Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let's talk about these celebrity yearbook photos.

Here they are.

The link is from Ann Althouse (my mom), who says:

Fascinating to see those who were always great looking, those who were always bad looking, and — most interestingly — those who looked awful in high school and got much, much better, the most extreme example of which is [George Clooney.]
I'd say the most extreme example is Russell Brand.

A female friend on Facebook says Angelina Jolie is "the most naturally striking" of the bunch — followed, oddly, by Michael Stipe.

I add that Charlize Theron, Dolly Parton, Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, and Whitney Houston are all in the running for cutest. Great glasses on Charlize Theron.

Conversely, Halle Berry, Pamela Anderson, and Tom Cruise are strikingly plain next to their adult selves.

How is it that Tom Hanks is so unmistakable, when his face is actually very bland? I couldn't name a single distinctive feature of his.

Fascinating contrast between the two Bushes.

Young Bush Senior looks like young Robin Williams, and they both seem like they could have played the dad in Back to the Future (George McFly).

George Michael looks like Maeby on Arrested Development.

James Hetfield looks like a brilliant caricature of himself.

Kurt Cobain looks eerily wholesome.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who cares how Cynthia Nixon ended up being gay?

This is a very sensible op-ed from yesterday's New York Times by Frank Bruni, making essentially the same argument I made last year in a blog post called "Is it effective to argue that homosexuality 'isn't a choice'?" As I discuss in that post, Jonah Goldberg also made the same basic point years ago.

Bruni writes:

BORN this way.

That has long been one of the rallying cries of a movement, and sometimes the gist of its argument. Across decades of widespread ostracism, followed by years of patchwork acceptance and, most recently, moments of heady triumph, gay people invoked that phrase to explain why homophobia was unwarranted and discrimination senseless.

Lady Gaga even spun an anthem from it.

But is it the right mantra to cling to? The best tack to take?

Not for the actress Cynthia Nixon, 45, whose comments in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday raised those very questions.

For 15 years, until 2003, she was in a relationship with a man. They had two children together. She then formed a new family with a woman, to whom she’s engaged. And she told The Times’s Alex Witchel that homosexuality for her “is a choice.”

“For many people it’s not,” she conceded, but added that they “don’t get to define my gayness for me.”
This is something to watch out for (and not just as far as sexual orientation): people will claim to be on the side of freedom, equality, fairness, etc., but when you look closer, what they're really trying to do is exercise authority over others. What Cynthia Nixon said must sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to those who think they have the right to set the rules about how her private life is supposed to work.

It's also a tactical blunder to turn the discussion into "Oh, she can't help being gay!" — as if there's something wrong with being gay which can be politely excused. If (as I believe) there's nothing wrong with being gay, then it's of no concern to the general public why someone happens to be gay. (Of course, it may still be of interest to some people, such as psychologists and sociologists, but I don't see how the question has any significance for public policy.)

UPDATE: The New York Times piece may have been mistaken about how Cynthia Nixon describes herself.

Friday, January 27, 2012

2 cellos cross over into rock, and 2 electric guitars cross over into classical

"Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'n' Roses (2Cellos):




"Summer" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons (David Evangelista and Manuel Iradian):

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Live-blogging the last Republican presidential debate before the Florida primary

I'll be live-blogging here. Keep reloading this post (or the homepage) for updates.

You can see my previous live-blogs by clicking on the "live-blog" tag.

For more live-blogging of tonight's debate, I recommend checking out TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, or Althouse (my mom).

As always, I'll write down any quotes in real time, so they might not be verbatim but I'll try to get them as close as possible.

8:07 - A harmonically rich arrangement of the national anthem.

8:08 - Rick Santorum introduces his 93-year-old mother. We see her standing up as the crowd applauds her. Then Santorum says: "I'd better stop there."

8:10 - Santorum is asked what he thinks of Mitt Romney's statement in the last debate that government should nudge illegal immigrants into choosing to "self-deport." Santorum strongly agrees.

8:13 - Newt Gingrich's rebuttal: "I don't think grandmothers and grandfathers will 'self-deport.'"

8:15 - Romney: "I don't think anybody is interested in running around the country and rounding up 11 million Americans — excuse me, illegal immigrants . . ."

8:16 - This is the first time I can remember seeing an exception to what I thought seemed to be a rule:

Is there some rule that every debate needs to bring up immigration, but only near the end? There seems to be some consensus that immigration is so important that it always needs to be debated, but it's unimportant enough to wait till the audience has stopped paying attention.
8:17 - Gingrich points out that if we tried to deport illegal immigrants, they'd "end up in a church, which would give them sanctuary." "We're not gonna walk in there and grab a grandmother out and then kick 'em [sic] out."

8:18 - Gingrich says Romney is the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race. Romney responds very forcefully, taking umbrage at the "highly charged epithet." "I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My mother was born in Wales." Gingrich coyly says he'd like to hear what term Romney would like to have applied to himself.

Jonah Goldberg's take on that exchange:
That was Mitt's best counterattack in 10 debates.
8:21 - Romney to Gingrich: "Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers."

8:23 - Romney oddly says: "I think English should be the official language of the United States, as it is." No it isn't.

8:25 - Ana Marie Cox says on Twitter:
Newt: "No one should get trapped in a linguistic situation." Too late for poor Rick Perry...
8:31 - Gingrich: "The contracts I signed with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said I would do 'no consulting.'" And we know that everyone always does what it says in contracts.

8:31 - Romney's response to Gingrich's attack on him for investing in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: "My investments for the past 10 years have not been made by me. They're in a blind trust." Romney gives more details on how these investments are made, and then asks Gingrich if it sounds familiar. An awkward pause, and then Romney points out to Gingrich: "You also have investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac!"

8:37 - Santorum pleads for an end to the personal attacks on Gingrich and Romney: "Can we set aside that Newt Gingrich was a member of Congress and used the skills he gained there to advise companies, and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard?"

8:42 - Moderator Wolf Blitzer asks Gingrich about comments he's made criticizing Romney for investing in the Cayman Islands and Swiss banks. Gingrich echoes Santorum, saying we should just talk about "governing the country." Blitzer points out that Gingrich made those attacks just a few days ago. Gingrich glibly says he's not going to talk about it tonight, even though he's "perfectly happy to say that in an interview on a TV show." (Yes, those are Gingrich's words about himself!) Romney: "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they're not willing to make here?" Romney again explains how his investments were made (by an independent trustee, so that Romney wouldn't have any conflicts of interest). Then he launches into a powerful defense of the fact that he's earned his money, invested that money, and realized big returns on his investments. I've been tired of the personal attacks on Romney for a while, so I find him very appealing here.

8:49 - Wolf Blitzer points out that if Ron Paul were elected, he'd be the oldest president ever when inaugurated. Blitzer asks if he'll release his medical records. Paul: "Obviously, because it's about 1 page, if even that long. I'm willing to challenge anyone up here to a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas." He jokingly adds: "You know, there are laws against age discrimination, so if you push this too much, you'd better be careful!" Gingrich chimes in: "He's in great shape."

8:53 - Gingrich is asked how he can be in favor of colonizing the moon and dramatically lowering taxes. Of course, he doesn't explain it. "I'd like to see an American on the moon before the Chinese get there." Why?

8:55 - Santorum smartly calls out Gingrich for his fiscal irresponsibility in calling for lavish new funding of the space program.

8:55 - Paul: "I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we should send some politicians up there sometimes."

8:57 - Gingrich implausibly claims that under his leadership, the space program would suddenly become 90% privatized.

8:58 - Romney says that if he were still working in business and someone made a proposal like Gingrich's space program, he'd say: "You're fired." I'm glad to see that Romney hasn't been cowed by the absurd attacks on him for saying he likes being able to fire people who aren't doing good work.

9:00 - Paul calls out Gingrich for claiming to have balanced the budget, saying the debt skyrocketed by a trillion dollars when Gingrich was Speaker. Gingrich seems to have no disagreement with this!

9:05 - Romney highlights the negative unintended consequences of the tax deductions for employers' health care plans: most Americans get health insurance through their employer, so they stop getting health insurance if they lose their job or even decide to change jobs. I completely agree with Romney that this is a huge problem.

9:09 - Santorum attacks Romney and Gingrich for supporting a mandate to buy health insurance. Gingrich claims that he didn't support a mandate at the federal level. Really?

9:11 - Romney makes his usual move of explaining why Romneycare was a good idea, without being clear on how any of his points are different from Obamacare. Santorum points this out: "What he just said is factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different from Barack Obama's mandate."

9:23 - Wolf Blitzer asks every candidate why his wife would make the best First Lady. Paul says his wife, Carol Paul, wrote a cookbook. Romney describes Ann Romney's battles with multiple sclerosis and cancer. Gingrich rejects the premise that Callista Gingrich would necessarily be the best First Lady, since the other candidates' wives are all fantastic; however, Callista would bring "an artistic flavor." Santorum says his wife, Karen Santorum, was a neonatal intensive care nurse for 9 years. She became interested in the ethical issues raised in that job, so she got a law degree, but she left the legal field to become a mother of 7. She wrote a book on their experience losing a child, and she also wrote a Christianity-based book on manners. [Correction: Santorum didn't explicitly say that the manners book was based on Christianity, though it might have been. Santorum just said it teaches manners "through stories," which is "how Christ taught us."]

9:30 - Romney admits: "I became more conservative when I was governor."

9:34 - Paul is asked what he'd say if President of Cuba Raul Castro called him. "I'd ask what he was calling about!"

9:36 - Nate Silver (on Twitter) makes a good point:
A basic debate skill is looking for opportunities to go on offense when you're losing. Newt seems to lack it, or doesn't know he's losing.
9:40 - Romney and Gingrich give the expected answers on Israel: they'll always side with Israel, and Palestinians need to recognize Israel's right to exist.

9:43 - Here's an issue I didn't expect to come up: should Puerto Rico become a state? Santorum says Puerto Rico should get a plebiscite to voice their opinion on the issue, but Santorum himself takes no position. Wolf Blitzer simplistically says: "I'll take that as a maybe!"

9:47 - The candidates are asked about the role of religion in government. Gingrich talks about what it means to be "truly faithful." Does he really want to pitch himself as the expert in being faithful? Then he launches into his usual hyperbole about how the news media and the courts are "waging a war" against Christianity.

9:49 - Santorum says all constitutional rights come from God, not the state. They can't come from the state, or else "everything can be taken away." "The role of the government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away." I don't buy this mysticism about legal rights.

9:58 - As the debate is wrapping up, National Review's Rich Lowry says:
newt has lost the debate and prob the primary

Bob Dole and other conservatives pile on Gingrich

Politico reports:

Newt Gingrich better hope voters who lapped up his delicious hits on the “elite media” and liberals don’t read the Drudge Report this morning.

Or the National Review. Or the American Spectator. Or Ann Coulter.

If they do, Gingrich comes off looking like a dangerous, anti-Reagan, Clintonian fraud.

It’s as if the conservative media over the past 24 hours decided Gingrich is for real, and they need to come clean about the man they really know before it’s too late.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says:
He’s not really a conservative. I mean, he’ll tell you what you want to hear. He has an uncanny ability, sort of like Clinton, to feel your pain and know his audience and speak to his audience and fire them up.
An anonymous "conservative media leader" says:
All of us who were around and saw how he operated as speaker — there’s no one who’s not appalled by the prospect of what could happen. He thinks he embodies conservatism and if he wakes up one day and has a grandiose thought, he is going to expect all of us to fall in line behind him.

There’s just so much risk on so many levels . . . Everyone’s thinking, ‘It could really happen.’ He could win the presidency if there’s a way to win with 45 percent — a second recession or a third-party candidate.
Bob Dole, who led the Republicans in the Senate while Gingrich was Speaker of the House, released this statement to National Review:
I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.

Gingrich served as Speaker from 1995 to 1999 and had trouble within his own party. By 1997 a number of House Republican members wanted to throw him out as Speaker. But he hung on until after the 1998 elections when Newt could read the writing on the wall. His mounting ethics problems caused him to resign in early 1999. . . .

Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall. He loved picking a fight with President Clinton because he knew this would get the attention of the press. This and a myriad of other specifics like shutting down the government helped to topple Gingrich in 1998. . . .

The Democrats are spending millions of dollars running negative ads against Romney as they are hoping that Gingrich will be the nominee which could result in a landslide victory for Obama and a crushing defeat for Republicans from the courthouse to the White House. . . .

In my opinion if we want to avoid a sweeping victory by Obama in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard bearer. He could win because he has the requisite experience in the public and private sectors. He would be a president in whom we could have confidence and he would make us proud.
Dole adds this strange detail:
Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.

Are there too many debates?

The Washington Post raises the question of whether there are too many debates in the presidential primaries, writing:

Are Americans getting too much of a good thing?

By the end of the week, there will have been 19 debates among the GOP contenders for president. No other events have played so great a role in turning the party’s normally orderly process of picking a standard-bearer into a roller coaster ride. . . .

Debates were the undoing of two once-promising candidates, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They made front-runners, however briefly, of two otherwise unlikely ones, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive Herman Cain.

And without them, former House speaker Newt Gingrich would not have been able to resurrect his dying campaign, not once but twice.

The long season of debates has undoubtedly made the candidates familiar figures to many Americans, offering the willing viewer plenty of opportunity to absorb competing economic plans and various other positions.

One could argue that it has altered the balance of power a bit, shifting it away from the party establishment to an electorate apparently eager to engage: Ratings show the debates are drawing huge audiences.

But some worry that Republicans are putting too much emphasis on how well the candidates perform on a debating stage . . .

[Karl] Rove is concerned that the amount of time that candidates are spending in debates and on preparing for them has taken away from other priorities, such as deepening their messages, broadening their appeal and building their organizations.
Yeah, right: Karl Rove is worried that the candidates are being distracted from deepening their messages. If you watch the documentary about George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, Journeys with George, you'll see that Rove's own boss went around the country spouting the exact same feel-good talking points for two years, and the journalists who had to follow him around felt they were part of a mind-numbing charade. I'm sure most presidential campaigns are the same.

Having a lot of debates forces the candidates to keep up with the issues of the day. It forces them to confront moderators and opponents who can put them on the spot. These are good things. There's very little opportunity cost in preventing the candidates from spending even more time repeating the same stump speech to different crowds.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is grief a psychiatric disorder?

Maybe.

Did Obama's State of the Union abandon his focus on income inequality?

I didn't watch President Obama's speech last night, so I have no comments of my own. But I recommend reading what Mickey Kaus, Matthew Yglesias, and Andrew Sullivan have to say about it.

Here's one of Kaus's points:

In his allegedly table-setting, voice-finding December Kansas manifesto, Obama made a big deal about rising money inequality, citing statistics on the relative growth of the ”average income of the top 1%,” referencing the Occupy movement, etc. There was none of that in Tuesday’s speech. Obama only wants “an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” He didn’t say everyone “gets their fair share.” That’s not money-equalizing populism[.] It’s moderate Republicanism. Looks like Walter Russell Mead was right – [the Kansas speech] was just a ploy to stroke Obama’s left base, quickly abandoned when more Americans were paying attention. Or else it polled as badly as he suspected it would. Sorry, E.J. … (Don’t tell me about the Buffet Rule: Obama pitched his higher top tax rate for “millionaires” as a way to ensure equal sacrifice (as anticipated by W. Galston) not as a way to help reverse the growing income inequality trend.)
Yglesias writes:
Obama pledged to support “every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs,” perhaps making him the only person in America who didn’t read the New York Times story over the weekend about how Apple’s products are all built in Asia.

The right lesson to take from Apple might be that an economic agenda whose “blueprint begins with American manufacturing” is misguided. South Korea, Taiwan, and China all have us beat as builders of electronics. But the world’s leading mobile electronics maker is headquartered in the United States of America and it’s insanely popular. That’s because the greatest value in the electronics business is in the industrial design, the software engineering, the marketing, and the combination of research and intuition that help you figure out what products people will want. Manufacturing, as a statistical category, is more arbitrary than people realize. There’s no inherently greater virtue in putting tuna into a can . . . than in preparing a seared tuna appetizer . . . . If people aspire to remodel kitchens or teach yoga or treat illness or be hair stylists or be chefs or, God forbid, Internet columnists . . . there’s nothing wrong with that.

Why Americans shouldn't feel that bad about Apple outsourcing to China

In response to the New York Times article on Apple employing Chinese workers to manufacture iPhones and other products, The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn talked to some economists to get their reactions. One of them, Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution, had this to say. That whole post is worth reading, but here's his conclusion:

The Times reporters persuaded me that east Asia in general, and China in particular, offer an abundance [of] hard-working people with decent skills willing to accept demanding, poorly paid, and boring jobs. The jobs are acceptable to millions of Chinese, including workers with good technical skills, because the other career alternatives open to them are no better, and possibly much worse, than those in manufacturing. The plain fact is that, for the great majority of 17-to-30 year-old Americans, there are better, or at least less risky, alternatives to a manufacturing career.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Live-blogging the first Republican presidential debate since Gingrich's first win

I'll be live-blogging here, starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. Keep reloading this post (or the homepage) for updates.

Throughout the debates, Mitt Romney has stayed remarkably positive most of the time. Yet he just started cranking up the negativity against Newt Gingrich — warning of an "October surprise" and calling him "highly erratic." You can bet that the moderators will try to goad Romney into repeating those same attacks when he's standing next to Gingrich.

You can see my previous live-blogs by clicking on the "live-blog" tag.

For more live-blogging of tonight's debate, I recommend checking out TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, or Althouse (my mom).

As always, I'll write down any quotes in real time, so they might not be verbatim but I'll try to get them as close as possible.

9:08 - Romney points out that Gingrich "did resign in disgrace" after 88% of House Republicans voted to reprimand him. "His approval rating was down to 18%. . . . We suffered historic losses."

9:10 - Gingrich's response: "He may have been a good financier, he's a terrible historian." He says the only thing he did wrong was that one of his lawyers wrote one mistaken letter.

9:11 - Gingrich brings up a new attack on Romney, saying that Republicans lost governorships while he was head of the National Governors Association and lost Republicans in the Massachusetts legislature while he was governor. Brian Williams strangely doesn't give Romney an opportunity to respond. I thought the rules say if a candidate's name is mentioned, that candidate always gets to respond.

9:17 - Brian Williams asks Gingrich a ridiculous question: whether he'll shift in his views on foreign policy in order to get Ron Paul's endorsement. Williams seems like he isn't even trying to do a good job of moderating the debate.

9:19 - Romney is asked about what people will see in his tax returns. Romney brushes aside the question, briefly saying there will be no surprises and he's followed the law. "I don't think you want someone as president who pays more taxes than he's required to." But — "I'm proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes." Then he pivots: "What I'm really worried about is the taxes of the American people." He'd eliminate taxes on "interest, dividends, and capital gains" for everyone who makes less than $200,000 a year.

9:22 - Gingrich proposes a "Mitt Romney flat tax" — a 15% income tax on everyone. Romney asks if the capital gains tax would be 15%. Gingrich says no, he'd eliminate the capital gains tax for everyone. Romney: "Well, under that plan, I'd have paid no taxes in the last two years." [ADDED: Here's the video.]



9:25 - Brian Williams hasn't done his homework for this debate: he asks Santorum a question about why he has attacked Romney over Bain Capital, and Santorum has to say he hasn't made any of those attacks. Romney agrees.

9:29 - Romney goes after Gingrich on his work for Freddie Mac: "They don't pay historians $25,000 a month for 6 years. That's about $1.6 million. They didn't hire you as a historian. They hired you as a consultant. . . . And you were hired by the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. . . . You could have spoken out aggressively. You could have said, 'This is wrong, this needs to stop.' But instead you were being paid by them."

9:35 - My mom says Gingrich "looks tired and badly made up."

9:44 - Brian Williams asks, "What do you do if you find out that Fidel Castro has died?" Romney: "First of all, you'll thank Heavens if Fidel Castro has met his maker." Gingrich says Castro won't "meet his maker" but will go to "another place." So Gingrich seems to think "meet his maker" means "go to Heaven." I thought it just meant "die."

10:04 - The candidates are asked why it's OK for them to run ads in Spanish, yet they want English to be the national language, which would mean the ballots would be only in English. Gingrich says he's happy to cater to any ethnicity in his campaign, but the country should be unified with an official language. Ron Paul says he's in favor of English as the official national language, but the federal government shouldn't stop states from doing whatever they want in other languages.

10:07 - Rich Lowry asks:

why would anyone not professionally obligated still be watching this debate?
10:12 - The moderator points out that Romney gets a lot of donations from sugar companies, and asks what his view is on sugar subsidies. Romney: "My view is we ought to get rid of subsidies and let markets work properly."

10:19 - Santorum is asked why he supported congressional intervention after a judge ruled that Terri Schiavo had been in a vegetative state for years. (Apparently they're bringing this up because it happened in Florida, and Florida is the next primary.) Santorum says he didn't support congressional intervention; he supported intervention by a federal court. So why did he support federal judicial intervention? He says Schiavo's parents happened to be from Pennsylvania, and they talked to Santorum and convinced him that the decision should be reconsidered by a different judge. But how was this Senator Santorum's decision to make?

10:25 - Question: "Why didn't the Bush tax cuts work?" Gingrich says they did work, because after the attacks of September 11, the economy would have gotten even worse if it hadn't been for those tax cuts. So why doesn't he say President Obama's policies have "worked" because if not for them, after the crash of 2008, the economy would have gotten even worse?

10:34 - Brian Williams inexplicably asks Santorum a second question about Romney's record at Bain Capital, after Santorum already made it clear that he hasn't made any of those attacks in his whole campaign! Of course, Santorum refuses to answer the question and uses his time to say whatever he wants. Again, Brian Williams is apparently not even trying tonight.

10:38 - Romney brags that Ted Kennedy "had to take a mortgage out on his house" in order to beat Romney in the 1994 race for the Senate. This is a very mean-spirited attack on someone who recently died, and I wish Romney would drop it. It accentuates the image of Romney as a Machiavellian tycoon.

That's all. That was a lackluster debate all around. I've seen almost every debate in these primaries, and Brian Williams may be the worst moderator I've seen.

Rick Santorum on rape and abortion

In a TV interview, Santorum defends his support of laws against abortion even in the case of rape. He says:

Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. . . . I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. . . . I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.
I can think of something more horrible than a woman getting pregnant as a result of rape: a woman getting pregnant as a result of rape and then being forced by the government to give birth.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why focus on the American top 1%, when we could be focusing on the global top 1% or 10%?

Will Wilkinson subjects the "1%" rhetoric to philosophical scrutiny:

[I]t's hard to see why the American 1% should be especially salient. Why not the global 1%, or the global 10 or 20%, which would include pretty much the whole American population[?] If it is morally imperative to confiscate exceptional wealth and use it to meet human needs, then it is imperative to confiscate most of the wealth in all wealthy countries, not just the wealth of the wealthiest of the wealthy, and transfer it to the world's poor, not to the relatively well-to-do poor of the wealthiest countries.

If it's not possible to bring in $600,000 in a year without therefore being guilty of complicity in a exploitative global system, which invalidates one's moral claim to one's income, it's probably not possible to bring in an untainted, secure $60,000 either.

Of course, most complaints about the American 1% are not grounded on the view that the global political economy is a comprehensive web of exploitation. It's based on the supposition that the domestic 1% is guilty of something or other the domestic 10 or 30 or 50% isn't, and therefore deserves to be a target of scorn in a way the 10 or 30 or 50% does not. But, however you slice it, it's going to be true that a lot of people in the top 1% got there in pretty much the same way a lot of people in the top 30 or 50% got there. If there's nothing wrong with a way of making money at the 50th percentile, there's nothing wrong with it at the 99th. And if there's something wrong with it at the 99th, there's something wrong with at the 50th. The unwillingness to identify specific mechanisms of unjust income acquisition, and the insistence on treating income-earners above a[n] arbitrary cut-off point as a unified class deserving special contempt, strike me as symptoms of intellectually laziness and a less than thoroughgoing interest in justice.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How has Occupy been able to unify without a clear goal?

An Australian reporter, focusing on one 26-year-old protester named Kanaska Carter, writes:

Kanaska wears a badge that says: “If voting changed anything it would be illegal.” She has never voted. She doesn’t see the point. . . .

Something dawned on me speaking to this group. Political protest is merely the thread that holds them together. It’s about lifestyle.

They missed the chance to turn on, tune in and drop out in the 1960s. They missed the 1970s antiwar movement and, in the 80s and 90s, they didn’t miss much at all.

The turnouts at the various Occupy sites gave them an instant society, an on-the-spot family who would look out for each other. It gave them a chance to become homeless, en masse, without the loneliness or the begging on the streets or the fear of being attacked or having to ride the freight trains south.

“My street family is here with me and they’ve got my back,” says Kanaska. She met this particularly group of three or four blokes about a week ago and they’ve been hanging out since.

They claim they’re liberating America but, really, it’s about liberating themselves.

“I’ve been homeless for a while,” Kanaska says, “on and off for two or three years. It’s a choice. I find it humbles you. I used to have my own apartment and I slowly lost my mind. I was in there with my two cats and I was just like going crazy.

“When I’m homeless I’m always surrounded by friends. There’s freedom without having to pay rent all the time to a system that’s broken, without having to work a nine to five job and being able to do what you’re actually passionate about. I’d rather live playing music, doing artwork and tattooing people.”

On this day, her entire cash reserve is one dollar. “Some days it’s hard to find food but I just put out the guitar case,” she says.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Obama sings

I didn't even realize that the president was in my town, but yesterday, at a fundraiser in New York City, Obama paid tribute to Al Green (who was in attendance) by singing a line from "Let's Stay Together":





PREVIOUSLY: Obama does things with his voice.

Why has Romney been deemed the presumptive nominee when Gingrich is ahead in South Carolina?

The New Republic's Walter Shapiro gives several explanations. Here's his take on how Iowa has distorted the media's view of the race:

Why have the media hordes been so consistently off-base in handicapping the GOP horserace? Virtually everyone from blonde midday cable TV anchors to polling gurus like Nate Silver (his January 16 blog post was headlined, “National Polls Suggest Romney Is Overwhelming Favorite for G.O.P. Nomination”) bought into the Mitt-placed confidence in Romney’s inevitability. . . . Romney remains the favorite for the nomination, but it is not likely to be the quickee January coronation that was forecast just a few days ago.

Part of the explanation for the bum predictions has been a false sense of historical determinism by political reporters who should know better based on Romney’s ersatz Iowa victory. (As recently as Wednesday night in Irmo, the candidate was still chortling over his now-vanished 8-vote validation in the caucuses). The coverage coming out of New Hampshire was so tilted towards a Romney cakewalk that the other candidates were consigned to Ron Paul spoiler territory. . . .

Of course, we now know that Rick “We Wuz Robbed” Santorum ended up with 34 more votes in Iowa than Romney. But the idea that Romney or Santorum ever “won” Iowa was always ludicrous. Given the amateur-night vote-counting methods in Iowa combined with the statistical improbability of sorting out an election that close under optimum conditions, it should have been apparent for weeks that Iowa was a tie. But the oddball conventions of political journalism demanded that Iowa crown a winner because even false certainty is required when deadlines loom. (The counting of ballots in the 1988 Democratic caucuses was also a mess—and it is still ambiguous whether the anointed Dick Gephardt actually beat Paul Simon.) The Iowa caucuses should not be equated with the 2000 Florida deadlock since, in that tragic case, someone had to win the state’s electoral votes. But for all their symbolic importance, the formal purpose of the caucuses is to allocate Iowa’s 28 delegates to the GOP Convention. And guess what—Romney and Santorum were always going to be awarded the exact same number of delegates. Only in the phantasmagorical world of media perceptions does it matter which candidate had a tiny edge when the counting stopped.

At Bain Capital, Romney would never have made an investment decision based on the small sample of data from Iowa and New Hampshire. But the press corps made him the prohibitive favorite in both South Carolina and nationally in part because he is running the kind of on-message campaign that political consultants fantasize about. Romney is the perfect paint-by-numbers candidate: He is smart, disciplined, malleable and equipped (counting his personal fortunate and his SuperPAC) with a formidable bankroll. Since most political reporters uncritically accept the governing premises of campaign professionals, how could Mitt go wrong?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Live-blogging the first Republican presidential debate since Rick Perry dropped out

The last debate until the possibly crucial South Carolina primary. We're now down to just four candidates: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul.

I'll be live-blogging here. Keep reloading this post (or the homepage) for more updates.

For more live-blogging, check out TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, and Althouse (my mom).

You should be able to watch it live online, starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, on CNN's homepage.

8:06 - Santorum gives the first introduction. He thanks Iowa for his victory there, which was just announced today.

8:08 - In Paul's introduction, he points out that he was an OB/GYN for 30 years and is the only veteran on the stage.

8:09 - The first question is to Gingrich, about the interview with his second wife, released today, in which she said he asked her if she would like to be in an open marriage. "I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that." This gets a standing ovation. "To take an ex-wife, and make her an issue two days before a primary, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine." Moderator John King notes that the story came from "another network" (ABC). Gingrich shouts at him: "You chose to start the debate with it! Don't try to blame it on somebody else!" Remember, Gingrich was asked in an earlier debate about marital fidelity, and he forcefully said it is a legitimate issue in a presidential race.

[ADDED: TalkingPointsMemo reports on that whole exchange and gives us the video:]



(As always, I'm writing down these quotes as I hear them, without a transcript or a rewind or pause button, so they might not be verbatim.)

8:14 - Romney is asked about Gingrich's ex-wife. "John, let's get on to the real issues, is all I've got to say." The left-leaning Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic says on Twitter:

So 10 minutes into the debate, I am agreeing with Gingrich and Romney. Gotta stay off the cold medication.
8:17 - Gingrich goes back to his usual adverb salad, calling for us to "fundamentally, radically overhaul" the Army Corps of Engineers.

8:20 - After Gingrich attacks Romney over Bain Capital, Romney says he expects "the left" to attack "capitalism," but "I find it kind of strange, on this stage, to have to explain how private equity and venture capital work and how they're successful and how they create jobs. . . . There's nothing wrong with profit, by the way. . . . It is capitalism and freedom that make America strong."

8:22 - Santorum positions himself to Romney's left: "I believe in capitalism too. Not necessarily high finance, but capitalism that works for the working men and women of this country."

8:36 - Santorum calls Romney's health care reform "a government-run system that was the basis for Obamacare" and "an abject disaster." He acts out how President Obama would predictably criticize Romney in a debate: Obama would say he got his plan from Romney. Romney denies that Romneycare is "government-run." He says Obamacare is worse because it cut Medicare and was 2,000 pages long. Santorum: "You do not draw a distinction that is going to be effective for us [Republicans in the general election]."

8:42 - Santorum to Gingrich on health care: "You supported the primary, core basis of what Obama has put in place." Gingrich brushes off the idea that he'd have trouble in a debate against Obama. Gingrich would tell him: "I was wrong and I figured it out. You were wrong and you didn't." Santorum: "It's not going to be the most attractive thing to say: 'I was wrong for 10 or 12 years.'"

8:51 - John King asks Santorum about Gingrich's recent comment that Santorum should drop out because he "doesn't have any of the knowledge about how to do something of this scale." Santorum has a great response: "Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. . . . Newt's a great guy and he's my friend, but at times, you just have that worrisome moment that something's going to pop!"

8:53 - Gingrich responds that he spent years working on "a grandiose project known as creating a Republican majority in the House. . . . You're right, I think grandiose thoughts." Santorum has a powerful rebuttal, pointing out that there was "a coup against him" after just 4 years of his tenure as Speaker of the House.

8:55 - We see Romney, with a slight grimace, watching the back-and-forth between Santorum and Gingrich, which has been going on for a very long time. Romney is probably happy to see those two beating each other up. Romney finally gets to speak, and he calls the interchange (in which Gingrich described his congressional experience going back to the 1970s) "a perfect example of why we should send to Washington someone who hasn't been to Washington."

8:58 - Romney takes a gratuitous swipe at Gingrich, saying he read President Reagan's diary, and Romney noticed that Gingrich is mentioned exactly once — just to say Gingrich proposed a bad idea and Reagan dismissed it. Romney oddly adds that Reagan also mentioned Romney's dad (George Romney, who was Governor of Michigan), exactly once.

9:04 - Santorum is asked when he'll release his tax returns. He gives a folksy answer: "I do my own taxes, and they're on my home computer, and I'm not home. So until I get home, nobody can release my taxes. When I get home, I'll release 'em."

9:05 - Romney: "I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned."

9:06 - Romney says — and I agree — that "dividing America between 99[%] and 1[%] is dangerous. We are one nation."

9:10 - My mom writes:
I say: "Santorum's on fire." Then: "He is flamboyant."
That's a reference to a comment Santorum made that he's not "flamboyant," implicitly contrasting himself with Gingrich. I agree that Santorum is having a great debate.

9:11 - Gingrich is asked about SOPA. He's against it. "I favor freedom. If a company finds that it has been infringed upon, it has the right to sue." But the federal government shouldn't try to preemptively enforce intellectual property law by taking heavy-handed action against websites that happen to host infringing content.

9:13 - Romney agrees with Gingrich on SOPA: "The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive. It would have a depressing effect on one of the fastest growing industries, the internet. . . . I'm standing for freedom."

9:15 - Santorum is also against SOPA, but he doesn't think "anything goes on the internet." Of course, none of the candidates took that position, nor would any reasonable person.

9:21 - The candidates are asked what they would do differently in this campaign if they could do it over. Gingrich wishes he hadn't spent the first 3 months talking to consultants about "how to be a normal candidate," so he could have gotten straight to regaling us with his brilliant ideas.

9:22 - Romney: "I'd have worked to get 25 more votes in Iowa, that's for sure."

9:23 - Santorum: "I wouldn't change a thing. For me to be standing here in the final 4 is about as amazing a thing as I can conceive of happening."

9:28 - Romney says the illegal immigration issue is "not tough." Then why haven't we solved it yet?

9:33 - Santorum tries to make a point (which isn't clear to me) about how Romney has flip-flopped on immigration. Romney responds: "I agree with you. I'm sorry you don't recognize my agreement."

9:37 - Gingrich: "Romney has said he had an experience in a lab and became pro-life. And I accept that." But Gingrich adds that Romneycare isn't pro-life.

9:38 - Romney: "I'm not questioned on character and integrity very often." I like Romney, but it's hard to listen to that with a straight face.

9:42 - Finally, they can unambiguously refer to "Rick."

9:43 - Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum talk about abortion, and then John King says he's going to move on to another issue. The audience collectively roars: "Ron Paul!" King gives in and spontaneously asks Paul about abortion before moving on to the next question.

9:53 - In a dramatic turnaround from how he started out the debate, Gingrich begins his closing remarks by thanking CNN.

The debate is over. Rich Lowry says on Twitter:
if newt wins SC, he'll have juan williams and john king to thank
But Mickey Kaus (also on Twitter) is skeptical:
Not sure Newt has won debate, even if his clip dominates news. Voters seem to pay attention to actual debates this year, not just news recap
Kaus also gives this sharp analysis:
If debate helps Romney it's mainly because Santorum did well, no? Puts anti-Romneyites back in self-defeating split array.

“There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.”

So said the English writer William Somerset Maugham, as quoted by the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri, who has a list of "Things Americans Would Rather Think About Than Newt Gingrich’s Open Marriage."

(However, as long as we are thinking about it, my understanding is that he never had an open marriage. According to his second wife, he asked her for an open marriage, she rejected it, and he cheated on her anyway.)

Rick Perry is dropping out.

He'll endorse Newt Gingrich.

Now that we've seen the uncannily similar rise and fall of Perry in 2011-2012, Fred Thompson in 2007-2008, and Wesley Clark in 2003-2004, can we finally decide not to get over-excited the next time someone is "drafted" late in the presidential primary race?

It always turns out the same. The only genuine excitement is in the anticipation of the candidate coming in late and shaking things up. Once he actually runs, he seems to be not quite "there" — for the same reason he entered late. If he had a real passion for running for president, he wouldn't have needed to be reluctantly drafted.

An opossum is on a Brooklyn subway, and the New York Times is surprised.

An article in the New York Times from earlier this week says:

Last Friday — yes, it happened to be the 13th — the straphangers on a late-night D train were startled to discover that a nonhuman creature was in their midst. An opossum, to be precise.

The intrepid marsupial, which had apparently boarded after the train departed from its Coney Island terminus, had curled up beneath a seat, comfortably close to a radiator, as the train rattled through the wilds of Brooklyn.

There were several reasons this was rather strange.

For one thing, opossums tend to like trees. They are not big burrowers, although they have been known to venture below ground in search of food or warmth. And unlike rats or pigeons (often seen on A trains in the Rockaways), they do not commonly carouse within the city’s mass transit system. . . .

Neither the Police Department nor New York City Transit keeps statistics on subway animal incursions. But officials from both agencies said that such an occurrence was rare.

“A wild animal? This is the first anybody could remember,” said Charles F. Seaton, a transit authority spokesman, who sounded quite amused by the tale.
Back in 2010, I blogged an article in the New York Post that would seem to explain why we're seeing opossums in unusual places:
The city played possum -- and Brooklyn residents lost.

In a bizarre attempt to outwit Mother Nature, city officials introduced beady-eyed opossums in Brooklyn years ago to scarf down rats running amok in the borough, according to local officials.

Surprise: Operation opossum didn't work.

Not only do wily rats continue to thrive, but the opossums have become their own epidemic, with bands of the conniving creatures sauntering through yards, plundering garbage cans and noshing on fruit trees.

They've even taken up golf, with two sightings of the whiskered marsupials at the Dyker Heights municipal course in the past week, local officials said.

"They are everywhere," said Theresa Scavo, chairwoman for Community Board 15, which represents Sheepshead Bay and surrounding south Brooklyn neighborhoods.

"Didn't any of those brain surgeons realize that the opossums were going to multiply?" . . .

The opossums were set free in local parks and underneath the Coney Island boardwalk, with the theory being they would die off once the rats were gobbled up, said Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn).

Instead, the critters have been populating, spreading to Park Slope and Manhattan. . . .

The critters have a mouth full of 50 sharp teeth, tend to exude a foul odor, and can occasionally contract rabies, said Stuart Mitchell, an entomologist.

Is Mitt Romney winning because he's the "whitest" candidate?

No.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Live-blogging the Republican presidential debate

Keep reloading this post (or the homepage) for more updates.

Since Jon Huntsman just dropped out, this debate's lineup will be the smallest of the 2012 race so far: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul.

For more live-blogging, try TalkingPointsMemo or National Review.

[UPDATE: The FoxNews video player didn't work for me, so I missed the first half hour of the debate. I finally found a working link here.]

9:36 - Gingrich on the difference between President Obama and the Republican candidates: "We actually think work is good. Saying to someone 'I'll help you if you're willing to help yourself' is good." He calls Obama the "food stamp" president.

9:42 - Paul is challenged on his proposal to dramatically cut military spending. "We're supposed to be conservative: spend less money!"

9:43 - Romney is asked whether he'll release his tax records. He says he's "not opposed" to doing it, but he'll wait till around April because that's what George W. Bush and John McCain did. He's already showing "a lot of exposure" about other things.

9:46 - Romney is asked a second question in a row. This one is about immigration, and he gives his standard answer: everyone needs to follow the law, illegal immigrants need to get to the back of the line, etc. I don't know why they keep asking about immigration in these debates — is there anything left for the candidates to say that they haven't already said in 10 other debates?

9:47 - Santorum cites a study by the Brookings Institution that gives a way to be virtually sure you won't be poor (since only 2% of the people who do these 3 things are poor): (1) get a job; (2) graduate from high school; and (3) get married before you have kids. Easier said than done!

9:53 - Moderator Juan Williams is very loudly booed for asking several questions of Gingrich about whether his comments have been insensitive to blacks — for instance, calling Obama the "food stamp" president (as he did earlier in the debate). Gingrich says that more people have gone on food stamps during the Obama administration than in any other administration. "I know among the politically correct that you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable."

10:04 - The moderators don't seem to be enforcing time limits. Paul speaks for a very long time about how we shouldn't have killed Osama bin Laden the way we did.

10:07 - In response to Paul's comments on bin Laden, Gingrich says: "Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear idea about America's enemies: kill them."

10:07 - Paul: "Maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy: don't do to other nations what we wouldn't want done to us." This gets loudly booed.

10:08 - Romney: "The right thing for bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received."

(As always, I'm writing down all these quotes live. They might be slightly off, though I'm trying to write them down verbatim.)

10:13 - Perry is asked whether Turkey should be a member of NATO. Perry says we should "have a conversation" about it. He adds that Turkey and all other countries should "go to zero" as far as foreign aid, and then we should "have a conversation" about foreign aid.

10:18 - Romney: "People who join al Qaeda are not entitled to the rights of due process under our legal code." He's confident the government won't abuse its power to indefinitely detain Americans who are suspected of terrorism. Daniel Foster at National Review says (on Twitter):

Romney essentially said he wants a nation of men, not laws, when it comes to indefinite detention.
Similarly, Katrina Trinko (also of National Review) says:
It's like Paul isn't confident the president's character and judgment won't always be exemplary.
10:33 - Romney: "Anyone middle-income should be able to save their money tax-free." I'd like to see how he would implement that principle in a way that wouldn't create a perverse disincentive against making a high income.

10:38 - The moderators seem to have trouble filling up the whole debate with actual content: for the second time in this debate, Romney is asked about his record on gun control. Romney is then asked whether he has been hunting since 2007, when he was ridiculed for saying he hunted "varmints." He says he has, but he admits he isn't much of a hunter.

10:46 - Romney calls the Gingrich Super PAC's ad about Romney's record with Bain Capital "the biggest hoax since Bigfoot." "We all would like to have Super PACs disappear, to tell you the truth." He says the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform has led to an absurd situation where ads are run on behalf of candidates who are legally prohibited from having anything to do with the creation or editing of those ads.

That's all.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Huntsman quits.

Jon Huntsman is ending his presidential campaign and endorsing Mitt Romney.

So now the question is: will he be Romney's running mate? I have a hard time seeing who else could be a good one. (Several of the contenders who are most often mentioned don't have enough experience to be president: Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley.)

I'd be happy to see Huntsman as the running mate. He has struck me in the debates as a thoroughly accomplished, knowledgeable, and decent human being.

Unfortunately for Huntsman, he has spent the past year demonstrating that his campaigning skills are mediocre at best. So it seems unlikely that Romney would choose him.

Romney is such a clear communicator that it's hard not to grasp the point he's making, whether you agree or disagree with it. Huntsman is the opposite: even if you try to pay attention to him, you're often left wondering what his point was.

Huntsman might be better suited to Secretary of State.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Are we to believe that if Mitt Romney had simply been a nicer guy, it would have worked out differently?"

Rich Lowry deflates the attacks on Romney's tenure at the investment firm Bain Capital. He says:

This wasn’t so much “vulture capitalism,” in the words of the always-subtle Rick Perry, as “turnaround capitalism.”
Lowry notes that when Newt Gingrich makes these attacks, he's "speaking with the purity of someone whose own business model depended on being a peculiarly well-compensated historian."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tyler Cowen explains the problem with stories

"What are the stories that no one has an incentive to tell? Start telling yourself those, and see if your incentives change."



(Here's the transcript.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tonight's Republican presidential debate

I won't be able to live-blog tonight's debate, or tomorrow morning's. Feel free to post any of your reactions in the comments.

Tonight's debate starts at 9:00 Eastern. I assume you'll be able to watch it live online on the ABC News website. There's also a debate tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Newt Gingrich's "timid" anti-Romney ad



The Washington Post reports:

The former House speaker launched a TV ad Thursday in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first in which he challenges Romney.

“Romney’s economic plan? Timid,” the spot says. “Parts of it virtually identical to Obama’s failed policy. Timid won’t create jobs and timid certainly won’t defeat Barack Obama.

The ad highlights Gingrich’s “bold leadership” and says: “The Gingrich jobs plan: A powerful plan for growing our economy and creating new jobs.”
The ad uses the word "timid" three times. Even when you'd expect to see the noun form — "timidity" — the ad still uses the adjective "timid" as if it were a noun. So, Gingrich clearly decided that "timid" is a word that could stick to Mitt Romney.

It seems like the creators of the ad decided to play around with the name "Mitt," so they flipped it over to get "tiM," flopped it back so it's "Mitt" again, then put them side by side to get "tiM-Mitt," which sounds like "timid."

Aside from whatever substance their might be to Gingrich's disagreements with Romney's economic policy, the undertone to this ad is that we're supposed to view Romney as too cautious, too restrained, too afraid to do the kinds of huge things Gingrich likes to do. Whether that will convince voters that Romney is the less conservative candidate, I'm not sure.

Personally (though I can't claim to be representative of voters in the Republican primaries), I like the idea of a candidate who's cautious and sensible, not prone to making rash decisions. I might even care about this more than any conventional distinction of left vs. right.

A prediction about the 2012 presidential race

This is going to be the most boring election year since 1996.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nicholas Kristof is waiting for a "moderate" Mitt Romney to come back after the primaries are over.

Kristof's views on Romney are refreshingly sensible, with a nuance that's been lacking from most left-leaning commentary on Romney (remember back in 2004 when we were supposed to care about "nuance"?):

The Democratic National Committee has already released a slick four-minute video . . . excoriating Romney for his gymnastics:

“Mitt Romney, unparalleled flip-flopper, has proved he is his own toughest opponent on the issues,” the Democrats write on MittvMitt.com, where the video is housed. “The one thing Mitt and Mitt can agree on? That they want to be president — so Romney will say and do whatever it takes to get elected, no matter how contradictory.”

[T]he Democratic claims of constant inconstancy seem exaggerated. The excellent Web site FactCheck.org found that most of the accusations in the Democrats’ video were dubious. Typically, Romney had a fairly complex position, and the Democrats caricatured it to portray a flip that wasn’t there or that was ambiguous. For example, Romney supported a stimulus, but not of the magnitude of Obama’s, so it wasn’t a flip-flop for him to oppose the Obama stimulus.

If we do see, as I expect we will, a reversion in the direction of the Massachusetts Romney, that’s a flip we should celebrate. Until the Republican primaries sucked him into its vortex, he was a pragmatist and policy wonk rather similar to Bill Clinton and President Obama but more conservative. (Clinton described Romney to me as having done “a very good job” in Massachusetts.) Romney was much closer to George H.W. Bush than to George W. Bush.

One reason to expect a re-emergence of the traditional moderate Romney — other than that it will be expedient — is that his advisers incline in that direction.

On the economy, Romney has been advised by the likes of Professor Gregory Mankiw of Harvard and Professor Glenn Hubbard of Columbia. Both are experienced, prominent figures, albeit tending conservative. In foreign affairs, Romney’s advisers have included Richard Williamson, Eric Edelman, Meghan O’Sullivan, Paula Dobriansky, Daniel Senor and Dov Zakheim. These, too, are credible, respected figures.

So, in the coming months, the most interesting political battle may be between Romney and Romney. Now, do we really want a chameleon as a nominee for president? That’s a legitimate question. But I’d much rather have a cynical chameleon than a far-right ideologue who doesn’t require contortions to appeal to Republican primary voters, who says things that Republican candidates have all been saying and, God forbid, actually means it.
So would I.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Santorum surges into an extremely close top 3 in the Iowa caucuses.

Remember: You heard it here first!

I'm posting this at 10:20 p.m., before the winner has been announced. But it's clear that the top 3 will be Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul (and right now they're in that order). This might be the "closest caucus ever":

The closest caucus historically came in 1996, when Bob Dole finished with 26 percent of the vote, Pat Buchanan 23 percent, and Lamar Alexander with 18 percent. The 8-point gap separating Mr. Dole and Mr. Alexander may wind up being much larger than the margin separating the top three candidates tonight.

Monday, January 2, 2012