Archive for November, 2008

Never Confuse Power With Peace

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

What is Peace?

To my simple mind, Peace is when I have no conceivable reason to kill you and you have no conceivable reason to kill me. To my mind, if I might want to kill you or you might want to kill me, but we are not currently doing so, that is a cease fire.

By that definition, peace is in relative short supply in this world. After all, many nations and cultures have a number of conceivable reasons for going to war with one another.

By this same definition, peace is rarely achieved through victory in war. That is why the Romans (among others) frequently resorted to genocide or mass enslavement. Those methods are the only way to guarantee that victory equals peace.

Of course, peace does happen sometimes even without genocide or mass enslavement. The Saxons no longer have a deep desire to kill Normans. In fact, they can’t even tell each other apart. In a more modern context, it looks like real peace may be breaking out in Northern Ireland. People there seem to be losing all desire to kill each other. The younger generation in particular does not seem to want to continue their parents’ fight.

But Northern Ireland is the exception to the rule. In most places, peace is nowhere on the horizon. Yet people do not seem to realize that.

For example, take a look at this video that the Belmont Club posted (originally from Blackfive) ….

These people have the right to talk trash. A lot of people on the other side of the argument treated them as fools for believing that victory was possible. But this should not obscure the fact that victory over the insurgency is irrelevant.

For example, in the video clip above, the success of the surge looks a lot like Iraq under the rule of Saddam. After all, Saddam beat all the insurgencies that fought against him (with the exception of the Kurds and we never had to fight them). When he was in charge, there was traffic on the road highlighted in the YouTube clip above. Why is the ability of the US to beat the insurgency supposed to be so impressive? And what is to keep the fighting from flaring up the second American troops leave the country?

As I pointed out some time ago, the US goals in Iraq are unachievable. Anyone trying pretend otherwise is simply fooling themselves. But many people choose to do just that because the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. People do not want to admit that peace is beyond their power to bring about.

This problem is not just limited to the pro-war side. The anti-war side is at least as naïve if not more so. The idea that things would have been better if American had never gotten involved is highly dubious to say the least. Saddam would not have lived forever even if no one had managed to kill him. And then what would have happened?

Yugoslavia had it even worse than Iraq did long before America got involved. A post Saddam Iraq was always going to resemble a post Tito Yugoslavia. And when Iraq started to fall apart, everyone in the whole world would have started screaming for America to restore stability to the Middle East. In the end, America would have gotten involved in Iraq for the same reasons we got involved in Yugoslavia. And who can say that the bloodshed would have been any less?

But the fact that America was fated to become involved in Iraq does not mean that it will achieve its goals any more then America will prove to be successful in Yugoslavia. The fact that we have a kind of enforced stability in Yugoslavia does not mean that the US brought peace to the Balkans. On the contrary, the increased support that far right parties have been experiencing in Serbia shows that people are not ready for peace yet.

Simply put, America has not been successful at bringing about peace. It has only managed to freeze various conflicts around the world to prevent them from spreading. This has created an unprecedented era of stability, but at the cost of building up tension all around the world. It is likely that Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North vs South Korea, China vs Taiwan, Russia vs Georgia, Israel vs its neighbors and many other hot spots around the world will all get nasty at once. This is because they have been prevented from being nasty only by realities of American power.

Without American power all of those things would gotten a lot nastier then they did, but they would have also burned themselves out sequentially. As it is now, they are all being saved for the day when America no longer has the power to rule the roost. Then they shall all flair up at once.

To put it another way: the fate of Iraq when Saddam lost power and the fate Yugoslavia with the death of Tito show us what will happen when America is no longer the strong man of the world. The world is destined to fall apart the second that America loses its grip. And America will lose its grip because the problems facing the world are beyond America’s ability to contain.

Yet just as many people took it for granted that world financial system was secure until a couple of months ago, so too do many people think that stability brought about by American power will be an enduring feature. But all it will take is a temporary break down in American power for all of hell to break loose. And what nation has ever been strong at all times without any temporary break downs?

McCain, Obama, and the Poor White Voter

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I think the thing that most surprised me about Obama’s win is how small of a margin of victory that he got in the popular vote. It’s kind of hypocritical of me to say that, because only a couple of months ago I thought that the election was going to be close. But that was during the time that the hate-fest against Palin was at its strongest and before the 700 Billion dollar bailout.

I have long been predicting the current economic problems. But the speed at which they occurred took me by surprise. I did not think we would go from government officials saying that there was no problem to having over a trillion dollars of bailouts being promised in the space of a month. I mean, I expect government officials to lie when they move their lips, but that was a pretty big turnaround even by the standards of your typical political flip-flops.

The bailout put great strain on the coalition between poor white rural folk and wealthier suburban white folk that McCain had to maintain in order to have chance at winning the election. The wealthier McCain supporters were getting killed in the markets and they were desperate for the pain to stop. But McCain’s blue collar supporters were mad enough to chew nails. Nobody had bailed them out when the manufacturing jobs they depended on went the way of the dodo, yet here was their tax dollars going to bail out people who made more than they could hope to make in a lifetime. In effect, the bailout neutralized everything that McCain hoped to gain by appointing Palin as his running mate.

The Palin appointment was primarily aimed at those who where rural, white, and poor. These people had reason to feel economically abused by the Bush administration, yet they had reason to fear that they would be even more abused by a democratic president. The media never got this. They all thought that the Palin appointment was aimed at religious conservatives. But that was only a side benefit of the Palin appointment.

McCain always knew that religious conservatives would never vote for Obama. But he had no such assurances that the poor white rural voters would stay loyal to the Republican Party. If you look at where Palin was sent by the McCain campaign you will see that it was to areas where those types of voters would be found.

It seems to me that much of media coverage missed this distinction. To them, a poor white rural voter was obviously a religious fundamentalist. But demographers know that those people who take their religious doctrine seriously are most often found in the suburban middle class. Those are the type of people who tithe and never swear and that sort of thing.

By contrast the rural poor are socially conservative in only a vague sort of way. They go to church on Sunday but they go to the bar on Friday night. Their motto is “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” In short, their beliefs rarely affect how they live.

Most media types don’t seem to get this distinction. They take a survey of what people say their beliefs are and assume that everyone who claims the same beliefs are the same.

But Obama seemed to get this distinction. Right from the very beginning he made a strong effort to take some of the rural poor white vote away from the Republicans. Neither Gore nor Kerry worked half as hard at getting poor whites to vote for them as Obama did.

Again and again Obama promised that he would not push gay marriage and he would not take people’s guns. He tried to reassure poor rural whites that he understood their values even if he differed with them on some particulars. And above all else, he promised that he would take care of their economic concerns.

I think that Obama’s strong early move for the poor rural vote is what drove McCain to pick Palin. He had to have known that if he did not do something drastic, poor rural white votes were going to desert him in droves. So he threw a Hail Mary pass, and chose a popular governor of a rural state whose family was the perfect archetype of the rural poor.

At first, McCain’s choice paid off in spades. The media coverage of Palin was some of the most nasty and bigoted stuff I have ever seen. Not only did they subject her personal life to more scrutiny then Obama, they also treated her more harshly then they treated McCain.

After all, McCain was the one who divorced his first wife on her sickbed. McCain was the one who had ties to a savings and loan scandal. But you rarely heard about those things in the national media. On the other hand, every little thing in Palin’s personal life was up for grabs. This double standard made even traditionally democratic voters amongst the rural white poor hopping mad. In few weeks, all Obama’s progress amongst them had been wiped out and then some.

I had to laugh when I read on liberal blogs people talking about how Palin’s out of wedlock pregnant teenage daughter was going to make religious conservatives rethink their support. It might have made some tithe-every-Sunday types a little uncomfortable. But for the bulk of the rural white poor, out of wedlock pregnant teenage daughters are as common as flat tires on their pickup trucks. Simply by making it an issue, the media did more to increase McCain’s support than any ad he could have run.

I think Obama realized this. He tried to distance himself from the attacks on Palin. But the hatred coming from the media and the liberal blogs was just too intense. Even though they were harming their own cause, they just could not tone it down. She drove them out of their minds with fury and Obama could not rein them in. And poor, rural, white support for Obama dropped like a rock.

But then the bailouts came. This had two effects. It helped tone down the coverage of Palin because reporters had other things to talk about and it gave poor rural white voters something else to get mad about. If you look back at the polls, you will see that before the bailout Obama had dropped to neck and neck with McCain in the polls. After the bailout, Obama clearly had the lead.

The bailout made poor rural white voters so mad that I am surprised that Obama did not take a larger share of the poor rural white voter then he did. But as it was, it was enough. Obama took 3% more of the white vote then Kerry did when he was running against George Bush. And the rest is history.