"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
August 25, 2011
BASEBALL/SCIENCE: Bill James on Ignorance and Expertise
I have always thought that it was best not to define oneself, but to let the world say about you whatever it is that the world chooses to say. This is my first reference point for the Power of Ignorance. By not claiming to know exactly what it is that I am doing, I remain able to attempt whatever it is that I feel like attempting. It's a great advantage.
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I want to point out to you in passing that "getting the answers right" had almost nothing to do with the success of my career. My reputation is based entirely on finding the right questions to ask - that is, in finding questions that have objective answers, but to which no one happens to know what the objective answer is. That's what I did 35 years ago; that's what I do now. When I do that, it makes almost no difference whether I get the answer right, or whether I get it a little bit wrong. Of course I do my very best to get the answers right, out of pride and caution, but it doesn't actually matter.
Science and knowledge were not settled then. Nor are they now. Indeed, nothing is ever settled - we start, because we cannot test every premise of our lives, with the traditions and conventional wisdom we inherit, because those are generally the result of copious trial and error in the past. Even for every baseball shibboleth James has tested and found wanting over time, many more that we don't even think of have endured because people played the game and found what worked. But we never stop testing new things, and gradually replacing the old ones by the same system of trial and error. That's how science works, just as it's how democracy or law or social tradition or free markets work.
There's much more - as I said, I left out huge chunks of the speech - so read the whole thing.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:13 AM | Baseball 2011 | Enemies of Science | Science | Comments (62) | TrackBack (0)
August 24, 2011
POLITICS: Rip Van Moonbeam Awakens And It's Still 1980
I confess: on some level, I like Jerry Brown. He's one of those guys - like Pat Moynihan, Paul Tsongas or Bill Bradley - who really, truly and honestly believes in the goals of liberalism, yet is periodically honest enough to be blunt about its failures in the real world. He even studied to be a priest, way back when. One can argue, as Steven Hayward has of Moynihan, that it's a species of moral cowardice to cling to an ideology you know doesn't really work, but even as many times as Brown and his comrades disappoint me, their candor, even unintentional candor, is still refreshing and amusing.
I thought of this when reading an interview CNN's Candy Crowley did with Gov.-again Brown earlier this month, and how it dovetails with the latest reports from the CBO on the economy.
Brown's interview is revealing on a number of levels, given that he's one of the few elected Democrats left who has some historical perspective on how we're re-living the Carter years (Brown was California Governor from 1975-83 and ran for President in 1976, 1980 and 1992). First, he basically advises President Obama to raise taxes, but frankly admits that Obama needs to lie about doing so to avoid Walter Mondale in 1984:
CROWLEY: So you think the president needs to run saying, folks, we need to raise taxes?
Yet when dealing with the state of the economy, Brown seems befuddled by the Return of Malaise, and certainly lacking in the swagger of his staffers:
CROWLEY: Do you see unemployment in California, absent any help from the federal government in the near term, --(CROSSTALK)
Not exactly the tune Brown was singing during the 2010 campaign. Perhaps Brown could consider what else 2011 has in common with those years - specifically, a hapless liberal Democrat in the White House and Jerry Brown as Governor.
Brown isn't the only one recalling the days of the Misery Index. Conn Carroll notices the CBO finding consumer confidence down to levels reminiscent of the Carter years:
[C]onsumer spending has been lower in the past year than the levels that would normally occur given consumers' income and wealth - suggesting that other factors, such as pessimism about the prospects for income growth, may be restraining spending. As an example, for much of 2011 so far, only about 10 percent of consumers have expected to see real gains in their income in the year ahead, matching a level of pessimism last seen in 1980.
Yes, the business cycle produces recessions, as surely as the weather produces storms. Both Carter and Obama inherited messes, just as did Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy. But the economy's protracted lifelessness under Carter and Obama is not simply the arbitrary hand of fate. It doesn't have to stay 1980 forever.
POLITICS: Greg Sargent's Imaginary Conflict
The Washington Post's in-house left-wing activist, Greg Sargent, thinks he can convince you that he has a "gotcha" moment with Rick Perry's recent book "Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington":
Rick Perry's campaign is now distancing him from another controversial claim in his book: That we should repeal the 16th Amendment and replace it with a "Fair Tax," a radical idea that's still rattling around in some precincts on the right.
Here's the problem: the book doesn't say that.
Perry, who has spent his career as governor of a state with no income tax, argues as a historical matter - and he's on solid ground here - that the federal-state balance was decisively altered by the Progressive Era enactment of the 16th and 17th Amendments, which (respectively) created a federal income tax that vastly expanded federal revenues relative to state revenues and made Senators popularly elected rather than representatives of their states' legislatures. By giving the federal government a large revenue base independent of the states and removing the representation of state governments in Washington, those two amendments were foundational in creating the modern national administrative state and expanding Washington's power and influence at the expense of state and local authority closer to the people. Perry, as an ardent exponent of federalism, thinks this was in many ways more trouble than it's been worth. There's a lot of pros and cons to an argument of this nature, but it's a serious question. None other than Sargent's ideological comrade at the Post, Ezra Klein, who agrees with Perry on almost nothing, wrote in his positive review of Perry's book back in April:
This is not a boring book. More to the point, it's not even a book about Rick Perry. It's a book about Rick Perry's ideas. And his big idea is that most everything the federal government does is unconstitutional... Perry's federalism is radical in scope, but it's not thoughtless. He believes, and repeatedly argues, that states are simply more capable than the federal government. "Most problems get better solutions when they're solved at the local level," he writes. He believes that the variations in state policy allow Americans to "vote with their feet."
That's the history. But making a historical argument of How We Got Into This Mess is not the same as arguing that the entire last century should be unwound to get us out of it. I myself have argued that, whatever its original merits, it would be a terrible idea to try to get rid of the 17th Amendment. (And frankly, I'm not a fan of the Fair Tax either.)
But let's look at Perry's actual argument. Perry does, in the conclusion of his book, argue in the book for restructuring the way the federal government collects revenue, with the goal of both tax simplification and reducing the ultimate size of the federal government. And he does suggest the Fair Tax and the repeal of the 16th Amendment as one of the possible ways to go about doing that, a suggestion that undoubtedly makes the Fair Tax faction more receptive to his overall point. But Perry does not argue for that as his proposed solution, but simply one of the potential options along with something closer to a flat tax:
Second, we should restrict the unlimited source of revenue that the federal government has used to grow beyond its constitutionally prescribed powers.
A flat tax is a controversial idea too, but one that has had bipartisan support over the years (both Jerry Brown in 1992 and Steve Forbes in 1996 ran on flat-tax platforms). And Perry's campaign, in responding to Sargent, is open about the fact that a presidential campaign has to deal with the immediate practical reality of how to implement political ideas in ways that a book does not, even a book by the same man written at the same time:
The 16th Amendment instituting a federal income tax starting at one percent has exploded into onerous, complex and confusing tax rates and rules for American workers over the last century. The need for job creation in the wake of the explosion of federal debt and costly entitlement programs, mean the best course of action in the near future is a simpler, flatter and broader tax system that unleashes production, creates jobs, and creates more taxpayers. We can't undo more than 70 years of progressive taxation and worsening debt obligations overnight.
If you read that paragraph next to the complete excerpt from the book, there's no conflict. One says there's a historically-rooted problem and a couple of ways to reach the goal of fixing it, the other repeats the assessment of the problem and declares the same goal of fixing it, and simply adds the acknowledgement that this won't happen overnight. In neither event does Perry wed himself to the Fair Tax, nor does he rule it out. Not being naive or inexperienced at practical politics, Perry undoubtedly understands that whatever his preferences, it's a lot easier to pass a new tax code through Congress than to repeal an Amendment to the Constitution, and that itself is all the difference in the world between writing books and running for President.
My guess is that Perry, like most presidential candidates, will eventually produce a tax plan, as well as various other plans. Sargent is trying for a "gotcha" moment here because he wants to nail Perry down before Perry has time to roll out anything that deliberate. But Sargent is a web writer, not a print writer - as I just did here, he could have given his readers the context of Perry's actual quote so they could judge for themselves what Perry's argument was in the book, instead of leaving the false implication that Perry positively endorsed the Fair Tax and repeal of the 16th Amendment and was now backing away from a proposal he'd made just a few months ago.
August 22, 2011
POLITICS: Perry's Texas
Ross Douthat looks at the Perry record. This amused me:
The question is whether Perry himself deserves any of the credit. Here his critics become much more persuasive. When Perry became governor, taxes were already low, regulations were light, and test scores were on their way up. He didn’t create the zoning rules that keep Texas real estate affordable, or the strict lending requirements that minimized the state’s housing bubble. Over all, the Texas model looks like something he inherited rather than a system he built.
Yes, like Barack Obama, he inherited it from George W. Bush. I doubt the Democrats will get far with that argument.
POLITICS: Rick Perry For President, Y'All
Last weekend, Republicans waiting for the proverbial man on the white horse to ride in and save them from an unsatisfactory 2012 primary field got their answer, or at any rate the best answer they are likely to get: Texas Governor Rick Perry. And while Perry entered stage right, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, my previous choice among the announced candidates in the field, exited stage center-right, leaving the choice - to me - an obvious one: Rick Perry for President, y'all.
The Governor From Central Casting
Perry is in many ways a blindingly obvious choice to fill a gap in the presidential field. He's the longest-serving Governor in the history of the nation's second-largest state, a state with a long and disputatious foreign border; his predecessor in the job served two terms as President. He's won statewide election six times, a record matched only by one previous President (Bill Clinton, whose terms were shorter), and has held statewide office continuously for two decades, since Barack Obama was in law school. He's defeated liberal icon Jim Hightower, survived the Democratic wave of 2006, and beaten African-American, Latino and female opponents (showing his ability to survive Obama-style identity politics), the last a primary challenge by a sitting Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who had Establishment backing as prominent as Dick Cheney. He's never lost an election since winning his seat in the Texas Legislature in 1984. He served overseas in the Air Force, flying C-130 transports for five years during the Cold War in the mid-70s in places like Germany and Saudi Arabia, joining just as the Vietnam War was winding down (he'd been in an ROTC-style organization at Texas A&M). Like Mitt Romney, he has great hair and looks like a guy Hollywood would cast as a president - which may seem like an awfully silly way to pick a President, but one of Pawlenty's problems seemed to be a lack of perceived gravitas arising from his decidedly nerdy appearance. Perry has no such problems.
In a red-blue nation, Perry has been a protean political figure, making a journey from Establishment Southern Democrat (in 1988 he was statewide chair for the Al Gore for President campaign) to Establishment Republican (in 1998 he was George W. Bush's running mate, and he originally took office when Bush resigned after winning the 2000 election) to Tea Party-backed iconoclast (in 2010, as noted, he faced a moderate Establishment rebellion, and survived by cementing his popularity with Texas Tea Partiers and other conservative grassroots). But Perry has changed his politics more than his policies over the years (even as a Democrat he was distinguished as a foe of government spending); while he has any politician's vulnerability to charges of flip-flopping, pandering and beliefs of convenience at times, he has nothing like Mitt Romney's vast catalogue of flip-flops in a career in public office barely a fifth as long.
Perry's strong economic record as Texas Governor, swimming against the national tide, is his strongest selling point (and as such has attracted the most immediate and incoherent assaults). He may have gotten a D in economics in college, when he was still a Democrat, but his much more relevant grade came in 2009, when his state's bond rating was upgraded to AA+ by Standard & Poor's on the basis of his 2010-11 budget.
The Real Thing
Perry's record is solidly but far from perfectly conservative; honestly, there's not that much difference between him and Pawlenty that's not explained by the difference between Texas and Minnesota. He's not the Platonic ideal Republican candidate. He's not a brilliant policy innovator like Bobby Jindal, a budget wonk extraordinaire like Paul Ryan, or an exemplar of Tea Party purity like Michele Bachmann. He hasn't faced down a hostile polity like Chris Christie or Scott Walker, or led a faction within the party like Jim DeMint or Pat Toomey. He lacks Marco Rubio's spellbinding eloquence, Sarah Palin's biting wit or Allen West's martial ferocity. He hasn't been a successful businessman like Romney or Herman Cain, or a decorated combat veteran like West or John McCain. He's a career politician. And as a 61 year old white male Texas Baby Boomer who has been in office for a quarter century and who sometimes sounds like George W. Bush, he's not in any way a "new face" for the party.
But the Republican Party right now has plenty of enthusiasm and plenty of ideas. What it has been looking for is a leader with credibility in governance, and that's Perry. With over a decade in office in a huge, Republican-dominated state, Perry isn't selling castles in the air, he's selling an alternative vision of how government should operate, implemented and road-tested through good times and bad. From the new security demands of 9/11, to a decade of balancing budgets with ebbing and flowing tax revenues, to creating jobs through two recessions, to immigration from neighboring Mexico, to crises ranging from Hurricanes Rita and Ike to eruptions of Islamic extremism at Fort Hood to every variety of social ill and social-issue controversy, Perry has had to grapple with the full menu of practical challenges that come with governing responsibility. Many a buck has stopped at his desk. His answers may not always have been ideal, but the voters will be able to judge him, for good and ill, on a long and proven record.
On my 2008 checklist of five types of experience we look for in presidential candidates, Perry scores strongly on two (executive experience and political leadership experience) by virtue of his long tenure as Texas Governor and the state party's consistent success under his guidance. He's not a combat veteran, but has worn his country's uniform abroad. On foreign affairs, he's somewhat typical of a long-serving border-state governor - he's well-traveled and well-versed in immigration and trade issues (probably nobody in America has more practical experience dealing with immigration and the Mexican border), but still has much to prove on national security. He can also boast some private sector business experience from his time as a rancher before running for office - hardly a vast enterprise, but one that teaches a good deal from the ground level up about how to make ends meet. As I've noted before, no one factor is essential - although executive experience is by far the most important - and only two presidents (George Washington and George H.W. Bush) entered office with a strong resume in all five categories. So, Perry comes out looking pretty good on that test.
After 2 1/2 years of a President who entered the White House as a wish-projection object with no track record running anything, America deserves a leader who already knows how to lead and has gotten his rookie mistakes out of his system.
Holding Out For A Hero
Every successful presidential campaign requires a little touch of hero-worship and personality cult, although again the Obama experience demonstrates the dangers of overdosing on this sort of thing. Perry, as a poster boy for gun-toting Texans (he once shot a coyote while jogging), has inspired a bit of that. If you've seen the burgeoning "Rick Perry Facts" meme on the web (@rickperryfacts on Twitter, for example), after the mold of the Chuck Norris Facts, they're a good example of pumping up Perry's Texas tough guy image with the proper air of absurdity to avoid taking themselves too seriously. Nobody is going to depict Perry as a "Lightworker" who brings meaning to our lives, paint pictures of him astride a unicorn, or argue that he will fundamentally change the American people or hold back the tides. He's simply a successful political leader who wants to apply his talents to improving how our federal government works, in many cases by imitating things that have already been done on the federal or state level in the past.
We all have our biases in preferring candidates. I know three of mine. One, which Perry fits just as have Pawlenty, Palin, Ryan, Rubio, Giuliani, Christie, and even Ronald Reagan, is a preference for Republicans who didn't grow up wealthy or from prominent families, who have had to scrap their way up the ladder. I've voted for my share of to-the-manor-born Republicans and surely will again, but I still feel like Republicans who have had to claw their way up from middle-class or harder backgrounds tend to understand better at a gut level what the party really stands for, how hard it has to work to win, and why it appeals to Americans who don't come from money and influence. But Perry doesn't exactly fit the second (I tend to like candidates who are, like me, either lawyers or otherwise talkers, fast on their feet and clever in debate) and as for the third...so sue me, I'm a New Yorker, I prefer not to run Southerners, who tend to get counted out easily by much of the rest of the country. But it's important to know your biases precisely so you don't let them dictate your choices. I'd rather have run a candidate from another region of the country, but if Perry's the best we have - and I think of the current field he is, and that whatever rumors you hear, we're unlikely to get another top-shelf entrant - he's my candidate. He doesn't need to be my hero.
I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map
Here is where the entry of Perry gets interesting and a little dicey. One of the primary reasons why I'd been open to possibly continuing to support Pawlenty even if he and Perry were both in the field is the 2012 map. As I have written before, the demographics of the true swing states in 2012 are likely to determine the two sides' battle plans.
Let me offer my current seat-of-the-pants analysis of what that map will look like. This is based in good part on history and educated speculation; it's too early to have meaningful hard data and dangerous to project too much certainty on current polling.
Realistically, given Obama's current weaknesses and the traditional GOP loyalties of those states, I expect that Ohio, Florida and Indiana will end up in the GOP column so long as the Republican candidate is competitive - in other words, I can't foresee the situation where Republicans lose the election because of a failure to win one of those states. Meanwhile, so long as the bottom doesn't drop out on him, Obama's likely to hold on in Minnesota, but Republicans will have opportunities in other states of the Midwest and Upper Midwest that have tended to run Democratic in the past two decades. I also think the demographics make it at least an open question whether the GOP can reclaim Virginia and North Carolina, although (1) Democrats mostly got drubbed there in 2009-2010 (besides the NC-GOV race) and (2) Obama only won NC by a hair in 2008 anyway, with less than 50% of the vote, so his margin of error there is almost nonexistent. In general, polling has tended to show that Obama is more popular than you'd expect from national numbers and the local partisan climate in federal worker-heavy Virginia, less popular than you'd expect in bitter, clinging Pennsylvania.
This is what my current map looks like:
You will notice that this puts the GOP 32 electoral votes short of the goal line, with the remaining votes up for graps divided into the following buckets:
The Midwest: 52 votes, 16 of them in the white-bread Upper Midwest states of Wisconsin and Iowa, 36 in the more traditional Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. These were states where the Democrats got slaughtered in 2010, with the GOP winning governorships in all four (as well as Senate races in PA & WI). New Hampshire's 4 electoral votes are likely to trend in a similar direction as these four states, bringing the swing total to 56. If Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota come onto the table, that expands this region by another 39 votes. The Midwest is huge.
The Tidewater: VA & NC were both red states under Bush, but an influx of northerners to NC's Research Triangle and to the federal worker and contractor dominated Northern Virginia region, combined with heavy African-American turnout, swung both states for Obama in 2008. (If you prefer, we can call these two the Big Ten and the ACC). VA & NC carry 28 electoral votes; adding them on this map leaves the Republican candidate just one state from victory.
The High Desert: CO & NV were mostly reliable red states that have been pulled left by demographic changes (growing Latino populations, influxes of Californians), heavy union organization in NV, and a pair of especially ineptly run state Republican organizations. NM is a more traditionally Democratic state, but was won by Bush in 2004 and went Republican in the 2010 Governor's race (both NV & NM elected Hispanic Republican governors in 2010). I've tended to assume Obama wins all three, but they will be close-run races, with a total prize of 20 electoral votes.
The predominance of the Midwest would seem to argue for a candidate more suited to that region than a guy like Perry who embodies Texas swagger. That's where Pawlenty could have come in handy, with his careful balance of blue-collar scrappiness and "Minnesota nice" and record of lasting two statewide terms in blue Minnesota without emerging hopelessly compromised. But in retrospect, the defining moment of Pawlenty's campaign ended up coming when he blasted Mitt Romney's health care record as "Obamaneycare" on a Sunday talk show, but refused to repeat the line in Romney's presence in a June debate in New Hampshire. Pawlenty ended up with the worst of both worlds, looking less like a scrapper than like a rabbit-puncher who wasn't willing to slug with the big boys. Pawlenty ended up bowing out with class as soon as his path to victory was closed off after the Ames Straw Poll.
But if Perry is perhaps not the best fit for the Midwest, one advantage of Perry being a Texan is that, as Richard Cohen sagely notes, Texas is culturally, geographically and politically part of both the South and the West. As a result, Perry is in some sense campaigning on home turf as far east as Florida and Virginia and as far west as Arizona and Idaho. He'll look and sound very much like the kind of Republican candidate who wins elections in Virginia and North Carolina. And a corollary is that Texas' unique historic and demographic ties to Mexico means that a successful long-time Texas politician like Perry is much more at home campaigning for Latino support than a candidate from the Upper Midwest would be, giving him a better chance of running strongly in the three High Desert states.
Buckle Your Seatbelts
Barack Obama, like Harry Reid in 2010 and Gray Davis in 2002, is likely to enter the 2012 election needing to make the race about something other than his own unpopular and unsuccessful record in office; indeed, that was one major reason why I'd been attracted to the relatively bland Pawlenty. Perry lacks obvious weak points - he can't be painted as a guy who doesn't know what he's doing, and he can't be caricatured as a Bill Simon-type corporate predator or a Sharron Angle-type batty extremist. Even some of his more eccentric-sounding ideas, like his criticism of the Sixteenth Amendment, are grounded in his experience balancing budgets and presiding over economic growth in a state with no income tax.
The fact of Perry's Texas-ness and Obama's own needs make the primary attacks on him wholly predictable. The demographics of the swing states and Obama's 2008 coalition only amplify his side's natural inclination to run a racially divisive campaign. Obama's poll numbers, plunging along with the economy, will exacerbate this tendency. An incident last week perfectly captures this dynamic. Perry referred on the campaign trail to the national debt as a "big black cloud that hangs over America," and MSNBC pounced, editing out the reference to the debt and asserting that Perry was referring to Obama as a "big black cloud". Ed Schultz was forced to do a retraction - even Jon Stewart defended Perry on this one - but attacks of this nature never truly go away even after the inevitable insincere apology. Expect more "big black cloud"-style nonsense for the next 15 months.
One of the pet sound bites of Perry's less literate critics has been the notion that he's some kind of secessionist, an urban myth that comes from how he tried to talk down some heated chatter in 2010:
What actually happened was that after people shouted "Secede!" at an Austin rally, he said that he understood their frustration but added, "We've got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that. Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
This is, of course, a textbook example of how to respond to people with extreme-sounding ideas without agreeing with them. But just as important, it's not, as some left-wingers would have it, a species of neo-Confederacy. "Secession" may have an automatic association with the Stars and Bars to people in, say, Ohio or South Carolina, but in Texas it's part of a much longer-standing tradition of Texas nationalism. Recall that Texas is one of just two states to have once been an independent nation (the other, Hawaii, has not only a lingering nationalism of its own but an active movement to enshrine in law a rule of racial superiority for its native people), and became independent by seceding from Mexico - to Texans, independence and secession are first and foremost associated with the Alamo, not Fort Sumter. But don't expect that history to be understood by people who automatically salivated at the sound of "big black raincloud."
Another brand of really disqualifying-sounding attacks has been the decade-old whispering campaign (I swear I saw it on left-wing blogs as far back as 2002) to paint Perry as gay, a womanizer, or maybe even a gay womanizer (what can't he do?). But similar campaigns have failed to damage Obama (remember Vera Baker?), George H.W. Bush, or even guys with more checkered marital records like John Kerry and John McCain. Americans are usually pretty good about knowing when to write off critics who don't have the goods on this kind of story. You never know with a guy until he's been road-tested at the national level, but ... well, the guy who keeps trying to push these stories to us at RedState has a long history of touting claims that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian who had an affair with Webb Hubbell. I've seen nothing to take the mud slung at Perry out of that category.
There's other critiques of Perry, of course (there's an excellent summary here), but that's to be expected with anybody who's been in public office for that long. On ethics, for example, Perry's records is wholly unremarkable. He hasn't made a career as a reform-minded crusader like McCain or Palin, or pretended to, like Obama. Inevitably, he's open to charges that his state government has sometimes favored his political and financial supporters. This is common to basically all successful politicians, and it's entirely proper that they be kept in some fear of public criticism on the subject. But as all conservatives know, the only way to limit public corruption is to limit the role of government, especially in the economy - that's why the Democrats will always have a larger systemic problem with corruption. Perry's Texas experience, the polar opposite of Obama's grounding in the all-encompassing Chicago machine, helps him understand this. We'll hear more about the Texas Governorship being comparatively "weak," and the legislature is even weaker...but that's a good thing, as Perry pointed out in 2007:
The Texas Legislature meets 140 days every other year.
Perry will take his knocks. Put not your faith in princes - he's no messiah, he's a politician. But he's a good one for these times.
I haven't walked through Perry's record in detail here, nor explained in full my reasons for discounting his opponents; there will be ample time for all that as the campaign unfolds. But I hope you'll agree with me that Perry is precisely the kind of proven, experienced, responsible conservative leader that the GOP should be running in 2012, and take the time yourself to give his record (warts and all) a closer look.
August 3, 2011
POLITICS: The Case of the Missing President (Or: Negotiations, Part III)
GOP aides and lawmakers, speaking on background, portrayed Boehner as the calm negotiator who repeatedly exasperated President Obama.
The article's worth reading in its entirety for a good deal more color on how Boehner overcame the dissension within his own caucus on passing the second House bill (the first being the Cut, Cap and Balance plan, not counting the vote on the Ryan roadmap). If that's how it went down, it seems pretty clear that Obama was simply an obstacle to getting a deal done - not the only adult in the room, as he portrayed himself, but the one guy who had nothing to contribute to the process and was actually in the way.
Which brings us to the next point. A big part of why the whole political spin war was so acrimonious throughout these negotiations was the asymmetry in transparency among the participants. The House GOP side of the argument was played out in public: the House passed two plans before the Senate even held a vote on a plan backed by Senate leadership. Everybody knew what the House would do if it controlled the process, and what its negotiating posture was. (The House Democrats, of course, were marginalized, as the House minority always is). The Senate Democrats and Senate GOP leadership each floated plans that were less concrete (until the point late in the game where Reid held a vote on his own alternative), but at least could in some general way be evaluated by the voters and the media.
But throughout the entire process, President Obama never put a plan where the voters could see it. No proposal was circulated by the White House, and the President and his spokesmen refused to go into any specifics beyond a few public statements about small-bore issues like depreciation rates for corporate jets. That posture has its advantages - on an issue of less intense public attention, closed-door back-room dealing can be the way to get rhetoric set aside and the parties moved ahead on reaching their bottom lines. It also gave Obama political advantages, since he could take potshots at the GOP plan while offering no target to be criticized without complete deniability for the White House.
But the downsides manifested themselves in other ways that helped poison the process and ultimately cripple the President. Denied competing plans to pore over, the media coverage ended up focusing on he-said she-said disputes about things that had happened behind closed doors (like Obama's blowup with Eric Cantor) and competing spin over what Obama had or had not offered. Energized Tea Party activists were given a choice between a no-compromise conservative bill they could see, and a closed-door backroom deal with Obama they couldn't evaluate beyond their willingness to trust the DC establishment that created this mess in the first place. Even liberal activists were offered very little to work with. Obama ended up sending out mass emails like this one last Friday:
Imagine you got to be a fly on the wall in a closed meeting of the House Republicans yesterday.
First of all, in all my years receiving direct mail and emails from Republicans, I do not believe I've ever gotten anything so abjectly begging for a deal, any deal. Obama was hectoring his supporters to get behind absolutely anything that would pass, without even the slenderest nod to what might be in it (this is how he ended up with a progressive Congressman describing the final result as a "Satan sandwich"). Second, the barrage of Tweets from Obama then targeting each and every state's delegation made him sound like a 13-year-old girl trying to start a trending topic about Justin Bieber, rather than the Leader of the Free World directing events. Remember when liberals sneered that Sarah Palin was "president of Facebook"? Well, that was Obama last week - President of Twitter. Except as the actual President of the United States, he should have had better ways of influencing Congress than Twitter. Third, Obama's expectation that the voters and swing-district Congressmen and Senators would rally behind a backroom deal without any public defense of its specifics was a disastrous misreading of the public mood in general and the mood of newly-elected, Tea Party-backed Republicans in particular.
And finally, Obama's backroom strategy destroyed his leverage. As John Podhoretz noted in the Post column I linked to earlier today, Obama's inability to either work out a deal in private or rally public support behind any particular plan resulted in a deal that left out the one thing he had demanded, any tax hikes. And indeed, whether or not the Hill's account is accurate, it is telling that Obama insisted that his entire role be performed offstage where the public couldn't verify what he was doing or where he stood except by taking the word of him and his spokesmen. That amounted to a total surrender of the 'bully pulpit,' despite Obama's frequent appearances to repeat his vague appeals for a "balanced" approach - Republicans could see that he wasn't willing to take any stand for which he'd be held accountable, and so they inferred, correctly, that he'd never stand ground he'd taken in private if he feared to take it in public. His silence on the specifics rendered him weak and vulnerable, and ultimately impotent. He became the man who'd take any deal, so of course he got none of what he asked for.
That part, no amount of spin about the blow-by-blow of the closed-door negotiatons can conceal.
POLITICS: Negotiations, Cont'd
Following up on my post below, contrast this view of President Reagan's breaking of PATCO with this take on President Obama's ineffectual efforts to get tax hikes into the debt ceiling deal for a sense of how presidential negotiating tactics can have further-reaching consequences.
BUSINESS: Negotiating Through The Media
There are many species of bad journalism, most of which involve too much opinion by the writer, but sometimes the opposite is true and a writer gives you the apparent facts without the context needed to make sense of them. Let me use an article from the NY Times about 30 Rock to illustrate a common type of bad journalism that I find to be equally amusing and annoying: reporting negotiating positions without bothering to explain to the reader to take negotiating positions with a grain of salt, let alone how to interpret statements made in the course of negotiations. This has been a common thread in scores of articles these past few months about - among other topics - the debt ceiling negotiations, the Libya war, the perpetual Israel-Palestine 'peace process,' the NFL and NBA labor negotiations, the Mets' legal dispute with the Madoff trustee and other business machinations and their efforts to re-sign Jose Reyes, and the legal imbroglio surrounding the Dodgers. I've read more articles on all these topics than I could count that failed to give the reader the guidance to put the parties' statements in the context of the underlying negotiating dynamics.
The Times tells us, first, that Alec Baldwin has said he's leaving 30 Rock after next season, a departure that of course would be a terrible blow to a show built around the tensions between his (awesome) character, Jack Donaghy, and Tina Fey's Liz Lemon. It may well be true that Baldwin sincerely has other things on his mind, maybe even a run for public office, and/or that he's feeling he's done all he could with the character. But it's at least equally likely that he could be persuaded to stay on if NBC offers money or other contractual concessions to make it worth his while.
Then we get the response from NBC brass and from Lorne Michaels, the show's executive producer:
Executives from the show and NBC aren't sure, but they made it clear in interviews here this week that his departure would not mean an automatic end to the award-winning comedy.
Again: I don't doubt that NBC would very much like to extend the show's run one extra season for syndication purposes; many a sitcom past has been kept on past its proverbial shark-jumping point for that reason. If 30 Rock is still making money at that point, the network would probably try to soldier on without Baldwin. And Lorne Michaels has never been a guy who thought any of his cast members were indispensable (to put it mildly). But this all smacks strongly of a negotiating posture: the network and Michaels are doing interviews here precisely to send Baldwin the message that he's not holding all the cards. And the reporter, Bill Carter, doesn't breathe a word of that, probably because he knows full well why they are giving him these interviews.
Of course, Greenblatt and Michaels have their own competing agendas:
Mr. Greenblatt did open the door to a possible disagreement with Mr. Michaels over the re-entry of "30 Rock" onto NBC's schedule. The show's sixth-season premiere has been postponed until midseason because of the pregnancy of its star, Tina Fey.
Of course, if Baldwin's future with the show is in doubt, that's one reason the network would not want to commit valuable Thursday night prime-time space, plus Greenblatt is taking charge of a fourth-place network and probably should keep his options open. But NBC has to keep Michaels happy, too; as the creator of Saturday Night Live, he remains a vital part of the network's brand image. Michaels' certainty here is obviously intended to send an unsubtle message that he will not be a happy camper if the network moves his prime-time baby out of its Thursday night sinecure.
I don't mean to pick on Carter, who in this article has at least offered us enough quotes from each of the participants that a skeptical reader can piece together what is really being said here; that's not always the case with this sort of journalism. But in general, reporters aren't doing their jobs if they don't report how someone involved in negotiations could stand to gain from taking a particular position in public, and worse still if they straight-facedly claim that someone will never make a particular concession (e.g., Jose Reyes won't talk about a new contract during the season), when in fact they might well do so for the right price. The dynamics of negotiations and how they are handled through the media can differ across situations, but there are a finite number of basic underlying approaches to negotiating, and they crop up across many different fields of endeavor.
Consider the debt ceiling debate - surely many Republicans would have preferred to pass 'cut, cap and balance,' and some were genuinely opposed to raising the debt ceiling at all. But for many people involved in the fight, pushing for the ideal policy, even if it was the policy they wanted, was also a matter of getting leverage to extract a better deal when the time came to compromise. Similarly, many Republicans sincerely opposed any deal that would raise any taxes at all; others may have been willing to trade some revenue-raisers for something better, but found it convenient to stay in line with the ATR pledge against tax hikes as a posture unless and until that better offer materialized. None of this is insincere; it's just good bargaining.
Learn to look for the signs of negotiating postures between the lines of news articles, and they will surface again and again in every section of the paper.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:26 PM | Baseball 2011 | Basketball | Business | Football | Law 2009-14 | Politics 2011 | Pop Culture | War 2007-14 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Don't Panic
Jason Heyward, battling injuries, has batted .203/.294/.332 since May 1.
The lesson, as always, is that even the most talented young players shouldn't be expected to be team-carrying superstars right out of the gate. Some are; but many others go through an adjustment period sooner or later, especially if they have a few injuries to throw them off.
Heyward's career line now stands at .258/.366/.435 (119 OPS+), partly through his second, age 21 season. A few comps, including some that should be very familiar to Braves fans:
Ken Griffey jr: .284/.350/.454 (OPS+ 123) through two seasons, age 19-20.
Andruw Jones: .251/.319/.472 (OPS+ 104) through two-plus seasons, age 19-21.
Carlos Beltran: .276/.327/.425 (OPS+ 88) through two-plus seasons, age 21-23.
Jermaine Dye: .252/.287/.394 (OPS+ 75) through three incomplete seasons, age 22-24.
Ron Gant: .236/.290/.404 (OPS+ 93) through two-plus seasons, age 22-24.
And of course, there's no particular reason to think a guy with Heyward's talent won't have a big September this season, either.
He's no MVP, at this stage of his career. But he may still be one, not far in the future.
August 2, 2011
BASEBALL: Time To Swing The Donuts
BLOG: Open Thread 8/2/11
I'm closing the last one due to comment spamming, which tends to target blogs without recent activity and threads that have been open too long. Continue here.