Monday, December 02, 2002
POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS: Patrick Ruffini has a long rant in response to the DiIulio story that boils down the basic point that political scientists -- i.e., those with a Ph.D. in poli sci -- don't know squat about politics: "For an academic, it takes time to learn that more than 90% of politics is logistical and operational, that the day-to-day mechanics of government have precious little resemblance to a luncheons at the Brookings Institution, good for the soul as they may be.... You have to endure a few lectures of Poli Sci 1 to appreciate just how truly alien the academic study of politics is when stacked up against how politics and campaigns really work."

Is this fair? A full answer would require a much longer post; the short answer is yes and no. [What do you know about this?--ed. I'm a political scientist who did policy work in the government for a year, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship.] It is undeniably true that political scientists often crash and burn when they enter the policy world -- as seems to be the case with DiIulio. I don't have tenure yet, so there's no way in hell I'm going to name names. Is this because they didn't understand the way politics actually works? It might be safer to say it's because they don't understand the art of management, a point Franklin Foer made two years ago in the New Republic.

That said, Condoleezza Rice, another political scientist, seems to be thriving in this administration, even though many DC insiders predicted she'd get eaten alive by Rumsfield, Powell, Cheney et al. Political scientists per se are not congenitally incapable of prospering in government. And the tools of political science are a vital component of their success. [What about Ruffini's argument that history is more useful?--ed. They're both useful -- but woe is the man that relies only on history as a guide to DC. Many policymakers rely on theory to guide their decision-making, but the theory comes in the form of weak historical analogies that get them into trouble.]

I suspect the real difference between those political scientists that succeed in government and those that fail is that the successes know the limits of their trade. The most useful models of politics -- like the most useful models of any set of complex behaviors -- are abstracted from reality. The most capable political scientists know the proper limits of those models. They recognize that other sets of skills matter, skills that go way beyond social science. What those skills are, I'll get into in the next couple of weeks.

P.S.: This phenomenon is not unique to political scientists by any stretch of the imagination, nor does it apply only to Republican administrations. Joeseph Stiglitz and Laurence Summers were both distinguished economists who took reasonably high offices in the Clinton Administration. In 1992, If you were to predict which of them would do better, it would have been Stiglitz, since he was the more affable of the two of them, and Summers already had some bad blood with Al Gore. But Stiglitz crashed and burned, leading some considerable bitterness, as this Atlantic Monthly piece makes clear. Summers, in contrast, managed to thrive because he learned from his early mistakes, as David Plotz pointed out.
ESQUIRE'S SECRET FORMULA: The White House press corps can't stand the Bush administration. The motivation isn't ideological. It's that the Bush team is rarely off-message, which leads to a dearth of interesting stories.

This leads to the following question: how the hell is Esquire getting the dirt that no one else can? In the spring, you might remember, they were the ones to publish a bizarre Andy Card confession about the behemoth that is Karl Rove. Now, according to Drudge and the Times, the magazine has scored another tell-all interview. This one's with John J. DiIulio Jr., the former head of Bush's faith-based initiative. He confirms Card's gaffe -- Rove is running everything. This latest dust-up just prompted a White House denial. (Update: Drudge has posted DiIulio's long e-mail that formed the guts of the article)

One substantive comment and one smart-ass comment. The substantive comment is that according to the Times story, "Mr. DiIulio says the religious right and libertarians trust Mr. Rove 'to keep Bush 43 from behaving like Bush 41 and moving too far to the center or inching at all center-left.'" As a pragmatic libertarian, I think that DiIulio is both logically and factually wrong. He's logically wrong since on social issues libertarians will espouse views that are pretty far to the left [take it away, Jacob Levy; He has--ed.]. He's factually wrong, since libertarians are not happy with this White House on either homeland security or foreign economic policy. The latter most defintely has Karl Rove's fingerprints. Which means that despite the Weekly Standard's claims that libertarians should consistently favor Republicans, libertarians might not want Karl Rove to have that much power.

The smart-ass point: if a "sophisticated" men's magazine like Esquire can get quality dirt like this, imagine what less sophisticated men's magazines could dig up. I call on the White House to extend press credentials to reporters from Maxim, Stuff, and FHM immediately!! [Did you really have to link to those magazines?--ed. Just trying to be thorough!]

UPDATE: DiIulio now denies making the comments. Card provided similar denials last spring. Ron Suskind wrote both pieces for Esquire. Here's Suskind's response to DiIulio's denial. Maybe Suskind's just making it all up, but the guy's a former Wall Street Journal who won a Pulitzer, so I have to think there's some truth to the stories. Looking at DiIulio's e-mail, I suspect this is a case of a person upset by a reporter's spin, not the facts themselves. Patrick Ruffini disagrees. TNR's blog provides a nice summary of the plausible explanations for DiIulio's comments and retractions. Hmmm, another thought.... maybe men's magazines encourage the same kind of fantasizing with their feature articles that they do with their profiles of attractive women. In which case, having Maxim or Stuff in the White House press corps could produce "reporting" along the lines of Robert Reich's notorious memoirs, but more titillating.
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK FOR BRAD DELONG: When Brad DeLong is talking about economic policy, he's the man. Even if you disagree with him, he's an intellectual force to be reckoned with. When DeLong switches to plain-old politics, however, he becomes a boring liberal.

For evidence of the former, check out this great link on how Zimbabwe is unintentionally highlighting the virtues of the Washington Consensus, and then this piece on the problems with NAFTA (not the one's you'd think).

For evidence of the latter, see this post gleefully contrasting Ashcroft quotes from 1997 and today. Now, the libertarian in me agrees with DeLong that Ashcroft is probably more sanguine about enhanced executive powers now because he's in the executive. However, the pragmatist in me simply cannot swallow DeLong's assertion that, "the world today is about as dangerous a place as it was back in 1997. The threat of international terrorism is of the same order of magnitude now as it was then." The heightened insecurity of a post 9/11 world does provide a justification for Ashcroft's flip-flop. That might not be his actual reason, but it's still a pretty good one.
HOW THE U.S. MEDIA IS BECOMING MORE EUROPEAN: For all of the talk about the U.S. and Europe parting ways, there is one phenomenon in which the U.S. is moving closer to the European model -- the overt biases of media outlets. In Great Britain, for example, everyone knows that the Guardian is left-of-center, the Independent is centrist, the Times is to the right, and the Daily Telegraph is further to the right (don't ask me about the tabloids, they all just blurred together to me).

In the U.S., media outlets ritually stress their devotion to objectivity (fair and balanced, anyone?). However, outlets are beginning to drift to one side of the political fence or the other. There are lots of ideational reasons for this (I suspect that post-9/11, the reader demand for a consistent philosophy to put news coverage into a clear context has increased) but the most important might be that it increases profits.

Consider Seth Mnookin's Newsweek piece on the "crusading Southern populist" (i.e., liberal) bias in the New York Times. The piece is mostly about the Times' leftward shift under Howell Raines, but it contains another interesting nugget of information: "their game plan is working—at least at the newsstand. During a time when many papers are losing circulation, the Times, which has aggressively pursued a national readership, has seen increases over the past six months, with most of that uptick coming outside the New York metropolitan area."

Now, contrast this with the following information contained in the New York Times' favorable Sunday piece on Fox News: "Fox News reported that its prime-time viewership had grown 17 percent for the month, compared with November 2001, while CNN's prime-time ratings fell 31 percent, continuing a pattern of dominance by Fox in the cable news wars. In the 24-hour cycle, Fox has a solid lead over CNN, and has left MSNBC in the dust."

For all the talk about the Blogosphere fracturing into snug ideological cocoons, it's the mainstream media that could be headed in this direction. I'm on the fence about the implications. One clear downside is the tendency for ideological zeal to overwhelm a concern for accurately nailing down the hard facts of a story. All sides are guilty of this -- click here for the New York Times' headline fiasco and here for brouhahas involving the Washington Times.

Still, I suspect it won't be an entirely negative phenomenon, so long as a market still exists for an Independent-style of neutral publications. A chief virtue of an ideological press is that when a media outlet goes against its natural ideological biases, it carries great credibility. If Fox News were to argue in favor of stricter gun control laws, it would make people notice; ditto if the Times were to ever argue in favor of restricting abortions. [Why haven't you mentioned Paul Krugman's criticisms of media bias this past Friday?--ed. Because Krugman wasn't thinking like an economist in that piece, he was posting as a liberal. An economist would celebrate the 67% increase in market competiotion for television news, and point out the utility of ideological brands as a useful signal in a market defined by imperfect information. His concern is the growth of conservative media outlets. This tendency of Krugman will be the subject of what the Times would label a "sophisticated exegesis of a sociological phenomenon" -- and what I will simply call a lengthy post -- later this week).

Developing.... over the next couple of years.

UPDATE: Tapped weighs in on this phenomenon as well. Kevin Drum has some thoughts on this as well; check it out for his hysterically funny "solution" to the problem.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
BEST EU RECAP EVER: Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. But far more important than those prestigious sinecures, during football season he writes a hysterical weekly column called Tuesday Morning Quarterback. About 75% of the column is about football and "megababes," but Easterbrook channels his inner blogger for the other 25%. Today's column contains the best summary description of the European Union I've ever read:

"The European Union is a kind of quasi-official meta-government that seeks out the cost, bureaucracy and ineffectiveness of each member nation's worst ministry, then tries to impose it on all of Europe."
A CHEER FOR U.S. FOREIGN ECONOMIC POLICY: I've been criticial of the way this administration has given foreign economic policies such a low priority. It seems only appropriate to point out when the White House gives it a justifiably higher profile.

This FT story suggests the administration is committed to jump-starting the Doha round of world trade negotiations. The story suggests that the proposal would mainly benefit developing countries; that leaves out how much these cuts would benefit low-income families in the United States. Click here for an excellent essay on why protectionism hurts the poor more than the rich.

Today, the Bush administration proposed an innovative method of allocating the $5 billion increase in foreign aid. According to Reuters:

"Strict conditions would be set for countries to qualify under the so-called Millennium Challenge Account program aimed at rewarding cash-strapped governments that embrace civil rights, root out corruption, open up their markets and adopt other policies favored by Washington..... To win a share of the resources, countries would be ranked based on 16 separate "performance indicators," from civil rights to spending on public health and education."

Makes sense to me; it's a pity the rest of the $10 billion in official development assistance won't be allocated in this fashion.

UPDATE: David E. Sanger's New York Times story has a lot more detail. And Brink Lindsey has a good discussion about the tariff proposal over at his blog.
Monday, November 25, 2002
A DEATH IN THE LIBERAL FAMILY: John Rawls died today at the age of 81. Who is John Rawls? A liberal philosopher of the highest order -- here's Jacob Levy's take:

"the sheer accomplishment of Rawls' work is-- as one of his sharpest critics, the late Robert Nozick, said quite forcefully-- tremendous. Within Anglo-American philosophy it renewed the sense that it was possible to engage in rigorous, serious, meaningful debate about moral and political questions. And it serves to this day as the most influential, most important critique of both aggregative-utilitarian substitutes for a theory of justice and radically-egalitarian versions of such a theory. He was, in addition, a famously effective teacher who shaped two generations of Harvard philosophers, and a gracious gentleman who sought conversation and shared intellectual progress."

He will be missed.

AIDS, THE WEST, AND THE REST: Jerry Falwell used to argue that AIDS was God's way of killing homosexuals for their acts of apostasy. Lefties used to believe that the CIA created AIDS to wipe out those who opposed the American government. In the wake of 9/11, such conspiracy theories seem passé. However, the spread of AIDS is going to raise some profound questions about the future of different types of states. And, oddly enough, the lefties might have been unintentionally correct -- AIDS will increase America's relative power in the long run.

If you think I'm exaggerating the impact of AIDS on national security, consider this NYT story on the effect of AIDS on African militaries. Consider this projection of India's infection rate. Here's the UN's take on AIDS in Asia more generally. And, having just returned from a conference on Russia, it's been made pretty clear to me that the problem is about to explode in that country as well.

There are two basic ways to combat the deleterious effects of AIDS on society -- information and innovation. Information about what AIDS is, how it can be transmitted, etc. helps to reduce the spread of infection. But it's damn hard for most societies to be able to discuss sexual matters in an honest manner. Only in a open, liberal society can accurate messages about prevention spread (Consider this story from Buffalo, NY). Just as important, only in these societies can ill-founded myths about the disease be falsified. As for innovation, only a society that prizes scientific inquiry, rewards innovation and protects the rights of the innovators is there any individual motivation to discover vaccines and cures. Again, you need a liberal, affluent society to be able to provide the proper incentives.

Some, like Falwell, may argue that there is another option -- a fundamentalist regime that actually gets its citizens practice sexual abstinence. This could work in theory, but it's a much less robust strategy. Once AIDS occurs in these societies, it's impossible to stop, since the state can't admit its existence without admitting its founding principles are being violated. Any discussion would have to admit the possibility of illicit sex and drug use. In fact, the spread of AIDS in totalitarian societies is likely to be much faster because of the state's reluctance to ever publicly broach the topic.

Realists believe that we live in a Hobbesian world in which all gains are strictly relative. If you accept that worldview, one can only conclude that AIDS is a boon to the West. It will incapacitate any society that is so beholden to religious conservatives that either sex or drug use cannot be a topic of public discussion.

To be clear: I'm NOT claiming to be happy about the impending death of billions. I'm not. But I do find it interesting that the societies that the Christian right claimed were bringing AIDS upon themselves are in fact the ones best equipped to cope with the scourge.

UPDATE: Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link; check out this LA Times story on the alarming increase in AIDS infections in societies that are ill-equipped to deal with the disease, and the potential for AIDS to lead to mass famine in Africa. Here's the actual UN study.

CORRECTION: My original version of this post stated that Phyllis Schlafly made the comment that AIDS being God's will against homosexuals. That was my error, for which I apologize. According to this article, Schlafly did accuse C.Everett Koop of promoting "safe fornication with condoms" as "a cover-up for the homosexual community" when Koop promoted condom use as a means of prevention.
REPLY TO OSAMA: The Guardian's Sunday Observer has reprinted Osama bin Laden's alleged “letter to the American people,” The letter was originally posted in Arabic on a Saudi web site. The Observer story describes it as, “the most comprehensive explanation of bin Laden's ideology to be issued for several years.” Andrew Sullivan makes several trenchant comments on it. InstaPundit also has a reply. Here's mine:

Dear Osama,

I’m sensing some nervous tension in your last missive. You seem concerned about the exchange of letters between American and Saudi intellectuals. You should be scared, since it’s pretty clear that your faith in your faith is staggeringly weak.

Let me explain. You believe you’re a devout Muslim, armed with a super-freaky interpretation of the Quran. OK, so yada, yada, yada, you’re devout. But it’s pretty clear that you believe that when Muslims – much less infidels – are faced with an array of choices, your version of the creed isn’t going to win. This is why you fulminate against the inability to impose Shariah, the U.S. separation of church and state, and the fact that American culture seems to be kicking some global ass. Because without the power of the state, without the elimination of a marketplace of ideas, your "fun-loving" philosophy is doomed to go the way of the do-do bird. Even with the power of the state, you're in trouble. Looked at Iran recently?

Leaving aside the state, it’s pretty clear you don’t want anyone around that disagrees with your theology. You think you have arrived at the definitive interpretation of the Torah, Quran, and U.S. Constitution. You also believe that any other interpretation must be the work of the Jews, the gays, or the myriad other minorities you want to persecute. What, you’re afraid of some debate, some give and take on these issues? That’s the way you attract followers, by changing their minds. This letter is not going to help in that cause. It does a great job with the Stalinist intellectuals – loved your references to Kyoto and the ICC – but you’ve already got their misguided votes. This kind of intellectual cowardice doesn’t play well with the masses.

The exchange of different opinions and ideas will be the death of you, your cronies, and your totalitarian ideology. You might blow some more things up; I have no doubt you’ll try. But that’s your only strategy left. You can’t tolerate discussion; you can’t tolerate debate. You request to “deal with us and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of subdual (sic), theft and occupation” is fatuous in the extreme. There is no mutuality of interests. You’ve defined the situation as a zero-sum game. So thanks for clearing that up.


Daniel W. Drezner

UPDATE: Jacob Levy argues that the letter is a fake (which I agree is a distinct possibility); Jon Kay argues it's proof that Osama really wants to be a blogger.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
GOOD RIDDANCE: A French farmer-turned anti-globalization celebrity, José Bové is going to jail for various attacks on genetically-modified crop fields in France. Bové is better known as the farmer who attacked a MacDonald's, earning the praise of French president Jacques Chirac.

Activists have hailed Bové as a leader of the fight against globalization (click here for an example). I've always found this absurd. Bové's decision to attack the MacDonald's in the first place was due to a U.S. decision, during a typical trade spat with the EU, to raise tariffs against French luxury goods. This had a devastating impact on Bové's livelihood, as "someone who supplies sheep's milk to makers of Roquefort cheese," according to the New York Times. In other words, the initial incident that triggered Bové's "protest" was a lack of globalization, not its acceleration. The fact that Bové and other protestors concluded that the cure for Bové's ills was to halt the free flow of goods and services across borders even further is a testimony to the blinkered logic of the anti-globalization movement.
TWO WEEKS LATER: Six weeks ago, a prominent reader of this blog asked me whether I was a "blogaholic" -- whether I felt compelled to blog to the point where it interfered with my real job. After two weeks of cold turkey, the answer is no. After the first few days, I stopped checking my declining hit count rate and just started doing the research and committee work that I needed to do. There were still moments during the past two weeks when I wanted to comment on well-written essays (like Heather Hurlburt's first-rate Washington Monthly article on the "security expertise gap" Democrats suffer), or snarky pieces of provocation (like Chris Sullentrop's intentionally outrageous attack on Harry Potter in Slate). So I'm not addicted to blogging, but it certainly takes care of an itch that needs scratching.

The other thing I've done was listen to all of my liberal friends (and relatives) bitch and moan about the imminent collapse of Western civilization now that Republicans control the legislative and executive branches. Complaints along the lines of:

"Abortion will be illegal within three weeks!!"

"The Bill of Rights are doomed!!"

and, to combine all liberal sore points into one canard:

"Non-union Southerners -- all of them without health insurance -- are going to raze public schools to the ground in favor of urban strip mining for coal!!"

Relax, people. For those who genuinely believe this will happen, click over to Jacob Levy's extended analysis of the median voter theorem. More importantly, stop thinking that the federal government is the source for all good and evil in the world -- this might be the signal difference between true-blue liberals and the rest of the population.
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
NO MORE FOR TWO WEEKS: What always irritates about TV pundits is that when they're proven wrong, they immediately move on to a very self-assured, knowledgeable discussion of what actually happened. Never any penance for getting something wrong.

Well, not on this blog. My analysis of the election was wrong, wrong, wrong. This is the second election in a row that President Bush did better than the standard economic models of voting predicted. [But Bush wasn't on the ballot this year --ed. Oh, bulls@#%$! Even Joe Conason grants that he took the risk of making a heavy investment in this election, and it paid off]. I was wrong for relying on those models even though the 2000 election discredited them.

For penance, I'm swearing off blogging for two weeks. That's right, I'm going cold turkey. It doesn't matter that my area of expertise is international relations and this was American politics; if anything, I screwed up by minimizing the effect of foreign policy on this election, particularly in the Georgia Senate race. So I'm taking the next two weeks to reflect on my errors and try to come back as a better blogger.

The fact that I have to crash on a paper has nothing to do with this....

While I'm away, click on Barry Rubin's essay on why Anti-Americanism in the Middle East has little to do with U.S. policy and lots to do with domestic frustrations. Then reread the essay, replacing "Middle East" with "Western Europe" and see if it applies there!

UPDATE: A month later, InstaPundit recommends doing the same thing with Rubin's essay.
TICK, TICK, TICK...: That's the sound of Terry MacAulliffe's tenure slipping away. And also the sound of me admitting that Jacob Levy beat my predictions. D'oh!!

More later. For now, though, the best thing I've seen written about the election this morning is David Brooks' piece over at the Weekly Standard.
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
EARLY EXIT POLLS MEAN SQUAT, BUT...: Two years ago I remember being very excited because I got a sneak peak at VNS (Voter News Service) numbers at around 2 PM. Of course, those numbers had Iowa and Pennsylvania going for Bush, so I don't place a ton of faith in these instruments. That said, compare and contrast Drudge's info with Joshua Micah Marshall's skinny on early exit polling for crucial Senate elections. Oh, hell, I'll do it for you:

ARKANSAS -- Drudge has Pryor (D) winning "easily"; Marshall has Pryor up by 18 points.

COLORADO -- A shocker. Drudge also has Strickland (D) winning “easily”; Marshall has him up by 20 points.

GEORGIA -- Both Drudge and Marshall have Chambliss (R) up by 4 points.

LOUISIANA -- Drudge has Landrieu facing a December runoff.

MINNESOTA -- Drudge has Coleman (R) up by 3; Marshall has Mondale up by a similar percentage.

MISSOURI -- Drudge has Talent (R) "leading"; Marshall has him up by 10 points.

NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Drudge has nothing on this race; Marshall has Shaheen (D) up by 6 points.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Very interesting. Drudge has Bowles (D) "leading"; Marshall has Dole up 4-6 points.

SOUTH DAKOTA -- Nothing from Drudge; Marshall has Johnson (D) up by 2-4 points.

TEXAS -- Drudge has Cornyn (R) up 8 points, and Marshall has him up by 10 points.

I predicted Strickland winning, but there's no way in hell that a Democrat is going to win in Colorado by twenty points. This should clue you in to how much these numbers will fluctuate over the day. Of all of the races posted above, the one I find the most interesting is North Carolina, where Drudge and Marshall predict a winner contrary to their own ideological preferences.


UPDATE: Both Drudge and Marshall now post that the VNS computer has "has somehow broken down or that they themselves aren't trusting their numbers," so that's it as far as exit polls go.
POSITIVE TRENDS ARE AFOOT: Liberals are fond of stating that Bush's foreign policy antagonizes other countries so much that it has led to a on-the-ground backlash against American ideas. And, to be sure, this is true of the French. Of course, historically, French identity is so bound up in opposing the United States that it doesn't matter what our foreign policy looks like.

Anyway, to counter this perception, consider the following news items, which suggest that movements on the ground in other countries are not so simple:

1) Abdollah Nouri, Iran's former vice-president and leading reformist dissident, who actually said during his trial that perhaps Iran should moderate it's anti-Israeli position, was just pardoned. One analysts said "(Nouri's)release will strengthen the reform movement and could break the political deadlock''

2) Capitalism appears to be eroding the Chinese Communist Party, according to the New York Times. The money quote: "People both young and old, in this jazzy coastal city and across the nation, say in conversation that the Communist Party, which once insinuated itself into every cranny of society, now seems almost irrelevant to their daily lives."

3) Hugo Chavez's attempt to lurch Venezuela towards the left appear to be failing. This FT story highlights recent grass-roots efforts to move towards early presidential elections in that country.

4) NATO is such an attractive club that the lure of membership has led to substantive political reforms across Central and Eastern Europe. According to the Washington Post, "The desire to join the club has already had a big impact on Eastern Europe. Romania and Hungary negotiated a treaty settling ancient territorial disputes and promising peaceful coexistence. The people of Slovakia voted the way NATO made clear it wanted them to, reelecting a center-right, pro-NATO government in September. Czech policy toward the Roma, also known as Gypsies, and Polish environmental policy have changed to please the West."

Monday, November 04, 2002
THOUGHTS FOR ELECTION DAY: My wife is very fond of an old New Yorker cartoon in which an elderly woman, sitting next to her grumpy husband, tells her son, “Even after all these years, I still get a thrill out of canceling your father’s vote!” This pretty much describes my household. We have an Election Day tradition. We walk to the voting place, fill out our ballots, cancel out each other’s votes, and then go for brunch.

Why bother? Three reasons. The first is that we both enjoy the playful antagonisms created by our different politics. My wife, God bless her, is a social worker. She counsels children and young parents on welfare. To do this well requires a tremendous deal of empathy, which she has in spades. She’s a liberal in the modern sense of the word; I’m not. We take different positions on issues, but most of the time, after we’ve talked about it, both of us have usually given some ground. This phenomenon is not unique to politics. Over the years, I’ve found myself more open to the possibility that societal forces can impinge on individual psychologies. My wife, in contrast, increasingly recognizes the need for individuals to take responsibility for their actions, no matter what the societal pressures. We will always disagree, but allowing for the possibility of changing one’s mind is the essence of a healthy relationship.

Second, we enjoy our disagreements about politics because they matter so little to our daily lives. How to raise children, how to manage a household, which video to rent on a Friday night; these are the crucial issues of a relationship. I don’t mean to trivialize politics. Thorny debates over reforming Social Security or attacking Iraq matter – they just don’t matter on a day-to-day basis to most people. We both know and are bemused by people who would never date or marry someone on the other side of the political fence (yes, most of them are liberals, but I’m sure there are a few conservatives that are like this). Those who put the political before the personal usually lack a sense of humor and any recognition of their potential to be fallible. On the other hand, my wife and I take great delight in getting the other person to say, “I was wrong” about anything.

Third, even for a libertarian such as myself, part of the fun of voting is the sense of community it helps to create. Voting is a voluntary, secret activity that nevertheless encourages you to mingle with equally civic-minded neighbors. I love the minivans driving around exhorting people to vote; I love the pollsters and hard-core campaigners outside the polling station; and I especially love the kindly old women that give you your ballot (yes, a stereotype, but a true one).

Would these things be true if I was voting in Russia, Turkey, France, or Brazil? Probably not. Lots of pundits bitch about the Democrats and Republican resembling each other; I take great comfort in it. It means that, no matter what happens tomorrow, or in 2004, or 2040, that ninety percent of what makes this country great will remain unchanged after a transfer of power from one party to another.

If you're an American, go and vote tomorrow. Take pride if your party or your candidate wins. But take solace that you are a citizen in a country where losing is not the same as Götterdammerung. The world is a better place when politics is not a matter of life or death.
Sunday, November 03, 2002
WHEN ACADEMICS ATTACK: Marc Herold is an associate professor of economic development and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire. According to UNH's web page, Herold has only published one refereed journal article in either economics or women's studies – ever [So how come he’s got tenure and you don’t?—ed. Oh, don’t be a smart-ass]. Last year, however, he issued a press release claiming to have developed a comprehensive list of close to 4,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan during last year’s campaign. This list garnered a lot of foreign and some American media attention. Multiple stories (click here and here) -- by neocons, to be sure -- demonstrate Herold's analysis to be a not-so-subtle exaggeration of press reports. To quote one assessment, "the problem is not the national origin of the source so much as the fact that most of them are third- or fourth-hand overlapping hearsay interviews with Afghans in Pakistani refugee camps some days' journey from Kabul and Kandahar who heard various stories along the way with no precise dates attached." Most estimates place the civilian casualties at approximately 1,000.

Reading this exchange of e-mails between Herold and a blogger (link via InstaPundit) is like rubbernecking at a traffic accident or a coming across a Madonna movie while flipping channels – you know you shouldn’t watch, but you can’t help it. I don’t think either of them is exhibiting the kind of decorum approved by Miss Manners. It also, perhaps, demonstrates why Herold’s methodology should be challenged – he writes without thinking.

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