Saturday, October 31, 2009

Baseball, but on Saturday

(Fair warning: just baseball content here)

Is there a more typical Brian Sabean move than this? He's signed Freddy Sanchez to a two-year, $12M contract.

No, it's not the stupidest thing any GM has ever done. But it's absolutely typical Brian Sabean.

Steven Rubio has the goods here; Steven, as usual focuses right away on the clear fact that Sanchez doesn't earn walks, and therefore has to hit .300 (BA) in order to get on base enough, and that it's not real likely that Sanchez will hit .300. I certainly agree with that.

Two things to bring to the discussion. One: second basemen tend to deteriorate really quickly. Giants fans will remember Robby Thompson, an All-Star level 2B who was washed up after his 31 year old season. They will also, and with a lot less warmth, remember Manny Trillo -- last good season age 30 -- and, with even more dread, Rennie Stennett (peak season age 26, washed up at age 27, signed by Giants to big contract at age 29). Turns out those (and not Jeff Kent, who lasted really well) are actually typical for 2Bs. Something about the position wears on them.

Two: mediocre 2Bs are one of the easiest things to find. There's a reason for that...teams generally have no use for their second best second baseman. A second-best SS becomes a utility infielder; a second best 3B can shift to 1B, perhaps, and of course outfielders can shift around. So there are lots of second-best 2Bs around...and, on top of that, all of the second-best SS can also play 2B, so they're usually available at bargain prices, too.

Put it all together, and paying full price to a 2B entering his 32 year old season who, if everything goes right, figures to be a league-average 2B for the next two years is a pretty lousy bet. If Sanchez stays healthy and hits around his career averages, he'll be a solid signing. It's almost impossible for him to do better than that, and not unlikely that he'll fall off a cliff.

Anyway, that's not what bothered me enough to post about this. It's what Sabean said in the Chronicle story(by the excellent Henry Schulman):
Sabean said when Sanchez was healthy, "he certainly played up to our scouting reports and expectations. It's unfortunate he ran into not being able to stay on the field, because he really would have helped the ballclub."

Translated, From the Conservative

I was thoroughly puzzled, for a while, by this Chris Cillizza analysis from earlier this week:
Republicans' decision to make the public option the focus of their efforts to defeat President Obama's health care plan may look like sound political strategy from afar but it runs the risk of distracting voters from arguments against the proposal based on more GOP-friendly issues like taxes and spending.
What puzzled me was that I've been following this thing pretty closely, and it didn't seem to me that Republicans have made the public option "the focus of their efforts" to beat health care reform. Liberals have put the public option front-and-center, yes, but Republicans? Well, they oppose it, but they also oppose Medicare "cuts," and death panels, and there's an anti-abortion strain, and they also oppose individual and employer mandates, and spending...well, if anything, Republican opposition, in my view, suffers from being not specific enough.

And then, as I was reading Steve Benen's account of John Boehner's attacks on the House bill, I understood it: Cillizza, and perhaps others, are mistaking GOP attacks on a "government takeover" with specific attacks on the public option. That's not what Boehner is saying! For conservatives, any national health care legislation would be a "government takeover." Individual mandates would be a "government takeover." So would employer mandates.

(Similarly, cap-and-trade, a climate policy embraced by Democrats in part to avoid charges of tax-and-spend that they thought would be the result of a carbon tax, has become tax-and-trade to Republicans. The best one along those lines, and I'm afraid I don't have a citation at hand, is that any new spending can be called a "tax increase," since by Republican logic any increase in spending must be paid for eventually with new taxes, even though, of course, Republicans did no such thing when they increased spending. And, of course, by that logic any tax cut is actually a (future) tax increase).

I'm absolutely certain that Boehner would still be talking about a "government takeover" even if there was no public option at all, not even Conrad co-ops, in the House bill.

Dede's Demise

Yesterday, I referred everyone to this useful caution from John Sides not to search for the Real Meaning of Tuesday's elections.

I don't really want to take it back, certainly not as far the actual results are concerned, but the events in the NY-23 special are, in fact, significant. I don't think I've blogged about this's a heretofore safe GOP district, in which the local Republicans nominated a seemingly strong candidate, the local Member of the State Assembly.

And then all hell broke loose. The GOP candidate, Dede Scozzafava, was conservative by NY Republican standards, but certainly not by national Republican standards. A third-party candidate, however, was sufficiently conservative. Special elections get lots of attention, and in this case national conservatives descended on upstate New York on behalf of the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman. Now, just a few days before the election, we get news that Scozzafava has suspended her campaign as polls show that she's fallen into a distant third place.

I don't think that the actual results of the voting on Tuesday are particularly important, but the process within the Republican party certainly is important. There's no question but that national conservatives are increasingly using primary elections (and, in this case, extra-primary processes) to enforce rigid issue-position consistency. NY-23 is important as an example of this trend, and as a very visible warning to prospective candidates: keeping national conservatives happy is essential for a career within the GOP, regardless of what local incentives apply. It's also, of course, a very visible warning to current incumbents that national conservatives are willing to risk losing seats in order to enforce discipline. Hoffman may or may not wind up winning, but it's clear that keeping a Dem out of office was a lower priority for national conservatives than preventing a moderate Republican from serving in Congress.

I should say that I'm having some difficulty finding a good term to describe exactly what national conservatives are enforcing. In NY-23, it appears to be issue positions. But in the upcoming Florida Senate primary, national conservatives seem especially upset with Charlie Crist because he appeared with Barack Obama and approved of stimulus money coming into Florida. The appearance portion of that, which was really what got conservatives upset, seems more like a partisan complaint. Yet it's hard to use "partisan" in the NY-23 case, since national conservatives there showed no loyalty to the properly nominated GOP candidate. I'm also reluctant to use the word "ideology" since the issue-positions that are enforced seem, to me at least, to be at least as much a function of partisanship as they are of any kind of intellectual consistency.

At any rate, I do think that the ability of national conservatives to enforce discipline through GOP primaries is a very important story in American politics right now, and it's very reasonable to point at the NY-23 special as an important case of it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday baseball post

I've said before that all the PED guys are going to wind up in the Hall of Fame, and we have some major movement on that this week, with Tony LaRussa trying to give Mark McGwire his reputation back by hiring him as the Cardinals hitting coach.

This is a bit distressing for me, because it's a great thing to do, and I've never really liked LaRussa very much at all, so I get a bit of cognitive dissonance.

At any rate Mark McGwire was one of the great hitters, and clearly deserves to be in Cooperstown. I don't know whether we'll see a major increase in his HOF voting this year, but I'd guess within two years he'll start moving up in the voting. This coming year the strongest new candidates are Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin; the next year it'll be Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmiero, and then one fairly quiet year before the deluge (in 2013 and 2014, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina will be new to the ballot -- along with eight guys who are significantly better candidates than those two). So we'll see whether McGwire ever gets in from the writers' vote, but if not he'll eventually get in from a Vet Committee process.

Hmmm...McGwire has been tailing off in the vote, with 2009, his third year on the ballot being his worst one yet. I guess I'll predict that he'll turn that around a bit in 2010. I'm fairly confident that he'll be closer in 2012 than he was in 2009, but I'm going to guess that that it'll start in this year's voting.

Read Stuff, You Should

This time, the thing to skip is Slate's John Dickerson's look at the state of play in the Senate. Great topic; zero value added.

On the the better stuff I've seen in the last ten days or so.

1. Want to know what the Meaning of the November 3 Elections is? If you are tempted to think that's not a stupid question, go straight to the Monkey Cage and listen to John Sides, who nails it.

2. Matt Yglesias says he's done fighting this battle. Say it ain't so, Matt! Someone really needs to keep saying it.

3. Jack Balkin is good on the topic of the partisan press. Jacob Weisberg gets the idea. Conor Friedersdorf is fighting a probably hopeless battle against the partisan press, but he's certainly on the money about Rush as a race-baiter.

4. Forget November 3 (well, don't; the NY special and the NJ governor race, and the ME marriage vote, are all very interesting and very close, but after that regroup) and start f0llowing the MA Senate contest. Hey, we could be stuck with the winner forever; they don't cycle through very quickly up there. As always with MA politics, you want to read my brother' s reporting.

5. Yes, Free Ross. Useless column; great blogger.

6. Fred Kaplan on Karzai's brother.

7. TNC quotes PE.

8. Noah: funny. Republicans: even funnier.

Prediction: Lincoln Will Be In

I'm not a reporter; I only know what I read; I try to stick with things I can say with confidence, but this one is just my logic, and I could certainly be wrong. All that said:

I'm predicting now that Blanch Lincoln will vote yes for cloture on the motion to proceed (if McConnell is foolish enough to force that vote), and will then vote yes on cloture to bring the bill to a final vote.

Here's the logic behind it. Lincoln is in awful shape right now -- she's perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat up for election next year, and her state is increasingly unfriendly to Democrats. Unfortunately for Lincoln, she's in a no-win situation; if she votes with the Democrats in a party-line vote, she'll be attacked as a National Liberal Democrat Commie Pinko Socialist, while if she votes with the Republicans, then her funding and the enthusiasm of her liberal supporters will dry up.

And yet...the real problem, and what I think will be the determining factor for Lincoln, is that she already voted for a health care bill. Unlike the rest of the "maybe" gang (Landrieu, Lieberman, and Ben Nelson), she's on a committee that worked on the bill, and she voted for health care reform at that point. Now, granted, the committee version didn't have the public option, but she has to know that she's going to be attacked for that vote by Republicans in the next election, and she has to know that the attack will be brutal, making no allowance for however she eventually votes on the Senate floor. Moreover, voting with the GOP on the filibuster votes would leave her open to charges of flip-flopping, and of trying to get away with being a liberal in secret (the committee -- no, it's not actually secret, but I'm just anticipating the lines of attack, not whether they are legitimate) and then pretending to be moderate in public.

So far, she's being very cautious, but that's only natural if she eventually plans to vote for cloture. If she intended to vote against cloture, odds are she would have told Reid before he announced his version of the bill, and that she would speak up now in hopes that the public option would be stripped out after all before the bill reached the floor -- since presumably she would vote for a bill without a public option.

Or, just to simplify it further: she voted for the bill without a public option. The public option polls well compared to the rest of the plan. Yes, she voted against the public option (at that point without the opt-out provision) in committee...but is the addition of the (relatively popular) opt out public option really enough to flip her the other way? I don't believe it, and I think she sticks with the Democrats on at least the procedural votes.

"Plain Blog" Gets Told-You-So Moment on Death Panels

Me, on August 14, after Senate Finance stripped end-of-life stuff out of their bill as a reaction to Palin and the town halls, and liberals reacted with cries of doom about the future of our Democracy if a few nuts could affect policy that easily:
[H]ere's what's going to happen. They're going to avoid taking votes on this thing while the crazy is going on. Then, later in the game, perhaps in conference, they'll stick it back in. They'll do it quietly, and they'll be prepared with a story about how the new language prevents the stuff that, of course, was never in the old language to begin with. Worst case: they leave the damn thing out of the bill, and then go back next year and either pass it as a stand-alone or stick it in some other bill.
And today's news, courtesy of Greg Sargent's excellent new "Morning Plum" feature:
The Death Panels live! House Dem leaders were not spooked by the death panel attacks. Medicare funding for end of life consultations is in the House health care bill.
And the underlying NYT story says that, in the House bill, these consultations are now...wait for it..."completely optional." As opposed to, I guess, "optional" in the original language. I probably should wait until the language at least survives the conference committee, but that's no fun; I'm calling this one a hit, right now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Palin's Future

I enjoyed Tom Schaller's prediction last week that Sarah Palin wouldn't run for president in 2012. I think his logic about her chances of winning is sound, as is his observation that a candidate intending to seek the presidency in 2012 wouldn't resign her governorship now; in fact, such a candidate should seek re-election. One could add that it makes no sense at all for Palin to escalate her public feud with her ex-almost-son-in-law.
That, however, is just the problem with predicting Palin's actions: there's no sign at all that she's operating by the normal rules of politics. The downside of this for her is that she is rapidly squandering any chance she ever had of recovering her standing with the bulk of the American people. However, it makes her even harder to predict than it makes most pols -- and, in my view, these sorts of predictions are fairly useless anyway other than for the fun factor. We can properly analyze the incentives for a candidate to run, but predicting which way a candidate will react to those incentives requires getting into her head. Of the major four Democratic candidates leading up to 2008, it turned out that Clinton and Edwards ran, while Kerry and Gore passed. Was that predictable in advance? I don't think so, at least not without knowing a whole lot more about them as individuals.

One thing we can do is observe that whatever Palin may do later on, right now she does appear to be running for president: she's basically doing the things that a candidate in her situation would do (Josh Putnam has a nice turn of phrase for this: he talks about candidates who are running for 2012, regardless of whether they will be running in 2012). The case that Palin is running now isn't as clear as the case for, say, Romney or Pawlenty, but then again the things she needs to do are different. I'm comfortable saying that she's running, for now. (The giveaway? The footnotes on her facebook posts. That's an effort to show that she has real substance, something only needed if she wants to be taken seriously beyond her current fans).

Now, with Palin, there's also been considerable speculation that her "real" goal is to extract as much money as she can from her current situation (something that's only going to accelerate with this story, even if it turns out to be not true).

So: Palin is doing the things that she would do, sort of and in her particular way, if she was currently running for president. There's running for president, though, and running for president. The "running for president" that Obama, McCain, Romney, and Edwards did in 2008 isn't quite the same thing as the "running for president" that Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson (especially in 1984, but probably in 1988 as well), Alan Keyes, and Dennis Kucinich did. I'm starting to think that a Palin 2012 campaign might well be more along those lines than it would a full-blown, in-it-to-win-it effort.

Two things about that. First, I'm not really sure that Palin herself will realize, and I'm sure she would never acknowledge, that that's what she's doing.

Second...the campaigns like that over the last few cycles have almost all been busts, in terms of any effect on who gets nominated. Keyes, Kucinich, Sharpton, Gary Bauer -- none of those candidates made a dent in the results of the Iowa Caucuses or the New Hampshire Primary; none of them, as far as I can recall, won a single contest. The most successful was Ron Paul in 2008, but he failed to reach 10% in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Palin could be different; Palin could be a lot more like Jesse Jackson in 1984.

Here's what I'm envisioning. Sarah Palin announces for the presidency. She enters all the primaries and caucuses. She sets up a campaign organization, but it's constantly beset by trouble; aides come and go, sniping at her in the press on their way out. Palin herself doesn't work to hard. She gives some speeches, does a little door-to-door stuff, shows up at debates, and finds a few friendly TV and radio hosts to spend a good deal of time with, and gives a handful of regular media interviews. And that's about it.

She's able to raise money, so she gets her adds on the air. She stumbles her way through debates (with a large field, it's not as if the early debates require much) and her handful of "real" media interviews. She retains her intense popularity with one group of Republicans, and gains no new fans. And she tallies between 20% and 33% of the vote in state after state.

Normal candidates, candidates who are attempting to become president, quit when they can't win. Jackson/Keyes/Paul type candidates don't. They don't need that much money, so they can't be stopped by party bigwigs leaning on donors to cut them off. They often aren't in it for anything the party can give them, so the party has very little in leverage over them.

At the level of an Alan Keyes or a Denis Kucinich, these candidates are just a minor nuisance. At 25% or 30% of the vote, they can cause all kinds of real problems.

I'm not exactly predicting that Sarah Palin will be Jackson '84, but I could very easily see her headed that way.


I tend, as regular readers will have noticed, to be pretty generous in my interpretations of a lot of politicians' actions, particularly the president. When people were on Obama's case for not speaking out enough on health care in August, or for not doing enough to publicly pressure Reid on public option this month, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt -- given his track record, I tend to think he probably sees the board better than we do.

Here's an exception, however: nominations. I think he's made a real mistake in not elevating the GOP filibuster-everyone strategy into a more visible issue. I'm glad to see (via Benen, who also approves) Harry Reid blasting the filibusters today, but realistically it takes the president to get anyone to pay attention to something like this.

I'd like to see a two-pronged approach. First, Obama should pick a quiet week (yeah, I know) and light a little fire on this one. He should have done it months ago -- Obama has little to lose in labeling the GOP as obstructionists, since (1) they are, and (2) he isn't going to lose any votes on the Senate floor by calling them on it. But, second, I'd like to see the Democrats, in the face of this unprecedented situation, threaten the GOP that if they don't dial it back considerably, the Dems are going to start ignoring holds and simply steamrolling cloture through on everyone.
The trade-off would be that it's totally legit for Republicans to use holds and filibusters against some nominees (judicial particularly, but executive branch nominees as well), but it's now way out of hand. So Reid should announce that if the GOP doesn't scale way back on obstructing nominees, the Dems are going to agree internally to just vote for cloture on all nominees.

The question is whether Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman, Bayh, and the others would go along with it. I think the odds are they would. After all, it's the threat that counts here -- the idea isn't to force marginal Dems to support controversial nominees, but to get the GOP to stop slowing down non-controversial nominees, which is surely what they're doing now. So promise the marginal Dems that Reid won't actually move ahead on the most controversial nominees right away, as long as the Dems are willing to put up a solid, 60 vote front. Hey, it's not even impossible that Snowe, Collins, Voinovich, and Lugar couldn't get on board; certainly it would be worth it to send Ben Nelson over to poke around a bit.

Holds and filibusters, in my view, both have legitimate places in the political system. It's a good thing that individual Senators can force presidents to address some narrow interest by grinding a nomination or a bill to a temporary halt; it's a good thing to slow down presidents and narrow majorities of the Senate if they try to take radical steps without being able to sell those steps to the broader middle. It is not, however, a good thing to have two branches of the government running at half-speed for an extended period of time -- not because the president was stubbornly sending up nominees that aren't suitable, but because the opposition party has just decided to block 'em all. On this one, and since the votes are there, I think the president and the Democratic leadership in the Senate have been far too patient.

The Politics of Opting Out

A good discussion has broken out about the politics of actually opting out of the public option. Here's Anonymous Liberal, who kicked this off on Monday:
On a purely political level, this issue could pay dividends for Democrats for years to come. Democrats running for office in public option states would have a reliable, winning issue in every election ("the Republicans want to take away your health insurance"). And in opt-out states, Democrats would also have a strong message ("I will give you the same options that everyone else in the country has already"). That's an issue that could breath new life into the Democratic party in red states.
And Andrew Sullivan wound up coming to the same conclusion.

Ezra Klein sees it a differently:
I don't think there will be any real fight over the public option, and I think that virtually no states will opt-out...
My prediction is that the public option, if it passes, will be much like that. States wouldn't be able to opt out till 2014. By 2014, we'll be arguing over all manner of things, but a public insurance option for the small sliver of the population with access to the health insurance exchanges will be one of those things. In that scenario, where there's very little controversy over the public option, I don't believe that state legislatures and governors are going to go to the trouble of rejecting it, and I don't believe that anyone will manage to reinvigorate the controversy around it. The controversy around the public option is an expression of the controversy around Barack Obama's presidency in general, and health-care reform in particular. Once those issues are essentially settled, the underlying policy isn't going to hold people's attention (emphasis added).
I'm going to split the difference. First of all, I think Ezra is exactly correct about the debate. No one really cares very much about the substance of the public option; everyone cares a lot about it's symbolic value. So there's a good chance that once it passes, no one will care to revive the debate.

...or at least they wouldn't, if everyone was (1) behaving rationally, and (2) seeking to maximize votes. The problem for the Republicans is that neither of these conditions can be assumed to hold. In particular, it seems highly unlikely that "the controversy around Barack Obama's presidency in general" will be "essentially settled" among conservatives in 2014, particularly if Obama wins a second term. In fact, should Obama win a second term but have the Democrats lose the House somewhere along the way, there's a very good chance that Obama will be facing impeachment in 2014 or 2015 (not conviction, but impeachment) -- that is, unless the core of the Republican party changes dramatically.

Does that mean that states with Republican legislatures and/or governors will definitely go after the public option? No; Ezra may be right that health care won't be a major issue at that point, and it isn't really possible to predict which phantoms the Becks and Rushes of the world will be conjuring up in five years. So, as I said, I'll take the middle course: if Republicans remember to oppose the public option once they can do so, then the logic kicks in that Democrats stand to benefit from the inevitable GOP charge to self-destruction on the issue. I'd say it's impossible to predict, however, whether or not Republicans will remember this one -- there's nothing inherent in the issue that would force it onto the 2014 GOP agenda.

Another Step on Health Care

The House bill is out, today.

Why did Pelosi fall short in her efforts to get enough votes for the stronger version of the public option? Didn't it look like she was going to get the votes, only last week? What happened?

Simple: everyone knows that the compromise on public option is going to look much more like the Senate version than the House version. The Blue Dogs don't want to be associated with the most liberal version of things -- they likely don't care too much about the substance, just the perception. Once it was clear that the Senate would go for a weak public option (with opt-out), then the stronger public option became the liberal version, and there was no longer any reason for marginal Democrats in the House to absorb the risk of casting a liberal vote.

Had the Senate not acted, or had the Senate no included a public option at all, then the Blue Dogs would face a different calculus: the House was almost certainly going to have some sort of public option in the House version of the bill, and so Blue Dogs were going to either have to take a liberal vote (for whatever version of the public option was in the bill) or oppose the bill. In other words, without the Senate setting a marker, it wasn't clear what constituted "more" liberal. Once it was clear what was the liberal alternative, marginal Democrats flocked to the "moderate" choice.

Remember, there's a big collective action problem here: all Democrats want health care reform to pass (because they believe passage or failure of health care reform will affect Obama's popularity, and they believe that Obama's popularity will help them get reelected), but marginal Democrats want to avoid any vote that can be portrayed as liberal. So the best position for many marginal Dems is voting against a bill that passes; the next best position is voting for the bill, but against lots of "liberal" amendments. No marginal Democrat wants to vote for a more liberal version of the bill than the one that is eventually signed into law.

This is also why the House bill didn't show up until today (after the Senate bill, which most believed would be more conservative, was unveiled), even though House committee action was concluded months ago, and Pelosi could have moved the bill to the floor in early September. Of course, marginal Democratic Senators want the House to go first, for the same reasons. The compromise, apparently, was the the Senate announced their position on public option first; and then the House announced their position on public option, released their full bill, and will apparently take floor action first.

Hey reporters: how much of this coordination was explicit? How much of it was orchestrated by the White House?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I sort of hate to wade in on the big Obama hoops game story, since these are exactly the kinds of stories that tend to be obsessed over far out of any reasonable relationship with their importance. However, I feel obliged to add my two cents, since I have some relevant expertise. Not the part about studying and teaching the presidency, but the part about hoops -- I've played in regular pick-up basketball most of my life, most recently just last night (I should probably add that I stink, and I'm usually the worst guy on the floor, although I have surprisingly useful worst-guy skills, so I'm able to survive OK even in some pretty competitive games).

OK. First, I generally found this post by Marjorie Valbrun to be on the mark about the main points:
While it is important for women to have access to all-male clubs at the workplace in terms of inclusion and having input when big decisions are made, I don’t believe the women staffers at the White House have to be in on the basketball games in order to, well, be in. There are other ways to ensure they get a seat at the table. By pointedly asking for a seat at the table, for instance, or pointing out when necessary that there aren’t enough, or any women, at the table. Sounds a bit simple, I know, but it’s doubtful that the women occupying high-profile jobs in the Obama administration are shrinking violets who would sit by quietly while the alpha males rolled over them.
That's fine, but I think it's really worthwhile to be careful about what we're talking about here.

First, I'd say that there's nothing at all wrong with the president enjoying an activity that turns out to be long as it's not part of a pattern of exclusion. Fortunately, the Times article doesn't find any such pattern. The president, we are told, golfs, plays ball, watches sports on TV...and wanted a big dog. Now, if we had been told that the president invited only sports fans, or only male sports fans, to watch football with him once a week -- well, then I'd be a bit concerned. But there's virtually nothing in the article to that effect.

Now, I said that I liked Valbrun's comments, but she gets pickup hoops pretty much wrong. Here's Valbrun:
And let’s be honest, how many of us, unless we happen to have played for the WNBA, would really want to spend a Saturday afternoon hooping it up with a bunch of sweaty, aggressively competitive, wonky men—even if one of them were the POTUS? All the chest-bumping, trash-talking, butt-slapping, elbow-throwing, and in your-face-dunking that is part of the game would come to a screeching halt in a co-ed game, making it less fun for the men and less real for the women if the men went out of their way not to touch, bump into, or otherwise injure us physically, or offend our “delicate” feminine sensibilities.
OK, as I said above, I've played pick-up basketball most of my life, in several different parts of the country. I don't know how the better games I've been in compare to the president's game; I suspect that there's not a huge difference. (I've been in plenty of third-rate games too, including alas last night's pathetic excuse of a game). At any rate, I can report a few things. First of all, I haven't come across a whole lot of chest-thumping or butt-slapping. Second, I've never been in a game where women were not welcome. Women are rare, at least in my experience, but I can't say I've ever heard any of the guys express any reluctance to let them in. I have heard some less-than-generous comments about the quality of women's play in general -- guys will say that so-and-so is good for a girl -- and I do think that there's a stereotype of the style of women basketball players, but really, I don't think I've ever come across hostility. And I certainly do not think think that normal hoops behavior comes to a "screeching halt in a co-ed game." In fact, I cannot remember any difference at all in the general atmosphere of the game depending on whether there was a women playing or not. About the only thing I can say is that there are some guys who don't want to D up against a woman, but that's been fairly rare in my experience. I should add that my experience is definitely not limited to academic contexts.

The second thing that I think is worth pointing out is that reading this as men vs. women is also wrong because we're really talking about a fairly small subset of men. Lots of guys never played ball; by the time you get beyond college, the ranks have already thinned quite a bit, and by the time guys are in their 30s and 40s, it's a pretty small group who are still running the court.

Hmmm...there's a third thing to point out. Emily Bazelon quotes a reader who suspects that the guys in Obama's game are terrified of the consequences of beating the boss. I know that's the old cliche, generally from golf, but I'd be very, very, surprised if it applies to a pick-up basketball game. I do suspect that the president probably gets plenty of touches (that is, the ball is passed to him reasonably frequently) whether he deserves it or not, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the guys are a little tentative around him for fear of causing an injury, but I doubt if anyone cares at all whether the president wins or loses.

(Oh -- I almost forgot to add my big hoops & the presidency credential: I've played ball with a guy who played ball with Bill Clinton. Don't think I have a connection like that with Obama, but it wouldn't shock me to find out that I had one).

The GOP and Women

Great update from Boston Phoenix reporter/blogger David S. Bernstein on Republican women in office. It's a three part set of posts, and I recommend all of it, but the bottom line is that the GOP continues to move away from supporting female candidates:
Women currently make up 14% of GOP governors (3 of 22). The party is likely to increase its total share of governors, but probably the same number of women

Women currently make up 10% of GOP Senators (4 of 40). The party is likely to end this cycle with as many, or perhaps more Senators, but probably the same number of women.

Women currently make up just under 10% of GOP US Representatives (17 of 177). The party is likely to end this cycle with quite a few more members of Congress, but probably the same number of women, or perhaps one or two more.
Interesting, although it's worth adding a bit of caution (as David does) that it's still early enough that new candidates could emerge.

(Disclosure: I'm not sure exactly who this David S. Bernstein is -- there are just so many David Bernsteins out there -- but I heard a rumor that this one can't hit a wiffle-ball knuckle-curve to save his life in backyard games, or at least he couldn't when we were a little younger).

Annals of Incivility

Three stories:

In a case of incivility that I don't like at all, Alan Grayson's quick cycle from unknown, to lib darling, to jumping the shark, appears to be complete. It will be interesting to follow his career from here, especially as it parallels (or doesn't) Michele Bachmann's progress. Will Grayson continue to treat his House seat as a launching pad for a career as an MSNBC host? Or will he dial it down a little, and decide to take his current job a little more seriously? The results will tell us a little bit about Grayson, but they'll also be a hint about incentives on the liberal side of things. We already know which way the incentives run on the conservative side (much to the detriment of the Republican Party).

The other two tales of incivility are ones I heartily endorse. Bubba traveled to New Jersey yesterday and managed to call GOP candidate Chris Christie the "300 pound behemoth" in the race (Christie...the word is portly, I believe). Yeah, it's a cheap shot, but I'm all for a few cheap shots, here and there, in our politics. And then there's the Governator's latest, which everyone is linking to today.

Regular readers will suspect that this whole item is mainly an excuse to link back, again, to my daring expose of the president's address to schoolchildren, which revealed that Schwarzenegger isn't the first pol to cleverly imbed secret messages in seemingly innocuous prose. Regular readers are correct. Newer readers, feel free to follow that link -- if you dare!


A useful story in Politico this morning looks at swing voters Lincoln, Bayh, Landrieu, Nelson, and Pryor. Greg Sargent focuses on Bayh's assertion that procedural and substantive votes are one and the same:

This one will really help maintain unity in the Dem caucus. It’s one thing, after all, to threaten to block efforts by the majority party — your own party — to stage a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill’s substance. It’s quite another to claim that the initial procedural vote, which requires 60, is not materially different from a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill’s substance.

Indeed, Bayh’s position is hard to distinguish from that esposed by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who said yesterday that “most Americans” will see a vote for cloture “as a vote on the substance of the bill.” Heck, GOP leaders see Bayh’s quote as so helpful that they just blasted it out to reporters.

For what it's worth, Bayh didn't distinguish in his comments to Politico between a filibuster on the motion to proceed and a filibuster against final passage; Sargent's comments only apply to the former, but Democrats are going to want to separate both types of filibusters from substantive votes. As I said yesterday, I think the case on the merits is a lot stronger for Democrats on the initial cloture vote on the motion to proceed than on cloture on bringing the bill to a final vote -- Bayh's comments reflect the hard truth that those who do vote yes/no on the final cloture vote and then final passage are going to be charged, with good reason, for having supported the bill.

Beyond that question, however, the Politico story is, as I read it, pretty good for the Democrats. Bayh's stated concerns (fiscal responsibility) are the kind that Reid should be able to handle. Nelson continues to sound, to me at least, like someone who isn't looking to be the one who sinks the whole thing, although he'd be crazy not to use his position to extract whatever goodies he wants. I don't think Pryor is really a problem (for 60), and nothing in the story changes that.

The toughest cases, as I read it, are Landrieu and, especially, Lincoln, who is up for reelection this time around. I think there's a good chance that Lincoln is screwed whatever she does. That said, Democrats probably have more to offer her in a post-electoral career than do Republicans, and they'll be trying to convince her that Beck-crazed conservatives are going to be after her no matter how she votes on this one, so she has nothing to lose if she votes for reform. That's especially true since she already voted for the Senate Finance bill in committee, and it will be even more true if she votes for cloture on the motion to proceed.

All told the news following Reid's announcement continues to be quite positive for getting this thing through the Senate. There's still plenty of uncertainty, but if I was forced to bet, I'd guess that Reid has a path to 60.

Sometimes, You Can't Do Much

There have been basically two reactions from health care reform supporters to Holy Joe's comments yesterday indicating that he might oppose cloture at the end of floor action. There's the Harry Reid/Ezra Klein tack, which is to sort of laugh it off. And then there's pretty much everyone else, with the best version being Jonathan Chait's "It Was Lieberman All Along."

Two quick reactions from me. First, some liberals are having a bit of a "told you so" moment, centered on the decision by Senate Democrats to let Lieberman keep his committee chair. I think that's just nuts. Lieberman may or may not wind up voting with the Democrats on this one -- I think I'm tentatively with Ezra, but it's hard to say what's going on in Holy Joe's mind -- but I think there's no question at all what would have happened had he been kicked out of the Democratic caucus. He's voted as a moderate Democrat overall in this Congress; had he moved over to the GOP, I'm confident that he would have shifted his voting pattern to fit in with mainstream Republicans (in other words, to the right of Snowe and Collins). Lieberman is, no question about it, a problem for the Dems, but he's a problem because he's a maybe; turning him into a clear "no" is a loss, not a solution.

Second...Chris Bowers over at Open Left asks progressives:
One thing that is not speculative is that we are going to have to find a way to pressure Lieberman hard as a result of this statement. Any suggestions?
Well, I have one, but Bowers isn't going to like it: Ignore him. There are no carrots that liberals can offer Lieberman -- they certainly aren't going to support him for reelection even if he becomes the most enthusiastic single-payer advocate, and they can't even offer to remain neutral. Since liberals are going to oppose Lieberman (and rightly so) full-out whatever he does on this issue, they really have no remaining ammunition. If Chait is correct, however, and as a long-time Lieberman watcher I tend to agree with him on this point, then Holy Joe is primarily motivated on this one out of spite. If that's right, the more direct confrontations with liberals he's forced into, the more he's apt to see this as a chance to get back at them.

Of course, there's always my Big Compromise proposal (see step six), but somehow I don't think Bowers would go for it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

E - GOP?

I saw Mitch McConnell on C-SPAN today (here's the NYT story about it) saying that Democratic votes on cloture on the motion to commit would be treated by Republicans as if they were substantive votes for the underlying bill (and, of course, every provision in it).
“At some point the majority leader will try to move to proceed to the bill,” Mr. McConnell said. “I think it’s appropriate to make the point, at the outset, that a vote on cloture, on the motion to proceed to this bill, will be treated as a vote on the merits of the bill.”
I think that's a mistake by McConnell.

Of course, it's totally reasonable for Republicans to treat votes on cloture as if they were votes on substance; that's not the mistake here.

The mistake is forcing a showdown on the motion to proceed.

On normal bills, no one is paying much attention, so there's not very much pressure, and it's not particularly important to construct a narrative that makes sense. But the health care bill, of course, is going to have lots of people paying attention. And McConnell needs Democrats, and those Democrats are going to have to explain why they think it's OK to vote to keep the Senate from even considering the bill. I think -- and Joe Lieberman has already signaled -- that Democrats won't do that.

Now, filibustering to keep the bill from coming to a final vote is another story. Lieberman (and Nelson, and Lincoln, and Bayh) could much more plausibly, at that point, argue that it's important for the Senate to take it's time, to consider just a few more amendments (and there are always a few more amendments available to offer). In other words, they never have to explicitly come out and say that they want debate to continue forever; they just want it to continue for now. That's not going to satisfy liberals, of course, but it is a plausibly reasonable position.

However, if Republicans force these Senators to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed, and let them know that they will be permanently stamped as in favor of a government takeover of health care (and death panels, and who knows what all) on the basis of that vote, then the incentive to defy their party on the final procedural vote seems to me to be dramatically reduced. After all, if you've already earned the maximum GOP scorn, why turn around and earn the hatred of the Democrats, too?

Of course, it's possible that McConnell knows he has the votes to prevent the bill from reaching the floor, but I haven't seen anything in the reporting to convince me that he's right about that, and as I said, I think opposing cloture at that point is the hardest vote for Democrats to justify. If he isn't right -- if Democrats are likely to stick together to get the bill to the floor, then I don't see what Republicans can possibly gain from forcing a vote on a motion to proceed. They're far better off letting the bill reach the floor by unanimous consent, and then start throwing amendments at it.

How Many Filibusters?

Josh Marshall gets a useful reminder in an email from the Hill that there are multiple possible filibusters on any bill, something that I've been talking about. Here's list from Josh's correspondent:
1. Cloture vote cutting off debate on the motion to proceed to the health care bill (60 votes);

2. Motion to proceed to the bill (50 votes, may be waived if we get cloture);

3. Amendments to modify the public option piece, e.g. to a trigger (likely requiring 60 votes);

4. Cloture vote to end debate on the bill and move to final passage (60 votes); and

5. Final passage of the bill (50 votes).

Joe Lieberman said today, as he has said in the past, that he is planning to vote with the Democrats to get the bill to the floor (for cloture on the motion to proceed) but not on cloture to move the bill to final passage.

Now, here's the question I have. TPM's emailer says that it would probably require 60 votes to weaken the bill by floor amendment. That's also what Ezra Klein said two weeks ago (by the way, it's in an excellent post that I should have cited against the incorrect idea that the public option looked dead at that point; Ezra was on the money with his understanding of where things actually were). I'm not certain, but I think that's wrong. Think about it: the bill is on the floor. Olympia Snowe offers an amendment to replace an opt-out public option with a trigger. Then what happens? If Democrats have the votes, they take a vote, opt-out wins, end of story. What if, however the Democrats only have 49 votes? They can filibuster the amendment...but that doesn't actually get them anything, because Republicans will be glad to let that particular filibuster go on forever. So Democrats would have the choice between keeping the filibuster going (and never getting to finish the bill) and allowing a vote. Of course, Snowe could choose to withdraw the amendment, but I'm not sure I can see why she would do that.

I do think that the Dems probably have the votes to defeat the trigger, but I think it's going to take 50, not 41.

Claiming Credit 3

One key point I should have made earlier: actually claiming credit and getting people to believe it is an important political skill, one that liberal activists now show that they have mastered (see, for example, this Sullivan post). Good job, liberal activists!

I guess I should add two things. First, I think it's a major stretch to say, as Nate Silver does, that the fight over public option is important because of "paradigm-shifting implications it could have for how business gets done in the Democratic Party." I don't think things work that way; politicians are going to follow all their incentives, and Democratic Senators from states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Dakota are always going to tend to follow the median voter in those states -- or else they aren't going to stay in the Senate very long. Liberal enthusiasm and toughness can't change the basic incentives faced by Lincoln and other swing-state Senators.

However, that doesn't mean that liberals shouldn't fight hard for what they want, as long as they avoid doing the sorts of destructive things that conservatives are doing to the GOP in the New York this week. And claiming credit successfully, deserved or not, can make a difference -- not by "paradigm shifting," but around the margins. After all, Newt Gingrich is still getting mileage out of his successful (albeit almost entirely false) claim of credit for the 1994 elections.

Still More on Opt Out

Nate Silver has an interesting post up describing what he sees as surprising developments that have, contrary to his expectations, saved the public option. He lists five items. The obvious questions are whether these things were important, and whether they are actually surprises. I don't think any of them pass that two-step test.

I'll start with his last point. In Nate's view, Olympia Snowe was surprisingly ineffective in developing her "trigger" compromise. I don't know...does Snowe have a long and successful history of being a creative and innovative politician? I'm not convinced that's the case. What was more important here is that, compared to the stimulus situation, the numbers have changed dramatically. In the spring, there were 58 Democrats in the Senate, and Snowe was joined by two other Republicans. Their votes were needed (well, at least two of the three were needed). Now, there are 60 Democrats, and Snowe appears to have bring only her own vote (since Collins appears to be siding with the rejectionists, and Specter is no longer a moderate Republican). In other words the best explanation here isn't that Snowe "didn't do her homework on triggers;" it's that her bargaining position has deteriorated significantly as the numbers changed.

Now, his second point is that the White House didn't do much for the public option, at least publicly. I don't know how much of a surprise that is, but this one fails the other half of the test -- Nate doesn't actually believe that WH silence helped the public option in any important way.

This leaves three points, which I think boil down to one main idea. Let's see the points, in Nate's words:
The first surprise is that Reid is showing some backbone.

The third surprise is the way that Democrats regrouped after the turmoil of August.

The fourth surprise, less important than the first three, is that the usually very footsure insurance lobby undermined its credibility by putting out the wrong study at the wrong time, giving a gift to Democrats by making it easier for centrist Senators to distance themselves from them.
There's really only one surprise here: Nate is surprised that the Democrats didn't turn tail and run at the first sign of resistance. Nate believed -- lots of liberals believed, in a narrative that goes back at least to the Iraq vote in 2002 -- that the Democrats are a bunch of 'fraidy-cats. A few nuts at a few town hall meetings were sure to make the Dems freak out and give up. The prospects of a close vote were sure to make the Dems freak out and give up. Surely, the opposition of big lobbyists would make the Dems turn away from the liberals. Everyone knows that Democrats may mouth liberal platitudes during campaign season, but they're really just in hock to big corporate interest groups.

The best explanation is all of this has nothing to do with backbone; it has to do with numbers. In 2002, Democrats were in the minority, and didn't have the votes to win on Iraq. In 2007, Democrats had majorities in Congress...but not the White House, and so they had only limited ability to affect policy. In early 2009, Democrats picked up the White House and reached 58 seats in the Senate, leaving them in pretty good shape but still vulnerable to unified Republican filibusters.

And now the Democrats have reached 60 votes in the Senate, and it has consequences. That's not about will, determination, or spine; it's about numbers. To the extent that Democrats have 60 votes but not 60 liberal votes, the ability to do what liberals want will be compromised, but again it's the numbers (both in terms of party and in terms of preferences of Senators) that really matters. Those sorts of explanations aren't, perhaps, as dramatic, but they do have the virtue of being more accurate.

Claiming Credit 2

The one thing that liberal activists have certainly done with regard to health care is to center the conversation (outside of GOP parts of the world, but those parts are mostly irrelevant to the bill) on public option at the expense of anything else.

We're about 24 hours out from Reid's decision, and so far I'm not even seeing much curiosity about what else he's sending over to CBO, even from Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn, both of whom have championed a much more balanced approach up to this point. Same story at the NYT health care blog. Or, consider this TPM story about the House bill, which is entirely focused on the details of public option, without even a vague allusion to any other important issues at stake.

No question about it: whatever their effect on the final bill, liberals, with their single-minded focus on the public option, are driving media coverage and the overall debate. Too much for my tastes: Hey, reporters! Don't forget to find out about the rest of the bill!

Claiming Credit 1

Liberals are taking credit for getting the public option into the Senate bill. Is that correct?

Yes and no. I think there are three factors in the survival of the public option. It polls well; it scores well; and liberal activists and pols decided to elevate public option over any of the other seemingly important liberal goals that they could have sought to achieve.

It's the choice by liberals that still baffles me (well, actually, I don't know why public option polls well either, but that's not about actions by political actors, so I'm not as interested). I understand the case for the public option, and I understand why it is attractive to liberals. But nothing I've read about health care reform that suggests to me that the public option is, in any logical sense, the make-or-break issue for either "real" reform or "liberal" reform. Certainly not in the severely constrained versions that are on the table in any of the current bills. What is clear, however, is that liberals did make that choice.

Did it move politicians? I think that's a fair conclusion, based on what we know now, but I wouldn't oversell that conclusion. Imagine a world in which liberals had chosen a multipronged lobbying effort (including things such as subsidy levels, strong individual and employer mandates, and opening the exchanges to all) instead of focusing narrowly on public option. What happens to the public option in that case? It certainly survives in the House, but the version in the House bill would most likely have been weaker -- although not necessarily, because the stronger public option may score better than the weaker variation. Odds are that the Senate would have wound up with either Snowe's trigger, or perhaps some beefed-up version of Conrad's co-ops. And then...well, there's really no way of knowing, but it's not entirely clear that the final bill coming out of conference would have been all that different. Of course, we don't know what the conference version will actually be, but it's not as if a less single-minded focus on the public option would have meant that House liberals would have been quick to dump it. Especially since it appears to poll well and score well.

At the same time, liberal activists have put almost no muscle behind the other important pieces in the bill -- for example, over at Open Left, Chris Bowers and Mike Lux barely acknowledge the existence of any other issues in their post-Reid posts. Bowers's piece is the interesting one. He says that liberals were able to exert influence because of the nature of the issue, since there was:
A clear demand (a non-trigger public option) in return for the votes of Congressional Progressives. (The strategy probably won't work for something as murky as new financial regulations.)
But of course liberals could make a single clear demand for something as murky as new financial regulations, and health care is certainly very murky. It's just that liberals have chosen to treat it as if it wasn't murky, and as if there was one obvious demand to make that would satisfy them.

Just as we can't know the fate of the public option had liberals diluted their support, we also can't know whether attention by liberal activists to these other issues would have made a difference. If Ron Wyden was less of a lone wolf on opening the exchanges, would the Finance Committee have been forced to accommodate his concerns? Would subsidy levels be higher? Would there be more money available for subsidies if liberals were more insistent on taxing the wealthy, as the House tried to do (but will probably have to give up)? What if liberals had demanded, not specific provisions, but a coverage target?

Again, I don't know the answers, but I do think it's clear that the liberal strategy involved trade-offs, and I don't think it's at all obvious at this point that they chose the correct path.

Party Political Broadcast 2

Yeah, it's a cheap shot, but I just can't get enough of the GOP's pathetic blogs. I last talked about this on Monday, October 19; let's see what they've done since then. Looking at each of their nine blogs...

Sound Reasoning: three posts over the eight days.

"Change the Game." What Up? Not much -- still just the sad, lone, post, two weeks old as of today.

Action Blog: A second post! Granted, only one, and it does duplicate one of the three from Sound Reasoning...

Say It Loud: Continues to be functional, with five posts since last Monday. Basically RNC press releases (they released an ad, Steele appeared somewhere).

Communications: Also still functional, with five posts by blogger John Cummins over the period. Cummins comments on current events; typical post: The WH says the stimulus has saved & created jobs, but unemployment is going up, so how could that be?

Stomping Grounds: A real blog, with pretty good posts (that is, they look like real blog posts) by a couple of different RNC bloggers.

Co-blog: Nothing in the last week.

Political: Nothing in the last week.

Feeding the Machine: Nothing in the last week.

So: out of nine RNC blogs, four did not update at all in the last nine days or more, and one had a single post duplicated from another blog. Nice!

I know there's some statistic about how many blogs are quickly abandoned, but I doubt if you'll find this many on anyone's official company or organization site. Good work, RNC!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Movies Post

I don't know about the rest of you, but I found this article in the Sunday NYT too depressing for words. Oh Great Historians, take away all our certainties about the past, our comforting myths, our assumption-laden, bias-filled conventional wisdom...but please, can't you leave us Agincourt?

Well, since they won't, I'll talk this week about Henry V. I suppose I could just talk about the play, since this item isn't supposed to be limited to movies, title notwithstanding. What I do try to limit myself to are portrayals of American political institutions or politicians, or at least things that relate directly to those institutions and actors, but I can't really do that with Henry V. On the other hand, I think it's Shakespeare's greatest political play, and since he's Shakespeare and all, that means it might be the greatest political play ever, so there's that. Anyway, I'm not going to talk much about the play itself, since we're all supposed to know about Shakespeare. I'll just say that I use it in classes to teach about the presidency; to teach about political ethics; to teach representation; to teach about families and gender roles in politics; and to help students think about politicians, as a category. And that's just dipping into it, really.

Fortunately for those of us who love Henry V, we have two absolutely wonderful movies. I love them both, but for politics, I think the choice has to be Branagh's 1989 version, rather than Olivier's 1944 movie. The latter, which is generally regarded (I guess) as a gung-ho, patriotic effort, seems to me to be more concerned with issues of stagecraft, storytellling, and moviemaking. It's terrific. No more terrific, though, than Kenneth Branagh's brilliant effort. Let's see...start, as I usually do, with the cast. Hmmm...a lot of standouts, too many to list. Derek Jacoby is wonderful as the chorus. Richard Briers as Bardolph, and Judi Dench as Quickly, both terrific. I like all the French a lot -- Paul Scofield as the sadder-but-wiser King, Michael Maloney's impossibly immature Dauphin, Christopher Ravenscroft as Mountjoy...I'm just going to babble on, aren't I. Ian Holms is great. Oh, can't forget Emma Thompson and Geraldine McEwan, funny and charming and heartbreaking.

The big trivia, for the cast, is that Christian Bale is Boy. The best thing about it is that Branagh doesn't wheel in any horribly miscast big-name Americans to muck up the proceedings.

It has a reputation, again I guess, as an anti-war version, but I think it's far more subtle than that. No question but that politics is in the forefront, beginning with the corrupt (or are they?) churchmen scheming to use war to fulfill their self-interest. What I love about the play is the portrayal of the king as a real, working politician, putting the skills he learned in the Henry IV plays to work for him. I've argued (in an unfortunately unpublished so far paper) that you can almost see Henry inventing representation as he visits with his men on the night before Agincourt, trying to understand them so that he can properly lead them. Branagh, both as a director and an actor, drives those aspects of the play home. As far as an anti-war theme, I think Branagh's emphasis on the muddled, selfish reasons for war and his emphasis on the costs of battle don't wind up serve to make it against war in general, at least as I see the movie; instead, it balances out the picture. After all, Henry's heroism survives fully intact in this version, and as long as Henry is portrayed as a hero I don't think the play can be truly, and certainly not simply, anti-war.

Both are great, great movies -- highest recommendation.

Before leaving the far as I can tell, people generally like Branagh's Henry V and Much Ado, and then turned against him either on Hamlet or Love's Labour Lost. Now, I liked all of them, so I don't know how much you can trust me here, but if you enjoyed the first two you might want to seek out his (2006) As You Like It. First rate.

Define Compromise

Ezra Klein picks up the liberal claim that the public option itself was a compromise:
In the Senate, this is about to become the "liberal" half of the debate. But it's not very liberal at all. It is a compromise, and a conservative one at that. For the real liberals, the public option was already a compromise from single-payer.
He also uses that idea in an otherwise excellent interview with Sherrod Brown.

Still, it's just not true. There's a difference between compromising and losing. Single-payer lost, in last year's presidential nomination process. For better or worse, candidates who supported single-payer turned out to be fringe candidates among the generally very liberal voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses.

It's totally reasonable for liberals who campaigned for Obama and Democrats in Congress to treat the public option as something they campaigned for. It is not reasonable for those liberals -- those who supported Obama, Clinton, or Edwards in 2007-2008 -- to treat the "strong" public option as a compromise. Whatever they truly might want, the strong public option is what they campaigned for.

(Now, it's of course just as absurd, or perhaps more so, to call the extremely limited public option, even the strongest one in any of the five committees, a "government takeover," or "socialism," or any of the rest of the GOP wheeze. And if Ezra wants to argue that what is basically the consensus Democratic plan is an essentially conservative plan, he's welcome to do so, although I don't think saying that it's less than what liberals wanted is the same thing as saying that it's conservative).

Ezra knows his stuff, and in my view he shouldn't be falling for the liberal's rhetoric on this one. He says that liberals should get "credit" for their compromises...I agree, on the compromise between a strong public option and a weak public option with limited access and a state opt out. But not the shift from single-payer to a mixed plan with a public option; that's what they ran on, not what they compromised on.

Opt Out

Just watched Harry Reid's press conference announcing that the bill he sends to CBO (and then on to the floor) will include a public option with opt out. A few quick points...

First, it seems that he's nailed down 60 on the motion to proceed. That doesn't mean he has enough votes to pass the bill, but it's a start. Remember that there can be separate filibusters on the motion to proceed and on the bill itself (and on any other debatable motions), each one requiring separate filibuster votes. So Lincoln, Nelson, etc. may have committed to bringing the bill to the floor, but that's all.

Second, I assume -- and we'll see -- that this takes care of Reid's problems with liberals in his reelection campaign.

Third, he was extremely non-forthcoming on any of the other parts of the bill. He said he's sending multiple versions (of some provisions?) to CBO; presumably reporters will know more about all of this shortly. I'll just cite Jonathan Cohn again: the specific compromise that we wind up with on the public option is not as important as the other pieces of the bill.

Fourth, I was watching on MSNBC, and the anchors there concluded that the White House hasn't been involved (I don't have an exact quote -- I'm really not a reporter!). That's not correct at all. All of the reporting has indicated that the White House has been extremely involved in the merger negotiations (between the HELP and Finance bills). What Reid specifically said was the the White House hasn't called to lobby Senators...the way he said it, and I'm not going to look for a transcript, seemed to allow for quite a lot of White House, including presidential, direct involvement. In other words, Obama may have made calls to negotiate particular points and still fit within Reid's claim. I'm not saying that Obama made such calls, or even that others in the White House did, but only Reid's wording didn't preclude a lot of White House involvement.

Fifth, if it is correct that there are Dems telling Reid that they will help get the bill to the floor but that they can't promise anything after that, I think those Dems may wind up trapping themselves. They may think that a yes/no/no/no pattern (yes on cloture on the motion to proceed, against the public option in amendment votes, against final cloture, against final passage) will look sufficiently moderate, but my guess is that Republicans would attack that pattern exactly as they would attack yes/yes/yes/yes (or, more realistically, yes/no/yes/no), and that they may realize that once the voting, and partisan attacks, begin. That may be Reid's real gamble: that once a Dem votes for cloture on the motion to proceed, he or she will find little political advantage in voting for cloture on the bill, regardless of what's in it.

End(ish) Game

We seem to have reached the stage on health care reform in which tempers are running short, and the White House is the target, as Ezra Klein reports:
I'm also hearing a lot of irritation from congressional Democrats at the mixed signals being sent by the White House. If the White House wants to advocate for the trigger, fine. If the White House wants to advocate for the public option, fine. But for the White House to host one meeting where they signal that they're uncomfortable with Reid's decision to push the envelope on the public option and then make a big effort to walk that meeting back after the left gets angry is confusing everybody.
My wild speculation aside, without a lot more information (which we won't get until after the fact), it's very difficult to know whether Obama is making the right moves or not. The bottom line, if reporting is correct, is that there are probably 61 (and maybe one or two more) votes for the trigger version of the public option, but only about 58 for the opt-out version with the remaining Democrats still in intense negotiations.

What can we say for sure? Very little, but not nothing. Ezra is no doubt correct that everyone who is not on the fence would like to know what's going to happen so that they can start positioning themselves accordingly. However, very few liberals would really prefer to accept a worse bill from their point of view now if a better one is available in a few days, no matter how frustrating it is to wait. And all Democrats would rather get any of the potential bills that are still alive than have the whole thing explode on them. If the price for that is waiting, well, then they will grumble a lot and pay that price.

As for whether Obama could actually affect anything with a more public posture, there's really no way to know, but good reason to suppose not. Again, there's much we don't know, beginning with the names of the remaining holdout Democratic Senators (Benen is betting on Nelson and Lincoln, but there are a few other possibilities) and what exactly they are holding out for. Presumably, however, they're not asking for strong White House support for the public option to get them across the finish line, and it's not clear to me how such a public stance would put decisive pressure on Senators from Nebraska and Arkansas.

Remember that over the summer liberals were convinced that Max Baucus was killing health care reform by extending the Gang of Six talks over several weeks; liberals were convinced that Baucus would eventually do whatever Grassley and Enzi wanted, but instead the Gang of Six procedure gave cover to marginal Democrats to support reform in committee. This situation now isn't exactly the same (presumably the delay is for real negotiating this time). However, the overall strategy of hard negotiating on the Hill combined with White House cheerleading that avoids support for any particular provision has worked so far, and it's not surprising that Obama is sticking with it. The bottom line for the White House has always been support for a public option combined with unwillingness to stake everything on it, and as frustrating that is for some on the Hill, for activists, and even for some reporters, there's no reason to believe that they should drop that line now.

(Update: I notice now that Drum has the same reaction as I did).

Boy in a Well Stories

Excellent call by Isaac Chotiner, who goes after Frank Rich's latest effort. As Chotiner realizes, when you write a sentence like this:
If Heene’s balloon was empty, so were the toxic financial instruments, inflated by the thin air of unsupported debt, that cratered the economy he inhabits. tends to turn your entire project into a joke, as Chotiner explains:
I can glibly say that "Just as numerous Americans were fooled by the few hyped instances of shark attacks into staying out of the water in the summer of 2001, so were many Americans fooled by Bill Clinton's initial comments on Monica Lewinsky." The problem is that such a comparison is completely inane and worthless. Rich should stop looking for patterns where none exist.
I don't agree with Chotiner, however, that the entire idea of finding an "intersection between American cultural life and America political life" is inherently problematic; it's just that Rich is far too often glib and inane. Take the question of "boy in a well" stories. Rich would have us believe that there's something peculiar to right now about the balloon boy; he says its "certainlly...a reflection of our time." But of course "boy in a well" stories -- and that's what we're dealing with here -- are practically a cliche of the mass media, including the subset of "boy in a well stories" that are partial or absolute hoaxes. After all, Bart Simpson was pretending to be in a well way back in 1992. Nor is there anything new about media exploitation of these stories; in fact, the definitive treatment of such media circuses is Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" from 1951 (OK, it's not a boy in a well; it's the virtually identical man in a mine). Relevant too is the girl-in-a-well story in Woody Allen's "Radio Days," a 1987 movie set in the early 1940s.

Rich would also have us believe that today's quest by ordinary Americans to become celebrities is, conveniently, just like Depression-era talent shows. Sure -- but it's also just like the game show fad from early, non-Depression television. The American quest for celebrity is surely interesting, but it doesn't take much reflection to see that it isn't limited to hard times (although the Scorsese classic "King of Comedy" was released in the recession year of 1982, but I don't think of it as a reaction to the Reagan recession at all).

Again, I don't think the idea of linking politics and culture is a mistake -- it just takes a lot more thought and discipline than Rich is showing here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

First Draft of Something

Dan Balz has a recap of the progress of health care reform that seems, to me, to get just about everything wrong. He begins:
The resurrection of the public option is the latest and one of the most surprising turns in the long battle over legislation to overhaul the nation's health-care system. Under assault for months, and declared on life support repeatedly in recent weeks, the provision for a public insurance option is unexpectedly alive as House and Senate leaders prepare to send their bills to the floor.
I'm sure that some people buried the public option, but only if they weren't paying attention or didn't understand the process. First of all, on the House side, all three of the bills to be merged contained a public option, so while the leadership certainly could have stripped it out of the final bill, it would have been a pretty significant surprise if the House bill didn't have a public option.

More basically, the entire narrative from the beginning went like this: the House is more (operationally) liberal than the Senate, and the Senate as a whole is more liberal than the Senate Finance Committee. Therefore, the Senate Finance Committee bill was always expected to be the least favorable to a public option, and everyone expected the merged Senate bill to be more liberal than the Senate finance bill (and the final bill after conference to be more liberal than the Senate bill). So what's happening now is basically what most people thought would happen from the beginning; the biggest change is that the schedule has slipped, but that's hardly a surprise.

Balz, however, has constructed a counter-narrative that explains the supposed near-death and resurrection of the public option, and it seems to rest on things that just didn't happen. For example, Balz would have it that "conservative opposition nearly sank the public option over the summer." I would say that the reality of the summer was very different. There was no concentrated attack on the public option; instead, there was a kitchen-sink approach to attacking health care in reform in general, with the most visible specific strands of the attack focused first on "death panels" and then on Medicare "cuts." There was also a broad attack on socialism and a government takeover, but I don't think that any of that was specific to the public option; indeed, much of it wasn't even specific to health care. Certainly, there was never a sense that Democrats could produce a bipartisan bill if only they dropped the public option, a sense confirmed in the discussions and voting in the Senate Finance mark-up. The real story about Republican opposition (and Ezra Klein talked about this recently, but I'm afraid I lost the link) is that they chose a rejectionist strategy, which meant that they had no influence on the specifics of the bill.

Balz also misunderstands the president's role in the fight. For Balz, the president's equivocation on public option was a signal that he didn't really want it. But Obama's game from the start has been to let Congress haggle over the details. The president failed to strongly support the public option -- but he also failed to strongly support any of the various proposals, including individual mandates, employer mandates, subsidy levels, end of life provisions, or anything else. Whether it was a good strategy or not is a fair question, but it was a clear strategy to allow the president to eventually treat the final bill as a victory.

Next: the Senate Finance committee votes. Balz says that when Baucus "joined several other Democrats in opposing two versions of a public option in the committee's bill, saying he saw no way to get 60 votes in the full Senate. That seemed to spell the end for the public option." First of all, since "two" is not "several," this is just bad reporting; only Conrad, Lincoln, and Baucus opposed the Schumer "weak" public option, with Bill Nelson and Carper voting for Schumer's amendment. The obvious conclusion was that the strongest versions of the public plan were indeed dead in the Senate -- something that appears to still be the case -- but that some sort of compromise was likely in the Senate merged bill. In fact, WaPo's own Ezra Klein reacted to those votes by going out and conducting interviews on the subject of "public option compromises."

In Balz's version of events, the dead public option sprang back to life as a result of two events:
One was the insurance industry's decision to attack the legislation and issue a report warning of higher premiums. The report triggered a backlash among liberal Democrats, who decided to push even harder for a public option. Then last week, new polls, one from The Washington Post and ABC News and the other from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, found clear majority support (57 percent) for a public option.
Outside of the timeline being all wrong (since, as I said, public option compromises were alive and well before these two events), I think it's hard to see why either of these would have moved votes. The insurance industry was against the public option all along, and some might recall that the president began portraying insurers as villains during his August push-back against the Town Hall crazies. As for the polls, they only showed that the public option continued to poll well; they did not indicate anything new at all.

I do agree with Balz on where we are now: a public option compromise is likely, but not certain, and the bill as a whole is likely, but things could still fall apart. The rest of it, alas, is just not what actually happened over the last few months.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Join Us At the Picnic 2.5

I'm not sure whether everyone reads comments, but there have been some excellent ones here lately. In particular, I didn't want anyone to miss these two about Pawlenty and Iowa; go back to the item for their full comments, which I agree with completely and are definitely worth reading in full.

Here's Dave Hopkins:
3) Ambinder presents the possibility of *both* Huckabee and Palin running in 2012 as a reason for Pawlenty to skip Iowa. This seems backwards to me. Even if Pawlenty were not beloved by conservative activists, the presence of both candidates would presumably divide the right-wing vote, making a Pawlenty victory *more* likely than if only one of them ran.

4) He's the governor of a neighboring state. How can he justify skipping Iowa to the press and his supporters elsewhere? Where is he likely to do well, if not in his own backyard?
And here's Josh Putnam:
Skipping Iowa is suicide for Pawlenty or anyone else running in 2012. McCain didn't skip Iowa in 2008 so much as he focused his meager resources at the time on New Hampshire. Expectations were so low that he actually exceeded them by finishing fourth. So I don't count McCain as having skipped Iowa.
Again, I recommend the full comments, found here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday baseball post

Back to the Giants, and back to Brian Sabean.

I have a bit of a dissenting view of Brian Sabean, I think. First, I think most of the Sabean-haters don't give him enough credit for drafting & developing pitchers. That's to Sabean's credit, and I think does a great deal to offset his obvious failure at developing hitters. Overall, the Giants have developed a fair amount of talent during the Sabean years, especially considering that they did draft low (or give away draft choices) during many of those years. That it was almost all pitching is odd, but not necessarily a bad thing.

Then there's his inability to judge talent, which gets into the thing about him being sabermetrically challenged. Via Steven Rubio, here's a good example of that sort of thing. And, you know, I don't exactly disagree with it -- he does do a terrible job of judging talent, and it seems to follow the pattern of someone who believes that triple crown stats are a good way to judge a player -- but I'm not really sure how much it's hurt the team over the years. Some, for sure.

So, what is (even more) wrong with Brian Sabean? It's that he does not use all of the available sources of talent, at least not when it comes to hitting.

Here's a quicky study. I went through the starting players with the eight postseason teams this year, and looked at where each of those players came from. Then, I did the same for all Giants starting hitters acquired by Sabean from 1997 to now. It's not a careful study...I made a lot of snap decisions of who to count and who not to count as "starting players." But it's good enough to demonstrate the point.

I counted 22 players on the 2009 playoff teams who were acquired after establishing themselves as regulars. Examples include A Rod, Furcal, Hunter, Vlad, Feliz (all FAs), as well as Blake, Swisher, Lowell, Bay, and Victor Martinez (all trades). That's 33% of the players.

The Giants had 23 players in that group: FAs such as Molina, Roberts, Hamilton, Alfonzo, and Alou; and players obtained through trades such as Kent, Snow, Bell, Winn, and Burks. That's...wait for it...about 75% of the players in the group.

Now, there is one large group that the 2009 playoff teams had the the Giants basically didn't have, but that I at least partially give Sabean a bit of a pass on, which is drafted & developed (or signed & developed) players. The 2009 teams had 32 of these guys, and the Giants have had...well, it's hard to count, but it's no more than five, and as few as two.

Here's the thing: that's a huge, huge, enormous disadvantage for the Giants. But it's actually a result of a non-insane strategy, a strategy that has produced Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Liriano, Nathan...and then lots of other guys. Grilli, Linebrink, Taschner, Bonsor, Hennessey, Lowry, Correia, Hensley, Palmer, Aardsma, Wilson, and some other current guys, and burnout cases such as Vogelsong, Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert, Bump.

There is one category that Sabean uses that the current playoff teams don't: washed up former major league regulars. Don't laugh; it's worked out well once (Santiago) and OK once (Uribe). Sabean has one to this well about 5-7 times compared to zero for the 2009 playoff teams.

But now we get to the guys who Sabean just won't touch, and this is where IMO he absolutely deserves to be fired.

Four regulars for 2009 playoff teams were castoffs who had not established themselves as regulars. Sabean has not picked up anyone in that category and made them a starter (there are two borderline guys here, Mayne and Alfonzo).

Two regulars for 2009 playoff teams were FAs from Asia or Cuba. Sabean? Zero.

A few regulars from 2009 playoff teams were bench or platoon players before being acquired in a trade (depending on how it's counted, it's about three regulars). Sabean? Zero.

Two regulars from 2009 playoff teams were acquired in trades when they were still minor leaguers. Sabean? Zero.

And one regular from a 2009 playoff team was picked up in the Rule V draft. Sabean? Zero.

Here's the 2009 playoff team all-stars picked up from categories Sabean won't touch:
C Varitek
1B Morales
2B Tolbert
SS Punto
3B Figgins
LF Ludwick
CF Victorino
RF Werth
DH Matsui

Bench: Ortiz, Rivera, C. Gomez, Torrealba

It's not an actual All Star team, although there are some nice players there. And they were not all cheap; Matsui was pricey, and trading for prospects is a different kind of expensive. But still: these are all players that Brian Sabean would not have picked up, because none of them was an established major league regular before they were signed or traded for.

And then, if you combine a massively pitching-intensive farm system with ruling out all these sources of talent, there's just no possible way to build a good team unless you're lucky enough to have Superman doing most of the work (and Sabean also inherited lots of other talent, so he didn't have to start by building from scratch).

He really should be fired.

Wild Public Option Speculation

I'm not a reporter; I only know what I read, and I have no inside sources telling me anything.

That said, I do have some suspicions about what might be going on behind the puzzling health care developments of the last 24 hours. The big news as of this evening (reporting is HuffPo here, Cohn here, and TPM here) appears to be that various sources are telling reporters that Harry Reid is close to having 60 votes for an opt-out public option, but that Obama (and Rahm Emanuel) are telling him to ditch the opt-out in favor of a Snowe trigger. As Josh Marshall says, this is odd. Liberals are up in arms with charges of sell-out (here's just one example).

Ready for the wild speculation?

Think about the situation right now. Liberals are focused on one thing above all: securing a weak public option with an opt-out in the Senate. That marks two changes: a shift of focus away from the fight over weak vs. strong public plan in the House bill, and a shift in blame for the Senate from Harry Reid (and, to some extent, from individual marginal Senators) to Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel. And, of course, it means enthusiasm for a weak public option with an opt-out, something that liberals were not, to say the least, inherently excited about. At the same time, Reid's struggle to get to 60 (for weak public option with opt out) in order to avoid the dreaded trigger demonstrates just how hard it would be for the Senate to move any farther in conference (which, I think, is probably true).

I think you can see where this is going...what if the leaks about WH insistence on a trigger are just an effort to manipulate liberal perceptions of the situation? Harry Reid, who needs enthusiastic liberal support for re-election, could come out of this as a liberal hero. Liberal activists are getting a chance to be on the side of what they previously thought of as a compromise of a compromise of a compromise; perhaps this will help prepare them to accept the half-loaf (on public option) that the votes have always said they would be lucky to get. If Pelosi is really going to come up short on a strong public option and have to go with a weak public option, this takes a bit of the spotlight off her; at any rate, she neither needs nor is short of support from liberal activists. And the supposed villains of the piece are Rahm Emanuel, whose job entails being the scapegoat at times, and Barack Obama, who really doesn't have to worry about liberal support in the long run. Especially if he is able to pass any kind of health care bill at all.

Hey, I don't know anything. Maybe Obama really does value Snowe's vote, with its bipartisan overtones, over a somewhat better bill. Or maybe it'll turn out that Bayh, or Ben Nelson, or Lincoln, is actually firmly against the bill by now, and the Dems really do need Snowe (and, in that scenario, Obama is taking the fall for Reid). Let's just say that I'm very, very suspicious of sell-out stories, or of the idea that Obama thinks that Snowe's vote is all that important for its symbolism. And that I think that Emanuel, and Obama, are certainly capable of the sort of all sorts of devious gamesmanship. Chicago-style politics? Well, neither FDR nor Ike was from Chicago, and they'd find it pretty familiar.

If, that is, that's what's going on.
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