Monday, April 05, 2004

Right wingers against the war

I rarely drive much these days, as I live so close to work. But last Thursday evening I was driving for about five minutes. Feeling in need of some conversation, I flipped on the radio, and the only thing I could find apart from ads was Michael Savage, with his insane right-wing program. I found myself listening, just for the hell of it.

The call I heard went something like this.

Caller: Hey, Mike, I've been listening to you a long time. And what I want to say first is, the second amendment is the foundation of this country. I know you've heard this before, but I am not going to let anybody take my gun away from me until they pry it from my cold, dead hands. I mean that. (Continuation of rant on guns for another 30 seconds, using even more hardcore language.)

Savage: Yeah, yeah, OK. But that's not really what you wanted to talk about, is it? Let's get to what you really wanted to say.

Caller: (Long rant against the invasion of Iraq. Conclusion:) The government lied about the weapons of mass destruction, and they lied saying that Al Qaeda had anything to do with Iraq.

Savage: So what you're telling me is, Saddam was a peace-loving man who posed no danger to anybody.

Caller: Don't put words in my mouth. I'm not saying that. But that's not why we invaded Iraq, to get rid of a dictator....

And that's about all I heard. But just for the record, even some crazy gun nuts are against the war, and they're calling the right-wing talk shows about it. And in this case at least, the talk show host has no answer at all except to attack straw men.

It made my day.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Audrey Seiler vs. George Bush

Audrey Seiler is a young University of Wisconsin-Madison student who disappeared for several days and then re-appeared, pretending to have been abducted. Apparently the story made national headlines. It was absolutely huge here in Madison, where I live.

There were main sets of stories the media told us, as the days went by. First, she was missing for several days (tragedy; family suffering, friends worried; community concerned about her and about crime in the area). Then she was found (great relief! Joy, family togetherness, community relief). Finally, the details of the hoax came out (scandal; anger, sadness, feelings of betrayal from the community; calls to throw her in jail or make her pay restitution for the police dollars spent trying to find her).

A lot could be said about her, and the case itself. Quite a lot has been said, and written, in Madison alone.

One thing that struck me was how fast and how easily her story came apart in the hands of a competent police department. They did some investigating and found some inconsistencies. They then took Audrey into a room and confronted her with the evidence that she had been making it all up. There were apparently inconsistencies in the stories she had told various people; there was physical evidence that she had not been where she said she had been; there was evidence on her computer that she had been searching for good places to hide, and checking out long-term weather forecasts. There was even evidence that she had been back in her apartment during the time when she was “missing.” The police just rounded up all the information, presented her with it, and she confessed to having made it all up.

It took only a couple of days from the time the police began having suspicions about Audrey, to the time when her story completely fell apart and she told the truth. And almost immediately, everybody in town knew a great deal about the story.

The anger at Audrey is pretty much universal in the Madison area. Some people do argue that we should pity her as we treat her apparent mental illness. But that’s about as positive as the conventional wisdom around here gets. Nobody has anything positive to say about her. Some people are angry about the money the City of Madison wasted trying to find her -- about $75,000 by the estimates I have seen.

Being the political junkie that I apparently have become, I just have to compare all of this to the story of George Bush misleading the nation into invading Iraq, and lying like crazy about what happened on 9/11 and shortly before and afterwards.

First, how long does it take to find out that someone is lying? In Audrey’s case, a couple of days. In the case of the Bush lies, the answer is months and years, and counting. Why the difference? In part, no doubt, because Audrey is not a lifelong student of the art of lying, unlike our political leaders. (I can’t believe that I didn’t know until recently that Cheney and other Bush folks were in the Nixon administration.) And in part because the cops can’t just get Bush (or Cheney, or Rice, or anybody) in a room and confront him with all the evidence of his lies until they just up and admit it. (The 9/11 commission is working on it, of course, and we can hope for the best.)

Second, what does it take to get people really angry? In Audrey’s case, we were lied to, but not by any prominent elected official. Nobody died. It cost the City of Madison about $75,000. In Bush’s case, we were lied to by the people we elected; hundreds of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died; and we’re out hundreds of billions. And yes, true story, there are many people in Madison angrier at Audrey than they are at Bush.

Scary stuff.

Friday, April 02, 2004

More on gerrymandering

I got a letter or two back from David Lublin, the guy who wrote that Gadflyer article. He says that I have taken the point way too far. And of course, in a sense, I have.

He says (via e-mail):

I'm reminded a bit of David Mayhew's point in Congress: The Electoral Connection. They can only stay in power as long as they keep people in their districts satisfied. This means that you have to please your primary and general election electorates to stay where you are. A safe district is really only "safe" as long as you do this. Most representatives want to stay around and do this.
Of course he's right about this. There are obviously structural differences between elections not counting at all, and efforts to make them as safe as possible. I still think the latter are seriously undemocratic. But I have overstated the case in my previous post. Of course.

And yet, I still think there is more to be said here, though not with the broad brush I was using before.

I guess I need to think about this some more. Which is always good.

One important question is, what does it take to "please your base"? How hard is that? Does it just mean that if you're a Republican in a Republican district, you have to keep on the right side of all the Republican issues? Sure.

What that does is lock you in to these positions. If you wobble at all, or think for yourself outside the party system, you are only endangering your position, with respect to both party insiders and voters in your district. If a district is split something close to 50/50, then a Republican may pick up as many voters as he/she loses by departing from the party line on one or another specific issue. You have the chance to pick up as many Democratic votes as you lose in Republican votes. (It may not happen that way, but at least it's possible.) But if your district is solidly 60 or 70 percent Republican, then you had better not act up, or you'll be replaced with another Republican who's more willing to toe the party line, in a heartbeat.

Overall, of course, the whole system only lasts as long as the voters can be kept in the mood to follow along with what the parties are saying and doing. A massive revolt could do some damage to the system. But at the same time, every safe district gives the national parties some leeway to screw up, to alienate portions of their base without actually losing any seats.

Still thinking. More later.