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October 30, 2004

Last Political Word

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

For my final attempt at political commentary this election season, I'll -- yawns, please -- return to my One Chosen Theme: how unresponsive to the rest of us our political class has become. Good lord, what a campaign, eh? While I've met plenty of people who are furious at Bush and many others who find Kerry beyond unappealing, I've met almost no one who feels any enthusiasm for either candidate.

I'm hardly the first person to say that I feel like someone who's being offered a choice between a Coke and a Pepsi. Perhaps connoisseurs can taste a difference -- but, what can I say, I'm someone who isn't in the mood for soda pop. This is the first Presidential election I've experienced where my general rule of thumb -- vote for the candidate who seems likely to do the least damage -- isn't offering me any guidance. As far as I can tell, neither one of these clowns represents the lesser of two evils.

Hey, did anyone else have a good chuckle when they saw the cover of the latest issue of The Economist? Click on the image if it's hard to make out at this size.

A stroke of editing inspiration, no? I'm surprised that more TV shows, newspapers, columnists and magazines haven't jumped on this "what a lousy choice" angle. God knows there's a good chance such a theme would reverberate with a large audience.

Incidentally, part of what this betrayal-by-the-political-class angle of mine represents is my own version of cheap journalistic thinking. How can a blog be of interest (and of service) this election time, when thousands of other blogs are already offering intelligent, pugnacious, and enthusiastic cheerleading for one candidate or the other? Since the political-cheerleading field is already such a crowded one, how to stand out? And how to be of a little use? I ain't too proud to 'fess up to my cheesy motives. In fact, I enjoy much about luridness and exploitation, and one of these days I hope to blog in praise of the cheap, the lurid, the exploitative, and the lowdown. What do the stars mean in the absence of the mud, after all?

But if the Coke-and-Pepsi image doesn't work for you ... Well, how about Detroit in the '60s and early '70s? It seems generally agreed-on that, in that era, the American carmaking class turned on its market. With no real competition to speak of, and bolstered by tons of government help (highway building, cheap oil), the temptation to create and sell lousy cars to an essentially captive audience while feathering their own nests was too great to resist. It wasn't until Detroit got hit with some ferocious body blows -- the oil shock of '73 and the availability of good, cheap Japanese cars -- that the Detroit carmaking class started to pay attention to what its customers (ie., us) wanted from them.

Or how about another analogy: Hollywood. The moviemaking business isn't short of intelligence or talent. It's also not short of people who are knowledgeable about movies, and who care about the art and the field. Yet the business churns out almost nothing but corporate entertainments that no one with any brains and taste can bear to watch.

How did such a situation come about? I could riff in a reasonably informed way about the media and the arts, but I'm on factually much weaker ground when I talk about politics. Reaching for an explanation, I come up with "the '60s" and "the Boomers." If Boomers used the '60s to give themselves license to pursue their own bliss, perhaps classes of people -- such as the political class, for example -- gave themselves similar license.

Before anyone gets indignant, please, let's be adult. A lot happened in the '60s, and a lot came out of the '60s. It's possible to love and approve of much of this without claiming that absolutely all of it was for the best. It's possible, in other words, to take stock. There's no disputing, for instance, that the '60s resulted in much higher divorce and having-kids-out-of-wedlock numbers; and some of this represents irresponsible, dumping-your-personal-shit-on-everyone-else behavior. So maybe the '60s encouraged the Boomer political class to be irresponsible. By the way, among the many reasons why Hollywood produces the specific kind of lousy movies it does these days, "the '60s" and "the Boomers" play big roles. That I can guarantee.

But the fact is that, where politics goes, I don't have much that's concrete to point to; I'm talking about impressions, feelings, and hunches. And I don't seem to be able to take these impressions and use them to open up other subjects, something I like to think I can sometimes manage when I'm gabbing about art-and-culture matters.

Real authors to the rescue! To my knowledge, the first writer to take note of my theme was Christopher Lasch in his 1995 "The Revolt of the Elites." I skimmed the book and can recall its gist, but that was years ago. Happily, this season sees a couple of new books on the theme that supply much in the way of research, knowledge, fact, and observation. How doubly nice it is that one of them comes from the right while the other comes from the left. Bipartisan validation doesn't happen often, so forgive me while I savor it. And forgive me also if I give these two books a good plundering.

The first is a collection of essays edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair called "Dime's Worth of Difference." This is the lefty book; its contributors write for the radical newsletter and website Counterpunch. The title is a lift from country-and-western great Waylon Jennings, who back in the '80s was asked to characterize the two political parties and who answered this way: "There ain't a dime's worth of difference between them, hoss."

The picture the Counterpunch crowd are selling is one I find generally convincing: both parties rely on a limited set of bigwig and corporate contributors; both are in cahoots with media conglomerates; both of them back destructive economic policies. As for our foreign misadventures, the Counterpunch crowd points out that the Republicans backed Clinton's various bombing campaigns, while the Democrats lined up behind Bush on Iraq. Business as usual consists of putting the screws to the country; the political class operates only in its own self-interest, abstracted even from much of a pretence that they're looking out for the rest of us.

I have plenty of quarrels with Cockburn, by the way. He sees the War on Drugs as racist, for instance, while I see it as merely stupid. He and I certainly differ in our political preferences and in our conceptions of what's fair and what's not. And he's ambitious for politics while I'm a fan of political modesty. Cockburn clamors for action now, while I'm suspicious of bold and daring political initiatives; I'm all for whatever the opposite of taking-action-now might be. Also, Cockburn seems to see all righties as unspeakably revolting, even "vicious" -- he actually uses the word. I simply can't agree. For one thing, I've met and read many wise and principled righties. For another, I grew up among small-town Republicans, and many of them were the sweetest and most generous people I've ever known. And, as ever, while I find myself agreeing with a fair number of lefty criticisms of the state of things, I find most of the preferred lefty solutions loony. But how interesting to find arguments similar to my own being made by someone who I often disagree with. Reading Cockburn's own essays here, I find myself nodding and thinking, "Perceptive man!"

As registers of liberal or conservative political potency, American presidential elections seldom coincide with shifts in the tempo of political energy across the country. As vehicles for the ventilation of popular concerns, they are hopelessly inadequate, and should be severely downgraded on the entertainment calendars ...

Every four years liberals unhitch the cart and put it in front of the horse, arguing that the only way to a safer, better tomorrow will be if everyone votes for the Democratic nominee. But unless the nominee and Congress are shoved forward by social currents too strong for them to defy or ignore, then nothing except the usual bad things will transpire. In the American Empire of today, the default path chosen by the country's supreme commanders and their respective parties is never toward the good ...

The central political issue in this first decade of the 21st century is the decay of the American political system and of the two prime parties that share the spoils.

Cockburn argues, to my mind convincingly, that American politics not so long ago generated substantial public debate: Eugene McCarthy's candidacy, for instance, forced many topics and issues to the top of the national to-do list. And he argues that such phenomena as Barry Commoner and John Anderson, however unrealistic, at least enriched the national debate and kept the political class on its toes. "But by 2000," Cockburn writes, "with the Nader challenge, the most common reaction of Democrats was not debate but affront at the scandalous impertinence of his candidacy."

The other book is infinitely less polemical. It's by David Lebedoff and is entitled "The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying Our Democracy." Lebedoff writes from a rightish point of view, but his focus here is to tell the story of how our political class has turned on us.

Lebedoff asks us to think not in terms of left and right, but in terms of a New Elite and the rest of us. In his view, the meritocratic (ie., test-score) class that has emerged in recent decades simply doesn't find traditional democratic procedure appealing. They're the smartest, so why shouldn't they have things their way? In a discusson of the 2000 Presidential race, he sensibly points out how similar the backgrounds of Bush and Gore were; he might as well be talking about the 2004 elections.

The real battle that has turned this country into opposing and very hostile camps is not between conservatives and liberals. It is between those who believe in majority rule and those who believe in rule by experts ... The New Elite has no program. Its only real policy goal is that all policy be made by members of the New Elite.

The voters sense this ... A great many people want to know which contender is most likely to be a member of the New Elite, so that they then can vote for the other one.

It is a war that began when intelligence came to be tested. Rewarding ability is of course highly desirable. But there is a tendency to reward not achievement but rather test scores... Many (not all) of those with high scores can't escape the feeling that since we know who the smartest people are, there is no longer any point in seeking the opinions of anyone else. Why should we let the majority rule?

Those who are the "we" in this question are the New Elite. Everyone else, regardless of intellect or income, is one of the Left Behinds. These are the groups who are at war.

In Lebedoff's view, the IQ elite has become self-selecting and self-reinforcing. Since IQ-style intellectual firepower is highly rewarded, and since so many of us move where our talents lead us these days, high-IQ types have clustered in a handful of specific locations. They have also paired off. IQ-style intelligence, once scattered randomly throughout the population, has sifted and sorted itself into clumps. People have become "socially and economically stratified by virtue of their intelligence."

In such a world, who should rule? Traditional elites were aristocratic and were trained from birth to serve; bourgeois elites achieved power via property, and so had a big investment in the culture they ruled.

But after World War II, this began to change. A new law was passed that may have altered American society more than any other piece of federal legislation in our history. It was known popularly as the GI Bill of Rights. The generous response of a grateful postwar public, this law provided tuition money to any returning veteran who was able to go to college. There were twelve million returning veterans, and an extraordinary number of them took advantage of this new law ...

As a class, they were as good as the upper-income students, whose tuition was paid by their families. It was undeniably clear that general intelligence -- or at least the ability to obtain good college grades -- was widely distributed throughout the American pouplation ... Millions of Americans now saw [higher education] as their right; before long, it was regarded almost as a prerequisite to a decent job and income.

What's the result?

Young people with higher IQs were first identified and then segregated on campuses during the same years in which many of them chose their marriage partners ... [Their] children are members of the new class, too, educated as highly as their parents and likely to mate with others of similar background. The new class is self-perpetuating, and it seems to be permanent ... Once its members are off the campuses, they usually work and live only with one another ...

The emergent class of those who believe themselves to be measurably brighter than everyone else can be known as the New Elite. A novelty in human experience, it is (except for the Chinese Mandarins) the first powerful social class in history whose membership is defined by measureable intelligence. Everyone not in this class can be referred to -- in terms of how the New Elite sees them -- as the Left Behinds ...

You can't be a member of the New Elite unless you see yourself primarily as intelligent rather than as something else. We all tend to think that society could benefit from the counsel of people like ourselves. Those who, when they say "ourselves" mean those with the highest measurable intelligence are members of the New Elite...

Rejection of roots is a prerequisite for membership in the New Elite; adherence to roots (or class or caste or faith) is the primary barrier to such membership ...

The New Elite's members are the managers of society -- teachers, commentators, planners, official and executives -- the articulators of thoughts and standards. In a society that rewards ability, the New Elite possesses influence far out of proportion to its numbers.

In Lebedoff's view, the New Elite is unburdened by the old elites' feelings of honor and obligation. They're free, they're smart, they're entitled -- so the hell with the rest of us. I was pleased to see that Lebedoff invokes the '60s to help explain this development.

It's a good, thought-provoking book, IMHO. If it's a little on the pop-sociology side, well, what's wrong with that? It may not be in a class with Thomas Sowell's fabulous "The Vision of the Anointed" or Michael Oakeshott's great "Rationalism in Politics," but Lebedoff's perceptions and characterizations still help explain a lot. Lebedoff gives a quick history of the IQ elite, analayzes the New Elite subtly, and makes some sophisticated points. For example:

The most frequent explanation one hears is actually just the opposite of the truth. The standard line places all blame on the political process. Yet politics has been the victim, not the cause of the present problem. We're in the mess we're in because the political process has been abandoned. That process, however imperfect, provided the link between the people and the government, between our hopes and our future. And when that process was rejected, the link was severed. Politics is not killing us; on the contrary, politics is dead.

Eager to see what the IQ writers and IQ bloggers -- Steve Sailer and the GNXP team especially -- make of Lebedoff's book.

But of course the big question when election season comes around is: given that our political class has no meaningful competition, what can really be done? How to send a message to our political class? When shoppers started buying large numbers of Japanese cars in the '70s, Detroit did get the message.

How to make the political class get the message? Neither book makes a completely convincing case that there is much that can be done. Though Cockburn and his team spend a lot more time being critical than being constructive, I gather that they think that political hopes and energies need to be taken off the big races and trained instead on the grassroots. Since bigtime politics will respond only to truly gigantic popular changes, it's best to focus on on creating change on the popular level. Cockburn recalls that the Environmental Protection Agency was established not under some do-gooding leftie, but under el creepo Richard Nixon. Why? Because Nixon was forced into taking political action by massive popular demand.

(My own take on the Cockburn team's p-o-v is that the real mistake isn't directing political hopes in the wrong direction, it's investing too much in political hopes in the first place. Bad for personal mental health, in any case.)

Lebedoff, for his part, puts his hope in true majority rule. The New Elite, after all, is basically anti-majoritarian.

For the first time in the Western democratic tradition, many educated liberals no longer instinctively believe in majority rule. Subconsciously, they have begun to reject the most basic tenet of all. They no longer believe that all men are created equal ...

The members of the New Elite are engaged in doublethink. They give lip service to the majoritarian principle and even invoke it with passion on those occasions when their side outnumbers the opposition. While some believe that majoritarianism is right, in their actions they are antimajoritarian ...

How can one profess to believe in majority rule and yet seek to subvert its results? The New Elite has developed a number of strategies for this purpose ... The easiest of these strategies is to identify a majority group and then claim to be speaking on behalf of all its members ...

This is one reaon, by the way, that I keep hitting at the high-rates-of-immigration issue so often; it's one of the best examples we have of the clear preferences of our citizens being ignored, suppressed, and overridden by our elites. I want to make the usual points about the problems brought on by high rates of immigration, of course. But I also hope to hint at the larger point that our political class has become unresponsive to our preferences.

In any case, Lebedoff seems to think that the more the Left Behind people -- AKA "the rest of us" -- wake up to the fact that the New Elite doesn't have our best interests at heart, the better our chances are to force undeniable-majority changes on them.

(Incidentally, and for what little it's worth, I guess I qualify as someone who grew up among Left Behinds, who was given a New Elite education and who lives in a primarily New Elite world, yet who has never been able to be anything but Left Behind in terms of temperament, identification and feelings.)

My own opinion about what can be done? Beats me, though I do hope that making a loud racket might help. If the blogosphere can play a role in toppling the editor-in-chief of the NYTimes, perhaps it can also make the traditional media -- which are part of the political class, after all -- take note of political dissatisfaction too. But, y'know, maybe that'll never happen. Having just finished going through a history of Rome, I'm now officially the zillionth person to think, "Hey, Rome ... America ... They're kinda similar in many ways!" But what struck me hardest, listening to this lecture series as our November elections grew near, was how the Romans at a certain point called an end to their Republic and opted to be ruled by strongmen emperors instead. I wonder if such a thing might one day happen here.

And that's it, politically speaking, from me this election season. I still don't know who I'll vote for, or even whether I'll vote. Punishing the Republicans has its appeal -- but then I'd have to vote for Kerry, and yucko to that. So I just don't know. The best political statement I've run across recently came from my favorite yoga teacher, who said, in her dizzy/dippy/wonderful way, "Let's take a moment to bless both candidates. Whichever one is elected, may he do better rather than worse. And may we all prosper."



posted by Michael at October 30, 2004


I'm pretty certain that that the American political changes are simply responding to the increased knowledge of how to market your candidate (or more accurately unmarket your opposition).

It's not really any more of a conspiracy than adding sugar and increasing portion size to increase sales of food products. Sure the result is going to kill you in the long term, but it's what people actually buy. As we get better at understanding our biological and psychological preferences and anti-preferences, is it any wonder that there are people who are going to take advantage of it?

For politics, it's simply a matter of understanding that people tend to vote against rather than for, especially when even the smallest possible negative will be magnified by the opposing campaign. This makes the selection of politicians a matter of trying to minimize the negatives rather than maximizing the positives.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we have characteristics that have been built in to us in order to survive the African savannah (or wherever evolution took place) that are less than ideal for handling 21st century society. The fact that we're now at a stage where we can analyze those failings and exploit them for maximal benefit should not be a suprise and should not be blamed on any particular group of people.

(It's like people blame today's parents for protecting their children from the consequences of their actions, much to the children's long term detriment. Come on. We've got n million years of evolution telling us to protect out children no matter how. Is it the fault of today's parents that we happen to have so much wealth that we actually *can* do so long enough to cause them harm? No. It's simply that we're the first generation of parents that can really do so on a large scale. Before, only the isolated elements could afford to do so. Of course, a few parents will fight against their genetic predisposition, but most will succumb.)

Posted by: Tom West on October 31, 2004 06:22 AM

M, your yoga teacher is a real Christian!

It is an interesting inconsistency - if you agree with Cockburn and Lebedoff that Republicans (as well as Democrats) are members of New Elite, high IQ meritocracy, &c, &c - how come you find "incompetent" label on Bush so entertainingly true? I would think you'd rather find it illogical. And what happened to the [very democratic and down-to-earth] principle: only the one who doesn't act makes no mistakes? In this election I see clear choice between administration who has correct perspective and willing to act (even if mistakes are maid along the way) and a group that holds on to the remnants of the 90's status quo and avoid the reality check.

Regarding the mechanism of delivering popular opinion to the politicians: what do you think of the multi-party system? Knesset, anyone?

OffT: M, you got mail!

Posted by: Tatyana on October 31, 2004 09:25 AM

"Cockburn argues, to my mind convincingly, that American politics not so long ago generated substantial public debate: Eugene McCarthy's candidacy, for instance, forced many topics and issues to the top of the national to-do list. And he argues that such phenomena as Barry Commoner and John Anderson, however unrealistic, at least enriched the national debate and kept the political class on its toes."

I like a lot of what you say in this posting...but this? I don't see this as being true at all. The Reagan years (who defeated John Anderson) embraced none of his concepts. In fact, I believe the economic go-go of the Reagan years did more to stifle debate and foster all-about-me-ism than the sixties potentially did. And Eugene McCarthy? No...I don't think Nixon listened too closely to Eugene in forming his Vietnam policies. I don't think any "debate" fostered by these candidates made its way into our national direction or policies in any meaningful way at all. I'm unsure that the political class ever listened to the populace.

What I think is this: we used to believe our leaders really were wiser and more well-informed and we trusted "authority" as a nation. Therefore we didn't complain--or feel ripped off--as much when our leaders went a different way, because they must know something we didn't. Also, we never dreamed they might just be manipulating us---like there wasn't any funny business in being caught so "unprepared" for Pearl Harbor, when Roosevelt really wanted into the war but the country didn't.

Then came Kennedy's assasination and the "magic bullet" and Vietnam and Watergate and the tell-alls about JFK and Nixon's pardon...and everybody realized maybe they had been duped all along. Remember---the only attorney general who used more illegal wiretaps than Nixon's AG, John Mitchell, was...omigoodness---Bobby Kennedy! Say it ain't so!

No, I don't think the political class used to listen more to the left behinds. The founding fathers found the word "democracy" distasteful and set up a republic deliberately to prevent what they called "mob rule." Does that sound like they didn't believe they were elite? The left behinds have just figured out the distance at which they are trailing.

Posted by: annette on October 31, 2004 09:42 AM

Isn't it finally a question of "the tipping point?" In democracies it takes a great deal, a very great deal, before the citizenry is energized enough to DEMAND that something be done (in accordance with its will) about a pressing problem. It well may be that for most people things are going pretty well. Which is to say that for a large majority no particular problem has reached the stage at which it is significantly impacting their wellbeing for the worse -- i.e., the tipping point.

Until that point is reached the ruling class can afford to ignore what may appear to some to be a problem of crisis proportions. Immigration (in numbers, and country of origin, Mexico specifically) IMO is such a problem. But just as clearly it has not reached - on the national level at least - that level for the majority. If and when it does - the tipping point - you can bet the elites, the rulers, will address it. Till then? No.

Posted by: ricpic on October 31, 2004 11:05 AM

No Michael.
Not convincing at all.
Sounds to me like a makeweight to justify an "I'm above it all' attitude.

Posted by: David Sucher on October 31, 2004 06:47 PM

"administration who has correct perspective and willing to act (even if mistakes are maid along the way)"

A John Hopkins analysis is in, which indicates 100,000 Iraqi deaths since the invasion, mostly women and children. This is over triple the previous highest estimate. Mistakes? I'd call it a criminal, callous abomination. Do we Americans lack even the most primitive imagination in order to mentally reconstruct the terror of falling bombs, the shrieking of innocents...their scorched and shredded skin? Iraqi civilian deaths and injuries -- ho-hum, just the necessary collateral damage for our mission of peace and justice. The madness.

And the New Elite thing, the unresponsiveness thing. These elites slithered up through the already-in-place coporatization that has replaced our democratic-republic. We've been living in a kind of delusional Matrix since May 10, 1886, when the false precedent for corporate personhood put a final, instrumental end to the possiblity of majoritarian rule.

Posted by: Tim B. on October 31, 2004 10:14 PM

MvB - I've seen some interesting discussions on your site, but this isn't one of them.
Long, long ago -- when Truman was president and I was a high school boy -- my grandfather was fond of telling the world that "There ain't a dime's worth of difference between [the two parties]." But -- God rest his dear departed soul -- it wasn't true then and it isn't true now.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and it follows that, in a properly functioning two-party system, both parties -- sooner or later -- will accept any position that is strongly held by a large majority of the population.
Thus -- eventually and begrudgingly -- the Democrats came to accept the Republican notion that criminals were more to be punished that pitied. And -- Lo and behold! -- with more criminals in jail, the crime rate has fallen sharply.
Thus also -- at long last -- in Clinton's day -- the Democrats came, begrudgingly, to accept the Republican notion that our bloated welfare system was not only ineffectual, but that it had actually left the poor worse off than ever before. And welfare reform has been so great a success that neither party now argues for a return to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
Thus also -- unfortunately, but for the same reason -- neither party dares to suggest an end to the wasteful and destructive War On Drugs.
We don't fight much about any of these issues anymore, but there are still many significant differences between the two parties, and if you don't see them, it's because you've been intellectually lazy.

It isn't the job of "the political class" to enlighten you, to make it easy for you, or to entertain you. Their job is to attract enough votes to win elections in order to accomplish whatever political goals they have in mind. In campaign mode -- which nowadays, unfortunately, is almost all the time -- each party must hold onto its base while reaching out toward the Center in an effort to achieve a majority. The effort to attract votes from the Center causes the two parties to sound much more alike than they actually are.
It really isn't all that hard to see through the fog of words, but it takes a little effort.
One must look at the details -- which is where the Devil is -- and one must look at each group's past actions -- in order to see where they're coming from.
If you aren't willing to do the work, you've got nothing to bitch about.

And, by the way, Barry Commoner and John Anderson, like Ralph Nader, are very minor footnotes to American history, and it was Barry Goldwater, much more than Eugene McCarthy, who "forced many topics and issues to the top of the national to-do list."

Posted by: Notary on October 31, 2004 10:24 PM

Notary has his political economy down!

There is more to this discussion I believe: while theory (Downs i think) would say that the two parties tend to find themselves in the same center to attract the same "Median Voter", (which leads to our unresponsive politics dilemna), it says nothing about the median citizen. And how the median citizen is ignored, manipulated, or marginalized.

And here I think Cockburn and co are right that it requires organizing to launch an effective third party capable of changing the political system. The last effective third party was the Progressive Party early in the 20th century, which brought out a major portion of farmers to change the political system, even though they were eventually coopted by the Democratic Party (read Walter Karp's The Politics of War for a great history of party politics, and the birth of the modern American Empire).

Now however I doubt that there is space for a similar third party insurgency, look at Nader's inability to coalesce a supportive party. Also don't be surprised if Micheal Badnarik the libertarian candidate racks up some decent numbers and upends the balance in some key districts.

One other note, Lebedoff's New Elites' worries seems to be perfectly expressed by Fareed Zakaria (new elitist that he is), who in illiberal Democracy, worries precisely that voters given their preferences will put us in the dumpster.

So in the name of ignoring history and getting kicked really hard in the shins I say: Go Rome!

Posted by: Azad on October 31, 2004 10:44 PM

Tom -- I think that's a really good point: somehow the campaigns and their own marketing have merged. Yet another consequence of today's increased "transparency"?

Tatyana -- Lebedoff argues that "New Elite" types aren't necessarily any good at what they do, except maybe in a technical sense. They're just bright, and they're self-selected, and they think there's a technical fix (that only they know about) to every problem.

Annette -- Cockburn's point is that McCarthy and Anderson (and suchlike) opened up the general debate so that what needed to be discussed was more openly discussed than it is these days. With (very occasional) results like Nixon creating the EPA. These days, even the general discussion is far more controlled than it once was, and arranged for the political class's convenience. You make many good points about the political elites, and I wouldn't want to speak too much for Cockburn or Lebedoff, but I'd still want to maintain that the character of our political class has changed quite a lot in the last few decades. It's still an elite, but a somewhat different kind of elite, and one that doesn't have the same sense of obligation to the general good (however partial and imperfect it once was). Lebedoff also lines up some good info about how various attempts at campaign-finance reform have locked the parties into unproductive ways of marketing themselves.

Ricpic -- The tipping-point point's crucial. A question: how are tipping points going to be reached if the general population doesn't have easy, mainstream access to issues they might care about? Unregulated immigration, for instance, is something many people care about. Yet the mainstream press -- ie., part of the political class -- takes almost no note of it as a story.

David -- So you'd argue that our political class is doing a good job of responding to the needs and desires of the rest of us?

Tim B. -- I like the idea of all of us living in a kind-of "Matrix"! That's about what it feels like, especially the closer the actual election gets.

Notary -- Well, that's the theory, anyway. Does it seem to you to be working out well in fact?

You write: "Their job is to attract enough votes to win elections in order to accomplish whatever political goals they have in mind." I guess I'm a bit more cynical than you are about this. It seems to me that the job of the political classes has become simply to win elections. The political goals are no longer the goal, they've become the means.

Lebedoff especially seems to me to do a useful job of describing and analyzing some legit cultural changes -- the New Elite as he describes it certainly rings true to me, living as I do in a New Elite world. But maybe you see these phenomena differently? And good point about Goldwater and his importance, by the way - thanks.

Azad -- I wonder if, given the basic math, third parties will ever have much of a chance in this country. We seem stuck in a CBS-or-NBC world. The sad thing is that in the TV universe, we can ditch the networks and watch cable. With movies, we can skip the mallplex and watch what we want via Netflix. But there's no real alternative to the two big parties. I sometimes look enviously at countries with proportional representation schemes. I know they're pooh-poohed by some people, and I'm sure they (like all political arrangements) have some downsides. But they seem to at least offer the chance for a much broader range of opinion and concerns to get expressed. It's like cable TV or Netflix, but for the political voter/consumer. Otherwise, we're kinda stuck either choosing between Coke and Pepsi, or doing what I'm doing, which is bitching about things generally...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 1, 2004 04:28 PM

I do not accept yopur premise, Michael.

I believe that the "political class" framing is a canard to avoid dealing with issues.

Are there groups of people who are professional politocos -- either elected or wonks in think thanks, consulting firms and so forth? Of course!
But there are Democrats and Republican ones and it avoids substantive questions to make those people into "the enemy" as you seem to want to do. They are NOT united in trying to trick the people for their own advantage. Rather, they seek to further the interests of the people who hire them. If CNU, for example, develops a strong lobbying presence in DC to influence urban development policy I would propbably agree with most of what they say. If the Reason Institute stakes out the same ground, I would probably hiss. Both sets of people could fairly be decsribed as being part of a "political class." But so what?

This "political class" business is useful to avoid having to make hard choices.

Posted by: David Sucher on November 1, 2004 06:00 PM

David -- If we're going to play the questioning-the-other-person's-motives -instead-of-discussing-the-topic-that's-been-suggested game, I might wonder about the motives behind your determination to question my motives. Are you afraid to wrestle with what I've raised? Are you a Kerry cheerleader who can't let go of it? But why play the questioning-the-others'-motives game at all? Your response to the spectacle of the election is to make the case for Kerry. Mine's to wonder about what's become of the spectacle. There's room enough for both responses (as well as many others), don't you think?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 1, 2004 08:25 PM

Apologies for the delayed response, Tim B.

I very much doubt figure of 100,000 civilian deaths, if only for two reasons: it is very conviniently rounded, as if +or- 5-6-15 thousands of people is nothing and also the exact time it appeared, suspiciously, days before the election.
I have looked into their methods of counting and it does look represantive, but it is too little information to properly review it. In short, my reaction to it was along same lines, here.

To everything else: it is a war. People get killed in wars. Americans lived too long without a war, especially, god forbid, on our own territory. And this circumstance shifts people perspective. I can understand the reason, but can't forgive the outcome. We are adults, and have to face ugly things - and they aren't going to go away if we just close our eyes. You know, like we did during 2 terms of Clinton administration.
I don't expect to convince anybody at this point, everyone has to decide for oneself. Just look how much thought and reasoning other people put into their decision, it's not all emotion and partisan screaming.

Posted by: Tatyana on November 1, 2004 10:41 PM

Your response indicates that you didn't read my comments?

Posted by: David Sucher on November 1, 2004 10:47 PM

MvB---your point is well made. It is kind of a shocker that Nixon created the EPA. But...Reagan certainly fell asleep at the switch about energy policy. Think about it...we managed to blithely continue to depend on middle eastern oil while arming a gent named Bin Laden in fighting the Soviets...Alicia Morisette--now that's ironic. If Hart and others had truly had an impact on national debate, I think that ole energy policy thing might have risen to the top of the pile sooner...but, that may be beside your point.

However, it is interesting who your chosen authors choose to note as enhancing the debate. The politician who had a much bigger electoral impact in 1968 was actually that ole segregationist, George Wallace. I think McCarthy won--what?--one primary? None? Do you think the Republican hold on the South might be more connected to Nixon listening to that part of the debate? And Perot got far more votes in 1992 than Anderson did in 1980...interesting that their impact on the debate isn't noted.

Posted by: annette on November 2, 2004 12:30 AM

#1, I can't sit here and blame a bunch of elites for my problems. Almost all of these guys have been elected on a local level at some point. That means somebody somewhere liked them enough to make them councilman, mayor, state rep, whatever. You want to make a difference, you get involved early. It's dull-ass work, sure, but it's your country we're talking about here, not the homeowners association.

#2, Tatyana is utterly correct. Talking about shrill partisan screaming means that you haven't bothered to look around. Me, I'm bursting with foolish American pride at the amount of brainpower that's been poured into this election by brilliant people with not a hint of compensation in the offing.

#3, Alexander Cockburn is Irish. I can't find any documentation that he's now an American citizen. Call me a provincial redneck, but I don't need a foreigner telling me how to fix my country. I'll listen to his thoughts and give them due consideration, but frankly, he's living off the fat of the land, and is just as much a part of the elite. If he is an American, and this is his country for better or worse, then I take all of that back.

#4, your yoga teacher is my kind of gal. After all, we all have to live in this world. I have no doubt that Bush is the best choice by far at this time, but I want this country to be America first (and to outstrip this Roman empire baloney by a million years), no matter who's the Preznit. We can kick each other in the groin all we want, but that's because we're family. Nobody else can do that.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on November 2, 2004 12:45 AM

We can kick each other in the groin all we want, but that's because we're family. Nobody else can do that.

As a Canadian, I'd like to point out that pointing out flaws in other country's leaders is almost universal. Why, I've even heard that some countries will do more than use words when expressing disapproval of another country's leader :-).

The serious point being that America's leader will affect the rest of the world. You cannot expect people not to express opinions about events that will directly impact them. Whether the citizens of the USA choose to heed the advice is, of course, their choice. (That said, at a time when many Americans believe their best interests do not match most of the rest of the world's, such advice is not likely to be paid much attention - rather the opposite, I'd say.)

Posted by: Tom West on November 2, 2004 06:30 AM


Let's cut the Hopkins thing by half: 50,000 dead as a result of our "adult" invasion promoted with hyped intelligence (a form of lying). I imagine certain "partisan" folks would maintain that any claim of hyped intelligence is mere assertion. But doesn't an empirical comparison of the intelligence reports with the administration's pre-war public language show a deletion of the uncertainties included in those reports?

Of course, many think in such an adult, strategic manner that the end would justify any means.

I realize that with my overheated remarks about collateral damage I come across as philosophically unadult and verbally shaggy, but it's just my naive way of trying to steer the conversation away from abstract principles and toward visceral consequences. Unless one is emotionally reconciled to the image of a loved one or an Iraqi toddler being blown apart in Iraq (invaded untruthfully), the whole discussion strikes me as macabre and armchairy.

Posted by: Tim B. on November 2, 2004 10:17 AM

You cannot expect people not to express opinions about events that will directly impact them.

I don't seriously expect them not to. It's too much fun and it's dead easy to be Mr. Critic. Pays well, too, from what I hear.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on November 2, 2004 11:50 AM

Tim B. & Tatyana -- The "Hopkins thing" (100,000 extra deaths) doesn't just need to be cut by half. It's a piece of junk that needs to be thrown in the trash. Fred Kaplan, in Slate, tells the story straight.
They pretended to be taking a "random sample" of Iraq, by surveying 33 "population clusters." It's hard to take a random sample when guns are going off, and these guys didn't come close to doing so. And one of their "clusters" just happened to be -- guess what? -- Fallujah.
No one is actually dumb enough to think that Fallujah is a representative sample of what's happening in the rest of Iraq.
They made no effort to verify the number of deaths that were reported to them. What do you think they were told by any Jihadis they happened to talk to?
And then they compared that number to an absurdly low estimate of the pre-war death rate.
And, even then, all they really came up with was an estimate (wild guess) that there were somewhere between 8000 and 194000 extra deaths.
So they said -- What the hell! Let's split the difference. Call it 98,000.
And that number is then reported as news.

It's true that people die in wartime, and that some of the dead are civilians. Maybe, someday, we will know how many Iraqi civilians died in this war, but the Hopkins/Lancet "thing" tells us nothing at all -- except that the authors of the study are against the war.
It's also true that no other army in modern history -- excepting the Israeli's -- has gone to such extreme lengths to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.

Posted by: Notary on November 2, 2004 02:45 PM


Thanks for the different perspective on the calculation of casualties. But maybe I should bring it down to an arithmetical minimum -- 1. An invasion causing one collateral death should be judged an impeachable war crime if that invasion was prompted by willful, executive-exaggerated intelligence.

On another blog, a pro-Iraq-war person stated that falsification of the intelligence was warranted because a greater strategic plan of geopolitical manipulation would make us safer in the long run. I'm one of those weirdos who thinks that transparency and honesty should be the baseline prerequisites and that the disaster in Iraq is about what one would expect when a bunch of unethical, chauvinistic strategizers are allowed to play ahistorical chess on a vast ethnically checkered board.

Posted by: Tim B. on November 2, 2004 03:54 PM

Hm. But are not "left-behinds" are tending toward minority as college graduation rates rise and reach 27-30% (and 50% for asians []? Proportion of people who have some college education is already over 50%. What kind of elite is it that is at least 30% of the adult population? One could answer "American one" which would not be all to surprising. One could also argue that the "real" "New Elite" would only come from a small proportion of colleges, have advanced degrees, etc. Perhaps. In that case; however, I do not see the difference between "new elite" and "old elite".

Does it really matter why someone thinks his/her opinion is worth more than someone else's?

Posted by: con tendem on November 2, 2004 08:04 PM

Hey, I'm buying drinks tonight.
Any takers?

Posted by: Tatyana on November 3, 2004 01:33 PM

Tatyana - Thanks, but no. My wife and I, after very little sleep, split a bottle of Champagne for lunch, and I'm not ready for anything more just yet.

Posted by: Notary on November 3, 2004 07:02 PM

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