Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Strange timing ...

I swear I hadn’t read Ruth Ann Dailey’s column when I wrote my last post, this morning. I had in mind David Brooks and William Kristol of the NYTimes, both of whom have been complimentary of Barack Obama. When your enemies compliment you, you have to wonder what their motivation is.

Ruth Ann does not get around to complimenting Mr Obama until the last paragraph, but I assume she was baiting me with this early remark: “The column's timing is curious, appearing just as the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton is laying bare the cognitive dissonance of the left wing's decades-old racial posturing.” (probably not baiting me, but honestly, how many people use “cognitive dissonance” in everyday column writing?)

The remark refers to a column from Leonard Pitts Jr, discussing the history of the allegiance of black voters to one party or the other. A reader asks about Martin Luther King’s being a republican, and about Southern democrats such as Lester Maddox and George Wallace. Mr. Pitts responds by talking about the changeover Southern Democratic politicians had made (eventually to joining the Republican party), but he doesn’t really pin down the time that happened. Ms. Dailey pounces on that, and makes the point that during the civil rights era Republicans were still very sympathetic to African-Americans, voting in greater proportion than Democrats for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, I’m not sure about what greater proportion means, it could mean that 90% of Republicans voted for the two acts, and only 89% of Democrats voted for them. Obviously, a lot of Southern Democrats were seeing the potential end of their careers (if blacks were no longer disenfranchised), and might well have voted against the Acts. Later as I understand it no small number of Southern Democrats switched parties (which Ms. Dailey notes), part of a deliberate “Southern Strategy” pursued by Richard Nixon. Ms Dailey is no also doubt accurate in documenting Lyndon Johnson’s move from being essentially racist in the fifties to championing civil rights in the late sixties.

But Ruth Ann goes on to try to identify the “Real Killers”, which is to say the real villains in the south. She points the finger at extremists in both parties, at African American leaders who want to maintain their power base, and lastly (and not surprisingly) at the “baby boomer” media which sees the leaders of the civil rights movement as heroes. I have to say the first three groups are easy targets, and I think Ruth Ann is advancing her own agenda in pointing at the media. There is surely some hero worship of figures like Kennedy and King, but it is harder than ever to run away from the truth, even if it is a little threatening to one’s self image.

Caroline Kennedy’s piece in the NYTimes, endorsing Barack Obama because he reminds her of what people tell her about her own father, might well be looked at in terms of cognitive dissonance. She writes in a style that reads like something out of a bad third grade civics textbook. She actually tells us that since the Democratic candidates policy proposals are so similar, we can safely ignore and make our choice based largely on “qualities of leadership, character and judgment”.

The thing is, Jack Kennedy was a very human president. He was a cold warrior with very good anti-communist credentials, for example his brother Bobby was a counsel for the “Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations”, Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist committee. Later Bobby ended up as part of the investigation of McCarthy. JFK was almost certainly a philanderer, but the media of the time was reluctant to reveal such things. Kennedy got us deeper into Vietnam and of course set the tone for our relationship with Cuba. The country at the time was pretty divided about Kennedy, much the way it was divided in the (Bill) Clinton years.

Certainly Kennedy had some strong qualities. His handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, although hardly well thought out at the time, was a successful masterstroke of restraint. Kennedy brought us the Peace Corps, the manned effort to reach the moon, civil rights, the 1963 tax cut and generally did set an optimistic tone for the country.

Kennedy, the assassinated myth, holds a special place in US mythology, along with his brother and Martin Luther King. But we should really remember the man, who rose past his foibles to be good (although perhaps not great) president.

Better late? Really?

So I haven’t been posting on my blog as I should. I have been commenting on other people’s blogs, but that’s getting a little tiring as other people’s blogs either have no other commenters, or the comments seem to consist of “the other side is evil and you are stupid” sort of thing.

So the other side is evil and anyone who disagrees is stupid. Heh.

I will say that elections are not the place for genuine debate on issues, at least, not after Iowa and New Hampshire. I remember reading about health care plans and …. Well, I read about health care plans, anyway. Obama’s doesn’t have mandates, (Hillary) Clinton’s does. Everybody wants to control for medical errors by saying they will.

Anyway, all that’s gone. I guess the issues are something for early in the campaign, if at all. Blink and you might miss them (or sleepwalk, as most registered voters do, and you might miss them). I guess we can watch candidates react to the financial crisis; we get to see them behave like pundits.

It remains to be seen whether Bill Clinton will be pulled back now, having been let or having let himself off the leash to squeeze out some innuendos that everyone knew would be analyzed to death by the punditocracy (including us bloggers). Really, the gyrations of the punditocracy, as they try to look into the campaigns, are pretty funny. (Hillary) Clinton was never going to win South Carolina because of the black vote and/or the white vote. Obama was going to win. Edwards was going to win.

Its especially interesting when conservatives comment on democrats. They have to know it is annoying to a democratic candidate when a conservative talks about what a swell guy/girl he/she is. The candidate has to wonder, is the conservative saying this because the conservative wants to help the candidate, wants to hurt the candidate, thinks the candidate will be easier or more difficult to beat …And of course the flip side is true. John McCain looked a little like he had swallowed a bug (on camera and still had to smile) when Tim Russert brought up the NYTimes endorsement of McCain. Everyone knows the Times will endorse the democrat in the general election, so what business does the Times have making an endorsement of a republican in the primaries?

“Sound and fury”, (so far) “signifying nothing”.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ruth Ann today

The title of Ruth Ann Dailey’s column today (“What makes abortion rates decline?”) is somewhat misleading. I think it should be something closer to Abortion Advocates Lie in Studies” or something. Ruth Ann tells us that two studies from the Guttmacher Institute contradict each other. One indicates that around the world, abortion rates are the same in countries where it is legal and where it is illegal. Ruth Ann quite correctly points out that any data from the countries where abortion is illegal would have to be estimates. The second study, about the US alone, show that abortion rates are the lowest they have been since a high reached in 1981. Ruth Ann claims the second study contradicts the first, but her description of the details of the methodology of the first leads me to believe it was simply poorly designed.

The funny thing, to me, is that Ruth Ann does not discuss the second study, why it might be that abortion rates have dropped for the last twenty five years. She devotes two paragraphs, three sentences, giving credit to the pro-life movement for the drop. She calls it “speaking out about its tragedy”.

The thing is, the pro-choice/pro-life conflict has much of the same extreme language as the gun control/gun rights conflict. Gun owners worry that any restriction on gun ownership will lead directly to a gun ban, or at least that’s how they portray the situation. Similarly, the pro-choice people seem to feel that the pro-life people want to use restrictions as a wedge to ban all abortions. Right now, gun owners and pro-life people have the courts more or less on their side, although its hard to stretch the law or precedents too far.

But I suspect that, not including the zealots, most people who are pro-choice don’t really want to see a world where there is abortion on demand. For myself, anyway, I would like to see a world where all sex is consensual, and where birth control is readily available (without stigma) for use, and its use in encouraged publicly. That way, the only abortions that would have to occur would be in those rare cases where the birth control failed, and not necessarily even then.

Obviously I am engaging in a bit of fantasy here, the world that exists today is quite different, essentially because of the pro-life movement. The pro-lifers have used the power of publicity to exploit seemingly reasonable issues (such as forcing teenagers to get the permission of parents before getting abortions) to legislate extensive restrictions on abortions. They have used negative publicity to force abortion providers out of business, especially in rural states (something like 2 providers in the whole state of Wyoming). In Pennsylvania, poor women can’t get abortions at publicly funded clinics unless their life is in danger or they say they were raped. Ironically, employees of the state have the same restrictions under the state health plan (but they could possibly pay for the procedure themselves). And 7o percent of Pennsylvania counties, presumably all rural or with a small city such as Erie, have no abortion providers.

I have the impression that Ruth Ann wants to say that abortion rates have fallen because we have evolved morally, that more of us agree with the pro-life movement. This despite the fact that there is little evidence of moral growth in other areas, such as crime or energy usage. In fact, ironically, the ability to make a choice about whether to have an abortion has been taken away from women in rural areas and poor women in urban areas. I guess these matters are too important not to be controlled by a "nanny state".