Monday, April 30, 2012

Catch of the Day

Goes to James Fallows, who takes on Mitt Romney's claim that "even Jimmy Carter" would have made the same call Barack Obama did with regard to the raid on bin Laden.

Fallows, who worked for Carter, is nevertheless far from a Carter apologist. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that Fallows likes to give Carter the benefit of the doubt. That's not true about me! I'm a confirmed Carter-basher; I've even had any patience with his post-presidency, which I've mostly read as a long, selfish effort to rehab his reputation. But, fortunately, it's not necessary to defend Carter to appreciate the point Fallows makes, which is that Romney's reference is very much not apt. As Greg Sargent said in a similar point earlier, the historical reference Romney made underscores not what an easy decision it was, but what a difficult one.

There's also the associated point, pushed by the Obama campaign, that Romney specifically criticized Obama in 2007 for suggesting that this kind of raid was a good idea. I doubt the press will buy it, but they really should. One of the oddball outcomes of what was mostly historical happenstance has been to blur a real difference between the two parties over the last 20 years or so over the terrorist threat, with Democrats far more aggressive about going after al Qaeda and bin Laden in particular, while Republicans have focused on state actors. Leading to, for example, the incoming Bush administration in 2001 paying less attention to terrorist threats, and switching resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002-2003.

Hmmm...I'm drifting a bit here. Anyway, it'll be interesting whether Mitt Romney's lack of foreign policy credentials means that the press will punish him for minor foreign policy gaffes, or, as Greg suggests in another (interesting) post that Republicans are automatically assumed to have national security competence by the press.

Back to Fallows: nice catch!

More Cranky Monday Blogging

Why, why, why, did the Washington Post give over space to discredited GOP hack Frank Luntz over the weekend?

Luntz, as part of the Post's "five myths" feature, writes about what he calls "five myths about conservative voters." But exactly why should we believe Luntz's version of the truth, which he (for most of the items) pulls from his own polling -- which is well known for producing the answers that he wants. For example: Luntz begins by claiming that conservative voters are not, after all, interested in smaller government -- only in more efficient government. Is that true? I have no idea. What Luntz reports is that the words "'efficient' and 'effective' government clearly beat 'less' and 'smaller' government." But that says nothing at all -- nothing -- about people's real policy preferences, if any. It just tells us what words poll better. I mean, presumably people would also like "good" or "excellent" or "awesome" government, too. So what? There is no policy clash between those who favor effective government and those who prefer ineffective. But there certainly are disputes about the size of government. What do conservatives believe about that -- or about real decisions, such as what should be done about military spending or specific programs? No hint of that from Luntz.

Basically, there's nothing much to take away from his piece. That's true when I suspect he's mostly wrong (in the abstract, I'm pretty sure that self-identified conservatives do in fact prefer smaller government, although that changes when you move to specific programs). It's also true when he's probably right -- as in his claim that conservatives oppose slashing Social Security and Medicare. Granted, his argument there is a bit strange. Is it a myth that conservative voters want to slash these programs, and that "This charge is at the heart of the Democrats’ campaign against the GOP"? Uh, no. What's at the heart of the Democrats' campaign is that Republican politicians plan to slash Medicare. Which is, you know, true. Indeed, the reason that Democrats are campaigning on it is because Democrats believe that it's an issue on which Republican voters do not agree with the plans of Republican politicians. Which is why Luntz advises Republicans to talk about making these programs "work," instead of admitting that they're cutting spending on Medicare.

The problem is that playing with words to find out whether ones test best just doesn't tell us anything interesting, whether it's done by Luntz for the Republicans or his equivalents for the Democrats. Oh, it proves that most voters can be easily manipulated into giving the polling result that the pollster wants to produce -- but that doesn't mean that they can be easily manipulated into actually changing their minds about policy, or that they can therefore be easily manipulated into changing who they vote for. Both parties are suckers when they pay to get this kind of advice, and the WaPo is a sucker to run it.

No, Really, Don't Think About the Electoral College Yet

...because if you do, you might wind up with what Chris Cillizza wrote over the weekend, in which he concludes that Mitt Romney's ceiling is basically what George W. Bush got in 2004 -- that he "he has a ceiling of somewhere right around 290 electoral votes."

That's just plain wrong. It's an illusion -- it looks like that now, because Barack Obama is up a bit in the national polls, and because no Republican has done better than Bush '04 for quite some time. But as Harry Enten tweeted, if that was the case Bill Clinton couldn't have won a large electoral college victory in 1992. Indeed, the late 1980s was full of talk about a Republican "electoral lock," which magically went away as soon as a Democrat led in the national polls by a few points.

Real simple: the parties are roughly even nationally, all things equal. All things are generally not equal, which means that in any particular presidential election it's possible to see fairly large swings, in both directions. If the swing produces more than about a three point win, the system will produce an electoral college landslide, just as it did for Barack Obama in 2008.

Seriously. Look, the campaigns have to pay at least some attention to the electoral college, because they need to target their resources. But if you're trying to figure out who is going to win the election, or the margin of victory, you're just going to be a whole lot better off if you pretend the electoral college doesn't exist until at least after the conventions.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Cloris Leachman, 86. Weird that imdb got her "known for" horribly wrong; I assume the correct answer is Mary/Young Frankenstein/Last Picture Show/her current sitcom, no?

On to the good stuff:

1. Absolute must-read of the day: Jonathan Chait, explaining not only Paul Ryan but also Paul Ryan worship.

2. Nice piece about health care reform implementation by Sarah Kliff, who looks at the Massachusetts example.

3. Seth Masket on the Edwards/Clinton question. I'll stand by what I've written, but at this point I'm mostly voting "overdetermined" on this one.

4. And Nate Silver's definition of swing states is the right one. At least, those are the states to pay attention to. If you're going to pay attention to states. Which you shouldn't this early.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Long-time readers will know that I consider it likely that torture will wind up as a partisan issue, with Republicans supporting it. I've proposed that the way to get around that is for Barack Obama to set up a Truth Commission that would document exactly what was done, and that it didn't "work" in the sense of being a good way to get information from detainees (noting that even if it had, there are other reasons it's a bad idea; also noting that it is of course possible, although in my view very unlikely, that an honest commission would reach other conclusions). However, I've also said that in order to get both bureaucratic and Republican buy-in, the logical price is to begin by issuing broad pardons to everyone involved, along with some presidential language praising the efforts of George W. Bush and the Bush administration after the September 11 attacks, treating torture as a well-intentioned and understandable overreaction, although clearly a mistake.

My question for liberals (and, for that matter, all torture opponents) isn't so much whether this approach would succeed in putting the bulk of the GOP in the anti-torture camp. My question is whether, if it was successful in doing so, the trade-off would be worth it. Basically, the question is: if the price for getting GOP leaders to really, thoroughly, condemn torture, including the Bush-era policies, is to both legally and, to the extent a president can do so, morally pardon the people responsible -- would you support that deal?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Since torture is back in the news...

How do you think Bush-era torture policies will be looked back on in, say, 20 years? Forward-looking plan, with the second Bush term and the Obama years as a mistaken path away from it? Panicky aberration? Worse? Or is torture now going to be the subject of a long-term partisan divide, so that 20 years from now it will very much depend on who you ask?

What Mattered This Week?

Let's see...we had the first round of French elections at the beginning of the week, and developments in Egyptian elections at the end of the week.

New GDP numbers. The real story there, as with almost all the economic data we've seen, is that we're headed for an election with neither a recession that would eliminate Barack Obama's chances nor a boom that would make him an easy winner.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Elsewhere: Dem Campaign Web Sites, Torture

Never got around to this Post Partisan, I noted the latest findings that Bush-era torture didn't "work" and once again made my pitch for a pardon/commission approach.

Meanwhile, at Salon I have a new column putting together the stuff I've looked into on what Democratic candidates have -- or, more to the point, don't have -- on the issue sections of their web sites. Since that went up, Josh R. pointed out that there's some recent research that's relevant, so I'll also direct you there. I've only glanced at the paper, but I'm fairly sure my main point over at Salon will stand: if party-aligned interest groups and activists pushed candidates, they would be willing to advertise their positions on some of these issues on their campaign web sites.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Core of the Problem Lies With the Republican Party"

Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, political scientists and (I hope they wouldn't object to the characterization) quintessential center-loving establishment types, take full aim at the Republican Party in a column today at the Washington Post.

It's an excellent piece, and I agree with almost all of it. My only caveat would be about the language they use to characterize the GOP: that it's moved "sharply to the right," that they've "gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post," that it's about the "bedrock right." I don't believe that the program they're writing about, and the examples they give, have anything to do with conservative vs. liberal, conservative vs. moderate, or extreme conservative vs. conservative. And for the most part I'm not really talking about the question of what's "really" conservative -- you know, the argument that you'll hear from Andrew Sullivan or Conor Friedersdorf or Noah Millman or Dan Larison that the positions on public policy supported by mainstream Republicans isn't really conservative. They have a point, but that's not really the key here.
The key is what all of Mann and Ornstein's examples are about, which is radicalism and irresponsible behavior, not ideological extremism. The most liberal, or most conservative, Member of Congress can find ways to compromise with the other side; there's nothing inherent in conservativism, or even in ideological extremism, that precludes compromise, comity, respect for institutional norms, and other things that Gingrich/DeLay Republicans -- and that's what we have today -- are lacking.

And that gets back to the question of what is "really" conservative, because the problem is that when your leadership is so radical, and radically dishonest as well (consider, just as one example, the "fight" against the UN swooping in and taking away everyone's guns, or the claim that Democrats are trying to do that), it's very difficult for a party to really develop either viable policy or principled policy. I think the best way to see this is in the challenges to folks such as Bob Bennett, Dick Lugar, or Orrin Hatch -- or in the inability of conservative opinion leaders to laugh off Sarah Palin, or Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann. It's not that Cain, for example, was more conservative than Mitt Romney; Cain was barely able to talk about public policy at all. It's all notional junk about "establishment."

The Republican Party is severely dysfunctional, not severely conservative. And it's going to take honest, sane, conservatives to restore it to health. How that can happen, alas, I have no idea at all.

Catch of the Day

Goes to David S. Bernstein, longtime GOP Women in Congress chronicler, who notes that of the 71 House districts to hold primaries so far, only six have been won by women. What's more, of the three women who are GOP Members of the House in those districts, one lost, and another will face a tough race in the fall; none of the other four appear to have realistic chances of winning in November. So, as he concludes, "in these 71 districts, there are currently three Republican women in Congress; that number will drop to either two or one after the November election."

David recently visited Plain Blog world headquarters, but that's not what gets him the CotD! It's an excellent observation. You would really think that this is something that Republicans could solve, but it certainly appears that they are either uninterested or unable to do anything about it. I don't know whether it's fair to call Republican policy proposals popping up in the House and in state legislatures a war on women, but it's certainly clear that there's a large and, I think, increasing gap between the parties in terms of candidates.

Nice catch!

More On the Economy and WH 2012

I referred to the Larry Bartels general election model yesterday, but I think it's worth revisiting it, because probably my biggest question about 2012 is whether Bartels is right or not.

At least, that's my reaction after seeing two things today. One is a Philip Klein post about the latest GDP numbers, in which he makes the case that Barack Obama is in very weak shape compared with other postwar presidents seeking re-election. It's okay...the biggest problem here is that Obama can do worse than Bill Clinton in 1996, and quite a bit worse than Ronald Reagan in 1984, and still win.

The other is an excellent Monkey Cage piece by John Sides with new survey numbers about whether Obama or George W. Bush is blamed for the condition of the economy. The key result, after you get past the partisans (who behave as one would expect), is that independents are far more likely to blame Bush. Even now, three plus years in.

The obvious question is whether people will vote to throw the bums out based on a still-weak economy, or if they'll transfer their blame from Bush to Romney and keep Obama in office. That's where the Bartels model comes in. Larry Bartels finds that GDP growth in the first year of a president's term has a strong negative association with re-election vote, and even second-year GDP growth has a mild negative relationship with re-election. If this is true -- and, again, small n and all that -- then that's consistent with the finding of voters blaming Bush for the current economy, and therefore rewarding Obama for even mild improvement.

So is it true? I have no idea. There's really no way to know whether the minor effects observed in past elections were real or just flukes, nor is there any way of knowing whether the mild effect observed in the past will produce a large effect when a president takes office during a massive recession. I guess that's why they run give political scientists more data to study. Right?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jack Klugman, 90.

As for the good stuff:

1. Sarah Posner remembers Chuck Colson's latter years.

2. The decline of Tucker Carlson, by Alex Pareene. Brutal.

3.Super PACs might matter a lot more in Congressional elections than for the Romney/Obama contest; Ezra Klein is absolutely right about it.

4. Ben Adler has a nice piece on money in presidential nomination contests, in which he consults the tag team of Mayer and Bernstein -- editors of the most awesome edited volume on presidential nominations ever, perfect to assign for your upcoming courses in elections, parties, presidency, or what have you.

5. Jim Cooper's Golden Goose Award -- a great idea, and one that he deserves a ton of credit for. Good write-up by Suzy Khimm.

6. And Brad DeLong asks (and note Noah Smith's comment): why doesn't Wall Street reward Obama for booming stock prices?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Elsewhere: Sex Scandals and Representation

Just one item today: over at Post Partisan, I have a post on Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and representation; in particular, about the nature of "promises." I'm arguing that the reason (former) supporters are so bitter about Edwards but not about Clinton is because the Edwards family was really central to his 2008 campaign, and so lying about the nature of the family meant breaking a promise that was central to his relationship with his supporters.

I think it's a good piece. As longtime readers know, representation is one of my big interests, but I haven't written about it for awhile. The way this one happened is that Ryan Lizza tweeted a comment about the different reactions to their seemingly similar transgressions, and I answered "Representation. Edwards broke an implicit promise to supporters; Clinton was semi-honest from the beginning", and he said "???." At which point I realized that I really needed to explain it, and it was going to take a lot more than 140 characters. So there you are.

The Twitter Machine

Karen Tumulty has a good story about the way that twitter is working in the 2012 campaign so far. It's especially useful, I assume, for those who don't really have any idea about what twitter is and how it works within contemporary campaigns.

The only problem is that it's a bit of a mishmash. I'd put more emphasis on a divide between twitter as advertising, which I suspect isn't really much of a big deal, and twitter as public communication within the parties and between the campaigns and the press.

It's that latter one that I think is definitely worth knowing about. I doubt that the mass advertising function of twitter will be a significant factor in any campaign at this point. But how elites -- interpreted very broadly -- communicate can be a big deal. There have always been ways that such communication happens, whether it's the partisan press of the 19th century, or the Sunday talk shows of the mid-twentieth century. Presumably, however, changes in the medium do in fact make some sort of difference to what's done. For example, there's the question of just how public such things are; there's also the question of how participatory they are. What's interesting about twitter is how participatory it is compared with, say, Meet the Press. Now, I wouldn't go too far; there's an illusion that anyone can participate in the conversation, but for the most part that's really just an illusion.

I'd also note that the back-and-forth between campaigns, along with the efforts to get something to trend, resemble in some ways the old trick of running an ad only on Washington TV channels in order to create the illusion that the whole nation was seeing it. The trick, veterans of 1980s and 1990s campaigns will recall, was to get the press to report on the ads, thus amplifying the message far beyond what a campaign could afford. That's pretty much what happened with the Hilary Rosen thing, no?

At any rate: you pretty much have to use twitter if you want a good sense of the campaign as the campaign professionals perceive it. Which is not to say that you have to use twitter; you're not going to learn more about which candidate to vote for, nor are you going to learn more about who is going to win. But if you want to know the latest campaign developments, that's certainly the way to do it this time around.

(Oh, and while I'm at it: shouldn't you be following me, already?)

Why Those Election Predictors Are Useful

Brit Hume tweets (and, yes, I know; Brit Hume tweets? but that's what's out there...):
Can Barack Obama campaign his way to re-election in the face of conditions in US that would normally spell defeat for any incumbent?
This is exactly why those election prediction systems are worthwhile. Well, you don't need them, exactly; you could take postelection explanations, instead. But, basically, it's extremely useful to be able to specify what happens when presidents run for re-election "in the face of conditions" such as those Obama will face this year. The answer, of course, is complicated...but still, we have some pretty good evidence that it's the current rate of growth, not the overall level of growth over four years or the absolute level of any indicator, that seems to matter. And by that measure, what Obama faces would spell "marginal favorite" or "slight underdog," if -- and it's a big if -- the economy chugs along for the next few months at more or less the pace that most economists expect. Or, if Larry Bartels is right and it's a large plus if a president is sworn in when the economy really stinks, then Obama is a marginal-to-solid favorite (again, if the economy does as expected now).

Anyone who starts talking about "conditions in US that would normally..." really should know this stuff.

Now, granted, there's a big caveat in order. No one has ever run for re-election in exactly the same circumstances. No one else ever took office during the depths of a horrible recession, which then abated rapidly, but then never kicked in to a normal, strong, recovery (that is, with quarters of 5% growth or more). There simply is no direct precedent. What we're doing is extrapolating from sort-of similar situations as best we can, and prediction system skeptics are quite right to point that out. Still, on balance, I'd say it's a lot more wrong to call the current situation "conditions in US that would normally spell defeat for any incumbent" than it is to say that we have conditions that would normally make a president a marginal favorite.

(via Kraushaar)

In Defense of Insane 2016 Stories

Politico (natch) is running a big Maggie Haberman story about Dem HW 2016 today, and from what I see over the twitter machine she, and they, are taking a fair amount of heat over it.

Sorry, world, but facts are facts. The Democratic invisible primary for 2016 is only a few months away -- or, perhaps, has already started. If it's already started, then it's an important news story that should be covered by the press. Even if it hasn't quite started yet -- and it's not as if there's a formal starting gate with a bell that goes off -- it's close enough that there can be, I don't know, pre-campaigning. Real events.

Now, I haven't even read Haberman's story yet, so I have no idea whether she does a good job or not. And part of a good job is definitely tossing in quite a few caveats, including the reminder that Barack Obama really didn't start running until 2006, and that there are lots of examples of politicians who began positioning themselves for a White House run but then eventually backed away long before the real running began.

Still: the truth is that a lot of the important events in the Republican nomination contest this time around seem to have happened very early in the cycle. People might with that presidential elections took place only in the election year, but that just isn't the world that we live in. And reporters need to cover the real world, not the one we wish we lived in.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Amos Otis, 65. Bet you didn't know (I didn't, or had forgotten) that he was originally drafted by the Red Sox, not the Mets.

On to the good stuff:

1. Sarah Binder on Bernanke, how the Fed makes decisions, and transparency.

2. A fine Paul Waldman rant on an annoying thing politicians say. American politicians, that is. In America. Only.

3. Heather Hulbert makes a key point about torture and short-term vs. long-term goals.

4. And as usual with audio pieces, I haven't actually listened, but I'll link to this one anyway: it's political scientist Christopher Wlezien talking to Gallup about 2012.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Questions About Partisan Perceptions of the Economy

Over at the Monkey Cage, John Sides directs our attention to an unsurprising Gallup finding: partisan-influenced perceptions of the economy.  

As someone who follows voters a lot less carefully than John does, I'm still fascinated by this, and left with a whole bunch of questions. Note: it's possible that some of these have been studied and answered. But I'll lay them out there, and see if someone knows more than I do -- or if not perhaps someone might think about finding out the answers.

1. One interesting thing is that unlike, say, whether scary weapons were found in Iraq, perceptions of the economy could be based on personal experience as much as they are based on national information. Do we know whether there's any reason to believe that partisans actually experience a different economy? After all, there are both geographic and other demographic differences between Democrats and Republicans (I'm pretty sure the answer is no, that this is entirely driven by partisanship, and that it flipped some time in early 2009. But is there anything to the other possibility at all?).

2. Do we know to what extent there perceptions are driven by pure partisanship vs. partisan sources of information? That is, if Fox constantly says that the economy stinks when Obama is president, but not when Bush is president, then anyone who watches will believe that...and since more Republicans than Democrats watch Fox, it will produce a national split. On the other hand, it might be be that Republicans automatically switch to believing the economy has tanked as soon as a Democrat becomes president, and vice versa. 

3. In the fourteen months or so covered by the chart John reprints, Democrats seem to be much open to changing their opinions than Republicans; the total range for the Democratic line is 54 points, while the Republican line has a range of 31 points. The implication is that Democrats are responding to news events, while Republicans are just certain that the economy is lousy no matter what happens (or, perhaps, that they're hearing bad new no matter what happens). Does that flip when a Republican is in the White House? That is, is it caused by partisan differences, or electoral context?

4. Does partisan polarization about the state of the economy also affect perceptions of personal economic circumstances?

5. And finally: are these just survey answers, or do they reflect some underlying beliefs that might actually translate into behavior? That is, do the perceptions of many Republicans that the economy is horrible actually lead them to behave as if the economy is horrible?

Elsewhere: Tribute to Newt, Blue Dogs Down

At Post Partisan, I take advantage of the end of the Newt Gingrich campaign to take several shots at the disgraced former Speaker. I did not, however, use the words "total fraud." Nor did I call him Tom P. Baxter. Restraint! But I did say several unkind things, as regular readers might imagine.

Over at Greg's place, meanwhile, I talked about the two Members who were defeated in PA Democratic primaries yesterday (one in a Member-Member race). My post there was about the upside for liberals in winning the spin on these races and therefore putting more pressure on Democratic Members of Congress to vote with them. I could also, however, talk about the downside -- nominating candidates who are bad fits for their districts. Calibrating these things correctly can be tricky! But whatever activists choose to do, my general point over there was that it's not just the wins, but also the spin, that matter.

Sorry for the slow blogging around here so far today, but I should be on a regular pace this afternoon, more or less.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Gina Torres, 43.

And straight to the good stuff:

1. The Ezra Klein general election prediction model, made for him (and us) by Seth Hill, John Sides, and Lynn Vavreck. Cool.

2. Garry Wills on the nuns vs. the bishops.
3. More on that "odd" NYT article about Barack Obama and executive power, from Deborah Pearlstein.

4. Daniel Larison knocks down my claim that Tim Pawlenty (and Rick Perry) were the real runners-up in GOP WH 2012. OK -- but if not them, then who? Newt? Santorum? Herman Cain? Basically, I can see the case for Santorum, but as of what I know now I believe Pawlenty and Perry came closer to the nomination than he did -- and a lot closer than the rest of the gang.

5. And Brad DeLong is most excellent.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Superbill! vs. Reconciliation

Ezra Klein today notes that if Mitt Romney wins, he'll almost certainly have a Republican House and he'll probably have a Republican Senate. Which means:

Right now, the GOP’s agenda is the Ryan budget, and that’s entirely fiscal: It’s a premium support plan for Medicare, and tax cuts, and deep cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and other domestic programs. All that can be passed through budget reconciliation — which is to say, all that can be made immune to the filibuster.
So if Romney wins and the Republicans take control, they could accomplish quite a lot on party-line votes, even if their majorities are slim, and Democrats are opposed.
I'm actually not all that convinced that the results would be as "transformational" as Klein believes; it's one thing to pass the Ryan budget through the House when everyone knows it's going nowhere, and another to kick off a presidency by actually slashing popular spending programs. I'm not saying it won't happen, but if I had to put my money on it I'd bet on significant tax cuts along with symbolic spending cuts and a huge amount of harumphing about entitlements.

But it certainly could happen, and through reconciliation.

The things is...that's really sort of weird. Why should things with a particular kind of budget effect be able to fit through reconciliation, while other legislation cannot? The fact that reconciliation exists and has the rules it has is basically a historical accident; no one ever sat down and decided that the Senate should function this way. And yet, accident or no, reconciliation has some real advantages. It allows Senate majorities to pass some of their high-priority items, while still allowing intense minorities to defeat other measures.

Which is why I've argued that expanding reconciliation is the best model for limiting the effects of filibusters in the Senate. My proposed Superbill! -- or with it's less fun name, Leader's Bill -- would be, basically, reconciliation without limits. The majority would get to put one bill on the Senate floor every year that would need only a simple majority to win. The majority would be able to wrap as many bills as it could manage into that omnibus legislation. The only constraints within the Senate would be, first, that the minority would also be able to add germane amendments by a simple majority vote, and, second, that the whole thing would of course actually have to pass. That second one matters quite a bit! For example, in the historic 111th Congress Democrats might have tried to pass ACA with a public option and climate legislation using Superbill!, but they would have lost different votes for the public option and for climate, perhaps meaning that the overall effort would crash even if it turned out there were different slim majorities for both a public option and cap-and-trade. Remember, too, that the bill would have to get through the House in a form that could pass the Senate, so that's part of the "passable" constraint.

However, it would at least mean that Senate rules would no longer bias policy formation in favor of bills that could be scored within the budget process (why should a regulatory climate bill need 60 votes, but a carbon tax only a simple majority?). In my view, it would allow the Senate to remain the Senate -- it wouldn't entirely eliminate the filibuster at all -- but also allow a party which wins unified control of government to pass its top priorities.

The best thing, in my view, about Superbill! in a Senate with a filibuster is that it tracks the democratic intuition that intensity should matter. Presumably, majority party Senators and the interest groups within the majority party coalition would compete to get their proposals included in that year's Superbill! (just as they compete now over scarce floor time for regular bills). That's a way of keeping intensity in the picture -- while the filibuster on ordinary bills allows intense minorities to block them. Granted, what would happen in such a Senate wouldn't map perfectly onto intensity/indifference, but it would be a step closer, and that seems like a good step to me.

Still Defending Myself on Pawlenty

Jim Newell has a column over at Salon today bashing people (himself included, so he's trying to be fair) for bad prognostications during the nomination battle -- and I get a nice featured spot:
Pawlenty dropped out of the race about 10 days after Bernstein’s post, which, again, because of science, informed readers, “It’s time to buy Pawlenty stock.” Don’t dump your shares in Lehman Brothers, either!
I'm still going to defend myself on this one. I said, with one debate to go before Ames, that I thought Pawlenty's chances of winning the nomination seemed to me closer to 1 in 7 than 1 in 20. That someone I pegged as a 1 in 7 chance didn't win just doesn't strike me as a bad call, just a reasonable bet that didn't pan out.

I think what I said about Pawlenty at the time holds up pretty well now. The idea is that anyone can catch fire, short-term; who does well in the next debate, or the next news cycle, is essentially unpredictable. However, what happens next is much more predictable. If the candidate who catches fire is Michele Bachmann, or Herman Cain, or Newt Gingrich, then that candidate will have a brief surge followed by a collapse. If it's a candidate with conventional credentials and mainstream views within the party, then that candidate may be able to capitalize on the surge.

As it happens, Pawlenty never had the surge he needed. I still see no reason to believe he could not have had a surge; it's just that he didn't. Which is why, at the end of the day, I suspect that Pawlenty and Rick Perry were the real runners-up to Mitt Romney in the 2012 cycle, and not Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul.

I did get some stuff wrong, or at least not as right as I'd like to be, during the nomination battle; if I recall correctly, all of them (pretty much) were Santorum related. But I don't feel bad about this one at all. More, if you're interested, here.

By the way, whatever I deserved for my "buy Pawlenty" post, I'm certain that Newell is massively off base in bashing Brendan Nyhan for saying that early nomination polls don't tell us much. If there's one thing that was abundantly clear during this particular election cycle, it's that Brendan was absolutely correct about that. Granted, he wasn't right about Pawlenty, but it was a throwaway comment at the end of a long, substantive post, as opposed to what I did -- and, at any rate, "bet on" is just different than "predict."

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Omar Vizquel, 45.

How about some good stuff:

1. You would think that Jonathan Chait is exaggerating in this gotcha post about a conservative complaining about the NYT. You would be wrong.

2. I liked Conor Friedersdorf's takedown of Tom Friedman's last two columns more than I liked Dan Drezner's more pithy takedown of Tom Friedman's last two columns.

3. Sarah Kliff explained, before the trustees report came out about Medicare, what it would mean.

4. Controversy has flared up about whether Washington, DC should keep it's (severe? draconian? prudent?) limits on how tall its buildings can be. Lydia DePillis shares one proposal.

5. And Henry Farrell on what may be the beginnings of a revolution in academic publishing. Via DeLong.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Elsewhere: Target Demographics, Polling, and the Real Obama

Three items today. First, I was on the Brian Lehrer radio show (with Molly Ball) this morning talking about target demographic groups and the presidential election. Problem is (or maybe not; I don't know what makes good radio) I wasn't really playing along; instead of talking about target demographic groups, I was talking uniform swing. Or, you know, just read what John Sides and Andrew Gelman wrote on the topic on Friday. Odd fact: I had already told the radio folks that I was going to challenge the premise on Friday before I read those pieces, but then shamelessly swiped the rest of the argument from John and Andrew.

At Plum Line today, I did some cranky blogging at the NYT public editor said over the weekend that their job should be to find out who the "real" Barack Obama is. See also an earlier Brendan Nyhan column.

And at Post Partisan, I warned everyone (again) to look out for goofy polls.

The radio spot was fun to do. Don't know whether it will be fun to listen to (it's almost 20 minutes long), but the discussion ranged quite a bit, including my standard Veepstakes advice for Mitt Romney: do no harm.

Taxes, Charity, and the Libertarians

The libertarians have been arguing about what I consider a silly claim: if Warren Buffett really believes that taxes should go up, then he should be voluntarily giving more money to government, not to charity. I linked earlier today to what I figured was a definitive case by Will Wilkinson why that argument doesn't hold. But I see via comments to my post that other libertarians are keeping the argument going, so I'll toss my two cents in.

Glen Whitman says, for example, that Wilkinson's argument only holds if public spending is such that it's only effective in large amounts -- if, that is, Buffett's theoretical $1000 is only effective if enough people contribute that it becomes worthwhile. If, on the other hand, each dollar of government spending is worth the same benefit, then Buffett should be giving more to government than to private charity if he really believes that government spending is more effective.

But that's not necessarily true. Suppose that Buffett believes that $1000 it would create $1500 in benefits if it was given to charities he selected; $1200 in benefits if it was given to government; and $800 in benefits if it was given to the charities everyone would actually choose (because in practice a ton of people are going to give to scams, or to charities which he believes do more harm than good). So if it's just his $1000, he'll give it to the charity he supports (over government) -- while still preferring a system in which he's constrained to pay that $1000 in taxes as long as everyone else is. In other words, he'll accept using his own money sub-optimally (in his own view) if it will buy everyone else contributing.

Indeed, that logic applies even if Buffett believes that the actual mix of charities people would give to if they were required to give produced more benefits than government did, if he also believes that forcing people to pay taxes is OK but forcing them to give to charities is improper. Why might someone believe that? Arnold Kling, apparently imagining an improbable world in which voluntary contributions would be sufficient, says:
I think it is worth imagining a world in which government competes on a level playing field with other charities. That is, imagine a world in which government relied on voluntary donations. In such a world, government would be smaller and other providers of public goods would be larger. To me, that sounds like a win-win.
Is it win-win? Only if you assume that "other providers of public goods" are inherently more benign than governments. Is that true? I can understand why someone might believe it, but I certainly don't. Non-governmental organizations such as, say, churches, have a long history of all sorts of nasty things when they are the dominant organizations within a polity, and I can't think of any organization which isn't vulnerable to some sort of pathology when it gets large enough to provide the public goods that a very large nation would benefit from. Which is not to say that governments are necessarily more benign, either; it's just that there's an argument to have here, not the assumption that (some) libertarians buy in to.

Obama and Presidential Power

Charlie Savage in the New York Times today has an extended article claiming that Barack Obama has, as the Times headline has it, had a "Shift on Executive Power." Savage talks a lot about executive orders in areas in which the president can't get Congress to do what he wants, and also makes much of the recent recess appointments despite a Senate which was notionally not in recess at all.

Marty Lederman responds sharply, arguing that there's an enormous difference between a president who uses authority that's been legitimately delegated by Congress or approved by the courts, compared with a president who attempts to undercut the law. I think that's mostly right. Presidents -- and executive branch agencies -- are certainly going to interpret the law as they see fit, and that's exactly how the system is supposed to work (as are Congressional attempts to force implementation along the lines that they prefer). Fights among the White House, Congress, bureaucrats, interest groups, and others over exactly how policy will be enacted are normal. What was unusual about George W. Bush's approach to signing statements wasn't attempts to implement laws in the ways he understood them to have been written; it was his unilateral declaration that he was just going to treat portions of laws that he himself was signing as null and void.

On the other hand, aggressive use of the legitimate powers of the presidency are, I would argue, quite a good thing. The presidency is a Constitutionally weak office that individual presidents can make very influential through careful use of Constitutional and statutory powers (such as executive orders) and through political skill. And that, as Richard Neustadt argued long ago, is one of the best hopes for what Neustadt called "viable public policy." At least it is if also combined with a vigorous Congress, courts, and other players in the system. 

My own sense of these things is that the biggest problems come when a president treats others within the system -- the courts, executive branch agencies that resist the president's policies -- as less legitimate than the White House, and take actions to match that attitude. As Lederman says, it's one thing to argue in court that a law is unconstitutional; it's quite another to threaten not to carry out a court order. On the whole, I don't think that Savage makes a case that Obama has crossed that line.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Captain Sensible, 57. Wot?!?
The good stuff:

1. Ezra Klein horns in on the stuff that we political scientist bloggers do by reminding political professionals and political junkies that we're not normal. OK, he's quoting political scientist Lynn Vavreck, but c'mon, Ezra: if you keep saying smart things, who is going to pay me to do this stuff?

Note: I'm not sure which is more amazing: the fact that Wonkblog exists, or how consistently excellent it is. Ezra Klein and his great team -- Suzy Khimm, Sarah Kliff, Brad Plumer -- manage to do an enormous amount of serious policy coverage for a major newspaper. An important positive development.

2. I'm sorry -- a professor of philosophy believes that because rich people who favor higher taxes don't just voluntarily give more money to the government that therefore those rich people must not really believe what they're saying? Huh. Will Wilkinson points out the fallacy.

3. Michael Kinsley on Romney and success.

4. Seth Masket catches the NYT with (another) bogus comparison.

5. Good piece by Stuart Rothenberg warning about a coming phony idea of an anti-incumbency mood.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question: who is the best Democrat/liberal on TV or radio? Define best however you want -- most entertaining? Most intelligent? Most persuasive?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Who is the best Republican/conservative on TV or radio? Define best however you want -- most entertaining? Most intelligent? Most persuasive?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

As I said earlier, I'm a bit preoccupied today, so I'm not even going to try. Instead, I'll just open it up and see what I get. What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Elsewhere, Housekeeping, Fiesta!

Over at Post Partisan today, I have a post up talking about disclosure in campaign finance. I'm for it -- but over time, I've become less and less convinced that it does all that much good. I mean, even if we really had full, meaningful, well-run disclosure, which we often don't. Under current law, the costs of disclosure are relatively low. But if we really ever went with my preferred system, which regular readers know is partial public financing and then unlimited private financing plus disclosure, then the (marginal) costs of disclosure would be higher, since it would presumably be the only source of compliance costs for campaigns. I'm pretty sure it would still be worth it, and of course there's no way it would ever be repealed (although it can be more or less subverted in various ways), but I suspect it's a closer call than I've ever thought.

Meanwhile, if you thought I've been distracted, you're probably right. The latest is that my youngest's bat mitzvah is tomorrow. Woo! So please excuse the light posting today, and with any luck I'll be back to a more regular schedule on Monday. I'll try to get a Friday Baseball Post up at some point, but I don't really know whether I'll get to it, and What Mattered? might be rather incomplete tomorrow, although I should get it posted at the more-or-less regular time (sometimes I hold it until I catch up on my newspapers, but that ain't gonna happen tomorrow).

...and it's also the beginning of Fiesta here in San Antonio! OK, I'm not much for the local holiday, which is a week-long celebration with lots of parades and other events. The kids will get school off on Friday, and many local offices shut down, too. I'm curious: what other towns have local holidays? Are they significant enough that the schools would close down?

The Looniest Talking Point Ever (And Palin's Got It)

We have a winner.

If you had asked me before what the craziest conservative talking point was, it had to be the czars. After all, this was a case of taking something around for decades and claiming it was some sort of new threat to the republic. Plus it came with fun side idiocy, such as the whole czars-as-socialists thing.

But that was then, and this is now, and we have a new champ: that Barack Obama is violating the Constitution by...Congress not passing a budget resolution.

This is, to put it mildly 100% full-on nuts.

I'd been hearing this one for a while now, so it's out there for sure, but it wasn't worth a post until the Sage of Wasilla took to Fox News to repeat it, as Seth Masket notes. Here's Palin's version of it:

And the number one thing, Greta, that he is responsible for is -- he today violating Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution in not having a budget. Going on three years, over a thousand days with no budget, no blueprint to run our federal government!
Yeah. Problem number one with this theory, as Seth sort of gets at, is that the president isn't involved at all in budget resolutions. Budget resolutions aren't law; they are, well, Congressional resolutions (technically, concurrent resolutions). No presidential signature needed. So while it might be unfair to blame Congress for a law not getting passed, it's really silly season to blame him for the lack of a budget resolution. His job, under the law, is to present a budget to Congress. He's done that.

But the main point here is that of course the Constitution doesn't require a Congressional budget resolution, because those were only invented in the 1974 Budget Act. So it would be strange indeed if the Framers had mentioned it.

What does Article I Section 9 Clause 7 actually say? "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." The first half of this is the executive branch can't spend without appropriations, but of course Congress has (eventually) passed appropriations bills every year, so that's not a problem; Barack Obama is threatening to shut down the government if Congress gives him approps bills that he'll veto, not keep it running based on whatever he wants to spend. As for the second half...well, the executive branch does, indeed, publish such statements. Here, I can even link to them.

Apparently the strength of the basic talking point -- that it's a horrible thing that Congress hasn't passed a budget resolution -- is based on the idea that without one, the government is just spending willy-nilly and has no idea what it's taking in or what's going out. But of course that's not true at all. Nor is it true that the government is operating without a budget; it's operating under the Budget Control Act, which is (unlike a budget resolution) actually a binding law, one that was passed by Congress and signed by the President of the United States. So the "hasn't passed a budget" thing is phony to begin with. But that it violates the Constitution? Completely bonkers.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to George Takei, 75.

Quickly, to the good stuff:

1. As usual, it doesn't get any better than Ta-Nehisi Coates, this time on complaints about "Girls."

2. Scott Lemieux on ACA second-guessing.

3. Harry Enton on silly "rules" that were made to be broken.

4. And were DC Circuit Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown's recent "open-mic libertarian musings" a job application, as Dahlia Lithwick sees it? Good article, but there's another interpretation. She's about to turn 63, older than Roberts and Alito...she may be realizing that she's well past the age window that recent appointments to the Supremes have fit, and so it might as well be bombs away now.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let's Talk Filibuster A Bit

I seem to be entering a run of filibuster posting, with another one today over at Post Partisan based on my look at candidate web sites. Might as well keep going...

Matt Glassman is a filibuster defender, and he made a good case earlier this week. He boils his argument down to:
1. The Senate is malapportioned. Removing the filibuster will not ameliorate this, and may exacerbate it.
2. A majoritarian Senate will operate, functionally, like a second House of Representatives. This has real, knowable costs, such as the foreclosing of minority amendments that could carry a floor majority, and the disappearnce of the compromise that such amendments now foster.
3. Following from 1 and 2, there’s no ex ante reason to think trading in the status quo Senate for a small, malapportioned House with six year terms would improve American democracy.
I agree, at least to some extent. One key point here is that the current House is not a majority-rules legislature; it's a Majority Party rules legislature. That's the important point about minority amendments in his second point.

Which gets back to what I've said many times: majority vote is a convenience that we usually use in a democracy, but majority rule isn't democracy, or at least not a very good version of it. Democracy, properly speaking, is rule of the people, not rule by the majority.

Where does that leave us? It means that we shouldn't worry too much about majorities getting ripped off in the Senate. But we also want a Senate that can function well within a party system (and, generally speaking, parties are a very good thing when it comes to democracy for lots of reasons). In my view, we want to try to preserve the advantages of the Constitutional system, which include that individual Members of Congress can really be serious lawmakers. And, yes, when intense majorities do form, we probably don't want them thwarted, certainly not indefinitely, and certainly not from indifferent minorities. I'm not convinced that the current system does all that.

All of which gets me to my usual reform proposals, including Superbill! Maybe I'll write more about that tomorrow.

"Southern Stragety"? Overrated

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting point about party and ethnic reconciliation:
I cannot help but think of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, and how its legacy still poisons our politics. For a very long time, the deep cultural divide in this country was in part managed by the Democratic party. Its alliance of Southern conservatives and Northeastern liberals - perhaps exemplified by the Kennedy-Johnson ticket - gave what we now call parts of red and blue America a joint incentive to work out their differences through a common partisan affiliation. The had a fellowship that facilitated compromise. A less coherent ideological party structure actually created a more coherent political debate. I wonder if civil rights legislation would ever have been achieved without this...we should take a moment to remember Nixon. And the deep damage his opportunism wrought.
Electorally, the "Southern Strategy" is pretty severely overrated. Look at the maps. The last year the South was solid was 1944; the last year that the South was solid while the Democrats lost was 1924. An interesting comparison is 1952 to 1920. Harding won overall by a much larger margin than Ike (Harding got 60%, Ike only 55%). And yet in the South, Eisenhower did better everywhere. He won Texas, Florida, and Virginia. In the deep South, check out Mississippi: Ike lost by a substantial 20 point margin, but Cox won Mississippi by 60 points in 1920 (by the way, I'm using this site for all of these numbers). And then, of course, five of the six states that Lyndon Johnson lost in 1964 were in the deep South.

So by the time Nixon is the nominee in 1968, the idea of a Democratic Solid South is an anachronism. Did Nixon accelerate the trend? I don't think so, really. It's really a done deal by 1964, at the presidential level.

That doesn't mean that there was nothing to the Southern Strategy in terms of Republican policy choices and rhetorical strategies. It was likely that as conservatives in the South moved from the Democratic Party to the Republicans (which, again, was going to happen regardless of any "strategy") that the conservative wing of the GOP would become a solid majority within the party, and that there would be no more presidential nominations for the moderate/liberal Eastern Establishment. On the other hand, it's at least possible that there were other potential paths for that conservative party majority on issues including race. So Sullivan's point might be relevant. I'm not sure. But I do think that as an electoral strategy, the Southern Strategy is pretty much a nothing.

Catch of the Day

Excellent reporting from Aaron Blake, who notices that all seven of the candidates that Bill Clinton has endorsed in Democratic primaries this year supported Hillary Clinton in 2008, while in six cases their opponents endorsed Barack Obama.

Blake ends the piece by framing it around the question of how important Clinton's endorsement might be, but what I find far more interesting is whether we're seeing the beginnings of a more enduring factional split or not. I've done some research (with Casey Dominguez) that sort of touches on questions of factions within the Democratic Party, using data from way back in 2000...we were interested then, among other things, whether DLC involvement was relevant to the Gore/Bradley choice. The whole question of party faction, however, is still a fairly obscure one as far as I know, especially in the US context (explicit, well-organized factions have been important in some other democracies, but they don't really happen here). So the question I'd have is: could something that begins essentially as a personal faction in presidential politics wind up getting institutionalized and spread to state and local politics? If so, would it eventually develop policy components -- even though the original split didn't really have any?

My guess is that the answers to these questions is that on a theoretical level, this could happen. But in the present Democratic Party, it's very unlikely. Both of those, however, are just guesses...anyway, if you want to know what I find really interesting, it's this sort of thing. I'll almost certainly be looking out for it when the 2016 invisible primary gets underway (which, of course, isn't all that long from now).

Oh, and: great catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bernie Worrell, 68.

The good stuff:

1. Adam Serwer on Woodrow Wilson, Communist.

2. Sarah Kliff on an important health care fight on the Hill that you probably don't know about.

3. Andrew Sprung hits Barney Frank over ACA.

4. David S. Bernstein makes the case that the Seamus story is more than a punch line; it could really push some swing voters the other way because people really care about dogs. I'm not convinced, but then again he has a dog and I certainly don't...anyway, check out his argument.

5. Mythbusting! Lynn Vavreck finds that people taking surveys about common knowledge don't cheat, even when they can.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Elsewhere: Marriage, Partisanship

Not going to add much to the links today, but: over at Post Partisan, I talked about a nice polling point that Charles Franklin had made, and added a story of my own. Then at Plum Line, I looked at what Democratic Senate candidates are saying about marriage equality. Answer? Not much, so far, at least outside of New England, and least as far as I could tell from their web sites.

I've already looked at Democratic web sites and public option (similar answer: not much). Are there any issues y'all would like me to look at? How about on the Republican side? Note: I'm not tracking down their positions on issues, which various places take care of. What I'm interested is what they feature on their campaign web sites, where are a form of advertising. In my view, that tells us something different than just what their positions are -- although I am dealing with a fairly small group of candidates, so there's that, too.

Colson is Ill

Chuck Colson is apparently in gave condition.

Colson, as you probably know, had a famous prison conversion and has been doing good works (along with a fair amount of politics, I believe) since the 1970s.

But of course our concern here is with Watergate. It's worth pointing out that if there are any significant Watergate-related secrets that Richard Nixon took to the grave, Colson is probably the last person living who would have a good chance of knowing them. Collectively, Colson, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman presumably knew almost everything that Nixon knew, and the other two are gone. John Mitchell, too, could have told Nixon something that the others didn't know. Rose Mary Woods died in 2005. I can't imagine that Nixon revealed anything significant to his children. Or, for that matter, Pat Nixon, who died long ago anyway. I'd be shocked if Nixon told anyone who he started working with during his retirement anything we don't know.

I very much doubt that John Dean has any knowledge of what Nixon knew that he hasn't spilled long ago. G. Gordon Liddy, David Young, and Egil Krogh are still alive, and may know of some Plumbers activities that never became public, but it's not likely that they would know whether Nixon knew about them or not (and they almost certainly wouldn't know firsthand). I suppose it's vaguely possible that there's something that Henry Kissinger knows. Dwight Chapin? Seems unlikely.

What is left to know? The known unknown is prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, and Gemstone generally. I'm also curious about the unknown unknowns. Could there have been significant additional Plumbers projects? Significant additional wrongdoing outside of the Plumbers framework?

The one thing that I'm confident we don't have a complete record of is the "Nixon said/ordered crazy things" category. I'm confident of it because tapes have been released fairly late in the day that added to it, and so it stands to reason that there was more of it that happened when the tapes weren't running. And Colson in particular is likely to have been around for plenty of that sort of thing. Of course, we have enough to make the context of Watergate perfectly clear -- Nixon may not have ordered the specific felonies involved in the Watergate break-in, but he frequently urged his staff to commit similar felonies for similar reasons. But more detail is always good.

Ah well; there's always the chance that some new documents or tapes or other evidence will turn up in the future.

Catch of the Day

Goes to something old by Greg Marx, but he retweeted it today because it's (once again, alas, relevant). Back in  July, Marx collected a whole bunch of stuff that debunked or mocked Tom Friedman, but also expressed some concern:

Still, there’s a steep drop-off in the volume of responses from October; even Masket wrote that hesitated to comment on such “an easy target.”
Smart pundits of the world, don’t give up! The reluctance to repeat yourself is understandable, even admirable. But Tom Friedman is read by many, many people. And in his infatuation with the idea of the “radical center,” he is very, very mistaken. Do your part to improve public understanding of politics, defend American democracy, and grab some Internet bragging rights. The next time Friedman opines on the “radical center”—I’m guessing it won’t be later than the time Michele Bachmann wins the Iowa caucuses—take your best shot at proving him wrong.
It certainly is true that Friedman needs to be debunked and mocked. And there's yet another round today, thanks to his latest column -- in which, most notably, he complains about the poor conditions of a street in Washington and how that's proof that the political system has failed to do enough infrastructure work...which would be more convincing if, as David Weigel informs us, the street wasn't in bad shape because of a current construction project.

That's the debunking part. For the mocking, I'll turn to Ed Kilgore: "So like many self-conscious elitists whose idea of leadership is to herd the poor dumb masses along to their appointed destination in the great cattle drive of life, Friedman is a natural Bonapartist, and Bloomberg is the best available Napoleon."

I'll also toss in a link to Doug Mataconis, who as Marx notes has been on this beat for a while.

So I hope I've done my part here, but I admit it: Marx is right. It's just hard to bring myself to write yet another takedown of another silly column. So: great catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Barbara Hale, 90 (I think; one of my regular sources that I thought was safe says 91, but I'll go with imdb).

Right to the good stuff:

1. Andrew Gelman had the same reaction to Richard Lugar's re-election bid that I did, I think.

2. Cool demographic stuff about party preference and consumer preferences, from Tom Edsall. Via Seth, who ads his two cents.

3. I think Sean Trende is basically correct here -- it's opinions of the incumbent that drive presidential elections -- but then again basically correct leaves plenty of room for other effects. If Romney winds up being perceived as ideologically extreme, it will cost him some.

4. Scott Lemieux is correct about health care reform; Barney Frank is wrong.

5. And E.J. Graff on equal pay.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Elsewhere: Elections Matter, Reporting on Filibuster, EC Again

Lots of stuff elsewhere today. At Plum Line, I got cranky about reporting on the death-by-filibuster of the Buffett Rule in the Senate. The fact that it was filibustered and had majority support really is part of the story, regardless of whether you support or oppose the 60 vote Senate. Meanwhile, I just couldn't get enough of the "ignore the Electoral College" argument, so I went back to spring 2008 and showed that EC speculation back then wasn't very helpful. It's not that there was anything wrong with their analysis as such (Nate Silver is always good at that kind of stuff, and he was in 2008 of course as well), it's just that there's really no value added in thinking about electoral votes this far out.

And at Salon, I got in on last week's discussion about whether presidential elections matter. Two points. One is that while it's true that the presidency is a very limited office, it still has plenty of influence. The other is that some people become absolutists about this stuff, and that's a bad match for political action. Supporting Romney over Obama doesn't mean that you have to believe that Romney would be a great president, or that he would try to do what you want on every issue, or even that he's better than Obama (from your point of view) on every issue. It's a political judgement, not a seal of approval.

No, Really, Forget the Electoral College For Now

I'm recycling that headline from last June, but it's still the right one to use. Want to know who will win WH 2012? You can start paying attention to the various head-to-head polls, and you can follow the economic indicators, but there's just no point to worrying about the states.

Why? Because generally swings are national, not local, in nature. Obviously that's not always exactly true, but it's true enough that if either candidate wins by, say, 2 or 3 points or more nationally, the states will fall in line. How? It doesn't really matter.

What if it's a very close race? Then...well, then local stuff kicks in, but not in ways that we can really predict or analyze in advance. Despite what you read from those who believe that Obama has an electoral college edge or those who think Romney does, what you're really talking about is some electioneering effects, some local events, and some of what looks a whole lot like luck. And given how unreliable national polls are this early as predictors, there's just no way that the less frequent state polls are going to be meaningful (Nate Silver was good on this in his poll-watching post).

Really: ignore state polls, and ignore electoral college speculation, until after Labor Day. Even if you're mostly interested in predicting outcomes, the best you can do up to that point is to project a national result and assume that the states will fall in line with it.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Pete Shelley, 57, and What do I get?

I didn't get around to linking yesterday's Post Partisan piece, about Mitt Romney's policy leak. So check that out if you're interested, or try some of the good stuff:

1. Wonderful, wonderful interview of Barney Frank by Jason Zengerle.

2. Really, you can't read just one poll. Pollster's Mark Blumenthal explains, and talks about the latest round of presidential head-to-heads. Nate Silver also has a good primer on general election polling.

3. The real lesson of today's polls? John Sides:
Well, here it is only April, and the bases are basically unified. In other words, the campaign, if not the last few years of politics, has already accomplished what is usually accomplished months from now.

4. Brendan Nyhan has an academic reform proposal looking at. I like anything that de-emphasizes undergrad grades, by the way; I accept they're needed in many circumstances, but I also think they do more harm than good in lots of cases.

5. In the course of demolishing a sloppy AP story about Angus King, Amy Fried makes a general point that's worth underlining: "the gender gap in citizens’ voting preferences has nothing to do with whether a candidate is a woman."

6. And Matt Yglesias has a theory of why restaurants decline over time. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Paradox of the Day

Inspired by my twitter feed going wild with glee from conservatives after the first day of the Gallup general election tracking showed Mitt Romney with a two point lead (sparking junk analysis like this), a couple hours later by a CNN poll showing Obama up by nine points....

We actually in principle know far more now because we have fifty gazillion polls -- without which the very useful polling averages would be impossible. And yet not only is each individual poll just as meaningless as it was when it was just Gallup and Harris and maybe a couple of others, all of them only once a month or less, but the odds of having at least one weird outlier a month go way up, and even more so the odds of some goofy internal splits showing up go way, way up. It's gonna happen: we're going to get some poll that says that African-Americans in the south are suddenly swinging away from Obama, or that LDS members in the West have suddenly tilted away from Romney, and everyone is going to freak out until it eventually turns out that it was just a fluke of one poll.

Which we'll only know because there will be a dozen more polls out there in the next couple of weeks showing that the first one was off base.

I know I talk about this stuff all the time, and most of the regular readers here are probably sick of it, but as long as it continues to be a major issue in how campaigns are (mis-) reported, I'm going to keep repeating it.

WaPo Ombudsman Botches ACA Budget Dispute

Think all the way back to last week, when the Washington Post ran a prominent story on a new study that claimed ACA increased, rather than decreased, the deficit, thanks to a "double counting" issue. Over the weekend, the WaPo ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, examined the controversy over the story. Unfortunately, he botched it.

Pexton says:

Liberals launched their counterattack. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine rebutted it; Paul Krugman of the New York Times linked to Chait, and then all manner of liberal Web sites piled on, including Media Matters.
If the right’s line of attack was, “See, we’re right, the president is lying about the costs of Obamacare,” then the left’s was more a guilt-by-association smear.
That's simply wrong. Yes, it's true that part of the liberal response was to point out that the study's author, Charles Blahous, was more properly thought of as a Republican analyst than some as a presumably neutral "trustee for Medicare and Social Security." Looking back at the story, I think Lori Montgomery made it sufficiently clear that Blahous was a conservative policy analyst (I'm wondering whether at least one version of the story did not do so, or perhaps if the headline on the WaPo home page -- which is often completely different than the article headline -- referred to him only as a Medicare trustee). At any rate, several liberals wanted to make it clear that Blahous worked for Bush, is now at the Mercatus Center, and that the Koch brothers fund things he's done. So there was a bit of that.

However. Pexton cites Chait, who spent one paragraph explaining who Blahaus is and then seven wonky paragraphs arguing why he's wrong, followed by a two-paragraph conclusion wondering why the Post ran the story. He also cites Krugman, who had the same structure: one paragraph introducing Blahaus, then a two-paragraph quote from (the policy explanation part of) Chait, and then three paragraphs expanding on the policy argument. Right or wrong, it's absolutely not the case that either of them made a guilt-by-association argument at all.

As Pexton says, there was plenty of piling on. Did it get more ad hominem? Nope. Here's Kevin Drum, who spun out a long analogy in a 650 word post which refers to Blahous only as "a Republican trustee for Medicare," and that not until the 6th paragraph. Or CBPP's Paul Van der Water, who wrote a very sober and wonky analysis which just refers to Blahaus as a "former Bush Administration official." Or Ezra Klein, speaking of wonkishness, who wrote a detailed policy critique of his own. How did Klein deal with Blahaus? He explained his partisan background (worked for Bush, worked for Judd Gregg, and further explained:
None of that undermines the quality of his work or the force of his conclusions. But it’s not the case that someone from Obama’s “team” has turned on the Affordable Care Act.
That's basically the tone of all five of these posts -- and again, two are the only two cited by Pexton. They seemed to generally feel that it was important to place Blahaus in a context which, they believed, the Post had not -- but none of them put any weight at all on his background in their arguments, and the last three (all prominent, all much-linked-to I believe) didn't mention the Koch thing at all. Now, I don't know who else said what, but that's a pretty good sized slice of the mainstream liberal blogosphere, and there's just no way it can be characterized as "a guilt-by-association smear."

My other complaint about Pexton's column is that at the end, he tries to get into the policy question, and he gets that wrong, too. Early in his article, he basically gives a he said, she said, summary, which doesn't seem quite right to me (since one might think that having the non-partisan CBO on their side means that the Democrats' argument is stronger), but, well, if he doesn't want to get into it, I can understand; the basic point of his piece (which is about how a story can drive a significant flap) doesn't depend on getting the budget details right. The even worse problem is when he revisits the question at the end, and starts talking about the uncertainty inherent in every budget forecast. While that's true, and in some contexts a very important point, that's relevant to the fight here, which is about baselines, not forecasts. Which means that both sides could agree completely about what the law would do and what all the revenues and outlays will be, but still disagree strongly on what happens to the deficit. Truth is, he would have been better off just saying that he wasn't going to get into who was right and who was wrong.

But mainly, it's simply not true that either of the liberal bloggers he cited, or at least several others I noticed, participated in a "guilt-by-association smear."

If Palin Had Run

I talked about this already last week, but I wasn't really focused on Palin specifically and since Ross Douthat is keeping the discussion alive with what I think is a pretty good post, I figured I have an excuse to go back and revisit this one more time.

There are two points to make about Palin vs. Santorum, or Perry, or Pawlenty, or for that matter Romney.

The first one is that unlike Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Johnson, and probably Santorum, Sarah Palin was a plausible nominee: she had conventional credentials (just by being the most recent VP nominee), and she had positions on public policy which were firmly within the mainstream of her party.

The second is, as Douthat says, "nothing in her post-2008 career suggests an aptitude or appetite for the kind of work required to build a smooth-running (or even occasionally-misfiring) national campaign." Except it's actually worse than that. "Post-2008" isn't enough; nothing in her career after John McCain unveiled her as his running mate suggests she was likely to do the things that one needs to do to win a major party nomination.

Of course, the other perspective is that she sure did do a lot of things in 2009, 2010, and 2011 that looked a lot like running for president. Perhaps she did, and she just quit, either because she didn't enjoy doing it or because she realized she was losing (in other words, the same reasons that Pawlenty got out). It's hard to tell without more evidence; the things that sort of looked like a Sarah Palin version of running for president also look a lot like keeping one's name in the news in order to better cash in.

One more thing: would Mitt Romney really have found it hard to attack her? Maybe. But in addition to attacking his GOP opponents always from the right (as Ed Kilgore noted; sorry, just a memory, no link), Romney excelled at letting the other candidates destroy themselves. And that's something the Sage of Wasilla could be counted on to do.

Put it all together, and what you have with Sarah Palin was a plausible nominee, but also someone who did not seem likely to be a very strong candidate, and was in fact a very weak candidate during the months when she appeared to be sort-of running.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bruce Bochy, the manager of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants, 57.

And now, the good stuff:

1. The dangers of manufactured controversies and twitter frenzies, from Brendan Nyhan.

2. Keith Poole is getting scared about polarization and where the Republicans are.

3. How does the Midwest Political Science Association conference look like to a reporter? James Warren answers the question.

4. Very good post from Greg Sargent on the Buffett Rule and things "political." 

5.And Sarah Kliff looks at what's happening to Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Question for Everyone

Gotta run to do my roto draft, so a quick, obvious one: Electoral college vote, Obama vs. Romney?

What Mattered This Week?

I'll start with the North Korea dud. How about a bit of India/Pakistan reconciliation? Not sure what to make of it, but it's a pretty big issue, so I'd say even a small bit of progress qualifies for this list. Also, perhaps the night raid agreement in Afghanistan. New election developments in Egypt.

More of the same in Syria.

I'm not sure whether the charges against George Zimmerman count as something that matters at this point. Also in vaguely related news, we had the WH decision against a sexual orientation discrimination ban for federal contractors.

The GSA scandal continued to be in the news, and was joined by a new Secret Service scandal. Not quite sure how to place either of these.

Oh, and Rick Santorum dropped out...I suppose at some level that moves things along, but it's not exactly restructuring the election situation.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, April 13, 2012

April 12, 1972

(Sorry, one day late)

G. Gordon Liddy is assembling his team for bugging his targets. He immediately makes two horrible, terrible, mistakes. The first one is about money. Checks had come in that CRP didn't want associated with the donors, either because they were illegal corporate campaign contributions or because they were from Democrats or others who didn't want it known that they were supporting the president's re-election. The plan was to convert checks into cash. How to do it? Liddy asked Howard Hunt, who asked his Cuban friends to do it. Why was that a disaster? For one thing, because US banks, as Emery tells us, were recording serial numbers of bills involved in large cash withdrawals -- in other words, the money could eventually traced back to them. But even worse, perhaps, is that the person who did it was Hunt's Havana-born friend, Bernard Barker, who as you may recall had also been involved in the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. And that, of course, is a problem because it now links the campaign to that crime. Of course, Liddy himself was a link, but it's getting more interwoven now.

The second mistake is similar. To actually handle the bugs, Liddy recruited a former CIA agent, James McCord. And where did he find McCord? It wasn't hard; McCord was the Committee to Re-Elect's chief of security. Now, again, if Liddy himself was caught doing anything, that was already going to be a huge problem. But by using Barker and McCord, Liddy made it that much worse; if anyone got caught, it was going to be at least a CRP story and perhaps a White House story. Basically, for a high-risk operation, no one was really treating it as something that could get everyone in big trouble.

Liddy, now authorized to move ahead, collected the same money from CRP treasurer Hugh Sloan that Liddy had already laundered through Barker, and on April 12 passed most of it to McCord for purchasing the equipment they would need.

Catch of the Day

Very smart post from Kevin Drum, who looks at a polling question on Barack Obama's recent "hot mike" incident, notices that only 4% of respondents claimed to have no opinion, and concludes:

The problem is that although the question above is the one that was presented to people, here's what I think they mostly heard:
blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah President Obama blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Troubling or Not?

The most important thing about reading polls, even more important than remembering that some results could be statistical flukes, is not to take the meaning of the question at face value. We know perfectly well lots of things about that. Seemingly small differences in question wording can have massive effects on the answer. And, as Drum points out, people who get to the point of the survey that they're asked about issues or candidates are generally very reluctant to admit ignorance or indifference, even though we know that there's lots and lots of ignorance and indifference out there.

See also a nice item by Jonathan Chait on a similar subject today.

And: great catch!
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