Man Without Qualities

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Twit II!

A prior post discussed the question of whether what Paul Krugman and his "Priceton colleague" call a spectacular growth in American inequality has led to an increase in underqualified "privileged" people occupying academic and other positions which in the past were occupied by those more qualified. If that is not going on, then what, exactly, is this posited "privilege" suppose to amount to other than increased inherited wealth?

While these two Princeton lightweights (I mean, "worthies") do some homework to shore up their artificial polemic that implies an increase in the ranks of the wealthy has led to a decline in the achievement level of the "privileged" occupying valued positions in society, John U. Ogbu, an anthropology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has committed an urgent and elegant book examining a real problem: black middleclass underachievement through identification with the underclass. The New York Times article about this book, "Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement" (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), reports:

"What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents; they don't know how their parents made it," Professor Ogbu said in an interview. "They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models, they are looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children."

For example, he said that middle-class black parents in general spent no more time on homework or tracking their children's schooling than poor white parents. And he said that while black students talked in detail about what efforts were needed to get an A and about their desire to achieve, too many nonetheless failed to put forth that effort.

Those kinds of attitudes reflect a long history of adapting to oppression and stymied opportunities, said Professor Ogbu, a Nigerian immigrant who has written that involuntary black immigrants behave like low-status minorities in other societies.

The most urgent issue here is the education and attitudes of these children. But, with respect to the Princeton remedial homework assignment above, it is worth noting the long and well established fact that affirmative action programs disproportionately favor exactly the children of middleclass minority professionals. Also, Professor Ogbu locates many of the difficulties described in his book in cultural factors. Perhaps these two Princeton economists might want to examine whether the culture of intellectual dishonesty they, personally, are so active in creating through their professional writings and political associations may be imposing more general costs on society - a kind of broad-based academic "smash-and-grab."

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Gore in '04

Some Democratic insiders have recently been pummelling Al Gore - as with the recent poll showing that most such insiders would prefer that Mr. Gore not run for the Presidency again.

Those insiders may want to rethink their actions and statements. At this point, it looks like such insider griping will most likely just result in a Candidate Gore who is more wounded than would otherwise be the case. According to the Associated Press:

When Democrats are given a list of possible candidates for the party's nomination, Gore routinely comes out well ahead of the others. A CNN-Time poll released in mid-November that asked Democrats' preference for the party's nomination in 2004 put the party's 2000 nominee at 36 percent, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (news - web sites) at 20 percent and all others in single digits. Clinton has said she is not running, and when the question is asked with her name removed from the list, Gore's support swells to 53 percent, with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (news - web sites) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle at 10 percent each and others in single digits. Lieberman has said he won't run if Gore does. Those close to Daschle say he hasn't ruled out a run.

To be fair to the griping Democrat insiders, one can understand their discontent when they read on in this article and see:

In a CNN-Time poll rematch of the 2000 election, President Bush had the support of 57 percent, while Gore had 40 percent. The public overall was about evenly split on whether they would like to Gore run again, with 45 percent saying yes. Six in 10 Democrats said yes, and 35 percent said no.

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Friday, November 29, 2002


Two excellent articles on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the recent Opinion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, November 18, 2002:

Heather MacDonald: A Green Light to Spy on Americans? Nonsense.

Stuart Taylor Jr.: Spying By The Government Can Save Your Life

Both articles definitely worth the time to read in full. Anyone tempted to believe the mainstream media's take on this topic should first read these articles.

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A Classic ...

... from the first and maybe the greatest.
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The Why of It

Soon after the November elections, Roll Call reported that Democrats were "eager to make inroads" in talk radio and cable television, which they believe Republicans have "dominated" in recent years. Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.), the assistant Democratic floor leader, said: "The conservative establishment in this country really has a lock on the airwaves. ... You really have to work the regular news coverage and hope that the real issues and real stories break through."

So it is hardly surprising or sinister that within a short time the nation was presented with Tom Daschle's complaints about Rush Limbaugh - witlessly seconded by the increasingly oblivious and personally vain John McCain, who apparently just could not let the chance to jab a media critic go by unexploited, even one occasioned by a Democratic team effort. This was followed hard apace by Al Gore conjuring up a conspiracy centrally controlled from the very physical premises of the Republican National Committee and "exploding" into the national zeitgeist through Limbaugh, the Washington Times and Fox News. [For the record: Why did Mr. Gore omit the Wall Street Journal? Is he trying to upset them?] The man who has repeatedly said that he "won" the election said that "there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party."

Senior Democrats have been embarrassingly crude in their execution, but there may be a serious, focused effort here on the Democrats' part. The Democrats may be trying to shore up the willingness of their base constituency of liberal "regular news" television reporters and media executives to sacrifice some of the ratings and profitability of their companies in service of their personal, liberal political agendas.

These recent statements of Messrs. Daschle and Gore have struck most American voters as exaggerated, even extreme. But exaggerated statements by mainstream politicians are normally intended to stimulate some political "base," not to reach ordinary voters. To understand what "base" these Senior Democrats might be trying to reach, Senator Durbin's seminal assertion that Democrats"really have to work the regular news coverage" seems apposite. As demonstrated by any number of polls and other indicia, most "regular news" television reporters and media executives hold strongly liberal personal political views. That is: the many liberal "regular news" television reporters and media executives form a "base" of the Democratic Party. This Democratic "base" seems to need stimulating - and these recent statements of Messrs. Durbin, Daschle and Gore are consistent with such an effort.

Many such people have used their professional positions to advance their personal, normally liberal, agendas, practices which have in the past generally aided Democrats in both campaign coverage and in the spin given to coverage of politically sensitive news generally. But the old ways are changing. A prior post discussed Al Hunt's observation that television stations have already stopped most news coverage of political campaigns - which works to the disadvantage of the Democrats:

Across America, television stations are engaged in two pervasive phenomena: severely cutting back on campaign coverage while jacking up rates candidates must pay to advertise. ... A University of Southern California study of the 1998 governor's race in that state surveyed thousands of hours of news coverage in major markets; considerably less than 1% was devoted to the governor's race. This year USC and University of Wisconsin researchers examined almost 2,500 newscasts in 17 major markets a month ago and found that over half contained no campaign coverage at all; many of the rest only offered short, fleeting coverage.

Coverage of political campaigns by the "regular news" is significant. But the success of Fox News has placed additional pressure on traditionally liberal media outlets, such as CNN, to reign in the liberalism of their "regular news" coverage generally. In television, ratings means revenue. Various commentators have even raised the question of whether public media company management betrays its shareholders by tolerating a political bias which suppresses network news ratings in favor of advancing the personal agendas of liberal television reporters and executives. For example, the former head of NBC owner GE, Jack Welch, was asked this question at a shareholder meeting - but avoided addressing the issue by claiming it was "immaterial." As the networks and their ratings continue to weaken, such matters become more material. But regardless of whether any securities regulators care to take up the matter, the market is increasingly demanding profitability from media companies - and punishing their stock prices.

Most recently, the always unintentionally hilarious Paul Krugman awkwardly admits the issue:

[M]y purpose in today's column is not to bash Fox. I want to address a broader question: Will the economic interests of the media undermine objective news coverage?

He then proceeds to admit the unsurprising fact that general economic laws and considerations operate on media companies just as they do everywhere else. But for some reason he just forgets to discuss what is perhaps the most important issue raised by corporate economic activity: agency costs. That is, the inclination of corporate "agents" - here, liberal television reporters and executives - to use their positions to advance their personal agendas. In one sense this is a surprising omission, since the entire "corporate reform" dustup beginning with the collapse of Enron, is exactly a consequence of alleged conversions of corporate assets and opportunities to instead serve the personal agendas of corporate "agents." Professor Krugman's omission might be seen as even more surprising since he, personally, has repeatedly claimed that "corporate reform" issues, especially as reflected in Enron's agency cost catastrophe, are far more significant than, say, the War on Terror or the events of September 11. Professor Krugman might also have taken a little space to discuss how it was that during the pre-1994 half-century, a perpetually Democrat-dominated Congress coincided with the rise of three and only three liberal, national Democrat-friendly television networks - a situation which ended only with the prominence of Fox News. These senior Democrats are complaining that conservatives have any broadcast and cable news outlets sympathetic to them. The inclusion of the Washington Times with the tacit exemption of the Wall Street Journal from Mr. Gore's tirade is also curious. Yet Professor Krugman just forgets about such history and all those economic principles that once seemed so important to him. Odd, that.

Instead of seeing the operation of general economic laws and a healthy unraveling of a once overly-cuddly relationship between Democratic Congresses and the three heavily regulated television news networks that those Congresses spawned, Professor Krugman sees Fox News' relative conservatism and a possible desire on its part to influence political events as evidence of the very conspiracy pre-cooked-up by Al Gore: "The reaction from most journalists in the "liberal media" was embarrassed silence. I don't quite understand why." What media person or company doesn't have desires to influence political events? Are Professor Krugman, the New York Times or any of the three "old" networks claiming they have no such desires? Now if Professor Krugman had taken the time to ask a few of those "other journalists in the 'liberal media,'" they might have told him that their reaction to Mr. Gore's conspiracy theories "was embarrassed silence" because what Mr. Gore is saying bears an uncomfortable similarity to what one hears emanating from the washing machine crates that house some of New York's more colorful midtown residents. But that, as discussed above, seems to be a matter of clumsy execution - Bill Clinton probably could have made the paranoia sing. But it's no secret that Professor Krugman is always up for a juicy conspiracy theory! Heck, he is rumored to keep a copy of every single X-Files episode in his Princeton University office.

UPDATE: Stuart Buck ably addresses the "fairness doctrine" subplot in Professor Krugman's screed. The "fairness doctrine" was one of the most notorious bits of federal news regulation with which Congress was comfortable for decades, and Professor Krugman apparently still is. The doctrine was so awful that its 1987 demise considerably predated 1994 Republican control of Congress. Reaganites were able to expunge it during his presidency.
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The Losing of a Constituency?

Most African-American voters vote for Democrats if they vote. But the Louisiana Senate race now heading for a Pearl Harbor Day conclusion gives some examples of how Democrats may be losing many of their African-American voters nationally. The loss, if it is happening, would not at this stage be seen in defections to Republicans - it is a matter of turn-out.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is trailing in the polls, and is widely expected to lose on December 7 - largely because African-American voters are not sufficiently behind her. Yet, as Robert Novak and others point out, Senator Landrieu has a voting record that is both liberal on a national scale (not just in relation to the South) and substantially more liberal than that of Louisiana's senior senator, Democrat John Breaux. Senator Breaux "hugs the middle of the road" -- and is rated 55 percent by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and 48 percent by the American Conservative Union (ACU). But Senator Landrieu has voted 85 percent liberal (ADA) and 28 percent conservative (ACU).

What is curious here is that Senator Landrieu simultaneously has a liberal voting record and very big problems with African-American voters. Some key members of the African-American community have refused even to endorse her candidacy. But conventional wisdom holds that liberal votes aren't supposed to create problems with African-American voters - those voters are supposed to like a liberal voting record, and are supposedly offended by the conservative votes that a southern Democrat has to cast through grit teeth to hold onto white moderate votes. But not all liberal votes are created equal. Robert Novak, for example, catalogues some of Senator Landrieu's votes:

A small sample: Prohibit federal funding of abortion: Landrieu, no; Breaux, yes. Mandatory trigger locks: Landrieu, yes; Breaux, no. Broad prescription drug coverage under Medicare: Landrieu, yes; Breaux, no. Federal funding for school distribution of "morning after" pills: Landrieu, yes; Breaux, no. ... She voted against confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general and Theodore Olson as solicitor general, against school vouchers and against the Bush administration on a variety of budget questions, including caps on spending. Most recently, she was lined up with government workers unions to restrict presidential control over employees of the new Department of Homeland Security.

What is striking about these "liberal" votes is her apparent emphasis on the social side of liberalism that finds disproportionate favor among white, suburban, liberal women - that is, the more liberal of the "soccer moms." But this brand of liberalism doesn't seem to mean very much to African-Americans - to judge by Senator Landrieu's difficulties in that quarter. Senator Breaux seems to understand that.

Many commentators - including Robert Novak in his column linked above - focus on the difficulties southern Democrats face in holding white-moderate votes without losing too many liberals. The Clintonian formula for accomplishing those ends combines "fiscal responsibility" and "economic conservatism" with big doses of social liberalism and major racial "demonization" efforts against Republicans. That formula entails delivering less through old-fashioned redistributionistic economic policies, while nevertheless counting on African-American voters to turn out with enthusiasm for Democrats, largely on the basis of social liberalism and racial "demonization."

But Mary Landrieu's problems suggest that social liberalism may not inspire African-American voters all that much. And President Bush's performance in office has substantially blunted the Democrats' racial "demonization" weapon with respect to African-Americans, although many Democrats are willfully determined to deny that development. Further, if Democratic "fiscal responsibility" is not just political hooey served up by some smooth-talking Clintonian, but really does entail less spending and regulation intended to transfer wealth to African-Americans, then one would expect a decline in enthusiasm for Democrats among some African-American voters. Senator Landrieu seems to have suffered on all of these fronts. Her socially liberal voting record is not attracting sufficient African-American support. Like most Democrats nationally, she has not succeeded in racially demonizing her opponent. And the "moderate" component of her voting record is weighing disproportionately on her African-American support.

In other words, Mary Landrieu's problems suggest that the Clintonian approach may be exhausted. If so, the Democrats' problems should not be restricted to the South, although the problems are first and most evident there. A lot of post-election text has been spent discussing Democratic problems in the South, but closer analyses of Republican wins in Massachusetts and New York, and of the close governorship race in California, may shed additional light. In particular, Democratic problems should go well beyond any boost Republicans enjoyed in the last election from national security and foreign affairs issues.

POSTSCIPT: The Associated Press collects a number of events which are, and should be, frustrating to African-American Democrats. The elevation of Nancy Pelosi over Harold Ford, and the retention of Hillary Clinton functionary Terry McAuliffe as head of the DNC over Maynard Jackson, a former and successful Atlanta mayor, are just two examples of the undependable, white socially liberal side of the Democratic Party squeezing out what is now probably that Party's most central constituency.

Louisiana Democrats say that a new poll shows that Mary Landrieu's has a serious lead: 50%-34% over her Republican opponent, Terrell, whose own staff dismissed the Democrat's poll as inaccurate and said their own poll showed Terrell winning.

The voters to decide in another 5 days.



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Thursday, November 28, 2002

What Lies Beneath

Almost any Presidential election is about 80% about the economy.

This is a rule of thumb that not only does - or, at least, should - guide political professionals. In the personal experience of the Man Without Qualities it is roughly what most ordinary voters consciously know and actually say - although they tend to use a different vocabulary to express themselves. It is not an esoteric point, although it is one surprisingly often overlooked.

It is a point worth keeping in mind regardless of one's political affiliation in considering President Bush's continuing strong job approval ratings. According to a new Fox News poll over two-thirds of people surveyed say they approve of the job Bush is doing and 20 percent disapprove. But Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman notes "It is interesting that despite these high approval ratings, only 44 percent of the public say that they will vote to re-elect Bush. ... While only 21 percent are definitely voting Democratic, fully 35 percent are waiting to see or are undecided. Of course, whatever reservations people may have about re-electing him, the other questions indicate that the Democrats don't currently have a candidate capable of making the race competitive"

While reading the chicken entrails of polls is often a dark and uncertain art, in this case Mr. Bush's high "undecided" count seems pretty well correlated with the ambiguous state of the economy. If the economy fully strengthens in the coming year, and nothing else changes (which, of course, is never the case), Mr. Bush will probably be unstoppable in 2004. But if the economy is soft in early 2004, he will have proportionate trouble getting reelected, regardless of how high his job approval numbers may then be. For good reasons, many people are just "undecided" about whether the economy will be in good shape during the next two years - so they are "undecided" about whether they will vote for Bush. The whole thing just doesn't seem that mysterious.

Nor is it particularly significant that the Democrats don't currently have a candidate capable of making the race competitive. It probably doesn't matter that much if a "competitive" Democratic candidate emerges before the end of 2003 if the economy is soft. For example, in 1991 the then-obscure, un-competitive Bill Clinton was able to run and win because every prominent Democrat was cowed by George H.W. Bush's sky-high job approval numbers following the Gulf War. But Hillary Clinton reportedly looked at those numbers, wisely discounted that "approval" in comparision to the then-soft economic numbers, and advised her husband: "I say: If you run, you win." She was right. She didn't have to be particularly smart to see the opportunity, just willing to understand and stick to the fundamentals.

The Senator will correctly continue to understand and stick to those fundamentals. If the economy is soft through 2003, she will probably be a very "competitive" candidate, regardless of this poll's discovery that only 20 percent overall and 34 percent of Democrats now want her to run for President in 2004.

Of course, the 20% of a Presidential election remaining after the economic factors are accounted for is plenty of ground on which to win or lose many elections. After being in office for as long as Mr. Bush has been, a President's approval rating normally correlates strongly with how well the economy is currently performing. But Mr. Bush - like Gorge H.W. Bush - has approval ratings unusually colored by foreign affairs, which dwindle in significance when the question of reelection comes up. Here, Mr. Bush has some advantage over his father in that following the Gulf War, the foreign affairs that had boosted George H. W. Bush's standing essentially dwindled to a mere afterglow of a job well done in the past. But the war on terror, national security considerations and their associated issues - including the status of Israel - will continue to be significant well beyond 2004.

UPDATE: David Weigel adds intelligent perspective.

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Monday, November 25, 2002

Matt, Maybe Mr. Ashcroft Took Notes on September 11?

Matt Drudge is skewering Attorney General John Ashcroft by contrasting his supposedly inconsistent and hypocritical positions on internet surveillance as expressed in October 1997 and now, and again and again.

The Man Without Qualities does not defend "at will" FBI surveillance of the e-mail, but isn't it reasonable to think that some things that happened between October 1997 and today - say, in the late summer of 2001 - may have caused Mr. Ashcroft to have a good faith change of opinion on this topic?

John Maynard Keynes was better with his quips than his economics, but he was certainly right when he asked a skeptic: "When the facts change, I change my mind; What do you do?"
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Mr. Popularity

In a hilarious riff, Rand Simberg begins:

Former Vice President Al Gore's new book, "Joined At The Heart," has been out for over a week and a half, but it's selling poorly, despite an expensive campaign by Al and Tipper, and much free publicity from the media. Yesterday, it was #11,231 on's list of top-selling books.

Of course, Rand is exaggerating - or perhaps sales have improved. Both books now seem to be substantially discounted on Amazon. Today's actual Sales Rank for Joined at the Heart is 1,607, and today's Sales Rank for the coffeetable companion book Spirit of Family is 1,137.

Think the publishing executives who brought out these books are happy with those sales numbers?

Well, just imagine the looks on the faces of the NBC executives who had the nifty idea of inviting Mr. Gore to host Saturday Night Live (with Phish!) this coming December 14 when they get a look at the Neilsen ratings for THAT episode. Talk about a career enhancing decision!

Can those execs sing "Home for the Holidays?"

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Fraternities Internalize Abuse?

The national organizations of two fraternities at the University of Virginia have suspended the fraternities because students showed up at a Halloween party dressed as Venus and Serena Williams:

National fraternal leaders stepped in to investigate, and they joined Virginia students and university officials in denouncing the costumes.

Etc., etc., etc.

Hey, guys, IT'S A HALLOWEEN PARTY! Bin Laden masks were also popular this year.

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Sunday, November 24, 2002

Who Does She Talk To?

"I've never had a person who makes over $200,000 tell me they need a tax cut."

- United States Senator from California Dianne Feinstein
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Feel A Rush From That Joe?

It may not be the caffeine.
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Senator Hissyfit, I Presume?

Reports are that after finishing a taping at television studios in New Orleans, United States Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell were preparing to leave when Landrieu told Terrell, "This is your last campaign."

A "stunned" Terrell replied, "She threatened me."

But Ms. Terrell should keep calm.

If Senator Landrieu had really meant to threaten Ms. Terrell, the Senator would have hissed: "You'll never eat lunch in this town again!" In Los Angeles that's a witticism.

But in New Orleans it would be a declaration of WAR!

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