Cities on Hills in Ruins


Written during a weeklong visit to Montreal, late August 2013

As a visitor in Canada with just momentary exposure to contemporary politics there, it is disheartening to find that the ethos of elite neoconservatism that has strangled the United States seems to also have been true north of border.

Two recent pieces on Rabble.ca highlight the extent to which the Harper government has engaged in exclusionary and elitist policies. The first is through immigrant policymaking couched in pecuniary instead of more humanistic–or dare I say moralistic–terms, while the other is through methods of militarizing Canada’s college campuses, which would extend the military-industrial complex further into the reaches of liberal arts academia that used to be free from its long tentacles. Both efforts bear trademarks of the Western Neo-Con: made in vague terms, nominally if at all divulged, and with no impact analysis beyond exclusionary and typically inflammatory rhetoric. And, as true as it is in the United States, the policies are extensively covered, regurgitated, and reinforced by the corporate media chamber.

Hopes for an ideological turnaround as soon as the next election are probably unrealistic in either Canada or the United States. Rampant, unabashed capitalism has burrowed deep into the Anglo-European conservative tradition, and the West still operates under a tangled mesh of ideals it flirts with as truths, giving rise to justifications on human and social realities based on unprovable premises and mistaken assumptions of superiority. Such lessons are difficult to extricate from because they are deeply ingrained in the Western model of education, which itself is steeped in the ruthless pursuit of the ideal City on the Hill–a Platonic conceptualization intrinsically exclusive, hierarchical, and anti-democratic. The West will not change until it divorces its educational rubric from necessary Platonic rumination.

Striving to become their own philosopher-kings, the Western intelligentsia remains as aloof and self-perceptibly elevated from the society it purports to analyze. Such gatekeepers of information and resources–which in turn allows the gatekeeping of political power–often themselves exist in or have emerged from a screening process that had picked them out from the masses, in ways often very selective, and after laborious hours dedicated to professional validation. The educated elite then come to pride themselves out of such badges of success. Such symbols–the meticulously collected B.A.’s or M.Sc’s or J.D.’s or M.B.A.’s or Ph.D.’s after one’s name–are themselves socially engineered instruments of hierarchization, exercised through a process that excludes mass segments of the population from knowledge that should otherwise objective and universally accessible.

It is true that universities in the liberal model can be a force for egalitarianism and communitarianism. However the screening process for artificially construed distinctions in selectivity between institutions that otherwise have the same claim to truth–which should be the foundation of any academic endeavor–has led to the condensation of ideas and information, suppressing opposition, leading to the production of a self-selected, unabashed, ‘meritocratically successful’ few, whose consumers, their readers, their voters, their listeners, are not the masses for whom they claim to speak but rather those who tend to be of the like-minded sort: their similarly educated peers.

The gatekeepers of academia are produced from the same institutions as the gatekeepers of media, government, and business. The institutions themselves are factories of hardened meritocratic categorization. Students are commodified through grades and hierarchized accordingly.Those with the highest marks are given the plushest jobs and in turn the plushest salaries, while those down the rigid ladder still, overall, do much better than those who never were meritocratized–who could never, for example, afford without the brunt of lifelong student loans–through such institutions to begin with.

This self-ostracized minority–for one doesn’t simply stumble into institutions like the New York Times, the Brookings Institute, or universities like McGill–then emerges from their self-reinforced caves out into the world and realize what they had learned had been incomplete all along, that in fact out there, in the real world, it is entirely fine to subsist and live as an ‘everyday person’–a favored term, whatever that means. (The policy language itself as alluded to in the worthwhile read by Douglas and Yao Yao, which pits ‘economic class’ against ‘family class’ immigrants in preference, assuming the premise of hierarchy, as if having more children was automatically antithetical to economic success). The self-ostracized minority of elites and intellectuals, residing in their caves atop mountains of little intellectual diversity and hoarded endowments, peer at the masses below through stained glass windows, in the seconds spent away from books and journal articles (which themselves are compiled from written history produced by self-ostracized minorities of elites and intellectuals centuries of generations prior). Soon they think about how awful it must be to be down there. Many of them forget it was their norm prior to entering the gated compounds of the campus. And so they return, four or seven or twelve or more years later, finding the collective minute differences that have accumulated in the years since their self-ostracization uncomfortable, and consciously or not move, literally, intellectually and socially, back to gated communities of like-minded self-ostracized minority of meritocratic success stories, beginning to wonder whether such successes–within the parameters of capitalist, consumerist definitions–were perhaps, maybe, innate all along, whether through aptitude or luck. Because they hailed from similar meritocratic factories of learning, such gatekeepers tend to apply the same metrics, methods, and rules of meritocracy onto the gates they have succeeded to keep, whether in government or business or the media or academia, and the same perceived necessities of hierarchy and curved compensation they had carried over from university.

Such jewel-encrusted cages of steel (purchased on credit), such caves made of cities and universities on hills, may have been once but are no longer necessary. Not when the premise behind cost of education through history–its basis on availability and scarcity, with which any capitalist would agree–has been blown open by anyone with access to Wikipedia, torrents, iTunes University and Reddit, or practically anyone with a smartphone or a nearby library and enough time. (One wonders where literacy levels would be if much fewer people, or altogether no one, would have to be self-alienated into laboring two shifts of eight hours apiece for, say, elite-educated corporate fast food overlords, few of whom actually deign to touch their own products, just to survive).

We see the conversation continue to unfold today as the newly minted gatekeepers enter their jobs and existing ones continue to stand sentry against any rabble of unvetted intruders–against questioning the militarization of college campuses, as if it was necessary to decimate what remains of academia that is non-corporate, and against ‘family-class’ immigrants, as if it was necessary to implore that the solution to scarce resources was to have less children over and instead of less consumerism and more sustainability (see: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom). And the Harper government is very much complicit in enshrining and increasing the largesse of the gatekeepers who hold such keys to power.

Popular movements such as Occupy, the student protests, and have only scratched the surface of elitist entrenchment in their respective societies. Despite the uncertainties of the aftermath of the recent financial ‘collapse’–the paradox between high employment and record corporate profits is pretty simple if you think about it, those jobs are being trickled-down to cheaper, more oppressive states overseas–we now know the gatekeepers remain alive and well-fed. PRISM and the NSA revelations have simply confirmed that the revolving doors of ethics and information between the elite-run, ever-voracious, militaristic states and markets of Corporate North America are spinning faster than previously imagined.

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How the Tea Party is going to the Convention


Romney and his Super PACs are celebrating their big win against Gingrich in Florida, but the Tea Party should be celebrating as well. They’ve come far. Already there’s talk of having the Florida votes reapportioned.

Who knows who the Tea Party really is these days. But we know there’s a distinct group of people that went from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Gingrich, and they follow Sarah Palin, who this weekend on Fox clearly supported Gingrich. They also follow Sen. Fred Thompson, who spoke for Gingrich at Meet the Press. They followed Perry and Cain–both of whom have endorsed Gingrich. Beck, Limbaugh, and Coulter are on the other side, somehow with Romney, Dole, the elder Bush (the younger one has disappeared) and McCain.

When Gingrich said this was going all the way to the convention, he might have been right–but the candidate might not necessarily be him. If the GOP establishment has indeed killed Gingrich’s chances, the Tea Party still has one candidate left in Rick Santorum. Those votes are not going to Ron Paul, and they’re not just going to stay home. This is the most energized group of Republicans voting right now and was the same group that helped propel Gingrich’s win in South Carolina and Santorum’s in Iowa.

Whether or not Gingrich drops out, Santorum still has one state–the first one–under his belt. And Iowa’s notoriously been difficult to compete in because it takes significant ground game.

Once Gingrich exits all those votes will naturally go to Santorum, who also already has a strong following of his own. Santorum has proven in Iowa that he can mobilize on the ground when necessary, which will be helpful on Super Tuesday. If/when Gingrich drops, Santorum will then have the money–i.e. the alternatives-to-Romney Super PACs–all to himself.

If/when Gingrich drops, he’ll also join the list of previous Tea Party candidates who have all led the polls at some point (Cain, Perry, Bachmann–even Trump, figurehead of the birther movement). The GOP establishment won Florida, but this is a win in as much as it ties the score (in terms of states) between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party: Santorum and Gingrich have one state each, and now Romney also has two. Florida does have more electoral votes, but it evens out politically when added to Romney’s win in New Hampshire (not too impressive given that it’s part of the northeast corridor which constitutes much of his backing). Iowa meanwhile was the first state, and South Carolina has predicted every nominee since 1980.

The Tea Party has no reason to stop, and whether Gingrich or Santorum drops out first they can back the remaining candidate all the way to the convention. And if the GOP establishment had to go this far to stave off a nomination loss in Florida, they’ll have a more difficult time keeping the Party down in the congressional elections this fall.


Meet the PACs


I’ve been watching Meet the Press for a few years now and though I feel it’s lost some lustre since Tim Russert’s passing it nevertheless remains one of the few arenas that can get away with fairly hard-hitting questions and still attract serious political wattage. Sunday’s episode was particularly star-studded–yes, I do think I am into this a little too much–featuring Sen. John McCain and Sen. Fred Thompson squaring off as surrogates for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, respectively, followed by David Axelrod down from Chicago. The panel was also pretty impressive, with Joe Scarborough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Chuck Todd. Goodwin’s easily one of my favorite pundits; her book on Lincoln, Team of Rivals, is a pretty remarkable work.

Meet the Press January 29th, 2012 - via MSNBC.com

I can’t imagine what must’ve been going through McCain’s mind during the interview. It’s no secret he dislikes Mitt Romney, and he’s never parsed his words about it. The NYT has him previously describing Romney as someone who’d “say anything to win the nomination” and who, apparently, “is lacking a soul”. But I’d say he performed decently, focusing on Gingrich’s weaknesses and brushing off Gregory’s quip on how Thompson’s critique echoed the statements McCain himself made about Romney in ’08. This was the latest round in what had been a three-day spree by the GOP establishment firing squad, during which everyone from Bob Dole to Ann Coulter unloaded on Gingrich’s issues from his abrasive tenure in Congress to his lobbying ties to K Street. It really has been quite the spectacle. You know you’re doing something right (or very, very wrong) when even Glenn Beck calls you “the only candidate [he] cannot vote for”. I’m presuming President Obama’s also on that very short list.

Most of the media’s been crediting this establishment assault on the narrative as what propelled Romney back to his lead over Gingrich in Florida. He’s now polling back at where he was, averaging about 11 points ahead in RCP’s aggregate with as high as 15 points up in the NBC/Marist poll. What’s more amazing to me than this swing back to the lead is the extreme volatility in polling over the past week. Gingrich was up 7-10 points just a week ago. We’ve seen such fluctuation before, with Bachmann, Perry, and Cain et al. This is an electorate that can’t make up its mind.

(Poll results courtesy of RealClearPolitics)

In my short time following these elections I’ve never seen polling numbers this wild. A lot of it may have to do with Romney–he seems to have a solid floor of 30-35% from the states that have gone up for caucuses/primaries thus far. But there is a good 10-15% that keeps floating between him and the next alternative, whether it’s Gingrich or Bachmann from way back when, in addition to the good 20-25% still sticking with Santorum and Paul (combined). I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Gingrich and Santorum are catering to the same crowd, and the minute one of them drops out the other gets those votes, which if the poll numbers are at all accurate gives the remaining candidate a base that places him neck and neck with Romney. I’m sure this is what Gingrich’s people are perceiving to be his path to the nomination. (Or Santorum’s, who I’m sure are just waiting in the wings for Newt to fully implode).

However there were some numbers briefly shown in Sunday’s Meet the Press that deserve much more attention than Romney’s reinjection into front-runner status, and those were the amounts spent by both campaigns–and their Super PACs–into Florida’s advertising markets: $15.3 million for Mitt, $3.9 million for Newt. Here are more numbers that might give you some pause, via USA Today:

  • Romney and his super PACs have aired 12,768 ads in Florida compared to 210 for Gingrich and his groups.
  • Romney/his super PACs have spent $6.28 million in ads in the past week alone, $4 million of which came from his PAC directly. This is compared to $700,000 spent by Gingrich and $1.5 million by his PAC, Winning Our Future.
  • So far, super PACs have spent a total of $15.2 million on campaign ads compared to $13.7 million raised by the candidates themselves.
  • Super PAC spending has grown from 3% of total ad airings in 2008 to 44% in 2012.

The stroke of luck that won Gingrich in South Carolina–a last-minute $5 million contribution by Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire friend–is not only coming back to haunt him, but is also rapidly becoming the norm.

What we’re witnessing here is the dawn of the Super PAC. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the beginning of a new era in American politics, birthed by the single swing vote in Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in that case will have repercussions far beyond the similar 5-4 decision that gave Bush the presidency in 2000.

We’re now noticing its effects, but whether because we’ve been inured by constant media bombardment or are just paralyzed knowing that Citizens United would take a herculean effort to reverse–possibly only through a new case in a reconfigured court, a filibuster-proof Democratic House (if even that), or a constitutional amendment, all of which are nigh impossible–we’re simply sitting back and watching this unfold. Major news outlets mention Super PACs but either with understated emphasis or as if they’ve already become an accepted part of the process. Even the New York Times is attributing Romney’s last-minute surge to his debate performances, which certainly helped, but in any other context could in no way have given him a 20-point swing in a matter of days. And we’ve seen this happen before. Gingrich’s overnight lead in South Carolina was also purportedly due to a strong debate, which was curious since he’d always had strong debate performances; it was doubly curious that the surge occurred shortly after Adelson’s $5 million donation, which allowed Gingrich to flood South Carolina with ads that Romney had little time to tackle.

Sheldon Adelson, Gingrich

The greater likelihood is that it was–as it’s always been–all about the money. Except with Citizens United the very tenuous wall that progressives have tried in the past to erect between finance and government is all but gone, allowing a deluge of literally limitless money into the political process. I apologize for sounding apocalyptic but the importance of that landmark case cannot be understated. We’re just at the beginning of this and it’s about to get much, much worse. Factually inaccurate, twenty-minute long advertisements disguised as documentaries and aired on major networks will become the norm. Campaign costs will skyrocket, and billion-dollar fundraising hauls will seem unimpressive before long. Eventually what will matter is not the number of votes you can get but the number of wealthy patrons you can prostrate before, because as the recent weeks’ polling has shown us, public opinion is easily malleable when you have the means to air anything you want with no repercussion.

But to a politics buff, the more intriguing phenomenon would perhaps be the idea that political parties are about to become obsolete. McCain alluded to this during Meet the Press when he mentioned, in a passing thought, that these PACs are usurping what parties traditionally have done–primarily, providing candidates with operational and financial support. As Occupy Wall Street has shown us, the cost of grassroots mobilization has decreased exponentially. And as Gingrich’s win in South Carolina has proven, the party establishment is no longer necessary in winning a key primary state. All he needed was some pocket change from a billionaire whose net worth, in 2008, has been pegged as high as $26 billion.

This is a topic that very much warrants greater attention and I hope you continue to indulge me as I explore in future posts what Super PACs are, what they do, and what I perceive their impacts will be to American democratization–‘democratization’ because it continues to be a process, albeit one the course of which has been perversely altered by Citizens United. Campaign finance is an integral aspect of any electoral process because democracy hinges on the availability of information, and whoever has the upper hand in disseminating–and fictionalizing–such information will always have a formidable advantage. And we’ve seen in these last two weeks that’s often enough to win a state, perhaps even a party’s nomination.


States of the Union


State of the Union - January 24th, 2012

It took me a couple of days to think about the State of the Union because I wanted time to gauge its political impacts (which so far seem to have been minimal). I don’t know if you’ve been able to check out the address given by President Obama on the 24th but if you haven’t, you can see the full text of the speech here. Here’s a link to a YouTube clip of the entire address, and here is the GOP counterpoint provided by Mitch Daniels, Republican governor of Indiana.

The speeches were followed two days later by the GOP presidential primary debate in Florida between Santorum, Gingrich, Romney and Paul. It’s been an exciting week, and was as if the political gods had granted us, in succession, a sneak preview: “Here,” Soros and Murdoch sayeth; “One of these six men will be your next leader.” (Though that thought, honestly, makes me a little uncomfortable.)

Lost between those days was a ‘state of the union‘ from representatives of Occupy Wall Street, presented by ten to fifteen individuals and published online. Unsurprisingly, none of the major networks picked it up.

These speeches gave us competing visions of future leadership, but what is more important than dissecting what has been said (or not said) are the larger narratives being sold to the public. The audience knows that the policies being peddled will likely not crystallize. Unlike most skeptics who think that the disillusionment with President Obama comes from a misunderstanding of the legislative process, I think the American public is actually very aware of how difficult it is to get things done. What they are frustrated with is the perceived lack of grander aspirations that they can hinge their hopes on as the country tries to find its way back to the sense of prominence it once had.

Perhaps it’s too late, and Americans are all too aware that something about the country has changed fundamentally. All the speeches, from the President’s to Daniels’ to the GOP candidates’, referred to recapturing the glories of a past era–an indirect admission that there is some sense of the fall. But this would not be the first time the country’s faced such anxieties, and it is during such circumstances that Americans turn to their leaders for comfort. (Despite what Republicans might say, American politics has always been paternalistic. In spite–or perhaps because–of all their purported libertarian secularism, Americans still look to their government as a source of last hope).

In this sense I agree with Andrew Sullivan’s initial criticism (which he later recanted) that President Obama’s State of the Union was, to some extent, a disappointment. This was an opportunity to embark on a frank dialogue on the true state of the union, in detail–on the true state of its unsustainable finances and decaying infrastructure; its obsoleting education system and deteriorating standards of living; its impulsive militaristic projects abroad and its frayed, imbalanced approach to human rights. It was an opportunity to talk frankly about what the wealth gap means and how it came to be, apart from the worn encapsulation of banks as a generic, indescriptible evil. But at the same time, it was an opportunity to speak candidly about American successes–that we have aided liberalization in Libya and Burma to little harm, and in the process have repaired international alliances weakened by the previous administration; that we have taken significant steps, such as with the Affordable Care Act, to address societal ills; and that despite our economic troubles we continue to witness a technological boom unparalleled in human history, in which many of the major players (such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook et al) have still grown out of American soil.

State of the Union - January 6th, 1941

In short, it was a chance for the President to speak plainly about the difficulties the country continues to face–and the difficulties his administration has faced in addressing them–and intimate why he should be given a chance to continue his work. The public understands that the country remains in a precarious state because they know it from their everyday lives. They are expecting the President to say that a strong government is necessary in a time when strong solutions are needed, and that at the end of the day, those proposed by the competing party–solutions gleaned through the free market, or essentially, through business–will always be limited compared to what the government can provide. And the President missed the chance to offer Silicon Valley as the most compelling argument against the idea that a big government would necessarily lead to the stifling of entrepreneurial innovation and growth.

Instead we were presented with a set of, as Sullivan terms them, “micro-policies”, policies that while a step towards the right direction were nevertheless far from the fundamental changes necessary to solve the country’s systemic weaknesses or capitalize on its existing strengths. The initiatives outlined were pleasing enough to Pres. Obama’s base yet nowhere near strong enough to incite any passionate response from the opposition. But more importantly they failed to incite any newfound passion from those who have not already been sold on the presidency–such as the ever-elusive moderates, or supporters from ’08 who’ve been frustrated with the first term. The speech was politically safe, filed of any sharpness it could have had. Accordingly, the President proposed granting citizenship for ‘successful’ illegal immigrants but fell short of discussing comprehensive visa reform; he mentioned exploring new sources of energy, though of course balanced with off-shore drilling and scant discussion on the necessity of overhauling–as China is–our aging power grid. There was mention of raising teachers’ wages, but none of overhauling an academic system that needs to catch up technologically, that faces severe underfunding especially in rural and inner-city districts, and which still derives its curriculum from the ideological desires of a very limited and conservative body in the Texas Board of Education. There was much discussion on the merits of small businesses and manufacturing yet very little on new markets created by the tech sector (such as development in the web and mobile space, which is creating millionaires by the day), or on the reality that we are shifting to service- and design-oriented industries which in turn must form the basis of our academic and entrepreneurial strategies going forward. Most glaringly the President missed an opportunity to mention Occupy Wall Street and its brethren–arguably the most significant political movement in the United States since the civil rights era, and which has attracted much of the youth and grassroots energy that buoyed his election in 2008.

It was a very good speech, don’t get me wrong. Using military cohesion and the assassination of Bin Laden as a rhetorical framework was, in the technical sense, impressive. But it still came off in many ways as constrained, especially when the President could have done best by–to put it bluntly–just telling us what’s up. I’ve often said that it’s sad we can’t divorce politics from government, and this seems as good a time as any to repeat that sentiment. (It’s also a good time to mention that Obama’s speechwriters need to stop watching old JFK and FDR performances and instead try to appropriate a more accessible and contemporary approach).

Gov. Daniels giving the GOP response - January 24th, 2012

Gov. Daniels on the other hand has received favorable reviews, but largely from within his party and within the context of a GOP primary season featuring candidates almost entirely divorced from the realities facing the electorate. He appropriately played for younger votes when he framed much of his narrative within youth unemployment, but still his solutions hark back to the two oldest tenets from the Republican playbook: cut government spending, reduce regulations. Even purely measured on the metric of political pointage, I can’t say the speech was a success. All Daniels offered was a saner, stabler ideal of a Republican figurehead still filled with the same old rhetoric as every other before him. (Although I particularly liked his description of Obama’s policies as “trickle-down government”–nice.) The GOP debate the following day had even less substance. As I’d quipped on Facebook, Wolf Blitzer’s questions on lunar colonization and Puerto Rican statehood was topped only by the one on whose wife would make the best First Lady; appropriately, Ron Paul seemed aghast the whole time. But that was to be expected. These debates–for both parties–have always been a farce, and none of the candidates have an interest in answering questions well beyond their comfort zones.

And finally, with regards to Occupy Wall Street: as I’ve indicated elsewhere, this is a legitimate movement that deserves better strategies. The protesters have often alluded to rhetoric by MLK, but King didn’t just speak out against authority–he spoke substantively yet eloquently, with the ability to inspire populations and politicians beyond his immediate audience. So far the movement’s been missing a figure behind which it can coalesce, and continues to engage in tactics–like delivering its ‘State of the Union’ speech in recited, couplet form–that has limited practical appeal.

In short, this all remains a pageantry; it all remains a show. But as with any good theatre we watch to be transported to a universe where, for an hour or two, our troubles can be left by the door. One of the more curious aspects of the presidency as the ceremonial head of state is its ability to spark from nothing a sense of inspiration, and unfortunately, I don’t think anyone who spoke between Tuesday and Thursday was wholly successful in that regard.

That said, call me the eternal optimist but it is election year, and Pres. Obama’s playing it safe while the Republicans are playing to their base. The SOTU a year from now will be presented by an entirely new leader or a second Obama administration completely unfettered from political considerations. It’ll be a sight to watch.


South Carolina


Courtesy of The Washington Examiner

I was intending to write about the Occupy Congress protest rally (and begin my ruminations on the movement overall) when we were hit Saturday by the hurricane that was Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. The post-euphoric comedown has unfolded through most of yesterday, and thus far, Politico’s piece offers some insights of greater interest than the primary ‘takeaways’ proffered by the major outlets that first, Romney’s anthem of inevitability seems to have all but evaporated overnight (largely also due to Iowa GOP’s reneging of his victory in the caucuses, handing the crown instead to Santorum) and second, that another ‘firewall‘ has been erected by the Romney campaign in Florida–a dissimilar firewall, presumably, from that expected to have warded off Gingrich in the Palmetto State. Nate Silver’s piece in the New York Times is also noteworthy in its examination of certain statistical curiosities borne by the primary. Some tidbits from both articles below:

– Santorum apparently has no intentions, at least publicly, of dropping from the campaign. And he has no reason to–he’s perfectly comfortable accumulating free political capital at minimal personal cost.

– Mitch Daniels’s name continues to resurface, and Silver echoes the murmurs of “an effort to draft a candidate who is not currently running for president, like former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida or Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin or Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.” (You know your party’s in trouble when Bobby Jindal starts looking like a sound alternative).

– Romney, who just a week ago was parroting via Karl Rove (a newfound proxy) his ‘history-making’ achievement in supposedly having won both Iowa and New Hampshire as a non-incumbent, now bears witness to a historically precipitous fall from the +20 point lead he held in the national polls shortly before South Carolina. Silver encapsulates it accordingly:

“The cases where the national polling lead shifted after New Hampshire are few and far between. It has never happened in a Republican race, although it did occur for Democrats in 1972, 1984, 1988 and 2008. With the partial exception of 1988, when Michael Dukakis became a fairly clear favorite after Super Tuesday, each of those contests was a fight to the finish.

But in each case the front-runner’s lead had been marginal — not like the robust lead that Mr. Romney had seemed to hold. What has been especially strange about the recent reversal in polls is that it seemed to come out of nowhere. The Monday night debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was not Mr. Romney’s strongest, and he was judged by most observers to have lost it to Mr. Gingrich. Even when a candidate loses a debate, however, he usually does not see an overnight 20-point shift against him in polls.”

The shift has trickled down to Florida as well: the latest poll by Insider Advantage shows Gingrich opening an 8-point lead over Romney in the primaries, a mere eight days away.

Courtesy of RealClearPolitics

I have few novel reactions to add to those already saturating the news cycle but let me begin with this: Wow. This batch of candidates, for all its flaws, at the very least knows how to keep its affairs consistently interesting (apologies for the pun, Mr. Gingrich).

I do, however, have a couple of thoughts.

First: the Super PACs will decide this election, and Romney will continue to have the edge in campaign contributions. While a last minute cash infusion resuscitated Gingrich’s campaign in South Carolina, he would need far greater resources to compete in the rest of the 47 states. The GOP establishment still controls the pursestrings, and the cabal is all too aware of Gingrich’s chances in the general election (in short: minimal).

All this, of course, may turn around if Gingrich wins Florida. But even in the event that he wins the nomination he would find it difficult to raise as much money as Romney would for the general campaign (not least due to Romney’s ties to Wall Street). Contributions are political investments, and donors would be hesitant to pour money into a candidate whom they believe would have little chance of unseating President Obama in November. They can very well just hold on to their gold bouillons until 2016.

I find it more intriguing however that for all of Newt’s obstacles to the nomination, Mitt’s chances seem just as dim. Romney continues to hit the ceiling that constrained him in Iowa and New Hampshire, where despite the perception of his inevitability he performed almost exactly as he did in 2008. His campaign has lost steam following South Carolina, but more importantly it’s difficult to imagine how he could build it back. Voters are already aware of his positives, and his negatives–the tax returns, questions on his religion and affiliations therewith–have yet to be fully tapped. Gingrich, meanwhile, is in the opposite position: his negatives (sordid personal life, record in Congress) are already well-known to GOP primary voters, yet seem to have had little impact.

Second: the pundits are already claiming this will be a lengthy battle, and some have drawn parallels to the Democratic primaries in 2008. There is one significant difference, however. The race between Pres. Obama and Sec. Clinton was between two camps with highly energized bases of support. The primaries ultimately benefitted the party by drawing record numbers of newly registered voters–women, youth, minorities, among others–which later translated into new Democratic votes for the general election. The 2012 GOP meanwhile finds itself torn between two anemic candidates, both of whom had already been polling poorly against President Obama before this all began and neither of whom would have enough time nor money to conduct a general election campaign after a protracted primary brawl.

South Carolina has brought the President good news, just like it did in 2008. Billion-dollar campaign or not, his re-election has just gotten much easier. Meanwhile, I’m sure Rep. Pelosi is smiling as she watches the debacle unfolding within the GOP. She only needs 25 seats to retake the House in November.


Democracy 4.0 (Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Vote)


I’m going to write about Occupy Congress shortly–I had the opportunity to march with them on Tuesday, through the entire route from the Hill to the Supreme Court to the White House–but I want to pause and write briefly about the blog’s name. Why Democracy 4.0?

It’s an allusion to Samuel Huntington’s theory of the Third Wave–the idea that democratization occurs in waves, with the third being that which began in the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974 and which eventually toppled authoritarian regimes across the globe in the 80’s (arguably leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall). The theory is fairly accepted and is nearly always taught (or at least mentioned) in introductory Western political science texts. As with much of social science there’s no real means of ‘proving’ the thesis, but empirically it seems to hold water. The first wave Huntington described as having unfolded in the early nineteenth century, ‘democratizing’ (in the modern sense) much of the developed West; the second as succeeding World War II, when former colonies broke free from their imperial shackles. Included in the thesis is a description of the recession of democracy after such ‘waves’, when some nascent democratic regimes, insufficiently guarded by ‘consolidated’ adherence to democratic principles, buckle against the seduction of a retreat to autocracy (often due to endemic corruption, exacerbated by newfound wealth via market liberalization).

I imply, in the title, that we are witnessing the crest of a Fourth Wave. This is not a new suggestion. Since Huntington’s proclamations academics have scrambled to outdo each other in prognosticating when the next ‘wave’ will arrive. And the idea that 2011 saw a wave of democratization as manifested in the Arab Spring is far from novel as well:

– “The Fourth Wave“, National Endowment for Democracy, March 14th, 2011
– “A Fourth Wave Gathers Strength in the Middle East“, The Chronicle Review, February 8th, 2011
– “Premature Speculation: The Arab Spring Cannot be Considered as Democracy’s Fourth Wave. Yet.“, EconomyWatch, August 24th, 2011.

I’ll write an argument against the EconomyWatch piece in the coming weeks (it’s a good leaping off point on the debate re democratic transition vs. democratic consolidation) but for now, what I’m suggesting that might be of added value is the myopia inherent in most of these characterizations–that perceiving the current ‘wave’ (if it does exist) solely through the lens of the Arab Spring is limited at best. If we accept Huntington as valid–in many ways, it would be difficult to argue that the successive fall of authoritarian regimes across northern Africa, in domino fashion, occurred wholly independent of each other–then I argue we are still distant from the wave’s end. The outcome of the American project in Afghanistan and Iraq, the reforms in Burma (and its potential effects on North Korea and in turn China), and the ‘Occupation’ movements, among others, are manifestations in their own contexts of a similar democratization dynamic despite the differences in each setting’s impetuses (I’ll talk more about this later, but one of the more annoying kinks in democratization theory is the acceptance of the idea that, though we might have a unified concept of what democracy entails, the factors that bring it to fruition could be infinite). Democratization after all and as we have seen in the past knows no geographic bounds; the Third Wave began in Portugal and somehow ended up in the Philippines in 1986, and Manila’s People Power Revolution was a rhetoric echoed in the Polish democratic revolution of 1989.

The aim of this blog is to analyze these events as they unfold, and weave–as I mentioned in the first post–a cohesive, ‘living’ description of democratization in the early 21st century before eventually reflecting on whether this has ultimately constituted a Fourth Wave as Huntington would claim it. And perhaps in many ways a blog is the perfect vehicle for this kind of analysis. A single journal article written in one particular temporal context would indubitably be obsolete the minute it hits the shelves.

What is additionally interesting though is Huntington’s description of democratic ‘ebbs’–that some of these newly democratized regimes, due to to the very tenuous nature of forced democratization (as opposed to, say, the centuries it took for the U.K to democratize), are doomed to fail. If I had to place a bet I’d probably wager on Iraq or Afghanistan–though who knows, the American democratic projects in Germany and Japan were arguably ‘successful’ despite the countries’ non-democratic sociocultural roots (and I realize this is contentious; will post more on Bush’s agenda later). But regardless of what happens all this will take years, maybe decades, to resolve. (And perhaps I’ll still be here on the site continuing to comment about it!)

Up next: a brief look at American Occupation (the hipster kind).