Author Archive | Jacob Levy


The New Hampshire primary always shifts me out of scholarly political-scientist mode and into political-news-junkie mode. And when I say ‘always’ I mean ‘always.’ I remember uninformed arguments on Portsmouth playgrounds during the 1980 campaign, when I was eight. By the time of the ’84 Hart-Mondale race I was fully a part of the culture: Meet lots of candidates, argue with them about your own pet issues, carefully consider your own preference (mine was for Hart) even if for some arbitrary reason (e.g. being twelve years old) one isn’t eligible to vote. Indeed, lots of the New Hampshirites I knew had clearly articulable preferences in both parties’ primaries, though they could only vote in one. I argued about drugs with Pete DuPont and national service with Dick Gephardt. I don’t study American politics or elections, but growing up around the New Hampshire primary surely pushed me toward political science in the first place.

New Hampshirites like to think that our primary is decisive or nearly so. Only one Democrat (Clinton ’92) and one Republican (Bush ’00) have won the White House without winning the N.H. primary since the primary system began. No one has won his party’s nomination without coming in first or second in the Granite State.

But the odd truth about the New Hampshire primary is that it doesn’t pick Presidents anymore. It doesn’t even pick nominees. What it does is put a good scare into the eventual nominee.

Consider: In 1984 Gary Hart beat Walter Mondale. In ’88 George H.W. Bush–a sitting vice-president–only managed a nine-point win over Bob Dole. In 1992, as a sitting president, he only beat Pat Buchanan by 16 in a two-man race; and Bill Clinton lost to Paul Tsongas (though narrowly enough that he was able to anoint himself “The Comeback [...]

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Michael Crowley’s (subscription-only) TNR article about Massachusetts Democrats having no real enthusiasm for Kerry is, as far as I can tell, spot-on. The same goes for a lot of New Hampshire Democrats I know. Having grown up in the part of New Hampshire that’s part of the Boston media market, I can report: Kerry does not wear well with time. Mickey Kaus’ entertaining obsession with this fact has led him, and his correspondents, to try to articulate just what it is about Kerry that becomes so grating over time, and he’s done as good a job as anyone. I certainly can’t articulate it myself. But I do know that he wears on the nerves, a lot.

The trouble is that that knowledge left me blindsided by Iowa. The last thing I expected was that Iowa voters would get less sick of Kerry over time. I think that in part they got so overwhelmed by Dean and Gephardt that they were still more sick of the latter two. But in a fair fight with the voters having equal exposure to all of the candidates, I have confidence that Kerry would have worn out his welcome. (Gephardt, whose politics I have made no secret of viewing as actively evil, is a far more pleasant person to listen to and, in my limited experience, interact with.)

Now Kerry seems sure to win New Hampshire tomorrow. But it seems joyless, dutiful. New Hampshire Democrats are lining up behind him in something the way that Crowley describes Massachusetts Democrats as doing– and in much the same way that so many Republicans lined up behind Bob Dole in 1996. The voters have tried the passionate enthusiasm thing with Dean, and worn themselves out; they’re now kind of collapsing back to Kerry out of exhaustion, as a [...]

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Hopeful signs:

Inklings of good news on both the election front and the Oscar front.

Lieberman passes Clark and Edwards in NH poll.

Return of the King picks up every Golden Globe it was nominated for, including best picture (drama) and best director (drama).

UPDATE: Yes, I do realize that the stupid “Joe” puns, one of which is in the headline of the article linked to above, are evidence of Lieberman’s astonishingly tin ear, hopeless dorkiness, or both. He’s not actually a talented politician, which means that in importamt ways he couldn’t be an effective president. I’ll continue to root for him on policy grounds; but even I don’t like listening to him talk, and much as I like the New Hampshire primary, it’s not in the set of things worth a “fight to the death,” as he put it in the debate. [...]

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NH primary continued:

Throwing out all norms of either scholarly reliance on data or journalistic ethics, I’m going to confirm Ryan Lizza’s impression of Edwards’ NH strength by relying on my mother, a NH Democrat and Edwards volunteer. She was a pretty diehard Clintonophile (always talking about how charismatic and electrifying he is in person; NH voters have views about things like that), and always encouraged me in my early activism, but she’s never signed up to do stuff herself before. And, being a Democrat in New Hampshire, she’s had a long time to learn habits of discouragement, of thinking that the candidate she likes usually loses. She’s giddy with excitement about Edwards, getting up early in the morning to to events and work on the campaign, and thinks that people are getting progressively more excited about him very quickly.

Relying on one’s mom, who is herself not a disinterested source, is of course the height of anecdotalism. But rather a lot of primary-coverage journalism relies on one or two enthusiastic ‘ordinary voter’ types, so, what the hey.

(NB: This does not indicate excitement about Edwards on my part. I stand by my insistence that it takes more than a drawl to turn an Old Democrat into a New Democrat.) [...]

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Academic conventions:

My favorite sentence from this utterly delightful John Holbo essay on literary studies, good and bad writing, theory, and the MLA:

Doubts about the correctness of the paper’s conclusions do not fall within the scope of the paper, as it were.

Damn. I wish I’d written that.

UPDATE: I got to the end, noticed the trackbacks, and saw that Matt Yglesias had highlighted the same paragraph. [...]

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David Edelstein, in his review of Win a Date With Tad Hamilton:

The gimmick of Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, directed by Robert Luketic from a script by Victor Levin, is that the movie star’s bacchanalian lifestyle is on the verge of derailing his career, so his agent (Nathan Lane) and manager (Sean Hayes)—both named Richard Levy, a joke that will certainly give a chuckle to Spike Lee, Franco Zefferelli, Mel Gibson, and a few others…

Can someone help me out here? Is there a producer, or someone, named Richard Levy? Just curious, as it happens to be my grandfather’s name. What’s so funny about it to Hollywood insiders?

UPDATE: Asked and answered; thanks to everyone who e-mailed. What those three have in common is outstanding charges of anti-Semitism against them, so the idea that Hollywood is run by interchangeable Jews, etc etc. Nothing to do with that particular Jewish name. [...]

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The New Hampshire primary in action:

According to CNN,

Clark, meanwhile, took a few minutes to bag groceries at a Goffstown supermarket Thursday. Cashier Carolyn Creeden said the former NATO supreme commander was “pretty good at it,” despite dropping a woman’s bag of cookies during a discussion of the new Joint Strike Fighter.

UPDATE: David Plotz’s piece is also dead-on.

Every New Hampshirite is liable to stumble across a candidate now and then—”Can you spot me on the bench press, General?”—but most don’t seek out candidates. It’s a small posse who drive the process. There are 1.3 million people in New Hampshire, but only 10 percent of them will vote in the Democratic primary, and only a tiny fraction of them are actively participating. The same people attend event after event. I have started to recognize them, or at least the types: the Medicare crank, the corn subsidies bore, the property taxes man …

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Chicago in midwinter:

Michael Green gives a pretty good sense of what it’s like.

If you’re nearby and able to venture out of doors, however, you might want to come by this conference on constitutionalism in Israel and Palestine. Speakers range from distinguished North American academics such as Gordon Wood and Charles Taylor to supreme/ constitutional court justices from Australia and South Africa to legal academics, civil liberties activists, and former cabinet ministers from Israel and the PA. [...]

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Katharine’s Secret:

Quoth D-squared:

I hereby question the “left” credentials, and indeed the commitment to democracy, of anyone who takes the government side against Katharine Gun. Saddam’s gone and nothing can bring him back. Whatever happens in Iraq, happens. The war was fought and cannot be unfought. All that turns on this case, is whether someone who is aware that the government is trying to do something in private which they would not dare to do in public, has the right to blow the whistle. If you think that Ms Gun deserves to go to jail, then all I can say, mes amis is examine your conscience.

(The link is to Bob Herbert’s column this morning.) The Crooked Timber commentators generally seem to find this an odd thing to think.

Add me to the slightly baffled chorus here. (I had the same baffled reaction when reading the NYT column this morning.) I’ve heard of lots of cases of Official Secrecy Act-abuse, lots of instances of people being prosecuted under OSA who I think shouldn’t be under a defensible free speech/ free press theory. As I understand it OSA would also have allowed prior restraint against the newspapers that published the memo Gun leaked, and I think that’s wrong. But to punish the security-cleared government employee who revealed information that she had access to– well, if that’s a violation of freedom of speech, then there’s no legitimate way to have security services at all. I confess that I used to think that there couldn’t be a legitimate security/ intelligence service, in my harder-core libertarian days. I can still understand the argument to that effect, even though I no longer agree with it. (And even then, I wouldn’t have identified the free-speech rights of employees as the central moral problem with such [...]

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No time to go into detail, but getting a correction up has urgency: I appear to have misstated the procedures for selecting MP candidates in the UK, Australia, and Canada (single-member FPP parliamentary systems) a couple of days ago, by understating the importance of local party member selection and overstating the influence of the central party structure. Until I can get a proper detailed post and explanation up, please disregard the earlier account. [...]

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Harry Brighouse writes:

As the primaries creep up on us (in the US), I want to make a point against the primary system that seems obvious to me but I’ve not heard made elsewhere. It is simply this: it constitutes an unwarranted violation of the principle of freedom of association.

The States which have primaries effectively impose on political parties a process for selecting their candidates that the members of those parties have no (collective) choice about. I know that in some (perhaps all) states the primary is not binding, and can be overridden by a party convention. But suppose that Candidate A wins the primary and Candidate B is nevertheless selected by the party. Then Candidate B works at a tremendous disadvantage relative to a world in which he was selected by the party without the State having organized an independent vote against it. Why on earth shouldn’t party members (that is, people who have chosen to join and pay membership dues in a party) have the right to decide collectively which candidate they want to represent them, without any interference by the State? Closed primaries are bad enough; in open primaries the State effectively forces political parties to allow open opponents of their party to participate in candidate selection. Sometimes when I think about this I feel like a naïve European — there must be some justification that I am missing. State interference in the process of party formation is so extensive in the US already (it varies by state, but mechanisms include having non-partisan local races, restrictive ballot access rules, restrictions on out-of-state contributions, and the gerrymandering, sorry, redistricting process, quite apart from the stupid winner-take-all system); it just seems flat out wrong to force people who have freely associated for the purpose of contesting political power

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See Tyler’s post below, Lawrence Solum, and Tyler’s Marginal Revolution post. Would immortals-by-lifespan who were not invulnerable be very, or infinitely, risk averse? Would they be very unambitious and inactive, since there would always be time for stuff later?

I’m not going to get into the genuine intellectual issues at stake, just going to enjoy the chance to survey some SF, fantasy, and related genres of fiction.

A correspondent of Solum’s says that in ‘contemporary vampire fiction’ vampires are extremely risk-averse. I suppose that this refers to the Anne Rice novels, none of which I’ve read. But it does invite an obvious question about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was otherwise generally very good about imagining a world that made sense given its initial premisses. Why would any vampire hang out in Sunnydale? The Master was bound into the Hellmouth, and some of his servants were bound to him. Occasionally there was a vampire who wanted the glory of killing a Slayer. But then there were the countless, often nameless, vampires who just inhabited the town and treated it as their feeding ground– until they got staked. The Hellmouth might have attracted demons, made it more likely that new vampires would be created, and generated generic magical weirdness. But wouldn’t an even-remotely-rational vampire, even one who had been created in Sunnydale, move out of town immediately upon realizing that he or she was much more likely to get destroyed there than any other place in the world? Even the glory-hounds must have thought that the glory of killing a Slayer was inordinately valuable, given that they should have wanted to avoid any risk at all of getting slain. Instead, they continued to congregate in the least rational place for them to do so.

Robert Heinlein’s Lazarus Long was not highly [...]

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Primary prediction restated:

A year and a week ago, I said the following.

With the Democratic presidential field almost complete, I offer my first NH primary prediction, 55 weeks in advance. Richard “Eyebrowless Man” Gephardt, who utterly failed to connect with NH voters in 1988, will utterly fail to do so again in 2004. Protectionism, unionism, and midwestern agriculture subsidies just aren’t the core issues for NH Democrats. He will finish no better than fifth, behind at least Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, and Dean. In the 1984 NH Democratic primary there were Democrats who finished behind write-ins for Ronald Reagan on the Democratic ballot. Success for Gephardt in NH will be finishing ahead of write-ins for Bush, and ahead of Al Sharpton; and he might not pull those off.

Latest tracking poll results:Gephardt in fifth place, behind Dean, Clark, and a Lieberman-Kerry tie, within the margin of error of Edwards, Kucinich, and Sharpton. [...]

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