PERSUASION

I am far from an expert on the presidency, although I do hope for my students' sake that I have a decent understanding of the office and its powers. Like the vast majority of people who teach it, I subject my students to Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. Students hate Neustadt. I mean, they loathe it. The book is 49 years old, laden with references to names and events of the 1950s for which today's reader has little context. Worse, his dull writing style reads like the owner's manual for an appliance. But we can never get away from Neustadt because he nails the fundamental dilemma of the presidency (and its solution) so completely.

Briefly, the expectations on the modern president are far greater than the powers of the office. There is an "Expectations Gap" wherein the public expects President Obama to fix a lot of things he lacks the power to fix. The president's control over the economy is indirect at best and his role in the legislative process is extremely limited. When Candidate Obama promises health care reform, what he does is paint himself into a corner from which he must find some way to get Congress to provide reform. He can't just do it himself. Most of us realize this.

The academic study of the presidency is largely a matter of explaining how presidents overcome this gap – how to get done what the powers of the office do not allow. Neustadt's answer? (This is where my former students start having flashbacks and chanting the answer without being fully aware of doing so). Persuasion. Presidents have myriad tools at their disposal for persuading Congress to do their bidding. Note well that this is not talking about persuading the public, which is a different animal altogether. He means persuading the people who matter most.

The discomfort with Obama's performance which has been gnawing at me since January 20th has nothing to do with betraying ideology. He simply does not appear to understand how to get things done as President. Congressmen and Senators are persuading him, not vice-versa. I almost wept with joy upon reading the comments of Tom Johnson, who served a President who understood persuasion like no other ("What LBJ Would Do.") He is right. On every single point he is right. Without realizing it, I assume, he is summarizing Neustadt's view of presidential power. It is the power to persuade Congress. We can throw out all of the justifications we want – and I've trafficked in a few on this site, like blaming the spread of right-wing media – but despite all of it, LBJ would get this motherfucker done. And it would be as he wanted it, not as some watered-down piece of compromise legislation.

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This is a picture of LBJ brow-beating a Senator – almost literally – into falling in line with the White House agenda. He was the undisputed master of this, a technique his colleagues came to call "The Johnson Treatment" (insert joke here). But he was not always aggressive. He could flatter, beg, connive, threaten, or whatever else he knew would work on a given member of Congress. His specialty was members of his own party who refused to fall in line – a problem Obama should recognize. More often than not LBJ put the fear of God into them. He laid out in no uncertain terms that the president can be either a guardian angel to a Congressman or the angel of death. His skills at bartering and log-rolling were legendary, but when those failed he had no qualms about being harsh. He made threats that were both clear and credible.

Barack Obama's problem is not "Blue Dog Democrats" – in the Kennedy/Johnson era the Democratic Party had a large southern wing far more conservative than any Blue Dog and most of today's Republicans. Nor is the problem Glenn Beck, the minority party in Congress, or the insurance industry. The problem is that he does not appear to understand how a president gets what he wants. The solution certainly isn't town hall meetings and public relations campaigns aimed at clearing up the misconceptions of the ignorant. The solution, in colloquial and thoroughly gender-insensitive terms, is to stop being a damn pussy. Lay into recalcitrant Reps and Senators around the clock until he has the votes he needs. It is hard work and he needs to do it. He can continue to allow Kent Conrad and Bill O'Reilly to control his agenda or he can choose his priorities and get what he wants.

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Look at the photos. Can you picture Obama doing this? I can't. I wish I could talk to the guy for ten minutes to communicate the fact that he, and no one else, is responsible for the content and fate of health care reform legislation. LBJ might have stayed awake for five days straight, shattered a few friendships, and given himself an ulcer and two heart attacks in the process, but he would get it done. He would get it done because he'd decide that it is important and therefore worth any sacrifice. Following his example would require only an understanding of the powers of the office and the willingness to push oneself to the limit. Which does Obama lack?

DIE CAST

How do we explain the House Republicans' behavior on the stimulus package vote? Their behavior is irrational. Or rational. One of the two. Well, it depends on what we consider rational.

Woefully outnumbered in a legislature in which the simple majority dominates, the logical course of action for the House GOP would seem to involve cutting the best possible deal with realistic expectations. The Democrats have an 80-seat majority. When the GOP threatens to hold its breath until it gets what it wants the inevitable response is "OK, good luck with that." There is absolutely no incentive for a majority that large to negotiate with assholes. If the minority feels like behaving, i.e. recognizing that they can't dictate the outcome with 188 seats out of 435 and making a few demands, it is worthwhile for the majority to logroll and make a few concessions to build goodwill for future conflicts. But if the GOP expects to get its way by pitching hissy fits they are simply going to get bypassed. Hence they are irrational.

They might be rational, though, depending on how rational you consider the Gingrich Plan.

The Gingrich Plan originated circa 1986, an era in which the GOP was not only the minority but had been the minority for decades. The party's strategy was to play along and take what they could get from the majority. Newt, an unknown at the time, disagreed. He urged the party to oppose the Democrats tooth-and-nail on nearly every issue and eventually the public would be persuaded by the inherent correctness of the Republican alternative. Because of the Republican takeover of 1994 the Gingrich Plan was widely hailed as a success. It might be a good minority strategy, but it's really a dice roll.

Their logic today is that getting a few concessions is not that valuable because it gets them a share of ownership in case of failure. By having voted against the bailout in unison it is owned by the Democrats entirely. So they are essentially making a huge gamble that the stimulus legislation is going to fail. They're rolling the dice that it will be a big disaster and they can beam smug we-told-you-so smiles to a voting public that will come begging for the GOP alternative. In short, if the GOP:

  • supports the stimulus and it succeeds, the Democrats get 99.9% of the credit anyway
  • supports the stimulus and it fails, they share the blame
  • opposes the stimulus and it succeeds, the Democrats get 100% of the credit anyway
  • opposes the stimulus and it fails, the GOP gets credit for having opposed it

    Of those four options they obviously chose the correct one. "Correct" in terms of their own interests. Note, however, that they chose an option that involves them rooting really hard for America and the world to spiral into a Depression unlike anything we've seen in 100 years. You know, just like they hope really hard for a terrorist attack so that they can wring out a few more votes.

    America First!tm That's the GOP. Every single time.

  • INTERNONYMITY

    A colleague raised an interesting point not terribly long ago.

    Everybody googles everybody, right? If you're an employer seriously considering hiring someone, unless you happen to be 65 or Amish it's likely that you'll see what Mr. Internet has to say about John or Jane Doe. This is why many people cloak themselves in the anonymity that the internet allows. If you want your very own website about your regular conversations with extraterrestrials, it is reasonable to expect that you might not want the boss to know that you are insane. So John Doe becomes "John in Texas" or "AlienGuy01", author of AlienBlog.net. If you feel like becoming a regular commenter at PissInMyMouth.com, you wouldn't post as "Mary Jones, Public School Teacher from Pittsburgh" would you? Of course not. It's common sense.

    Mike, the guy who used to live here and now lives here, politely asked that I not use his last name when I re-designed the site. Another regular poster, who may get involved with my exciting new side project BillKristol.net (coming soon!), was explicit about the work-related need to conceal his identity. One of the members of my band is, for identical reasons, quite enthusiastic about not using his real name. These examples are the norm. In a society in which a lot of people take offense to language or subject matters more risque than a Leno monologue, it makes perfect sense.

    Which raises an interesting question: why don't I take advantage of internet anonymity? Blogging is particularly dangerous for academics – at least this kind. People have been denied tenure over blog-related controversies. And as my colleague recently pointed out, it's entirely possible that members of hiring committees google me and find this site. Then 90 seconds later my file is in the trash. Maybe that's paranoid. Both academics who blog and the Chronicle of Higher Ed insist that it happens. To wit:

    Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

    You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

    I don't know how much stock to put into such talk. Regardless, I would seem to be an excellent candidate for keeping things incognito. Students, for example, could find this website and, with little effort, assemble a Magna Carta-length list of material for formal complaints.

    I've certainly thought about all of these issues and considered the potential consequences of my daily bursts of profanity and dick jokes. Here's the thing. I don't give a shit. I'm not ashamed of anything I've ever said or thought in this context and I don't really care who wants to read it. Moreover, I have two big issues with the academic bias against blogging.

    First, it only seems to be a problem when someone has a blog that offends the Talk Radio crowd. It's OK for Glenn Reynolds to essentially be wrong about everything and distort reality to fit his shrill talking points so long as he doesn't tick off David Horowitz and Glenn Beck. Hell, it's OK for John Yoo to be on faculty while simultaneously, you know, being a war criminal but heaven forbid someone has a blog where they use words like "fuck." Lying and distorting the truth are acceptable. The line must be drawn at the moral evil of swearing, though.

    Second, this anti-blog bias represents a very petty and narcissistic side of some tenured (hence older) academics. They react very angrily and with considerable bitterness to the idea that anyone could care about what one of their underlings (grad students, untenured assistant profs, or, god forbid, even an undergrad) has to say. I have a modestly successful blog with a consistent base of readers now in the high triple digits. Believe me, that really bugs people who have dedicated their careers to creating a huge academic output that absolutely no one cares about. Academics publish incredibly compartmentalized work in journals no one reads. In a month more people read a decent blog than will ever read the output of most tenured academics in a lifetime. And most importantly, the blogging format circumvents the gatekeeper function of the academy. The idea that a lowly grad student could write anything without the Elders first giving it a stamp of approval…well, it's practically academic heresy.

    So, screw it. At this point I'm in way too far to backtrack anyhow. Regardless, I take solace in the fact that I am a flat-out terrible academic and no one would hire me sans blog either. This thing makes me happy, and if I'm going to be unemployed or driving a bus for a living I might as well do what makes me happy.

    THE CONSTRUCTED EXPLANATION

    My dissertation chair, a woman with the mind of a Mensan and the patience of Saint Jude the Apostle (the patron saint of lost causes, for you non-papists), made her name in the field by researching what she calls "constructed explanations" for electoral outcomes. Briefly, elections suck at providing information. They tell us who wins, but nothing about why people voted the way they did or how Candidate X managed to prevail.

    There is competition after any election to establish the explanation for what happened. Since there's effectively no way to answer the "why" question, self-interested political actors seek to establish the explanation that suits them as the definitive one. In other words, immediately after the election there are 100 explanations thrown at the wall by the media, candidates, and parties. Five of them stick. Over the next few weeks that gets narrowed down to one – "the" unofficial official explanation of what happened. This single explanation doesn't get established because it's true or superior to the alternatives – it takes root because the people who benefit from it did the best job of selling it. Thus these things pass from idle musings to certified Conventional Wisdom.

    The 2000 and 2004 elections were extraordinarily close, meaning that the spin couldn't begin until we actually figured out who won. With the outcome of next Tuesday's presidential race being assumed by many candidates and talking heads at this point (justifiably or not), the attempt to construct explanations is already well under way. In particular, rival factions in the GOP have already fired the opening shots in a battle to explain their anticipated failure. I will bet my staggering grad student salary that the explanations will quickly winnow down to the following:

    1. If McCain wins, the conversation will not be on his accomplishment but instead on how everyone managed to get things so phenomenally wrong. I mean, there aren't even many Republicans who expect him to win at this point. Explanations about McCain having achieved a miracle comeback will be floated. Eventually, though, the dominant explanation will be that McCain simply wasn't as far behind as the media led us to believe. Polls are nonsense and the media, with their fervent pro-Obama bias, endlessly reported his inevitable win because they wanted it so badly. There might be a grain of truth here. If McCain wins there certainly will be, as the man used to say, some splanin' to do from our friends in the media and in the polling industry.

    2. If Obama wins in a historic landslide – something on the order of 400+ EV – the explanation will be "We underestimated the power of young and/or black voters turning out in large numbers." Again the polling industry will be fingered (*giggle*) for under-representing these voters in their samples in favor of lard-assed white guys in their 40s. There will of course be scant evidence that young and/or black voters were actually the cause of an overwhelming Obama win, but the explanation will be simple and plausible enough to gain wide acceptance.

    3. In the event that the election very closely resembles the predictions, the explanations will focus on the candidates and not the coverage. It will also mark the official start of what could be a 1960s Democrats-style meltdown in the GOP. In one corner will be the moderates (non-Christian Right), the economic conservatives with lukewarm committments to social issues. They have chafed at the necessary presence of the Dobson crowd ("Can't have a majority without 'em", sayeth Rove) for two decades while the religious conservatives have resented that so little of their agenda receives more than lip service. A crushing loss in Congress and the White House will be the spark that causes the simmering tensions to explode.

    The first team, who I shall call Team Palin, will consist mostly of the "values voters" and social conservatives who felt so powerful in 2000 and 2004. TP will also attract party hard-liners, the kind of people who think abandoning the party when it nominates a shitty candidate is tantamount to treason; National Review columnists, Freepers, and talk radio zombies. Their explanation is quite predictable: McCain lost because he wasn't conservative enough. He was some sort of closet liberal who failed the True Believer test repeatedly. To Team Palin, the lesson will be patently obvious: never again can the party err by nominating someone to the left of Sean Hannity. If you're one of these traitorous fake conservatives who bashed McCain for choosing the GovTard, you are not a real Republican. Mike sent me this link and called it the new "Palin Litmus Test." I think that fits. "I've got news for the Christopher Buckleys of the world — if Sarah Palin is enough to make you decide you're not a Republican, you're not a Republican."

    There's going to be a lot of this kind of dick-waving, in-fighting, and calling-out during the fight to determine who the Real Republicans are. Picture extremist Muslim hard-liners, the kind who think suicide bombers are martyrs, versus that nice Muslim guy at your office who wears Dockers and watches 30 Rock.

    Yes, the second team, who I shall call Team Traitor, will have a different explanation: "We ran a shitty candidate on the heels of a shitty President. We've gone too far. Time to ratchet down the rhetoric a little and win back mainstream America." These are the people jumping ship in advance of the election – Chris Buckley, Christopher Shays, William Weld, Lincoln Chaffee, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Colin Powell, and so on. These are the more reasonable, less ideologically rigid Republicans, the kind who are conservative but not mindlessly partisan. Unlike Team Palin, these GOPers will not blindly follow any jackass who calls himself a Republican. Team Traitor will of course blame the defeat almost entirely on the nomination of Sarah Palin. They will hold her up as proof that the party needs people of substance, not vapid spokesmodels.

    If the election plays out as so many are predicting, this fourth and final explanation will come closest, in my opinion, to hitting the mark. This is still a ridiculously conservative country. An historic Democratic landslide across all races will not signal a population that has found Liberalism as its new religion. Instead I believe it is the non-Democratic voting public registering its disgust with the Rove/Bush/Dobson incarnation of the GOP. Palin and this campaign represent everything you need to know about why the Democrats are likely to win big – the inanity, the shameless mudslinging, the stale ideas, the hipocrisy, the faux-moralizing, and the racist dog-whistles. Team Traitor will be correct, in essence. The GOP needs to find good candidates, come up with a new idea for the first time in 40 years, and run the Principled Campaign that gramps promised he would give us.

    But now that the GOP is stuck with the loony right as load-bearing column in their big tent, which explanation do you think will actually prevail? I think we know which one, and we're certain that it's going to be sweet, vengeful fun watching the intraparty bloodbath on the way to Team Palin's "victory."

    DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB

    There is a divide among political scientists between those who treat polling or survey data as sacrosanct ("Of course it's reliable, look at how scientifically we collected it!") and those who consider it slightly more accurate than flipping a coin. I fall somewhere in the middle. Polling is riddled with issues that aren't easy to explain away or "correct" with post-measurement methodological voodoo (social desirability and question-order effects, for example) but a dozen polls all pointing in the same direction are a reliable indicator of a trend. I suppose I could describe myself as a believer in Zaller's "Miracle of Aggregation" theory with respect to polling – any one is of limited value, but in quantity they paint a useful picture.

    My attititude suggests, therefore, that I believe Obama is going to win. Why? Because it is essentially impossible to find a poll that says otherwise right now. He has won every nationwide poll since Palin opened her mouth and he is the clear trend leader in every important battleground state. His electoral vote total will range between 313 and 375 – a crushing victory – based on aggregated single-state polls. Polling has him ahead in utterly improbable places like North Dakota and North Carolina.

    In short, and I say this with due respect to my pollster colleagues, if Obama loses this election the entirety of the contemporary polling industry should be ridiculed into oblivion. Now that literally every single poll is pointing squarely at a solid Obama victory, his defeat would not mean simply that the polls "got it wrong." It would mean that they got it so utterly, overwhelmingly, and inexcusably wrong that the entire art, science, and industry of measuring public opinion will have to be blown up and rebuilt from scratch. This would not be "getting it wrong" like some journalist who picked the Red Sox over the Rays. This would be Dewey Defeats Truman wrong. Maginot Line wrong. They'll Hail Us As Their Liberators wrong. Coke II wrong. Historically, epically wrong.

    Could they really be that far off? Well, there are two ways to be wrong in this game – missing high and missing low. Here are a pair of logical, ostensibly plausible scenarios that illustrate how.

  • Scenario 1: McCain Wins – Let's say that there is some characteristic about likely McCain voters that makes them unwilling to admit their support. Maybe they're embarrassed or maybe they just like fucking with the librul media and its polls. Whatever the reason, they're saying "Undecided" when their preference is McCain. So in every state where the polls split along the lines of Obama 47, McCain 45, McCain will come out on top because the 8% of respondents indicating "Undecided" or "Don't Know" are really his supporters.
  • Scenario 2: Obama Hits 400 EV – Polls are often accused of undercounting young, black, and low-income voters (more on that later this week). They also under-represent cell phone users in most cases, although good organizations are correcting for that in their samples now. But for the sake of this argument, suppose that turnout among (overwhelmingly Democratic) college-aged and black voters positively dwarfs anything we've seen before. Both demographics turn out in droves, far in excess of the rate at which they are sampled in polls. Obama not only wins everything he is currently predicted to win but pulls a few "holy shit!"-style upsets in places like Tennessee, Louisiana, and Georgia.

    Is either scenario likely? We can only speculate at this point. I know enough about the guts of big polling operations – and some of the folks involved – to be certain that they have thought of these issues. Gallup et al employ high-level statistical wizards and experts in polling methodology to correct for or avoid such landmines. I have confidence in my colleagues. What I don't have confidence in is the efficacy of quantitative ways to "correct" the inherent limitations of survey-based research. When shove comes back to push, we are still basing conclusions about an electorate of over 180 million eligible voters on the responses of ~800 yahoos who are lonely enough to sit on the phone talking to a pollster (or worse, a robo-dialer) for 15 minutes.

    The error and obstacles inherent in this process means that we shouldn't be shocked if polls are wrong – we should be amazed that they're ever right. But this year, with every single indicator pointing in the same direction, there will be consequences for being wrong. The entire industry can't just chuckle and say "Well, nature of the beast!" Heads will roll, souls will be searched, and we will have to go back to the drawing board. The Smooth Jimmy Apollo excuse from The Simpsons ("When you're right 52% of the time, you're wrong 48% of the time!" "OK Jimmy, you're off the hook.") isn't going to cut it. It's not possible to blow something this badly and simply go back to business as usual.

  • BIGFOOT THE UNDECIDED VOTER

    When people in my field or the broader political discourse argue over undecided voters it is rarely productive because the subject is mischaracterized. We lionize the Undecided Voter. Culturally, we believe that they are better people than the rest of us, for they are doing the idealized version of our Civic Duty: giving both candidates a fair hearing, earnestly debating the merits of each, and not deciding based on partisanship. We believe undecided voters are undecided because they have absorbed both candidates' messages and honestly can't indicate a preference.

    Cute story. Too bad that the vast majority of undecided voters are actually "the biggest idiots on the planet" as Brian Griffin said. Sure, the Mayberry image accurately describes some. There are people out there with mixed ideological beliefs who really can't decide. But the remainder, the people who essentially determine every election that isn't a blowout, are undecided because they haven't paid the slightest bit of attention to the race(s).

    Let me regale you with an anecdote. In 2004 I was asked by the local paper to sit with a group of "undecided voters" as they watched the first Bush-Kerry debate. At their request I said a few words beforehand, then I fielded my first question:

    "Who's the guy running against Bush?"

    Followed by, from a different person:

    "Which guy is which party?"

    It went downhill from there. Anecdotal evidence, but it left a powerful impression on me. Watch any of these "interactive" let's-see-what-the-normal-folk-think circle jerks that the media love so much during the conventions, debates, and so on. Excepting the minority of truly undecided voters, these people simply have no idea what in the hell they're talking about.

    Think of the electorate this way. Both parties start out with a baseline of support (40% GOP, 40% Democrat). No major party candidate has failed to win more than 38% of the vote in a two-way race. So Obama and McCain start at 40%. Each gets another 5% of "leaners" who haven't carved a decision in stone but essentially know what they're doing. Then, squared off 45% to 45%, the campaigns battle for the remaining 10% of likely voters.

    Here's the rub: most of that determinative group are essentially deciding at random. Their opinions differ based on whatever happened most recently (a debate, announcing running mates, conventions, etc), hence the day-to-day variance in polling. Barring a major gaffe, everything that will move public opinion in the next 5 weeks will be forgotten by election day. Alan Abramowitz popularized (and provided data to support) this "minimal effects" theory of campaigns in the mid-80s. He argued that looking at economic indicators and incumbent presidential approval ratings in May has more predictive power than pre-election polling. The effects of any campaign event are forgotten almost immediately. Do you remember anything from the first Obama-McCain debate? It was, by design, entirely unmemorable. The goal is simply to avoid shooting oneself in the foot; the potential benefits are negligible, so the candidates play defense. But if you're an "undecided" (i.e., clueless) it is the only information on which to base a preference. Until the next one comes along in a few days.

    In short, because undecided voters move whichever way the wind is blowing, polling creates a misleading impression of campaign effects. Think of it as a flat line with numerous peaks and valleys, each followed by a return to the mean as the causal events fade from memory. Now here's the rub.

    There is absolutely no logic to how these uninformed/undecided voters will make up their minds (if they bother to vote). Lacking substantive knowledge, they'll choose at the last minute based on whatever fragmentary piece of information they can recall on the way to the voting booth. Or they'll pick the candidate they find more attractive (seriously). Or they'll pick the one whose spouse seems nicer. Or they'll pick the one with the best hair. Or maybe they'll flip a coin. This is how the 5-to-10 percent of the electorate that will determine the outcome of the race makes up their minds. This is why the candidates are so god-awfully repetitive with their thematic talking points ("Hope" or "Change" or "America First" or "Bunnies"). They know that 80-90% of us have paid attention and made up our minds. Some of the remaining 10-20% are leaning one way or legitimately unsure (but informed). After that, it's a parade of the lame, the halt, and the ugly.

    Yes, the Undecided Voter we'd like to imagine exists, but they are like Bigfoot – rarely sighted, their existence always treated with great skepticism. I'd like to take the analogy one step further to suggest that their respective intellectual abilities are likely to be similar as well.

    ON AGING

    From the fine fellows over at The Monkey Cage (a blog run by political scientists who don't swear nearly as much as I do, which may be why they all have jobs):

    A casual visual inspection suggests that people in their forties are more Republican than any other age group. Unfortunately that is one of two potential interpretations, the relative merits of which cannot be determined by this data. Are people aged 40 to 50 more conservative, or are the people aged 40 to 50 right now more conservative? This is a very old debate in the social sciences, the endless squabble over life-course effects versus age-cohort effects.

    We could easily construct a story that supports either argument. For example, it's logical to suggest that people between 40 and 50 are bound to be a little less liberal, having settled into a life of property taxes, car payments, and saving for college. Conversely we could argue that the individuals between 40 and 50 today are more conservative because of the 1970s. They became politically aware during a thoroughly depressing era and experienced Carter Malaise followed immediately by Morning in America.

    Short of doing decades-long panel data studies (and those have plenty of critics too) it's virtually impossible from a social science perspective to distinguish between these possibilities. I'm simplifying things, for certainly many researchers have devised innovative ways to support one argument or the other. But it is fair to say, as someone with no horse in the methodological race, that it remains an open issue.

    On a personal note, I have long considered the first possibility – that aging makes us Republicans – to be overwhelmingly depressing. Ginandtacos nation, this post serves as binding legal authority for one of you to smother me with a pillow if I ever take up Tax Bitching as a hobby or cheerlead pre-emptive wars in the hopes of getting some great new footage for Wings.**

    **The one on the Military Channel, not the delightfully crappy 1990s sitcom. I know there are only so many times one can watch the same episodes ("Wings of the Luftwaffe") but there is a moral limit to what I am willing to support to acquire new footage.

    THE END OF THE END OF HISTORY

    If it's true that there is nothing sexier than a lapsed Catholic, then I will argue that there is nothing more entertaining than a lapsed neocon.

    Francis Fukuyama has long been lauded by the right for his classic, thunderingly stupid The End of History and the Last Man. While international relations is certainly not my field, I feel comfortable mocking the shit out of rhetorical detritus like:

    What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

    I will pause while you marvel at the fact that this man became internationally famous and virtually canonized by the right for proposing that in 1992, with Earth's sun not set to burn out for another billion-odd years, Western free-market democracy became the "final form of human government." We attained perfection. Fifteen years later I am still blown away by the hubris, naivety, and self-congratulatory tone of the early post-Soviet era.

    Tim Krieder (The Pain comics, with major h/t to Matthew) uses Fukuyama as a primary example of how the right lacks imagination and creativity. In the ideological glow of "their" victory over Marx, they were simply incapable of imagining an alternative or wrapping their minds around the idea that anyone could reject the promise of unfettered capitalism. How could anyone want anything else? There is nothing else.

    Well, it turns out that history didn't end and the rush to embrace The Only Way was less than universal. As Samuel Huntington argued in The Clash of Civilizations, it turned out that there were still a few ideological disagreements in the world.** Duly offended by the tepid response to Democracy's Promise in the middle east and Asia, the Western world has tried spreading it through economic hegemony. Or the barrel of a gun.

    Fukuyama seems to understand that he may have underestimated a few things (although he insists, as conservatives always insist, that the real problem is not the ideology but that we strayed from it). Since 2006 he has alienated his neocon devotees by suggesting that perhaps the Iraq invasion has not been a success. He has also repudiated the Neocon movement he was so instrumental in creating. Now? He's endorsing Obama. How's that for the "Where Are They Now" file?

    I can't tell if he's a late bloomer or simply a craven opportunist, but I am not a man who will stand idly by and fail to enjoy a very public academic humiliation.

    **Having mentioned Fukuyama and Huntington, we have now exhausted what I know about IR.