Sunday, July 29, 2007

Will the real Partisans please stand up?

This Yglesias post got me thinking about which politicians are the most partisan. Here's Yglesias explaining who is not partisan:
Say what you will about this stuff, but none of it is partisan. Bolton was, after all, perfectly correct to say that the deal Nick Burns struck with North Korea and that Bush agreed to contradicts the basic premises of the Bush foreign policy. The partisan thing for Bolton to have done would have been to keep his qualms quiet and let the Great Leader bask in praise. Similarly, for Democrats to attack Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama isn't partisanship. What's partisanship is when people refrain from criticizing their party's leading figures.
Partisanship is when you refrain from attacking people in your own party for ideological differences or when attack people in the other party for views which you actually agree with. Too often nowadays writers and Op-Ed columnists equate honest political debate with partisanship simply because they can't imagine that people would actually disagree with them on the merits so they simply assume the opposing side is motivated by partisanship.

If you want to find the real partisans, look for politicians who have have taken strong public positions on important topics but failed to follow up that rhetoric by actually voting against the party line. If you want people who are clearly not partisan at all, see politicians willing to put their own party's senate seat at risk simply because they think that perusing the best foreign policy is more important than party orthodoxy.

Take Arlen Specter, Republican senator from Pennsylvania. He strongly suspects that Alberto Gonzales purposefully lied to congress (and him) while under oath, questioning him harshly. But when it came to actually calling for a special council to investigate suddenly Specter wasn't all that interested calling a special council "a great fundraising device for the Democratic Party."

It's interesting that he should frame his opposition to the special council in such starkly partisan terms. Specter does not oppose a special council because he thinks Gonzales is innocent. He doesn't oppose the special council because he thinks he'll be able to resolve the matter with Bush (perhaps by convincing him to dismiss Gonzales). He opposes the special council because - as much as he dislikes seeing a presidential appointee commit perjury - he hates the idea of helping the Democrats even more.

If that isn't rank partisanship I don't know what is.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Feeling Enviromental

(This is cross posted on my personal site)

A couple of times on my blog I’ve taken the position that all environmentalism can be defended on selfish grounds. Basically, screwing up the environment is bad for the long-term economic health of the world. Top-soil is good for the American economy and so is a corn belt that’s located here and not in 5 square acres of Canada. Similarly, every extinction is like a million year lab experiment thrown away before we’ve had a chance to learn from the results.

It’s pretty obvious that this argument works for short-term stuff like that affects people’s health right now and in direct ways but I’ve come to realize more and more that it’s not really a useful way of arguing for environmentalism generally. People just don’t get invested in environmentalism for selfish reasons; maybe their selfishness just doesn’t operate on long enough timescales. Instead, I’ve found that most people who favor environmentalism do so for non-selfish "emotional" reasons: a love of the unspoiled outdoors and empathy for the creatures who are killed by environmental neglect and so on. I don’t think I ever appreciated those reasons till I went hiking out by the house I grew up in with my girlfriend Lisa.

Here’s our hike.

When I was a kid I remember the trail feeling wild. This time it just looked abused. There was trash everywhere and the view from the top that used to be inspiring just looked like a view of a lot of sprawl. Developments replaced chaparral, the horse ranch is now a shopping mall, and the clearing where I saw a group of wary roadrunners in my youth now has a driveway in the middle of it. I took Lisa there a couple times but I’ve never been able to show them to her probably because they just don’t go there anymore.

Obviously my family’s complicit in all this. The house we moved into was once a new development which no doubt replaced wild country. But I’m an adult and can recognize the difference between capitulating to the realities of a housing market which doesn’t value lost wilderness and not valuing wilderness in the first place. And I can also recognize that the “realities of the housing market” don’t just appear out of nowhere: they’re the result of government policies (or lack thereof) that we can change.

See, I’m getting emotional.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day!

(cross-posted at my own site)

I'm generally not disposed to just sit around appreciating how great our country is in general. Rather, like liberals everywhere, I like to spend my time complaining about what we're getting wrong and how we can fix it.

There are some pretty obvious problem with the United States that pretty much everyone recognizes. Most obviously it is fundamentally unfair that 34 million Californians have to share two senators while the 14 people who live in Wyoming have the same number. This is just a fundamental injustice which was made even worse in light of the fact that Wyoming gave us Dick Cheney.

Our government is also built with too many veto points. If you prefer being oppressed by corporations and rich rather than by the government this is great. If on the other hand you like to have a responsive government that works it's not so great. If you wonder why the federal government can't pass any bills without slathering on the pork look directly to the founding father's insistence no bill could pass unless approved by the house, the senate, the president, the supreme court, one unblemished virgin, and an augur who must affirm that the bones approve.

The many veto points also serve to confound basic responsibility for politicians. I mean, I've often been told that Ronald Reagan would have passed balanced budgets if not for those damn tax-and-spend Democrats in congress. Not true of course but our system doesn't make that obvious. Similarly, Clinton didn't approve of Kyoto but was able to blame it on a Republican senate that wouldn't pass it.

Really we should drop the whole multiple veto point thing and take a look at a parliamentary form of government. Have one big house which is elected with proportional choice, instant run-off elections (like the ASUC only with voters that actually care). This will allow for more than two parties (depending on the cut-off) and the coalition that gets the majority of votes gets to pick the prime minister. This will make parties more accountable and make it easier to pass bills and repeal old ones that suck. And if some prime minister is so unpopular as to be ineffective we'll just hold another election right then and there. Don't you wish we could do that right about now?

Anyhow, those are my thoughts on this fine day of independence. We shouldn't look too harshly on the founding fathers for the shortcomings in the constitution. Democracy was still a new idea then. They were like the first guys on the block to get a satellite dish who ended up keeping the 6 foot giant in the backyard even as their neighbors bought the newer mini roof-mounted ones.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Libby walks


Worst president ever?

Or worst living organism ever?