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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Editorials Columnists Close to Home DC

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McCain’s Problem Isn’t His Tactics. It’s GOP Ideas. By Greg Anrig t long last, the conservative juggernaut is cracking up. From the Reagan era until late 2005 or so, conservatives crushed progressives like me in debates as reliably as the Harlem Globetrotters owned the Washington Generals. The right would eloquently praise the virtues of free markets and the magic of the invisible hand. We would respond by stammering about the importance of regulation and a mixed economy, knowing even as the words came out that our audience was becoming bored. Conservatives would get knowing laughs by mocking bureaucrats. We would drone on about how everyone can benefit from the experience and expertise of able civil servants. They promised to transform stodgy old Social Security into an exciting investment opportunity that would make everyone wealthy in retirement. We warned about the scheme’s “transition costs” while swearing that the existing program would still be around for today’s younger workers. They offered tax cuts. We talked amorphously about taxes as the price of a civilized society. After Sept. 11, 2001, they vowed to strike hard at terrorists anywhere and everywhere without worrying about the thumb-twiddlers at the United Nations. We stood up for the thumb-twiddlers. But now, seemingly all of a sudden, conservatives are the ones who are tongue-tied, as demonstrated by Sen. John McCain’s limping, message-free presidential campaign. McCain’s ongoing difficulties in exciting voters aren’t just a tactical problem; his woes stem largely from his long-standing adherence to a set of ideas that simply haven’t worked in practice. The belief system and finely crafted policy pitches that enabled the right to dominate the war of ideas for the past 30 years have produced a relentless succession of governing failures, from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to the environment.

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Global Warming Did It! Well, Maybe Not.

See RIGHT, B5, Col. 1 Greg Anrig, vice president of programs at the Century Foundation, is the author of “The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing.”

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PHOTO COURTESY OF NBC

GOOD SPORTS: Are these dumb games more fun than the Olympics? | B2

We’re stuck on the notion that climate change is the culprit every time a natural disaster strikes. But that’s just muddying the waters. By Joel Achenbach

e’re heading into the heart of hurricane season, and any day now, a storm will barrel toward the United States, inspiring all the TV weather reporters to find a beach where they can lash themselves to a palm tree. We can be certain of two things: First, we’ll be told that the wind is blowing very hard and the surf is up. Second, some expert will tell us that this storm might be a harbinger of global warming. Somewhere along the line, global warming became the explanation for everything. Rightthinking people are not supposed to discuss any meteorological or geophysical event — a hurricane, a wildfire, a heat wave, a drought, a flood, a blizzard, a tornado, a lightning strike, an unfamiliar breeze, a strange tingling on the neck — without immediately invoking the climate crisis. It causes earthquakes, plagues and backyard gardening disappointments. Weird fungus on your tomato plants? Classic sign of global warming. You are permitted to note, as a parenthetical, that no single weather calamity can be ascribed with absolute certainty (roll your eyes here to

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Joel Achenbach is a reporter on The Post’s national staff and blogs at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.

DOCTOR’S ORDERS: Why more physicians need to listen up | B3

signal the exasperating fussiness of scientists) to what humans are doing to the atmosphere. But your tone will make it clear that this is just legalese, like the fine-print warnings on the flip side of a Lipitor ad. Some people are impatient with even a token amount of equivocation. A science writer for Newsweek recently flat-out declared that this year’s floods in the Midwest were the result of climate change, and in the process, she derided the wishy-washy climatologists who couldn’t quite bring themselves to reach that conclusion (they “trip over themselves to absolve global warming”). Well, gosh, I dunno. Equivocation isn’t a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, “Maybe.” Seems to me that it’s inherently impossible to prove a causal connection between climate and weather — they’re just two different things. Moreover, the evidence for man-made climate change is solid enough that it doesn’t need to be bolstered by iffy claims. Rigorous science

HIGH-TECH HEROES

Enhanced Athletes? It’s Only Natural. By Andy Miah ere’s what it could look like: A swimmer, impossibly long arms swinging at his side, takes to the starting block. He has trained for this moment for months. Keeping up with the latest developments, he has endured surgical enhancements to enlarge the webbing in his fingers and toes. He’s wearing the ultimate in sharkskin swimsuit technology. He inhales deeply through nasal passages surgically widened to optimize his breathing efficiency — and dives in. That’s not something we’ll see at the Beijing Olympics, of course. We’ll see speed BIGSTOCKPHOTO.COM and finesse, but then, behind the scenes, the new champions will be poked and prodded and thoroughly examined to

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All wet: Global warming didn’t cause the spring floods that swallowed vast areas of the Midwest this year, including these homes in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Andy Miah, the author of “Genetically Modified Athletes,” teaches at the University of the West of Scotland.

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Even Ancient Sports Need a Modern Twist ENHANCE, From B1 make sure that they got to the podium by dint of pure brute strength and training prowess, not doping. But maybe it’s time that our view of human enhancement changed. I’ll be on my way to China this week for my fifth Olympics — as a passionate spectator and a scientific observer of the latest in the fusion of sports and technology. I’m looking forward to my favorite event, the triathlon. But I’m not looking forward to the endless, inevitable hand-wringing over doping and performance enhancement. It’s entirely reasonable to look down on illegal drug use, duplicity and rule-breaking, but I wonder: What are the end goals of our anti-doping crusade in sports? And has that crusade fallen hopelessly behind the times? By today’s standards, if most of us non-athletes took a random doping test, we’d probably fail it. Few consider this to be morally troublesome. For most of us, human enhancement is an essential part of daily life: We enjoy ultra-whitening toothpaste, vitamins, anti-aging skin cream, daily doses of caffeine and much more. We’re already enhancement junkies. So why should athletes be restricted in carrying out their daily tasks — such as breaking world records — when the rest of us are unimped in gaining a competitive edge at the office by, say, drinking coffee? The way technology is being integrated into athletics lags behind the way the rest of society treats new discoveries, in part because the sports world’s policies on enhancement are still committed to the venerable ideal of all-natural human performance. But this notion is a charade: Athletes are already highly dependent on all manner of technology, including aerodynamic uniforms and carefully calibrated nutrition supplements. So let’s own up to the truth. We cherish elite athletes because they provide extraordinary performances. We want to jump to our feet, cheering the latest world record or impossible come-from-behind victory. I encourage my fellow spectators in Beijing not to bemoan the demise of traditional sports. Rather, let us celebrate the rise of a new age of genuinely superhuman athletes, where the rules of sports are governed not by everpresent but ultimately unreliable doping police, but by a genuine concern for optimizing excellence. As technology gets better, athletes should, too. thletic performance is inherently technological. Athletes use scientifically designed equipment and scientific knowledge to develop their technique. Take, for example, the high jump. Not only do shoe companies reliably roll out the newest, lightest-weight shoes every year, but the modern technique itself is an example of biomechanical knowledge in practice. It’s called the “Fosbury Flop,” after American Dick Fosbury, who won gold in the 1968 Games by turning his back to the bar and projecting himself over it head, not feet, first. A more recent innovation are “altitude chambers,” artificial environments that simulate differing levels of altitude. These chambers have effects on an athlete’s biology that mimic some methods of doping, although they remain legal, for now. In this, the age of enhancement, new technologies enter elite sports preparation all the time. And more are coming, such as leg extensions using reconstructive surgery, or standard surgical procedures that translate into improved performance on the field. Consider Tommy John surgery, an operation named for the pitcher who was the first to undergo this specific procedure to repair torn elbow ligaments. Athletes who need a Tommy John operation face the hard choice between never competing again or undergoing invasive surgery and strenuous rehabilitation. But there is a silver lining for those who go under the knife: Some athletes report returning to the field pitching harder and faster than before they were injured. How far a leap is it to imagine athletes undergoing such surgery prior to injury to reinforce their biological capabilities? If a scalpel seems too extreme, how about a high-tech glove? This is just one of the new devices used by some

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Tarnished gold: Russia’s Irina Korzhanenko won the shot put in 2004 at the ancient stadium in Olympia. She tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of her medal.

Olympic-level athletes to combat fatigue. It’s a radical cooling device that maximizes the transfer of heat through the palms of the hands. It mechanically draws blood into the arteries and veins of the hands, reducing heat buildup that can decrease athletic performance in any sport. Steroids are decidedly not on this list of innovations. That’s because they are synthetic drugs that can radically alter the chemical make-up of a competitor’s body. Tailor-made treatments, based on genetic modifications, and new medical enhancement techniques promise a safer form of technology than the synthetic substances that are widely — and justifiably — despised in the athletic community. But that key distinction is a difficult one to draw because the use of illegal performance enhancements remains one of the most secretive practices in elite sports competition. What’s illegal, how to test for it, what can give someone an edge and isn’t banned yet — all these questions are kept under wraps. It’s time to end that. We need to abolish our current anti-doping rules and embrace a performance policy that recognizes the merit of using human enhancements. know this sounds like a call to arms that few will heed. That’s because we don’t really know what we want from sports. On the Olympic stage, we revere the tradition of the amateur athlete. The archetype of this sporting hero arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was made popular by the inspirational finishes (and soaring soundtrack) of “Chariots of Fire.” This athlete works hard, is naturally gifted and exploits those gifts to their greatest potential. But today, another vision is shoving that one aside at sports’ highest levels. It is rooted in the democratization of technology — in a world where high-tech training regimens exist even at the junior-varsity level — and is

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part of a broader transition we are all making: using technology to improve everything, at every level. Both visions — the amateur athlete and the high-tech hero — are dedicated to athletic excellence. They differ, however, in how they define this term. For the former, technology compromises and overshadows the natural athlete. For the latter, technology is a part of the natural athlete. The clash of these values is at the heart of the debate on doping, which is often overshadowed by discussions about fair play. I’m all for the high-tech hero. She’s the future. But how to get to that open culture? Ironically, gene doping, the current biggest challenge in keeping sports “clean,” could lead the way. Gene doping is a broad term for the manipulation of a person’s genetic structure to improve performance. Athletes literally change their genetic material en route to a faster finish. One typical example of gene doping involves the alteration of a protein that stimulates cell growth, increasing muscle capacity. This is the cutting edge of enhancement, what Olympic officials are most concerned about in Beijing. But testing for it conclusively is impossible. As this becomes the enhancement of choice, the anti-doping strategy must shift. The world of sports should become more concerned with managing health risks than with policing every enhancement effort. e want athletes to break world records. We want them to remain extraordinary. So the increased use of human-enhancement technologies will become a necessity, perhaps even an obligation. Just read any roster of your favorite athletic stars: Many suffer vast numbers of injuries at the height of their careers or later. We should not be trying in vain to prevent human enhancement in sports; we should be using technology to protect athletes from the harsh conditions of elite performance.

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That makes many fans shudder. I’ve heard people articulate this fear before: It’s a remnant of a vision of the “natural” era of sport history, embedded within a deeper anxiety about bodily transformation. These concerns have led us to a bizarre, illogical stalemate: We embrace all those enhancements that we have deemed a reasonable extension of natural ability, and we carefully regulate those that we haven’t. Synthetic drugs should still, I believe, be regulated. I am not arguing for a spirit of anything goes. The point is to recognize that what’s important within sports is the degree to which athletes are competing on a level playing field, where everyone is free to choose the enhancements that best accentuate their performance. That is what the natural athlete should look like today. There’s no better place to consider this concept of the natural athlete than Olympia, Greece. That’s where I was last week, speaking about social justice at the International Olympic Academy, not far from where the ancient Games took place and where the heart of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, is buried. Strolling around the ancient stadium, I thought back to that early competition, but not for some meditation on the lost purity of sport. No, I was thinking of the research showing that even the classical gods of sports sought a little help themselves: They consumed performance-enhancing mushrooms and other such substances to gain a competitive edge. If some lingering reverence for the idealized “natural athlete” of the past still locks us into today’s dubious anti-doping laws, the 2004 Summer Olympics should have helped chip away at that flawed vision, or at least shown that athletes do not, as a whole, share these concerns. During those games, several contestants in the shot put — the only event that actually took place in Olympia’s ancient stadium — including the female gold medalist, were brought up on doping charges. email@andymiah.net

Looking to Revive Conservatism? Don’t Listen to These Guys. RIGHT, From B1 Largely as a consequence, the public’s attitude toward government — Ronald Reagan’s bête noire — has shifted. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that, by a 53-to-42 percent margin, Americans want government to “do more to solve problems”; a dozen years ago, respondents opposed government action by 2 to 1. Meanwhile, Republican constituency groups’ long-standing determination to put aside their often significant differences and band together to support GOP candidates is fracturing: The libertarian darling Ron Paul and the evangelical Christian leader James C. Dobson are among the Republican bigwigs who haven’t so far endorsed McCain. And the mountains of books and articles by conservative writers attacking liberals and liberalism have begun to be matched by new stacks of tomes exploring what went wrong with conservatism and what is to become of it. As I listen to leading voices and thinkers on the right pondering the condition of their ideology, it is increasingly clear to me that they face a fundamental dilemma — one that cannot be resolved anytime soon and that might well leave the conservative movement out to pasture for as long as we progressives have been powerlessly chewing grass. That choice is whether to stick with rhetoric and policies wedded to free markets, limited government and bellicose unilateralism, or to endorse a more robust role for the public sector at home while relying more on diplomacy and international institutions abroad. Either way, conservative Republicans seem destined to have a much harder time winning elections for the foreseeable future. Just ask McCain how much fun he’s having. he single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution. It was a simple, elegant, politically attractive idea, and the right applied it to virtually every major domestic challenge — retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and so on. Whatever the issue, conservatives proposed substituting market forces for government — pushing the bureaucrats aside and letting privatesector competition work to everyone’s benefit. So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to pri-

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vate contractors, and curtailing regulations on public health, safety, the environment and more. And, of course, they pushed to cut taxes to further weaken the public sector by “starving the beast.” President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan, notwithstanding today’s desperate efforts by the right to distance itself from the deeply unpopular chief executive. But in practice, those ideas have all failed to deliver on the promises the conservatives made, and in many instances, the dogma has actually created new problems. Particularly after Hurricane Katrina, when Americans saw how hapless the Federal Emergency Management Agency was, the public has begun to realize that the right’s hostility toward government has produced only ineffective government. One can see the results in recent headlines: a Justice Department where non-conservatives need not apply; tainted spinach, jalapeño peppers and pet food; dangerous imported toys; poorly enforced environmental laws and a warming planet; the regulatory failures that led to the subprime mortgage fiasco. Meanwhile, large tax cuts (as under Reagan) have weakened the country’s fiscal health without significantly improving the lot of the vast majority of citizens. And the right’s enthusiasm for Bush’s brand of “benevolent hegemony” in foreign policy, which insists on the U.S. right to wage preventive war and dismisses the United Nations as a band of meddlesome bureaucrats, has weakened our security — most notably through the unnecessary calamity in Iraq — by diluting our military capabilities and diverting their focus from genuine threats from al-Qaeda. So now what? In new books, two conservative stalwarts, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, don’t even bother wrestling with such failures. Instead, they argue for an even stronger dose of the medicine that has, so far, produced mainly toxic reactions. They owe their fame to denigrating the government, so one can hardly blame them for sticking with the program. For conservatives to abandon the arguments that have served them so well politically for so long would be akin to a Fortune 500 company dropping its core business when it recognizes that the market for its product is rapidly disintegrating. Running away from something that has made you successful, even after the public is clearly no longer buying, is extremely difficult to do. Business-school

curriculums are filled with case studies of long-prosperous companies that went bankrupt precisely because they were unwilling or unable to shift to an enterprise better suited to changing times. Future political science classes might some day teach a similar story about conservatism. Shifting course won’t be easy, either. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, a pair of conservative authors decades younger than Gingrich and Norquist, argue in their new, much-hyped book “Grand New Party” that the time has come to “move beyond the Reagan legacy and the mindset of the current Republican power structure.” They suggest plenty of proposals that many progressives would support, including a fairly ambitious and expensive national health-care plan, subsidies for entry-level jobs and more investment in infrastructure. But while Douthat and Salam deserve credit for alerting fellow conservatives to the perils of staying the course, their embrace of a relatively activist government — if adopted by the broader movement — would shift political battles to a playing field on which progressives have a much stronger footing. Once conservatives concede that something like national health insurance is desirable, it becomes hard to discern what will remain of their Reaganite identity. On July 14, Rush Limbaugh himself fulminated on-air about reformers such as Douthat and Salam. “We have some Republicans who seem hell-bent in throwing away the one proven winning formula twice that won 49 states,” he said. “If you want to big-tent the Republican Party, go right ahead. You start big-tenting conservatism, and you’re going to have it end up meaning nothing.” t’s bad enough that opening up the conservative agenda to energetic government would lose Limbaugh. Worse, it would alienate the wealthy business executives and scions who have financed the formidable network of right-wing institutions that includes think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, activist groups such as Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and a plethora of conservative media outlets. That money flowed because its sources benefited directly and enormously from such policies as tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks. Those sugar daddies are unlikely to find much to be enthusiastic about in a Grand New

Party, and their money will largely determine whether and how conservatism will transform itself. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, tries to resolve the central dilemma confronting conservatives in his own recent book, “Comeback,” by having it both ways. On the one hand, he writes: “There are things only government can do, and if we conservatives wish to be entrusted with the management of the government, we must prove that we care enough about government to manage it well.” But he offers little in the way of concrete ideas for improving government, drawing heavily on familiar, ineffective ideas such as school vouchers and U.N.-bashing. Frum’s solution of pouring the old wine into new bottles can’t do much good since the wine itself has gone bad. Traditionally, conservatives have defined themselves as resistant to change, standing “athwart history, yelling Stop,” as the late William F. Buckley Jr. famously put it. But right now, conservatives — including McCain — are damned if they do change and damned if they don’t. ganrig@gmail.com

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, left, and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

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» Greg Anrig will discuss this article at noon Monday at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

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(2008) Enhanced Athletes? It's Only Natural  

Article published in the Washinton Post

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