Monday, October 31, 2011

Kids Vote

Kevin Drum weighs in on the issue of kids and teens voting today, and argues that it's a "silly question" and that
Kids can't vote for the same reason they can't do lots of things: because millions of years of human history informs us that children aren't capable of looking out for themselves. They need adult supervision. We make the same judgment toward others who are deemed unable to look after themselves — the mentally ill, elderly people suffering from dementia, etc. — so this is hardly something unique to children.
Karl Smith also got in on the Kids Vote fun.

But we don't treat these the same as the voting case. We do let children have bank accounts and invest money and have all sorts of other adult activities; we just require that a parent or other responsible person act for them as their agent. Voting is different; we just don't give them the vote at all.

As I said last time this came up, to the extent that we think of politics and democracy in liberal, Lockean terms -- democracy is justified because it allows everyone's interests to be represented -- then I really can't see the case against vote-from-birth, with parents administering the vote up through some at least teenage years. My view is that we think it's weird because we don't have it, but if for whatever reason vote-from-birth had been instituted centuries ago we would all find it perfectly logical and regard any attempt to take it away as outrageous and anti-democratic. The only question would be at what age it's appropriate for kids to begin voting for themselves...there are a lot of reasonable ways you could handle that: a fixed age rule, a fixed age rule plus some sort of test-in for those below that age who want to exercise their own choice, or just leave it informally to each family to deal with it on their own. Longer liberal argument for vote-from-birth here.

On the other hand, I do think there's a reasonable argument against vote-from-birth grounded in more republican views of politics. If justifications for democracy are based on the inherent value of political participation, then it makes some sense to exclude those who cannot "really" participate because they're not yet able to appreciate the experience. However, voting itself is relatively less important in that version of politics, and in my view is best seen as sort of a training wheels introduction to real political action -- and therefore, I think, quite appropriate for high school kids and perhaps middle school kids.

The only version of democracy that clearly doesn't support an expansion of the franchise from where it is now would be a good government version that justifies democracy on the basis of informed individuals, thinking for themselves, being the best way to make good decisions about public policy. Allowing 14 year olds to vote makes no sense in that version of democracy -- but then again, I think it's an entirely mistaken version, so it doesn't carry any weight with me at all.

On the practical question, if you can call speculation on the effects of a reform that's not going to happen a practical question...

Kids Vote supporter Matt Yglesias said over the weekend that he would expect turnout for children to be low, the way that the youngest voters now have the lowest turnout. I'm not sure that's true, even given the rule of allowing kids to vote only for themselves but as soon as they choose to do so. In practice, what you would get is turnout up through at least high school that's driven almost entirely by parents' decisions. Now, it would be capped at parent turnout levels (except in the extremely unlikely case that schools organized it as an in-school activity), since not too many 7 year olds or even 14 year olds are going to go off to vote by themselves. But I'd guess that quite a few parents would make it a family activity, and virtually all politically active parents who vote by mail or absentee would also have their kids vote (that is, vote for them). My guess is that turnout for 6-12 year olds would be quite a bit higher than current turnout for 18 year olds. On the really speculative side, one might think about two things: whether voting early would make party even more inherited than it already is, and one also might think about how acquiring the voting habit early in life might affect turnout for adults years later.

The other question here, one that is obviously relevant to the (non-existent at present) hopes Kids Vote has of actually getting mainstream political support and being enacted, is partisan or political effects. Jonathan Bradley tweets: "Isn't the political system biased enough in favor of families?" It's true that anything that makes people more settled tends to increase voting turnout and participation, so it may in fact be true that the political system produces a bias in favor of those married with children over young singles -- but I'd say the more important bias in the system is in favor of older people. Of course, any kind of successful franchise expansion depends on a sort of oddball circumstance, in which the people currently in office believe that they will be helped, or at least not harmed, by enlarging the electorate beyond the people who voted for them in the first place.

Just to be clear: I'm at this point in favor of a lower voting age, and haven't heard a winning argument against going down somewhere around 14 give or take a couple of years; I'm intrigued, but not entirely sold, on vote-from-birth. And I'd either abolish completely the minimum age for holding office or set it at the voting age.

Cain Mini-Scandal

I suppose I should do a post on the day's big story, that  Herman Cain apparently sexually harassed two employees in the 1990s. Fortunately, I've waited a bit so all the good comments have been made already, and I can mostly just point you to them.

Paul Waldman is right, I think, that this story is unlikely to hurt Cain's future earnings in his career of exploiting the conservative marketplace, which is for Cain probably the biggest question, given that he wasn't going to be the nominee either way. Indeed, I think Steve Kornacki is correct that if anything the story stands to make Cain even more popular with conservatives.

However. It is possible that some GOP elites were starting to wonder if there wasn't something about Cain that they should start believing in, in the way that many Democratic party leaders in fall 2003 started wondering whether perhaps Howard Dean was a serious candidate after all. If so -- and I don't really see any evidence of it, but it could be happening -- then this scandal, even if it totally fizzles out and even if it temporarily helps Cain in the polls, is apt to be treated by them as a reminder of the dangers of unvetted candidates.

That is, the logic driving those party actors such as politicians and governing professionals is at least in part pragmatic: they care about winning the general election (because their jobs depend on the party doing well). At the same time, they don't want to be the last one on a (successful) bandwagon, and there's always a lot of uncertainty about who is going to win the nomination. Insiders don't necessarily know more than outsiders about that! So when something unusual happens -- and surely someone with Cain's credentials leading in early polls is unusual, whatever else it is -- some party insiders are going to be confident in their judgment that it's just a meaningless blip, while others are going to wonder if there's more to it, and worry about what if they're missing something important...politicians are always worrying that they're missing something important going on in the electorate, and in particular Republican politicians in 2011 are even more spooked than usual about Tea Partiers and GOP primary electorates. But then again, no one wants to jump on a bandwagon that's not really there.

The other piece of this is that breaking stories can be a lot less important than they seem in the first 24 hours. It's hard, without more information, to know whether this will stick with Cain forever or whether it'll wind up mostly forgotten, even by the Iowa caucuses.

The NYT Should Be Ashamed of Itself

...for printing yet another round of nonsense from Drew Westen. John Sides demolishes the public opinion and voters side of things completely, so I won't talk about that, but I can't less this pass. Westen:
Democrats on the other hand react so strongly against taking “marching orders” that they can scarcely stay on message even if their political lives depend on it (which they often do). Whether because he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do or because he took the laissez-faire attitude toward leadership that bedevils the Democratic Party, President Obama let a Democratic Congress craft his signature legislation on health care. The result was a patchwork quilt that took 15 months to sew, and was stitched so sloppily that it left the average American cold.
To begin with...I don't know why it bothers me so much that Westen gets the basic fact here wrong, but this is the second time I've noticed him saying that it took 15 months for ACA to pass. In fact, ACA passed in March 2010, which was 14 months after Obama took office (not 15) -- and  the last time I noticed this whopper I think I was generous in dating the beginning of the health care push to right after the stimulus was passed, which means it took 13 months. I guess I should be happy; at least this time he didn't use as a comparison the idea that Dodd-Frank passed in record time (when in fact Dodd-Frank took the same 13 months as ACA).

So, fine, Westen can't count as high as 15.  13 months was still a long time, and hey, it felt like 15 months, right?

But what about the rest of what he's claiming, that Obama "let" Congress write the health care law. Westen needs to get a good pocket copy of the Constitution, or at least watch I'm Just a Bill a few dozen times: presidents don't get to write laws themselves without Congress's participation. That was true for Lyndon Johnson, it was true for Bill Clinton, and it was true for Republican presidents, too. And no, George W. Bush didn't always get his way with Congressional Republicans.

Anyway, ACA didn't take 13 months because Obama wasn't involved (in fact, the White House was heavily involved throughout), or even for the most part because Congressional Democrats would not stick with him -- after all, when it mattered all 60 Democratic Senators voted for the bill. It took over a year because major legislation is really complicated and, when you care about the results, it takes time to get it right. Now, I've argued that they could have accelerated their pace by a few weeks, mostly in fall 2009, and the "gang of six" negotiations did slow things down somewhat, although not nearly as much as legend has it. Realistically, I think something like 8 months would have been vaguely possible but well above par.

Never mind any of that, however, because Westen's claim -- that the lengthy debate and, I think he's saying, poor legislative crafting are responsible for ACA's lousy public opinion results. That's certainly not true. How do I know? Because ACA became unpopular very early in the game, with anti- passing pro- in July 2009. It's not possible that the lengthy process caused trouble in the polls because the trouble came first; and it's highly unlikely that anything in particular about the legislation caused it's unpopularity since no one knew what was going to be in the final law back then. (If passing laws quickly made them popular, then the Obama stimulus should have been very popular -- and TARP should be even more wildly popular).

Or perhaps Westen thinks that it's the "stitched so poorly" portion that is the problem. I have no idea what that means, however. Is the problem that it was passed using reconciliation? Can't be that, since it was already unpopular. Is it that it includes a variety of cost-saving ideas in addition to the exchanges? Is it because of the student loan reforms included in the final reconciliation bill? No one even knows about those things, so that can't be the case. I can't find even a little hint of what he doesn't like about the law might help make sense of his complaint.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question as the one for conservatives, now that we're about one year out: let's have in percentage terms the chance that you believe the Democrats have of winning the presidential election next year.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

We're closing in on one year out, so just a quick & simple question today: in percentage terms, what do you think are the chances of the Republicans winning the presidential election next year?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

Terrible news about the Taliban attack in Kabul today. The pace of allied casualties has continued to slow, but a a couple of brutal attacks have kept the death total from getting as low as it might have been.

Let's see...I guess the big news this week was more in the string of not-terrible economic news. Certainly not great, but not-terrible. It's way too early to know, but it's starting to look more and more as if we may be headed towards an economic situation that would indicate a close presidential race next year. Good news for political junkies! Of course, we could still wind up with a double-dip recession (easy to see if Europe collapses, but still possible without that); we could also still get robust growth.

I'm not sure that anything important happened in the GOP presidential race this week. I also don't really think the maneuvering around the Joint Select Committee matters much. I think I said this over at Greg's place, but I'm still convinced that FY 2012 appropriations is a much bigger story than the Joint Select Committee; it sure seems to me as if the ratio of reporting on the two is almost exactly backwards.

What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28, 1971

The summer of the Plumbers and the Pentagon Papers wound down, and turned into the beginnings of the election year -- and the two bled into each other. It did so through Sandwedge -- the code name (code name???) for security in the then-new campaign. As usual, my source here is Fred Emery.

Jack Caulfield, a former NYC cop who had worked security during Nixon campaigns and then was retained to do things such as arrange spying on Teddy Kennedy, proposed Sandwedge, which would consist of such things as "black bag capability," surveillance of Democrats, and other such adventures. Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman supported the idea, although the president's men didn't believe Caulfield was the right person. On October 28, Haldeman met with Attorney General John Mitchell, who was scheduled to soon leave Justice to head up the campaign. Here's Emery:
For the October 28 meeting with Mitchell, [Haldeman aid Gordon] Strachan's so-called talking paper of points for Haldeman to raise directly in discussions with the attorney general included: "Intelligence: Sandwedge has received an initial 50[,000 dollars], but are we really developing the capability needed? [White House Counsel] John Dean reports that nothing is happening right now. Should his involvement be expanded to something more than mere White House contact...or [Herbert] Kalmach [Nixon's personal lawyer] become more involved?" And on the key question of funding, Haldeman was to ask Mitchell: "From the campaign funds I need $800,000 -- 300 for surveillance, 300 for polls, and 200 for miscellaneous. Will you direct?" Here is the first documented beginning of a budget for surveillance and a Haldeman fund that within a year would plague first him and then the whole Nixon White House.
Caulfield wouldn't get the job, however, of running all of that. For security at the new Committee to Reelect the President, they would hire retired CIA man James McCord. And to run what started as Sandwedge, the man for the job was already on the White House payroll: G. Gordon Liddy.

Everything's Different Now (or: The Fall of the World's Own Optimist)

First Dave Weigel had a piece about how Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich were "succeeding because they understand how the media works" (and the Tea Party!) and now National Journal's Beth Reinhard has a similar article arguing that Cain's success proves that none of the old rules about campaigning in early states and working hard and having a good campaign operation matter any more.

Maybe so...but aren't we jumping the gun just a bit? C'mon everyone: Herman Cain hasn't won anything yet. Newt Gingrich has, apparently, moved his own polling numbers among Republicans, which is an accomplishment of sorts, but he hasn't even had a (horse race) polling surge yet, at least not a meaningful one.

In particular, the idea that you can help yourself in Iowa and New Hampshire by doing well nationally is hardly a new idea (as Barack Obama among others can tell you). But that's a very different proposition from the idea that you can do well in Iowa without having the campaign there to take advantage of national publicity. Maybe that will turn out to be true for Cain (or Gingrich), but the proof of that will be on caucus day, not before. And as Hans Noel pointed out in an excellent post over at the Monkey Cage, the real goal here isn't Iowa, anyway; it's the nomination, and Cain is still a very long way from showing he's a live prospect for that.

As far as I can tell, all that we can see so far is that Cain and Gingrich are proving that what they've been doing is a solid path for business plan candidates. It's still awfully unlikely that it will prove to be a viable nomination strategy -- although to be fair, my view would be that it's not as if there was any winning nomination strategy for either of them.

Let 'em Vote (in Lowell)

Hey, guess what? There's actual movement on one of Plain Blog's hobbyhorses, young voting. Nothing radical, but according to TAP's Sally Kohn, high school students in Lowell, Massachusetts are spearheading a "Vote 17" effort to lower the voting age for local elections by one year. Here's the students involved:
“When you’re 17, that’s when most of us are seniors,” said Carline Kirksey, one of the youth leaders of the campaign. “You have more adult responsibilities. You can join the military. You can be tried as an adult in court.”
Another organizer Corinne Plaisir chimes in, saying that at 18 many young people are off at college. Figuring out the process all alone and voting unceremoniously by absentee ballot aren’t exactly enticements to civic participation. Instead, argues Plaisir, if young people can start voting in high school as part of their civics education, “It’s a prime time to engage in our civic rights.” Plus research has shown that when teens engage in even mock elections, their voter turnout as adults increases by almost 10 percent.
I don't know if that research is good, or even care a whole lot about voter turnout rates; all I know is that the case for teenage voting seems very strong to me. Part of that is simply the place of voting within the system: as I see it, voting is just the entry-level political act, and since we allow and even encourage teenagers to do far more important forms of political action, I can't imagine a good case for them to not share in voting.

I'm aware of the arguments against younger children voting, and while I'm increasingly convinced that they're wrong, I do still think there's a reasonable case to be made that way. But high school kids, and certainly 17 year olds? Of course they should have the vote. Good job, high school students from Lowell, and good luck.

(I can't leave this without taking the opportunity to mention the perhaps only tangentially related argument that everyone at or above voting age should be eligible to run for office, as argued by John Seery in his new book, Too Young to Run?. He's right!).

Party Money and Super PACs

Politico's Kenneth Vogel and Alex Isenstadt have a major article today about the effects of Super PACs -- that is, new campaign committees that can raise unlimited moneys, and which are going to be serious players in the current campaign cycle. I really don't like the way they frame the piece, beginning with the lead:
For decades the six national committees of the Democratic and Republican Parties dominated the American electoral landscape.
That's simply not correct. It's not even close.

The first cut at this would be that the formal party committees haven't really been all that important in the overall electoral landscape. Candidate campaign committees do the bulk of campaign spending -- and they raise most of their money from individuals and PACs (and, in the case of presidential candidates until recently, from public funds). The party committees did some direct spending and made some contributions to candidates, and have also been important in various other ways such as candidate recruitment and training, but "dominated"? No chance -- not even in the age of soft money in the 1990s, when formal party organizations could directly raise and spend quite a bit. I note, by the way, that Politico went to former chairs of the various committees to confirm how important they were; I suspect they would have heard a very different story from people whose experience was in other portions of the campaign world.

That's just the beginning of it, however. The mistake (in my view) that the standard political science literature makes is to treat those six national committees as "the party" when analyzing the importance of various money sources. As I've said, there's a lot of party money in elections, but only some of it is raised and spent or donated by formal party organizations (such as the DNC and RNC). Plenty of individual donations raised by candidates should properly be thought of as party money, if it's from individuals who habitually give to multiple, same-party candidates, especially if it's raised by party-loyal bundlers. PACs have traditionally been thought of as raising interest group money, but many PACs are party-aligned or from party-aligned groups -- including (Congress-based) leadership PACs. I'd like to add it all up, but we can't; we don't really know yet what percentage of all money raised should properly be thought of as party money, what percentage is interest group money, and what portion is from true unaffiliated individuals.

So what does the introduction of Super PACs do? It's hard to say. As far as parties are concerned, there are basically two issues: what portion of Super PAC money will be properly thought of as party money (and how does that change the overall percentage of party money in the system)? And, how will the emergence of party-loyal Super PACs change things within the parties?

As for the second question, it's quite possible the answer will be: not at all. If Super PACs basically mean that people who previously were important bundlers within the parties are now doing more or less the same thing, but with a different organizational structure, then perhaps it's not very important at all. On the other hand, the new structure certainly could change things. If those bundlers will now be not only raising but also directly spending money, it could empower them within the parties, perhaps at the expense of those with other types of expertise. It might make party co-ordination -- always difficult in a very decentralized system and even more difficult because of the effects of campaign finance laws -- easier if it breaks down some of the legal restrictions against co-ordination, or harder if it proliferates the number of quasi-party organizations.

I would say that in the short run, rules disruptions tend to be bad for parties, at least American parties, because co-ordination problems are so inherently difficult. Stable rules allow everyone to work well together. New rules may wind up temporarily empowering whoever is the first to figure out the loopholes and nooks and crannies, and while that might be party operatives it also might be someone with personal or interest-group goals.

At any rate, the idea that American political parties are normally hierarchical organizations with the Washington committees at the top is wrong now and has always been wrong. Formal party organizations are important, but they're generally role players, not top dogs. As for reporters, the big questions to ask about the new Super PACs, at least the ones that appear to be "shadow" parties, is who is making the decisions and how: are these new organizations coordinated with and perhaps constrained by other party actors, or are they free to do whatever their organizers want? Do they function as factions within a party? Are they following the lead of other party actors, either in formal organizations or informal networks, or are they themselves important signalers of party preference? That's the sort of thing we need to know if we're trying to understand how something fits into and potentially alters the party structure.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Against Actuariocracy

I really love this point that Matt Yglesias makes:
Instead of trying harder to improve our long-run budget forecasts, what we ought to be doing is discounting long-run budget forecasts much more in our evaluation of what belongs on the policy agenda. People in Washington treat it as obvious that a CBO projection of Social Security outlays in the year 2065 is a very serious subject to talk about, but that the legality of banning genetically engineered super-sprinters from Olympic track & field events in the year 2065 is frivolous. But I’m much, much, much more certain that we’ll have genetically engineered sprinters in the future than I am about the future productivity growth rate.
I can't really speak to the pressing issue of future Olympic sprinters, but...yes!

Look, it makes sense to run long-term projections for things like Medicare and Social Security. But -- and Yglesias has made this point before -- the margin of error for those projections is going to be just huge. Maybe health care costs will crash in the future, with Dr. McCoy type treatments available at low cost, yielding long productive lives followed by a quick, quiet death from "old age"...or maybe most of us will live well past 120 but spend our last 50-75 years or more in terrible physical shape, unable to work and draining all the resources that the under-70s can produce. Or maybe we'll be pretty much like we are now, only more so. Who knows? CBO sure doesn't. Yes, it makes sense to project and pay some attention to the "like now, only more so" possibility, but if either of the others happens the policies we enact now based on that possibility won't make any sense at all in retrospect.

(That includes if the dystopian answer is our future -- if that's what's coming, it's not going to make any practical difference that our actuaries in 2011 said everything would be great in 2080. And of course if the utopian future is on its way, we're just punishing ourselves now for no good reason).

So, no, I'm not going to say that the answer is to ignore the future entirely, but for public policy planning purposes as far as I'm concerned it's real important to pay attention to the present, somewhat important to keep track of where we're heading for the next decade or so, and worth keeping an eye on anything beyond that. If you think that's shortchanging the future, then the answer isn't to pay more attention to the actuaries; the answer is to pay more attention to long-term research and development (however you believe that's best accomplished).

By the way: how much did a good medical tricorder cost in Kirk's time, and how widely available were they anyway? We're totally ahead of pace on that one, right?

Catch of the Day (Plus: Elections, Democracy, and the Surge)

How about one for Matt Duss, who has been having fun beating up on Fred Kagan and associates over the Iraq withdrawal. I was going to give one to Duss the other day on the same subject, but this one is even better; after quoting Fred and Kim Kagan on why the withdrawal ruins everything, Duss notes: "What the Kagans seem to be describing here is a scenario in which the surge didn’t really achieve its goals."

Exactly right. The Kagans say that the withdrawal is a defeat of the US by Iran, but the truth about this is that George W. Bush negotiated the US surrender when he signed the agreement to leave; Obama has been doing little more than managing that surrender. Although it's worth saying that managing a surrender is a tough assignment, since there are always going to be people around who will suggest that sticking around just a little bit longer (despite the agreement) could make all the difference; expect those same people to blame Obama for surrendering too soon whenever anything goes wrong in Iraq or the general region once the US troops are gone.

The other thing worth noting, again, is the imperfect but real relationship between elections and policy. Imagine if Republicans had done well in the 2006 elections, retaining control of both branches of Congress (which requires also imagining a much more popular George W. Bush in 2006). What happens in Iraq then? My guess is...more of the same. No surge, but no withdrawal, either. What the 2006 elections "caused" (quotes because direct causation is too strong) was for Bush to start actively managing the war with an eye towards being able to at least have it winding down in some way by fall 2008. That this wound up producing the surge and an increase in US casualties is, I suppose, ironic, and certainly not what the most energetic folks in the 2006 election cycle wanted, but even putting aside any claims that the surge "worked" it's still the case that active management of the war was almost certainly better than the autopilot that seemed to be the case in 2004, 2005, and 2006 up to election day.

A lot of people, of course, were very upset that Democratic electoral victories sparked in large part by disgust with the war apparently produced the surge and increased casualties. And again, I'm not claiming here that everything worked out perfectly the way that antiwar folks should have wanted it to if only they understood things better (remember, I started this by linking to a piece that pointed out that the surge didn't work).

But while I think the policy stunk, I'd still defend the democratic process that produced it. After all, the people who were seriously antiwar in 2006 were a kind of minority, too (a larger minority than pro-war types if I remember the polling correctly, but still a plurality, not a majority). A whole lot of people in 2006 didn't feel strongly either way, and they voted on other issues: the economy, something about their local candidates, guns or abortion or Afghanistan or Katrina or GOP corruption in Congress, or just plain normal partisanship.

What the 2006 elections did is what elections can do: they pushed politicians who previously had been acting as if no one cared about Iraq one way or another to start acting as if they could be punished if Iraq went bad. They aligned politicians' incentives correctly. And the result (down the road, and after another bloodbath, and still not quite done yet) was, I think, one of the potential results of getting those incentives aligned correctly. (Of course, remember that in 2007-2008 George W. Bush was just as legitimately an elected president as the Congress was legitimate; the Constitution forces overlapping temporal majorities to get along, too). Well, elections do more than that; they also produced some representatives whose representative relationship with their constituents was closely tied to opposing the war. That group wasn't a majority in 2007-2008, but having them around makes a difference, too.

Elections aren't plebiscites; they don't actually tell us "what the voters think" or "what the voters demand." If we expect that of them, we'll wind up thinking that democracy doesn't work well. But that's wrong; it just asks more of elections than they can give. Which doesn't mean that self-government doesn't work; it just means that if you really want self-government, it can't be only about voting. If that's all you got, you don't have much of a democracy.

I seem to have wandered a bit. Back to Duss: really good post, and nice catch!

No Chance

Nate Silver had some fun yesterday tweeting a challenge, "looking for professional writers/pundits/academics who are so sure Cain won't win the NOMINATION that they'll quit if he does." As it turns out, Silver himself gives Cain very little chance of Matt Glassman wrote in a peeved response, it seems that Silver gives Cain about a 1% or 2% shot at the nomination. I promise I'll get to Cain's chances farther down, but first two paragraphs of thumbsucking, which you're welcome to skip. And if you get to the end of his long post, some cool new advertising!

So part of this is just about how to write appropriate caveats. What do I think? I think it's tricky. My natural impulse is to constantly include all the proper caveats: unless there's information we don't know about. Given that this time follows previous patterns. Assuming that so-and-so is interested in re-election. If nothing else has changed.

And yet, I also know that people don't want to have to get through all of that every time. Should I force them to? It's not all that easy a call to make, it seems to me. So I try to balance it out...I try to remember to include a general disclaimer fairly often (in politics, anything is possible); I try to make assumptions explicit as often as I can without making the prose impenetrable to most casual readers. So, the other day I said that Newt is "never, ever, ever going to be president of the United States, and will almost certainly never again be allowed to have any real responsibility greater than hawking his endless output of books and movies." Too strong? Can I imagine a .0001% scenario in which he winds up in the Oval Office? Sure. But I'm comfortable with using absolutes to substitute for that.

So Cain's chances right now? What I've been saying for months is that there's a small group of plausible nominees -- trimmed now to just Mitt Romney and Rick Perry -- and that the combined odds of that group winning the nomination are safely over 90%, and probably fairly close (but not quite) 100%. To translate that from speculative, subjective but inappropriately mathematical language: if you put together basic qualifications an campaign accomplishments, only Romney and Perry are similar to any of the candidates who have won nominations or come close to winning nominations over the last 30 years -- and not only is it likely that the same patterns will hold in 2012 that held in previous contests, but there's nothing in particular about what's happening now that hints of radical change.

That is, every candidate who won or came close in previous cycles was from the group of party politicians with conventional credentials and policy positions within the mainstream of their party. Conventional credentials? Current or recent Senator or Governor or VP or VP nominee are the main ones, but I'd include significant generals and high-ranking exec branch officials too, as well as notable Members of the House. These aren't hard-and-fast rules, and around the edges there's plenty of room for uncertainty, but it's easy to see that Herman Cain is clearly outside of the normal group, and I'd put all the rest (Santorum, Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul, Johnson, Hunstman) outside too -- remember, mainstream policy positions is part of it, although most of those have a better case than Cain.

Now, the next thing is to check and see whether this time is different. What I'd say there is that there's just no indication of that so far. Oh, Cain is polling fairly well, but that's not unusual; we've had candidates do so both in the past (Rudy Giuliani) and this year (Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rudy again) who didn't fit into the "conventional credentials & policy mainstream)" group, and what we've seen is that it's easy for their support to fizzle rapidly. Same, by the way, with plausible nominees -- as Howard Dean showed in '04. There's just no real reason to take early polling results, by themselves, seriously.

Now, good polling along with other indications of success would be something else entirely. But other than the good polling numbers, I can't think of anything Cain right now has going for him -- that is, any indication that the normal rules don't hold. He's not just doing badly in winning support from party actors; he appears to be striking out entirely, with basically zero high-profile endorsements, little success in recruiting a solid staff, and little fundraising success.

Beyond that...well, we've had gaffe-prone nominees, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but I'm pretty convinced that it's a real minus, nevertheless. The same with poor internal campaign management; John McCain and Bob Dole won despite that problem, but it's almost certainly a negative indicator. Then there's lack of effort in Iowa and New's hard to know what that translates into on caucus day, but it's another minus.

I guess what I'd say is that, sure, there's probably a small chance that Something Is Different This Time -- or that something really goofy happens within the normal way the game is played -- and someone other than Romney or Perry will win. Call that 2%, although that's just attaching numbers to assumptions. Then within that, what are the odds that it's Cain who would benefit? I don't know, but other than successfully moving up to the level of debate-attending also rans, I'm not convinced that he's made any other significant progress. That's not nothing; ten months ago Buddy Roemer was more likely than Herman Cain, and that's totally reversed by now. Last time I wrote about implausible nominees winning in April I said that Newt, Bachmann, Santorum, and Huntsman were the most likely of the implausibles; I think I'd now add Cain to that list, but that's about it. So maybe my view is that he has 20% of 2% of a chance, or something like that.

And yes: if things shake out completely differently than how I see them, that would certainly make me go back and question what I think I know about the process. Maybe I and other political scientists have had it wrong all along; maybe the world has changed (meaning either the Republican Party or the nomination process) in some way that we need to account for. Both of those, no doubt, are certainly possible. All I can say for now is that I don't see any sign of it in anything that's happened so far.

Oh, and do you want to know more about what political scientists know about the nomination process? Then the book you want to order right now is William G. Mayer and Jonathan Bernstein, eds., The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012. Available real soon! Bill has been putting together the definitive edited volume on presidential nominations for several cycles now, and he added me to the mix this time around -- and the new collection is excellent, if I do say so myself. I'm afraid this is probably not the last you'll hear about The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012 around here, but I'm pretty sure that all the cool kids will be pre-ordering (and I hear that all the hip profs will be using it in their spring classes next semester). More info to come.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Arizona Shocker?

There's new polling out showing Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney in a general election trial in Arizona. Arizona? I've lost the link, but someone responded by expressing serious surprise, given that Democrats have only carried the Grand Canyon State once in recent years.

Let's step back a bit. First of all, it's too early for head-to-head polling to be meaningful. Second, that's especially true, as I've said many times, of state-level polling. It's safe to assume that any candidate who wins solidly at the national level will win the electoral college, and far too early to analyze how the EC will turn out in any potential very close contests.

My point about the link that I lost earlier, however, is that the key is to look at where states fall compared to other states. So Arizona of course was very Republican in 2008 with John McCain on the ballot, although even then it was only 18th most Republican state -- but a solid 15 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. In 2004, however, it was a lot closer, with George W. Bush winning by only 8 points better than he ran nationally, and it was just 6 points more Republican than the nation in 2000 and 1996. So ignoring 2008, it's certainly a Republican state, but hardly one of the more solid ones.

Indeed, Arizona was a bit more Democratic than Colorado in 1996 and 2000, although Colorado was slightly more Democratic in 2004. If the two states are similar, then it's certainly relevant that Colorado moved strongly away from the Republicans -- compared to the nation as a whole -- in 2008, when it was just slightly more Democratic than the national average for the first time in a while.

Granted, there's no way to know whether Arizona is in fact likely to shift blue along with Colorado, or for that matter whether the Rocky Mountain state just had a one-time blip for whatever reason in 2008. And the 2010 election cycle probably is evidence for divergence between two states, not convergence. Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Arizona move in that direction in 2012.

Whether that would put it in Obama's column, of course, will depend on how the overall national trend is pushing things.

So while I'm interested in my native state in particular, the real lessons here are: think about states in comparison to other states when you're thinking about the electoral college; it's the national trend that produces the state results, not the other way around; and it's still far too early for general election trial heats, anyway.

Catch of the Day

Steve Benen watches Rick Perry's first ad airing in Iowa, and discovers that Perry is promising...2.5M new jobs in his first term. Which, as Benen notes, is a bit under what the US economy under that radical socialist Barack Obama has done in private sector jobs in the last eighteen months.

Indeed, 2.5M jobs would work out to all of 52K new jobs a month, which isn't even close to the break-even point needed to absorb new people in the workplace. Rick Perry: elect me, and I promise you four years of recession-level job growth!

And that's being generous. Perry no doubt wants to continue shrinking the number of public sector jobs. Is his 2.5M new jobs the total of new jobs, or is it a net figure with his planned public sector layoffs already included? If the former, well, I don't know if he's pledging a specific number, but it's not really clear that he's promising any net new jobs growth at all.

The fun part? Perry brags about 1M new jobs in Texas. If one were to be uncharitable, one might suppose that Perry and his ad team aren't actually aware that the US is rather a lot bigger than the Lone Star state. Let's see...there are about 25M Texans, so that's well under 10% of all Americans, and actually about 8%. So why isn't he at least promising at least 12M new jobs? Why is he promising that he'll deliver recession-level results that are far worse than he claims for what he's done in Texas?

I'm wrote over at Plum Line today about signs that Perry's campaign is getting more competent over time, but this is just stupid. He's making up numbers ("dynamic scoring") to pretend that his tax plan wouldn't produce massive increases in the federal budget deficit; he might as well promise a pie-in-the-sky number of new jobs, while he's at it.

Great catch by Benen, and a very silly blunder by the Perry people.

Not a Surprise Dept. (Joint Select Committee edition)

Item: Congressional leaders are heavily involved in negotiations over the Joint Select Committee's product, if any (via Wonkbook).

I don't usually do told-you-so posts, but it's worth going back a minute to the start of the JSC process, when reporters and pundits were trying to read the tea leaves of which Members would be appointed to the "supercommittee", and then once the names were out turning to speculation and analysis about each one. That was the wrong track to take, as I pointed out then:
[T]he way this works now is that the committee will most likely deadlock. It is possible that a larger deal will be struck outside the Joint Select Committee (that is, basically between Barack Obama and John Boehner, with both needing backing from their parties, which is why it's not likely to happen); if that happens before the deadline, then the committee will certainly go along (with perhaps a few dissents) and the debt limit deal procedures will be used to pass it. If not, then we'll get the trigger...after which we'll have attempts to pass something to replace the trigger, but those attempts will not have the parliamentary advantages of a JSC solution.
I wasn't the only one; David Dayen tweeted that the House Democratic picks were "really Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi" (and see his post here). In other words, whether they do the negotiating on her behalf or if she steps in herself, this is about the leadership, not the committee members.

The point is that of course the leadership (and, directly or not, the president) have to get involved because any deal needs the backing of at least a substantial minority of four groups: House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans, and majorities of at least two of them. And only the leadership can (at least try to) deliver those votes; more to the point, only the leadership knows where the voters are. If it was just up to the handful of Joint Select Committee members, you never know; whatever their prior policy commitments, any politician might choose making a deal (with whatever rewards that come with that) over ideological and partisan loyalty (with its rewards). But there's never been a possibility that the committee could go off on its own either through a single defection or even a full compromise, because if it did that without leadership support the resulting bill wouldn't get very far.

What happens next? I still think a deal is unlikely within the committee structure; they're talking about doing a deal with, uh, carefully massaged numbers that could avoid a (future) sequestration, but I'm not convinced that they'll find that worth doing or have the votes to pass it. But that doesn't mean the end of the world, or even the end of this process -- remember, it's just a creature of Congress, which can change any bit of the set-up whenever it has the votes to do so. Anyway, Stan Collender's speculation on the next steps sounds right to me, so I'll just send you there.

Remember, the only major reason to use the Joint Select Committee process to get a budget deal is that it's protected from needing a Senate supermajority...but in a divided Congress, there's no real reason to expect something to have 218+ votes in the House and the promise of a presidential signature without it having at least 60 votes in the Senate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Catch of the Day

Over at Think Progress, Ben Armbruster catches Newt Gingrich coming out for the withdrawal from Iraq on Friday...but by the end of the weekend, Newt had also taken the opposite position. Okay, it's slightly more subtle than that; click through and read it. Armbruster reviews the Libya flip-flop that got Newt in trouble a few months ago, too. Nice catch!

Want more Newt-bashing? I have a new piece over at Salon saying that if Newt didn't exist, Republicans would want to invent him. Yes, if you're wondering, I did use the words "fraud" and "snake-oil." What did you expect?

First in the Nation

I thoroughly enjoyed Alec MacGillis's "defense" of the New Hampshire primary, which was mainly an excuse for him to tell some good stories about First in the Nation events past and the Granite State in general. Good fun!

As far as New Hampshire, and for that matter Iowa...the argument for them is pretty basic. First, if we're to have primaries and caucuses, then (I would argue) a sequential system is better than a national primary, because it maximizes the influence of party actors and reduces the risks of accidents; in Polsby's terms, it increases the incentives for coalition-style candidates and reduces the chances of factional candidates winning. Second, because the key players here are (national and local) party actors, it's not all that important which states go first. Third, a stable schedule from cycle to cycle helps party actors maximize their influence. Fourth, there's at least a reasonable argument for the one-on-one campaigning available in small and mid-sized states. Therefore, given that Iowa and New Hampshire have been first for a long time and that both are small or mid-sized, we should keep them in place.

Since the modern system solidified in the 1980s, I think it's unlikely that a different sequence would have yielded different nominees in either party. It's probably the case that it would have changed the story of the nomination's possible to imagine John Glenn instead of Gary Hart losing to Walter Mondale in 1984, or Phil Gramm winning early before losing to Bob Dole in 1996, or George W. Bush clobbering someone other than John McCain in 2000. Or some forgotten candidates, a Bruce Babbitt or Pete DuPont, doing what Hart did in 1984 or McCain did in 2000. Would Clinton/Obama/Edwards have turned out differently had, oh, West Virginia gone first? I suppose with a contest that close it's certainly possible, but I pretty much doubt it. I do think that 1976 and 1972 could have produced different nominees on the Democratic side had the sequence been different, but that's mainly because I think the results in both of those years was basically random.

And that would be my main concern about significant change; it has the downside risk of producing random nominees until everyone is equally adept at working the new system. Remember, by "everyone" I'm especially concerned here with party actors. Their coordination problems are serious, and with an unstable system (as we had in 1972 and 1976) I think the chances of either coordination failure or a decision to withdraw from attempting to coordinate are disturbingly high.

Words, Words, Words

Jonathan Chait had a nice item up yesterday about Karl Rove's strategy for getting people to hate Barack Obama's jobs plan by cleverly reframing the popular components of it: for example, hiring teachers and cops becomes rewarding union cronies, or building roads (popular) becomes stimulus (unpopular).

But what Chait (and perhaps Rove) don't really consider is whether all of this is doing anyone any good. And it sure seems to me that the answer is: no. It's hard to get good, consistent polling results, but Gallup had the jobs bill at 45/32 in mid-September when it was new (and presumably before the GOP counterspin had really started), compared with 30/22 in a WSJ/NBC poll a month later. Similar ratio, with the undecideds perhaps an artifact of question wording. As far as the effect of all this on Barack Obama, he's been in the low 40s this week per Gallup, which is just about where he was before his speech to Congress.

And of course part of the reason that this kind of clever wordplay doesn't work is because both sides are playing it. Obama isn't rescuing the states, and certainly not bailing anyone out; he's hiring cops and teachers. "Stimulus" has disappeared from the White House vocabulary -- easier to avoid a demonized word than to explain to everyone that the 2009 stimulus did what it was supposed to do.

The other reason it doesn't do all that much is that the audience is small; partisans are prepared to support opinion leaders on their own side, for the most part, even if the spin they're given is implausible, and true independents are a small group that mostly isn't paying attention. Of course, there's more to it than that (since otherwise every issue would wind up with the same polling split reflecting nothing but the underlying partisan breakdown), but the more issues get engaged, the more likely they'll end up close to it.

Now, you certainly can produce great polling results on any issue by manipulating a question to get the most favorable result. But it's not at all clear that underlying opinions are changing at all. When it comes to elections, it's a good enough result if you can reframe things to get that surface shift in voting. But for public opinion between elections? It's just real easy to overplay the importance of this kind of shift.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ignorant Citizens Are Not Stupid

I don't think I've blogged yet about Suzanne Mettler's work on what she calls The Submerged State, mostly because, well, I haven't read it and haven't even carefully read through her recent articles about it (i.e. here). I'll recommend it anyway -- it's important stuff.

What I do want to write about a bit is Mettler's guest post today over at the Monkey Cage. She writes:
In reading the comments, I’ve noticed that some readers interpret me to be implying that people are stupid or ignorant. That is not my argument and the data do not support that conclusion... the fact that citizens often fail to recognize these policies as government social provision is attributable not to some fault of citizens, but rather to the characteristics of the policies themselves.
She's using "ignorant" as a pejorative there, but if we use it instead descriptively -- people just don't know about things -- then I very much agree with her, and find that this kind of confusion shows up a lot if you think about citizens in a democracy.

For example, one of the things that I'll say all the time is people's opinions are inconsistent: for example, they'll approve of cutting government spending in the abstract, but support increasing virtually all the individual components of that spending. Or that they don't know very much, with the classic example being that virtually everyone wants foreign aid cut, but if you ask them what percentage of federal spending should go to foreign aid, they'll support some figure that's many times what is actually spent.

Anyway, it's worth noting that in all of these cases, I don't mean to draw any negative conclusions about American voters. I don't think they're stupid. I just think that people have a lot of other interests besides the minutia of politics and public policy. There's nothing wrong with that; indeed, it's in most cases very smart to use shortcuts such as political party and other opinion leaders to substitute for detailed study of public policy.

That people respond to pollsters with silly, illogical, or nonsensical views, in my opinion, doesn't "count" for all that much. What counts is what they do on election day, or when they otherwise take political action, whether it's giving to a candidate they support or lobbying the government for some policy they support. And in those situations, they're mostly likely to act pretty rationally, as long as we accept that using party as a shortcut is rational.

Think of it this way: when you need to buy a home appliance, you probably wind up spending a bit of time and effort researching it  -- although that might come down to "ask a friend who has proved reliable on these things in the past" rather than a careful start-from-scratch approach. But if you get a marketing survey about washer/dryers today and you've never thought about them before or haven't for a decade, you might well give some awfully foolish answers if you do decide to answer their questions. That doesn't make you stupid, and doesn't make you ignorant in that pejorative sense. It's just that you don't travel around the world with ready-made, carefully-researched, intelligent things to say about home appliances.

The trick in designing a democracy is to make it work for everyone, the political junkies and the occasionally attentive and the rarely attentive. Political parties, as it happens, do a fair amount of that work; interest groups do a lot of the rest. And there are real, and very difficult in my view, questions about how much extra influence the especially attentive should have. But I like to remind everyone every once in a while that those of you who read blogs like this are not at all typical of most citizens when it comes to political knowledge and interest, and that's not because of anything great about us and terrible about everyone else. It's just one of the basic conditions of large-polity democracies.

It's Still Romney vs. Perry

Ross Douthat got a lot of things really right in his NYT column yesterday. There's a lot of truth in this:
Everyone has an incentive to play down these realities and play up Romney’s vulnerabilities instead. The press needs the illusion of a hard-fought campaign to keep its audience from straying. Democrats enjoy the spectacle of right-wing infighting, and benefit politically from it as well. And Republicans don’t want to admit that America’s conservative party is destined to nominate a politician who embodies the very tendencies that the conservative movement came into being to resist: technocracy, ideological flexibility, Northeastern moderation.
Except for one thing: it's not over yet. Or at least, there's no evidence available to us outsiders that would indicate it's over. There's still Rick Perry.

Douthat lumps him in with the hopeless candidates, who can be broken up into business plan candidates (it's Chait's phrase, and I love it) such as Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, and with those who are just ideologically all wrong for the GOP, such as Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. But Perry doesn't fit either of those categories. And Douthat doesn't really have the goods on him. All he has is that Perry did poorly in the debates so far. That's not enough; Perry is raising lots of money and therefore running a full-scale campaign, and he's also won a fair number of endorsements. He's a serious candidate, whatever his current polling numbers indicate.

Now, if Romney was doing the things that runaway frontrunners do, I'd agree with Douthat that it's over. But he's not, at least so far. His polling numbers are far behind those of typical frontrunners, and so are his endorsements.

In other words, at this point there's still a very large number of party actors (and, while less important, a very large number of voters) who haven't decided yet. It's a large enough group that if they all went the same way, that candidate would win. Clearly, many of them are wary of Romney (or else they would have jumped on that bandwagon long ago); just as clearly, they aren't enamored of Perry, or at least they're waiting to see if he can run a solid campaign.

So at some point, the campaign might wind up essentially over in the way that Douthat thinks it is now, but unless he has more information than what's in public reporting, that isn't the case yet.

The funny thing is that when Douthat says that "Romney’s path to the nomination is more wide open than for any nonincumbent in decades" but that he could easily lose one or more contest once the voting start -- what he's really describing is where George W. Bush was in fall 1999. The difference between Bush then and Romney now is that Bush had much better polling numbers and was endorsed by far more high-visibility party actors -- a good sign that party actors in general were either happy to have him or at least willing to live with him. And, indeed, Douthat's advice about ignoring the ups and downs of the next few months would have been excellent advice then. John McCain, the 2000 edition? Never had a real chance. Bush had it won, long before McCain's New Hampshire upset.

And we may well wind up there this time. It's certainly possible that Perry's done, either because of the debates or his immigration mess or whatever other reason; even if he's not done yet, perhaps he will be soon. Even if that happens, it will still be quite possible that Romney will lose Iowa or New Hampshire before formally nailing down the nomination, and in that case all of Douthat's cautions will be exactly right.

But we're not there yet.

Immigration as an Issue

Two excellent things to read this morning about immigration as an issue, and how it is playing out in the Republican nomination contest and how it may affect the general election. Ed Kilgore has been (correctly I believe) emphasizing the effects of Rick Perry's immigration policy and comments on his recent collapse in the polls; Jamelle Bouie has a good item focusing on the general election effects of Republican politicians alienating potentially sympathetic Latino voters. I recommend both.

What strikes me as interesting about immigration as an issue is the contrast with abortion, which has also been in the news lately thanks to Herman Cain's inability to talk about it properly. Sarah Kliff has a good item out about the history of abortion as an issue, but what I think is worth adding is that abortion as an issue has very much been driven (I think especially on the pro-life side) by organized groups. That's pretty normal in party politics; the same is true about guns, and to a large extent taxes, on the Republican side. I don't think the same is true about immigration. While there are organized anti-immigration groups, I don't see them as having the same sort of influence over the debate at all. Instead, immigration as an issue is far more driven by ordinary voter attitudes, which are then reflected back and (in the course of that process) further inflamed by opportunistic politicians.

The other part of this is that immigration is far more cross-cutting than most issues. On the Republican side, business lobbies generally support efforts (such as those supported by George W. Bush and John McCain) to ensure a ready supply of inexpensive labor -- which means, in practical terms, supporting easy immigration policies of one kind or another. There are well-known interest group clashes on the Democratic side, as well. But I think what interests me most during the nomination process is that because it's more voter-driven than group-driven, it's a much harder issue for candidates to deal with. There's simply no one with any authority at all to assert what the correct position on the issue is, or what bills or language you're supposed to use to be there. And so it's easy to see how any candidate could wind up entangled in the issue, just as Perry was recently.

I think if you add that up it means that Perry was probably right to go after Mitt Romney on immigration, and he should probably keep pushing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Double question. First, how about a letter grade for Barack Obama on Iraq. Provisional, of course.

Second, does the way Obama handled Iraq and Libya make you more or less likely to trust him on other foreign  policy actions, whether it's Afghanistan or any future actions?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Leaving policy behind, and just thinking for now about electoral politics,which is the better rhetoric on Iraq: bashing Barack Obama for pulling out too soon, or just ignoring the whole thing? Or is there some better choice available -- again, simply in terms of rhetoric, not policy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

I suppose it has to begin with the events in Libya, and then the president's announcement about Iraq. 

What else? Little bits of potentially good news about the US economy, but nothing as significant as the questions about Europe. 

Some judges were confirmed, and some ambassadors, and even an open cabinet spot...well, it was Commerce, so it's hard to say it really matters, but still...

The GOP contest continued. Herman Cain had the kind of gaffe that could destroy a real candidate, and may wind up bursting his polling bubble, although it was bound to happen one way or another. Rick Perry showed signs of life, sort of. 

That's all I have, except I'll also recommend a nice essay by Matt Glassman about how things matter, since it's relevant here. What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

I should have, but I hadn't realized that Tony LaRussa was that high on the all-time list of wins for a manager -- really, he's going to pass John McGraw next year??? -- and mostly my attitude towards LaRussa all these years was that I didn't much like him. So I did read something pretty good (but not recent) about him this week, and I figure I should think about him a bit more. I did this with Bruce Bochy last year, and of course credit to Bill James for making me think like this...

Tony LaRussa sat on the bench of the 1963 Kansas City Athletics, managed by Eddie Lopat. When he arrived, sort of, in 1968...well, I'll just run through his major league managers: Bob Kennedy, Hank Bauer, John McNamara (in his longest major league stint), Dick Williams, Lum Harris, and Whitey Lockman.

Let's see...his minor league managers? Hmmm...I'm just going to give you the (incomplete) list; most of these won't mean anything to you. Someone named Wilbert Robertson (no, not the old Brooklyn manager, obviously) was his first manager, then Gus Niarhos, John McNamara, Mickey Vernon, Jimmy, not Jimy Williams; this was a guy had a twenty year minor league career in the Dodgers system. Who else? Sherm Lollar, Jim Marshall (the guy who had the mid-70s Cubs), Steve Demeter, Loren Babe and Lance Nichols.

Well, first, of all: that's not a very distinguished group, is it? Certainly a lot less impressive than Bochy's list. Second of all, what really distinguished LaRussa is that he didn't spend much time with anyone. The only bit of stability in his major league career was with Oakland when Charley Finley was firing managers left and right, and I don't know if the same thing was happening in the minor league system, but even when LaRussa stayed in place for a while the managers were turning over. About the only tiny bit of stability is that he came across McNamara twice.

I'm not really willing to go back to the previous generation for all those guys. I did Dick Williams in the Bochy post (he traces back to Dressen, Alston, and Paul Richards among others). Eddie Lopat pitched a long time for Casey Stengel, and also for Jimmy Dykes (who of course traces to Connie Mack), and Ted Lyons, Bucky Harris, and Richards, also).

Richards sure seems to show up a more about him here. There's Mack and McGraw, among others, in his playing career, but according to the SABR article the big influence was Donie Bush, who was the SS for the Ty Cobb Tigers, managed by Hughie Jennings. And Jennings, as you probably know, was an Old Oriole (with McGraw) for Ned Hanlon.

Whitey Lockman...hey, I don't have to look him up: Durocher. But also Fred Hutchinson, and...yup, he went to the Orioles for a year and played for Paul Richards.

Are you ready? Bob Kennedy? Yup. In addition to Jimmy Dykes and Ted Lyons and a bunch of other guys, there's a year with Paul Richards.

Hank Bauer played for Casey Stengel (who traces back to McGraw and others) for most of his career. And as a manager, he's most famous for preceding Earl Weaver with the Orioles, and winning their first pennant. But, no, even though he did coach there for a year, he didn't overlap with Richards, although Richards' influence certainly survived in Baltimore long after he was gone. Anyway, as a Stengel guy, he's at least a relatively close cousin, no?

Lum Harris, in case you're wondering, basically played for Connie Mack. And then...yup, was a coach for Paul Richards for a decade, in both Chicago and Baltimore, and then in Houston when Richards became the original GM for the team that would become the Astros.

So for Tony LaRussa...five of his seven major league managers played or coached for Paul Richards, and a sixth was not all that far removed.

I'm researching this as I go along; I wasn't going to do this much, but I'm sort of amazed at all of this. Gotta go to the minor league managers. Gus Niahos? Yup, with the 1951 White Sox. Sherman Lollar? Yes, three years with the White Sox. Jim Marshall? Orioles. So that's three more, making it at least eight -- remember, the minor league manager list is incomplete (yes, baseball-reference is only the best thing in the world, not 100% perfect in every possible way).

Hey, I'm leaving something important out. From the SABR article, Richards returned to managing for Bill Veeck after years in the front office...
The 1976 season was a disaster. The White Sox, largely a collection of “nothing” players, lost 97 games and finished last in the American League West, Richards’ only time in the cellar. Some players complained that Richards offered no instruction, didn’t come out for batting practice, and put on his uniform only a half-hour before game time. The Sox general manager, Roland Hemond, recalled, “Paul’s heart wasn’t in it.” The best evidence of that: He was not ejected from a single game for the only time in his 21 seasons as a minor and major league manager.
Veeck brought in a favorite from his Cleveland days, Bob Lemon, as the new manager in 1977. Richards stayed on as a scout and, eventually, farm director. In 1978 Veeck hired a sore-armed minor league infielder, Tony La Russa, to manage the Knoxville farm club. The next year the 34-year-old La Russa became manager of the White Sox. La Russa later said, “Paul Richards’ influence was a career-maker for me.” The old wizard told him, “Trust your gut, don’t cover your butt.” La Russa said, “I’ve lived with it ever since.” 

The Little Things

The danger of following politics too closely is that little things can start to seem incredibly important, even though they’re not. For example, take today’s story in The Hill that “Defections by Senate Dems hamper Obama’s message on jobs,” which claims that “no” votes by a small minority of Democrats will “prevent [his] message from resonating with voters.” It’s just nonsense.

Let’s go through this carefully.

First, most people are partisans, and vote for the same party virtually every time. We’ll put those aside, however, and focus only on swing voters.

Those swing voters decide based on all sorts of things. There are probably at least a few people who are going to support Obama because of his foreign policy successes, including killing bin Laden; there are probably going to be a few people the other way, who oppose him because of ACA or some other policy.
The economy is certainly a very major factor for swing voters, but it does have to compete with other things.

Then, of the overall effects of the economy, we can divide them into those things the government can affect and those it cannot. Remember, the government doesn’t snap its fingers and the economy automatically jumps. Should Europe crash, it’s going to hurt the US economy, and there’s very little the US can do about it.

Out of the things that the US can affect, any particular portion of the policy-making process only affects some of them. So Congress and the president together create fiscal policy; the Fed (with perhaps some influence from the president) creates monetary policy; and other specifics may be regulatory or legislative or both.

Getting even narrower, we come to spin – spin about specific parts of all of that. We know that the campaign as a whole has relatively narrow effects; one particular portion of that (such as the president’s message on jobs) is going to be even narrower. Still, it’s certainly possible that a good pitch to voters on the economy will help around the margins, whatever else is going on.

Still with me? Note that the stray Democratic defections on the jobs bill still haven’t come up yet, but we’ve already accounted for almost everything that happens in elections. A double-dip recession would be devastating for Obama’s reelection chances; passing the jobs bill, assuming it worked as he believes it would, will help, although only somewhat. Sticking to a popular message on jobs is even less useful than actually creating jobs, but at least it’s something.

And now we get to Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and any other Democrats who defect: the various ammunition parties have to undermine the other party’s message. It’s not just that “Ben Nelson disagrees” is a fairly weak countermessage, especially given that the president’s jobs pitch appears to be highly popular; it’s that there just isn’t much room remaining for the particular countermessage to matter a whole lot. In other words, Republicans are certainly going to have something to say against Obama’s claim that he has good ideas on jobs, so the question boils down to: of that small segment of the population who are open to having their votes influenced by Obama’s jobs message, how many of those who would not be convinced by whatever else Republicans would say will be convinced by the additional fact that Democrats were not unanimous on some of the Senate votes? It’s just not plausible that it could make much of a difference to a presidential election.

Of course, the president and Senate leaders might as well try to keep party discipline, even if it was completely irrelevant to who wins the White House next year, because there’s still a lot of legislative bargaining to come. And even if the things that the president can influence are small, he might as well do what he can within that. But for anyone analyzing what’s going on, it’s worth keeping some perspective. As political scientist Brendan Nyhan tweeted today: “No one is going to remember 2 Dem defections, but even if Dems were 100% united, the problem with Obama econ message is... the economy.”

Dogs, Not Barking

Haven't done one of these in a while: events that are not in the news, which is itself newsworthy.

1. House retirements. Only six so far. There are two reasons to expect plenty this year: redistricting, and the shift of control (with Democrats newly in the minority walking away). So far, hasn't happened, although do note that all six are Democrats.

2. My sense is that after a whole lot of Democratic anger with Obama during the summer that we're hearing a lot less now. Perhaps people are happy that he's pushing the jobs bill; perhaps the Occupy groups are distracting everyone; perhaps the GOP debates are starting to push Democrats into general campaign mode a little early. Perhaps liberal elites who noisily rebelled over the summer are still just as upset, but have already said their piece. And granted, it's my subjective sense of it, so I could easily be off -- but that's what I'm picking up.

3. No surprise given the small amount of foreign policy or national security ground covered to date, but for whatever it's worth there's been very little if any mention of, and support for, torture during the GOP debates.

4. As always, your choice of Fairness Doctrine or the major new gun control initiative coming from the White House.

Rubio and Veepstakes

I'm not sure how big a deal the WaPo story about Marco Rubio "embellishing" the facts of his family history will turn out to be for Rubio's career; that his parents left Cuba before Castro instead of fleeing Communist oppression might matter to some, but it's not as if he faked military service or gave himself bogus educational credentials.

The oddity of the Rubio situation is that I don't recall such an obvious VP frontrunner in any previous cycle. Now, preseason Veepstakes is notoriously silly; after all, guessing the pick even when there's just a few weeks to go and we know who is doing the picking rarely works out well. And the usual caveat applies: the bottom of the ticket doesn't really matter very much in November. So I'm not speculating about whether Rubio will actually get the nod. But it is, I think, worth pointing out that near as I can tell there's been a pretty solid consensus that Rubio is the obvious selection, and that such a consensus is unusual. My guess is that this story doesn't really shake the current consensus -- although whether everyone's expectations now have anything to do with who actually gets the pick is unknown and unknowable.

What does matter about VP selections is that it's a major boost towards actually becoming president someday; a lot of vice presidents have become president one way or another, and even losing VP nominees are often serious presidential contenders in future cycles.

The other thing to say about VP selections is that they've changed over time as nomination politics changed. It used to be that the second spot was a bargaining chip that a nominee could trade for support at the convention. That meant that it was far more of a party selection than it has become. Now, it's purely the pick of the nominee, made well after the nomination is wrapped up. There's still some party constraint; the nominee certainly doesn't want important party factions to get upset, and at the extreme case it's possible that the convention delegates could cause a very visible fuss, although remember that delegates are usually selected for their loyalty to the nominee. And of course the nominees themselves are creatures of very partisan candidacies.

At any rate, as I said I suspect that the Rubio expectations will survive this with very little damage; as Dave Weigel argues, there's not really a lot to this particular story. Whatever that eventually means to the nominee.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

So What Now? Santorum? Roy Moore? You-Know-Who?

As I write this it's now 4:30 Central time, and as far as I can tell Herman Cain still hasn't released anything to walk back his CNN interview from last night beyond a single non-helpful tweet that he is "100% pro-life. End of story." Which certainly is not the end of the story, since he's said that many times but nevertheless gave a 100% pro-choice answer on CNN (Benjy Sarlin has the details). As of now -- almost a full day after the gaffe! -- we really have no idea what's going on. Is Cain simply pro-choice, and hasn't understood that the position of being personally against abortion but also against government involvement is a pro-choice position? Is he pro-choice, knows exactly what it means, but hoped that no one would notice? Is he operationally pro-life, and just misspoke in the interview (perhaps because he's really pro-choice, but politically pro-life)? Is there some other explanation that he's going to try to float?

Of course, if his was a real presidential campaign this would have been cleaned up last night, one way or another. Actually, if it was a real presidential campaign, the candidate would be able to make it through a softball interview without embarrassing himself, his supporters, and his entire party (Sullivan nails it there). But anyway, they would have cleaned it up last night. But it's not a real presidential campaign, and everyone except perhaps the rubes and a handful of gullible pundits know it

(Someone should really compile a list of pundits who bought the Cain, Trump, and Bachmann surges. Rick Perry, you say? I'll stand by that one, and I don't think I said anything different about him when he was up in the polls than I did last winter).

Either way, I think there's an excellent chance that Cain's poll numbers are about to plummet. For one thing, I suspect he'll quietly disappear from Fox News coverage for a while.

The question is what comes next. Of course, one possibility is that we're about to get to the final stages; there's always the chance that there will be an avalanche of endorsements for Romney followed by doting coverage from Fox and the talk shows, and public opinion follows. No sign of that yet, though. I don't think it's realistic to expect that sort of thing for Perry at this point; he's going to have to earn it by generating some good news for a while.

If none of that happens, however, I suspect the most likely outcome is that Perry's numbers rebound, at least to some extent; I more or less agree with Jonathan Chait's analysis. A second possibility is that Mitt Romney will get a surge, just from voters wanting to get it over with. Hey, it could happen! But if Republican electorates remain stubbornly unwilling to take the lead on Mitt, and if it's not Perry...I don't know. Santorum? Another round of Bachmann? Even more improbably, Newt? It's harder to imagine a Huntsman or Paul surge. On the other hand, if everyone's numbers stay in the doldrums and "undecided" surges, I wouldn't put it past all those reporters who have taken the pledge and done so well so far to start to backtrack, and despite themselves start wondering whether all those Ron Paul wins in straw polls and online self-selected surveys are really revealing a secret Paul surge.

Hey, remembering that most of that doesn't really matter much...I have no idea which of them is the most likely, although as I said I'd put my money on a Perry rebound if I had to.

My rooting interest? That's easy: the Sage of Wasilla, bitter that Cain lied to her about abortion, decides to save the day by jumping in. Or half jumping in. Or at least doing another non-candidate Iowa bus tour. Or at least claiming she's about to do another non-candidate Iowa bus tour. Because nothing would be a better diversion as we wait for all of this to sort itself out.

Debating Mitt on Libya

Since Barack Obama committed the United States to action in Libya back in March, Republican presidential candidates have engaged in what seems to be an endless round of debates. You might think that during these debates, front-runner Mitt Romney might have been pinned down to explain and defend his position on the action. After all, several candidates had strong positions for intervention (Santorum) and against (Bachmann, Paul) or both (Gingrich). And in crowded primary fields, one of the key ways to advance is to differentiate oneself from the other candidates; especially once they had declared a position, it was in each candidate's interest (to the extent they were trying to get nominated) to make any differences with Romney clear.

I therefore went back and compiled a full and complete list of all statements and comments made by Mitt Romney about Libya during the seven debates he has participated in so far:

Goose egg. Zip. Nada.

The issue was raised in four of the seven debates (keeping in mind that one of the others was dedicated to the economy, so make it four of six if you like). Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum seemed eager to talk about it; a few of the others chimed in. But Romney? Nothing.

(OK, the disclaimer. I searched each transcript for "Libya", so that's my starting point. I also read down until the next topic change every time it was raised, to see if perhaps Romney entered the conversation late and used only pronouns, or something like that. Nothing. It's possible that he did refer to it in some other way during another part of a debate in which the nation wasn't named at all, but I think it's unlikely).


1. Romney, as frontrunners will be, has been very slick on this one. I did a quick look around, and didn't find much. When the government fell in August, his main reaction was to demand that the new government extradite the Lockerbie bomber. Back in April, a few weeks after the US action began, he wrote a two paragraph piece for National Review supporting the action in principle but criticizing Obama's methods (including a supportive link to what is probably an embarrassingly wrong John Bolton column that the Boston Herald wants you to pay for, so I don't know). There's a bit more, but not much, in a Hugh Hewitt interview in March. There could be more...I won't claim my search was comprehensive, but I think I caught the big stuff. Basically, he's avoided saying anything that could come back at him; he was well positioned whether things went well or badly. That's good candidate skills.

2. Debates usually don't work very well, if you think the goal is to produce information about candidate views on matters of public policy currently in the news.

3. It's fairly astonishing how little Romney is being pressed by the other candidates. Of course, this is mostly because most of the others either are "business plan" candidates who have little interest in knocking down a guy who might be the nominee, but it also sure seems to me that the lot of them just don't have very impressive debating skills. Of course, the main failures here have been by Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry, who clearly were running against Romney, but just don't know how to debate at this level.

At any rate, it's pretty amazing that Romney got away with this.

Catch of the Day

Can I call it a CotD if it catches something that hasn't quite happened yet? I don't see why not, especially if it's good enough, as this great Spencer Ackerman post certainly is. "The Post-Gadhafi Journalism You Will Read In The Next 72 Hours." I'll just give you a taste:
1. Why Gadhafi's Death Vindicates "Leading From Behind" (Tom Friedman)
2. Gadhafi's Death Shows The U.S. Was Never Really "Leading From Behind" (Anne-Marie Slaughter)
3. There Is Still More To Do In Libya (Any Washington Post op-ed)
Excellent fun; do click through for the rest. There is a relatively difficult challenge to all of this; while we certainly don't respect analysis that is never willing to admit mistakes, we also don't really want analysis that discards all previous claims as soon as new events show up. Of course, if one subscribes to big picture ideas that consistently produce bad predictions, one might want to modify or abandon those ideas; at the same time, getting one prediction wrong isn't (generally) a good reason to modify or abandon well-supported ideas.

Meanwhile, to get an excellent context for Libya written before today's events, I recommend Fred Kaplan's latest on "The New Interventionism." I think Kaplan is overly optimistic about how stable the stuff he describes really is -- he treats the current GOP candidates as some sort of odd quirk, but I think he undersells how much a hold Cheneyism still has on the party and may have in the future -- but otherwise it's good stuff.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Blame Yourself"

Greg Sargent has a nice item up about the latest GOP debate audience gaffe: cheering Herman Cain's taunt to struggling Americans. As Cain put it, "Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself."

Greg did a great job on demolishing the claim that the unemployed are to blame for unemployment (see also Steve Benen), so I'll shift to the other part of it: that everyone who is not rich has themselves to blame. In some ways, this is -- while less insulting and presumably less hurtful -- even more insidious.

Really, though, my question is to those who were applauding it. How many of them think of themselves as rich? If we believe the polling, the answer is practically none of them; everyone in the US thinks they are middle class. So what's the deal here? Do the non-rich conservatives wildly applauding this believe they themselves are responsible for their failure to be rich? Do they think of themselves as having chosen not to do what's needed to become rich because they have other priorities, and so they're upset at others who (supposedly) want it both ways? Do they believe that there are two groups of non-rich: those who play by the rules and would be rich except that they're oppressed by Obama's socialist government (themselves), and another group who just expects the government to make them rich?

There were lots of reporters at the Vegas debate; did any of them ask the audience about it? Seems like it would make a good story.

Third Parties Don't Work

Over at the Washington Post, Matt Miller has been crusading for a third party candidate. Ezra Klein and Miller seem to agree on policy more or less down the line, and they debated; Klein destroyed Miller. Key bit:
MATT: But let me ask you this. Just on that issue [the filibuster], which I admire your focus on, do you think that the likelihood of it happening would not be different if it were at the center of a third-party campaign explaining to people that part of why nothing gets done or that we can’t do things that are equal to our challenges is because of X, Y and Z in the rules, and this is one of them? If a candidate emerged and they were talking about this as one of the centerpieces of what had to change for us to be able to address our problems, I would think that that would increase the probability of it changing, if they won on it. Even if they didn’t win, they would change the nature of the entire conversation.
EZRA: No. You can run out the theory all sorts of ways, but certainly I don’t think Ralph Nader running on campaign finance reform or changing the amount of greed in politics changes it very much. I think it ended up going in the opposite direction. I think third-party candidacies in some ways can be helpful, but can be very, very, very unpredictable, obviously. And I think the actual answer is that I think it would affect the likelihood of this almost zero. I mean, it would be interesting if you had somebody relevant running a third-party campaign based on an attack on the filibuster. I think that would be pretty interesting.
That's exactly right.

Miller rests a lot of his argument on the Ross Perot campaign of 1992, and that it supposedly was responsible for deficit reduction. Miller was in the Clinton White House, and it's hard to argue against the subjective feelings of participants; I'm sure that to him, and perhaps to many of the Clinton crew, it felt as if Perot forced the issue. The problem is that it's real hard to find supporting evidence. After all, Reagan-era budget politics was dominated by deficit politics (thus Gramm-Rudman, among other things), followed by a major and successful deficit reduction package during the Bush presidency -- a package Perot opposed, just as he opposed the Clinton deficit reduction package in 1993. And histories of the Clinton administration stress the economic logic for deficit reduction (under 1993 circumstances, it would keep interest rates down and therefore spur growth), which presumably would have pushed the economic team in that direction regardless of Perot.

Perot did talk a lot about the deficit, but in my view his contributions to that discussion were almost always counterproductive, and at any rate I'm confident that had Perot never run for president not much would have changed about the Clinton administration's approach on that issue. My general feeling is that while it's possible for third parties to put items on the national agenda that neither party will discuss, it's a highly inefficient way of doing so at best. And as for actually passing things, it's almost never a useful strategy.
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