Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Mattered This Week?

So here's how this happened.  Ezra Klein sent out a fun tweet on Thursday:
@annielowrey describes my typical blog post: "something happened, but it doesn't matter."
To which I responded: "I thought that was my typical post."  

And I figured that John Sides could have said the same thing, and perhaps others, as well.  Which got me thinking...of course, in neither case is it really true.  Klein's a terrific blogger, and he's excellent at writing posts about things that matter but aren't being talked about all that much.  I try to do the same.  But I also (as we all do) focus especially on things about which I believe I have something to say that others aren't saying.  It's not quite the same as "it matters/it doesn't matter."  And yet that matters/doesn't matter distinction is actually a good one.  On top of that, I really have been enjoying the threads coming out of my Sunday Questions (just wish I had more conservative readers who would participate, but that's how it goes, I guess).  

The upshot is: I'm thinking of trying a new feature: What mattered this week?  Now, it's a bit tricky...what "matters" depends on which outcomes we're interested in.  Say, Barack Obama gives a major's possible that it will both not matter (to election outcomes) and matter quite a bit (in signals it sends to Washingtonians about the administrations positions on some issue).  Anyway, I'm thinking of this as a question to everyone, rather than as something I want to make pronouncements about.  We'll see how it goes this week.  I ask the question, and suggest one answer, and then I'll toss it out to readers to see what they propose.  If it produces interesting comments, I'll do it again next week  Thus:

What Mattered This Week?

I think I'd say the DADT vote really does matter.  It's a substantive policy issue, and the vote could have gone, I thought, either way...I've thought all along that the Democrats were going to get this one done, but now I think the odds have dropped dramatically, although it is still very possible it will happen.  (By the way, I wasn't thinking of including "what didn't matter" as part of this, but even though I wrote a bunch about it, I don't think the GOP Pledge mattered much at all).  But: what do you think mattered this week?


  1. I didn't think the DADT vote was that important, considering that a new policy wouldn't go into effect anyway until after the DOD's 10-month review ends in December (which BTW, I got to take part in via an entertaining survey. I have been waiting since I entered the service 6 years ago to blast DADT). The Pentagon/Secy. Gates/ADM Mullen are still telling Congress to wait until December, so it's easy for Senators to justify holding this up. Come December, I think Gates & Mullen will formally endorse repeal, and they'll be able to "speak for the entire military" since they have the review to back it up... At that point, it will be harder to justify filibustering this issue, and Congress will be pressured to make it happen.

    What did I think was important? Aafia Siddiqui got 86 years in jail. What this means to me: It demonstrates that the civilian justice is perfectly capable of handling terrorism cases, even if there's not enough evidence to formally charge someone with "Terrorism," and is equipped to hand out some pretty hefty sentences.

  2. DADT was way down my priority list, and I didn't think the vote was either that important or that surprising. I wish the administration would just take a page out of the bushies playbook and simply quit enforcing DADT. More significant, of course, was the court decisions on DADT. I also don't think it was very important that the Dems scrapped the plans to extend Bush tax cuts. I thought the hyperventilation in the liberal blogosphere on both of these issues was way over the top. It's easy to get swept away, I guess, but ultimately this weeks events surrounding those two issues didn't matter much.

    What mattered? Policywise, major goodies from health care reform went into effect Thursday - no recission, young adults eligible to stay on their parents' health insurance policy, no lifetime health insurance caps, no refusal to cover children for preexisting conditions. I'd say those things mattered.

    It's too early to tell if the small business bill that passed this week is going to matter. What *does* matter is another week passed without the Obamabots recognizing the urgency of high unemployment. It mattered a great great deal that Obama is falling for that "structural unemployment" nonsense in lieu of the "unemployed people don't have any money to spend" theory.

  3. James,

    I guess (as I think about whether this will be a good continuing item or not) there's a question about whether the question refers to: something that happened, regardless of whether it was expected or surprising or not; something that we heard news of, even if it happened in the past; or, only things where expectations really changed because of new events that happened this week. So certainly I'd agree that the health care stuff was pretty important, but only by the first definition. The economic news was 2nd definition. In my opinion, the DADT/DREAM showdown was third definition. Of course, that gets murky, because I'm very open to the idea that it was already determined before this week and I just didn't know it. Even more confusing if it's big a deal is it if something that was a 75% chance actually does happen?

    For the item, I think my feeling would be to leave it open to individual interpretation, and just caution everyone to avoid talking past each other.

  4. Jonathan,

    Well, I tried to cover all those bases, except the way I was looking at it was "what *actually* mattered" as opposed to what swept the political junkie community away this week. But I didn't think the DADT vote mattered that much under any of your definitions. It certainly wasn't surprising that not a single Republican voted for it in an election season. In fact, it was entirely predictable and predicted.

    You know, I'm curious to hear your reasons as to why the vote mattered? How did the vote change your expectations? Did you expect the Republicans to come around on this issue right before an election? You say that you thought it could go either way. Who do you think, on the Republican side, would have voted for cloture on this bill at this time? Do you think that now, because of this vote, DADT will be the law of the land in 5-10 years? Is any more action on the policy futile and lost because of this vote? What changes, now that the Senate couldn't get cloture on this bill? Those are your definition of what "mattered." How does this cloture vote fit into that definition?

    A serious question.

  5. Hmmmm....

    Pledge could be useful in motivating a few extra indies -- either those who really aren't paying attention and don't get that there is nothing there but a promise for more and bigger deficit spending or those who remember what happened in 1995 and don't think now is a good time for another government shut down or endless Congressional investigations of Obama's real estate transaction.

    I also think that DADT/DREAM vote was very meaningful -- both in the near and long term. The Republicans have already gone a long way down the road of alienating Latinos and other minorities but to block a defense authorization bill on these two issues... they are certainly doubling down on the demographic suicide route and more for DREAM than DADT because it was their own proposal and the Latinos are much more at play that the LGTB community and supporters.

    But the failure to vote on the Bush tax cuts is probably the most important. The Dems will have failed to capitalize on their best issue, which worsen their prospects for midterms. If this doesn't get addressed till lame duck or even in the new session of Congress, we are much more likely, I think, to see a full extension pass the Congress and that sets up sticky situation for Obama (veto or not) and terrible prospects for ever addressing the long term debt problem.

  6. What a great feature. It should generate lots of discussion, and it's a good question to force yourself to think about. I predict it will become a raging hit. Maybe it will...matter!
    To second Kcars1, Dems' failure to vote on the Bush tax cuts was the first thing that came to my mind - though I'm not convinced we've reached end of story there.

  7. With respect to what matters or doesn't matter in politics and to some extent policy as well, I try to judge by what filters down to my friends and colleagues who aren't news junkies or online addicts. These are newspaper readers, CNN and broadcast TV news watchers, local news watchers, radio drive time news listeners, and people who don't regularly consume news. Granted, it's a narrow world in which I live, but it *does* give my obsessive news consumption some perspective.

    The only people I know who are even casually aware of DADT are *some* of my gay friends and colleagues. And none of them really followed the cloture vote on DADT. I doubt even the blogosphere will be talking about the DADT cloture vote by this time next month. By this time next week, even.

    And not a single person I know is all worked up one way or another about the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. In fact, they seem to be unaware of the issue at all, and unaware of the fact that they received a substantial tax cut last year either. If any of them heard about it on the news, it isn't going to change their vote one way or another.

    But most of them are aware of the health insurance changes. They have heard it through local news venues and broadcast news. And they are generally very happy about them, but I don't get that it is going to affect their vote one way or the other.

    Mostly, they are just now coming aware that there is an election coming up. They already and always think their taxes are high. What makes them unhappy is high unemployment, draconian cuts in city and county services, and teacher layoffs.

    So, are we talking about what matters with respect to political gamesmanship, or what matters in the real world?

  8. I'm pretty much going with "matters" as self-defined. However, a couple of things...I don't think that I'd say that something matters or not based on whether it made enough noise to get noticed by the low-information portion of the public (in other words, most voters) -- and to the extent it does, I don't think this item would be worthwhile.

    For example, I think the ACA prohibition of recissions is a very big deal, but I doubt that one in a thousand people know what it is, and I don't think it will ever affect a single vote, at least not directly.

    On DADT vs. taxes...I guess I'm not really convinced that something actually important happened on taxes this week. I think it's part of the process, and not necessarily a big decision point. On DADT, I'm quite a bit more convinced that it was a turning point. Yes, I did believe it was possible for it to pass pre-election. It's true that most Republicans are reflexively filibustering everything, but some things are passing, and here I thought the strategy of putting it on the defense bill would do the job. Obviously, I was wrong...but whether I was wrong because I totally misread the situation, or because things changed as the bill approached the floor...well, I think the latter, but as I said I could be wrong. So, from my perspective, repeal has gone from extremely likely to very iffy for the short and medium term.

  9. Sunday Question for Jonathan:
    I've been looking at the Public Policy Polling blog and Charlie Cook's governorship ratings and there seems to be a feeling that dems are going to lose some governorships. As a foreigner and someone new to american politics I was just wondering if you could share your thoughts on how important it is for the respective parties and the President to 'control' the governorships. What are some of the linkages between national party politics and the governorships (here i guess im thinking fundraising, voter organisation, or any other ways this helps or hurts parties efforts in these states and how opposition governors can influence the President's job of national governing.) Any rules of thumbs?
    Also in terms of voting patterns, after that 10 governorship flip in 1994 it seem to take another toxic incumbent political environment like 2006 for the majority to flip back to democrat. what are some rules of thumb for governorship, how long do they last? are they tied to the national parties fate? how partisan are gubernatorial voters? sorry for all these questions, its just im having a harder time finding a good explanatory article anywhere, and short of going through wikipedia for each year and each governor im passing the buck onto you!

    Any articles, academic or otherwise, you could point me to on any of these subjects would be greatly appreciated!


  10. I think you misunderstand my point, Jonathan. I'm not looking at whether or not something filters down to the low-information voter per se; in that case, Balloon Boy would "matter." I'm trying to gauge whether this stuff is going to have an impact on people's lives, and whether they believe what is going on in Washington is going to impact them. Whether all this stuff is actually on people's radar.

    Because most of what goes on in Washington and the blogosphere is gamesmanship for followers of the red side/blue side of passing interest to news junkies. Just as you follow the excruciating details of the Giants and their rivals, we follow the day-to-day ups and downs of red side/blue side. But just as the weekly ups and downs of the Giants have no lasting impact, don't matter, it's the same with political gamesmanship.

    I actually think a discussion about what *really* mattered is worthwhile at the end of the week. I don't mean to throw cold water on your item; it's just that a reality check is sometimes a healthy thing.

    In my estimation, the DADT cloture vote was entirely predictable. The Republicans banked on a reaction very much like Andrew Sullivan's reaction: Damn those loser Democrats! Damn them to hell! And so it goes.

    As for repeal, I've never been optimistic on that; it's far more likely that it will die a slow death: it will stop being implemented, the courts will find it unconstitutional, and someday, in some lame duck session, the repeal will slip through unnoticed and unremarked upon.

  11. What mattered: tax cuts vote postponement.

    This is, quite simply, fantastically stupid. Having postponed the vote, Dems are still going to be subject to the same charge of "going to raise your taxes." Every Dem candidate out there SHOULD prefer a vote to put them on the record on this. Besides, it's not like the vote will go ANY better on the policy outcome after the election, once MCs are running even more scared while they interpret "the mandate."

    As for Sebastian's question:

    It matters a great deal, but how much varies by state. In some states, like Texas, the governor has almost no power. In others, they have significant powers. But it also varies by time, and the time variation is what makes 2010 so important. The census is wrapping up, and that means redistricting is coming. Most states give the governor some kind of role in the process, though often that role is as a veto player. Regardless, in the 43 states that have multiple districts in the House and in all the states for their own state legislators, redistricting is very, very important. There are no district lines you could draw in New York City that elect a Republican, but once you get to suburbs and even some rural areas, a crafty line-drawer could really tilt the balance one way or the other. Another interesting note with redistricting, though, is that Democrats control the Justice Department for the first time since the "redistricting revolution" of the 1960s. 1971, 1981, 1991, and 2001 all had a Republican Justice Department. What's the significance? Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and "preclearance." States that have a history of discrimination have to get their districts approved. For 4 redistricting cycles, we've had a Justice Department that found it in its political interest to push for super-duper majority minority districts. Why? Because those districts concentrate Democrats into a number of seats they can't possibly lose, while giving a number of those suburban, could-go-either-way districts a thumb on the scale on the Rep side. Now, it's far from clear that the Obama Administration would ease back on this practice, and the Supreme Court might get involved were they to (or even if they continue it...the Sandra Day O'Connor-writted decisions on race, party and redistricting are so inane and mutually contradictory that the Court might see this round as a chance to make stuff clear). Now, all this is unclear, but we've never seen a Dem Justice Department have a real crack at this, so a heck of a lot of interest in that.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?