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February 21, 2008

Hillary's Last Hurrah

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[See the Print Version of this piece at http://jaygaskill.com/HILLARY.htm ]

[See the Print Version of this piece at ]


Warnings and disclaimers: 

  • This piece previews a scheduled Autopsy.

  • This is a cold –hearted, penetrating analysis of “how it is” --- not how you or I might want it to be.  

  • This discourse is R Rated.  Because it previews a national surgical procedure, one that begins with tonight’s debate between Hillary and Barak.  We Americans are scheduled a Clintonectomy.  There will be no anesthetic.

Hillary is discovering what Rudy has already learned:

New York is not enough.

Here are the four dirty little secrets of the 2008 Campaign:

  1. I am now imagining Bill’s exit interview (in this fantasy construct, we might think of a deathbed confession to a trusted amoral therapist).  Deep down, all along, Bill wanted Hillary to be subordinate and, failing that, to fail.  Had Bill wanted his wife to have the very best chance to win the presidency on 08, all he had to do was stand on the porch and wave. Bill’s "help” in the campaign was the kiss of death.  Here’s the deal: Deep down, above all other considerations, Bill needs to be the center of attention and he needs his freedom. This is not a moral judgment; it’s in Bill’s wiring, like a cat who insists on killing birds. A four to eight year sentence as POTUS’ “wife” in drag?  Don’t kid yourself. Bill may shed tears for Hillary’s loss but they will be tears of joy.

  1. Hillary is far too centrist and practical (sorry members of the vast right wing conspiracy, ‘cause it’s true) to please or enthuse the burning left wing idealists who are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Hillary’s one “radical” policy position – compulsory universal health care – comes with a heavy legacy cost: It was a dud. [Parenthetical note – The Clintonian era is full of legacy costs; its coming demise has much in common with one of those all too familiar airline bankruptcies.]

  1. The idealistic activists who currently control the levers of the Democratic Party are addicts:  They are addicted to the grand gesture.  Policy failure?  That is the norm.  It just sets the stage for a change in actors followed by the next Grand Gesture. Obama is their guy because he not only has he proved himself to be a master of the art of the noble gesture, he hasn’t failed… yet.

  1. Mrs. Clinton has just one path left to victory: The ruthless scorched earth personal attack. It has always worked for the Clintons… until now.  Bill and Hillary share a strikingly negative vision of human corruptibility.  In their political universe, everybody can be trashed.  Actually that’s uncomfortably close to the truth for their generation.  But it’s not true for a 72 year old war hero from the Sunbelt and a 45 year old junior senator from the Land of Lincoln.

The Last Hurrah Debate is scheduled on CNN @ 8:00 PM East, 5:00 PM Pacific.  Be sure and bring your meds.







February 17, 2008


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Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
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Print Version: http://jaygaskill.com/StillWaters.htm
Reflections about one more mass murder-suicide


Thursday afternoon, 27 year old Steven Kazmierczak — dressed in black and armed with three handguns and a shotgun — returned to his alma mater (Northern Illinois University), strode into a full classroom, armed like some lunatic commando and fired more than 50 rounds into the room, killing six innocent people -- then he killed himself. 
The local reaction in these cases is almost always – “But he seemed to be such a nice boy”.
His former criminology professor said: “Steve was the most gentle, quiet guy in the world. ... He had a passion for helping people.”
 My first reaction in these cases is always –Why didn’t he do suicide FIRST?
The clue to Steven Kazmierczak’s life is in the linkage of homicide and suicide. 
The multiple murders of strangers, followed by self-killing is the signature of 21st century evil.  [If you’re interested in exploring this important topic, I’ve written two “Evil” essays, one of which is posted at http://www.jaygaskill.com/evil2l.htm .]
Steve worked briefly as a prison guard, but was fired after didn’t report for work one day.  He was in the army for half a year, getting out in 2002.  The Privacy Act forbids the Army from explaining why Kazmierczak was approved for discharge.  In conversation he revealed to a friend that it was a “psychological” discharge. No kidding.
Why this rampage? Kazmierczak left no note. Police seized his computer but the hard drive had been erased.  He was on medication but reportedly stopped taking it.  We have no details about his mental condition because of “privacy laws”.
For example, Steve Kazmierczak spent a year in “Threshholds-Mary Hill House” after high school -- because he was “unruly” at home, whatever that means. 
Not long before he returned to his old college intending his grand exit, it seems he just had been dumped by his girlfriend. 
Steve was on undisclosed medications.  He had stopped taking them about two weeks before the murders.
There are always signs.
One sign looms large among many (and we can expect more to surface now that the veil of privacy that tends to conceal dangerous mind-sets from society is lifted).
At a younger age Steve tended to “cut himself”.
Law enforcement authorities told ABC News that Steve had probably planned the murders when bought the guns from the same gun dealer five days before.
But the guns and ammunition were sold without knowing Steve’s mental status history.  Privacy laws prevented the sellers from knowing this information.  Would the sales have taken place anyway?
As a student, young Kazmierczak had reportedly “promoted understanding of the criminal justice system” with a special focus on self destructive behavior.  [Kazmierczak co-authored a 2006 piece entitled “Self-Injury in Correctional Settings: ‘Pathology’ of Prisons or of Prisoners”. Reportedly he planned to co-author an article on the role of religion in the formation of early prisons.]
In this topic he was more expert that anyone apparently realized.

What are to make of all this?
First, I notice three things that were undoubtedly true for young Steve Kazmierczak:
  1. He was being highly deceptive; i.e., there was the cheerful do-gooder on the surface and beneath that, well hidden, lurked an angry soul, so frustrated in isolation, so immersed in grievance-saturated moral narcissism, that Steve didn’t care how he would be remembered, just that he would not soon be forgotten.
  2. He was disconnected from family, church or any other meaningfully therapeutic community.
  3. He was utterly “free” from any sense of transcendent accountability; this was one of those all-too-common personalities who actually think we can be evil in this life, then exit without ever being confronted with moral examination.
The “nice boy” mask is all too common in these cases; it is inevitably coupled with a covert mental illness history.  Allow me to make two larger points, here:
(a)    It would be too facile and even trivial to complain that he was without religion; rather I would say that he was without a good religion, or its equivalent, namely he – and by extension anyone capable of doing what he did on this grim occasion – would necessarily lack a spiritual and ethical discipline devoted to the love of life, and opposed to life’s enemies in all their forms.
(b)   It is impossible not to notice that our society’s obsession with privacy has an unintended side effect: It forces us to live with more bizarre violence than we need to…

February 13, 2008

Why Oakland is "Safe"





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All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
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For a video clip of Jay Gaskill, The Out-Lawyer (former  Alameda County Public Defender), “interviewing” Oakland’s Mayor, Ron Dellums, about the crime problem, go to http://www.jaygaskill.com/RDInterview.wmv .




February 12, 2008


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The Policy Think Site: http://www.jaygaskill.com
All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
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Print version of this article is linked: http://www.jaygaskill.com/OAKTOWNinCRISIS.htm



Seven murders in Oaktown this weekend alone. 
Police want to reassure Oakland residents that their fair city is still safe place to do business.
Sure it is. 
Thousands of Oakland residents and hundreds of Oakland business people have voted with their feet over the last three years.
The most aggressive crime reporting in the media about Oakland’s problems is now in the San Francisco Chronicle – from a safe distance across the Bay.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.  I’ve addressed the Oakland “murder problem” before.  In an Oakland Tribune editorial in 2003 I warned: 
“My Word” Op Ed
Published in the Oakland Tribune March 2003
Saving Oakland
The City of Oakland is unique among California cities because it is poised on a knife’s edge, its immense promise balanced by a powerful undertow. Will this year be remembered as a time of creative renewal, or the beginning of a downward spiral? The biggest part of the answer depends on the men and women of OPD, and whether they continue to get the resources needed to do a difficult job.  ….
During 2002, the city of Oakland achieved a homicide rate just under 28 per 100,000, or more than twice the highest homicide rate ever recorded for the state as a whole.  Police sources confirm that most of these homicides are being committed by thousands of prison parolees released from state prison to live in Oakland. An even more telling analysis emerges from Attorney general Bill Lockyer’s preliminary report, just released, comparing state crime statistics for the first six months of 2001 against the same period in 2002.  California crime, as a whole, increased 7.5% for that period, while Oakland’s increased 28.1% using the same index.  The Los Angeles increase was only 5.6%. Yes, Oakland’s murder rate has been even higher in the past (140 in 1997, for example), but if the present trend continues, dismal new records will soon be set. And there will be economic consequences.
Crime responds primarily to the pressure of aggressive, competent, professional law enforcement, visible on the street, trained to notice signs of criminal activity, and quick to respond. City after city has learned (or failed to learn) the hard lesson: Wherever you reduce the effective police presence, criminal activity soon increases.  For all the discussion about New York’s success in restoring safer streets in Manhattan, one indisputable fact stands out:  They added more cops.  From 1997 through 2001, NYPD’s upward budget curve almost mirrored the downward curve in major felony crimes reported.
All the energy, purpose and progress of the last few years could vanish like the dot com bubble if Oakland fails to dramatically curb the current outbreak of murder, gunfire and other violence.
Later on, I added:
Oakland Tribune 9-30-03
“My Word” Column
At the current kill rate Oakland will have 120 homicide victims by Christmas. [We’re now a handful short of 100 Oakland lives lost to bullets, knives and assaults.] Oakland is reaping the bitter harvest of its neglect of the public protection infrastructure. ….
Violent crime has a relentless opportunistic quality – it exploits weaknesses, especially reduced police protection. Unchecked, it turns good neighborhoods into bad ones and transforms bad neighborhoods into war zones.  Oakland’s population mix contains a significant percentage of dangerous people. Among Oakland’s law-abiding citizens there are thousands of probationers and parolees, mostly crime prone males, nearly all repeat offenders with growing criminal histories More than 3,000 of them have done state prison time.
The re-offend rate from this group exceeds 70 percent. For a typical parolee, there are several buddies, all at high risk of criminal behavior. In large parts of Oakland, more than 10 percent of the population is crime-prone.
This law enforcement challenge is magnified by a “don’t snitch” ethos on the street. Most homicides are unsolved for this reason.
This March I pointed out that OPD, already suffering from inadequate staffing levels, could ill-afford the reduction of even one officer position. I warned that deeper cuts could lead to a catastrophe.
Those deeper cuts were implemented.
Having worked with public protection budgets at the county level for years, I am familiar with the arguments that always surface in hard times.
Everything with a constituency is equal:  Parks, roads, health, welfare, and so on. So nothing is sacred and all pain is shared.
But this is just not true. In a war zone, there is one overriding priority: Stop the war.  Unchecked, the domestic war in Oakland can take down all of the progress of the last ten years and do it in ten months.
This isn’t rocket science. Oakland needs more cops, more police training, more police community involvement, more patrols, and more homicide investigators. ….
In the dark days of the Great Depression, FDR said it best: Among the greatest of freedoms is freedom from fear. This defines the one entitlement that trumps all the rest. It is the right to have the criminal law enforced in your neighborhood, rich or poor. No child or adult in Oakland should have to live in fear of a bullet, a knifing or a beating. 
Jay Gaskill is the former Alameda County Public Defender
I’ve written published editorials on crime in Oakland at least six times:
http://www.jaygaskill.com/InjectionDeterrence.htm , http://www.jaygaskill.com/chief05.htm  ,
http://www.jaygaskill.com/tribfog.htm ,
http://www.jaygaskill.com/triba.htm ,
http://www.jaygaskill.com/tribb.htm ,
http://www.jaygaskill.com/reap.htm ,
And I have met with then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown who was at least receptive to what I had to say.
The new mayor on the block, former congressman, Ron Dellums, after studying the problem for a year on the job, has experienced an epiphany, no doubt spurred by the anger of the remaining residents who are tired of dodging bullets.  He now thinks that Oakland needs the full compliment of police that Oakland voters approved years ago. 
Message to the mayor:  That was not enough even then.  Oakland’s public protection forces are understaffed even at authorized levels.
Here’s the dirty little secret (several actually): Crime is not like firefighting.  You can temporarily decrease the number of firefighters on duty and fires don’t suddenly spring up.  You can even give police a sabbatical in a law abiding community (think Provo, Utah here as a contrasting example) without necessarily courting chaos. 
But Oakland is different. 
Oakland has a startlingly large subpopulation of crime-prone, violence-prone individuals (98% male) who need to be deterred by a robust police presence 24/7.  Consider just one number: Oakland is home to roughly (and I do mean rough) 3,000 parolees. 
To the uninitiated: You don’t get parole unless you have been committed to state prison for a felony and you typically don’t go to state prison for your first or even second felony in this jurisdiction.  The great majority all parolees continue to commit crimes after their release.  The great majority of parolees hang out with buddies who are also crime-prone and violence-prone.  To adequately police 3,000 parolees would take the entire Oakland police force, with nothing left over for the rest of the crime and law enforcement problems afflicting this otherwise promising city.
Former New York Mayor Giuliani did one thing that, above all, that drove down crime in New York City.  He radically and dramatically increased police staffing levels and put them all to work.
Think about it.  This last weekend, all of New York City was safer than Oakland, California.

February 07, 2008

Breaking News

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Note my McCain article below. 


Governor Romney, no doubt after a cost-benefit analysis, is suspending his campaign. 


I strongly suspect that this means we will be witnessing the election of a President McCain or President Obama.  Mrs. Clinton is entitled to ask:  How dare I make that prediction? 


It's just that my gut tells me that the country as a whole doesn't want to be led one more time by a boomer....


February 05, 2008

PARTISAN POISON - Trashing John McCain

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 UPDATE WEDNESDAY -- Senator McCain now has 703 delegates, nearly 60 percent of the 1,191 needed to win the nomination.

This was written just before the California polls closed.  Even if Governor Romney pulls ahead of Senator McCain here, the Arizona senator has become “Target-in-Chief”.  I think we’re entitled to ask WHY?

Late Super Tuesday On
[Print version linked HERE > http://www.jaygaskill.com/PartisanPoison.htm .]


A preamble & a disclaimer:  I write this from the perspective of a self styled “Truman democrat” with both conservative and liberal positions on domestic matters, but for whom – in the current environment - national security questions are absolutely paramount. Regrettably, on national security, the current leadership of my party is MIA.  Worse still, I have heard little to nothing from either of the leading democratic candidates to reassure me that they even “get it”, much less that either might rise to the occasion. 

As to the republican candidates, I may agree or disagree on this or that issue, but all these things are trivial against the backdrop of a world war that many members of the Democratic Party haven’t yet fully noticed.  As I write this, the republican race has boiled down to the warrior senator from Arizona and the former Massachusetts governor, the former having acknowledged strengths in national security matters and the latter with a deep understanding of the business sector.  Their resumes differ, but from my peculiar perspective, these two candidates’ formal policy utterances (domestic and foreign) differ at the margins only.  So, like any executive placement decision, it comes down to intangibles like priorities, character and performance under pressure.

In this setting you have to wonder….. Why the vitriolic antipathy to John McCain among the media partisans of the right -- notably from Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter?

We tend to hear kvetching most from the anti-McCain crowd about the five issues: (1) The failed grand immigration compromise; (2) the botched campaign finance reform (McCain Feingold); (3) McCain’s votes against the Bush tax cuts (on the grounds there were no corresponding spending cuts); (4) McCain’s opposition to sanctioning torture as an interrogation technique; and (5) the filibuster compromise with the democrats (even though it arguably enabled the confirmation of Justices Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court).

Surely, I think, there is something else going on here, especially when I hear Mr. Limbaugh actually suggesting that he might not vote at all if McCain is the nominee. 

While one can argue about using statistics to describe a politician’s political philosophy, the American Conservative Union has rated all US Senators based on whether individual votes were or were not conservative, using the prevailing definitions.  Minor differences in numbers are insignificant, but large differences are very revealing.

Senators Obama and Clinton, for example, are rated only 8 and 9% conservative respectively, while McCain – over a much longer time – is rated over 80%.  From 2001 through 2006 the Arizona Senator was “only” 72% conservative.   To get hung up on this sort of thing in a time of war is silly beyond measure.  Think of an interruption in a policy argument: “But that position will cost you 2% in your ACU rating!”  No wonder the general public is disgusted with Beltway behavior.

Let’s not forget or dismiss the “regular” people.  When the nomination process is over, these non-partisan types, these members of the great non-activist middle, will decide the election.

And it is not a trivial matter - who leads us in a time of war.

I find it telling that not one of these strident McCain critics seems to have recently taken fully into account that our nation is engaged in a protracted war (and I don’t mean that pacification operation in Iraq). This is a world war, potentially lethal on an unimaginably large scale. The outcome will affect the fate of western Civilization for generations. 

Given the stakes, these critics are strangely uncurious about Mr. Romney’s lack of any concrete record of performance in the national security field.  Are the governor’s policy pronouncements and sound bites enough?  Mr. Romney is an honorable man and I grant that the former Massachusetts Governor’s national security policy positions are facially reasonable. But so were those of Mr. Carter and Mr. Clinton.

Therefore, regarding this disproportionate outpouring of McCain antipathy, I must ask: Will no one recall the imperatives of a bipartisan foreign policy during wartime?   I have the impression that this subset of self styled ‘true” conservatives are actually willing to put the national security at risk over intra-party domestic policy issues about which reasonable minds can differ.

Surely deeper things are operating here. At least two of them seem obvious to me:

(1)   All of the vocal anti-McCain critics from within the senator’s own party are Boomers.  Boomers, among other generational failings, tend to have an amazing tendency to self-centered myopia. 

(2)   John McCain is no boomer.  And he is a Teddy Roosevelt republican.  For reasons rooted deeply in history (and perhaps human pathology), there has always been a subset of conservatives who for whom deviations like that of our roughrider ex-president amount to apostasy.  I have written elsewhere that there exists a powerful subset of liberals for whom liberalism is a secular religion with its own catechism.  The sheer quantity of anti-McCain bile tends currently filling the media-air suggests that a mirror image of this politics-as-religion mindset has captured far too many conservative minds.

Let’s talk about Teddy Roosevelt for a moment, recalling that his sunny visage still looks down from Mount Rushmore. Like Harry Truman, TR was an accidental president, a stalwart former military officer who succeeded to the presidency on the death of the incumbent. President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, only months his inauguration; TR was just 42.

Teddy was a monopoly buster, an ardent conservationist and a pro-capitalist who wasn’t afraid to take on corporate corruption.  He was, above all, a consummate warrior. 

TR was detested by the arch conservative republican establishment; he lost the nomination of his own party while still an incumbent president. He lost to the nomination to Howard Taft, a classic “pure” conservative (and a bit of a pacifist).  As a result of this long running internal party spat (recall that TR ran on the Bull Moose ticket) and Taft’s brief succession, Woodrow Wilson democrats slipped into the White House from 1912 through 1921 without getting a majority vote. [Notably Wilson was the only president who was elected and reelected with less than 50% of the popular vote - the only president except for Bill Clinton. Then it was single term republicans --Harding (who died in office), Coolidge (one term), then Hoover (one term) who were followed by the FDR and the New Deal era.]

What if history is allowed to recapitulate the key part of that story? Let’s assume that McCain is nominated.  Let’s then assume that the disgruntled conservatives who don’t get their favorite choice decide to sabotage the McCain general election campaign. There could follow an eight year (or longer) return to liberal, anti-military, European-style “soft power” governance.  

This is such a bad time for that.

Would that Joe Lieberman were the democratic nominee (or even Joe Biden); I could sleep better at night after a McCain defeat engineered by a cabal of Republican Party “purists”.

The bottom line is as simple as avoiding a train wreck at the crossing: The goal of securing this nation from all enemies domestic or foreign is not a trivial matter; it is an overriding imperative.  Because the world wide ‘jihad” is no minor war, we may well need a warrior at the helm.

The talking bile-heads who are trashing the presumptive republican nominee have created a hostage situation.  To save the country, the republicans are being asked to slap down a war hero in time of war.  I think another kind of slap-down is in order. But I’m just an interested outsider - rooting for the fate of my beloved country….


February 04, 2008


Copyright © 2006, 2007 & 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
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See the full article, in  a print version at http://jaygaskill.com/newPPP.htm .

Jay B. Gaskill


I began this piece as a series of posts in 2006.  Those articles are reprised here – slightly condensed – then I address the current election as it will or will not be shaped by populist concerns in the last section.

Populism is of two varieties: Paleo-left (think Chavez in Venezuela and the “rich people are evil” rhetoric here at home) and Neo-American (think of dissident Chinese activists and the neglected, out-maneuvered popular center in US politics). 

I’m interested in Neo-American populism.  In Part Eight, I begin a discussion about the implications for the 2008 presidential contest.




Here’s the deal:  We’ve evolved two cooperating political elites, each of which runs one of the two parties and shares three common traits: (1) high education levels, (2) important wealth (3) a distrust of the populist vote bordering on fear.  Winning elections for each requires a periodic courting ritual during which the populist vote (on which success depends) is earnestly sought, followed by a measure of post-election betrayal.

The corporate country club conservatives and the Lexus limousine liberals have so far succeeded in achieving a rough division of the populist center: social populists on one side, economic populists on then other. 

Change is in the air.  The divide-the-populist-vote-and-prosper strategies of each party are coming apart.

A Working Definition:

Populist is meant to describe the politically relevant precepts, attitudes and core positions that distinguish an enduring majority of adults from the political elites that depend on their approval.

In general, populist positions tend to be dismissed or marginalized by the political elites as primitive or unenlightened while the elite counter positions are disdained by populist minds as effete or impractical.

It is a huge mistake for elites to think of populist positions as the product of the unintelligent or that all the elite positions of the moment represent the inevitable march of social progress.  The most enduring populist positions are rooted in field-tested folk wisdom of the kind that has inspired parables like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Both elite and popular opinions are subject to fads.  The populist positions that interest me the most are the ones that endure from election to election and will be relevant to the specifically American political scene over the next decade or so. 

Let me begin with two predictions:

1.     The elements in the elite-engendered ethos loosely described as Political correctness (specifically including racial-ethnic identity politics) that collide most sharply the populist mindset will be discredited within our lifetimes.
2.     The political party or parties that do the best job of reconciling their policy stances with the core populist positions will prevail over those that fail to do so.

·        Populism is rooted in our common American social values, especially the historically pro-family social traditions that govern in the heartland.  These values trump all the non-democratic institutions of governance. While I still believe that a legitimate populist movement can accommodate local custom (when popular sentiment clearly differs from the mainstream, thinking of the accommodations for gay marriage in Vermont for example), I also believe that there can be no accommodation for the anti-democratic reversal of the popular will in the rest of the country in this important area of life, especially by judicial fiat.  When judges abuse their trust by overriding the popular will on essential “family values” issues, a populist rebellion is inevitable.

·        Populism values the contribution of all newly arrived Americans but recognizes that the current very low rate of assimilation poses a threat to American cultural integrity.  There is an emerging populist consensus about immigration: the rigorous exclusion of illegals coupled with robust restrictive border control and a very high priority for assimilation into American culture and values.

·        Populism is authentically tough on crime and terrorism. National and domestic security considerations (especially during the current wartime conditions -- think of FDR’s “Freedom from Fear”) trump all bureaucratic processes, political correctness, isolationist obstructionism, and fractious interest group politics. A self confident populist administration would overcome the narrow civil libertarian objections to “racial” profiling to exclude terrorist suspects and to the use biometric identification technologies and terrorist lists for all those entering the U.S.

·        A populist environmental policy is explicitly pro-human, with equal emphasis on resource preservation and people access. Environmentalism by the people and for the people prevails over those who worship the environment as some quasi-deity or who elevate the protection of obscure species at the expense of the concerns of ordinary people.

·        Populists favor and honor productive work (which includes the critically important work of child rearing) over all forms of subsidized idleness. Few living democrats seem to honor the pro-work ethos of FDR’s New Deal except in hollow rhetoric.

·        Populists agree that the burdens of taxes must be meaningfully reduced on those who are actually working for a living.  This issue transcends all the other left-right, partisan issues on tax policy.

·        Populist economic and social policy is governed by the goal of promoting upward mobility without undermining the value of the goal: to be successful, financially secure, and to be allowed pass on those benefits to one’s family.  Liberals find it incomprehensible that “ordinary” working people, who (from the perspective of the Euro-centric left) have no prospect of gaining great wealth, would nevertheless oppose confiscatory taxation of estates.  This is because these liberals don’t take the American dream as seriously as do the so called “common” people.

In other words, there is a core populist agenda the departure from which vitiates all populist rhetoric.


It is increasingly the case that neither major US political party commands the enduring allegiance of more than 20-30% of the electorate overall.  This leaves a powerful plurality at the center consisting of 40-60% of all voters.


The big tent party that once held hawks like Washington State’s Senator Scoop Jackson and doves like Gene McCarthy has become a narrower place, defined by an ideology not fully shared by the populist center.

I’m applying the term “political liberal” to the partisan liberal left, those people for whom being a “liberal”: (a) is kind of a calling, in which some one’s declaration that “I’m a liberal” sounds very much like “I’m a Seventh Day Adventist” (my apologies to all SDA’s – this is just an illustration); (b) the liberal self-identification is meant to immediately imply a specific litany – dare I say catechism -- of specific doctrines.  In general these are the positions that are shared by the left wing of the Democratic Party and the Green party.

A short list of the defining “positions” of political liberals would include the common liberal sentiments shared by most conservatives (opposition to racism, the devaluation of women and the concern for the protection of the quality of the natural environment, which are mainstream issues and sentiments widely shared by almost everyone).  But in the “fevered minds” of political liberals, these sentiments become conflated into an epic struggle against the grotesque foes of all that is good and true.  This is a mythic “liberal” construct in which all middle class whites are inherently racist; all heterosexual males are irredeemably sexist; and all businesses (save a select few who donate heavily to liberal causes) are bent on raping the environment.

It is no coincidence that political liberals thickly populate some of the wealthiest and best educated coastal and urban communities in America.  They are bound together, not only by a political religion, but by shared experiences. For the most part, they constitute social cohorts that enjoy six linked sets of shared assumptions and attitudes:

·        A comfortable hedonism enjoyed by predominantly well educated post-religious middle class and upper class sub-populations;
·         A “hip” social outlook that tends to mask or anesthetize moral qualms about the enjoyment of their position; effect this is a shared social milieu in which “style” and social “sophistication” operate to confer on their life styles a sort of gentile veneer of social virtue, one characterized by “tolerance”;
·        Compartmentalized morality, especially in the arts, an attitude that holds that the arts are generally to be free of all traditional moral stances and constraints, except for a small sub-component (honored more by gesture than actually patronized) in which the condemnation of oppression and the celebration of the oppressed are featured elements;
·        Non judgmental attitudes about “sins” of the educated and tolerant, overlooking drug abuse, “life-style” motivated abortions, serial divorces and a whole range sexual behavior typically condemned in less “sophisticated” cultures;[1]
·        The tendency to see morality as the avoidance of social criticism, resulting in a cinematic definition of the moral “stand”, where morality is understood primarily in terms of appearances;
·        The notion that morality is properly and even sufficiently manifested by moral gestures. As a result, “correct” positions and stances trump all gritty engagement with the world, even at the expense of practical results.

How do we explain the fierce grip maintained by the religion of political liberalism over its adherents?

Liberalism’s tendency to elevate “correct” stances and gestures creates an extraordinary ability to shield the comfortable hedonist life styles of its main adherents from moral criticism.  Thus the religion of liberalism represents a form of social détente and clever camouflage.


No every liberal minded person buys into the conventional liberal catechism.  Religious liberals remain alienated, pro-military liberals are rarely welcome – except as token “showpieces”.  In the post-civil rights movement era, many liberals have jumped ship when confronted by the excesses of identity politics and the occasional overreaching of remedial, reparations-motivated actions of courts, regulatory agencies, academic institutions and employers. Others, former blue collar members of the FDR coalition, are irritated at welfare abuses, the seemingly unlimited influx of foreign workers and the outsourcing of good jobs.

Many others jump ship when confronted with mandatory social liberalism.  These are among the latent fractures in the democratic party – once the grand FDR coalition of “working people” and intellectuals – papered over at election time via the attempted demonization of the right.


Conservatism has undergone a renaissance mostly because of the excesses of the left. 

In 2006, I wrote that –
The last election may or may not expose the growing ideological fractures in the conservative ranks.  We can assume, for the purposes of this analysis, that the Iraq conflict will have been moved to a background issue by 2008.   Will the conservatives be able to mount an effective challenge to the democrats?

“That depends, in my analysis, on the extent to which the conservatives recapture their earlier populist momentum (that was driven by mostly populist rejection of elitist democratic liberals).  The GOP lost its populist identification in 2006.  This debacle was driven by a popular revulsion at the ruling congressional republicans who were seen as phony populists. To understand how this happened we need to review the surfacing cracks in the conservative movement.”
As a coherent belief system, conservatism is in flux.  Revulsion at the excesses of the left no longer fully or adequately defines “conservative”.  

Here is my short list of the conflicts and overlapping sub-movements within this loosely defined conservative alliance:
1.     The religious vs. secular conservatives (the latter unconcerned about God in the pledge or the Decalogue in the public square);
2.     The “social” conservatives vs. the “socially tolerant” ones (generating issues like abortion vs. free choice and traditional marriage vs. “new paradigm”);
3.     The libertarian conservatives vs. the public order conservatives (this fuels the drug legalization conflict, among others);
4.     The isolationists vs. interventionists (isolationists went silent when the Trade Towers fell, but returned as the “Why is Israel so important, anyway?” crowd);  
5.     Between the nationalists and internationalists (of which the free trade vs. American protectionism is but one example).

The President first identified himself as a possible populist political leader when he was the governor of Texas.  Having run an oil company and a baseball team “W” plausibly presented as less patrician and more authentically “blue collar” (if that phrase isn’t already obsolete) than his father.  His first presidential campaign was headed to victory when a last minute revelation of his all-to-cleverly hidden DUI broke.  The aura of inauthenticity nearly cost him that election, and did depress his popular vote. 
The President’s populist persona reemerged post 911 in the rubble of the World Trade Towers.  It was plain to all discerning observers that on that day and in the company of the firefighters, police and rescuers, “W” was among men like those he had rubbed shoulders with in the oil business and on the baseball field and that he was comfortable.  Everyone in that rubble zone felt that this President was one of them, and that the “SOB’s” who’d done this to our country would be made to pay.  A populist republican president was born in that moment, riding the one issue that trumps the typical republican rep as the party of corporate CEO’s and the country club set – Don’t tread on America. 

As I wrote in 2006 –
“The [“USA!” Theme] will always trump the rest provided two conditions are met: (1) the leader doesn’t break trust with the American people and (2) we actually succeed in beating our enemies.” 
In the immediate wake of the 911 attacks, the fractures on the right were healed, and the left was silenced. Then the American response became complicated, protracted and victory “in the cinematic sense” seemed far, far away…


I believe that the original impulse that fueled the liberal campaign to stoke hatred of George W. Bush was fear.  The democratic inner circle knew that this president must be stopped from gaining real traction among their “natural constituencies” at all costs. 

When President Bush – who had relied on the same intelligence that had led President Clinton to the same conclusion – was confronted with the post invasion failure to find Saddam’s large stocks of WMD’s, the democrats were quick to exploit the issue:  They instinctively knew that the weak link of any populist leader is a betrayal of trust.

Had “W” been a more effective, visceral populist, instead of the inherently decent son of George and Barbara, he would have turned on Clinton’s CIA, fired several scapegoats, and invaded Syria.

The populist mind is combative and loves a decisive victory.  This president’s troubles flowed from his inability to deliver victory quickly enough. 

As I wrote in early 2006: “I am certain that the Iraq conflict will be a background issue in 2008.  But how it seems to be resolved before then will help shape the political landscape for a decade or more.”  

Eventually the political landscape will be formed by the larger war, the jihad against the West, by the energy production independence issue and by that sleeper issue that won’t go away: Who will be working in this country at what jobs, for whom and at what pay?



As the conservative and liberal elites grapple with the implications of coming populist reformation, everyone should remember that the main populist strands of opinion, concerns and perspectives are not the only such threads in American politics, just the ones most often neglected by the elites of the left and right.  This is why populism tends to erupt from time to time, instead of congealing around a particular party or set of interest groups. 

The center of gravity of American populism is located among those who are too busy working, earning and living real lives (elites would say “mundane” lives, here) to become political junkies.  They periodically awake -- like the mythical sleeping giant – only when provoked by prolonged policy neglect or irritated into sufficient anger by repeated disregard of their core values and concerns. When the elites forget who really serves whom for long enough, there is hell to pay. 

As I wrote in 2006 --

“The coming populist reformation will be driven by the events and exigencies of the next few years because these challenges will bring the failures of elites of right and left to address the core populist values and concerns into sharp relief.

“The elites could have seen this coming.  Think of the California tax revolt, the popular resistance in many states to judicial or administrative attempts to impose political correctness (as in the aborted attempt to conflate gay rights with the earlier post-slavery struggles of the civil rights era) and the abrupt right turn by the democrats on the border security issue.

All this will change. The PC elites are about to be rescued by the coming populist reformation.

As I write this, the burgeoning presidential candidacy of Barak Obama, a post-movement “black” male, seem for the first time in American politics to transcend ethnic identity politics.


There is an apparent contradiction for anyone who tries to write sympathetically about populism, because doing that is an “elite” activity.

Or is it?  My favorite populist thinker of the 20th century was Eric Hoffer, the immigrant longshoreman. He was self educated, trenchant and brilliant. His signature work, “The True Believer” was a classic takedown of the elites of communism, Nazism and the religious authorities whose organizational structure these two bloody secular religions of the last century copied. I had the privilege of seeing this passionate, coherent longshoreman twice when I was a student in the Bay Area. He was a man who maintained from life experience that the common people were “lumpy with talent” and that the idle intellectuals were a dangerous combination of skill and lack of judgment.

As a student, I worked in road construction and enjoyed the company these older guys for whom a 10 hour day with a shovel or jackhammer was a career, as opposed to a source of tuition money. As a lawyer, I’m now unable to deny my “elite station” in life.

My predicted populist reformation is not a populist revolution.  We’ve seen far too many of those events; they end badly for the working people these revolutions purport to help. 

Instead I’m predicting (and supporting) a mutual adjustment of the relationship between the manipulative elites and the productive men and women who actually make things happen. 

This reformation is only possible in contemporary America because here the distance between elites and non-elites is smaller than anywhere else in the world, and the fund of experience, common sense and talent in the “populist sector” often exceeds that of the elites. 

Naturally, there are aspects of the populist mindset (especially on the fringes) that I don’t share.  For example, I am much more inclined to support changes in public policy and private practice that include our gay and lesbian friends in the mainstream than is typically acceptable within the populist mindset.  But I differ with the typical elite perspective that dismisses American populist thinking as retrograde or barbaric.  I agree with the populists who would not conflate the full social integration of our tiny gay subpopulation with the struggles against slavery.  In the main, the distinctively American version of populism has captured a great deal of folk wisdom and common sense morality that the elites should dismiss only at their peril.

Modern American populism, in this expanded and general sense, is much more functionally egalitarian than non-American populists and much more so than our own manipulative elites who profess an ideal utopian equality that is functionally empty. 

At the deepest, often unexamined level, our elites have a very strange egalitarian notion indeed, one driven by the psychological contradiction between an ingrained narcissism and the need to be “well thought of”.  I see three elements operating in the manipulative elite mindset:

(1) Those who think alike are morally equal.
(2) Material inequalities of all kinds should be redressed by some kind of compensation.
(3) The manipulative elites manage to feel insulated against the (truthful) allegation that they’re part of the “inequality problem” by selectively demonizing the people who don’t think like them. After all (these elites typically think) that retrograde, unenlightened mindset is the root cause of all the world’s ills.

Our home grown populists are united by a common experience of productive struggle.  That experience validates of the value of earning which leads quickly to the idea that all men and women are entitled to keep the fruits of their productive efforts.  Inequalities tend to be readily accepted by the populist mind when they are not accomplished by fraud and are not accompanied by hypocrisy. 

There are conscientious and reasonable members of the manipulative elites who will be able accommodate the coming populist reformation.  But this will require some self-reassessment.  I see two takeaway points that will be central to this process:

1.     All of the most salient and durable populist positions represent “field tested” values, enduring social norms whose utility is well established.  These include tough “rule-consequences” policies for crime control, the obvious morality of retribution against our enemies on the foreign policy stage, the need for robust protection of the earned fruits of the productive efforts of “the people”, and for strong, effective policies to protect the health and stability of the families who make and rear children.
2.     The elites owe respect for all strongly held populist positions such that major reversals or changes should never be accomplished via deception or manipulation.



1.     Common sense
2.     Economic pragmatism
3.     Cinematic expectations


Yes, there really is a faculty called common sense, however rare it appears within the DC beltway.

In both good and hard times, modern populists simply want good economic results, ideology be damned.  This is why the anti-capitalist left is chastened and the anti-spending right has been marginalized. 

Regrettably, the movie industry has conditioned us (especially those with a populist bent) to expect all wars (domestic and foreign) to follow the track of a movie thriller in which the bad guys are vanquished at the and the good guys triumph in the last fifteen  minutes; roll credits.

1.     Crisis emergence
2.     Concentric loyalty
3.     Distrust of elites


Most populists actually have lives, jobs and families.  Perhaps naively, they expect the political elites to do a good job without much supervision.  When things get out of hand the populists wake up, pay attention and there is hell to pay.  This crisis emergence happens over couple of election cycles.

Populists tend to be loyal in an expanding circle of nested communities, starting with immediate family and ending with USA.  You can forget that “citizen of the world” nonsense.

Any, yes, the elites – especially those who are condescending – are NOT trusted.

1.     Victim identification
2.     Gesture sensitivity
3.     Paranoid manipulability

These are the Paleo-Left Populists, the ones who tend to respond to the grand gesture – “We know you are victims of oppression and neglect and we are here to help you”.  This is a dwindling group, largely replaced by the Neo-American Populists who now outnumber them. 

The disproportionate power of the Paleo-Left Populists comes from the confluence of two factors: 
(a)    They can be frightened into election day turnouts by their handlers (see the contrast with the “Crisis emergence” behavior above);
(b)    The residual social guilt of the non-oppressed (a dwindling factor) gives them disproportionate political clout.


In an earlier post, I described the then viable presidential candidates in capsule form:

Contenders in the Presidential Wannabe Races

·        Hillary is Nixon without the anti-communism.

·        Obama is Carter without the southern governorship.

·        Edwards is a trial lawyer without a chance.

·        McCain is Truman without the charm.

·        Giuliani is Dewey without the wedding cake.

·        Romney is FDR without the wheelchair.

·        Thompson is an actor/lawyer without a TV gig.

At the time, I left out the Rev. Governor Mike Huckabee. 

·        Huckabee is a Republican Bill Clinton without the bimbo eruptions.

These were thematic capsules, concededly bit ‘snarky”, but containing a grain or two of truth, to wit: 

·        Senator Clinton shares former president Nixon’s paranoid tendencies (recalling her jeremiad against the “great right wing conspiracy”) and some of his social awkwardness. 

·        Senator Obama is the fresh new face that follows public disgust and weariness with ‘business as usual”, remaining (as the former Georgia governor did) a symbolic candidate weak on specific proposals and concrete experience. Edwards is out. 

·        Senator McCain is the uncharismatic ‘character’ candidate in the Harry – “Give ‘em hell!” – Truman role.

·        Giuliani was like the 1948 republican candidate Thomas Dewey -- also a respected New York prosecutor (he was ridiculed by a Truman supporter as looking like the little man on the wedding cake). And like Dewey, Rudy ran a complacent, shoe-in campaign, only to surprise everyone by losing. 

·        Governor Romney is the multi-millionaire, larger-than-life, central casting candidate who – like FDR (who ran on a balance the budget campaign in 1932) – has been all things to all people.

·        Mr. Thompson, a fine man, cursed by merely normal presidential ambition, instead of the required demonic kind, will probably go back to television as soon as the writer’s strike is settled.
·        Gov. Huckabee is a brilliant, think-on-his feet communicator, reminiscent of Bill Clinton.  What is it about Arkansas?

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. The shape of the general election race may or not be clear that early, but we already can be certain of two things:

(1)   It will be McCain or Romney against Clinton or Obama.
(2)   The neo-American populist vote will prove decisive.

How will that play out in practice?  I’ll offer an early opinion in detail this Friday…

Stay tuned.


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