Trouble at the Top

How many?

This is a rag-bag of things worth noting that happened, or were written about, while I was down. I didn’t feel comfortable titling a 1250-word post ‘… in brief’ though, so this is what you got.. Starting the day with the continued strengthening of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg clearly had someone competent on his design staff this week. [1] The campaign is one I like; the credentials of the leader promoting it are as close to unimpeachable as you can get, and there’s someone working on it who understands cadence. All good things.

In other news, there were some polls out this last week. I like seeing the New Labour experiment fall behind the only even vaguely progressive voice in British politics. I like that a lot, I have to say. I also think it will translate into almost nothing on Thursday and not a whole lot next year, unless the electoral system undergoes systemic reform. I’ve noted before Mark’s illustration of how safety in one’s seat translates directly to corruption in Westminster. He also reckons that these polling numbers can be used in an example of how mangled our system has become. I tend to agree with him.

We need a citizens convention to decide on proper constitutional reform. It needs to be taken out of the hands of politicians so that the partisan advantage is removed from the decision and it can be done purely on the basis of what is fair and right for the country.

I knew the control by Westminster of the electoral map, and thus the electoral math, was bad: I hadn’t realised that if the Liberal Democrats beat Labour at the polls they’d still only have half the seats of their defeated opponents. There is also a passionate and erudite survey of why the Liberal Democrats are a better protest vote than any other option over at Love and Liberty. Add in a fairly clear endorsement from a major national newspaper (well, a national newspaper, anyway: it’s the Observer) and the Yellow Peril have given the rats still on the Brown Train more to worry about than Call Me Dave has, lately.

Trouble at the Top

Also, Craig Murray has some interesting hearsay about internal politics behind the Fat Controller. The Brown Train is accelerating over a cliff and this kind of conversation had to be going on in a quiet back room somewhere: the interesting thing would be if we could confirm precisely who it was having it, and which of them was winning the fight to play Brutus.

[…] Last night was speaking with an African minister well connected to a group of New Labour’s senior black activists. He told me that David Milliband has been talking with his brother, two other cabinet ministers and Alan Johnson about how to ditch Brown if New Labour come fourth in the European Elections, behind the Tories, Lib Dems and UKIP.

There is a view now inside New Labour that coming fourth is a very real possibility, and would trigger mass panic among MPs and possibly a spiral downwards to electoral annihilation next year. They fear the Lib Dems traditionally poor performance in Euro elections will be outweighed by a failure of the New Labour core vote to turn out.

Same day, different shit

There is increasingly a gap, not merely in the ideas of remedies held by different bits of the political spectrum; nor merely in the ideas of what the problems are, but also between those who believe that the map is more relevant than the territory, and those who believe the territory matters at all. Ideological blueprints are intrinsically flawed, because they are not maps to the territory that’s there, they’re planning documents for a major cultural re-landscaping so as to make the territory more like the map in the ideologists’ head.

This may seem like an odd paragraph in the context of discussing Sotomayor, but I believe it has direct relevance. Some on the American Left were looking for a Bartlett or a Santos when they elected President Obama: what they got was a blue-banner Vinick. Electing Obama was a radical act not because he will be a radical president: thus far he seems to be acting like a realist president, which is probably more useful when you inherit two wars and a fucked economy from your outgoing ‘conservative’ predecessor. It was a radical act because a man of mixed race beat a man of impeccable Bible Belt and military credentials who had a strong history in public service, and he did it in a national election.

Affirmative Action is, rationally, as complex an issue to discuss as the death penalty. Not as complex morally; but at least as complex if you leave the morals out of it and look at what works, what’s needed, what’s intrusive. Leaving white America to it’s own devices, and particularly leaving white American education and legal establishments to their own devices, would have deferred a victory like Obama’s for at least another two generations. The success of Affirmative Action programs is as incontrovertible as the reality that talented and dedicated individuals in some parts of the US got screwed over because a less talented person got their promotion, every time. For me, the rational determinant is total contribution. If you lost some disillusioned white male teachers and gained Michelle Obama and Admiral Howard, then you got the best part of that deal.

Judge Sotomayor, whose parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico, has championed the importance of considering race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring and even judicial selection at almost every stage of her career — as a student activist at Princeton and at Yale Law School, as a board member of left-leaning Hispanic advocacy groups and as a federal judge arguing for diversity on the bench.

Now conservatives say her strong identification with such race-based approaches to the law is perhaps the strongest argument against her confirmation, contending that her views put her outside an evolving consensus that such race-conscious public policy is growing obsolete.

                    — The New York Times

Giordano Bruno said “It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.” That’s why I’m always a bit suspicious of ’emerging consensus’ in a world which had to invent a term for astroturfing. But there is no rational way to argue that an Affirmative Action system should exist indefinitely; they are always a means to an end, and when that end is achieved, they become anti-competitive and economically detrimental. The problem lies in how you assess the achievements.

Assessing equality is very hard. Real, stupid white men still believe blacks are inferior. Real, traditional Chinese Americans still think that blacks are inferior. Real, hispanic people believe that stealing from or lying to gringos doesn’t count, they’re the enemy. Women still earn less; more black men end up in jail than go to university, and the fastest-growing ethnic group in America still numbers millions of people who are defined as illegal, just for being there. We’re doing better, but the playing field of the 20th century has not yet been leveled in the early 21st. And yet, a mixed-race man is President of the United States. Sotomayor is an intelligent, skilled and well-credentialed judge. If she thinks there is still a need in American law for Affirmative Action programs, she will have reasons for thinking so, and will be required to explain those reasons. And as I’ve said before, we should listen to our experts, even if our map doesn’t agree with their territory.


[1] As opposed to last week.

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