Nov 10, 2008

Obama's "Deliberate Haste" [LINK]

A short note to NPR:

In a story reporting how the Homeland Security department will weather the presidential transition, you quote President-Elect Obama as saying that he will act with "deliberate haste" in filling key positions. "Deliberate haste" is a contradiction in terms, akin to saying he will act with "tall shortness." Rather than simply repeat meaningless statements, please clarify them.

A "Know-Nothing" Historian [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe, in response to an op-ed comparing Sarah Palin to 19th-century nativists:

Perhaps I would take Timothy Gay's criticism of Palin's "wink-wink" innuendos about un-Americanism more seriously if the entire article didn't itself consist of innuendo about what Palin believes. Palin would supposedly "deny scientific evolution," "eviscerate the separation of church and state," "impose ideological litmus tests," and "conduct witch hunts to weed out non-believers." As far as I can tell, Gay's complaint is about Palin's reference to Obama's former colleague Bill Ayers. If leading a violent effort to replace our system of government with a Maoist regime isn't un-American, then it's hard to imagine what is.

Gay's historical analysis is also inept. He says Fillmore presided over "two rudderless years that brought the country closer to chaos." Perhaps true, but then so did Franklin Pierce and the appalling James Buchanan, who succeeded Fillmore. (Of course, one can then argue that Abraham Lincoln's presidency brought the nation squarely "to chaos.") There's no mention of Fillmore's strong advocacy, in conjunction with legislative geniuses such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, of the Compromise of 1850. With all its flaws and ultimate fragility, the Compromise did in fact lessen tensions between North and South, and would have been impossible had his predecessor Zachary Taylor, a southern opponent, survived his term.

If this is to be the level of discourse in the next few years of Democratic triumphalism, I have no doubt the GOP will stage a strong comeback in short order.

Of course strictly speaking, anything that happened prior to 1861 brought the nation "closer to chaos." With equal validity you might say the Clinton administration was a failure because it "brought the country closer" to Sept. 11 or anything you might ordinarily blame on President Bush.

Nov 6, 2008

The Bradley Effect that Never Was [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

The Globe is right to identify the "Bradley effect" as a hypothesis, not as a settled reality that has now been overturned. Named after former Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, who twice failed in California gubernatorial campaigns, the idea was that white voters would falsely tell pollsters they intended to vote for an African American candidate in order to conceal their latent racism.

Readers may be interested in the analysis of Lance Tarrance, the pollster relied upon by Bradley's Republican opponent. Tarrance insists there never was such an effect, and that the theory was floated by a rival polling firm that predicted a Bradley win after badly misinterpreting its data.

The 2008 election is unquestionably an historic landmark and a source of great pride. But relying on mythology, it's easy to overestimate the underlying change in attitudes it actually represents. I have no reason to believe Americans had been predisposed to vote against African-American candidates in the recent years prior to Obama's extraordinary campaign, any more than they were unwilling to vote for a woman. This is a good thing all around.