Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Political Junky

First, Sen. Barack Obama on Meet the Press. He is know considering--I think quite seriously--a run for the Oval Office. I imagine the positive showing of Harold Ford Jr in Tenn. is influencing his decision. About the 19th minute on, watch him describe the future of a trans-partisan political discourse.

Russert quotes Obama's book which decries the way in which American political debate--big vs. small gov't, pro/anti war, is all from the 60s. He says, he doesn't want big or small gov't per se, but rather smart gov't. Ding dong, somebody finally gets it. To me, the most important thing the Sen. says is that truly great presidents change the culture and not just policies. Of all peope he names (get this) Ronald Reagan, who though Obama does not buy into say trickle-down (aka voodoo) economics, he sees in Reagan someone who communicated, who changed the tenor of what Americans felt about themselves. [The Dude gets it]. As readers will know, I'm not anti-Hillary per se, but I'm not a huge advocate either. If I were to decide between say a McCain, Gingrich, or Giuliani versus Hillary for '08, I'm not sure what I would do at this point.

But Obama to me is very intriguing. Green, no doubt; he would need a strong team---Biden as Sec. of State, a possible Rep. centrist (Chuck Hagel?) for SecDef. I"m still saying Zakaria for UN Ambassador.

Second, the panel discussion on Meet the Press as well as on Washington Weekly (PBS). The Republicans are likely to lose the House in a fairly decent tidal wave. Charlie Cook, probably the best mind on the subject, suggests a net gain from the Dems of at least 20 seats, possibly in the 35+ category---needing 15 to change the majority.

The Senate is tougher to call. Montana, my own Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are now basically off the board--to the Democratic Party. All incumbent Republicans likely to lose their seats. New Jersey which looked for awhile as if a ripe fruit for the Republicans to snatch from an inept appointed Dem. Seantor (Menendez), looks safe for the Donkeys.

That leaves the Democrats needing 2 out of the 3 of Tennessee, Virginia, and Missouri. Ford in Tenn. was out to a lead, but the Republican nominee Bob Corker is pulling even again. tThat seat is open because of the retirement of Majority Leader Bill Frist. Virginia is open only because George Allen has been a baffoon (the whole macaca incident)--should have been a free ride for him. Missouri, I think, looks as of now leaning Democrat.

Third, the President and the would have been President (John Kerry) on This Week with George S.


At 11:24 AM, Blogger MD said...

I voted for Obama for Senate, and I'm happy to see him considering running. I do have some push back on some of the things you write here.

He says, he doesn't want big or small gov't per se, but rather smart gov't. Ding dong, somebody finally gets it.

Why, exactly? Can government at the federal actually be smart? What does "smart" mean?

That federal government, by nature, can't be efficient, quickly adaptable to changing conditions (except for military), good at making choices that benefit some and not others, and a host of other things has been demonstrated in the last 60 years pretty strikingly, if you ask me. If "smart" means something than what I just listed, I'd be interested, but very skeptical.

I like Obama for a lot of reasons, but not because he throws out airy things like that.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...

Thanks for the pushback.

Of course fed. gov't can't be as quick/efficient as the business sector of the military. Although both of those have shown massive institutional lag and inertia.

But in terms of discourse I don't think that's as airy as statement as you suggest. Although if just repeated over and over again without anymore meat, sure.

To me it puts the discussion where it ought to be--not on large or small gov't per se but rather on how to make the governemtn as efficient (as possible). To be as flexible, lean, and adaptable--as possible.

The bigness or smallness of gov't, which to me by itself is a secondary matter, could work itself out once the proper programs and ideas are set in place.

But any of that discourse--Reaganite, big gov.t liberalism, 3rd Way smart gov't, all of them have to face the reality of monetary influence, lobbying, gerrymandered districting, crass partsianship (on both sides), media, etc.

Otherwise they are some interesting academic debates, make for some good blogging (at times), and give rise to think tanks and the rest. But unclear what actual effect those groups have had--particularly from the Republican standpoint.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger MD said...

The military reference, btw, was first made aware to me by someone at I-I, who said (when such topics actually seemed interesting to me) that the most "2nd-tier" organization was the U.S. military. While I no longer think "2nd-tier" means anything important, I do think that one of the most efficient and readily adaptable government organizations, if not the most on both counts, is the military.

To me it puts the discussion where it ought to be--not on large or small gov't per se but rather on how to make the governemtn as efficient (as possible). To be as flexible, lean, and adaptable--as possible.

The bigness or smallness of gov't, which to me by itself is a secondary matter, could work itself out once the proper programs and ideas are set in place.

Ok, sounds like we are in the same ballpark. Although I dont' see how the size of government can be "secondary" if it has direct bearing on its efficiency. But I hear you as saying that we don't need change in the size of government for its own sake, but based upon principles.

If that's the case, then I agree. And the best set of principles I've seen on this matter come from Charles Murray's short book, In Our Hands. Which I've mentioned before, but can't mention enough. Which can be summed up as federal government has no business getting involved with anything that does benefit all citizens equally.

His radical proposal has little to no political will behind it right now, which Murray acknowledges on his book's first page. He thinks, though, that economic realities over the next ten years will make some kind of change along the lines that he proposes not only a common-sense solution, but one economically required.

One topic to talk about, if you are interested, is the question of "what does federal government actually do well?"

Roads/highways/bridges strike me off the top of my head.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger CJ Smith said...

just a thought on the military. I think the military is forced by circumstances to be the quickest learner of the bunch. it generally has to be the most meritocratic institution we've got as well. thomas barnett says that repeatedly in his wrtings.

i think Iraq has left the military with a huge learning and question mark. As Barnett says, the Pentagon is funding and building the military for the next war not the one we are in.

our military went into Iraq as a military built on the post-Vietnam military consensus (powell doctrine). Don't go in unless you know what to do--you break it, you fix it. Hence not much going in, and not much primed towards learning what to do...Somalia anyone?

the question I'm interested in will Iraq be another Vietnam in this sense--will it pull the military back to a conservative Powell-like position? Or does the new generation see the need to overhual the military as a flex-flow (to throw a random Spiral phrase in) structure along the lines of what Barnett calls SysAdmin?

I have no idea frankly. but that would be a trend to watch in terms of what does our gov't do well.

to branch way way out---whatever that sysadmin type function could be for the military would I think be generally speaking the analogy for the feds.

we are seeing the end of the welfare state for a number of reasons. The American version and the American state probably cushioned over European ones, but the transition will be difficult nonetheless.

Plus there are some absolute wild cards in the form of technological breakthroughs if anything even 1% approaching a Kurzweil-like nanotech, biotech thing ever happens. Life extensions, bioterror, etc.

If we think the political tenor turned brutal and Americans squandered certain political rights after 9/11, if we have a real attack--bio for instance--then look out.

what is really clear is, as Alvin Toffler says, our institutions are de-synchronized (or de-coupled) from the economic/technological reality wihtin which we live and is only increasing in speed daily.

so yeah something like Murray I imagine would be a move in the right direction, or even as he argues, a necessity going forward. It might just take place anyway. The gov't will just to deal with the new rule sets it will have to create around:

scientific exploration/safety
open borders/immigration
gap/economically privileged

I think it will be so bombarded (no pun intended) with the speed of these changes, the continued fragmentation, mixing of ethnicies, possible violence, and wage inequalities, that it can't be in the business of thie other stuff.

So for me the real issue is to make that landing as soft as possible.

Good call on the highway construction. I have no idea how to connect that up though with all this. Have to think about it more.

but I think the key issue is abuot ability to respond, having multiple options and quickly recognizing which one(s) will do the trick. god knows that sounds like the complete opposite of the system we now have.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Tuff Ghost said...

Hi Guys,

Just on the big/small/smart distinction: From what I know of the workings of government and the motivation of public officials, I'd say that smart government is perfectly possible; it's not the size of the government that matters, it's the internal working conditions that produce inefficiency. As such, big government is just a larger inefficiency of the same kind.

To answer Matthew's question, what does the government do well? I'm tempted to say 'nothing', but those institutions that are able to develop their own identity and culture, and have the most 'field experience', police, military, etc do the best job, with the usual caveats attached to such a statement.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger MD said...

While I don't hold this opinion, let's say for the sake of discussion that you are right, TG, that federal government does nothing well. How then, does it follow that the size of it doesn't matter?

I mean, say you have a big house, but none of what you'd expect a house to do (keep heat in winter, keep out rodents, have regular electricity, etc.) actually happens in this big house.

In order to remedy the problem, not in the short term, but over the long term (i.e., sustainably), does the solution at all involve saying that the size of this big house matters not? How smart is that?

At 2:07 AM, Blogger Tuff Ghost said...

To Clarify:

It's not that making a government bigger triggers the problem, it's that government inherently sucks (because of internal conditions) and thus, of course, making government bigger increases the scale of the problem.

However, if you can somehow rectify/nullify the internal problems, you can have large government that isn't as bad as inefficient small government, hence why I think 'smart government' is not a meaningless statement.


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