"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2014 Archives
July 22, 2014
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Latest Posts
More of my latest posts, off the site. At RedState:
DC Circuit Blocks Obamacare Subsidies, Mandate in 36 States (updated with the Fourth Circuit's decision)
At The Federalist:
June 26, 2014
POLITICS: Waiting For The Wave: The 2014 Senate Map
The polling tells us that the bulk of 2014's contested Senate races are basically dogfights. So why are so many Republicans optimistic? Because it's still June, and some of the elements of the dynamics of 2014 may not be fully baked into the polling yet. How good a year this is for the GOP will depend on those factors.
If you look at the chart at the top of this post, what you pretty clearly can see from the data is that the Senate races right now seem to be sorted into three general groups (although in each group I'm including one race that is less favorable for the GOP than the rest).
Group One, three currently Democrat-held seats in deep-red territory without real incumbents, is the likely GOP blowouts. Montana and South Dakota are both looking locked up, and the South Dakota polling may get even uglier for the Democrats if the third-party support for Larry Pressler (a former Republican Senator running as an independent) fades. West Virginia is closer, close enough that a giant gaffe or scandal or something could put it back on the table, and in a different year or state a 10-point lead would not look insurmountable. But it's hard to see where that support comes from, in a 2014 midterm in West Virginia.
Group Two is the tossups, nine states that are really too close to call right now. Seven of the nine are Democrat-held seats, five with incumbents (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana and North Carolina) and two open seats (Iowa and Michgigan). One of the two GOP-held seats has an incumbent (Kentucky), the other is open (Georgia). The Democrats have settled on candidates in all nine, Republicans still have a primary in Alaska (the poll average here is the matchup of frontrunner Dan Sullivan against incumbent Mark Begich), a runoff in Georgia (the poll average here is the matchup of frontrunner Jack Kingston against Democrat nominee Michelle Nunn), and a "jungle primary" that will probably result in a December runoff in Louisiana (the poll average here is the runoff matchup of frontrunner Bill Cassidy against incumbent Mary Landrieu). In only one of these races, in Michigan, does the current leader have a 5-point lead; in five of the nine races the frontrunner is below 45%, and in eight of the nine (all but Cassidy in Louisiana) below 46%. While a 2 or 3-point lead in the polls in October may be meaningful, a race with a lead that size in June and 10-20 percent undecided is functionally a tossup, at least until you take into consideration the various factors (national environment, state electorate) that are likely to pull the race in one direction or another as we enter the fall.
Why do Republican analysts feel so optimistic? Because polls, as we recall from 2010 and 2012, are only as good as their ability to project who will turn out and vote, and we are probably still a few months from pollsters being able to really make accurate assessments of what the fall electorate will look like. As Sam Wang, Ph.D., has noted, the various models for predicting how the Senate races will go are predicting different things depending on the extent to which they look beyond the polls to incorporate predictive elements like the economy, the effect of incumbency, the President's approval rating, and the like. Sean Trende, here and here, offered a model based mainly on Obama's approval rating, and found even after some tweaks to incorporate a few other variables, that Democrats could be projected to face double-digit Senate seat losses if the President's approval rating was 43% or lower on Election Day.
That's just one way of skinning this cat, but right now, Obama's approval sits at 41.5 approval/53.9 disapproval, and has been trending rather sharply downward for the past month, with his approval on the economy, foreign policy and healthcare all consistently worse than his overall approval rating. (Via Ace, it's even worse in the battleground states). In that national environment, with midterm elections in general tending to produce Republican-leaning electorates, and with the historic poor performance of second-term presidents in sixth-year midterms, you really have to feel pretty good about GOP chances of winning most of those nine races. That may seem improbable, but there were basically seven Senate races that went to the wire or involved potentially big Democratic upsets in 2012 - Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Missouri - and I didn't think at the time they would run the table and win all seven. They did. In a few of those, like Virginia and Wisconsin, the Senate races tracked almost precisely the outcome in the Presidential race, meaning turnout from the top of the ticket was decisive. If the national environment really does show as sour across the board for Democrats in November as it looks from today, eight-for-nine or nine-for-nine could be a possibility. If the environment (including the parties' turnout operations) swings back to a more neutral one, I'd be looking more at the GOP winning five of the nine, which would net a six-seat overall gain in the Senate, enough for control of the chamber but by a very narrow margin that might not last beyond 2016.
For now, that's still a big if, not reflected in polls showing voters not really ready to commit to either side in most of those races. It's why Republicans are waiting for the wave. But it's also a reminder that those races won't win themselves - Democrats ran the table in 2012 by fighting all the way to the whistle in every race with every resource they had. One thing helping the GOP may be the Governor's races: for example, Rick Snyder is now comfortably ahead in the polls in Michigan, and the Colorado GOP dodged a repeat of the 2010 trainwreck by picking Bob Beauprez over Tom Tancredo; Beauprez may not beat John Hickenlooper, but he'll give him a tough race without Tancredo's divisiveness.
Finally, there's Group Three, the races in which the polling shows the Democrats safe for now - but, depending on the national environment, maybe not safe enough just yet to declare those races over. Incumbents Jeff Merkley in Oregon, Al Franken in Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire all have leads around 10 points, and Mark Warner in Virginia has a sixteen-point lead on Ed Gillespie. (It's also always possible some other races could come on the board; there hasn't been much in the way of general election polling in Mississippi or New Mexico, for example. But we'll have to wait and see). But none of them are regularly polling above 50%, the usual rule of thumb for a safe incumbent.
Realistically, those are "reach" races that only go on the board if things really get ugly for the Democrats. Oregon is, I would guess, the best hope for the GOP relative to its present polling given the Cover Oregon fiasco, New Hampshire the toughest of the OR-MN-NH trio due to Shaheen's personal popularity and the likelihood of a landslide win for the Democrats in the Governor's race (the other two will have tight GOV races). Also, Al Franken has a huge warchest, so his race with self-funder Mike McFadden could get ugly and expensive. Virginia, of course, is the longest reach, but Gillespie should be sufficiently well-funded and anodyne to take advantage if Warner slides into the neighborhood of actually being vulnerable.
Predictions? Anybody who's predicting the fall elections in June with too much certainty is nuts. But right now, Republicans have a lot of opportunities in the Senate. If Obama's approval rating keeps tanking, the GOP avoids any major campaign-killing gaffes, and the Democrats don't come up with a magic turnout bullet, the swing in the Senate could be bigger than anyone is realistically talking about right now. Don't count your chickens; this is just the optimistic scenario. But it is not, from the vantage point of late June, an unrealistic one.
June 5, 2014
WAR/POLITICS: Yes, It Matters That Bowe Bergdahl Deserted
Does it matter whether Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter, or worse, a traitor? In evaluating President Obama's decision to trade five high-ranking Taliban terrorists for Bergdahl, it absolutely does.
Given the public-relations fiasco around the Bergdahl deal, liberal commentators are circling the wagons. Their latest argument, designed to compartmentalize the pieces of the controversy so they can't be considered as a whole, is that the President's calculation of what it was worth giving up to get Bergdahl back should not have taken consideration of the facts of Bergdahl's conduct and disappearance, specifically his abandonment of his comrades and mission under circumstances suggesting a deeper betrayal than simple desertion. This argument (which is summarized here by Brian Beutler at the New Republic, although it's been coming from people all over the left side of the commentariat the past two days), goes more or less like this:
1) Either you believe the military should have an ethos of "leave no man behind," or you do not.
2) Either you believe deserters should be court-martialed, or you do not.
3) You can't have a court martial until you've brought Bergdahl back.
4) If you believe in 1) and 2), you should want Bergdahl back first before deciding if he deserted, which is a matter for the court martial system, and he is presumed innocent until then.
As Beutler put it on Twitter, "this standard of rendering verdicts against POWs while they're in captivity and using them to oppose rescue is disgusting."
There are two related problems with this syllogism that illustrate its dependence on simple-minded sloganeering in lieu of sober judgments of reality. First, it confuses purely military decisions with major national security decisions. For soldiers, "leave no man behind" is more than a slogan - it's part of the deep ethos of military service, the knowledge that your comrades have your back even if you get lost or wounded or just screw up. It's the second-highest value the military has, and it's why commanders won't think twice about rescue missions that may put the lives of more soldiers at risk than those that are being rescued. Of course, there's a fair amount of bitterness at Bergdahl's desertion - his decision to leave everyone behind - among his former Army comrades and especially those who lost loved ones trying to get him back. But nobody really argues the point that the military should make efforts like that to get guys like him back.
But an exchange of high-value detainees is not a purely military decision. It's a national-security decision of precisely the type that has always been reserved, not to military men according to their military code, but to the elected civilian political leadership that makes the really big decisions with an eye beyond today's battlefields to the greater interests of the nation. After all, the military's highest value, even higher than its commitment to the lives of its men and women in uniform, is the mission itself - and it's the civilian leadership that sets the mission and chooses what sacrifices we ask of them. There are serious downsides to making ransom deals with terrorists, including setting dangerous men free and setting bad precedents and incentives for the future. Even President Obama had to admit that we could live to regret this deal in terrible ways:
"Is there a possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely," Obama told a news conference in Warsaw.
The existence of downsides, even grave ones, may not convince us to adopt an absolute rule against deals with terrorists; national security decisions often involve a choice among lesser evils, and if your foreign policy can be summarized on a bumper sticker, you will probably get in a lot of accidents. But they illustrate why the pros and cons and competing values need to be weighed carefully, rather than letting one motto ("leave no man behind") or another ("we don't negotiate with terrorists") do our thinking for us. Our principles, as always, must remain a compass, not a straitjacket. And once you concede that the decision involved weighing competing values rather than blindly following a single overriding rule, you have to take consideration of the fact that - while of course we all wanted Bergdahl back - retrieving him was not as compelling a value as retrieving a soldier who did his duty as best he could and unquestionably remained loyal to his country.
Which brings me to the second problem with the syllogism being proposed: that it asks the President of the United States to make vital national security decisions while wearing lawyer-imposed blinders as to the facts. Yes, as a legal matter under U.S. criminal law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Sergeant Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty of desertion or any graver misconduct. But every day of the week, every hour of the day, Presidents make decisions on matters large and small, in the national security area and other areas, affecting the lives of many people, based on facts that have not been litigated in court. The idea that the facts of Bergdahl's disappearance could simply be wished away or pretended not to exist, simply because no court-martial had been convened, is ridiculous and juvenile. It's not as if we could get the five Taliban back if we tried Bergdahl and found him guilty, after all. Presidents make decisions based on the best information they have. Sometimes, that information doesn't come from sources that conform to the legal rules of evidence, or from sources that could ever be disclosed in a courtroom. And sometimes, facts come out later that show that the President was misinformed - but those facts arrive too late for a decision to be made. These are the adult realities of the Presidency, and only an appallingly misguided legalism can lead President Obama's own supporters, in the sixth year of his presidency, to remain blind to it.
The military owed Bowe Bergdahl its promise to try to rescue him, even if he walked away. The nation did not owe him an agreement to compromise national security by surrendering five high-value prisoners without asking what we were getting in return.
May 28, 2014
POLITICS/LAW: Interstate Commerce and Interstate Sales of Health Insurance
May 21, 2014
POLITICS: Does The Tea Party Need More Experienced Candidates?
This election season's primary results, in particular Mitch McConnell's lopsided trouncing yesterday of Matt Bevin, have produced their share of obituaries for the Tea Party. But the experience so far of Tea Party and other insurgent showdowns against the GOP establishment just goes to show that candidates and campaigns still matter - and that's not likely to change. While both "Establishment" and Tea Party campaigns have gotten savvier in learning how to play the primary game, we are likely for the foreseeable future to see Tea Party challengers win when they are good candidates, with some prior political experience, talent and funding - and lose when they lack one or more of those attributes. I'd like to look here in particular at the importance of political experience, and whether Tea Party campaigns has been losing races because it was running complete political novices.
As my analysis below shows, the answer to that question is not cut and dried - but on the whole, the Tea Party candidates with the staying power to win both a primary and general election have tended not to be people jumping into the political fray for the first time in their lives. As we'll see, political novices are most likely to win when they are business executives running for governor without an incumbent opponent, and candidates without prior elective experience are best suited to win when they have some family connection or other appointed entree into politics.
Experience isn't everything; Tea Party challenges have also failed for being underfunded and for having a crowded field that divided the anti-Establishment vote. But these and other aspects of successful campaigns - the ability to raise money, unite factions behind a single candidate, and avoid disabling gaffes - tend also to be byproducts of experience. The lesson is that activists who want to win statewide races behind Tea Party challengers to entrenched incumbents should begin by building a bench of Congressmen, state Attorneys General, state Treasurers, Secretaries of State and Comptrollers, state legislators, Mayors, district attorneys, and other intermediate rungs on the ladder to governorships and Senate seats.
For the analysis below, what I did was go through the list of Republican primary battles in Senate and Governor's races from 2010 through 2014, and isolate the races that can reasonably be classified as "Establishment" versus "Tea Party" races. Now, this involves a fair amount of generalization, and I show my work so you can draw your own conclusions. The Establishment, broadly speaking, refers to the official party committees (the RNC, NRSC, RGA and the state-level parties) and large organizations (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's group), but also to the constellation of donors, officeholders, and pundits that collectively tend to circle the wagons around party leadership and more moderate or less rock-the-boat candidates. Not every "Establishment" organ or figure has taken sides in each of these races, and each can argue for their own won-loss record, but it's usually not hard to tell who has the implicit or explicit backing of party bigwigs. The "Tea Party" is an even more amorphous collection of insurgent groups across a variety of issues, including the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and a host of smaller groups with "Tea Party" in the name (some of which are more legitimate than others, some of which are frankly scams on donors and candidates), social conservative groups, and individual figures like Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, and of course Erick Erickson. And again, different figures in this space have made different choices in different races. That said, it's still possible to see fairly sharp distinctions between the candidates who have "Establishment" backing and those who had to run against a headwind of opposition and rely on Tea Party support. I left off some races like the 2012 Ohio Senate race, where Josh Mandel had a lot of early Tea Party support but had no real Establishment opposition; ditto John Boozman's 2010 Senate campaign in Arkansas.
I also rated the candidates' experience on a 4-point scale - which again oversimplifies, but allows us to perform a quantitative comparison. I gave 3 points to incumbents and other candidates who had previously won a prior Senate, Governor or At-Large (i.e., statewide) House race; 2 to candidates who had won prior elections above the local level; 1 to candidates who had some political experience (appointed or local office, or working as a full-time activist or pundit) but nothing on the level of a Congressional or even state legislative race; and 0 to true political newcomers. Those ratings are listed under "TE#" and "EE#" and the difference between the Tea Party and Establishment candidate in a race listed under "Diff".
Let's walk through the races, grouped by outcome, and then sum up the findings at the end. Note also that in a few places I've listed a "win" that was delivered, not by primary voters, but by a party convention or by one side dropping out of the race.
Read More »
Tea Party General Election Wins
15 races can be more or less classified as primary and general election Tea Party victories:
As you can see, this is a heterogenous group. Not all are conservatives - Rand Paul is a libertarian, Martinez a moderate, and Sandoval basically a libertarian (Sandoval ran a populist outsider campaign against a corrupt incumbent; Martinez mostly made her peace with the political establishment of New Mexico after Pete Domenici's son's campaign flamed out, although her chief primary opponent had served as chairman of the state party from 2004-09). Not all are political outsiders; Rick Perry had been in office forever, but ended up beating back a primary challenge backed by DC-based moderate and establishment figures by forging an alliance between Austin insiders and Texas Tea Partiers. Not all were even the first choice of national Tea Party groups - Deb Fischer won on the strength of Tea Party-oriented voter support, but the national groups had backed Don Stenberg. Others, like Haley, Rubio, Toomey, Paul and Cruz faced open and fierce opposition from the political establishment both nationally and in their respective states.
Of the six candidates listed here who had never won major office before, two were second-generation national political figures (Paul and Lee), and one (Cruz) had served in a prominent and controversial government office (he was appointed Texas Solicitor General by Greg Abbott). Rick Scott and Rick Snyder were both business executives running for open-seat Governorships, a job voters have been traditionally more willing to entrust to business leaders based on a showing of executive competence. That leaves only Ron Johnson - and after Leinenkugel (whose Establishment credentials were somewhat flimsy anyway) dropped out of the race, Johnson's only primary opposition was other Tea Party novices. That doesn't diminish the impressiveness of Johnson's general election win against an entrenched incumbent blue-state Senator (Russ Feingold) with a national reputation and no major scandal baggage, but it highlights what a rarity his victory was.
Establishment General Election Wins
12 races can be classified as Establishment general election wins after defeating a Tea Party challenge; 11 of those were Establishment primary wins, plus the 2010 Alaska Senate race in which the Establishment candidate (Lisa Murkowski) lost the primary to a Tea Party challenger (Joe Miller) but refused to accept the verdict of the primary voters, ran third-party in the general, and won.
Interestingly, unlike the 2014 primary battles, not one of these races involved a Tea Party candidate new to politics, although Miller, Lamontagne and Vander Plaats had never won any office of note, and Miller's inexperience was exposed in the general election. And Chris Christie actually beat a more experienced candidate in Steve Lonegan - but then, we know by now that Christie is an exceptionally talented politician. Several of these races simply came down to the better candidate winning, with an assist from some incumbents shifting their voting patterns in the run-up to the primary. J.D. Hayworth might have exploited voter frustration with McCain, but failed to get traction because Hayworth is a clown, and an ethically challenged clown at that. Liljenquist is a promising candidate, but was little-known, and Orrin Hatch was regarded as a conservative hero for the first two decades or so of his tenure in the Senate, a status that (combined with his deep roots in Utah politics) doesn't wear off overnight; he was never the sort of burr in the saddle that Lugar or Specter had been. Stutzman lost in large part because the Right was divided between him and Hostettler; Haslam won for similar reasons.
Tea Party Primary Wins & General Election Losses
10 races can be classified as Tea Party primary victories that went down to defeat in the fall. These are the most controversial races, since we are frequently told (often without a fair understanding of the facts of the particular races or the flaws of the Establishment candidates) that the Tea Party cost Republicans these races.
You will notice right away that less than half of these candidates were experienced politicians, and three of those four - Cuccinelli, Angle, and Buck - all lost very close races in which they won independent voters, in Buck's case by a double-digit margin. I won't rehash those races here, as Sean Trende and Dave Weigel recount the relevant history, except to note that (1) we forget how much damage some of the Establishment candidates did to themselves and (2) there was really nothing in Mourdock's history to suggest the problems that would blow up in his face after a bad debate answer that went national due to the fallout from Todd Akin. Dudley also lost a tight race, featuring possibly the most extreme gender gap on record (he won male voters in Oregon 60-36, but lost female voters 62-36). On the other hand, Long and Bongino were running essentially unwinnable races from the start.
Clearly, O'Donnell, Maes and Paladino were candidates who suffered from a combination of (1) political inexperience and (2) flaws that would have been better-known to the primary electorate if they'd run before.
Establishment Primary Wins & General Election Losses
Set against the 10 Tea Party losses are these 14 races in which an Establishment candidate beat back a Tea Party challenger and went on to lose in the fall. As with the prior group, not all of the losing Tea Party candidates would actually have been viable in the general election, but in either event the interesting question is why they lost when they lost, in this case in the primary.
Rehberg and Berg were two of the biggest general-election failures in recent memory in spite of being experienced candidates, but both had overcome opponents who simply were not experienced enough to mount a credible primary challenge. Jamie Radtke was something of a disaster of a candidate, yet another example of leaving voters without a real alternative to a flawed but veteran Establishment candidate (Allen). Mack had the field cleared for him after both Hasner and Haridopolos dropped out. At the other end of the scale, California primary voters chose the less-experienced candidates in 2010 and got nowhere with them.
Primaries Lost By Both Establishment & Tea Party
A few of the contested primaries of recent years defy even rough classification, because both sides started the primary process by backing a candidate, and both sides lost to a candidate who defied the Establishment/Tea Party divide.
The Akin race is maybe the most notorious of all, but there was a clear Establishment-backed candidate (Brunner had the support of the powerful Blunt family and its allies), while the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin backed Steelman; neither side wanted Akin, who was seen as too hardline socially for the Establishment but too establishment-minded economically for the Tea Party. But Akin had something his opponents didn't: he'd been winning elections since 1989. (He also had the Democrats shrewdly spending money to attack his opponents). He ended up winning a race that was close to a 3-way dead heat. As both Trende and Weigel note, Akin was not a Tea Party creation so much as a result of the two sides dividing the opposition.
Linda McMahon's two Senate races also defy the categories. In 2010, the NRSC had recruited former Congressman Rob Simmons into the race, while Tea Partiers were backing Schiff; McMahon, a self-funding moderate from the most populist of businesses (pro wrestling), muscled in and beat both. By 2012, McMahon had made more of her peace with the Establishment, and her primary opponent (Chris Shays) had spent two decades as one of the most liberal Republicans in the House, so Connecticut's Tea Partiers had no real choice.
2014 Tea Party Primary Wins
So far, 2014 has produced only two Tea Party wins in statewide primary races, both in Nebraska.
Nebraska's been the one bright spot for the Tea Party this season, and the efforts of the Establishment to downplay its attempts to stop him (many of which had more to do with ire at the Senate Conservatives Fund than Sasse) are a tribute to the bandwagon effect of victory. Sasse is a talented candidate who raised a boatload of money, and his main opponent (Osborn) self-destructed; given the deep-red status of Nebraska, Sasse maybe the unusual outsider candidate to win a Senate race, and even he spent some years in DC working for the Bush Administration.
2014 Establishment Primary Wins
The larger number of Establishment victories this season has fueled the "Tea Party is dead" narrative. Certainly it illustrates the growing sophistication of the Establishment campaigns (especially incumbents) in spotting Tea Party challenges early and working to close them off. It also illustrates the number of races in which a low-quality, poorly-funded Tea Party primary challenge will be mounted against incumbents who in years past would simply have run unopposed.
Hutchinson's challenger wasn't a serious threat, and Rauner won in large part because he not only had money but the good fortune to face the same group of candidates who lost the same race to the same opponent in 2010. Liz Cheney, while a fine candidate in the abstract, is really a foreign policy Establishment figure at heart, and was miscast as a Tea Partier. Gardner, of course, will take his nomination by acclimation, as Buck graciously and wisely shifted into a House race to make room, but that Senate race had previously been a dogfight. Wehby is the unusual political neophyte to win as the Establishment-backed candidate, but she had the great advantage of running as a single-issue anti-Obamacare candidate whose opponent, Conger, cast a vote for the disastrous and now defunct Cover Oregon health exchange.
But the Kentucky and North Carolina races were the clearest examples of the Tea Party running political rookies. Bevin, Brannon and Harris all had their virtues, but they got buried in fundraising, Brannon's mouth and rookie mistake in failing to settle a business dispute, and the inability in North Carolina to unite behind either Brannon or Harris were all fatal.
So, when you add up all the categories of races, what does that tell us? First, let's look at the overall won-loss record for Tea Party candidates, grouped by their experience level:
And here is how Tea Party campaigns matched up when you rank them by the differential in experience:
As you can see, the Tea Party may actually have its best primary winning percentage running complete novices, but by far its best general election showings have come behind more experienced candidates, and the bulk of its wins are in races where the Tea Party candidate was not significantly less experienced than the Establishment candidate. And it has actually floundered when there isn't a veteran primary opponent who can be the target of anti-incumbent, anti-Washington ire.
Now, let's apply the same two analyses to Establishment candidates, with the second chart being mostly a mirror image of the first (not quite; for example, I didn't include the 2014 Georgia Senate race since we don't yet know whether to credit Perdue or Kingston as the victor):
Unsurprisingly, the general election success of Establishment campaigns has been directly proportionate to the experience of the candidates.
Remaining 2014 Tea Party v Establishment Primary Battles
There are other races as well, although the lines of division are harder as of yet to detail in the Iowa Senate race (where two-term state legislator Joni Ernst, backed by Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, is trying to unite the two factions against a number of opponents with no electoral experience) and the Arizona Governor's race (in which most of the crowded field is running to the right). The Rhode Island Governor's race is a two-man fight, but "Moderate Party" candidate Ken Block has actually been trying to run a more populist campaign than Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Some of the races listed above are really just token opponents, and others don't fit that neatly in the Tea Party/Establishment dichotomy.
But in evaluating their odds, it's unavoidable that Wolf, Maness and Bowers have a tall hill to climb as political newcomers, two of them challenging incumbent Senators; Miller has an even taller one as a general election failure, albeit one who probably would have won in 2010 if Murkowski hadn't run as an independent. That's why conservatives are more excited about McDaniel, who's a more experienced politician, and Shannon.
The most important decision in any election is who runs, and who doesn't. Tea Partiers may occasionally find a diamond in the rough, but their desire to celebrate the citizen-politician shouldn't obscure the fact that politics is a craft, and people who have practiced it for some time are more likely to have gotten good at it.
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May 19, 2014
POLITICS: The Latest Bogus Obamacare Spin: The Ad Gap
Has Obamacare been outspent on the airwaves? Only if you don't count the biggest source of Obamacare ads.
The last diehard supporters of Obamacare have a new excuse for its pervasive and persistent unpopularity: that there are just too many negative ads out there convincing Americans that Obamacare is a bad idea. But this argument is based on obviously misleading statistics.
President Obama's April 1 now-infamous a football-spiking "Mission Accomplished" speech kicked off the latest round of this meme:
[T]his law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's working. It's helping people from coast to coast, all of which makes the lengths to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law...Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked. There are still no death panels. (Laughter.)...[T]he debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.(Applause.)
The report, released Friday by nonpartisan analysts Kantar Media CMAG, estimates $445 million was spent on political TV ads mentioning the law since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Spending on negative ads outpaced positive ones by more than 15 to 1.
Steve Benen of the Rachel Maddow Show Blog presents this analysis in pie chart form, and asks:
[W]hy does the public still disapprove of the Affordable Care Act? Perhaps because they've seen some of the 880,000 attack ads. In fact, maybe I'm the oddball on this, but given the one-sided advertising, shouldn’t the ACA be a lot less popular?
There are four big problems with this analysis. First and foremost, it ignores the fact that the landscape of commentary on Obamacare, and even specifically paid advertising, has been limited to the subset of ads considered by this study. What is missing is the $674 million in taxpayer money spent to market and promote the virtues of the ACA, most of it in the past year, a tidal wave of spending that easily dwarfs the political ad buy:
Second, that's without counting the free media generated by the President of the United States and his celebrity allies in touting the benefits of the ACA. It's egregiously dishonest to suggesting that this wasn't a "hard sell" but just a scrappy, underfunded plucky little federal government outnumbered and outgunned by the big bad Koch brothers. As Caleb Howe noted:
You didn’t make a hard sell?? In what universe are the OFA ads, the thousands of carefully crafted tweets, the celebrity endorsements, the endless speeches by the President and every other democrat in every city, county, state, region, principality, protectorate, bus station, nebula, star cluster, dimension and PLANE OF EXISTENCE EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF EVERY SINGLE DAY SINCE THEY FIRST PULLED OBAMACARE OUT OF THEIR COLLECTIVE NO NO AREAS NOT A HARD SELL???
As you'll recall, that sales campaign was so reeking in desperation that it was parodied on Saturday Night Live with Obama kissing Justin Bieber on the mouth to sell insurance. pushing moms to evangelize Obamacare to their kids.
[T]he group's workforce has shrunk in recent months from a high of more than 200 to just over 100 paid employees, according to a Democrat familiar with the group's workings.
But somehow, now after all of that, when it turns out that Obamacare is still unpopular, the problem is that, gosh-darn it, nobody has tried to sell it.
Third, Obama and Benen are basically admitting the failure of one of their chief talking points, to wit, their contention that the 2012 election was a referendum on Obamacare. Obama, after all, spent a billion dollars getting re-elected, and we've been told that "the debate is over" because that election ratified Obamacare, sort of the way the 2004 election ratified the Iraq War. To say that not a penny of the pro-Obama spending was pro-Obamacare spending is to implicitly admit that he did not get re-elected on the popularity of his healthcare plan. And it's not as if Democrats and their billionaire backers, unions and dark-money interest groups - who are not, contrary to spin, being massively outspent by the Koch brothers - are unable to put more money into advertising; the fact that ACA critics are running campaign ads on the topic and its defenders are not is a sign that political professionals know the public has already made its mind up, and their money speaks louder than words as to what they think the voters will respond to.
Fourth, Obamacare's unpopularity is not a new thing. RCP's polling average goes back to November 2009, and the program's popularity has been at least 4.7 points underwater every single day of the past four and a half years, and more than double digits underwater for the great majority of the period (only for a few days in August 2012 did it rise above -5):
The only really large-scale spike in unpopularity came in late 2013, and was associated not so much with campaign ads as with the disastrous rollout of the online exchanges. If anything, the persistence of the polling on this issue suggests that few minds are likely to be changed by TV ads (you'll recall that a major theme of the 2012 postmortems was the ineffectiveness of TV ad campaigns at changing minds). At some point, you just have to admit that the reason Obamacare is unpopular is that people don't like it.
April 9, 2014
POLITICS: Watch How The Left-Wing Smear Machine Does Dick Durbin's Dirty Work
Watch how Dick Durbin launches a coordinated assault on a Republican with an egregious misquote that takes off after it gets laundered through the left-wing media.
Yesterday afternoon, Sahil Kapur of TalkingPointsMemo wrote a piece quoting remarks from Mitch McConnell:
"Instead of focusing on jobs, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] launched into another confusing attack on the left's latest bizarre obsession," the Republican leader said on the Senate floor. "Just think about that. The percentage of Americans in the workforce is at an almost four-decade low, and Democrats chose to ignore serious job-creation ideas so they could blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the left."
My RedState colleagues and I can hardly be accused of being Mitch McConnell's biggest fans, but here he was, as any remotely fair-minded observer could tell from his remarks, referring to Reid's now-daily attack on the Koch brothers, which the (current) Senate Majority Leader has for weeks now been pursuing with the single-mindedness of Captain Ahab and the unhinged paranoia of Captain Queeg. If you woke anybody following American politics in the middle of the night and asked, "what is Harry Reid obsessed with attacking?" they would immediately say, "the Koch brothers."
That's what Erik Wemple of the Washington Post concludes today, with somewhat grudging assent from Kapur:
In a brief chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Kapur said, "The initial confusion was that Sen. McConnell didn't specify whether he was referring to pay equity or the Koch brothers and his remarks don’t point to one issue or the other. "His office says it was about the Koch brothers, which I’m not disputing. I want to be transparent, and I really regret the confusion." Here’s a draft of Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery. They are heavy on anti-Koch content.
As Wemple notes, the New York Times has appended a correction to a story it ran in this morning's paper, in which the Times is now equally unambiguous: McConnell was clearly misquoted:
Correction: April 9, 2014
But how many people will see the correction? And how did Kapur, whose piece was posted at 1:40 p.m., get this so wrong? Well, at 12:01 p.m., The Hill quoted Reid's number two, Majority Whip Dick Durbin:
"Tune in tomorrow and find out whether five Republicans will join us to raise this issue of pay fairness for women across America. I am not encouraged by the statement just made on the floor by the Republican Senate Leader," Durbin said. "He said that we were blowing 'a few kisses' to our powerful pals on the left with this legislative agenda."
The Hill corrected its piece by 2:02 to clarify McConnell's remarks, and a screenshot isn't available. But the quote from Durbin, dishonest as it is, doesn't outright claim that McConnell was talking about the equal-pay push. For that, he needed allies willing to bend the truth further.
Going back over the Twitter timeline, first up, at 1:22 p.m. we have that reliable toady, Joan Walsh of Salon, with a reference to McConnell's Democratic opponent:
That got 57 Retweets. Walsh's article at Salon, naturally still uncorrected, asserts without citation or context that "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called equal pay 'the left’s latest bizarre obsession' and accused Harry Reid of 'blowing a few kisses' to advocates."
Then, at 1:31, we have DSCC Press Secretary Justin Barasky, citing the Hill article:
At 1:43 we have former DNC flack and now American Bridge and Americans United for Change (ha!) leader Brad Woodhouse, also citing The Hill (you can see in his and Barasky's tweets a sample of what the original Hill article looked like):
It's at this point that the coordinated message-carrying power of the left-wing media kicks in. At 1:45 we get Sally Kohn of the Daily Beast:
Meanwhile, Kapur posted his piece at 1:40, and at 1:46 we have Kapur's editor, Josh Marshall:
No disinformation campaign would be complete without the Daily Kos, so also at 1:46, its eponymous leader kicks off:
At 1:47 we get Kaili Joy Gray of Wonkette, also a former Kos writer:
Hey, how about the White House? At 1:50 we get official White House spokesman Jesse Lee, with the kind of factual rigor - discussing remarks made at the other end of Capitol Hill and easily checked - that we have come to expect from this White House:
By this point, the misinformation is becoming received Beltway conventional wisdom. At 2:12, Politico deputy editor Blake Hounshell moves on to discussing how it will haunt McConnell:
At 2:10 pm, after the Hill has already issued its correction, Jed Lewison posts a Daily Kos front-page item, "McConnell calls equal pay 'the left's latest bizarre obsession'," which remains uncorrected. [UPDATE: After I prodded Lewison on Twitter, he appended a correction to the post] Citing Kapur's piece, he writes, "Senate Minority Mitch McConnell dismisses Democratic concerns about women getting equal pay for equal work as a 'bizarre obsession'". Kos Managing Editor Barbara Morrill circulates the piece at 2:19:
Meanwhile, bearing out Hounshell's prediction. Woodhouse's lavishly-funded propagandists have been busy, and at 2:21 he tweets out a video that continues to completely mischaracterize McConnell's remarks:
At 2:46, Gray is still using the misquote to pester the RNC chairman:
At 3:47, the Daily Beast is still circulating Kapur's original piece:
The irony, of course, is that the "equal pay" push the Democrats are putting on is, itself, based on a farrago of lies and junk statistics (as even this Slate XX analysis observes and as the White House's economist in charge of the issue essentially concedes, yet the White House has been pushing the bogus number without shame or caveat). And Reid's daily Koch brothers attack is itself awash in phony math. But when you're desperate, it seems, the next step from your own lies is to double down by lying about what the other side is saying, even when it's easily checkable.
Because there will always be people on the Left eager to repeat those lies.
April 2, 2014
POLITICS: Yes, There's A Republican Health Care Plan - Bobby Jindal's Plan
There's a Republican alternative to Obamacare - a health insurance plan rolled out today by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. It's not only a better plan, but starts with a better way to think about how we pay for healthcare.
The Search For A Republican Alternative
One of the hoary, beaten-to-death talking points of Obamacare's last-ditch defenders has been that it's impossible to repeal the Affordable Care Act because there isn't an alternative on the table. Of course, while there are some transitional issues that would arise in unwinding the damage Obamacare has done to the pre-Obamacare insurance market, if you believe (as most Obamacare critics do) that the statute has made things on balance worse, then there's no reason why Congress couldn't or shouldn't first tear the thing up and then get to work finding a different way to improve our healthcare system. And part of what is at work in this line of criticism is the Wonk Hack Trap: the desire of liberal policy writers and Democratic ad-makers to force Republicans to submit detailed plans to be picked apart with one-sided propaganda before there is any realistic prospect of them even being seriously debated, and possibly improved, in Congress (see this Jonathan Chait piece on the 2015 Ryan budget for a classic example of the genre - of course, with Harry Reid running the Senate, no Republican policy proposal has any prospect of being considered for a vote).
1. They want to end the tax bias in favor of employer-sponsored health insurance to create full portability (either through a tax credit, deductibility, or another method);
The best time to put such plans on the table is in a presidential campaign, or when the party holds both Houses of Congress (as it may next year, but does not now) and can pass at least parts of it and force the President to veto. Unfortunately, in 2012, Republicans were unable to offer a forceful message on this issue, because their candidate had already signed into law a plan nearly identical to Obamacare at the state level, and was generally interested in avoiding discussion of specific plans. Many Republicans would prefer to just stay silent for now, at least until 2015, in hopes of capitalizing on longstanding voter dissatisfaction with Obamacare. But with the Senate up for grabs and potential presidential candidates beginning to gear up, Governor Jindal has decided that it's time to put his cards on the table with a plan that includes many of these elements and some specific ideas of his own.
Jindal is already a veteran of the healthcare wars. In 1996, he was appointed - at age 24 - as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, running the entire state hospital system, and in 1998 he served as Executive Director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, a Clinton-created bipartisan commission. A bipartisan majority of the commission ended up recommending a "premium support" plan for Medicare reform based on a model that Jindal had originally put together as a Congressional intern - a plan that (in varying forms) has resurfaced in Paul Ryan's annual budget proposals. Jindal went on to work as a policy advisor to Tommy Thompson in the Bush-era Department of Health and Human Services before his tenure as a Congressman and Governor, and he's been engaged in healthcare issues in his two terms as Governor of Louisiana. So, his plan is not merely a thrown-together campaign document, but represents his long-term thinking about how to approach healthcare.
The Jindal Plan
You can read the full 21-page plan document here, the 3-page Executive Summary here, Gov. Jindal's op-ed here, and overviews from Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein at the Washington Post and Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC.
Jindal takes as his starting point that Obamacare would be repealed root and branch, a goal that will be music to the ears of GOP primary voters, but will focus the attention of the many voters who despise Obamacare but want some reassurance that Republicans won't simply replace it with a desert sowed with salt. The theory of his replacement is as important as its details, many of which would surely have to be negotiated with Congress even if Jindal wins the presidency.
At a conceptual level, Jindal's plan - like most GOP proposals - diverges from the outset from plans like Obamacare-Romneycare-Hillarycare that promise "universal" coverage and set out to achieve it by (1) forcing people against their will into common insurance pools, (2) forcing insurance companies against their will into insuring all comers, (3) forcing employers to provide health insurance to certain of their employees, (4) in the case of how Obamacare was originally designed, forcing states to follow federal dictates in how and to whom they provide Medicaid, and (5) dictating in minute detail the terms on which all of these compelled interactions are carried out. Even with all of those mandates, even the optimistic CBO projections at the time the Affordable Care Act was passed estimated that the bill would reduce the uninsured population only from 54 million to 23 million by 2019, and those projections have grown less rosy over time, reminding us that universal burdens on the public do not guarantee universal compliance. Rather than chase the chimera of a one-size-fits-everyone plan that will never actually fit everyone, Jindal's plan revives the premise of our pre-Obamacare healthcare system (where over 80% were insured and about 85% of the insured were happy with their health insurance) and seeks to create the conditions of lower cost and more competition that will entice more people to voluntarily choose a health insurance plan. If this sounds like a familiar concept to you, it's because that's how the rest of the American economy works, and always has.
From his perspective as a Governor, Jindal also wants to reverse the centralization of power over health insurance in Washington, and create competition between states to offer better health insurance. Thus, in place of having mandatory federal rules (for Medicaid, for insurers, for employers, and for individuals) that are subject to waivers and delays at the whim and favor of the President and HHS, he would write more latitude for states directly into law, block-granting Medicaid funds and reducing the federal role to holding states accountable for outcomes rather than micromanaging their process (spoiler alert: Jindal has strongly signalled that this will also be his approach to education). Sarlin frets that this permissive approach "might just spawn dozens of mini-Obamacares at the state level," but at least that would be those states' choice, and in a blogger conference call this afternoon, Jindal stressed that by allowing insurance policies to be sold across state lines, he would rely on competition to incentivize states to avoid imposing an unreasonable volume of mandates.
For individuals who can afford their own healthcare, Jindal would step back and give them more tools to take control: a tax deduction on par with the employer deduction, and more health savings accounts to encourage people to be more involved in the costs of healthcare. Jindal is less interested than Obama in enrolling healthy, childless adults above the poverty line in Medicaid. But for those who legitimately cannot afford healthcare, Jindal's plan recognizes that government is too involved to simply walk away: he's proposing separate high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions, and focusing on making sure Medicaid focuses the safety net on those most in need. He would also keep in place the pre-Obamacare laws guaranteeing the continuation of coverage when you change jobs once you have insurance, regardless of whether you've gotten sicker since first enrolling. Jindal argues that Obamacare has undermined these protections.
Some of Jindal's proposals are things that could be enacted now at the state level already, or proposed piecemeal at the federal level in 2015, and much of it could be enacted in stages rather than in one swoop. That's a strength: it would enable him to avoid another thousand-page omnibus bill infested with hidden goodies, and provides some intermediate goals for activists to focus on between now and 2016. But it also means that at least some of his proposals (like tort reforms at the state level) would be beyond his reach to command even from the White House.
Medicare premium support, whether as a voluntary supplement to the current system or a phased-in replacement, will be more controversial, and Jindal's plan isn't entirely explicit on how it would approach that thorny problem. Nor is this a complete plan with all the accounting gimmickry needed to pass the CBO's arcane rituals for deficit scoring; the sacrificing of the required number of goats and chickens to satisfy the CBO models will have to wait. And Jindal's promise of more pro-life and conscience protections, while popular with social conservatives, will likewise test his fortitude if he makes it far enough to propose actual legislation. But as far as frameworks go, this is already a fairly detailed view of where Jindal wants to take American healthcare into the post-Obamacare world.
Follow The Leader
As I've noted before, Republicans and conservatives shouldn't fall in love with any one candidate this far ahead of 2016, and given the plethora of potentially attractive candidates and the roiling debate within the party over a variety of policy issues, we should be more rigorous than usual in demanding that potential candidates make the case for a policy agenda that has some realistic prospect of being put into action. Personally, if forced to choose at this writing, I would rate Jindal and Scott Walker as my top two choices, in that order - but there's a lot yet to happen, and we are not particularly close to even knowing who will and won't run (Jindal and Rand Paul are probably the two potential candidates who have given the strongest indications of interest, but many others - including Walker, Ryan, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Peter King, John Kasich and Joe Scarborough - seem to be floating trial balloons). While it's a plus for Jindal that he has a head start in rolling out a reasonably fleshed-out policy agenda on the signature policy issue of the Obama years and the experience to back it up - a head start that will force other potential 2016 aspirants to play catch-up - the more important thing is that he is kick-starting the serious business of having a real policy debate that will move us towards the common goal of repealing Obamacare and offering an alternative. And that will benefit the nominee in 2016 regardless of who it is.
March 27, 2014
POLITICS: 6 Reasons Why Iowa Senate Candidate Bruce Braley Has Had A Very Bad Week
Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley's Senate campaign has had a rough week, which has only gotten worse after the now-infamous video of Braley at a Texas fundraiser deriding Chuck Grassley as "a farmer from Iowa".
How bad? Let's review 6 ways:
1. Everybody's Piling On
The commentary on Braley's gaffe has been brutal. The Iowa papers have been all over the story, with heavy coverage in the Des Moines Register and a front page above the fold headline in the Quad City Times, helpfully contrasting Braley with the unveiling of a statue on Capitol Hill of Iowa agriculture legend Norman Borlaug. Even reliable Democratic partisans like Jonathan Chait were commenting that "Bruce Braley must realize that his career in Iowa politics is finished." Chuck Todd tweeted that this was a "Big unforced error on Braley's part...not just elitest but un-Iowan to attack another Iowan the way he did." Popular Republican Governor Terry Branstad ripped Braley's "arrogance."
2. Lost On The Farm
The fact that Braley speaks Iowa farmer as a second or third language was driven home by his staff. His press release apologizing for the gaffe only made things worse:
The Braley campaign misspelled a couple of basic Iowa-farm-related words - detasseling and baling - in its press release defending the U.S. Senate candidate's street cred with farms and farmers.
One suspects that Braley has not surrounded himself with farm-literate staffers. Which is also ironic for a guy who has mocked his Twitter followers' spelling in the past.
3. Can't Find Iowa With A Map and Google
Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed noticed that Braley's Facebook site had a photo of a supposed Iowa farm that was actually a stock photo of a fruit farm from England or maybe India. Caleb Howe saved screenshots before they were deleted from Braley's site, and noticed other places where the same stock images show up. Kaczynski also noted that Braley's Facebook page featured a photo of a minimum wage worker that was apparently taken in Mexico:
4. Not Polling So Hot
Rasmussen reported this afternoon a poll taken last week (before the gaffe) showing Braley polling only at 40-41% against three of his potential GOP rivals and 44% against a fourth:
A new statewide telephone survey of Likely Iowa Voters finds Braley with a 41% to 38% lead over businessman Mark Jacobs. He leads State Senator Joni Ernst 40% to 37% and runs four points ahead - 40% to 36% - of former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker. Braley posts a 13-point lead - 44% to 31% - over another GOP contender, conservative talk show host Sam Clovis.
It was only Monday that Nate Silver's poll model still gave Braley a 75% chance to win this race. Rasmussen's polling has looked rather volatile and unreliable since the departure of founder Scott Rasmussen last year, and its national job-approval polls have tended to be more favorable than any other pollster for President Obama, so take that as you will; there should be more regular polling in this race as it goes along, especially as the GOP field narrows and the candidates get better known. Quinnipiac also polled the race earlier this month, similarly showing Braley in the low 40s but with more distance over his GOP rivals:
42 - 30 percent over former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker; 42 - 29 percent over State Sen. Joni Ernst; 40 - 31 percent over businessman Mark Jacobs; 42 - 27 percent over radio commentator Sam Clovis
Note the Q poll found Grassley with a stratospheric 62-27 approval rating among Iowans, compared to 55-31 for retiring liberal Democrat Tom Harkin and a ghastly 39-57 for President Obama. So, insulting Grassley is definitely not the winning move here. Braley's own 35-18 favorability rating in the poll reflects the fact that nearly half the voters hadn't formed an opinion of him yet, which I'm guessing many will be doing this week.
Neither poll seems to have polled the fifth GOP candidate, car salesman and Navy veteran Scott Schaben. There's more to be said about the GOP field - Jacobs has polled of late as the frontrunner, while Ernst has put on a big p.r. push this week, with a viral first ad talking about growing up castrating hogs on a farm and endorsements from Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin - but GOP voters will have plenty of time to size them up before the June 3 primary.
At the start of this week, Braley was just a name on paper to a lot of people following this race from out of state, and a modestly-known Congressman to Iowans. But now that he's coming into focus, we can see that the signs have been there for a while that Braley was not the top-flight Senate recruit the Democrats had touted him as, but rather an abrasive lawyer with a gift for gaffe:
-Braley's trial-lawyer-bully demeanor and obsession with academic credentials are on full display in this hearing where he badgered a Canadian female expert in healthcare economics over where she went to school:
-During the government shutdown last fall, Braley staggered critics with his out-of-touch complaints about the lack of towels in the House gym. Even left-wing radio host Bill Press, on whose show Braley whined about the towel service, was appalled:
"I was speechless," Press said, telling ABC7 he thought he was asking Braley an easy question that he would answer by saying the gym needed to be shutdown.
6. Wait Until We Get To The Issues
All of this is just revealing Braley's character. On the issues, Braley is still going to have to answer for being a vocal backer of Obamacare who was telling people on the trail last year that Obamacare was "something people should 'celebrate.'" And David Freddoso notes that Braley has a history of being completely in the pocket of his trial lawyer donors.
The filing deadline passed in this race on March 11, so Democrats will sink or swim with Bruce Braley. They may find the going rougher than the Missouri in spring flood season.
March 25, 2014
POLITICS: Iowa Senate Candidate Bruce Braley Insults Iowa Farmers
You won't believe what Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley was caught on tape saying about Iowa farmers:
Braley, the presumptive Democratic nominee for an open and hotly-contested Senate seat in Iowa, is a lawyer, and a former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, and he's speaking here to fellow lawyers at an out-of-state fundraiser, presumably blissfully unaware that things said at fundraisers could be videotaped (who knew?):
[I]f you help me win this race you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who's been literally fighting tort reform for thirty years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because, if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Let us count the ways in which this is colossally stupid.
One, Braley seems unaware that there are a lot of farmers in Iowa, who may well like the idea that someone with their background, their experience, and their voice will have a position of influence in the U.S. Senate, over the courts. This may come as news to Congressman Braley, but while lawyers live with the most immediate day-to-day business of the courts, they affect the lives of everyone - yes, even those lowly Iowa farmers. As a lawyer myself, I like the idea that we should have some lawyers on the Senate Judiciary Committee and on its staff, but the whole point of democracy is that the common man gets a say in how he is governed, not just the experts. Relatedly, Braley's stress on "your background, your experience, your voice" just emphasizes how he sees the voice and interests of trial lawyers as one that will be very different from that of farmers.
Two, Braley didn't just say farmer - he said "farmer from Iowa," as if to underline to his audience that they should view an Iowa farmer as especially parochial. I will hazard a guess that this is not the first time most Iowans have heard themselves spoken of this way, and that they will not like it much.
Three, Braley manages to mention here that his losing the election would elevate the state's senior Senator to the chairmanship of a powerful committee. Way to go making the sale there.
Four, he manages to sneak in the fact that he's been a longstanding opponent of tort reform, and doesn't even bother to come up with some focus-group-tested euphemism for reform. He's bluntly telling the trial lawyers in the audience that he's for their interests - not like those Iowa farmers. [UPDATE: The Des Moines Register helpfully notes that "Braley's biggest donors this election cycle to date are lawyers and law firms, according to OpenSecrets.org. They've funneled $1,122,748 into his campaign."]
Well done, Bruce Braley, well done. This might even get you 47% of the vote.
March 21, 2014
LAW/POLITICS: Court: Planned Parenthood Violated Fourth Amendment in Home Raid
"An incident that is more like home raids by Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution than like what we should expect in the United States of America"
Sometimes, the recitation of facts in a judicial opinion speaks volumes. A decision this morning from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ohio, captioned Bray v. Planned Parenthood, et al., No. 12-4476 (6th Cir. Mar. 21, 2014), is one of those cases.
Michael Bray, the plaintiff, is not a terribly sympathetic character; he wrote a book in 1994 advocating violence against abortionists, and served four years in prison in the 1980s for a series of bombings of abortion clinics. (Like Bill Ayers, Bray never injured anyone and denies any intent to do personal harm, but as we know, setting off bombs in populated areas is a hazardous business). In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that clinic protests by he and his wife Jayne did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1871, a/k/a the Klu Klux Klan Act, but the following year, at the urging of the Clinton Administration, Congress responded by passing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Planned Parenthood immediately filed suit against Bray in Oregon under the new federal statute that was more or less designed to target him, and won a $110 million jury verdict, reduced on appeal to $850,000. It then set about trying to collect the judgment from Bray's book sales, which as you may imagine don't seem to have been particularly extensive.
By 2007, further legal proceedings were underway in Ohio, where the Brays live with their seven children. Bear in mind that, while Planned Parenthood at this juncture was entirely in the right in seeking to collect on a valid judgment, this was no more than that: debt collection. Yet when the Marshals came to the Bray house, they brought not only four Marshals, two county sheriffs' deputies and an ATF agent, but also two outside lawyers for Planned Parenthood and a number of other unknown individuals (apparently from Planned Parenthood as well) to root through the house videotaping the place, taking books, computers, manuscripts, cameras and camcorders. Many of those items were later returned by the court on grounds of having been improperly seized, but in some cases only well over a year later and after much legal wrangling. Here's how the Sixth Circuit characterized these facts (as alleged in the Brays' complaint):
If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, this case involves an incident that is more like home raids by Red Guards during China's Cultural Revolution than like what we should expect in the United States of America. A surprise raid was made on a judgment debtor's home to enforce an order of execution on property of the debtor. The order was ostensibly for the purpose of obtaining property of value to be seized, but was obviously focused instead on all means for the debtor to express ideas. The debtor was required to sit on his couch while flak-jacketed U.S. Marshals, along with agents of advocates for moral and political positions that the debtor despised, plus persons with unknown identities and purposes, went through and seized the books and papers, and computers and cameras, of the debtor and his family. The only exception was for children's books and Bibles. The interior of the home was videotaped. The debtor was not allowed to leave the couch, to go outside, or to call his lawyer, although eventually a marshal called the debtor's lawyer.
In ruling on the Brays' civil suit against Planned Parenthood and the Marshals, the unanimous three-judge panel (which included Judge Bernice Donald, an Obama appointee) found that the presence of Planned Parenthood representatives wandering around the house and videotaping violated the Fourth Amendment, and undermined any claims by the Marshals that there was a genuine security threat presented by the Brays and their children to justify such a heavy-handed raid:
No countervailing governmental interest justified the four-hour detention of Michael Bray. For one thing, the raid presented none of the operational and safety concerns that may justify seizing the occupants of a home during the execution of a criminal warrant….Allowing Michael Bray to leave his home or to use the telephone would not have threatened the completion of the search. Nor would an unrestrained Michael Bray have presented a safety concern. To the contrary, the marshals' own actions belie that argument. Had the marshals believed that not restraining Michael Bray risked violence, they would not likely have permitted numerous representatives of PPCW to join in a surprise raid of his home.
As it turned out, because the Brays had settled with Planned Parenthood and certain other defendants, the court ended up dismissing the remaining claims against the Marshals, finding that while they had participated in an unconstitutional raid, they were immune from civil suit under the doctrine of "qualified immunity" because they had been carrying out a valid court order and may not have realized that they were going far enough afield for a clear constitutional violation (qualified immunity law requires that law enforcement officials can be sued only when they clearly and obviously knew they were violating a Constitutional right; the doctrine protects cops from second-guessing by judges after the fact).
At the end of the day, the Brays may not be worthy of much sympathy, but the Constitutional rights of unpopular citizens can matter to the rest of us, especially when the people trampling on those rights come from an organization like Planned Parenthood that is all too accustomed to getting its way in the legal system regardless of who gets hurt (just ask a Pennsylvania state legislator who is the cousin of one of Kermit Gosnell's victims and now faces Planned Parenthood's wrath). The Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches of the home was put in the Constitution to protect our privacy. It is ironic, given its rhetoric, that Planned Parenthood does not respect that right.
March 12, 2014
POLITICS: Vox in Box
March 8, 2014
POLITICS: Witness the Political Genius of Salon
Brian Beutler of Salon is generally regarded by progressives as one of the smartest people in their movement, and his work is often cited with solemn nods of approval by others on the Left. So, when he writes a widely-cited article purporting to reveal a secret and diabolical Republican plot - breathlessly titled, "Republicans have a secret Obamacare strategy - and it's based on deception" - it's instructive to consider the political basis of this thesis.
I advise you to not be drinking anything when we get to his reasoning.
Beutler argues that Republicans are going to make gains in this year's election no matter what happens, and are deviously going around campaigning against Obamacare to make it seem as if the voters are unhappy with Obamacare, when really they are just peachy keen on it! I will leave aside, as Beutler does not mention them, the polls that have shown that the voters disapprove of Obamacare (spoiler: virtually every poll taken for the past five years), and quote Beutler's poll analysis in its entirety:
I bring this up in light of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, which finds that in spite of the GOP's abiding unyielding infatuation with Obamacare, the law is actually a political wash, at least to first approximation.
So, you know, it's a political wash...except with the people who actually vote, and except that it is the issue that will motivate them to actually vote.
But you know, besides that. Because who ever heard of voter turnout affecting an election?
If you actually dive into the one poll under discussion, it gets worse for Beutler's and Sargent's theory. Because that 34-36 number is all adults, and as we all know, all adults don't vote; registered voters vote (and not all of them, either, but eight months from an election it's hard to project who the likely voters are, because...oh, sorry, I'm discussing what motivates voter turnout again. How unsporting of me.)
When you flip the tab to registered voters, the +/- on Obamacare deteriorates to 33/40, seven points underwater. A 40/33 issue isn't an 80/20 issue, but it's certainly one I'd feel comfortable running on.
Then you hit the breakdowns by group, bearing in mind that these appear to be subsets of adults, rather than subsets of registered or likely voters. As noted, Obamacare is 11/70 with Republicans and 30/35 with independents. It's 34/40 in the Midwest, which is chock full of purple states that have Senate and House races this year. And then you get to the people the Democrats would presumably bank on, and you see significant weakness. Obamacare is 57/12 with Democrats and 45/18 with moderate or conservative Democrats - that's a lot of Democrats to be unhappy enough with the party's signature domestic policy that they say it would negatively impact their vote. Losing almost 1 in 5 self-identified moderate or conservative Democrats on Election Day, whether they switch sides or more likely stay home, would be a bloodbath when they are already going to lose independents. And let's not discuss unions.
How about non-white voters? 44/18. That's right, among non-white respondents to the WaPo poll who said Obamacare would affect their vote, more than a quarter would be less likely to vote for a pro-Obamacare candidate - nearly a fifth of all non-white adults. Among Hispanics, it's 42/19. If I'm a Democratic strategist counting on these groups as core base voters, those are chilling numbers. (And note that the number for liberal Democrats is 75-1. Which suggests to me that most of the non-white respondents to this poll did not self-identify as liberal Democrats, an interesting finding in itself).
All of this is only one poll, of course, but since it's the entire basis for Beutler's argument, it gives you a sense of how much straw-grasping is really involved here. If you can convince yourself that voter turnout doesn't matter, and that Democrats didn't really suffer in 2010 from their Obamacare votes, I guess you can convince yourself of almost anything.
March 7, 2014
POLITICS: The Democrats' 2014 Whitewash
Barack Obama's electoral success has shown the Democratic Party the value of a non-white candidate in driving turnout and enthusiasm among the non-white voters that are vital to the party's success. So why are nearly all the statewide Democratic candidates this year white?
If there is one central theme to the political strategy of the Democrats and the electoral analysis and optimism of liberal pundits in the Obama era, it is race. To say that they are obsessed with these topics is to vastly understate the case. Virtually every analysis of "the Republicans' demographic problems" and the long-term case for Democratic/progressive dominance is premised upon the rising share of non-white voters in the electorate and their identification with the Democrats. To be sure, these are not Republicans' only challenges - even with younger white voters there are a few issues (mainly same-sex marriage and marijuana) on which the GOP is out of step with generational trends, and there is legitimate concern that younger voters of all races are less likely to be religious or get married, two traditional markers of conservatism. But even looking at the 2012 election returns, we see that Barack Obama lost white women by the largest margin of any candidate of either party since Walter Mondale, suffered a huge reversal among white voters under 30 (who he lost by 7 points after winning them by double digits in 2008), and even narrowly lost white women under 30. So, all of the Democrats' advantages along gender and age lines are still really just symptoms of a racially polarized electorate.
And turning out that electorate has been a challenge for Democrats. The big turnout wave of African-Americans for Obama exceeded anything John Kerry or Al Gore was ever able to muster, and the midterm elections in 2009, 2010, and 2013 (with the arguable exception of the 2013 Virginia Governor's race) yielded electorates that were older, whiter and more conservative than the 2008 or 2012 electorates (this was even true in 2006, although depressed GOP turnout and heavy independent support for Democrats made that a big year for the Democrats anyway). There has been much open fretting by Democrats that the turnout will look the same this year - which threatens to make this a serious wave year for Republicans, given the public mood. That's even before you get to the fact that Democrats' rising success with non-white voters has coincided with hemorrhaging support among white voters and the very real possibility that the Democrats haven't yet found their floor among white voters. To say nothing of the possibility that the natural long-term arc of Hispanic voter preferences may move back in the direction of the GOP. In the immediate term, we have already seen polling showing that Hispanics are the most disillusioned of Obama's 2012 supporters. Few things in a two-party political system are forever.
And there is a very real sense in which the big turnout of 2008 and especially 2012 was a show of racial solidarity with Obama (and his wife) personally, as much as it was a traditionally political phenomenon. There were all sorts of signs of this in the 2012 exit polls. Only 23% of voters in the exit polls said that the economy was in good or excellent shape, for example, but 90% of these voted for Obama. Who are these voters? A July 2013 Quinnipiac poll - somewhat typical of the breakdowns these days - found that 47% of black voters, but only 25% of white voters, described the for state of the economy as good or excellent. By contrast, an October 2007 CNN poll found 69% of black voters describing the economy as in recession, compared to 42% of white voters. This, despite the fact that the objective evidence shows unemployment significantly higher among African-Americans in 2013 than 2007.
But forget the data; listen to liberal African-American pundits. Here is The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, laying it out in the purplest of prose:
Barack Obama was not prophecy. Whatever had been laid before him, it takes gifted hands to operate, repeatedly, on a country scarred by white supremacy. The significance of the moment comes across, not simply in policy, by in the power of symbolism. I don't expect, in my lifetime, to again see a black family with the sheer beauty of Obama's on such a prominent stage. (In the private spaces of black America, I see them all the time.) I don't expect to see a black woman exuding the kind of humanity you see here on such a prominent stage ever again....I don't ever expect to see a black man of such agile intelligence as the current president put before the American public ever again.
Or here is the Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie, writing in the midst of that election:
The upside of making the race of the candidate an existential issue for African-American voters is, it's a tremendous motivator to turn out to keep the symbolic leader in office. The downside is, it's not easily transferable to other candidates - not to other non-white candidates for lower offices, and certainly not to a bunch of white politicians who look pretty much just like the people they are running against.
And yet, bafflingly, that is exactly what the Democrats are running in 2014. At this writing, the Democrats are running a candidate in 62 Senate and Governors' races this fall (nobody has really stepped forward yet in the Nevada, Tennessee or Wyoming Governors' races). And depending how you count the frontrunners, anywhere from 57 to 60 of those 62 candidates will be white (92-96%), and 47 to 49 of them will be white males (more than 75%). Let's take a look at that roster of candidates, ranked by a very rough ranking of the competitiveness of the races ("1" being hotly contested races, "2" being races that will be contested but with a clear favorite, "3" being races that look lopsided and may end up being de facto cakewalks - this is giving the benefit of the doubt that a lot more races will be competitive than polling may suggest, but races like the New York and Texas governorships will be big-time battles even if the outcome seems pretty clear in advance). I also rated as at least a 2 every race with a Republican Senate incumbent who has a non-obscure Tea Party challenger. I marked with an asterisk the races in which the Democrats have a significant chance of ending up with a different candidate - for example, the one black female candidate here, Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson in South Carolina, is an obscure candidate with a white male opponent in a race so unlikely to be contested that there's been no polling (I rate her as the frontrunner because she at least holds elective office, but with a primary electorate that ran Alvin Greene in 2010, you never know). One white male Democratic Senator, Brian Shatz, faces an Asian female primary opponent, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, who may well defeat him, and David Alameel in Texas is in a runoff with Kesha Rogers, a black female LaRouchie who wants to impeach Obama. On the flip side, the two non-white Democratic frontrunners for Governor, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in Rhode Island and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown in Maryland, still face significant white primary opponents - Rhode Island State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, respectively. So the number of non-white candidates could easily go down rather than up.
As you can see here, beyond Cory Booker (who faced a real race in October but as of now has no real opponent), not only are the Democrats running a virtually all-white slate of candidates in the marquee statewide races, just about every Democrat in a hotly contested race this year is white. (Protip to activists: somebody with the time to put together a graphic of all these candidates could have some fun with it).
Should that matter? Of course not. Does it? Look at the primary results from this week's Democratic gubernatorial primary in Texas - and you can see that white female abortion zealot Wendy Davis lost most of the Southwest Texas border counties - the places where Barack Obama did best in 2012 - to a primary opponent who has basically no campaign, but who had a Hispanic surname:
The GOP candidate, Greg Abbott, will not hesitate to send his Hispanic wife, Cecilia, to campaign there.
For a party so focused on "diversity" as a slogan and the turnout of non-white voting blocs as a lifeline, it's hard to see why you would run that risk. Of course, a similar analysis of the leading Republicans would also show a heavily white, heavily male slate - but a little less so: Republicans are running two non-white incumbents in South Carolina, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, two incumbent Hispanic Governors in Brian Sandoval and Susanna Martinez, and a Native Hawaiian gubernatorial candidate, former two-term Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, as well as a number of white female candidates. And more to the point, Republicans are already doing fine with white voters; they're not the ones who are existentially dependent upon firing up non-white voters with racial appeals. Democrats are - and so their failure to recruit and develop more non-white candidates adds yet another cause for alarm in what is already shaping up to be an alarming election season.
And if the results are ugly, that may make the Democrats rethink running a 69-year-old white woman as their national candidate in 2016.
(NOTE: The original version of this article stated that Joyce Dickerson's opponent in the race to run against Tim Scott had a felony record - actually, it's Jay Stamper, who is running against Lindsay Graham, who has a felony record. I've corrected that as quickly as I could.)
February 12, 2014
POLITICS/LAW: Bill de Blasio, William Bratton & the NYPD
February 10, 2014
POLITICS: Bill de Blasio and the Law Enforcement Ratchet
Is Bill de Blasio about to take New York City's public safety back to the bad old days of rampant street crime and murder - or is he, like President Obama, mostly just slapping a new coat of rhetorical paint over largely unchanged security policies? The jury is still out, especially on the impact of a federal court decree that could yet hamstring the NYPD. But early indications suggest that de Blasio's Police Commissioner, William Bratton, is determined to keep in place the core of the "stop and frisk" policies that de Blasio campaigned against - policies whose foremost national advocate is none other than Bratton himself. Mayor de Blasio's fans and critics alike may have to grapple with the possibility that a lot less is going to change than his racially charged anti-law-enforcement campaign would suggest.
Mugged By History
Back in the pre-Giuliani days when muggings were a constant daily threat throughout New York City, they used to say that a conservative was just a liberal who had been mugged, and the City's political history bears that out. After enduring three decades of rising rates of street crime and violence, New Yorkers finally rebelled in 1993, booting David Dinkins from office in favor of Rudy Giuliani, the most conservative mayor of the City in modern times.
As befits elections that determined the course of the City's future safety and prosperity, the 1989 and 1993 Giuliani-Dinkins races engaged a far higher proportion of the city's population than any election before or since - Rudy got 120,000 more votes in losing the 1989 election than de Blasio did in winning a landslide in 2013 in which less than 15% of New Yorkers voted:
That political reality can't be lost on de Blasio: while national Democrats like Obama may fairly claim to have brought new voters into the process, de Blasio won on a tide of indifference and low turnout, and even in a city where Democrats have an 8-1 registration advantage (likely to grow after the devastation visited on Staten Island by 2012's Hurricane Sandy), he needs to keep the sleeping giant of single-issue anti-crime voters (many of whom are fairly liberal on other issues) from reawakening.
For the moment, it's held at bay by amnesia and complacency. Most of today's progressives - most of New York's voters, in fact - don't remember the Dinkins years. Besides the 11% of voters under 30 in the 2013 election, there's the fact that roughly a million of the city's three million immigrants arrived since 2000, meaning that around 10% of New Yorkers only came to the United States since Mike Bloomberg became the Mayor. With that level of population turnover, New York lacks the collective memory to be alarmed, yet, by de Blasio's rhetoric. But results are another matter.
Broken Windows: The NYPD in the 1990s
It's hard to argue with the results that the Giuliani and Bloomberg Administrations achieved in New York, although a few die-hard Dinkins partisans - chief among them de Blasio, a former Dinkins aide married to another former Dinkins aide - argue that some of the credit should go to Dinkins himself for beginning the process of expanding the NYPD's street presence.
Giuliani's first Police Commissioner had actually served under Dinkins: Bratton had been Dinkins' head of the Transit Police before moving to Boston to become Police Commissioner. And Dinkins' own Police Commissioner, Lee Brown, had already begun implementing new ideas about "community policing" that required a more aggressive presence on the streets of high-crime neighborhoods, ideas that were expanded when Dinkins replaced Brown in 1992 with Ray Kelly (the same Ray Kelly who was the target of many of de Blasio's barbs in his more recent tenure heading the NYPD). The idea that more patrolmen would have more interactions with the populace was already taking hold even before Rudy took office.
In 1994, Rudy brought back Bratton, naming him as Kelly's successor to run the NYPD. Giuliani and Bratton brought the critical elements to the table that the Dinkins-Brown and even Dinkins-Kelly teams had lacked. The NYPD, from Bratton down to the ordinary beat cop, knew the Mayor was on their side even when they came under criticism - a major morale booster that had been lacking under the weak, ineffectual Dinkins, whose first instinct was always to pander to the Al Sharptons of the New York street. The new team brought an intense, demanding focus to restoring order (Brown, by contrast, had been nicknamed "Out of Town Brown" by the cops and the tabloids). They marshalled increasingly detailed data: the CompStat system, first developed by the Transit Police under Bratton, was rolled out city-wide, enabling the NYPD to track crime on a more detailed, weekly precinct-by-precinct and neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis and hold precinct commanders accountable for results. They put a social-science theory into practice as well: the NYPD went after low-level "lifestyle" street offenders like squeegee men, building on James Q. Wilson and George Kelling's "broken windows" theory of how social disorder encourages crime. And at the core of this process, where the rubber met the road, was the day-to-day activity of cops patrolling dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhoods and taking a proactive approach to threats by stopping and frisking people who looked suspicious - never an error-free process but one that resulted in scores of arrests of criminals carrying illegal guns and drugs. In a real sense, Bratton earned the title of "the father of stop and frisk," which he also later expanded in his tenure heading the LAPD from 2002-09.
The results in New York could hardly have been more dramatic - arguably the greatest success story of any domestic public policy initiative of the past half-century. The murder rate dropped by 70% from the high watermark of 2,245 murders in 1990, the worst of the Dinkins years. And the improvements in the crime rate went well beyond the headline homicide rate. As an NBER study observed:
During the 1990s, crime rates in New York City dropped dramatically, even more than in the United States as a whole. Violent crime declined by more than 56 percent in the City, compared to about 28 percent in the nation as whole. Property crimes tumbled by about 65 percent, but fell only 26 percent nationally....Over the 1990s, misdemeanor arrests increased 70 percent in New York City. When arrests for misdemeanors had risen by 10 percent, indicating increased use of the "broken windows" method, robberies dropped 2.5 to 3.2 percent, and motor vehicle theft declined by 1.6 to 2.1 percent.
Rudy was a revolutionary change-agent figure in New York, with a revolutionary personality; his abrasive, hard-charging style was a necessary element of his success, but it made him many enemies, and the magnitude of his success made him eager to claim the credit. And that led him into inevitable personality conflict with Bratton, himself an outsize personality who wanted his share of the limelight. Bratton left office abruptly in March 1996 after Giuliani ordered an investigation into a book deal Bratton had signed. Great success in fighting crime, but also controversies and the overshadowing tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would follow throughout Giuliani's remaining six years in office. It would take his departure from office to allow his successes to be institutionalized and separated from his personality.
Operation Impact: The Bloomberg Years
The Bloomberg years seemed, for a while, to put the frictions of the Giuliani era behind the City; far from a crusading radical overturning the status quo, Bloomberg was by both temperament and circumstance a manager who inherited a City already pointed in the right direction and had the more prosaic task of making it run more efficiently. And for the most part, in the area of law enforcement, he did; the major crime rate continued to plunge to improbably low levels, even through the economic hard times that followed the 2008 financial crisis - rapes down by a third, burglaries dropped in half, car thefts down more than 75%. By 2013, Bloomberg and Ray Kelly (who served as Police Commissioner for the entire duration of Bloomberg's 12-year tenure) could boast:
[N]ew all-time lows will be set in 2013 for the fewest homicides and fewest shootings in recorded city history. There have been 332 homicides so far this year, which is a reduction of 20 percent from the previous record low, which was established last year – and homicides have fallen nearly 50 percent since 2001. Similarly, the number of shootings have fallen by 20 percent from last year’s record low – with 1,093 shootings through Thursday, December 26th – down from 1,608 in 2001, a 32 percent reduction. Overall crime is now down 32 percent since 2001.
That success story bucked the national trend, which saw crime rates bounce back in many places after the policing revolution of the 1990s, and took place at a time when an increasing share of the NYPD's resources were being redirected to anti-terrorism work. But the primary goal of maintaining order brought tension with Bloomberg's continuing struggle to control the City's budget. In 2003, Kelly launched "Operation Impact," a plan to flood "impact zones" of high crime with patrol officers; the program was expanded in 2004 after producing sharp reductions in crime in the impact zones, and was doubled to more than 1,800 officers in 2007, about 5% of the whole Department. But the program relied on the ground-level work being done by raw recruits straight out of the police academy, leading left-wing critics to argue that it led to "officer burnout and overly aggressive tactics." The 2008 financial crisis took a huge bite out of the City's budget in Bloomberg's third term, and even the NYPD wasn't safe. Bloomberg pressed in 2010 and 2011 for cuts in the police force, and while he ultimately backed off the most aggressive plans, the NYPD ended his term as a shrinking share of the City's government:
There are now roughly 34,500 cops on the beat, about the same number as there were in 1992 when the city was besieged by crime and down from 37,000 in 2002 when Bloomberg took office.
The tension between keeping a lid on the NYPD's budget and maintaining its aggressive presence on the streets was balanced by putting the heaviest burden of policing on the least expensive, least experienced members of the Force. Unless deeper cuts could be made to other parts of the City's enormous government, the new Mayor would have to decide if that balance should be reconsidered.
Given that de Blasio had run so hard to the Left during the election against "racial profiling" and promised to drop the City's appeal of a federal court ruling that its "stop-and-frisk" policy was racially discriminatory, his decision to bring back Bratton seems more than a little puzzling at first glance. In 2006, Bratton co-wrote a strongly-worded defense of "broken windows" policing in National Review Online, blasting "ivory-tower academics" who "have never sat in a patrol car, walked or bicycled a beat, lived in or visited regularly troubled violent neighborhoods, or collected any relevant data of their own 'on the ground'." He has been critical of cities that "made the mistake of embracing" Occupy Wall Street. And Bratton remains a vocal defender of stop-and-frisk:
Bratton is an ardent supporter of the policy because he says it's an effective means of reducing crime on the street. Last year, he even compared stop-and-frisk as a solution to crime to "chemotherapy" as a treatment for cancer. In an interview ...with NPR, Bratton hinted that the policy would be an effective crime-fighting tool in Oakland.
Bratton defended stop-and-frisk as "essential," and in a May 2013 interview with Jeffrey Toobin, before de Blasio's emergence as a serious candidate, Bratton bluntly suggested that stop-and-frisk critics didn't know what they were talking about:
“First off, stop-question-and-frisk has been around forever,” he told me. “It is known by stop-and-frisk in New York, but other cities describe it other ways, like stop-question-and-frisk or Terry stops. It’s based on a Supreme Court case from 1968, Terry v. Ohio, which focussed very significantly on it. Stop-and-frisk is such a basic tool of policing. It’s one of the most fundamental practices in American policing. If cops are not doing stop-and-frisk, they are not doing their jobs. It is a basic, fundamental tool of police work in the whole country. If you do away with stop-and-frisk, this city will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”
When Bratton led the LAPD, the department's use of stop and frisk expanded significantly. In 2002, cops made 587,200 stops, and by 2008, they made 875,204 stops, an increase of 49 percent...
Critics noted that "[w]ell over 70 percent of 2008 LAPD stops in inner-city precincts were of African-American and Latinos, a ratio similar to New York’s." Bratton's LAPD stopped a lot more minorities - but also improved the accuracy of its stops:
The LAPD's improved image coincided...with a 49% spike in stops of pedestrians and motorists from 2002 to 2008, according to a Harvard Kennedy School report. Blacks comprised 9% of the city's population but accounted for 23% of all those stopped. Over the same period the number of stops which led to arrests doubled from 15% to 30%, suggesting the police tended to have good reason.
And yet, Bratton succeeded in greatly improving the LAPD's relationship with the city's minority population. He did that, in large part, not by backing down from aggressive policing but by old-fashioned community-relations outreach:
Even before formally taking over a police department scarred by race riots, corruption and brutality, Bratton sought out black leaders like John Mack, then head of the Los Angeles Urban League, and civil rights attorney Connie Rice. Rice warned she would sue him, as she did his predecessors, but he invited her to help him reform a force still tainted by the beating of Rodney King.
Bratton also recruited many more Hispanic police officers. One result of Bratton's diplomatic outreach was that, at the end of his tenure in 2009, a federal court lifted a consent decree imposed in 2001.
There are various theories as to why de Blasio would bring back a Police Commissioner from the Giuliani era with such a long track record of promoting the very thing de Blasio claimed to oppose. One is that de Blasio was pressured into the pick by New York's wealthy, liberal Democratic power brokers and bankrollers, who remain more important to his party than outraged leftists who regarded the appointment as a sellout - indeed, de Blasio just appointed a new head of the City Planning Commission whose experience is in gentrifying and Disneyfying Times Square, hardly a Left-populist move. Another is that he was more or less mugged by reality - once he knew he would be held responsible for keeping the City safe, he was forced (like Obama) to stop posturing and grow up. A third possibility is that de Blasio's Dinkins partisanship is asserting itself, intent on showing that Bratton, not Rudy, should be given the credit for the City's turnaround. Finally, there's the possibility that de Blasio - an admirer of Daniel Ortega who honeymooned in Castro's Cuba and voted to honor Robert Mugabe - isn't really any sort of civil libertarian at heart, and wants a strong police force to carry out the sort of expanded government powers he craves.
Stop and Frisk is Dead...Long Live Stop and Frisk?
Whatever de Blasio's motives, the solution that Bratton proposes is, in effect, to continue Operation Impact but replace its pairs of rookies with more experienced (and, by necessity, more expensive) cops:
The changes could include pairing rookies with veteran officers in local precincts and providing a broader training regimen, Mr. Bratton said. New officers may be assigned to radio cars before they are placed on the streets in high-crime neighborhoods, he said.
He said instead of going after the “general population,” his cops will go after the “known criminal population” of a community. “In Los Angeles, we had a database of 40,000 known gang members,” he says. “We focused on them rather than good kids on the way home from school or work. We stop, questioned and frisked and often arrested those career criminals.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, Patrick Lynch, released a statement saying the move is “consistent with the union’s philosophy of training" and that “Using rookies to meet numbered targets under the former system resulted in many of the problems we are now in the process of solving.”
This leaves the question of where - given his many other ambitions for New York City government and the many demands he will face from the teachers and other public employee unions - de Blasio will get the money to pay for this. It also leaves unanswered whether de Blasio's supporters, who believed he was striking a decisive blow against what they regarded as a racist system, will be satisfied four years from now that law enforcement in the City has changed in a way they consider meaningful.
Read More »
A Thousand Cuts
That's the optimistic scenario - well, optimistic if you want the NYPD to keep its focus on improving its winning law enforcement formula rather than scrapping it for purposes of political pandering. But if the arrival of Bratton and his plans to preserve the core of stop-and-frisk and Operation Impact represent continuity, there are still ways in which the City's hard-won progress could be placed at risk by the new Mayor.
The immediate risk arises from de Blasio's decision to drop the City's appeal of a federal district court decision holding the existing stop-and-frisk policies to be racially discriminatory. Mayor de Blasio didn't drop the appeal because he feared losing - the City already won the first round when the Second Circuit stayed the order and removed the district judge from the case. Rather, he dropped the appeal because he was afraid the City would win. The New York Post's Bob McManus notes some of the consequences of this and related decisions:
The NYPD shortly will be under the supervision of a court-appointed federal monitor; this will last at least three years, and probably much longer — with all that implies for the command integrity and personnel accountability central to the Giuliani-Bloomberg anti-crime successes.
The least of the opinion’s problems is the unnecessary bureaucracy it inflicts on the NYPD, including a federal monitor, burdensome reporting requirements, and left-wing advisory panels, all overseen by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The most serious problem is [the district court's] statistical test of racial profiling, which compares police stops to population data, rather than crime data.
The roster of members of that advisory panel, stocked with believers in Critical Race Theory and other race obsessives, should send a chill down the spine of anyone who expects the NYPD to get a fair hearing. Co-opting them, and getting the City out from under this decree, may prove a more difficult diplomatic task for Bratton even than he faced in Los Angeles.
The real risk to law enforcement is thus not that Bratton's NYPD will turn its back on stop-and-frisk, but that it will suffer death by a thousand cuts from intrusive oversight boards and loss of morale among patrol cops. The Daily News notes that "City cops stopped little more than 3,000 people in January, a far cry from the 50,000-people monthly tallies that were once commonplace under Kelly’s leadership" - a significant falloff, albeit one that is no doubt partly attributable to emptier streets in the bitter weather of the past month. And the biggest imponderable of all in morale is the new Mayor himself: one only need wait for the next controversy (in a city where 34,000 cops patrol 8.3 million people, a lot can happen and it usually does) to see whether he sends the cops the expected signal that City Hall doesn't have their back in a pinch.
New York City isn't like anywhere else in the United States. One recent study of "high density population" - people living in densities of over 10,000 people per square mile - found that 43.3% of Americans living in areas that dense live in New York:
If you look at people living at the higher density of 25,000 per square mile, New York sticks out even further:
The advantage of high density is that it allows economies of scale in policing - New York not only has twice as many police per resident as Los Angeles, it can concentrate them in much smaller areas, making it a lot harder to hide from the cops. This is, in fact, the argument for why New Yorkers don't need to own guns: there are already lots of guns on the street everywhere you turn, in the hands of officers of the law. With a large, densely concentrated police force on hand, New York has gone further down the road than anywhere else in the country in accepting the security state in exchange for keeping violence at bay. Mayor de Blasio's decision to bring back William Bratton and retain the core of stop-and-frisk suggests that it will be harder than de Blasio's supporters think to unsettle that bargain. But the proof of whether they can undermine it indirectly from the shadows of bureaucracy, and whether that costs the City its hard-won gains, will be told in the CompStat reports and body counts of the next four years.
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February 6, 2014
POLITICS: The Lesson of Chris Christie and Bridgegate: Don't Fall In Love Too Fast
The political fallout of "Bridgegate" may not be entirely clear just yet - but the lesson it holds for Republicans looking for a 2016 presidential candidate should be. Don't fall in love too early. Nobody should be rushing to pick a 2016 presidential nominee two years before the first primaries.
One of the iron laws of politics is that sooner or later, everybody gets a turn inside the pinata. For Chris Christie, who enjoyed an unusually good 2013 while touting a brand of moderate Republicanism that irks both liberals and conservatives, the past month has involved taking a lot of whacks. The party started with the revelation in early January of emails showing that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, conspired with his appointees to the Port Authority, under David Wildstein, to exacerbate Fort Lee, New Jersey's chronic traffic problems by closing a lane leading onto the George Washington Bridge, apparently in retaliation for the Mayor of Fort Lee backing Barbara Buono, Christie's hapless and overmatched 2013 opponent.
Lots of people on the Left and Right have been eager to bury Christie, but as of now, their obituaries still seem premature. Any candidate who comes to the presidential race, especially a candidate with any sort of executive experience, is going to have some dents - some bad appointments and associations, some things that didn't work or didn't happen as promised. And Christie is still a highly charismatic guy and a prolific fundraiser, and few of his potential rivals for the support of moderates in the GOP primaries have given much sign that they intend to run.
If the end result of Bridgegate is that a handful of Christie's appointees misbehaved, it may not be a major obstacle to being a presidential nominee. On the other hand, if credible evidence surfaces (as Wildstein has threatened in a letter laced with lawyerly vagueness and demands for a payoff) tying Christie directly to the decision to create a traffic snarl as a form of petty political vindictiveness during a blowout election campaign, he'll have his hands full just staying in office. The middle ground possibility - that Christie escapes being tied to the scandal personally, but it hamstrings his second term and gets painted as some sort of pattern - is perhaps the worst possibility for people considering backing Christie nationally, as it leaves him wounded but not fatally so.
The scandal is damaging to Christie in a couple of ways. The innocent explanation, that this was an unusual event resulting from a handful of 'bad apples,' still calls into question his management of personnel, a problem for a candidate running mainly on being an honest, competent executive who gets stuff done. And aside from its pure pettiness and how unnecessary the whole thing was (Buono was even more doomed than George McGovern in 1972), the use of government power to punish political enemies is especially problematic in a Republican primary because it's precisely how Obama and the Clintons operate and have for years. And with the general electorate as well: Democrats are supposed to stand for giving particular people and groups stuff they want, so voters tend to forgive them - up to a point - when they hand out goodies to friends and punish foes. Whereas the point of electing Republicans is to stand up for the general interest - such as the interest in limiting runaway government spending and regulation - so voters tend to be harsher towards Republicans who act as if they were hired to give particular people and groups stuff they want.
But even if the Bridge flap proves a minor bump in the road for Christie's national ambitions, it nonetheless reminds us that Christie is not only not the inevitable 2016 Republican nominee, he might not even make it as far as the Iowa Caucuses. And that perception itself can become self-fulfilling: it emboldens other candidates to jump in the race, as they might not if Christie looked like a juggernaut. It was Mitt Romney's money machine that played a major role in discouraging people like Christie and Paul Ryan from mounting bids in 2012, and caused Romney's major rival in the center-right of the party (Tim Pawlenty) to bet too heavily on the Iowa Straw Poll.
However things work out for Christie, a lot can still happen to him as well as to other Republicans between now and the primaries. As we've been seeing, even a guy who has been fairly well-vetted by the hostile New York, Philly and Jersey media still hasn't seen the kind of scrutiny that wilts national candidates. Hopping on the Christie bandwagon, much less trying to clear the field for him (or any other GOP candidate) at this early stage would be madness. Unlike the Democrats, whose bench behind Hillary Clinton is frighteningly sparse (and who can be confident that Hillary has been so drenched in scandal over the years without collapsing that nothing new could come out that would sink her), Republicans right now have a deep stable of talented, plausible presidential contenders; the wise move is to sit back and make them prove their case before putting a ring on it. Personally, my top choices remain Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, but I'm more than happy to see them and other contenders put to the test of making the sale.
That's not just prudence in avoiding a shotgun wedding with a candidate who ends up fatally flawed. It's also important that the party have a real debate on the issues - and a real debate on the issues can only happen if you have more than one plausible candidate. We've grown accustomed, the past two election cycles, to a demolition-derby approach to GOP primaries, in which the candidates compete to paint their opponents as unelectable and/or fatally compromised. That's politics, and we'll see some of the same in 2016, but if we have more than one plausible nominee, it becomes possible to actually get the voters to look at competing policy proposals and competing visions of what the party stands for. That process is how you get, not just a compelling candidate, but a compelling message, the kind of clear rationale for governing that neither Mitt Romney nor John McCain was ever really able to articulate.
The list of issues on which it's possible to picture the party going in more than one direction is a long one:
-Whether Obamacare should be replaced with a new comprehensive scheme that keeps some of its elements, or scrapped in favor of a far less ambitious and decentralized approach.
-Whether entitlements require fundamental reform or simply fixes to make them less immediately fiscally insolvent.
-Whether to alter the hybrid federal/state structure of Medicaid.
-Whether America should play a leading role worldwide in promoting democracy, nation-building in failed states, and stopping dictators from abusing their people and their neighbors, or pursue a less ambitious role in the world.
-Whether or not we should increase legal immigration and whether or not, and on what conditions, we should allow illegal aliens to remain legally in the U.S.
-Whether to roll back NSA surveillance on libertarian grounds or preserve it on security grounds.
-Whether to attempt fundamental reform of the tax code or simply tinker with existing rates.
-Whether to take the party in a direction that is more confrontational with big business and finance.
-Whether to use the levers of federal power to impose conservative or neoliberal solutions to education and social issues or let go of federal control.
-Whether to roll back federal laws against marijuana.
-Whether to use executive orders in domestic policy (as Obama has) or simply repeal Obama's and restore the use of such orders to their traditional role.
These are just a few examples, and there are others, on which there is a sufficient constituency within the GOP and the conservative movement to go in more than one direction, make more than one different choice. We can answer those questions, rather than simply defaulting to what our nominee wants, if we make the candidates compete for our votes. And we can do that only if the party hasn't settled on a coronation of one candidate two years before the primaries.
POLITICS: Harry Reid and the Lockstep Senate Democrats
Vulnerable Senate Democrats want desperately to distance themselves from an unpopular President and cast themselves as independent voices, not partisan rubber stamps. The numbers say otherwise: according to a recent study by Congressional Quarterly, nearly 70% of all votes in the Senate in 2013 involved party-line votes, close to an all-time high, and in more than half of those votes, Harry Reid's Democratic caucus was unanimous - the highest level of party unanimity in the history of either House of Congress.
Once upon a time, the U.S. Senate was seen as a deliberative body. Unlike the House, where the majority has always exercised iron rule over floor votes, the Senate prided itself on the independent role of each Senator. Senators would debate and dispute the great issues of the day, and an individual Senator could force the Senate to vote on amendments, whether or not specific to the purpose of the bill, any time new legislation went to the floor. Not only did this process give each Senator a potential role in the shaping of important national legislation, but it also allowed activist Senators (especially in the minority party) to force their colleagues to go on the record on the controversial issues of the day.
Since Harry Reid became the Majority Leader in 2007, that role has faded; Reid has strangled the amendment process, and used the "nuclear option" that Reid once denounced in order to bulldoze the minority's traditional weapons for holding up nominations. The result has been a Senate that looks much more like what the House is expected to be: a place of party-line votes and absolute control by the Majority Leader. Which suggests that voters should place little stock in the election-year efforts of Democrats like Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan and others to cast themselves as something other than pawns of the Obama White House.
Here's the key CQ finding: on party-line votes (defined as votes where a majority of one party lines up on one side, and a majority of the other party lines up on the other), Senate Democrats in 2013 were unanimous 52% of the time, the highest percentage of lockstep votes that CQ can locate in either party in the history of either chamber:
And that sky-high percentage of lockstep votes comes at a time when those party-line votes are themselves near a record-high proportion of the Senate's business, almost 70% of all votes:
Overall, CQ found that the average Senate Democrat voted with the party a record 94% of the time.
Don't be fooled by campaign ads where red-state Senate Dems embrace guns, oil, jobs, and freedom. In Washington, they really are all the same.