Archive for the 'Barack Obama' Category

Lessig: Obama Has Betrayed His Movement

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Lawrence Lessig is a very smart cookie. And he is not happy: How to get our democracy back.

Maybe this was his plan all along. It was not what he said. And by ignoring what he promised, and by doing what he attacked (“too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in”), Obama will leave the presidency, whether in 2013 or 2017, with Washington essentially intact and the movement he inspired betrayed.

Daily Kos Poll of Self-Identified Republicans

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Clearly, I haven’t been doing enough to stir the pot of partisan name-calling lately. So here you go: The 2010 Comprehensive Daily Kos/Research 2000 Poll of Self-Identified Republicans.

Knock yourselves (or more likely, each other) out.

Drum on Obama’s and Congressional Democrats’ Testicles

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Kevin Drum has the following blunt advice on what should happen next with healthcare reform: Time to Grow a Pair.

This really is a defining moment for both Obama and the Democratic Party more broadly. So far both have failed miserably: the party is in a state of meltdown, surrendering completely to a resurgent Republican narrative, refusing to fight for anything it believes in, and caving in to a truly toxic combination of electoral fear and narrow interest group parochialism. For his part, Obama seems either unable or unwilling to rally his troops. I’m not sure which. But the American public really needs to hear some conviction from him, and so far they haven’t. He’s remained aloof from the healthcare upheaval, pivoted on financial regulation in a way that looks driven more by politics than by core beliefs, and has just generally sounded more chastened than reinvigorated.

This really needs to turn around fast. Another week like this — hell, another day or two like this — and we might as well start measuring the Oval Office drapes for the upcoming Cheney/Palin administration. It’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and grow a pair. Today would be a good time to start.

I happen to think Drum is exactly right. It’s not clear from this excerpt, but what he (and a lot of other smart people) are calling for is for the Democrats in the House to just pass the Senate version of healthcare reform, to avoid sending it back to the Senate where a 41-vote Republican minority could kill it procedurally.

I’m really not sure what’s going to happen. I think Obama means well, and has the ability to make (some) things happen. But I don’t know if that’s enough to turn things around in the face of the demonstrable collective cravenness of the House Democratic caucus.

Update: The same message, in video form, with beer and bikinis. Now how much would you pay?

Pfeiffer to Cheney: Srsly?

Thursday, December 31st, 2009


From White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer: The Same Old Washington Blame Game.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.


Obama [heart] E.T.

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

From, which sort of looks like a newspaper. Remember when we had those? Anyway: Official disclosure of extraterrestrial life is imminent.

For several months, senior administration officials have been quietly deliberating behind closed doors how much to disclose to the world about extraterrestrial life.

You heard it here first.

Audiovisual Commentary on the Birther Conspiracy

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It’s the all-YouTube, all-the-time version of

This really is pretty fun. Well, scary. Fun and scary.

It’s a twofer!

Obama on the Healthcare ‘Debate’

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Apologies for leaving adrift in the waves of outrage washing back and forth from the folks who get their healthcare-reform information from the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. There have been lots of high-profile lies I could have been commenting on, but Cheney-like, I had other priorities.

And look, along comes the Debunker-in-Chief to summarize the grownup response to all the silliness, and save me the trouble of running after every little bit of crazy, in today’s NYT Op-Ed: Why We Need Health Care Reform.

LAT on Obama on Mountaintop Removal

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Interesting article from the LA Times’ Tom Hamburger and Petter Wallsten today: Obama walks a fine line over mining.

Although environmentalists had expected the new administration to put the brakes on mountaintop removal, Rahall and other mining advocates have pointed out that Obama did not promise to end the practice and was more open to it than his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

A review of Obama’s campaign statements show that he had expressed concern about the practice without promising to end it. On a West Virginia visit, when asked about the impact of the mining on the state’s streams, he said he wanted “strong enforcement of the Clean Water Act,” adding: “I will make sure the head of the Environmental Protection Agency believes in the environment.”

And his EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, has said that the agency had “considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams.” She pledged that the agency would “use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”

Soon afterward, the agency in effect blocked six major pending mountaintop removal projects in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

But this month, after a series of White House meetings with coal companies and advocates including Rahall and Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, the EPA released the little-noticed letter giving the green light to at least two dozen projects.

“It was a big disappointment,” said Joan Mulhern, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that has led court challenges to mountaintop removal. “It’s disturbing and surprising that this administration, headed by a president who has expressed concern about mountaintop removal, would let such a large number of permits go forward without explanation.”

So, I have another case where Obama-the-president falls short of the hope crafted by Obama-the-candidate. Obama clearly is head and shoulders above the Bush administration in the areas of environmental protection and paying attention to science, but that doesn’t mean he’s everything I could hope for. Bush routinely approved these mountaintop removals; Obama made a show of opposition, then let the coal industry (and the unions who delivered the presidency to him in Appalachia) call in their chits.

So, it makes me sad, and draws down a little further my store of goodwill. The man is, above all, a pragmatist, and pragmatically, as with torture prosecutions and gay marriage and decriminalization of marijuana, he has more to lose than to gain if he decides this issue the way I think he should. So that’s what we can expect going forward.

It makes me wonder: On issues like universal healthcare and global warming, how far out on a limb will he be willing to go, really? When push comes to shove, and it looks like those who supported him most ardently in 2008 have nowhere else to go, will the energy interests and the drug companies and the unions and whoever else is willing to push hard against any significant change succeed in pulling him back? Sometimes a compromise isn’t good enough. Sometimes you’re better off risking it all, even if the odds are against you, because what looks like the “safer” choice really isn’t safe.

At the end of the day, what does Obama stand for? What does he actually care about enough to spend this political capital that he’s so carefully hoarding? Anything? Or is the gaining of power really its own end? Is this just a smarter, outwardly friendlier version of the Mayberry Machiavellis?

I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.

Hilzoy on Obama on the Uighurs

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Another item in my list of reasons to be disappointed in the Obama administration, and to fail to muster the True Believer zeal required to be fully onboard with supporting his agenda. As explained by Hilzoy, in Shameful:

We set up a system that gave people incentives to turn over people they claimed were foreign fighters, whether they were or not. We then dismantled all our normal procedures for separating combatants from non-combatants. It should not surprise anyone that we ended up detaining people who were innocent.

I have no problem with the government taking some reasonable period of time to try to identify another country that is willing to take detainees who cannot be returned to their own countries. But these detainees have been held for seven and a half years. That’s not a reasonable amount of time to tie up loose ends; it’s a tenth of a normal lifespan.

We screwed up. We should step up to the plate and do what’s right. Seven and a half years is too long.

That’s not change I can believe in. That’s continuing the worst aspects of the Bush administration.

Kamiya: The Case for Investigations

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

I can’t find any particular part of this essay by Gary Kamiya to excerpt — the whole thing is too awesome to lend itself to summarizing: America’s necessary dark night of the soul.

I think Kamiya’s argument is a compelling response to Obama’s “we need to look forward” position. Yes, we have many other crucial matters we need to deal with. Yes, Obama does not have limitless political capital. Yes, there are many powerful people on both sides of the aisle who are implicated in the bad things that happened over the last eight years, and who can be expected to be about as cooperative in the investigation as the Sunni insurgents were in the reconstruction of Iraq.

This investigation will not happen because Obama wants it; he doesn’t want it. It is not in his interest. Neither is it in the interest of the current Democratic leadership in Congress, nor that of congressional Republicans. It will not come from the people represented by the blue line in this recent Pew Research graph, nor from those represented by the red line.

It will come from those of us represented by the avocado green line:


It will not be easy. It will not be pretty. But only once we’ve dragged this sordid, festering truth out into the sunlight will we be able to see it for what it really is, and move on.

Obama on Torture and State Secrets

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Refreshing to have a president who can respond at a press conference without needing to pause for tens of seconds while he listens to Karl Rove whisper instructions in his surgically implanted earpiece, isn’t it?

I’m kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, I thought Obama’s responses last night to Jake Tapper, Mark Knoller, and Michael Scherer’s questions about torture, torture, and state secrets (respectively) were pretty interesting. The full transcript of the press conference is here: News conference by the president, 4/29/09. Here are the interesting-to-me bits:

THE PRESIDENT: …Jake. Where’s Jake? There he is.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture. Torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

THE PRESIDENT: What I’ve said — and I will repeat — is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don’t think that’s just my opinion; that’s the opinion of many who’ve examined the topic. And that’s why I put an end to these practices. I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do — not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day, talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, we don’t torture — when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And the reason was that Churchill understood you start taking shortcuts, and over time that corrodes what’s best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.

And so I strongly believe that the steps that we’ve taken to prevent these kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques will make us stronger over the long term, and make us safer over the long term, because it will put us in a position where we can still get information — in some cases, it may be harder, but part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world, is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy.

At the same time, it takes away a critical recruitment tool that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians. And it makes us — it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.

So this is a decision that I am very comfortable with. And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we’re taking on a unscrupulous enemy.

Okay. I’m sorry.

Q — administration sanction torture?

THE PRESIDENT: I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the — whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.

Mark Knoller.

Q Thank you, sir. Let me follow up, if I may, on Jake’s question. Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others, saying that the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques not only protected the nation, but saved lives? And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?

THE PRESIDENT: I have read the documents. Now, they haven’t been officially declassified and released, and so I don’t want to go into the details of them. But here’s what I can tell you — that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques — which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques — doesn’t answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn’t answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?

So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team, and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged as Commander-in-Chief on how safe I’m keeping the American people. That’s the responsibility I wake up with and it’s the responsibility I go to sleep with.

And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe, but I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are. And there have been no circumstances during the course of this first hundred days in which I have seen information that would make me second-guess the decision that I’ve made.


THE PRESIDENT: …Michael Scherer of TIME.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign you criticized President Bush’s use of the state secrets privilege. But U.S. attorneys have continued to argue the Bush position in three cases in court. How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush’s? And do you believe Presidents should be able to derail entire lawsuits about warrantless wiretapping or rendition, if classified information is involved?

THE PRESIDENT: I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right how it’s over-broad. But keep in mind what happens is, we come into office, we’re in for a week — and suddenly we’ve got a court filing that’s coming up. And so we don’t have the time to effectively think through what, exactly, should a overarching reform of that doctrine take. We’ve got to respond to the immediate case in front of us.

I think it is appropriate to say that there are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake, and that you can’t litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety. But searching for ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court — you know, there should be some additional tools so that it’s not such a blunt instrument. And we’re interested in pursuing that. I know that Eric Holder and Greg Craig, my White House Counsel, and others are working on that as we speak.

So, as I said, interesting stuff. For analysis, I suggest lefty attack-weasel Glenn Greenwald: Obama’s pretty words on secrecy and torture last night. From the other side of the question (if not the other side of the political spectrum), I also found the following pre-press conference pieces by Clive Crook to be worth chewing over: Obama’s needless fight over torture and More on torture prosecutions.

On the conservative side, I’m not aware of anyone grappling with the reality of what’s going on to a similar degree, but I also haven’t really been looking. Does anyone have any sources to suggest? I’m not interested in Fox News, or Rush, or Dick Cheney; I feel pretty confident that I already know their take on this, and have given them all the attention they deserve. But if there are principled conservatives engaging with the issue in an honest way, I’d be interested in reading what they have to say. Thanks.

Appeals Court Rules Against Administration in Jeppesen Case

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

This is awesome news: Suit by 5 ex-captives of CIA can proceed, appeals panel rules.

Tomasky on Gingrich on David Hamilton on Jesus vs. Allah

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

With a title like this, how could I not read it? How they lie: a case study. Michael Tomasky, writing in the Guardian, goes on about something Newt Gingrich said in an interview in Christianity Today. Here’s the Gingrich quote:

You have Obama nominating Judge Hamilton, who said in her ruling that saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK. You’ll find most Republican senators voting against a judge who is confused about whether you can say Jesus Christ in a prayer, particularly one who is pro-Muslim being able to say Allah.

And yeah, as far as it goes, it appears Gingrich is playing fast and loose with the facts. Judge Hamilton is a man, David Hamilton, so Gingrich referring to him as her is either a sloppy error or a cleverly chosen lie intended to push the buttons of the readers of Christianity Today. Given that there has been extensive press coverage of Hamilton’s nomination, Obama’s first to the federal judiciary, I think the “sloppy error” theory doesn’t really hold water.

Tomasky tells a sob story of having to google his way through “four or five pages” of returned results, and links to a story at (Judicial Nominee Says Prayers to Allah Okay, But Not to Jesus), saying, “This one apparently set things going.” That article is pretty bad, it’s true; it says this, for example:

Hamilton has ideal liberal credentials. He is a former ACLU lawyer and was a fundraiser for the corrupt group known as ACORN. This organization engages in fraudulent voter registration campaigns and is deeply involved in housing and poverty issues. Obama was an attorney for ACORN when he worked as a “community organizer” in Chicago. ACORN will be gathering data for the 2010 Census.

This lawyer is so radical that the liberal ABA rated him as “not qualified” when Bill Clinton nominated him for a district court post in 1994.

A few minutes’ googling on my part tells me that that characterization is pretty out there. There’s no mention of either the ACLU or ACORN in any of the three online bios of Hamilton that I’ve read. Hamilton is widely respected, has the support of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and is generally being talked about has having been chosen by Obama as his first nominee precisely because he’s a respected centrist.

Tomasky doesn’t really get into that. What he does get into is the question of whether or not Hamilton explicitly said mentions of Allah were okay.

So here’s where the lie comes in. Hamilton did indeed rule that Jesus Christ must not be mentioned in legislative prayers. But what did he say about Allah? It practically goes without saying that the decision doesn’t so much as mention Allah. So this is what his wing-nut critics are doing: They’re using the fact that he proscribes mentions of Jesus but does not specifically proscribe mentions of Allah to assert that he thinks mentions of Allah would be perfectly, as it were, kosher.

Um, no, actuallly. It’s kind of funny, what with all the agonies he suffered paging through Google results, that Tomasky didn’t come across this Ed Whelan item from NRO (Seventh Circuit Nominee David Hamilton: “Allah” Yes, “Jesus” No). It’s dated March 26, the same day as the blog entry that Tomasky did link to. Whelan quotes from a post-judgment ruling in which Hamilton said that mentions of “Allah” would be okay, given the larger context that the Indiana House of Representatives does not seem to be engaged in advancing Islam at the expense of other religions in the same way that the found-to-be-unconstitutional behavior was advancing Christianity.

What do I take away from this? That short of doing some in-depth research myself (which is far easier today than it has ever been before, and probably isn’t worth whining about), I really can’t trust partisans of either the right or the left not to be dicks who mislead me intentionally in order to further their respective agendas.

More than ever, quality of sources matters. Just because it’s easy to find information that supports your pre-existing bias doesn’t mean it’s right to restrict yourself to such information. For one thing, it makes it really easy for unscrupulous people to manipulate your perceptions.

Nate Silver on Obama’s Bipartisanship

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Nate Silver at talks about the flip side of my whining about Obama’s position on the state secrets privilege and torture: What Would a “Bipartisan” Obama Look Like? (Hint: A Lot Like the One We’re Seeing). From his conclusion:

What I don’t think Obama can be accused of, however, is breaking any promises. In fact, he basically telegraphed his strategy with the whole Rick Warren thing: make a show of appealing to conservatives here and there, and perhaps avoid issues that are symbolically important to the left but which drain one’s political capital, while all the while continuing to push forward the core elements of a conventionally Democratic (but hardly radical) agenda. Very little about the Administration’s strategy has been surprising.

On some level, I do wonder about that. By drawing a line in the sand with respect to state-sponsored torture, and demanding, in effect, that Obama sacrifice his effectiveness on other issues in order to take a largely symbolic stand against something abhorrent that he’s not actually engaging himself, am I being unrealistic? In the final analysis, will I be forced to acknowledge that Obama’s approach was right, and my demands, while ideologically more pure, were wrong?

I don’t actually know. But in the meantime, I’m clinging to my hatred of torture, and my whining about Obama’s protection of those in the Bush administration who perpetrated it. It’s comforting to feel some actual certainty about something, even when, as now, I’m not actually completely certain.

Obama Continues Pushing State Secrets

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Just in case I was thinking of backsliding on the “Obama is an evil bastard for protecting torturers while continuing the Bush policy of asserting limitless executive power via the state secrets privilege,” well, no such luck.

From Zachary Roth, writing at TPM Muckraker: Expert Consensus: Obama Mimics Bush On State Secrets. And from Dan Froomkin: Obama’s State Secrets Overreach.

This really is a big deal, at least to me. As far as the overweening unitary executive stuff goes, I’m with Rush: I hope Obama fails, and will do whatever is in my power to make him do so. Here’s the response I sent today when Obama for America emailed to ask me to send more money:

Subject: Re: Under attack
Date: April 9, 2009 12:40:06 PM PDT

> Will you make a donation of $25 or more before the Monday deadline?

No. I’m profoundly disappointed by the Obama administration’s use of the state secrets privilege to protect torturers in the Jeppesen case. I’m still happy he won the election, but I’m ashamed of his actions in this area, and I certainly will not be contributing any more money to his political operation.

Send me another email when his actions warrant my support. Until then, the answer is no. Shame on him — and shame on you, to the extent you would work for someone who lets a self-serving political calculation stand between him and doing what is right about torture.


Obama Talks Purty

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Speaking on the occasion of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, President Obama still saddens me with his willingness to invoke the state secrets privilege in defense of torturers (not that he does that here). But the man gives a good speech.

Update: Embedded video removed, since it seems to have exploded over at MSNBC. Sorry about that.

Obama Invokes State Secrets Privilege to Cover Up Torture

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

This is horribly, horribly depressing.

If you asked me to pick three people whose views on the issue of torture and the rule of law I’ve come to respect, they would probably be Kevin Drum, Hilzoy, and yes, despite his habit of going all prosecutorial and one-sided on us, Glenn Greenwald. And if you told me that all three of them were appalled, on the same day, at the same action by the new Obama administration with regard to a matter of torture and the rule of law, I’d have to say that was pretty much game over for me in terms of my willingness to defend the Obama administration.

So: Elapsed time until losing my support: 2 weeks, 6 days.

Sigh. The torture presidency continues, apparently. Or, to extend him a whopping benefit of the doubt that I’m no longer at all sure he deserves, Obama has decided that he will stop torturing (which is a good thing). But he will also use the most questionable sorts of expansive imperial presidency power as pioneered by Bush to protect the perpetrators of torture from facing justice. No doubt Obama has determined that he would suffer politically from the perception that he was going after the torturers who preceded him in office. It would be a losing proposition for him, politically. He would be portrayed as weak on terror, a turncoat willing to burn his own people and prevent them from fighting the bad guys. So he takes the coward’s way out, presumably arguing to himself that he thereby preserves his ability to do good with his political capital, but at the same time allowing himself to become complicit with the worst sort of inhumanity.

Until now I was proud of Obama. Proud of what he had achieved, of what he stood for.

Now I’m ashamed.

Bai on Obama’s Blackberry

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Continuing the theme of favorite witty bits: This is from A president and his BlackBerry, by Matt Bai in today’s LA Times op-ed section:

9:41 a.m.

To: Hillary Clinton

From: BHO

I’m sprawled out on the Oval Office rug, just luxuriating. Thought u’d like to know. LOL.

I did, in fact, LOL at that during breakfast today.

Johnston on the Obama Press Operation

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

This piece by David Cay Johnston was interesting to me: Who’s undercutting Obama? I’m not in a position to pass judgement on Obama’s press operation with regard to whether people answer the phone, get snippy when asked to spell their names, or assume they can unilaterally declare their comments off the record. But I do feel qualified to judge the changes to

I know J.A.Y.S.O.N. thinks it’s a much better-designed website than it was under Bush, and since he knows a lot more about design than I do I’ll take that as a given. I’m more of a content guy. The thing that gets me excited in a website is content. Ridiculous amounts of content. Stacks of content. Reams of content. Browseable. Linkable.

For all Bush’s failings (at least a couple of which I seem to recall mentioning before), the White House website under Bush was a vast improvement over his predecessor’s. And from the perspective of content, Obama’s version of the site, at least so far, looks like a big step backward.

It’s not just that many thousands of pages went fwap! and disappeared overnight. That’s a serious issue (in light of the intent behind the Presidential Records Act, I’d think it might even be a legal issue, or at least ought to be, if and when the law catches up). But I can understand that requiring a new president to maintain the web content of his predecessor might be problematic, and would become moreso over time. But maybe the former site could have been transitioned to a permanent home at the Library of Congress, with the old URLs being redirected? Massive amounts of linkrot isn’t the sort of change I believe in.

(Update: Well, duh. It’s at the Bush Library: Welcome to the White House.)

Setting that aside, and judging the new site on its own merits, it just isn’t very good from a content standpoint. Yes, it has a some nice images and an actual “blog” that dares to speak its name, and the link farm at the bottom of every page has been helpful as I poke around. And yes, I know that Obama has been putting out videos on YouTube. But the press materials at are seriously lacking, which I assume is related to the press office problems that David Cay Johnston is griping about.

It looks like we’re getting briefing transcripts, which is nice. But the old site had transcripts and full audio files and full video streams of all news conferences and press briefings. I really liked that stuff. And lest you think I’m being all rich-media snobby, allow me to repeat: I’m a content guy from way back. I think putting out a ridiculous profusion of primary source material in every conceivable format and getting the fuck out of the way is, or should be, a web content creator’s first responsibility. And as much as it pains me to say it, at this point Team Obama’s geeks are getting their web-content asses handed to them by Team Bush. They’re thinking small, in an area where their small-minded predecessor thought big (or at least was oblivious enough that some geeky underling was able to think big on his behalf).

What’s up with that?

Giordano, Hilzoy, Wikipedia on the Benefits of Not Being a Dick

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Synchronicity is in the air.

Al Giordano, whose opinions on things like this were borne out repeatedly during the presidential campaign, wrote the other day on what Obama has really been up to with the stimulus bill: The partisanship trap:

…Obama’s strategy is to set [Congressional Republicans] up for another rout in the 2010 Congressional elections and to hasten, in the meantime, the process by which they wake up and realize their seats are vulnerable. The President doesn’t need their votes on the Stimulus (therefore, this maneuver is not about the Stimulus, but more akin to a football team calling a running play to set up a later passing play). The truth is that so many Congressional Democrats are so undependable that Obama will need some Republican votes later on other legislative priorities, particularly in the Senate in order to get 60 votes for “cloture” to allow bills to be voted up or down: On the Employee’s Free Choice Act, on Immigration Reform (and now he needs one more to offset the anti-immigrant junior Democratic Senator from New York), on children’s health care and much, much more. To get to that point, he has to make individual Republicans feel vulnerable at the ballot box to Democratic challenge. Today’s events are speeding that process up.

In the end, Obama’s “bipartisanship” is one of the most Machiavellian partisan maneuvers we’ve seen in Washington in a long while, and I use that description in its most admirable context. The Republicans fell right into the trap today. Progressives that urge Obama to be more “partisan” should pay close attention to how the GOP is getting pwned before falling into the same trap themselves.

hilzoy is likewise someone who has emerged from the last few years with many of her interpretations vindicated by subsequent events. She makes a similar argument in Bipartisanship and the stimulus:

If Obama had gone to the Republicans and said: I propose a bill entirely made up of things Democrats really want and you really hate, but please, do join us in supporting it!, that wouldn’t work at all. But he didn’t do that. He went the extra mile. When Republicans protested about particular things, he dropped some of them (though not all: he was not, for instance, willing to compromise on refundable tax credits, and he was right not to compromise on that one.) There’s a fine line between being willing to compromise and being willing to surrender, and I think Obama generally stayed on the right side of it, while being open enough to compromise that he will get real credit for trying.

The House Republicans, by contrast, looked silly. They were carping about tiny bits of the stimulus (the capitol mall?!). They changed the bits they objected to from one day to the next, and looked for all the world like what I take them to be: people who were determined to oppose the stimulus bill from the outset.

This reminds me of a recent bout of Wikipedia editing I got involved in. As always, I came away with the feeling that it’s the people on your own side who are the biggest pains in the ass when trying to craft a consensus on a controversial article. Case in point: user hrafn’s one-man campaign to “win” the evolution/creationism debate for the evolutionists at the Strengths and weaknesses of evolution page. More detail (much, much more detail) about my views on how this runs counter to Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy is available on the article’s talk page, if you’re interested.

I made it a personal challenge to try to do everything “right” in Wikipedia terms. I assumed good faith. I made it about improving the article, not about the personalities. I worked for consensus on the Talk page, rather than getting caught up in revert wars in the article itself. It took a long time, and ultimately, while I think I made some good points and achieved some small, but measurable, improvements in the article, I gave up. Life’s too short, and I’ve got other things I care about. You win, hrafn. For certain values of “win”.

The “big three” core policies of Wikipedia, the so-called Trifecta, are these: 1) Remain neutral. 2) Don’t be a dick. 3) Ignore all rules. Taken together, I think they really do offer hope for building consensus on controversial questions. But it’s not a quick process. Quoting hilzoy, again:

To my mind, it is generally a good idea to act on the assumption that your opponents are reasonable people. (There are, of course, exceptions: e.g., when you don’t have time.) It’s the right thing to do morally. But it’s also generally the right thing to do tactically. I think this is especially true when you suspect that your opponents are, in fact unreasonable. You should always hope to be proven wrong, but if you are not — if your opponents are, in fact, unreasonable — then by taking the high road, you can ensure that that fact will be plain to the world.

Anyway, this is a long way to go to get to it, but I’m hereby apologizing to shcb for losing my cool with him in the comments about global warming science. It’s understandable that people who aren’t climate scientists (which, as far as I know, none of us around here are) are going to have different views on the degree of scientific consensus (or its lack). And while I can have my own opinion on the bad reasons someone might have for elevating the views of people like Joel Kotkin or Larry Summers or James Inhofe over those of the scientific mainstream, it doesn’t buy me much to make accusations in that area.

Evaluating the claims of science is actually fairly hard, in that science asks us to transcend traits that have been baked into us over the course of millions of years of primate evolution. Meanwhile, recognizing whether or not someone is being a dick is pretty easy. Given that, being dickly is a good way to lose the argument, at least in the eyes of a substantial chunk of whatever audience you have. Most people don’t keep score on the basis of journal citations and scientific reputation. They keep score on the basis of who sounds more reasonable. So it’s important to sound reasonable.

One last synchronistic item: I liked the op-ed piece in today’s edition of the Incredible Shrinking Print Media by Deborah Heiligman: The Darwin’s marriage of science and religion.

Although they never were able to see eye-to-eye on the question of religion and God, [Charles and Emma Darwin] were able to reach their hands across the gulf. In the end, each of them accepted and, it seems, truly understood what the other believed.

If it is a sign of intelligence to be able to hold two opposite thoughts or opinions in your head, then it is a mark of a successful marriage to be able to truly see the other person’s point of view. This is also the mark of a successful society.