I think the best thing we can say about the Bush presidency is that America survived to see the end of it. Although, looking around at the economic carnage we’re experiencing, it was a pretty close thing, and certainly we didn’t get much help from the administration itself.
Two recessions – this one often called the worst since the Great Depression. Two overseas wars, one of them ill-advised from the outset and largely irrelevant to making the US safer, and both of them quite expensive in both blood and treasure. The utter failure of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. The ongoing gutting of the nation’s schools thanks to projects such as Leave No Child Behind. All adding up to a presidency which seemed to care little (if at all) for ordinary Americans, and was only interested in making a splash and further enriching its already-rich friends.
Has George W. Bush been the worst President in history? Perhaps not, but certainly he’s among the worst. The usual joke is to ask such a character not to let the door hit him on the way out, but honestly I’m okay with the door hitting him.
I’m not as enamored with Barack Obama as many are, although certainly I agree that he has the potential to be a great President. (I don’t think we’ve seen a truly great President since at least Kennedy, maybe Truman.) I hope that people can temper their expectations to account for the fact that his administration has a long way to climb to dig us out of this economic hole before they can really start building on the foundations again. That may lead to some disappointment in the next couple of years. (One almost wonders whether the Bush administration helped engineer the recession to make it that much harder for their successors to get anything done, or undo their disastrous policies. That’s maybe a little too cynical for even me, though.)
Still, the first step on the road back is to throw out the people who brought you to this place and elect someone reasonable. And it looks like we can put up a “Mission Accomplished” banner for that part.
However, the hard part has barely begun.
One thing I’m surprised didn’t get more attention during the Presidential campaign – honestly, I can’t recall it being mentioned more than in passing – is the impact the next President will have on the US Supreme Court. Consider the ages of the Justices now that Barack Obama has been elected:
- John Paul Stevens, age 88
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg, age 75
- Antonin Scalia, age 72
- Anthony Kennedy, age 72
- Stephen Breyer, age 70
- David Souter, age 69
- Clarence Thomas, age 60
- Samuel Alito, age 58
- John Roberts (Chief Justice), age 53
Unfortunately 3 of the 4 more right-wing members of the court are age 60 or under. But I wonder if John Paul Stevens has been waiting for this election to retire, while the other 5 Justices are certainly at the age that they might consider retiring in the next four years the way Sandra Day O’Connor did. And if Obama wins reelection in 2012, well, it’s conceivable that he could end up with 4 or 5 or maybe even 6 appointments.
(Okay, honestly I expect Scalia will remain on the Court until he croaks, but we can hope, can’t we?)
Given the disastrous results of the Reagan and Bush appointments to the Court, it would be wonderful if Obama had the opportunity to transform it back into something more reasonable.
I voted this morning. My polling place is 3 blocks from my house, so I always take a nice walk down there in order to vote and enjoy the weather. That one can take a “nice walk” there in early November is a clear sign that I live in the Bay Area and not in Wisconsin any longer. Anyway, there were 5 people in line when I got there, and I ran into both one of my neighbors and one of the guys I play Magic with. I guess we have a fairly quiet district. Or maybe everyone votes after work.
My political leanings are somewhere to the left of the mainstream Democratic party, but I’m not especially enamored with any of our small parties, so I typically vote party-line Democratic. I think Obama will make a pretty good President; the bar isn’t set real high for him to be our best President since LBJ. (I’m not hugely enamored of LBJ, either, but he was a President who did some great things and some awful things, which is still a step up from everyone since, who have generally been mediocre-to-awful.)
Although I voted party-Democratic in the national and state elections, I wasn’t real enthusiastic about doing so. I’ve been disappointed in the Pelosi/Byrd Congress, who haven’t really stood up to the Bushies. I’m not real fond of the California state legislature, either, although to be fair I think California’s state government is basically screwed: Federal mandates and an extremely-difficult-to-manage budget make it practically ungovernable except during boom times. The problems are partly structural (a 2/3 majority vote of the populace is required to raise taxes, and a 2/3 vote of the legislature is required to pass a budget), and partly because I think California is just too big and too diverse to govern at the state level. I think California would be better off if it were split into two states, probably along north/south lines. But that’ll never happen.
We had some interesting state propositions this time around:
- I voted against the “anti-freedom” propositions, 4 (parental notification of minors seeking abortions) and 8 (outlaw gay marriage). These measures are both just plain evil, rolling back freedoms and rights for many citizens. I think anyone who supports Prop 8 should also have their right to marry revoked – it seems only fair. I suspect 8 will fail, but I’m concerned that 4 will pass.
- Prop 1 is a bond measure for high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I voted against. I generally oppose bond measures as less efficient than passing new taxes, but I will occasionally vote for a county bond measure with a critical goal in mind. I also don’t think high-speed rail between the two cities will be more than a novelty. Plus, I’m very concerned with what it would do to the rail corridor on the SF peninsula, where I live, which hasn’t been worked out. I don’t know how this one will turn out, though.
- Prop 5 reduces sentencing for certain nonviolent crimes, while Props 6 and 9 strengthen law enforcement and impose tougher penalties. I think we lock up far too many people (over 1% of the US population is presently incarcerated) with far too little attention paid to rehabilitation, so I voted for 5 and against 6 and 9. (I suspect 5 will fail, 9 will pass, and 6 could go either way.)
County measure B is a tax increase measure to bring BART to San Jose. I’m really on the fence on this one, as I think BART is a good system which is well-run, but which is also very expensive due to poor design at its inception. I like it a lot better than “heavy rail” alternatives than CalTrain, though. But it’s expensive to extend. I ended up voting yes, although I suspect the measure is going to fail.
Anyway, I’ll be watching the results tonight. Five Thirty Eight is currently projecting a 98.9% chance of an Obama victory. One of their more interesting posts recently has been What a McCain Victory Looks Like.
I’m not as excited as some Democrats about an Obama Presidency, mainly because I think the Bushies have left the country in such horrific shape that the next President is going to have some huge hurdles to overcome just to hold things together. If the Bushies hadn’t screwed things up so soundly then I think it would be a much more exciting time. As it is, I’m just hoping things can turn around soon enough that the Democrats don’t lose control of Congress in 2010.
Still, getting the Repugnicans out of the Oval Office is a great first step forward.
An article at New York magazine about Nate Silver, the brains behind Five Thirty Eight, the election web site we’ve all been reading daily of late. (via Daring Fireball)
There’s also an article at the University of Chicago Magazine on Silver’s baseball analysis exploits, as well as his Wikipedia entry.
Since Silver’s stock-in-trade is statistical analysis of real-world phenomena, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he also made a living playing poker during the Internet poker boom. (Maybe he still does, I dunno.)
The Presidential campaign meets Magic: The Gathering in a pair of sets of mock Magic cards: One, Two.
Funniest thing I’ve found on the Web in weeks!
Bruce Schneier summarizes an article on correspondent inference theory and why it helps explain why terrorism doesn’t work: Basically, because targets and observers of terrorism tend to believe that the object of terrorism is to kill people, rather than as a means to political goals, and therefore they disregard those goals when deciding how to react to the terrorists.
I’ve been enjoyed Schneier’s blog for several years now. I think what I enjoy about it is that although it’s a blog about security (in many forms), much of it concerns motivations: Why people act the way they do, and how their behaviors lead to interesting security issues and trade-offs. The principles that arise in the blog often seem appropriate in other avenues of life, or at least they’re worth keeping in mind.
This is analogous to why I feel my baseball fandom of the last 15 years has been not just fun, but useful: It’s given me a better understanding of statistics, and – maybe more importantly – a recognition that humans are very bad at recognizing statistical patterns without doing in-depth analysis. That’s definitely been a lesson I’ve been able to apply elsewhere.
It’s a little sad that the 2008 Presidential campaign is already kicking into gear – with the first primaries still a year away.
But, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday had a surprisingly entertaining interview with former Senators Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and Alan Simpson (R-WY) about the race. In this interview, they voice opinions that perhaps the most likely candidates to win their parties’ nominations are:
This seems like a plausible list to me, although of course a lot can change in a year.
The interesting thing here is how many candidates are sitting or former Senators, especially among the Democrats. But in my lifetime, being a sitting Senator has been the kiss of death for a Presidential candidate. Look how far back we have to go to find a sitting Senator who was elected to the Presidency:
In that span, many Senators and former Senators have won their party’s nomination and then gone down to defeat:
So does this mean we can look forward to a President Giuliani or President Romney? Well…
Interesting article: Closing the Collapse Gap. It works from the premise that the US economy is likely to collapse in the not-too-distant future, and compares how well prepared the US is for such a collapse with how well prepared the Soviet Union was. (Summary: The US doesn’t do as well as the Soviets on that score.)
It’s a chilling read, and seems a plausible line of reasoning if the economy does collapse. (I know nothing more about the author or web site than that, but I don’t think the author needs any particular credibility to judge the plausibility of his presentation.)
I will admit that I basically have my head stuck in the sand when it comes to the prospect of the US collapsing (economically, politically, or otherwise). I don’t think a collapse is imminent, but I think it’s likely that sometime in the next hundred years the US will have to change or die. If nothing else, I think a hundred-year horizon should see us to the end of accessible oil reserves, and that will force some sort of fundamental change. Living as I am at the top of the world consumption curve (and if working at a major high-tech company isn’t the top of the consumption curve, then I don’t know what is), I realize that I personally am not well-prepared for such a collapse. That’s probably a big part of why I don’t like to think about it.
I think one of the take-away points of the article is the value of do-it-yourself knowhow. That’s one thing I cling to in the software biz: Acquiring the tools to do certain useful things myself if I need to, because convenient software packages can obsolesce before you know it. (This is one of the great things about Mac OS X: It has all the UNIXy scripting tools I’m used to using for my DIY projects.) Obviously in a collapsing economy, self-sufficiency is a prime virtue, and I agree with the author that American urban and suburban culture doesn’t contain much of the DIY nature.
Okay, back to burying my head in the sand…
Everyone’s wondering (well, in the liberal American thoughtspace), “Now that the Democrats have control of both the House and the Senate, what do we do next?” Meaning, of course, what do the Congressional Democrats do with the big mess the Repugnicans have handed them?
And by “What next?”, I think people mean “What to do about Bush’s adventures in Iraq?”
The problem here, I think, is that the Democrats’ answer to this is: We wouldn’t have gone in there in the first place. Going into Iraq was a stupid move, made out of stupidity and greed and ignorance, and which has exposed the country to far more danger than Iraq ever posed before we went in there.
Which, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the problem, because we are there, and pulling out without first stabilizing the government is just going to leave Iraq to turn into a breeding ground for really serious problems, because the nation basically consists of (at least) three factions who don’t really want to coexist peacefully.
The Repugnicans have been accusing the Democrats of not having a plan for stabilizing Iraq and finishing our jobs there. Which is ironic since the Repugnicans certainly don’t have such a plan, and have spent the past four years proving that they don’t have a plan. The Bushies’ plan, as far as I can tell, involved going in, extracting as much value as possible for their friends, and leaving the political mess for someone else to clean up.
But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the Democrats have a plan, either. And I have yet to hear anything which sounds remotely like a real plan from the Democrats which will accomplish the goals of getting the US out of Iraq without leaving it a complete disaster area. All the post-election chatter seems to discuss vaguaries like “The American people voted for change, and by god we’re going to give it to them.” But “change” doesn’t mean “progress”, and to me it sounds like “we don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ll come up with something.”
I’ve written about all this before, and it’s dismaying to feel like I need to write about it again, that nothing’s changed in three months. But it’s such a bloody disaster, and it’s not at all clear to me that the Democrats have any idea what to do about it. Never mind that it’s not really Congress’ job to deal with it, it’s the job of the Executive branch and the military. And, as I said above, I don’t think the Bushies are really interested in dealing with the problem.
Anyway, hopefully at least we’ll get some subpoenas and hearings so that some of the administration’s backroom machinations will come to light.