Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Few Observations

A few observations:

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy seems pretty awesome. Based on my limited information, I would say that they generate a lot of utility per dollar spent. This is partly because they hit a lot of birds with one stone - they help poor people in developing countries on a personal level, they help developing countries use their resources efficiently on a macro level, they set developing countries down a path toward a more transit-friendly future, and in doing all of this they benefit the environment.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation also seems pretty awesome. It's massive - it dispenses nearly a half a billion dollars a year in grants - and its goals seem to be well-chosen (for instance, it helps fund the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy). It's too bad it gets less attention than the Stephen and Melinda Gates Foundation and other similarly-named foundations.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What Will the Hillary Deathwatch Say?

I was motivated to write a post defending Clinton for her remark about Robert Kennedy's assassination. Certain things have come to light, though, and now I don't really know what to think.

Here is the video (I use the TPM version because I think it gives the right amount of context):

And here is her apology:

Now, my first reaction on seeing the video was that Clinton had made an unfortunate mistake. I'm inclined to cut politicians slack when they make careless remarks, unless those remarks reveal something worse than carelessness.

The only problem is that this is something that Clinton has said before. That means that at the very least it's something she's thought about before. It's a fact that she had tucked away to use when this question comes up.

It so happens that it's a bullshit argument, but that's not the point. The point is that the remark wasn't off the cuff, it wasn't a slip of the tongue.

But what was it? I have no idea. I don't really see the angle here for Clinton. The only thing I can think of is the possibility that she can use the predictable outrage over this remark to further polarize the race, giving her a stronger hand in negotiations with Obama. That indirect effect seems so much weaker than the direct effect of embarrassing her, though, that I don't really buy it.

[UPDATE: I forgot to add my "all attention is good attention" theory, which is weak but is somewhat strengthened by the fact that the New York Times is giving much more prominence to this story than to Obama's seemingly successful speech on Cuba in Miami.]

I guess it's more likely that Clinton had thought about this, but hadn't really thought about the way it would sound. All in all, though, it's very bizarre. People are going to make a big deal out of it, and it won't shed light on anything. At the end of the day, I guess I don't think she was pulling any tricks, but I also think it would be a pretty amusing way for her campaign to end: mired in the same bullshit they've been peddling for so long.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Worse Than I Thought

I hadn't actually clicked through one of the main links on the post that inspired my last post. But now I have, and it is pretty ridiculous. It also explicitly invokes something that was only implicit in Ms. Barnett's post: the desire to send a message by refusing to vote for Obama against McCain:

If Barack Obama and his supporters become the new Democratic party, then the Democratic party will no longer be the party of women’s rights. There will still be women in the party, naturally, but basic respect for women as citizens will be a dead letter. It will be the party of John Roberts and anti-choicers and the most virulent outbreak of public misogyny I’ve ever seen. All the sexism of this campaign will be rewarded instead of repudiated....

That’s why I won’t vote for Obama. I’ll be sending a message to the Democratic party: if you want my vote, then you need to earn it.

I don't want to use the word "hysterical" here, but this is really over the top. Yes yes, it's so obvious. If Obama wins, then it must mean that the Democratic party is misogynistic. John Roberts is most likely to support Obama in the fall. The Democratic Party will, at that point, clearly be pro-life. Makes complete sense.

I don't know what it is about this race that causes people to lose all grip on reality. Check out her comment section: ugghh.

Return to the White House - And Don't Forget the Chicks This Time

I see and hear this sentiment quite a bit. The basic idea is that Senator Clinton has been the victim of horrible sexism throughout the campaign, and that some Obama supporters have taken part in the sexist rhetoric.

I think this is basically true (though Ms. Barnett seems to take some liberties with her descriptions), but I think the question is, what are we to conclude from this? Or to put it another way, what is to be done?

The conclusion many people want you to reach is that this is a good reason to vote for Clinton (or even to refrain from voting for Obama in the fall). There is some logic to this, but I think it would be a bit silly to vote for Clinton because she is sometimes mistreated, and it would be a major blunder to elect McCain because some people say nasty things about Hillary.

I won't bother with the obvious points about Obama not being responsible for everything his supporters do, the best candidate not necessarily being the one who suffers the most unfair attacks, etc. The real point, I think, is that elections aren't mere hiring decisions - elections have significance beyond the literal fact that the winner takes office. So for instance, say that a race effectively becomes a referendum on one issue. At that point, it makes sense to vote based on that issue, so long as you care enough about the symbolism of an election on that issue. So for instance, say you don't feel strongly about a particular race, but one of the candidates has been targeted for his support of something you agree with, and the race has effectively become a referendum on that issue. You might vote for that candidate to express your preferences on the salient issue, even if you think the other candidate would do a somewhat better job in office.

This is actually a dangerous dynamic that is subject to abuse. Mayor Royce decided to make race the issue because in Baltimore that seems like a winning issue against a white candidate.

In this case, Hillary supporters seem to believe that the race has become something like a referendum on sexism. Of course, there is the irony that the Clinton campaign probably tried to pull a Royce and amp up the salience of identity politics (in the Democratic party, women outnumber blacks, so stirring the racial pot made sense - which is not to say, of course, that Hillary is personally racist). The bigger point, though, is that a race doesn't become a referendum on something unless it is widely understood to have that significance. If you think Hillary would make a better president than Obama, but you really like Chicago, you should still vote for Hillary (other things being equal) - because no one is going to treat an Obama victory as a validation of Chicago's superiority.

Now, sexism is a bit more salient to this race than the relative merits of Chicago and New York, but at the end of the day few people are going to take an Obama victory as confirmation that sexism is a winning political issue. People may draw more subtle conclusions about the difficulties encountered by female candidates, but voting to express an opinion about a salient issue is different from voting out of sympathy. The former is simply not an option when it comes to sexism, because the race has not been understood as a contest of sexists against feminists (here's a partial explanation for why). In fact, you might say that the Clinton strategy backfired: by making race highly salient, but failing to make gender salient enough, the race has become more of a referendum on racism than on sexism (though it is not really a referendum on either).

So I think some people, outraged at the treatment of Hillary during the race, are looking to cast a symbolic vote, but nevertheless little or no symbolic meaning will attach to the votes. Certainly, a vote for McCain against Obama is not going to be interpreted as a rallying cry against the mistreatment of Hillary.

So at the end of the day, having failed (thankfully) to turn the race into a referendum on sexism, people who don't like the way Hillary is treated should say so - but they shouldn't say so at the ballot box, where they won't be heard. It would be pretty horrible if sexist comments, many of which came from conservative Republicans, ended up costing the Democrats the presidency.