Politics: March 2007 Archives

This time it's about whose house is greener. Guess who wins? This thing has been circulating around blogs and through email, the latter of which is usually a good indication that something in it is inaccurate or misleading, but according to snopes.com it's pretty much on the level. The Texas Bush home is actually extremely energy-conserving, while Al Gore's house in Tennessee is extremely energy-consuming.

It actually doesn't surprise me that Bush's Texas residence is very energy-conserving. He strikes me as having tried several times (unsuccessfully in most of his attempts) to get his party more interested in environmental issues without adopting economically unfeasible plans like Kyoto or doing something that would trickle down as a burden on the average person the way price controls, additional taxes, or further regulations generally do. One might question whether his proposals would be good, but I think he genuinely wanted his energy pill to pass and then to succeed. He just couldn't get enough Republicans in Congress to go for it.

I've been trying to find somewhat favorable ways to think about what this means for Gore. Is it an inconsistency? It seems so. He has the resources to have a pretty energy-efficient house. Is he a hypocrite? Not necessarily. Hypocrisy requires understanding that your lifestyle doesn't accord with what you preach. Maybe he's just got some kind of intellectual disconnect. But I don't think that's the issue. I suspect he's got the same general view that I find common among those who allow government policies to count as The Solution to any problem that individuals, if they would just live a little more responsibly, could do something about collectively. Let some policy absolve your conscience. Don't worry therefore about how you live your life. As long as you support the right policies, you don't need to live your life in a responsible manner. So I think there's a way to make Gore's lifestyle consistent with his moral views, if his assumption is what I'm suggesting. The only problem is that it just makes the view so ridiculously implausible that it seems tantamount to coming up with a bad excuse for not living in a morally decent manner.

(I should note for the record that this is a standard way for some white liberals to appease their conscience on race issues. Support affirmative action, and then you don't have to worry if your daily actions are perpetuating racist narratives and social structures that harm people of less-advantaged groups. This is by far the most common complaint against liberals from the far left. I notice it regularly in the critical race literature. It can be true of conservatives as well, but the people I'm talking about are much more reluctant to concede that conservatives have any decent bone in their body, never mind a conscience, so they focus their criticism on liberals, who they're more optimistic about possibly changing their ways.)

There seems to be controversy among conservatives as to whether former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) is conservative enough on abortion for them to support his potential candidacy for president. The controversy isn't over whether some agreed-upon position is conservative enough, however. There doesn't seem to be much agreement on what the former senator's views even are.  DaveG at Race 4 2008 has an excellent presentation of what we can know from what the senator has said.

It turns out that he is pro-choice but moderately so. DaveG misdescribes the position as moderately pro-life, but that's inaccurate. The pro-life position is that abortion is generally wrong, with perhaps some very rare exceptions like rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother (on which I have some pointed thoughts here). The pro-choice view, on the other hand, considers abortion to be ok in a significant number of circumstances, even if it's thoroughly immoral in others. Thompson's view is like the view of former Governor Bill Weld of Massachusetts and former Senator George Allen of Virginia. He thinks first-trimester abortions are perfectly fine, and anything after that is wrong. He thus takes the view Roe v. Wade once took, one that the Supreme Court significantly expanded in later cases. I find it extremely hard to count that view as pro-life in the sense that the vast majority of pro-lifers consider themselves pro-life.

It's easy to be confused on this, since Thompson is a judicial conservative who thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided on the merits of the case. He probably doesn't think the Constitution guarantees a right to abortion at all. He has indicated that he would be happy to see the decision reversed and turned it over to the states. But that's not because he agrees with pro-lifers on the policy issue. The policy he would want states to take is to allow abortion in the first trimester. That is a pro-choice view, even if it's not as far along the pro-choice spectrum as, say, Rudy Giuliani's position. If it's not a view that he'd want to apply on the federal level, this will make pro-life voters feel a little better about him, and I'd like to verify that this is indeed his view on where abortion policy should be decided. It will not, however, be enough to count him as pro-life in every practical way that a president can be, since he may well think it's ok to use federal money to fund stem-cell research. He might think that issue can indeed be settled at the federal level, since it involves federal money.

So it's true that someone who is moderately pro-choice in the way that Thompson is would end up agreeing with pro-lifers on most abortion-related legislation that comes before the Senate, at least most legislation that came before the Senate in the days before embryonic stem-cell research (where Thompson will indeed disagree very strongly with someone who is fully pro-life, as Mitt Romney now is). It's possible that on most cases related to abortion Thompson would make pro-lifers pretty happy as a moderately pro-choice president. But he would not make pro-lifers as happy as Mitt Romney would. If he's going to take any votes away from leading candidates in this race, it's not likely to include many from Romney once it's clear where the two candidates stand. It's more likely that he'll take votes away from Rudy Giuliani, who is far less moderate in his pro-choice views, even if his judicial conservatism and "leave it for the states" view on abortion will at least give pro-lifers something to be happy about. But there's a clear hierarchy among these three candidates in terms of who is going to be more attractive to pro-life voters on the issue of abortion. Thompson is closer to what pro-life voters want than Giuliani is, but he's not as close as Romney is.

Two Mitt Romney Ideas

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Whatever else is true of Mitt Romney, I don't think anyone can complain that he's a status quo politician of no creativity. Not everyone is going to agree with everything he comes up with, and one important thing to remember is that you're hardly ever going to hear a perfected, complete idea from a politician running for office that wouldn't undergo serious revisions before it could become an actual policy. But both of the following ideas that Mitt Romney is promoting are at least intriguing and worth exploring.

First, he's interested in a key Republican theme of late, enforcing U.S. borders more fully. But one aspect of immigration law that troubles him is why we're so hard on non-citizens who come to the U.S. to study. Shouldn't we want to retain good students who learn at our universities? So he suggests allowing foreign students to remain in the U.S. upon graduation. I've known several people that this could have helped, and I'm certainly willing to consider what he might come up with on this.

Second, he wants to prevent labor unions from forcing someone to join them merely because they work for a certain employer. I have mixed feelings about labor unions. I don't want to deny the good that's come from labor unions, and I have to admit my current line of work as an adjunct faculty member in higher education is as clear a case of exploitation as can be. Anyone who knows anything about it generally admits that pretty readily. But I very much don't like the idea of forcing people to be members of unions as a condition of maintaining a job. In New York the unions don't have to do this. I can be part of the beneficiary group of a labor union among adjuncts at Syracuse University without having to pay union fees. But I know teachers in public school who are required to pay union fees as a condition of holding their job. That strikes me as immoral, particularly since some people are opposed to labor unions in principle. I don't know a lot about the laws on this issue, but given what I know about unions and what I'd like them to be like, I have to be attracted to this idea.

On March 9, Mitt Romney gave a speech to a Cuban American audience. The Miami Herald covered it the next day, mentioning nothing of any gaffes he might have made that would have insulted Cuban Americans. On March 19, ten days after the actual event, they ran a second column about Romney's speech, this time focusing in on his reappropriation of a phrase that Fidel Castro has long used, one that Hugo Chavez has recently adopted as well. The point of the second, much later writeup was to show Romney's insensitivity for using a Castro expression in a positive manner, which would insult most Cuban Americans. Consider their quotation of Romney:

''Hugo Chávez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase -- Patria o muerte, venceremos,'' Romney said. ``It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba.''

I've seen this around several places, including SmartChristian, without any acknowledgment of the contrary data. Romney's website has a copy of the speech, which says:

Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have stolen the phrase - 'Patria o muerte, venceremos.' This phrase should not be used by dictators, but by liberators.

What Romney used as a criticism of both Castro and Chavez's use of this phrase was reported as Romney's ignorance that Castro even uses the phrase, which no one knowing what the actual speech says could think. If the speech on Romney's site is correct, then this is a clear example of misreporting in a way that guarantees misinterpretation. I'm not sure how someone who had access to his speech could possibly bungle things as badly as that. Of course it's possible Romney pulled a John Kerry and posted an official version of the speech that didn't match up to what he'd said on the occasion (and the reporter has claimed as much). Without a recording, we can't know for sure. I'm not sure why the original report have included something about this, however, if he had really said what the second piece claims. I can't rule out a deliberate attempt to make Romney look insensitive toward a minority voting bloc that has been pretty good to Republicans in the past. But without audio of the event, which the Miami Herald isn't releasing, there's no way to be sure what he said.

For more, see the discussions at Captain's Quarters and Race 4 2008.

Obama and Slavery

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Some black Americans are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is not black or not black enough Stanley Crouch is a good example of someone holding such a view. The reasoning seems to me to be not so much that he's mixed race (which is compatible with being black) but more that he is not descended from West African slaves in the U.S. What that has to do with the concept of blackness in the U.S. is something I can't understand. Most Americans treat Barack Obama as black, and thus he is black by the operational concepts of race at work in this context. But it's certainly true that some components of what some black Americans see as crucial to their black identity are not part of his life at all (or at least not naturally; when he puts on a Southern black accent to speak at the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that doesn't count as normally speaking that way), and being descended from West African slaves in the U.S. is one of those elements.

But now it turns out that Obama's white mother is descended from white slaveowners. It's sort of ironically funny, but what serious import does this revelation have? It's worth thinking about what significance people might find in this. The same is true of every black American descended from white slaveowners who raped their slaves, which produced mixed race offpspring who were then labeled as black. That ancestry is fairly common among black Americans today. There is one difference in this case, though. Senator Obama's maternal ancestors who were the beneficiaries of white anti-black racism (whether intentional or not) are much closer in his line than is the case with those the eventual result of slave rape. In fact, the victims of white anti-black racism are not at all in his line, at least until him, since he of course is treated as black in a society that still manifests racism. But it is the latter fact that would make him black, not the former.

Perhaps justice issues related to ancestry from slaves that some black people will have and he won't (or won't as much). But that issue is a problem for those who think certain kinds of justice are due to all black people. Trying to get around that problem by defining those who would not benefit from such proposed measures aren't really black seems to me to be illegitimate.

But this does (technically) lay to rest the claim that Senator Obama's ancestry didn't have anything to do with American slavery. For some fun video, see this Racialicious post, which contains Debra Dickerson's appearance on The Colbert Report (defending the same position as Crouch) and then a Saturday Night Live parody of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton discussing how black Obama is.

I've said before that I think Mitt Romney is the best Republican candidate running for president in the 2008 election. He best represents the positions of the national party among those who I consider important enough candidates to have much chance. That doesn't mean I think he's the most likely to beat whoever the Democratic nominee might be, and it doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. Here is a case where I think he has said the wrong thing. He described Rudy Giuliani as being "pro-gay marriage". Some people have complained that Giuliani has never been in favor of gay marriage but has endorsed civil unions. I think this complaint is fair. That is Giuliani's position.

Evangelicals for Mitt is defending him on this matter, citing a Giuliani quote from 2004 that shows that he then opposed a ban on gay marriage. Given that the ban being proposed by the president in 2004 was a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, this is not support for gay marriage. Not thinking that the U.S. Constitution is the place for a ban on gay marriage does not amount to supporting gay marriage, as Senator Robert Byrd will remind you.

Now it may be that Giuliani doesn't care about the issue very much and won't pursue it vigorously the way Romney will. It may also be that he will support civil unions, and Romney will not. For that reason conservatives on this issue may well prefer Romney as president to Giuliani (other things being equal). But that doesn't mean it's fair to say that someone who opposed a particular attempt to ban gay marriage in a constitutional amendment counts as being in favor of gay marriage. That conclusion simply does not follow, and I think Governor Romney is indeed guilty of misrepresenting Mayor Giuliani's position on this issue. It's nowhere near as bad as Romney's own positions have been misrepresented, but it's something I think he and some of his defenders ought to be more careful about.

Kurdistan

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Andrew Jackson is criticizing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for referring to the border between Turkey and Kurdistan. Given one geographical and cultural entity that the name 'Kurdistan' refers to, he is right. Kurdistan is a region that is larger than the region within Iraq occupied by Kurdish people. Parts of it are in other countries, including most importantly a part that is in Turkey, and thus there could be no border between Turkey and that Kurdistan.

However, the term 'Kurdistan' is ambiguous, which Wikipedia's disambiguation page for the term demonstrates. One legitimate use of the term 'Kurdistan' is to refer to the province of Kurdistan in Iraq. One might argue that it would be politically inexpedient to refer to the border that way when talking to someone in Turkey, but she was speaking in the U.S. Congress about problems that in context very clearly had to do with Iraqi Kurdistan, not the larger Kurdish region. In context, then, what she said was not inaccurate and not an error. There is in fact a border between Turkey and the Kurdistan she was referring to, and anyone who knows the name of that semi-autonomous region in Iraq would have been able to register that she meant that Kurdistan rather than the larger, culturally-identified, non-political region that Andrew has in mind.

Update 3-3-07 10:54 pm: The State Department has issued a statement. Andrew describes it as follows: "Condi Rice backsteps and clarifies that northern Iraq is not Kurdistan, no matter what they want to call themselves." But what he links to sounds like the State Department is explaining what she meant and not taking it back. All it says is that she was referring to the region of Iraq that goes by that name. It's thus more akin to my defense of her statement than to an apology or retraction.

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