Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Important Message to Young Democrats

A few days ago, I found some very important remarks embedded in a Washington Post essay arguing that liberals should finally give George W. Bush credit for the surge.

The argument was somewhat compelling although I think fully exploring the issue requires closer to a thousand pages than a thousand words.

The surge and George W. Bush's role aside, the author, Peter Beinart, made a very important argument halfway through the essay that I felt important to quote here: entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported -- and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn't happen.

Younger liberals, by contrast, have had no such chastening experiences. Watching the Bush administration flit from disaster to disaster, they have grown increasingly dismissive of conservatives in the process..... They have never had the ideologically humbling experience of watching the people whose politics they loathe be proven right.

In this way, they are a little like the Bushies themselves. One reason the Bush administration fell prey to such monumental hubris was that it didn't take its critics seriously.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Courage in Afghanistan

The New York Times ran an incredibly story today about the terror that has been inflicted on young females in Afghanistan that have been trying to attend school following the overthrow of the Taliban.

I'm going to include the first few lines of the article below, but if you need an uplifting story of courage or a bit of perspective on the challenges our society faces relative to others, you should consider reading the whole thing.

One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.

“Are you going to school?”

Then the man pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid. Scars, jagged and discolored, now spread across Shamsia’s eyelids and most of her left cheek. These days, her vision goes blurry, making it hard for her to read.

But if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Long Overdue

This morning, President-Elect Obama introduced his selection to fill a new position created by his new Administration: The Government Chief Performance Officer.

This is one of those ideas that makes you wonder why it wasn't done two or three decades ago.

Basically, the new Performance Officer, who will report directly the President (giving her real power), will be in charge of developing and monitoring metrics to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs.

It will almost certainly take a few years for the new organization to have a substantial impact, but this is a big step in a positive direction.

You can read about the office and the selection here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Noonan on Political Dynasties

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal about the possible appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the U.S. Senate, made some general remarks about the effects of nepotism on our political system.

I found some of it quite insightful so I want to cite a bit of the essay here.

People who've seen politics up close when young tend to be embarrassed to be in politics. This is because they have seen too much of the show-biz aspects, the balloons and smiles and rallies. They are rarely (and this is odd) tutored in the meaning behind the artifice: that the artifice exists for a purpose, and the purpose is to advance a candidate who will advance a constructive philosophy. And so they find the idea of coming up with a philosophy sort of show-offy, off point and insincere.

This is one reason modern political dynasties tend to have a deleterious effect on our politics. When you get new people in the process who think politics is about meaning, they tend to bring the meaning with them. On the other hand, those who've learned that politics is about small and shallow things, and the romance of dynasties, bring that with them. (They also bring old retainers, sycophants and ingrained money lines, none of which help the common weal.) Those who are just born into it and just want to continue it, bring a certain ambivalence. And signal it. They're always slouching toward victory. It's not terrible, but it doesn't do any great good, either.

Because I have not studied Caroline Kennedy, I would be uncomfortable agreeing that Noonan's generalization can be fairly applied to her. That being said, it does seem accurate in general.

I was especially struck by Noonan's choice of words at the end of the first paragraph. She is saying that veteran political candidates and operators find the advancement of a philosophy insincere - as if they believe that they are powerless to promote any agenda they claim to support once they are in office.

I reject this mentality if for no other reason than the ability it gives politicians to shun any sense of responsibility for what they say and how they vote. And yet... the more I learn about how our political system works, I wonder if the belief is not largely valid - and what can be done to change it?

Noonan's entire essay can be found here.