"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
January 31, 2008
BASEBALL: The Santana Contract Talks
January 30, 2008
POLITICS: McCain to Win
It comes to this: John McCain and Mitt Romney. Rudy's out, and Huckabee is finished but will likely stay in the race as long as there is a race to stay in. More on them at another time, for we Republicans have a decision to make, and an important one: fall in behind the newly cemented frontrunner, John McCain, or stage a last-chance, rearguard action behind Mitt Romney. I'm sure I will not surprise anyone who has been reading my writings on this race these last few months when I say that I am supporting McCain, and hoping that the Party gets behind him quickly when and if, as seems likely, he sweeps a number of large states on Super-Duper Tuesday six days from now.
As I previously explained at some length, I am, like Martin Knight, under no illusions about the nature of a McCain presidency, which would undoubtedly lead to a lot of bad consequences for conservatives on a whole range of issues and would almost certainly lead a divided and demoralized party to a bloody and potentially disastrous schism by 2012. I'm not going to sell you on McCain's specific policies other than to point out the obvious, which is that he would be far better on the war, the courts, taxes, spending and entitlements than Hillary or, should the improbable happen, Obama. (I may return another day to what I think McCain could accomplish in office, specifically the hope I had in supporting him 8 years ago that he may yet be the man who can actually do something about the entitlements crisis; I would also remind McCain's critics that the man cast tough votes to put Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, and to oppose Bush's expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs). But as Ben Domenech has set out brilliantly, this election is so important at such a critical juncture that I am willing to make that deal to win it - and I believe with all my heart that McCain can win this race and Mitt Romney cannot.
I will address below three main points:
1. Why I think McCain can win, and specifically why I think analogies to John Kerry and Bob Dole are misguided.
2. Why I think Romney can't win and would be a bad candidate to lose with.
3. Why we need the primaries wrapped up quickly now that we are down to a more traditional two-man race.
Read More »
I. McCain Can Win.
As Adam C has noted, McCain has now vaulted ahead of Hillary and Obama in head-to-head polls. I don't pay a ton of attention to such polls this early before a nominee has been settled on, and that undoubtedly reflects the wave of good press for McCain as he gathers momentum, as well as the wave of bad press emanating from the nasty, racially divisive Hillary-Obama race. Still, it's a reminder that McCain can reach people in the general electorate at a time when the GOP is at something of a low ebb, and that's worth keeping in mind when discussing how.
A. The Silver Lining In McCain's Moderation
I have emphasized for a reason that ideas don't run for president, people do. Sure, some voters vote on issues, and candidates' handling of the issues also tells us things about their personality and philosophy and values that form a more general impression for the voters. (E.g., "I voted for it before I voted against it."). But the majority of voters are to be reached fundamentally by a sense of whether or not they like and trust the candidate and the general impression they have of what the candidate stands for.
McCain's defining feature is still his sense of personal honor, duty and patriotic service, and those are not characteristics to sneeze at; they will play well on the trail. He is still the man who could say with seriousness and dignity, as he did when casting an unpopular vote to remove Hillary's husband from office:
All of my life, I have been instructed never to swear an oath to my country in vain. In my former profession, those who violated their sworn oath were punished severely and considered outcasts from our society. I do not hold the President to the same standard that I hold military officers to. I hold him to a higher standard. Although I may admit to failures in my private life, I have at all times, and to the best of my ability, kept faith with every oath I have ever sworn to this country. I have known some men who kept that faith at the cost of their lives.
Step back from the many detailed disputes we conservatives have with McCain, and you can see why a lot of Republicans are fine voting for McCain, but also why a lot of independents and moderate Democrats are too. From a distance, the public image of McCain is indeed a guy who is conservative on core issues: a foreign policy hawk who made supporting the Iraq War his signature issue, a fighter against wasteful government spending, a man who opposes tax hikes and abortion, supported conservative judges and even fought against President Bush on expanding Medicare. Yet, it's also an image that sands down what a lot of moderates see as the rough edges of conservatism on the environment, "torture," immigration, and a variety of Beltway-scandal type issues. Fairly or not, that picture is an appealing one to the general public, especially when combined with McCain's own war-hero status. Spend some time talking to non-political people and non-Republicans about McCain and Romney and I guarantee you they will have a much greater openness to McCain than to Romney. That matters a lot.
Recalling that President Bush's approval ratings remain terrible (though not as bad as those of the wimpy, defeatist Congressional Democrats, from whom McCain is also easily distinguishable), consider Jay Cost's analysis of the Florida exit polls:
McCain once again won those who are disenchanted by the Bush presidency. Most Florida Republicans (68%) approve of the Bush administration. Romney won them, 35% to 31%. McCain, however, scored an overwhelming, 22-point victory among the 32% of voters who disapprove. I think this is one of the evolving stories of the Republican contest. If you like Bush, you are inclined to Romney (or one of the other candidates, all of whom but Ron Paul do better among Bush supporters than Bush opponents). If you dislike Bush, you are inclined to McCain.
Add in McCain's personality (more on this later), and you can see why he presents a particularly formidable general-election candidate, especially when matched against Hillary, who I regard now once again as almost certain to win her party's nomination by whatever means necessary.
B. He's Not Kerry or Dole
Critics of the "electability" argument often point to the Democrats' 2004 nomination of John Kerry, a nomination of a Senator and putative war hero made with both eyes on electability, as a cautionary tale. Critics of McCain often point to Bob Dole, another Senator and war hero, as a parallel for why McCain would be a weak candidate. There are indeed some similarities - all three Senators were "settled on" without being really the top choice of almost anyone in their party, and McCain like Kerry went from frontrunner to dead and buried in the summer and fall to suddenly revived at the last minute - but like Kerry's beloved Vietnam-Iraq parallels, the differences are just as important.
1. McCain's actually a good candidate.
Kerry was in a bunch of obvious ways (see here and here) a crummy candidate, and had Democrats listened to us Republicans who had watched the man at any length, they would have realized that. The fact that Democrats thought he was electable just proved how blinkered they were, for example overlooking a huge vulnerability (the longstanding animosity of Vietnam vets towards Kerry's behavior after returning from Vietnam in the early 70s) and mistaking Kerry's war record for actual credibility on national security. (An added bonus is that Kerry's war record failed to impress many of his fellow veterans, which is plainly not true of McCain. A number of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" knew McCain from being POWs and support him now).
Dole, burned by the coverage of his acid tongue in 1976 and his temper in 1988, was overly cautious on the trail, and struck people as too old compared to the vigorous, glamorous Bill Clinton. By contrast, McCain, despite his age, is fast on his feet and charming in his own brusque, short-fused way, and is unafraid to basically be himself. In Hillary, moreover, he is likely to face an adversary who is herself not the picture of youth and is about as un-charismatic as you could be.
McCain's age worried me a lot more a year ago before watching him on the trail. Obama, who could easily be McCain's son age-wise, has seemed exhausted and grouchy more often than McCain.
2. McCain's not running against an incumbent.
This ought to be an obvious point, but it gets missed a lot. Kerry, for all his problems, did not do so badly at the end of the day for a candidate running against an incumbent in wartime with a strong economy and a united party at his back. Despite the palpable lack of enthusiasm for Kerry in his own party, you could not argue (as with Al Gore) that the man lost because he failed to get his own supporters to show up and vote. He lost because the incumbent had a great turnout of his own and won over many people who didn't vote for him four years earlier. The same is true to a lesser extent of the Clinton-Dole race - Clinton was a popular incumbent, there was never any doubt that Democrats would be united behind him (he was able to start pounding Dole with TV ads in mid-1995, whereas Hillary is still tied up with Obama). The fact that Kerry and Dole lost to incumbents says little enough about McCain.
3. McCain is just fine with moderates.
This is related to the points I made above: Kerry was the very caricature of a Massachusetts liberal, so it should not have surprised anyone that the general electorate would view him as less electable than the Democratic primary electorate. McCain's problem is with conservative Republicans, not 'swing' voters. And conservatives by and large will come out to vote against Hillary for the same reasons the lefties came out against Bush in 2004. The contrast between McCain's "bipartisan maverick" cred and Hillary's deep, bitter divisiveness is a perfect recipe for a McCain victory.
4. There's a war on.
Dole's war-hero status, long experience in Washington and general foreign policy credibility didn't count for much in 1996 because national security wasn't a major issue in that campaign. In 2008, it's unavoidable.
II. What's The Point of Losing With Romney?
I have explained at enormous length previously (see here and go back to the prior 4 installments, as well as here, here and here for more recent, specific issues) why I think Romney - unlike McCain - is a weak and ultimately unelectable general election candidate, as well as less reliable as a Commander-in-Chief than McCain (RedState's gamecock, no McCain fan, summarizes the latter point here). And let's not forget priceless moments on the trail like this one, as well as Ben's analysis. Let's just review a couple of items here to sum up.
A. No Hablo Espanol
First, check the exit polls: McCain beat Romney 51-15 among Latino voters, with Mitt trailing Rudy by 10 points in that demographic as well. Even recognizing that Florida's Latinos are dominated by Cuban-Americans who may have their own reasons for preferring McCain, this is a very important demographic group and a growing one in critical states. GOP support among Latinos grew under Bush and has plummeted in the past two years, undoubtedly due at least in part to the number of Latinos who view hardline rhetoric on immigration with distaste or even fear.
Like it or not, the GOP cannot be competitive in the short or the long term if Latino voters become as solidly Democratic as African-Americans are. McCain's record on immigration is too far to the left for my taste, but it's bound to burn fewer bridges than Romney's approach. It's not just that Romney's an immigration hardliner, but that he really plays into every negative stereotype of the immigration hardline politician: an opportunist and panderer who only jumped on this issue when he ran for president, a man born to wealth who wants to crack down on the very people who mow his lawn. True, Romney would appeal to the tiny though growing slice of the population that is both Latino and Mormon. And true, much of that is unfair, but political realities are no less real for being unfair.
I know some immigration hawks will be upset at all this, and are the one group within the party that really might bolt over a McCain nomination. Look, I think he's been bad on illegal immigration too, and I think McCain's promise to do more on the border is likely to hold only for about two years, but at the end of the day there's just no evidence that there are or ever have been enough single-issue immigration hawk voters to be a factor in a national election. Whereas there is substantial evidence that there's a whole lot of Latinos, and an increasing number, and evidence as well that as a group they are likely to react poorly to a candidate who seems to be demagogic on this issue.
B. No Hablo Ingles, Either
Second, I've covered this issue at length before, but consider this frank discussion by Ana Marie Cox of the mood of the press covering Romney in Michigan, as evidenced by his clash with a whiny, gotcha-minded reporter over the roles of lobbyists in the Romney campaign:
One of the hallmarks of the Romney campaign is the way reporters, barred from access to the actual candidate, spend the journey from event to event talking about the candidate's latest distortions/exaggerations/evasions. So no wonder Johnson boiled over.
The specific issue is the danger created by Romney's lack of candor. Now, I'd like to be precise here. Candor isn't the same thing as honesty; basically all politicians can get caught at times bending the truth until it begs for mercy, whether deliberately or not. And it isn't the same thing as sincerity; all politicians at times pander to voters, donors, the media, etc. Neither McCain nor any of the other major Republican candidates in this race are immune to these.
But Romney has stuck out in this field because McCain, Huck, Rudy and Fred are all remarkably candid candidates, prone to one extent or another to going off-message, shooting the breeze with reporters, telling spontaneous and sometimes ill-advised jokes and uncomfortable truths, chewing out hecklers. McCain is a master of all these, and is beloved by the reporters who cover him for this at least as much as for his willingness to rip his own party. You can see this in the coverage even by lefty pundits like Cox who think McCain is a lunatic warmonger.
A highly disciplined, never-off-message corporate-communications style campaign, as run previously by MBA George W. Bush and as being conducted by former corporate lawyer Hillary Clinton, has its benefits: fewer opportunities for gaffes, fewer leaks. But the downside is this: reporters need something to write about. Most reporters are perfectly happy filling otherwise-vacant column-inches (and their TV/radio/cyberspace equivalents) from time to time by regurgitating press releases and talking points; it's easy work. But it's not what they got into reporting to do on a daily basis, and they crave authenticity and unscripted moments that give them a chance to flex their poetic-insight chops. A candidate who never gives the reporters anything but the canned message of the day to talk about creates a news vacuum, and as the Bush years vividly illustrate, that vacuum will often be filled by people who hate the candidate with an incandescant passion.
C. Going Down With A Picture of A Ship
Third, Romney's efforts to appeal to core conservative values should not be confused with credible advocacy of conservative principles. The recency of Romney's convsersion to the conservative cause doesn't just make him an untrustworthy leader but also a less than credible spokesman, since it's hard to convince people of ideas you yourself didn't believe in not so very long ago and seem to have embraced for purely opportunistic reasons. Some say that Romney appeals more to the "three legs" of the GOP "stool". But if national security, economic and social conservatism are the three legs, principled leadership is the seat. And if, like Romney, you try to sit on a stool with three hasily assembled legs and no seat, all you get is three poles up your butt. While Romney has had more success of late running as himself, a Mr. Fixit from the business world, his technocratic appeals to managerial omniscience divorced from principle rightly went out of style after Herbert Hoover.
As I have argued in the context of judicial nominations, sometimes the fights you are best positioned to win are the ones that are worth losing. But other than the fact that he can self-finance and avoid wasting other people's money, and perhaps the cementing of the Mormon vote (which is already a GOP stronghold), I don't see what could possibly be accomplished for conservatives long-term by losing with Romney. His transparent lack of principle makes his campaign the polar opposite of the conservative-activist-spawning runs of Goldwater in '64 and Reagan in '76. As noted above, he could turn off Latino voters, and if there really are a lot of anti-Mormon evangelicals, they could stay home and cost us races down-ticket. His record as a party-builder is non-existent. Unlike a McCain loss, a Romney loss would not be easily blamed by conservatives on an excess of moderation. Not only is he likely to lose with a lot less dignity than McCain might, he's highly unlikely to accomplish anything along the way.
III. Time To Pick A Nominee
Romney now trails in the delegate count 93-59, and faces a four-pronged problem on Super Tuesday: (1) McCain just got a big momentum boost, (2) McCain was already leading in a number of the states on the 2/5 schedule, (3) McCain seems likely to gain a lot of moderate Republicans who would have supported Rudy in big states like NY, NJ, IL and CA, and (4) with only a few days to go, Romney has only limited ability to turn that around by spending more of his own money, which he now seems gunshy about doing.
That could leave him trailing heavily after Tuesday even if he does win a handful of states. And if he does so, it's time for Mitt's remaining supporters to close ranks behind McCain.
Historically, the party that unites first behind a nominee wins. It's especially important for Republicans to do that this year, given the massive war chests held by the two Democrat contenders and the bruises left within the party by what has already been a long and contentious process. But just when the rest of us are heaving a sigh of relief that McCain, whatever his flaws, might yet lock this up before the bitter race war is over on the Democratic side, however, Hugh Hewitt wants to don the Mao cap and start the Long March:
Huck's voters are conservative or very conservative, and if they stay with Huck because they like him better than Romney, they hand the nomination to McCain.
This way lies madness, to say nothing of madness for the sake of ... Mitt Romney? Compare Romney to Reagan '76 all you like (and remember that the cost of losing in '76 was the Carter Administration), but to paraphrase Bill James, Romney is no more the embodiment of the Reagan coalition than a bearskin rug stuffed with hamburger is a bear. If McCain wins the handful of big states and his home state on 2/5, it should be over, for the good of the party, and for all of our sanity, so we can go back to beating the Democrats like a drum.
As I have said before, I think McCain's age, combined with his breaks with conservatives, make him an unlikely candidate to serve two terms, and a likely one to face a primary challenge in 2012. That may end up being for the best. But for now, he's the best of the two remaining choices in terms of giving us a chance to accomplish the most important things we as conservatives hope to do in the next four years. Let's get behind John McCain all the way to the White House.
« Close It
January 29, 2008
BASEBALL: It's Santana Day!
OK, a moment of respectful silence for the fans of the Minnesota Twins. Really, of all the miserable feelings in this game, few can top losing a superstar in mid-career over money, whether or not you get good prospects in return (Mets fans who are old enough to remember June 15, 1977 can tell you this).
OK, time's up...
WE GOT JOHAN FREAKING SANTANA!!!!! The best pitcher in baseball! The deal is conditioned on a physical and a contract extension, but the former is a relative formality (Santana seems quite healthy for a pitcher, although the name "Mike Sirotka" should remind us that the team still has to actually conduct the physical to confirm that), and the Mets would not have done the deal if they thought the latter would be an insuperable obstacle. Frankly, if Santana wants a better deal than Barry Zito got, he deserves it and should get it. (I looked at Santana's numbers in more detail here, including by comparison to Erik Bedard, who is reportedly close to being dealt to Seattle).
The Yankees and Red Sox offers must really have petered out in the end, because the Mets' package here is nothing the team will really miss in the short run and none of the people you would have rated most highly in the long run: Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, and pitchers Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey, rated by minor league guru John Sickels as the #2, 3, 4 & 7 prospects in the Mets system. No Wright or Reyes, no Pelfrey, no Fernando Martinez (the #1 prospect). Obviously, no Milledge. Not even Dan Norman. Looks like highway robbery to me.
22-year-old Gomez (minor league numbers here) is young, got a taste of the big leages and is blindingly fast, perhaps the fastest man in the game, thus resolving the issue of whether the Twins were going to need to stick Mike Cuddyer in center to replace Torii Hunter. But while Gomez is too young to be sure if he will hit with authority in the future, right now he seems more like the next Endy Chavez, and certainly not the kind of player you ever regret dealing for the best pitcher in baseball.
25-year-old Humber (MLB numbers here) is a legit if unspectacular prospect a year removed from arm surgery. My guess is, if Twins fans expect him to be the next Kevin Tapani, they may have a pretty good idea of what is coming.
23-year-old Mulvey is a well-regarded prospect, also not a huge strikeout pitcher but in 164.2 innings at AA he has issued 43 walks and allowed just 5 homers. Sickels has a writeup of Mulvey here (he throws mostly in the low 90s).
19-year-old Guerra is rated well by Sickels but seems to have too little a minor league track record to evaluate statistically, other than to note that as an 18-year-old he pitched less well in A ball than Santana did in the AL. He cut his walks sharply in his second season of pro ball, always a positive sign for a teenage pitcher. He's obviously a few years away.
This has to vault the Mets back to being clear favorites in the NL East.
January 28, 2008
POLITICS: The New Federalism Speech
As regular readers know (see here and here), I continue to believe that Rudy Giuliani is the best potential president in the GOP field - and specifically, the one most likely to accomplish conservative policy priorities - and would be a strong candidate in the general election. That assessment, which I won't rehash here, is based in large part on Rudy's personal characteristics, temperament and accomplishments; after all, ideas don't run for president, people do. Of course, Rudy's record on social issues has long been the primary obstacle to winning the nomination, and everyone who paid any attention whatsoever to Rudy's record and to Republican politics over the past few decades knew that. Thus, a Rudy for President campaign needed to have a well-thought-out plan from Day One as to how to deal with that obstacle.
Since the summer of 2005, I have been laying out in public and in private - including to people who hoped, at the time, to have the ear of the Giuliani camp - my roadmap to how Rudy could overcome this obstacle. I never thought he could win over everyone, but I believed then and believe now that there was an opportunity, had Rudy played his cards the right way at the right time, to take the goodwill and respect Rudy enjoyed with socially conservative voters who respected him as a leader and offer a compromise that would keep enough pro-lifers, in particular, on board to build a winning coalition in the primaries and hold enough of the party together - and appeal to enough independent or swing voters - to march to victory in November.
Rudy has followed some of the paths I laid out (not that I take credit for this), but he never gave the speech I thought would really make the difference. When voters go to the polls tomorrow in Florida, they may breathe new life into Rudy's campaign, or more likely they may end it. Either way, it's probably too late to give this speech - and so I offer it to you, dear readers, and to posterity.
Read More »
First, the setup. A presidential candidate who wants to change the public's perception of him (or her) can't rely on position papers or even, standing alone, a speech or press conference; what is needed is to create a news event. The ideal time to do this, if the candidate is addressing a weakness rather than a strength, is very early in the campaign, before the media has crafted its narratives, before officeholders have endorsed, before opponents have launched their attack ads (or, in some cases, even decided whether to get in the race), before voters and donors and pundits have become emotionally committed to particular candidates. The news event's timing and choreography should be planned for maximum effect, and be able to be summarized in pithy enough fashion to be embodied in the kind of shorthand talking point that can endure the game of telephone that is the media's and public's perception of candidates' positions.
An old-fashioned way to do this was to give a particular set of positions a Title in Capital Letters, such as the Square Deal, the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society...well, actually this fell out of favor after the Great Society, for good reason. "Compassionate Conservatism" is such a slogan, and was effective in rebranding George W. Bush, for good and for ill, as not Newt Gingrich.
So my thought was a speech at or near the announcement of Rudy's official campaign, early in 2007, promoted in advance with much fanfare, setting out his vision of the New Federalism, and proposing it as a break from the status quo in national politics. If presented in the right way, such a speech could co-opt both conservative themes and liberal media stereotypes in a way that could have created for Rudy an enormous opportunity. Here it goes:
I'm going to be talking about a lot of issues in this campaign, and about my record and my plans on those issues. I'll be talking with you about the terrorists' war on us, and the threat it poses and how we fight it. I'll be talking about victory in Iraq. I'll be talking about tax cuts, economic growth, cutting spending and reforming government so we focus on giving people more opportunities to control their own lives. I'll be talking about enforcing the law, from the border to the inner city. I'll be talking about how we improve our responses to disasters and emergencies, man-made and natural. All of these issues have one thing in common: they are all the day-to-day job we hire presidents to do, the most basic functions of the federal government.
My own sense is, the media would really have had no choice but to eat this up, and it would have upended the narrative of the 2008 primary campaign by presenting Rudy, of all people, as the great peacemaker on social issues, while staying true to his fundamental issue positions.
We may never know.
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POLITICS: Mitt Romney vs. the Suburbs?
The Hartford Courant's endorsement of Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination starts off on an odd note:
The Republican governor led the fight to control sprawl and bring more affordable housing to the Bay State with groundbreaking laws and a dramatic reorganization of state agencies. In 2003, he combined transportation, housing, environmental and energy agencies into a super-agency, charged it with stopping runaway suburban growth, then appointed a Democrat environmentalist to run it. By comparison, Connecticut is still nibbling around the edges of smart growth.
There's a story behind this, and it's not one that should warm the hearts of suburban voters who play a crucial role in the GOP's coalition in November.
"Smart growth" is a euphemism for a social-engineering movement to stop suburban "sprawl," i.e., the traffic and other problems caused by having housing spread out far away from workplaces and mass transit hubs. As a candidate for Governor in 2002, Romney asserted that "Sprawl is the most important quality of life issue facing Massachusetts." On the surface, concerns about sprawl seem reasonable enough, and advocates of smart growth, Romney included, have argued that this is less about government vs the free market than about how to direct government decisionmaking, including local zoning, that affects housing and other infrastructure patterns. As Romney said in 2004:
To keep Massachusetts economically competitive and to improve our quality of life, it is important to coordinate state resources and implement new policies which encourage sustainable development, especially around town centers where existing infrastructure is already in place.
At the same time, it does not take too much time listening to opponents of sprawl to detect antagonism to the whole suburban way of life - detatched houses, big cars, middle- and upper-middle-class communities. Republicans should throw their lot in with such groups with great caution. The head of Romney's "smart growth" program and one of Romney's first appointments was Douglas Foy, as described by the Boston Globe:
For 25 years Foy was president of the Conservation Law Foundation, a powerful regional environmental group, and observers saw his appointment as Romney's attempt to ''green" his administration. Industry groups were fearful he would push an anti-automobile agenda. Environmental groups were happy to have influence.
As president of the Conservation Law Foundation for 25 years, Foy was the hardball lawyer-advocate who coaxed and threatened politicians into following or advancing environmental law, sometimes halting projects, such as oil drilling off Georges Bank, and sometimes even spurring massive projects, such as the cleanup of the Boston Harbor.
While the Globe notes that "Foy turned out to be a lot harder to predict" in office, he and Romney never seemed to have stopped seeing eye to eye on the "smart growth" initiative, and Deval Patrick's administration has carried on with a number of Romney's smart-growth initiatives.
There's no question that Romney made the "smart growth" initiative a major priority. In 2006 he announced a half billion dollar spending program of loans to localities who agreed to go along with the state program, stating that "I think this is going to be the most lasting, visual effect of this administration, perhaps, that we can imagine". A 2004 initiative involved $100 million for the construction of "mixed" (i.e., partially "affordable"/low income) housing. As one observer noted
"They did put it on the map," said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which works for smart growth. "This is really the first time in my recollection of working in politics in Massachusetts that an administration put smart growth front and center as an objective."
So what's the problem? Well, consider the objections from affected suburban localities, and you can see the threat Romney's initiative posed for the very nature of suburban communities:
Officials in about a dozen of the Commonwealth's 351 cities and towns say they are interested in the program, in which the state provides cash for zoning changes that allow dense development in town centers or near transit stations. At least 20 percent of housing built in such "smart growth districts" must be affordable.
Boston, Somerville, Chelsea, Quincy, Newton, Natick, Weymouth, Watertown, Lowell, Grafton, Charlton, Williamstown, and Pittsfield have shown interest in signing up for the program when it becomes available in February.
Many analysts have noted the crucial role suburbanites and exurbanites in fast-growing communities played for the GOP in 2004, and the losses Republicans suffered among those groups in 2006. Those voters may not see a lot to like in Romney's record on suburban issues.
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January 27, 2008
POLITICS: Elections Have Consequences
Eliot Spitzer, like Rudy Giuliani, first made his name as a tough, hard-nosed prosecutor. Both men earned the dislike of big business for their aggressive approach to white-collar crime.
But the reason why Spitzer will never be Rudy is that he never did have the stomach to take on anybody but legitimate businesses - and certainly not violent criminals. Now, New York State is getting a bitter taste of the Spitzer approach to violent convicts.
In New York, you see, the Parole Board is run by a gubernatorial appointee, presently a Spitzer appointee named George Alexander. And what has been the result of the new management? Look at the numbers:
235 violent felons, including 215 convicted murderers, have been released by the state parole board in the first year of Gov. Spitzer's administration, records show. That's 58% more than the 148 violent felons paroled in 2006, the last year of Gov. Pataki's tenure.
The News report has some vivid examples of the offenders involved, including:
College student Jose Parmes was 27 in 1981 when he hurled his 10-month-old daughter out a sixth-floor window after fatally stabbing girlfriend Iris Torres, 28, and cutting off her left ear. Parmes jumped out the same window. His daughter landed on a second-floor fire escape and survived. Parmes, now 54, got 16 years to life in 1982. He was released in May after being denied parole four times.
WAR: The President of Europe
Former Tory leader William Hague delivers a hilarious and pointed oration on the possibility that a presidency of the European Union would grow into a much more powerful position, relative to the elected national governments of the continent, in the hands of...well, just listen:
BASEBALL: On Hold
Bill Madden is right: it's been a remarkably quiet offseason, at least the last 4-6 weeks of it. I know I've been tied up with work, with blogging the 20028 elections and with doing the data entry that underlies my annual preseason Established Win Shares Levels roundups, but even on top of that there really have been remarkably few developments that really called out to me to write about, at least unless one has a much greater appetite for steroid stories than I can bring myself to have.
For the regulars, consider this a baseball open thread. And yes, even as quiet as I've been and as painful as the end of last season was, I am still very much looking forward to getting this season rolling.
January 23, 2008
POLITICS: Ideas Don't Run For President; People Do
With the failure of the Fred Thompson campaign, there has been predictable and understandable wailing and gnashing of teeth in conservative quarters about the state of the GOP and what this all means for the future of conservative ideas. Fred ran as a full-scale, across-the-board movement conservative, and he went nowhere. Among the four remaining major candidates, we have two who are genuine conservatives on some core issues but basically apostates on others (Rudy and Huck), a moderate who is generally if not as dramatically out of step on a large number of issues (McCain), and one candidate (Romney) whose positions have changed so much from his past positions and record that nobody really knows for certain how trustworthy he might be if he actually won the general election. Conservatives are asking: has our party abandoned us? Have GOP voters rejected our ideas?
No, it has not, and they have not. Remember Article II, Section 1 of our Constitution: "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." President, singular, individual. Flesh-and-blood human. That's who holds the job, that's who gets elected to the job. No perfect vessel, no incarnation of ideas. And that fact must be repeated again and again until people understand that winning and losing elections and choosing leaders is about picking the right person from the available choices. Ideas don't run for president, people do.
We got the field we started with because these were the men who were willing to ask for the job and able to raise the minimum amount of money and signatures and staff to initiate a campaign. That limited our options to the people who had - or thought they had - the qualifications and the right political moment to run in 2008, not some other year. We got the field we have now because along the way, some of the contenders failed to promote themselves well, or made a bad impression, or ran out of money, or found better things to do with their time. That leaves the four men who remain, plus of course Ron Paul. We have no choice but to take each them as a whole - platform and record, experience and character, skills and resources. And it is just one of those remaining men, as a whole, with whom we will go forth to battle in November.
An awful lot of angst could be avoided by remembering this simple truth. And an awful lot can yet be spared if the folks who live in this big and querelous tent we call a political party - which we would all like and hope to see function as a majority party - would remind themselves of it: we have been asked to choose among men, not ideas. While our choices certainly reflect our view of the ideas each man champions, it is deeply mistaken to read the choice of one man over another as the final and definitive statement of what ideas we truly support. I, for one, as a Republican would like to know that the candidate we settle on - or settle for - has more people behind him than just the ones who agree with every one of his ideas.
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A lot of libertarians, for example, got burned because they forgot this, and started acting as if Ron Paul was a clear vessel containing nothing but the purest ideas, like that cipher John Galt. Instead, they had to deal with Dr. Paul himself. Old, shrill, slightly loopy-sounding on television, with an actual record (complete with earmarks for his district) and actual skeletons in his closet (photo-ops with crackpots and hatemongers, nasty racist newsletters published under his name). And more than a few of them ended up either distraught over his failure to make waves with the electorate or with egg on their faces for having signed themselves over lock, stock and barrel to this particular man. The mistake they made was in believing in Ron Paul the movement, Ron Paul the ideas, Ron Paul the platform, when the average voter was still going to ask whether the executive power should be vested in Ron Paul the man who is standing behind a podium waving his fingers.
Conservatives, being more worldly folk and by nature cynical about the perfectability of Man, ought to be able to absorb this lesson more easily. Fred and Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter all had their flaws as campaigners and as potential presidents. It so happens that each man - the total package all wrapped together - failed to catch on with the voters. What does that mean? Personally, I don't think it means a full-scale, across-the-board movement conservative could not win the nomination and the general election. But it does mean something we ought to know by now: that a full-scale, across-the-board movement conservative can't win the nomination and the general election every four years.
Can a lefthanded pitcher win the Cy Young Award? Can a high-tech company's stock deliver better-than-the-market returns from an IPO? Can I win Monopoly if my opponent has all the railroads? Can a coin land heads-up? If you want to test a theory, you need to test it repeatedly to come up with results that have more explanatory power than random chance or the particular conditions of the moment. And Fred Thompson, big a fella as he is, is way too small a sample size to generalize about the conservative movement.
So too with the opposite conclusion: that the success of one candidate equals some sort of insult to other parts of the coalition. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee represent opposite ends of the GOP spectrum, with little overlap among the issues on which they each do and don't appeal to conservatives. But like so many things, their role in the race says as much and more about themselves and the unique political moment of 2008 as it does about the GOP as a whole over time. If Rudy didn't have the record and personality he has, he would not have gotten as far as he did; same with Huckabee. Their successes and failures may owe a measure of influence to the particular positions they take, but there are so many other variables at work that nobody should take umbrage if they do or (as seems more likely for both) don't get the nomination.
The same goes for John McCain, and probably goes double because McCain is so many voters' second rather than first choice. Maybe 2008 is the right moment for a moderate Republican, and maybe it is not; but circumstances (including the specific characteristics of Mitt Romney, his strongest remaining opponent) will determine only whether it is the right moment for this particular moderate Republican.
We can whine and moan about the way the world works, or we can do the best we can with the time and the tools that are given to us. We were fortunate, once upon a time, to have a man named Reagan. We are not so fortunate every four years. We have been presented with quite a collection of men, each with his own particular virtues as a candidate (and each of what was once the "Big Five" has some significant virtues to offer). We should not take as a personal affront the inevitable process by which one of them is chosen. It was ever thus: ideas don't run for president. People do.
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January 22, 2008
FOOTBALL: Giants Among...The NFC
Sunday night's Giants-Packers NFC title game made me nostalgic for the days when I used to follow the NFL every week, rather than casually with my full attention not focused until the playoffs. It was a rare kind of classic game - typically a monster game involves two offenses clicking on all cylinders (like the Giants-Pats season finale - the all-time classic of this was the famous Chargers-Dolphins playoff in 1981), or two great defenses slugging it out, or a great offense against a great defense. But this was one of those rare games - much like the 1991 Giants-Bills Super Bowl - that was crisply played by both teams on both sides of the ball, and doubly impressive for such great football being played in such terrible cold. I don't think I have ever seen so many passes completed by one team with just tiptoes in fair territory on the sidelines (many of them diving grabs) as the much- and (until very recently) justly-maligned Eli Manning hit to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in this game. Those weren't blown coverages, as few of them were totally wide-open; they were just a QB in perfect sync with his receivers and the receivers making amazing snatches. Burress and Toomer have to be the best Giants receiving corps ever (and rookie Stephen Smith wasn't too shabby over the middle, either). The only marring factor was Lawrence Tynes' disastrous kicking before the OT game-winner; it reminded me all too much of the infamous Seahawks game two years ago when Jay Feeley missed three game-winning field goals, one to end regulation and two in overtime.
One thing you have to say is that Tom Coughlin's decision to play full-bore for the 'meaningless' win the last day of the season against New England was the right decision. Going the distance against the undefeated Pats juggernaut clearly gave this team a confidence boost, and now they face the Patriots feeling quite reasonably like they can take them. I'm doubtful that they will, not least because it's nearly impossible to beat a demonstrably better team in the playoffs with an unreliable kicker. But there's time yet for hope.
January 20, 2008
POLITICS: No Way I'm Disco Dancing
Having squeaked to a third-place finish in South Carolina with 16% of the vote, Fred Thompson has failed to do even the bare minimum he needed on highly favorable turf to remain a viable presidential candidate, and will soon either drop out of the race or remain in mainly as a spokesman rather than a serious contender. The "Big Five" is now down to four, and shrinking, as Mike Huckabee's second-place finish has wounded him in what had been hoped to be his Southern stronghold, and Rudy Giuliani's own do-or-die moment in Florida - and the test of his unusual "hang back and let them bruise each other" strategy - rapidly approaches with the specter of John McCain, the guy whose appeal overlaps most with Rudy's, as his primary obstacle (although Rudy may draw a few supply-siders from the beaching of the Good Ship Fred, and is calibrating his attacks accordingly).
Fred will be remembered as the Mycroft Holmes of presidential candidates. You will recall that Sherlock Holmes said that his older brother Mycroft would have been the greatest detective who ever lived, if that could be accomplished without leaving his armchair. That's Fred in a nutshell - indeed, the high watermark of the Fred phenomenon was his hilarious video response to Michael Moore, delivered ... from an armchair.
Fred's diehard supporters will complain that the mainstream media done him wrong, but as I have explained before, there were any number of full-scale conservatives one might have tried to draft into the race (we had serious and experienced if not quite as across-the-board conservative contenders running already in Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter); the reason people settled on Fred was precisely because his background as an actor and trial lawyer suggested a guy who, like Reagan, could work around and over the heads of the media. His failure to do so effectively was what doomed his campaign.
Fred tried to (1) enter late and (2) run one of those "new kind of campaigns" that never work on the presidential level; even if one of the two was possible, the combination, added to the erratic quality of his public appearances on the trail (even many Fred supporters came away disappointed at some of his speeches and debate appearances) and the general lack of a well-run campaign organization (Fred turned out not to be able to learn to run an organization, having never done so before), was fatal. Fred refused to play by old rules he felt were demeaning, but he didn't come up with an effective substitute. It was said of Henry Clay that he would rather be right than president; at times it seemed that Fred would rather be cool than president.
And in the end, he didn't even maximize his ability to embrace the new. One of my fellow RedState contributors suggested some time back that Fred should combine his talk-radio experience and the power of YouTube to do a daily video "message of the day" that could reach web-connected voters nationally on a daily basis, at almost no cost. Such a video could be short (2-5 minutes), and run from a prepared script, yet be far more substantive than a 30-second TV spot, and would still be a great idea for any presidential contender, doubly so for one with Fred's talents; unlike the largely ignored campaign blogs, it would be visibly the work of the candidate himself. Yet after the initial and sometimes rambling off-the-cuff efforts at "Fred Answers" to voter questions, Fred basically disappeared from web video productions. So much for the new kind of campaign.
Anyway, we may not yet be done with Fred, as he would make a fine Vice Presidential nominee (although McCain is almost certainly the guy he is least suited to run with, as such a ticket would be too old, too Senatorial and too inside-the-Beltway). But like Mycroft Holmes, he will be best remembered as a walk-on part in somebody else's adventures.
January 16, 2008
LAW/POLITICS: Supreme Court Leaves Politics To The Politicians
The U.S. Supreme Court today, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Scalia in NY State Bd of Elections v. Lopez Torres, reversed a Second Circuit decision that had overturned New York's system for selecting party nominees for trial judges. The appeals court had held that the First Amendment right to political association of prospective candidates for New York Supreme Court judgeships* were violated by the system of choosing nominees through party conventions dominated by party bosses, rather than through a more directly democratic system such as a primary.
Justice Scalia's opinion starts out with a concise summary of familiar and settled (if theoretically debatable) ground: the Constitution gives a political party some First Amendment associational rights to control its own processes for choosing its nominees, but imposes some restrictions (including Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment restrictions against discrimination) on a party's candidate-selection process when the state grants the party the right to a line on the ballot. But as he explains, the problem with the conventions is not any legal restriction on who can throw their hat in the ring but rather a practical, political limit to who can win those contests - a problem for which the solution is necessarily political, not legal:
To be sure, we have...permitted States to set their faces against "party bosses" by requiring party-candidate selection through processes more favorable to insurgents, such as primaries. But to say that the State can require this is a far cry from saying that the Constitution demands it. None of our cases establishes an individual’s constitutional right to have a "fair shot" at winning the party's nomination. And with good reason. What constitutes a "fair shot" is a reasonable enough question for legislative judgment, which we will accept so long as it does not too much infringe upon the party's associational rights. But it is hardly a manageable constitutional question for judges - especially for judges in our legal system, where traditional electoral practice gives no hint of even the existence, much less the content, of a constitutional requirement for a "fair shot" at party nomination. Party conventions, with their attendant "smoke-filled rooms" and domination by party leaders, have long been an accepted manner of selecting party candidates. "National party conventions prior to 1972 were generally under the control of state party leaders" who determined the votes of state delegates. . . . Selection by convention has never been thought unconstitutional, even when the delegates were not selected by primary but by party caucuses.
(Emphasis added, citations omitted). The Court similarly rejected the idea that one-party rule in many parts of New York State created a constitutional problem with the party's candidate-selection process that was resolvable by the judiciary:
The reason one-party rule is entrenched may be (and usually is) that voters approve of the positions and candidates that the party regularly puts forward. It is no function of the First Amendment to require revision of those positions or candidates. The States can, within limits (that is, short of violating the parties' freedom of association), discourage party monopoly - for example, by refusing to show party endorsement on the election ballot. But the Constitution provides no authority for federal courts to prescribe such a course. The First Amendment creates an open marketplace where ideas, most especially political ideas, may compete without government interference. . . . It does not call on the federal courts to manage the market by preventing too many buyers from settling upon a single product.
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(Emphasis added, citations omitted). Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Souter, concurred with a note questioning the wisdom of the NY scheme. Justice Kennedy, joined by Justice Breyer, concurred with a lengthier ode to judicial independence:
When one considers that elections require candidates to conduct campaigns and to raise funds in a system designed to allow for competition among interest groups and political parties, the persisting question is whether that process is consistent with the perception and the reality of judicial independence and judicial excellence. The rule of law, which is a foundation of freedom, presupposes a functioning judiciary respected for its independence, its professional attainments, and the absolute probity of its judges. And it may seem difficult to reconcile these aspirations with elections.
* - In New York, the main trial court of general jurisdiction for civil and criminal cases is called the New York Supreme Court; the state's highest court is the New York Court of Appeals.
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POLITICS: A Fred Reality Check
I like Fred. Strategically, I'd like to see Fred win South Carolina on Saturday. Concerned as I am about his performance on the trail thus far, I would have no quarrel with Fred as the nominee.
But let's face facts. Having failed to make a dent with a late run in Iowa, Fred needs to win South Carolina, or at least finish a very close second there, to have any reason for staying in the race (I know some people hope that Fred could ride in on a white horse in case of a brokered deal - but frankly he would have a better chance of doing that if he stops losing primaries and stops criticizing other candidates, neither of which can be done as long as he is still running).
And it's three days until the voting. And the RCP polling average still has Fred in fourth place in SC, with only a hair over 10% of the vote. Even factoring in that the more recent polls give him some momentum, Fred is really going to have to do something surprising to top 20% of the vote. And I can't see any possible justification for him staying in the race if he can't pull 20% of the vote in a Southern state with one of the nation's most conservative electorates when he has thrown himself into the fight there.
Fight on to Saturday, Fred. But if Saturday comes and goes without a major shocker, Fredheads are going to have to accept that the Big Five will have dropped to the Big Four by dawn on Sunday.
POLITICS: Notice Anything Missing?
CNN.com's list of "What to put between you and burglars" seems to be missing a particular home-security device - see if you can guess what it is. (Hint: it's the one mentioned in the Bill of Rights. It's also the only one left once the burglars are actually inside the house.).
I mean, I'm really not a gun fan myself, but it seems silly to discuss home security without even broaching the topic....on a related note, this has to be quote of the day - Instapundit, quoting a commenter at Alphecca on the Democrats debating gun control:
They're not "illegal guns." They're "undocumented firearms."
January 15, 2008
BASEBALL: The Dwindling Bums
The WSJ's sports blog rounds up some good stories about 1955 World Series hero and legendary pitching coach Johnny Podres. With Podres' death, only a handful of the Dodgers of the early to mid 50s remain, most notably the team's young slugger Duke Snider.
POLITICS: Is Senator McCain Serious About Border Enforcement?
Mark Krikorian, one of the leading immigration hardliners and the man whose immigration plan Mike Huckabee has adopted, asks the following:
Does Anyone Believe McCain's Change of Heart?
It's a fair question. Speaking as a McCain-sympathizing Rudy supporter, let me provide what I think is the answer here.
As I have noted before, Senator McCain, like each of the other main contenders, has changed his tune on some issues; in fact, immigration is probably the issue on which these five candidates have done the most shifting of their rhetoric and their positions over time, including a number of outright flip-flops. That said, there is a difference between a flip-flop and a strategic retreat in response to a collision with political reality, and I think the latter is what McCain is doing. He's not claiming he has changed his opinion - he is clearly still a believer in the merits of "comprehensive immigration reform" - he's just promising to change his behavior in response to a setback.
But do we believe him? My best guess, which is consistent with my general view that McCain may be worth buying but with the understanding up front of the tradeoff of remorse we will pay down the road, is as follows:
1. McCain has, in fact, concluded that it's politically impossible to get a comprehensive bill (including all the elements in McCain-Kennedy) through the Congress until some visible progress is shown on enforcement, just as the Clintons concluded after 1994 that a comprehensive health care plan would not pass.
2. Therefore, McCain will pursue stepped-up enforcement first, and will not push for a comprehensive immigration bill in 2009.
3. McCain's idea of what constitutes "stepped-up enforcement" and "visible progress" is very different from that of people like Krikorian, and probably not radically different from some of the things Bush has done. Expect some visible fence-construction and a few more big enforcement cases against employers, and maybe some funding for a verification system. Do not expect a crackdown on 'sanctuary cities' or radically stepped-up numbers of deportations.
4. Nobody wants to try to do a comprehensive immigration bill in an election year, so 2010 is out as well.
5. I would expect that McCain, who turns 75 in the summer of 2011 and is unlikely at that point to have the wind at his back as far as re-election or perhaps even re-nomination is concerned, will then seek to bring back a comprehensive bill that year, especially if the Democrats control Congress. The bill will probably have slightly tougher enforcement provisions than this year's bill, if only to continue things done in 2009-10, but it will not make it any more difficult for current illegal aliens to gain citizenship. And it will yet again come down to whether there are enough Congressional Republicans, plus a handful of far-lefties who don't want any compromise at all, around to defeat the bill.
That's my best guess. Whether you think that's an acceptable result probably depends on whether or not you think McCain is already an unacceptable option.
January 14, 2008
BASEBALL: Hot Stove Roundup: Tampa Bay Rays
Let's look at a few things happening in the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason. It's been a busy offseason off the field, as Tampa dropped the "Devil" to simplify their team name and make it more flexible, something I thought they should have done years ago ("Rays" is a pun, for a team in the Sunshine State), and pushed forward with plans for a new stadium without taxpayer funding (I guess they think an outdoor field will be more appealing to the fans they still don't have, though my own experience at the Trop convinces me that what they really need is more parking, aside from the obvious need for a better team).
On the field? Well, good luck to Cliff Floyd, who signed a 1-year deal with the Rays reportedly in the neighborhood of $3 million, which is pennies to most teams but actually a fairly big line item to the Rays. You would not have expected Tampa to be importing veteran outfielders a year ago, but the departure of Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes clears some of the logjam for an outfield of Crawford, Upton and (when available) Baldelli, and Floyd and Jonny Gomes will presumably form a left-right DH platoon and fill in when Floyd is healthy and Baldelli is not. Floyd replaces Greg Norton, who is actually the same age as Floyd, and he's an upgrade on Norton.
Floyd should help the team in the short run, but one hopes, for Tampa's sake, that the Rays aren't just opening the bankroll for the likes of Floyd only to pass on spending money on younger and better options that have more to do with building an actual contending team, which requires them to shore up the pitching staff and fix the team's worst-in-the-AL defense.
The Young deal takes a step in that direction, but at a steep price. The media attention seemed to focus on the idea that Young was ditched because of character issues, and thus the drama was set as a debate between those who saw Young as a ticking time bomb wisely removed (along with Dukes) from the roster and those who saw the Twins as savvily snapping up a very high-ceiling young slugger while his stock was down.
That may have been part of the motivation, although Young actually doesn't have a serious rap sheet beyond that one ugly incident in AAA; the Dukes deal is more of a straight-up "dump the jerk" deal, though Dukes batting .190 obviously didn't help.
The larger theme is Young for Matt Garza, which is obviously a risky move to trade a young hitter for a young pitcher. Not for nothing is Young regarded as a great prospect despite the fact that he is still very far from being a great player. 3 of the top four of Baseball-Reference.com's list of most similar 21-year-old players are in the Hall of Fame (Tris Speaker, Roberto Clemente and Joe Kelley; the fourth is Baldelli, lest we get too enthused). I looked at Young's numbers here.
Anyway, the overlooked part of the deal was the acquisition of Jason Bartlett from the Twins. Bartlett had the best Zone Rating in the AL last year (his range factor was less impressive, THT's range metric rates him closer to the middle of the pack; by fielding Win Shares he rated fifth in the AL). In any event, whether you rate Bartlett as a superior or merely slightly above average fielder, he gives Tampa stability in the middle infield that was sorely lacking. Combined with the 1-2-3 of Kazmir-Shields-Garza, that promises the possibility of the Rays actually keeping some runs off the board, which they dramatically failed at last season. Of course, that assumes that their other infield overhauls - Akinori Iwamura to 2B, rookie Evan Longoria in at 3B - actually works out.
Meanwhile, Jae Seo, who when he left New York looked like a guy who could have a real career, cut bait on the big leagues and headed back to South Korea after posting an 8.13 ERA that made him the least effective of a very ineffective crop of starters in Tampa. And the Rays have wisely not been suckered by Carlos Pena, refusing to offer him the long-term contract hoped for by his agent (cue menacing theme music) Scott Boras. Tampa is better off taking what they can in the two years remaining on Pena's current deal.
Finally, Tampa shelled out $8 million over two years for Troy Percival. Percival can apparently still pitch, and as closers go that's not all that expensive (it beats a 3-year, $10 million deal for Scott Schoenweis); I would not be thrilled with the deal but you can forgive the Rays for deciding after Al Reyes' unraveling after a solid start that a bargain-basement closer wasn't in the cards for them. As with the Floyd signing you can't really evaluate this one without knowing how they expect it to affect the rest of the team's budget.
BASEBALL: Domino Theory
Apparently the Brew Crew's signing of Mike Cameron - once he serves his 25-game suspension - is supposed to set off a domino effect on Milwaukee's defense, sending Ryan Braun to left and Bill Hall back to the infield, to third base, and Milwaukee writing off re-signing Geoff Jenkins. That's a good example of wise use of a veteran signing, since it lets the team put its quality young players in the right spots on the field.
Of course, probably the most urgent issue for the Brewers is getting Chris Capuano straightened out. Capuano battled a groin injury last year and recently had surgery on the labrum in his right (non-pitching) shoulder, but it's still unclear if injuries were at the root of his staggering collapse last season, in which he probably did more damage to a contending team than any player in the majors. Capuano entered 2007 looking like a potential breakout candidate after winning 18 games in 2005 and then cutting his walks in half in 2006 without losing strikeouts, and he was a big factor in Milwaukee's hot start, going 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his first seven starts, with 31 K, 13 BB and only 2 HR in 39 IP. But starting with a May 13 loss to the Mets, the wheels came completely off Capuano's game: 0-12 with a 6.08 ERA and the Brewers losing all 22 games (including 18 starts) he appeared in. Even base thieves, previously terrified of Capuano, went 6-0 against him.
But perhaps the two are related - was bad defense to blame? From 2005 through May 7 2007, Capuano averaged 1.16 HR/9, 2.84 BB/9, and 7.15 K/9; from May 13 on, it was 1.46 HR/9, 3.32 BB/9, and 8.19 K/9. A falloff in control and more homers, to be sure, but with a higher K rate that should have led at most to a mild off year, not a catastrophe. Yet, Capuano's H/9 soared from 8.86 to 11.27. Comparing 2007 to 2005/06 overall, his number of extra bases on doubles and triples per 9 IP actually dropped (2.51 to 2.16). Looking at the THT figures, as I did in Saturday's post, Capuano's DER dropped off to .670 from .717 and .705, and this despite a rise in his ground ball percentage (38.4 and 39.9 to 43%) and a drop in the number of line drives allowed (20.8 and 20.1 to 18.4). All of which suggests that perhaps Milwaukee's defense, especially the left side of the field (Braun and Jenkins), probably was very heavily at fault for turning a slight slippage by Capuano into a train wreck that ruined his confidence and got him exiled to the bullpen.
January 12, 2008
BASEBALL: Dissecting Blanton, Bedard and Santana
The Mets have lately been said to be pursuing three pitchers, all on the trade market: 29-year-old lefthander Johan Santana, 29-year-old lefthander Erik Bedard and 27-year-old righthander Joe Blanton. Santana, of course, is the best pitcher in baseball, and nearly everyone agrees that Bedard made The Leap to become a significant star in 2007 before his season was ended by a strained right oblique muscle. But how much better is Santana than Bedard, and why? And is Blanton really a quality alternative - or is he just a guy whose stock is high after a good year he can't repeat?
Let's break down their records over the past three seasons by their component parts, thanks to The Hardball Times and ESPN.com. Let's start with the basic numbers, and some sense of their context:
23/9 refers to doubles plus 2x triples per 9 innings - basically, how many extra bases the pitcher allowed on balls in play. Like hits per 9, this can be heavily influenced by team defense. LgERA is the park-adjusted league ERA figure from baseball-reference.com, so you can get some sense of the different offensive contexts they pitched in.
As you can see, the three pitchers show disparate trends. Blanton had a fine rookie year, a terrible 2006, and a bounce back in 2007. Bedard has been making steady progress for years. Santana had an off year in 2007, but his overall record is steady and the off year is consistent with what happens to great pitchers in midcareer from time to time.
Blanton's K rate alone tells you that he's just not in the same class as the other two. It improved in 2007 to the point where it allowed him to succeed, but his real step forward this season was in dropping his walks to a minuscule level, while also cutting down on the longball. Also, and we will see this more below, Blanton's numbers in 2007 suggest a more stable mix - he's less dependent than in 2005 on a very low hits/innings ratio that wasn't sustainable.
Bedard's gradual improvement is mainly a matter of mastering his control, though his previously steady K rate shot through the roof this year. His weak point is that unlike the other two he has yet to prove he can hold up under a 200+ IP workload.
Santana, by contrast, has carried a heavy workload for some years, which is generally a sign of durability but is also a double-edged sword in long-term projections. While his walks were up slightly, Santana's off year this season was mainly the result of a sharp upward spike in home runs.
Now, let's dig deeper to get at the components of how they got these results:
DER is the percentage of balls in play turned into outs; I've included team DER here as well so you can compare how much of this is team defense. LD% is the percentage of balls in play that are line drives, which on average are obviously more likely to be hits regardless of defense. GB% is percentage of ground balls as a percentage of balls in play. DP and SB/BR are numbers of double plays and steals per 100 baserunners on first, as estimated from (H+BB+HBP-2B-3B-HR). HR/F and IF/F are percentages of homers and infield flies as a percentage of fly balls. It's debatable how much this is luck vs skill by the pitcher, and of course a low percentage of homers per fly ball can also be the park rather than the pitcher.
Looking deeper into Blanton's numbers, a few things stick out. First, he really was a product of good defense/good luck in 2005, with that amazing DER. Second, I wonder if THT has changed the way they compute infield flies, since all three of these guys had a much higher proportion of them in 2005. Third, it's not really fair to compare him to two lefties in terms of holding runners on.
And fourth, and most important, Blanton is not a ground ball pitcher, so his bread and butter is that exceptionally low (one of the lowest in the AL two years running) rate of homers per fly ball. With a mediocre K rate and a great walk rate, Blanton's success turns in large part on his ability to combine a very low HR rate with that great control. Oakland's a big ballpark, but from what I can tell from looking at the A's numbers in recent years (including comparing, say, Barry Zito's numbers from 2006 and 2007), while Oakland pitchers do seem to have possibly a lower HR/F ratio than normal, there doesn't seem to be anything dramatic enough to suggest that Blanton's numbers are mainly park-driven. Either this is a skill, or he has been very lucky two years running.
As a result, while he's got to be the third choice in this crowd, compared to two #1 starters, I feel OK with the idea that at least Blanton's great control and relative lack of homers allowed makes him a good bet to remain a reasonably effective third starter type for the next few years.
As to Bedard, he's clearly labored under the toughest conditions of the three - highest-scoring environment, poorest defensive support. His eye-popping K numbers suggest a guy who is pretty close to the top of the game right now. Starters who can routinely rack up over those kind of K/9 are hard to find (the Mets are fortunate that of the 26 starters to strike out at least 7.7 men per 9 in 300+ innings over the past three years, they have four of them - Pedro at 8.98, Perez at 8.55, El Duque at 7.86 and Maine at 7.71. Bedard or Santana would make a fifth if they don't have to part with Maine or Perez). He has also done a tremendous job of avoiding doubles and triples (this year Corey Patterson may have been a factor in that). The issue with Bedard is whether you can project him forward from 180-190 innings to 220-230, which he has never done.
As for Santana, I've said before that if you can sign him and not part with Wright or Reyes, you do that deal; he's the best in the business. Santana's a high-risk proposition because he is a pitcher, but he's probably the least risky bet of any pitcher in the game. Note that on top of great K/BB numbers his DERs have been markedly better than the team three years running, which suggests at least the possibility that he may have some particular skill in avoiding good contact. Note that Santana in a bad year still had an ERA more than half a run lower than Blanton in a more favorable park having a very good year.
Santana's high HR rate this year was partly trhe result of his very low GB/FB ratio, but it was probably partly a fluke (that 15.6% HR/F was one of the league's highest and out of line with his past history).
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BLOG: Quick Links 1/12/08
*Tom Maguire on Paul Krugman's efforts to put lipstick on the pig of the European welfare state. Of course, deceit is to Krugman what the fedora and the bullwhip are to Indiana Jones.
*Two war-related decisions yesterday from the DC Circuit; one that rejects First Amendment challenges by Cindy Sheehan to her arrest at a protest but reverses her conviction for failure to prove her state of mind, the other of which rejects a variety of civil claims against Donald Rumsfeld and a variety of other DoD personnel, brought by Guantanamo detainees claiming that they were tortured or otherwise mistreated in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
*Slate has a really silly article about the demise of the billable hour, while admitting that the big law firms that handle high-end cases (i.e., lawyers like me) are not likely to abandon hourly billing any time soon. Yes, it's true that basically every lawyer in private practice hates the billable hour; that's been true as long as anyone could remember. And it's true that clients don't love it either, and that if change comes to billing methods, it will come from client demand. But like Churchill's dictum about democracy being the worst form of government except every alternative that has been tried, hourly billing endures because lawyers and clients alike are familiar with it, and for potentially major litigation, it's hard to come up with alternatives that don't have larger problems. The flaw in the Slate piece is not suggesting any feasible alternative - that works at least minimally for both lawyer and client - for how to bill a case that walks in the door with potentially huge damages liability, yet even the most experienced litigator can't tell you up front whether it will be quickly dismissed or settled, or end up in years of labor-intensive discovery and trial, or somewhere in between. Without a workable alternative, large organizations will always prefer the tried and tested, and work within that framework to make the process work for both parties.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:43 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Endy Ailing
January 10, 2008
POLITICS: The McCain Temptation
Well, the caucusers have been counted in Iowa and Wyoming, and the votes are in in New Hampshire, and the candidate I have endorsed - Rudy Giuliani - has yet to get off the mat, while one guy we all buried last summer, John McCain, is suddenly in the thick of the race, and could officially claim frontrunner status if he can win the Michigan primary on Tuesday, January 15.
As a result - and I've been building to this for the past two months, so New Hampshire just brings this to a head - I find myself on the horns of a dilemma regarding the 2008 GOP presidential primaries, and I don't mind sharing it with you, dear readers: I'm debating whether it's time to back another candidate besides Rudy - specifically, McCain. I don't do this lightly; I've debated the merits of others in the field before, but I don't shed commitments easily, and my longstanding view is that, having made my choice, I won't switch to another candidate unless and until I'm decided to walk away from the Rudy camp for good. I'm still not ready to do that - but for now, at least, I'm happy to see Senator McCain's victory in New Hampshire, and I even sent a donation his way to help him take on Romney and Huckabee.
As regular readers will recall, while I supported McCain in 2000, I have been a long time supporter of Rudy, having followed his career since the mid-1980s, lived in New York City through his second term as Mayor and been through September 11. I laid out in the summer of 2005 my roadmap for how I thought he could pursue the GOP presidential nomination in spite of his pro-choice, socially liberal record and I came out publicly for Giuliani for president in February 2007. Today, I'll explain why McCain may end up being my guy after all - and why the collective impulse of a lot of us to settle on McCain is tantamount to taking the known divisions within the party and kicking them down the road for the sake of this election, even if possibly at the cost of aggravating them further in the interim.
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You Can't Make Me Vote For The Amateurs Or The Sunday Pitcher
While I would vote for any of the Big Five in a general election, I won't repeat here my reasons for considering Mitt Romney an unacceptable choice for the nomination, which I chronicled exhaustively in my "The Trouble With Mitt Romney" series Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And I will touch only very briefly why I can't support Mike Huckabee. Back when he was a minor candidate I wrote off Huckabee due to the domestic-policy concerns laid out here, including not just his record but his priorities. Just as I was starting to reconcile myself to the idea that we could win a general election with Huck and live with his harebrained economic populism and nanny-statism, however, we got increasing evidence (see, e.g., his Foreign Affairs piece chock full of every discredited Democratic foreign policy cliche in the book) of his unreadiness to be the Commander-in-Chief. On this, I even agree with this guy.
Suffice to say that my presidential choice at this stage - as is true of many conservatives who regard national security as issue #1 during wartime - is thus limited to the three candidates in the GOP field I regard as serious grownups: Rudy, McCain and Fred Thompson. And I explained recently why I'm not backing Fred, much as I like him. Which leaves me two choices: Rudy and McCain.
Schism Today, or Schism Tomorrow?
Let's go back to my test for candidates, as set out in the opener to the Romney series:
1. Can he . . . win the general election?
On #4, while there are differences between Rudy and McCain, I regard both of them as fundamentally trustworthy on the war, ready to step in as Commander in Chief (as ready as anyone can be coming from Congress or state/local government, at any rate) and head and shoulders above the field in both parties in terms of their credibility on this issue, to the point where McCain even won among anti-Iraq War voters in NH. Because I trust both men to protect the nation when the chips are down, that leaves the first three questions.
1. Chasing The Electability Chimera
Here's the irony: one of the reasons I had initially for supporting Rudy was that he's such a great campaigner and debater, and would be a formidable opponent for Hillary (or, now, possibly Obama) in the general election. But right now, there's growing reason to believe that McCain would be the GOP's strongest general election candidate, which I'll get to in a second. Yet, as discussed below, I still think Rudy would be the better president of the two, and that Rudy would advance more of the conservative agenda, while McCain seems more likely to unify the GOP coalition during the campaign and fracture it in office. The decision between the two, therefore, comes down to how we weigh electability against governability as well as its wages in subsequent elections.
I view electability mainly as a floor; if we have multiple candidates who can win, you pick the one you would most like to win. But electability is itself a moving and elusive target. The problem in this election is that the GOP starts in such a bad place, against such well-known and well-funded Democratic opponents, and the stakes in this race are so high (at least in terms of the war, the courts and taxes; I'm far less optimistic than in 2000 or 2004 that we can move the ball on any other domestic legislative priorities of consequence in the next four years) that electability looms larger than it has in years past.
McCain consistently polls better than any other Republican in projected head-to-head matchups, especially in the key swing state of Ohio, without which no Republican has ever won the White House (Adam C has covered this extensively). I personally don't take polls 10+ months before an election as terribly strong evidence, given the things that can change in the course of a contested campaign, but it is one piece of data to consider.
There are two considerations that carry more weight than polls, at least at this stage, in determining electability. One is gained from watching the candidate and his campaign in action. On that score, neither McCain nor Giuliani has run the best of campaigns (given their strong positions this time a year ago, neither is in the position they should be in), but both remain excellent candidates - eloquent, funny, quick on their feet, thoroughly at home with their reputations as rough-edged tough guys and long experienced in taking shots from both sides of the aisle. Both men should fare well in providing either the charisma and humor that's lacking in Hillary or the spine and gravitas that's lacking in Obama. Neither should be taken lightly in a debate.
Since it takes two to get votes (the candidate and the voter), however, the other part of the electability equation is what voters they will appeal to. And here is where Rudy's flaws as a candidate require serious thought. Two stand out. I've spent a lot of time arguing with people about these issues, but I hope nobody came away with the impression that I don't take them seriously. They are, in fact, the main reasons to worry about Rudy in November.
The first is his liberal record and positions on social issues, mainly abortion. There are some conservative voters who simply will refuse to pull the lever for Rudy, even knowing that the result could be handing the control of the courts and the rest of the social-issue agenda to Hillary Clinton. I've argued repeatedly that this is daft, but that's beside the point; the point is that it's a feature of the map as real as any other. Nobody really knows how many such voters there are, and certainly a lot of them are likely to reside in solid-red states in the Deep South. But at least some will likely be in states we need to win. There are also the "What's The Matter With Kansas" voters, for whom the pro-life/social conservative banner is the main or only reason they vote GOP. Again, it can be hard to put a number on these voters but in past years they have been crucial to GOP candidates winning LA, AR, KY, WV, in some cases OH and IA, and staying competitive in PA & MI (although PA also has a lot of socially liberal Rs, so the tradeoffs there are debatable).
If you go back to my 2005 roadmap, Rudy has actually done most of the things I suggested to try to build bridges to these voters. He's appeared at the right events, he's met with the right leaders and even won a few endorsements, he's treated SoCons with respectful and solicitous language, he's made the necessary "do no harm" promises on a host of issues and changed his positions around the margins (e.g., partial-birth abortion), he's surrounded himself with a great group of advisers on judicial conservatism, and he's beaten the drum for judges, judges, judges.
I never thought Rudy could credibly come out to call for banning abortion; but he could have run as a clearer pro-choice/anti-Roe candidate, and laid out a fuller, more compelling story of why social-issue federalism should appeal to culture warriors on both the Right and the Left. He hasn't. He blew an early debate answer by waffling on whether a 'strict constructionist' judge would need to vote to overturn Roe; a guy with a pro-life record could afford ambiguity on that question, but Rudy couldn't. I may post at some point the precise framing of the issue that I think he needed to pursue, but I no longer expect anything new on this front from him; he's stuck with the residual mistrust that his abortion position created, and we go to war with that in our nominee or we don't.
Social conservatives are the only faction of the party Rudy has a real problem with; he's run as far or further to the right of everyone in the field on national security and economic issues, he's fairly successfully used his law enforcement creds to wend his way to the middle of the field on immigration, and he's benefitted from the complete demise of any national impetus for gun control (the silence that followed the Virgina Tech shootings was tellingly deafening). Ironically, given the importance of Supreme Court nominations, Rudy could actually end up mending fences in office with good judicial nominations and fidelity to the "do no harm" agenda. But he has to get there first - so the schism comes to the fore now, during the election season.
The second electability issue Rudy brings is his personal life - and it becomes a more significant issue if running against Obama than if the opponent is the Clinton Traveling Soap Opera. I will admit that I probably underestimated quite how badly this could hurt Rudy, since it was already a very well-known aspect of his life, and one that most people could balance against his extensive public record. But what happened to Rudy is very easy to explain: a spate of stories in early December 2007 about police details for Judith Nathan during the secret portion of their affair and the collapse of Rudy's second marriage did what no story had done before, and tied the issue to Rudy's capacity as Mayor. And the result, more than anything else, was devastating to Rudy's standing in the polls:
The state-by-state results were worse, essentially driving Rudy out of races that had once looked competitive for him in New Hampshire and Michigan. It hardly mattered that most of the stories had little substance to them and fell apart on closer examination. What mattered was that it moved a lot of voters from thinking of this as old news to worrying that there were other shoes to drop. Combined with the ugly overhang from the decline and fall of Bernard Kerik, that issue as well is likely to dog Rudy going forward.
Now, there remains a good possibility that once we get down to a two-person general election race, Rudy can offset a lot of these problems by reaching into areas where the GOP has done poorly in recent years. He'll undoubtedly be competitive in states like PA & NJ that the Democrats absolutely must win. But "competitive" doesn't win elections, and so the Rudy strategy of widening the number of states in play could still turn out to be a case of just stretching resources too thin, especially in Northeastern states where urban Democratic machines have ground games that always win the close ones.
Rudy thus faces a two-pronged electability problem; McCain doesn't. The only GOP faction that really regards McCain as anathema is the immigration hawks, but I continue to doubt how large that group really is (especially the segment that voted for Bush). McCain may thus be able to cobble together a lot of different factions of the party that consider him better than the worst option in the field. His wry personality, long tenure in office, national visibility, war hero status and genuine credibility on national security all add up to the makings of a consensus candidate that may be nobody's first choice, but could keep the party from fracturing along its various fault lines long enough to hold the White House.
2. So We Won. What Do We Do Now?
So yes, I think McCain is electable, at least as electable as anybody in the GOP field. And I'm no longer sure whether or not Rudy is. And I can live with McCain as the nominee. But that doesn't mean I'm leaping to his banner, either.
First, I think Rudy would be a better and in practice more functionally conservative president. I explained this in my original Rudy endorsement: McCain has no executive experience; Rudy is the most gifted and accomplished public executive of the past two decades. Rudy is a prioritizer who wants to cut taxes and spending across the board and has a record of doing so; McCain has tended to pick even his spending battles on small-dollar pork projects (although he did oppose Bush's prescription drug boondoggle) and stood vocally against Bush's tax cuts. While I think all five major GOP candidates would be good on judges but I trust none of them except Fred 100% on the issue, I think it more likely that Rudy will listen to his advisers on this issue and try to establish a good process, whereas I still worry that McCain might prioritize his campaign finance crusade, which will never be blessed by judges who take the Constitution seriously. McCain is more likely to pursue death to conservative priorities by a thousand cuts in the regulatory agencies, environmental policy, etc.
More to the point, not only is Rudy more conservative on the issues that are the bread and butter of the President's daily business and traditional Article II powers, but it's McCain's style that worries me. We all know too well (see here and here for good analyses) how McCain has over and over and over sought to triangulate, putting himself in the middle to media plaudits, with GOP conservatives left out in the cold. Rudy, while he's mistrusted by the Right on some discrete issues, isn't like that; he's more naturally a polarizing figure who is likely to pick a lot of fights with the Democrats just because that's who he is. But a McCain presidency would likely wear down frustrated conservatives over time. The fact that he aggravates nearly everyone in the party a little can be papered over for an election season, but it will wear as time goes on, and wear badly.
McCain will turn 72 in August; he's just a year younger than Reagan when he pursued his second term. It's highly likely that after four years of him, either he will wear out and not run for a second term, or conservative patience with him will exhaust and lead to a nasty primary battle against an incumbent. If we line up now behind him, we can perhaps avoid splitting the party in this election, and the rewards, particularly due to McCain's leadership in wartime, may well be worth the cost.
But we can't fool ourselves that a McCain nomination wouldn't prevent a schism in the party, it would only delay one and perhaps redraw the lines into a more traditional moderates vs. conservatives battle. Which is one reason why, even though I've been happy for McCain's recent rise, even though I may well end up in his camp, even though I've even recently given him money, I'm not yet ready to throw my support behind the senior Senator from Arizona. The McCain temptation puts us to a choice: if we follow him into battle today and win, we will probably end up fighting him tomorrow. That may be a deal worth making, but it's still a compromise, and one on which the bill will eventually come due.
« Close It
POLITICS: Here's Where I Think We Stand As of Now on the GOP Horse Race
Take this for what it's worth, but here with minimal spin is my distillation of the calendar, the polls and the CW as they stand.
1. There is no frontrunner. The winner of Michigan on Tuesday becomes the official frontrunner at least through Florida on the 29th. If it's McCain, he argues that he's a known, vetted national figure who has won 2 of 3 significant contests thus far. He then remains the frontrunner even if he doesn't win SC. If it's Huck, he argues that he has won 2 of 3 and is only now heading for his home region; he stays the frontrunner unless McCain somehow beats him in SC. If it's Mitt, he argues that he alone competed in all 4 contests thus far, won MI & WY, placed second in IA and NH, and has the money to go national on 2/5.
2. Rudy has to win FL outright or he is toast. He's gone too many contests without being competitive; only a first place showing in a big, contested state changes that dynamic. If Rudy wins FL, his February 5 strategy remains in play, though it is still a long shot. Best outcome for Rudy now is for McCain to win MI and Fred to at least make a strong showing in SC so that Rudy faces neither a re-energized Mitt on 2/5 nor a Huckernaut in FL.
3. Fred has to win SC outright or he is toast. Same dynamic as Rudy, plus Fred needs badly to keep Huck from locking down the South. Best outcome for Fred now is for Huck to finish third in MI.
4. There's no way that there are more than three tickets punched to survive 2/5, but I can easily see it remaining a 3-man race through March 4, when Ohio, Texas and three New England states vote (MA, RI & VT). My guess as of now is that the race ends there; I can't see anybody being ready to put the whole thing to bed by 2/5 (several of the candidates have likely wins that day in their home bases) and the primaries in between (LA & KS on 2/9, VA/MD/DC on 2/12, and WI/WA on 2/19) seem unlikely to be decisive for candidates who have survived that far. But God have mercy on us if we go past 3/4; besides Mississippi on 3/11, we then go six weeks until the next primary (Pennsylvania on April 22), by which time the D nominee will already be spending general election funds.
5. The hidden story here is money. Except Romney's own checkbook, none of these guys has the money to last beyond 2/5, and only Mitt and Rudy can even get that far without raising a lot of money this month; that's why they each need to leverage visible momentum to avoid getting KO'd. But the surprise at the end of the day may be that one of the candidates who ended up far off the money lead wins the nomination, which is a much bigger long term story than it has been so far.
January 9, 2008
POLITICS: Schadenfreude, Schadenfreude, Lovely, Lovely Schadenfreude
Related thoughts here. If Hillary beats Obama, it's gonna be Humphrey '68 and Bob Abrams '92 rolled into one.
POLITICS: Well Said By Tyler Cowen
Megan McArdle described this as "the year's best blog post" - I would hardly go that far (even in such a young year), or even agree with all of it, necessarily. But Cowen has some fine points worth pondering.
And it's only four letters. H/T Ben.
POLITICS: New Hampshire Memory Lane
I could swear I posted this years ago, but it came to mind on the morning after a crafty veteran pol defeated a people-powered insurgent in NH in the face of polls showing the contrary . . . Let's just say it's a reminder that in Democratic primaries, not all is necessarily as it seems on the surface.
Vice-President Al Gore may have won the 2000 New Hampshire primary - and subsequent primaries, which fed on the New Hampshire-generated momentum - thanks to a traffic jam. At least that's what many Democratic operatives with experience in New Hampshire seem to think. Today, when people look back at the 2000 Democratic-primary season, the prevailing memory is of Gore trouncing former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley. But he beat Bradley in New Hampshire by just four points, a relatively narrow margin of 6395 votes. The bulk of these votes - more than 3000 - came from Hillsborough County, home to Nashua and Manchester, as well as abutting suburbs like Bedford, Goffstown, and Merrimack. This is a small, relatively compact area where political foot soldiers can provide the margin of victory. And, many believe, during the last New Hampshire primary, they did.
WAR: A Traitor Dies In Exile
Philip Agee, a former CIA agent who became an outspoken critic of the agency and opened a travel site to bring Americans to Cuba in defiance of U.S. law, has died following ulcer surgeries, Cuban state media reported Wednesday. He was 72.
Leaving aside the benefits to Mr. Agee of Fidel Castro's world-class health care system, there is no doubt that his deliberate exposure of scores of active undercover CIA operatives - which led to the passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 - was a calculated effort to undermine the security of the United States, at cost to the lives of those who serve us in most dangerous capacities.
He will not be missed.
January 8, 2008
BLOG: Quick Links 1/8/08
*Dave Barry's Year in Review. Priceless. Too much great stuff to excerpt.
*Mark Steyn cautions against
writing New Hampshire off as just another effete decadent coastal latte-swilling gay-marriage weekend home untypical of the conservative heartland, just a Studio 54 in the mountains full of transplanted liberals hitting on coked-up moose as they stagger around in search of a restaurant serving something with arugula. NH delivered Bush's margin of victory in 2000. It remains the north-east's still-just-about non-liberal state. If the Republican Party can't come up with a candidate that has some appeal in New Hampshire, its prospects of winning in November are dramatically reduced.
*From Kevin Drum, grudging acceptance of military progress in Iraq, and a picture-perfect sample of the attitude I described here. And yes, I still think it more likely than not that Hillary pulls this out, although while Iowa didn't really surprise me that much (the race there had been close for months), I've been surprised at how quickly her support in NH seems to have cratered. Speaking of which, Patrick Ruffini and Jay Cost, two of the Right's savvier campaign observers, lay out how Hillary can win the nomination even after losing New Hampshire, as she is now expected to do. Patrick focuses on the Nevada caucuses, while Jay focuses on the delegate math, particularly the superdelegates.
*Ralph Peters argues that the US Navy should have reacted more aggressively to an obvious provocation by the Iranians in the Gulf on Sunday. He's clearly right about what the Iranians were trying to do, and I'm generally sympathetic to the power-politics argument that failing to respond to provocations only brings larger ones. On the other hand, you don't start fights you are not prepared to pursue to the bitter end. As Peters describes it, the encounter came awfully close to the line at which a US Naval commander would need to open fire to protect his vessels, but I don't buy the idea that we always have to initiate combat over this sort of thing, which is the logical endpoint of Peters' argument.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:20 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2008 | War 2007-12 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Hall Feels The Need For Speed
Goose Gossage goes in - Rice just misses - Dawson finishes third. Vote totals to follow; WFAN says 72% for Rice, 65% for Dawson. My case for the Goose here.
Full voting here.
Six Year Voting Trend:
I'm disappointed in Blyleven's and Raines' showings, and alarmed by Dawson's rise. All the new candidates but Raines dropped off the ballot, but all the returning ones remained, although Harold Baines at 5.2% is dropping close to the line, and Dave Concepcion now goes to the Veterans Commitee. Rice and Tommy John will be on the ballot one last time next year, and Rice probably goes in then.
On further reflection, Blyleven's jump to over 60% probably does mean he's finally on track to make it.
Let me also point out something that should be screamingly obvious: Tim Raines was born in 1959 and played in the majors from 1979 to 2002. Lee Smith was born in 1957 and played in the majors from 1980-97. With the possible exception of the 1991-92 offseason, at no point during those years would anyone in their right minds have considered trading Tim Raines to get Lee Smith.
WAR: Be Prepared
The president of the Maldives was saved from assassination Tuesday when a boy scout grabbed the knife of an attacker who had jumped out of a crowd greeting the leader, an official said.
The Muslim nation has apparently faced unrest from Islamic militants (a common enough theme these days):
A police Web site identified the attacker as Mohamed Murshid, 20. No motive was given, and other details were not disclosed.
BASEBALL: Pagan Ritual
The Mets' deal of two prospects to get back Angel Pagan seems to suggest, at a minimum, the desire for Endy Chavez insurance, and maybe more than that. Pagan is a non-hitter; in 318 major league at bats through age 25 he's a .255/.306/.415 hitter, and in 8 minor league seasons he has batted .280/.337/.373, never at any level showing the ability to hit for power, draw walks or hit for an impressive batting average. He can steal some bases, but a 72% career success rate in the minors hardly suggests a budding Rickey Henderson. Omar touted his athleticism and ability to play multiple outfield positions as evidence of his value, but that's equally true of both Endy Chavez and Carlos Gomez - if you expect both to be with the Mets in the future. Perhaps Omar has another shoe to drop.
January 7, 2008
POLITICS: An Old Familiar Tune
I find it hard to believe that, in this day and age, anyone is really making an issue of Obama's purported ability to transcend partisanship. Whether it's Paul Krugman lamenting that he just doesn't have the steely will to really stick it to the right, or fawning fans gushing that Barack's transcendant appeal will finally unite us all into one big pulsating mass of Obamamaniacs, I have the same reaction: didn't I already graduate from high school? More to the point, didn't they?
Now granted: Obama does have the advantage, in a general election, that unlike Hillary he doesn't carry the baggage of having already made scores of enemies and inflicted and endured scores of battle scars in Beltway partisan warfare. But the idea that a man whose policy proposals are invariably standard-issue liberal Democrat talking points is somehow a nonpartisan figure is indeed laughably naive.
BASEBALL: Predictions For Tomorrow's Important Vote Results
Chris Jaffe projects Goose Gossage and maybe Jim Rice to enter the Hall, with Tim Raines making a respectable first-ballot showing. Go read the whole thing for his reasoning and other candidates' projections.
January 4, 2008
POLITICS: Watching Wyoming
Jim Geraghty has a roundup of what to watch in tomorrow's Wyoming caucuses, including which candidates have visited the Vice President's home state (Fred also has Cheney's daughter Liz in his camp). Voting should be done by 3p.m. local time (5p.m. Eastern time). For the demographically-minded, Wyoming's population is 11.25% Mormon, the third highest of any state in the nation, so assuming those voters are going to mainly break for Romney and likely to be motivated and well-organized, I'd expect Romney (who has visited the state twice and sent his family to campaign there) to have an edge that may translate into a victory when combined with his turnout organization.
LAW: Supreme Court To Decide Eighth Amendment Issue
Some of you may remember my post about the cert petition in Kennedy v. Louisiana, and the question of whether the "evolving national consensus" theory of the Eighth Amendment only goes in one direction - that is, if it's true that the action of some states to ban a punishment in a particular context (here, the death penalty for child rape) transmutes that punishment into a "cruel and unusual" one for constitutional purposes where it was not before, is it also true that more states adding that punishment can make it not cruel and unusual?
Well, today the Court granted cert in Kennedy, so the Court will be faced with that question, among others.
WAR: Andrew Olmsted, RIP
I encountered him only intermittently on the web (see here, here and here), but Andrew Olmsted (Major, US Army) was part of the larger community of bloggers, and he was serving his country in Iraq when he was killed yesterday. You can read his final, "post in case of my death" blog post here. Go take the time to read it; to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, he paid for that microphone, and earned a few minutes of your time. And honor his request:
I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.
POLITICS: Minor Candidate Roundup
Duncan Hunter is focusing on New Hampshire and Wyoming (which caucuses Saturday) rather than pack it in after drawing 1% of the vote in Iowa, which he was largely ignoring. Presumably, Hunter will end his pointless campaign by next Wednesday and focus on positioning himself to be the next Secretary of Defense, a job for which he is well-qualified, although I'm not really sure who he would be liklely to endorse at this stage.
Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have returned to their day jobs in the Senate. Dodd's campaign never did get the wave of momentum he expected from announcing his candidacy on the Don Imus show.
Hunter, along with Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, will be barred from the next round of debates hosted by ABC. ABC's press release doesn't even mention Alan Keyes. I haven't yet seen evidence that Keyes is even on the ballot in key states. Thus, the next debates will feature Huckabee, McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson and Paul on the GOP side and Obama, Clinton, Edwards and Richardson on the Democrat side.
POLITICS: "Protecting Our Constitution"
I've suspected for some time that Markos has a different copy of the Constitution than I do, but I'd still like to know what language in his requires a right to file class action lawsuits against telephone companies.
BASEBALL: Back To The Drawing Board
Billy Beane's decision to deal Nick Swisher to the White Sox, on the heels of the Dan Haren trade, shows that he's absolutely serious about going back to Square One, taking the A's to the cellar and rebuilding from scratch. I wonder if Eric Chavez, with the team's biggest contract, will be next; although I suspect Chavez has a no-trade clause he might be willing to waive that if a stretch in the wilderness is in the offing. Oakland got three more prospects in return for the 27-year-old Swisher:
*22-year-old starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez seems like the top guy in the deal, having struck out 185 batters to 57 walks in 150 innings at AA Birmingham this season while allowing just 10 HR; Gonzalez had similarly impressive K numbers the prior two seasons, although he struggled with walks and homers in 2006 at AA Reading. There's every reason to believe Gonzalez should be a quality major league starting pitcher. Gonzalez is listed at 5'11", so he fits the A's effort to accumulate short pitchers who may be undervalued by other organization.
*22-year-old starting pitcher Faustino De Los Santos hasn't been out of A ball and so has to be a longer shot than Gonzalez, but in 122.1 innings in his first season of pro ball he struck out 153 batters and allowed 69 hits, so you have to think he's got a high upside.
*23-year-old outfielder Ryan Sweeney, a career .289/.349/.401 hitter (see! I'm really trying to change to Avg/OBP/Slg, it's my New Year's Resolution!), seems to be a throw-in, as he's never batted .300, hit 15 homers, stolen 10 bases or drawn 50 walks in four full minor league seasons.
In other words, young pitching-first.
POLITICS: The Spirit of '76
Does anyone have the heart to tell Hugh that the winners in Iowa in 1976 were Carter and Ford, the eventual nominees?
POLITICS: Hey, Wasn't There Also A Republican Primary Last Night?
January 3, 2008
HISTORY: No Further Apology Necessary
SPORTS: Best Features of 2007
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:06 PM | Baseball 2008 | Basketball | Football | Other Sports | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Fred The Sunday Pitcher
I started this as part of a longer post on my choice between Giuliani and McCain that I'm still working on, but it got long enough to stand on its own.
As regular readers will recall, I have been publicly supporting Rudy Giuliani for president since February 2007, before Fred Thompson was even being seriously discussed as a potential candidate. My first serious flirtation with switching away from Rudy, back around May or June, was Fred Thompson. For the reasons I'll discuss at greater length in the longer piece, I was already worried about the problems Rudy's social-issue stances present for the general election by that point, and Fred looked like the one guy who might, if he played his cards right, unite the national security and social conservative wings of the party behind a charismatic candidate who also had a solid record on fiscal issues.
Fred had one significant, though not insurmountable, weakness as a candidate: no executive experience and little leadership experience of any variety aside from a largely ineffective tour as a Senate subcommittee chairman. Heck, even in Fred's years in acting he'd rarely had a starring role. Executive/leadership experience isn't everything - and no presidential candidate has all the qualifications we'd like to see - but it's one of the most important credentials for a potential president (John F. Kennedy's only such experience was commanding a PT boat; of the 13 other successful candidates since 1900 - not counting the three who were first elected as incumbents after succeeding from the vice presidency - we've had 8 governors, two VPs, a military leader (Ike), a colonial administrator (Taft), and a Cabinet Secretary/businessman/wartime reconstruction administrator (Hoover). And the last two were disasters at the job.). So before I was willing to throw my support behind Fred, I wanted to see him in action actually running something - see if he could manage a media-savvy campaign that would command the narrative and hit the ground running with Hollywood flair. After all, if there's one thing a trial lawer or an actor (and Fred has been both) should know, it's stagecraft - the kind of stagecraft that so excited everyone on the web when Fred rolled out that rapid response to Michael Moore.
I waited to see Fred come roaring out of the gate - and waited, and waited. He never did. He dithered, and he entered the race with a whimper rather than a bang, and he reshuffled his staff, and he seemed to go out of his way at times to fly under the radar in a crowded field. Rather than media-savvy, Fred has been media-shy. In a business in which communications is the lifeblood of presidential influence, that's bad, bad news.
Some will object that the mainstream media is misleading us by downplaying Fred because he's conservative, because he's Southern, because he refuses to bow to a lot of their silly rituals. But like it or not, the MSM is as much a reality for a president as the strike zone is for a baseball pitcher. If you can't hit the umpire's zone consistently, it really doesn't matter how good your pitches are. Maybe it's just me, but I have yet to encounter anyone who (1) takes Fred's campaign seriously and (2) doesn't get the majority of their news from the internet.
To continue the baseball analogy, Fred reminds me most of all of Pedro Martinez. Not the Pedro of his Boston glory days, but the Pedro who has pitched for the Mets since 2005. Pedro is a true master of his craft, full of guile and skill, and on those days when he arrives at the ballpark healthy and in possession of what passes these days for his good fastball, Good Pedro is still a beauty to watch, dissecting opponents, messing with their timing and generally looking like a man pitching to boys. But many days, Pedro doesn't have even that fastball to work with, or he's pitching hurt, or he isn't healthy enough to take the hill at all.
That's Fred - Good Fred is a master at work, at turns folksy, frank and commanding. On policy, he's right on nearly everything, he's been mostly consistent through the years (with the exception of campaign finance issues), and after a maddeningly vague rollout to his candidacy he has produced issue proposals worthy of the title "Policy Fred." About the only issue where Fred worries me is immigration, where he may be too much of a hard-liner for the sake of the GOP's long-term relationship with Latino voters sensitive to overdoses of nativism.
But, like Good Pedro, Good Fred just doesn't show up often enough to carry the team for the whole season; sometimes he's off his game, and sometimes he's just not to be found at all. And as we have seen with George W. Bush, a guy who doesn't come out swinging every single day will sooner or later get eaten alive by his inability to control the terms of debate. A Fred Thompson presidency would, I am sure, be characterized by integrity, good judgment, a stable, steady hand, wise policy, and rarest of all, perspective about the things that really matter. But a Fred presidency, and a Fred general election candidacy, would also be afflicted by periods of drift and apathy, resulting in the steady bleeding of support in the face of the typically ferocious onslaught that faces any president and in particular a conservative Republican. Fred might well propose good things, but proposing things and making them happen are two different animals.
In the 1930s and 1940s, baseball teams played a lot of Sunday doubleheaders, and accordingly could make use of a pitcher who would pitch once a week rather than every four days. Teams would often fill this role with a talented but sore-armed veteran who was no longer up to the task of going every four days - a "Sunday Pitcher." Some of these were very successful, most famously Hall of Famer Ted Lyons, who worked in the role for nearly a decade, starting 20 games a year instead of 35 or 40 and leaving hitters baffled, while resting his arm during the week. That, to me, is Fred: the Sunday Pitcher of politics, the guy who is at his best as he has been in the movies and on TV, showing up at a few key points to provide wise counsel and sly one-liners. A man like that can make a tremendous addition to a national ticket - for any of the others, really - as the Vice Presidential candidate, to pop up here and there when he has something to say, and otherwise act (as Dick Cheney has) behind the scenes as an advocate for conservative ideas and principles. He can be trusted to provide a steady hand at the till if he's needed to step into the big job. I wouldn't be heartbroken by any means to see Fred pull out the nomination, and obviously a stirring comeback in the primaries would require Fred to show more of what we have too rarely seen from him. But we have a tough race ahead of us, and Fred just hasn't shown in an extended audition that he's the guy to carry the team on his back accross the finish line.