"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2010 Archives
December 21, 2010
POLITICS: It's Cens-mas!
The Census Bureau today released the official reapportionment figures from the 2010 Census, which will determine (1) what states gain and lose House seats and thus will be prime targets for redistricting and (2) what states correspondingly gain and lose votes in the Electoral College for 2012.
By and large, the news was good for the GOP. For the immediate impact, I'll focus on the Electoral College, although it's worth noting how many of the redistricting states - especially the two biggest gainers, Texas (+4) and Florida (+2), and one of the two biggest losers, Ohio (-2) - are now under heavy GOP control (and the GOP just recently took control of the NY State Senate, assuring a place at the table in the other state losing more than one seat, as NY is also -2).
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Here are the other states gaining or losing one seat. Gaining a seat:
Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington
Thus, the GOP picks up six seats in three of the most reliably red states in the union (UT, SC & TX), five seats in three states that have been solidly if not overwhelmingly Republican (FL, GA, AZ), one in a state that has leaned narrowly Republican but went Democratic in 2008 and at the Senate level in 2010 (NV), and one state that has been reliably but narrowly Democrat (WA). Note who is missing: California failed to gain seats for the first time since 1930. Also two states where Democrats had made recent strides - North Carolina and Colorado - failed to gain seats as some early projections had shown, while Minnesota narrowly avoided losing one.
Now, the losers, besides New York and Ohio:
Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania
Again, mostly good news. Despite the recent revival of the GOP in the Northeast (see Scott Brown, Pat Toomey, Tom Corbett, Chris Christie, Paul LePage, and GOP gains of five House seats in NY alone in 2010) and Michigan and Illinois (Rick Snyder and Mark Kirk), the loss of seven seats across NY, PA, NJ, MA, MI & IL is overall good news for Republicans, especially at the presidential level. Note that NY & PA have both lost seats every census since 1930; NY is now in parity with Florida with 29 electoral votes each. IA is more of a swing state (one of just three states that flipped between 2000 and 2004, when the red-blue divide was static) and especially friendly to ethanol-industry-owned Barack Obama, MO more red and LA now reliably so at the presidential level, but on balance this is not such bad news for the GOP.
This sets the following as the states with 10 or more electoral votes:
Sean Trende pulls the regional patterns underlying the 9.7% population growth since 2000:
The official population of the U.S. as of April 1, 2010 was 308,745,538, up from 281,421,906 in 2010. The Northeast grew 3.2 percent, the Midwest grew 3.9 percent, the South grew 14.3 percent and the West grew by 13.8 percent. Overall, it was the slowest growth in the country since the 1930s.
And the Electoral College consequences:
If the 2008 election had been held under these census numbers, President Obama would have defeated John McCain 359 to 179 - essentially flipping Iowa into the Republican column before the election begins. For 2004, the numbers are starker still: Bush's 286-251 victory would become a 292-246 win, meaning that even if Kerry had won Ohio, he still would have lost (in 2004, flipping Ohio would have been sufficient to give Kerry the win).
These numbers are an opportunity for Republicans, but also a challenge, since the main areas undergoing population growth are (with a few exceptions like Utah) growing mainly through a growing Latino population. Which explains why Democrats are so eager to try to divide off Latino voters to vote as a homogenous race-conscious bloc the way African-Americans do; it's their only path to offset their shrinking deep-blue-state power base. There's no future in being the party of the Northeast and the West Coast, and Democrats know this; liberal pundits and left-wing bloggers are quite open about the extent to which they bank on racial demographics as their salvation, and those demographics only benefit them if they can maintain very high rates of racial division in the voting patterns of Latino and African-American voters, far higher than you would find among white voters. Republicans don't have to win the Latino vote outright to fend off that challenge, they only need individual Latinos to remain open enough to both sides that Republicans can persuade a decent percentage to vote GOP, as the Democrats still do among white voters. Frankly, it's not a coincidence that the two states with the most population growth have had, for the past decade and a half, GOP governors starting with George W. and Jeb Bush who worked hard to cater to Latino voters and declined to join in the harshest anti-immigration (even anti-illegal-immigration) rhetoric or policies.
Let's look deeper at the map through the eyes of a Democrat, and you can see why the campaign of relentless racial division touted on a daily basis by left-leaning commentators and pursued by President Obama in some of his ugliest moments of the 2010 stretch run - calling Republicans the "enemies" of Latinos who had to be "punished,", asserting that Republicans were "counting on ...black folks staying home" - will only be exacerbated as Obama's natural strategy for 2012, given how his performance in office has lost him much of the support among white voters (and some among Latino voters) that he enjoyed in 2008. Let's say the GOP candidate wins the following states, most of which are natural GOP states even though some went for Obama in 2008:
AL, AK, AZ, AR, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MO, MT, NE, ND, OH, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WV & WY
That's 238 electoral votes; 270 are needed to win, and conventional wisdom would tell you that a Republican who wins Ohio and Florida is sitting pretty. Meanwhile, Obama takes:
CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA
That's just 14 states plus DC, but carrying 186 electoral votes. The Republican is up by 52, but there's still 114 up for grabs.
Now, let's divide the remaining states in three groups.
One is the states with largely white populations but that have tended to be favorable turf for Democrats in the past: MN, WI, IA, & NH. That's 30 votes. Give those to the Republican - an awfully generous assumption, but we're looking at how Obama and his team will view the states they risk writing off by a strategy of racial division - and you've still only got 268 votes for the Republican, two shy of victory, 248 if you can't wrest Minnesota and Wisconsin from the Democrats.
Now, on the other side, look at the three swing states with large Latino populations that have represented the decisive force in the past few election cycles, as left-leaning commentators have often touted: CO, NM, & NV. That's 20 votes. If Obama can sweep all three, he's up to 206.
That leaves us with PA, MI, VA, NC: four states with large African-American voting blocs, two traditionally Democrat - but trending Republican in 2010 (PA & MI) - and two traditionally Republican - and heavily GOP in 2009-10 (VA & NC) - but won by Obama in 2008. PA & MI are still a significant vote (36 EVs), and with union-driven GOTV, Obama should be competitive; if he takes those by pushing African-American turnout over expectations, he trails 268-242, with the 28 electors of VA & NC to decide the prize. And if there's large enough African-American turnout there as well to tip those two states over to Obama, he's at 270 and re-elected, without winning Florida, Ohio or Indiana, without winning Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire or Wisconsin. Divide et impera.
That's all educated speculation, for now, and the 2009-2010 elections certainly suggest that it's far from a sure bet strategy for Obama. But given his history and the open thinking of people on his side, this is the map to victory I expect him to pursue, one that places virtually its entire emphasis on race as the trump card. The largest challenge for the GOP will be to play on the issues that favor Republicans - basically, everything but racial division and possibly gay rights - and avoid getting trapped in the racially polarized map that Obama is likely to consider his most plausible path to re-election.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:29 PM | Politics 2010 | Politics 2012 | Poll Analysis | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
December 20, 2010
HISTORY/POLITICS: It Was Ever Thus
Republicans, so long as I can recall, have faced an endless barrage of attacks from Democrats and their media allies derived from the theme that today's Republicans are mean, scary extremists not like those Republicans of the past who won elections because they were moderate and civil and whatnot. The only really good Republicans, to these critics, are dead ones (or live ones who lose elections), although past Republicans do come in for some rehabilitation as soon as they can be used as a club against their successors - we've already seen some examples of George W. Bush being cited by liberals on issues like immigration and the Ground Zero Mosque controversy.
Now, it's true, of course, that political coalitions grow and change all the time as different issues rise in importance, and that the GOP in particular has been influenced by the growth of systematic conservative thinking on a variety of fronts. But let's not fool ourselves that this is a new development. In 1854, Abe Lincoln - six years before he became the first Republican president - was already defending himself against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas' contention that Lincoln's anti-slavery position on the Kansas-Nebraska Act showed him to be out of step with those sane, moderate Whigs of the past, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster (by then, both dead). Here is Lincoln's response:
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Finally, the Judge [Douglas] invokes against me, the memory of Clay and of Webster. They were great men; and men of great deeds. But where have I assailed them? For what is it, that their life-long enemy, shall now make profit, by assuming to defend them against me, their life-long friend? I go against the repeal of the Missouri compromise; did they ever go for it? They went for the compromise of 1850; did I ever go against them? They were greatly devoted to the Union; to the small measure of my ability, was I ever less so? Clay and Webster were dead before this question arose; by what authority shall our Senator say they would espouse his side of it, if alive? Mr. Clay was the leading spirit in making the Missouri compromise; is it very credible that if now alive, he would take the lead in the breaking of it? The truth is that some support from whigs is now a necessity with the Judge, and for thus it is, that the names of Clay and Webster are now invoked. His old friends have deserted him in such numbers as to leave too few to live by. He came to his own, and his own received him not, and Lo! he turns unto the Gentiles.
Along the way, Lincoln also made a critical point about the fact you just can't wish away political debates over who is, and who is not, a human being, nor ever hope to achieve a permanent settlement of a debate that merely assumes that some are not:
In the course of his reply, Senator Douglas remarked, in substance, that he had always considered this government was made for the white people and not for the negroes. Why, in point of mere fact, I think so too. But in this remark of the Judge, there is a significance, which I think is the key to the great mistake (if there is any such mistake) which he has made in this Nebraska measure. It shows that the Judge has no very vivid impression that the negro is a human; and consequently has no idea that there can be any moral question in legislating about him. In his view, the question of whether a new country shall be slave or free, is a matter of as utter indifference, as it is whether his neighbor shall plant his farm with tobacco, or stock it with horned cattle. Now, whether this view is right or wrong, it is very certain that the great mass of mankind take a totally different view. They consider slavery a great moral wrong; and their feelings against it, is not evanescent, but eternal. It lies at the very foundation of their sense of justice; and it cannot be trifled with. It is a great and durable element of popular action, and, I think, no statesman can safely disregard it.
Another reason why Lincoln remains the original inspiration of the Party of Lincoln. There is hardly an accusation hurled at today's Republicans that doesn't echo the ones he faced, back in his day, seen as he was as a self-educated country rustic overly devoted to a moral crusade that upset the applecarts of the sophisticates of his day.
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December 13, 2010
LAW/POLITICS: The Mandate
I haven't had a chance to review it or collect my thoughts yet, but here's the just-issued opinion from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia holding the individual mandate portions of Obamacare to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it exceeds the scope of Congress' Article I power over foreign and interstate commerce.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:27 PM | Law 2009-14 | Politics 2010 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
December 9, 2010
Excellent video primer on an error I know I'm guilty of at times - focusing on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) when in fact the better measure of national economic health is Gross Domestic Income:
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POLITICS: The Race
The problem with hiring a guy because of his race is, it gets very hard if you have to fire him.
Barack Obama is likely to face a primary challenge in 2012, but the question of the day is whether it will be some minor fringe-like protest candidate like Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel or a more serious challenger like Howard Dean or Russ Feingold. Jamelle Bouie, an African-American* columnist for the liberal magazine The American Prospect, says what other Democrats may be thinking but afraid to vocalize: Obama's race is the biggest obstacle to a serious primary challenge to the president in 2012 because black voters would look at such a challenge through the lens of race. The Politico flags the issue:
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That's in large part because Obama enjoys overwhelming and unwavering support among African-Americans, a pillar of the Democratic coalition.
That 90% figure is far out of step with every other demographic (even those that remain comparatively loyal to Obama) and far more extreme than opposition to Obama in any group. And it's consistent with the level of support he got not only against John McCain but Hillary Clinton as well; the Clintons had long had deep and broad support among African-American voters (remember when Bill was christened "the first black president"?), and Hillary and Obama were running on fairly similar platforms, yet Obama won 90 or more percent of the black vote in just about every primary. There is no possible way to explain such a dramatic voting pattern other than racial solidarity: voting for Obama because he was black.
Bouie goes further than Trippi and argues that because of that racial loyalty, black voters would not only stick with Obama in the primary but then abandon the Democratic Party if it turned against Obama over his performance in office, perhaps even if the primary challenge was unsuccessful:
[A] challenge would destroy the Democratic Party in national elections...it would drive a huge wedge between African Americans and the party at large. Blacks have been loyal supporters of every Democratic president since Johnson, even when that support was undeserved (see: Bill Clinton). Moreover, like the vast majority of voters, African Americans aren't engaged with the policy disputes that drive (elite) progressive disillusionment with the president....To them, a primary challenge looks less like principled objection, and more like an attack from white liberals, who could put up with worse from white presidents, but won't hesitate to turn their backs on the first black one.
This is a pretty dim view of what motivates African-American voters, who after all have voted in massive numbers for liberal candidates for the past several decades, at least theoretically because they supported those candidates' positions on the issues of the day and their qualifications for office (talk for ten minutes with your average Tea Partier - of any color - and you may find that Bouie's view of most voters as not being interested in issues is an overgeneralization). While you get threats like this now and then from all sorts of groups, the fact is that nobody seriously worries about a reaction like this from other voting blocs - Mormon voters didn't abandon the GOP when Mitt Romney lost the primaries, evangelical Christians didn't become less Republican over the defeat of Harriet Miers (to name two examples where overwrought commentators threatened such things). Southern evangelicals did leave the Democratic party in large numbers after supporting Jimmy Carter in 1976, but more because they were disappointed in the performance of Carter and other Democrats in office than because he was challenged by Ted Kennedy, and I'm pretty sure nobody in Ted's camp worried that such voters would be alienated by his challenge.
Are black voters different in that regard? I don't know, although I suspect Bouie is at least right that if Obama actually lost the primary, African-American turnout would probably be low enough in the fall to utterly doom any challenger. Here in New York, I recall a similar dynamic after Al Sharpton's loss in a racially divisive Senate primary in 1992 helped doom the winner, Robert Abrams, and Mark Green faced a similar fate after defeating Fernando Ferrer in the 2001 Democratic primary for New York City Mayor.
But I suspect that enough leading Democrats share Bouie's broader fears that they will hesitate to support the kind of challenge to Obama that was mounted against Carter in 1980 and against Lyndon Johnson in 1968, as well as (in the pre-primary days) Harry Truman in 1948. No matter what Obama does, the Democrats will be afraid that trying to fire him is even worse.
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POLITICS: The Lamest Duck?
What will happen to Barack Obama's presidency if his tax compromise is shot down with the help of his own party? The House Democratic caucus just voted against it, which puts the deal on life support, at best. Can Obama recover from that?
One of the great questions of the past two years, ever since it became obvious that Democrats would suffer significant setbacks in the 2010 elections, was how President Obama would respond to life with a Republican Congress (or, as it turns out, a Republican House and a weakened Democratic majority in the Senate). On the one hand, you have the fact that Bill Clinton managed to use the "triangulation" strategy to win re-election in 1996, and surely Obama is capable of being equally cold-bloodedly dismissive of his now-depleted Congressional troops. On the other hand, Obama is naturally much more ideological than Clinton and doesn't have Clinton's deft political touch, his decade-long track record as an executive or his experience winning multiple elections outside deep-blue territory, all of which suggests that even if the spirit is willing, Obama may not be competent at executing the same strategy.
Bowing to the results of the 2010 election, Obama has taken at least some tentative, temporary steps towards accomodation with the center. The first of these, which already irritated his base, was the announcement of a "pay freeze" for federal workers (actually just a freeze on annual cost-of-living salary adjustments). Now, he's struck a deal that gives GOP leadership nearly everything it had asked for on taxes - a two-year extension of all the Bush income tax rate cuts, a payroll tax cut, and a lower estate tax than what would return under current law after the 2010 moratorium in the tax, all in exchange for extending unemployment benefits as far out as three years for some recipients.
Now, both liberals and conservatives are up in arms against the deal, and it's hard to see how it passes even the House when the Democratic caucus is against it. What happens if the deal falls through?
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The merits of the deal, from the GOP side, are debatable. What's really needed to kick-start the economy is to improve the long-term returns on investment, and more temporary tax cuts aren't going to help that any more than the "stimulus" did, because you can't plan long-term investments around two years of tax policy. On the other hand, tax hikes right now would be a very bad thing, so while the tax cut extension isn't going to help, failing to extend the cuts would only make things worse. As for extending unemployment benefits, anyone with basic knowledge of human nature knows that many people will work harder to find new work if their benefits are ending, so you're laying out a bunch more cash for a net economic negative. I'm in the camp that accepts that lengthy unemployment benefits can certainly be justified, and conservatives have better and more politically feasible targets to take on government spending, but you have to start by acknowledging the costs of the extension. Anyway, from a conservative perspective, the deal may not be great but it's hard to see how the GOP could get a better deal right now, while still not in control of any House of Congress, and while a better deal might be doable in January, that's a risky play.
From the liberal perspective, the deal stinks - opposition to the Bush tax cuts has been an article of faith on the Left for a decade, and more broadly speaking, reductions in the top marginal tax rates has been anathema to liberals since Reagan. The case in its favor is that the deal breaks the legislative logjam (the GOP is holding up the entire lame duck session over taxes) at only temporary cost, and like the pay freeze does nothing to obstruct the long-term growth of government at the expense of the private sector.
At any rate, the incensed reaction from quarters like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow has liberal/progressive activists aflame, and with the House vote there appears now a real chance that Obama - who is furiously trying to sell the deal, with his whole White House communications operation touting it - won't be able to deliver enough votes from his own party to pass both Houses, putting him at the mercy of conservative hardliners like Jim DeMint who argue that the deal should be scuttled in favor of a new round of negotiations in January after the GOP assumes control of the House.
Obama has assumed thus far that getting the deal passed over outraged opposition from the Left will only help him, in the way that welfare reform did for Clinton, but without having to swallow any policy changes that last past 2012 - it will make him look more moderate, he's counting on liberals hating the next GOP nominee too much to stay home in 2012, and he knows that he faces no real risk of a primary challenge because African-American voters will remain a loyal firewall in the primaries no matter what he does.
But as I wrote of George W. Bush in the aftermath of the somewhat similar collapse of the Harriet Miers nomination, it's always foolhardy to pick a fight in politics without considering whether it's a fight worth losing, and ultimately harder to win if everybody knows you can't afford to lose. Obama has already incurred all the costs of winning this battle - he showed a new willingness to cave in to the GOP, and enraged his base. Both of those things will be true whether the compromise package passes or not. But if the deal is tanked by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Barney Frank, where does that leave Obama? I'm sure I'm forgetting someone, but I can't recall another President who cut a major bipartisan deal on a major legislative priority in his first term and had it collapse; the two major first-term failures that come to mind (Clinton's healthcare plan and BTU tax) had no significant GOP support. Bush, you'll recall, went to great lengths to get No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D passed, and his legislative disasters - Miers, Dubai Ports, Social Security, immigration - were all in his second term.
The obvious lesson, if the deal collapses, will be that Obama can't deliver anything - he can be pushed into compromise with GOP priorities, as he wouldn't before the election, but he can't bring along his own caucus, which has suffered so many losses for following his lead. Liberals will learn that they are better off striking their own distance from an unpopular and increasingly impotent leader. And heavy liberal opposition to the deal will make it impossible to blame DeMint or Republicans for the collapse, and will encourage conservatives to push for even fewer compromises with Obama in 2011. That calculus of legislative forces will make it hard for Obama to plan for the other leg of the Clinton strategy, a budget battle in which the GOP blinks. Obama can try to use the whole mess to argue that "Washington is broken" and all that, but it's a hard argument to make from the Rose Garden.
By failing to ensure ahead of time the support of his own caucus, President Obama may have shot himself in the foot in dealing with the Republican-controlled House even before the new majority is sworn in.
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November 10, 2010
BLOG: Apologies For Olbermann
Via Allahpundit on Twitter, Pat Sajak looks back at his role in putting Keith Olbermann on national television for the first time. The video clip, from Super Bowl week in January 1989, is kind of sad, really; Olbermann, complete with Ron Burgundy mustache, is affable, relaxed, and low-key, not the bundle of psychotic vein-popping rage, smarmy smugness, egocentric rants at personal enemies and neuroses about women we see on air today. (Sajak, by contrast, remains a tweener, funny for a game show host but not funny enough for a late-night talk show host). While I found Olbermann off-putting when he first started on SportsCenter, I came to enjoy his work with Craig Kilborn in what has to be the golden age of the show; back then they did shtick, but (1) it was their shtick, not an imitation of somebody else's, (2) it was new and different from everything else on sports TV, and (3) because nobody expected shtick to be the focus of the show, it was much more restrained than it later became.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:28 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Football | Politics 2010 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
November 5, 2010
POLITICS: Apples and Oranges
One of the favorite sports of poll junkies after an election is to grade the pollsters, and that process is in full swing already, and should be. Neil Stevens, however, has an excellent post cautioning against putting too much stock in Nate Silver's latest effort to attach Rasmussen. The biggest specific problem he identifies is that Rasmussen offers two separate types of polls - its own polls and the POR polls, which are done at the request of paying clients under their own terms, among other things using a different margin of error - and Silver's analysis lumps the two together as if they're the same thing.
Polling involves a certain amount of art as well as science; evaluating the accuracy of polls after the fact, however, ought to be a task that can be done through a consistent and transparent methodology, for example comparing pollsters' accuracy at similar distances from Election Day. It doesn't appear that Silver's critiques are using a sufficiently objective methodology to be trustworthy guides to making sense of the pollsters.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:10 PM | Politics 2010 | Poll Analysis | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Independents' Day
At ground level, Republicans win elections by doing one or more of five things:
1) Get more Republicans to vote;
There's been a lot of talk about the "enthusiasm gap" in turnout between Republican and Democrat voters, about how the Democrats registered a lot of voters to vote in the "historic" 2008 election who may not be likely to vote again, and about how the developments of the past two years have driven more people to register as Republicans. I won't attempt to evaluate those arguments here. But let us focus on one simple point, #5 on the list above: Republicans won so many elections on Tuesday because they benefitted from an enormous swing in independent voters from the Democrats to the GOP.
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The Wall Street Journal covers the dramatic overall swing from 2006 and 2008, as reflected in exit polls, concluding from an analysis of multiple exit polls that:
-Republicans won independents 55-40 across House races (+15);
-Democrats had won independents 57-39 in 2006 (+18);
-Obama had won independents 52-44 in 2008 (+8).
The results, of course, were dramatic. While not every race is settled, last I checked, Republicans seem to have gone 239-187 (56%) in House races (with 9 races still contested), and - assuming no further counting or recounting disturbs the current vote counts - 24-13 (65%) in Senate races, and 23-13-1 (62%) in Governor's races (at least Connecticut and Minnesota remain contested, although Minnesota looks like it's fairly likely to go Democratic and the Democrat currently leads in Connecticut), on top of making colossal gains in lower-profile state legislative races, gaining some 680 seats, winning control of 18 new chambers and at long last returning to the levels of Republican influence in state legislatures that were last held before Herbert Hoover.
Now admittedly, exit polls are an inexact art at best, but they're the best we have, and unlike pre-election polls - or the exits that get leaked before the results are out - exit polls released after the votes are counted at least are constrained to reach the same results as the final polling. To see how the exits played out in specific races, I decided to drill down on a race-by-race basis, using CNN's exit polls for Senate and Governor races (for comparison to the WSJ's multi-poll average, CNN showed Republicans winning independents in House races by a 56-38 margin (+18), so CNN's numbers may be slightly more favorable than the overall average). CNN didn't poll every contested race; it skipped the Alaska Senate race and less competitive open-seat Senate races in Indiana, North Dakota and Kansas, as well as interesting and hotly contested Governor's races in New Mexico, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. That said, CNN polled 25 of the 37 Senate races and 19 of the 37 Governor's races, and the results are interesting enough for what they are.
Let's take a look first at the Senate races, with the Republican candidates ranked by how well they showed with independents, as well as the share that independents made up of each state's electorate (some states have a lot more independents than others, usually depending on whether one or other party has a ton of registered voters in the state):
(If you're wondering, Charlie Crist won only 35% of independents, a terrible showing for a guy whose entire rationale as a candidate was his supposed appeal to independents).
There are a number of interesting takeaways from this. First of all, other than totally hapless candidates like the opponents of Patrick Leahy and Daniel Inouye, virtually every Republican Senate candidate was competitive among independent voters this year, and Republicans won independents in 19 of the 25 races, including five candidates who lost anyway. The top of the chart includes some people in uncompetitive races (Grassley), some people who have always appealed to independents (McCain), and some people who ran against especially disreputable opponents (DeMint and Kirk - the next time some liberal gives you a hard time about the people who supported Christine O'Donnell for Senate, remind them that 71% of South Carolina Democrats voted for Alvin Greene for Senate. Alvin Greene.) Poor Blanche Lincoln got slaughtered, losing independents by 43 points as a two-term incumbent. But perhaps the most striking candidate to win over 60% of the independent vote is Rob Portman, the former Bush budget director running in perennial swing-state Ohio; while Portman was a good candidate running against a hapless opponent, it's a mark of the poisonous climate for Democrats that independents broke 66-27 for an establishment Republican. Also stunning is Kelly Ayotte winning New Hampshire's sizeable independent bloc by 26 points, running for an open seat in a New England state that voted for Kerry and Obama.
The conventional wisdom is that Tea Party Republicans couldn't reach independent voters, notwithstanding of course the fact that much of the Tea Party movement's success is in reaching conservative but unaffiliated voters who don't necessarily self-identify as Republicans or even vote every year. The CNN exits suggest that, while some Tea Party-backed candidates ran better than others, virtually all of them drew more independent support than their opponents. Rand Paul won independents by 16 points, Ken Buck by 16, Marco Rubio by 16, Ron Johnson by 13. Even weaker GOP candidates like Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, John Raese, Carly Fiorina, Jim Huffman (Ron Wyden's opponent in Oregon) and Linda McMahon won a bigger share of independents than did liberal veterans like Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold and Patty Murray. While Angle and O'Donnell didn't do well enough among independents to offset partisan advantages in their states - and Angle clearly ran far weaker among independents than Nevada GOP Gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval - the numbers belie the idea that they were toxic to independent voters. (Interesting side note: Angle won college educated voters, but lost non-college-educated voters by 10 points). As for the Democrats, the only Democratic candidate in a significantly contested race to win a majority of independents was Joe Manchin, who turned around his campaign with the famous ad in which he literally put a bullet through Obama's legislative agenda. That speaks volumes about the mood of independent voters this fall.
The other take-home lesson is that a better get out the vote (GOTV) operation might have made all the difference for Ken Buck and Dino Rossi, both of whom at this writing seem to have lost nailbiters. Rossi won Washington's huge independent faction by a blowout 18-point margin and won 96% of Republicans, but appears to have lost due to the Democrats' large registration and turnout advantage. Buck similarly won independents by a comfortable 16-point margin, although unlike Rossi he took some losses in his own caucus (winning Republicans 89-10). The common denominator is that they lacked organizational support. The RNC, crippled by Michael Steele's feckless financial mismanagement, was unable to put its formerly formidable GOTV operation in the field this year at all; the RGA appears to have stepped into the breach in many states that had contested governor's races (it spent a reported $102 million under Haley Barbour's direction), but Washington had no governor's race (Rossi lost the last two of those, too, also narrowly) and Colorado's GOP slate imploded despite a receptive electorate that swung the state's General Assembly to GOP control. Money spent by the various national organs on other races might have swung those two races.
Now, let's turn to the governors:
(Tom Tancredo, as the de facto Republican candidate after Dan Maes' collapse, won 48% of independents, running ahead of both Maes and Democratic winner John Hickenlooper).
Given that governors' races are less tied to Washington partisanship and ideology, we see a slightly less uniform trend here and fewer blowouts in favor of the GOP candidate, but again, Republicans across the board ran exceptionally well with independents. Note that Bill Brady, who narrowly lost the Illinois Governor's race to Rod Blagojevich's running mate, ran as well with independents as almost any GOP gubernatorial candidate in the country; he just ran ever so slightly behind Mark Kirk, and the Democrats' registration advantage in Illinois is too much to overcome without a huge win among independents. Brady, Tom Foley in Connecticut and Chris Dudley in Oregon stand as the three Republicans who won a majority of independents and (assuming the "counting" process goes poorly for Foley) still lost. (Dudley, by the way, had the most staggering gender gap in exit polls I think I've ever seen - he won men by a landslide 60-36 margin and lost women by an even more decisive 62-36).
Four take-home lessons should be obvious:
1) Republicans and Democrats alike need to persuade independents in order to win any significant number of elections, and the mood of independent voters will be just as important in 2012 as it was in 2006, 2008 and 2010;
2) GOTV and expanding the base matter too, and it's still possible on occasion for Republicans, at least, to lose races where they win independents decisively;
3) The broader trend among independents will be driven by the national mood and show up across the board wherever there's a competitive race, but individual candidates matter, as weak ones will fail to draw enough strength from the national tilt to win unless they're running in very safe states;
4) Good conservative candidates can and do win over independents just as well as good moderate candidates. Bold-colors conservatives like Rubio and Pat Toomey, establishment conservatives like Portman and John Kasich and moderates like Ayotte all did well with swing-state independents. Poor candidates fell closer to breaking even. Conservatives shouldn't stop running good conservative candidates simply out of fear that they can't win - but we should still prefer a strong moderate to a fatally defective conservative, if our goal is to win elections.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Politics 2010 | Poll Analysis | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
November 1, 2010
POLITICS: Election Predictions
Busy day, I didn't get to anything I'd meant to blog about, even with the World Series in full swing and the elections tomorrow.
HOUSE: GOP definitely takes the majority (+39 seats required), and I'll be surprised if the gains are less than 60 seats, which seems mind-blowing but there are a lot of good arguments floating around for numbers even crazier than that. Alan Grayson is toast. We'll know we're through the looking glass if people like Barney Frank and John Dingell lose, but I'm not prepared to believe Steny Hoyer is actually in trouble. But Charlie Rangel should win easily and proceed to trial.
SENATE: If I had to bet it would be GOP +8; I'm guessing 7-9 pickups, but I don't expect the +10 to retake a majority (+9 puts Joe Biden in the Senate as a tiebreaker). I'd been assuming the Reid-Angle race would go to a recount, but Angle seems to be putting it away at the end. Colorado, Illinois and possibly Washington could all be nail-biters. Russ Feingold is the biggest surprise casualty among races that are no longer in doubt.
I think Joe Miller will pull it out in Alaska. I'm expecting O'Donnell to lose in Delaware by maybe 8-9 points (I do think it will be closer than some of the polls), but if she wins, well, you can throw all my projections out the window and the Democrats are in for a night we haven't seen the likes of in living memory.
GOVERNORS: Not following the tote board on these as closely, but I'm guessing a net of around +8 for the Republicans, who could swipe as many as 13 or 14 Democratic-held Governorships but stand to lose a number as well (unlike in Congress, where Democratic pickups will be nearly nonexistant outside the Delaware at-large House seat and maybe 3 or 4 others). I'm more guardedly optimistic now that Rick Scott will hang on in Florida, the most important of the contested governor's races (I feel pretty confident about Bill Brady in Illinois).
Down the ballot, also look for the GOP to finally break the last remnants of the post-Confederacy Solid South by retaking some Southern legislatures it hasn't held since Reconstruction.
And I meant to write a better plug for him after attending a fundraiser last week, but if I don't get the time: vote for Harry Wilson for NY State Comptroller. He's a really impressive guy and, among other things, the first statewide challenger since Pat Moynihan in '76 to be endorsed by the Times, the News and the Post (the Wall Street Journal doesn't endorse but has been giving him a lot of coverage).
October 22, 2010
POLITICS: More Of That Delicious Foreign Money
As noted below, the Democrats' fumfer about outside money is ludicrous on its face, given the help they get from their union allies and the corporate money that helped Obama two years ago. Another avenue of attack is their claim that the GOP is being helped by foreign money, mainly on the theory that outside corporate groups get money from US subsidiaries of foreign companies - but it turns out that 49 of the 59 Democratic Senators have taken PAC money from subsidiaries of foreign companies. Three Senators now up for re-election - Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray and Kirsten Gillibrand - have each accepted over $100,000 from subdiaries of foreign companies. In Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias accused Mark Kirk of "economic treason" over a fundraiser in China...but went and held his own fundraiser in Canada. (And this is on top of the fact that the Obama campaign in 2008 deliberately removed safeguards against accepting donations by credit card from foreign nationals.)
So much for that argument.
POLITICS: Pretending The Union Money Doesn't Exist
Desperate Democrats have been hyperventilating for the past month over money being spent by corporate and other groups, notably the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, to run campaign commercials. To conservatives, running commercials to attempt to persuade voters in advance of an election is known as "free speech," and turnabout is fair play after corporate money went heavily for Obama in 2008, but let's play along here; how much of an advantage does the GOP have here?
Well, according to Greg Sargent, the Washington Post's in-house left-wing activist, it's huge: "The total on the right: $74,733,356. On the left: $9,868,057. And the groups on the left, unlike on the right, consist of well-known names like the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife." This is the standard spin from the Democrats, and Sargent is nothing if not a reliable source for whatever the standard spin from the Democrats happens to be on a particular day. But conspicuously absent from Sargent's list are the largest unions, led by unions of public employees whose taxpayer-funded salaries are funneled into compulsory union dues and then passed on to the people who set those taxpayer-funded salaries. The lead article on the front page of this morning's Wall Street Journal tells the story - check out the Journal's telling graphic:
That's right, three of the five largest campaign spenders this year are not business or pro-business groups but unions afffiliated with the Democrats and dominated by public employees.
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The largest spender is AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), which is spending $87.5 million, more than any business group and nearly ten times what Sargent claims is the entire spending budget for outside groups on the left (maybe he doesn't get the Journal, but somebody at the Post should have been embarrassed by how misleading his figures are in light of the Journal's report, which has been online since last night). The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which consists heavily of public employees, and the National Education Association (NEA), which consists of public school teachers, round out the top five at $44 and $40 million, respectively. It's not hard to see why they're running scared: as the WSJ notes, all three benefitted significantly from the funnelling of stimulus money to state and local governments (private sector unions have their own reasons to fear a change in control of Congress in 2010). This is government by the government, of the government, for the government. And it shows the absurd hypocrisy of Democrats complaining about pro-business groups trying to rally a beleaguered private sector to defend itself against the government when the government's own employees' unions are outspending the biggest business groups.
The Democrats aren't against big outside spending in elections. They just don't like it when the other side gets to fight back.
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POLITICS: Left-Wing Bloggers Say The Durndest Things!
Somebody should ask Robert Gibbs if he agrees with the assessment of a leading left-wing blogger that President Obama hasn't been "even half-competent in the White House."
See, every now and then, I engage in back-and-forth on Twitter with some of the left-wing bloggers. Sometimes it's pointless, but sometimes it's revealing, and this is one of those examples. I and a few others were tweaking Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos over this October 2008 post in which, reviewing the 2010 Senate map, he declared John McCain "delusional" for saying the GOP would cruise to "three or four or five" fairly easy Senate pickups in 2010. Instead, Moulitsas asserted:
[O]ff the bat, we have 13 potentially competitive GOP-held seats, and few Democratic takeovers. So no, 2010 won't give Republicans 5-6 "easy" pickups. That's ludicrous.
Note the use of the plural in that last, "majorities." I asked Moulitsas if he still stood by that prediction, and his response was "That I stand by. GOP not taking Senate." Which may turn out - narrowly - to be true, but it's only one majority. A very different tune, these days.
"assuming the current trends remain and Obama is even half-competent in the White House". Caveats didn't pan out.
There's that plural again. Kos, by traffic at least the most prominent of the left-wing bloggers, based his assumption of an ever-growing Democratic majority in the Senate on the assumption that President Obama would be "even half-competent in the White House." And now, he's basically reduced to absolving his own hubristic projections by admitting that Obama hasn't lived up to that standard.
October 18, 2010
POLITICS: Humor Classic
October 11, 2010
POLITICS: The Anti-Liberal Vote
In 1992, the election that preceded the one in November 1994, the non-Democratic vote for president nationwide was 57 percent (Bush + Perot), and Republicans actually picked up 9 seats in the House. It is true that the 1994 elections came as a huge surprise, but that was in part due to an odd misreading of the election results in 1992 by pundits and pollsters and Bill Clinton, who staked his first two years on a massive government health-care plan rather than taking account of the fact that 19 percent of Americans had just voted for a lunatic single-issue candidate who spent a year yelling and screaming about the size of the deficit. Those Perot voters took a look at Clinton and simply integrated themselves into the GOP electorate.
Hence the comparisons to 1894. The lesson for Democrats is obvious: the voters, having been given a taste of unvarnished liberal governance, remembered (or in some cases learned for the first time) why it's a disaster. The lesson for Republicans, of course, is a dicier one; on the one hand it is clear that the GOP will be given an opportunity at redemption it hasn't entirely earned, and will thus be on a short leash as far as doing more than being not-Obama; on the other hand, the Perot-ish Tea Party movement will (rightly) demand that newly elected Republicans start undoing not only the big-government excesses of Obama, Pelosi and Reid but also the big-government excesses of Bush, Lott and DeLay, and doing so into the teeth of certain vetoes.
POLITICS: Mark Halperin Denies Obama A Third Time
With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.
The complete absence of named sources makes this diagnosis more than a little questionable - not the merits of it, of course, but it's unclear exactly how many of Halperin's friends (in his famous "Gang of 500" press corps) and sources he's speaking for. Jake Tapper, for example, has been fairly skeptical of Obama from the beginning (Tapper's a liberal, as his pre-ABC employment history makes clear, but is also a guy who tries to play it down the middle and has given Obama all sorts of fits dating back to the 2008 primaries), Tweeted that "Just as a general rule: no pundit definitively saying THIS IS WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS THINKS is ever speaking for me, ever ever."
But in Halperin's case, the significance of the column is that it got written at all, as this shows the extent to which Halperin (1) has come to this opinion, although he feels it necessary to couch it in groupthink (Halperin's been a skeptic of Obama and his adoring press coverage for a while, see here, here, and here for some examples) and (2) feels comfortable enough that this is an opinion shared by his colleagues and sources that he won't look silly to them writing it.
Anyway, the perhaps more interesting point is his observations about Obama's tendency - in marked contrast to his predecessor - to go personally on the attack against his partisan opponents:
Throughout the year, we have been treated to Obama-led attacks on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Joe Barton (for his odd apology to BP), John Boehner (for seeking the speakership - or was it something about an ant?) and Fox News (for everything). Suitable Democratic targets in some cases, perhaps, but not worth the time of a busy Commander in Chief.
There's a reason why presidents have traditionally not done this sort of thing very much themselves, and it bodes ill for Obama's ability to accept and accomodate himself to election results this fall that are likely to show a majority of voters rejecting his attacks and excuses.
POLITICS: Oh, Now, He's Against Foreign Money
UPDATE: Over at FactCheck.org, longtime campaign finance reporter and crusader Brooks Jackson (I read his book "Honest Graft" in college) says there's not much to the Obama attack anyway.
October 8, 2010
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Science and its Enemies on the Left: An Update
Scientific integrity and scientific progress continue to take a beating from the Left.
In Part I of my series of essays on Science and its Enemies on the Left, I looked at the toll of junk science, quackery and anti-technological Luddism and the role of the social and political Left in promoting all three. In Part II, I looked at politicized science (both the misuse of science by politicians and the politicization of scientists themselves) and the temptations presented to scientists by their ability to gain power through science.
I'm overdue to finish Part III of the series, but in the meantime, there have been enough additional examples of my thesis that it's worth taking an updated look at the myriad ways in which the agenda and interest groups of the political Left stand in the way of scientific integrity and scientific progress.
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A. Fudged Environmental Data
You didn't think it ended with "Climategate," did you? The liberal San Francisco Chronicle reports on how a California agency used inflated, alarmist data to rush through costly environmental restrictions that helped push the state deeper into recession:
California grossly miscalculated pollution levels in a scientific analysis used to toughen the state's clean-air standards, and scientists have spent the past several months revising data and planning a significant weakening of the landmark regulation, The Chronicle has found.
Researchers have found that the board's excuse - that it failed to foresee how much emissions would fall with the economic downturn - doesn't hold water (unsurprisingly, since these sorts of "mistakes" always seem to lean in the same direction):
While air board officials and other defenders of the board's science point to the economy as a major factor in the overestimates, Harley found that prior to the recession the board's estimates of nitrous oxide were too high by a factor of 4.5 and its estimate of particulate matter was off by a factor of 3.1, an extraordinarily high amount to be off scientifically.
The voters this fall will get the chance to render their own verdict on the board's junk science:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has promised to suspend the law for at least a year, while Democrat Jerry Brown supports the law. California voters, meanwhile, will vote on Proposition 23, a November initiative to suspend AB32 until the unemployment rate - now at 12.4 percent in California - falls to 5.5 percent or less for a year.
Perhaps not-unrelatedly, it turns out that the CARB's lead scientist on this initiative got his Ph.D. in statistics from a mail-order diploma mill.
And of course, the inquiries into Climategate itself roll on; Clive Crook, who prefaced his article with an assurance that he believes in global warming, nonetheless savaged efforts to whitewash the scientific misconduct involved:
The Penn State inquiry exonerating Michael Mann -- the paleoclimatologist who came up with "the hockey stick" -- would be difficult to parody. Three of four allegations are dismissed out of hand at the outset: the inquiry announces that, for "lack of credible evidence", it will not even investigate them. (At this, MIT's Richard Lindzen tells the committee, "It's thoroughly amazing. I mean these issues are explicitly stated in the emails. I'm wondering what's going on?" The report continues: "The Investigatory Committee did not respond to Dr Lindzen's statement. Instead, [his] attention was directed to the fourth allegation.") Moving on, the report then says, in effect, that Mann is a distinguished scholar, a successful raiser of research funding, a man admired by his peers -- so any allegation of academic impropriety must be false.
Crook's piece on similar efforts to whitewash the CRU's misconduct is worth reading in full, as is streiff's entertaining takedown of Mann's efforts to defend his tattered reputation. The British government has reacted by basically pressuring scientists into signing what James Taranto - only mildly exaggerating - termed a loyalty oath to the government's scientific pronouncements:
The Met Office has embarked on an urgent exercise to bolster the reputation of climate-change science after the furore over stolen e-mails.
One scientist told The Times he felt under pressure to sign. "The Met Office is a major employer of scientists and has long had a policy of only appointing and working with those who subscribe to their views on man-made global warming," he said.
Meanwhile, the Watts Up With That site has undertaken a massive study of the sources of temperature data, and its report (caution: link opens a 209-page PDF) finds major problems in the whole data-collection process:
It was necessitated by the extraordinary revelations in the recently released CRU emails, including the admissions of Ian "Harry" Harris, the CRU programmer. He lamented about "[The] hopeless state of their (CRU) database. No uniform data integrity, it's just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they're found" and "Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight. This whole project is SUCH A MESS. No wonder I needed therapy!!" CRU member, Phil Jones, candidly confessed in a BBC interview that "his surface temperature data are in such disarray they probably cannot be verified or replicated."
The 15-point summary of conclusions on pp-6-7 is worth reading even if you don't have time for the full report. Examples:
Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant "global warming" in the 20th century.
Global terrestrial temperature data are compromised because more than three-quarters of the 6,000 stations that once reported are no longer being used in data trend analyses.
In the oceans, data are missing and uncertainties are substantial. Changes in data sets introduced a step warming in 2009.
Due to recently increasing frequency of eschewing rural stations and favoring urban airports as the primary temperature data sources, global terrestrial temperature data bases are thus seriously flawed and can no longer be representative of both urban and rural environments. The resulting data is therefore problematic when used to assess climate trends or VALIDATE model forecasts.
Garbage in, garbage out; the problem goes all the way to the root of the data that underlies not just the theory but the reliability of models that can only be tested against this ever-shifting landscape of unreliable data.
B. Obama Administration Again Squashes Unfavorable Reports
The Obama administration blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and committed other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis, according to a commission appointed by the president to investigate the disaster. . .
The Administration played a similar game when it came to its moratorium on offshore drilling, pretending to have "peer-reviewed" scientific support it didn't actually have:
The White House issued a blanket moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Obama cited a report commissioned by the Interior Department that purported to recommend the ban.
That pattern extends as well to social-science surveys:
Seventy percent of American parents and 53.5 percent of American adolescents believe sex before marriage is wrong, according to a federally funded study released Monday by the Administration of Children and Families, an agency within the Health and Human Services Department....
C. Quackery and Luddism
As I have noted before, while liberal commentators are quick to deride the beliefs of ordinary citizens on the Right, there is plenty of fodder on the Left; Moe Lane notes a Pew survey showing that "somewhere around 30% of Democrats believe in a whole range of New Age stuff, explicitly including astrology." And as I observed in Part I of this series, one of the ugliest manifestations of that worldview is the campaign by hysterics like Jenny McCarthy and Robert Kennedy jr. against vaccine manufacturers, and the inevitable (as a result) popular movement against vaccinating children. The grim result: an outbreak of whooping cough in California so bad even the relentlessly anti-modern-medicine Huffington Post was forced to acknowledge it:
State health officials reported Thursday that California is on track to break a 55-year record for whooping cough infections in an epidemic that has already claimed the lives of nine infants.
Many parents forgo vaccines for their children because of concerns about autism, typically fueled by misinformation on the Internet, said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a University of California-San Diego professor and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Doug Bandow looked back in June at the career of the late Stephen Schneider, a global warming alarmist who had, earlier in his career, been a "new Ice Age" alarmist (oh, that settled science!). Here's an extended quote from a 1992 piece on Schneider, which captures all too well the mindset of his school of scientist-activist (or perhaps, activist-scientist):
"It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides [of the global warming question] as though it were a question of balance," he told the Boston Globe recently. "Given the distribution of views, with groups like the National Academy of Science expressing strong scientific conern, it is irresponsible to give equal time to a few people standing out in left field."...
That would be hyperbole like when Robert F. Kennedy jr. blamed Haley Barbour for Hurricane Katrina in the pages of the Huffington Post, just before the hurricane hit New Orleans: "Perhaps it was Barbour's memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast." Or, more recently, Al Gore getting caught spinning bogus science again at the Copenhagen summit:
Mr Gore, speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit, stated the latest research showed that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in five years.
And it's not just climate science but the nanny state too: as Jacob Sullum has documented in Reason, New York City's war on salt rests on a very shaky scientific foundation.
The Left's menace to science continues, unabated. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:28 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2010 | Science | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0)
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 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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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Politics 2010 | Poll Analysis | Comments (42) | TrackBack (0)
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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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.
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
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).
August 30, 2010
POLITICS: Hallowed Ground
I didn't watch Saturday's Glenn Beck-run rally in DC and don't have that much to say about it, but the orgy of apoplexy flowing from the rally's critics on the left has been hilarious. The most extreme example is Bill Press claiming that God should not be mentioned on the spot where Rev. Martin Luther King jr. spoke these words:
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Perhaps Press was thinking, in looking at the Lincoln Memorial of Lincoln himself, and the words of his celebrated Second Inaugural Address:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Or maybe not.
Every January and (to a lesser extent) August, conservatives write columns arguing that King believed that we'd reach racial transcendence when we judged "the content of character" over the color of skin. Liberals rebut that by pointing out that King was a man of the left who worked for social justice and racial uplift and opposed the Vietnam War, and was condemned by conservatives for all of this. Liberals have the facts on their side; conservatives have the fact that King has become a secular saint, honored not for all of his politics but for a few specific achievements. Schoolchildren don't learn about the social democratic politics; they learn about him Having a Dream. So when Beck said he identified with MLK more than with the founding fathers, it was ironic; figuratively, he's been carved in marble for decades.
Of course, it's a dicey business to guess what Dr. King, like Lincoln or the elder Kennedy brothers, might have believed had he lived another decade or two, and seen the political realities that led the Great Society and its era to ruin and the nation rightward by 1980. Perhaps he would have drifted leftward, like Jesse Jackson; perhaps rightward, and come to be horrified by the politics of racial preferences and racial grievance. We can't know; we can only know what he did with the time that was given to him.
August 17, 2010
POLITICS: Does Paul Krugman Understand Finance?
When it comes to the 'framing' of public discourse on entitlements, Paul Krugman is accustomed to writing columns that are more about issuing commands than making arguments; he has railed in the past even against President Obama for admitting that yes, we do have a problem paying for the explosive present and future growth of entitlements. But even for this genre of "there is no crisis" column, his latest is a head-scratcher:
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Social Security's attackers claim that they're concerned about the program's financial future. But their math doesn't add up...
So far, so good; it is a fact that Social Security keeps an independent set of books, and also a fact that if it runs out of money from those books, it will turn to the general federal budget for assistance. Although his second point is just another way of restating the consequences of the first, i.e., what happens to the general federal budget when Social Security comes knocking for aid. As I'll explain in a second, that's not a hypothetical; because of the nature of the trust fund, it's about to start happening.
But neither of these potential problems is a clear and present danger. Social Security has been running surpluses for the last quarter-century, banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund. The program won't have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program's actuaries don't expect to happen until 2037 - and there's a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.
Actually, it's Krugman who is trying to have it both ways here; I leave to the reader whether the Nobel Prize winning economist is actually this ignorant of basic finance or whether he is yet again attempting to deliberately mislead his readers. As Krugman himself notes, the program has run an operating surplus in the past, which is coming to an end. In the near future, Social Security begins running an operating deficit, which requires it to draw down its 'savings' in the "trust fund."
But what are those savings? The problem, as I have explained previously, is that the trust fund's only assets are IOUs from the federal government. If we stay for the moment with the fiction of treating Social Security as indeed an independent entity, that means that for years it's been lending money to Congress that was used to prop up the budget at no real economic cost (it's not like the federal government needed to lay out money to pay interest on those debts - all it did was make accounting notations). Whereas now, Social Security will begin asking for its money back - and all of a sudden Congress in one fell swoop both loses a cost-free source of funds and has to start laying out cash from the general budget to repay those debts so that Social Security can make payments to beneficiaries. That's not "aid," it's precisely how the trust fund mechanism is designed to work. And it's going to take a ferocious bite out of the budget. Saying this is not a problem for Congress is like saying your fortunes haven't taken a turn for the worse when your interest-only mortgage suddenly starts requiring principal payments, or when you've been borrowing from a loan shark and spending the money for living expenses and suddenly have to start repaying him. Basically, Congress took the money and spent it, and now it has to tighten its belt to repay it. You'd go broke very quickly trying to follow Prof. Krugman's financial advice.
Krugman pooh-poohs the size of that bite, saying that "an aging population will eventually (over the course of the next 20 years) cause the cost of paying Social Security benefits to rise from its current 4.8 percent of G.D.P. to about 6 percent of G.D.P." - which is another way of saying that it will increase 25% even if we buy his numbers (and bear in mind that while we can project trends on a general level, any projection that goes 20 years out is worthless - we can estimate what benefits we'll owe based on demographics, but there's no way to accurately predict GDP growth that far out) and even if we ignore the loss of a cost-free source of funds. Krugman's reliance on speculation that the trust fund may never run out is just pure hot air, and his analysis overlooks half the problem. For some perspective, in Fiscal 2010, interest on the federal debt is 1.3% of GDP - if you assume that the cost of paying benefits rises by 1.2% of GDP and that's all funded by Congress repaying its debts to the trust fund, all else being equal, you've doubled the cost of interest on debt. And this is before we even get into the question of whether we can grow payrolls as fast as we would like so as to avoid an even worse shortfall from FICA receipts.
If you look at Social Security as just part of the federal budget, the whole trust fund accounting business reveals itself as an even more obvious sham. IOUs you write yourself are really an "I owe me." A corporation that wrote itself IOUs backed only by its general credit and housed them in a special purpose vehicle with no other assets couldn't legitimately count those IOUs as an asset - that is, to oversimplify, one of the things that got Enron in trouble. But Krugman seems to think the Enron model works just fine for Uncle Sam, who needn't worry about his future expenses because he's been saving up all of those IOUs...from himself.
One way or another, Social Security's operating deficit will be paid for not by any store of savings set aside for a rainy day, but by money that you and me and our kids and grandkids earn in the future. Don't let Paul Krugman tell you otherwise.
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August 16, 2010
POLITICS: Enter The Death Panels
August 14, 2010
WAR: Obama Chooses Sides In Favor of the Ground Zero Mosque
Last night, as part of a Ramadan celebration, President Obama waded into the controversy over the Cordoba Initiative mosque within sight of Ground Zero. In so doing, he unambiguously chose sides with those who see this deliberate provocation as a positive good.
It is unsurprising, given what we already know about him, that President Obama would decline to support using government power to block the mosque project, and would decline to support withholding the various government favors needed to build it (although he carefully avoided mention of the State Department's employment of the mosque's Malaysian imam) - but he could have at a minimum used the opportunity to denounce in no uncertain terms what broad majorities of the public in and out of New York recognize: the fact that whatever the law says, the project itself is deeply and intentionally offensive. Especially when the president feels a matter is beyond his formal power, this is what the presidential bully pulpit is for. He has certainly not been shy in the past about speaking forcefully to denounce matters as provincial as a dispute between a professor and local cops in Cambridge. Instead, Obama offered only a tepid nod that failed to suggest he personally saw anything wrong with the selection of the Ground Zero location for a mosque:
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Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
This could not be vaguer or less condemnatory if he was a paid flack for the Cordoba Institute. There's not a glimmer of suggestion here that Cordoba has in any way done wrong. Indeed, he added this morning that he "was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom" of the mosque. By contrast, Obama pulled out the rhetorical stops in defense of the legal right to unhallow that ground:
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
Obama then turned his guns on the project's critics, repeating the usual apologetic by non-Muslims about what is or is not Islam, designed to support the argument that there should be nothing offensive about a mosque at the spot where Islam was used by Muslims as a justification for mass murder:
And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda's cause is not Islam - it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders - these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion - and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
This ignores the fact that Al Qaeda's motivation and justification for its political project - and indeed for its special vehemence against Muslims who dissent from its view - is a religious reading of Islam, shared at least in part by some significant number of Muslims such as the 76% of Pakistanis who support the death penalty for those who leave Islam. As I said in my prior post on this, Christians like Obama (or President Bush, for that matter), are not qualified to say what is or is not Islam; only Muslims can make that determination. It is right and good for the president to argue that we need to appeal to those Muslims who take this view, but that does not magically tranform the opposing view into something unrelated to Islam, or make it OK to build a mosque at the site of the greatest mass murder in the name of Islam in the Western Hemisphere.
Politically, there are two takeaways from this. One is that Obama has kicked the props away from the talking point that this is somehow a local issue on which national leaders should not opine, and in the process opened every Democrat in the country to questions about whether they, too, affirmatively support the Ground Zero Mosque.
And looking down the road, it also suggests something I've suspected for a while: Obama won't be able to turn himself, after a likely Democratic debacle this November, into Bill Clinton. Democrats have staked their hopes on the idea that Obama will be able to rebound from losses this fall the way Clinton did, by moving to the middle. But the 'triangulating' move here would be to forcefully denounce the mosque while defending the right to build it. Obama doesn't have that in him. He's digging in instead with the left-wing bloggers who believe there to be no possible motivation but bigotry behind the majority's revulsion at this project. Nothing that happens in November will give him the ability to see the world - or, indeed, a majority of his fellow Americans - any other way.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:52 PM | Politics 2010 | Politics 2012 | War 2007-14 | Comments (55) | TrackBack (0)
August 10, 2010
POLITICS: Ted Stevens Killed in Plane Crash
Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has been confirmed killed in a small-plane crash in Alaska this morning. Stevens was 86. It's ironic that Senator Stevens would meet his end in a plane crash; he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II and survived a 1978 plane crash that killed his first wife.
Stevens was a monumental figure in Alaska politics and the Alaska GOP, and had a long and fascinating life - I'd recommend taking a few minutes to peruse his biography on Wikipedia (for want of a better source, though the Anchorage Daily News will doubtless have a more comprehensive profile shortly) for samples of some of the now-uncontroversial parts of his life story, from delivering newspapers with news of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping to why he didn't become a fighter pilot to his days as a cigar-chomping frontier prosecutor to his Incredible Hulk neckties. (For example - more on which here - Stevens was instrumental in overcoming then-President Eisenhower's concern that Alaska statehood would leave Alaska vulnerable to Soviet invasion given its proximity to Russia). Stevens throughout his career was a proponent of a strong military. During World War II he flew C-46 and C-47 transports behind enemy lines over China, earning him decorations as well from the Nationalist Chinese government.
While at the end of his decades-long Senate career he became something of a poster boy for Senators who'd stayed in DC too long and grown too cozy with its big-spending, favor-dispensing ways - one of RedState's most controversial editorials was when we advocated for him to be voted out of office in 2008, after which it was revealed that he'd been wrongfully convicted of improprieties by Justice Department misconduct - those later years and the various political and policy disagreements that inevitably surround long-serving Senators shouldn't obscure the whole of the man's life.
August 9, 2010
Harry Reid finally reads the health care bill, discovers that it's bad for Nevada and pleads with HHS for relief. This would be hilarious if what the bill visits on the nation wasn't so sad.
There are few people in politics more embarrassing to watch than Harry the Insult Comic Senator, a nasty little man who lashes out at better men, who famously and wrongly declared the Iraq War lost, who had to apologize for touting Barack Obama on the grounds of his lacking a "Negro dialect," who never can see above bitter and petty partisanship. The fact that he's now reduced to begging for exemption from the very legislation he championed is a fitting coda to Reid's career.
UPDATE: Jim Geraghty takes a look at Reid's and Sharron Angle's campaign strategies, and mentions a few more Reid lowlights I had passed over, like his insistence that no illegal immigrants work in the construction industry in Nevada (granted, most of Nevada's construction industry is unemployed these days).
August 5, 2010
LAW/POLITICS: The Prop 8 Decision: Having It Both Ways
Judge Vaughan Walker, the chief district judge of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, handed down his post-trial decision yesterday in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, holding that Proposition 8 - the referendum approved by California voters in 2008, amending the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman and thus deny recognition to same-sex "marriages" - violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. In a larger sense, the lawsuit, seeking to overturn judicially a status quo that has existed for essentially all of human history and was only recently reaffirmed by the California electorate, is yet more proof that it's not conservatives who are on the offensive in the 'culture wars'. But even focusing on the judicial process, and setting to one side its reliance on the oxymoronic concept of "substantive due process," Judge Walker's decision is fundamentally flawed in three ways, two of which represent failures of reasoning and the third of which highlights the structural problem with substituting judicial "factfinding" for the collected judgment of a democratic electorate. Specifically:
(1) Judge Walker's decision is internally, logically inconsistent in its treatment of the worth of cultural values, arguing that morality and tradition are not a valid basis for supporting the legal status of marriage, but at the same time finding a Constitutional violation from the fact that the same-sex alternative (domestic partnerships) lacks the social and cultural status that marriage has...and which it derives from its grounding in longstanding moral, cultural and religious traditions;
(2) Judge Walker's decision ignores the compelling state interest in promoting childbearing and childrearing within the context of opposite-sex marriage, and the absence of such an interest in same-sex marriage, specifically ignoring the fact that heterosexual relationships produce many more children than homosexual relationships; and
(3) the whole idea of leaving core judgments about a society's most central and longstanding values to a single judge rather than respect the collective wisdom of a diverse electorate is fundamentally anti-democratic.
Let's review these one at a time.
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Refresher: The Legal Posture
To recap for the non-lawyers or those who haven't followed the case, Judge Walker conducted a trial and issued a 138-page decision that included both "Findings of Fact," i.e., his conclusions of what the evidence showed, and "Conclusions of Law," i.e., the legal impact of those facts under federal law. The decision can be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and from there to the US Supreme Court. Because Proposition 8 amended the California Constitution, there was no opportunity to resolve the case under state law; either Proposition 8 violates federal law, or it is valid. California has a fairly broad-reaching "domestic partnership" law that gives many of the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, so the plaintiffs in Perry had to argue mainly that not using the term "marriage" was itself improper discrimination banned by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Under the Supreme Court's controversial 1996 decision in Romer v Evans, authored by Justice Kennedy, current federal law subjects a state constitutional amendment passed by referendum to the same three-tiered structure of Fourteenth Amendment review as any other state statute. The highest tier of that review, "strict scrutiny," applies when a state draws distinctions on the basis of some suspect classification such as race, or burdens a right deemed "fundamental" by the courts; the lowest level, generally applied to most types of legislation, is "rational basis" review, which at least in theory is supposed to uphold any law that has any arguably sane basis whatsoever. The Supreme Court has never held that distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation trigger strict scrutiny, and thus while Judge Walker tiptoes around the concept, his decision is principally aimed at arguing that putting a separate and distinct value on traditional, opposite-sex marriage is insane and irrational. As Judge Walker properly stated the standard:
The court defers to legislative (or in this case, popular) judgment if there is at least a debatable question whether the underlying basis for the classification is rational...Most laws subject to rational basis easily survive equal protection review, because a legitimate reason can nearly always be found for treating different groups in an unequal manner.
(p. 118, 119).
(1) What Value Culture?
Judge Walker conceded the obvious: "The evidence at trial shows that marriage in the United States traditionally has not been open to same-sex couples." (p.112). He nonetheless insisted that Prop 8 infringed the "fundamental right to marry," (p. 117) claiming that "Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs' objective as 'the right to same-sex marriage' would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy - namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages." (p. 114). This is classic question-begging, as the entire point of Prop 8 is to define what is and is not marriage, and he's just admitted that same-sex relationships have traditionally not been defined as marriage.
Seeking to characterize a rule that has existed throughout history as insane, Judge Walker first engaged in a sort of pop evolutionary history:
The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry...Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.
(p112) But to open a quarrel with the past, in Churchill's turn of phrase, is not sufficient; given the deep roots of traditional marriage in nearly every aspect of our society and history, Judge Walker must find a way to categorically exclude those considerations:
Tradition alone...cannot form a rational basis for a law....The "ancient lineage" of a classification does not make it rational....Rather, the state must have an interest apart from the fact of the tradition itself....
(p. 124-26, 130, 135)
52. Domestic partnerships lack the social meaning associated with marriage, and marriage is widely regarded as the definitive expression of love and commitment in the United States...
From this, he concluded:
The evidence shows that domestic partnerships do not fulfill California's due process obligation to plaintiffs for two reasons. First, domestic partnerships are distinct from marriage and do not provide the same social meaning as marriage...Second, domestic partnerships were created specifically so that California could offer same-sex couples rights and benefits while explicitly withholding marriage from same-sex couples...
(p. 115-16). Suddenly the "social meaning" and "cultural meaning" and "status" of marriage is not irrelevant, but essential. This is what economists call free riding: traditional marriage gains social and cultural significance by long experience and association with moral, religious and cultural norms - and yet it is constitutionally improper to deny the same status to an institution that doesn't comply with those norms. Judge Walker puts the culture on one side of the scale while lifting it off the other, which may be many things but surely is not equal justice under law. It's this analysis, not the view of the California electorate, that fails the test of basic rationality.
This analysis also reveals why this is not, as some would have it, a libertarian, live-and-let-live decision at all. No liberty is at stake here, in the sense of preserving some activity from government sanction, and indeed few if any of the rights of property and contract are denied to domestic partners in California. Instead, what the plaintiffs in Perry seek is the government to help them obtain the affirmative social and cultural approval of their neighbors.
(2) Marriage and Children
Judge Walker also found insufficient the entirely rational proposition that society values traditional marriage because of its blindingly obvious relationship with the bearing and begetting of children:
The court asked the parties to identify a difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals that the government might fairly need to take into account when crafting legislation...Proponents pointed only to a difference between samesex couples (who are incapable through sexual intercourse of producing offspring biologically related to both parties) and opposite-sex couples (some of whom are capable through sexual intercourse of producing such offspring)...Proponents did not, however, advance any reason why the government may use sexual orientation as a proxy for fertility or why the government may need to take into account fertility when legislating...No evidence at trial illuminated distinctions among lesbians, gay men and heterosexuals amounting to "real and undeniable differences" that the government might need to take into account in legislating...
(p. 121-22, 128). The screamingly obvious fact that Judge Walker's legal analysis ignores is right there at #49 on his list of findings of fact:
49. California law permits and encourages gays and lesbians to become parents through adoption, foster parenting or assistive reproductive technology. Approximately eighteen percent of same-sex couples in California are raising children.
Now, I don't have the numbers handy here, but I'd bet every penny I have that very significantly more than 18% of opposite-sex married couples, even in California, have children. And if you looked at the numbers, it's likely the disparity would be even larger if you counted by number of children rather than number of households, as for a variety of reasons (including religious and cultural beliefs and just enjoying the baby-making process), opposite-sex couples are far more likely to have families of three or more children.
Remember that laws routinely pass rational basis review without a 100% fit between means and ends (almost nothing would be left of the New Deal and Great Society otherwise) - the government is very much permitted to draw distinctions based on probabilities and incentives. The mere fact that some same-sex couples bear children and others adopt them, while some opposite-sex couples do neither, doesn't change the basic fact that opposite-sex relationships are overwhelmingly more likely to produce children.
To use a hypothetical I've used before, let's say that you're an investor in a new planned community, to be started from scratch in a part of the country that presently has little population. And let's further suppose that, based on the mix of businesses you are hoping to attract to your planned community, your consultants and investment bankers inform you that the economic assumptions of the project require that a fairly large proportion of the new residents be families with children. And, finally, let's suppose that you had a finite budget for advertising and sales, and that budget included a deal with an airline to bring in, say, 500 prospective residents at little or no cost to inspect the place. It doesn't matter what your agenda or your biases are - acting out of pure rational economic self-interest, wouldn't you very strongly prefer that the 500 seats went to opposite-sex married couples? Aren't they very obviously the people most likely to produce children in general, and multiple-child families in particular? Is it really so irrational to believe that a set of 250 opposite-sex married couples would, in almost any conceivable circumstance, produce more children than 250 same-sex married couples of the same age and socioeconomic background? If that isn't a rational conclusion for government to draw, there are precious few of the conclusions supporting any legislation that will withstand scrutiny.
Judge Walker's "fertility" analysis is off-base in a number of other ways that I explored at much greater length in my 2005 essay on this topic. First, the government absolutely does have an interest in ensuring that there is a next generation; not only does economic growth require a growing population, but the fiscal stability of government becomes ever more dependent on a growing population the more it creates presently unfunded liabilities to future retirees. Anyone vaguely familiar with the position of public pensions in California can tell you why the state will need more taxpayers 25 years from now.
Second, just because Lawrence v. Texas limited the state's power to prevent some types of sexual activity outside of marriage doesn't change the fact that the state absolutely has an interest in encouraging sex to occur within marriage, and that interest is vastly greater when it is procreative sex. To be blunt, gay sex does not lead to illegitimacy or abortion - and thus the state's interest in the subject is less vital.
(3) Here, The People Do Not Rule
The third problem with the Perry decision goes beyond Judge Walker's analysis, but it starts with the procedural status of the case. As you can see from the preceding discussion, Judge Walker heard evidence and reached conclusions of "fact," which at least in theory will be given deference on appeal as if he was a jury deciding who killed Nicole Simpson. That's why getting a sympathetic judge can be so important in a case like this, and naturally these plaintiffs filed this case in a district in which Judge Walker was the chief judge and assigned the case to himself - a different judge or a different district might have meant different "facts." And his decision is full of sweeping generalizations, both "fact" and inference from fact, that might not be universally uncontroversial:
71. Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted....
(p. 125-26, 132) Defenders of Judge Walker's ruling will undoubtedly argue that these are perfectly reasonable conclusions from the evidence presented in court. And Judge Walker's factual findings and legal conclusions cast a jaundiced eye on the 'evidence' presented during the election campaign:
45. Proponents' campaign for Proposition 8 assumed voters understood the existence of homosexuals as individuals distinct from heterosexuals...
(p. 133-34). Just imagine the horror - campaigns that oversimplified the issues and relied on pre-existing assumptions and scare tactics! There oughta be a law!
There is something fundamentally wrong with this process and its repeated application to judicial scrutinty of the views of the voters and their elected representatives. Consider the following passage:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
"Self-evident"? That would not pass muster under the analysis applied by Judge Walker, given that Thomas Jefferson cited no statistics, no sociological studies compiled by sympathetic scientists. Yet it remains the foundation of the very existence of our Republic. The Founding Fathers sometimes relied (if you have read the Federalist Papers) on concrete if anecdotal examples, but very often the laws and rules set down then as now were based on the common experience and judgment of the people and their leaders. Part of the beauty of democracy, especially in a large and diverse nation, is that the voters never need to say why. And yet this subjection of the judgment of the many to the second-guessing by the 'expert' few renders that popular privilege meaningless, and literally excludes common sense from the permissible bases of law.
For all of the supposed commitment of Prop 8's liberal opponents to diversity and its benefits in making decisions, this judicial approach tramples the rich tapestry of the enormously diverse California electorate. Detailed analyses showed, for example, that Prop 8 drew the support of 49% of white voters, 58% of African-American voters, 59% of Latino voters, 49% of women, 54% of men, 53% of independents and 67% of voters over 65. Every one of those voters entered the voting booth with their own opinions and life experiences that rendered them - with all due respect to Judge Walker - every bit his equal in their ability to decide the value of traditional marriage, the merits of same-sex rationships, the importance of motherhood, and other issues implicated here. In a nation that respected democracy, those votes would count, and the more numerous faction would decide - unless the people had by previous agreement placed the issue beyond elections (as plainly, nobody had reason to think they were doing with regard to the definiton of marriage when they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868). Instead, the vote was re-cast by an electorate of one - one attorney, white, male, Republican (Judge Walker was originally proposed for the bench by Ronald Reagan) and in many other ways unrepresentative of the California electorate as a whole.
The American people deserve more respect than that.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Law 2009-14 | Politics 2010 | Comments (32) | TrackBack (0)
August 3, 2010
POLITICS: The Not-So Popular Party
Much of the behavior of Democratic Senate candidates can be explained by one simple fact: very few of them are going to get 50% of the vote this fall. Even the candidates who have a good chance to win are going to struggle to get to 50%. Let's take a quick look at the RealClearPolitics polling averages for the 22 Senate races that RCP lists as being in play, or where there's no average the last listed (generally Rasmussen) poll, just focusing on the Democratic candidate - as you will see, in only 4 of those 22 races is the Democrat polling 50/50 or better, and in only 7 of the 22 is the Democrat even polling above 43%:
These are the few popular Democrats. Wyden, Blumenthal and Manchin are all popular figures (an incumbent Senator, AG and Governor, respectively). The first two are solid favorites; Manchin could face a tough race if the GOP can tie him to the Obama Administration, which is deeply unpopular in West Virginia, but for now he's in a good place. Gillibrand has suffered soft approval ratings but for now has little known opposition.
Three incumbents in jeopardy (an incumbent polling below 50 is always considered in danger) and facing vigorous challenges, but all stand a fighting chance. Harry Reid, while he's revived from being down below 40%, simply can't crack 50% - neither can his son, running for governor - which is why his strategy is almost entirely built around the national media battering Sharron Angle and letting third-party candidates siphon off enough votes to let him win below 50 as he did in 1998.
Only Feingold and Bennet are incumbents here, and so a number of these races still have a lot of undecideds. (In Colorado, the Senate primary is something of a proxy war, with President Obama actively backing Bennet after failing to bribe Romanoff to drop out of the race, while former President Clinton is backing Romanoff). But again, voters don't seem too enamored of any of them, which is why the Democrats will be running an almost entirely negative fall campaign focused on driving small numbers of voters from the GOP to third parties.
Not all of these races are uncompetitive - incumbent Richard Burr is listed at a weak 46% in North Carolina, Mark Kirk is even below Giannoulias in Illinois, and of course in Florida the establishment Democrats are abandoning their own candidates to line up behind the incumbent, nominally Republican governor (a man the DNC stood ready to demonize if McCain had chosen him as a running mate in 2008), Charlie Crist. But once again, the divide-and-conquer strategy is basically the only way they can play this hand.
If the Democrats manage to hold onto the Senate, it won't be because the people of more than a tiny number of the states voting this November have actually given their performance a thumbs-up.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:02 PM | Politics 2010 | Poll Analysis | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
July 30, 2010
POLITICS: The BP Shakedown
If you want to see a rank example of the unhealthy symbiosis between Big Government and Big Business, consider this morning's announcement by BP that "it will set up a $100 million charitable fund to support unemployed oil rig workers experiencing economic hardship due to the deepwater drilling moratorium imposed by the Obama administration."
At first glance, you might say, this is a good thing: a penitent corporation doing charity to help people harmed, at least indirectly, by its actions. But let's count the things wrong with this picture.
First, there is little doubt that BP is doing this, at least to some extent, due to explicit or implicit pressure from, or desire to buy off trouble from, the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats. It's the invisible foot of a government with a known propensity to monkey in the marketplace - companies learn to act defensively to cater to political favor rather than focusing on being profitable businesses by serving their customers.
Second, if BP was solely bowing to political pressure by assisting people it's harmed, that would be one thing. But what it's doing here is assisting people the Democrats have harmed, by a moratorium on offshore drilling by companies other than BP. In other words, the Democrats have used the leverage of fear of government to get BP to pay to cover up the damage caused by their own policies.
Third, consider this dynamic in the context of the vastness of BP (the company's size is the only reason it hasn't been run out of business by the spill). Other oil companies are big, too, but not everyone in the industry is on the same scale as BP, and equally able to buy off an angry government or weather the storm of the moratorium. This entire process of shaking down companies for political favor is designed with large corporations in mind - if you're a smaller business, you're not worth shaking down (or can't afford the extra burdens of unionized workforces and heavy regulatory obligations on top of paying off politicians) and can be left to whither on the vine as collateral damage of insane economic policy.
Fourth, OK, BP has helped the oil workers. What about other innocent parties? What about the retirees across Britain whose pensions are heavily funded by BP stock? What about consumers who are denied access to the oil? And even as to the workers - is it really a fair substitute to give working men charity instead of the opportunity and dignity of earning a living with their own hands?
Fifth, are we 100% certain that BP has adequate resources to pay everyone directly injured by the spill? Maybe we are, but one of the reasons to be skeptical of greenlighting a run-on-the-bank attitude towards wrongdoing corporations is that sometimes, in the stampede, there ends up not being enough money left for the people with the most legitimate claims (the long, sad story of asbestos litigation at times illustrated this).
We have seen this, over and over and over again under this Administration, in industry after industry: a combination of coercion and collusion that amounts to a protection racket run by Democratic politicians to grant favor on large, pliable corporations and their executives in exchange for money going where the Democrats want it - to Big Labor and other favored constituencies, to support for Democratic legislative priorities, to campaign cash and personal enrichment. It's fundamentally corrupt, and it needs to end.
July 22, 2010
POLITICS: Who Do You Trust?
New annual poll from Gallup on who America's most trusted institutions are - and it's almost entirely bad news for the Left.
Topping the list? Five institutions consistently targeted and mistrusted by the Left: (1) the military (trusted by 76%), (2) small business (66%, the only other institution over 60), (3) the police, (4) church/organized religion, and (5) the medical system. The bottom? Congress (11% - "half of Americans now say they have 'very little' or no confidence in Congress, up from 38% in 2009 -- and the highest for any institution since Gallup first asked this question in 1973" [i.e., when the Presidency was at the height of Watergate and the military at the end of Vietnam]), and near the bottom organized labor and TV news. The institution to take the biggest hit since last year's poll? The presidency (down from 51% to 36% - gee, I wonder who's responsible for that). The only institutions to improve by more than a point? The medical system and big business. Note that churches still poll far ahead of public schools (universities were mercifully exempted from the poll).
(Methodological note: this is a poll of all adults, and thus is likely to skew more to the left than a sample of registered or likely voters, as Neil Stevens noted yesterday in looking at Gallup's switch from polling registered voters to adults on the generic Congressional ballot).
Liberals can take comfort that big business and HMOs are still broadly mistrusted and thus make for useful scapegoats, but the bottom line here is the public remains much more in tune with the conservative view of what institutions are most and least worthy of trust.
Lesson for the Right? Well, all institutions are human and necessarily flawed both by their humanity and by the dynamics of any institution, particularly large ones. But the Right is on solid ground supporting the institutions to which public remains broadly willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
But as always, the GOP in particular should remember not to be the party of big business, but rather the party of free markets. That means sometimes defending big business against unreasonable attacks, but it also means remembering what the public instinctively knows and what economic theory predicts: large businesses are necessarily self-interested, and their interests are not always the same as the pro-free-market position. Indeed, much of what needs to be done in Washington over the next few years is not just saving businesses large and small from the predations of government, but specifically disentangling the unhealthy rent-seeking relationships between and among big government, big business and big labor.
July 21, 2010
LAW/POLITICS: Swallowing The Rule
Randy Barnett looks at the radicalism of the legal theory invoked to defend Obamacare. Barnett admits that he himself adheres to a particularly narrow view of the scope of federal powers and particularly broad view of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, but as he points out, even if you don't buy his vision of the Constitution, the counter-argument would all but eliminate the existing limits on Congress' enumerated powers. Key excerpt:
[W]e are all looking at the law as it currently exists and observing that the Supreme Court has never upheld the use of the commerce power to mandate that everyone engage in economic activity. All it has ever done is regulate or prohibit those who choose to engage in economic activity. As such there is no existing authority for extending the Commerce Clause this far.
Read the whole thing.
July 15, 2010
POLITICS: Deficits Are A Symptom. The Problem Is Spending.
Do deficits matter?
The Obama Administration has been in something of a quandary lately as to whether to primarily emphasize its plans to spend more taxpayer money as "stimulus" or to paint itself as fighting against deficits. The former has the advantage of looking like the White House is doing - or trying against GOP opposition to do - something about the economy and its still-listless rates of growth and job recovery; the latter has the advantage of allaying voter fears that the Democrats have been doing too much and digging us into a fiscal hole, as well as offering at least the possibility of bipartisanship or faux bipartisanship that helps (whether Republicans accept or reject Obama's offers) blur the lines between the parties on deficits and spending. Remember that the one thing Obama has sought from Day One of his stimulus strategy, and has largely failed at, is to avoid presenting a clear contrast between the two parties on spending and the size of government, that being an argument he cannot win.
With a deficit commission working on proposals that will be delivered after the fall election, some liberal pundits/activists like Ezra Klein of the Washington Post and Matthew Yglesias of ThinkProgress are trying to keep both options open by arguing that conservatives are somehow hypocritical for complaining about massive deficits under Obama and the Democratic Congress while promoting tax cuts to help with the lack of economic growth. But read their work and notice, as with Obama, what's missing: they talk only about deficits, not about spending - you will search Klein's column in vain for any indication that anyone should care how obese government gets, as long as it's feasting on current tax revenues instead of on deficit financing. And naturally, when and if Obama tries to do something about the deficit, he too will view it mainly as a revenue problem, not a problem with spending and the size of government. Indeed, history shows that even Beltway Republicans have tended to fall into the trap of assuming that the problem is mainly one of raising revenue, or at least that any deal to fix the deficit can only attract Democratic support if it includes Democrats' beloved tax hikes.
This is going about the question all wrong. Would you rather have a federal government that spends 15 cents of every dollar earned in this country, while taxing 12 and making up the difference by issuing debt - or a federal government that takes in and spends 30 cents of every dollar? I'd much prefer the former. The Democrats don't want to have that conversation at all.
Either way the spending is financed, the amount spent by government is a portion of the economy that cannot produce meaningful growth. Yes, wise government can play a role in a better growth environment, and yes, at times the government produces a little growth on its own, e.g., government scientists invent things that can help the economy grow. But by and large, a dollar invested in the public sector is a dollar that will never bear more than a dollar in fruit, and next year the government comes looking for another dollar, while a dollar left in the private sector can grow and be used later in either private or public hands. (In Biblical terms, the dollar in the public sector is like the servant who buried his master's money in the back yard) All of the growth we take for granted as producing increasing wealth over time comes from the portion of the economy that is not consumed by government. So, using our oversimplified example, which obviously excludes the state and local public sector, you have one economy in which 70 cents of every dollar goes back to the private sector to grow, and one in which 85 cents does. Which economy do you think will have more money after a couple of generations of this? Even at a paltry private-sector growth rate of 2% per year, the first economy has produced $1.59 at the end of three years for every dollar, and the second has produced $2.27. As I said, this is a vast oversimplification, but there's simply no way for the first economy to grow faster unless you believe - contrary to the most fundamental tenets of economics and history - that the public sector can produce economic growth at a rate comparable to the private sector.
Moreover, within reason, running a modest deficit can make sense, for reasons somewhat analogous to why a corporation issues bonds as well as stock to raise capital, or why even well-off families (especially under the present tax code) may take out a mortgage: sometimes, debt is cost-effective. As long as it is a safe bet to repay its debts, the US federal government can borrow funds more cheaply than any other entity on earth, and while debt requires us to pay interest, which means mandated spending, if the money not taxed is growing in the private sector at a faster rate than the interest rate paid by the government, then deficit spending makes sense for the same reason why you might buy stocks instead of paying down your mortgage - the rate of return is better. Also, the federal government should never run a surplus, since if the government is collecting, say, 20% in taxes and spending 18%, it's the 20% figure that represents the bite taken out of the private sector. So, the target for revenue should always aim for a little below spending.
But the fact that deficits can make economic sense under the right conditions does not mean that all deficits do - the bigger the debt, the more interest is paid on it (thus, more spending), and the higher rates must be paid (because too-large debt makes bond markets worry about credit risk); and the higher proportion of government spending that's financed by deficits, the worse are your odds that the money left in private hands will grow faster than the interest rate. At some point, deficit financing becomes a very bad bet. And of course, there are situations where the government may need to run a surplus if it needs to use the difference to pay down enough debt to get back to its usual position of running a manageable deficit, a strategy used in the past after the federal government took on excessive debts in a short stretch to fight wars.
So, why are conservatives up in arms now over deficits? Two reasons. One - which the Democrats seem determined to ignore - is that public concern about deficits is often linked to concern about spending and the size of government. Huge deficits can be a major symptom of overspending. But they're the symptom, not the disease. I have a chart below the fold showing federal revenue, spending, deficits, debt and interest as a percentage of GDP, as well as deficits and interest as a percentage of spending (the Def% and Int % columns) and partisan control of the White House, House and Senate from 1947 through 2011.
Until the 2006 elections, we hadn't been over spending 21% of GDP since the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, and hadn't been over spending 23.5% of GDP in the postwar period. But the first year of the new Democratic Congress took us to 20.7%, then 24.7%, with spending projected to crack 25% for 2010 and 2011 for the first time, as the deficit - never above 6% before, below 4% since 1993 and often below 2% during the era of GOP control of Congress - soars to 9.9% in 2009 and projected 10.6% in 2010. This is simply more spending than the economy can bear, and the deficit is a symptom of that problem.
And two, we're in a situation now where the proportion of deficit spending is itself out of hand. Check the Def% column in the chart - in fiscal years 2009 and (projected) 2010, we're paying for over 40% of government spending by issuing debt, while it had topped out at 18.1% during the years the GOP controlled Congress and 25.5% as the postwar high. It's not at all unreasonable to be unconcerned when you're borrowing 10% or 15% of your budget - when you're borrowing 40%, you're living beyond your means. And anybody who thinks you can fix that by collecting a quarter of GDP in federal taxes is insane.
Spending has to come down. That's the only way to fix the deficit problem and the growth problem.
Read More »
Here's the chart:
Sources here, here and here, from the master budget-history site which has now been moved to the White House website. House/Senate historical partisan breakdowns here and here, including this note on fiscal years:
The Federal fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on the subsequent September 30. It is designated by the year in which it ends; for example, fiscal year 2007 began on October 1, 2006, and ended on September 30, 2007. Prior to fiscal year 1977 the Federal fiscal years began on July 1 and ended on June 30. In calendar year 1976 the July-September period was a separate accounting period (known as the transition quarter or TQ) to bridge the period required to shift to the new fiscal year.
As with the prior iteration of this chart, I use 1947 as a starting point, as it's the first year after full demobilization from World War II; the war budgets were colossal - in Fiscal Year 1943, the deficit was over 30% of GDP. And before the New Deal, federal spending was generally less than 10% of GDP. The OMB site has projections beyond 2011, but since we don't even have a 2011 budget yet, much less the Congress that will vote on the 2012 budget, the projections further out than that are useless even if you assume that the federal budget forecasters have perfect clairvoyance about the state of the economy two or more years out (hint: I don't).
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June 22, 2010
WAR/POLITICS: Not In Charge
President Obama should fire General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for a highly impolitic interview Gen. McChrystal gave to Rolling Stone magazine (of all places) mocking the Vice President and the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, among others, and making evident his disdain for the Administration's civilian management of the war effort. Obama should fire him - but he's painted himself into a corner in which doing so would be damaging to him politically and to the nation's war effort. Let's review why.
When Barack Obama came into office, he had an Afghanistan problem. Obama had won crucial credibility with the anti-war Left, and thus the Democratic presidential nomination, by opposing (at times) the Iraq War. At the same time, he marketed himself as being serious about national security by touting his support for the war in Afghanistan. Coming into office, he needed to reassure the military, the Afghan government and other U.S. allies, and the existing domestic supporters of the Afghan war (many of whom were Republicans unenthused about supporting any Obama initiative) that he was really serious. Complicating matters, the Democrats had spent the prior several years building a narrative in which the Bush Administration had sinned by not listening to criticism from the brass, and in which military men like Gen. Eric Shinseki (now Secretary of Veterans Affairs) were all but sainted for publicly splitting with the Bush Administration's war management. Obama, having little credibility of his own on national security matters, could scarcely hope to survive a public battle with his own military leadership.
Obama got off to a rough start. First of all, he came to office with no executive experience, no national security experience (in the Senate he'd never bothered holding hearings on the subcommittee he chaired overseeing Afghanistan) and no military service record; his Vice President, while schooled in foreign affairs, was likewise a career legislator with no military service record, ditto his Secretary of State. He ended up with yet another legislator running the CIA after his first choice was seen by the Left as too tied to the intelligence community. To balance this team out (Presidents always lack something and need balance from their advisers, but Obama lacked more than most), he had to lean heavily on holdovers: he kept Bush's Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and gave wide latitude to General David Petraeus, architect of the Iraq War surge that Obama, Biden and Clinton had opposed with varying levels of scorn. He also picked a military man (Gen. James Jones) as his National Security Advisor, although that has worked out poorly.
Then, as I detailed back in September, Obama backed off his original promises for more troops in Afghanistan and sacked the commander there, General David McKiernan, in May 2009 after McKiernan asked for more troops. McKiernan was replaced with General Stanley McChrystal, a blunt-spoken counterinsurgency specialist and ally of General Petraeus who had something of a track record - known to those around him - of speaking out of turn.
McChrystal quickly lived up to that reputation, with speeches and an assessment of the Afghan situation (leaked to the public) that increased the public heat on Obama to come up with more troops for the mission. McChrystal's actions at the time tiptoed up to the line of undermining the all-important chain of command, but they were also critical to moving the public and the President in support of the war effort. The President eventually gave in, delivering a substantial troop surge, albeit one with a good deal fewer forces than McKiernan or McChrystal had asked for and with a bunch of promises to his own supporters about withdrawal timetables.
Now, months later, McChrystal has plowed over that line, and done so for no such obviously good purposes, and with plenty of notice about what the article would look like. Military men in a theater of war are prone to strong opinions, and it's hard to say that Vice President Biden and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, among others, haven't earned Gen. McChrystal's contempt. But doing so in public is insubordination, plain and simple, and completely inconsistent with our tradition of a chain of command and civilian control of the military. A military man who wants to open both barrels in public against the political leadership has a time-honored way to do that: resign his commission and enter politics. As Harry Truman understood when he fired Douglas MacArthur - then a national hero - at great political cost, a president who doesn't show the generals who is boss is no longer running anything. That's bad for civilian-military relations and bad for the president's and the nation's credibility, as subordinates learn they can get away with more and allies and enemies wonder who they should listen to. While it speaks well of Gen. McChrystal that the Afghan government is publicly backing him, a president who lets foreign governments, even key allies, have any say in picking his own military officers has lost face he can't recover.
So, to preserve his own credibility and authority and secure the chain of command, Obama must fire General McChrystal. But doing so isn't so easy. As Dan Foster notes, the conclusion of the prior dust-up over troop strength showed that much of the public's trust in Obama was based on the credibility of McChrystal's recommendations. The champions of Gen. Shinseki will look - rightly - like contemptible hypocrites for sacking a distinguished commander for saying what he thinks. The troops in the field, always prone to regard civilian meddling as foolhardy, may regard the firing of a blunt commander - barely a year after the last commander was sacked after disagreeing with the White House - as a sign that the civilian leadership can't take some hurt feelings. Obama is also simultaneously cruising for a divisive showdown over ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a change that is sure to be opposed in at least some corners of the military. More significantly, in the short run, McChrystal's experience and expertise may be hard to replace overnight.
Underlying everything is a far bigger problem. Obama's strategy of shifting the military's focus - and 30,000 troops - from Iraq to Afghanistan hasn't yet yielded a major breakthrough.
Whether Obama chooses to start abandoning the war effort or again to face down calls from his own base to do so, he will need the credible backing of trusted military leaders - and shoving out the architect of the current plan (who may well respond by issuing blunter critiques from the outside if he's pushed out) and bringing in a third commander in Afghanistan in 14 months is no way to win confidence from the public, the military or our allies.
These are tough decisions, and precisely why the presidency is not suited for on-the-job training for people who have never run anything before, or for politicians like President Obama who have built up no basis for trusting them on critical issues of national security. Obama has been walking a very narrow tightrope on Afghanistan, supported largely by the generals. He may be about to fall off.
June 17, 2010
POLITICS: Primary Colors
Ben Domenech looks at the possibility that President Obama could face a primary challenge, possibly from Hillary Clinton, in 2012. As Moe Lane notes, Obama's people are busy reworking the primary system so as to make a repeat of 2008 less likely. Historically, presidents who get re-elected have a unified party, while those who face non-frivolous primary challenges (Bush in 1992, Carter in 1980, Ford in 1976, LBJ in 1968) lose. The last president to get re-elected despite a serious rift in his own party was Truman in 1948.
Obviously, whether Obama faces a primary challenger depends in largest part on his perceived strength in mid-late 2011, which we can't predict now. Ben focuses on some key issues, like where gay fundraising mogul Tim Gill is going to put his money. My guess is that while Hillary may yet have a renewed appeal to centrist voters within and without the party (odd as it remains to think of her as a centrist, but the contrast with Obama has done wonders in that regard) based on the contrast she can offer less in ideology than in experience and perceived competence, she's not likely to mount a challenge unless and until someone on the left (which is openly disgruntled at Obama for discarding some of his most utopian campaign themes and promises) goes first, as Eugene McCarthy did in 1968, encouraging Robert F. Kennedy to enter the race. That would allow Hillary to avoid a straight right-left battle (which the centrist will generally lose, especially when Obama is guaranteed 90+ % of the African-American vote under any conceivable circumstance) as well as avoiding the disloyalty issues that would arise if she threw the first stone at him.
POLITICS: Piggy Bank
Democrats are seeking to increase taxes on oil companies as part of their vaunted "tax extenders" legislation. The new revenue would flow into the federal government’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which was created following the 1989 Exxon Valdez crash. But the trust fund is not a "lock-box," and Democrats are effectively double-counting the revenue as (1) a source of money for the Gulf cleanup effort and (2) an offset for separate spending provisions in the tax bill. This makes the deficit impact of the legislation appear significantly smaller than it actually is.
Vitter wanted to bar the federal government from raiding the new spill-cleanup fund for other purposes, but Senate Democrats voted down his amendment. The same theme repeats withn the $20 billion that British Petroleum would have given directly to individuals and companies damaged by the Gulf oil spill, but which BP - colluding, under pressure, with the Obama Aadministration - instead handed over to the Obama White House without any safeguards to prevent it from being paid out for other purposes:
[A] government-administered fund more or less guarantees a more politicized payment process. The escrow administrator will be chosen by the White House, and as such would be influenced by the Administration's political goals. Those goals would include payments to those harmed by the Administration's own six-month deep water drilling ban. That reckless policy will soon put thousands of Gulf Coast residents out of work, but the White House knows that BP isn't liable under current law for those claims. The escrow account is an attempt to tap BP's funds by other means to pay the costs of Mr. Obama's own policy blunder.
This has been a common theme throughout this Administration: when there are pots of money to be handled - even, as in BP's case, money the company concedes should legitimately be paid out to people damaged by its actions - Obama's people want that pot under their control to hand out to those who find favor with the government. Former Obama car czar Steve Rattner is the first Obama Administration official to be sanctioned by the federal government for his involvement in trading official favors for a piece of the action, and he likely won't be the last. If you take as an article of faith that money changing hands must pass through the approval of a government functionary, you are necessarily encouraging the further corruption of government and business alike.
June 15, 2010
POLITICS: None of the Above
Excellent profile of Alvin Greene's Senate candidacy in South Carolina. Given the demographics of the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, I suspect the racial angle (i.e., that black voters could tell just from their names that Vic Rawl was white and Alvin Greene was black) is probably the Occam's Razor explanation for how he won. Interesting that the national media's paid a lot of attention to Greene without mentioning that it actually is a milestone for the party of John C. Calhoun and Strom Thurmond (back in the says when Strom was a segregationist) to nominate an African-American for the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.
Yes, Greene is a ridiculous Senate candidate, and a less-than-appealing storyline given the obscenity charge and what appears to have been less than honorable discharges from the Army and Air Force. But it would nonetheless behoove Jim DeMint to debate Greene and treat him with the respect afforded to any opponent, and the media to hold off a bit on making fun of him. Greene's the epitiome of an ordinary citizen nominated by his fellow citizens, and while he seems pretty ignorant of even basic civics, that didn't prevent him from serving in the Armed Forces; plenty of men have died for this country knowing no more of its governance than Alvin Greene. That doesn't mean anybody should vote for him, but a little common decency and respect for the power and dignity of ordinary Americans would go a long way in this season of popular discontents.
(By the way, I very much doubt the one outlier poll purporting to show Rawl within striking distance of DeMint. Yes, Republican incumbents face an electorate that's not that happy with them either, but this is South Carolina, and DeMint has given voters no reason to ultimately desert him).
POLITICS: But The Media Was So Nice To Bush!1!1!
There's probably nobody on the web more in love with really, really dumb arguments than Media Matters and Eric Boehlert, and Matt Welch absolutely destroys their contention that the LA Times - which in some alternate universe MMFA thinks suffers from right-wing bias for employing one conservative columnist in a sea of left-wing reportage, the delightful Andrew Malcolm - would never, ever hire a columnist so disrespectful of a Republican president. (Patterico has some fun with one of Boehlert's related claims). Welch does this, by the way, without even scratching the surface of the venom directed at President Bush by other columnists at the LAT or elsewhere.
June 8, 2010
POLITICS: Not Ready For Prime Time
Byron York notices that Obama not having any experience running anything is being reflected in his response to the BP oil spill. As does Sarah Palin, who by any measure has more relevant experience for dealing with this problem than Obama does: "what the heck, give me a call."
June 7, 2010
POLITICS: Media Resentments
May 26, 2010
POLITICS: Worse Than Smear
The really damaging thing about he-said-she-said allegations in politics, especially in the weeks close to an election, is that long experience makes voters hesitant to ever totally discount the allegation. Hence, my awarding in years past of the Bedfellow Awards for particularly late-breaking hits.
We've had a doozy recently in the South Carolina Governor's race, where conservative Nikki Haley is looking to carry on the reformist, anti-establishment legacy of Mark Sanford, without the baggage of Sanford's messy extramarital affair. Haley has the endorsement of Jenny Sanford, and promoting her candidacy has long been a project of Erick Erickson at RedState, as part of Erick's broader promotion of a slate of candidates who are trying to break the GOP away from the spending excesses and related scandals that doomed the party in 2006. Haley recently surged into first place in the race for the June 8 GOP primary (there's a June 22 runoff if no candidate clears, I believe, 50%) upon receiving the coveted endorsement of Sarah Palin (Palin's endorsement was also vital to surges in the polls by Rand Paul in Kentucky and Carly Fiorina in California).
South Carolina, however, is one of a handful of states whose politics are most notoriously vicious at the retail level (Louisiana, Illinois, and New Jersey are others), and lo and behold, Haley's campaign has been hit by a sensational attack: former Haley staffer and blog gadfly Will Folks claims to have had an unspecified "inappropriate physical relationship" with the married Haley.
The left-blogs and the national media immediately ran with this story; it seems that local press in South Carolina, being more familiar with Folks, has kept a little more arms length from him, seeing this as potentially more like the guy who claims to have had a gay affair with Barack Obama. But the more we see about Folks and the more we hear from him, the less credibile he seems and the more holes appear in his story. (Speculation appears to be that Folks is bitter at Jenny Sanford, who he blames for getting him fired from speechwriting gigs in both the Sanford Administration and the Haley campaign, and/or that he's on the payroll of a rival camp).
Ben Domenech has the best roundup, including a creepy you-have-to-see-to-believe video mock interview produced last year by Folks in which a cartoon version of Folks, who has a rap sheet for domestic violence, repeatedly refers to a desire to hit the cartoon version of Haley in the face. But make sure to follow a bunch of Ben's links to Ace, who is all over this story.
Combined with the nasty history of stalkerish to the point of criminal behavior aimed by Democrats at Palin and her family, including the latest news that writer Joe McGinnis has moved in next door to her after failing at a $60,000 bid to buy dinner with her, and you can see why this looks like the same old m.o. of character assassination.
May 25, 2010
POLITICS: Of The Government, By The Government, For The Government
From the Times of London: "The President of Greece warned last night that his country stood on the brink of the abyss after three people were killed when an anti-government mob set ﬁre to the Athens bank where they worked."
Read the whole thing. Unfortunately, we have things like this happen here, too, and yet it's the Right that gets accused of "sedition" for daring to criticize the domestic policies of the President. But the underlying fiscal problem of a private sector straining under the weight of an ever-expanding government is taking its toll here as well, as USA Today reports that private-sector paychecks have hit a historic low percentage of household income:
A record-low 41.9% of the nation's personal income came from private wages and salaries in the first quarter...Individuals got 17.9% of their income from government programs in the first quarter...Programs for the elderly, the poor and the unemployed all grew in cost and importance. An additional 9.8% of personal income was paid as wages to government employees.
In other words, that's 66 cents of spending on government wages or transfer payments for every dollar of private-sector wages. As we see from the Greek example, that's not just economically but socially unsustainable, because it creates two classes of people locked in a zero-sum pie-dividing exercise - a much larger and more lethal social problem than the traditional struggle between private-sector labor and management, in which there is at least some sense that both sides are engaged in a common productive enterprise.
May 24, 2010
POLITICS: "History Happened"
Julian Sanchez actually has a perceptive column on Rand Paul and the limits of libertarian theory (he also has some wise words for liberals/progressives, who regard the civil rights movement less as a cause than an excuse for across-the-board bulldozing of private rights), which perhaps inadvertently underscores the distinction between conservatives and libertarians that I discussed here: conservatism may embrace many of the same principles as libertarianism, but ultimately it is formed by the real world, by tradition and experience. The problem I've had with Ron Paul on a whole number of fronts - aside from his shady association with conspiracy theorists, racists and foreign policy crackpots of varying stripes - is his devotion to theory at the expense of realities of various kinds. His son has made some real efforts to avoid the worst aspects of Paul-ism, and there's a good case to be made (as I did for years with his father in the House) that one guy like that can do a good deal of good in the Senate, plus of course there's the usual array of other reasons to discount the criticisms of him (such as the pervasive misquoting of his remarks and the fact that there is no practical chance that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is going to come up for a vote again), but at the end of the day, Paul does have to come to grips with the fact that his principles can't be applied in a vaccuum.
I mostly sat on my hands during that primary - I wasn't willing to go in for any son of Ron Paul, but his opponent seemed too tethered to the problematic status quo in Washington. In any event, either of them was always going to be preferable to yet another Democrat. But if you're looking for candidates who can contribute to the future direction of the GOP, I think we can safely leave Rand Paul out of the conversation.
May 13, 2010
POLITICS: The Federal Fat Police
Hey, remember when we conservatives said that if you let the federal government into everybody's healthcare, pretty soon it will stick its peering eyes and groping hands into our personal business?
Welcome to "pretty soon," thanks to Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind.
Kind has introduced a bill that would commandeer your health insurer to report to the federal government the body mass index (BMI) - i.e., height and weight - of your children every year from age 2 to 18:
States receiving federal grants provided for in the bill would be required to annually track the Body Mass Index of all children ages 2 through 18. The grant-receiving states would be required to mandate that all health care providers in the state determine the Body Mass Index of all their patients in the 2-to-18 age bracket and then report that information to the state government. The state government, in turn, would be required to report the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for analysis. The Healthy Choices Act--introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee....amends the Public Health Services Act by stating that health care providers must record the Body Mass Index of all children ages 2 through 18. "The provision relates to all children in states that accept grants under the bill," a spokesperson for Rep. Kind told CNSNews.com. "....BMI will be taken at times when the child makes an otherwise scheduled doctor’s visit."
Let's leave aside the many methodological problems with BMI as a measurement of obesity (such as the fact that muscular, athletic males are almost always classed as obese). The bill requires federal taxpayers to lay out yet more money to create yet another intrusive apparatus for tracking and storing information that, for example, your 16 year old daughter might regard as rather personal:
To pay for implementing BMI data gathering, Sec. 102 of the bill states that the federal government will give grants to states that meet certain criteria, including having "the capacity to store basic demographic information (including date of birth, gender and geographic area of residence), height, weight, and immunization data for each resident of the state." The grants also will pay for personnel and equipment necessary to measure patients' BMI.
And naturally, any child with a BMI over a specified percentile will be nagged to get government help. Of course, Rep. Kind swears that "any data used to generate a report on the BMI data collected would not include patients' names," but even if the data-security provisions are foolproof in that regard, there's still going to be an awful lot of identifiable information that will be required to be stored in government databases. And passed on to "Congress and other government officials, including the secretaries of education and agriculture," for that matter. The same people who go into shrieking tizzies at the idea of requiring adults to show a valid driver's licenses as proof of citizenship if they get stopped for traffic violations want to create a gigantic database of children's physical proportions. This is, by the way, the same Ron Kind whose GOP opponent in 2006 went after his history of supporting, uh, interesting government studies:
The ad states Kind doesn't have a problem spending money per se, but that "he would just rather spend it on sex." The ad then details-with citations to various NIH grants-legislation Kind is said to have voted for that included funds to:
This, ladies and gentlemen, is government without limits or a sense of personal space. It's Michelle Obama's and Ron Kind's America.
Kind's district is the classic sort of district that has been safe in years past (it went 51% for John Kerry, 58% for Barack Obama), but is rated D+3 by Charlie Cook, which puts it within reach if the GOP wave this fall rises high enough. Voters in Wisconsin's Third District will have to decide if they want Uncle Sam ogling their children and nagging them to put down their cheese and bratwurst.
May 12, 2010
POLITICS: Nuke The Spill!
Somebody please tell me this is satire: I'm not even sure where you'd start listing the reasons why using nuclear weapons against the oil spill in the Gulf would not be a good idea, and the fact that it was - if this report is to be believed - policy in the Soviet Union is not an endorsement of it as environmentally responsible or even sane. If you want an illustration of why a government-directed economy ultimately creates problems that make mine and well safety issues in a free market economy look like peanuts, consider this:
[S]ubterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals.
April 30, 2010
POLITICS: Immigration Update
Byron York continues his excellent reportage on the Arizona law with two items. First, he notes some changes made to the law to clarify that its "lawful contact" provision requires a stop for a non-immigration-related reason, which should eliminate the main source of complaint about the bill but won't stop people like Mike Lupica from uninformed rants against it. And second, York looks at how the Holder Justice Department could lose legal challenges to the law.
Vladimir at RedState, our in-house expert on the energy business, has been following the platform accident in the Gulf since before it was a big national news story, and reminds us of the realities of the business:
We've placed promising areas like the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast, offshore California, offshore Alaska and ANWR off limits. This current spill will provide ammunition for the anti development folks. But since our collective thirst for petroleum will be unabated, that will mean more oil and refined products will have to be imported in tankers, with their accompanying risk of spill.
Read the whole thing.
April 29, 2010
POLITICS: The Border
There's been an enormous amount of heat and not much light on the new Arizona immigration law. I lose track from time to time of which state the Left is hating at the moment - I believe in the past year or so we've been through at least Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas, Alaska, Virginia and Arizona, but I could be missing a few - but the mostly emotional response from people who have no idea how the bill actually works has consisted in large part of Democrats and media liberals taking a break from lecturing us about calling people Nazis to go back to their traditional practice of calling people Nazis themselves. Despite this, or perhaps as the cause of it, polls have shown fairly strong support for the bill; Gallup shows a 51-39 lead for the bill nationally among people who have heard of it, Rasmussen shows 60% support nationally for the bill's provisions and 70% support in Arizona, as well as surging approval ratings for Gov. Jan Brewer. It's harder to get a fix on the reaction from Latinos; a Rasmussen poll seems to suggest a majority of Arizona Latinos also approve, while Markos Moulitsas is pushing PPP polling data suggesting a dropoff in support for Brewer among Latino voters.
In terms of the bill's actual effects, Andrew McCarthy and Byron York shed some useful light on the real workings of the legislation, and I recommend you read both. There's a lot more care that went into drawing this legislation up in response to public outcry in the state than the news reports might suggest.
I won't rehash here the full scope ofall my views on immigration (I wrote here and here about the pros and cons of the McCain-Kennedy bill), save to say that I think I'm basically a moderate on the issue, and largely where Jonah Goldberg is. Like a lot of people on the Right, I'm comfortable with the basic idea that police who (1) have already stopped someone for other lawful reasons or (2) have very good reasons for suspecting that someone is an illegal immigrant should be able to check their citizenship status but do have some concerns that the law could end up leading to too many stops intended to check citizenship status without a particularly good reason. Matt Welch reasonably notes the plethora of justifications police already have for stopping a car, for example. McCarthy and York make clear that the law is carefully written to reduce that problem, but it's a balancing act, and how the courts read the law's definition of lawful contact will go a long way to working out whether the law makes things worse.
Overheated rhetoric aside, federal law already requires lawful permanent residents to carry ID, and the Democrats' own legislation would create a national ID card for employment purposes, so we're hardly dealing with a radical step here; what's different in Arizona is mainly that the state is creating a mechanism to enforce laws that are already on the books. As it is, our immigration system is kind of a worst-of-all-worlds system, with largely draconian laws that are only sporadically enforced, and a Byzantine bureaucracy that discourages legal immigration while looking the other way at illegal immigration. Meanwhile, the Border Patrol suffers three assaults on an officer per day, among other problems created by the inability to control points of entry, while companies looking to hire legal immigrants face long waits for visas. As Marco Rubio - who is also sympathetic to the Arizona law's goals but uneasy about how it will play out in practice - notes, we have come to the pass of states trying to enforce the law because the federal government has failed to handle any aspect of the problem correctly.
And the Democrats huffing and puffing about the Arizona bill are really not serious about immigration reform themselves. There's little sign that comprehensive legislation could pass Congress today, and even left-wing sites acknowledge that the Democrats' motives for bringing comprehensive bills back up now are more or less nakedly political. Kos is trying to play racial wedge politics on the issue in the hopes that Latino voters in Arizona will hold a grudge over this bill, while white voters in Arizona won't hold a grudge against its critics. As for the President, Obama himself cast the deciding vote on a 'poison pill' amendment to McCain-Kennedy in 2007. And the hypocrisy doesn't end there, as Mexican leadership brays about the law while Mexico's own immigration laws are far more draconian and even explicitly permit the government to deny immigration if it would upset the racial/demographic balance of the nation.
The McCain-Kennedy bill was not, in fact, a good bill, but the Democrats aren't proposing to fix any of its problems. What they should do, if they were really serious about fixing the system, is do what Bush should have done, and what Rubio is currently pushing - drop the whole business of trying to do yet another "comprehensive" thousand-page nobody-read-the-whole-thing bill, pass piecemeal (likely with strong bipartisan support) the various parts of McCain-Kennedy that had broad support - more border and employer enforcement, more visas, guest worker programs - and then if the Democrats want to, they can campaign on the narrow pieces that remain sticking points, most notably the "path to legalization"/"amnesty" parts of the bill. That is how a party serious about immigration would run things. The GOP failed that test in 2007, and Obama - imitating Bush's and McCain's mistakes - seems bent on failing it as well.
April 23, 2010
POLITICS: Et Tu, George LeMieux?
When Charlie Crist picked his long-time campaign manager and chief of staff George LeMieux to serve out the balance of Mel Martinez' term in the US Senate, it was a natural selection of a close ally to keep the seat warm without threatening Crist's own ability to run. But now, Crist is openly contemplating bolting the GOP to stage a kamikaze run as an independent rather than accept the verdict of the GOP primary voters' support - shown overwhelmingly in the polls - for conservative rising star Marco Rubio. It's a step that would burn every bridge Crist has in the state: with party loyalists, who don't want a sore loser to stage a 3-way race that could elect otherwise unelectable Democrat Kendrick Meek; with conservatives who see Rubio as a long-term star in the party; with Cuban and other Latino groups that wonder why Rubio isn't good enough to get the treatment usually accorded to primary winners; and with the NRSC, which backed the wrong horse by encouraging Crist to enter the race after Rubio had already announced (rather than run for re-election as Governor) and now would have enormous egg on its face for having created a monster.
And now, even, with George LeMieux. LeMieux may have been content to play seat-warmer this time around, but he has his own ambitions, including a possible 2012 challenge to Bill Nelson for the state's other Senate seat, and all that could be torpedoed if he is seen as complicit in his boss' treachery. So, the Hotline reports that LeMieux may back Rubio against Crist if Crist runs as an independent:
LeMieux now has a choice to make: If Crist bolts the GOP and runs as an independent, LeMieux will have to decide between backing his old friend and angering the very GOP primary voters he'll need in '12, or sticking with the party and throwing his pal overboard.
I've written before that if you want loyal aides who stick with you in the long run, don't pick people who are loyal to you personally; pick people who are loyal to your cause and your ideals, because when the going gets tough, they will stick with their beliefs even if they no longer see benefits in sticking with you. Crist is facing a corollary of that: because he doesn't really have principles - to be a Crist true believer, what would you believe in? - his support is only as broad as the personal loyalty he inspires, and his betrayal of his party is likely to leave him nearly alone. By November, it could just be him and his tan.
April 16, 2010
POLITICS: Barack Obama Will Decide Who Can Visit You In The Hospital
By a directive to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, "President Obama late Thursday ordered most hospitals in the country to grant the same visitation rights to gay and lesbian partners that they do to married heterosexual couples," an order that applies to "all hospitals getting Medicare and Medicaid money." Now, as it happens, I'm in agreement on the merits with the idea that same-sex couples should have had hospital visitation rights a long time ago, without the need for a redefinition of marriage; it's a simple matter of recognizing that these are consenting adults and leaving them to arrange their affairs their own way. So what's wrong with this picture? As it happens, quite a lot.
Let's step back and consider what we are seeing:
(1) The President of the United States, without any Congressional authorization on the subject, is unilaterally announcing a policy that will affect the day-to-day ground-level operations of every hospital in the nation.
(2) The federal government is dictating national policy on a divisive social issue having nothing to do with any expenditure of federal money or any federal program, simply by virtue of the leverage created by the financial dependence of hospitals on the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
All of which vividly illustrates exactly what conservatives have long warned about with regard to the expansion of federal programs in general and health care in particular, which touches on so many of the most intimate relationships and events in life: once Uncle Sam is footing too much of the bill to say no to him, he'll start deciding to make federal rules about everything.
That problem comes in two ways. One is that sometimes, pervasive federal regulation means that taking a position on a divisive social issue is unaviodable. I explained at some length previously why Obama's healthcare bill rendered neutrality on abortion impossible; either you have an enforceable ban on the money going to fund abortions, with the collateral consequence of reducing insurance coverage for abortions generally (as part of the broader phenomenon of reducing the available pool of insurance coverage that's not under the federal thumb) or you do not. The Bush Administration's decision in 2001 to begin federal funding for embryonic stem cell research created the same problem: either Bush would fund research into stem cell lines from destroyed embryos, or not, or (as happened) he would have to draw some unsatisfactory middle-ground position between those two poles.
The second hazard is what's at work here: when Uncle Sam isn't content to make those unavoidable decisions and starts using the power of the federal purse to nationalize all sorts of things that have no business being matters of federal concern. Here, there's no rational connection to any expenditure of federal expenditure; Obama just figures that because Medicare/Medicaid money is too much for the hospitals (or the states) to turn away, he has them over a barrel and can dictate terms on unrelated matters like visitation. This Administration has likewise used federal strings attached to impose controls on the states that restrict the ability of state governors to present a competing model of governance, as we've seen with the stimulus and healthcare bills.
And lest liberals complain that Republicans do this too: that's part of the problem. You leave power sitting around, it's gonna get used.
Sometimes, it's nanny-state moderates, as with the campaign that established the legal precedent for this kind of mischief, Elizabeth Dole's project as Reagan Administration Transportation Secretary to use federal highway funds as leverage to compel states to adopt a 55 mile per hour speed limit. Sometimes it's neoliberalism, as with No Child Left Behind using federal education dollars to put more strings on local schools. And sometimes, it's conservatives, as with the Solomon Amendment (which likewise passed muster with the Supreme Court), requiring universities that accept federal funds to let the ROTC on campus (something many colleges have refused to do, ostensibly on grounds of protesting Don't Ask, Don't Tell but in some cases likely due as well to a more general antipathy to the military and its missions). The Solomon Amendment, at least, vindicated a compelling interest of the federal government (military recruitment), but it nonetheless was yet another example of how the universities' dependence on federal money left them vulnerable to dictation from Washington.
How would liberals like it - they may live to find out - if a future GOP president used the same authority to ban federally-funded hospitals (effectively all of them) from disconnecting feeding tubes, regardless of contrary hospital policies or state laws? The Terri Schiavo contretemps in Congress and the courts would have been resolved with a single stroke of the President's pen. Or imposed restrictions or disclosure requirements on their performing abortions? Or a ban, for that matter, on visitation rights for gay couples? While in some cases the Left would undoubtedly rely on having federal judges' policy preferences on these issues trump those of the federal executive branch, the resolution of the drinking age and Solomon Amendment cases underscores the fact that they would not in every case succeed with that strategy.
And of course, everywhere you look, the Obama Administration is extending the tentacles of federal spending and regulation further into every imaginable sort of economic endeavor, from automakers to school loans to financial services of every kind. One day, liberals may awaken to realize that the Right is running Washington again - and there's nowhere left to hide from it.
April 6, 2010
WAR/POLITICS: Quick Links 4/6/10
*Streiff looks at the disingenuous uproar over a cameraman and reporter affiliated with Reuters who were embedded with insurgents during a firefight in Bagdad in 2007 and got killed in an American helicopter attack on the insurgents
Bill Roggio has more here. I've written frequently about the idiocy of the left-wing "chicken hawk" argument - i.e., that only people who have served in the military can advocate for war, while anybody can advocate against it - but on stories like this, that involve not the security of the nation writ large but rather the nitty-gritty of how rules of engagement are put into practice during combat - it really is a very bad idea to have people with no military background jumping to conclusions just from watching a video and adding in a huge presumption that the U.S. military is always in the wrong.
Left-wingers have attempted to spin the belated release of the video as some sort of "cover-up," but as you can see from the Washington Post report at the time that streiff quotes, the basic facts were never concealed, and if the video - taken out of context - would be propaganda for the enemy, I see no reason why the military ought to have an obligation to publicize it. We don't have real-time reporting of all military and intelligence activities on C-SPAN (yet) for a reason.
UPDATE: Rusty at the Jawa Report examines the evidence showing, unsurprisingly, that left-wing blogs are flatly misrepresenting the evidence by claiming that the Apache attack at issue did not target armed men.
"An operation took place. And it was an operation with merit because it was preceded by soldiers just getting banged up all over the place and they had to do something about it. ... The operation was planned thoroughly for days and days and out they went. ...
*Rudy Giuliani on the insanity of Obama's adherence to nuclear freeze movement thinking circa 1983 (which, if you'll recall, is Obama's longstanding posture, going all the way back to a 1983 college newspaper piece he wrote in which he viewed the Nuclear Freeze movement as insufficiently ambitious). Here's Rudy:
"The president doesn't understand the concept of leverage," Giuliani continues. "He's taken away our military option and it looks like he would prevent Israel from using a military option. He also hasn’t gotten Russia or China to agree. With Russia, he should have made them put their cards on the table. Instead, like with the missile shield, he gave up and got nothing for it. He negotiated against himself. That is like reducing the price of your house before you get an offer."
Conservatives like to joke that Obama would be tougher on our enemies if he'd pretend they were Republicans, but of course this equally describes one reason why he's been unsuccessful in getting Republicans to support his domestic initiatives: he's given the GOP no downside to opposing him. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer looks at some (but not all; he doesn't even get to Israel) of Obama's mistreatment of U.S. allies. An open question is whether Obama thinks we shouldn't have allies, or just have the wrong ones.
*The Cinderella story of Butler's basketball team brings back thoughts of Mitch Daniels' Butler commencement speech in 2009, reflecting among other things on his youth as a Butler hoops fan and "the Butler Way"; it's one of the best political speeches of recent years, all the moreso because at the time he wasn't expecting to run for office again (as of now, Daniels appears to be at least thinking of running for President in 2012). Tony Lee at the Atlantic expands on the "Butler Way" theme and how it fits with Daniels.
*Jim Geraghty catches a hilarious example of pop culture/historical ignorance from Katrina vanden Heuvel.
April 1, 2010
POLITICS: Who Is The Stupid Party Again?
A critical element of the self-image of partisan liberals, especially online, is their insistence on explaining why they are smarter than Republicans and conservatives (you will notice how frequently liberal writers link to polls and pseudo-scientific studies purporting to demonstrate how much smarter liberals and liberal politicians are). There's a longer essay to be had some day on the history of this self-image and why it keeps driving them to pick leaders like Obama, Carter, Clinton and Woodrow Wilson who are tremendously impressed with their own intelligence and not so good with other essential skills and traits, but for now, just go watch this video and laugh.
Or weep, if you consider that guys like this are responsible for running our health care, economy and financial systems.
Either way, I have to say that only a military officer could keep a straight face through this.
March 31, 2010
March 29, 2010
POLITICS: 8-K? What's An 8-K?
Coming as it does somewhat within my area of professional expertise, this is perhaps the most alarming example yet of the complete ignorance of the Obama Administration and Capitol Hill Democrats regarding how business operates - and to think these same people will be voting on overhauling financial services regulation:
The White House political and legislative operations were said to be livid with the announcement by several large U.S. companies that they were taking multi-million or as much as a billion dollar charges because of the new health-care law, the issue was front-and-center with key lawmakers. By last Friday, AT&T, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., and AK Steel Holding Corp. had all announced that they were taking the one-time charges on their first-quarter balance sheets. More companies were expected to make similar announcements this week.
Read the whole thing. H/T Moe Lane. Then, read Mark Steyn's explanation of the specific change at issue and why it's likely to change corporate behavior:
In 2003, Washington blessed a grateful citizenry with the Medicare prescription drug benefit, it being generally agreed by all the experts that it was unfair to force seniors to choose between their monthly trip to Rite-Aid and Tony Danza in dinner theatre.
Now, let me explain this real simple: If you do something that's going to cost a company a lot of money, they have a whole lot of legal reasons why they have to tell their shareholders that sooner or later. And, if they're being prudent, they will tell them sooner rather than later when it starts showing up in the company's cash flow and the stockholders panic. Dennis the Peasant goes through this in a bit more detail, and he and Erick and Ace all look at Waxman's plan to drag the disclosing CEOs before a Congressional committee to explain why they are daring to inform their shareholders of the impact that the new regulations, specifically the withdrawal of tax breaks, will have on their business.
At least honest leftists would admit that yes, they were doing something genuinely harmful to publicly traded employers, although honest leftists would next try to pass even more laws to prevent the companies from doing anything to pass on the costs to employees, customers and/or taxpayers so as to preserve enough return to shareholders to enable the company to keep raising capital to stay in business. But in the happy-fairy-land of guys like Obama and Waxman, there are never any costs or tradeoffs to heaping new taxes and regulations on businesses in the middle of a recession, and no behavioral incentives changed when you meddle with the tax code.
The level of ignorance here is staggering. George W. Bush understood this stuff. Sarah Palin understands this stuff. Yet, these people whose self-image depends on telling themselves how much smarter than Bush and Palin they are, are continually taken by surprise by these things.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:56 PM | Business | Law 2009-14 | Politics 2010 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)
March 23, 2010
There will be many more things coming out about Obamacare as we finally get a fix on what was in the massive final bill, like the provisions exempting senior Congressional staff from its provisions or Jim Webb's worry that some military plans were not properly exempted from the bill.
Francis Cianfrocca looks at the foolishness of Obamacare slashing the tax exemption for flexible spending accounts. Health savings accounts and other flexible spending accounts, combined with high-deductible health plans, are one of the few ways we have to impose price discipline on care itself, and that's being replaced by a plan that puts massive upward pressure on the price of insurance, at the demand side by mandating its purchase by everyone and on the cost side by imposing a battery of restrictions on insurers' ability to evaluate risk or provide choice in what kind of coverage can be included in a plan. Personally, I recently switched my family to a high-deductible plan to avoid the rising rates of full-service plans, and on top of its various other bad effects the bill will limit my ability to use pretax funds to pay for healthcare; lots of people will be in the same boat, especially small business owners and employees and others among the self-employed who may not work for large organizations.
March 19, 2010
POLITICS: No Quarter: How Left-Wing Blogs Seek To Destroy Rather Than Debate
If you have been reading or writing blogs for some time, you may recall the early, heady days of the blogosphere back around 2002-03. Many of us old-school bloggers started back then (I started writing baseball on the web in May 2000, and political blogging in August 2002; RedState wouldn't be founded until the summer of 2004). The blog world was a small town in those days, where everybody knew everybody, nobody was too big to respond to emails, comments or trackbacks (remember trackbacks?), and for all the fire of political debate, there was a broad-based sense that blogs constituted a community of interest that crossed party lines. Bloggers were glad to see recognition given to blogs and bloggers, engaged in debate across ideological lines, and in some cases informal alliances sprung up, as when blogs on the right and left alike united to drive media interest in ousting Trent Lott as GOP Senate Majority Leader after the 2002 elections over his comments about Strom Thurmond. Sites like The Command Post, which followed the blow-by-blow of the Iraq War, featured contributors from both sides of the political spectrum (myself included, along with others who would later become contributors at RedState). I don't want to overstate the degree of comity or idealize that era, but there was at least some degree of prevailing ethos that bloggers - amateurs using the internet to gather news and offer citizen punditry - had something in common even when their partisan and ideological interests diverged.
Those days are long, long gone. The coordinated and utterly predictable left-wing assault on CNN's hiring of RedState leader Erick Erickson over the past few days is merely the latest illustration of how the left side of the blogosphere sees it as its role not to debate conservative bloggers and pundits, but to destroy us and preclude us from being heard. Nobody on our side of the aisle should be under any illusion about the depths of personal enmity harbored towards us by the left blogs, nor the fact that they will spare no effort to go after us personally. These are not good people, they are not our friends, and they mean us harm.
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It's debatable when and why the change came in the blogosphere, although it's clear it was driven from the Left - in many ways, with a few exceptions like Erick and the HotAir and BigGovernment sites, the right-wing blogs are the same collection of amateur part-timers, with the same leadership and the same demeanor and methods as we had in 2002. Partly it was the Left's increasing bitterness after their thumping in the 2002 elections exposed the fiction of their view that Bush's victory in 2000 was an illegitimate aberration. Partly it was the increasing partisan temperature that came with the Iraq War. Partly it was the nature of the Online Left as people: dissatisfied with the existing order of society, often childless and thus with more time on their hands and fewer checks on perpetual immaturity, apt to treat the personal as political and the political as personal, and frequently irreligious and tending to put politics in the place where others put religion. Perhaps the influence of Markos Moulitsas as the leading figure in the left-wing blogosphere could be blamed as well, although I regard the explosive growth of Daily Kos more as a symptom than the underlying cause.
But most likely the largest cause of all was money and the lust for power. With its party leadership discredited and its official organs subject to campaign finance laws that don't regulate blogs, the Left began pouring serious money and man-hours into the blogosphere after the 2002 elections. Billionaire George Soros (also a chief funder of think tanks like John Podesta's Center for American Progress, founded in 2003) was the most prominent of these donors/investors, but hardly the only one; Arianna Huffington was another. Left-wing interest groups like SEIU and other unions mustered advertising dollars for major left-blogs, effectively putting them on retainer. That gave the blogs the tools to do activism, polling, fundraising, investigative muckracking, and simply to generate a lot of ways to go after people and waste their time. Daily Kos, TPM, MediaMatters, ThinkProgress.org, the Huffington Post...these sites were increasingly staffed by full-time employees, tasked with taking out people on the Right, in MediaMatters' case explicitly focused on conservative pundits. One by one, major left-bloggers became professionalized. Moulitsas lived off "advertising" revenue, Glenn Greenwald (already independently wealthy) got hired by Salon, Kevin Drum by Washington Monthly, Ana Marie Cox by Time, Phil Carter got paid by Slate and the Washington Post, people like Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Oliver Willis got blogging jobs straight out of college, funded by various combinations of employment by supposedly non-partisan mainstream media organizations (the Washington Post, the Atlantic Monthly) and left-wing funders; others like Jane Hamsher and John Aravosis also apparently work full-time as bloggers. Today, the WaPo employs both Klein and TPM veteran activist Greg Sargent; Washington Monthly employs Steven Benen; HuffPo employs a variety of people, including Klein's former co-blogger Nico Pitney. And a host of left-wing bloggers are regulars on MSNBC, a putatively major cable news network. By contrast, sites like RedState and the New Ledger are staffed almost entirely by volunteers with day jobs outside politics.
The professionalization of the Online Left created a sense of entitlement - left-bloggers tended not only to crusade for their policy goals, but to work for a personal seat at the table for themselves and their colleagues, becoming an interest group of their own and thus even more personally invested in the accretion of power to their own side. Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong even wrote a book entitled "Crashing the Gate" about their drive to gain power within their party. Today, left-bloggers are feted at the White House. One of the most incendiary left-wing bloggers, Matt Stoller, got a job working for Florida Congressman Alan Grayson.
What disappeared along the way was any semblance of a sense that left-wingers should debate the Right, or even accept as legitimate the existence of conservative bloggers and pundits as participants in public debate. An early sign of this came when the Washington Post hired Ben Domenech, another of RedState's founders, in 2005. Never mind that WaPo was trying to pair him with a liberal writer, or that WaPo has always had a liberal editorial page and many more liberal than conservative op-ed writers; the Online Left started a viciously gleeful, single-minded crusade to get Ben fired, coming up with one ridiculous attack on him after another. Unfortunately, they eventually found one that stuck (some plagiarized movie reviews from his college-age years), he had to leave the job, and WaPo never replaced him with another conservative blogger. Yet when the paper hired Klein (who had volunteered with the Dean campaign in 2004) and Sargent, and essentially presented them as nonpartisan pundits (as compared to the "Red America" tagline on Ben's columns) conservatives complained and continue to poke fun at them (I know I have), but never made anything like a similarly coordinated effort to get them fired. Not that we couldn't have spent time digging through their archives for choice tidbits like Klein Tweeting "f**k tim russert. f**k him with a spiky acid-tipped d**k" (although Klein has prudently buried most of his old blogs, see here, here and here).
The effort to not only disagree with conservatives but agitate to have them driven from the public square is endemic with these paid, professional left-bloggers. Sargent, Greenwald and Benen complain constantly about Dick and Liz Cheney being permitted on TV and covered in the press. Left-bloggers pressed MSNBC for some time to get rid of Pat Buchanan, despite (1) the network's overwhelming leftward tilt and (2) the fact that Buchanan isn't even a particularly good or representative spokesman for the GOP or conservatives. They campaigned to get Lou Dobbs, a populist who's similarly only vaguely conservative, off CNN. There's been a long-running campaign to attack the advertisers for Glenn Beck, and with a fair amount of success despite Beck's sterling ratings. The common thread is that the Online Left isn't content to debate these people; they want them to be defunded, unemployed and unheard by the public, while they themselves reap funding from like-minded donors and interest groups.
(In the extreme example, conservative blogger Jeff Goldstein received sufficiently threatening emails towards his then 2-year-old son from a mentally disturbed left-wing stalker that he obtained a restraining order against her.).
Which brings us to the energy and bile that these paid tools of the left have directed at CNN - which is trying to reach out to the viewers that have consistently made rival FOX News the cable-news ratings champ - in an open effort to get Erick's hiring rescinded and ensure that CNN's viewers are not exposed to his opinions. The volume of material churned out by the left blogs, especially the paid ones, is too massive for me to excerpt or link it all here, but I'll offer a few samples:
-An organized campaign to flood CNN, especially its Twitter feed and those of its employees and on-air personalities, with complaints, and to pressure its advertisers to try to get Erick fired, was ginned up by nasty, foul-mouthed left-blogger Shoq. The campaign includes a "DumpCNN" Twitter feed (at last check: 89 tweets just since Tuesday). Some sample tweets from Shoq and DumpCNN:
-Eric Boehlert, paid staffer for Media Matters, has griped at length about Erick's hiring on his Twitter feed and the MMFA website, comparing him unfavorably to such solons of non-partisan news commentary as former Clinton campaign staffers Paul Begala and James Carville (while ignoring entirely why CNN wanted Erick - not just as an effort to win back viewers from Fox but because of his growing influence as an activist voice for the next generation of Republicans). Boehlert promoted the "DumpCNN" twitter feed and tweeted complaints at CNN. Perhaps Boehlert's most hilarious tweet was his claim that "the weird part is the Left doesn't have an Erick Erickson for CNN to hire; somebody that hateful and unethical to pontificate." (Apparently he's forgotten, among too many other examples to cite here, Moulitsas' famous reaction of "screw them" to the death of American contractors in Iraq).
-Moulitsas' initial reaction on Twitter was a lame joke, before stepping up to gripe, "HIs dream job is Al Qaida. CNN just a stepping stone." See also this, this, and a handful of retweets of other people.
-Greenwald similarly started off with something lame, then got gradually unhinged:
-Salon was similarly apoplectic: "What was CNN thinking with latest hire?" The Salon article called Erick a "spinner," which is kind of a ridiculous argument considering that CNN already employs Begala and Carville; Begala is the Platonic embodiment of spin. But the Salon article nonetheless admitted that "Erickson is remarkably well plugged into the Republican establishment these days, and is a good barometer of where tea partiers will end up -- he was one of the earliest supporters of both Doug Hoffman and Marco Rubio, for example."
-Willis pestered Ed Henry of CNN on Twitter here, here, here, and declared here, "feel like ed henry is reading now and realizing what a mistake he made defending erickson. heh." More Willis tweets here, here, here, here, here and here.
-Benen tweeted that "CNN's Erickson hire marks a genuinely sad for American journalism" and went after Erick's hiring at length from his paid position at Washington Monthly here, naturally with the disclaimer he always adds, when arguing against putting conservatives on television, that of course he's not against putting conservatives on television, just whoever he happens to be writing about in a given post.
-Greg Mitchell, formerly of the defunct Editor & Publisher, complained about CNN even wanting to recapture viewers disenchanted with the network's reputation for disdain for conservatives and conservative viewpoints: "Why are those "the very people" John [King] hopes to reach?"
-Atrios, at one time a prominent left-wing blogger, whined, "dear cnn, "the best political team" by definition cannot include someone as stupid as erick erickson" Atrios then went on to tweet his complaints to CNN's Twitter feed while passing along something Erick supposedly wrote "Three days before CNN hires" him, although the post was obviously dated 2008.
-Crooks and Liars went after Erick at length here:
Red State is the heavily-funded, longstanding arm of the Republican wingnut online noise machine. Erickson is a propaganda-spinner, a liar and a troll.
I don't know where these guys get their ideas about RS' funding. If we were enormously well-funded, I think I'd know about that. The post that had to be edited for failing even Crooks and Liars' low standards for accuracy when it claimed:
When I worked for CNN Interactive, RedStaters were paid to troll our political discussions and disrupt them, especially during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Back then, CNN locked them off the site. Now they pay them to troll in real time, on the air.
RS, of course, wasn't founded until 2004, and Erick's still the only paid blogger on the site; the idea that we could pay people to comment on the CNN website is ludicrous on its face. (The post now claims that "Freepers" were paid to do this, but as far as I know, FreeRepublic has never had that kind of cash either).
-More examples from lower-level left-wing blogs here ("What in the hell is CNN thinking? And John King? Is he harboring a grudge against Glenn Greenwald and to get back at him has employed someone who would be more at home in the hate talk ghetto?"), here, here (for a reaction of " shocked discuss"), and here.
Conservatives, of course, have our own grievances with media bias, but one longstanding difference is that we generally don't argue against major outlets employing liberal commentators who are labeled as such; the problem more typically is a 1-2 punch of not pairing them with good, or any, representatives from the Right, while passing off liberals and former Democratic staffers as objective journalists. It might be a good thing for the networks and major newspapers to put more bloggers, from both sides, on the air and in print, and let the consumer decide. But to the Left, that means only bloggers from their side need apply, and you risk an organized campaign against your sponsors if you try to give a conservative blogger a job. This is a mindset that goes all the way up to the President of the United States, who despite receiving mostly worshipfully deferential press coverage during his run for the presidency was and is obsessed with Fox News.
Ironically, while most of the ire directed at Erick has been fueled by a handful of his more bomb-throwing posts (I don't dispute that he's provocative, and has even used the "f" word on very rare occasions his tweets, albeit never on RedState, which has an anti-profanity site policy we all support), many of the people doing the complaining produce vast volumes of far more offensive and foul-mouthed stuff; they just rely on the fact that nobody on the Right has paid staff with the time to comb through it all. Meanwhile, besides being a hugely influential activist, Erick's been campaigning actively both against corruption in the GOP establishment and things like birtherism at the grassroots, and has taken his share of flak for those stands. As a city councilman, he's also an elected official dealing with the problems of government at the ground level. But then, none of this is really about Erick at all; it's a replay of the attacks on Ben and will be repeated again whenever a conservative (an actual one, not a neutered yes-man like David Brooks) gets televised or published outside of explicitly conservative media. And especially when it's a conservative blogger. They're not interested in debate. They're only interested in destroying us.
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March 18, 2010
POLITICS: Legislative Make-Believe
Andrew Hyman walks through why the "Slaughter Solution" - i.e., pretend to have passed the Senate healthcare bill through the House without actually voting on the language of the same bill that passes the Senate, in flagrant violation of the Presentment Clause of Article I of the Constitution - is not at all like other "deem and pass" procedures used in the past. Of course, it's debatable whether some of the prior maneuvers are entirely kosher under Article I either, but one thing about the "Gephardt rule" discussed by Hyman (the name of which should identify which party cooked it up in the first place) is that at least it doesn't involve the House changing its own rules mid-stream after different bills have passed the House and Senate; when the vote is taken under that rule, everyone already knows what the procedure will be and must calculate and justify their political position accordingly. (Worse yet, the reconciliation procedure the Democrats are proposing presupposes that if parts of the deemed-passed bill are stripped out by the Senate, there will be no opportunity for the House to see the bill again, meaning that House members are being asked to buy a pig in a poke).
Besides it being terrible politics to use such obvious gimmickry, "deem and pass" seems politically pointless - nobody's going to buy that their Congressman who voted for the rule didn't effectively vote for the bill - and legally dangerous, since the Supreme Court has twice in the past quarter century (INS v. Chadha and Clinton v. City of New York) affirmed that it will strike down violations of the Presentment Clause, when the resulting enactment is challenged by citizens, states or municipalities adversely affected by its terms. The Court doesn't like to get involved in the internal affairs of Congress, but if there's one thing in Article I that's so basic that any viewer of Schoolhouse Rock will remember it and the Court will enforce it, it's that the same bill has to pass both houses before it becomes a law. I cannot possibly imagine a worse outcome for the Democrats than moving heaven and earth to pass Obamacare, and incur the political price for doing so, only to have it struck down by the Supreme Court - perhaps after they have lost their commanding majorities in Congress - on the grounds that they essentially cheated by changing the rules in the middle of the game to pass something that wouldn't pass under the traditional rules.
March 16, 2010
POLITICS: The Right To Surf
Meet John Smith. John is a surfer by trade. He dreams of competitive surfing; his walls are decorated with posters of famous surfers. But he has just one problem: here in his home town of Dubuque, Iowa, he can only surf small streams and brooks. "Sometimes, I just stand there on my board, waiting and waiting for some kid to throw a rock so I can have a ripple to surf on," says Smith, a vacant, far-away look coming into his grey eyes. "I bring a book with me to kill time. It's sad and frustrating. We don't have access to high-speed, high-volume waves here in Dubuque. My kids ask me when we're going to get them. I tell them, I just don't know."
But help is on the way: the Obama Administration promises to use billions of dollars in stimulus funds to build professional-quality wave machines in every zip code by 2014, to help connect surfers like John Smith to the world wide wave culture.
Seriously, this CNN sob story about lack of high-speed internet access in some markets is not much better. We'd all like to see more high-speed broadband, but since when is it a right guaranteed by the federal government? And is Uncle Sam really not spending enough money already on things we might want but don't need?
March 15, 2010
Good friend and RedState colleague Neil Stevens has launched Unlikely Voter, a new poll-analysis site. Go check it ouand get in on the ground floor of what is sure to be a busy site this election season. The initial explanatory post looks at the Specter/Sestak Senate primary race in Pennsylvania.
Neil is RS' resident tech/math guy, and aims to provide some mathematical rigor to the space already inhabited by RealClearPolitics' multi-poll averaging and Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com; while both of those sites are useful, RCP is an apples-and-oranges snapshot rather than an analysis site, and Silver's site, while superficially impressive, is too often driven by advocacy and in some cases apparent vendettas against particular polling firms, and tends at times to overstate the degree of certainty in its models, which tend to assume that all trends will continue indefinitely (like when Silver constructed a polling model predicting approval of same-sex marriage in 2009 by the following states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nevada, Washington, Alaska, New York, Oregon) or tend to predict things like legislative votes that can't reliably be predicted with mathematical models.
We really have never had a satisfactory replacement in this space for Gerry Daly's site, and hopefully Neil will fill that gap.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:27 PM | Politics 2010 | Poll Analysis | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2010
POLITICS: Taranto Sinks Paul Krugman's Battleship
March 3, 2010
POLITICS: Stark Raving Chairman
So, with the ethically-challenged tax-evading Charles Rangel temporarily stepping down from running the House's tax-writing committee (Ways and Means; this as opposed to the tax-evading Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, who's in charge of enforcing the tax code, and the head of the Senate's tax-writing commitee, Max Baucus, who for variety's sake had a sex scandal involving a staffer/girlfriend he tried to get appointed US Attorney), the Democrats have turned to the next in line by seniority, 79-year-old San Francisco paleoliberal Fortney "Pete" Stark. What could possibly go wrong? Brian Faughnan collects some of the greatest hits of the craziest man in Congress here; I've looked previousy at Stark's lunacy here; Moe Lane asks whether Stark's memory problems are the result of lack of integrity, generalized confusion or something genuinely wrong with him here.
POLITICS: Ezra Klein, Underpants Gnome
Should President Obama politicize the Federal Reserve? If so, what would he accomplish? Ezra Klein of the Washington Post seems to think he should, and that this would somehow magically create jobs - but you would look long and hard for an explanation of how this would work.
For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Klein is the Washington Post's resident left-wing blogger (as opposed to its resident left-wing activist, Greg Sargent, or its resident right-wing bloggers or activists...of which it employs none) and one of the prime examples of a paid, professional left-wing blogger who has never held a job besides blogger/pundit. Klein is well-read, wonkish and earnest to a fault - he's perhaps the last man in Washington who takes government financial projections at face value - but often comically insulated from how the world works, and why. I follow his Twitter feed in large part for the entertainment value of watching him attempt to navigate the most mundane daily tasks - he gives off the impression of a man who can't brush his teeth in the morning without a position paper telling him how. I suppose in some ways I was like that myself once, but then I went to law school, got married, got a job, kids, a house, a mortgage...the sort of things that force you to engage the world at a level other than theory.
Anyway, Klein posted yesterday on his enthusiasm for a piece by Neil Irwin, also in the WaPo, on the opening of a third vacancy at the Fed and what it could mean for monetary policy going forward. Klein writes:
When people talk about the need for Democrats and the administration to focus on jobs, nothing they could get through Congress could plausibly be half as important as maximizing their long-term impact on the composition of the Federal Reserve....
Klein further enthused on Twitter that his post was "something major the Obama administration actually could do about the jobs situation, but hasn't." Except, nowhere does he actually get around to explaining how the Obama Administration putting its "imprint" or "impact" or "arguments" on the Federal Reserve Board would change Fed policy, let alone create jobs where none exist today. It's Underpants Gnomes logic: Step one: appoint left-wingers to the Fed. Step two: ??? Step three: Profit!
To get even a vague idea of how Klein expects this to work, you have to dig into the 18th through 21st paragraphs of Irwin's story:
At the moment, Fed officials are unified behind a policy of ultra-low interest rates to support the economy. But as the economy improves, some officials, especially presidents of regional Fed banks, are likely to be more eager than Bernanke to raise interest rates and drain the money supply, even at the risk of slowing the recovery. There are early signs of those pressures emerging, including a decision by Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig to dissent at the last policymaking meeting, preferring not to promise to leave rates low for an "extended period."
You see here a glimmer of why Klein is hesitant to come right out and say what he thinks. First, we have the already unsavory suggestion that the Fed should be treated as just another bureaucracy to be captured by the Left through the appointment of ideologues to supposedly non-partisan "career" positions. Klein doesn't seem to know what a central bank is. The Fed can act rapidly and in incredible size during a crisis, and without checks and balances (aka, Republicans). At a time when the Left feels hemmed in by the traditional political process at every step, the Fed looks like the one institution that can be the archetypical "man of action." The Fed needs that independence - it's core to the mission of an inflation-fighting central bank - but it's also the reason Congress allowed the Fed to be formed only with great trepidation and after 100 years of bitter debate, why its long, staggered terms tend to resist partisan Fed-packing, and why it's emergency powers should be narrowly circumscribed and not extended into an ongoing, wholesale economic-emergency state that supplants political decisionmaking by the elected branches rather than a traditional central bank focused laser-like on a stable currency.
On the merits, Klein's invocation of Irwin's piece is even more menacing. The unnamed "liberal economists" mentioned here are essentially arguing for an inflationary policy of keeping interest rates artificially low, rather than focusing on keeping the currency stable, which is supposed to be what central bankers' job is. While economic observers are divided on the importance of various contributing factors to the recent financial crisis, many smart observers argue that the Fed made the problem worse by keeping interest rates artificially low for too long, thus artificially reducing the cost of borrowing to invest in real estate, thus artificially inflating the asset bubble in real estate (at a minimum, the Fed did nothing to prevent the dynamics of an asset bubble from playing out the way asset bubbles do). The policy that Irwin describes with some skepticism, but which Klein apparently views as a godsend, runs the risk of repeating the exact same mistake and reinflating the same bubble. There are signs that we already have that problem; whether that worries you or not, we shouldn't be advocating putting people on the Fed with an ideological agenda of exacerbating that process.
That's the optimistic scenario. As Irwin notes, the pessimistic scenario is based on the fact that banks that lend at low rates get blindsided when inflation devalues their returns on those loans - thus, while easy money can cause inflation, fears of easy money causing inflation can simultaneously drive up interest rates and stifle job growth. That's called stagflation - inflation plus high interest rates and high unemployment - and while Ezra Klein isn't old enough to remember it from the Jimmy Carter era, in which interest rates cracked 20%, those of us who are do not want a Fed that thinks it's an acceptable risk to run. (Indeed, it was the Fed under Paul Volcker that played a crucial role, along with the Reagan Administration, in breaking the back of stagflation and setting the stage for the booms of the 1980s and 1990s, even at the short-term cost of making the recession even worse).
Some degree of politics in Fed appointments is inevitable, and moreso given the vast powers the Fed has accrued in recent years. But Obama's reappointment of Ben Bernanke, the Fed chair appointed by George W. Bush, and his grudgingly bipartisan confirmation by the Senate, is a reminder that even in the hyper-partisan Obama Era, there are some parts of the government in which nearly everyone recognizes that it's still dangerous to put ideology and partisan self-interest above predictability and stability. Klein's suggestion that Obama tilt the Fed towards the abyss of asset bubbles or stagflation is a reminder that a lack of common sense and experience can be a dangerous thing.
February 22, 2010
POLITICS: Scott Brown, Ron Paul, The CPAC Straw Poll and 2012
Let's talk just a little about the 2012 presidential election. I'd like to make three related points:
(1) Nobody should be touting Scott Brown as a 2012 presidential candidate.
(2) The GOP is going to be picking from a bench that is short on candidates with the experience we need.
(3) It's a good thing that Ron Paul won the "straw poll" of 2012 candidates at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week.
Now, as a general rule, it's not a great time for Republicans and conservatives to be talking about the 2012 election. We have more than enough on our plates fighting the policy battles (Obamacare and otherwise) that will dominate the rest of the year, as well as the numerous elections to be contested in 2010. In fact, the Right has benefitted - much as the Left did in 2005-06 - from its lack of a single, identifiable leader; as hard as the Obama White House has tried to personalize attacks on its critics, the absence of a single leader to pick on means that voters' attention has remained fixed on Obama's own failures (and rightly so, given the overwhelming majorities he has in both Houses of Congress). But sometimes it's necessary to head off problems before they develop.
Scott Brown For ... Senator
Since Scott Brown's stunning victory in the special Senate election in Massachusetts in January, he's been the man in demand for Republicans everywhere who are looking to rub off some of the magic that allowed him to win the first GOP Senate seat in the Bay State in decades. Inevitably, there have been rumblings here and there about running Brown for president in 2012 against Obama - hey, he can win in Massachusetts, why not?
Hold on there, tiger.
First of all, analysis by following the latest shift in the wind is the worst kind of punditry. A good number of the people touting Brown, a fairly liberal but populist New England Republican, were touting conservative (and also newly-elected) Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell back in November, in both cases because of the whole "shiny new toy" factor. A new candidate who hasn't had time to accumulate baggage, make compromises and make enemies always looks appealing, because you can wishcast all sorts of things onto them. But that's a lousy way to pick a potential president or a potential national candidate.
McDonnell, at least, is a plausible national figure, if you add in some experience and he compiles a successful track record in office - he's already been the state Attorney General, and is embarking on a term as the state's chief executive, the closest thing our political system offers (in some ways even moreso than the Vice Presidency) to good training to be President. And running and hopefully governing as a conservative in a "purple" state, McDonnell could conceivably build a record that makes him appealing both to Republican primary voters and the voters of his own state.
Not so for Scott Brown. One can hope that Brown's populist campaign stands as a reminder to him, as he serves, that there are some conservative principles that are enduringly popular even in Massachusetts. But the simple reality is that the voters in Brown's state won't re-elect him in 2012 if he starts acting like a guy who's thinking as a Republican presidential candidate, and Republican primary voters won't warm to him if he votes as a Massachusetts Republican. We saw how well it worked out in 2008 for Mitt Romney, who bailed out on running for re-election in 2006 only to be rejected by GOP presidential primary voters in 2008. The most conspicuous issue on which this is the case is abortion, the subject of some of Romney's most glaring flip-flops and a significant Achilles heel as well for serious GOP candidates like Rudy Giuliani; Brown is something of a moderate on the issue, but remains essentially pro-choice, and while there's plenty of room in the tent for guys like that, it would be a non-starter for someone running to lead a basically pro-life party (the failure of Rudy's campaign has largely convinced me that this is a circle that may just be impossible to square because it leaves the candidate with too little margin for error in other ways). You could pick more examples down the line of less-prominent issues.
Brown, to his credit, has mostly laughed at the idea, but for his own good, he'd be better served if he closed the door on it entirely and emphatically, and moreover resisted the temptation to let other Republican candidates drag him all over the map to campaign for them. Presidential daydreams are bad for the longeitvity of politicians who depend on their regular-guy image, and national Republican politics is hazardous to anybody who wants to get re-elected in Massachusetts.
There's a more fundamental problem with the talkof running Brown in 2012: it suggests that some pundits and activists haven't learned anything from Barack Obama. Brown is a legislator. He's served a couple terms in the State Senate, and being in the minority doesn't have a lot of accomplishments. He's held down a part-time law practice. He's won precisely one statewide election, and has yet to make any mark in Washington. In other words, his resume is just about exactly the same as Barack Obama's in 2008.
We've seen in practice the many ways in which Obama's total lack of any of the traditional types of experience we look for in a president - executive experience, national security experience, political and political leadership experience, military combat service, or private sector business experience - has caught up with him. He's made one rookie mistake after another, and even his defenders at this point have to acknowledge that his struggles, especially in managing his legislative agenda, have derived from a fair number of unforced strategic errors borne of a misunderstanding of how to run a presidency - overreaching, trying to do too many things at once, ceding too much authority to Congress, promising things he couldn't deliver. Having never run anything before, he accentuated his own weaknesses by selecting a Vice President, Cabinet and White House staff heavy on generalist legislators and Chicagoans, light on executives and people with useful specialized expertise, and almost barren of people familiar with the private sector. This, in turn, had secondary consequences (legislators and bureaucrats are more apt than your typical businessman to not bother paying their taxes). Nor is this the first time the Democrats have made this particular mistake - in 2004, they had as their Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards, whose only tenure in public office was a single term as a Senator, to which he had no realistic chance of being re-elected, prior to which he had run a small (though profitable) personal injury law practice. Like Obama, Edwards had no executive experience, no real legislative accomplishments, no experience with national security issues, no experience working in any other sort of private business and no military service record.
Republicans are supposed to know better. The absolute last thing the GOP should be doing in 2012 is letting Obama off the hook - or running the risk of electing a candidate who puts America through the same thing - by nominating somebody who suffers the same weaknesses, however good a Senate candidate he may be or however good a Senator he may become.
A Time For Leadership
I have not picked a horse yet for 2012, and would caution anyone against doing so before the 2010 elections are over. That being said, I do know what I want: I want a candidate who can bring the kind of proven leadership experience to the table that we lack in our current president, ideally over some length of time. I want a candidate who has some record of having and standing for principles against adversity. And in light of the ugly record of the McCain, Dole, Kerry, McGovern and Goldwater campaigns, among others, I'd really rather not run a Senator, or someone else whose public career is largely or wholly as a legislator. The presidency is still an executive job, after all.
I'm realistic that we may have less than ideal choices - every presidential election season requires settling for the best of what you have in front of you, and even the best candidates have their drawbacks. As of now, we appear to have only two candidates (Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney) who seem certain to run, though many others are possibles. A number of members of the Senate and House are reportedly thinking of running, several of whom are smart, principled people, excellent at the jobs they now do. Two of our potentially leading contenders (Romney and Sarah Palin) are one-term Governors, in Palin's case a term she resigned before completing. Both are undoubtedly more experienced than Obama - besides being state-level chief executives, Romney had a long and successful career as a business executive, Palin spent the better part of 17 years in a variety of offices including being a mayor and heading the state oil and gas commission, and both had already accomplished more by 2008 than Obama ever had - but are nonetheless a good deal lighter on experience than I'd like to see. (Long-time readers know my issues with Romney; I haven't ruled out supporting Palin in the primaries but really will take a long look at the alternatives first). Several of the party's possible brightest stars in the Governor's mansions - Bobby Jindal, McDonnell, Chris Christie - will not be scheduled to complete their first terms until 2011 or 2013.
Part of the problem is the shortage of GOP Governors elected or re-elected in 2006 or re-elected in 2008, the cycles when you'd look to be getting people ready to make the next step. There are at present only 15 sitting GOP Governors who have been re-elected at least once, and that’s the pool you would ordinarily look to; there's only a few others up to be elected for a second time in 2010. One of the 15 is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's legally ineligible for the presidency. One is Mark Sanford, who took himself out of the running with personal scandal. Others are plainly too liberal to run as GOP standard-bearers: Linda Lingle, Jodi Rell, Jim Douglas. Jon Hoeven is running for the Senate, as is Charlie Crist, who'd otherwise be up for re-election in 2010. Jon Hunstmann left office to pursue an ambassadorship to China. That leaves an eight-man bench:
CPAC Chooses None of the Above
The media has tried out various angles on the news that Ron Paul won the 2012 straw poll at this year's CPAC, winning around 740 votes out of the 2,395 people who voted in the poll, itself a subset of the 10,000+ attendees. Some might take it as a sign of some vitality for Paul-ism, or whatever. To me, what it says is this: yes, Ron Paul's people remain organized and energized in their own way, but the real story is that (1) nobody else has either a naturally strong enough constituency among conservative activists to beat Paul without trying (and straw polls are all about trying) and (2) nobody else was willing to put resources into winning a poll of this nature before the 2010 elections.
That's good news all around. Good news for the candidates because people like Romney, Pawlenty, Palin, Mike Huckabee and others are still prioritizing the 2010 races and policy battles, trying to get other Republicans elected and defeat bad legislation. That's a lesson we Republicans and conservatives want them all to get. And good news for the movement that people are willing to send those candidates, and any other prospective 2012 aspirants, a message: you still have a lot to prove to us. For a movement that has regained its momentum mostly from the ground up over the past year, and that faces lingering doubts as to how well its current and future leaders have learned the lessons of past mistakes, that's maybe the best news of all.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:33 PM | Politics 2010 | Politics 2012 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
February 19, 2010
POLITICS: The "P" Word
I know I linked to him once already today, but Francis Cianfrocca's column on Medicare Advantage - which is very much worth reading in full - neatly summarizes, in response to criticism from Obama and Pelosi, why it is necessary for businesses with shareholders to make a profit:
Everyone gets that you have to pay salaries to the people who do the work for you. But you also have to pay the people who provide the capital to start and grow the business (and create the jobs) in the first place. That obligation never goes away. Even though Nancy Pelosi has recently been howling about the fact that insurance companies make billions in profits, she never stops to think that: A) we wouldn't have large, efficient insurance providers without capital; and B) the health insurance sector provides terrible returns to investors relative to other sectors because it's already over-regulated; and C) most of those profits are used by pension funds to write monthly checks to retirees.
POLITICS: 2/19/10 Quick Links
*The NY Times finally releases its expose on David Paterson, which has been relentlessly hyped by leaks, perhaps driven by the Andrew Cuomo camp (Cuomo undoubtedly wants to avoid another racially divisive primary; certainly Rick Lazio thinks the Times is flacking for Cuomo). The story is decidedly underwhelming if you're looking for sexy details, but fairly damning nonetheless in its portrayal of a governor who's just not that on top of things. It's impossible to avoid the fact that being functionally illiterate (Paterson, who of course is blind, does not read Braille) is a serious impairment for a governor.
*Mickey Kaus explains through the example of the weatherization program how the political power of unions - specifically the Davis-Bacon Act - has crippled even the best-intentioned plans to use stimulus money to put people immediately to work.
On a related note, Francis Cianfrocca notes the New York Times' compliants about job-creation programs that are aimed at private sector jobs rather than the public sector. Robert Gibbs, at Wednesday's press briefing, implicitly admitted the same thing - the main benefit of the stimulus has gone to government workers (this is aside from the fact that in many cases, governments just gave raises to existing workers rather than hiring new ones):
Q Robert, following on that, one of the criticisms Republicans keep harping on is that the President promised that the jobs that would be saved or created would be about 90 percent private sector, and Republicans keep pointing out that it's woefully inadequate in that department; it's mostly been government-related jobs, public sector jobs, not private sector jobs. And it's important obviously to save public sector jobs as well. It's nowhere near what the President promised. How do you account for that?
Q On the stimulus, I want to give you a chance to respond to something that Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, said this morning about the Recovery Act, and I'm quoting him directly here now: "The other fiction we need to dispense with is this 'saved and created' nonsense." I'm still quoting: "I don't know what that is. I don't know what that looks like. And if I can't put my fingers on it, if I can't touch it, and if I can't get up at 6:00 in the morning and go to work there, then it's not happening. And that's the reality of a lot of people right now."
That's your Obama Administration economic growth strategy, folks. And yes, it ties into the repeated remarks over the years by President and Mrs. Obama denigrating private sector employment and bemoaning that more people don't go to work in "public service" jobs (whose salaries must be funded by private sector workers), and into Obama's proposal to forgive student loan debt for public service workers, giving yet another leg up to public sector employment. That's why what Chris Christie is doing in New Jersey in standing up to the public sector's 'government of the government, by the government, for the government' mindset is so important. Christie's a great spokesman on this issue because he worked as a government lawyer - and lawyers are the one profession in which government workers make only a fraction of the salaries they could earn in private practice.
*Weather is not Climate. Michael Fumento and James Taranto have some fun at the expense of those on the Left who have ignored that point in the past and now have to face public mockery from those parts of the country experiencing an unseasonably cold or snowy winter. Of course, the Anthropogenic Global Warming crowd stubbornly clings to the argument that any weather - warmer, colder, stormier, less stormy - is proof of the theory, but he who lives by the anecdote dies by it as well.
February 18, 2010
POLITICS: Kudlow For Senate?
I've suspected for some time now that the California Senate race against Barbara Boxer was basically the high-watermark Senate race for the GOP - that is, the toughest race that has a non-trivial chance to be winnable if everything breaks just right. But the recent withdrawal of Evan Bayh from his own re-election race in Indiana (not as "safe" a seat as Boxer's, given Indiana's natural Republican tilt, but an entrenched incumbent with a $13 million warchest) is a reminder, as was Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, that you really never know where your opportunities are until you press them.
The GOP in New York is already stretched fairly thin trying to fight a two-front war against what should be vulnerable candidates, Gov. David Paterson (who is basically doomed, but likely will be replaced as the Democratic nominee by the more formidable Attorney General Andrew Cuomo) and his Senate appointee, Kirsten Gillibrand (who should emerge successful from what nonetheless promises to be a vigorous challenge from former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford). Former Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio is the leading contender to be Republican nominee in the Governor's race, while the Senate field lacks even a candidate as mildly well-known as Lazio, assuming George Pataki resists entreaties to run.
Now, with polls showing the generally invulnerable-seeming Chuck Schumer bleeding popularity, Republicans may open a third front if they can talk longtime CNBC/National Review economics commentator Larry Kudlow into running. Kudlow was previously mentioned as a possible Senate contender against Chris Dodd before the field lined up in Connecticut, but New Yorkers aren't generally that picky about that sort of thing, at least in Senate races. Kudlow would lock up the Conservative Party nod, which always helps.
As the Daily News warns:
Schumer is a formidable opponent. While Wall Street might not be as happy with him as it once was, he still has managed to amass a whopping $19.3 million worth of campaign cash.
Schumer is a relentless campaigner and, with the likely departure of Harry Reid, may end up running to be the leader of the Senate Democrats next spring. I can't say I see a realistic path to beat him, from where we stand today, and Kudlow's a political novice. That said, you gotta be in it to win it, as the saying goes; if something else comes out to drive Schumer down, you'd hate to not have a horse in the race. And even if Schumer does end up winning handily, if he's forced to devote his time and money to running his own race instead of propping up Gillibrand and other Democrats around the country, Kudlow will have accomplished something.
February 17, 2010
POLITICS: Mugged By Reality
I have not previously followed the work of San Francisco political reporter Benjamin Wachs of SF Weekly; apparently he's an increasingly cynical and disenchanted liberal following the ever-appalling doings of San Francisco city government. Thanks to the heads-up from Josh Trevino, it's worth taking a little time to look over Wachs' uproariously acid farewell to his beat, which practically defines "going out in a blaze of glory." Seriously, read the whole thing.
The real meat, though, is in a lengthier article by Wachs and Joe Eskenazi from December on how San Francisco is, in their view, "The Worst-Run Big City in the U.S.":
It's time to face facts: San Francisco is spectacularly mismanaged and arguably the worst-run big city in America. This year's city budget is an astonishing $6.6 billion - more than twice the budget for the entire state of Idaho - for roughly 800,000 residents. Yet despite that stratospheric amount, San Francisco can't point to progress on many of the social issues it spends liberally to tackle - and no one is made to answer when the city comes up short.
The article is a long one, and filled with horrifying detail of the city's incompetence and dysfunction, like this one, which manages to combine reckless overspending, bait-and-switches with the voters, and head-poundingly foolish naivete in dealing with dangerous and violent people:
Back in 1999, San Francisco voters were pitched a $299 million bond to "save" Laguna Honda Hospital as a 1,200-bed facility for the city's frail, elderly population. Who doesn't want to help the frail and elderly? A decade later, the Department of Public Works project is still incomplete, its price tag has swelled by nearly $200 million, and the hospital is slated to hold only 780 beds - so the city is going massively overbudget to construct a hospital only 65 percent as large as promised, which is four years behind schedule.
The accounts of shreiking outrage from nonprofits and unions at the idea of measuring results or holding people accountable are equally familiar. For all of liberalism's pretensions to being "reality-based," the recipients of its largesse are remarkably shy about letting anybody test whether any of their ideas actually work. All of this supports a conclusion that is wearyingly familiar to any observer of American big-city liberalism in action:
The intrusion of politics into government pushes the city to enter long-term labor contracts it obviously can't afford, and no one is held accountable. A belief that good intentions matter more than results leads to inordinate amounts of government responsibility being shunted to nonprofits whose only documented achievement is to lobby the city for money. Meanwhile, piles of reports on how to remedy these problems go unread. There's no outrage, and nobody is disciplined, so things don't get fixed.
Ask residents of Detroit, or Oakland, or Washington DC, or Memphis, or Baltimore, or pre-Giuliani New York, or pre-Katrina New Orleans, or any number of other big American cities, and you'll hear a similar refrain; San Francisco may well be the worst, but it's hardly alone. And as Wachs and Eskenazi note, San Francisco can in some ways get away with things other cities with fewer natural advantages can't (see: Detroit). That said, Wachs and Eskenazi have produced an unusually detailed and comprehensive indictment of their city's one-party government. Read it and pass it on to anyone you know who hasn't yet digested why the rest of the country traditionally mistrusts giving more money and power to big-city liberals.
February 11, 2010
POLITICS: So, What Did You Do?
America's 42nd president, Bill Clinton, was reportedly hospitalized with chest pains this afternoon in New York. Hopefully he'll be fine, but naturally any threat to his health puts one in mind of the man's legacy as a two-term president.
What struck me is this: when he was president, there was endless debate about Bill Clinton. Was he a liberal at heart who tacked to the center for pragmatic reasons, or was he essentially a moderate? Was he wasting his prodigious political talents, or was campaigning all he really knew to do well anyway? Did he revive liberalism from its decline, or validate the Reagan Revolution?
But nine years after he left office, as his presidency begins to recede into history and his party has passed to new leadership, this much is clear: it doesn't matter anymore what Clinton's intentions were, or what his talents were, or what he believed in. It doesn't matter anymore who was up or who was down in his Administration, or who leaked what to which newspaper, or how he went about making decisions. It doesn't matter who the public blamed or what the polls said. It doesn't matter what Clinton said, either - we remember a few stock phrases (other than the embarrassing ones about his various scandals, probably his most enduring line was his campaign's standing reminder to then-candidate Clinton that "It's the economy, stupid").
What matters from the Clinton Administration is what the president and his Administration did, and what it failed to do. Thus, for example, Clinton's fiscal and economic legacy was not Hillarycare or the BTU tax, which went nowhere, nor was it the Contract with America, but rather an essentially centrist set of compromises with the GOP that yielded income tax hikes, capital gains tax cuts, welfare reform, fits of spending restraint but few spending cuts, major free trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT, and a series of both regulatory and deregulatory bills on the workplace, private securities litigation, and the financial markets. The book isn't closed yet on the ripples from that era, but the decisions made, the bills passed, the judges appointed, the wars fought and unfought, etc., are done, and as historians debate President Clinton's legacy, that is what they will examine. The same will be true of George W. Bush.
And the same will be true of Barack Obama. Obama is known for his eloquence, but little he says is remembered the next day, and still less will live on after him. Obama spends much of his days pointing fingers of blame - at the Bush Administration, at Congressional Republicans - but blame is not a legacy. Obama's true intentions are subject to as much debate as Clinton's or George W. Bush's, or for that matter FDR's or Lincoln's, but only his record will really matter.
Which ought to give him pause. Obama entered office with an unprecedented base of support in Congress - even FDR didn't have a filibuster-proof majority in his first year in office - and yet it is hard to think of a modern two-term president who accomplished less, either legislatively or in international affairs, than Obama in his first year. Even Clinton, for all the frustrations of his first year in office, got his tax hike package passed.
Unlike Clinton or Bush, Obama's political obituary is far from written. But we should not lose sight of the fact that when it is, all the rhetoric and the news cycles will pale in comparison to that awful question: what did you do with the time that was given to you?
February 9, 2010
POLITICS: Lame Blame
All presidential Administrations talk down their predecessors, both to lay blame for problems inherited and - it's usually helpful if you have this part too - to show forward progress by contrast to what came before. But never in my lifetime have I seen a president so fixated on his predecessor as Barack Obama. Megan McArdle, who has been given more than enough reason by now to regret voting for the man, asks in the context of the massive expansion of the budget deficit when enough is enough:
[A]t some point, Obama has to take responsibility. Listening to his defenders reminds me of those people who sit around whining about how their Dad was really distant and critical . . . I mean, fine, you apparently had a rotten childhood, but Dad can't get come and get you off the couch and find you a girlfriend and a better job. Girls and employers get really creeped out if they try.
POLITICS: No Better Option
Via Pejman, who looks at other examples of the man's elegant argument style, a brilliantly simple distillation by Milton Friedman of the core of the case for free markets and free enterprise:
POLITICS/SCIENCE: The NY Times' IPCC Alibi Falls Flat
One and a half cheers to the NY Times for the article "Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel," which admits to some of the scientific and ethical problems facing the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri. But the Times being the Times, while it lays out some of the damning facts, it omits key damaging details (especially regarding the egregiously amateurish nature of the IPCC's errors regarding the Himalayan glaciers) and otherwise spends the rest of the article trying to explain away Dr. Pachauri's problems, with hilarious results.
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The most hilarious of these is the Times' effort to instruct you, the reader, on why there's no financial conflict of interest in payments received by Dr. Pachauri from various businesses with interests in the panel's work - emphasis mine:
Several of the recent accusations have proved to be half-truths: While Dr. Pachauri does act as a paid consultant and adviser to many companies, he makes no money from these activities, he said. The payments go to the Energy and Resources Institute, the prestigious nonprofit research center based in Delhi that he founded in 1982 and still leads, where the money finances charitable projects like Lighting a Billion Lives, which provides solar lanterns in rural India.
Sounds like those critics are way off base, right? The man gives all the money to charity. So, where does his money come from?
Dr. Pachauri, 69, said the only work income he received was a salary from the Energy and Resources Institute: about $49,000, according to his 2009 Indian tax return, which he provided to The New York Times. The return also lists $16,000 in other income, most of it interest on accounts in Indian banks.
That's right: his primary source of income is his employment by the same entity that receives the payments! This is like saying that a lawyer makes no money off bringing clients to her firm...which then pays her salary.
In response to the recent criticisms, Dr. Pachauri provided an accounting of some of his outside consulting fees paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. Those include about $140,000 from Deutsche Bank, $25,000 from Credit Suisse, $80,000 from Toyota and $48,750 from Yale. He has recently begun work as a strategic adviser for Pegasus, the investment firm, but has not yet attended a meeting, and no money has yet been paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. He has also provided advice free of charge to groups like the Chicago Climate Exchange.
If you are keeping score at home, that's $293,750 to the Energy and Resources Institute - enough to fund six years' salary at ERI for Dr. Pachauri. So much for the notion that there's no financial interest at stake.
I'm not saying that there's anything wrong per se with climate scientists doing business with green technology companies or others with interests in their scientific work. But as I have noted before, neither should scientists who receive such funds be treated as Solomonic icons of disinterest, while they assail their critics as paid shills of industry. It's healthier to remember that everybody has an angle and a bias - and look deeper at the data, the theories and the integrity and transparency of the process used.
But the Times' effort to spin this one away is just pathetic.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:37 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2010 | Science | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Legislative Filibuster: Democracy's Sobriety Checkpoint
In recent weeks we have been deluged by hand-wringing columns from "progressive" pundits bemoaning the filibuster rules in the Senate - which allow a determined and unified minority to block legislation that has fewer than 60 votes - and essentially declaring the filibuster to be proof that American democracy doesn't work and should change the way it does business. (See Brian Darling's discussion of one recent example of the genre from Paul Krugman declaring the filibuster to be the "downfall" of American greatness, and here for Ezra Klein declaring that "The Senate's problem is not disagreement. It's elections."). The immediate cause of the shrieking is the inability to pass Obamacare through the Senate in the form in which it passed the House, which the progressives decry as proof that America can't be governed, ignoring the alternative possibility that there are better approaches to health care that do not involve an Obamacare-style comprehensive bill at all. For some liberal critics, like Vice President Joe Biden (a man who participated in countless filibusters in 36 years in the Senate) or the New York Times editorial board, this is a posture of pure opportunism diametrically opposed to how they viewed the value of the legislative filibuster during the Bush presidency, while others, like Mickey Kaus, have long argued that the legislative filibuster* should go because of its role in obstructing progressive legislation.
Regardless of their motives, however, the progressive critics are wrong. The legislative filibuster is an essential, traditional check on a particular weakness of democracy - the very weakness the progressives seek to exploit by passing Obamacare before the 2010 elections.
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This much is true: the filibuster is undeniably anti-majoritarian, and thus in a general sense anti-democratic. The House, even gerrymandered as it is, provides a roughly proportional representation of the American people; each Member represents a comparable if not identical number of people, all its members face re-election every two years, and a bare majority vote is needed to pass a bill. This has been true of the House throughout most of our history (the filibuster was abolished in the House in 1842).
If a recently constituted popular majority was the rule of the day, that would be all we need. But the Framers of the Constitution also gave us a Senate that is deliberately anti-majoritarian: Senators give equal representation to states of varying size, only a third of its members face the voters each biennial election cycle, and until the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were selected by state legislatures as de facto representatives of state government rather than of the people. While the Constitution says no more about the filibuster than that "[e]ach House shall determine the Rules of its Proceedings," (Art. I Sec. 5), the Senate by tradition allowed for unlimited debate (more here and here). That tradition has always had its critics; it was first challenged by Whig Senator Henry Clay in 1841 in a debate over bank legislation, was subjected to cloture by vote of two-thirds of the Senate by rule change in 1919 (a procedure first used to ratify the disastrous Treaty of Versailles against a Republican filibuster), and the threshold was lowered to 60 votes by the Democrat-controlled Senate in 1975. And there are exceptions: without going into exhaustive detail here, the major exception is the "reconciliation" process used for tax and spending bills, which cannot be filibustered and thus may pass with a bare majority. But the basic ability of the minority to prevent a floor vote on major domestic legislation has never been eliminated, and stretches back to the dawn of the American Republic.
For conservatives, of course, the fact that the filibuster has been time-tested as part of our Constitutional structure is reason in itself to be skeptical of efforts to eliminate it; experience is the lifeblood of conservatism, after all, because it represents the collected lessons of trial and error of the greatest number of people. But the progressive critics, most vocally the pundits who have never worked as anything but a pundit, tend not to put much stock in experience, so let me address them on their own terms.
I would give more consideration to the arguments against the filibuster were it not for one inescapable fact: for a variety of practical and political reasons, federal legislation, and in particular large, "comprehensive" federal programs and regulatory schemes, are almost never repealed, pretty much regardless of whether they work well or not. They're generally designed that way: the President promises a for-all-time solution to a problem, bills are written so as not to require reauthorization or in some cases (for new entitlements) not to require even new appropriations, bureaucracies are created, unionized civil servants hired, businesses, lobbyists and legal advisers grow up around the regulatory scheme, and self-interested segments of the population grow dependent on the status quo. In other words, if you're concerned about the dead hand of tradition ruling the future, the last thing you should want is a system that makes it easy for a political party that wins a majority in one election cycle to saddle us permanently with massive new federal legislation.
This is, of course, why reconciliation is different: while it is difficult to undo bad spending decisions, for some of these same reasons, it remains ultimately the case that tax and spending policy is set anew each year, as it is in states and municipalities across the country. It's also why, when Congress does face a genuine need to act quickly, it can attract bipartisan, filibuster-proof majorities to enact bills like the Patriot Act and TARP that - whatever their other flaws - had to go back to Congress for reauthorization later. But in cases like Obamacare, there is no pretense by its supporters that this is intended to ever be revisited from scratch again.
Meanwhile, the transitory nature of the Democrats' majority is already on display. The 2008 election cycle was already something of an aberration, given the role of the September-October financial crisis in boosting the Democrats' fortunes; now it seems highly likely that Republicans will drastically narrow their margins, if not erase their majorities in one or both Houses, in this fall's elections. Already, the margin of passage of Obamacare in the House is in doubt. Knowing that we sit at the likely high water-mark of the Democrats' fortunes, why should our system make it easy for them to enact legislation that could outlive our grandchildren? If the public truly, after two years of reflection, wants Obamacare, it can always elect still more Democrats this fall to make it law.
Democracy, tradition, free markets, federalism and Constitutional originalism are all derived from the same basic observation: people make mistakes, and even electorates and markets can err in the short run - but the more people whose experience you involve in a decision, the larger your sample size, the better your chances of getting it right. Our democratic system respects the ultimate right and power of the majority, but it contains checks and balances precisely to prevent short-term majorities from saddling the country with long-term decisions. A Senate majority large enough to break a filibuster takes time and geographically broad-based appeal to develop, as it should - even the high Democratic tides of 2006 and 2008 weren't robust enough to provide the margin of error against the death of a single Senator derailing the 60-vote majority. There is no reason why our system should disregard its longstanding defenses against the perpetual rule of a single election cycle's fleeting majorities.
* - I'm limiting my discussion here to filibusters of legislation. I've discussed at length here and here my views on why filibusters of judicial and executive nominees are bad, some strategies for eliminating them, and why it may be unfortunately necessary for Republicans to use them in the short term to put pressure on recalcitrant Democrats to agree to mutual long-term limitations on their use. Worst of all, of course, is the tradition of single-Senator "holds," often anonymous, a tradition that's been badly abused by both parties, sometimes for nakedly personal gain or revenge.
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February 8, 2010
POLITICS: After Murtha
The important practical question following the death today of Congressman John Murtha is what happens to the House seat he held on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania's 12th District. The good news, so far as I can tell from early reports, is that Ed Rendell won't get to appoint an interim replacement, but rather the voters will have to choose one in a special election. As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports:
According to state law, the governor has ten days once the vacancy is officially declared to decide on the date for the special election, which can come no sooner than 60 days following that proclamation.
This is yet another critical election; recall that Obamacare passed the House with a 3-vote margin of victory, and any effort to run it back through the House with the watered-down Senate langauge on abortion will cost at least two of those votes (Bart Stupak and Joseph Cao), while now two others (Robert Wexler and Murtha) have left the House since the vote was cast. Mike Memoli at RCP notes the continuing flux with special elections already coming up to replace Wexler and the yet-to-resign Neil Abercrombie in Hawaii:
Democrats have won every [House] special election in this Congress, including one pick-up from the GOP in New York 23. Another is set in the Florida 19th on April 13, with yet another seat opening soon when Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) steps down to run for governor.
In other words, there will be a couple more opportunities for voters to affect the composition of a House already narrowly divided on President Obama's signature issue, and for now, at least, there are no longer the votes to pass anything unless and until Nancy Pelosi turns some "no" votes into "yes" votes without losing more of the original "yes" votes.
PA-12 has trended Republican in recent years - Cillizza notes that it was the only district carried by John Kerry in 2004 to flip to McCain in 2008 - although it's hard to tell how much of that is due to Murtha-specific issues and to the hangover from Obama's ham-handed comments during the Pennsylvania primaries. My best advice to the PA GOP is to study carefully the mess made in NY-23 (the behind-closed-doors selection of a thin-skinned and too-liberal member of the dysfunctional, corrupt and discredited state legislature) before a candidate is chosen for this special election.
February 4, 2010
If you thought Alexi Giannoulias, running in the shadow of Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris, wasn't enough corruption and scandal for the Illinois Democrats in one election cycle, you were right. Meet the winner of the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor:
What Chicago election is complete without elements of domestic violence, prostitution and tax evasion?
It's a one-time gift by Democrats that they've nominated these guys with absolutely no regard to how they would fare in the general. They assumed that, as usual, the general would be a cakewalk, and so they could nominate whatever corrupt/crazy/socialist idiot they liked in the primary.
February 3, 2010
POLITICS: After Obamacare: What Do Conservatives And Republicans Want on Health Care?
Democrats trying to defend their flailing healthcare bills have tried, repeatedly, a two-pronged attack on the mostly united Republican opposition to the various plans floated by the Senate and House Democrats and the Obama White House. One is to suggest that Republicans are criticizing the proposed Democratic solutions without having any of their own - implying that there really is no other choice but to pass a Democratic bill and that Republican opposition is irresponsible. The other and related contention is to argue that Republicans have a responsibility to cooperate in bipartisan fashion on the bills currently under consideration, rather than seek those bills' defeat.
These arguments are useful as political spin, but they are wrong. Moreover, they ignore the fact that the GOP has opposed the healthcare bills with much the same strategy employed by the Democrats against George W. Bush's effort to reform Social Security - which almost certainly resulted in the destruction of any chance in the foreseeable future to fix Social Security's fiscal problems or even prevent them from getting worse - as well as by forces both Right and Left against the Bush-McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration bill.
For the uninitiated, here's a sampling of what conservatives and Republicans do think about health care. I can't speak for everybody, but I think I can explain in general what the majority of the Right thinks and wants on this isue, and why it precludes most if not all elected Republicans from supporting any comprehensive healthcare bill built along the lines of those floated over the past year:
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1. The System Is Not That Bad: The fundamental disconnect starts at the beginning: by and large, most people on the Right think the United States has a great healthcare system, the best in the world. Pretty much nobody thinks the system is perfect: there are lots of skewed financial incentives, lawsuits are too expensive and prevalent, costs are excessive in some parts of the system, and there are, in fact, too many people who don't get care they need. The system is messy in much the same way that democracy and free markets are messy, and similarly in need of constant tweaking. But the general feeling among conservatives and Republicans is that while you might make fundamental changes in the structure of the system if you were starting it from scratch, when you're dealing with the system as it is, the best thing to do is work around the margins rather than launch a massive federal takeover of the whole shebang that rewrites every aspect of the system from Washington with no possible way to anticipate how all those changes will play out.
That very premise is the basis of the deep divisions over this issue, and helps explain why the further the process has advanced, the more public opinion has favored the opposition, despite the generalized initial public sentiment that "reforms" should be implemented. If the voters are leery of drastic, comprehensive systemic "reform" now that they have had time to see what it looks like, they will naturally prefer doing nothing at all. Maybe the opportunity won't come this way again soon to do a fundamental overhaul of the system, but there's always a next year to do smaller, more incremental bills that work around the margins. That's precisely why the GOP has suffered no political damage for not having its own comprehensive plan - GOP solutions like permitting insurance to be sold across state lines are piecemeal and can be enacted as such without having to get all the moving parts into the same bill.
This is the diametric opposite of President Obama's position. As the President put it in last week's State of the Union Address:
There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. (Applause.) Let me know. Let me know. (Applause.) I'm eager to see it.
There you have it - he's only willing to consider an alternative proposal if, in his view, it reduces premiums and reduces the deficit and covers all the uninsured and "strengthens" Medicare, and clamps down on "abuses" by insurance companies - even a proposal guaranteed to do any one of those things is unacceptable.
That's a recipe for giving Republicans no choice but to simply say "no." But it doesn't mean the GOP, if it took control of Congress, would be unwilling or unable to present the Obama White House with bills that could address particular problems with the system.
2. What Matters Is Health Care, Not Health Insurance: The core concept behind comprehensive reform is that the federal government has a responsibility to eliminate with one fell swoop the estimate tens of millions of people (nobody knows the real number) who lack insurance. This is one reason why the Democratic plans all include a mandate that compels citizens to purchase insurance, and why they also include a battery of other interlocking provisions designed to control the allocation of risks, the imposition of costs, and the terms on which insurance can be offered or coverage denied. Despite all of that, it remains questionable whether the uninsured would truly be eliminated under any bill on the table - to pick two examples, illegal aliens may be hesitant to claim coverage (and could be barred from coverage, depdning how one reads the bills), and if the less onerous penalties for refusing to buy insurance are selected (the Senate bill won't criminalize refusing to participate in the mandate; the House would), some young, healthy people will just pay the fine and opt out of the system.
Is it worth disrupting the health insurance arrangements of the insured majority to extend coverage to the uninsured minority, and perhaps not even all of the uninsured minority? To answer that, you need to remember that what matters isn't insurance, it's care - the sole purpose of health insurance is to secure access to health care.
And people without insurance in this country still get health care, often from sources like clinics and emergency rooms. Not all the care they may want or in some cases need, nor the best or most cost-effective care. And of course, not everyone with insurance receives perfect care either. Many of the distinctions between the insured and the uninsured are differences of degree. Moreover, many of those who lack private sector insurance are covered under Medicaid or Medicare.
Conservatives don't argue that this is an optimal situation - but we do argue that in light of these realities, it's entirely acceptable to focus on solutions that improve access to both insurance and care, rather than guaranteeing insurance. If you can reduce genuinely unnecessary barriers to competition and low-cost insurance, if you can provide better ways for people to shield assets from taxation to spend on healthcare - these are goals that can reduce the number of people who lack insurance, without necessarily having to come up with a single magic bullet that claims to eliminate the lack of insurance overnight.
3. Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom: A fundamental objection to Obamacare in its various forms is that by enacting a vast new federal regulatory and entitlement structure, it freezes the entire industry in amber in ways that will choke off the possibility for future revisions. The political trauma of the efforts to enact this legialstion only underscores the extent to which politicians will be unwilling to revisit comprehensive changes in the future. If it passes and doesn't work out perfectly - and how many government programs do? - neither the states, nor the private sector, nor in all likelihood future Congresses will be able to fix it. Like Medicare, it will simply run on autopilot forever more.
This was one of the objections Scott Brown raised in the Massachusetts Senate race: Massachusetts has its own statewide system of "Romneycare," which had many similarities to the federal program. But the Massachusetts Legislature today remains free to alter or repeal or defund Romneycare, much the way that Tennessee's Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen has done with TennCare, the system originally modeled after Hillary Clinton's health care plan, when it grew too expensive for his state.
The states are, in Brandeis' term, the laboratories of democracy for at least two reasons. One, multiple states can try differing approaches, and learn from each others' experiences - whereas once the federal government acts, innovation is at an end. Two, states do not have the federal government's budgetary processes - many have balanced budget amendments or other constraints on deficit spending, they have to compete with rival states to keep taxes reasonable, some have line-item vetos, zero-based budgeting or other tools Washington lacks for revisiting budgetary decisions annually, and the partisan/ideological temperature is lower in many statehouses. When forced to make genuine choices among competing budgetary priorities, states can't just choose "all of the above."
The diversity of state and private-sector approaches is also evident in the debate over rationing of care and whether this will lead to government "death panels." It is true that rationing in one sense or another - that is, decisions to forego some care on cost/benefit grounds - will occur in any remotely fiscally responsible healthcare system. It is arguable, even, that not enough rationing is done today. Ideally, rationing should be done by the consumer, as happens in any field where consumers, rather than insurance intermediaries, make purchasing decisions; as Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the GOP's go-to guy on health care these days, explains:
Rationing happens today! The question is who will do it? The government? Or you, your doctor and your family?
What's particularly menacing about putting rationing power in the monpolistic hands of the vast, impersonal and bureaucratic federal government is, again, that it eliminates the possibility of competition or outside supervision putting any counterweight on the desire to control costs. It's possible, of course, that the federal government will respond to concerns about rationing by being profligate, but that presents the opposite problem of hemhorraging money. Either way, the system becomes much less fluid when a single actor with the coercive power of the state behind it is calling the shots.
Even where the GOP has more ambitious proposals for reform, they are not based on top-down diktats from Washington; Ryan argues for a broader, less incremental approach than many in the party, but his proposals would operate by gradual, voluntary reform of existing structures through the market, rather than an avalanche of new regulation driven from a single office in the capital:
We set up state-based exchanges. You don't have to participate in the exchange if you don't want to. You don't have to sell it in the exchange if you don't want to. I don't want a closed system that will gravitate towards more government control. I want it to be decentralized that has regulatory competition and market competition. You can be in or out of the exchange, which keeps everybody honest.
Note the emphasis on avoiding individual or employer mandates, thus avoiding the most freedom-encroaching aspects of Obamacare while also eliding the major Constitutional objections to compelling people to buy a private company's products, as well as the essentially corrupt nature of tethering individuals to a government-compelled relationship with large insurers.
4. This Is Still America: The final really core disagreement is that many Republicans and nearly all conservatives object on principle to making health care a fundamental entitlement guaranteed by the national government. Experience the world over shows that health care is one of the most critical tipping points in altering the relationship between the citizen and the government in cradle-to-grave social-welfare states on the European model (when people call Obama a "socialist," this - along with de facto direct government control of major industries - is what they are thinking of). Having health care systems run at the state level is bad enough, but having them uniformly dependent upon Washington for funding and regulatory favor simply takes too many of the most important things in life and puts them in a single pair of hands. That's not the American Way, and if that sets us apart from other nations, it should.
When all is said and done, when 2010 has - as it seems increasingly likely - come and gone without the passage of a sweeping comprehensive federalization of health care, Republicans in due course will offer, and will need to offer, constructive solutions of their own that can marshal support across the GOP and, hopefully, in some cases across party lines. But what will be clear is that those solutions will not be just mirror images of the Democrats' vision. They will instead reflect these core distinctions: incrementalism over one-bill-to-rule-them-all; a focus on increasing access and decreasing cost rather than making sweeping guarantees; avoidance of coercive government mandates; and diffusion of power among consumers, states and businesses rather than concentration in Washington.
After Obamacare, we can stop pretending that a handful of experts in Washington know better than the rest of the country. After Obamacare, we can return to debating solutions more in line with traditional American values and American ways of solving problems by the trials and errors of a free people. After Obamacare, the goals will be more modest, but more realistic. After Obamacare, health care reform will still be possible - but only if President Obama abandons his utopian schemes and looks at the kind of solutions that Americans have long regarded as common ground.
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POLITICS: Gloves Off
Truly, we live in a golden age of political advertising unseen since Ralph Nader told his parrot he wanted to dress up in costume and get jiggy with a panda.
First up is an NRSC ad that concisely sets forth why Republicans everywhere rejoiced at yesterday's Illinois Senate primary win for Obama crony Alexi Giannoulias and his, er, baggage train:
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Funny, hard-hitting, and a sign of why the first polls out of the gate show that Giannoulias is going to have a tough battle with Mark Kirk to hold onto the "f___ing valuable thing" that was once Barack Obama's Senate seat. Then we have this ad from the New Orleans coroner's race - I don't know any of the facts or even which parties these guys belong to, but....dude:
Then we get this bizarre 3 1/2 minute web ad from Carly Fiorina, accusing Tom Campbell (one of her two opponents in the GOP California Senate primary - Chuck DeVore must be laughing his sides sick at this) of being a "FCINO" (Fiscal Conservative In Name Only), an unfortunate acronym that takes a distant second to the flying demonic sheep as the strangest part of the ad:
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February 2, 2010
SCIENCE/POLITICS: Surrender on Autism
The Lancet, a once-respectable scientific journal, has conceded and retracted a now-discredited 1998 study claiming to show a link between vaccines and autism. Of course, the genie loosed by that piece of junk science can't be so easily put back in its bottle, but score another one for science and a defeat for its left-wing enemies.
On a similar note, yet another scandal involving hackery posing as climate science at the IPCC.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:48 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2010 | Science | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
January 29, 2010
POLITICS/HISTORY/POP CULTURE: The Dead
Benjamin Kerstein has an excellent and serious essay at TNL looking at the recently deceased Howard Zinn, the historian of choice for people who didn't like U.S. history and wanted a new one. As he and others have noted, in the final analysis Zinn wasn't even a good Marxist, given his fatalism and view of the conspiracy of the elite as an essentially static and permanent phenomenon.
As to the other and even older writer who died this week, JD Salinger (he was 91; Zinn was 87), I have nothing to say about him personally, but his name and obituaries bring back bad memories. I hated Catcher in the Rye when it was assigned to me in high school; it struck me at the time as the kind of thing adults think teenagers would like to read, but neither its turgid prose nor its whining narrator offered much in the way of entertainment or even a good topic to write a five-paragraph essay about. I suppose the book's durable success suggests that somebody actually liked it as a teen, or at least saw value in claiming to, but not me.
Literature was never my thing - I always preferred history - but I did have a few assignments I liked. The easy one was when my sophmore English teacher gave us a list of possible book report topics, and being a Red Sox fan he included Peter Gammons' book Beyond the Sixth Game. But that's cheating. I loved Julius Ceasar, and enjoyed The Crucible, Macbeth, Hamlet, Bartleby the Scrivener, and Animal Farm (we did that one in seventh grade). Besides Catcher in the Rye, I hated Steinbeck (we read tons of Steinbeck, even his dreary take on King Arthur), A Separate Peace (did that one twice), The Old Man and the Sea, Dubliners, and pretty much anything else that had no likeable characters, no action, no humor and no political intrigue. I managed to avoid taking any English classes in college (thank you, AP exam), but got assigned a bunch of Orwell in my British Empire class, and loved all of it - my Orwell Reader is dog-eared, and I still mean sometime soon to go back and read Down and Out in Paris and London in its entirety (I'd read only a lengthy excerpt focusing on Orwell's time in a Paris restaurant).
January 27, 2010
Caleb Howe has some fun at the expense of MSNBC's David Shuster - which is admittedly like hunting cows - over Shuster's haste to make partisan hay over the arrest of James O'Keefe at the offices of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, contrasted with Shuster's muted, caution-filled response to Nidal Hasan's mass shooting at Fort Hood.
If you've been fortunate enough to miss the O'Keefe story, he's one of the college-age right-wing gonzo-journalist types who busted ACORN with a string of undercover videos in which he dressed up as a cartoonish pimp and got various ACORN employees to counsel him on things such as how to safely employ underage hookers who were in the country illegally. Anyway, O'Keefe and three accomplices were busted yesterday by federal authorities at one of Senator Landrieu's district offices in Louisiana - two of the others were posing as telephone repairmen and O'Keefe was apparently videotaping them with his cell phone. Left-wingers like Shuster, desperately starved for some good news, went nuts on the story (the media reacted far, far faster to this than they did to the original ACORN story - a response that may be the privilege of advocates on one side or the other, but speaks quite ill of anybody pretending to be an objective mainstream news agency), blaring that this was a conspiracy to plant illegal wiretaps on Senator Landrieu's phones.
If so, that was wrong, illegal and colossally stupid on the part of O'Keefe and his henchmen, ad the potential charges under federal wiretapping statutes are steep, whereas the returns on tapping the main phone line at a Senator's local district office are likely to be slim pickings indeed. The Louisiana Democratic Party was calling this "Louisiana's Watergate," as if Watergate would even have made a list of the top 50 scandals ever to hit the Louisiana Democratic Party, but then the LDP has never been short on chutzpah; liberals were likewise quick to forget their own side's ugly history in this area, ranging from Congressman James McDermott being successfully sued for distributing an illegally intercepted cell phone conversation by GOP leadership, to Sarah Palin's emails being hacked by the son of a prominent Tennessee Democrat, to John Kerry's campaign manager in his first Congressional race (his brother, who still gets jobs from the Democrats) being busted for breaking into an opponent's headquarters.
But unlike the Fort Hood shooting or, say, the recent arrest of former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter on yet another charge of soliciting underage sex, in this case waiting to see what the facts are may actually provide something of a different story. Maybe O'Keefe really is a knucklehead, but Patterico looks more carefully at the arrest affidavit and notes the absence of any allegation that O'Keefe or his accomplices had any bugs or other listening devices on them when they were arrested (although there was a reference to an unspecified listening device in one of their cars several blocks away) - that hasn't stopped major media from headlining the claim that they were caught planting bugs, but then O'Keefe (unlike Hasan) is not the kind of figure who gets "alleged" put in front of charges of his misdeeds. And Patterico at least suggests a possible alternative explanation: that O'Keefe's group may have been trying to get to the bottom of media reports that Sen. Landrieu's phone lines have been too jammed to receive calls from constituents opposed to the health care bill.
Anyway, wait and see. The odds are that O'Keefe's brief career is over and he's headed to jail - which does not a whit to change what he exposed about ACORN, but nonetheless would get him out of the business of running future exposes - but even so, we may yet find out that not all is as initially reported.
SECOND UPDATE: Good Lt. at the Jawa Report elaborates on Patterico's theory and how it may fit with the affidavit. MSNBC has a similar take from law enforcement sources that makes it sound like they were definitely vandalizing the phones:
[T]he men, led by conservative videomaker James O'Keefe, wanted to see how her local office staff would respond if the phones were inoperative. They were apparently motivated, the official says, by criticism that when Sen. Landrieu became a big player in the health care debate, people in Louisiana were having a hard time getting through on the phones to register their views.
January 22, 2010
POLITICS: "The White Man Calls It Romaine"
Imagine that as a young and desperately poor Mexican man, you had made the dangerous and illegal journey to California to work in the fields with other migrants. There, you performed stoop labor, picking lettuce and bell peppers and table grapes; what made such an existence bearable was the dream of a better life. You met a woman and had a child with her, and because that child was born in the U.S., he was made a citizen of this great country. He will lead a life entirely different from yours; he will be educated. Now that child is about to begin middle school in the American city whose name is synonymous with higher learning, as it is the home of one of the greatest universities in the world: Berkeley. On the first day of sixth grade, the boy walks though the imposing double doors of his new school, stows his backpack, and then heads out to the field, where he stoops under a hot sun and begins to pick lettuce.
POLITICS: NOW to Democrats on Health Care: "Women will be better off with no bill whatsoever."
On this dolorous anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there can be no stranger bedfellows for pro-life conservative Republicans than the hard-line pro-abortion group the National Organization for Women (NOW). But as the last Democratic hopes fade for passing Obamacare on a party-line vote by ramming the Senate bill through the House unchanged - the only way, short of rewriting Senate procedures, to avoid another Senate vote that would fail the 60-vote threshold - the Senate bill is coming under withering fire in the House from both sides on abortion, and in a delicious irony, NOW may end up delivering the coup de grace.
Already, pro-lifers are a problem; the House bill passed only with a 3-vote margin for error, down to 2 with the resignation of Robert Wexler, and the watering-down of the pro-life Stupak Amendment in the Senate bill has lost the vote of Bart Stupak and most likely the bill's lone Republican vote, pro-lifer Joseph Cao. Passage in the House would only be possible if some "no" votes turn to "yes," and Nancy Pelosi sure doesn't sound as if she has the votes in the face of the voter unrest that sent Scott Brown to the Senate.
But even the watered-down Senate provisions on abortion are enough for NOW to vow not only to kill the bill but excommunicate anyone who supports it:
[T]he nation's leading womens' rights group blasted the legislation as "beyond outrageous."
If that wasn't harsh enough, O'Neill went after the integrity of the process:
O'Neill ripped the "the closed door negotiations" that many believe took place in the shaping of the bill, saying that "people want transparency."
Oh, and the long knives of identity politics are out for Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak:
The NOW president said the "male-dominated Democratic Party" is not doing women any favors by bringing in anti-abortion zealots," slamming Nelson and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who amendment to restrict abortion coverage in the House health bill passed minutes before the final vote.
Never thought I'd say this on a 22nd of January: welcome aboard, NOW.
Pass the popcorn.
January 20, 2010
POLITICS: Seven Lessons From The Brown Bombshell
You can't throw a rock in the blogosphere without hitting a postmortem on Scott Brown's decisive defeat of Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly infested by Ted Kennedy and, before him, JFK himself. I may as well add my own. Here are seven lessons to be drawn:
1. Defeat Has Many Fathers: There's an awful temptation to spin the vote for Brown as the result of this cause or that - Coakley was a terrible, gaffe-prone candidate, Brown was a good one, glamourous and hard-working, Democrats were caught napping, voters were upset about Obamacare, voters were spooked by the Underwear Bomber, the special election was strangely timed, the enthusiasm gap, the poor track record of female candidates in Massachusetts, etc. But the fact is, it had to be all of them.
Look: In the past three decades, Republicans have won zero Senate races in Massachusetts but have won the Governorship four times with three different candidates. Bill Weld got 50.19% of the vote when he was elected in 1990, Paul Cellucci 50.81% in 1998, and Mitt Romney 49.77% in 2002. (Weld got over 70% of the vote when he was re-elected in 1994). Brown beat Coakley 52-47, meaning that he had the best showing by a non-incumbent top-level statewide Republican in decades. For contrast, in 2006, Deval Patrick carried Massachusetts 56-35, a 21-point margin. In 2008, Barack Obama carried Massachusetts 62-36, a 26-point margin. In other words, the electorate swung 26 points from the 2006 Governor's race and 31 points from the 2008 presidential race. To illustrate:
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And turnout was very, very strong for a special election - there were 2,249,026 ballots cast compared to 2,219,779 in the 2006 Governor's race, a regularly scheduled election (2,165,490 votes were cast in that year's Senate race). A special election on a cold day in January outdrawing an Election Day race is surely a sign of an energized and plugged-in electorate, especially in a state where a vast proportion of the population is college students, many of whom were returning from winter break just before or after the election. Brown's showing was so strong and turnout so high, he actually got more votes (1,168,107 to 1,104,284) than John McCain did in a presidential election year (when 3,048,438 votes were cast).
A swing that huge can't be, and never is, explained by only one factor. Jim Bunning's re-election campaign in 2004 was every bit as disastrous as George Allen's and Conrad Burns' in 2006, but a favorable environment saved Bunning, while a hostile one helped sink Allen and Burns. Here, similarly, it took a bad environment to make Coakley vulnerable even with all her gaffes and blunders.
So, let the condemnations of the Coakley campaign go on, especially how inexcusably she was caught off guard even after Republicans wrested the Governor's races in Virginia and especially New Jersey out of Democratic hands - even if you ascribed those races to poor candidates, that was no reason to think you could safely be a poor candidate.
On the issues, it's also been overlooked the extent to which Brown made inroads by pounding Coakley on national security, an issue that suddenly returned to prominence after the Christmas Day arrest of the Underwear Bomber. Brown's campaign believed that this was an under-discussed factor:
Scott Brown's top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters this morning that Brown's demand that terror suspects be tried outside civilian courts had proven a more powerful issue than health care in the Massachusetts senate race.
Contrasted to Coakley, who claimed in a debate that there were no terrorists in Afghanistan (not long after the suicide bombing there that reportedly killed several CIA agents) and later griped that she'd had to take too dovish a stance on the Afghan war to survive the primary, At a minumum, Brown succeeded in drawing a contrast on national security without suffering any appreciable damage for taking basically the Dick Cheney position. (The one exit poll taken by a Republican polling firm showed higher voter support for President Obama's position on Afghanistan - a position more hawkish than Coakley's - than Obama's overall approval rating).
All of that said, it's positively insane for pundits to ignore the fact that a Brown victory would have been impossible, no matter how inept Coakley's campaign, without widespread voter concern - reflected in national polls for months now - that the national Democrats were headed in the wrong direction on health care and on the size of government. Michael Moynihan at Reason had probably the best roundup of anecdotes on this trend:
I have spent the past few days talking to union members, former Democrats, current Democrats, Kennedy voters, former Deval Patrick enthusiasts, and gay rights campaigners who are - as almost all of them say - Scott Brown supporters worried about the "explosive growth of government." All natives of the commonwealth and reflexively Democratic, they kvetch about spending, taxes, and health care. As one member of a pipefitters union told me, "none of the guys in my union trust that Obama won't hit us with that 40 percent health care tax."
Fifty-two percent of Bay State voters who were surveyed as the polls closed said they opposed the federal health care reform measure and 42 percent said they cast their ballot to help stop President Obama from passing his chief domestic initiative.
The fact that many of these voters expressed approval of Obama - 55% - may provide some comfort to the president personally, but it's of no use to anybody else trying to defend votes in favor of his agenda.
The reason for this is that Obama and the national Democrats have tried to push the electorate too far too fast in the direction of radical changes to domestic policy even for the voters of the Northeast. One meme emerging on the Left is that Bush was vastly more effective in getting legislation passed with fewer Senators than Obama - but if you look at the extensive record of Bush's first term, as well as the more modest record of his second, what do you see? You see tax cuts, but as Reagan and Clinton illustrated, Presidents usually get their way on tax policy, and the next guy gets his own crack. You see a lot of action on foreign policy and in some cases (the Patriot Act) domestic national security policy, also an area where the country traditionally expects Congress to do what the President wants. You see a battery of bipartisan, centrist or neoliberal legislative actions that nobody would rightly call conservative priorities - No Child Left Behind, McCain-Feingold, Sarbanes-Oxley, the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, the bankruptcy bill, the creation of the Homeland Security Department, various horrible farm bills (Bush's failed immigration bill would have fallen in this category). And you do see a few conservative priorities with broad bipartisan support - the partial-birth abortion ban, the Class Action Fairness Act.
But what of agenda items as large and ideologically divisive as Obamacare, cap and trade or the stimulus bill? Social Security reform never got proposed, let alone voted on. School choice was dropped from NCLB. Drilling in ANWR never passed. Bush never even tried to enact deep budget cuts of any kind. If Bush was better at attracting bipartisan support, it's because most of his agenda wasn't the kind of overreach that Obama's is.
The supporting evidence backs up the exit poll on the Brown voters's unease at all this. Multiple polls up to the election - polls that had Brown in the neighborhood of his final margin of victory - showed Brown winning around the same proportion of independent voters (about two-thirds) as Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey. The consistency of those numbers across different states certainly suggests a broader trend than just the incompetence of Democratic candidates (although it may be especially pronounced in states with unpopular Democratic Governors).
The turnout for this election under these circumstances also compellingly suggests that the voters understood perfectly well the stakes, endlessly repeated in the media - that a Brown victory would put an end to the Democrats' carte blanche ability to pass health care and other legislation without making any compromises needed to garner Republican support, and that in particular the health care bill would probably be doomed if Brown won. People may make their minds up about which candidate they like better for a variety of reasons, but nobody drags themselves out of the house in the middle of January to go vote just because one candidate is a good-looking guy with a truck and the other one thinks Curt Schilling's a Yankees fan. We can quote chapter and verse on the polls all day, but the turnout of 2.2 million people speaks more eloquently than any poll. This election mattered, and the voters treated it as if it did.
The results will be debated at length, but it's impossible to square the massive size of the turnaround in perhaps the nation's buest state with the idea that the only people concerned about the growth of government are right-wing nutcases.
2. Of RINOs and Tea Parties: One of the underrated factors in Brown's victory was the unanimity of his support from the Right to the center-right. Brown is a moderate Republican of the type who'd draw a primary opponent, and deservedly so, in a state like Utah or South Carolina. Among other things, he's pro-choice and supports the state's Romneycare health plan, and analyses of his voting record showed him to the left of his other GOP colleagues in the Massachusetts state Senate. But unlike the state legislators who ran in special elections in New York's 20th and 23d Districts, Brown drew the united and enthusiastic support of conservative Republicans and "tea party" groups. Why? Partly due to the stakes and symbolism in the election, and partly due to a willingness to tolerate almost anything for a win in Massachusetts - but also because despite Brown's moderation, he was with the Right on opposing the Big Three prongs of Obama's plan for metastatic growth of federal spending and regulation. He vowed to filibuster Obamacare, albeit arguing against it in good part on federalism grounds. He blasted "cap and trade" as an unaffordable tax hike. And he tore into the stimulus, arguing that the stimulus "didn't work" while calling for a spending freeze, and warned that the stimulus money could be a crutch to prevent localities from facing their budget problems sooner. He also signed a no-new-taxes pledge.
In short, Brown drew a sharp contrast between his position and that of the Beltway Democrats on spending and the growth of government - and that clear contrast on policy allowed him to keep his own base united while pursuing a basically upbeat campaign of outreach to the center and while departing from standard-issue Republicanism on other issues. His successful campaign underscores the point I've made for some time: as long as a candidate is with the party on its dominant theme (which at present is opposition to runaway government), each election needs to be evaluated on its merits with an eye to finding candidates suited to their local conditions.
3. The High Hard One: As I noted above, the evidence suggests that the political climate and Brown's use of the issues were at least as large a factor in his victory as Coakley's missteps. That being said, Coakley's ham-handed response to Curt Schilling has to make his endorsement of Brown one of the most consequential celebrity endorsements in electoral history, given the extent to which the Schilling gaffe put Coakley off her game in the race's closing news cycles and contributed to the despair and embarrassment of her supporters. (I asked on Twitter for other genuinely impactful celebrity endorsements, and suggestions included Oprah's primary endorsement of Obama, James Brown endorsing Nixon in 1968 and Sinatra endorsing JFK in 1960). Take-home lesson: celebrity endorsements can be distracting and can backfire, but you never know when they'll come in handy - and it's dangerous for a candidate to fire back directly at a popular celebrity.
4. Obama Can't Help You Now: I've written about this at length before after the defeats of Corzine and Deeds, and you can now add Coakley to the list: an appearance by Obama can't save a failing Democrat. Whether or not Obama is a net negative, his presence doesn't seem to be moving the needle in favor of anyone but himself. Note that Bill Owens, the winning Democratic candidate in NY-23, did not have an Obama appearance.
5. Ted Shoulda Quit While He Was Ahead: The Democrats put themselves in the situation of having to call a special election in two ways. First, they changed the law in 2004 to require an election rather than a gubernatorial appointment for an open Senate seat, because if John Kerry beat George W. Bush they didn't want Mitt Romney nominating his replacement. A flagrantly opportunistic effort to change that law back petered out last summer. Second - and Erick Erickson has gotten a lot of flak for saying this on CNN, but it happens to be true - they could have held the election much earlier in a much more favorable political climate if Ted Kennedy had stepped down when it became apparent that he was dying. Ted's insistence on staying in office until his death ended up being the undoing of his party and, perhaps, of his lifelong goal of national government health insurance.
6. Hard Times For The Ladies: Pundits are far too quick to draw conclusions about voter racism/sexism from sample sizes as small as one election, but putting aside Hillary Clinton beating Barack Obama in the Massachusetts Democratic primary in 2008, the record of female politicians at the statewide level in Massachusetts over the past decade has been terrible. Republican Jane Swift, promoted to Governor from Lieutenant Governor when Cellucci left offfice for an ambassadorship, made headlines for giving birth to twins in office, but was so widely mocked and reviled across the partisan and ideological spectrum that she didn't run for re-election. Democratic State Treasurer Shannen O'Brien's campaign against Mitt Romney in 2002 was a flop, and observers generally viewed her as a weak candidate who lost a winnable race and engaged in silly and pointless attacks. GOP Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey got crushed by Deval Patrick in 2006. And now Coakley, who will doubtless be remembered as one of the worst statewide candidates in memory in any state, at least among those who'd been heavily favored to win an election. Women have had plenty of success in statewide office in the Northeast - Jodi Rell, Jeanne Shaheen, Hillary Clinton, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins - but not in Massachusetts.
7. Nobody's Safe: The biggest impact of this election, beyond what it does to the healthcare bill, is its effect on recruitment, retirement and morale in races around the country - in Indiana, for example, there'd seem few safer red-state Democrats than Senator and former Governor Evan Bayh, but the GOP is now trying to recruit Congressman Mike Pence to challenge Bayh; Pence would be a formidable opponent. Republicans are now fired up for Senate races in Illinois, Delaware and (if George Pataki can be recruited) New York for Senate seats previously held by Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary, respectively.
Perhaps the race where the incumbent's fortunes must be most dramatically re-evaluated after Brown's victory is Barbara Boxer's race for re-election in California. Boxer's polls have been in the dumps for some time now; the latest Rasmussen poll shows her with just 46% of the vote against each of her three Republican opponents (the fact that Boxer has drawn three significant opponents - Tom Campbell, Chuck DeVore, and Carly Fiorina - should say something in itself). That said, whenever I've thought about that race or talked to anyone else about it, the usual response is "yes, but it's California."
Brown's victory changes all that, at least for 2010, anyway. There's no guarantee that a candidate as arrogant, brittle, thin-skinned and hard-left as Boxer can just bank on a compliant one-party electorate against an energized populist opponent, not in this climate. That doesn't mean Boxer will be easy pickings, by any means - the California GOP is more than capable of self-destruction, and Boxer is a street fighter - but it does mean the effort to challenge her can't just be written off based on the state she's running in.
Not if it can happen in Massachusetts.
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POLITICS: Unplug Education. No Computers In Schools
A hot issue today in education is the usefulness of computers in the classroom. Some people - President Obama among them - argue that increasing resources should be spent to bring more computers and more internet access into schools and integrate them into education. The controversy, whether at the federal level or the local school board level, is usually over whether this is worth the expense. But the reality is that what our kids need most of all from schools - and libraries - is a respite from technology and time to give sustained, uninterrupted attention to learning the academic basics that they can then apply to any technological platform - just like the people who created those platforms in the first place. What we should be demanding from our schools is a computer- and internet-free zone.
The NY Times reports on a study showing that kids age 8-18 spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device. "And because so many of them are multitasking - say, surfing the Internet while listening to music - they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours."
The study then turned to the possible impact of all that time consuming electronic media:
Contrary to popular wisdom, the heaviest media users reported spending a similar amount of time exercising as the light media users. Nonetheless, other studies have established a link between screen time and obesity.
Certainly the latter is a significant possibility - that computers and TV are more readily adopted by preteens and teens who aren't playing sports or socializing or wooing the opposite sex. But the broader point remains: schools should not be gateways to the internet, an adult medium if ever there was one. They should be a place to ensure that kids learn different skills than the ones they get from playing video games. If kids need to learn to work with computers as a trade, they can do that no sooner than junior/senior year of high school, the same way they would take a shop class. But otherwise, they are mostly being given a crutch that either short-circuits their learning process or the teacher's teaching process - and reinforces as well the mental habits of overuse of technology.
I'm not one to argue that TV or computers are all bad for kids, although parents have to exercise some responsibility for placing outer limits on time spent on those media and supervise the content kids are exposed to. But school is supposed to ensure that kids get grounded in the basics. Unplugging them for the duration of the school day is the best way to ensure that happens.
January 14, 2010
POLITICS/LAW: Martha Coakley, Bad Prosecutor
It's worth recalling, as the Massachusetts Senate election approaches, that Martha Coakley is not just some bland Democratic machine apparatchik. She's a bland Democratic machine apparatchik with a long record as a prosecutor that includes some very ugly things.
Exhibit A is the notorious case, familiar to readers of the Wall Street Journal over the past three decades, of Gerald Amirault. The case, discussed in summary here, was a terrible miscarriage of justice involving fantastical accounts of sex abuse of children, exposed by Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz; it was originally prosecuted by another politically ambitious Democrat, Scott Harshbarger. And then:
When Martha Coakley became district attorney of Middlesex County in 1999, the Amiraults were still in the news. But by this time hardly anyone believed they were guilty of the horrendous crimes they were alleged to have committed. In fact there was no evidence that anyone had abused any children in the Fells Acres Day Care.
That alone should disqualify Coakley as a candidate for higher office. But there's more. Such overzealousness is why criminal-defense-minded writers like Radley Balko and Jeralyn Merritt - neither of them exactly a right-wing Republican - are opposed to Coakley. Both cite other examples as well (Balko notes that Coakley first came to prominence in the notorious "shaken-baby" case against British nanny Louise Woodward, in which Woodward's murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter by the judge).
But overzealousness in questionable (or worse) cases isn't Coakley's problem. There's also the opposite, her lenient treatment of a Somerville cop who raped his 23-month-old niece - yes, a toddler - with a hot curling iron. Coakley's office let him out without bail pending trial; only under her successor was he convicted and sentenced to two life terms in jail.
It starts to be apparent that the persistent incompetence and tone-deafness of Coakley's campaign may not be a new thing for her.
SECOND UPDATE: But she is tough on ladies' gardening clubs.
THIRD UPDATE: Rabinowitz lays into Coakley.
POLITICS: Martha Coakley Does It Again
Given the serial fiascoes of the Martha Coakley for Senate campaign, you would think, five days before Election Day, that the second coming of Shannon O'Brien has run out of ways to hand Scott Brown an upset victory in the race for what was for decades Ted Kennedy's Senate seat (but, as Brown has reminded us, remains the people's seat to do with as they wish).
But no! Coakley has managed, at this late hour, to diss New England's most hallowed site - Fenway Park itself. And, for bonus points, to do so in the course of explaining why she's above standing outside in cold weather (as if this is an unusual hardship for New Englanders) to ask for votes, when she could be getting to know connected people who know other connected people. As the Boston Globe reports:
There is a subdued, almost dispassionate quality to her public appearances, which are surprisingly few. Her voice is not hoarse from late-night rallies. Even yesterday, the day after a hard-hitting debate, she had no public campaign appearances in the state.
[This statement] shows her elitism and arrogance unbelievably. Aside from the apparent feeling that the seat belongs to her just by virtue of her party, she just admitted that she doesn't need to bother meeting with constituents because she's meeting people like Kim Driscoll, and political leaders, and Democrat activists. I guess they're the ones that matter, huh? I know it's a "special election" and all, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't need to fight for this seat. Prancing around with this mindset of "Oh, I'm a Democrat, therefore Ted Kennedy's seat just automatically belongs to me regardless of what the people think," is idiotic. Acting as if she doesn't need to give her constituents the time of day is ludicrous. She can make all the snide remarks about Scott Brown shaking hands with people in the cold that she wants, but that's what you’re supposed to do when you're trying to get elected. She seems to have forgotten that she's trying to get elected in Massachusetts, and not in Washington D.C. - if she remembered that, maybe she'd spend more time trying to impress Massachusetts voters and less time rubbing elbows with the Democrat establishment, Big Pharmacy lobbyists, and union leaders. Most normal politicians, Republican or Democrat, do go shake hands with voters. Even if it means standing in the cold outside of Fenway Park.
Maybe Coakley should come back when she has a little blood on her sock.
January 13, 2010
POLITICS: Quick Links 1/13/10
*Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson looks at the declining quality of President Obama's rhetoric, while, Michael Barone and Noemie Emery look at the contrast between Obama's reputation for erudition and the extent to which the Tea Party movement has proven much more focused and energized on substantive issues than Obama's own supporters. The common thread here is that because Obama's rhetoric and appeal have always been more about him personally than about a coherent set of policy proposals, he was able to extend his original support far beyond the people who were signing on to any such agenda - and thus he's found himself with broad but shallow support that can dry up at any moment because it's not really a stable coalition built on common support for his agenda. Relatedly, and on Gerson's point about Obama's "cool," one thing I've noticed is that Obama has fairly limited range as a communicator - he's great at a few limited types of speeches, but but there are just too many types of things he can't do.
*David Dayen at the far-left blog Firedoglake, which has been crusading belatedly against the Obamacare bill since it dropped the public option, counts the noses and sees that the Democrats are probably already one vote short in the House (where the original bill passed by a 3-vote margin, one of whom has since left office). Meanwhile, the site's proprietor, Jane Hamsher, attacks the White House and its allies among the pundit and blogger class for failing to disclose that a key academic supporter of the bill was actually on the Administration's payroll. At this point, even Obama has to concede that "That's what's been lost this year...that whole sense of changing how Washington works." Yet Obama's camp still finds time to accuse the insurance industry of lobbying queitly against the bill - as if (a) anyone expected them not to lobby and (b) there weren't also a truckload of people lobbying for the bill and donating to Democrats.
*Pat Robertson's repetition with the Haiti earthquake of his God-blames-the-victims comments from the aftermath of 9/11 and Katrina shows that he really didn't get the message of Luke 13:1-5, let alone any common sense. Joe Scarborough, on Twitter, argues that Robertson should be given credit for his deeds, not his words - his organization did great work in the aftermath of Katrina, for example - but at this point, it's Robertson's own fault and he just needs to shut his trap permanently. He's said this stuff too many times to be an accident.
That said, you can bet that Robertson's remarks will get much wider play than Robert F. Kennedy Jr. blaming Haley Barbour for bringing down Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi.
*Martha Coakley may not succeed in losing the Massachusetts Senate race - while she's down by more than 40 points among independents in some polls, Massachusetts still has a colossal registration advantage for Democrats - it won't be for lack of trying. Don't have all the links handy here, but her campaign has veered from gaffe (her claim that there are no terrorists in Afghanistan) to comedy (misspelling her own state's name in an attack ad) to ham-handedness (a staffer barrelling over a Weekly Standard reporter trying to ask about the Afghanistan gaffe) to outright panic in her communications with national Democrats, who are now tapping into their House campaign fund to prop her up. It's been an appallingly poorly-run campaign against a savvy opponent. I can predict that Scott Brown will run a close race next Tuesday, but whether the energy and indignation of the Brown voters will outnumber the Democratic machine remains anyone's guess.
*Former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler is back, as Chris Christie's education chief. Schundler was a failure as a statewide candidate but remains a hero to conservatives for his advocacy of school choice and his diligent if predictably futile efforts to win over inner-city African-American voters.
A big part of Christie's victory was in convincing New Jersey voters to move beyond cultural issues (guns, abortion) over which the state government has comparatively little power or is unlikely to do anything and focus on the things that are actually a major part of the job at the state level and the Democrats' catastrophic failure to accomplish them. But Christie also came to office with a fairly vague mandate beyond his platform of opposing tax hikes and fighting corruption. Schundler could give Christie a chance to make lasting and meaningful reform in the state and not just coast in the job - but not having run a campaign heavy on the school choice issue, Christie will have to commit some serious political capital to make the sale to voters.
January 11, 2010
POLITICS: Harry Reid Among The Hypocrites
By now most of you have seen Harry Reid's reported remarks, from a book on the 2008 election, enthusing that Barack Obama could be a successful presidential candidate because he was "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The real story here is the Left's hypocrisy: Reid has committed a sin that would be unpardonable by anyone but a Democratic politician.
Much of the "Negro-gate" flap over Reid's comments has focused on whether, parsing them closely, they can or can't be compared to the 2002 comments by Trent Lott that got Lott ousted as Senate Majority Leader. As a matter of pure politics, that seems unlikely to happen to Reid - where Lott came under early and intense fire from bloggers and pundits on the Right, eventually making him radioactive to fellow GOP politicians, the Left (with only a few exceptions) has circled the wagons around Reid. On the other hand, Reid faces his own doom, as this adds to an already uphill battle Reid faces for re-election. But in any event, the better analogy is to George Allen, Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, James Watt, and others who lost their jobs due to comments that were not so much racist per se, but rather racially insensitive. That's what Reid's comments were - he was basically giving Obama a stamp of approval for not being one of those black people, with their "Negro dialect" and black skin - and even if he meant it more as an insult aimed at the tolerance of white voters, it's still not something you or I would be crass enough to say in a forum where it could ever be repeated to African-American friends. (Perhaps more damning to Obama is Reid's implication that Obama would put on a "Negro dialect" when it suited his purposes).
Reid's not the only one even this week - the same book quotes Bill Clinton saying that a few years ago, Obama would have been getting him coffee, while Rod Blagojevich, the twice-Obama-endorsed gift that keeps on giving, tells Esquire Magazine:
I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived.
He's black because he shined shoes?
Nor is this Reid's first offense. Among Reid's long laundry list of petty personal insults aimed at distinguished public servants - notably excluding former KKK member Robert Byrd, whom Reid called an "unusually brilliant man" - Reid said of Clarence Thomas:
I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.
Reid contrasted Justice Thomas to Justice Scalia: "I cannot dispute the fact, as I have said, that this is one smart guy." But what made Reid assume that Thomas was a lesser intellect or a bad writer? He was never able to identify any Thomas opinions he'd read that gave him that idea. It was just a stereotype.
Racial insensitivity, intended or not, has become a frequent firing offense for government officials and other public figures at the insistence of the Left, aided and actively encouraged time and again by the leading lights of the Democratic Party. It is not Republicans or conservatives who frequently bathe themselves in sanctimony on this issue or treat it as an unforgivable offense. When a Republican is caught in a sex scandal, pretty much regardless of his actual record, the air is filled with calls for him to be held to a higher standard than Democrats because of conservatives' belief (not universally shared) that marital infidelity and other sexual misconduct is a bad thing. Yet, when a Democrat is caught making racially insensitive remarks, the very same pundits on the Left argue that rather than hold their side to the higher standard they demand of others, there should be a lower standard for Democrats precisely because of their public positions. Heads we win, tails you lose!
My own oft-stated view on Republicans and sex scandals, see here, here, here and here, is that the problem with hypocrtical Republicans is not their public defenses of virtue but their private sins, which may reflect badly enough on them in some cases (e.g., Mark Sanford) to doom them politically, but don't necessarily detract from their advocacy of what is right and good. But by giving Reid a pass, as with giving Clinton a pass for sexual harrassment, Democrats are showing that they believe the opposite: that they are willing to forgive violations of their own supposed principles in order to hold on to political power because those principles were never really that important to them in the first place - just a handy club to beat opponents.
Who's the real hypocrite in that picture?
UPDATE: Reports seem to be casting some doubt on the Clinton quote, among others in the book. Reid's office, however, has confirmed that Reid himself was the source for the Reid quotes and doesn't contest their authenticity.
January 8, 2010
POLITICS/WAR: Quick Links 1/8/10
Two lines of the day:
Jonah Goldberg: "the GOP's troubles over the last decade have a lot to do with the fact that Americans didn't stop liking what the Republican Party is supposed to deliver. They stopped liking what the GOP actually delivered." Also: "For too long Republicans confused supporting big business with supporting free markets, when big business is often the biggest impediment to fair competition."
Steven Green: "A man does not set fire to his penis for a job he expects to botch."
Finally, this chart from Paul Krugman is interesting and noteworthy (Krugman can occasionally be sane and not wholly dishonest when he sticks to his knitting and writes straight economics rather than partisan politics). I don't buy entirely his conclusion that "the CRE bubble ... gives the lie both to those who blame Fannie/Freddie/Community Reinvestment for the housing bubble, and those who blame predatory lending" - as some of his commenters properly note, the chart reinforces the argument that commercial real estate values are driven at least in part by residential real estate values, even in communities where relatively hard zoning laws make the two types of land non-fungible - but it's an important point nonetheless to understand that the housing bubble was not solely about housing markets and housing-credit policy.
January 4, 2010
POLITICS: Bob Bennett Delenda Est
Erick Erickson's post at RedState advocating a challenge to Senator Bob Bennett is a pretty good example of a couple of things. One, of course, is the combination of Erick's growing influence and the increasing activist focus of the site. I've always been more punditry/advocacy-oriented than into activism, but Erick's a natural fit for it and I'm definitely on board with the direction the site has taken; it's been a necessary evolution in today's climate.
A second is the true degree of tension between movement conservatism and the party. Bennett's mostly an obscure party man in a safe seat, so he'd seem like a low-priority person to attack, unlike Senators who are either (1) obvious electoral liabilities or (2) frequently high-profile dissenters on prominent votes. But the issue with Bennett is more his influence around the edges. Much of the tension right now is over a sense that while the House and Senate GOP leadership have done a fine job of keeping their caucus united, too many of the same people who led the party through the disasters of 2006 and 2008 are still in charge and don't seem to have really absorbed why anger at the Democrats hasn't translated into trust for the GOP as opposed to trust for populist outlets like Glenn Beck and the tea party movement.
A third is the distinction between inside and outside punditry/activism. I personally have no knowledge of anything Bennett's done in public to warrant this - but Erick is relying on people with inside knowledge of how the GOP caucus works.
Anyway, go read the post for Erick's reasoning, which turns in part on the fact that (1) it's cheap and easy to mount a challenge under the Utah GOP's convention system and (2) it's as safe a GOP seat as there is. My general philosophy is that it's good to have primary challenges but rarely more than 1 or 2 a cycle in the Senate, just enough to make people not want to have their name at the top of that list. As it happens, we have a bunch of hot primary fights for seats with no GOP incumbent (e.g., Florida, California, Ohio), but with Arlen Specter's departure there aren't many GOP incumbents facing a serious challenge (I'm not sure yet how serious JD Hayworth's primary challenge to McCain is). I definitely wouldn't bother with primarying Bennett if he wasn't representing such a safe seat, but conservatives unhappy with his performance at least have reason to expect that if there's anywhere we should be entitled to demand faithful representation, it's Utah.
December 26, 2009
POLITICS: You Can't Teach Height
If it's true that being tall is a major advantage in politics, former Nets, Knicks and Trailblazers center Chris Dudley, at 6'11", will be a man to watch as a contender for the GOP nomination for Governor of Oregon in 2010. The Yale-educated Dudley seems to fit the bill of novice citizen-politicians for good and for ill - he's voted only sporadically in past elections, but is off to an outstanding start raising money - and is aiming to take on the likely Democratic candidate, former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Dudley had some of his best basketball seasons with the Blazers and has recently been working in Oregon as a financial adviser. You can check out his campaign site here. A quick look suggests that at least on fiscal issues, Dudley will be running on a straightforward GOP platform of cutting taxes and spending:
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At a time when the economy is waning nationwide, businesses and entrepreneurs are on the look-out for any advantage they can find. But Oregon's reliance on high personal and corporate income and capital gains taxes makes the state a less attractive place to locate a business, or keep one going. The last thing we need to do is make Oregon less competitive, and that's exactly what Measures 66 and 67 do - they're a huge step in the wrong direction.
(As of yet, the Issues section of the site doesn't even scratch on social issues).
Oregon's a blue state, and Dudley's a rookie candidate with other GOP opponents, so it's a long way to project whether he'll be a serious contender or not.
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May 20, 2009
POLITICS: Star Power
I missed this one in my post the other day on Rubio and Crist - watch this clip of Marco Rubio in action and you can see why people have been excited about him for some time. Note - as becomes obvious when he pulls out a crumpled roll of paper to read the Kennedy quote - the absence of a TelePrompter.
H/T. John McCormack offers some samples of Crist speaking for contrast. Crist's not terrible, and of course he's won a couple of statewide races as Governor and AG, but he's a pretty unexciting politician with no identifiable principles. I'm guessing he'll focus on ignoring Rubio as hard as he can.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:23 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
May 19, 2009
POLITICS: Dumping Dodd
The reasons for wanting Chris Dodd gone from the Senate are too numerous to recount here; briefly speaking, Dodd has been wrong on basically every national security issue for the past three decades, he's got ethical problems out the wazoo, and while he was in bed with anyone and everyone connected with the financial crisis, he spent a year living in Iowa on a delusional presidential campaign instead of doing his job overseeing the Senate Banking Commitee. Rob Simmons, a moderate former GOP Congressman, is the leading candidate to replace Dodd, and is doing a drive to get past 400 online donations (he's pretty close already) by close of business today. So, I'll do my part here:
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May 12, 2009
POLITICS: Charlie Crist Picks A Fight Republicans Don't Need
Republicans are going to have a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities in the 2010 elections. One thing the party needs to do is get our best candidates into races we can win; another is to make sure we hold the easy races and avoid bloody and ideologically divisive primaries in the tough ones; a third is to make sure we can raise adequate funds to support all the races we need to contest; and a fourth is to promote the young stars of the party who will represent its future.
Charlie Crist disregarded all of that when he announced that he was dropping out of the race for re-election as Governor of Florida to enter the primary to replace retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez. And NRSC Chairman John Cornyn, by immediately endorsing Crist, signalled that he encouraged this sort of behavior. Shame on both of them for putting Crist's personal ambitions above the good of the party. Let us count the ways in which Crist's decision is bad for the Florida GOP and the national party:
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(1) Crist Is Abandoning His Post.
This is the underreported aspect of what Crist is doing, on the national level - but it's not going unnoticed in Florida. The GOP has held the Governor's mansion in Florida for 11 years now, through two highly successful terms of conservative Governor Jeb Bush and now the more moderate Crist enjoying the fruits of the Bush-built party. Crist hasn't been an especially great Governor, but he's popular enough and he's handled managerial aspects of the job (e.g., hurricanes) pretty well. He'd be a very strong favorite for re-election in 2010, likely running unopposed for the nomination and allowing the Florida GOP to put the bulk of its efforts behind the Senate race and the down-ticket races. And holding the statehouse is especially critical, with redistricting on the horizon after the 2010 Census - for the future of the party at the state level as well as in the House, the Governor's mansion may even be a bigger deal than the Senate, which is saying quite a lot. Anyone with a passing familiarity with how political parties work should know this, which is what makes it so infuriating that the NRSC wants Crist out of the Governor's race.
The Miami Herald lays out the ramifications down-ticket, where Crist's maneuver opens up a chain reaction of contested races for Republican-held offices:
Besides Crist and Sink, the other statewide elected officials expected to seek new office are Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, both likely to run for governor.
The only party leaders who would encourage Republicans to take this course are Barack Obama and Howard Dean.
(2) Crist Is Throwing His Weight Against A Rising Star
For all the talk about ideas - and ideas do matter quite a lot - political parties win and lose elections with people. And when you have good people on your team, you want them to succeed and advance.
Marco Rubio is one such person. Only 38 years old, the charismatic, Miami-born Cuban-American Rubio - a lawyer and father of four - has risen swiftly in his decade in Florida politics, serving as a City Commissioner for the City of West Miami before entering the Florida House, where he served four terms, served first as Majority Whip during the last redistricting, then Majority Leader and finally Speaker of the Florida House before term limits forced him out of the job in 2009. You can read more here on Rubio, and watch him in action:
And announcing his Senate run:
Rubio is everything older Republicans like Crist should be encouarging: he's young but already experienced as a leader, he's telegenic and a good speaker, he's conservative, and yes, he's Latino, a demographic that a more inclusive Republican party would be reaching out to, not spurning. Here's the reaction from the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund:
We are highly disappointed that the Republican establishment would slam the door on Marco Rubio, who is the kind of candidate that the GOP should be eagerly supporting. We have heard a lot of talk about how the party wants to find qualified Hispanic candidates to run for office but in the end we see once again that this is nothing but lip-service. Additionally, as conservatives, we are doubly troubled that Rubio has been so swiftly brushed aside by the powers that be. Republicans cannot be a governing majority again until they earn more Hispanic votes, and this move certainly does not help them in this regard.
Charlie Crist has talked a good talk as Governor about promoting diversity, but here we have a guy who is every bit as qualified as Crist to hold statewide office as a legislator - and rather than find a way to co-exist with him, Crist bolts his own job to try to stop Rubio. So much for outreach.
(3) Crist Is Picking An Ideological Battle
Florida is one place where the moderates and the conservatives have, by and large, managed to get along pretty well, as illustrated by statewide victories by the likes of Bush, Crist, Martinez and McCollum, men who certainly don't see eye to eye on every issue. By running Crist for re-election and Rubio for the Senate, Republicans could send a clear message to voters that the state party remains big enough for both groups. Instead, Crist is jumping into a messy, expensive primary race that will split the party into clearly-defined ideological camps and is bound to leave hard feelings on both sides. Moderate Republicans can complain all they want about the Pat Toomey primary challenge to Arlen Specter, but make no mistake: in this race, it's the moderate picking a fight to muscle out a conservative in a state where there is no serious question that conservatives have won and can continue to win races statewide.
(4) Crist Is Leading The Wrong Way
Finally, to be blunt, Crist is wrong on the biggest issue of the day: whether Republicans should oppose President Obama's plans to massively increase government spending and government control of health care, banking, energy, the auto industry, and indeed virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy. His embrace of the wasteful $787 billion stimulus package is the first step in a political Jim Jones act, by which Republicans abandon the clear distinctions that give voters any reason to choose Republicans over Democrats. It's one thing for Crist to be a moderate back home in Florida, where he has to work in a coalition with other Republicans, but it's entirely another to send him to Washington on a platform of joining the Democratic coalition on one issue after another. The party simply can't survive if it's identified with Obama's agenda, and why would such an opposition party appeal to anybody?
Finally, John Cornyn has proven that he has learned absolutely nothing from the fiasco of 2006, when the GOP lost close Senate races elsewhere after pouring millions into a primary race to prop up Lincoln Chaffee. You don't cannibalize key offices like the Florida Governorship to recruit candidates, and you certainly don't do so to poke a stick in the eye of the party's base by creating a contested primary against a rising star who appeals to a crucial demograpic. It's a loser move all around.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2010 | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)
January 9, 2009
POLITICS: Poe v Palin
Gov. Palin draws a challenger. I'm sure he'll have basically a license to print money in national fundraising from left-wing blogs (assuming he's the Democratic nominee).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:50 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2010 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
December 21, 2008
POLITICS: King Arthur's Daughter
I am torn on the issue of Caroline Kennedy being appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill out Hillary Clinton's term. On the one hand, as a New Yorker, I'm appalled. On the other hand, as a Republican, this is the best thing that could possibly happen short of Gov. Paterson deciding he likes the ring of "Senator Spitzer."
Kennedy is one of scores of wealthy Democrats in this state who have never held public office or accomplished really all that much in the public or private sector; all she has is her family name. That the Democrats are even considering her tells me that they've basically fallen into one of two dangerous delusions:
(1) That it's the 1930s again and all you need is a D next to your name to win;
I don't think much of David Paterson, but I'd have thought he has more backbone and independence than to let Kennedy's base (the media and the Obama camp) bully him into choosing such a poor candidate rather than the other available options, all of whom have more political experience and, frankly, all of whom would pay more (public) political dividends to Paterson, himself an accidental Governor who has yet to receive a mandate from the public.
Now, it is far too late in the game for either party to object on principle to political dynasties, given the scores of political families in this country (few states are without at least one major one). Nor is it wholly a bad thing - we accept politics as a family business for the same reason why we accept Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey jr., Jakob Dylan, Ben Stiller, Kate Hudson...every business is a family business, and the children of the pros do often learn things early. But of course, legacy politics has also given us more than its share of brain-dead empty suits like Bob Casey and Linc Chaffee who could never, ever have gotten elected to public office on their own. And this is still a democracy; even if we're willing to vote for second or third generation politicos, they still need to prove that they can run the gauntlet of seeking public approval first (George W. Bush, for example, cut his teeth working for his dad's campaigns but had no public office until he was elected to one by the people of Texas). The idea of just handing office to a 51-year-old who has never, so far as I can tell, accomplished anything in the practice of law or in politics simply because of her famous name is repugnant.
On the other hand, the GOP actually has a pretty strong candidate in Pete King, and Kennedy is about the worst possible matchup to a pugnacious Long Island Irishman with a blue-collar edge. She has no separate and distinct geographic or ethnic base, other than perhaps her gender, and it's sad that modern feminism's political icons seem to be women who only got jobs because of who their husbands or fathers are. She can't match King's long record in office and his many years sparring on the political talkers, nor his common touch. Kennedy would start out with pole position against King purely on party identification, but from there that's all she has - her nomination would be the ultimate example of what we have seen a lot of the last month, the hubris of Democrats who think they can never lose what they only just won.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:04 AM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2010 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)