"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
September 29, 2010
POLITICS: Going Under
To follow up on yesterday's Alan Grayson item, Ace notes the latest poll showing Grayson down 7:
Grayson's whole schtick, of course, is that toxic Democratic idea that the way to be "tough" is simply to be obnoxiously dishonest. "Republicans win that way," they tell themselves, and "tough Democrats" fight fire with fire.
This is what I refer to as cargo-cult politics: the Left creates a caricature of the Right and then seeks to pattern itself after the caricature. And then wonders why people find this distasteful.
OK, Grayson is the kind of guy who thinks you're a moron and like the Taliban if you, say, voted for George W. Bush. But George W. Bush carried Grayson's district in 2004. You can sustain this sort of thing for years in a district like Pete Stark's or Nancy Pelosi's, but in a swing district in the South, it's a perilous path.
UPDATE: James Richardson notes that the poll in question was taken before the "Taliban Dan" ad aired, but of course after years of Grayson's similar antics.
September 28, 2010
POLITICS: Grayson Sinks Lower
Politics ain't beanbag, and every election cycle we are treated to some ads that are vicious, some that are false or misleading, and some that are both. Neither party, nor any level of government or region of the country has a monopoly on these, although there are differences in style.
But in the more than two decades I've been following politics, I can't recall seeing a campaign run two distinct ads that were as off-the-charts in both viciousness and dishonesty as the two ads run by Florida Democratic Congressman (and left-wing 'netroots' darling) Alan Grayson against his opponent Daniel Webster (yes, really), discussed by Caleb Howe here and here (Caleb also reviews some of Grayson's many offenses against elementary decency, integrity and sanity over the past few years). Just when you think the rank fraudulence and chutzpah of the "draft dodger" ad can't be topped, you watch the original clip from which the "Taliban Dan" ad is taken and you marvel that anybody could be quite this sleazy. But that's Alan Grayson for you.
September 23, 2010
BASEBALL: Bing's Home Movie
I'd be kind of frustrated if I was the guy who'd written an entire book on that game using the radio tape and only now got to see the film.
September 21, 2010
POLITICS: Don't Ask, Don't Vote
The Senate today mustered only 56 votes - four short of the necessary 60 - to break a filibuster and bring to a vote a defense appropriations bill containing two highly controversial provisions: (1) a measure repealing the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy (a Clinton-era policy) that permits gays to serve in the military only if they are not openly gay, and (2) the DREAM Act, which permits illegal aliens to earn citizenship either by military service or enrollment in college. Leaving aside Harry Reid (who voted against cloture for procedural reasons*), the opposing votes included all present Republicans as well as Arkansas' two Democratic Senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor.
The DADT vote was the headliner, and the subject of much anguish among liberals/progressives and their Hollywood allies who see ending DADT as a key unfulfilled Obama campaign promise. But the fact is, the Democratic leadership was never serious about using this vote to overturn DADT. Let us count the ways.
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(1) Having a DREAM
DADT repeal was appended to an otherwise uncontroversial measure, the annual defense appropriations authorization bill. But it wasn't the only controversial measure; the bill also included the DREAM Act, which not only allows illegal aliens to become citizens through honorable military service (a not-uncontroversial provision, but on balance a reasonable one and rationally related to the purpose of the bill) but also extends citizenship for attending college. This is a radical expansion of immigration law, and one fraught with perils; as we know from experience with federal education grants (and, further back, draft deferments), if you give people something really valuable in exchange for being in "college," you create incentives for lots of shady "colleges" to offer enrollment to people desperate to gain federal benefits.
Anyway, by offering two separate cultural flashpoints in the same bill, the Democrats guaranteed an out to any Republican - or Democrat - who wanted to vote against the bill. Scott Brown, for example, might have felt some pressure from his constituents to support DADT repeal, but Brown is on record as an opponent of illegal immigration, and so he could comfortably sidestep that issue by declaring the DREAM Act a game-breaker. Meanwhile, Reid - who has no particular need for gay support but needs Latino support in a big way to get re-elected, which is why he famously declared that the Nevada construction industry employs no illegal immigrants - gets to go back and run Spanish-language ads casting the vote as some sort of anti-Latino pogrom.
(2) Limiting GOP Amendments
It's Beltway inside baseball to be sure, but while Reid stuffed the bill with liberal hot-button cultural issues, he refused to allow Republicans to offer much in the way of amendments - a decision that made it easy for wavering liberal Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to decide that their votes for this bill were not wanted.
(3) Rushing It
The military is scheduled to deliver a report on DADT in December. While the bill in question would have formally required that DADT repeal be delayed until a certification that the report was favorable to repeal, that's not the same as allowing legislators to read the report and put their own interpretation on it when it comes out.
Personally, like a lot of Republicans, I have no particular stake in DADT. While there are arguments on both sides of this issue - including the fact that military histories are full of successful soldiers, even military commanders, who were known or broadly suspected to be gay - I think the arguments for allowing openly gay soldiers to serve are stronger in theory. But of course, militaries don't operate in theory, they operate in the most ruthlessly practical of realities, and so the views of the people charged with actually running the military on a day-to-day basis (particularly the NCO corps) are quite important to deciding whether the military is ready to deal with the unique challenges presented by openly gay soldiers.
If the Administration and Senator Reid waited for the report to come down, they might find a good deal more bipartisan support for DADT repeal, as liberal Republicans - even filibuster leader John McCain, who has expressed openness to changing his mind on this issue - may have found bipartisan cover for supporting repeal. But they're not interested in doing this as a bipartisan measure; they were interested in a polarizing social-issue split to help fire up their dispirited base for the election, and perhaps preempting the possibility that the military report would be less favorable than advertised. I just hope that base understands the cynical calculations involved in the vote.
The Administration pulled so few strings to get this bill passed that Mother Jones magazine was left to ask plaintively, "Is Lady Gaga a Better Politician Than Barack Obama?," referencing the stump speeches and Twitter activity by the 24-year-old pop star in favor of the bill. One can forgive Gaga for her political naivete - or commercial cynicism, as her fanbase is heavily gay and overwhelmingly in favor of DADT repeal - but the lack of initiative by the Administration on behalf of the bill is telling, if not of President Obama's fatal political weakness, then of his unwillingness to spend political capital on DADT repeal.
* - Only a Senator who votes against cloture can bring a bill back up for a later vote. Thus, the Majority Leader generally votes against cloture if he does not have the votes to break the filibuster.
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September 17, 2010
POLITICS: Posting Up
I have a column in the NY Post this morning on the great missed opportunity that is 2010's Republican Party in New York (it's on p. 25 of the print paper).
September 14, 2010
POLITICS: Who I Voted For In New York Today
Quick roundup. I voted around 7am this morning, and was the sixth voter at my polling station, and the first Republican. The bad news is that the new optical-scanner voting machines seem a real downgrade in ease, reliability and privacy from the old mechanical machines in use for so many decades in New York.
The sort of sad thing, but emblematic of the poor odds of the candidates I had to vote for, is that while I've been carefully following numerous races across the country, I was basically down to looking stuff up the night before the election on the races I actually voted in.
Senate (Gillibrand): David Malpass. The most conservative of the three candidates, had at last check a few million in the bank, so he should be able to meet the minimum standard of making voters aware he's running. Malpass won't win unless we're dealing with a much larger GOP wave than anybody anticipates, but he's a serious policy guy. Only thing that gave me pause was that Joe DioGuardi has the Conservative line, despite being more of a typical NY establishment Republican . This is a story for another day, but while the Conservative Party has its uses (see, Doug Hoffman), on balance I resent the coercive practice of giving a third party November ballot line to one of the participants in a primary, and think the presence of a separate Conservative Party - a thing that doesn't really exist in any of the other 49 states - has retarded the process of reforming and reviving the NY GOP.
Senate (Schumer): Gary Berntsen. The ex-CIA spy is also a serious and impressive guy, albeit a sacrificial lamb of the highest order.
Governor: Carl Paladino. This is a protest vote; Rick Lazio is a loyal Republican and a reasonable guy with a well-thought out agenda (and also has the Conservative nomination), while Paladino is something of a bomb-thrower and only intermittently a Republican. But Lazio screwed over the state's Republican voters by sitting out the winnable Gillibrand race (remember, his experience is as a Congressman) in favor of a doomed bid for governor, in which he's getting crushed by Andrew Cuomo, down more than 30 points in the polls. A vote for Lazio is wasted anyway; may as well go with the deep-pocketed Paladino, who promises to make life difficult for Cuomo. Given the many other races on the ballot and the fact that Lazio's no more likely to make a race of this, I'm not worried that a poor showing by Paladino will depress turnout.
House (NY-5): Liz Berney. Berney ran against Gary Ackerman in 2008, and is a known quantity. Her opponent, Dr. James Milano, is less so, although he does have - yet again - the Conservative Party endorsement, for reasons that are really no clearer than the DioGuardi endorsement. Apparently, Milano is a registered Democrat, having switched parties in the spring of 2009 (this according to a Berney mailer; I couldn't find better information from Milano disputing this). I was also turned off by noticing that it's hard to find a decent picture of Milano, the news feed on his website hasn't been updated since July, and perhaps most damningly an article in the local paper on the race was unable to get a comment from Milano on his candidacy - all of which when added up suggest a guy who isn't running the kind of operation needed to make himself available in case the voters turn on the 14-term incumbent, Gary Ackerman.
September 13, 2010
POLITICS: What's At Stake In Delaware
Tomorrow, the voters in seven states and the District of Columbia go to the polls to conclude the primary election season. The most closely-watched race on the ballot will be the race between long-time at-large liberal Republican Congressman Mike Castle and Tea Party-backed conservative insurgent Christine O'Donnell for the Republican nomination for the open Senate seat previously vacated by Joe Biden. Because the election is a special election, the winner of the seat will be seated immediately (as with the Illinois Senate race) and serve until the general election in 2014.
There have been a long series of contested primaries in the GOP this year, albeit not all of which ended up getting resolved at the ballot box. Just in the Senate races we've had victories of one sort or another for the conservative insurgents in Florida, Pennsylvania, Utah, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, and Kentucky, victories for the moderate establishment candidate in Indiana, Arizona, California, Washington, and (likely on Tuesday) New Hampshire, victories for conservative establishment figures in Ohio and Missouri, and less clear-cut ideological battles in Connecticut, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin (New York's another story entirely). In only one state (Illinois) has a liberal Republican won a race against any sort of opposition, and prominent and experienced liberal Republicans have gotten crushed in Connecticut (Rob Simmons) and California (Tom Campbell). Notably, a few of the moderates who did fend off a conservative challenger (e.g., John McCain and Carly Fiorina) did so with the help of an endorsement by Sarah Palin, the lightning rod of this primary election season.
The Castle-O'Donnell race has become perhaps the most divisive primary of this cycle within the conservative movement, for reasons I'll explain in a moment. There are a couple of important questions at stake that are worth considering, which really go to the heart of what kind of party the GOP should be; but it's equally important to recall that we are compelled to face those questions only because of the particular weaknesses of these two candidates and the conditions in Delaware. The result is that there are good arguments on both sides of this one. As I'll explain, I come out on the side of backing Castle, but the case for backing O'Donnell can't be dismissed out of hand and deserves serious reflection.
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Let's start by remembering a crucial principle that I have reiterated at every possible opportunity, and that is almost invariably the first casualty of commentary on primary fights: the individual circumstances of individual races matter. Ideas don't run for office, people do. The dynamics of different races in different years in different jurisdictions with different electorates are different. Arguments that win in one race may be foolish in another. We all need to put down the rhetorical blunderbusses on this race and look at the facts in making our judgments.
Why Conservatives Should Support Castle
At first glance, the argument for Castle is a microcosm of the argument for moderate or liberal Republicans in a lot of races: he can win and O'Donnell can't, or at any rate he's a fairly sure winner and O'Donnell, in a general election, would be a very long shot. This is not, however, simply a repetition of the idea that moderates are always more electable, a view that is often flat wrong (the people who want us to run moderates are often the same ones who criticize the party for not having ideas...but of course, not having ideas is generally the defining characteristic of moderates, see the John McCain and Bob Dole presidential campaigns). It's not even just the assumption that conservatives can't ever win in Delaware, although it would be nice for people commenting on this race to understand that Delaware really is a different animal from Colorado or Nevada or Utah or Alaska. As Martin Knight noted:
The race to replace Mike Castle in the House has the Democrat leading either of the two likely Republicans by approximately 16 points. This is the exact same electorate that will be faced with a choice between Coons and O'Donnell in the Senate race - the same electorate that is already showing that they prefer Coons to O'Donnell by 11 points and prefer Castle to Coons by a similar 11 points.
Castle, of course, has won many statewide races in Delaware, and is the easy favorite if he wins the nomination. The last guy more conservative than Castle to win statewide in Delaware was Bill Roth, and Bill Roth was nobody's idea of a conservative; the last actual conservative elected statewide was Pete du Pont, and that's more than two decades ago, plus electing a du Pont in Delaware is pretty much the opposite of populism. Even a passing familiarity with the state's economy and political culture should tell you why a populist candidate like O'Donnell is a tougher sell in Delaware than even in, say, Massachusetts or Connecticut.
And we're not talking about a generic conservative candidate like O'Donnell, but O'Donnell herself. O'Donnell's not a veteran state legislator like Scott Brown or Sharron Angle, or a former federal judge like Joe Miller, but a repeat candidate with no real experience at any level of government. I'm all for citizen legislators, but my point is that she really has nothing to fall back on to convince skeptical voters that she's a serious person. And O'Donnell has had a series of problems the past few weeks, from a trainwreck radio interview where she was caught fibbing about having won some counties against Joe Biden in 2008, to a disastrous effort on her behalf to claim that Castle was gay, to a series of hit pieces on her financial and other woes (Robert Costa at NRO sums up O'Donnell's troubles, and see also John McCormack at the Weekly Standard). Undoubtedly some of this is dirty pool - the Castle camp's last-minute FEC complaint smells like this - but we're 51 days from the general election, and it's not helpful to have a candidate who is taking on water as rapidly as O'Donnell, and far too late in the day to find a replacement candidate.
The picture, looking at the polls, is predictably grim for O'Donnell; as Neil Stevens has catalogued here and here, polling shows fairly convincingly that O'Donnell isn't even as popular with Republicans in the general election as Castle, even before you get to independents and Democrats. The PPP poll showing O'Donnell pulling to a within-the-margin-of-error 47-44 lead among likely primary voters may establish that she's electable in a primary that doesn't even draw all Republican voters to the polls, but it certainly doesn't suggest that she's a strong candidate:
GOP voters are pretty sharply divided about O’Donnell as well. 45% have a favorable opinion of her with 41% seeing her unfavorably. Only 50% of primary voters think she’s fit to hold public office but she does much better than Castle on the ideology front- 53% think she’s about right.
If you believe in supporting the most conservative viable candidate, there's still a rather persuasive argument that you have to back Castle because O'Donnell's just not viable, and Castle is - if nothing else - more conservative than Chris Coons. Even some arguments for O'Donnell, like Erick's view that O'Donnell shouldn't be a priority to Jeffrey Lord's argument that losing elections today helps build to victories tomorrow, assume that O'Donnell is basically a sacrificial lamb. Democratic observers seem inclined to give Delaware a pass if Castle wins, but possibly jump into the race if facing O'Donnell.
Castle recently matched her promise to stop the lame-duck agenda. I asked his staff for a statement from Castle on the lame-duck session and they provided this very strong statement from the congressman: "The only business that should be conducted during a lame-duck session of Congress is keeping the government running until the newly elected legislators are sworn in. I do not agree with those who say this period of time should be used for passing controversial legislation and would not play a role in helping to circumvent the will of American voters."
I accept that people experienced in dealing with Republicans of Castle's ilk may not place a lot of value on that promise, but in weighing the likelihoods here, I expect that it's probable that Castle at least would not break a promise that unambiguous that quickly.
As for what Castle would do in office beyond a lame-duck session, I have no illusions that he'd be in the GOP foxhole more than half the time at best, and far less than that on fights where conservatives are taking on the GOP establishment, as opposed to siding with the powerful corporate interests that hold so much sway in Delaware. Geraghty's piece is worth reading for the details of how Castle got a career ACU rating of 52 and a rating of 56 in 2009 (up from 28 in 2008, natch), even if you gag on the rather risible suggestion that Castle is any but the most once-in-a-blue-moon accidental kind of friend to pro-lifers. Either way, however, Castle's status as a fair-weather friend to the GOP and only very rare fellow traveler with conservatives is better than the Democratic candidate, Chris Coons, a man who once wrote a college newspaper article entitled "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist" about his political conversion after a trip to Kenya. Whatever your view of the 2006 Rhode Island Senate primary race between Lincoln Chaffee and Steve Laffey, the outcome from a Coons victory would be similar to the one in that race, ensconsing a liberal Democrat who could well be in office for decades. If you're serious about beating liberal Democrats and driving their terrible ideas from the public square, wanting to keep Chris Coons out of the Senate ought to be a thing worth doing.
The real rub is the 51st vote to control the chamber and pass a budget. It's unlikely that the GOP will get close to needing a 41st vote to hold filibusters, or having a 60th vote to break them without bipartisan support, between this November and the 2014 election, when Castle's term would be up. Moreover, if (as many of us now expect) the GOP gains control of the House this fall, there will be little threat in 2011-12 that the Senate will be voting on a whole lot of liberal legislation, and thus few "bipartisan compromises" on which a Castle defection might be damaging. But with GOP gains in the Senate looking like a good shot at +7 or +8 and a non-trivial chance at the +10 needed to swing the chamber, the decision on whether to throw away the Delaware seat could be a consequential one. And I trust that, at least between now and 2012 (when the GOP could conceivably take the White House, but could also get more reinforcements in the Senate), Castle won't have any reason to bolt the party Jim Jeffords-style, not having done so yet (not that I'd put it past him once Republicans are governing again).
There's also a benefit to demoralizing and defunding the opposition. The Democrats, lacking control of the Senate, will lose the jobs of a lot of staffers; they'll lose access to corporate and lobbying money that (as we all know in the real world) flows to the party in power. They'll lose the ability to recruit candidates on the promise of joining the majority (recall that in both 2012 and 2014 the Democrats will be defending twice as many Senate seats as the GOP, so unless we see a repeat of the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves, it's not likely they'll gain seats and highly likely they'll lose more). The GOP will gain these things. If you think that shifting more power and advantage to the GOP over the Democrats is a good thing, you would presumably support Mike Castle.
Now, if you assume GOP control of the House and Democratic control of the White House, control of the Senate is not quite as urgent in other ways; the GOP has a firm foothold in the legislative process and a platform from which to launch oversight investigations, etc. But not every issue goes through the House; the Senate has unique jurisdiction over matters like treaties and, of crucial importance, judicial nominees, and the agenda-setting power of a majority in those areas can be profound. We know from experience, as well, that even liberal Republicans like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and (once upon a time) Arlen Specter can be counted on to take the conservative side in some fights, witness the confirmations of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito (by contrast, liberal Republicans will never be useful in a fight against any but the worst judicial nominees from the Democratic side; that's life).
All of this assumes that conservatives, having no realistic alternative but to work within the Republican party, despite not having undisputed control of the party, have a stake in the party's electoral success, and that gaining control of the Senate by means of Mike Castle would not hamper either the party's success or the movement's power within it. Which leads us to...
Why Some Conservatives Have Good Reasons For Supporting O'Donnell
The fact that there are good and practical arguments - with which I largely, if reluctantly, agree - for supporting Castle does not mean the arguments to support O'Donnell are frivolous or unworthy of serious consideration.
I'd rather see the Democrat get elected than see Mike Castle get elected. Seriously, I know many of you disagree with me, but if the majority depends on Mike Castle, to hell with the majority.
I would rather 50 seats without Mike Castle than 51 seats with Mike Castle. The push to support Mike Castle by "conservative" groups, pundits, and others says more about the selling out of the conservative movement to the GOP than anything else. It happened in the Bush years and many conservatives were so thoroughly co-opted by the GOP Establishment they might as well be cut off from the conservative movement permanently.
Here's the point of departure: there is a serious argument, and one I have particularly credited in races like the Pennsylvania and Florida Senate races, that even if they're electable, Republicans can't afford to elect big-government moderates and liberals, because both as a matter of philosophical conservatism and, ultimately, long-term political self-interest, the GOP can't afford to be in a position (as it was by 2008) where voters feel they simply can't tell the difference between the two parties in terms of spending, regulation and the size of government. The argument goes that guys like Castle will badly dilute the GOP brand every time they either (1) give "bipartisan" cover to some Democratic nonsense or, worse yet, (2) water down the GOP's own agenda as a condition for getting it passed. This is an especially big problem when you're dealing with the last vote in a majority. And as a practical matter, because Castle knows that the likely outcome of a primary challenge to him (assuming he intends to serve more than a single term, which is debatable) is a Democratic victory, he'll actually be less persuadable by grassroots pressure from the Right than a guy like Ben Nelson, who will vote for Democratic control of the chamber but needs to win Republican-leaning independents in Nebraska to keep his job. Hogan adds detail to the behind-the-scenes dynamic of adding a guy to the caucus who is neither conservative nor trustworthy:
Liberal and establishment Republicans have corrupted the entire Republican Conference in the Senate. Other than a very few stalwarts, most Republican Senators (whether they are supposedly "moderate" or "conservative") simply do not IN ANY WAY stand for the principle of limited government - they like to spend money, they want to be seen as "reasonable" more than principled, and they get together in their little Senate club and drench themselves in the kool-aid of "getting things done" for the American people (which is code for sticking it to the people). That remains true today. They look at the Tea Party movement and what is happening in primaries around the country with dismay and disdain. They want it to go away.
The related argument is, basically, that Mitch McConnell and his leadership team simply aren't ready yet to absorb the full lesson of the 2006 and 2008 elections and the Tea Party movement; that while John Boehner may be ready to take a harder line on spending and size of government in the House, giving McConnell the majority back - with all its perquisites - would reward him before he's learned any lesson.
These are serious points, but I think ultimately they misread the times and the extent to which different strategies are needed in different situations. Republicans in 2002-06 grew a majority, it is true, that depended on way too many people who were not small-government conservatives. But we need to recall three things. One, the war was such a dominant issue in those years that the grassroots of the party simply wasn't looking after these issues (and that includes bloggers like me, I admit). Two, and relatedly, we had leadership from the White House that de-prioritized and at times affirmatively trashed small government. Bush wasn't nearly as bad as Obama, and the flaws in his record on spending and regulation are sometimes exaggerated, but there's no serious argument that he was a small-government guy, and we knew that even before he began running in 1999. And three, we had a lot of misalignment, i.e., non-conservatives elected in jurisdictions where a conservative should have a fighting chance. We're at work fixing that problem in places far more hospitable to conservatives than Delaware.
When we turn to 2009-10, Republicans have needed, as an outnumbered and beleaguered minority facing an unprecedented effort to permanently expand the federal government, to insist on a greater level than before of party discipline and ideological purity so as to get the message out to a frustrated public that both sides were not equally guilty of the things that have so inflamed public sentiment about an out of control government. My own guess is that a guy like Castle doubled his ACU rating from 2008 to 2009 not because he was thinking about an election before the same voters who have been electing him for years, but because he saw the ground shift to the point where even he had to vote against some really alarming things, like the Obamacare and stimulus bills.
But these things will not always be the case. The goal of anyone who cares about conservative ideas becoming public policy should be to build a working majority. A working majority needs a core, and we've been building that in the many states where a conservative can get elected. But it can also make use of marginal members who don't vote with the core all that much, but who win elections that would otherwise be won by determined opponents. In the long run, I'd rather have a Senate with 45 or 51 conservatives and 10 moderate/liberal Republicans than a Senate in which we can only win those elections a conservative can win, a Senate in which we give ourselves no margin for error in having the votes to make policy (consider how few conservatives you can think of who never dissent from the pure conservative position on any issue). That may be a frustratingly incomplete result, but frustratingly incomplete results are what the Senate was designed for. A movement serious about governing must try to win the marginal districts like Delaware, even if that means electing marginal candidates.
As for the concern about McConnell, I fear that some of the critics are letting their focus on McConnell distract them from what's really going on. The GOP will return just 32 incumbents (including Scott Brown) in 2011, so if a majority is possible it will consist of an unprecedented 19 freshman Senators, many of them ready and able to join the "blow stuff up" caucus of Senators like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn who are serious about fighting tooth and nail against government excess. You don't need that many of those people in the Senate to make a lot of havoc. Also, McConnell's close associates among the moderates in leadership have been systematically eliminated - you can bet that we're going to have a leadership team that has more voices at the table for conservatism in 2011, given the number of new Senators who will have overcome determined opposition by the NRSC and the leadership to win election, and those people will have a very powerful argument that if they're ignored, yet more heads will roll in future primaries in states more conservative than Delaware. Those new conservative Senators will also bring to town a lot more new conservative staffers. Majority leaders by nature have no choice but to ride the tiger of their own caucus, and while a caucus with Castle, Kirk, Snowe and Collins will pull McConnell to the left, he'll have an awful lot more people pulling him to the right no matter what his own inclinations.
Then there's the strategic argument, which is basically that leaving the Democrats with an impotent majority in the Senate is better than having a Congress fully under GOP control, because Obama will be able to repeat Bill Clinton's record of demonizing the GOP's obstructionism. I hear this, but I don't buy it. One, the public will already know that Obama is engaging in knock-down-drag-out budget fights with John Boehner and the House GOP; Obama's preparing the ground for that already. Two, the public isn't always that attentive; voters seemed barely to notice in 2008 that the Democrats were already running both Houses of Congress. Three, Obama's not Bill Clinton. Clinton had failed to do half as much damage to small government in his first two years in office, and had a lot more skill and experience in presenting himself as a man capable of learning lessons about the size of government. Clinton could plausibly portray himself as a reasonable, compromising fellow spurned by extremist Republicans because he was actually, if grudgingly, signing on to some significant conservative policy priorities, notably welfare reform. Obama will do nothing of the sort. And as I said before, in terms of short-term electoral strategy, I think the GOP is better served institutionally by defeating the Democrats, demoralizing them and stripping their power base than by banking on winning the rest of the majority later.
Erick has suggested another concern whispered of in Delaware circles, that "[i]f Mike Castle becomes the next United States Senator from Delaware he is going to get sworn in, serve a bit, then become a Democrat, resign, and let Beau Biden get an appointment." This may sound less fanciful if you've noticed three things: one, that when Castle finished his term as Governor of Delaware he basically cut a deal where he'd run for Congress and the state's Democratic Congressman, Tom Carper, would run for Castle's job; two, that Castle never tried to run against Joe Biden; and three, that Castle's allies in the Delaware GOP haven't run a candidate against Beau Biden for the State Attorney General job.
All that said, it seems to me much more likely, given how Castle and Delaware politics work, that what would actually happen is that the 71 year old Castle serves out his four years and then steps aside, at the point at which Biden would be deemed ready to run after four years as AG. If the idea is that Castle is going to all this trouble to keep the seat warm for the Bidens as part of a clubby backroom deal, it doesn't make much sense; Biden could have been the nominee this year if he'd wanted to, or the incumbent Ted Kaufman - a Biden crony - could have run again.
Then there's Jeff Lord's argument that essentially casts O'Donnell's race as a Goldwater-style sowing of the seeds for future conservative victories in Delaware. The problem with this idea is pretty much the same as the problem with arguing for a moderate presidential nominee for the GOP after the debacle of 2008: it's already been done. O'Donnell ran for the Senate just two years ago, and got 35% of the vote. Conservatives have had our say already in Delaware, and hopefully someday we'll find another great candidate who can try again there, as Pete du Pont did. Supporting Castle can itself be reconsidered under the conditions of 2014. But losing with O'Donnell will accomplish nothing.
I know part of this whole thing is about sending an intraparty message that guys like Castle aren't acceptable, but have we somehow not sent that message already by knocking off Bob Bennett, Lisa Murkowski, Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, Trey Grayson, Sue Lowden, and Jane Norton?
At the end of the day, yes: Mike Castle would be a weak, unreliable Senator who will do little for the conservative movement, and perhaps marginally weaken the movement within the GOP. But a Castle victory will also deal a blow to the movement's bitter enemies in the Democratic party, whereas an O'Donnell win is highly likely to increase the power of the Democrats. You want to choose likely defeat with a conservative, do what I'm doing and vote for David Malpass in New York tomorrow. But while there are real and serious arguments on both sides, I can't let an opportunity to defeat the Democrats and all they stand for pass by, not this year. If I was in Delaware, I'd vote for Castle.
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September 11, 2010
September 9, 2010
POLITICS: Unorganized for America
That was then:
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.
The outfit that put upwards of 8 million volunteers on the street in 2008 - known as Organizing for America - is a ghost of its former self. Its staff has shrunk from 6,000 to 300, and its donors are depressed: receipts are a fraction of what they were in 2008. Virtually no one in politics believes it will turn many contests this fall. "There's no chance that OFA is going to have the slightest impact on the midterms," says Charlie Cook, who tracks congressional races.
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TIME blames administrative neglect, which of course is always a plausible explanation where Obama is concerned, but of course there are other reasons why the kind of people who changed their middle name to Hussein and collected heroic unicorn art of their Leader have lost the thrill:
Not even sorcery may be able to rekindle the excitement many first-time voters showed back then. "The popularity of the President with these voters is not a transferable asset," says Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist. "I don't think it's realistic that they would ever be able to replicate the unbridled enthusiasm. It's like a first kiss: you can never experience it twice."
Ah, the perils of treating politics as a substitute for religion. George W. Bush never had that problem; nobody really came to politics for the first time in 2000 because they thought voting for Bush would make them feel personally fulfilled, would end politics as we have known it, would end the nation's racial divisions and make the world love us, or that he would pay their mortgage and car payments. Bush got elected because he seemed like a guy who could be trusted to do the job. And of course, that's before you get to Obama's actual job performance:
WHY, asks a Democrat leading a training session for fellow activists, doesn't "Yes we can" work as a slogan any more? "Because we haven't," a jaded participant responds.
TIME notes that the Obama team is now trying to rebuild OFA in time for 2012, but that's cold comfort for Democrats across the country who never did have Obama's personal glamor.
Election Day is November 2. There will be no unicorns.
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BASEBALL: Fun Facts
-Dave Rader in 1973 became the first player since intentional walks started being tabulated to have more intentional walks (23) than striekouts (22). The only other guy to do it: Barry Bonds 2002, 03 & 04 (3-yr tot: 249 IBB, 146 K).
-Hack Wilson in 156 home games in 1929-30 drove in 215 runs. His whole batting line: .383/.466/.753, 222 Hits, 105 Walks, 215 RBI, 150 R, 437 Total Bases, 58 HR.
-Speaking of home/road splits, Dazzy Vance from 1922 (when he returned to the majors and started his run of greatness; home/road splits aren't available before 1920) to the end of his career had a record of 109-62 (.637) with a 2.79 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and a 2.95 K/BB ratio at home, compared to 88-74 (.543) with a 3.71 ERA, 5.1 K/9 and a 1.97 K/BB ratio on the road. Which gives some credence to the theory of his contemporaries that Vance gained an advantage from pitching at Ebbets Field on days when the women in apartments behind the outfield would hang out their white laundry; Vance would bleach the sleeve of his pitching arm, so batters couldn't pick up the ball at all. Of course, even 5.1 K/9 was something like double the league average for his prime years.
BASEBALL: Balls In Play
So, Baseball-Reference.com currently has the numbers for batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for all pitchers since 1950. Some interesting stuff digging through those numbers. First of all, the variances over entire careers are pretty substantial, enough to make you question the Voros McCracken thesis that BABIP has nothing to do with the pitcher. Granted, that thesis has been modified a good deal since it was first introduced, and it still remains ground-breakingly useful, if only because BABIP varies from year to year for individual pitchers so much more than other elements of pitching success or failure. And granted, that's before you consider the differences in eras, park effects and the defenses pitchers pitched in front of.
Speaking of which, while the lowest career BABIP among pitchers with 3000 or more innings pitched is Andy Messersmith (.243), the highest is Andy Pettite at .312, and Chuck Finley is the only other guy at or above .300 (.300 on the nose). What could account for Pettitte's historically poor defensive support? Well, among other things, he's the only guy on the list to have thrown 2500 or so innings with Derek Jeter at shortstop. Mike Mussina's BABIP as a Yankee: .307. Roger Clemens': .300. (Mariano Rivera: .263. The lesson, as always, is that Rivera's inhuman). Granted, BABIP have been up around the league in the past 15 years or so (Rick Reuschel was the worst until recently), but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Yankees' poor defense, especially up the middle, has hurt Pettitte (though not as much as their offense and bullpen have helped him).
The lowest BABIP season since 1950, among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title: Dave McNally, 1968 (.203), which should not be surprising. The highest: Kevin Millwood, 2008 (.358), which is why he was such a great candidate to bounce back in 2009 (this year's another story). Also an unsurprising entry near the top is Jeff Robinson, who had the one really fluky year in 1988. Interestingly, the 6th lowest: Don Larsen 1956 (.216). And one guy who had generally worse (except for 1985-86) BABIP than the league: Dwight Gooden.
WAR/POLITICS: A Little Class Goes A Long Way
He has his many faults, but a genuine thumbs-up to Joe Biden for a classy performance on Colbert, where he delivered hot dogs to returning soldiers and gave due credit to President Bush for his dedication to the troops and their mission in Iraq.
Sidney Crosby goes deep. Very deep.
September 3, 2010
POLITICS: Rave Reviews For American Taliban
So the reviews have begun to come in for Markos Moulitsas' book "American Taliban," which argues that American conservatives are just like the Taliban, and they're...well, let me start with Jamelle Bouie's review at the left-wing The American Prospect:
Given the subject matter and his own influence, Moulitsas is sure to find a large audience for American Taliban. This wouldn't be a problem if the book were a careful comparison of populist nationalist movements, highlighting similarities, underscoring differences, and generally documenting points of congruence between the U.S. conservative movement and populist nationalist groups around the world. But it isn't.
As Bouie notes, "Moulitsas elides glaring contradictions in his argument and routinely misrepresents his evidence," and is completely lacking in perspective:
Now, it's true that certain tendencies on the American right have analogues in fundamentalist Islam; for example, and as Moulitsas points out in his chapter on sex, right-wing conservatives share a hatred of pornography with fundamentalist Iranian authorities. Of course the similarities end there; conservatives boycott pornography, Iran punishes it with death.
Bouie could have added that American feminists have also campaigned against pornography, which doesn't make them the Taliban, either. Bouie's conclusion:
Yes, progressives are depressed and despondent about the future, but that's no reason for dishonesty and scaremongering, and it doesn't excuse the obscenity of comparing our political opponents to killers and terrorists.
The whole thing is well worth reading. Kos' sort of reductionism barely deserves the label "thinking"; it's shtick, as Bouie observes: "Moulitsas seeks to classify right-wing conservatism as a species of fundamentalist extremism, for the purpose of spurring progressive action." Matt Yglesias, a progressive blogging contemporary of Kos, reaches the same conclusion, and thinks it's not even effective as shtick:
This stuff doesn't win votes anyone [sic] because, after all, it's a form of preaching to the choir. Which is fine-the choir needs some sermons. But there's no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond. Either underestimating or overestimating their level of viciousness and evil can lead to serious miscalculations. Which is just to say that getting this stuff right is more important than coming up with funny put-downs.
This is false: "in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban"
And mind you, this coming from a guy who has asserted that "Some day I will write a list of conservative writers who I respect. It will be a short list" and that "most liberals are not nearly condescending enough to conservatives." But Kos' shtick is a bridge too far even for Yglesias. Kevin Drum, who's now at Mother Jones, likewise sniffs, "I haven't read American Taliban and don't plan to. I figure I already dislike the American right wing enough, so there's little need to dump another load of fuel onto my own personal mental bonfire." The Atlantic rounds up more negative reviews from the Left.
I will give Yglesias and Drum the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're genuinely put off by Kos' tactics, and not merely jealous that his visibility and influence have eclipsed theirs (although Kos has come down in the world of late; he lost his TV gig on MSNBC and is apparently bombarding his website's email subscribers with messages touting the book, while releasing it only in paperback and planning a fairly modest book tour). Either way, it's clear that even fairly committed activists on the Left aren't buying what Kos is selling.
Where Bouie, Yglesias and Drum miss the mark, however, is in drawing a parallel to Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism, to the point where I wonder if any of them read the book, or even made it all the way through the introduction. Bouie at least notes that "Goldberg sought to make a historical connection between American liberalism and European fascism for the purpose of 'clearing the record,'" but then blathers that "books like Goldberg's Liberal Fascism or Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny present a world where liberals are the embodiment of cruel statism." Drum asks, "Did Liberal Fascism get any similarly incendiary reviews from mainstream conservatives writing in any of America's premier mainstream conservative publications?" Yglesias refers to the "apocalyptic 'my enemies are totalitarian madmen' strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism."
I haven't read Levin's book and won't get into the other parallels, because this does an awful disservice to Jonah and his excellent, serious and thoughtful book. Goldberg's starting point, of course - as you'd know if you'd read his columns for the decade leading up to the book's publication - was defensive, against the decades of effort by liberals to characterize Nazism as a movement of the right closely akin to American conservatism. Goldberg took great pains, over and over and over again in his book, to note the very real distinctions between, say, the Nazis and modern American progressives, and to explain that he's not calling anybody a Nazi (although he does make a fairly compelling case that the Wilson Administration during World War I was perilously close to a European fascist state like Mussolini's Italy). While Goldberg is harsh in dealing with some of the truly disreputable characters he chronicles, like Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson, he treats many modern liberals not as evil people but as fundamentally well-meaning but misguided people who don't even understand the intellectual history of their own movement and its common roots with those of European fascists. His use of the smiley-face on the cover is explained explicitly as showing how "nice" modern liberals are, or at least believe themselves sincerely to be. That said, Goldberg's parallels, such as they are, are sufficiently unforced that they continue to be predictive. The book was written in 2007, before the rise of Barack Obama (who merits only two brief mentions in the book), yet it perfectly captures the strains of both liberal and fascist rhetoric and policy that have recurred through Obama's tenure. The rhetorical tropes Goldberg details at length are particularly on display everywhere in Obama's speeches - the invocations of a nonideological Third Way, the veneration of youth, the insistent demands for the Man of Action ("the time for talk is over," Obama so loves to say). Ditto for policies and ideas, from substitution of politics for religion, to the coopting of business and labor into an unhealthy symbiosis with government, to the persistent efforts to use government hectoring to create a New Man. But the purpose of these parallels is not to defame the good intentions of supporters of liberal politics or diagnose them as demented perverts, as Kos does, but simply to illustrate that ideas have consequences and these particular ideas are dangerous.
The correcting-the-record part of this is Goldberg's point that conservatives are forever told to do daily penance (and nothing else) for the bad parts of conservative intellectual or political history, while the progressive movement doesn't even address its own history. And indeed, the historical treatments of Mussolini, Wilson, Hitler, Sanger and FDR are the best parts of the book (especially the explanations of the roots of European fascism in the thinking of American progressives), careful and detailed in their presentation of both the commonalities and the divergences. Color me doubtful that Kos' book has any similar historical perspective, especially on where the Taliban's ideas come from; that I can pretty well guess even without reading the book, from the way he talks about the book and the blurbs from people who purport to have read it. Here's an excerpt from an email from Kos:
The values and tactics that make Jihadists so despicable are the same values and tactics embraced by our own homegrown fundamentalists -- the American Taliban.
That's right: not only does Kos draw a direct parallel, he argues that conservatives are objectionable for exactly the same reasons as the Taliban. Which is ignorance of recent history so vast it can't begin to be described.
Or consider the blurbs, from calm and unbiased commentators like John Aravosis and Amanda Marcotte and noted historians like David Coverdale of Whitesnake, lauding among other things the book's "outrage and profanity":
"It isn't possible to understand American politics now without understanding the worldview and arguments of Markos Moulitsas. If you still believe the beltway caricature of the squishy, compromising, conciliatory American left, American Taliban should disabuse you of that notion." -Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show
Nothing in there is anything like Goldberg's declaration, right up front, that
Now, I am not saying that all liberals are fascists. Nor am I saying that to believe in socialized medicine or smoking bans is evidence of crypto-Nazism. What I am mainly trying to do is to dismantle the granitelike assumption in our political culture that American conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism. Rather, as I will try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism. These ideas were embraced by fascism, and remain in important respects fascistic.
While I do not smear all of my political opponents as monsters (people who say I do this, again, have either not read the book, are too blinkered to understand it, or are lying), it seems pretty clear that's exactly what Kos sets out to do.
Kos' book is getting poor reviews from his own side because his thesis is ridiculous, his tone excessive, and his perspective warped. But don't throw Jonah Goldberg in the same remainder bin, as none of those things is true of his book.
POLITICS: Et Tu, Harlem?
It's debatable what's the most loyally Democratic district in the country, but NY's 15th District would have to be in the running. The district, centered in Harlem, went 87% for Al Gore in 2000, 90% for John Kerry in 2004, and 93% for Barack Obama in 2008, is rated D+41 by Charlie Cook, and in various formats has been represented in Congress since 1971 by arch-liberal Charlie Rangel, who took the seat when his predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell jr., was enveloped by a decade-long series of scandals and ultimately booted from office by the House Democratic caucus after 26 years in office.
But in 2010, with the now scandal-marred Rangel facing a primary challenge from Powell's grandson, Adam Clayton Powell IV (who he defeated previously in 1994), the NY Daily News finds even the Democratic voters in NY-15 dispirited by their choices, in an article helpfully titled (in the print edition) "Pick Rangel or Powell for Congress? Yuck!":
"Everybody wishes there were better options," said Pax Williams, a 33-year-old party promoter who plans to vote for Rangel because "you don't want to get anyone worse."
That's your energized base, Democrats.
Of course, I should point out here that there is a Republican running even in NY-15 (the GOP has fielded candidates in a record 432 of the nation's 435 districts, for which the RNC and NRCC deserve some credit), former NY Jet and now pastor Rev. Michel Faulkner. RedState's Moe Lane talked to Rev. Faulkner back in June.
September 1, 2010
BASEBALL: Ground Uncovered
The first thing that jumps out from initial analysis is that Arias has been called a shortstop by some pundits. He's probably not a shortstop in the major leagues. Total Zone has him as a -12 shortstop over 150 games, and that's in Triple-A. Perhaps he can move over and play in a pinch, but the Rangers have only used him there for 32 innings in his big league career, which has spanned around 475 innings. No shortstop here.
WAR/POLITICS: Turning The Page
I'd meant to work this into something larger on Obama's speech last night, but it's an interesting fact in its own right on how our politics have, in their natural course, mostly moved on from the Iraq War debate (for better and for worse): of the 77 Senators who voted to authorize the war back in October 2002, no more than 32 of them - 17 Republicans and 15 members of the Democratic caucus (i.e., including Lieberman) will still be in office come January (less if some fail to get re-elected, although Harry Reid's the only one of the 32 in much hot water; of course, Hillary and Biden have moved on to higher positions). 14 of the 23 who voted against the war could be back, although three of those are currently embattled (Feingold, Murray, and Boxer). Any number of major figures on our national scene now, including Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, had yet to win statewide office at the time.
That's reflective of a number of things, but most of all the changing of the guard as a lot of the Senate's longest-standing veterans have died or retired and the rate of turnover has been accelerating with big Democratic gains in 2006 & 2008 and likely big Republican gains this year. The GOP will be getting a very fresh start - by January, we'll have only 32 GOP Senators left who were elected before 2010 (and only 11 GOP Governors elected before 2010, including 2009-elected governors like Christie and McDonnell).
BASEBALL: The Immortal Edmonds?
I'm fairly certain Edmonds won't come close to getting the votes necessary for the Hall of Fame, but he has a very good case and is perhaps one of the most underrated players of this era. He's an eight-time Gold Glove winner with 391 career homers and a .902 lifetime OPS that ranks 10th all time among center fielders. Few people seem to recognize it, but Edmonds is likely one of the dozen best center fielders in baseball history.
I didn't rate Edmonds when I ran my look at similar players after the 2005 season and don't have time to do a full run of those numbers now, but I'd agree that he deserves a look; his issue is durability. If you isolate his 11-year prime from 1995-2005, you get an excellent hitter (.293/.388/.554, 141 OPS+) and fielder over enough years to make the core of a Hall of Fame career; quality-wise, my guess is he stacks up pretty well in the company of Earl Averill, Bernie Williams, Kirby Puckett, Larry Doby and Earle Combs, four of whom are already in Cooperstown on the basis of 9-10 year primes. But then look at their plate appearances per 162 scheduled games: 699 for Averill, 649 for Bernie, 678 for Puckett, 630 for Doby, 682 for Combs; Edmonds, at 560, is more in the league with Reggie Smith, Jimmy Wynn and Fred Lynn, all of whom were also Cooperstown-quality talents. The plate appearances largely reflect a lost 1999 season, although he also missed extensive time in 1996 and played fewer than 145 games in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2005, notching 600 plate appearances only five times in a 17-year career. Edmonds' per-162 line for 1995-2005, age 25-35: 135 games, 560 PA, 94 Runs, 88 RBI, 30 HR, only 8 GDP. Fairly or not, he's also lacking the extensive postseason heroics of guys like Bernie and Puckett, although his .274/.361/.513 line in the postseason, two pennants and a World Series ring (all with the Cardinals) aren't too shabby.
I'll need to look at his candidacy more closely down the line, but the lost time chips away at his credentials in a fairly substantial way. I know I've belabored this point, but far too much statistical analysis overlooks the value of in-season durability. Edmonds deserves a look and maybe on further reflection he belongs in, but he's going to be a borderline candidate, in my view.
BASEBALL: V-F Day
Amazingly, the Mets managed not only to unload Jeff Francouer yesterday (were the Rangers looking at their lineup and thinking, "we really need a guy who makes more outs"?), but also to get an actual Major League baseball player in return, Joaquin Arias. In seriousness, the theory behind the deal seems to be to use Francouer as a platoon player:
About $897K remains on Francoeur's contract, but the Mets will pay most of that. The 26-year-old is hitting just .236/.293/.369 in 443 plate appearances, so he was a non-tender candidate on the Mets and remains one on the Rangers.
This sounds good, until you look a little closer. Francouer's line against lefties this season is .280/.351/.410, but his OBP drops to .321 if you exclude his intentional walks (5 of his 11 walks in 114 plate appearances against lefties have been intentional). He crushed lefties to the tune of .344/.356/.521 last season, but was helpless against them in 2008 (.210/.273/.307). In other words, the one thing he's being hired to do, he doesn't even do all that reliably (I will miss his throwing arm, though, which is genuinely marvelous).
As for Arias, he's also a limited player (as Dr. Manhattan pointed out to me, the Rangers must regret choosing Arias over Robinson Cano to include in the A-Rod/Soriano deal), but cheaper, a year younger than Francouer (25 to Frenchy's 26) and one of more immediate use to the Mets. His career batting line is .286/.322/.379 over 242 major league plate appearances (.291/.314/.393 away from Texas), .285/.317/.378 over nine minor league seasons, and he's stolen 28 bases per 162 games in the minors. That's not a great offensive asset, but a guy who can play second and short, hit .280 and steal some bases is at least worth something. Of more concern is the quality of his defense, which is likely why he was available and makes questionable whether he could take over Luis Castillo's job if Castillo is gone next year and Ruben Tejada continues to be miles from ready to hit major league pitching.
While I'm not over-optimistic about Arias, Francouer is addition by subtraction and a sign the team is serious about making some changes and not marrying its mistakes. Baby steps.
UPDATED for a great line: "if you praise Jeff Francoeur and Alex Cora for their grittiness, while bashing Jose Reyes, you lose the right to complain about the team not winning."