Another Damned Election

I’ve lost count of the number of times I decided not to vote in this election. It wasn’t even anything to do with Congress, since I think the Democrats in Congress did a very good job this session (with predictable exception of the craven Blue Dogs). Rather, it was frustration with the Obama administration, and its air of entitlement toward the support of liberals, its reflexive centrism on issues where it accepted its enemies’ definition of the center.

The decision to escalate in Afghanistan, for instance, was one of the sorriest episodes of policymaking since Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Since that decision, we have seen countless stories on the corruption of the Karzai regime, and how it makes trust and collaboration with the Afghan government nearly impossible. But of course we knew that. We knew that before the policy review, and that’s why I was so opposed to increasing our commitment there. There was an insoluble problem that, for any military strategy to succeed, had to be solved. So here we are, with an Afghan war that is getting bloodier, an “ally” that is getting less reliable, and a strategy that seems to be treading water.

Detainee policy? State secrets? Obama hasn’t broken with the precedents set by Bush. Much though I love healthcare reform, I’d like to live in a country whose security policies don’t sicken me. I guess I’m glad that we’re no longer actively encouraging torture, but, to paraphrase Chris Rock, you’re not supposed to torture, motherfucker!

Then there’s the capitulatory Obama style. He never pushed back against “conservatives” who decided that railing against the deficit would be a winning issues. His promise of a spending freeze was laughable, a comically inept “me too!” moment from someone who is clearly too delicate for tough politics. In every negotiation, he has pre-emptively conceded on major points to demonstrate his centrism.

Blue Dog Democrats and the often nerveless, resentful Obama administration deserve to twist. But unfortunately, being a reasonable person means considering the alternatives. And they’re not good.

The Republican party never has and never will take responsibility for its role in creating the problems the country faces. Insofar as they’ve ventured toward introspection, they’ve largely settled on the kind of comforting narrative that David Brooks likes to use: the Republicans came to Washington full of virtuous purpose, but were corrupted by the city and eventually ended up abusing power. Note the lack of agency in this narrative. “Washington” corrupted Republicans, not that the Republican chose corruption or abuse, or promoted it. They were victims of political culture, one they had no hand in shaping.

With that in mind, the Tea Party was, in retrospect, an entirely predictable phenomenon. The very same people who had voted higher debts, who had cut taxes while allowing spending to explode, who had done their best to hamstring government oversight and regulation of markets… these hypocrites simply persuaded themselves that they had nothing at all to do with any of it. They convinced themselves they were a new force in politics, reformers and restorationists, and never experienced the slightest cognitive dissonance that their movement was laced with the exact same power brokers and insiders they were supposedly railing against.

That we’re still stuck with some kind of myth of “fiscal conservatives” in the Republican party is testament to conservatives’ limitless capacity for self-deception and the power of messaging to overcome facts and records. Yet they will doubtless spend the next two years blocking every effort to stimulate the economy, improve infrastructure, reduce the size and cost of the military, or aid the unemployed. They will probably manage to ram tax cuts through by tying them to the increasingly speculative “middle class”. All in the name of thrift and austerity.

I have no doubt that by Wednesday morning, the Republicans will be celebrating having “taken their country back.” Some good people will be lost in the election. Russ Feingold might be out of the Senate, one of the very few people who has actually be right about damn near everything in the last decade. Pelosi might leave the House, a lightning rod for criticism due to the twin sins of being a woman with power and having the temerity to exercise it.

That’s too bad, but ultimately I can’t do anything about it. If it were just a regular midterm I’d probably sit at my desk and watch the world go to hell. But there are local questions on the ballot and I’ve come to really like my adopted state, and don’t want the asinine sales tax initiative to go through, and I really don’t want Charlie Baker to win the governorship. His relentlessly petty, small-minded campaign ads have convinced me that as disgusted as I am with the state of American politics, I’ve got to go see if I can help Massachusetts remain a commonwealth of decency in a country of self-pity and pettiness. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what the GOP is selling this year.

    • Spades
    • November 1st, 2010 4:02pm

    I just don’t see the whole point of complaining about the Afghan war. No matter how much you complain it will always keep going on. At this point in time there is no turning back. Either we finish this war or we pull out early and risk the Taliban growing back to its former state. Also if we pull out then all those previous sacrifices (soldiers deaths, soldiers having to constantly negotiate with elders and civilians, soldiers constant trying to gain the trust of the Afghan populace, soldiers constantly tracking down weapons caches, etc.) will seem meaningless.

    Our ally (the ANA) is reliable, well equiped and well trained. They’ve fought alongside us in recent offensive operations in Afghanistan and proved themselves capable in combat. I don’t see how they can be seen as mistrustful though I’ve heard of a couple of them turning to the Taliban or resiging from the Army due to the threats on their lives, families or homes.

    If you really want to see how to a war revolving around insurgency can be fought BADLY by superior forces, just look at Chechnya. No incidents or airstrike accidents in the Afghan war can be compared to Chechnya.

      • Flitcraft
      • November 1st, 2010 4:41pm

      Spades, I cannot begin to tell you how tired I am of having this conversation with you. To reiterate for the hundredth time, I complain because I think the policy is mistaken, and fighting flawed policy is a pretty basic responsibility of citizenship. I am sorry you are so incapable of grasping that, but my patience for pointing it out to you is exhausted.

      Your portrayal of the options in Afghanistan is likewise mistaken. The reason I believe the policy is flawed is because I’m not sure the war can be “finished” and if that’s the case, we’re just wasting time, money, and lives in that war. You’re obviously okay with that. I’m not. And using the these earlier sacrifices to justify making more mistaken sacrifices is grotesque.

      And the ANA isn’t our ally. The Afghan government is. It’s totally unsurprising you equate military with government, but they aren’t one and the same. Again, if you don’t see why having a corrupt and weak regime as a partner in counterinsurgency poses a problem, then there is absolutely no point in discussing this further and I would rather we didn’t.

      EDIT: You know, I really dislike the dickish tone of the above. But I cannot have every passing mention of Afghanistan devolve into a retread of the same circular arguments we’ve had before. We are clearly talking past each other, and that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

      If you don’t see the point in my writing something, that’s fine. But then commenting on it to say, “Why are you bothering to write about this?” is even more pointless. It’s trolling, and that’s something I want to avoid in the places I hang out.

        • Spades
        • November 1st, 2010 5:03pm

        How is the policy flawed? Last time I checked we were winning the Afghan war, the Taliban are on the run, recent operations have been successful and the ANA is our ally. NATO forces have been conducting joint operations with the ANA. Hell I’ve seen pictures of US Special Forces working alongside Afghan commandos. I understand that they can be seen as mistrustful and disobedient but its not like their just sitting there and not doing a thing.

        The war has to be finished. I realize that there is alot more work to be done in Afghanistan. Chechen insurgents, the Taliban, Iran “aiding” the Taliban, ect. Long story short there is a long road ahead. We can’t pull out now after so much money was spent and so many soldiers have died. I realize that I’m making this sound so simple and rather Machiavellian but really what else is there? Pull out or stay in for the long haul.

        I know that if we left the Afghan government all on its own now it would would crumble (especially at this critical moment) but I didn’t mention the weakness or corruption of the government in my previous post.

  1. All I’ve got to say is that I absolutely hate most of the campaign ads I’ve been seeing. Almost none of them tell me why I should vote for the person approving the ad.

  2. Yeah, you really ought to vote if only for the Governorship and the state initiatives. My dislike of Baker is rivaled only by my admiration for Patrick. For me at least, it’s not a choice between the lesser of two evils, but rather picking between someone I think will be actively bad for the state and someone who I think has been doing a lot of good for us.

    As for the initiatives… I’m voting no on everything. In particular, Question 2 is a tricky one but after much study I’m going with no. (The best arguments seem to be “our affordable housing statute is not perfect, let’s repeal it then replace it with something better.” Which could easily backfire and mean that no replacement happens, and thus there no longer ANY affordable housing law on the books.)

    For both sides, in case you’re interested:

    http://www.ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Massachusetts_Comprehensive_Permits_and_Regional_Planning_Initiative,_Question_2_(2010)

      • Flitcraft
      • November 1st, 2010 5:59pm

      See, I just got here and a lot of the early stuff I read was really lukewarm on Patrick. But by and large, this seems like a vastly more functional state than the last two places I lived (Indiana, in particular) and Baker doesn’t seem to have a pitch beyond, “The economy’s bad so let’s throw out Patrick”, although I’m hard-pressed to see how Patrick is to blame for a national recession. Plus, when Baker starts running against welfare recipients, I’m going to make it a special point to vote against him.

      The initiatives? Q2 leaves me conflicted. I have seen how relentlessly developers and renters exploit subsidies like that, ensuring that “affordable housing” goes to people who aren’t really in need. But yeah, reform seems preferable to elimination.

      Q1 also leaves me conflicted. Q3 is reckless as hell, but Q1 bothers me. I absolutely hate the regressiveness of “sin taxes” and subjecting a class of goods to two state fees instead of one. But at the same time, alcohol should be subject to sales tax. It’s the excises that concern me, and they’re not on the ballot.

      • Yeah, Question 1 is an unambiguous yes for me specifically because MA does NOT do a sales tax on things like basic groceries. So for me it’s really a question of “does alcohol deserve to see the same tax breaks as basic groceries” and my answer to that is no.

        I didn’t know you’d lived in Indiana. My girlfriend is from Indianapolis and went to school in Bloomington.

        • Er, wait. Unambigious NO. I meant to say no. Sheesh.

            • Flitcraft
            • November 1st, 2010 10:53pm

            I was gonna say. This is the hell of ballot initiatives, no? You vote YES to say no to something, and vice versa.

  3. LOL @ tag “existential despair”

    Yes, a “limitless capacity for self-deception and the power of messaging to overcome facts and records” will do that. The GOP should just rebrand itself The Ministry of Truth. Or Minitrue, in Newspeak!

    Agreed that the Baker campaign has been particularly nasty, but the other side has been just as petty. Yesterday an ad came on that had us rolling: “Ever wonder what Charlie Baker talks about in his fancy meetings?” FANCY MEETINGS? What does that even mean? Like…meetings with doilies instead of Dunkin’ Donuts? So of course for the next 20 minutes my wife & I twirled imaginary mustaches while discussing Cat Fancy magazine in foppish British accents. I mean, Jesus. I understand the populist angle, but that doesn’t even make sense!

    During the 2008 primaries a good friend tried to convince me to vote Obama instead of Clinton. To which my response was, gotcha, dude is inspiring, but the Right will wipe the floor with his inexperienced ass. For good or ill, success in Washington is less about ideas than about balls, and I share your concerns about the Administration’s backpedaling and hesitation. Especially on the wars, rendition, and gay marriage. You had to figure in the event of a Democratic victory the GOP would officially become the Party of No; at least the Clinton family had significant experience fighting back against Republicans’ best efforts to crucify them.

      • Flitcraft
      • November 1st, 2010 6:10pm

      See, I couldn’t get past Clinton’s vote for war. The “pragmatic” wing of the party destroyed the party in 2002 by rubber-stamping Bush’s disastrous policies, and Clinton was part of the problem then. So I viewed her as already tainted by screwing up the most important question of her time as a senator.

      But on the other hand, your argument (and Krugman’s at the time) seems more persuasive in retrospect. Obama’s attempts at bipartisanship definitely crossed a line from reason to absurdity somewhere along the line. Clinton might have been a better politician. And given some of his missteps (like the disastrously timed offshore drilling announcement) I wonder if she wouldn’t have exhibited better judgment as well.

      • You could make the argument that the political climate in 2002 was such that not rubber-stamping Bush’s disastrous policies would be political suicide for a potential Democratic presidential candidate.

        Not that I’m defending Clinton’s vote, especially on those grounds: but at the time, the country was out for blood, and we were inundated with “evidence” that Iraq had WMDs and was supporting Al-Qaeda. Questioning the validity of said evidence at the time was tantamount to treason.

        I wonder if, in a few decades, we will find out exactly who knew the WMD “evidence” was bullshit and when. An active campaign of misinformation, distortion, denial of access, and outright lying on the scale of the Bush Administration’s will take at least that long to sort out – if the relatively innocuous (by comparison) Watergate is any indication.

          • Spades
          • November 1st, 2010 8:08pm

          I don’t get it though if we invaded Iraq over WMDs then why don’t we invade Iran? Its got nukes too right? To this day I think that the reasons for the invasion of Iraq will always remain hazy.

          • That’s not a valid analogy – Iran does not have WMD’s, they only have the potential to make them (of course, Iraq didn’t have them either, but it looked otherwise).

            The idea of “invading” Iran right now is laughable. An air campaign against their nuclear sites, perhaps, but the US military is far too overstretched right now to carry out a third land war. Even air strikes would leave US forces vulnerable to retaliation – overt participation by Iran in Afgahnistan plus perhaps a rehash of the Iran-Iraq war. Plus Pakistan would go nuts over our attacking a third Muslim nation.

            One of the many drawbacks to the Iraq war has been the tying down of US forces – we’ve had to surrender the initiative to Iran and North Korea because we lack any way to credibly threaten them.

            • Flitcraft
            • November 1st, 2010 8:55pm

            Iran is not believed to have nukes, though it is suspected of nearing the capacity to build them.

            I doubt we’ll ever know the whole story, since the Obama WH declined to open an inquiry into the Iraq War, as the UK has done. I honestly think it was just a catastrophic misjudgment. I don’t think WMD’s really had much to do with it, it was just the one reason most people could agree on. But over the neocon side of things, there was a lot of speculation about what a liberated Iraq could do for the US. There was the domino-effect embraced by pseudo-liberals like Friedman, who believed that Iraq might become a democracy and might be an example to the entire Muslim world. There was also a belief that invading Iraq would scare other countries straight. Iraq was the easiest target (far more so than Iran and N. Korea), so the idea was to take out one rogue nation and terrify the others. Libya’s decision to attempt to normalize relations after the fall of Iraq seemed to indicate there was some merit to this, but what the neocons didn’t consider was that it would cut both ways. For North Korea and Iran, the lesson was that not having nuclear weapons did pose an unacceptable risk, and a nuclear capability was the only way to guarantee sovereignty. But of course, we weren’t supposed to be bogged in Iraq for so long. We were supposed to be in an out, and ready to credibly threaten other rogue states.

            That’s the price for only planning, if you can even call it that, for best-case outcomes.

          • Flitcraft
          • November 1st, 2010 8:29pm

          I think you let them off the hook too easily. The Iraq consensus was always a near-fabrication. Approval before the 2002 midterms was at or below 60%, and the highest support numbers were dependent on a UN resolution. I don’t think it would have been a profile in courage to question a rush to war that a narrow majority of Americans supported. And would those numbers have been even that high if there had been significant questioning from the Democratic party?

    • Spades
    • November 1st, 2010 5:30pm

    I never said that your writing is pointless I just don’t see the whole point of complaing about it. You can’t do anything about it (atleast that I know of). The war will always continue until either a)We finally pull out or b)We win. No amount of protests, anti war rallies or document leaks can change that. Result a) or b) will happen. That or we train the ANA to such a degree that they’ll be able to hold their own but I think we can agree that that is a deluded dream (at least at this point in the war). No point in complaing about something that can’t be changed.

    The war however isn’t very benefical. Even if we do win we won’t gain much instead of the eradiction of the Taliban and their allies. Its not like the ANA are going to help us out in the (depending on future circumstances like a revolution or sudden change in power to a more sensible and open regime) inevitable war with Iran or North Korea.

    I think I’m just more pro military than you are. I can wrap my head around that and I think we can agree to disagree. I’ll just ignore every mention of Afghanistan on this site since we keep butting heads on this particular subject.

    • Spades
    • November 1st, 2010 9:38pm

    Flitcraft :Iran is not believed to have nukes, though it is suspected of nearing the capacity to build them.
    I doubt we’ll ever know the whole story, since the Obama WH declined to open an inquiry into the Iraq War, as the UK has done. I honestly think it was just a catastrophic misjudgment. I don’t think WMD’s really had much to do with it, it was just the one reason most people could agree on. But over the neocon side of things, there was a lot of speculation about what a liberated Iraq could do for the US. There was the domino-effect embraced by pseudo-liberals like Friedman, who believed that Iraq might become a democracy and might be an example to the entire Muslim world. There was also a belief that invading Iraq would scare other countries straight. Iraq was the easiest target (far more so than Iran and N. Korea), so the idea was to take out one rogue nation and terrify the others. Libya’s decision to attempt to normalize relations after the fall of Iraq seemed to indicate there was some merit to this, but what the neocons didn’t consider was that it would cut both ways. For North Korea and Iran, the lesson was that not having nuclear weapons did pose an unacceptable risk, and a nuclear capability was the only way to guarantee sovereignty. But of course, we weren’t supposed to be bogged in Iraq for so long. We were supposed to be in an out, and ready to credibly threaten other rogue states.
    That’s the price for only planning, if you can even call it that, for best-case outcomes.

    Maybe Iraq could help us out in future conflicts? I was thinking that the Obama administration might start applying the US to several Central Asian countries (like Tajiksitan or Uzbekistan) to train and reform their armies and form alliances with them so that we could have some strong allies that (fortunately) surround Iran. Of course this is all just wishful thinking since the economy is already bad as it is and training these various armies will take money which is something we don’t have apparently.

    • Iraq being able to do anything more than keep itself together is years – if not decades – away. And it’s still uncertain if it’ll be able to do even that, what with the government in paralysis.

      The Central Asian countries are all poor, mostly tiny, and preoccupied with keeping themselves together (witness recent problems in Kyrgzstan). Like Iraq, it’s highly unlikely that any of them (with the possible exception of Kazakhstan) will be useful allies for anybody, let alone against a regional heavyweight like Iran.

      As Rob already pointed out regarding the Iraq War – this sort of thinking is way on the other side of optimism.

      I applaud your creativity, but I’d suggest maybe you broaden your reading a bit and get a clearer picture of what’s going on in the world. Maybe pick up a copy of The Economist or another newspaper with a global footprint. It’ll give you a much better grasp on geopolitics and the facts about the situation the world is in, as opposed to just what “feels” right.

        • Flitcraft
        • November 2nd, 2010 3:28am

        Yeah, that’s a pretty sound analysis.

        The Iraqi political paralysis right now (how many months since the elections and still no new government?) reflects the reasons why Iraq isn’t really useful as an ally or balancer to Iran. Iraqi Shiite groups are in many cases sponsored by Iran, and some may object to any kind of war against co-religionists.

        Plus there’s the fact that any political force in Iraq gains a following by demonstrating independence from the US. No, Iraq’s not going to be signing onto a policy of aggressive containment against Iran. Hell, right now Iraq’s biggest problem is that the Awakening militias are starting to disband or, worse, defect.

    • Mithras
    • November 3rd, 2010 11:15am

    Spades :I never said that your writing is pointless I just don’t see the whole point of complaing about it. You can’t do anything about it (atleast that I know of). The war will always continue until either a)We finally pull out or b)We win. No amount of protests, anti war rallies or document leaks can change that. Result a) or b) will happen. That or we train the ANA to such a degree that they’ll be able to hold their own but I think we can agree that that is a deluded dream (at least at this point in the war). No point in complaing about something that can’t be changed.
    The war however isn’t very benefical. Even if we do win we won’t gain much instead of the eradiction of the Taliban and their allies. Its not like the ANA are going to help us out in the (depending on future circumstances like a revolution or sudden change in power to a more sensible and open regime) inevitable war with Iran or North Korea.
    I think I’m just more pro military than you are. I can wrap my head around that and I think we can agree to disagree. I’ll just ignore every mention of Afghanistan on this site since we keep butting heads on this particular subject.

    I’d still like to know what you mean exactly by winning in Afghanistan. You mention eradicating Taliban and its allies, but do you really believe that’s possible? Armed international organisations are a lot harder to destroy than a government’s or nation’s ability to fight a war. Eradication isn’t a sound strategy in most cases. Personally I’m doubtful that it’s possible to remove the Taliban’s ability to remain a threat without constant military pressure.

    The goal to bolster the ANA defend Afghanistan is a more realistic one. However, as Rob mentions, it misses the point. A strong army isn’t a stabalizing force unless it’s working for a competant government. Strong armies and weak governments invite coups, which might not be a terrible thing for NATO in the short term it will /prove/ to the rest of the area that western style democacy doesn’t work in their region. The risk of coups aside weak and corrupt governments are prone to losing elections and who’s to say that the next elected government will be pro western or even anti-taliban? Even if prowestern democratic governments continue to exist in Afghanistan, they will continue essentially fighting a war agaisnt their own people, which means they will have fewer resources to actually provide infrastructure and such like, further reducing the possibility of a stable prowestern democratic government.

    In short you can have the strongest national army you like but that doesn’t mean it will continue to do what is best for either the nation or the west. And let me assure you, the interests of the west and Afghanistan as a whole do not always coincide.

    Right rant over. Could you answer a couple of questions please Spades? Can a war in Afghanistan be won? If so how? If not, what is the most productive way of losing the war?

      • Spades
      • November 3rd, 2010 8:41pm

      I think we can win the war because if we don’t what else is there? If we cut and run the Taliban will be able to regrow and possibly retake the government. While the eradiction of the Taliban seems impossible its not like it will always exist. I think that if we keep doing what we’re doing in Afghanistan (you know the new offensives and joint operations) we can win.

      To be honest I’m scared of the prospect of pulling out becuase I’m scared that the moment we pull out the ANA won’t do a dman thing due to governmental incompetence. They won’t actively protect their borders or rout out Taliban stragglers once the war is over. They’ll constantly need the US to watch over its back.

      Iraq seems like a shit situation right now. The Iraqi Army (while well trained and well equipped) just doesn’t seem as effective as NATO forces (primarily the US) when it comes to stopping insurgents. Despite there being 2,000 or so US troops providing assistance and advice for Iraqi forces, things (while they aren’t as bad as before) just don’t seem to be running smoothly. Bombings happen almost daily in Iraq. Then again I ain’t there so I guess it isn’t my place to judge. What’s happening in Iraq is what I fear will happen in Afghanistan (only on a higher scale) once we pull out.

      If we pull out though I suspect it will be just like Vietnam. As soon as we do the forces we left in place to protect the country will be ineffective in doing its required job and the country will fall apart. The ANA must be committed enough and trained enough to protect their country and the government must be committed too.

      Either we’re all in or all out. It can’t come to a stalemate either because that would make the last 9 years seem pointless. Those soldiers who died and the amount of work done to establish our current position with the Afghan populace will all seem meaningless (worldwide wise anyway).

        • Mithras
        • November 4th, 2010 3:19pm

        So it must be possible to win this war because the consequences of loss would be to high? I’m not sure I follow your logic here.

        Your concept of winning seems to be making it so the Taliban isn’t a credible threat to the security of Afghanistan. Has it occured to you that continueing these offensives might strenghten the Taliban? I’m of the firm belief that organisations like the Taliban will continue to exist as long as they have a reason to do so, and a ‘hostile’ army occupying your country and ‘forcing’ western modes of government onto your people is a very good reason to continue to exist.

        Continued occupation is also a problem. This one is a problem of political will. NATO members are going to want out in the near future, the US will have to comit more troops and bear more losses, which will cause the anti war sentiment to grow. The question is, will the political will of NATO colapse before the fighting will of the Taliban. I know which one I’m going to bet on.

        I still don’t know how the war could be lost with the minimum loss to all those involved. But I think it’s something worth thinking about.

          • Spades
          • November 4th, 2010 8:10pm

          As I said beforce we have to win. Its pretty clear NATO (the US at least) isn’t gonna let this go. The war basically started with 9/11 and has lasted for 9 years. As much as I’d like for our forces to pull out we can’t just leave this unfinished. Unless of course the ANA can protect their country efectively. Then we should pull out. Its pretty clear though that they still need our help.

          The Taliban were a legitimate threat in the beginning of the war and as of now they’ve taken some serious blows. They’re still a threat just not as effective as they used to be. This war is gonna last a long time. As for their fighting spirit it isn’t gonna help them much. It doesn’t matter how hard they’ll fight they know they can’t stop NATO.

          The offensives have proved to be successful and there are more on the way. Hell there’s one going on right now. Operation Dragon Strike is an offensive operation into the Kandahar (spelling?) province which is called the birthplace of the Taliban. This can be considered the turning point of the war.

            • Mithras
            • November 5th, 2010 1:32pm

            The Taliban doesn’t need to defeat NATO, it just needs to survive for long enough for voters to get sick enough of the war in NATO member countries to slowly reduce the foriegn forces gradually, over several election cycles. It doesn’t even need to remain an active threat as it’s entirely possible that it could spring back to life once foriegn involvement is reduced.

            As for the offensives I’d like to use an analogy here. It’s like weeding with a blow torch. Collateral damage is unaviodable, the roots manage to survive and you leave the soil fertile.

            As for political will agaisnt fighting will. Compare what motivates the Taliban and their support structure to the motivations of say the US citizenship, imagine which will give out first? You can imagine what motivates the Taliban don’t you?

    • Dan
    • November 3rd, 2010 1:43pm

    I don’t know anything about MA political initiatives or the candidates there, but I do remember something from my days as a political science student about the federal government being most effective when one of the two legislative houses is in the hands of the party opposing the president. If I am remembering correctly, real GDP growth and standard of living improved the fastest in periods where we had split government. With last night’s results, there will have to be more compromise and possibly we will see some relatively more sane policy.

    Just a thought. I doubt we will actually see what seems to me to be the only sensible solution: increase the taxes, especially on the higher end of the wage scale (not on us impoverished students), and cut spending. That would of course make too much sense, but unfortunately partisan voters of both stripes (Republicans are not the only ones to deceive themselves, Rob) who are the ones to generally determine the primaries seem to vote against candidates that don’t provide a complete policy “win” (in the sense of either a far left or right dichotomy).

    As far as winning a war in Afghanistan is concerned, I think about the only way to go about it is to adopt something like the Mongol’s policy: complete surrender or total annihilation. Of course we generally consider ourselves too humanitarian and warm and fuzzy for such things. So no, it can’t be won based on modern definitions of what winning a war are. We could redefine that term, but do we really want to?

      • Flitcraft
      • November 3rd, 2010 2:30pm

      A few months ago in the New Yorker, in his financial column, James Surowiecki posited that one major problem with the tax debate is that our tax brackets are out of date. The guy making $500k a year and the guy making $15 million a year are treated, percentage wise, exactly the same. What we need is a new bracket for some of the growing number of absurdly wealthy individuals who have popped up in the last couple decades. Right now, they’re able to make common cause with affluent professional (doctors, lawyers, small business owners) who don’t want to see their taxes go up. That’d be a nice reform to see.

      Spending cuts are more problematic. I just don’t see the upshot of spending cuts when the private sector isn’t hiring and consumer confidence is low. The one area I think we do need to cut is national security / defense, but I don’t think the GOP will ever allow it.

      I hope you’re right, that there will be compromise. But that’s not what the House Republicans were saying going into this election, and it’s not how they were acting these last two years.

      As for Afghanistan, the days when a Western power could go all Boer War / Philippine insurrection on a country are past, and besides, the Pakistani border region means that even the most brutal policies would have limited effects. The fact is that Afghanistan is just not a promising candidate for a successful counterinsurgency. Not anymore. Do we control the flow of supplies in and out of the country? No. Do we have a reliable partner? No. Do we have the political will? Well, God, it’s been 9 years. So no.

      This is what drives me crazy about almost every war debate this country faces these days: there’s this constant denial that you have to be all-in or all-out. So you get these endless, pricey stalemates.

    • Dan
    • November 3rd, 2010 3:03pm

    I just noticed Feingold lost his Senate seat. That surprises me, I thought he was pretty popular in Wisconsin. It’s a bad year to be an incumbent.

    A larger number of tax brackets would make sense, and would also seem like a good strategy for separating the electoral interests of well paid professionals from the incredibly wealthy, especially with the estate tax not in effect right now (although Wikipedia tells me it will be going back into effect in 2011).

    • Dan
    • November 3rd, 2010 6:28pm

    The other thing that could be interesting is the extent to which the GOP will have to start dealing with internal divisions. Do they start to have the same sort of dissension between Tea Party and traditional Republicans that has so long led to problems within the Democratic party? Can they build a core constituency, or is this an alliance that will not last past Obama’s presidency?

    My guess is that this coalition never works at all, unless you have a president who has very low approval ratings and an economy which is in a terrible recession.

    In the mean time, this might actually be a good thing. I think Clinton’s presidency actually got better on the domestic policy front after 1994, and the swing in the House is of a similar (or slightly larger scale). I think it may be an advantage that neither party will be able to try to push through sweeping changes, but will have to bargain their way through incremental changes.

      • Flitcraft
      • November 3rd, 2010 8:31pm

      It will be interesting to see how the Tea Party Republicans will get along with the rest of their caucus. But I suspect they won’t be a major problem because the Tea Party is, to a large extent, the same Republican base we’ve had for years. The Democrats have always had problems with the Blue Dogs, because they will tend to side with Republicans on a lot of issues. The Tea Party can’t cause the same kinds of problems.

      The Clinton example is hopeful, but there are three things that leave me concerned about the precedents of that period. The first is that while there was some necessary policy reform and some tightening of the federal belt, there was also a lot of nonsense. The Gingrich Congress never stopped launching fishing expeditions into administration wrongdoing, and that kind of thing necessarily means less attention gets paid to the nuts-and-bolts of governance. And let’s not forget the government shutdown.

      Second, the economy in the 90s was much healthier. Gridlock had less potential for harm.

      Third, and this is what I find most depressing, is that the Clinton years only really marked the start of fixing problems. But in the fashion of a democracy, no sooner had we achieved a budget surplus (and I’m pretty sure it was only ever a projected surplus) than the Republicans used that surplus to justify deep tax cuts. We never even started to pay down our debt, we just approached the border of solvency and then went right back to the old profligacy. And every time we go through this cycle, we approach the next crisis a little less flexibly as the number of problems we’ve kicked down the road continues to increase.

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