Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The only sustainable business advantage

Monday, September 4th, 2017

On September 5, 1882, the Knights of Labor celebrated the first Labor Day in New York City’s Union Square.

The Knights of Labor

The Knights were an unusual organization for their day, eschewing radicalism and enrolling all segments of labor:

  • from skilled to unskilled workers;
  • from managers to sharecroppers; and
  • including recent immigrants, African Americans, and women.

They only excluded “the unproductive members of society“: bankers, gamblers, lawyers, and liquor manufacturers.

They did not divide management and labor, as later movements did. The Knights deemed the true threat to a well-functioning business to be those that did not value their employees as human beings, the unscrupulous robber barons. They demanded that businesses allow employees their rightful voice at the decision-making table. (As well as for the government to prohibit exploitative and unsafe work conditions and child labor.)

The Knights kept their member list secret to prevent retaliation from the robber barons. For years, the robber barons used every economic and judicial tool to silence the voices of the employees. Within a decade, paramilitary action decimated the Knights of Labor in the aftermath of the Haymarket Affair and the Thibodaux massacre.

As other groups rose up to fill the void, they separated skilled and unskilled workers, management and factory workers. The hard-won rights that were finally enacted into law reflected this splintering. They protected factory-type workers, who represented only one side of the Knights of Labor coalition and excluded groups ranging from sharecroppers to managers.

The destructive short-term mentality of private equity

Today, technical innovation has made these protections obsolete. Everyone is a manager – of contractors and technology. Automation has enabled machines to take on some tasks, from automated teller machines to machine translation. The gig economy has allowed owners to rent out idle resources (their time, language expertise, cars and homes). Every service business is now a tech-enabled service business.

Venture capital firms, using the Giant Pool of Money at the center of the world economy, drove this disruptive, but value-creating innovation. But there is a darker side. Venture capital is only a small portion of the $100 trillion shadow banking system. This shadow system employs thousands to wring profits from this Giant Pool of Money rather than to create value. Endemic corruption (legal and illegal) ensures that this shadow system works hand in hand with the more regulated banking system.

As President Obama said, when the “priority is to maximize profits – that’s not always going to be good for businesses or communities or workers.” This corruption works by maximizing short-term, inflated profits at the expense of long-term profit derived from actual value. And it ensures that there are no losers among the banks and consulting agencies and lawyers. The only losers are among the businesses, communities, and employees who are in it for the long-term.

The key insight came to me when a friend working in finance told me that I kept thinking like an operator, rather than someone in finance. What he meant was that an operator tries to build a business – with products, processes, teams – that creates value and that sustains it.

But for someone in finance their profit is derived not from value created over time, but from proximity to an immediately profitable deal. To the wrong type of financier, people and customer loyalty are expendable things to be used and then discarded in return for a quick profit. (Footnote 1.)

The destructive cycle is inevitable:

Once the buyout is completed, the private equity guys start swinging the meat axe, aggressively cutting costs wherever they can – so that the company can start paying off its new debt – by laying off workers and cutting capital costs…

It takes several years before the impacts of this predatory activity – reduced customer service, inferior products – become fully apparent, but by that time the private equity firm has generally resold the business at a profit and moved on.

I’ve seen this play out in news stories. The leader in my own industry went through a dramatic restruring as it prepared to sell itself to private equity:

  • pushing out many of it’s top innovators and the leaders who built the company’s value and brand; and
  • outsourcing it’s production centers to lower cost centers as it cut costs.

This is the absolute opposite of the Value Investing that Warren Buffett advocates. It’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for most people. But it sure makes a killing for a handful of companies in the short-term.

The only sustainable competitive advantage

Last September in San Francisco, the co-CEO of my company told a group of clients:

In my 24 years as CEO, I have learned one big thing. All competitive advantages – price, quality, even technology – are commoditized over a long-enough time horizon. They only way to have a sustainable competitive advantage is people.

That is the type of company I want to work for; and today, it is the company I am proud to work for. I’m proud of the products my team has created, and the successes, both for clients and internally. I’m proud of the team for coming together again and again in the midst of adversity and distraction.

But our economy is filled with vultures; and it’s hard to turn down a quick profit, no matter the pangs of conscience. With barbarians at the gate, what are we to do? The Hollywood ending calls for Richard Gere to realize that he no longer wants to rip companies apart for short-term profits. Instead, he wants to help them build a better boats.

But in reality, greed outstrips morality most days of the week. But for this one day, in honor of Labor Day:

  • we should all reflect on the company we work for;
  • we should reflect on our position and the value we offer;
  • we should look at whether we have a voice at the decision-making table today and in the future; and
  • we should think about the type of society we want to live in, and whether our actions today are helping to create that society.

For if we don’t, we are destined to be mere cogs in a machine, waiting to be outsourced.

***

 

[Political posts have been…let’s say rarer from me. My professional page is now at JoeCampbell.me]

Footnote 1: A cartoon villain of an attorney once told me and a group of employees that private equity firms “could staff [the company I work for] in a week with people of…equal, if not superior talents.”

 

Lies and Facts About the “Ground Zero Mosque”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

There has always been a strain in American politics of paranoia and intolerance grounded in the suspicion of people who are different from what we know, who seem to have a set of values we are not familiar with: beginning with the Masons, then the Catholics, Jewish bankers, Communists, gays, and now Muslims. A prominent  scholar, Richard Hofstadter, writing in the 1960s, explained these suspicions were fed by very similar conspiracy theories involving hidden agents of foreign powers insinuating themselves into American society while attempting to destroy it. These conspiracy theorists made their cases in similar ways, relying on in-depth citations to obscure tracts proving half-truths and outright falsehoods as well as the “confessions” of former members of the conspiracy. Yet the facts presented by these people were seen as ridiculous by those with personal knowledge of the targeted group, even as they were seen as plausible by those who were ignorant on the matter. Politicians and writers who knew better often attempted to use these suspicious ginned up by these false claims to further their own political ends.

Regarding Catholics, for example, Jesuit priests were said to be “prowling” the countryside “in every possible disguise”  including as puppeteers to propagandize children. Nuns were said to take a vow of obedience to perform any sexual act a priest would demand. The pope was said to have the power to command any Catholic to do his will. All of this was seen as part of a vast plot to overthrow American democracy and replace it with a vassal state of the Vatican. Questions were raised regarding the funding of Catholic churches, hospitals, and schools. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Catholics or Catholicism could see how ridiculous this was: And yet, the Founding Fathers were casually anti-Catholic (or as they would call it anti-papist); and the best selling book of the pre-Civil War period next to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an anti-Catholic memoir called Awful Disclosures by a woman who claimed to have escaped from a life of sexual slavery in a nunnery.

It was due to these rumors fueled by and fueling anti-Catholic bigotry that priests in Manhattan were subject to arrest and no Catholic Church was allowed to be built until St. Peter’s, just a block from the World Trade Center, was, in the 1780s as Mayor Bloomberg explained. President Millard Fillmore used anti-Catholicism as a political tool and later attempted to run for office as a member of the vehemently anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. President U.S. Grant saw Catholic schools as unpatriotic and driven by “superstition, ambition and greed.” Anti-Catholicism was used against Alfred Smith’s opponents as he ran for president in 1928 and memorably against John F. Kennedy as the famous Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale declared in an essay for Newsweek, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.”

It is hard not to see the parallels between this anti-Catholic bigotry and the claims of the most ardent opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque who regard the billion Muslims in the world as members of a cult which funds a conspiracy of sleeper cells waiting and working to destroy American democracy from within.

While the hardcore Islamophobes are the ones who have fanned the suspicions of many otherwise sensible Americans, they have only gained credibility as political and opinion leaders who should know better attempt to use these suspicious for their own end. They seek to play on the ignorance of the American public. About the Cordoba House, they have lied and told half-truths repeatedly, when they should have known better.

In light of this, I present a list of claims checked and evaluated about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim #1: A Lie: Ground Zero Mosque.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and almost every opponent who has commented on the matter.

The proposed Cordoba House is not located at Ground Zero. It is 2 blocks away located in a former Burlington Coat Factory which has been used as a prayer space by this imam for years. It has no view of Ground Zero. It is not “overlooking” the site. It is not “towering” over the site. A 13-story building in Lower Manhattan is typical. If you’re familiar with Lower Manhattan, you have some idea of how dense the neighborhood is and how distant each street feels from even the next street over given the narrow roads and cavernous buildings all around. To quibble for a moment though, the building proposed for Park 51 is not even a “mosque” but is modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, whose rabbi is close with Imam Rauf and his wife, and includes a swimming pool, an interfaith center, a gym, as well as a prayer room.

The branding of the community center in Downtown Manhattan that would include a prayer room as the “Ground Zero Mosque” started with right-wing, Islamophobe blogger Pamela Geller (See footnote) and did not enter the national conversation due to opposition among those in the area it was being being built. Rather it became front page news after Sarah Palin tweeted for “Peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim  #2: A Lie: Opening date: September 11, 2011.
People Who Should Know Better: NY Post columnist Andrea PeyserPat Condell, along with many other blogs and commentators.

The Corboba House and its imam have both denied they ever planned on opening the mosque on September 11, 2011. In fact, that date would never have been feasible given that after all the necessary approvals were received, the project would take between 18 to 48 months to complete.

Update: A redditor, azdiscovery, sent me a link to an Associated Press story that may have served as the genesis of this claim in which Imam Rauf’s wife seems to have mentioned the possibility of a groundbreaking “later this year” (meaning September 11, 2010) on the tenth anniversary of September 11 (meaning September 11, 2011). Clearly some sort of an error regarding the date there. And the passage is not attributed as a quotation. But somehow, various opponents transformed this into an entirely false claim that the opening of the Cordoba House was scheduled for September 11, 2011 representing some sort of Islamic triumphalism.

Claim  #3: A Lie By Insinuation: Questions About Funding.
People Who Should Know Better: Republican candidate for NY Governor Rick Lazio; former NY Governor George Pataki; my own Congressman, Republican Pete King;
Glenn Beck.

Many opponents of the Cordoba House have prominently insisted they are just “asking questions” about who is funding the project. This tactic is often used by the conspiratorial-minded. 9/11 Truthers for example “often maintain they are simply ‘raising questions’.” Glenn Beck has made a career out of such questioning with this method being ably mocked by the satirical website that was created  “to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990,” but that asking the probing question: “Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations?”

Other opponents have gone as far as to claim that Cordoba House has refused to reveal who was funding it while insinuating it was Hamas, Iran, Al Qaeda, etc. In fact, to date “the developers [have] raised so little money, there [is] nothing to investigate: the most recent government filings show the organization has about $18,000.” Park51 itself has stated: “We have not launched our fundraising campaign.” They further guaranteed, “We will hire security consultants to assist us in the process of reviewing potential financiers and philanthropists. We will refuse assistance from any persons or institutions who are flagged by our security consultants or any government agencies.” These “questions” raised by opponents are a cynical attempt to plant blatantly false information that will incite outrage in your average American. They call them questions while they are merely insinuations which they call questions because they have no evidence to back them up but want to plant the seeds of misinformation.

Claim  #4: A Lie: The Name Cordoba Was Chosen As Because It Is “A Symbol of Islamic Conquest.
People Who Should Know Better:
Newt Gingrich; though subsequently repeated by many blogs and commentators.

Beware those who claim to know the secret reasoning of their opponents. Newt Gingrich wrote, “It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.” (Newt apparently got his history lesson wrong in terms of the mosque at Cordoba’s significance in Islamic history.)

But more important: Imam Rauf himself explained that the caliphate in Cordoba represented, for “its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth” in which all three Abrahamic religions coexisted. This was the traditional view of Cordoba, though some revisionist historians have disputed this interpretation – but this is clearly the camp in which Rauf allies himself.

Claim  #5: A Lie: Imam Rauf Is An Extremist and Terrorist Sympathizer.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin;
Newt Gingrich; Rick Lazio; as well as most other opponents of Cordoba House.

First, Imam Rauf is a Sufi Muslim. There are no known Sufi terrorists. There are three main branches to Islam: Shiites, Sunnis, and Sufis, divisions that are as deep and profound as the differences between Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Catholics. The theological and historical distinctions are too much to cover here, but to paint in broad strokes: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda subscribe to the most extreme version of Sunnism, Wahabbism; Hamas is Sunni as well; most Iranians including Ahmadinejad are Shiite. If one claims Imam Rauf bears a portion of the collective responsibility for September 11, then one must likewise logically claim that evangelical Pastor Rick Warren bears a portion of the collective responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests.

Second, Imam Rauf has explicitlyrepeatedlyand emphatically condemned terrorism as well as “Islamic triumphalism” and “Islamic militancy” and many other variations on this.

Third, both the Bush and Obama administrations have sent Imam Rauf abroad to promote the idea that America was not at war with Islam and indeed that America is the home to many Muslims.

Fourth, Imam Rauf has claimed that America is a better country to be a Muslim in than countries with many Muslims because he believes the American Constitution and system of governance protects the core values shared by the Abrahamic faiths.

Fifth, Imam Rauf has gone further in promoting interfaith dialogue. His Cordoba Initiative’s board of advisors includes a Jewish rabbi, a Hindu, and a former Catholic nunIn memorial to the most prominent Jewish victim of Al Qaeda, Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf, according to former Israeli Defense Forces soldier Jeffrey Goldberg, placed his own life in danger to say:

We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one Mr. Pearl.

And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different.

It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values.

In expressing this, Imam Rauf was restating an old Sufi idea that is considered heresy by Bin Ladin and his followers: “The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality.” One Islamic scholar explained the role Sufis play in Islam:

In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do.

While you may disagree with Imam Rauf’s positions on Israel, Palestinians, the effect of America’s policies, to claim he is an “extremist” or a terrorist sympathizer or anything of the like is slander.

Claim  #6: A Lie: The Cordoba House Opposes the Plan of a Fox News Host to Build a Gay Bar Next Door.
People Who Should Know Better:
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld; Allahpundit, though each merely presumed opposition.

Actually the group tweeted in response: “You’re free to open whatever you like.” This is what I like to call tolerance and I would guess that many other religious institutions would not be similarly tolerant under the circumstances.

Claim #7: True: Imam Rauf Said: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened…[I]n the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”

This is actually true. It is widely known that US funds given to the Pakistani secret service (ISI) during the Cold War were used to fund Muslim militants of various sects in their jihad against Soviet occupation. It was here that Osama Bin Laden got his start (as the September 11 Commission Report further explained.) This is what Imam Rauf’s wife has explained he was referring to.

Even when read in their broadest sense — as claiming that American policies helped cause September 11 — it also happens to be a widely held view. Glenn Beck said almost the same thing earlier this year which he is now condemning Imam Rauf for. So have numerous US intelligence and national security officialsThe September 11 Commission Report as well supported this widely accepted view (large pdf, pg. 379):

[Islamic Terrorism is] fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world – against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel.

Whether one agrees or not, using such an opinion as proof that Imam Rauf is a terrorist sympathizer is ridiculous.

Claim  #8: True: There Are No Churches or Synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

This is actually true. Though why Newt Gingrich thinks it is wise for Americans to adopt Saudi views on freedom of religion is beyond me.

Claim  #9: A Lie: There Are No Other Mosques Near the Areas Attacked on September 11! There Is No Shinto Shrine Near Pearl Harbor! Lower Manhattan is Sacred Ground!
People Who Should Know Better:
Charles Krauthammer; Rush Limbaugh. Implicitly, Newt Gingrich; Minnesota Governor and 2012 presidential aspirant, Republican Tim Pawlenty.

The Pentagon, attacked on September 11, in fact has a room where Muslims hold services and has celebrated Ramadan and other Muslim holidays. There are also 2 overcrowded mosques (one founded in 1970 before the World Trade Center was finished, and the other in 1985) only a short distance from the proposed location of the Cordoba House in downtown Manhattan. There is in fact also a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor. (I’ve read there are 2, but not been able to locate the second one.)

Those who claim that Lower Manhattan is sacred ground have not raised any issues with the strip clubs (2 within 4 blocks of Ground Zero), the porn stores, the many, many bars, or the overflowing stands of September 11 merchandise all over the neighborhood.

Claim #10: A Lie: The “Ground Zero Mosque” Is Part of a War of Civilizations of Muslims Against America.
People Who Should Know Better: Newt Gingrich;
Andrew C. McCarthy.

There are only 2 groups of people who use this “War of Civilizations” rhetoric: far right-wingers such as Newt Gingrich and supporters of Al Qaeda. The Wall Street Journal reports that counter terrorist analysts have stated that the rhetoric of some opponents to the Cordoba House has served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Claim #11: A Lie: Imam Rauf Has Personal Connections to Terrorist-Sympathizers.
People Who Should Know Better: Stephen Schwartz; widely hinted at by those spreading Claim #5.

After weeks of attempting to find such connections, the right wing Weekly Standard ran a breathless article describing what they found: Imam Rauf’s wife’s uncle used to be a leader of a mosque whose website now links to an organization that some have claimed is linked to a political party in Pakistan which allegedly has links to terrorism. Fox News also connected Imam Rauf to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who Rudy Giuliani famously refused to accept a donation from after September 11. Fox News neglected to mention that Prince Al-Waleed happens to also own 7% of Fox’s corporation, thus linking them even more closely to this purported extremist.

N. B. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has been an excellent source of actual fact-checking combined with humor throughout this controversy with clips about Fox News’s connections to Prince Al-Waleed, Newt Gingrich’s various claims, the guilt-by-association techniques used to tar Imam Rauf, and the idea of collective religious guilt.

Footnote: Christopher Hitchens has decried the use of the term Islamophobe because he feels it denigrates both those who point to the many injustices within majority Muslim countries justified by Islam, most especially the treatment of women. While I agree with Hitchens that the term is overused, it is appropriate in this instance.

Edit: Numbering corrected.

[Image by Joshua Treviño licensed under Creative Commons and adapted with permission of the author.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Diabolical Republicans, Strategic Patience, Weiner, China, New York City, -20 Questions, & Glenn Beck’s Obsession With Woodrow Wilson

Friday, April 16th, 2010

1. Diabolical Republicans. Noam Scheiber in The New Republic explains how the “diabolical” plan the Republicans have adopted to achieve their fiscal ends (discussed on this blog here) may backfire:

Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts…

“Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,” Krugman wrote. “So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.”

…I suspect…that Republicans believe precipitating a fiscal crisis will force Democrats to roll back entitlement spending (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), which would be both politically unpopular and the realization of the right’s dearest policy fantasy. It’s an altogether brilliant, if diabolical, plan. Except for one minor flaw: There’s a good chance it could vaporize the GOP.

2. Strategic Patience in the Face of Long-Term Problems. David S. Broder, eminence of the press establishment, apostle of bipartisanship at all costs, proponent of convention, seems to have finally come around to Obama with this trenchant observation:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis. His vaunted “cool” allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.

The backdrop of the serious long-term issues facing America is precisely what made Obama’s election so important in the first place — as this blog repeatedly argued. David Rothkopf put the matter in a wide-angled perspective:

[T]he reason the health care reform bill is important is not because it was the first major such piece of social legislation in the U.S. in decades, but rather because it represents the first in what will become by necessity an on-going series of efforts to fix deep and serious defects in the American economy. In a decade or two, this legislation is like to be seen by Americans as the beginning of a lengthy, brutal and spasmodic process to cut deficits and restore America’s leadership prospects in the global economy.

3. Answering Sarah Palin. Anthony Weiner meanwhile has arisen as the Democrat’s answer to Sarah Palin and our sensationalized media moment. (Others might argue for Alan Grayson.)

4. Chinese Predictions. Gordon G. Chang, for World Affairs, explains his argument for why the Beijing consensus cannot last and its power will soon begin to wane.

5. New York’s Neighborhoods. Nate Silver, baseball statistician and political polling expert, turned his skills to rating New York’s neighborhoods. Really interesting for locals.

6. Negative 20 Questions. Jason Kottke describes a game that “resembles quantum physics.”

7. Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson Obsession. David Frum puzzles on why Glenn Beck focuses so much on Woodrow Wilson as the beginning point of all things progressive and source of evils in the modern world. There are so many more logical choices, more progressive historical figures of greater note who are more closely aligned to contemporary progressivism. And then he answers his own question:

Here’s a president who took the United States into a very controversial war, ending in an unsatisfactory peace. In response to a domestic terrorist threat, culminating in a deadly attack in lower Manhattan, this president adopted draconian domestic security policies. Oh – and his administration concluded with an abrupt plunge into severe recession.

Any parallels come to mind?

What’s taking place on Glenn Beck’s show is a coy conservative self-conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m in China now, but it reminds me of the way Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s would discuss the first Qin emperor, as a way of debating – and denouncing – Mao Zedong without explicitly mentioning a sensitive subject.

[Image by me.]

The Unhinged Anger on the Right Leads to An Ill-Advised and Unhedged Bet Against Reform.

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

There are 2 broad lessons to take from last night:

1. Unhinged Anger Makes For Great Ratings.

Hell no!” John Boehner frothed, spittle flying as he cursed on the floor of Congress yesterday.

“This health care bill will ruin our country. It’s time to stop it…We’re about 24 hours from Armageddon,” Boehner had claimed earlier.

Baby killer!” an as yet-unnamed Republican congressman screamed at pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak on Sunday.

Nigger!” a chorus of protesters chanted to Rep. John Lewis, who also heard such things while being beaten nearly to death fighting for civil rights in the 1960s on Saturday.

Faggot!” screeched other protesters at Barney Frank that same day.

Just a few days earlier, a disturbing video recorded a man barely able to walk due to Parkinson’s disease being mocked and ridiculed by anti-health care Tea Party protesters.

A short time before that, a conservative millionaire was promising guns to “patriots” concerned about “what was coming.”

This overheated Manichean good-vs-evil rhetoric in which slight changes in wording transform you from a pro-lifer to a “baby-killer,” in which subsidies for the uninsured constitute a “government takeover,” or in which America is about to be overrun by destroyed yet again eventually must discredit it’s purveyors. At least, it must decrease in its effect over time.

Common sense has taught people that “when there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And Republican operatives epitomized by Karl Rove have taken advantage of this. Top-line Republican operatives have adopted with more vigor than the left ever did the tactics of the radical New Left of the 1960s: from attacks on the legitimacy of political institutions (from the CBO – which Rove accused of Madoff-style accounting this weekendto the Senate Parliamentarian to Congress to the Courts to the media to presidency) to the maxim that the “personal is political.” Unlike the New Left, they have virtually no agenda but to hold onto power and to, having lost it due to incompetence, tarnish the other side enough to get it back. Their hysteric charges represent the triumph of moral relativism. Their escalating outrage is an attempt to fool the American people.

This is how the rage has been created over a bill whose provisions are broadly popular and that is based on a plan offered by Republicans a generation earlier. David Frum cogently explained last night how even those Republicans “who knew better” were driven to bend before this unhinged anger that led the Republican Party to take an unhedged bet against reform, how it provoked them to declare this fight a make-or-break fight, and to take out all stops to their opposition, even though they stood little chance of succeeding:

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

…Yes [such talk] mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

That’s point #1: Cynical politicos out for short-term partisan gain and entertainers trying to get ratings foment unhinged anger to push their party to make a suicidal unhinged bet against reform.

Point #2. This Was Waterloo.

The Republican Party made a huge wager that they could block health care reform, and lost. Senator Jim DeMint rather infamously declared in a secret call to anti-reform advocates:

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

Newt Gingrich echoed this point:

This could be the bill that drags his whole presidency down and they look back on it and suddenly the whole thing is unraveled.

Ralph Reed wrote in an email last week:

Our goal: To shock Congress into abandoning Obamacare (which will also effectively end the Obama Presidency and save freedom in America).

That was their game plan, their goal. They wanted a repeat of 1994. Their strategy in opposing the bill presumed it would never be able to pass. They escalated the rhetoric to insane levels. The less hysterical merely called it the “government takeover of 1/6th of the economy.” Bent on manipulating public opinion, the more cynical asked “innocent” questions:

Will America become another failed Cuba-style Socialist state? [Source.]

Do you think your political affiliation might eventually play into the decision on whether you get the life-saving medical treatment you need? [Source.]

A nation of Terri Schiavos with a National Euthanasia Bill? [Source.]

The more hysterical began to panic about legislation containing death panels, killing grandma, forcing government-mandated abortion, euthanasia, and reparations for slavery, authorizing government jackboots invading your home to take your children for socialist indoctrination, and overall, destroying America as we know it unless we arm ourselves and “prepare for what is coming.”

As the American people find out the answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “No!” – as they find out that the claims were made to monger fear for partisan gain – and that the bill that a plurality of people oppose contains mainly provisions that most people support – as the reality of this reform sinks in, the Republican Party will lose traction. As David Sanger quoted David Axelrod in the New York Times:

“This only worked well for the Republican Party if it failed to pass,” David Axelrod, one of the president’s closest political advisers, said at the White House as he watched the vote count for the final bill reach 219 in favor. “They wanted to run against a caricature of it rather than the real bill. Now let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered.’”

Now that the bill has been passed, we can focus on whether the health care plan’s tinkering with our dysfunctional system is making things better or not – as Ross Douthat says. And we can focus on the 10 things health care legislation will do right away. Obama can make his case for what he is doing (again to Sanger): “to sell the government’s oversight role over doctors and insurance companies the way he is trying to sell financial regulation: as a leveling of the playing field, in favor of consumers.” The passage of the bill re-shapes the coverage from “what could happen” to “what it is doing.” And the Democrats are more comfortable with that argument. Perhaps most frightening of all for Republicans, if this bill accomplishes what its supporters claim it will, it will re-shape the political landscape – as Bill Kristol explained in warning Republicans against cooperating in 1994:

It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle-class by restraining the growth of government.

This won’t necessarily benefit the Democrats. Republicans don’t need to keep doubling down on their anti-government rhetoric; but for the present, it seems they will.

Today, the most profound effect though is a different one. By passing this bill, Obama has proved he has yet again broken the backs of the idiocrats who threw every rhetorical, legislative, and political obstacle at him. He has showed the patience and passion which won him the presidency can be translated into presidential achievements. The bill only tinkers. It isn’t dramatic reform. But it’s core accomplishment is dramatic: a change to our core social bargain; as explained by James Fallows:

[T]he significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)… TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage.

This is an historic achievement. It is a moral one, and it is, counter intuitively, an important step towards controlling societal spending on health care.

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The Value of Military Innocence

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Reviewing the new history of the Civil War by John Keegan, the eminent military historian of World War II, for Slate, Daniel W. Blight observes that some of Keegan’s key insights come from parallels he finds with World War II:

He invokes World War II as well, noting that Antietam was bloodier than D-Day or Iwo Jima, and reflects that Winston Churchill, an experienced soldier, declined in effectiveness as his war ensued, while Lincoln, a “military innocent,” learned and grew in ability as commander in chief as his war enveloped him.

That’s a fascinating historical judgment by Keegan – and one that my lesser knowledge of history also supports.

The Continued Failure of Right Wing Social Engineering

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

At some point it became part of the standard Republican playbook to criticize liberals for engaging in “social engineering.” Liberals – in this telling – see humans as perfectible creatures who just need the guidance of the a centralized state with scientific-minded engineers to become better. With proper planning and direction longstanding human problems could be taken care of and humankind would exist in a socialist utopia. This view was always a caricature – indeed an appropriation of a term created to describe the early efforts at deliberate manipulation of large populations through marketing and propaganda – from the Nazis to American corporations. But Republicans co-opted this term to describe the grand government projects taken on at the apex of mid-20th century liberalism, as in our hubris we sought to “engineer” enormous changes to the benefit of all society.

This story – this narrative framework – was influential because it struck a note of truth. Mid-2oth century American liberalism saw an exceedingly confident America which believed in the nearly limitless potential of American government action. After all, America – led by its government – had defeated a seemingly unstoppable enemy, pulled the nation and world out of a Great Depression, learned how to split atoms and create enormous destructive and productive power, finally begun to deal with the legacy of slavery, begun providing generous benefits to the elderly, and even sent a man to the moon. The declarations of American liberals of this time were bold and utopian. FDR declared that America must ensure that every individual in the world must have “freedom from want,” a sort of economic right. Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty! Richard Nixon (a realist in a liberal era) declared War on Cancer, War on Crime, and War on Drugs! Today this hopefulness seems painfully naive as we learned that every massive government “war” has had massive side-effects while not, as yet, achieving its desired result.

As confidence in government declined in the 1970s, the more thoughtful critics of this liberal tendency saw its core failing as hubris. They suggested a more modest approach in which government would act more as a gardener “cultivat[ing] a growth by providing the appropriate environment” rather than as some craftsman or engineer creating society anew through government coercion and radical changes.

But the Republicans who eventually took power on the wave of disgust, disappointment, resentment, and anger at liberalism’s excesses did not adopt this epistemologically modest approach. Reagan and his ilk replaced liberals’ confidence in the good government could do with the insistence that government was just getting in the way. Their conclusion was simple: Government wasn’t the solution to these problems – it was the problem! Rather than seeing the hubris of liberals as the problem, they thought liberals simply were certain about the wrong things. Their shorthand for this moral lesson was to accuse liberals of attempting “social engineering.” The solution was to cut taxes, to prune government, and to hold out the promise of slashing it eventually (to starve the beast.)

Politics though is about creating and shaping a society that we want to live in. It is less a matter of ideology and policy positions, and more about values. Right wingers saw that the problems they had identified as resulting from liberalism’s excesses did not cease as Republicans cut taxes and regulations and pulled the government back from involvement in the economy. Blaming liberal government action for upsetting the “natural” balance, right wingers yearned to shape society themselves in order to recreate what they had lost. They branded themselves as individualists even as they promoted the tyrannical, collectivist organizations commonly called corporations. From a complex web of ideological positions taken by the Republican Party to build their political coalition came a hodge-podge of goals which (though perhaps not cohering immediately) have solidified into an agenda of right wing social engineering. The Republicans began to use government to encourage the traditional nuclear family of a man, woman and 2 and 1/2 children; to promote and encourage a christianist lifestyle and increase the role and funding of religious institutions; to encouraged a particular brand of “rugged” individualism; and to aid the rise of American corporations at home and abroad.

The logical culmination of this new big government conservatism, this right wing social engineering, was the presidency of George W. Bush, as he increased the size of government mainly by outsourcing work and responsibilities to corporations, as he began 2 wars leading to 2 massive social engineering projects in the Middle East, as he allowed and encouraged government funding of faith-based charities, and most dramatically through his Ownership Society as he sought to transform America into a nation of homeowners with 401Ks and Health Care Savings Accounts instead of Social Security and Medicare and rentals. The right wing’s social engineering agenda extended past Bush though. The main right wing health care alternative adopted in some measure by Milton Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, and John McCain seeks to transform American society to make its citizens more individualistic. This alternative begins by eliminating tax credits for employer-sponsored health insurance and the encouragement of Health Savings Accounts and the evisceration of all regulations on the insurance industry (by allowing competition across state lines where most regulations exist thus creating a “race to the bottom” as states attempt to attract the health insurance industry.) It would culminate in the elimination of Medicare and Medicaid. Many on the right have also made clear their goal remains to obstruct any liberal attempt to solve the fiscal problem they have engineered to give them the opportunity to re-write the social contract.

Looking at current Republican agenda – you see a similar hubris to what they decried as liberals’ “social engineering” – as they seek to remake the entire health care sector and the economy.

Meanwhile, it is the Democrats who had adopted an epistemologically modest approach – of tinkering with our current system to try to save it rather than to provoke a crisis to remake society, tearing apart the social bargain between citizen and government.

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A Witness Who Thinks

Monday, January 4th, 2010

George Brock, writing about Timothy Garton Ash (the noted journalist of the people power movements that ended the Cold War) for the British Times Literary Supplement, uses a profound phrase to describe what Ash does – creating the “first rough drafts of history” (borrowing a phrase) “written by a witness who thinks.” [My emphasis.]

I suppose I like the phrase because it is what I seek to be – a witness to history who thinks.

With that, welcome to 2010, and happy new year.

Over the long weekend, I’ve decided on 2 changes to the blog:

First, and a long time coming, I’ve decided to focus more on research and reporting – and to make that a regular feature. Given my time constraints, I’m expecting to have about 1 story a month with a significant amount of original reporting and research – with some more in-depth research and reporting complementing other opinion pieces. I have also decided to attempt to get responses from every subject of a piece who I criticize before publishing it – which I have tried to do sometimes but not always managed to do.

Second, rather than the 1 or 2 long posts a day, I’ve decided to sprinkle in another 4 or so shorter posts passing along links or making minor points.

[Image by me].

You don’t have to be happy about supporting this bill. But you should support it.

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I apologize if this is a bit long – but I felt it was important.

When I read and hear and watch the progressive reaction to Obama – calling him a sellout, calling health care reform a scam, calling it a bailout of the insurance industry, claiming Obama has been allying himself with Rush Limbaugh, claiming Obama has betrayed them, asking when it is time to march Obama to the guillotine – I’m reminded of how abolitionists reacted to Abraham Lincoln.

Despite his almost universally praised legacy today, in his time, Lincoln was a polarizing figure – scorned by Confederates and abolitionists, Copperheads and radical Republicans. Yet in time, he came to be seen as our greatest president. One has to wonder why all these involved and motivated individuals who eviscerated his actions as he did them came to see him as a visionary leader when these actions were seen in perspective.

The reason is that Lincoln was ruthlessly pragmatic. He had principles, but was willing to forgo if he didn’t think he could achieve what he wanted. Thus, Confederates seeing what he felt believed he was an abolitionist bent on the destruction of the South and seceded from the Union. The abolitionists derided him as weak-willed and unwilling to stand on principle. The progressives of today might learn something from looking at their precursors, the abolitionists of Lincoln’s time.

Wendell Phillips, a prominent abolitionist, labeled Lincoln “the Slave Hound of Illinois” for his reluctant support of the reviled Fugitive Slave Act, even claiming as Lincoln ran for president that, that he was worse than James Mason, the author of the Fugitive Slave Act. Lincoln won election promising not to end slavery, but that “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” He even refused to expand on his limited remarks to explain his thinking further – afraid that any further revelations might cost him votes that his carefully worded statement preserved.

After his election, Frederick Douglass declared: “Abraham Lincoln is no more fit for the place he holds than was [pro-slavery and worst president ever] James Buchanan…” The aforementioned Wendell Phillips continued to attack Lincoln after his election: “I believe Mr. Lincoln is conducting this war, at present, with the purpose of saving slavery[I]f Mr. Lincoln had been a traitor, he could not have worked better to strengthen one side, and hazard the success of the other…The President…has no mind whatever.

When one of Lincoln’s generals issued an order ending all slavery in the state he was ruling under martial law, Lincoln rescinded the order and fired the general, saying: “I think there is a great danger, confiscation of property, and the liberating of slaves of traitorous owners, will alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us.”

Other abolitionists complained that Lincoln’s “face was turned toward Zion, but he seemed to move with leaden feet.” They declared him, “stumbling, faithless, uncertain.”

Even when Lincoln finally decided to make a dramatic move condemning slavery – his famous Emancipation Proclamation – it did not end slavery in America. Only in those states still in rebellion, because, as Lincoln reasoned: “I hope to have God on my side. But I must have Kentucky.” Even after this Emancipation, the radical abolitionists in his own party sought to impeach him for being too soft on slavery and the rebellious states. All through this, Lincoln was assailed by the abolitionists as weak, as timid, as cowardly, as unmanly. He refused to let his idealism determine his policy – but rather let it guide it when possible.

Lincoln’s legacy is rightly lionized – he proved to be a brilliant leader, pushing and prodding America in the direction he believed in over time, persevering as his supporters gave up hope, and always looking for the opportunity to push the country in the direction he believed it should be going, rather than forcing it into the place where he thought it should be. This is the difference between a leader and a pundit. After Lincoln died, one of his most prominent critics, Frederick Douglass, scolded himself and those other abolitionists:

His accusers, in whose opinion he was always too fast or too slow, too weak or too strong, too conciliatory or too aggressive, would soon become his admirers; it was soon to be seen that he had conducted the affairs of the nation with singular wisdom, and with absolute fidelity to the great trust confided in him. [my emphasis]

It is normal for those watching the day-to-day activities of a leader to be disillusioned, angry, and bitter, as idealistic hopes are broken on pragmatic realities. While our politicians campaign in poetry, as Mario Cuomo said, they must govern in prose. What frustrates me though is the type of short-term thinking and reacting that leads to good policies being destroyed for improvements being derailed because of their imperfections.

The health care bill before Congress is far from ideal – and it has been weakened every step. But it is progress! It is, in the words of progressive Senator Sherrod Brown, “Not a great bill, but a good bill.” It will help millions of Americans. (As well as, unfortunately, the profits of health insurance companies.) Most importantly, it provides a foundation for future reform. Remember that “Social Security was designed to exclude African Americans. Medicare didn’t cover prescription drugs. Medicaid was mainly for pregnant women and their young children. Canada’s system was limited to a single province. There was no University of California at Los Angeles.” Once the funding and system is there, it can be improved upon. This bill takes a huge step to making health care insurance universal and expands access to health insurance more dramatically than any program since Medicare in the 1960s.

As a liberal, I’d rather start reforming health care now and help the insurance companies as part of the bargain, then than fuck over the uninsured to spite the insurance companies. To quote Ezra Klein:

To put this a bit more sharply, if I could construct a system in which insurers…never discriminated against another sick applicant, began exerting real pressure for providers to bring down costs, vastly simplified their billing systems, made it easier to compare plans and access consumer ratings, and generally worked more like companies in a competitive market rather than companies in a non-functional market, I would take that deal. And if you told me that the price of that deal was that insurers would move from being the 86th most profitable industry to being the 53rd most profitable industry, I would still take that deal.

And if getting this done means caving in to a weasel like Joe Lieberman, who is willing to block this bill and let 150,000 die as a result of their lack of access to health insurance, then so be it. I’d rather protect the thousands than, in a display of pique, destroy any chance of reform. (This posturing reminds me of nothing so much as a domestic application of neoconservative foreign policy: It’s better to be strong and get nothing done than appear weak and negotiate.)

So, to my brethren on the left posting at reddit, and on progressive blogs around the nation, remember this: Be angry the bill has been undermined. Be angry that various interest groups have gotten their way at the expense of the majority. But keep perspective, and see which direction the bill moves us. And ask: Does it create a framework of exchanges and subsidies that can improve our health care system? Does it bring us closer to universal health insurance? Will it be easier to add a public option to this structure in the years ahead if, as seems likely, the health insurance industries continue their abusive behaviors, than to start anew?

The answers are clearly, Yes, Yes, and Yes.

As a progressive, as a liberal, you don’t have to be happy about supporting this bill. But you should support it.

Postscript: And to preemptively answer 3 other issues:

I have yet to see an argument which truly makes the case for why this bill should be scrapped from a progressive view that doesn’t focus on insurance company profits – which suck – but there are worse things, or an exaggerated view of what the White House could have done, or an exaggerated view of how important the public option was to the reforms.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

“Hardly Churchillian.”

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’ve mentioned before that the  contrasting stories of Churchill and Chamberlain in the lead up to the Second World War have become the founding myth of neoconservative foreign policy. Neoconservative foreign policy is based on the counterfactual presumption that if Churchill had been prime minister, Hitler’s rise would have been thwarted. The appeasement of Hitler by Chamberlain thus caused Hitler’s rise in the neoconservative view.

However this myth took root, it is now the framework which neoconservatives use to understand every foreign policy issue: Every threat to America thus becomes Hitler’s Germany, no matter how marginal – from Kim Jong Il’s North Korea to Ahmadinejad’s Iran to Chavez’s Venezuela to Putin’s Russia. There are two possible responses to the rise of these existential threats: appeasement or confrontation. The right thing to do is to project confidence and bellicosity to deter the next Hitler from rising. Every sign of restraint is debasing appeasement; every Democrat then who advises restraint, who seeks to put these threats in perspective thus is portrayed as Chamberlain – from Carter to Clinton to Kerry to Obama. Every leader of this war, of our warrior nation, is compared to Churchill for his resolve and rhetoric. This neoconservative root myth thus leads to a policy of constant belligerence against every possible foe as a homage to a man who was belligerent for a lifetime and memorably right once.*

In a sense it seems, neoconservatives looked with hope to Obama Tuesday night (see especially these responses by Kagan, Kristol, and Gerson), as he promised to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan as they hoped. They hoped he could be their Churchill. Many on the right wing though not all, having been trained to focus most of all on symbology and rhetoric over substance, believed Obama had failed to meet their Churchillian expectations, and so took the comfortable position of assailing him.

Anyone who doubts this story of Churchill’s intransigence is at the core of neoconservative foreign policy can find evidence looking at the right wing responses to Tuesday night’s address:

The National Review‘s lead editorial:

Churchillian it was not.

Rich Lowry:

Is Gen. McChrystal in Kabul regretting that Obama didn’t strike a more Churchillian tone…?

Fred Thompson:

In the first part of his speech he sounded like Winston Churchill.
In the second part of his speech, he sounded like Lady Churchill.

Victor Davis Hanson:

Stanley Baldwin, not Winston Churchill.

Charles Krauthammer on Fox News:

Not exactly the kind of speech you’d hear from Henry V or Churchill.

Matt Lewis:

Hmm. What to say about Obama’s speech… Well, he sure as hell ain’t Winston Churchill.

John Hannah:

Hardly Churchillian.

* I quite admire Churchill – and he was also prescient about the specter of Communism and had a remarkable view of history, as if from a distance. But the single opinion of his that created his out-sized reputation was his steady belligerence against Germany during its rise.

[Image of Winston Churchill not subject to copyright.]

Health Care Graphs, Cold War Deer, Evaluating Hillary, An Armey of Tea Baggers, and Rubio

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Kaiser Permanente. Ezra Klein interviewed Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson this week – and got two fascinating posts out of it so far (with the second part of the interview still to come.) The most interesting post for me was the one that included a number of graphs, including this one.  Ezra bills these charts as “An insurance industry CEO explains why American health care costs so much” – which comes down to this fact: in other countries, government set medical fees.

The Cold War Lives On. Cecilie Rohwedder of the Wall Street Journal tells the fascinating story of how several herds of deer still seem to be stuck in the Cold War.

Evaluating Hillary. Joe Klein has a balanced and insightful evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. It is a bit early – as he acknowledges. But while the piece is worthwhile, he gives too little credit for the positive progress made by Hillary and the Obama administration in checking the deterioration of U.S. interests around the world, especially with regards to public diplomacy.

Armey of Tea Baggers. Michael Sokolove for the New York Times Magazine has a nice profile of Dick Armey, in the news of late for his Freedom Works organization and the tea parties they’ve been organizing. The difference between Armey the public speaker and Armey the man comes out in the story, as Armey the man seems like a bit of an ass, but a reasonable fellow; while Armey the public speaker is a demagogue, for example stating:

Nearly every important office in Washington, D.C., today is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike for our heritage, our freedom, our history and our Constitution.

The trick of the organizing Armey is attempting is that he extols the virtues of the individual while trying to unite these individuals into a collective “we” who will fight to protect “our heritage, our freedom, our history.” He is speaking the language of a member of a beleaguered minority – while claiming majority support. Political pressure in the right way should relatively easily disturb the balance he is now able to so effortlessly achieve.

Marco Rubio. NPR profiles the man who – if I were betting – is the future of the Republican Party, after it escapes the Sarah Palin death spiral: Marco Rubio. (Listen to the audio of the story if you can.) He’s very conservative – and makes many political mistakes in positioning himself against common sense, which by all rights should come back to haunt him when he is chosen as a Vice Presidential nominee – for example, coming out against the fact that government spending can stimulate the economy. This betrays a basic disregard for macroeconomics, at least when put as unsubtly as Rubio does. But he keeps well within the mainstream of Republican positions on these issues, so as unhinged as those positions may be, he will be insulated from charges of kooky-ness.

But he’s Hispanic; his wife is a former cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins; he’s a darling of the far right, but seems smart enough to tack to the center in a general election campaign – and the fact that he’s already accepted by the far right means he will be able to get away with it; he speaks convincingly of America as a nation of “go-getters;” he seems to have a natural charisma and charm, and is at ease with those who disagree with him; and finally, he’s ambitious as hell and has enough self-regard to believe he can beat the extremely popular Governor Charlie Crist for his Senate seat.