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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Wednesday, June 09, 2004
. . .Finally final. Here is an email I just sent to Josh Marshall in regard to 1) his post pondering what 'failure' means in Iraq 2) His posts about the "Real Americans" criticism of the Democrats.

In one Josh's posts about a week ago he wrote "Next: what does 'failure' mean in Iraq?" I'd be interested to know what his answer is, because here is my take on using the word 'failure' or 'defeat' to describe Iraq:

"the US is not going to be "defeated" in Iraq. The Iraq war can be considered a mistake only in terms of number of people killed (versus number of lives saved) and in terms of opportunity cost, and whether it has made America safer or less so, more hated or less so, more loved or less so, not in terms of absolute victory or defeat. In absolute terms, victory of some sort was inevitable from the moment war was declared against Saddam's fourth-rate, demoralized military; Only the costs, benefits and nature of that victory was in doubt."

In regard the "Real Americans" issue, I think it is an issue, and a very real problem for the Democrats. If you want an explanation for the unshakeable self-confidence of Republicans in their own fitness to rule, versus the pathological timidity and cautiousness of the Democrats, there are only two real explanations: 1) the heavily Republican tilt to the military officer corps, and the somewhat lesser tilt of the enlisteds. I don't know if you remember all the Republican hacks saying during the 2000 election, smugly and almost gleefully, "I can't tell you how many officers and junior officers have told me they're going to resign if Gore wins the election". The purpose of such noxious swaggering was clearly to make weak-minded swing voters fearful of the consequences of voting Democratic 2) the fact that the Republicans have had substantial majority support of the majority ethnicity for a long, long time.

Also, there is a very real phenomenon of "Majority Momentum", which is the fact, that in a really close, bitterly contested election, swing voters will be strongly influenced by their peer group, and thus the majority choice within any particular ethnic community will receive a boost in the closing days of a close, bitterly contested election. Thus, all else being equal, "on the fence" black voters will be more likely to vote Democratic, and "on the fence" white voters will be more likely to vote Republican. In the words of the Simpson's, "One of Us! One of Us! One of Us!"

I don't have any real solutions for the Democrats, except not to panic: Democrats still have a hold on at least 40% of the white vote, so the problem is probably not nearly so serious as I am making out. But when the vapors are on me, I do sometimes worry that our national politics will become like some sections of the south writ large, where the Republican party becomes where white people basically belong, where swing white voters who could potentially be Democrats instead succumb to peer pressure, and only oddballs and antedilevian white people remain/become Democrats.

Lastly, I think the Republicans *could* get more black votes if they tried. How? First, switch sides on a few high-profile issues like voting rights for DC residents, and sentencing disparity for crack/powder cocaine (but not affirmative action), and then crow about how while Clinton diddled around ineffectually, Bush delivered. Then, make an aggressive pitch that Republicans can do a better job on inner-city crime, inner-city schools and inner-city economic development, because of their access to capital and entrepreneurs, and their willingness to crack down on / demand accountability from municipal unions.

Why don't Republican's do this? beats me. I think it's because they convince themselves that black voters vote Democrat for irrational reasons, so nothing they have done or will do can make a difference.

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