Germans have little political incentive to deal with the Turkish and Kurdish minority because only small numbers of that minority have so far been naturalised, and so they have little political clout. Compare that to the ways in which black and South Asian people in Britain have been able to integrate into British life (though not without significant problems).

It's interesting that the debate in Britain today is about the mode of integration (whether or not multiculturalism is the way to do it) and that non-white Brits are engaged in it (Trevor Phillips, for example, has become an outspoken critic of multiculturalism because of concern that it promotes ghettoisation.)

#141 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:51 AM:

Great article on the drawbacks to Electing Another Black President

#142 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:53 AM:

Albatross #138: The genius of America has been its ability to take people from all over the world and make them into Americans. That's a continuing process, rather than a finished thing. It involves a constant blending of cultures, ideas, products, and people from everywhere within a structure that values liberty, creativity, community, and sheer, joyful exuberance of a kind that people from other parts of the world often find mystifying.

Unfortunately, it contains a streak of small-mindedness that crops up every so often, that seems to involve demanding raising the ramparts against the threat of the damned furriners with their dammed furrin ways (Catholics, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Communists and now Latin Americans and Muslims -- oh, and the Chinese again -- seem to have been given the role of foreign devil in this drama) that can be annoying to foreigners and to other Americans.

#143 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:55 AM:

albatross... My apologies for how I responded.

#144 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:20 AM:

Serge: Don't worry about it. I was just worried I was being unintentionally snarky--it's been a really long day, and there's a lot more of it to go....

#145 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:36 AM:

broundy @86

Thank you for your reply. Do you have the text of the SC stump speech or a link to it?

#146 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:51 AM:

Fragano @ #140:
It's interesting that the debate in Britain today is about the mode of integration (whether or not multiculturalism is the way to do it) and that non-white Brits are engaged in it (Trevor Phillips, for example, has become an outspoken critic of multiculturalism because of concern that it promotes ghettoisation.)

This is a very personal issue for me - the choice to be assimilated was mostly made for me by my father when I was too young to have opinions on the subject. His motives were good, and I can't really complain about most of the results, but I do feel the loss of a chunk of my heritage (okay, easier to deal with because all the familial representatives of that heritage who did the ghettoization thing instead are, as far as I can tell, bugf**k crazy, but still...)

Multiculturalism seems like it could be a path between assimilation and ghettoization, but it doesn't seem to be a well-paved or well-marked path at the moment.

#147 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:51 AM:

Elise @ 127: (Mai mighty elbows; let me show you them.)

And you have a left shoulder-blade that is a miracle of loveliness. :-)

#148 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:57 AM:

Susan #146: Heritage is an important thing, and losing it is not something one wants to do lightly or easily. Your feelings about it are important. Have you done anything to reclaim parts you feel might be of value to you -- learning the language, for example?

#149 ::: Serafina ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:03 AM:

Scott Wyngarden at #102:

I do think, though, that you have the approval a little backwards. The immediate reaction I recall from his keynote address at the DNC in 2004 was a number of people saying "I want that guy to be President. Real. Soon. Now." I think he has a gravity, a sense of reality, a presence, that makes it nearly impossible for a lampooning similar to what happened to Dean post-Iowa. With that, there's not too much the corporate masters can do.

Oh, yes, I'm not suggesting that Obama's charisma is manufactured like Bush's was. I'm saying he has genuine charisma. And by this point I think it would be impossible to give him the Dean treatment.

But how did it get to this point, is my question? He's too popular now, yeah, but the press has been nice to him since that DNC address, and it would have been fairly easy to blow him off or lampoon him then. His popularity was a very new thing then, and it might have easily blown over with a little help from the right places. The press has been nice to him since day 1, while it was mean to Dean from day 1.

I think it's an interesting contrast, and it makes me a bit wary (quite apart from any policy considerations).

lorax at #108:

Yeah, I do think many independents who voted for Obama in the primaries may opt for McCain in the general if it comes down to Obama versus McCain. I don't have statistics to back this up. Just some general personal observations.

For one thing, many independents seem to value the idea of being independent. To make a gross generalization, they're not independent because they're committed to a few specific positions on the right and a few on the left. Many just like the idea of having some conservative ideas (it doesn't necessarily matter which ones) and some liberal ones, because they confuse centrism with wisdom and conviction. (Again: I realize that many independents are also NOT like this. I myself have been a registered independent for a long time. If you're an independent, please don't be offended. This is a tendency I've noticed, not a categorical truth).

I think a lot of these independents will go for a candidate whose image is independent as opposed to a candidate whose image is liberal or conservative. And Obama doesn't have an image as an independent--he's got an image as a unifier and someone who can appeal to independents, but not as a "maverick" himself, and it would be VERY easy to get him labeled as a liberal. (Because he is). So, in a choice between maverick McCain and liberal Obama, yeah, I think lots of independents will go for McCain.

But lorax's point about McCain's inability to be both maverick and conservative might end up being true, so who knows?

#150 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:44 AM:

It seems pretty obvious to me, but seems to have totally eluded the current President of France, for instance, that creating a subculture of young, angry men* who feel no identity with the country they live in, and who are constantly being told they should go back to a country they've never been in, and often whose language they don't speak fluently, is a political strategy just covered over with lose.

* It's the men who do the physical damage. Pissing off the women probably has worse long term consequences, though. If Angela Davis didn't have a price on her head, she'd be running a very much alive Black Panther party, and giving the US government a very hard time. Or think about how much heartburn Winnie Mandela gave the South African government.

#151 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:51 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #150: As a short-term tactic it does get votes from your basic, frightened conservative (and a country like France which has suffered a traumatic loss of empire has a lot of those), as a long-term strategy for dealing with the poor and unemployed it does appear to be sorely lacking.

I think, though, you may be a little (emphasis on little) unfair to Sarkozy who has put French Muslims of North African origin in his cabinet. On the other hand, Sarko does seem to be somewhat less than fully equipped with clues.

#152 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:54 AM:

Fragano -
It is all rather complicated by (1) being estranged from that side of my family (who are, as noted, crazy) and (2) having my father's country-of-birth not actually be the family's country-of-origin, which makes it a little confusing which heritage I ought to be concerned with. My father's parents were immigrants twice, and my grandmother's ethnic heritage is actually not the same as my grandfather's, so there are three cultures and two languages (plus a dialect) I could construe as part of my heritage. (And all this before we even get to the WASP-plus mix from my mother!)

I learned some of the language - enough to read it and understand a slow conversation within my limited vocabulary, but not enough to actually carry on a conversation myself. Experience suggests that a few months of total immersion would fix that last part; when I visited 20 years ago I was able to do pretty well once left on my own without a "helpful" translator. I've done some reading on the history and keep an eye on the current politics. Some of my heritage-food pleases me, some doesn't, but I'm an unadventurous eater in general. I'm dipping into the music and dance a little bit here and there; dance is an obvious entry point for me, but I'm unfortunately living where instruction is not available within easy travel distance. I'm considering whether I can self-teach a simple percussion instrument.

All of this would have been easier had I been raised in the heart of the ghetto, but looking at my cousins, I'm not sure it would have been better for me overall.

Any form where I have to check off race and ethnicity (or race/ethnicity) is a rather fraught experience for me.

#153 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Bruce @150:

#154 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:00 AM:

Obviously TNH disemvoweled the post at the same time PNH inconsonanced it.

That's the only possible explanation, case closed, no PEBKAC here nosiree...

#155 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:19 AM:

I've been reading all this with great interest, and only have a small thing to add. There may be some confusion between the candidate's charmisma and the followers'idealism. After watching more snippets of his speeches on TV, I think of him as a policy wonk who can turn on the oratorical charm, rather than an outright brain-scrambling force of nature.

What has been bothering me is those followers with an outsize hope that Obama = Camelot 2008. (Maybe this is just a media ploy, but I think some may buy into it.) I'm just old enough to remember the original Kennedy Camelot, and its terrible ending for the nation and that family, so I shy away from that kind of hope. Good ideas and good ability to work with others to implement them? Add electibility, and I might even stop worrying! (Though I'd still like to see a female president sometime in the next decade or so.)

#156 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:30 AM:

Susan #152: That's a pretty complex heritage, to be sure, and it sounds like one worth cherishing to me . Just remember that it's all you, and you get to choose which parts you want to cherish.

Filling out forms with race and ethnicity is also an annoyance for me.

#157 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:36 AM:

The important thing about multiculturalism is that it's a statement that everyone has something to learn, and that the currently dominant culture is not correct on all points nor ideal on any.

Lots of people don't like that in the general or in the specific, but that's what it takes to make it work.

(I am deeply amused that the most effective proponents of multiculturalism in Canada have been ... somewhat arrogant, shall we say, as individuals.)

When this works, it's a very good thing, and not just for the food.

Making it work involves formal acknowledgment that some stuff -- the rule of law, representative government, equality under the law, and so on -- are not in the "not correct" or "potentially not correct" bin, on the one hand, and that the goal is a common universe of discourse, rather than a common culture. (Common minimum standard of conduct, yes, but that's not the same thing as a common culture.)

This is exactly what cosmopolitan trading cities have done with varying degrees of success throughout history, so it's really neither new nor shocking as thing; the idea that hey, in the global village, everyone lives in a cosmopolitan trading city now is the new part.

#158 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:39 AM:

John Chu at 132: (Clinton has to walk the same line, but I don't think she's doing it as well at this point. I also can't decide if it's poor strategy or lack of money that's made her not run a 50 state strategy. e.g, she's put very little effort in small states, and states where she thinks Obama will win anyway.)

She's the Anti-Dean! (Or Giuliani's evil twin?)

(Dean was ridiculed, if that's the word, by some in the party by putting so much effort last election into states considered excessively monochromatic by his colleagues, but, to take just one example, if the caucus numbers were any indication, it might have been a huge mistake to write off Colorado.)

#159 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:48 AM:

albatross @ 134: Just as an aside, is there some strong reason why it's a good policy, in general, to define anyone born on your soil as a citizen?

I dunno. But let me ask every U.S. citizen here: What are your qualifications for citizenship?

If you were born in another country, you had to pass an exam demonstrating your knowledge of this country's ways of governing itself. What did any of the rest of you do to earn it?

Answer: We were born here. And yet if someone's parents were from another country, for some reason people are all upset over the fact that they meet the only eligiblity requirement that most of the rest of us had to bother with: Being lucky enough to be born in the right place.

As asked above: What would you replace it with? One of your parents had to be born here? Both? Both of their parents? Both of their parents' parents'? You have to be carrying a U.S. passport, the price of which is just now being raised to $100? You have to pass a literacy exam? In English? You have to pay a tax for the privilege of being a citizen?

Don't tell me anyone would ever suggest any one of the requirements I've just stated, when there already have been, and are now, laws making those requirements before you can vote, or enter this country. If the privilege of voting isn't almost a definition of citizenship, or the right to be in your own place of birth, then what is?

#160 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:06 PM:

When I was studying to become a citizen, I bought an almanach and read the whole Constitution from beginning to end. To be on the safe side, I also got myself "Hail to the Chiefs!", which told us about each and every one of our Presidents (up to Ronnie) in a very irreverent manner. The author was especially mean to Jimmy Carter, but it was obvious that he was actually making fun of those who didn't like Carter. When he came to Ronnie Raygun, all he did was give us the synopsis of Bedtime for Bonzo.

#161 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:15 PM:

Susan, I found your account of your heritage's scope moving. And it reminded me of something.

In the early '80s, Mom went back to college to finish off her BA and get her education Master's. She did that at Pacific Oaks College, an interesting little place. Her work in the infant/toddler center brought her into contact with an eclectic clientele, including a lot of high-powered media types - the president of A&M Records and his wife (who had a prototype CD player to demo about three years before they hit the US market, I recall), and like that. Quite a few of them were Jewish who'd been raised in an entirely secular way but didn't quite feel satisfied with that as they started raising their own kids. On the other hand, just switching to any generic Conservative temple wasn't going to do it for them, either - they didn't wish to stop being modern people, they simply wanted to be modern people informed about and competent with their religious-cultural tradition so as to fold it in with their other influences.

There was of course a lot of experimentation in all this, and some of it didn't work at all. But in the years Mom was there and kept in touch with some of them, we got to see a growing mastery of the tradition and a growing confidence on their part about it. It was working for them and for their kids, on the whole.

So I've seen it happen, and wish you well at finding the kind of accommodation that works comparably well for you.

#162 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:35 PM:

Susan @ #152, I had a similar reaction reading your comment as did Fragano @ #156: the heritage you should be concerned with is the one you want to be concerned with.

Also, Ron Paul wants to end birthright citizenship? Two words: Fuck. That.

#163 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:41 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ #150:

It seems pretty obvious to me, but seems to have totally eluded the current President of France, for instance, that creating a subculture of young, angry men*

How, exactly, is anyone creating such a culture? It looks more like an automatic effects of those angry men's background in mediterranean-type cultures to me.

#164 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:43 PM:

Susan... Fragano and Kate Nepveu said it best. Mind you, for me, it wasn't difficult to choose what I wanted to keep from my old heritage because I never fitted in with that heritage. The day I moved to the USA is the day I found where I did fit. (Oh, and when did I choose to apply for citizenship? Within a few months of Bill & Al's victory in 1992.)

#165 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:49 PM:

Susan 152, Fragano 156: Filling out forms with "race/ethnicity" is a great annoyance to me, as well, and not solely because I generally can think of people I know who wouldn't fit into any of their stupid cubbyholes. I do, and it's usually "White" or "White/Caucasian." I think my race should be called "white" only by members of the KKK. The word 'white' carries all sorts of implications of purity and innocence that are, to put it mildly, not true of European-descended peoples in general.

In addition, while I understand why they do it ('Hispanic', while treated as a race in most of the US, is not one really; just ask someone from Colombia), I resent having to put my ethnicity as "white." OK, racially I'm purely European. About 3/4 of my ancestors are some kind of Celtic mix; a third of those are also partly Slavic. The remaining quarter is German, which is pretty Teutonic, but has an admixture of Slavs and Italians, and I could have a Roman Legionary or two in my ancestry as well.

There's also some rumor of one person who was "French," which could be anything from more Celtic blood to North African, but that's unlikely, and it's my only POSSIBLE connection to any ancestry from outside Europe at all.

So racially I'm white-bread boring. But my ethnicity is Irish/Czech/Anglo-Irish/German/maybe French. Europe is a big place, and I have ancestors from various places within it. I cling to that, because otherwise the boring is just too much to take.

But mostly I object to those forms because they're a way of forcing people to devalue part of their heritage, to choose just one category to belong to. It's a way of oppressing mixed-race people while giving "purebreds" a pass, a very Piers Anthony kind of racism.

Lance 154: Obviously TNH disemvoweled the post at the same time PNH inconsonanced it.

I thought we decided that the term should be 'disconsolate'?

#166 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 12:57 PM:

"Just as an aside, is there some strong reason why it's a good policy, in general, to define anyone born on your soil as a citizen? Do most other countries do that?"

Yes, and no. Without birthright citizenship, one ends up with two (or more) classes of citizens and from there, downhill into some sort of tyranny. I've watched what more restrictive immigration laws can do: it's heartbreak and conflict. BTW, I believe the 14th amendment was in part a specific response to the Dred Scott decision, which found that African-Americans were not citizens. So we've been there, done that, and I for one don't want to go back.

#167 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:15 PM:

Xopher @ 166... There's also some rumor of one person who was "French"

Hey, brother!

#168 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:23 PM:

Yes, Serge, we could be related. Cousin, I think, though. That way I don't have to feel guilty about my fetish for French Canadian men!

(Note for the humor-impaired: I am JOKING.)

#169 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:25 PM:

Xopher @ 168... Heheheh

#170 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:37 PM:

On the "Race/Ethnicity" forms -- I always write either "Refuse to state," or "human."

#171 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:43 PM:

Japan is another country with a sizable population of second or third generation non-citizens born in the country. Talking to a bitter young man of Korean descent and Japanese birth cemented my opinion that ius soli citizenship is a very good idea.

#172 ::: Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:52 PM:

My ethnicity is Eastern European Jewish, and I was born in Jerusalem, which has made me wonder if I could get away with calling myself "Asian".

I check the white/caucasian box because I am not pulled over for "Driving While Ethnic" and the fact that, were I an ex-con, I'd be more likely to be hired than an African-American with no jail record.

#173 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:53 PM:

I admit to being sore and tired and low in spirits today. I apologize in advance if I fail to compensate enough for those influence.

What I wonder about the argument against trusting charisma is this, I guess:

Is it ever proper and desirable to feel emotions based on being part of a group of people with a shared purpose? Is it wrong to feel hope that together you may accomplish something worthwhile, and that you have leadership with a clue about what the problems really are and what it'll take to do something about them? What level of confidence in leadership is appropriate, and what's too much? Is expecting good things from cooperation just plain a bad deal, and should we really be braced for the return of the state of nature at every moment?

It's just seeming a very grim and ultimately unproductive way to live, but since it's easy for opposing stances to intensify each other, I'd like to hear from the other side without it being a response, as such. If being influenced by charisma is generically a bad thing, what do healthy social dynamics look like, and how much hope or happiness ever belongs in our thinking about groups?

#174 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 01:54 PM:

Xopher: I couldn't remember off the top of my head, so of course the choice that sounded like incontinence got picked due to my "always go with the sophomoric in case of ties" firmware.

#175 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:12 PM:

Ronit #172: My ethnicity is Eastern European Jewish, and I was born in Jerusalem, which has made me wonder if I could get away with calling myself "Asian".

Very possibly. Back in the 19th century, Jews and Arabs were sometimes lumped into the "Oriental" category. (See Kipling's Kim or Chesterton's The New Jerusalem.)

#176 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Oh, and the related question:

If charismatic presentation is intrinsically undesirable because of its pitfalls, what does good rhetoric and delivery for a mass or mixed audience look like?

#177 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Am I missing something, or is Raphael (163) saying that "mediterranean-type cultures" [sic] are inherently/uniquely productive of Angry Young Men?

If so, won't the British be surprised!

And what are "mediterranean-type" cultures, anyway? Would Revere, MA, count as one (lots of Italian-descended Americans), and/or more so than Santa Barbara (lots of Spanish-descended Americans AND palm trees AND red tile roofs!)

#178 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Is it ever proper and desirable to feel emotions based on being part of a group of people with a shared purpose? (etc.)

Of course.

But I get suspicious when it feels like the emotions and the being part of a group are an end in and of themselves and that the actual purpose is secondary, irrelevant, or not scrutinized in the rush to the warm fuzzies of groupness.

(I'm dealing with something like this in a dance group right now and it's making me tear my hair in frustration.)

#179 ::: Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:25 PM:

Avram @175: did that include Jews of Eastern European descent, and was it limited to the British Empire?

Considering the ethnic divisions among Jews in Israel today, the thought of an Ashkenazi, particularly a 19th century one, being labeled 'Oriental' is entertaining.

#180 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:25 PM:

#150 If Angela Davis didn't have a price on her head, she'd be running a very much alive Black Panther party, and giving the US government a very hard time.

Might want to rethink that one or at least limit the term to a very very brief calendar period.

#181 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Richard Brandt: I, for one, wouldn't replace the system we have.

Why? Because the idea is the act of living in a place soaks one in the culture, and the underpinnings,and creates a joint/group identity.

Is it perfect? No, just look at all the various breeds of separatists, but; for all many have notoriety beyond their effect, and influence beyond their merit, they are small groups; and seen as outliers.

But the cultural touchstones on which those shared (and so inculcated) are based are things which those who are going to join the tribe need to know. I don't demand that those who wish to join my nation feel those things in their very bones, but they have to understand what we hold dear (even if some of them are honored, too often, in the breach).

I don't want to see the German system of ethnicity being the way it works. I certainly don't want the state to be able to insist on birth, and a test (no one is a citizen until they meet some secondary criteria), is right the hell out. That way lies disenfranchisement of anyone the people who get to make the laws can convince people of; just change the test standards.

I can see some rabid Heinleinian Libertarians saying no one can be a citizen who doesn't have two-generations of citizens who both served, and voted; with regularity.

People need to belong to something. Excluding them from the place in which they live, is a recipe for resentment. It also leads to second-class status, which is a recipe for violence.

That, sooner or later, leads to the society balkanizing.

#182 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:43 PM:

#-173 Is it ever proper and desirable to feel emotions based on being part of a group of people with a shared purpose?

Never,....... well almost never.

Not SF but see John Ciardi (once a well known writer and columnist in the literary world who prided himself on being something of a thinker) for a fine description of realizing he was part of a mob - not a bad idea to feel emotion based on what the shared purpose might be but better to feel emotion based on the purpose whether one is marching to a different drummer or part of the crowd.

Obs SF - talk to AJ about charismatic speakers he has heard during his life.

#183 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:51 PM:

Tangential -- It makes me wonder -- are there any scientific studies on the physiological effects of being in a crowd?

#184 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Clark, isn't that basically a parasitical stance, though? It seems like it depends on a lot of other people working together to keep the lights on and the food moving so that one can then stand apart and feel independent. It doesn't seem like it could come anywhere close to working under the Rawlsian veil of ignorance or the libertarian principle of neutrality, which remain the best tests I know of for whether a stance could work if believed in generally.

#185 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Mayakda, I don't have citations handy, but...yes, there are. Being in proximity to others and in various states of agitation or any particular emotion has definitely measurable physiological effects, just as being isolated and depressed does.

#186 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:00 PM:

(I should note that I think that one of the genuine benefits of civilization is being able to afford luxury items, and that includes parasitical attitudes about civilization. We're all better off for Ciardi's work, for instance. At the same time, I think that part of what makes civilization work best is an appreciation for how and why it works, and not unnecessarily doing things that would destroy it if taken as general rules, nor in rushing to exempt anyone too quickly from that standard just because they're cool.)

Now I go sleep off some of the night's histamine flushing.

#187 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Faren, #155: Though I'd still like to see a female president sometime in the next decade or so.

As would I. And, honestly, I think we will; Hillary Clinton is not our One Bright Shining Hope. There are a lot more women in the political pipeline than there used to be, and social perceptions have shifted a lot in the past 20 years. Ferraro was a token, and was seen as such; Clinton is a candidate in her own right, and there are more coming up behind her. I hear some women saying, "This may be the only chance in my lifetime to vote for someone who looks like me," and my reaction is, "Only if you're over 80 right now." Of all the reasons I've heard for supporting Clinton, that's the one that just doesn't make sense to me.

Kate, #162: I agree. I also don't think that such a proposal would pass a 14th Amendment challenge. If one child born here is a citizen because his/her parents are, and another one isn't because they're not, that's pretty clearly not equal protection under the law for the children. Of course, IANACS, and I may be reading this wrong.

Xopher, #165: I don't object to "Caucasian" as much as I do to "white". But I do roll an eye a bit at the notion that "Hispanic" deserves its own category while, say, "Italian" doesn't -- and I roll that same eye in the other direction at the increasing social tendency to classify only Northern European ancestry as "Caucasian/white" and shove all people who are the least bit olive of skin tone into some other (not clearly defined) category.

Technically, if you take only the three "traditional" racial classifications (Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid), then Hispanics, Middle Easterners, and Subcontinental Indians are ALL Caucasians. (I'm not sure where Native Americans go under that system.) On the one hand, that seems insufficiently precise, and also leaves "Caucasian" as a poorly-defined catchall category for anyone who doesn't fit one of the other two. On the other, it does reinforce the notion of diversity...

Ronit, #172: Good points.

#188 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:05 PM:

Oh, one last thing before I go...

Ronit, put down your race as "magi" and claim to be descended from the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus with gifts. It's not like anyone who'll be obsessed with the issue would likely know enough to understand the bluff, after all.

I hope this advice is of great help to you.

#189 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:08 PM:

#-181 - Anchor babies may be lost in the noise overall but there is a growing tendency toward having an anchor baby in the US of A and dual citizenship among upper and political classes around the world. This is quite distinct from the common anchor baby among people who live in the United States at least part of the time.

Any thoughts on citizenship without Because the idea is the act of living in a place [which] soaks one in the culture, and the underpinnings,and creates a joint/group identity.

There are quite a number of foreign politicians who themselves or whose family might have difficulties in the home country and who are arranging for anchor babies to be born in the United States and raised from infancy in the country where the parents are involved in the society.

Makes life much easier if the potential refugee has some place to go and they have to take him in. It may also suggest a lack of committment to reform in the home country.

Also gives us the King of Thailand as among the nobility and a citizen of the U.S. of A for trivia buffs.(not really an anchor baby as I use the term here)

Any thoughts on a lack of committment among people who do seek the best of both worlds?

#190 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Bruce 188: The Magi were Babylonians. I think that makes them Asian.

#191 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:15 PM:

There seems to be an assumption here that charismatic leaders are a far more dangerous source of destructive herd-thinking that large entrenched institutions such as churches, governments, schools, corporations, mass media, etc. I'm not sure I'd buy into that.

#192 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:19 PM:

I have to say that the phrase 'anchor baby' always conjures up horrific images for me. OTOH, I applaud the practice, especially for illegal immigrants. It SHOULD be difficult to deport the parents of an American citizen, especially one who is a child. And it points out the fiscal stupidity of denying healthcare to immigrants, even illegals: if a pregnant woman can't get good prenatal care, she gives birth to a citizen with all kinds of potential problems.

I don't want to live in an America where birthright citizenship is no longer the law. That has all sorts of consequences, including expensive ones; I'd rather keep birthright citizenship and pay higher taxes, thanks.

#193 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Xopher #190: The Magi were Babylonians. I think that makes them Asian.

I think they were Arisian. Putting down Magi/Arisian on those forms is gonna be so way cooler than Jedi.


#194 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:25 PM:

Clark @ 189... Anchor babies as a sign of a lack of commitment to the USA? I doubt that. Besides, look at George Washington Bush. He was spawned by parents who are both Americans, and if he's shown any commitment to the USA beyond his own little self, I'll eat a large plate of sphagetti without any tomato sauce or meat balls.

#195 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:32 PM:

#184 - Well give me Nozick over Rawls every time. I'd even use Rawls as an example of a charismatic but ultimately wrong idea (however tempting it falls into the pretty to think so hole for me). I'd go back to the Categorical Imperative for an analysis of group activity.

Mostly I don't see a theoretical distinction between the production of the invisible hand leading selfish activity to mutual good and the production of an anarcho-syndicalist forming a Soviet but I do see a difference in the society and I know which society I prefer - the anarcho syndicalist will give us The New Class sooner or later. FREX when first produced the Trabant was on a par with, or even ahead of, the cabin motorcycles of West Germany but the cabin motorcycles led to great cars and the Trabant didn't. Hence my default assumption is to expect the syndicalist (as opposed to The Syndic obs SF)society to stick at the Trabant stage.

I object most strongly to the you really oughta wanta version of social organization and if you don't you are a Kulak or a bourgeois or cosmopolitan or a ..... and hold to the F=IW (obs SF).

Which way would you vote at the end of Twelve Angry Men?

My own view of the movie is that the defendant was very likely guilty but the movie shows us things in the jury room that should have been brought out at trial to produce a verdict of not proven and so not guilty.

But still how would you vote

#196 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:40 PM:

#194 - what I wrote was that an anchor baby born in the United States of America and not raised in the U.S. of A. indeed while the mother is in the U.S. of A for the sole purpose of delivery suggests the possibility of a lack of committment to the country where the child is raised.

Birth in the United States with the child raised elsewhere really is quite common among some populations in the Middle East and South Asia.

George W. Bush has shown a strong attachment to baseball and ignored soccer what could be more American?

#197 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Addendum - esprit de l'escalier - I am discussing here dual citizenship and suggesting a possible lack of devotion to either. A common issue of social change - should folks be encouraged to leave a bad situation or encouraged to stay and change it at some cost?

#198 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Clark @ 196... I stand corrected about your original post, but I doubt there are so many of such anchor babies that we should ditch the current system. (Does that opposition to change make me a Conservative?)

As for what could be more American than loving baseball? Right off the bat? Loving democracy. Respecting the Constitution.

As for the 12 angry men... I'd have voted not guilty. But that's just me. I'm a bleeding heart.

#199 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 03:53 PM:

Citizenship - the passport you carry - is different from cultural identity.

A passport is like the flag a ship flies, which is the flag of the country where it's registered, but says nothing about its real home. On the stern of every ship is painted its name and the name of its port of registration. So you might see an American ship flying the Stars and Stripes, with New York on the stern, 100% officered and crewed by loyal USians; but with most cargo ships, it's much more likely that the name on the stern is Monrovia or Nassau, even if the ship is owned by Greeks, officered by Norwegians and crewed by Filipinos, and none of them, nor the ship itself, have ever been near Liberia or the Bahamas. Similarly there are people with US passports who have no loyalty to America and avoid going there unless they really have to. The so-called '7/7' bombings in London revealed that there are people living in Britain who hate that country and all it stands for, and for whom a British passport is no more than a flag of convenience.

My British wife's ancestors had been officers in the Indian Army (that is, British Army in India) for generations. Her father was born in India, and so was his father and his father's father. Did that make him Indian? Hell, no. He was British, and that was obvious to everyone except the British bureaucracy which, when Indian won independence, decreed that he was Indian, so that he had to go through a naturalisation process to get back his British citizenship. Of course he was apoplectic with rage.

By the way, a child born in a country that doesn't do jus soli, of parents who are citizens of countries that don't do jus sanguinis, can easily be stateless, with no citizenship at all. Many parents anticipate this predicament and arrange to visit a jus soli country at the right moment. Friends of mine did exactly that (they were living in Brunei, he was Pakistani, she was Hong Kong Chinese with a 'British Protected Person' passport). What Clark calls 'anchor babies' may simply be babies who would otherwise have no citizenship, whose parents had the sense to get them born in a country that would give them a passport.

#200 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 04:11 PM:

My problem with the term "anchor babies" is visceral.

I've rarely seen it used in other than an exculsionist/nativist argument. It carries a perjorative aspect (the irony of Michelle Malkin using it in that way is just precious).

Are there people who make a point of arranging for children to be born in a specific country? Yes. Maia and I have looked to seeing to it we have our children while she is working Ireland, just because we are worried about having no place to go if the US gets too pear-shaped.

Does that make us despicable? I don't think so.

Then again, I think we are too exclusionist in our immigration policies, and people who have children here are just fine with me. The number who are doing it for reasons other than they want to become part of the US polity is really small, and not worth worrying about.

#201 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 04:15 PM:

i suspect "anchor babies", like "vote fraud" (the kind where someone casts a vote they are not eligible to cast), is an easy emotional issue that is vanishingly rare in the great scheme of things, & whose "solutions" would probably do more harm than good.

#202 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 04:17 PM:

Anyone who wouldn't vote Not Guilty at the end of 12 Angry Men needs to go back and study civics. The standard is "guilty beyond reasonable doubt," and there was plenty of reasonable doubt in that case; moreover I thought it was unlikely the defendant could have done the crime in the circumstances described.

I've been a juror in a criminal case, and I was ready to vote NG after the prosecution rested, because their presentation of their case made it clear they hadn't established all of the three required components of the crime alleged—one of them they seemed to have made no attempt to establish.

But I had to sit and listen to the whole Defense case anyway. Why? Because some juries are just so log-stupid that they'll vote Guilty because the person was arrested, unless you really pound into their heads that the defendant couldn't have done the crime (or as in the case I sat on, that no crime was committed).

#203 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 04:18 PM:

me at 201,

well, not only more harm than good, but, i think, more harm than the original phenomenon.

#204 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 04:23 PM:

Terry 200: In fact just using the term 'anchor babies' has become a shibboleth for the nativist/exclusionist position in this country.

I guess I'm at the opposite extreme from that. I think that people who want to come to the US to live should be allowed to unless there's a reason to exclude them. This is in high contrast to current policy, which is that people are excluded unless there's a reason to admit them! The contrast to the nativist position, which is that there IS no reason to admit them, is even sharper.

#205 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 05:09 PM:

Re: Germany. Germans have been wrestling with their identity for a long time, now. They've had to deal with a huge flux of diverse people over the last 50 years, starting with people from Eastern Europe who were driven out after WWII, through Gastarbeiter, then many more people from Eastern Europe after the Iron Curtain dissolved. There have also been a tremendous number of asylum seekers.

Generally, German law follows jus sanguinis. For the children (and now grandchildren) of, say, Turkish Gastarbeiter, this means that a couple of million people were born here and grew up here, but are not enfranchised, and don't feel much incentive to become so. A sort of parallel society has grown up.

This law also means that there are hundreds of thousands of Russians of German descent who were entitled to move to Germany and were automatically granted German citizenship. Their cultural experience and language skills have often been 99% Russian, and many have had a hard time adjusting and integrating into "mainstream" German society[1].

Yet another large group, asylum seekers from all over the world, is kept sequestered for years on end -- limited in their freedom of movement, with many hindrances to learning the language, and usually not being allowed to work -- while their cases are being sorted out. Still more disenfranchised people.

It's a complex issue, and I cut the Germans some slack for having dealt with way more immigrants per capita than other countries, but the problems are serious, and it's a tremendous waste of human potential.

Terry Karney said upthread, "the idea is the act of living in a place soaks one in the culture, and the underpinnings,and creates a joint/group identity." That works in the US, for the most very well, but hasn't here.[2] Maybe because the whole point of the US was the idea of "starting over"? All I know is that the effort for integration of people of various origins has to come from both sides, natives as well as immigrants. And maybe I'm a starry-eyed idealist, but I definitely think the effort pays off in the end for everyone.

[1]a notorious phrase -- everyone has a feeling about what it means, but no one can define it satisfactorily. Me either.
[2]Even if I had German citizenship, it wouldn't matter how long I lived here, how fluently I spoke, and how well I observed local customs and mores. No one would ever think of me as a "real German". (For the record, I've kept my US citizenship out of personal/familial reasons and because Germany doesn't allow dual citizenship, not for any political reasons.)

#206 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 05:18 PM:

Xopher @ #192:
I have to say that the phrase 'anchor baby' always conjures up horrific images for me. OTOH, I applaud the practice, especially for illegal immigrants.

Have to respond: me too!

The term "anchor baby" gives me chills because of the nasty set of assumptions behind it as it is most commonly used in the U.S. I resent this, because I think "anchor" is a word I intuitively feel ought to stand for good things:

Connections.
The cornerstone in a solid foundation.
Safe harbor.

Instead, it's been made ugly.

#207 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 05:45 PM:

Debbie: I would argue it doesn't work so well in Germany precisely because those people aren't expected to do that. They are set apart (see, esp. the refugees).

If one isn't going to be enfranchised, seen as a member of the whole, why go to any specific effort to make that the case?

After all, Germany isn't making that assumption, and has (at least historically) gone the other way.

#208 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:12 PM:

FWIW, to me "anchor baby" is a code word for "racism" -- usually anti-Mexican racism, but sometimes it slides over to other "browns" as well. That's how it's applied in common usage.

If you don't want me to think you're a racist, don't use that term to support your argument. It's that simple.

#209 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:24 PM:

Ronit #179 -- I don't know. Although I should correct myself: 19th and early 20th centuries. Kipling's Kim was published in 1901, and Chesterton's The New Jerusalem in 1920. I could make the argument that the 20th century didn't really get started till 1914, but 1920 is clearly too late for the 19th.

#210 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:27 PM:

Lee 208: Yeah! Like that! That's pretty much what I was trying for, except that the nativist position is more complex (though no less repugnant) than simple racism. It certainly INCLUDES racism, but they don't want "white" Eastern Europeans, either.

#211 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:34 PM:

Lee and Xopher... Is xenophobia the word you're looking for?

#212 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:44 PM:

Serge: Sort of (re xenophobia). I think they have an idea of, for want of a better term, an ideal of "human being" and it looks, and acts, like them.

It believes in their sort of god, practices their sort of economy and has their sort of predjucices.

People who don't subscribe to those ideas are less than complete people, and so need to be kept away, lest they dilute the real people of the world (by outnumbering them, inter-breeding, or contaminating with foreign ideas).

#213 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:47 PM:

#198 - For that matter I can't come up with an operationally better system than the U.S. of A has now - like democracy. I can see many defects and few improvements.

Notice that in the first lines of my post #189 I suggest two quite different usages for anchor baby and rather than find or invent a new term proceed for the balance of that post I use the term anchor baby with the definition I had just cited. The use for the duration of that post may or may not be the way I use the term anchor baby in subsequent discussion.

As a matter of fact there are a fair number of people living in Lebanon and also to the south of Lebanon (and many other places) with children raised there but born in the U.S.of A. during a brief visit by the mother to provide the child with dual citizenship. This is rational for the individual given the current and prospective turmoil.

I am not sure to what extent it is good for either state of the dual citizen. I'd be inclined to seriously consider a requirement to pick one or the other at some point in the life of the dual citizen to be followed by a requirement for naturalization to change the decision perhaps an expedited naturalization. Again I'm not advocating a position but exploring ideas.

I'd want a general rule that gave a good result in such cases as Henri Cortesi

I am reminded of the story of Henri Cortesi (I knew him slightly, knew his family better) who did international sales for Caterpillar Tractor out of Peoria for many years. When he retired from Caterpillar - retirement benefits dollar denominated; that may have had something to do with his desire to stay in Peoria - he lost his right to live in his own home of many years because he was born Swiss and lived in the U.S. of A. on a work visa. No work no visa. He met his Swiss military requirements including annual qualifications and such to keep his Swiss connection in good standing but he actually was raised with more American than Swiss culture because his father worked in White Plains while the children were growing up.

I'd give the man an automatic extended voluntary departure with no requirement that he, or his wife, ever depart. If Henri then everybody similarly situated.

On the subject of the British Army I am reminded first of Robert Graves who said Good By to All That - what citizenship is appropriate in that case given the domicile? Then of John Masters, also Indian Army who found himself neither Indian nor English and lived out his days in the U.S. of A. although his son opted for England and served in the Falklands. John Master's ashes are fertilizing the United States of America not somewhere that is forever England. That may be useful in hindsight but hardly in foresight.

Interesting issues in an English context for ex-pats these days - live in France and no NHS assistance while living abroad and no eligibility even to buy into the French health system and on the don't tax me, don't tax you, tax that man under the tree principle the tax structure for ex-pats is interesting.

Any answers?

#214 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:54 PM:

Clark, I have to admit I'm confused by your 195. Since I know I'm confused, please picture me saying nearly all of the following very tentatively.

The part I'm sure of is about Twelve Angry Man. I'd have voted "not guilty", for exactly the same reasons as Xopher. Health keeps me off of juries, but I've taken part in business deliberations about hiring and firing and such and always tried to start off with "But what do I actually know, and why, and opposed to what I might guess or wish for?" The case simply wasn't proven.

The part I'm all fuzzy and uncertain about is the rest of 195. Are you arguing against the existence of large societies? Do you think most people should just suck it up and be proles, and it's their job to joylessly do whatever's conducive to the greatest efficiency as measured by econometrics calibrated by those sufficiently dedicated to the marketplace? I had wondered what role happiness at shared understanding and cooperation should play, if roused emotions are dangerous, and it looks like you're telling me that the answer is "none", that we should all just grind along in isolation. But that can't be right, can it? What am I missing?

#215 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:54 PM:

Lee @187:

My mother is in her early 60s -- squarely in Clinton's core demographic -- and has commented about supporting Clinton because "she looks like me". I don't think it is as limited of a statement (i.e. "because she's a woman") that you think it is, however; it's because she's a woman of the same generation. My mom grew up in a time and place (rural South Dakota) when the expected career opportunities open to women were more or less limited to "nurse or teacher"; she sees in Clinton someone who was subject to the same limited opportunities and expectations and was able to go far beyond them.

My mom will almost certainly have another chance to vote for a woman for President if Clinton doesn't get the nomination this time around, but not necessarily to vote for a woman she identifies with so strongly. Voting for someone fifteen years younger than she is wouldn't have the same resonance.

I'm not saying I agree with this reasoning, or that the women you've heard have the same reasoning, just that at least in some cases it's a little more nuanced than you're making it out to be.

#216 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 06:57 PM:

I don't know about other countries, but US ex-pats are required to pay taxes to the US.

#217 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:00 PM:

(Clark, this is a preemptive apology for delay. Stomach trouble is going to keep me away from the exchange for a bit. Back when it settles.)

#218 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:10 PM:

Lee@185: "I don't object to 'Caucasian' as much as I do to "white". But I do roll an eye a bit at the notion that 'Hispanic' deserves its own category while, say, 'Italian' doesn't."

Well, it may depend on what you use the term "race" for. The way I see it discussed in practice (including on this thread to some extent) , the most relevant meaning of "race" seems to be "ethnic category that has a pervasive association with caste."

Which ethnicities have that association varies by society and time. There was a time in the US where Italians (and Irish, and various others) were "races" by this definition, and indeed at that time you'd often hear talk of the "Irish race". But nowadays, in most contexts, Irish, Italians and the like are treated basically the same as other whites.

("White" is then just the term for the socially privileged ethnic caste in the US. As it's a social categorization, it's probably more accurate to use "white" than "Caucasian", which implies a certain genetic heritage that may or may not correspond entirely to the privileged "white" category. Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latin[ao], and American Indian would be other relevant "race" categories in current American culture. East-Asian is becoming less of one than it used to be; Middle Eastern may be becoming more of one, depending on how the political winds blow.)

This is certainly not the only way to conceive of "race", but it's the one that seems to me to most closely apply to public discussions I've seen involving the concept.

#219 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Clark @ #213:

When you say "a fair number" of people in Lebanon who deliberately gave birth to babies in the US for the purpose of giving US citizenship to those children, how many people are you talking about? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?

I've never heard the phrase "anchor baby" before, but it instantly makes me think of "welfare queen": A simple concept, easy to identify and vilify, that does not require any significant representation in objective reality to have political power.

Also, contrary to your assertion, I don't see any definitions of "anchor baby" in your post at #189--just a statement that both people living in and out of the US have them. What definition are you using? If one of my foreign national coworkers has a child while living in the US, is that child an "anchor baby"?

#220 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:24 PM:

Xopher #165: Somehow, I cannot think of you as 'white-bread boring'.

#221 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:26 PM:

Ronit #172: As an exercise once in an American government class I taught in a community college I asked students to define what they meant by 'Asian'. When they were done, I asked the Asian students in the class (one Indian, one Afghan) to raise their hands. The other students were shocked.

#222 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 08:48 PM:

#216 - I don't know about other countries, but US ex-pats are required to pay taxes to the US.

Of course they are. My point was that as a small community ex-pats, and dual citizens are almost by definition ex-pats from some place, are more likely than not to be subject to dual taxation and sometimes the dual burden is unreasonable beyond logic. e.g. from The Telegraph ex-pat edition
......
One of the most overlooked aspects concerns inheritance tax. But this oversight can prove costly. Spanish authorities can charge up to 82 per cent tax on foreign-owned property, while those buying in France may find that they cannot stipulate who inherits the property. What's more, overseas property can be taxed twice: in Britain and locally.

.....But individuals acquire a "domicile of origin" at birth - it is normally the country in which they are born - and it is far harder to change this at a later date, even if you live abroad for years. Most expats remain UK-domiciled, particularly those who retire overseas.

If you want to be domiciled in the country where you have retired you must submit a DOM1 form from your local revenue and customs office, and sever all ties with your homeland. This means closing all British bank accounts, selling all assets in Britain and even organising your funeral abroad. If you are granted a new domicile of choice it takes three years for the loss of UK domicile to become effective for IHT purposes.

But there are some financial advantages to cutting these ties: once you are no longer domiciled in Britain you can create a discretionary property trust, and any asset held within this will not be subject to IHT even if you later return to Britain and become domiciled again.
.......
And so on and so forth. My point was that in a world of don't tax you and don't tax me it seldom pays to be the fellow under the tree. In a larger sense what taxation is appropriate and what should be deductible between taxing authorities is to my eye unclear.

As a matter of fact the NHS issue has been settled reasonably. This again from the Telegraph

British expats win French healthcare battle
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 25/01/2008

The French government has backed down on a policy that had stripped thousands of Britons living in France of their right to benefit from the French state health insurance system.

The news was greeted with jubilation by British expatriates after a six-month fight to have the rules changed.
..........
The government said the changes were the result of an EU directive on residency.
......
This left at least 7,500 Britons living in France facing a crisis because they had moved to France on the understanding they would be able to access the state system when their British government health care cover ran out. Britain covers expatriates' health care costs for up to two and a half......
.......
The sudden "retroactive" legislation was deemed grossly unfair by the British community in France. Many, including cancer and diabetes patients, had given up their homes and private health cover back home.
...................
However, yesterday the British Embassy announced it had received a letter from Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, the French health minister, announcing that any Briton who emigrated to France before Nov 23, 2007 - whether or not in the French health system before that date - could now access it. Only those moving to France after that date would not qualify.
..............
Mostly I was suggesting that the threaded discussion was very much ignoring practical details in a world where practical details make all the difference and reality should drive policy. Perhaps the discussion was oriented toward a purely abstract discussion but I did not have that impression. Assuming that all costs are reasonable and alternative costs are low then being all things to all men is easy. If the discussion is purely abstract then the conclusions are easy but meaningless.

Again FREX I have trouble taking it as a given that Brownsville should tax itself to provide maternity care to Matamoros and equally given that somebody has to do it with the notion that Brownsville shouldn't.

On a related matter although I've had a friend with dual Irish/American citizenship who enjoys using his Irish passport within the European community - he fell in love with the United States as an adult and I have no doubt where his loyalties lie - should he die in a foreign land that spot will be forever American blood stained - and uses his American citizenship and loyalties to access some citizen only benefits professionally still I wouldn't wish any child of mine to be a subject of a country where leaving the country to terminate a pregnancy is as much a crime as terminating a pregnancy within the country.

#208 - I am content to be called and thought a racist sooner than bend my language to suit another's whims.

I do try avoid direct insults unless I intend them as such.

The end of political correctness in my view was reached when the Stratemeyer syndicate dropped gosh and golly from the vocabulary of the Bobbsey twins on the argument these are euphemisms for Ghod. Since then political correctness has been ridiculous.

I like Humpty Dumpty on words and I'll not object to much as others may use language - on the other hand I am prepared but seldom have to object to sticks and stones.

I call it tyranny over the minds of men to bend language in a way that might obstruct clear thinking. Rather I suggest that taking language in the use most favorable to the opposition and running with that usage promotes clear thinking much more than sustained use of euphemisms. Hence as in much of the rest of my life I am an absolutist on free speech. That means others use the language they do not by my privilege but by right and I claim the same right for myself.


#223 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:29 PM:

#219 - Dozens to my knowledge anecdotally implying the likelihood of hundreds maybe thousands. Enough so that the issue of mothers coming to the United States legally to endow their children with US citizenship without the intention to themselves live in the United States or to raise the infant in the United States has been discussed in the mainstream - New York and LA Times level of mainstream - press. As I said above rational for the individual perhaps harmful to the home state society - take my suggestion of the Categorical Imperative and imagine every Lebanese child to be born at Cedars of Lebanon in the United States of American and imagine the potential consequences.

On the general subject of loaded terminology:

Ultimately, there may be no neutral language possible in the immigration debate — any more than there is in other emotionally charged human interaction, said Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of the best-selling "You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation." Ms. Tannen claims no special expertise about immigration, but she knows communication. "People cling to words, and use them, as a way of showing whose side they're on, who their people are," she said. NYT

If you've never heard the term anchor baby before then I suggest you have no perspective to see the background against which I seek to define by contrast my specific usage. Quite right that I did not start ab initio and I'm not going to start ab initio now.

It should be obvious from my prior post that I am specifically using anchor baby in that post to mean a child born to a woman living outside the United States of America who visits the United States for the purpose of delivering the child and then leaves with the child.

For that usage then If one of my[your] foreign national coworkers has a child while living in the US, is that child an "anchor baby"? the answer is not by my usage in that post since the child will presumably be raised in the country of US citizenship - at least for some uncertain period.

If your coworker is here working legally then most people would consider a child born in the United States to a legal resident working legally not to be an anchor baby. Many would consider a child born to a woman in the United States criminally or working criminally (loaded word used deliberately) to be an anchor baby. Use the words or not as you see fit and define them or not as you see fit.


#224 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Bullshit, Clark. 'Anchor baby' is a buzzword, you know it's a buzzword, and you can't make it stop being a buzzword just by saying so, or just by defining it. It's like 'welfare queen', a word for a factually rare phenomenon blown up into a fallacious argument that justifies ridiculous policies that the right-wing nutjobs want because they utterly lack compassion or conscience.

Let's define the term 'gun nut' to mean "person who believes people should be allowed to have weapons not issued by a government authority." Then you can't say I'm being provocative when I call you a gun nut, because by MY definition you are one, right?

Of course, it doesn't work that way. You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts...or your own definitions of buzzwords.

#225 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:23 PM:

#224 - We agree I'm a gun nut - some prefer the term gun looney.

We do have a fundamental disagreement - I do claim a right to use words as I define them rather than to guess at definitions used by others and bow to others in defining my thoughts - anything else leads to Newspeak and to thoughtcrime. obs SF The Languages of Pao.

FREX what I infer to be your usage of Buzzword as a word for a factually rare phenomenon blown up into a fallacious argument that justifies ridiculous policies that the right-wing nutjobs want because they utterly lack compassion or conscience. is quite unlike my normal usage of Buzzword to mean something more like a meaningless noise than a loaded phrase.

Expanding on that I've seen many a sheet for Buzzword bingo with words that were much more meaningless noises than loaded phrases. Indeed the reason the words were made into Buzzword bingo cards is that even in context the words carried little or no useful information at all.

Your mileage obviously differs but unless I allow you to define the word Buzzword to suit your usage then all communication ceases and eventually all logical thought.

#226 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:27 PM:

*looks back in as stomach lets up a bit*

Um. Clark, please don't feel like you have to answer any more of my questions. We're not operating in anything like close enough frames of reference.

Xopher, good work.

#227 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 10:37 PM:

Let me start off by saying that I'm pro-immigration, and that I think we need to find a way to give the millions of undocumented workers here a path to being legal residents or citizens of this country. I think this is necessary because the economic growth of this country demands workers (and consumers), and that a 2 to 3 per cent growth rate is required for this. I'm being somewhat selfish here, because I see these workers as feeding dollars into FICA to keep my Social Security going when I retire in about 10 years.

The only thing I don't know is how to make this happen smoothly and efficiently. Growing the population is fine; growing the population of workers who are in the lowest economic realms is problematic.

I also don't want to give employers carte blanche into looking for the cheapest way to make widgets or provide services, but that is pretty much a hopeless endeavor - employers regard cost savings as a holy sacrament.

It's an economic and social conumdrum, and I don't see any facile solutions.

#228 ::: SK-reader ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:13 PM:

re: passing on US citizenship

I'm a US citizen (born in US to US born citizens going back 4 generations or more) and never lived abroad until I was 21.

I'm now in Hong Kong, married to an HK person. When they were born, I went to the consulate to register their "Birth of an American Citizen Abroad". Since my husband isn't a US citizen, I had to prove that I had lived for at least 7 years in the USA after the age of 14.

I provided documents to show my high school attendance and graduation, college attendance and graduation, and some old leases showing when I lived for a couple of years in my 20s in Mass. and IL.

The consulate never said WHY I had to provide the info (these are the rules) - but I assumed that it was because the Powers That Be don't want people endlessly passing down US citizenship who have little relationship to the USA.

So, I'm remembering this bit of info. and make sure that my kids know it too - that if they marry a non-US citizen, they need to live in the USA for at least 7 years after 14, so they can pass it on.

Oh, and we also got them "Right of Abode" in Hong Kong - which is not automatic for anyone born in HK.

I'm now an HK Permanent Resident, but I'll lose it if I leave for more than 3 years without coming back for at least a visit, although I will retain the "Right to Land" and work and can "earn back" permanent resident status in another 7 years.

Since my kids have Right of Abode, they'll never lose it, even if they leave HK for more than 3 years.

I have a friend (another permanent ersident) who has both Australian and British citizenship - through her mum who emigrated to Oz in the early 1960s. She was able to pass on her Australian citizenship to her daughter who was born in HK, but according to the rules of the UK, she could not pass on the British citizenship (too remote or something)

It's fascinating all the different rules for citizenship.

#229 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:21 PM:

Clark #223: No, you're going to have to spell it out. If every Lebanese child had been born in the US and therefore had an escape available, why would that be bad for Lebanon?

Are you thinking that they would all promptly abandon Lebanon, leaving the land and the cities deserted? If not, why, exactly, would it be a bad thing for a country to have all its citizens living there of their own free choice?

#230 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2008, 11:51 PM:

mayakda @ 145 Thank you for your reply. Do you have the text of the SC stump speech or a link to it?

Sorry about the delay - here is a link to the speech I found (a day later in New Hampshire, I believe) that uses the same phrasing (search for “JOINED IN PROGRESS” to skip CNN blather).

It's much more difficult than I thought to find the complete text of candidates' stump speeches. Chris Weigent of Huffington Post ran a few back in November, but apparently he's been the only journalist to even ask for a transcript. Here's the full text of another speech from November:
Barack Obama speech.

#231 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:10 AM:

Clark E. Meyer: We do have a fundamental disagreement - I do claim a right to use words as I define them rather than to guess at definitions used by others and bow to others in defining my thoughts - anything else leads to Newspeak and to thoughtcrime. obs SF The Languages of Pao.

I'll be short, and to the point, on the portion behind the - Bullshit.

As to the first part... it's not only nonsense, it's useless. If you get to define what words mean, and I get to define what words mean, then there's no way we can be sure we are talking about the same thing.

With that as an basic difference, there isn't really any point to my trying to speak with you, much less persuade you, because you may use the same words. I might, as a result, think we were in all sweet accord, and I'd be completely wrong.

So, with no animus; and no offense intended, I doubt I'll bother trying to respond to you anymore. It's wasted effort on my part; and not fair to either of us.

#232 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Clark, #222: I trust you realize that you've just told the group at large that you are an unreliable narrator, someone who cuts and changes the definitions of words to fit his own whim. That may not bother you, but a lot of people are probably going to stop engaging with you; trying to communicate meaningfully with someone who uses private definitions for well-established words is like dancing on quicksand.

You seem to be having a little trouble with overall coherence as well. A bit more attention paid to proofreading your previews might help that part.

#233 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:50 AM:

Clark, #225: "When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'" Give my regards to the White Rabbit.

Returning to the original subject, I am realizing that this election scares me, in a way no other election my life has scared me. The decisions made in the coming years will shape the century, perhaps the centuries. And so many of us seem so willing to give Obama a license as broad as W. Bush's; if Obama wins he will be emperor of the USA in all but name, and we don't ever know very much about the man.

"Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government."

#234 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:58 AM:

+ hippo birdee abi!

#235 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 02:39 AM:

Randolph, about we don't ever know very much about the man., two things.

1. If Obama wins, he will inherit vast executive power, true, but he will face an instantly hostile Congress - we can safely assume the Republicans will have at least 40 seats and won't cooperate - and a media bent on serving up the Republican story. These are significant limits in addition to his own choices. About those...

2. His autobiography, a very articulate and engaging work, is in print again, after several years out of print. That would be a good place to start, as he discusses just how and why the ideas that influence him came to do so.

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy has done link-heavy review of his legislative performance (I've linked to her longest such piece several times now in this thread and others, and Patrick did in his endorsement post), Katherine's reviewed his human-rights record, and they and Publius have poked into various corners of his work habits, campaign organization, and the like.

Matthew Yglesias has done some writing about Obama's advisors, with links to more in-depth analysis of their priorities and records.

We know that in the Illinois Senate, Obama pushed through a law to require videotaping of all confessions, and got unanimous support for what had been declared DOA by his own party. Katherine discusses that and more in ObWi pieces in the politics category, linked to a couple paragraphs up. Right at the moment, Obama's got a proposal to significantly constrain credit card companies on matters like retroactive interest and unilateral changes of terms.

Much of what appears on any campaign's site is puffery, of course, but there's some very interesting tidbits at Obama's. In discussing civil rights enforcement (caution, PDF), for instance, he proposes requiring the civil rights lawyers to sign an affidavit that they didn't get their positions in exchange for campaign donations or party affiliation. Then he'll add a provision allowing any civil servant to file a report of potential Hatch Act violations, and require that they be investigated and reported on within 60 days. That right there would be a vehicle for clearing out a lot of Bush appointees on double-barreled charges of Hatch Act violations and (if they claim on their affidavits not to be crony types) perjury. That's good stuff. In Illinois he sponsored and got passed a law requiring the cops to note the race, gender, and age of people stopped for traffic violations, and it led to the demonstration of significant racial bias in policing and eventually to some improvements in that fronts. He proposes here to do the same kind of thing federally - get information, and use it to nail actual discriminatory practice.

In the fiscal policy section he proposes going after corporate welfare of different kinds and specifically names breaks for the oil and gas industries. (I have a hard time imagining any president winning a fight on those, but I like that it's a priority.)

And so forth and so on.

This is all readily available info, of course, and I don't mean to insult your intelligence by bringing it all up again. (And it is "again"; pretty much everything but the most recent bill and a few citations from his campaign site has been discussed and linked to in recent threads on Making Light.) So assuming that you're already familiar with all this readily available information that's been so much cited and discussed lately, what else is there you feel is crucial to know and not yet known?

#236 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 02:44 AM:

(Oh, yes, I am of course picking tidbits that I found interesting and encouraging. Criticism of Obama on various fronts, often well-deserved, is also widely available, starting right at Making Light with other posters on his weakness on several women's rights issues. But that's also easy enough to find and my cut-and-paste fingers are getting tired.)

#237 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 03:52 AM:

Randolph Fritz @ 233 writes: "So many of us seem so willing to give Obama a license as broad as W. Bush's; if Obama wins he will be emperor of the USA in all but name..."

I'm not sure who exactly you're referring to by "so many of us", but one of the main reasons I'm backing Obama is that I *don't* want to give any future president anywhere near as broad a license as Bush has claimed. And, among the major candidates, he seems to me the one least apt to claim such license, either explicitly or by default. The recent votes on the wiretap bill, and more recently on the intelligence bill (with its anti-torture provisions), give some evidence to this. (Though I should note in fairness that Obama did skip the latter vote, as did Clinton. McCain didn't, though, and showed once again that when it's time to vote and not just talk, he comes down for more executive license.)

Obama's work in getting the interrogation-videotaping law passed in Illinois is another relevant example.

I'd much rather have a president that tries to lead by inspiration than one that tries to lead by usurpation of power. Yes, one can abuse charisma to try to further usurp power without warrant. (And you don't have to look any further than, say, Chavez in Venezuela to see how this can happen just as easily on the political left as on the right.) But I haven't seen that so far with Obama. He's not perfect, and I certainly intend to keep an eye on him or *whoever* gets the Oval Office next, and if necessary support whatever opposition party keeps the executive from getting too far out of line. But Obama seems to me like our best hope at present.

#238 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 05:08 AM:

Randolph #233:

I know my own rather tepid support for Obama isn't based on wanting to crown the guy king, but I'll admit I don't know what's going on in most peoples' heads. I think he's better than the alternatives, though I wish he had more experience actually running something. (But I wish that about Hillary, too.)

#239 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 05:15 AM:

Lee/Xopher/Clark:

Have you ever noticed that once the discussion shifts from its original topic to which words may be used to discuss it, the meat of the original topic simply evaporates? It may be that "anchor babies" is a dogwhistle which is used by politicians to indicate "babies had by undesirable brown folk to get to stay here and use up our welfare benefits" or something, but who the heck would use a dogwhistle in a roomful of cats like this? The debate became about the terms used, and the actual discussion went away. This always seems to happen.

Any set of rules about citizenship is subject to being gamed one way or another, and is also subject to tragic/comic special cases where someone is stateless, or can't go to his parents' home country because they consider him a citizen and demand military service, or whatever.

#240 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 05:17 AM:

Fragano #221:

I think many Americans grew up using the term "Oriental" to refer to people of East Asian ancestry. We then went through a terminology change, to "Asian."

I had this pointed out by an Indian girl, many years ago, who pointed out (after decoding my use of the term "Asian") that she was as Asian as anyone I was using the term to describe....

#241 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 05:36 AM:

albatross,

I think many Americans grew up using the term "Oriental" to refer to people of East Asian ancestry. We then went through a terminology change, to "Asian."

yeah, but "oriental" also meant western/subcontinental asian in british english (see edward said's _orientalism_)

i'd guess americans just never thought about western/southern asia as much as british people have. it's an empire thing.

#242 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 05:54 AM:

Albatross, I think it depends on the grounds of objections. For instance, if someone wanted to discuss the situation of illegal immigrants in California and insisted that they all be called "wetbacks", then I wouldn't feel I was sabotaging a serious discussion by objecting. Ditto if, say, I were to start discussing business ethics and then insist that it's structurallly impossible for a manager or executive under late capitalism to be genuinely altruistic, so that the only business ethics questions pertaining to charity are ones about its use as a PR strategy or whatever.

I also find that the more someone goes on about political correctness and their bold fight against it, the less I'm ever going to learn from them.

#243 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 06:38 AM:

albatross #240: That seems true. In Britain, the categorisation is different with south Asians rather than east Asians being the default Asians. Central Asians, southeast Asians and west Asians do seem to get left out.

#244 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 06:42 AM:

Miriam Beetle #241: 'Oriental' also meant west Asian and north African to the French, as Said points out in Orientalism.

#245 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 07:29 AM:

#s 235-238: Well, I hope you are all right. The fear that clutched at my chest--is based in the sense that, if Obama wins, this will probably be the most important election of my life. (If McCain wins, likely the most important will probably have been 2000.) I'm aware Obama has considerable positives, both in terms of the "banner" the public is handing him and personally, but regardless, his tenure is likely to shape the USA and the world in ways I only dimly forsee. In terms of the banner: a vote for Obama is a vote for a brown-skinned, very multi-cultural man; it is, in other words, an endorsement of global multi-culturalism. Unless Obama completely betrays himself--and that seems unlikely--it would be a victory for that kind of liberal ideology. At the same time, he is going to be, literally, the most powerful person in the world for at least a time, and no-one knows how he will react to that. And I see very little that gives a sense of how Obama will react to emergencies. Yet the next President's term is going to be marked by emergencies. Krugman is estimating the collapse of the housing market will take six years. I think it's likely the world is going to abandon the dollar as a reserve currency. There are probably going to be more climate-related disasters. The Iraqi war, of course, is an on-going emergency. There may be more successful major acts of terrorism, ecological disaster, plague. There's nothing I see in his on-line bio, platform, or the material that Hilzoy has published gives me any sense of how he is going to react to these, yet those reactions are going to be defining acts of the 21st century. I keep wondering: "what is Obama going to do when he ecounters a problem he can't talk his way out of?" I wonder if even he knows.

Should Obama win, I hope we support him as best we can. But he is going to face temptations and challenges that few have faced before and I wish I had a better sense of how he was going to react.

#246 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 08:25 AM:

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'" Give my regards to the White Rabbit.

Redefining words can be made to work, but it either requires a large mass of determined people to do it (think about the current usage of "gay") or that one pick an obscure/out of use word and give it a new meaning, or perhaps make up a word entirely. I play with language this way occasionally to make a point ("mono" being my current pet project), but while I can reset word-meaning in a one-on-one conversation, it doesn't work very well when it's one against a large crowd, as Clark is finding out.

I guess it could also be made to work by, say, a character in a hugely popular TV show or movie. I'm sure there are examples of this that I'm not thinking of because of my underexposure to popular culture.

#247 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 08:49 AM:

broundy @ 230
Thanks for looking for that -- I didn't mean to give you work to do.
I read through his speech. Honestly, even seeing it in context, I am not reassured. Sounds more than ever like a religious call-out. There are many other words he (or his speechwriter, whoever picked those words) he could have used, but he picked those.
So I am going to try to be so persuasive in the 20 minutes or so that I speak that by the time this is over, a light will shine down from somewhere.
It will light upon you. You will experience an epiphany. And you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack. I have to do it.

For a lapsed Catholic like me, the images that come to mind are the Holy Spirit coming down to light upon the people, and the epiphany is God shining through to be revealed as man. The magi bowing before him.

In other news, Kosovo will be independent. Hopeful news.
It also made me think of the cultural identity vs citizenship discussion here.

#248 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 09:23 AM:

Sylvia: If everyone in Lebanon (or any country) were born in the US and had US citizenship, it wouldn't do any harm at all. If only the rich -- or only those rich enough to fly to the US and pay US hospital-birth charges -- do, I can see how it could have a terrible effect as the class of people who would be the best educated and have the most to invest might feel a less than wholehearted committment to the problems of their own country.

#249 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 11:11 AM:

243: I think that calling subcontinentals "Asian" in Britain is comparatively recent. Certainly in books 100 years old they are just called "Indians". I would guess that it's because post-1947 there was a need for a word that covered Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

East Asians in Britain, meanwhile, were pretty much all Chinese (some via HK or east Africa) until very recently, so one could just say "Chinese" - unlike in the US, where there are long-standing and significantly-sized Japanese, Korean, and etc populations.

And nobody seems to care about central Asians. I suspect Sacha Baron Cohen/"Borat" would not have got very far in the UK had he painted his face brown and gone around talking in a comic Indian accent.

#250 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 11:13 AM:

Randolph, it seems to me you've got a good list of concerns there. I mean, of course, that it largely matches mine :) when it comes to big risks for the next few presidential terms.

Of the available candidates, Obama is the one with a history of successfully promoting measures to restrain executive branch power, and who's surrounded himself with advisors who were right on the biggest crisis of the new century so far. (At least, that's how I regard the use of US power for imperialist ends in the Middle East.) And he's got a history of paying attention to potential crises and preparing for them (like avian flu, which is very high on my list of worries about avoidable disasters of the near future).

All of these strike me as important signs - important enough, in fact, that they sit in the balance when I consider how much more actively liberal I wish his policies were in other regards. They also seem to me far superior to Clinton's credentials for response to calamity.

#251 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 11:37 AM:

Jo, #248: Yes, but my comment was in relation to this:

"As I said above rational for the individual perhaps harmful to the home state society - take my suggestion of the Categorical Imperative and imagine every Lebanese child to be born at Cedars of Lebanon in the United States of American and imagine the potential consequences."

The implication was that the consequences would be disastrous, and, well, I don't see it.

Let me throw out a different contrafactual question for discussion. What would the consequences be, good or bad, if every human being had full citizenship rights in every country?

Of course there would be major startup problems, and a lot of changes required... but after all the washing back and forth, what would the steady state look like, with people as free to move anywhere in the world, legally speaking, as they can within the US right now, or (I think) within the EU?

#252 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Um, about the EU -- on reflection, I know it's more complicated than that. So I take that part back, and will just leave it as, "as free to move from country to country around the world as from state to state within the US."

#253 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 12:05 PM:

ajay #249: The use of 'Asian' in Britain to mean 'south Asian' goes back mostly to the 1960s, as far as I know and is as you guess.

Sasha Baron Cohen had no trouble donning sweats and putting on a Jafakan accent as Ali G.

#254 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Serge at #32 – I saw Gore doing “An Inconvenient Truth” live. He has plenty of charisma, when he's allowed to let it out. The excitement of revival meetings never made sense to me, until saw that, and realized it was the same thing, only Gore was applying it to something I actually cared about.

I found the experience both exciting and somewhat frightening (in a creepy way) – being part of a crowd cheering to the exhortations of a compelling speaker.

***now, general on topic thoughts, no longer responding to Serge***

The problem with charisma is that it is a talent, not a virtue. It can be used for good or evil – on its own, it is neutral.

However, good ideas don't need charisma to be shown to be good. They have inherently good points to convince people. But bad ideas can gain a lot of undeserved status, if promoted with charisma.

I'd put charisma in the same box as patriotism – if that is the primary way you have to promote your idea, then you probably don't have a good idea. Because good ideas can be supported on their merits, without the gloss of either charisma or patriotism.

Charisma is good for getting people excited about things, but it isn't a proper substitute for convincing people of things, using sound facts and arguments. However, it can also be a way of convincing people to act without convincing them of the thing they are acting on.

The charisma of Al Gore doing “An Inconvenient Truth” worked on me because I was already convinced about the truth of the message. But I see a lot of people who are convinced by charisma, but have no way of explaining what it is about the message that is convincing. And that scares me. But then, I'm from a family that has done utterly horrible things, based on being convinced by a charismatic leader, and therefore inclined to be cautious.

#255 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 12:38 PM:

albatross: I disagree on terminological discussions.

At one level they matter a great deal (and I have a great distrust of anyone who uses the phrase, "oh, that's just semantics"), because what words mean matters (as people have pointed out when discussing the hurt they inflict).

Look (to shift the topic to something no less volatile, but not related to this conversation) at the wrangling over what is "torture". If Bush says we don't torture, how can I make an argument about it, unless I know he doesn't include waterboarding and sleep-deprivation as tortures?

I've been in other discussions where great heat was being generated, because no one stopped to find out such a difference was taking place.

Here, when "anchor babies" came up, I told people my reservations, and reactions to the word. I did that because I dislike it. As with any number of words which have political connotations (some of which are shibbolithic... tell me you want a strict constructionist on the supreme court, and I'll figure you for a reactionary) knowing the assumptions that triggers in the audience is valuable.

Letting people know that can let the terms of debate (at least for the local conversation) be defined.

Is it often the case that such accomodations don't take place, and the conversation stops... yes. But I don't think it's the discussion of the words meaning which caused it; but rather the failure of all people to be using words to mean things close enough to keep the discussion from becoming a string of comments in which people are saying very differnt things, while using the same words.

#256 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:30 PM:

bellatrys @#177

Am I missing something, or is Raphael (163) saying that "mediterranean-type cultures" [sic] are inherently/uniquely productive of Angry Young Men?

If so, won't the British be surprised!

And what are "mediterranean-type" cultures, anyway? Would Revere, MA, count as one (lots of Italian-descended Americans), and/or more so than Santa Barbara (lots of Spanish-descended Americans AND palm trees AND red tile roofs!)

I don't think a young author with an inflated ego is an "angry young man" in the same way in wich, say, a gang member is. I don't know enough about Maryland to tell wether it qualifies, but I guess the Italian Americans there have been culturally assimilated to a large deal by now. By "mediterranean-type" cultures, I mean cultures that place a very strong emphasis on a specific notion of honor, and in wich men are commonly expected to be always on the watch for anything that might in any way be insulting to them or their families, and to be very vigurous and aggressive about defending their honor against any perceived insults. It's a bit more complicated than that, but those are the basics. (I've used that term because many southern European, northern African and Middle Eatern cultures seem to have these traits.)

I think that when people from a culture where such traits are strong live in a place dominated by a culture in wich they are less strong, they should adapt to the dominant cultures as far as these traits are concerned. While we're at it, I think ideally in all cultures, the trend should generally go towards less of these traits- I have the impression that places where such traits are strong tend to be politically and economically instable.

And I think that, if there are a lot of very angry young men in one of the cultures of a multicultural place, and this culture traditionally values this whole "defend your honor at any price" thing, you should not always automatically assume that these men's anger issues are the dominant culture's fault.

#257 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:41 PM:

Back in 1995-7, there was a lot of "citizenship tourism" in Canada; families visiting Vancouver (mostly) for several months so that their child could be born in Canada - just in case.

This made a lot of noise in the media, because although they were Commonwealth citizens, they were Chinese. Rich Chinese. Hong Kong Chinese.

I didn't hear about it in the "anchor baby" sense - none of the media seemed to be saying that the parents were going to run to Canada - just that, if the PRC blew up HK too much, the child could "just move" to Canada (one assumes with a majority of the cash).

I don't hear too much about it now, except for the fact that Toronto and Vancouver are expected to become majority non-"white" (read: European original ancestry) within 10 years. I don't see a problem with that, provided they remain majority Canadian.

Re: Charisma: Lincoln was possibly the most charismatic President. Thomas Jefferson, was very charismatic. So, in fact, was Churchill, and C. Julius, radish and all. That doesn't mean they are ineffective or wrong; I want a charismatic leader, one with a policy, not a "message"; one with debatable points to his policy that he can actually refute; one that is not so carefully whitewashed that there's no "there" there. In order to get a President/Prime Minister/Premier that will be Good, it is necessary for it to be possible to be Bad. And with charisma over whitewash, it may even be possible to tell the difference before electing the bastards.

I had believed it was almost impossible for that to occur in the current North American media, with it being so much easier to put a negative in a 90-second spot than a positive. Realize that had Lincoln given the Gettysburg Address today, it would have been excerpted, because it is too long for a news spot. This is something that is short enough, powerful enough to be memorized by many Americans, and concise enough to be destroyed by any cutting. However, I'm beginning to see that people are actually interested in the message, not the medium (and certainly not the "message"). Exposure of Rovian spin tactics (not that they haven't been used for hundreds of years, but recently they have been so heavy-handed and blunt as to be unmissable by the most casual observer) seems to have finally made Americans sensitive enough to it to react so badly that something else now has to happen. Whether it will make a difference we shall see in the next 20 years or so.

Now if only this lesson will play out more quickly in Canada (certainly the lessons that "on message" and "control, and limit, all the sources of information" have been learned quickly by my Conservative Prime Minister and my former Conservative Premier), we might get some semblance of The People's Government again.

#258 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 01:56 PM:

Terry @255: I obviously don't get that dogwhistle term. I would love to see a "Constitution constructionist" on the Supreme Court. Especially one who believes in the strict construction of the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendments, and who thinks that the first half of the Second Amendment has meaning. What does "strict constructionist" mean to Americans, when decoded?

Lebanon: interestingly enough, again in Canada we have no concern about all those dual-citizenship Lebanese wanting to come and live in the country; the gripes we get (mostly from the conservative end of the spectrum) are those that don't:
- they come to Canada for the free health care when they get sick, but return to Lebanon to live; and
- when Stuff Started Flying two years ago, we evacuated Canadian Citizens who wished to leave at "massive expense". Many of them were "Canadians of Convenience", Lebanese with Canadian Citizenship rather than Canadians visiting or working in Lebanon.

#259 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 02:08 PM:

Mycroft @258, "Strict constructionist" as a dog-whistle primarily means "does not believe in a right to privacy", further decoded as "wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade".

#260 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Bruce, #242: I also find that the more someone goes on about political correctness and their bold fight against it, the less I'm ever going to learn from them.

Good point. IME, that particular usage of "political correctness" is most frequently code for "I want to continue using racist/sexist/generally-rude language and be praised for doing so." It's an example of the conflation of basic courtesy with "political correctness" that's common in some quarters, especially when combined with "mealy-mouthed". (It can also be a variant on the "brave stance" Troll Bingo square, but that's not relevant in this instance.)

Susan, #246: My sense of language change coming out of popular movies or TV is that it seems to be largely idiom. A few such idioms would be things like, "_______ - NOT!"; "Let's not go there"; "_______ much?"; and "Ooh, shiny!" Actual word-definition changes are harder to pin down, and like you, I can't think of any offhand.

Raphael, #256: I think the word you really need here is "macho". That removes the emphasis from location and puts it on the specific quality to which you're referring. (And it should be noted that Mediterranean cultures are far from the only ones in which macho comes into play.)

if there are a lot of very angry young men in one of the cultures of a multicultural place, and this culture traditionally values this whole "defend your honor at any price" thing, you should not always automatically assume that these men's anger issues are the dominant culture's fault

That's a good point, but I think you missed part of the context; this came up during a discussion of citizenship law. If one of the primary things bolstering the anger of the macho subculture is that they are not considered citizens of the country in which they live, that most certainly is the dominant culture's fault. It might not have been obvious in the comment to which you originally responded (#150), but if you start at #124 and read forward, you'll see where that comment came from.

#261 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 02:30 PM:

lorax: Those are the high points. It also includes the idea that Freedom of \= freedom from, so prayer in schools, public display/endorsement of the Ten Commandments, etc. are perfectly fine.

White folks are allowed to be discriminated in favor of, etc.

It includes the idea the Constitution isn't a living document, and general guideline, but an absolute (and functionally immutable) set of rules.

Because it's vague (and requires penumbras and emmanations) the 9th Amendment (which is the most important, philosophically) is pretty much discarded, out of hand.

They believe in a prohibitive, not permissive, social contract.

#262 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2008, 07:04 PM:

Ah, ok, I get it now. Not reading the Constitution as the words lie, but reading very specific clauses of the Constitution as they lie in opposition to those they wish to ignore (like the Fourth Amendment). Thought it was something like that.

Anyone who starts "you shouldn't be allowed to" or "they shouldn't be allowed to" panics me (as opposed to "we shouldn't be allowed to" or "people shouldn't be allowed to". Those can be reasoned with, usually, and at least they choose to proscribe themselves. Of course, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." Or in this case, forbids men as well as women from having abortions. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose).

#263 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 12:56 AM:

Bruce, #250: I really think we are talking ourselves into this one. Obama has some virtues, but also some serious drawbacks. The messianic fervor is rising. We are at a pivotal point in history. And the USA is scarcely a Republic any more. The next president will be emperor in all but name, at least for a time; I think I'll be happier with emperor Obama than emperor McCain, but I would rather it not be emperor at all.

#264 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 01:05 AM:

Ursula L #254: However, good ideas don't need charisma to be shown to be good. They have inherently good points to convince people.

You live in a better world than I do.

#265 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 01:16 AM:

Fragano @ 221: Where were you when I was at Community College? I would have been the one in the back corner howling and rolling on the floor. :-)

#266 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 02:06 AM:

Mycroft @ 262: I got it the same time you did, but I think we should take it a step further, at least as far as the Constitution is concerned.

ANY use "XXX shouldn't be allowed to..." is VERY scary when talking about the Constitution. That document was/is/should_be a list of rights, not restrictions. Republicans talking about changing the Constitution to reflect Biblical dogma is chilling. Child-like Patriots (see my next post) wanting an Amendment to outlaw flag burning is horrifying. Conservative Cretins who want to Constitutionally ban Evolution and gay marriage (wish I could remember the cites... talk about train-wreck fascination!) are both.

And can anyone out there explain the selective dyslexia of the "Strict Constructionalists" on the first half of the 2nd Amendment? That was asked upstream and I've always wondered if there was a coherent answer to be found...

#267 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 02:27 AM:

Ursala @ 254: I have a theory that there are two basic types of patriotism...

The type I believe you were referring to, I like to call Child-like Patriotism. This is the child's love of his/her mother. Mom can do no wrong, and if Mom is wrong, see rule #1. This is the knee-jerk ravings of the Rush Limbaugh crowd who say, "America, love it or leave it!" Just as the child is quick to respond to any criticism of Mom with instant anger and aggression, so to do the AM Talk Radio crowd respond to "liberal trashing" of the USA.

But I believe in another kind of patriotism, which I term Adultist Patriotism (And yes, I will always entertain better sounding names... my creativity kinda sucks). This is the love of the parent for the child. A parent loves their children, but will not accept whatever the child chooses to exhibit. The parent will not abandon the child (as in moving to Canada if the country keeps going pear-shaped), but will try to guide the child to correct behavior and thinking. In a Hate-The-Sin-But-Love-The-Sinner fashion, the Adultist Patriot will always love America, but may despise some of the actions taken by it (or it's leaders more concisely). This patriot will work for reform and tough out the bad times.

I had been preaching this line of reasoning for years when I saw a bumper sticker that said, "I love my country but I HATE my government!" so I am obviously not the first to come up with it, but I do try to live by it.

Did I come close there?

#268 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 02:36 AM:

Elise and PNH: Although it has drifted a bit, this has been one of the threads I've most enjoyed reading in the years I've skulked around the edges here. Thank you for this one!

Elise -- Were you an actual Ellison delegate? I work at a street clinic in the Phillips neighborhood... Ever hear of AICDC?

#269 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:13 AM:

Randolph, I guess I don't see the rising messianic fervor for Obama that you do. I do see folks who've felt disenfranchised now feeling enthusiastic, but that's a far cry away, as I use these sorts of categories. Most importantly, I see a leader who's built a big chunk of his authority on restraining power rather than unleashing it, and an audience that just isn't out doing the sorts of suppressing-alternatives violence or threatened violence that, well, say that we can get every day of the week and twice during pledge drives from the anti-abortion movement, RNC lawyers, the anti-immigration militia, and so on.

I don't think Obama can or will fix a lot of what's gone horribly wrong with American democracy. I do think he can take some useful steps, and I very firmly believe that getting more people involved in politics as voters and active constituents is crucial to breaking the power of would-be governing elites.

#270 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:20 AM:

@266: And can anyone out there explain the selective dyslexia of the "Strict Constructionalists" on the first half of the 2nd Amendment?

Is this about how "well-regulated" turns out to mean "unregulated"? ISTR having a discussion with someone in alt.peeves about this back in the day, but alas the Google Groups search function appears to be broken.

#271 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 08:38 AM:

Okay, Raphael, thanks for confirming that you're using "mediterranean" in an entirely Humpty-Dumpty way, as a bit of American Renaissance-style code for your racism.

(If you don't think the Angry Young Men of England were terrifying in the 1960s and 1970s to the bourgeoise establishment types - and if you think it was just a bunch of writers venting - then you definitely need to brush up on your 20th-c Western History (and earlier, too! q.v. the Gordon Riots, for starters, to see what havoc disenfranchised impoverished residents of a country can wreak when they get going.)

I knew perfectly well what you were circumlocuting, but I wanted you to demonstrate it, and you did.

#272 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 08:55 AM:

#267 Edward:

Yeah, and there's an in-between spot when the first kind wears off/breaks, before you can get to the second kind, in which you are often actively, bitterly hostile to your country, at least in some areas. A lot of folks feel betrayed when their childlike patriotism turns out to have been based on lies.

I'd say the adult kind is more like the way you can care about an organization of which you're a part, despite seeing its flaws. You can care deeply about the Catholic Church or the Democratic Party, say, without thinking they're perfect, automatically rejecting any claim that they've done anything wrong, etc. And there does seem to me to be a parallel with religious belief here.

#273 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:00 AM:

Edward Oleander @ 266 -
And can anyone out there explain the selective dyslexia of the "Strict Constructionalists" on the first half of the 2nd Amendment? That was asked upstream and I've always wondered if there was a coherent answer to be found...

I'm not a moderator, but I would ask that we not have this discussion again?

There are individuals with very strong, and sometimes somewhat polarized, views of the 2nd Amendment on Making Light, and discussions of gnus have been shown to get, umm... heated (and I count myself among those who have been known to get a trifle warm on occasion).

There are lots, and lots, and lots of good, not so good, and barely useful resources on the question of gun control in America out there - avoiding both the NRA and HCI (and whatever else they are calling themselves this year) websites is likely a good idea, but there's still a lot of decent, and reasonably balanced, material out there. AIR, wikipedia is actually reasonably balanced about the topic.

If you're looking for original intent of the crafters of the Constitution, looking at some of the drafts and working documents - including the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers - might be a good idea.

#274 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:05 AM:

Terry 261:

I think the broader context is important to understand. For many years, the Supreme Court and many lower courts were more politically/socially liberal than the surrounding population. This led to a lot of situations in which the courts decided constitutional issues in ways that just happened to consistently move policy in a more liberal direction. Conservatives largely didn't like this, because they didn't have that power. So they argued that the courts should be more constrained, that respect for precedent, the constitution as originally written and understood, and the intentions of the legislators making the law were all things that supreme court justices should have. Now, this always really was an objection to the liberal direction of the policies driven by court decisions--there was not much outcry about ignoring parts of the constitution that both parties wanted to ignore.

I think your description of the position of the strict constructionists is pretty much just a description of the political and social beliefs of the folks who wanted to constrain the courts, back when they had little power in the courts.

Over time, this has shifted--conservatives have replaced liberals in the Supreme Court and many lower courts. If we get another Republican president or two, we will see this flip around. When the courts are full of conservatives, all liberals will know that the courts should defer to precedent, the original constitution as it was understood traditionally, and the will of the legislators. And all conservatives will know that the constitution is a living document, which is quite capable of magically creating unwritten justification for new laws favored by conservatives.

#275 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:20 AM:

Terry #255:

Okay, so in this case, there was a discussion about a real issue, and then a few posts turned it into a discussion about what terms were permissible in the discussion. What happened to the original discussion of the issue? ISTM that it went away.

Now, I contributed to that by pointing out what I saw as the problem, so maybe I shouldn't complain. But this seems to be a pattern that happens all the time. There's a discussion on a real issue, and it somehow turns into a meta-discussion about whether some arguments or words are too offensive to be acceptable, and suddenly, the original discussion is lost.

The digression into whether "anchor babies" was too offensive a term to be used (or whether you could just discard the arguments of anyone who used the term) came off to me as an attack on one poster, who clearly reacted to it like it was an attack, and who left the discussion. How did that make things better?

I mean, it made a guy who disagreed with a bunch of other folks shut up, so in some sense it kind of won an argument. But did it convince anyone, or cause anyone to learn something or think about issues they didn't already know? By contrast, many of the previous posts *did* raise interesting issues, like the way getting rid of birthright citizenship could lead to a permanent non-citizen underclass, or the way interactions between different rules for citizenship in different countries could lead to people with no citizenship.

If you consistently see a pattern in which people do X, and then things get worse, I think it's worth calling that out. Doing X seems associated with killing interesting discussions, turning discussions to flamewars, and driving people off in frustration.

#276 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 12:01 PM:

I'm not trying to hog the floor, but this genuinely fascinates me. Over at Obsidian Wings, while compiling a truly monumental listing of all the legislation Clinton and Obama have each tried to make happen, Hilzoy discovered that Obama was one of 3 Senators pushing FEMA to investigate charges of formaldehyde risks in temporary housing for Katrina victims. They couldn't make the investigation actually happen, of course, that's executive branch stuff, but they did get authorization and funding going, and a decent and/or competent executive would have had the chance to know long before now that a whole bunch of the temporary housing is so unsafe that folks will have to evacuate it before summer this year.

#277 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 12:28 PM:

... Adultist Patriotism (And yes, I will always entertain better sounding names...).

Edward, Some while ago I came up with filiotism, based on filio|a, son or daughter. A person with filiotism is a filiot. Flag-waving is patriotic; writing your representive is filiotic. Dulce et decorum est, pro filioia vivi. (Can you tell I've never studied Latin?)

Alternatively, I also like hijismo. As in, "Edward has a certain hijismo. You can tell the way he loves his country." I guess the noun describing a person with hijismo would be hijista. "Soy hijista. Tengo hijismo."

-----

discussions of gnus have been shown to get, umm... heated

Whenever people yak about gnus, someone winds up buffaloed.

#278 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 01:07 PM:

Edward Oleander #265: The Afghan student had a very hard time not doing that.

#279 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 01:13 PM:

Edward Oleander #267:

From Byron's The Vision of Judgment:

"My charges upon record will outlast
The brass of both his epitaph and tomb."
"Repent'st thou not," said Michael, "of some past
Exaggeration? something which may doom
Thyself if false, as him if true? Thou wast
Too bitter — is it not so? — in thy gloom
Of passion?" — "Passion!" cried the phantom dim,
"I loved my country, and I hated him."

#280 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 02:37 PM:

Jo #248:

I guess that's not obvious to me. How about if everyone in the world were granted US citizenship, and, say, 50 million people a year decided to immigrate here for the next 20 years or so? Maybe that would turn out okay, but I don't see why it's obvious that it would.

Similarly, Lebanon has been the home to some genuninely horrible civil war, terrorism, and related stuff for many years. It's not at all obvious to me that the US would benefit from giving citizenship to everyone from Lebanon, and thus being obliged to allow in many thousands of people who are skilled in and inclined toward such things. Again, maybe it'd all work out--massive immigration has overwhelmingly paid off for us as a country, I think--but it's not obvious to me that it would work out well.

#281 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:41 PM:

albatross: Where did the discussion go? I, for one, said what I wanted to say. The person who brought the topic to light then explained his position in a way which made futher discussion with him impossible for most of the participants, and it died.

As to the question of the courts... I want to know where the more liberal than the general population courts have been for the past... 15 years?

Because from 1980 to the present, the most liberal appointer of nominees we've had was Clinton; who trimmed his sails to avoiding much in the way of controversial appointments.

But even then the nature of the senaate was such that the courts were still moving to the right.

20, of the past 28 years, however, saw pretty Conservative (even to the point of reactionary, a la Alito, and Roberts) being appointed to the lower courts, and from them the appointments to the federal bench).

The "legislation from the bench" much decried of the Right is pretty much on a par with the "liberal press" a great rallying cry, but about as meaningful Republican appeals to bi-partisanship.

#282 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:28 PM:

Bruce @ 276

The same trailers they want to use for housing tornado victims?
(Way to go, FEMA! Use housing too hazardous for one set of victims to hold another set, in hopes that none of them will have noticed the stories?)

More or less on topic: I don't know if Obama would be a better president than Clinton, but he doesn't give me the same impression of potential vindictiveness that she does - I'd hesitate less voting for him than for her. Also he does have more experience, with his time in the Illinois legislature.

#283 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:34 PM:

albatross @ #275 & #280: ISTM that the discussion you're lamenting was one in which the initiator instigated by using terms straight from The Dittoheads, defining his terms with irregular, personalized definitions, which he created as he went. That makes honest or rational discussion almost impossible, or an exercise in frustration at best. The discussion of immigration and citizenship-by-birth in this thread has been characterized by bizarre hypotheticals, which began with Myers' suggestion that all Lebanese children be born at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (WTF?), has included suggestions of universal citizenship, and recently had you concerned about the ramifications of all Lebanese having American citizenship and the legal immigration of a billion folks from places far and wide. All this, in a thread about the psychological twist of distrusting a presidential candidate because of his charisma. For the quality of the citizenship discussion, we might as well be talking about whether military intervention would be necessary if Superman and Batman had been able to pool their resources to fight Godzilla.

#284 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:15 PM:

albatross @280: IIRC*, in the late stage of the Roman Empire, Roman citizenship was granted to everyone within the boundary of the empire. By the time this had been done, the rights of citizens had been so reduced over the years that the 'gift' was valueless; the reason it was given was to fill out the tax rolls.

This may suggest an answer: give US citizenship to anyone who is willing to pay a substantial annual fee. We could even have 'tiers' of service, depending upon what you could afford.


* Anyone of the real Roman scholars on the list might be able to fill in the details, or contradict the idea — this is a recollection from an encyclopedia entry read years ago.

#285 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:20 PM:

LMB #283:

Clark's first use of the term specifically described what he meant, which I'm pretty sure isn't what the dittoheads mean by the term. But assume someone uses a term common among the dittoheads for an argument. What's the value of shutting them up by attacking them for their terminology, again? That convinces people to rethink their position how? What was the effect here? Do you think anyone changed their position, or understood the situation better, as a result of correcting his terminology?

Imagine yourself in a discussion on a weblog with mostly conservative/Republican commenters. Suppose you start discussing Islamic terrorism, and are ripped into for failing to refer to suicide bombers as "homicide bombers," or for calling Iraqis that blow up American soldiers "insurgents" instead of "terrorists." Do you suppose there's any chance that useful interchange of information or ideas will take place in that discussion? This kind of terminology dispute seems to me to mostly be a way to stop debate and insulate yourself, unintentionally, from other viewpoints.

FWIW, I think the sequence of posts made pretty good sense in context. (For example, my comments were responding to previous comments assuming the hypothetical about granting citizenship to all Lebanese vs only the powerful ones.) The big question regarding citizenship rules seem to me to be what the costs and benefits of changing them would be. For example, there are clearly ways that those rules are gamed, and there will always be. It's possible to close off some of the ways those rules are gamed, but the cost may be screwing over some people who would fit your intuitive definition of citizens. Big changes seem like they can have huge effects--as with the examples of the Turks who've lived two or three generations in Germany, but still aren't citizens.

#286 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:34 PM:

albatross, had Clark been interested in continuing the conversation, he'd've said "OK, forget so-called anchor babies, bad term. What if..." and gone on to discuss what he was trying to get at.

Instead he gave us this Humpty-Dumptyism about how we just have to accept that he's using the term to mean something else, even though the term itself is patently offensive.

Don't go accusing us of gratuitous logomachy when we're calling someone on arguing in bad faith.

#287 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:59 PM:

A quick tangent for Lance's pie in the sky immigration idea:

First, I'm not a big fan of eminent domain in it's current state, but I do think it could be used to effectively reclaim abandoned, blighted property if it was in turn carved into appropriate sized parcels for homesteading. This process could be used not only for reclaiming urban Rust Belt type blight, but also rural areas like the famous ghost towns of North Dakota.

Think about it - what we consider blighted and unworthy might very well be the land of milk and honey for immigrants from many parts of the globe. I know I would much rather see earnest, hopeful people turn land into homes rather than see it go fallow...

#288 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:20 PM:

"I guess that's not obvious to me. How about if everyone in the world were granted US citizenship, and, say, 50 million people a year decided to immigrate here for the next 20 years or so? Maybe that would turn out okay, but I don't see why it's obvious that it would."

Oh, for heaven's sake! That's a billion people. Yeah, that would be a problem, but it's not the least likely. How 'bout we confine the hypotheticals to realistic scenarios?

#289 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:38 PM:

Returning to Obama, I think the bottom line is that he's figured out how to tap into the near-universal US desire for change. Isn't that what he's been saying all along? He's multi-cultural and multi-racial, which makes him attractive to moderate liberals, he runs a bit to the right, which helps him collect "Obama Democrats", and he's a great orator. That's the "charisma", I think: he knows what (we think) we want and he's able to promise it persuasively. Hilary Clinton can't use this strategy, because she's been around too long--can't promise change--and she's not that level of orator. Now--notice what's missing: anything in the platform to the left of Clinton. There are several possible reasons for this, but the simplest is that that it makes him more attractive the the Obama Dems and presents less of a target to the radical right.

As to how I feel about this: it's brilliant. It's scary. If my reading of his campaign strategy is correct, Obama is probably the most effectively persuasive politician to come down the line since Reagan--if he goes off the deep end, he'll be able to get much of the USA to follow him. And where does he want to lead us? How will he govern? We're reading tea leaves. Hilzoy says he's quietly done some decent things in the Senate. Patrick has previously observed he's plumping for the Christian vote. He's taken some dirty money, though it's not the dirtiest. But who is Obama? I don't think we're going to know until he's in office. And that he hasn't talked about the major real issues coming down on us so far is worrisome. I can understand his not wanting to risk his chances by inviting real controversy, but he's also treating us like mushrooms.

#290 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:50 PM:

albatross @ #285: I saw several people mention to Clark that they found "anchor baby" offensive. I saw no attacks on him for its use. There was a good deal more objection expressed about his insistence upon his right to define and redefine his terms as the discussion went on, and, finally, a couple of complaints that his remarks were getting difficult to understand. Be that as it may, no one shut him up. You and I have both seen that happen in this forum, and I'm sure you'll agree that didn't happen to Clark. His choice to bow out of the discussion was his.

I don't believe your example is a good comparison. "Suicide bombers" and "insurgents" are commonly used terms, and while perhaps not popular or commonly used in partisan Conservative political environments, their meanings are clear and understood by all. The use of a partisan buzz term like "anchor babies" here might be equivalent to using "valiant martyrs" for suicide bombers and "freedom fighters" for insurgents. Were I to use terms like that in such an environment, I'd expect to be attacked. Then imagine if I were to insist, after I used them, that I meant "valiant martyrs" only to apply to suicide bombers whose intended targets were Soviet soldiers in Eighties Afghanistan or Iranian sympathizers in Eighties Iraq, and "freedom fighters" referred only to Shiite insurgents who foughts against Syrian Sunnis. I'd be foolish not to expect thorough ridicule from the regulars. However, I'd have been initially foolish to have gone there for a meaningful discussion about such topics. I believe this is a good place for most discussions, but anyone who wants that is working against purpose if they start out with Repugnickese buzz words. (And, BTW, Clark's new definition of "buzzword" pretty well sealed his unwillingness to have a serious discussion.)

#291 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 10:13 PM:

Xopher @ #286:

. . . logomachy . . . .
Definitely a Saturday night word!

#292 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 10:24 PM:

Randolph, I'm curious as to what exactly it would take for you to feel that you know who Obama is. You have his position statements, legislative record, and biography -- isn't that what we know about all the candidates?

It's a fair point that we can't be sure what kind of president a person will be until they perform in the office, but again, surely that's true of all the candidates.

Which "major, real" issues has Obama not talked about?

#293 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 11:04 PM:

Jen, I listed some of my concerns at #245. To reiterate, "Krugman is estimating the collapse of the housing market will take six years. I think it's likely the world is going to abandon the dollar as a reserve currency. There are probably going to be more climate-related disasters. The Iraqi war, of course, is an on-going emergency. There may be more successful major acts of terrorism, ecological disaster, plague." There are real and major issues, yet there are only vague comments in his "Blueprint for Change"--a document which btw does not even contain the word "ecology". Faugh! I wonder if he even knows how specific a real blueprint is? I think he figures, correctly, this his chances of being elected are much better if he doesn't bring up these divisive and difficult issues. But it also means that we are going to find out what he will do as he faces those issues. So the answer is, he'd have to up-front on these and other difficult issues and I don't think it the least likely.

Now, I don't think the problems here are, in some sense, Obama's "fault". He certainly didn't screw up the electoral system, set up the current media environment, or tear the US political consensus to shreds. He's making the safe moves that will probably win him the election. And this is why all my posts have focused on the systemic issues here. But the same systemic problems make it very difficult for any candidate to take substantive stands on major issues. And, frankly, Obama's manner and policy statements sound my "salesman" alarms. OK, we know he's a good salesman--but what's the product?

#294 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 08:26 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 32: "...I think cynicism exacts far greater a toll than it ever, ever, ever returns to the huge majority of those who travel with it."

Cynicism is salt. It works best as leavening, not as a meal.

miriam beetle @ 201: You're one of my favorite people, you know.

Randolph Fritz: I don't see the slavish allegiance to Obama that you're worried about. I see a great deal of people (including myself) who are awestruck to hear a national politician lending his (powerful) voice to our causes. I see a lot of people who think that he's for real, a genuine agent for change. I see people who've burnt out on politics getting engaged again, and people who've never been engaged getting hooked. I think there's a real chance that Obama can affect a sea change in America's politics. That's what his rhetoric is designed to do: to create a new consensus, a new center.* It's a big dream, but worth working towards.

That said, my allegiance is not unconditional, and neither, I think, is most people's. He is my candidate only insofar as he reflects my values, and when he fails to do so, be sure that I will let him know. When he cozies up to the homophobic wing of the black church, I criticize him. When he attacks universal health care from the right, I don't cut him any slack. If he gets into power and doesn't do what we elected him to do, very few liberals will defend him, I think. However excited we get, we're still the reality-based community, and he will be judged by his actions.

*The left needs good rhetoric--we've always had great ideas, but we've always sucked at selling them. Obama has that rare talent of making solid, liberal ideas sound like common sense. Why is that a bad thing?

#295 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 11:13 AM:

Xopher @286: Fair enough, that's what I've done in those situations in the past. I dislike this pattern of the way an argument can go, which I've seen a lot of times. But maybe I'm oversensitized to it at this point.

Randolph #288: Well, at one point, I held the position that immigration should pretty much be open to anyone not a known criminal, terrorist, or carrier of a serious contagious disease. So maybe I'm responding to myself a few years ago, though I saw a couple comments above wondering how it would work if everyone could live wherever they wanted.

I'm pretty unhappy with the direction I've seen the debate go nationally, because the consensus among the powerful of both parties seems to be to keep the existing system, in which we let millions of people come and live and work here, but don't recognize them as legitimately being here--which means that any property they buy, businesses they run, schooling they are involved in, etc., is kind of in limbo. At the same time, this means that a lot of low-education jobs have become almost entirely dominated by immigrants--in Maryland and in North Carolina, it seems like all bottom tier service jobs, all landscaping/yard work, most low-skill house maintenance, and most construction is done by Salvadorans who got here in the last few years. And we see plenty of cosmetic "get tough" measures proposed that make things worse, not better.

I wish we could have some kind of sensible immigration policy. I'm not sure what that would be, exactly, but I'm sure it wouldn't leave millions of people here illegally, as a sort of legal underclass who don't have the normal rights of citizens. It wouldn't silently accept politically important industries being pretty much dependent on this huge pool of people who weren't legally even supposed to be here. It would probably take into account that importing competition for the people at the bottom in terms of ability and skills is pretty hard on those people, and that people who aren't cut out for anything more intellectually demanding than construction work are just as important as people bound for college.

I don't expect this to be addressed sensibly. The people most directly affected by this stuff mostly don't vote--certainly, illegal immigrants don't, and people at the bottom in terms of education, income, skills, and intelligence mostly don't vote either. There are big industries with a lot of money who can make sure they keep getting cheap labor, and there are large groups of social conservatives who can mostly be bought off with "get tough" programs that spend money and destroy some lives, but don't really change anything important. Where else is reform going to come from?

#296 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 11:18 AM:

Re formaldehyde in those trailers: one of the national news programs (either ABC or NBC) ran a piece on it last week, complete with interviews of people who might have to leave their post-Katrina "homes". I think there was also a mention that the noxious trailers hadn't actually been recalled, and might be used for victims of the latest bout of floods and hurricanes.

#297 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 11:36 AM:

#295

We'd also need to accept that not everyone is able to go to college, and a lot of jobs don't actually require a college education. It might require that companies find out the real requirements for the jobs they have, instead of simply counting pieces of paper and letters after names.

(There's a big industry right there: advanced education.)

#298 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 11:41 AM:

albatross 295: Fair enough, that's what I've done in those situations in the past. I dislike this pattern of the way an argument can go, which I've seen a lot of times. But maybe I'm oversensitized to it at this point.

Indeed you have, so do I, and yeah, me too, actually.

#299 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Randolph Fritz @#289:

But who is Obama? I don't think we're going to know until he's in office.

Obama's been in office for a while, both at the state and national level, and you can browse his record in various places.

You can see his stance on climate change here, and his take on the devaluing of our currency here, including how it affects foreign policy. He's been vocal about withdrawal from Iraq. I don't think he's been unclear about the issues. He may be wrong about some of them, but that's a different matter.

#300 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Heresiarch, #294: "I see a great deal of people (including myself) who are awestruck to hear a national politician lending his (powerful) voice to our causes." What exactly has he promised? And what has he promised that Hilary Clinton (or any of the Democratic field) has not also promised?

#301 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Today, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has endorsed Obama.

#302 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 06:10 PM:

albatross @295: [..] I saw a couple comments above wondering how it would work if everyone could live wherever they wanted.

It has struck me that in the modern market money can travel the world freely, but the ability of people to move is much more limited.

It would seem that if the playing field were level in the competition between companies and their workers, the workers should have the same freedom of movement.

#303 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 07:28 PM:

The Houston Chronicle endorsed Obama, too.

#304 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 10:31 PM:

albatross @ 295: The simple problem with universal citizenship, and the reason it will never be a reality (not any time soon, anyway), is that the current global economic system is dependent on an unenfranchised*, uneducated underclass. Such an underclass is almost impossible to maintain without setting the underclass apart some way--racially, religiously, culturally, or (most important in terms of immigration,) geographically. There has to be a mechanism that allows the privileged to believe their privilege just, or to not know that it exists. As discrimination on racial and cultural grounds becomes less and less acceptable, geographical separation becomes increasingly important as a way of maintaining economic disparity.

If people could move where they wished, and be treated like a citizen, why wouldn't everyone just move to Switzerland? The only way to have that kind of open borders and not see a huge shift in population from poor countries to rich countries is to eliminate the huge gap in wealth between them.

* saying dis- would imply they'd been enfranchised as some point.

#305 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Randolph Fritz @ 300: Obama has the unique privilege of being the only candidate who has been against the war in Iraq since the very beginning. He was against it when it wasn't popular to be so. Compare this to Clinton, who has made suggestive noises about striking Iran.

But on general note, why do I have to prove that he's substantially better than everyone else on policy matters in order for you to forgive for being a persuasive speaker? If every one of his policies is similar to Clinton's, as you seem to suggest, why wouldn't his persuasive abilities tip the balance in his favor? Given that the policies he advocates are good policies, why isn't it a plus that he can advocate for them effectively?

I understand fears of a charismatic leader who makes bad policies sound good. But I haven't seen any evidence that such fears are warranted in Obama's case. Let me turn your question around: what evidence do you have that Obama's going to abuse his popularity? When has he ever shown any penchant for increasing or abusing governmental power?

#306 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 12:36 AM:

heresiarch,

oh, wow. *blush*

thanks. it's nice to see you around again.

#307 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:16 AM:

Randolph, #289: Okay, let's cut to the chase here. Why are you assuming that Obama is going to go off the deep end? And don't say you're not; that theme has infused the last half-dozen or so of your posts -- especially since every time someone brings up hard data on Obama, you brush it off and go on to repeat your original assertion. Why is it that anyone with speaking ability has to be the threat of a Robespierre in disguise?

Isn't it more reasonable to think, based on his observed patterns of behavior and his past record, that he's a sane person who knows better than to surround himself with sycophants? You sound like my parents freaking out over the possibility that any squirrel I threw a peanut to OMG MIGHT BE RABID!!!111!!1!!

I can understand having reservations about Obama; I have a few myself. But it would be easier to address yours if they were based on something more substantial than a vague feeling of alarm.

#308 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 02:11 AM:

miriam beetle @ 306: It's nice to be back!

#309 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 04:22 AM:

Mary, #299: Obama's climate change position is one paragraph and is very thing--Al Gore wrote a pretty good book on it over 15 years ago. And it's not nearly enough--scientists are saying we need a crash program now; James Lovelock (of the Gaia hypothesis) has basically given up hope. Obama's remarks on international trade were very general (the video is from last November) and slightly unhappily libertarian. On the other hand, he sounded good on foreign policy; I've been saying for a while that I thought he might be.

#310 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 04:45 AM:

Lee, #307: it's not so much that I think he'll go off the deep end as that I think he will be very heavily stressed. It seems likely that the next president seems likely to see more peacetime emergencies than any previous president. The relatively minor things Obama has dealt with so far are not on the same level, and I wonder if he has any sense of what he will be facing. I wonder if any of the three candidates still standing do.

In any event, it is far too late at night, I have spent Too Much Time on these, and Rhino has eaten my brain. Perhaps to be continued.

#311 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 05:08 AM:

Randolph, if you only read one document which gives a broad overview of his positions, and ignore the documents on his web site that specifically address climate change, then of course Obama's position might seem a bit "thin". But that's more a sign that you aren't trying very hard to find out what he stands for, than a sign that he doesn't stand for much.

#312 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 05:34 AM:

Steve, #311: That was uncalled for. And wrong--I've followed this issue for over a decade & have followed the environmental positions of all the candidates since the campaign began. I've also dug through the entire 60+ page "Blueprint". And, since you dinged me, I went & googled for "climate" on his web site looking for more. Unh-unh, folks. Look, I know you want to believe. So do I. But it's just not there.

#313 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 09:47 AM:

Randolph, your problem seems to be with the use of the term blueprint, as it sets certain expectations for the informed reader about the subsequent content. This belief that words should be used, read and interpreted in their most precise meaning by the general population is not a rational expectation (a peculiar irrationality to which this crowd is quite susceptible). Arguably the word blueprint has been co-opted in the larger population as a fancier synonym for it's vague relative: plan.

Try substituting the word plan for blueprint on all the political material you see and I'll bet any lack of detail suddenly becomes more palatable (from a content expectation perspective I mean).

#314 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 10:14 AM:

Randolph Fritz @#309: Now it seems that you're saying you don't like his positions, or he has the wrong positions, or he doesn't have enough dedication to the issues you care about. That's not the same as saying that he has no positions or that his positions aren't discoverable.

Here's a speech on his website about climate change. You can find more stuff by googling "Obama on climate change" or "Obama on ____________" for whatever issue you're interested in.

Yes, Al Gore has been tireless in his work for the environment. Perhaps, had he had greater charisma, he might have won the presidency.

#315 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Dunno if charisma would have necessarily had all that much effect on the Supremes, mind.

#316 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:12 AM:

Lance, #313: my reaction to Obama's not-blueprint on the environment is that it's unusually evasive and reactive, even for a political campaign document; my impression is the environmentalism is simply not where his heart is. Which (I am reading the tea leaves like everyone else) concerns me.

Mary, #309: thing is, he's got so many progressives persuaded he's on our side and--except in issues of constitutional law and perhaps not even on freedom of religion--I don't see it. It looks like he's taking a default position on the environment and climate change; the minimum possible so that he can have a position for people who care a little about these things. (People who care a lot sound like me.) This is apparently also to some extent true on health care. John Edwards seems to have embarrassed both Clinton and Obama into taking stronger positions, Obama's slightly to the right of Clinton, as usual.

If he restores constitutional protections as president, I would be pleased. But--and here I return to looking at "We the people", who are my main focus in what I've been writing here--we're busy responding to internal issues. Important issues, yes. Obama is running a successful campaign focusing on these. But the world is not waiting for us to get to get our heads back together.

#317 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:24 AM:

(All documents are PDFs)

Barack Obama's Energy Plan and Environment Plan.

For purposes of comparison, Hillary Clinton's Plan to Address the Climate Crisis.

#318 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:35 AM:

Adrian Smith @#315: Very true. But it might have given him enough of a national lead to win in spite of them.

Randolph Fritz @#309: Oh, I don't think he's a progressive, and I'm not saying he's an environmental crusader. But he's always been against the war in Iraq, and he's been a good legislator here in Illinois, working very hard to lessen the abuses of the criminal justice system.

I'll be happy to vote for Obama or for Hillary in the national election...he got my vote on super Tuesday because (1) Hillary let Bill step way too far into the public eye, in my opinion, which made me question her judgement (2) I think he has the charisma to beat the republicans (3) I think having a black president could change our entire culture for the better. I hope, anyway.

I understand you not thinking he's strong enough on the issues you care most about. But that doesn't make him a wolf in sheep's clothing.

#319 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:07 PM:

Randolph, as Jen pointed out, his positions on climate change are in PDF's on energy and the environment, and so a Google search isn't adequate. If you'd gone to his web site, looked at issues, and poked around a bit, you would have found them. I stand by my statement that you ignored the documents on his web site and didn't try very hard to find them, and add the observation that you couldn't even be bothered to read up one post and check to see how my name is spelled.

#320 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:49 PM:

Randolph, #316: If we don't get our house back in order, addressing the larger issues will become even more impossible. Yes, whoever we elect will have to work on both internal and external problems simultaneously -- but when has that ever not been the case? WWII didn't hold while we dug ourselves out of the Depression. I don't see this as a reason to be any less confident in Obama than in any other candidate, and I do see Obama as being more likely to work on undoing the bad shit from the Bush regime than anyone else still running. His documented past record of putting controls on unregulated authority supports my position.

I think you may be succumbing to the fallacy that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Obama's not a good enough candidate for you, but who's better on the issues you care about, among the candidates left in the race? Perhaps more importantly, who's more likely to put people who are well-qualified on issues you care about in positions where they can do something meaningful?

#321 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:59 PM:

Mary Dell, #318: I agree with you with two caveats: one is that I really, really, really don't like being treated like a mushroom ("keep you in the dark & feed you bullshit"). It surprises me that more people don't object. The other is that these are not my issues--they are our issues, whether or not we are aware of them. You say they aren't important to many other people? Well, yes, I agree with you. Part of the job of political leaders is to find out what matters and focus attention on what matters, and this Obama is avoiding.

I've reviewed the documents on environmental and energy policy that have been linked and seen little new in them. Obama, senator from a coal-producing and corn-growing state is pro-coal and pro-biofuels. These are very good politics and very bad environmental policy and would wipe out any gains of his positive environmental proposals. The documents also give much more ink to automobiles than public transit; again not surprising for a mid-western senator, but again also problematic environmentally. The other thing to remember, I say again, is that it is time for major actions on this, not little steps, and there's none of those proposed in the linked documents. If the public is ready for change, if Obama is the candidate for change, I say, change this.

Links: Worldchanging on biofuels. Grist's Amanda Griscom Little on Obama for coal. Marc Gunther on Obama and coal.

#322 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 02:13 PM:

Lee, #316: I partly agree. "Bark, bark" says the yellow dog; I'll support whoever the Democrats come up with unless they're a complete moonbat. But I'm trying to hold up a mirror to the US mass consciousness. I think there's a real risk of us electing "the candidate of change", who is actually very conservative (which Obama and Clinton are, really) and then reacting with panic and shock when the storm arrives. We need to be acting on the environment, the economy, and foreign policy now, not after the 2012 elections, and, except in foreign policy, I don't see it.

One of the things I keep coming back to in my political writing is the need for better electoral processes and mass communications. Broadly, we need to focus attention on the real issues of importance, do a better job of selecting candidates, and do a better job of counting votes. All the hopes of change in the world will count for nothing if we don't do these things.

#323 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Randolph, so you've gone from saying "Obama's climate change position is one paragraph and is very thin" (exact quote) to "...and it contains a whole bunch of things I don't like" (paraphrase). I call shenanigans.

(I even agree that some of Obama's energy positions are rotten. But you aren't being consistent in your criticisms, so I find it impossible to take you seriously.)

#324 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Steve desjardins: I don't know that you are being fair to Randolph. A case can be made that he didn't find anything much, and so criticised what he saw (one, thin, paragraph), then he followed to the rest, and saw it as differently; which he then critiqued for content.

There are some other problems I have with his postions, but others are addressing them so I don't want to seem to be piling on.

#325 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Lee@320: WWII didn't hold while we dug ourselves out of the Depression.

WWII was pretty much *how* you dug yourselves out of the Depression, the way I heard it.

#326 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 05:35 PM:

And it did take over two years for the USA to become fully engaged after the start of WWII in September 1939, though FDR was using lend-lease and suchlike (Casablanca included) to support anti-German forces.

After the end of the war, Britain did pay those lend-lease debts, though it took a long difficult struggle.

#327 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 06:41 PM:

Steven, repeating a minimum on climate and energy--there really isn't much there--, with a some huge sops to supporters, is a very thin policy proposal--the document has a few more pages, that's all. Where is this "change" I keep hearing about?

Thanks, Terry.

Epacris, seems to me that the war in Asia started in 1932.

#328 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 07:14 PM:

Randolph Fritz @#321: I didn't say they were "your issues" I said they're the issues "you care most about."

You say they aren't important to many other people?

Please show me where I said that.

#329 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 08:32 PM:

For those who might be interested: xkcd blog post on Obama.

A telling point, to me at least: when looking for advice on formulating a tech policy, Obama went not to Washington "experts" (aka lobbyists), but to the people down in the trenches. There is no reason not to believe that he won't do the same thing on other issues.

Oh, and an aphorism which as far as I know is original with me, and which seems extremely apt in the current discussion: "Excess government is like excess weight. You don't get it overnight, and you don't get rid of it that way either." I'm going to vote for the one candidate who at least seems to be moving in the right direction.

#330 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 09:28 PM:

Lee, #329: that does seem to be something Obama cares about; I will venture a guess that he takes free and open debate very seriously--it's something that he personally does, after all.

Mary Dell, #328: fair enough. The point remains: it's hard to imagine an issue more important than the literal fate of the earth.

#331 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Adrian: No, We were on the way up when WW2 started, and by the time we took an active part we were basically out of the Depression.

The war did change a lot of how we did things (shifted a lot of population around, made the business of supplying the feds [through the miliary] big part of the economy, gave us an educated middle class, etc.) but it wasn't the end of the Depression.

#332 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 12:59 AM:

I think one of the reasons Obama seems a little hollow is that, unlike most politicians, his focus isn't in advocating specific policies. Rather, he's interested in creating a space from which the best policy can emerge. His interest is structural--he wants to create a system that creates good results on its own.

In some ways, this is the most radically liberal position there is. "I do not believe that I have the answers to every one of your problems. I believe that all of you, together, do." I talk sometimes about faux-liberals--people who espouse liberal positions, but with an unyielding, frothing-at-the-mouth fanaticism. Obama is the opposite of that. He's smart enough to know what he doesn't know, and to understand that the best solutions are those the people come up with for themselves. He looks hollow because he is leaving space for us.

So, what's my evidence for this? A lot of the legislation he's worked on reflects this principle. The already-discussed interrogation-taping legislation he did in the state senate is a good example. It wasn't about exonerating one wrongfully-accused person, it was about modifying the system itself to produce better results. In the US Senate, he's pursued campaign finance reform and cracked down on gift-giving and other forms of corruption. (It's worth noting that he's been practicing what he preaches--his campaign is run on a small-donor model, unlike Hillary's corporate backing.) He has championed unprecedented levels of governmental transparency. I think this theme also comes out in his rhetoric, too--he speaks of empowerment, of people being enabled to make important decisions for themselves, rather than being told what's best.

The change that Obama advocates isn't simply a change in policies. It is a change in the way democracy functions in our country. In the US he envisions, the policies will be changed as a matter of course, because the power of those who advocated for ignoring the plight of the poor, the collapse of the environment, the corporate domination of the world, will be broken.

(If this is as incoherent as I fear it is, please forgive. I'm a bit sick.)

#333 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 01:29 AM:

Adrian: No, We were on the way up when WW2 started,

Slowly. There was a recession in '37-'38. Apparently Jimmy Carter bought five houses around Plains around then, quite something for a thirteen-year-old. The war (and the passive phase before it) *really* accelerated the recovery. Of course, if there's a good online demonstration of how the US was the picture of rude economic health by '39 I'm probably going the right way about getting someone to post a link to it. Wouldn't be wanting people to think there was some debt of economic gratitude owed to ol' Adolf, after all.

#334 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 01:42 AM:

@332: In the US he envisions, the policies will be changed as a matter of course, because the power of those who advocated for ignoring the plight of the poor, the collapse of the environment, the corporate domination of the world, will be broken.

Lordy, that'd be inspiring if he could pull it off. Can't help worrying that someone'd find a way to put a bullet in him if he showed signs of initiating serious progress towards it, though

#335 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 03:25 AM:

Adrian Smith @ 334

Can't help worrying that someone'd find a way to put a bullet in him if he showed signs of initiating serious progress towards it, though

As president, he'd be at very high risk of that in any case. A black president is going to the target of every aryan skinhead or southern revanchist (yeah, there are still some left) with a rifle and a yen for martyrdom.

#336 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 03:41 AM:

Yeah, the freelance kooks are a given, but it's the patient, professional types discommoded corporations could afford who'd worry me more.

#337 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 05:30 AM:

#331 ::: Terry Karney:

I'd wondered how war (especially without significant loot) could make a country richer, and the idea that war is how to get out of a depression hasn't been good for America.

#338 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 05:55 AM:

Heresiarch, #332: that's really interesting (& it's the first time someone has seriously answered me on this.) I hope you are right, & not seeing the best of your own ideas in the man.

#339 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 08:55 AM:

Randolph @338
You've expressed a lot of my own misgivings.

#340 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 10:20 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz: War can make a country better off... so long as they aren't paying for it (see Switzerland, in the 15th-16th centuries).

What happens in the US (and no, we weren't going gangbusters by '39, but the worst of it was well past. It can be argued that the loss of Europe as a market slowed the shift from recovering, to recovered) is that the war made some sudden calls on production, and that was a spur to sudden restarting of production capacity which was lying idle.

We had a lot of people who were able to work, but not working. Come the war, we put large chunks of the economy on 24 hour footing. We sent the men off (12 million, or so) to the army, and put women into the factories.

We also had some forced frugality, pushed for War Bonds and gave lots of people; who had otherwise been agrarian urban jobs.

After the war, they didn't go back to the farm. The GIs had the chance to go to college. Folks had a lot of saved money to spend.

Add that Europe was impoverished, in a big way, and spending a lot of money on putting things back together (which we didn't have to do) and the balance of trade favored the US (look at the rationing Helene Hanff describes in 84 Charing Cross Road).

So we were in a good place to collect on debts (and we were still collecting on debts from WW1. Finland, with whom we were techically at war, paid off her WW1 debt during WW2, I forget which country it was which paid off the last of its WW1 sometime in the recent past), build up goodwill and play bully-boy to get what we wanted in the political arena.

That's all changed, but a lot of folks don't seem to realise it.

And a lot of the things which made the '50s possible (and lasted to the mid-'60s) have passed. We have a huge wealth gap, a shrinking middle class, impoverished production sector, massive debt and not much in the way of goodwill.

The folks in charge seem not to have noticed this.

#341 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 03:41 PM:

Terry Karney @ 340

The folks in charge seem not to have noticed this.

My theory is that they've noticed the wealth gap, because that was their objective going into power: to make their wealth greater relative to everyone else's. All the other consequences you mentioned are acceptable collateral damage in their view.

#342 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 04:02 PM:

Xopher @ 210: Lee 208: Yeah! Like that! That's pretty much what I was trying for, except that the nativist position is more complex (though no less repugnant) than simple racism. It certainly INCLUDES racism, but they don't want "white" Eastern Europeans, either.

"Okay, we'll take the [n-word]'s and the [Chinese]. But we DON'T WANT THE IRISH!" -- Mel Brooks et. al., Blazing Saddles
(bowdlerized)

Terry Karney @ 212: People who don't subscribe to those ideas are less than complete people, and so need to be kept away, lest they dilute the real people of the world (by outnumbering them, inter-breeding, or contaminating with foreign ideas).

The Wogs start at Ellis Island.

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 218: There was a time in the US where Italians (and Irish, and various others) were "races" by this definition, and indeed at that time you'd often hear talk of the "Irish race".

"But we DON'T WANT THE IRISH!"

(See also Gangs of New York.)

Mycroft W @ 257: I had believed it was almost impossible for that to occur in the current North American media, with it being so much easier to put a negative in a 90-second spot than a positive. Realize that had Lincoln given the Gettysburg Address today, it would have been excerpted, because it is too long for a news spot.

As someone who did TV news for five years, I just wanted to chime in that this was absolutely true 23 years ago; I shudder to think what's considered an adequate story length in these times.

Mary Dell @ 314: Yes, Al Gore has been tireless in his work for the environment. Perhaps, had he had greater charisma, he might have won the presidency.

Mary, you should mount this and hang it on your wall.

#343 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 09:52 PM:

Mayakda, #339: thank you.

Oh, and Heresiarch, #332: also, thank you.

#344 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 11:05 PM:

Dropping way back to the "messiah" thing, which elise @ #17 claimed was only being done by his detractors - can anyone figure out whether "Is Obama the Messiah?" is serious or a parody? I can't quite believe it's for real, but if it is, that pretty much disproves elise's claim.

Whichever it is, it gives me the heebie-jeebies, right up there with

#345 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 11:06 PM:

ooops.

...right up there with Donna Brazile's bit about already knowing he can walk on water.

#346 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2008, 12:45 AM:

Bruce (StM): I was using a broader term for "people in charge" than just the folks in the White House, or even the top dogs in the RP. There are a lot of lower cogs, who (I like to believe) just haven't thought through what the policies are doing.

#347 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2008, 02:38 AM:

Randolph Fritz @ 338: "I hope you are right, & not seeing the best of your own ideas in the man."

Me too!

I'd like to hope that these expectations of Obama will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If his constituency expects this of him, he (being a politician who's power actually rests on popular support) will be forced to do it. We'll see, I guess.

Terry Karney @ 346: "There are a lot of lower cogs, who (I like to believe) just haven't thought through what the policies are doing."

I disagree--I think the economic shift in the United States has been driven by people who firmly believe that there's only so much to go around, and are committed to get as much of it as they can for themselves. That it is at the expense of others is justified as Just The Way It Is: "If I weren't taking it from them, they'd just be taking it from me." They are utterly dedicated to preserving and increasing inequality. I don't think the lower cogs don't understand what the policies do. They just think it's fair.

(Requsite suggestion for further reading: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.)

#348 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2008, 09:30 AM:

Susan @344: AfaIct, it is a parody site but all the quotes used are legit -- actual quotes from Obama or his supporters.
I think some of the photos are photoshopped to add those light effects, although the topmost photo (the one with Soros) appears untouched, compared with the original.
There's a discussion link on it which is interesting.

#349 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2008, 09:39 AM:

And maybe Reuters photoshops in the same way?

#350 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 08:07 AM:

David Horsey, cartoonist, on the matter.

#351 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 11:39 PM:

Two brief final notes on this:

1. Heresiarch, #347. "Now make me do it..." I hope so, too. I have a great many further thoughts on this matter, but I don't think I'll post them here.

2. Susan, #344: I take that site to be holding up a mirror to the social consciousness. BTW, I'm not sure any of the photos are heavily manipulated; those are things you can get with lighting and skillful posing.

#352 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2008, 11:18 AM:

Avrim @ 264 You live in a better world than I do.

I don't mean that charisma can't help sell good ideas - it does. But it does equally well helping to sell bad ideas. When something is presented charismatically, all it tells you is that someone who is good with charisma is the one doing the selling.

So, when charisma is being used to sell an idea, you have to go digging past all that charisma to get to the idea itself, and judge if it is good or bad.

But people often don't do that work, or they tend to look more sympathetically at an idea sold with charisma than one sold on its own.

And having to dig through the charisma to sort out the idea can be annoying, and a lot of work, particularly if the person presenting the idea is relying on the charisma, and not bothering to explain the idea itself.

I find myself resenting the charismatic speaker for making me have to do the work needed to get past the charisma and compare the idea neutrally with competing, but non-charismatically presented, ideas.

(This is made much worse, of course, by the sound-bite focused press focusing on the most charismatic bits, rather than the most technical and fact-filled bits.)

(I'm favoring Hillary, for now, because her health care plan is universal. I like Obama saying we should get out of Iraq immediately, we need to, but I haven't heard him say much on what we should do instead. The only thing I can think of that might work would be to go on bended knee to the South Africans, and ask them for help setting up some type of truth/reconciliation process, since it's the only thing I know of that has managed to halfway-successfully transition peacefully and democratically out of a system of deep ethnic prejudice.)

#353 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2008, 05:48 PM:

Mayakda, Randolph, well said.

#354 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2008, 01:30 PM:

Rob @ 302:It has struck me that in the modern market money can travel the world freely, but the ability of people to move is much more limited.

It would seem that if the playing field were level in the competition between companies and their workers, the workers should have the same freedom of movement.

I'd settle for the companies not being shocked! SHOCKED, I tell you! when the workers feel their money should have the same freedom that the companies' does.

I love the "Grey Market". "It's a legitimate purchase, we offered it for sale at that price, but we don't want you to buy it at that price, so we'll petition to have it declared illegal. Never mind that that's exactly what we do when paying to have it made..."

#355 ::: TexAnne sees a brat ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Same song, different handle. Sheesh.

#356 ::: Cadbury Moose detects linkspam ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 05:32 AM:

#357 needs the application of a .357

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.