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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Friday, December 27, 2002
HVRWC watch: Drudge has the headline "TAXING: $314.9 million Powerball win turns into $111 million lump sum payout for W. Virginia man... " which makes it seem as if the tax bite is around 70%. If you read the article, however, the lump-sum payment is 171 million, which makes the bite around 35%. Now clearly, Drudge wants to make it seem like the government is taxing the rich at a 70% rate. Let's also stipulate that Drudge is not being deliberately dishonest. He really believes the government's cut is well over half of the man's winnings. The question is, who created the dishonest formulation "Taxing: 315 turns into 111 . . ." and then fed it to Drudge? Some hack at the Heritage foundation? the Cato Institute? the Club for Growth? Grover Norquist? the RNC? the WSJ editorial page?

Sid Blumenthal once tried to get one of Drudge's sources, and was not exactly successful, so we'll never quite know. And some will say that I'm being paranoid, that Drudge feeding his readers lies about Powerball taxes is not the result of deliberate manipulation, it's just a trivial mistake, not worth thinking about. I would argue the opposite: if Drudge and his minions feel the need to lie about Powerball taxes, what lies are they capable of telling about say, prescription drugs or the inheritance tax?

by, the way, HVRWC stands for "Half-Vast Right Wing Conspiracy".

Friday, December 13, 2002
I'm very leery about the campaign against Trent Lott. If the conservatives want to dump him, that's their business, but I don't think liberals should make a big fuss about what an outrage it is that Lott is a majority leader.

I think all political junkies are pondering the state of the Democratic party. If they're liberals or loyal Democrats, they're wondering "How to revive liberalism/ the Democratic party?" If they're conservative or libertarian, or merely dislike leftists, they're wondering "Why are liberals and Democrats so lame these days?"

a while back, Michael Tomasky wrote a great article that everyone interested in such issues should read. Here's a key, and fairly long passage, but a high percentage of the article is gold:

[Republicans] know exactly what they're fighting for. The Democrats do not. However the various constituencies within the Republican Party might differ, they are unified around a central idea, which can be expressed in both positive and negative language: that they are the conservators of liberty and morality, and that liberals are sending the country to hell in overdrive. Whatever Republicans do or don't believe, they believe in those two hypotheses. This unity gives them their passion.

Democrats have no such unity. they are pretty well united around a negative expression of their identity: the belief that the right wing is dangerous. But they lack a cohesive positive idea about what they're here to do. In some ways, Democrats have never had such unity. The Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, took in at once both blacks and the country's most vile segregationists. But those iterations of the party -- Roosevelt's, and his successors up through Lyndon Johnson -- could at least claim unity around the idea of government using the tools of social science to solve social problems. (By the way, it's no accident that when they had an ideological unity, Democrats also were much tougher partisans, with obstreperous shit-kickers such as Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and lesser-known though important figures, among them Adolf A. Berle, whose classic book, The Modern Corporation and Private Property, today's Democrats would do well to seek out.

But now the party is split into two distinct camps on the question of the utility of government. It's not the same party that it was 60 or even 30 years ago. Its class composition has shifted dramatically. With deindustrialization, a weakened labor movement and a stronger professional middle class, the power relationships among the party's constituencies have changed. The Democrats have become a more corporate party, too, as a consequence of our campaign-finance system. And the clash of interests between its core voting bloc and its donor base is chronic and not easily reconcilable. (Recall Daschle's refusal to take up stock-option reform, a popular cause, which he delayed chiefly because of pressure from the party's high-tech contributors.)

Thus do the contemporary divisions within the Democratic Party reflect a problem that is historically unique: When Democrats can no longer agree on the central proposition that informed their conduct for the better part of a century, there really is nothing left except an amalgam of interest groups, with different agendas and disparate passions. This makes it easy enough for the other side to construct arguments built around the indictment that the Democratic Party doesn't really represent "America," but instead represents these and those distinct groups of Americans.

In this light, it makes perfect sense that there is one, and really only one, circumstance under which Democrats truly do play hardball: the nomination of federal judges. This happens because most of the Democrats' key interest groups -- women, blacks, labor and even liberal business elements -- can find common ground in opposing a judicial nominee whose ideology stings all of them. Here and only here do the party's sundry passions unite. When it came to Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork or recently defeated circuit court judge nominee Charles Pickering -- against whom Democratic senators used rhetoric of a sort they rarely employ in other situations -- the Democrats function with a single, passionately partisan voice.

But aside from judicial battles, the Democrats don't have much fight in them. . .

jonah goldberg wrote something a while back I found interesting:

Every age has its aristocrats, every society its elite. Even the communist countries which claimed to be ruled by the masses have their "vanguards of the proletariat," and other fancy terms used to describe greasy-palmed bureaucrats, party thugs, or ruling clans. Pure egalitarian societies are like unicorns. Everyone knows what they look like, but nobody has ever seen one. There has never been a community without a social hierarchy nor would we ever want to live in one. At their most basic level, hierarchies are necessary because they are efficient; too many chefs and all that.

Besides, it is an inevitable fact of human nature that some people will rise to the top. The male brain, after all, is hardwired to compete for status, power, and chicks. Originally, this was often done through the acquisition of shiny trinkets and sharp rocks. The shiny trinkets are exchanged for women and sharp rocks. The sharp rocks, by the way, are typically used by men to smite other men into relinquishing their women or their sharp rocks or the whole package. The female brain — as best science has been able to discern — works along much the same lines, though often women substitute guilt or guile for the sharp rocks.

The difference between the good society and the bad one is entirely defined by the rules which determine how this natural impulse to compete for respect and happiness should take place. A bad society is one where it is acceptable for people to attain status through violence or birthright. The good society is one where status is achieved through creativity, personal industriousness, and moral self-restraint. A bad society considers some groups ineligible to compete for trivial or superficial reasons. A good society believes everyone is free to pursue happiness equally. But all societies, good and bad, will have such competition for status and success. This is a universal truth.


while searching for it, I found a lefty blog that criticized Goldberg as a sort of canonical example of conservative idiocy. Frankly, I think he makes a fair amount of sense, which is disturbing to my liberal soul. In any case, the thing to do at this point is probably read Robert Wright's "The moral animal" and "non-zero", which I think are largely about these kinds of issues. someday, someday. . .