Killing Baby Hitler

When Kevin Drum and Jeb Bush agree about something, one of two grossly implausible events must have occurred: either Kevin is wrong or Jeb is right. Since Jeb’s wrong-headedness is more reliable than even Kevin’s good sense, a devout Bayesian in this situation will start out suspecting that Kevin has made one of his rare mistakes.

Some time ago – sorry, real life has been interfering with my blogging – the New York Times asked what seemed like a remarkably silly question: “If you could go back and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it?”

Answers: 42% Yes, 30% No, 28% Not sure.

The Huffington Post picked this up and asked it of JEB! by email. Bush (sensibly) ducked it until he was asked on camera, at which point he emitted a characteristically inarticulate grunt of affirmation. “Hell yeah, I would! You gotta step up, man.”

Kevin was more thoughtful but equally decisive:  “I’m not an especially bloodthirsty guy, but hell yes, I’d do it. Sure, maybe World War II would happen anyway, though that’s hardly inevitable. Maybe the Holocaust too. But even a reasonable chance of stopping either one of them would be well worth the life of a baby who would otherwise grow up to be a monster. What am I missing here? I wouldn’t even hesitate.”

I’m pleased to report another success for the Rev. Mr. Bayes. In my judgment (which I would be glad to pronounce ex cathedra if someone would just build me a cathedral) both Bush and Drum are obviously and catastrophically wrong.

Forget about time-travel paradoxes, forget about the risk that something even worse would happen, and assume that your powers of foresight are perfect. You still shouldn’t kill Baby Hitler, for the simple reason that the Baby Hitler you’d be killing wouldn’t have done anything wrong, and intentionally killing innocent people is wrong, the same way torture and slavery are wrong. End of discussion.

Logically, of course, the Right-to-Life crowd should be up in arms about Bush’s expressed willing to intentionally take innocent life. And logically, of course, Bush himself couldn’t really hold his expressed position on abortion and also his expressed opinion about baby-killing. But, of course, logic has nothing to do with it.

Continue reading “Killing Baby Hitler”

Born-on-third-base Dep’t

As often noted in this space, the journalistic reflex toward “balance” often leads to distortions of the truth: false equivalencies. For example, how often have you read or heard that a Bush v. Clinton race in 2106 would be a clash of “dynasties“?

On reflection, this is obvious nonsense. John Ellis Bush’s great-grandfather was the president of a steel company; his grandfather was a U.S. Senator; his father and brother were both Presidents. That’s dynastic power.

Hillary Rodham’s grandparents were coal miners in Wales. Her father graduated from Penn State with a degree in Physical Education. He then rose from being a fabric salesman to running his own textile company, but there’s no evidence that her family connections helped her career at any point. Wellesley, Yale Law, House Judiciary Committee staff (working on the Nixon impeachment): pretty much a standard meritocratic career track until she married a Yale Law classmate (also without any hereditary juice) named Bill Clinton, and joined him in Arkansas. No one ever doubted that “the Clintons” were a political partnership, not just a politician and his wife.

So it’s absurd to treat Jeb and Hillary as equivalent beneficiaries of privileged head starts.  More than that, in Jeb’s case it’s hard to see what he’s done other than being born a Bush that would qualify him to seek the Presidency.

Below is a note from a professional observer of Florida politics, who for career reasons prefers not to be named. Note also what he doesn’t say: that J.E.B., who accomplished nothing of note before becoming governor and nothing of note as governor, has accomplished anything of note since except earning a bunch of money.

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Take away the Bush name and is there any reason why Jeb stands above John Kasich, or several others?

And how exactly did he get to be governor of one of the largest states? If you look at all the major party gubernatorial nominees in Florida in the past 40 years, almost all had significant electoral success. Governor is not usually an entry level position. The least among the politicians had 10 or more years in the legislature. Martinez was the Mayor of Tampa. Lawton Chiles had been a three term U.S. Senator. Skip Bafalis was a Member of Congress. Charlie Crist was the Atty Gen etc. There were only three who had never been elected: Jack Eckerd, who was an Undersecretary in the Ford Admin, and had grown his family drugstore business into a huge chain and could massively self-finance, Rick Scott, who also is a self-made zillionaire who could self-finance and Bill McBride, who was at least the managing partner of one of the biggest law firms in the country and who beat Janet Reno to get the nomination.

Jeb has been cut in on various business deals, but he can’t compare with Scott, Eckerd or even McBride for private sector achievement. His only governmental credential for being governor is spending a year and a half as Bob Martinez’s state secretary of Commerce. It’s a post he was probably under-qualified for when he got it in his early 30s, but it hasn’t exactly been the stepping stone to glory for many others. And what happened when Jeb got the Gubernatorial nomination in 1994, the best GOP year in ages? He LOST. It was close, but have any other defeated gubernatorial nominees in recent Florida history gotten another shot four years later? Without having won any other office in the intervening period or ever before? Of course not.

Look, he’s a reasonably intelligent, tall, white Christian, heterosexual man. He’s not an alcoholic like his older brother, but not as gregarious either. So he was dealt a pretty good genetic hand. Probably if Barbara and George left him on the doorstep of some childless dentist’s family in Midland he would have done all right in life. He wouldn’t have gone to Andover, but he might have gone to UT and been some kind of banker or insurance executive living in a nice subdivision somewhere in Texas. But is there any reason at all to believe he would be close to where he is today?

There were people who saw Clinton and Obama as comers from very young. Even John Edwards was a minor celebrity trial lawyer and had obvious gifts, snake-oil salesman that he was. But Jeb? Please.

Americans’ Healthy Suspicion of Political Dynasties

We didn't like King George III either
We didn’t like King George III either

Leftists often want America to become more politically similar to Western Europe. When it comes to providing everyone access to health care, I’m in. But I hope Americans never give up a political sensibility that separates us from all those European countries where kings and queens still walk the earth and unelected hereditary politicos shape legislation: Our fundamental discomfort with ruling families.

Dan Balz’s coverage of a focus group of a dozen voters made me proud to be an American:

they are underwhelmed by the prospect of a race pitting another Bush against another Clinton. When Charlie Loan, an IT program manager and Republican-leaning independent, said half-seriously that he would be happy if Congress would pass a law banning anyone named Bush or Clinton from running, half the people in the room agreed.

…To them, Bush and Clinton represent a political class that is seen as living lives apart from those they represent, people who are seen as out for themselves rather than for ordinary people.

None of this of course means that Governor Bush or Secretary Clinton is a bad person or couldn’t be a good president. It’s not about them as individuals. Rather, the focus group members are expressing a very healthy, very American suspicion of a having a small group of families continually run the country.

One of the remarkable features of American politics is how few dynasties have existed at the national level. The Adams family in the late 1700s and 1800s, the Roosevelts for the first half of the twentieth century, the Kennedys over the past half century. It is often — though definitely not always — an advantage in American politics to have had a famous political parent, but the halo’s glow rarely extends to the third generation (Especially in the western U.S., which is less shaped by European culture than are the former British colonies). And when political dynasties fade in power, Americans rarely grieve their passing even when they like the family in question.

Missouri is the “Show Me” state, and it resides in a “Show Me” country. Neither Bush nor Clinton is going to become President of the United States by riding on their last name. That’s a good thing for democracy and a great thing about America.

Jeb Bush, Asian-American votes, and the Charles Bingley Principle

The impulse of Republican politicians such as Jeb Bush to try rescue the party from the barbarians now running it is understandable. I might even find it laudable if the goals of the quasi-civilized Republicans were less thoroughly plutocratic.

And Bush is surely right to stress that the GOP’s catastrophic 2012 performance among Asian-Americans is a very, very bad prognostic; if the Republicans can’t win a highly family-oriented, educated, and affluent demographic that also happens to be rapidly growing in its share of the electorate, they’re going to be a world of hurt. (Note that the heavily Democratic tilt of the Asian vote – stronger than the Democratic tilt of the Latino vote last year – destroys the “moocher” theory so beloved of Mitt Romney and his fans.)

But what is it that has driven Asian-Americans – who favored GHWB over Dukakis in 1988 – away from the Republicans? Their current combination of SES profile and voting habits makes you (especially if you’re Jewish) think of Jews: who, it is said, combine the income level of Episcopalians with the electoral tastes of Puerto Ricans.

There’s no Asian-American equivalent of some of the forces that made Jews enthusiastic Democrats: the influx of Jewish social democrats after the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the impacts of Zionism (which used to be a socialist movement), the labor movement (especially the ILGWU) and the urban political machines. But there are important parallels: most Asian-Americans (except for Koreans and Philipinos) aren’t Christians; they’re historic targets of intolerance; and (again with exceptions) they share a Confucian tradition that puts as high a value on learning as the Talmudic tradition. So it’s possible that the religious and ethnic bigotry of the Republicans, even if not specifically directed at Asian-Americans, still scares them off. And Republican obscurantism may be the big deal-breaker; Ed Koch utterly stunned me by endorsing Obama in 2008, but that choice made more sense when he gave Sarah Palin’s history of book-banning as his reason.

I think these parallels might be worth pursuing with data. To the extent that I’m right, Jeb & Co. have a tough row to hoe: making the GOP more attractive to Asians would mean making it less attractive to its base (in both senses) voters.

When Caroline Bingley proposes that a ball featuring conversation rather than dancing would be a more rational entertainment, her brother Charles replies “Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.” A Republican Party that could win Asian-American votes would be far more electable, but it would be far less like the Republican Party we know and hate.