Monday, February 27, 2012

Some (Last?) Thoughts About Santorum

I found a lot to like in Andrew Sullivan's denunciation of Rick Santorum's theological conservatism. There were two things I thought were worth critically discussing. The first was his characterization of Santorum's faith:
he is not a man of questioning, sincere faith and should not be flattered as such. He is a man of the kind of fear that leads to fundamentalist faith, a faith without doubt and in complete subservience to external authority.
I like that "questioning, sincere faith" fits together as a phrase to Andrew -- I like people for whom this makes sense more than those for whom it doesn't. But I fear the latter are much more common than the former.

On a more tactical note, I wondered if anything like this actually works:
For now we can see in plain view the religious fanaticism that has destroyed one of the major parties in this country, a destruction that is perilous for any workable politics. It must be defeated - and not by electing a plastic liar and panderer like Romney. But by nominating Santorum and defeating him by such a margin that this theo-political Frankenstein, which threatens both genuine faith and civil politics, is dispatched once and for all.
Is this actually a dynamic that has any chance of working? If the Republican Party loses with Santorum, will the forces he represents really be dispatched? Or will Republicans dig themselves deeper into a hole of fanaticism and paranoia, inventing strange new theories that blame traitorous party moderates for the loss and continuing to nominate extremists? I'd expect Fox and Limbaugh to lead them the latter way.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter that much with Romney coasting towards the nomination, but I thought it was worth talking about. (Edit: maybe this sentence should sound less certain about Romney's chances -- I weary of predictions.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Liking Jobs Makes You Forget That You Don't Like Contraception

John Sides presents the chart at right to help us evaluate whether the contraception decision hurt Obama among Catholics. Jan. 28-29 apparently was when dioceses were told to talk about Obama's decision during worship services (and Jan. 29 was a Sunday). He notes that a good jobs report came out Feb. 3, but discounts this explanation of why Obama's numbers among Catholics moved back up, saying "There is no apparent reason why Catholics would react to the jobs report differently than others."

It seemed to me that the jobs report provides a perfectly good explanation. Instead of continuing to be unhappy about the contraception thing like the Church hierarchy wants you to, a good jobs report gives you something else to think about. The impact of events fades with time, and especially with the occurrence of new events.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rick Santorum? Really? Rick Santorum?

I admit to being mostly baffled by the current state of play in the Republican Primary. Rick Santorum is currently ahead by a wide margin in Michigan, which is a semi-home state for Mitt Romney (Mitt's father, George Romney, was the state's popular in the '60s).  My basic view of the race has been that it would eventually come down to Romney and the Conservative Southern Alternative. But the various candidates for spokesman of the CSA fell one by one. Sonny Perdue (GA) never even gave it a shot, since he'd probably end up looking like a dumber version of Rick Perry; Bob Riley AL tried to raise taxes during the Bush Era; Mark Sanford (SC) saw his campaign end on the Appalachian Trail; Bobby Jindal (LA) was a dud at SOTU response and decided to sit this one out; Charlie Crist (FL) decided to save his soul and became a Democratic-leaning Independent; Haley Barbour (MS) turned out to be a little to racist for anyone to believe he could get elected; Rick Perry (TX) ... yeah ... and Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee were governed by Democrats until at least 2009. That leaves a collection of Senators, a large number of whom are sort of too old to be President, and for the rest of them, the marginal utility of running for President is much lower once you've earned a lot of seniority. So Newt became the last Conservative Southern Alternative standing, only to be done in by his post-Congressional career and general doucheitude.

But instead of a Conservative Southern Alternative, Rick Santorum has emerged as the Conservative Non-Yankee Alternative. This role was originally supposed to go to Tim Pawlenty, but he failed to inspire anyone last summer. And so Rick Santorum became the last man standing in that contest, and appears to have outlasted Gingrich. I don't think he would have survived against a more viable CSA, like the fantasy world Rick Perry who can speak in complete sentences, but in this field where even the also-rans are pretty weak, simply hanging in there as long as possible, not saying anything that sounds vaguely racist, all while having rock solid social conservative credentials (Santorums only deviations are on labor issues, and those deviations are very, very modest), turns out to be a viable strategy. I wonder what Tim Pawlenty thinks of these developments.

Mitt has two weeks and an unlimited war chest of Super PAC spending to try to change these numbers, and Santorum probably won't have the resources to respond. So there is a good chance that around mid-summer, we'll look back and say "remember when we thought Santorum actually had a chance to win the nomination? That was a good one!" Nonetheless, the fact that he has succeeded despite not having any real markers of White Southern identity politics has forced me to re-think the way I view the Republican electorate.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Arizona SB 1467 Demands Total Excretion Failure

Mathematician friend Johanna Franklin draws my attention to fantastically ill-drafted Senate Bill 1467 in Arizona, which begins:
A. If a person who provides classroom instruction in a public school engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the federal communications commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio:
...and then outlines penalties including a one-week suspension without pay for the first offense, and termination for the third. "Public school" is defined to include everything from public preschools to public elementary schools to public universities.

The catastrophic failure of drafting is that the bill doesn't ever say that the offending "speech or conduct" has to occur while teaching, or in front of students. If any teacher visits the restroom and performs standard human restroom activities (never mind going home and having sex with one's partner) they get suspended and eventually fired. After all, you couldn't show that on TV.

Not that a version of the bill that restricted the restrictions to teaching contexts would be reasonable. You couldn't discuss R-rated movies in college-level film studies classes or explain Cohen vs California in law school. But it's rare that you get legislation so badly drafted that it would render the excretory systems of all public school and university teachers legally unusable.

Don't Fear The Bishops

If Amanda Marcotte, Jon Cohn, and Scott Lemieux are happy about the Obama contraception decision, I'll be happy too. Other happy groups include Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Hospitals Association, as Cohn says.

I'm impressed with the number of American Catholic groups that have these issues right. The nuns supported health care reform, and polling results often show lay members of the church to have positive attitudes towards contraception. The bishops get a lot of press and drive media coverage, but they seem to be pretty badly out of step with the views of ordinary Catholics, with little hope of converting others to their conservative views.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Does The Oil Critique of US Foreign Policy Work?

It makes a lot of sense to me that America's military interventions in the Middle East are driven in some unfortunate way by oil-related issues. But I really don't understand how the details work out.

Is American foreign policy about increasing the short-term profits of US oil companies? Increasing their long-term profits? Ensuring a stable flow of oil in the short-term? Ensuring a stable flow of oil in the long-term? Some of these things push in very different directions, and if you were trying to promote one, it would be at the cost of the other.

Suppose, for instance, you were trying to cause short-term increases in US oil company profits. Then you'd be interested in disrupting the stable flow of oil into the US in the short term. Perhaps you'd start wars and create oil supply disruptions in various parts of the world, especially where foreign oil companies operate. With supply reduced, global oil prices would rise, and American companies could charge more for their oil.

Short-term stability of the oil supply also trades off against long-term stability. Wars in the Middle East risk disrupting short-term stability of the oil supply. But presumably part of the reason you'd fight such a war (according to the oil critique) is to ensure long-term stability of the oil supply.

I'd guess that electoral incentives push towards short-term stability of the oil supply, since that has immediate economic relevance that could affect the voting behavior of swing voters. The funny thing is that it seems to push us towards supporting peace in the Middle East rather than war, and reducing short-term oil company profits rather than raising them.

And in any of the short-term versus long-term tradeoffs, you have to wonder what people's time horizons are. How much do politicians care about the oil supply 10 years from now? How much do CEOs care about the oil supply 10 years from now? At that point, the presidents and CEOs will likely be doing something else, so nothing is personally at stake for them. Are they trying to nobly look out for the futures of their institutions at personal cost... by supporting wars? It's hard for me to figure this out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's Mitt!

It looks like Republicans have set themselves up to nominate Mitt Romney, answering the longstanding question of whether we'd be running against him or the easier-to-beat but crazier Gingrich / Santorum / Cain / Perry / Bachmann / Palin.

For a long time, I wondered how Mitt would win a one-on-one campaign against a genuine conservative. The answer turned out to be pretty simple -- by buying lots and lots of negative ads. While running one-on-one would in theory take the large number of people who opposed Mitt because of his heterodoxies and unite them behind one candidate, it also allowed Mitt to go massively negative against one opponent with all his money. We saw this twice in the campaign -- Iowa in early December, and Florida in the last week, knocking Gingrich out of sizable leads both times. That Gingrich had lots of flaws made it easier, but really I see Mitt's ability to devastate any underfunded opponent with focused negative advertising as the crucial factor here. I'm hoping that Gingrich fights on and fights hard, so that Romney has some difficulty transitioning into general election mode, but that's really all he's good for at this point.