Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday Baseball Post

(Yes, I know it isn't actually Friday.  Oops.).

Two things, mostly unrelated. 

First, I really love the trading deadline.  Trades have always been one of the great things about baseball, going back I believe basically to the dawn of professional baseball leagues.  Yes, the other major North American sports have trades, but I don't think it looms nearly as large in the culture of the NFL, NBA, or NHL as it does in baseball  -- I don't think fans obsess about old mistakes, or spend nearly as much time concocting trading ideas, or argue years after the fact whether a trade sense or not..  Dumping trades have always been a part of major league baseball, perhaps most famously with Connie Mack's dismemberment of his great A's teams.  But with free agency, dumping trades have become far more common, since now contract length is another variable to consider, not just cost (in other words, now you can trade three months of a great player for years of a good player or a prospect, something that didn't make sense when teams owned the rights of their players to the grave).  The trade deadline excitement that we know and love today is about twenty years old, and I think it's just terrific.  Even if it screws my roto team more often than not, and after being a serious player in the 1990s Brian Sabean apparently has gone gun-shy.  Oh well.

Second thing that's been on my mind this week...stability!  From 1903 through 1952, the National and American Leagues were totally stable: same sixteen teams, same sixteen locations (I suppose you could date it from 1905, when the World Series was permanently set up).  Then from 1953 through 1973 there were tons of franchise relocations, and from 1961 through 1998 several waves of expansion.  There was one island of stability in there from 1978 through 1992, with no expansion, realignment, or relocation; that's the current record.  I think the most notable tweak in those years was the switch from a best of five to best of seven LCS, in 1985 -- although those were also the years in which the rules for free agency were evolving, and we had a major disruption in 1981.  Anyway, then Bud Selig took over and things started going haywire again.  But now, suddenly, things appear to be stable again.  From 1998 through this year, the only significant change was the Expos moving to Washington in 2005.  So 1998-2004 (seven seasons) was basically stable, and so has the current six seasons.  Now, as long as Bud Selig is around, there's always the threat of change for the sake of change, or (even worse, and more likely) change to overreact to minor complaints...but neither expansion nor franchise shifts appear to be on the table for now.  I don't like the current arrangements very much at all, but I do like stability.  I think you can make a case that the current run since 1998 is the most stable since 1953 -- for most fans, the longest they remember.  I'm rooting for another decade of it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Love For Tender

Let's see...who is likely to support the ADL?  I would guess a not negligible part of their support comes from Jews who consider Arabs and/or Muslims to be their enemies, and neocons and Christian conservatives, who also tend to see Arabs and Muslims as their enemies.  On the other hand, J-Street is trying to build on the niche of liberal Jews who see themselves as explicitly opposed to Jewish anti-Arab bigotry.

Read the results here and here.

In less depressing (I guess) news about the Jews, or at least if you want to get away from cold rational-choice type logic and read something warm, interpretive, and creative, don't miss Noah Millman on Merchant of Venice.  Just an alert -- the first half of the lengthy post, which is a review of the Pacino production, is good, but you don't want to miss the back half of the post.

Social Security and the Filibuster

I've heard liberals opposed to the filibuster say this before:
[L]liberal programs tend to be more permanent. Once they get entrenched, even conservatives are loath to eliminate them. For all the big talk about Social Security in 2005, it wasn't the filibuster that kept George Bush from passing his privatization plan. In the end, he couldn't even get majority support for it.
That's Kevin Drum (with my emphasis added), arguing for majority party rule in the Senate on the basis that it would be good for liberals (he also supports it on democratic grounds, but here's he's making the practical argument.

I don't think we know what would have happened to Bush's Social Security plan if we had strict majority rule in the Senate.  Yes, Republicans bailed on Bush's unpopular plan.  But they knew, once Democrats formed a solid front against it, that the plan was dead.  (Could they have passed it through reconciliation?  I don't know, but just as with health care in 2009-2010, the obscure rules of reconciliation would have been policy success very tricky).  The same, by the way, is true of the Clinton health care plan in 1993-1994.  Once it was clear that it needed 60 votes in the Senate and that no Republican would support it, Democrats lost interest.  In both cases, 2005 and 1994, the Members of Congress from the president's party were very reluctant to cast controversial votes for a plan that was highly unlikely to pass; indeed, neither bill (if I recall correctly) had a single committee markup.  In a 51 vote Senate, it's just really hard to say what would have happened.

As for the larger point of whether a status quo bias is inherently good for conservatives or not, there was an interesting comment thread about it here earlier this week.  I think there are strong arguments on both sides..  Right now, I believe that the policy status quo is probably somewhat closer to the ideal point of mainstream liberals in Congress than it is to the ideal point for mainstream conservatives.  On the other hand, there's something to the idea that over time, the liberal ideal point changes, and so a status quo bias makes it harder for policy change to match that.  On yet another hand, however, I tend to think the nation is closer to the mainstream liberal's ideal point, so one could figure that in, as well. 

Left/Right and The Deficit

Ezra Klein has a nice comment on an Benjamin Sarlin's helpful interview of Pete Peterson, the rich-guy deficit hawk.  The politics of deficit reduction have become only more confusing in the last year, and Sarlin and Klein both point to liberal paranoia about Peterson, who liberals tend to see as mainly interested in killing Social Security and Medicare.

Here's the thing: once upon a time, there was such a thing as fiscal conservatives.  "Fiscal" was understood to be about the size of the deficit.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Keynesian liberals believed in varying the size of the deficit -- increasing it during recessions, and then running surpluses during good times (I said they believed in it, not that they actually did it).  Fiscal conservatives, on the other hand, believed that government revenues and spending should always be balanced.  Fiscal conservative beliefs did, in fact, tend to correlate with belief in small government, but nevertheless fiscal conservatives really did put balanced budgets first, and therefore supported tax increases as well as spending cuts (and, perhaps most famously, opposed JFK's tax cuts). 

The thing is that this kind of fiscal conservative is so rare within the two major parties that no one recognizes it when they see it, and therefore ascribes all sorts of nefarious motives to actual fiscal conservatives (or, as they're more often called now, budget hawks).  Indeed, as far as I can tell conservatives aren't even aware of the long tradition of fiscal conservativism in the Republican Party, and don't know that "fiscal conservative" was actually the name for those who supported balanced budgets as a top priority.  So liberals see fiscal conservatives as plotting to gut Social Security, and conservatives see them as plotting to raise taxes.   What do I think?  I take them at face value: they actually think that budget deficits are more important than the size of government, or any particular program, or the level of taxation. 

The one question I wish Sarlin had asked is whether Peterson has much of a preference between size of government as long as revenues match spending.  My guess is that whatever his personal preferences, as an activist he's basically neutral about that (although he almost certainly believes that it is impossible in a practical sense for revenues to keep up with the more pessimistic long-term projections for Medicare spending). 

Personally, I think that making long-term deficit projections a higher priority than avoiding short-term pain is generally a bad idea.  But I also think that honest deficit hawks -- real fiscal conservatives -- aren't the worst thing to have around most of the time; democracies are, one would think, biased in favor of short-term results, and so it's not a disaster to have at least one interest group looking out for the long-term.  That's only true, however, if deficit reduction pressure is actually neutral about the size of government; otherwise, putative deficit hawks are really just liberals or conservatives in disguise.  As far as I can see, however, Peterson is the real deal.

I'm Not Angry Anymore

Via Sullivan, great post by Conor Friedersdorf on what he sees as the futility of the politics of anger.  He's certainly right about the idea that many hard-core partisans believe that their side would win if only they were as ruthless and passionate as those on the other side. 

It's easy to see why this happens.  First of all, there's a major media bias in favor of overestimating the importance of any kind of campaign tactics and strategies.  After all, reporters want their stories to be on the front page, and TV correspondents want their stories to appear on TV.  They therefore have a bias in favor of believing that the events of the campaign -- speeches, ads, attacks -- are important to the outcome of the campaign, even though in fact most of those events have little to do with election results (particularly in general election campaigns).  Moreover, reporters should be covering the day-to-day events, which are often (at least  in my view) just good stories, even if they don't effect the election outcome.  But in order to get the good stories, reporters need to talk to the campaign operatives who generate them -- and those campaign operatives have a professional bias and interest in believing that their work matters.  Indeed, they have a bias in favor of doing splashy things such as irresponsible, over-the-top attacks.  If you run a quiet, by-the-books campaign and win, odds are the candidate will get the credit.  If you do something flashy, then the operatives are more likely to be noticed.  And attacks are especially good for that, because (generally) candidates are only too happy to farm out the "credit" for vicious attacks to the paid help.

So the 1988 campaign becomes all about how Lee Atwater ruthlessly used the Willie Horton ad to take down an overly meek Michael Dukakis, and the 2004 campaign becomes all about how Karl Rove ruthlessly took down an overly passive John Kerry with the Swift Boat stuff.  The vicious attacks in the other direction (say, George H.W. Bush implying that Bill Clinton was a dupe for the Soviets, or Jimmy Carter attacking Ronald Reagan as a warmonger) are forgotten, because no one thinks that they worked -- even though there's precious little evidence that the winning attacks "worked", either.  We remember the attacks that worked, and then when our side fails to win, we chalk it up to insufficient toughness, to not being willing to be as nasty as the other guys. 

To put it another way, people like to believe that agency matters -- that is, they constantly underemphasize structural factors such as the effect of the economy on elections or the difficulty in winning Congressional votes beyond a party's strength in Congress.  When one's side doesn't win, it's easy to believe that either they didn't really want to win, or in the sports cliche, they didn't want to win badly enough.  Yelling and screaming is a good way to avoid that particular accusation, even though rationally there's really no case that extreme demonstrations of emotion are likely to be helpful. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

End Holds on Judicial Nominations

The Democrats were on the floor of the Senate today complaining about Republican holds that are "preventing" the Senate from acting on judicial nominations -- there are apparently 23 nominations that have cleared the Judiciary Committee but still await Senate action.

Look: yes, Republicans are doing something unprecedented.  They are, apparently, violating the norms of the Senate by blocking basically uncontroversial nominations.  Fine.  That is, in fact, a violation of a norm.  But it's not violating a rule, and it's far past time for Democrats to respond.  Let me explain...

Ah, this is tricky.  There are filibusters, and there are filibusters; there are holds, and then there are holds.  In some sense, a hold is essentially a threat of a filibuster.  The majority respects holds for two reasons.  First, because a filibuster is costly to the majority; second, because of comity -- because all Senators have an interest in the ability of each Senator to have individual influence.  Let's leave aside the comity reason for a minute, and focus on the threat.  Again, there are different levels of filibuster threat.  In some cases, there's a threat that the minority has the votes to defeat cloture.  In that case, there's not much the majority can do, barring negotiation and dealmaking.  But  that hasn't been the case with nominations in this Congress: once judicial and executive nominations reach the Senate floor, they've all been approved with at least 60 votes.  So the judicial nomination holds on current nominees are only threats to eat up floor time, not indications that the nomination could be defeated (that is, by defeating cloture). 

How serious is that threat?  In my view, not very.  Yes, moving all 23 nominations separately would take up some floor time, if Republicans maximize the delay.  Would they do so?  I'm not convinced. Republicans have in fact yielded back postcloture time on a variety of measures during this Congress, and while I'm sure that they could handle using it all up if they wanted to, I suspect that when push came to shove, very view Republicans really want to talk about some obscure nominee for hours on the floor of the Senate.  Especially if Harry Reid played hardball and asked the Senate to stay in late at night (and I believe there are some other parliamentary procedure he could use to minimize floor time per nomination, although the more this moves into the details, the more I'm hesitant to trust my understanding of the fine points of the rules).  Basically, I think the threat of eating up enormous amounts of floor time is largely bluff.

Now, that gets back to the comity thing.  I think Harry Reid is probably accurately representing the views of Democratic Senators by respecting all holds.  The hold is a great thing for Senators; it allows them the opportunity, on an individual basis, to negotiate for something important to their state, or to them personally.  As I've argued, however, that's really much less true for holds on judicial nominations.  Unlike bills, nominations are up-and-down votes; it's not possible, as it is with bills, to add or subtract a provision in order to satisfy the concerns of individual Senators.  And with executive branch nominations, it's possible cut deals, as well -- in fact, the nomination process is an important part of how the Senate fights for control over the bureaucracy.  But one cannot bargain in that way with judicial nominees; a Senator cannot threaten a hold unless the nominee assures them she will vote some particular way in future cases.  In other words, if in a sense a hold is a request for the majority to wait until some detail is worked out, there are no details to be worked out on judicial nominations.  Yes, in particular cases a Senator might want to wait until some paperwork is completed or something like that, and of course a Senator may want to hold a nominee hostage in order to bargain for some unrelated item, but neither of those are good reasons for the majority to respect an indefinite hold (on the latter -- there are always executive branch nominees, if Senators want hostages). 

In other words, there is no good reason beyond tradition for the Senate Majority Leader to respect holds on judicial nominees in cases in which fewer than 41 Senators are expected to support cloture.

And, as Greg Koger explains in Filibustering, the hold as a tradition doesn't really go back very long into Senate history -- the formal hold system evolved after World War II.  And, regardless, holds used in this way were never part of that tradition, so it's hard to see defending them on that basis. 

That leaves only one reason to respect these holds, which is the possibility that Republicans would be so angry if Harry Reid moved on judicial nominations despite GOP requests for holds that Republicans would try to shut down the chamber.  As Koger has argued, however, that's apt to be an empty threat; if it was in their interest right now to, say, force the reading clerk to read every bill, then they would already be doing so.  Sure, in the heat of battle, they might change their calculations...but at this point of the Congress, and given how many roadblocks Republicans have set down already, I don't think the Democrats have a lot to lose. 

So: the one easy reform that Harry Reid could implement unilaterally, right now, would be to stop respecting holds on judicial nominations.  If Republicans could find enough votes to prevent cloture at that point -- fine, let Snowe and Collins explain why they're blocking nominations that they support in order to preserve their right to block nominations which they support.  I don't believe they'll do it.  Ending holds on noncontroversial judicial nominations would make the Senate function better without harming the rights of the minority party.  It would, in the phrase of the week, make the Senate more like the Senate.  Harry Reid should do it.

Q2: Nationalization?

Colby asks:
Are all elections more "nationalized", now than, say, 30 years ago? Then ten years ago? That is, are elections even for Congressional candidates (hell, even for State legislature candidates!) less likely to turn on local issues (Even the local economy) than on national issues? If so, what caused this? My hypothesis would be the rise of a national political media and the very recent fall of local reporting, so if you wanted to comment on that, specifically, it'd be cool. :) 
A really good question, and one for which I don't know the answer.  I don't think anyone does, but I could be wrong about that.  I know that we don't have any good information about party networks over time, although we do know about changes in formal party organizations, especially at the national level.  As far as I know, we also know relatively little about electioneering over time (which means I can't really answer Dan Miller's question either, unfortunately).   

Here's what I know.  We're setting this at 30 years, right?  1980 (when, as we know from Senator Coburn, the world was perfect).  Hmmm....let me cheat a little, though, and set it back forty years, to 1970.  I think this all applies to 30 years, but it's safer to say 40.

Since then, I think we can identify a few definite changes:

1.  The national parties have grown.  The formal party organizations have more resources than they did in 1970.  Probably more importantly, informal party networks have (we think) grown considerably, and are more important.  How does that matter?  My guess -- and we only have minimal evidence -- is that most campaigns in 1970 were dominated by local people.  The campaign managers and staff, the volunteers, and even the consultants (if any) were likely to be be local.  I believe, and again we only have minimal evidence, that those people were less likely to be partisans than they are now.  There were a number of relatively famous consultants from the 1960s and 1970s who worked for candidates from both parties; there are essentially none, now.  Back then, I think it was unlikely that any candidate would import a campaign manager from the national network; now, it's common in major campaigns. 

2.  I think Colby is correct that the media mix has tilted from local to national since 1970.  There was practically no national sustained coverage of Congressional elections back then (where would it have appeared?); now, while in my view Congressional elections are still undercovered, there are places like TPM that do pay attention.

3.  Related to #1 above, but worth separating out...national activist and donor networks are far more evolved than they were in 1970.  If you were just an ordinary citizen and wanted to send money to a closely contested House race between a solid Democrat and a solid Republican in 1970...actually, I have no idea what you would do.  Finding out which races were close must have been next-to-impossible.  Getting contact information for the candidates?  Not impossible, but not at all easy.   Finding out the candidates' issue positions?  Again, unless for some reason one of the candidates had a national reputation (rare in Senate races; extremely rare in House elections), I really don't know how you could go about doing it.

Put all of that together, and it certainly makes sense that there would be a lot more likely to find candidates taking positions on national issues than it was forty years ago.  The demand for it is higher.  The cost, however, is lower; it's very easy now for local candidates to cut and paste their national party's positions onto the "issues" section of their website; if you've hired one or more staff person with national experience, they are likely to know those positions and be able to generate the correct rhetoric without a lot of difficulty.  Meanwhile, the demand for positions on local issues is somewhat diminished, since there are fewer local reporters to talk to, while the cost might be a bit higher if campaigns are being run by national party network operatives who might be less familiar with those issues.  Might be...might not.  House candidates are probably still just as worried about getting in trouble for not knowing local issues, even if they're less likely to be asked about them by the press and, if they do get in trouble, somewhat less likely to have voters actually notice the resulting fuss (since there is less local news -- but there are still attack ads and mailers from the opposing candidates). 

So the answer is: it wouldn't be surprising if national issues have become relatively more important than they were, and local issues less important, but I'm not aware of any actually evidence that that has actually happened.

Q1: What Happened in 2000?

Mercer asks:
If economic growth is the most important factor in winning elections why did Gore barely win the popular vote? 
Great question!  And by great, I mean I like it because I've had the same question, and because, even better, there's an answer.   That's because there's a paper (pdf; I think it's the same version that was published in PS in 2001) by Larry Bartels and John Zaller (recently, by the way, mentioned by Ezra Klein) that finds that:
Gore's advantage with respect to the "fundamentals" was modest at best -- and that the election outcome was well within the range one would expect if both candidates ran more or less equally competent campaigns.
Surprised?  The key is the way that economic growth affects elections.  For better or worse, what political scientists have found is that voters have very, very short memories; the models that work best only look at election-year economic factors.  So Gore apparently got little credit for the boom years.  Moreover, what seems to matter isn't unemployment, or general economic growth, but changes in real disposable income.  And as it happened, GDP growth continued through 2000, but growth in real disposable income stalled that year, heading into the 2001 recession. 

The economy isn't the only thing that matters, as far as "fundamentals" are concerned.  Peace is better than war, and that presumably helped Gore a bit.  Ideological extremism hurts, but that wasn't really a factor in 2000 (Bartels and Zaller estimate that Bush ran a bit closer to the median voter than did Gore, but even if you disagree, it's hard to argue that either of them was perceived as far out of the mainstream).  Holding the presidency also is a negative which increases over time; they estimate that it costs about half a percentage point per term, or a 1% push towards Bush.

So, how well do Bartels and Zaller think that the fundamentals explain 2000?  They use a weighted average of 48 different models (see the paper if you want more detail), and that average misses the actual election results by half a percentage point.  In other words, the fundamentals would have predicted a very close election, and we saw a very close election. 

Question Day -- Elections

I haven't done one of these in ages, but I'm trying to finish what's turning into a very long post about the imperial presidency, so I think I'll try a Question Day.  If you have questions, I'll try to have answers.  I think I'll make the topic: Elections.  Midterm elections, Congressional elections, presidential elections -- nomination process or general election.  You can leave questions here in comments, and I'll also monitor email and twitter.  I never know how these things will go, but if you have any questions about how American elections work, here's your chance to get them answered.  Don't be shy!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It Ain't All the Filibuster

I think I'm in a cranky mood today and prone to nitpicking.  Sorry.  At any rate, Matt Yglesias says about the Democratic Senators who are against changing the 60 vote requirement for cloture::
Several of these people say they support action to curb climate change. That can’t happen without filibuster reform. Several say they support comprehensive immigration reform. That can’t happen without filibuster reform. Several say they support a public option. That can’t happen without filibuster reform. 
This is not correct.  The public option certainly fits within the rules of reconciliation.   Either cap-and-trade or a carbon tax would almost certainly fit within reconciliation (although there are some complexities there).  Immigration reform, I agree, could not be done through reconciliation (although I don't think liberal immigration reform has any chance of simple majorities in both Houses of this Congress, anyway).  Should the Democrats do well this November, it's certainly possible for them to actually pass an FY 2012 budget in Spring 2011 with reconciliation instructions allowing for a bill with both public option and major climate change provisions, and to need only simple majorities to get that bill to the president.  Indeed, it would even be protected from non-germane amendments, which would not be the case for a regular bill in the Senate.

And it's worth pointing out that it's a perfectly coherent position to support substantive change but also support current Senate rules -- even if those rules make change (in any direction) less likely.  Yglesias has consistently argued for majoritarianism both on its own merits, and on the basis that liberals are better off risking conservative action in years like 2003-2006 as long as liberals can have their way when circumstances favor them.  On the former, I'll continue to disagree with him (although I think both of us would agree that there would be plenty of other anti-majoritarian elements in the American system of government even if things routinely passed the Senate with 51 votes).  On the latter, well, he could be right -- or not!  I don't think it's at all obvious that liberals are better off in the long run if party majorities are stronger to act in the Senate, and therefore I don't think it's correct to imply that someone who takes the other view isn't really for liberal priorities (or, a few years ago, that Gang of Fourteen Republicans were obviously not true conservatives). 

Just Don't Call Him "Shorty"

Hey, Michael Tomasky...James Madison was known as "Jemmy", perhaps "Little Jemmy," not "Jim". 

And by the way, he's the wrong guy to cast as the great defender of majority rule, but I'll save that for some other time.

While I'm on the subject, however, I'll repeat my opinion that we haven't sufficiently honored Madison

At any rate...James, or Mr. Madison, or Jemmy, or President Madison, or Father of the Constitution.  Not Jim.  OK?

(via Cohn)

First Steps on Senate Reform

Jonathan Cohn reads the news that several senior and moderate Democrats do not support lowering the number required for cloture, and calls it a "Democratic Self-Destruct Sequence."  Cohn:
Of course, the filibuster empowers individual Democrats at the expense of the party as a whole. If it's sixty-votes-or-bust for the next few years, Democrats may be done passing major initiatives.
One of the problems with thinking about these things is that our eyes are often fixed on the present.  With the Democrats at 59 Senators, it's easy to focus on the threshhold of 60 votes for getting cloture, especially with Republicans using a rejectionist strategy pegged to requiring cloture to be achieved on every bill and nomination.  It's worth stepping back and remembering that Senate majorities are usually smaller, and often much smaller.  Needing 60 has certainly made a difference in this Congress, but the filibuster may be a whole lot less important in other Congresses (as in cases of divided government).  That doesn't mean that reform is a bad idea, but only to realize that for Democrats, this is more likely to be a 2013 problem than a 2011 problem.

That said, what I'd advise reformers to do is to concentrate their efforts on urging candidates to take strong stands on the issue.  When the time comes for action, which Democrats hope will be at the beginning of the 113th Congress in January 2013, they want as many Senators as possible to be committed to change.  The second thing I'd recommend is for reformers to prepare a package of relatively minor changes for January 2011, in order to demonstrate the point that each Senate can effect rules changes by majority vote.  Again, unless there's a surprise Democratic sweep this November, I wouldn't worry so much about pressing senior and marginal Democratic Senators on lowering the 60 vote needed for cloture.  Instead, I would try to find smaller streamlining procedural reforms that are relatively noncontroversial on their own (such as, perhaps, eliminating the filibuster on the motion to proceed, or changing for needing 60 for cloture to needing 41 to stop cloture) -- whatever procedures, no matter how insignificant they may be substantively, that marginal and senior Dems are willing to support -- and press to have a majority-rules vote on implementing them. 

A Useful Reminder...

...not to take polling literally; that is, not to assume that the relationship between polling results and somewhat related actions is a simple one.  Gallup finds:
During the ups and downs of this U.S. recession, Americans' faith in small business has grown, while their faith in big business has not. Three times more Americans now say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in small business (66%) than say this about big business (19%).
And yet...I'm not seeing a whole lot of people rejecting Amazon and Barnes & Noble for independent bookstores, or replacing Olive Garden with real Italian joints.  Nor do I see Walmart shutting down while neighborhood grocery stores thrive, or local hardware stores replacing Lowe's.  And, you know what?  I'm willing to bet that people go to McDonald's, among other reasons, because they have enormous amounts of faith that they'll get exactly what they expect, while they have no idea what they'll get at that new place that just opened in the strip mall they just drove by.  In other words, it's not hard at all to find actions that appear to be the exact opposite of what you would expect from the survey results.

Does this mean that the poll got it wrong?  No, not exactly.  We can be confident that the poll accurately reflects how the entire nation would answer the questions Gallup asked.  We can also guess that the result indicates something about what people think about big and small business, although I suppose one could argue for a variety of interpretations.  What we can't do, based on only this result, is to predict behavior.  And I'm even reluctant to say that we can say anything in particular with great confidence about what the answer means, beyond the fact that if you ask people those questions, you'll get those answers.

Now, sometimes we can in fact predict behavior from survey results.  It helps when the question is closely tied to a clear action (i.e., do you intend to vote for Smith or Jones?).  It helps when we have a long record of survey results and corresponding actions so we can compare them (we know that people lie about whether they've voted or not, but if I recall correctly there's a clear enough pattern that we can establish useful estimates of how many people falsely claim to have voted).  But sometimes, the survey results just don't correspond to any particular action, or even any meaningful underlying position. 

Again, just a reminder to avoid overreacting the next time you see, for example, survey results that seem to indicate that people agree (or disagree) with your position on some issue of public policy.  I'm not telling you to ignore such results, but only to remember all those people who claim to hate big business and love small business yet flock to chain stores.   

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Take a Look at These Hands

I understand the point that Ryan McNeely is trying to make, but one word of caution: the idea that Barack Obama's "hands-off" strategy changes anything about the responsibility of either Congress or the president for health care is pretty shaky.  Yes, the approach that Obama used can and should be contrasted with the Bill Clinton/Ira Magaziner/Hillary Clinton strategy.  Obama didn't attempt to drop a finished product on the steps of the Capitol. 

But by all accounts, the administration was highly involved in each step of the day-to-day negotiations around the bill as it moved through the process.  Moreover, had the Clinton bill actually moved through committee markups and floor action, Congress would have changed plenty of items -- just as the BTU tax was famously jettisoned from the Clinton budget package after it survived the House. 

McNeely is correct, of course, that Congress did in fact pass health care, and it's fair to point out that there is perhaps some inconsistency involved if liberals give Obama all the credit, and Congress none (although I can see the argument the other way, too).  But my point is simple: in no real sense did the Obama administration actually just sit back passively and wait for Congress to decide.  Nothing hands off about it.

Is 51 the New 67?

Excellent post from Ezra Klein today on the actual mechanism for changing Senate rules.  As he reports, Tom Udall and other reformers are urging a vote on the Senate rules at the beginning of the next Congress, claiming that no prior Congress can bind a future Congress.  (I'm not as thrilled with calling it the "Constitutional option," since I believe that it is no more Constitutional than leaving the rules as is, but that's how these things are). 

The bottom line on this is that there's really very little recourse for the minority if the majority chooses to change the rules.  No one believes the courts would intervene.  And what else could a minority do?  Obviously, they could exploit whatever protections they have under the rules to whatever extent they thought it wise to do so...they could force full readings of bills, use up every second of debate time they are entitled to, object to everything that required unanimous consent and thereby forcing more time-consuming methods of operating.  However, all of those options could further be curtailed by a determined majority.  In reality, the only real protection the minority would have are the interests of majority party Senators to retain the influence of individual Senators, and public pressure.  That's true whether the majority party acts at the beginning of a Congress or if they choose to act, as Republicans threatened to act on judicial nominations when George W. Bush was president, in the middle of a Congress.  The only difference, if any, would be the political outcry.

And Klein is exactly correct: the most likely scenario is a compromise driven by the threat of a majority unilateral action.  So what's really called for now is some serious thinking by everyone about what kinds of compromise make the most sense in a world in which Senators still want individual influence, but also want rules that allow the Senate to function under current conditions that include strong partisanship and well-sorted parties.

Regular readers know my answers, but I don't think I've given them for a while:

1. Majority confirmation of executive branch nominees, but allowing holds to continue;
2. Retaining the filibuster/cloture for judicial nominees, but with a certain vote on cloture: no holds;
3. One filibuster-free bill a year, but with minimal protections against amendments: Superbill!
4. Some streamlining of other procedural roadblocks.

By the way, Tom Udall's father Stewart Udall was one of the Democrats who agitated for reform in the House after the 1958 election, and his uncle Mo Udall continued that fight through the reform era.


Another thing to keep in mind when thinking about the prospects of Senate reform is that there's no reason to believe that the current situation is any sort of stable, long-term solution.  I've talked about this before, but it's worth recapping.

Think of it this way.  Through the 1960s, filibusters were relatively rare, and focused on the most important legislation..  What followed was an extended period, 1969-2002, in which two things happened: filibusters became more common, but also divided government was the norm.  Through that era, we only had single party control of the White House, the House, and the Senate during Jimmy Carter's term, during the first Congress that served with Bill Clinton, and for a few months of George W. Bush's first term.  That's about seven years out of over thirty years.  It's enough that for those who have observed politics over the long term, divided government -- in which parties had to compromise to get anything done -- was normal. 

Indeed, and this is more speculative than anything else, I suspect that the legacy of divided government may have a lot more to do with elite expectations of bipartisanship than hazy memories of life under President Eisenhower, Speaker Rayburn, and Majority Leader Johnson -- divided government, but with ideologically diverse parties.  I suppose David Broder (b. 1929)  remembers that, but even Broder couldn't remember too much of the period of (mostly) unified party but divided ideological control in 1937-1952, and baby boomer journalists don't remember either era.  For anyone covering Washington in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, bipartisanship between mostly ideologically coherent parties was both necessary, and, therefore, normal (although that's a bit less true of nomination politics, since there was unified White House/Senate control in 1977-1986). 

In a divided government era, it was common for parties that "won" elections -- Republicans in 1968 and 1972, Democrats in 1974, Republicans in 1980 and 1984, Democrats in 1982 and 1986, Republicans in 1988 and 1994, Democrats again in 1996 -- to win very limited victories.  We may now have entered a period where that's no longer true.  If so, it's not surprising that the rules that worked well enough for Senators in the previous era won't work as well in the new one.  Since I'm not a big fan of simple majoritarian democracy, I hope that the new rules, whenever they're adopted, retain some of the advantages of the structure of the Senate, even as they make it easier for party majorities to act.  And perhaps Republicans will win a landslide this fall, and we'll be back in divided government, perhaps for a long time again.  But if elections continue to send unified governments to Washington, we're going to have some kind of change.

Senate Reform on Mad Men Time

In 1958, Democrats won a huge landslide in the last midterm with Eisenhower as president.  Democrats had maintained majorities in Congress since 1955, but the 1958 elections gave liberal Democrats their first solid majorities in twenty years.  Then in 1960, John Kennedy was elected and liberals controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House...

...and nothing happened.  Well, not quite nothing, but most of the liberal agenda was stopped by rules that empowered conservatives in the House of Representatives. Yup, the House, not (primarily) the Senate.

And so the first Congress with JFK in the White House was relatively unproductive, and Democrats didn't do especially well in the 1962 midterms.  Meanwhile, liberals inside and outside of Congress applied major pressure for reform, and in fact during those years, liberals in the House enacted major reforms.  So Democrats started passing major legislation including the Civil Rights Act, and then when Democrats won another landslide in 1964, Congress was ready to enact the preferences of large liberal majorities, and the result was the famous 89th Congress.

The point is that it's certainly not unprecedented in American history for a party to win large majorities and be partially stymied by Congressional rules, but that the likely result is, in fact, reform -- especially if they continue winning.  Simple majorities are often not enough, but one of the forms of supermajority that can work is consistent majorities over time.

I can't predict that Democrats are going to do as well electorally in the upcoming elections as they did in 1962 and 1964.  I can, however, predict with a lot of confidence that if they do -- which would mean relatively small losses in 2010 followed by a solid victory in 2012 -- that we'll see similar results.  That's the message that Jamelle Bouie and Matt Yglesias brought back from Las Vegas (and the Netroots Nation confab).  This is, basically, how things work.  Issues don't really emerge suddenly and then pass when your side wins an election; issues emerge slowly over time, and generally pass when (1) you win an election and (2) that issue has reached priority status.

Virtually no Democrats ran in 2006 or 2008 on Senate reform.  I haven't checked, but I'd guess that quite a few are this year, especially those in contested primaries.  And if Democrats do (relatively) well this fall -- keep the House, lose 3-5 Senate seats or better -- then virtually every Democrat in 2012, most likely including Barack Obama, is going to include Senate reform in their platforms.

In other words, I think Ezra Klein's campaign for blindfolded reform -- change the rules now to take effect in six years or so, in order that no one can know which party will benefit -- is extremely unlikely, but I agree with him that reform is coming, one way or another.  As Klein says:
We are, however, getting closer and closer to the day when someone does change the rules. Republicans tried to protect judges from the filibuster under Sen. Bill Frist. Democrats are talking about changing the rules at the start of the 112th Congress. And now that they're talking about it, are they really confident that if Republicans take the Senate back in 2012 or 2014, that they won't do what the Democrats couldn't and change the rules in their favor?


It's my birthday! Not me, your host, but Plain Blog -- I started posting one year ago today.  Woo!

I'm gonna be a bit sappy, so if you don't like that sort of thing, skip on down...I really need to thank a lot of people for helping out.  Thank you to Ron and Steven for the early facebook and blog links.  Thank you to John and Seth for leading the way and for all your support.  Thanks to the guys at Donkeylicious for adding me to your blogroll, early, and for your support.  Thanks to Kevin Drum and Publius and others for advice, and for making me feel welcome.  Thanks to all who have linked...I don't want to bore everyone by listing, but I appreciate each one.  Thanks to the folks at Salon.  Thanks especially to Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein for everything.  And: thanks to everyone who reads, and the comments!  Over the last couple of months, I've started to think that the comments section is really starting to take off.  Thank you to everyone.  I'm having a great time, and I wouldn't be doing it without the help and support of so many people.

So that's one year.  More to come!  More on the midterms, more on anti-majoritarian ideas of democracy, more on the presidency, more on budgeting, more on Obama and Pelosi and Reid and Boehner and McConnell, more on Superbill!, more on the Sage of Wasilla and, I suspect, Tom P. Baxter, Business Visionary; more, I hope, sitcom references; more slams at Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson; more Dogs, Not Barking and Sunday Questions and (I hope) Monday Movies Posts and Friday Baseball Posts, more on my other obsessions.  More really long and out of control sentences.  Some new stuff, too.  Probably a lot more about the GOP presidential nomination contest.  Meanwhile, if anyone has any requests or suggestions (outside of losing the ugly's on my list), please let me know.    Meanwhile, I'm off for a piece of virtual cake, and then back to work.  I think there's something to write about the filibuster...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Not Really A Monday Movie Post (But W/Jedi)

Not a Monday Movie Post, but since Seth Masket has been oddly silent in response to the recent libertarian attacks on the Jedi Order, I guess I'll have to be the one who responds.  It all started with a stray and presumably tongue-in-libertarian-cheek comment from Reason's Jesse Kline in an otherwise terrific post:
Although the Jedis did assist the Rebel Alliance in overthrowing a tyrannical emperor, it's clear that the Knights were originally set up to enforce the Galactic Senate's big government agenda.
Well.  With that, Dan Drezner went to town with an impassioned, er, discussion of the Jedi.  You certainly want to read it in full (I mean, if you're nerdy enough to still be reading this far; I'm assuming most of the sensible people are long gone).  Drezner focuses on what he sees as the Jedi's attempt to monopolize the Force:
Are the Jedi big government advocates?  That's unclear.  I think it would be more accurate to describe them as cartelistic --  they refuse to permit a free market in learning the ways of the Force. Just as clearly, their anti-competitive policies weakened their own productivity, given the fact that they were unable to detect a Sith Lord walking around right under their noses for over a decade.  

His emphasis, but really, isn't it everyone's emphasis?  He goes on...make sure you read the P.S.

OK, my turn.  As much as I'd like to spend my time poking fun at typical libertarian assumptions about markets and Homo Liberal, which they assume are the only form of humanity and the only form of commerce, I'll stick with something closer to home: political institutions.  The Galactic Republic?  We have a unicameral legislature, and as far as we can see each planet gets one vote.*  The Republic appears to be pretty much absent in the internal affairs of the planets.  The only policies it considers that we know of are war and trade negotiations.  Within either (presumably) core planets such as Naboo, or peripherals ones such as Tatooine, the central government appeared to have little if any presence or authority.  What does that sound like to you?   You got it -- it's the Articles of Confederation.  Sure, they call their legislature a Senate, but there doesn't actually seem to be anything very Senate-like about it (just as there's nothing very Senate-like about the United States Senate under the Constitution).  Moreover, the crisis that Palpatine creates and uses to spark the wars that eventually lead to Empire is a crisis of weak government, not strong: it's about trade disputes within the Republic!

There's also some stuff about bureaucrats "really" running things in the Republic, but since our only evidence for that is that Palpatine said it as part of his manipulation of Amidala (and therefore it has less than a 50/50 chance of actually being true), I'll have to pass on the opportunity to talk about  how important it is to have politicians, and not civil servants, in charge.  But it is.  Although preferably, not Sith politicians.  You don't really want that. 

I do have to get one shot in...Drezner complains about "Beyond George Lucas' rather bigoted portrayal of anything involving commerce."  Really?  Who's the most likable character in the Star Wars movies?  OK, not counting R2D2.  Isn't it Han Solo, galactic smuggler, pirate, and all-around scoundrel?  Sure, Solo eventually realizes that there's more to life than money, but that doesn't mean he's not fond of money, and we're certainly fond of him.  I don't see it, at all.  Presumably we don't like the greedy Watto, but he's a bad guy because of his slaves, not because he's a businessman.  (I suppose Jabba the Hut is a bad guy, but everyone likes him, right?).  Perhaps Drezner is thinking of the Trade Federation.  That's a mistake!  The Trade Federation aren't actually the Bad Guys of the Clone Wars; the only Bad Guy of the Clone Wars is Palpatine. 

You want a commerce-hater?  That's Star Trek, the Next Generation, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, scourge of the Ferengi and 20th century businessmen.  Star Wars?  Sure, a strong and inexplicable bias against death sticks, but, er, um....

Where was I?  I can't remember.  I wanna go home and rethink my life.

*I'm afraid I know that from Star Wars, The Clone Wars.  Think of me what you will, but no spoilers, please: I'm four or five episodes behind.

(UPDATE:  Don't miss Adam Serwer's comments.  And I apparently shamed Seth into playing).


I've already linked to a couple of good things written about the Wikileaks Afghanistan story, but I don't want to let it pass without linking to Matt Yglesias's sensible comments about government secrets

The most famous example of this was Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia, which as someone famously said when it was exposed, wasn't a secret to the Cambodians.  You can see an obvious echo of that in the Wikileaks material.  One of the big revelations, according to the NYT story, was that the Taliban has been using heat-seaking missiles (and forgive me if I have that not quite right -- military details are not my strength.  Also, I seem to remember reading elsewhere today that this "secret" was already reported.  Anyway, back to the discussion).  You see where I'm going here: this wasn't a secret to the Taliban! 

Now, in both cases, I can imagine reasons for governments to keep bad news quiet other than just making things look good (or at least less bleak) to voting citizens.  Governments sometimes have to lie, or at least not state the truth, in order for diplomacy to work...I don't think it's a crime for the United States to conveniently not officially notice that Israeli has nuclear weapons.  But we all know that governments are inclined to adopt a default position of classifying everything possible.  Indeed, that's probably even more true after eight years of Dick Cheney's influence, if numerous reports about his views on secrecy are correct. 

The obvious problem is that declassifying things, or even changing the standards for classifying future items, is a whole lot of work for a bunch of bureaucrats who almost certainly don't want to do it.  And it's unlikely that presidents who make that a priority are apt to be rewarded by anyone for it.  Still, Yglesias is correct about this, and it would be nice to see the one group that really does have an interest in more easily available information -- the press -- put more pressure on.

(OK, political scientists and historians have an interest in easily available information, too -- but pols have no reason to care what we want.  The press as an interest group is actually somewhat formidable). 

Stuff I Don't Understand

Ezra Klein has a great short post today about what I consider perhaps the biggest mystery of the last couple years: the stimulus that didn't grow.  Had I been blogging back in spring 2009, I would have said that it didn't really matter if centrist Senators trimmed a few hundred billion dollars from the stimulus package, because it could only be spent over time anyway, and that an extra $200 billion or whatever would certainly be passed well before it would have been spent had it been part of the original bill.

In that, I would have been dead wrong. And if my job here is to explain things like this, I can't; I find it completely mysterious that Congress has not, at the very least, poured money to the states to prevent layoffs.  Because I don't understand it, I'm not even sure whether to place the blame with the White House, with Senate Democrats, with House Democrats...I don't know. 

Here's what I do know.  Regardless of what anyone says, the budget deficit is a voting issue for precisely no one.  No one.  It wasn't for people who voted for Ross Perot, it isn't for the Tea Party crowd today.  Moreover, even today, the Democrats remain the party of smaller deficits, and the Republicans remain the party of large deficits.  Nor do I see a logical interest group alignment against at the very least emergency aid to the states.  I do, of course, see the GOP decision to block whatever they can, but I'll note that Republicans have defected on Supreme Court nominations, on the original stimulus, on Frank-Dodd, on the small business bill that the Senate's been working on, on various controversial while it's certainly correct to say that Republicans have filibustered everything and forced the Democrats to find 60 votes, it's not correct to say that Republicans have united to block everything they could.

Which leaves me, as I said, puzzled.  Could Barack Obama and his administration been more aggressive about explaining basic Keynesian ideas to Washington opinion leaders?  Sure.  Would that have changed anything?  I don't know.  Are Democrats on the Hill gunshy about deficits when they should be far more worried about economic growth?  Seems like it -- but why?  I don't know.  Is this just a question of numbers, in which the fact of 41 Republican Senators is really, when all is said and done, the whole story?  I think that's very much true on some issues -- but on this one?  Once again, I don't know. 

I'm certain that it's not because voters actually care about the deficit.  I'm certain that it's not because of genuine Republican concern about the deficit -- a quick look at GOP positions on extending the Bush tax cuts make it clear that they continue to be for larger, not smaller, deficits (and that goes too for any Democrats who want to make permanent lower tax revenues without an offset).  Beyond that: well, I don't understand it. 

Read Stuff, You Should

I haven't read anything over the weekend that annoyed me, but there's so much good stuff that I can't wait any longer.  So, here goes:

1. Defense and National Security: Mark Ambinder looks at the Wikileaks data; Fred Kaplan on the Post's Top Secret America; Matthew Dickinson on the Post series and the presidency; Andrew Sprung on Obama, Gates, and the defense budget.

2. Bigotry stories.  DiA's M.S. on the Ground Zero Mosque silliness, Jamelle Bouie adds historical perspective; Cynic on Sherrod; and Cynic on, well, the future.  (TNC? Not only the Best Blogger ever, but as far as I know the best comments section, and apparently the best guest-bloggers.  As Bill McNeal would say....Damn.).  Gotta quote the first line...Cynic: "Why did anyone ever believe that Shirley Sherrod might have stood before a couple hundred people and given a speech in which she publicly proclaimed herself a racist?"

3. Barry Pump on magic presidency dust (and Tom Friedman).

4,  Other policy areas...Jonathan Cohn with a Massachusetts health care update; Elizabeth McNichol on the states and their budgets; and Ezra Klein suggests everyone take a deep breath when it comes to Elizabeth Warren.

5. Michael Cohen on substance vs. symbolism.

6. Noah Millman takes down David Frum's Cold War Case for Israel.

7. Sprung again, on one of my favorite topics: the Big Dog  (I have the Taylor Branch book within reach of where I'm sitting...really want to get to it.  Haven't.).

8. And Alex Massie takes up my question about West Virginia

That should keep everyone busy.  Get to it!  And enjoy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Question for Liberals

Following up on the question for conservatives...

Which liberal bloggers or media types do you consider to be snake-oil salesmen and charlatans?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

It's gonna be the Johnny Rotten question: Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

(Hey, it's new continuing feature!  Lots of interesting and thoughtful comments last week, so I'm trying again).

At least a couple of liberal bloggers reacted to the various recent miniscandals by noting that conservatives talk show hosts and other opinion leaders basically treat their listeners/readers pretty badly.  Here's TAP's Mori Dinauer: "Sometimes I wonder if the conservative media has more contempt for liberals or for the intelligence of its followers."  I think there's a lot of truth to that.  Speaking as someone who doesn't by any means think that conservatives are stupid or foolish or think that most conservatives have "authoritarian personalities" that predispose them to be sheep, I really don't know why conservative movement politics these days seems to attract so many snake-oil salesmen such as Newt Gingrich or Andrew Breitbart

So, the question: ever get the feeling you've been cheated?  Or, perhaps, speaking to intelligent conservatives who presumably see through the charlatans: what do you make of all of this?  How do you explain, or how do you think about, the evident success of so many snake-oil salesmen on your side of the aisle?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Political Junkies Beware

I said: 
For what it's worth, YouGov/Economist has [Palin] leading the horse race with 28%; that doesn't strike me as a very impressive total for a candidate with excellent name recognition against a bunch of unknowns.
To which commenter  Mercer replied:
I would not describe Huck and Romney as unknown. 
Well, yes and no.

Here's the deal.  For most of the people reading this, the presidential primary season in 2007-2008 went on for months.  There were debates, and announcements of candidacy, and adds, and blog posts, and more debates, and Iowa, and New Hampshire, and Nevada and South Carolina, and that Florida and Michigan thing, and Super Tuesday, and then on through the rest of the calendar.  On the GOP side, there was John McCain, frontrunner, followed by John McCain, collapsed campaign...there was Romney, and there was new hope Fred Thompson, and there was Rudy Giuliani waiting in the wings, and then Thompson faded, and Huckabee won Iowa, and McCain was suddenly back, and then Romney won somewhere, and...well, you remember it.  Because you're far, far, more interested in this stuff than 90%, maybe 99%, of the American people -- or else you wouldn't be reading this!

For most people, the 2007-2008 primary season was somewhere in the background for a while...there was Hillary Clinton, and then a funny-named guy, and then suddenly it came to my state and for two weeks I had these damn ads on my TV every time I flip the channel and then it went away, and Jay Leno was making fun of a bunch of pols like he always does and there were a new set of names but the jokes were just the same (Those politicians?  They're all crooks!  Hahaha), and then, oh, it's an election year and the candidates are McCain and Obama and there are more ads that won't go away.  

Pick something that you pay no attention to.  For my dad, I always suggest NASCAR.  My dad has read a sports page every day since he was a little kid; he still gets (as do I) a real, honest-to-goodness local newspaper on his front porch every morning.  He must have seen the names of NASCAR drivers thousands of times, but odds are he's only stopped to read a story if it had something in the headline that really caught his attention (someone from the Bronx, or Jewish, or both, might do it).  If you asked him to name a NASCAR driver he'd probably look at you as if you were nuts...but if you named some of them, he'd probably recognize the names.  The idea is that lots and lots of people have about that level of knowledge about most of what happens in politics.  It's just background noise.  We, the people who write and read political blogs, and watch debates, and pay attention to politics even in the off season --we're the minority.

Of course, with politics unlike sports, we're "supposed" to be paying attention, and a lot of people probably don't like to admit that they really aren't.  So when the pollsters come around and ask what you think of Mitt Romney?  It's a name you heard at some point, and you might even know he's a Republican, and beyond that not much, but it's not too hard to say whether you like him or not.  And to be fair, if we're talking primary voters, we're really not talking about my dad and NASCAR.  It's more like a sports fan's 6th or 7th sport she follows.  That's how I am these days with hockey -- I wound up watching several games of the NHL finals this year, but if you had asked me about Detroit's team in mid-season I'd have had no idea, and if you asked me now I'm not sure I could remember anyone, although back then I could have talked about it with you a little, and I may tune in again next spring. 

So, yes, Huck and Romney aren't complete unknowns.  But for most primary voters, they might as well be.   More generally, it's just real hard sometimes for those of us who pay a lot of attention to politics to get around the idea of how little attention most others pay, including the broad category of those who vote most of the time but that's about it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Baseball Post

I was talking about Buster Posey last know, with any luck, I'm gonna be talking about Buster Posey quite often.  Anyway, I mentioned that he was the best Giants rookie hitter since Thompson and Clark: quite true!  This week, the question will be about those years in between, 1987 through 2009.

So that's twenty-three years.  In all that time, how many Giants hitters received any votes at all for Rookie of the Year?  Not first place votes -- any votes at all?  That would be: none.

Sort of!  There's a loophole guy, although even then we have to go all the way back to 1989.  In that year, Charlie Hayes finished 5th in the ROY balloting.  Don't remember Charlie Hayes from the 1989 Giants?  That's OK; he appeared in all of three games before the trade to the Phillies, where he earned his ROY votes. 

So that's it.  1987 through 2009, a total wipe out. 

But wait, you say; ROY votes don't tell you everything.  There are two writers who vote per NL team, and they have just three slots.  There are usually between six and twelve players who receive votes, including pitchers.  So maybe the Giants have had some rookies who don't quite rise to the top, but at least are contributing.

Hmmm...fortunately, we have another award that helps answer that one.  Since 1991, Greg Spira has run the Internet Baseball Awards; since 1996, it's been hosted by Baseball Prospectus.  Voting is (I believe) open to all comers, and from a small start it's now grown to a bit over 4000 ballots last year.  With all those voters (and the same three spots on each ballot), there are far more players who receive votes, in recent years between 40 and 60 players each year.  If we leave aside the pre-BP years, how have Giants hitters done?

Well...terribly.  The best-ever finish by a Giants hitter is a tie: Pablo Sandoval and Armando Rios.  Each of them finished...18th.  Rios actually received two first place votes, and Sandoval got one.  Over 1996-2009, the only other Giants hitter to draw a 1st place vote (and, you know, anyone can vote for any player for any reason, and we're talking about 4000 voters recently) was some goof who voted for Lance Niekro, who finished 21st overall as a 1B with ~300 PAs and a 94 OPS+. 

There was one other highlight: if we go all the way back to the tiny balloting of 1991, someone (Gary Huckabay? I'm guessing) put Darrin Lewis at the top of his or her ballot, which put Lewis 6th overall. 

Beyond that, however, a whole bunch of guys have finished worse than Niekro at 21st.  I was going to name names, but you know what?  It's just too pathetic to think about.  Calvin Murray, tied for 28th.  Jason Elliot, 28th.  Yorvit Torreabla, tied for 34th.  And others like that.  And then there are the careers those guys went on to have.  The best?  Sandoval, Feliz, Lewis...uh, can I have Charlie Hayes?  That's about it...Rajai Davis or Ramon Martinez is probably next best, unless it's Nate Schierholtz, who managed to receive a handful of votes in two different years. 

I can't imagine any other team has done worse.

I'd much rather focus on the 2010 team, with a real, honest-to-goodness ROY candidate. 

Governed By 2004

Just a quick point on Charles Krauthammer's column about the supposed impending unfairness of duly elected Democratic Members of Congress passing things in a lame duck session later this year.  Everyone already has jumped on the point that none of what Krauthammer fears is actually likely to happen (Democrats for better or worse haven't failed to pass things like card check and cap-and-trade because they're afraid it will hurt them in November; they haven't passed them because they don't have the votes.  End of story.  (See Yglesias, Drum, Chait for more). 

As long as we're going to get worked up about shame and mandates and such, let me just toss this one on the heap.  It's true that Democrats have wailed and whined about the filibuster, and how unfair it is that longstanding rules prevented them from doing whatever they wanted with the presidency, a solid majority in the House, and 59% of the Senate.  And a few sophisticated Dems have even done the math and argued that it's even more unfair than that because currently Democratic Senators represent a somewhat larger share of the population than that 59%. 

But you know what Democrats haven't really complained about, and by Krauthammer's logic they actually have a much stronger case?  2004.  Because that's the difference between passing quite a bit of the Democratic agenda this year, and passing pretty much all of it.  2004?  That's when 34 of the current Senators (or their same-party predecessors who resigned or died) were elected.  Of those, 18 are Republicans; only 16 are Democrats.  That includes Republican Senators from North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio all solid Obama states where the Democrats won the most recent Senate race. 

Eliminate the class of 2004, and the Democrats have a stunning 43 to 23 edge in the Senate (that's 65%).  Or, just keep everyone in place but convert the five Obama states to solid Democratic delegations, and again you're at 64 of 100.  Even flip two of those five and the legislative output of the 111th Congress would have been significantly more liberal. 

Now, should Republicans have been ashamed of their total electoral humiliation in 2006 and 2008 and sat back meekly while Democrats passed everything they had 50 votes for?  No, I don't think so, and I don't think Krauthammer thinks so, either.  I think the Republican extreme rejectionism may well have been counterproductive, and it certainly stretched the rules and customs of the Senate to their limit -- but they were well within their rights to do so.  As Democrats would be, if they choose to pass whatever they can (which as Drum and the others point out won't be anything that can't get by Olympia Snowe, same as now). 

As far as the democratic value of being ruled by 2004 -- I'm fine with it, as regular readers might suspect.  The country didn't suddenly turn liberal n 2006, just as it didn't suddenly turn conservative in 1994 or 1980.  Putting a little weight on the scales for the status quo doesn't both me.  But make no mistake: if you're 20 years old now and voted for the first time in 2008 and supported Obama, part of the reason you're not getting your way on some things is because your grandparents who died five years ago have had as much of a say over the United States Senate as you have.

Why Not a Little Palin Blogging

Item:  Noah Millman's exploration of the dynamics of the GOP presidential nomination contest struck me as well worth reading.  I do think that things are more fluid than he implies...there's still plenty of time for someone other than Mitt Romney to play the Romney role he imagines (Rick Perry?).  We don't have a good sense yet of whether Sarah Palin's appeal within Republican primary electorates is capped...well, we do have a sense that it is capped, but whether that's at 70% (not much of a problem) or 40% (very big problem) doesn't seem clear to me right now.  Some numbers: the current YouGov/Economist poll gives her a 77/17% favorable rating among Republicans...but we don't really know how many of those 77% are thinking of her as a presidential candidate.  For what it's worth, YouGov/Economist has her leading the horse race with 28%; that doesn't strike me as a very impressive total for a candidate with excellent name recognition against a bunch of unknowns.  Of course, there's also the very solid possibility that she bails anyway for any one of a thousand reasons.  But I think Millman's piece is very nicely set in the real-life world of nominations, with its interactions between various party elites and the voters.

Item: I want to second Andrew Sullivan's call for NBC and CBS to release the full, unedited, raw footage of the Palin interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson from the 2008 campaign.  If she's getting mileage from accusing them of selective editing, then, yes, I think it's an excellent idea to prove her right or wrong.  (Yes, it's really the entertainment value I care about, but why not?). 

Item: On all the Palin blogging...I'm sure a lot of people react to it by thinking that she gets way too much attention as it is, and wish I'd stick to other things (indeed, people have left comments to that effect).  I figured I'd explain a bit.  Well, first of all, I'm a political junkie, and she's good fun.  More seriously, I think you can expect a fair amount of nomination politics blogging from me, since it's pretty close to my core research other words, I know a little bit about the nomination process and party politics.  So I'm fairly likely to use whatever presidential candidates are in the news as an excuse to talk about how parties work, or how the nomination process works.  I do feel that I spend an inordinate amount of time on her; but then again, as I mentioned earlier this week, what exactly is there to talk about with Tim Pawlenty?  Remember - we're well into the 2012 presidential nomination cycle, and things will only heat up going forward.  So I'm afraid you can expect plenty of the Sage of Wasilla for some time.

Climate Down

The problem with postmortems about things like this is that there is usually more than one way to look at it, and they can all be valid.  For example, it's certainly true that if Republicans who supported cap-and-trade way back during the 2008 campaign had remained interested in working out a bill, then a bill would have passed.  So (and wording this from the perspective of something having gone wrong) you can blame the Republicans who in some sense "should" have been at the table: Snowe, Collins, Gregg, LeMieux, Gramm, McCain, and a few others.  Or you can blame the people who make Snowe, Collins, and the rest more concerned about primary challenges from the right than they are about anything else.  Or you can blame the candidates who fell just short of giving the Dems a few more Senators over the last three election cycles, or the voters who didn't quite elect them.  Or you can blame the filibuster.  Or you can blame the structure of the Senate, which makes it likely that the Senate won't run by pure majority party rule (although it doesn't force the specific filibuster rules in effect today).  Or you can blame Democrats such as Jay Rockefeller for putting the parochial interests of their states above the national interest and their party's platform.  Or you can blame Harry Reid and other Senate leaders for not working out a deal with those Senators.  Or you can blame Barack Obama for placing too low a priority on climate/energy.

All of those things are true!  And they're not exactly competing explanations; they're all true, but just look at the issue from different perspectives.

I'll mainly repeat the point I've made before: it's worth noting that on a legislative time scale, cap-and-trade was really very, very, new, and most important laws tend to take a long time, often spanning several Congresses, to pass.  Looking 1992, global warming was a two-sentence throwaway at the end of the Democratic Party platform.  If anything, it's even less prominent in 1996. In 2000, the Al Gore platform contained a fair amount of climate rhetoric -- but proposed almost no specific actions.  No change in 2004: plenty of rhetoric, but only vague calls to action, mostly focusing on international agreements.  No cap-and-trade, no carbon tax.  So for Democrats, the idea that Congressional action is needed to limit carbon emissions as a core party principle only goes back to the 2008 campaign.

Matt Yglesias has a nice post up about the the regional complications of a carbon bill.  What I'd add is that these are the sorts of things that can and do get worked out as bills move through the process.  Think about the conflicts between rural and urban areas in health care legislation, for example.  To look at the larger picture...legislating in the American, Madisonian system tends to be about interests.  Until a bill actually starts moving through the legislative process, it's hard for supporters to know which interests they need to buy off, which they need to defeat, which they need to find compromises with, and what those compromises might be.  No one knows how strong the opposition of nominally opposed groups might be (nor, for that matter, how strong the support of nominally supportive groups might be).  No one knows which opposition groups can be bought off, nor what it would take to buy them off.  No one knows which Senators are available with those potential compromises.  Of course, proponents can guess, and the campaign tends to provide clues about these things, but nothing can really substitute for actually bringing a bill to the table that is headed for a committee mark-up. 

Now, I'm not saying that all of this made climate/energy impossible to pass in this Congress.  Plainly, Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats placed a lower priority on climate than they did on stimulus, health care, and the banking bill.  If climate/energy had been the first thing out of the box in January 2009, it probably would have passed -- but stimulus gets delayed, with unknown but potentially dire consequences.  If climate/energy is the big push in the spring and summer of 2009, well, perhaps it passes, perhaps not -- but health care probably doesn't.  Lots of unknowns in any counterfactual speculation, but one certainly must accept that there were risks and trade-offs (as well as opportunities) involved in any other path.  I also think that Kevin Drum has a good point that action really does involve some pain, and at least in my opinion it's understandable why Obama didn't want to stress policies that would involve additional sacrifice in the middle of an economic trauma.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that climate has now moved way up on the unfinished agenda of mainstream Democrats, which bodes well for some bill passing the next time that the Dems have unified control of Congress and the presidency.  And it's by no means certain that GOP rejectionism is a permanent strategy; there are plenty of possible paths that could lead back to a significant minority of Republicans in Congress being willing to support climate legislation.  Of course, should Republicans win back the House and hold it for a decade, then climate legislation might not happen for a long time.  I'm certainly not going to make any predictions about election outcomes down the road.  All I would say is that climate legislation got much, much farther in the 111th Congress than it ever had before; that Democratic activists will almost certainly place a much higher priority on the issue going forward than they have in the past; and that both of those are very good long-term predictors of successful action, if and when the Dems next get a chance to act.

[UPDATE: Please see important substantive comments from "Anonymous" below, who thinks that I got this one pretty wrong, and then my response].

Why The Panic?

Jonathan Chait has an interesting post up arguing that the Obama administration is particularly vulnerable, and more to the point acts particularly vulnerable, when race is involved: 
I don't think there's a generalized pattern of the administration folding in the face of right-wing attacks, credible or otherwise. Rather, the issue is that the Obama administration is, and always has been, terrified of engaging on race.
I think it's worth considering, but I'm not sure that he's right.  On the Shirley Sherrod affair, I think we need more information.  Who panicked?  Was it someone in the White House communications or political shops (or in the chief of staff's office)?  Someone who was on hair-trigger alert to defuse all issues remotely racially tinged as quickly as possible?  Or, as we've been told and as I suspect was true, was it someone in the Ag Department -- perhaps someone not very senior in the Ag Department.  Perhaps someone who normally goes about his business in one of the many backwaters of the government, someone in a press office whose normal interactions are with equally backwater reporters for the Podunk Times and the Ag Policy Review (uh, those are fictional, I think), and who suddenly found himself fielding calls from the Glenn Beck show and dozens of other major conservative media outlets, and panicked -- followed by more panic from whatever backwater bureaucrat the press official ran to who had the authority to make the wrong decision about Sherrod.  If that's the case -- and again, that's my hunch, but I certainly could be wrong -- then it's still possible that race was the trigger, but more likely it was just that a couple of mid-level officials found themselves way over their heads, and any "scandal" about to show up on Fox News would have led to the same outcome.

Chait is right: it certainly isn't true that the administration has folded every time that Beck has singled someone out.  I just don't think we know enough yet to be able to conclude why this time was different.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oy, Bai

Matt Bai has another fantasy analysis piece.  Brendan Nyhan takes it apart.

The only thing I'd stress a bit more than Nyhan does is a relatively minor, but factual, point.  Bai claims that Barack Obama ran a content-free campaign focused on a vague slogan of "hope" and "change."  Look, I understand that Republicans want to spin things that way, and I certainly understand that most of the inattentive public doesn't pay much attention to the campaign and probably heard little more than "hope" and "change."  But in fact, Obama had lots and lots of very specific campaign proposals -- health care most certainly included -- and he did, in fact, campaign on those proposals.  In fact, it's hard to see how anyone paying even minimal attention to the campaign could believe that
The stimulus bill and the health care law may or may not have been good policy, but the sheer scope and cost of those agenda items seemed to jolt a lot of the independent voters who had conditionally supported Mr. Obama. Having failed to establish a rationale for such expansive measures during the campaign, Democrats were easily caricatured by their adversaries as a bunch of 1970s liberals who would spend money wherever they could. 
Stimulus?  Sure, although as always don't forget that a large chunk of that consisted of the tax cuts that Obama certainly campaigned on.   But health care?  Nonsense.  The "easily caricatured" conclusion has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happened in the campaign.  And, by the way: all bill are easily caricatured.  (One might argue, although I wouldn't, that Bill Clinton spent more time talking about health care in 1992 did than Barack Obama in 2008 -- did that prevent his plan from being "easily caricatured"?). 

Really, just an awful use of extremely valuable NYT space.  Go read Nyhan for the rest of it. 

Presidential Power, National Security, and "Top Secret America"

I'm far behind in reading the big Dana Priest/William Arkin Washington Post series on what they call "Top Secret America."  I am finished with the first article, and I can definitely recommend it.  As Julian Sanchez says in a good post responding to it, a lot of what they found has been reported before, but having it all in one (very visible) place has a lot of value added, even beyond whatever new items they've dug up.

OK, now...not to be a jerk about this, but...last time I wrote about the limits of presidential powers, a whole bunch of people responded by asserting that, of course presidents can do whatever they want in the realm of national security.  I think any fair reading of the Post series will show that much of the bureaucracy Priest and Arkin write about is beyond the immediate control of anyone -- the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Secretary of Defense, whoever.  Any bureaucracy that size is too large and too sprawling to make direct control easy; add secrecy, and it becomes all the more difficult.  Here's Glenn Greenwald (last seen in these parts chiding me for saying that Barack Obama had no magic wand that could change policy at his whim):
We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.
As much as I'd like to see Greenwald reconcile that with his penchant for ridiculing anyone who believes that presidents have limited powers, I think instead I'll just point to this excellent post by presidency and bureaucracy scholar Matthew Dickinson, and then go on to make a few points.

First, I suspect that a lot of the waste, inefficiency, incompetence and other problems that Priest and Arkin are detailing is yet another example of what a lousy president George W. Bush was.  It will be years, maybe decades, before historians will be able to really sort through the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and come to solid conclusions about what was done well, what was done badly, and what the president's role in all of it was, but from what we do know of Bush so far it would be consistent for him to have been passive, uninvolved, and far too easily manipulated by various players in the White House and the bureaucracy because he entered the White House with shockingly little knowledge or interest in government or public affairs, and then failed to realize or try to make up for that poor preparation.  (And, yes, that's only based on what we know so far, and I'm open to any new evidence to the contrary.  By the way, Dickinson disagrees on Bush's background.  I think he's wrong, but we'll see what the evidence winds up showing). 

Second, it's not just Bush who made things worse than they had to be.  It was the Democrats who pushed for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the 9/11 Commission that wanted the DNI.  In my view, both were probably unnecessary additional layers of bureaucracy that made both the substantive problem (that is, actually keeping Americans safe from terrorism) and the procedural or democratic problem (allowing the political branches to control the bureaucracy) worse.  And it's probably worth singling out the secrecy mania that most reports have attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney: secrecy is both a necessity and a problem for government coordination in national security matters, but what's been reported to be a very large bias in favor of secrecy almost certainly hurt, not helped. 

Third, it's important to distinguish between things that are difficult for the president to control from things that are impossible for him to affect.  In fact, all that Priest and Arkin document is the former.  Presidents cannot wave magic wands and expect executive branch bureaucracies to jump when they say jump; that's not how things work.  However, neither is anything in the executive branch completely beyond their ability to influence.  But exercising that influence is often costly (at least in terms of presidential energy, a limited resource, and possibly in other ways).  This is also why Richard Neustadt thought that presidents should try to become powerful, because only a president who maximizes his opportunities can tackle such difficult problems with any hope of success. 

Fourth thing -- it's likely that outsiders don't always see much of the battle between the president and the bureaucracy in any area, and it's even more likely in national security.  Thus, as I've said before, what we do see may not reflect Barack Obama's original position; it may be that on whatever issue we're talking about his original position may have been defeated by executive branch bureaucracies, and so blaming him for betraying a promise on some issue may turn out, once we know more, to be incorrect -- he may have fought for the other side, and lost.  Once again -- for advocates, it still may be a good idea to focus on pressuring the president, for a variety of reasons. 

Before leaving the subject for now, I do want to stress that what we see in national security probably isn't really any different from what we see in, say, the Department of Agriculture.  Bureaucrats resist outside influence; they find allies in Congress or among interest groups; presidents can influence policy in the executive branch, but it's often difficult and almost never automatic.  It takes what Neustadt called "persuasion", which is not so much making strong arguments as it is effective bargaining and maneuvering, finding ways to make use of the (limited but not inconsequential) resources of the presidency.  I think it's wrong to perceive this as a conspiratorial "real" government, unique to national security, that is completely beyond the reach of the elected branches.  What Priest and Arkin are talking about falls well within the realm of normal bureaucratic and interest group behavior.  It can be fought by presidents who have incentives to do so, and by Congresses who have incentives to do so.  The trick for reformers and advocates is to think of ways they can bend the interests of elected officials to make that happen.
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