hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Monday, August 12, 2002
the iraqi masses and other people we haven't heard from

suppose we took out saddam with a cruise missile. what would happen?
best case scenario: iraqi's dancing in the streets ala Romanians after Ceauchescu(sp?)
worst case scenario: A) a civil war between those who are loyal to Saddam (eg. Republican guards, people from Saddam's home village/province) and those who aren't B) civil war between the various ethnic and provincial subroups: kurds, arabs, persians, shias, sunnis, christians and other religious minorities, north versus south, urban versus rural, etc.

one might think that after Saddam had led them to needless wars against, Iran, Kuwait and the US, meant only for Saddam's greater glory with no regard for the lives or well-being of his people, the Iraqis would be fed up with the man, but remember that we killed between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis in the Gulf War. While Saddam could have avoided that by pulling out of Kuwait, and so he does bear ultimate responsibility, you can't reasonably expect the Iraqis to have warm and fuzzy feelings toward the US.

What this means is that the leader who follows Saddam is vital. He must not be seen to be a pawn America, because offhand I would say that the average non-Kurdish Iraqi hates America (I could be wrong). He must have street cred with the Iraqi people, yet must be an improvement over Saddam from the point of view of America and the world.

where can we find such a person? Who is Iraq's Hamid Karzai? More broadly, who are examples of living Iraqi heroes, who are revered and respected by non-Kurdish Iraqis, and who would endorse the new regime that is created after Saddam is toppled?

Changing the subject, where the *#$%! is Bill Bradley? Perhaps he's not raising money, and says he probably won't run in 2004, but why has he competely disappeared as a public figure, let alone a potential presidential candidate? What does *he* think of the war on terrorism, potential war with Iraq, and the return of deficits? Even as a Presidential candiate, he got 48% in NH and a consistent 20-25% everywhere else, which ain't hay in the context of a multi-candidate primary.

I would rate Bradley as a second tier candidate, behind first tier candidates Gore and Kerry, alongside Gephardt, and ahead of third tier candidates Howard Dean, John Edwards, Bob Kerrey and Dianne Feinstein. As for Joe Lieberman, Tom Daschle, Joe Biden. . .fuhgeddaboutit! I'm tempted to say the same thing about John Edwards, except he does fill a unique niche in the primary landscape, and he does have some impressive people (Bruce Reed, Bob Shrum) behind him.

I find it mystifying why Feinstein doesn't get any buzz as a Presidential candidate. I'm not a big fan of hers, policy-wise (why, oh why did she vote for the Bush tax cut?), but the woman is a tough cookie, who comforted and united SF after the Milk/Moscone murders, has significant executive, legislative and private sector experience, and beat by a whisker in 1994 a free-spending and telegenic Michael Huffington, in a truly treacherous year for Democrats, in the teeth of a fierce Prop 187 campaign. Maybe she doesn't get attention because she's slightly older and dowdier than the Baby Boomer women the press corps usually fawn over.

changing the subject for the last time, why does Bob Shrum continue to say, again and again, "half of the Bush tax cut goes to the top 1%" when it is a hideously ineffective slogan? Isn't it much more persuasive to say "half of the Bush tax cut goes to people making more than 300 grand a year"? David Brooks pointed out somewhere the most interesting poll result of the 2000 election, that 20% of Americans believed they were in the top 1%, and another 20% believed they would be eventually be there someday. "The top 1%" is a phrase that should be banned from the Democratic lexicon, yet people who should know better keep on repeating it like trained seals.

It drives me crazy. How can the Democrat's top political cosultant, of all people, be so obtuse/incompetent when it come to crafting a soundbite? (Another phrase that should be banned is "unskilled labor", or "less-skilled labor" as in "It is true that globalization hurts unskilled and lesser skilled workers, but the solution is not closing our borders, it is new programs in job-training". Speaking for myself, making 50 sandwiches in a day is an intrinsically harder job, requiring more effort, than computer programming. )

the latest DLC-sponsored "New Democrat" buzzwords seem to be "opportunity, responsibility, security". The guiding idea seems to be"everyone who behaves responsibly should have real opportunities and an adequate level of security". Not bad, but I can hardly see enthusiastic campaign volunteers shouting
"Opportunity, Responsibility, Se-CURITY!", nor can I see voters rubbing their chins thoughtfully and saying to themselves: "Opportunity, reponsibility, security? Yeah, that makes sense. Awright, you got my vote this time" "Opportunity" in particular isn't a word people really use in conversation. It's a word that conjures up images of a big shot addressing the little people.

As an alternative, may I humbly suggest something like, oh I don't know. . .er. . ."middle class, common sense, golden rule"?

rough notes:

besides my (ongoing work) on the Democratic and Republican platforms (it's taking a long time because they are so damned boring, its tempting to ditch them and read normal political stuff). here is a list of people who've written articles about the Democratic party, what its doing wrong, and what it should be doing.

michael tomasky
ruy texeira & john judis
william saletan
robert borosage
joe conason
paul glastris
robert kuttner
TNR editors
mickey kaus
joshua micah marshall
micah sifry

Most of them are pretty good, but I believe the pick of the lot is written by Michael Tomasky, in the American Prospect.

Forget the obsession with the President's poll numbers! One of the most pathetic developments in the Democratic-leaning journals has been painfully hopeful spins of the President's poll numbers. (for example, the Presidents poll numbers have been dropping (from 91%!) at *4%* a month, rather than the more sedate *2%* of last year. And do not compare the current President's poll numbers to Bush I. The reason Bush I's numbers sank was 1) the government was almost insanely in deficit, and had been for the last ten years, leaving the administration unable to argue that the deficit problem was a short-term blip due to unforseen catastrophes 2) the economy was in the toilet. The number of private sector jobs actually *decreased* during the four years of the Bush administration. Median family income growth during the Reagan-Bush years was something like 4%. Homeownership rates had declined. A majority of Americans thought that the next generation would do worse than the previous one. Given the natural optimism of the American people, this is an astounding poll result, but the Age of Diminished Expectations had crept so slowly upon us that it was thought of as a curious quirk, not as a sign that something was seriously wrong. Bush II's approval numbers will *not* drop like Bush I's.

the main point is that Bush's approval ratings do not have to be low for the Democrats to do well. Voter's don't have to disapprove of Bush to vote Democratic, they just have to approve more of the Democrats than they do Bush (and Republicans in general) More to the point, they have to be persuaded that their and the country's lot will be better if the vote Democratic.

to an extent, populism, or resentment in general, runs against the American belief that you can and should be able to write the script to your own life, that your happiness does not depend on the actions of some big-shot executive or government bureaucrat somewhere, it depends on your own actions.

thoughts on political salesmanship/buzzwords:

the Feynman formulation for social decison making:

first part is a scientific/factual question: If I do this, what will happen?
second part is a philosophical/religious qestion: Do I want this to happen?

how will this policy improve the lives of Americans?
how can I make the case that this policy will improve the lives of Americans?
how can I make the case that America will be better off with the Democrats in charge?

choices/ consequences / values
you have to thinkg up the various choices that face the American people, evaluate the consequences of each choice, argue that your judgment is the correct one, use your values to evaluate the various outcomes, and then argue that your values are the correct ones.

you need *imagination* to think up the range of choices that lie before the American people
you need *judgment* to predict what will be the likely conseqences of the various choices
you need *values* to decide which of the possible outcomes are best, and thus which are the right choices for the American people to make.

boy, I seem to have buzzwords on my mind. In any case, here is my preferred list of buzzwords as it now stands:

policy platform for America: "middle class, common sense, golden rule"

preferred character attributes for (Democratic) cadidates: "clean, smart, tough, kind" That is, the ideal (Democratic) politician will be thought of by the voters as (morally) clean, smart, tough and kind.
BTW Republicans are welcome to these buzzwords too. . .if they adopt my preferred policies!

abilities needed to be a good policy maker: "imagination, judgement, values"

Al Gore was though of by the voters as smart, and was probably adequate in the toughness department, but he was not thought of as clean or kind. That is a real shame, because I believe that Gore is actually very clean and very kind (send derisive/abusive/hate mail to roublen@yahoo.com) If I have a problem with Gore, it is, funnily enough, in the smarts department. He seems to have some very wrong-headed notions, especially on how to campaign and how to persuade people, which greatly reduce his effectiveness as a politician