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Archive for May, 2004

Monday, May 31st, 2004

A SOCIOLOGICAL EXPLANATION FOR THE DREARY STATE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL DISCOURSE

“In the hierarchy of coolness, politics sits at the absolute rock-bottom. I would rather be caught wearing a hooded brown robe and casting a 10th Level Spell of Enchantment against a chaotic good half-elven Ranger, than be standing in a sea of uptight dorks and declaring to the world, “Mr. Chairman, the Great State of Nebraska, home of the Cornhuskers and latent sexual frustration, nominates John Kerry to be the next President of the United States!”

Sgt. Stryker.

Well said, well said. Hat tip to No Left Turns.

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Friday, May 28th, 2004

WHERE WOULD JOHN KERRY BE ON FOREIGN POLICY ? II

I was struck today by two quotes in The Chicago Tribune on reactions to the Kerry speech:

“Honestly, this could almost be a Bush speech–especially the part about weapons of mass destruction, murder and the Iraq mission,”

Charles Pena, Cato Institute

“There is not a huge difference on using military force and intelligence in the war on terror…There is not yet a big difference on homeland security policy as best I can tell,”

Micheal O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution

Let’s take a look at Kerry’s ” Four Imperatives “:

“First, we must launch and lead a new era of alliances for the post-9/11 world.”

This is an obvious nod to John Kerry’s philosophical preference for multilateralism and international institutions. Since he is most likely discussing the UN and NATO here this represents a modest tactical and a significant stylistic difference with Bush. It will do nothing to alter the substantive disputes between the U.S. and it’s allies over Iraq and the War on Terror.

If Kerry were to forge a new set of alliances based upon a ” robust ability ” to support intervention with the Anglosphere, Russia, India, Israel and China- then this would be a bold strategic difference. I doubt that is the case however.

Second, we must modernize the world’s most powerful military to meet the new threats.

This is the Bush policy ! If Kerry is truly serious he might as well keep Rumsfeld – the Secretary of Defense is hated by the brass partly for his commitment to systemic changes to force structure and the ” Revolution in Military Affairs “. The 64 billion dollar question that Kerry has ignored is ” Does modernization include a draft ? “

“Third, because our military might is not the only source of power, of our power in the world, we must deploy all that is in the American arsenal: our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, and most importantly, the appeal, the extraordinary appeal that through centuries has made us who we are, the appeal of our values and our ideas.”

I’m fine with this as I explained in my recent post on the Elites and the Bush Doctrine. Sort of a ” Working Smarter ” form of Preemption. When Saudi Arabia is funding 14,000 hate-America madrassa schools in moderate Muslim Indonesia alone, we need to do things on the “soft”/ideological/political/memetic side of the equation too. I’d like to hear some more specifics that show some signs of strategic thinking. Judging from the leaked Rumsfeld memo, the Bush administration realizes the need but has done little beyond some incipient and clumsy “Arab MTV ” ( Radio Sawa )programs.

Fourth and finally, to secure our full independence, our full freedom, to be the masters of our own destiny, we must free America from its dangerous dependence on Mideast oil.

This would be a marvelous strategic advantage if/when it exists but this is primarily a scientific question right now and not one of foreign policy. Ideally, this is a commitment by Kerry to invest billions in nanotech engineering, physical chemistry, fusion and alternate fuels research. Or, more likely, this is a trojan horse to institute cherished Democratic proposals for high gasoline taxes, smaller cars, SUV bans and assorted penalties to limit consumption by government fiat with no serious follow through on alternate energy whatsover.

I like Kerry’s conversion to ” Smart Preemption ” – it’s a country mile better than antiwar Leftist isolationism – I’m just not sure if he actually intends to carry some of these things out.

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Friday, May 28th, 2004

WHERE WOULD KERRY BE ON FOREIGN POLICY ?

Moises Naim claims Kerry will be forced to do pretty much what Bush is doing. Senator Kerry himself has just begun to lay out his own national security and foreign policy vision in a planned series of speeches.

So far, as Kerry is prescribing a more multilateral,” soft-power” accented version of the Bush Doctrine, Naim seems to be correct. However people are policy. How a Kerry administration staffed by Samuel Berger, Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sam Nunn and John McCain would carry out this policy is apt to be very different from a Kerry administration staffed by Warren Christopher, Tony Lake, Strobe Talbot and other internationalist-doves that Kerry has seemed to agree with for most of his career.

The key question is: Did the Kosovo War and 9/11 worked a fundamental change in Democratic Party foreign policy assumptions or is the anti-war, anti-military, anti-DLC, Vietnam syndrome mentality that fueled the Howard Dean candidacy still the authentic soul of the party ?

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Thursday, May 27th, 2004

THE BIG IDEA BOOK OF THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

I have a copy and will review it soon. Skimmed it already and it’s good. No Left Turns also has things to say.

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Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

BORED OF EDUCATION…THE ABOLITION OF SCHOOL BOARDS ?

An interesting article by Chester Finn and Lisa Keegan in the Hoover Institution’s journal Education Next, positing elected school boards and local accountability as an anachronism that has outlived it’s day.

Finn is basically interested in the end of public education or failing that, reform of a radical scope. Some of his criticisms have great merit in a large-picture sense because the public school system is an ad hoc, irrational creature that has evolved slowly…very slowly..over time.

The public is most comfortable when the activity of their schools are familiar ones, regardless of whether they are doing well and tend to oppose innovations – again without examination of the intended reform or potential results. Change is usually opposed simply because it attempts something different from ” when WE were in school ” or because it affects vested interests – politicians, teacher’s unions, administrators, local business. In that sense, Finn and Keegan are quite correct about the public schools being ” conservative ” in a systemic sense. Scholar Larry Cuban documented as much in his history of American education 15 years ago so this observation is nothing new.

Their other contentions, that school boards are dominated by teacher’s unions or are not representative entities are less convincing. No, school boards do not have complete power to fire individual teachers without cause in collective bargaining situations but in my experience the relationship between unions and school boards are generally adversarial. Who is ” on top ” see-saws with time as it does in any other negotiation involving an employer and organized labor. Even situations where both sides tout ” collaborative ” bargaining, it tends to be with forced grins.

The claim that few boards are elected by a significant number of voters due to off-year elections is valid – but it applies to most other local and county offices as well. It’s an argument essentially against local control of any kind because the voters are apathetic, uninformed ( or self-interested) idiots – again there’s some validity here. Look at your local boards and elected officials, commissions and trustees.

However I think Finn’s complaint would be addressed less destructively to our democratic system by tackling the size of school districts to assure both democratic representation and accountability. Very large districts like Chicago and very small school districts encompassing only one or two schools are the ones that tend toward the greatest dysfunction, diseconomies of scale and political influence. Going with the quick fix of central control at the state or federal level because the American people are rubes, not to be trusted, is not an argument usually associated with conservatives. Central control, I would argue, has a very bad historical record as a principle of organization at just about anything other than war.

And if that’s not enough, just imagine the presidential candidate who you can’t stand deciding what all the kids in America are going to be taught next fall.

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