A few days ago, the New York Times ran a piece by Francis Fukuyama called "The American Way of Secrecy" [registration required] in which he deftly interweaves the twin scourges of threat exaggeration and secrecy. He also recites the damage they have done to U.S. foreign policy, national security, and domestic tranquility. No one quote captures this rich, brief essay, so I will indulge in a blogger cop-out and encourage you to read the whole thing.
(HT: Bruce Schneier)
The 2004 initiative to ban same-sex marriage in Ohio "helped cause a surge in turnout of 'values voters,' who helped deliver this pivotal state to President Bush's successful reelection effort," the Washington Post proclaims on the front page today. That's been the story line since 2004: 11 state votes on banning gay marriage turned out religious and conservative voters, and that helped Bush win his narrow reelection, especially in Ohio, where a Kerry win would have given Kerry an electoral vote majority.
But is it right? There's good evidence that it isn't.
It’s true that states with such initiatives voted for Bush at higher rates than other states, but that’s mostly because the bans were proposed in conservative states. In fact, Bush’s share of the vote rose just slightly less in the marriage-ban states than in the other states: up 2.6 percent in the states with marriage bans on the ballot, up 2.9 percent in the other states.
Political scientist Simon Jackman of Stanford has more here (pdf). He concludes that the marriage referenda tended to increase turnout but not to increase Bush's share of the vote. And in a county-by-county analysis of Ohio, he found no clear relationship between increased turnout, support for the marriage ban, and increased support for Bush.
A broader claim grew out of the 2004 exit polls showing that more voters chose “moral values” than anything else as their most important issue. “Ethics and moral values were ascendant last night—on voters’ minds, in Americans’ hearts,” William J. Bennett wrote the next morning on National Review Online. But that claim also fails careful analysis. In the exit poll 22 percent of voters said that "moral values" were most important to them, larger than any other single choice. But if you combined Iraq and terrorism, and economy/jobs and taxes, then both foreign policy and economic policy were most important to more voters.
In addition, of course, it’s not clear what “moral values” means. The Los Angeles Times exit poll, which asks the question a different way, found that 40 percent of voters surveyed selected “moral/ethical values” as one of their two most important issues in 2004--the same percentage as in 1996, when they reelected Bill Clinton. Some voters may think that poverty, the environment, war, individual freedom, or any number of other things are "moral issues."
Some people say the Republicans got more votes from regular church-goers. But in Ohio, the share of the electorate represented by frequent churchgoers actually declined from 45 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004. I think the Republicans had already done a thorough job of getting regular churchgoers to the polls. Their great accomplishment in 2004 was combing the country to find un-organized voters who would vote Republican if you got them to the polls.
So then why did Bush win? It’s terrorism, stupid. The most important number in the exit polls was this: 58 percent of respondents said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, while only 40 percent trusted Kerry. You can’t win a post-9/11 election if only 40 percent of voters trust you to protect them against terrorists; people may not be happy with the war in Iraq, but they thought terrorism was the bigger issue.
There were strong swings to Bush in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, stronger than in all but one of the 11 marriage-ban states. Those are states that felt the threat of terrorism most directly after 9/11.
And then, of course, there was the freedom issue.
Bush told voters, “My opponent is against personal retirement accounts, against giving patients more control over their medical decisions through health savings accounts, against providing parents more choices over education for their children, against tax relief for all Americans. He seems to be against every idea that gives Americans more authority and more choices and more control over their own lives.”
If it hadn't been for the war in Iraq -- which tended to cut in a different direction from the war on terror -- and the loss of libertarian voters who no longer believed his rhetoric about freedom, Bush might have actually won the big victory that economic models of the election predicted.
But it's time to lay to rest the idea that Bush won Ohio and the presidency on the strength of anti-gay-marriage votes.
When you hear scientists declaring "the debate is over" about industrial emissions and their relationship to global warming, you are essentially hearing a radically anti-science argument. That, at least, is the bracing contention of Prof. Michael Shaughnessy in an essay just posted this morning for WorldNet Daily. An excerpt:
For honest, truth-seeking scientists, vigorous debate over scientific ideas is never really over. Scientists are supposed to seek truth first, as indicated by the scientific data collected. The pursuit of truth and data is never supposed to end for the scientist. The declaration that the global warming debate is over says more about global warming proponents' agenda than it does about the science of global warming.
The news of the incredible shrinking deficit is sure to be added to the list of accomplishments that Republican candidates -- eager for any good news they can use to their advantage -- will tout on the campaign trail.
Although the deficit is certainly smaller, it's not because the White House and Congress suddenly have a newfound respect for spending discipline. Federal spending grew in excess of 7 percent this fiscal year. That’s faster than the expected growth in GDP of 6.5 percent. Besides, the federal budget is chomping on 20 percent of GDP. It consumed 18.5 percent of GDP when George W. Bush was inaugurated. And unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs continue to grow. Remind me again how this is progress?
Prediction: For the next few weeks, Republican candidates will be engaged in an attempt to persuade fiscally conservative voters to forget everything that annoyed them about the GOP's rush to expand government and instead welcome a much larger federal budget simply because it's closer to being balanced.
It's more than enough to make you wonder whether the Republicans are really a party of smaller government anymore.
Just announced: the Cato Institute will host a forum on using "pay-for-performance" to improve quality in Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled. The forum will feature Harvard's David Cutler, National Medical Association president Sandra Gadson, Institute of Medicine Pay-for-Performance Advisory Committee co-chair Gail Wilensky, and yours truly. Date/time/location: Thursday, November 2, 4pm, the Cato Instiute. Interested parties can preregister or watch the forum online here.
The House bill to require photo ID for voting rests on the premise that voter fraud is a significant problem. It turns out that premise is a little shaky. A report prepared for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has found little evidence of polling-place fraud, according to USA Today.
The Commission on Federal Election Reform (Carter-Baker Commission) found "no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting," though it does occur and could affect a close election. To inspire confidence in the system, the Commission recommended using the national ID card created by the REAL ID Act as a voter registration card. Proof of citizenship would be required to get a driver's license, tightening government control of the citizenry just a little more.
I've written here before about "political facts," things made true by consensus rather than any measurement or observation. The soaring costs of identity fraud and its relationship to data breaches are political facts that have a lot of currency in Washington today.
Another political fact getting a lot of attention and lather is the notion that child pornography has become a $20 billion dollar industry. "Exponential" growth of this problem is being used to justify legally mandated retention of data about our online travels by Internet service providers. Exploitation of children is loathsome, but it turns out the $20 billion figure is bunk.
One wonders how many other problems Congress addresses itself to might be exaggerated or even fictional.
This week’s Economist magazine features a 15-page special report, “The Battle for Brainpower,” on the growing importance of highly skilled workers in the global economy. As high-tech goods and sophisticated services account for growing shares of world output and trade, attracting talented, skilled, and educated workers is becoming more important for U.S. companies wanting to stay competitive in global markets. Although America remains the most attractive market for such talent, our national immigration policies are proving to be a handicap.
While most other countries are easing restrictions on the entry of skilled workers, the U.S. Congress maintains an absurdly low cap on H1-B visas of 65,000 a year. The number is so low compared to demand that the visas are snapped up months before the fiscal year begins.
The Economist warns that America could be losing out in the global contest for talent. Consider the contributions that foreign-born workers have made to America’s high-tech economy. According to the report:
Half the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. More than half the people with Ph.D.s working in American are immigrants. A quarter of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. Intel, Sun Microsystems and Google were all founded or co-founded by immigrants. But now India and China are sucking back their expats, and America’s European competitors have woken up to the importance or retaining their talent. To cap it all, the immigration authorities [in the United States] are making life harder for foreigners.
The 109th Congress failed to enact meaningful immigration reform to allow more low-skilled immigrants to enter the Untied States legally. An even bigger failure was its neglect of our need to attract and keep more highly skilled workers from abroad.