Monday, January 10, 2011


This is a Matt Yglesias post. It's interesting.

At first, it's pretty sensible!
I imagine in the wake of this Arizona shooting that there’ll be a move to deliver more security around members of congress as they travel in-state. I think that would be a real mistake. As horrible as what happened this weekend is, the fact of the matter is that political assassinations are extremely rare and it’s simply not the case that the country faces some kind of systematic assassination problem.
Yglesias and I, having different understandings of people in power's motives, use the word "mistake" differently, but other than that, yeah! Very sensible! To hear most mainstream liberals say it, you'd never know that we're not in the midst of an assassination epidemic. Smart, clear-headed guy, that Yglesias.
What’s [sic] we do have in the United States is an unusually high level of violent crime across the board, but pulling police resources off their day-to-day work and onto personal security for politicians is going to make that worse.
I...well. I wouldn't disagree that we have an "unusually high level of violen[ce]" in the United States. But "pulling police resources off their day-to-day work" would be an excellent way to combat that violence! In fact, Yglesias has made me realize that exactly what we should do is pull police "resources" (aka, human beings who are police officers, by the way) off their day-to-day work and onto personal security for politicians. Man, how awesome would it be if every single goddamn cop was off the streets and forming bristling armed circles around all the members of Congress instead? Get the army involved, too. That way, the politicians could make whatever laws they wanted, but there'd be no one left to enforce them, and we and the rest of the world could just get on with our lives. Throw in the prison guards while you're at it and it's the best idea I've heard all year.

UPDATE: I had originally intended to note here that, of course, in the real world the increase of security on the powerful will not result in the decrease of police harassing people on the streets; rather, it will lead, just like everything else the powerful do, to an expansion of the police state.

The change that we ought to be making, however, is an institutional one relating to the question of what happens if someone shoots a United States Senator.
Yglesias has a habit of using the first person plural in perplexing ways. Who is this we that ought to be making this change? Anyway, wow! Is Matt Yglesias really arguing for prison reform? Maybe he's even arguing for prison abolition!
I think it would sit poorly with all of us if assassinating a senator led to a change in partisan control of the senate via gubernatorial appointment, but many states’ laws leave the door open to that possibility. Senators ought to be replaced, in my view, either through a special election or else through an appointee pre-designated by the Senator as a legitimate proxy for his or her approach to politics.
Oh. Well, that's less exciting.

This use of "us" following after the "we" in the previous sentence has me even more confused. With whom would a change in partisan control sit poorly? Certainly not with me! Nothing in my life has ever changed due to a change in the partisan control of the Senate. Certainly my life is less good than it would otherwise be due in part to the existence of the Senate, but the composition of the body matters not a bit to me. Anyway, if I did care about the partisan balance of the Senate (and may I reiterate that I surely do not!), I don't think a system of powerful people appointing their own successors would make me feel better about it.
This is the kind of thing that we tend not to think about until after it’s happened, but by that time it’s too late. The political system itself needs to be made as resilient as possible to attempted violent interventions.
"Too late" for what? Has the political system itself crumbled as a result of this shooting?

And, finally: am I the only one who thinks that it's funny when Democracy True Believers argue for making the system itself as resilient as possible?

MEANWHILE: Sky robot murder, starvation austerity, war powers expansion, occupations and escalations, coups d'etat, wetwork, black ops and the militarization of public space continue apace. (Thanks to Jack for the excellently condensed list of horrors.)


Randal Graves said...

Can't we simply eliminate the middle man & replace senators with sky robots?

Oh, if only I took this stuff Seriously™.

Jack Crow said...

Thank you, Ethan.

Ethan said...

You're welcome and thanks, Jack.

Hmm, replace senators with sky robots...yes! Great idea. Because their armed guards wouldn't be airborne, so for security reasons the senators would have to remain grounded.

TGGP said...

I'll play the contrarian to contrarians by referencing Using Terror Alert Levels to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime. A book I recommend is Mark Kleiman's "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment". My more sophisticated argument against Steve Pinker on why a lack of police might not be so bad is here.

Ethan said...

It may be that I feel differently about "crime" than you do; see "A propos," above.