Thursday, August 16, 2007

The candidating game

So, my brother emailed me this quiz that compares your views with the positions staked out by US presidential candidates and tells you which candidates match up with you best.

Here are my results, starting with the candidates who got a positive score:

Hunter +34
Romney +30
Giuliani +29
Huckabee +26
McCain +23
Tancredo +20
Cox +14
Thompson +13
Brownback +7

And then we get into negative numbers...

Richardson -15
Obama -15
Biden -16
Paul -17
Clinton -18
Dodd -19
Edwards -19
Gravel -28
Kucinich -30

This actually is pretty close match to my own perceptions of the candidates, especially given the very simple nature of the test. I'm surprised and impressed with how well this works. (I am especially pleased to see that the program figured out that I dislike Ron Paul almost as much as Hillary Clinton. Nice.) Makes me want to go read up on Duncan Hunter...

But it's definitely a very simplistic test. I did it in two minutes, without thinking about it too much, and was surprised with how well its predictions matched my own previous feelings about the candidates. But I think it's not going to be very helpful for people who are still sorting out their own positions on the issues.

I'm lucky. The issues I care most about are pretty clear-cut. For instance, I think that for our intervention in Iraq to succeed, we need a lot of people there for a long time. The way I read history, anything else leaves the place in absolute chaos. So I support more troops in Iraq for a longer time. And all the candidates have a pretty clear stand on that issue at this point. Now, things could be a lot more complicated. For instance, if the surge were yielding obviously spectacular successes, lots of candidates would shift their positions to agree with mine, at least at that level of detail. And then I would have to get a lot more fine-grained, and tease out much more subtle differences.

That's where the health care issue is, to my way of thinking. Some candidates have positions that are widely divergent, but most of them are pretty close, and you have to get into the nuances to see what the differences are, in lots of cases. For instance, Mitt Romney got a sort of universal health care system started in Massachusetts, but it's not the same kind of universal health care system that Hillary Clinton tried to get passed in 1993. But that was 14 years ago. When she says she wants to reform the health care system now, how different will her plan be from Romney's? And then we have people whose position is much less clear, and much more based in platitudes that obscure these small, nuanced differences-- like Barack Obama.

As I say, I'm lucky. There are a few issues that matter more to me than the rest, and the candidates have staked out pretty clear (and different) positions on those few issues. There are a few other issues like this (I have a friend who decides entirely on what kind of Supreme Court justices the candidate is likely to nominate.) but most are not. I'm just glad I'm not deciding on education policy, or something like that. After quickly eliminating the ones who are way out there at the extreme, I'd be left with the muddled middle. And I'd never be able to figure out who to support.

So, I'd probably just do what I did last time, and support a beltway outsider.

--EL DOLOR

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Onward, Christian babies

So, yesterday I saw this link to an opinion piece at SFGate.com, a website affiliated with the San Francisco Chronicle. The piece is incredibly vitriolic and nasty. You have to read it to believe it.

It is written in response to news stories about a family in Arkansas that just welcomed their 17th child. As far as I can tell, their children are clean, cheerful, polite, and well-spoken. The family is Christian, conservative, traditional, and not very hip. These facts sent columnist Mark Morford into a hysterical, frothing, raving fit. Here's a sample of his despite:

Perhaps the point is this: Why does this sort of bizarre hyperbreeding only seem to afflict antiseptic megareligious families from the Midwest? In other words -- assuming Michelle and Jim Bob and their massive brood of cookie-cutter Christian kidbots will all be, as the charming photo suggests, never allowed near a decent pair of designer jeans or a tolerable haircut from a recent decade, and assuming that they will all be tragically encoded with the values of the homophobic asexual Christian right -- where are the forces that shall help neutralize their effect on the culture? Where is the counterbalance, to offset the damage?

Where is, in other words, the funky tattooed intellectual poetess who, along with her genius anarchist husband, is popping out 16 funky progressive intellectually curious fashion-forward pagan offspring to answer the Duggar's squad of ├╝ber-white future Wal-Mart shoppers? Where is the liberal, spiritualized, pro-sex flip side? Verily I say unto thee, it ain't lookin' good.

Perhaps this the scariest aspect of our squishy birthin' tale: Maybe the scales are tipping to the neoconservative, homogenous right in our culture simply because they tend not to give much of a damn for the ramifications of wanton breeding and environmental destruction and pious sanctimony, whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation. Is that an oversimplification?


Although Morford's column overflows with so much berserk hate that I wonder if he is, perhaps, rabid, he is pointing out an important phenomenon in contemporary American society. The number of conservative people in the US continues to increase because these people tend to have more children. Conversely, progressives tend to have few children, and often no children.

This fact is often pointed out by right-leaning pundits, who make a couple of related observations. First, as James Taranto notes about once a week, pro-choice women in particular fail to pass along their preferences, aborting the children who would otherwise grow up in their homes, and likely share their political viewpoint. He calls this the "Roe effect", and claims that it helps explain why public opinion has shifted dramatically in the pro-life direction since the legalization of abortion in 1973. Second, the numbers of progressives would be dwindling even more quickly if they didn't have the ability to persuade lots of kids to lean left after leaving home.

People like Mark Morford should probably realize that if they want policy change, they need a majority of voters to support their views. (In America, this is called "democracy.") So, they either need to propagate, or propagate their views. And I think the progressive effort is not helped by this kind of bile:

Let us be clear: I don't care what sort of God you believe in, it's a safe bet that hysterical breeding does not top her list of desirables. God does not want more children per acre than there are ants or mice or garter snakes or repressed pedophilic priests. We already have three billion humans on the planet who subsist on less than two dollars a day. Every other child in the world (one billion of them) lives in abject poverty. We are burning through the planet's resources faster than a Republican can eat an endangered caribou stew. Note to Michelle Duggar: If God wanted you to have a massive pile of children, she'd have given your uterus a hydraulic pump and a revolving door. Stop it now.


In fact, I think it quite likely that if the Duggar family were to read what Morford wrote about them, it would only strengthen their determination to bring more good Christian children into this wicked world. Good for them.

--JACQUES LE PEN