Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The “Money Question” and today’s besetting political problems.

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

An idea for your consideration: During the 19th century, the commanding issue of financial politics in the United States was the interrelation of the money supply with a national bank. Andrew Jackson, for one, hated the idea of a national bank.


It’s hard for us to understand today how seriously this issue was taken, how deeply it divided American politicians, and how long it lasted. Party platforms were built around this, and whole sessions of Congress debated it at length and with great bitterness.

The issue lasted for three-quarters of a century, such that seventy years after Jackson rose to the White House, William Jennings Bryan could campaign on the still-controversial issue of a bimetallic currency.


And then came the creation of the Federal Reserve. At which point the issue dried up altogether. Poof.

Not everything works that way. The other great question of the 19th century in U.S. politics — slavery — was even larger, and it was only solved via the bloodiest conflict this hemisphere has ever seen. So I don’t want to suggest that every political issue has such a straightforward solution.

But it’s worth considering: what’s the piece of policy that would erase Issue X, Issue Y, or Issue Z as a bone of contention within U.S. politics? Or within international affairs?

Please, ladle your thoughts upon me in the comment thread.


(Images of Jackson and Bryan via Wikipedia.)

You want some history geekery? [UPDATED]

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

I got yer history geekery right here. For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, I’ve cooked up a chart that tracks the prior government service of every President of the United States. You can have this ultra-spiffy Word document VERSION TWO 2.1 2.2* of this document for the ages for your very own by the simple expedient of . . .

. . . clicking this link.


  • Cmbt. = Military combat experience. Note that for a number of presidents, e.g. Lyndon Johnson, I’m not sure whether their military service involved combat or not, ergo I used parentheses. I excluded a number of military veterans who did not see combat during their military service, e.g. Abraham Lincoln. (This category added for version 2.0.)
  • Law = Practice as a lawyer, or admission to the bar. Note that Theodore Roosevelt’s entry has parentheses because, while he studied law seriously, he never practiced it, nor was he admitted to any state’s bar, so far as I know. (This category added for version 2.0.)
  • Lege. = Service in a colonial or state legislature.
  • Cong. = Service in the Continental Congress or U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Sen. = Service in the U.S. Senate.
  • Gov. = Service as a state governor. Note that William Henry Harrison and William Howard Taft are shown with parentheses because they served as governors of territories or possessions rather than states of the Union.
  • Judge = Service as a judge at any level.
  • Cab. = Service in the cabinet of another President.
  • VP = Service as Vice President of the United States.

No doubt I’ve overlooked or miscoded something along the way, so corrections or additions will be gratefully received.

Correction, Sunday morning, 10 a.m.: William Howard Taft, as everybody knows, never served as Vice President. He was elected President just after serving as Secretary of War. So I fixed this for version 2.1 of the document.

*Corrections, 6 July 2008: Per the comments of “bayesian” below, I amended the combat experience of Pierce, Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and Ford.

Commonplace: Hamilton.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society.

This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. . . . [N]othing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

—Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 1

Fox News on the Iran NIE.

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I don’t read much from Fox News, but my ears perk up when Fox takes a clear hard line against the Administration:

Bush Administration Credibility Suffers After Iran NIE Report

Thursday, December 06, 2007
By Greg Simmons

WASHINGTON — The new National Intelligence Estimate — which says Iran had a nuclear weapons development program, but halted it in 2003 — made President Bush’s week play out like a sad country song.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was smiling and called the report a victory. Rush Limbaugh blasted the report as a product of administration sabotage. And Democrats were accusing the president of being a flip-flopper.

The NIE drew fire from nearly all sides, including anti-war Democrats in Congress, foreign leaders the administration needs to hold the line against Iran, and conservatives usually supportive of the administration.

The root issue for many critics comes down to credibility: Credibility of the estimate, credibility of the intelligence community that developed it and the credibility of the administration for whom those agencies work. Bridging that credibility gap might prove difficult for an administration heading into its final months.

My impression has always been that the Administration makes a practice of manipulating intelligence findings for its own political ends. They certainly aren’t the first to do so, and they won’t be the last. But they’ve done it pretty egregiously, and they’ve done it far too often. Whatever you think of their policies as a whole, this aspect of the Administration’s politicking goes too far.

No torture.

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Very simple concept: the United States shouldn’t torture people. Fight the good fight, please — but not with torture.


Again, very simple concept, and no need to mince words about it: the United States should not torture anyone, and should not conspire to have anyone tortured. Finito.

Lightning round: Limbic hijack in politics and life.

Friday, November 9th, 2007

I already responded to this Tara Hunt post on my business blog, and I was going to write something here applying the concept of “limbic hijacking” to politics and everyday life, like I applied it to the workplace in my other response. Instead, let me suggest these five steps for you:

  1. Read Tara’s post.
  2. Read my first response.
  3. Compose your own response applying the concept to your personal life, politics, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
  4. Post this response on your own blog. (I’m looking at you, Kris, Casey, Mark, Adrienne, . . .)
  5. Let me know about it so I can post links here.

This is my very stealthy way of (a) introducing you to what I think is a valuable concept and (b) delegating all the actual, you know, work to you so I don’t have to do it.

Thank you so much in advance for indulging my dastardly plan.

I won’t be voting for Giuliani.

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

My gentle advice: You shouldn’t vote for Giuliani, either.

It’s easy to say that a candidate will be bad for the economy, bad for the environment, bad for business interests, or whatever else. It’s something else to say that a candidate’s own words and actions suggest pretty clearly that he will be a threat to the Republic. But reasonable people are concluding exactly that about Giuliani, who seems to take the worst elements of the Bush Administration’s foreign policies and then amplify them.

Fear of terrorism is a far-from-adequate reason to entrust someone of Giuliani’s outlook with the Presidency.

We need universal health care so we can unleash more creativity.

Friday, October 12th, 2007

This was the lesson I took away from this interview with Canadian sci-fi icon Robert J. Sawyer. My pal Redneck Mother took that and ran with it, and now she is echoed in the pages of Good magazine by Daniel Brook:

Freelancers Need Universal Health Care Too

. . . In other developed countries, where self-employment rates tend to be higher, taking the leap to working for yourself doesn’t affect your health care coverage or your family’s. In publicly funded health care systems, entrepreneurs pay less into the system during the few lean years that often accompany starting a business. Once you get off the ground, you pay more. That benefits the country’s health and its economy. But here, if you can even get coverage, you pay a flat fee regardless of whether your business had a good year or a bad one. And if you get seriously ill, your business makes less and you owe more. No surprise that half of American bankruptcies are the result of health-care bills. . . .

Amen. Universal health care is not just about poor folks — it’s about talented, hard-working people who could do more for the economy and society as freelancers or as entrepreneurs, rather than having to work for an employer so that they can insure the health of themselves and their families. Particularly good is Brook’s label for health insurance payments as we now know them: “ambition tax.”

Thank you, Mr. Greenspan.

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

The former Fed chairman — a lifelong Republican — rightly calls the current Republican leadership to task for its abandonment of fiscally conservative policies.

Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly two decades, in a long-awaited memoir, is harshly critical of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican-controlled Congress, as abandoning their party’s principles on spending and deficits.

In the 500-page book, “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,” Mr. Greenspan describes the Bush administration as so captive to its own political operation that it paid little attention to fiscal discipline, and he described Mr. Bush’s first two Treasury secretaries, Paul H. O’Neill and John W. Snow, as essentially powerless.

What we see, in this case, isn’t proof (or disproof) of the Bush Administration’s particular fecklessness, ideological blinkering, incompetence, evil, or whatever else. It’s simply proof that most politicians (maybe most humans in general?) are willing to discard their theoretical principles when they achieve a position of power. After the breakdown of the Clinton/Gingrich budget detente that held during the second half of the 1990s, the Republicans swept in and started spending like fools. I’m not saying the Democrats would have done better, but let’s call it for what it is.

So, again, thanks to a principled — and economically expert — Republican like Mr. Greenspan for pointing out this truth.

A national popular vote.

Friday, August 24th, 2007

A while back I mentioned my dislike for the Electoral College. My basic argument runs like this:

Q. if we were starting fresh today, would we regard this as the #1 best way to elect a President?

A. No.

Q. The #2 way?

A. No.

Q. How far down the list would we have to go before we’d get to a system like the one we have now?

A. A ways.

Q. So why put up with this one?

Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker agrees with me, which he did not make clear in his editorial of a couple of weeks ago, but which he makes abundantly clear in this blog post. In the post, he talks about the National Popular Vote initiative:

The National Popular Vote plan is by far the most potentially salutory and far-reaching political reform I know of. It even stands an outside chance of happening, not so much because it’s in the interest of citizens (though it most certainly is) as because it’s in the interest of politicians, most of whom get left on the sidelines during general election campaigns because their states are already in the red or blue bag.

Could be a winner. On a first glance, I’m not super-enthused about the proposed mechanism embodied in the plan — but it sure beats the heck out of what we have now.