Priorities Meme

March 12, 2007

This is something I’ve been intending to do for a while. It goes back to a discussion thread here about political quizzes; I’m genuinely interested in looking at people’s political views. A big part of it is priorities, which is what I want to start with at this time. Simply put, what political issues do you consider the most important?

You only have a finite number of total priority points, for lack of a better term. You can divide points among issues however you want; the interesting part is the ratios, not the absolute numbers. For example, here I’m using 100, but if you feel like using a different scale, go ahead. The idea is to list the issues you evaluate politicians, political movements, etc., based on.

If you want, you can put a position next to each issue. And finally, you can give multiple slates of answers if you follow more than one country’s politics. Obviously, EU integration is a higher priority in British and German politics than in American politics, while health care is a lower priority.

In the US, my priorities are,

Abortion – 15
Iran – 15
Eavesdropping and domestic spying – 13
Iraq – 9
Health care – 7
Immigration – 6
Free trade – 5
Farm aid – 5
Gay rights – 4
Budget balancing – 4
Stem cell research – 4
Climate change – 3
Welfare – 3
Education – 2
Alternative energy – 1
Taxes – 1
Affirmative action – 1
Military spending – 1
Minimum wage – 1

All of these track the gamut of acceptable political opinions. All other things being equal, I’d rather see a pro-life President who’s for dismantling the national security state entirely than a pro-choice President who supports a police state. But the gamut on abortion is wider than the gamut on civil liberties in the US, so abortion gets 15 points to civil liberties’ 13 even though only the latter is the subject of serious dystopian fiction.

If you respond to this on your blog, let me know by email, comment, or trackback. I’m not blogwhoring; I’m genuinely interested in archiving people’s political priorities.

Zionism and the Left

March 12, 2007

Three eons ago, I wrote something here about how both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian politics originates in the left. On 3QD I expanded this to a full-blown article about how Zionism ceased to be considered left-wing, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This is important insofar as it’s always important within the left to sort groups into oppressed and non-oppressed. This is also useful in segueing into the post I promise will come very soon about lived experience; part of the appeal of lived experience is that once a group has been determined to be oppressed, it gets to define its own experience in left-wing circles.

Dog Bites Man; Conservative Pundit Abuses Statistics

March 10, 2007

Tyler DiPietro fisks conservative pundit John Hawkins who’s clueless about science, but leaves fisking his statistical claims to me. I’m always happy to oblige; the claim in question is that liberals are more racist than conservatives. I hate to disappoint Tyler, but Hawkins isn’t making an error in mathematics, but in basic reasoning. He quotes a study saying,

White Republicans nationally are 25 percentage points more likely on average to vote for the Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP hopeful is black…In House races, white Democrats are 38 percentage points less likely to vote Democratic if their candidate is black.

The most shoddy part of the quote is the ellipsis, which covers several paragraphs in the relevant article. The 25% and 38% figures are not meant to be compared; after all, the 25% figure applies to Senate races while the 38% applies to House races, in which different dynamics might be in play.

In addition, just comparing white Democrats to white Republicans is somewhat misleading, since Democrats also have a significant black and Latino vote. In the 2006 election, a sixth of the Democratic House vote was black and 10% was Latino compared with only 2% and 5% of the Republican House vote respectively.

The remainder of Hawkins’ point about racism is a short screed about how Republicans are the party of Lincoln whereas Democrats had a Dixiecrat contingent. Not surprisingly, Hawkins stops short of looking at Democratic versus Republican behavior sometime in the 1960s, when the Dixiecrats defected to the Republicans after LBJ did something to help black people.

Incidentally, the other point of Hawkins refuting which Tyler left to me – namely, that conservatives contribute to charity more – is something I talked about a while ago. In a nutshell, charity is meaningless. If you have 200 dollars to burn, the best way of spending them is contributing to politicians who help the poor; for a billion dollars every four years you can elect a President and a Congress that will push through programs that will increase federal payments to both the real (i.e. third-world) poor and the US poor by 30 billion dollars a year each.

Union Politics

March 8, 2007

Ezra approvingly quotes a commenter who says unions are important because, among other things, they lobby for greater worker protections. After reading Ezra’s quote, I started thinking of how labor organizations could lobby in a non-union structure and realized there’s a striking analogy to other movements. I said,

Actually, there’s no reason unions have to combine the roles that in the pro-choice movement are filled by two distinct organizations, Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Women who get abortions aren’t expected to pay dues to NARAL; women who file sexual harassment lawsuits don’t get told to pay NOW a percentage of the settlement; wrongly incarcerated people don’t have to pay ACLU membership fees to be represented.

A better way of organizing labor is to have two distinct organizations, albeit with the natural understanding that they’re going to employ the same kind of people and support the same kind of policies. The PP-like organization should focus exclusively on good works, such as class action lawsuits, strikes, and pay negotiations, and should be funded out of membership dues. The NARAL-like organization should lobby politicians and endorse like-minded candidates, and be funded by calling up supporters and asking them to cough up money.

The NARAL-like mode of action makes sense even from a purely union-side perspective. A pro-labor political organization can call up people and ask them to contribute without asking them to risk firing. People contribute to NOW and NARAL despite the free rider effect; why doesn’t a new organization, or for that matter the AFL-CIO, solicit donations?

Dominionism, Separation of Church and State, and Moderation

March 7, 2007

Jessica Dreadful notes that although Edwards claims God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he nonetheless rambles about how God agrees with him on issues like foreign policy and poverty. And as many people who know nothing of religious politics in the US, he ends up inventing his own position on school prayer, which is that children should get time to pray on their own. Jessica responds, “Great idea! Give children a certain amount of time to themselves where they can pray, think, basically do whatever they want! Why haven’t we thought of this before? Oh right, we have.. it’s called ‘recess.'”

Tyler uses the interview to start a frontal assault on the Democrats’ fellation of Dominionism. Why, he asks, do Democrats keep inviting people whose values are inimical to those of liberalism to the table? Or, in his own words,

The primary problem with Democrats appealing to evangelical voters is that most of them are bound to be like Jim Wallis. Maybe we have dragged them over on the economic issues, but they’re bound to be the same “culture of life” yahoos who current mill about on the right. In other words, we’ll probably end up with a crowd of modern William Jennings Bryans.

For a group to take over a party the way the religious right has seized the Republican Party, it must first have large numbers of voters and then have a leadership capable of telling the party to listen to its concerns. The leadership needs to be concerned primarily with the group’s main issues, and have a credible “We’ll vote the other way” threat; right-wing Dominionists don’t have the latter threat and aren’t interested in cultivating it, but make up for that in numbers.

Born-again Christians are already a quarter of the Democratic vote, but so many of them are minorities, whose leaders use their political capital to move the party left on race instead of right on religion, that they so far haven’t forced the party to adopt their religious agenda. More importantly, among minorities this arrangement has been there for decades; the influence of black churches has deterred the Democratic Party from cracking down on preachers who deliver tax-free political sermons, but has so far not prevented it from being pro-choice and mostly pro-science.

It’s plausible that the same arrangement could develop with working class whites. In such an arrangement, white Evangelicals would have a leader focusing primarily on labor and the environment, who would use religious language to talk to them but under no circumstances demand that the Democratic Party sacrifice a single socially liberal platform plank.

However, Jim Wallis is not such a leader. On the contrary, he openly disdains abortion and gay rights, and instead of telling religious people to vote Democratic spends his time telling the Democrats to lure religious people. His response to an incident such as Jerry Falwell’s claim that global warming is a Satanic myth would be more along the lines of telling the Democrats they must respect religious sentiments instead of ripping Falwell apart.

On the contrary, the group it makes the most sense for the Democrats to give voice to on matters of religion is non-religious voters. These probably comprise around 17% of the electorate now, albeit only 10% of voters, compared with 20% of the American population that attends church regularly. They naturally tend to be liberal, voting Democratic by margins approaching 3 to 1. And their primary issues are socially liberal platform planks that are already part of the core of liberal values.

When talking about issues important to people who vote based only on religious issues, it then makes much more sense for the Democrats to go all the way left. Obama shouldn’t be talking about the importance of religious charity; that only gives Wallis more political capital. Instead, it makes more political sense for him to talk about preventing religious charities from engaging in discrimination, which will lose him a small number of religious voters and regain an equal number of secularists.

Edwards’ approach is the worst, because it’s unreflectively moderate. On some issues, primarily foreign policy and some economic debates, there have evolved strong moderate positions that make sense in their own right. On religion, none has, so people who want to sound sensible end up making statements that are liable to piss everyone off. When Edwards says students need to get free time at school to pray, he doesn’t come off as a sensible centrist but as a clueless invertebrate.

The same pattern, in which there’s no serious moderate position, appears all over the map in social debates. On SSM, the moderate position, civil unions, has limited merit. On other gay rights issues, the American electorate has already abandoned the ad hoc compromise that is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” On issues of science, there’s no compromise between good science and bad science. Abortion is alone among cultural issues in the US that admits a serious moderate position, but even it is different from what is considered sensible centrism on abortion, which is empty rhetoric about reducing the number of abortions.

And even on abortion, the Democratic Party has traditionally deferred to NARAL and Planned Parenthood. It’s changed lately, partly due to its courting of Dominionists and partly due to the waning influence of the old pro-choice movement. However, the latter has resulted mostly from women’s interests shifting to other issues; in contrast, no 34-year-old pro-secular consensus has existed that would make secular voters less interested in separation of church and state.

Hivemind Question: is This a Real Issue?

March 7, 2007

The New York Times has a story about Obama’s financial transactions. What stands out is that on his behalf his accountant made a highly speculative stock purchase that coincided with his major donors’ investments, which Obama sold at a loss after finding out about. However, the purchase included a biotech buy, two weeks after which he began making fighting avian flu a priority (though the corporation in question hasn’t received any federal funds for avian flu).

Is this a real issue? I’m too cynical to care about ethics issues – in my mind, every politician is as ethical as Vito Corleone, but some are better than others at hiding it – but your mileage may vary. Do you think it’s a real instance of corruption, or a legitimate dealing?

Giuliani is not Presidential

March 6, 2007

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post helpfully reminds non-New Yorkers who the frontrunner for the Republican nomination is. Giuliani, he reminds everyone, is hotheaded, abusive, and authoritarian, three characteristics that don’t make a good leader. There’s a reason Michael Corleone was a better don than Sonny.

Giuliani could be vindictive. He had no qualms about using government to settle a score. When the City Council overrode his veto of a bill to change the operations of homeless shelters in December 1998, Giuliani sought to evict five community service programs, including one that served 500 mentally ill people, in the district of the bill’s chief sponsor, and to replace them with a homeless shelter.

What’s more, he released a list of sites for other shelters that would be housed in the districts of council members who voted in favor of the override. (He backed down two months later, after much public outrage.)

He’s a moderate, and normally I’d appreciate it. But I’d rather have my moderates temperate, calculated, and effective; Giuliani is none of the three. Indeed, he’s even displaying that one ubiquitous characteristic of everyone in his profession – namely, hypocrisy.

Normally I don’t give a damn about intra-family feuds. That Giuliani is twice divorced means nothing to me. But that he’s asking for privacy when it comes to his son’s public refusal to support his candidacy is just hypocritical. For a start, when a candidate’s immediate family members refuse to stump for him and go as far as talking about family problems in public, it’s news. This is especially true in Giuliani’s case, because his second wife found out he wanted a divorce by watching him announce it at a press conference.

In addition, Giuliani has implied he does not believe in the right to privacy. When asked about judicial nominations, he specifically mentioned Scalia, Roberts, and Alito as his judicial rolemodels; none of the three believes in a constitutional right to privacy. So Giuliani is asking the media to remain silent about a legitimate story by citing a right he doesn’t think the unwashed masses deserve.