Viewer Mail

Normally my blog scribblings manage to attract literally fours of readers. I did have one post, attacking the idea of true love on the occasion of my wedding anniversary, that was passed around a fair bit. Not exactly viral, more like a topical rash. I use this forum to work out ideas in my head on all kinds of topics. I learned as a math student the difference between thinking you have a good idea and actually having a good idea. Writing down a proof can reveal that you’ve done nothing at all, whatever the sensation of reason and accomplishment you might have had in your head. And my one rule is that I just write what’s on my mind in no more than a couple of hours or so. A bit more than a scratch pad, quite a bit less rigorous than an academic article or book.

My latest post, a letter to my Republican friends, attracted quite a bit more attention than normal. It was passed around on Facebook and Twitter before attracting a lot of attention on It’s now been read by almost 25,000 people and still getting about 1,000 hits per hour. About half of my new readers hate it. Some took the effort to drop me a line:

Subject: Your Obama speech,…

Message: You sir are someone who is grossly drunk on donkey fluid…no RATIONAL person would truly believe your pile of utter BS on Obama would had been so great if it weren’t for those scumbags who voted against him in 2010. So clueless and naive.

Happily, Crimefighter, as he likes to be called, is not representative of the feedback I’ve gotten. The discussion on reddit has been very good, if highly critical. Take this comment, by masterwit, who took exception to my reference to pollster and political strategist Frank Luntz as one of the world’s most repulsive humans:

I do not care what party an individual may attach themselves to… but referring to the political opposition as repulsive humans is intellectually immature. Granted there are repulsive humans in this world, but this sort of dialect is not healthy in trying to persuade “a Republican”.

Terrible article regardless of one’s political view.

I think masterwit is correct. While I am not strategically trying to persuade anyone and therefore not bothered that my language might sabotage some political aims, it’s no way to talk about another person if interpreted naturally. Of course, I didn’t mean literally to denigrate Luntz as a human being. In a conversation with friends, of whatever political stripe, this reference would be accompanied with laughter and the unspoken humility that makes it possible to love and respect ideologically disparate friends. Luntz, in my view, is partly responsible for some of the more regrettable features of our politics. But when read by strangers, this bit of hyperbole stands on its own. And on its own it sucks.

From flashmedallion (and echoed in other form by colorlessgreenidea):

This article kind of undermines itself a little; the author talks about how he’s not interested in getting Republicans to vote against Democrats on account of policy… but he keeps getting sidetracked and bashing policies.

There are indeed two paragraphs of the post that focus on substantive policy differences. I included these because I do think there’s a connection between the rigidity of the procedural obstruction and the unyielding ideology the Republicans have practiced in the last few years. This article by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein makes that point far better than I could.

I also wanted to highlight that I have serious policy disagreements with the Republican leadership. Let’s not hide this. I’m not trying to tell Republicans that our political positions are close. But I made sure to add explicitly that I was offering no supporting argument in the post for any of my preferred policies. It might be that many readers will be turned off when I suggest it’s “inexplicable” to insist on immediate spending cuts in the middle of a demand-induced recession or that Republican foreign policy is “wild-eyed and unrealistic.” That’s ok. We don’t have to agree, and my goal is not to coax you to my position with soothing language. Rather, I’m saying we need to figure out how to govern effectively despite the fact that we vehemently disagree.

Pakyaro says I “lost [him or her] at ‘EVAR’” and Ganonderp_ says:

How the hell did he become a law professor? This reads like an editorial in a high school newspaper.

Look, I’m a total goofball. I admit it, and I encourage my students to challenge me by telling them that I say stupid things all the time. Anyway, I wasn’t hired as a teacher or scholar for my admittedly random blogging. Some people seem to like it, and some don’t. The point was to emphasize that while it’s shrill to suggest that this election involves the most important issues ever to confront our Republic, we do face a critical structural problem — at a time when we need to get things done. Maybe it was a goofy way to say it. If you want academicky sounding things, go download my papers here. No, really, please go there!

Perhaps predictably, a fair number of comments (many on reddit, one by email, and one over twitter) suggested I’d been too quick to reject the idea that a third party is a better solution than rewarding one of the two we have. (I’m beginning to think there may be an unusual concentration of Gary Johnson among the internetterati…. Joke. As a long-ago slashdot, digg, and usenet participant, I’d have been disappointed to find otherwise.) Yes, the paragraph in which I discuss this is hardly conclusive. @ariel_kirkwood on Twitter pointed me to this interesting article on score voting by Andrew Jenings, Clay Shentrup, and Warren D. Smith. On the reddit discussion, there are several good threads discussing third parties.

I just don’t have a well-formed opinion on the issue. I’m not at all opposed to altering the Constitution, which has many flaws. (See Sandy Levinson’s work for an example of what a fresh reconsideration of our Constitution might reveal.) My brief point, which is really all I can say at the moment, was that without constitutional amendment, norms are our best shot at preventing damaging obstruction as election strategy. Failing to achieve one’s goal, election, may cause a re-examination of strategy, unyielding obstruction. Absent more fundamental reforms, I think our best chance is electoral defeat of obstruction.

A few took issue with the premise that obstruction could even have been effective since the Democrats enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority. There’s not much to this claim, though. Despite a big election win in 2008, the Democrats managed sixty senators for only a couple of months following the extensive litigation to prevent the seating of Al Franken and before the death of Ted Kennedy. It also counts Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman among the sixty. In any event, I’m not making an abstract argument but citing to what a number of Republicans have said the strategy was.

Finally, there are a number of people that I know I’ll never convince. That’s fine! We don’t have to agree. Come hang out with me at Two Story Coffeehouse here in Athens and we can debate and share some laughs. For example, funfsinn14 writes:

So vote for Obama because institutional gridlock is present? I like institutional gridlock, the less things the sociopaths in govt can get done the better.

I’m happy to have the election run honestly on those grounds. If you have a majority that desires to vote for gridlock, I’d be surprised. But I appreciate the forthrightness.

On the other side, I’ve been told that I should know this is an assymetrical fight, for reasons similar to what funfsinn14 said. If one party is basically fine with getting nothing done but the other is not, then only one will practice obstruction as an electoral strategy. Two responses. First, I agree this asymmetry exists, and I guess I appeal to my Republican friends’ sense of fairness more than fear. I’m optimistic enough to believe that if it were perfectly clear to everyone that one party had intentionally obstructed in order to run on accusations their opponents were not able to get anything done, then the public would soundly reject them at the polls. Second, though, even if it’s true that a Romney win would lead to the Democrats’ rolling over and compromising like they did during the W. Bush administration, I’m not sure this will continue. Eventually, the party will lose its taste for being bloodied. And the structural exploits that will be used to level the playing field will be at everyone’s expense.

That’s why my central points are: (a) the Republicans themselves have said that obstruction was the strategy to win election, (b) they are in fact running on accusations that Obama has been ineffective in passing things and getting bipartisan consensus on what he has passed, and (c) that strategy must lose.