Thursday, May 31, 2012

Roemer Out

I suppose I should take note of the demise of Buddy Roemer's third-party campaign, a few months after the demise of his campaign for the Republican nomination. You know, for President of the United States of America. Oh well; it's hard to ridicule anyone for running for president in a cycle that had Prince Herman.

Outside of inspiring my inspired but little-noticed and never-copied classification of Roemer as a Captain Bateson class candidate, Roemer was also notable for his excellent use of twitter, especially during debates he was excluded from.

And he's now going to crusade on the topic of campaign finance. Well, I suppose I should wish him good luck in that, but I'm not a fan. I will say this: it would be nice if someone out there outside of the left wing of the Democratic Party was banging the drums for public financing. Granted, I'm only for partial public financing -- floors, not ceilings -- but it would probably move things forward to have someone new out there pushing it.

By the way, for liberals who support campaign finance, here's one for you. Compare how responsive to moneyed interests the following Democrats were: JFK/LBJ, elected with only private financing and no limits except ban on direct corporate donations and no disclosure; Jimmy Carter. full general election public financing  and partial nomination public funding with private donations limited and disclosed; Bill Clinton, with both nomination and general election partial public financing plus semi-limited and semi-disclosed private financing for both; and Barack Obama, back to full private financing, semi-limited and semi-disclosed. My sense is that you basically get no difference; others may disagree.

Republicans Against ACA

I have a post up at Post Partisan today noting that the new Crossroads ad against Claire McCaskill that hits her on ACA -- but, I note, the substantive problems identified with "Obama - Claire" are all about Medicare cuts.

To flesh it out a bit...I looked through the web sites of the Republican Senate candidates (this is my group of the 16 candidates most likely to become United States Senators in this cycle) to see what they had to say on the issue. As expected, it's a popular talking point still during this election cycle; all but one had something about  it (if George Allen does, I couldn't find it). Of those 15, only Linda Lingle of Hawaii wasn't clearly for repeal; she only had concerns about it. I should also add that "repeal and replace" has faded, with only two candidates holding that position. The rest were just for repeal.

Ah, but what did they think was wrong with Obamacare? Mostly, they didn't feel it was necessary to explain. About half didn't really say anything substantive at all. Of the rest, Medicare cuts were mentioned by three candidates; cost by two; the mandate by two, and at least one general complain that it's unconstitutional.

I guess one can make of that whatever one wants. Is ACA (thought to be) so unpopular that just mentioning it is enough? Are Medicare cuts the single most common complaint by Republican politicians about ACA? Is Medicare just one of several issues that Republicans think will work?

I believe that someone collected evidence of what was in the 2010 health care reform attack ads; anyone remember that?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Rikkert Faneyte, 43. Perhaps not much of a ballplayer, but a good story nonetheless.

Plenty of good stuff:

1. Greg Koger on the sudden turn against consensus in the Senate. Explanation? Partisanship, not ideology. Sounds right.

2. Excellent post about LBJ from Scott Lemieux. Although I haven't read the Caro book, what Lemieux says sounds right to me. Two comments. I wouldn't assume that bullying cabinet secretaries can always work. It may have been easier for LBJ in the particular circumstances of 1964, but I'm interested in whether that's really how he got his way with them -- and if so, the extent to which it had (as Neustadt would predict) unfortunate consequences down the road. The other comment is something I know nothing about: why didn't the Democrats pass stronger labor legislation during the high point of LBJ's presidency? Was that part of what Johnson gave up to get the other things through?

3. Carah Ong, a blogging political science grad student, does a little research into how exactly the whole Medal of Freedom thing works, or at least how it did during the Reagan Administration. Good fun.

4. Yes, this year doesn't appear to be anything like 1980. I suspect, by the way, that Reagan didn't do better because he wasn't a very good candidate, but it's not as if I'm going to get anyone to believe that. Nate Silver explores.

5. Max Read: "The New York Times Should Fire Tom Friedman and Let Paul Simon Write His Column Instead." Well, okay, but, we're stuck with songwriters, I'd rather they set up a rotation with, say, Bob Mould, Carrie Brownstein, Frank Portman, and...I don't know, wouldn't it be fun to have KRS-One in the rotation? Just think of the opportunities for denouncing him!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Most Useless Word Around

Would we lose anything, anything at all, if people just stopped using the word "establishment" entirely? That is, in the context of political party factions.

Item 1: "Establishment" candidate David Dewhurst will have to compete with Ted Cruz in a runoff for the Texas Republican Senate nomination (and, almost certainly, a Senate seat). Cruz is backed by Club for Growth, which has been around since the turn of the century; by the most recent GOP VP candidate, several US Senators, a couple of presidential candidates from this cycle, a former chair of his state party, a former US Attorney General, and any number of other well known and/or influential state and national Republican people and groups. What makes Dewhurst (who has his own long set of endorsements) more "establishment" than that? In particular: why should the press call one of them "establishment" and the other, not?

Item 2: Mitt Romney has not yet won the endorsements of Republican foreign policy "establishment" types Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. What makes them, and not their opponents within the party --opponents who, in many cases, have been in office a lot more recently and are more likely to be appointed by Republican nominee Romney if he wins -- "establishment"? Or if both sides of the GOP divide (or all sides, if there are more than two) are "establishment," then how does it help us, the readers, figure out what's going on?

It's just lazy journalism. Parties have groups, and factions, and individuals, and certainly those who are in and those who are out...oh, I suppose they can have something that's an establishment, too (I do think there was a foreign policy establishment in the 1960s, for example), but more likely you're not telling us anything at all by calling one of these factions or groups or individuals "establishment." I know I've hit on this point before, but alas the examples of it are all over the place and just as useless as ever.

Catch of the Day

Goes to Paul Waldman, who doesn't want the press to overinterpret every blip in the polls, and gives a nice example of how they do it.

I have to say that it can be frustrating doing daily blogging that sometimes seems to consist of, again and again, saying that things don't matter at all. Or that they matter only a little bit. Or that they probably don't matter, but might if things break right. Or that they don't matter, although if they hint something about future actions then those future actions, if they happen, might matter, even if the present ones don't.

I mean -- frustrating because I'm afraid that it's just boring. I mean, "Obama in free-fall because Bain attacks backfire!" is something people want to read; "Etch-a-sketch doesn't matter" seems, well, less exciting. Especially if it's one in a series of "doesn't matter" posts.

And this incredibly elongated general election campaign doesn't help things very much, does it?

The cure for this, I'm pretty sure, is to pay more attention to House and Senate campaigns. And to try to write a Sarah Palin item once a week or so, just because.

Anyway, pardon my whining, but Waldman has a nice post, and: nice catch!

When Madisonian Democracy Breaks Down

Hans Noel is blogging Madison and parties over at the new blog. I agree with much of his approach to Madison, but I figured I should jump in and give my own version of this, which overlaps with his.

Madison, as I see it, considers majority tyranny the worst enemy of democracy.* I think he sees it primarily in practical terms: under true majority rule, the minority will revolt and, if possible, impose some other form of government, because permanent minorities will be better off if democracy is overthrown. Madison is acutely aware that the history of republics is one of failure, usually before very long. No one has ever figured out how to make a democracy last, and Madison thinks that the trick, which involves making it very difficult for majorities to act. He proposes to do that two ways. In Federalist 10 he suggests a very large polity, so that interests are diverse and therefore no natural majorities will form (that is, no single faction will be very large). And in Federalist 51, he proposes a scheme of checks and balances; by breaking up the government into many competing branches, unified control will be difficult.

As Hans says, this focus on faction, or what we would call interest groups, overlooks that which did not yet exist: political parties, which can knit together smaller interests into a majority and which can co-ordinate across branches of government. Still, I'd argue that this does not, in fact, under most conditions, violate Madison's plans.

I count three threats to Madison:

1. Everyone begins to care deeply about the exact same issue, especially one which appears to everyone to have only two choices. This is, essentially, the story of slavery; we can think of the Civil War as the consequence of everyone believing that everything hinged on slavery and all compromise positions disappeared, leaving only two choices.

2. The party one: everyone begins to be passionately partisan. In this case, not only are the stakes very high if your side loses and election, but a loss threatens to be permanent, because if everyone is partisan then there will be few if any swing voters.

3. Ideology. Everyone becomes convinced that all issues are linked together in some fashion so that if you support X then you also support Y and Z and A and B and C.

What they all have in common, I think you can see, is that they return to Madison's original problem: if elections are high-stakes and at least threaten to be permanent decisions, then the losers will prefer other options to democracy.

Now, we clearly in my view do not have a situation matching situation #1 or #3, at least among the general public. I'd argue that we also don't have a situation #2 situation, although we're closer to it than we once were.

So what to do? Hans suggests:
Rather than trying to fix our party system, Madison would advocate fixing out institutions, so that they would, in his words from Federalist 51, "oblige [government] to control itself." In short, we shouldn't be trying to fix our parties to make them work within our institutions. We should be trying to fix our institutions so that they can handle our parties.
I'm not sure where Hans is going next, so I won't try to guess. But what I think Madison would suggest is that the institution(s) needing fixing are the parties themselves, and that you do that by finding new and different incentives for party actors.

Can that be done? I really don't know. I guess I tend to think that the big problem is neither ideology nor partisanship, but something else that's wrong with the Republican Party that winds up with that party (1) undermining democratic norms and (2) advocating a principled aversion to compromise.

That's not to say that a round of institutional tinkering would necessarily be a bad thing; in particular, I do think that the current (post-1993, post-2009) de facto rules of the Senate are dysfunctional and should be reformed, and I've advocated other reforms in other areas. But while I certainly agree with Hans about Madison's point concerning the virtues of allowing participation in whatever form it winds up taking, I also don't know that we should necessarily take the current state of the parties as a given. And to the extent that governmental design can nudge everyone away from Madison's three problematic situations, that would be a good goal.

*Two clarifications: one is that yes, I know that Madison used a slightly different vocabulary, but I think we're better off translating into modern vocabulary; we should use "republic" and "democracy" as synonyms. And, yes, we cannot assume that the Constitution is the perfect embodiment of Madison's ideas, or that Madison's words written in the context of a political fight are always the best guide to what he thinks.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Colm Meaney, 59.

Right to the good stuff:

1. "Why is opinion writing still mostly male?" An excellent contribution on an important topic, from CJR's Erika Fry. I'll add that it frustrates me quite a bit that so few women who study American politics have taken up blogging about it (and if you are and I'm not linking to you, let me know!).

2. Greg Koger's first post at Mischiefs of Faction is about parties in Congress, and it's really, really good.

3. Jared Bernstein continues to litigate last week's argument about Obama era spending. Guessing the WaPo fact-checker won't reconsider, but they should.

4. And an argument for Mars, from Tim Fernholz. I'm not really convinced, although I'd like to be.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Elsewhere: Hayes, Silly Season Stuff

At Greg's place today, I did a post about things that don't matter much during the president race, at least not as far as affecting the November vote is concerned.

And at Post Partisan I followed up on a terrific Conor Friedersdorf post about the Chris Hayes flap over the weekend. I'll say a bit more here about how I understand the history of this. During Vietnam, some (many?) antiwar protesters targeted the troops themselves. Remember that the draft was on during most of this period, and anyone who didn't approve of the war had to decide whether to be drafted anyway; to find some way of getting out of it; or to refuse the draft and accept the consequences. With that as the backdrop, antiwar protesters (again: some? many?) applied the logic of their own choice to everyone else, under the logic that if everyone refused to fight, the war could not be fought. This was never pretty, but apparently it occasionally (frequently? rarely?) got ugly, with returning troops confronted, and, at least as legend has it, spat upon.

After the war, liberals rethought the whole thing, and decided that had been a mistake, both on practical political grounds (because it was a stupid tactic unlikely to win friends) and on moral and policy grounds. The result has been a thirty-year or more absolute line among mainstream liberals, which I believe extends even to the real lefties, to blame policy-makers but to treat the troops with respect and admiration.

All that is off the top of my head, so no citations, but I think it's all basically true.

What's too bad about all this, from my point of view, is that it has also produced a sort of arms race of overt patriotism, a lot of it militaristic, that is certainly not to my taste, at the very least, and I might if I thought about it oppose substantively. I think the consensus "support the troops" position is just fine, and I'm also perfectly okay with calling all those who serve in the military "heroes." And I like a certain amount of overt patriotism: I love 4th of July parades, and flags in front yards, and patriotic music. But I can't stand the 7th inning God Bless America (and not just because it's far from my favorite patriotic song), and I don't like the major-sporting-event fly-bys, and generally I think a great and proud nation should tone it down a few levels.

Fables, Continued

Kevin Williamson responded to his many critics with a long post over the weekend, conceding virtually nothing but one factual error (my post on it here; Alex Pareene has a good post and links to several of the critics here)

Williamson more or less correctly categorizes three different strands of criticism. One, what I focused on, is that Williamson treats "the Democratic Party" as a unified group, unified in their opposition to civil rights, right up to 1964 -- thus ignoring the clear split within the party between Southern segregationist Democrats and the rest of the party, a split that began yielding victories for the civil rights Democrats by the 1948 convention. The second, which Jonathan Chait focused on, is the Republican Party had a split, too -- and that the conservatives, who had a mixed-at-best record on civil rights, were the complete and total winners of that fight. The third is about black voters, and how Williamson accounts for their complete shift to the Democratic Party in the face of his version of history.

I'll start with the point about northern Democrats. Here's all that he has to say about that:
Second theme: It wasn’t a Republican/Democrat dispute, it was a North/South dispute. There is something to that, but it is far from the entire story. As I pointed out, John F. Kennedy, who I am sure never tasted grits, opposed critical civil-rights reforms backed by Republicans. 
He here ducks the chance to acknowledge the actual history of the Democratic Party in the first six decades of the 20th century, which is in fact complex, with plenty -- plenty -- of room for very legitimate criticism, but also quite a lot to praise for supporters of civil rights. I have no idea what exactly he's referring to on JFK. It is certainly the case that civil rights supporters during the Kennedy Administration were frustrated at the pace of legislation -- as liberals were with the pace of the entire liberal agenda -- and it's probably true that those for whom civil rights was the key issue would have been more likely to support Humphrey in 1960, but there's simply no question at all that the Kennedy/Johnson ticket in 1960 ran on a civil rights platform, both literally and symbolically. If you want to read something fun about that, including the famous call to Coretta King, I came across a nice oral history interview with Harris Wofford. Obviously there are books and books and books written about this stuff, which Williamson is either unfamiliar with or ignoring. Look: it is more complicated than just North/South, and a fair amount of that complication is about internal Democratic Party politics. But to dismiss JFK like Williamson does here is just plain wrong; to ignore, as he did in his original article, the entire history of the civil rights movement within the Democratic Party is to totally butcher the history.

Second point: The Republican Party. Williamson's argument is that the Republican Party was in favor of civil rights throughout, from Lincoln to now. His critics argue that he's ignoring the old liberal/conservative split within the GOP, and that it's dodgy to credit current Republicans for what liberal Republicans did back then -- when those liberal Republicans were essentially read out of the party long ago.

Williamson's response? He complains a bit about the usage of "conservative" in places it doesn't apply, a complaint I think is often well-taken -- but that doesn't apply here at all. Williamson attempts to reclaim civil rights Republicans by noting that they were in favor of integrating black Americans within the market economy, which (he appears to assume) only conservatives support. But of course that's not true at all; virtually all Americans, and certainly all mainstream political movements, support a market economy. He says, "a lot of those so-called liberals from the northeast who supported civil rights look pretty good by today’s Republican standards: sober, free-enterprise, small-government guys." The larger point? There's simply no question that folks such as Jacob Javits, Hugh Scott, and Clifford Case could not be nominated in today's Republican Party; that everyone at the time considered that wing of the party "liberal", and that everyone at the time considered the Goldwater wing of the party "conservative," and that it was the Goldwater wing which opposed civil rights. The bottom line: a Republican Party which actually treated people like Javits, Scott, and Case as "pretty good" would be a completely, totally different party from the one we actually have.

What's more, Williamson wants to think very narrowly -- too narrowly -- about what counts as civil rights. He's correct that some mistakenly want to count any issue that African Americans supports as axiomatically part of civil rights, but he goes way too far in the other direction, explicitly excluding affirmative action as a civil rights issue. Similarly, Williamson entirely ignores voting access issues. There's no question but that the liberal, civil rights Republicans of the past would oppose what today's Republican Party is up to on voting.

Third point: Williamson complains about cherry-picking by those who have (a bit too gleefully, I'll agree) played gotcha over William F. Buckley's opposition to civil rights up to 1964. But is it really cherry-picking to talk about Buckley, surely a leading conservative voice of the time, and Barry Goldwater, the leading conservative politician of the time? And while it is also true that the new Southern Republicans were, in general, not nearly as bigoted as the Southern Democrats had been, they were hardly (as Williamson implies) supporters of civil rights when it counted: on the 1964 bill, the ten Southern Members of the House and the lone Southern Senator voted unanimously against it. Yet another point that you would not know from reading Williamson's article.

I'm going to get to the other topic, about black voters, in another post.

Williamson's history was and remains one that ignores the Humphrey Democrats, ignoring that they became the dominant voice of the party by 1948; and one that ignores the very mixed at best record of movement conservative Republicans, the Strom Thurmand and Jesse Helms -- and Barry Goldwater -- Republicans, on civil rights. It is true that the legacy of the Democratic Party, including outside of the South, is also mixed (that is: horrible within the South, mixed in the rest of the nation); it is also true that Republicans up through 1965 had a long history of supporting civil rights.

And I'll close by repeating what I said above and in the previous post. What I'd suggest is that the first step Republicans could take if they really want to be the party of Lincoln and the party whose liberal wing strongly supported civil rights would be to support the position of civil rights leaders on voting, right now, and give up on the various schemes Republicans have been pushing that will have the effect of reducing African American voting participation. I think it's pretty clear which way Hubert Humphrey and Hugh Scott, and Jesse Helms and  (segregationist Democrat) Harry Byrd, would have come down on this one.

For Tuesday I Walk to the Village

It's election day here in Texas, always a fun  and patriotic occasion. I voted in an empty polling place...they said that it had been busy earlier, but a bit after 1PM it was totally deserted, if you don't count the kindergarten kids who were on their way from someplace to someplace else. We vote in the local elementary school, which I discovered (actually during the last election a couple of weeks ago) has a new slogan: "Ubiquitous!" No, I don't know why that makes sense, but then again that's just a distraction.

So: I voted, and voted, and voted again. Not too bad; only 32 times. Three of which should hardly count, since they were the quaint local custom of putting non-binding "Propositions" on the ballot, I guess to advise the parties -- these are party-generated questions which only appear on that party's ballot. In Texas, Democrats got to say that they support in-state tuition and the Dream Act for immigrants and casino gambling (I assume the advocates put that one on the ballot, but I don't really know); Republicans got to say they were for school choice, against "Obamacare", for public prayer, for a balanced budget amendment, and for yet another round of redistricting.

Anyway, I had 32 votes to cast, although many of those were single candidates...I didn't count, but I think it was somewhere below half of the ballot had choices, although president, US Senate, and US House all did. We went with a strict division of labor in my household on this one, with my wife doing all the research and recommendations, all of which I went along with...but alas she didn't give me any guidance on the 73rd Judicial District Election, in which David A. Canales was matched up with Paul Canales. Such choices! Democracy! I guessed.

The ballot this time had relatively few offices that are easy to ridicule, so I won't...just lots and lots of judges, which I don't really think we should be voting on (these are the judicial judges; we also have county executive judges in Texas, but that wasn't on the ballot this time around).

As for the tally: 32 votes today. Two election days this year, with a total of 38 votes; three election days this cycle, with 40 things to vote for. That compares with five election days and 115 votes in 2010, so this year is quite a bit slower -- doesn't look like we'll get to 100. Next up will be any runoff elections generated from today's idea if we'll see one or not.

And as always, it's a great patriotic feeling to get out there and vote, but really we do vote on too many things.

New Must-Read: Mischiefs of Faction

Big news in the political science blog world: Parties scholars Seth Masket (of Enik Rising), Hans Noel, and Greg Koger have teamed up to write a new blog, Mischiefs of Faction, focusing on political parties. All are friends of Plain Blog and friends of your plain blogger, but besides from that they are all very smart, very interesting, and almost always right about parties. All of them are interested in both the theory and practice of parties, and all of them are connected to "real world" politics both by their personal histories and their interests. They're very, very, good, and of course, the new blog has my highest recommendation. More to the point: I'm excited to start reading it, and I'm particularly happy that Hans and Greg are going to be blogging more regularly.

On to the first substantive post, by Seth Masket, in which he makes the reasonable argument that the Republicans were inevitably going to nominate a flip-flopper this time around.

Massachusetts! I mean, Seth is right -- Pawlenty had flipped on a couple things if I recall correctly, as had Perry, but perhaps not enough to get a flip-flopper reputation. Of course many Republicans, including from conservative states, had supported TARP, or Romney-like health care reform, or climate positions that were unacceptable today (was that Pawlenty's thing?). But none of those, many of which were shared by Romney, was as big a deal as abortion, plus gay rights, plus gun control, and most elected Republicans wouldn't have had to flip on those.

I think the general point is correct, but Romney's flip-flopping is much more about Massachusetts than it is about polarization.

At any rate: a warm welcome to Mischiefs of Faction. This is just excellent news.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Aaron McGruder, 38.

And some good stuff:

1. Brad DeLong on core vs. headline inflation. Just in case anyone doesn't believe it.

2. Nice Amy Fried post about whether politicians actually know what their constituents want.

3. "The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans." Eric Rauchway.

4. Avengers blogging: Was Scarlett Johansson wearing a gorilla suit?

5. And a nice piece by the great Christina Kahrl -- no Giants fan she -- on Buster Posey.

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28, 1972

Success, at last.

It's Sunday night. Their locksmith, Virgilio Gonzelez, spent the day flying to Miami and back to get the proper equipment that they would need to get into the Democratic National Committee offices.

Third try, third method. This time it's through the garage level, taping the doors, and up to the sixth floor offices and in with Gonzalez's stuff. James McCord went to work on the telephones, installing bugs. Bernard Barker and Rolando Martinez photographed documents. Three others stood guard; one, Fielding operation veteran Felipe de Diego, did in fact run into Watergate security, but was just taken out of the building without any further investigation.

Left behind were two phone bugs, to be listened to from the Howard Johnson's across the street. It's been a long time coming, but the Committee to Re-elect finally has at least a small piece of what Liddy envisioned way back in January. As Liddy says in his book, "The Watergate entry had been successful. Or so I thought."

Elsewhere: The crazy, Lugar, and more

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday.* Greg is still playing hooky, so I've been over at Plum Line more than usual. Today I had one on where the presidential race sits now, and another on what to expect from Dick Lugar for the rest of the year. Way back on Friday, I had a Post Partisan post about the latest conservative defector,

Meanwhile, I had a Salon column over the weekend about the future of the GOP and the crazy. I'm not especially optimistic about that future...I said that the best chance for change is probably if GOP-aligned interest groups decide that the crazy really threatens them enough for them to fight to get rid of it.

I should be back to a normal blogging schedule tomorrow; meanwhile, you can expect another round of Watergate blogging some time later today. With any luck earlier than I've been getting to it lately.

*And a belated Gut Yontif to those celebrating poor neglected Shavuot. At my house? Blintzes were eaten.

May 27, 1972

They try a second time! Liddy is back in the Howard Johnsons, but this time they tried a more direct tactic: they signed in at the main floor security desk with phony names, took the elevator two floors higher than they needed, and walked down two flights to the DNC.

Where Gonzalez was unable to pick the lock and get in.

Back to the HoJo, and Liddy realizes that they might have given away everything if the lock looked tampered with, so he repeated their plan: Liddy and two of the others went over, signed in (as Liddy tells it, "scribbled on the register"), went up to the DNC, and checked it out, finding some marks but nothing that Liddy thought would draw attention, followed by the elevator back to the main floor, and signing back out on the register.

All this happening after midnight, since the offices didn't clear out until close to then, followed by a planned midnight security sweep.

Liddy and Hunt confer at the end of the night, and Liddy insists on putting Gonzalez on a plane to Miami and back the next day, Sunday the 28th, to get the right tools.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Oh, let's talk about drugs a bit. Do you think that Democratic politicians support the status quo on drugs -- in particular marijuana -- because they really believe that it's good policy? Because they believe it's good politics? Some other reason?

Do you expect it to change any time soon?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What's your reaction to the string of defectors from the GOP? If you disagree with them: why does this seem to keep happening, if they're wrong? If you agree with them (that is, in their shared claim that they are still in fact conservative but that there's something wrong with the Republican Party right now), do you think they should be admired, or should they have acted differently?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26, 1972

The first attempt to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex.

The Cuban-Americans registered at the Watergate hotel (a separate but connected building to the building with the DNC offices), with phony names, as people working for a company that was being represented at a convention in town, which had drawn many such business delegations. This was three operatives from the Fielding break-in, two new Cuban-Americans, including a locksmith, and Frank Sturgis, who we met from the Hoover memorial affair. They booked a room for a reception which, they found in their investigation of the place, had a door that ran to an underground corridor that would get them to a stairwell and an elevator that would take them to the DNC offices without passing through security. The only problem was that the door had an alarm, which was activated, they discovered, at 11PM. No problem, they thought; May 26 was a Friday night and they figured they could get started by then.

They went ahead and held their banquet, complete with a film that they watched, Liddy reports, three times through in case anyone was looking through the window (why? I have no idea; why couldn't they just have been having after-dinner conversation?). Either McCord or his recently-hired ex-FBI assistant, Al Baldwin, meanwhile, was supposed to call from the Howard Johnson's across the street with the all-clear as soon as the DNC was dark and empty. But by 10:30, with no word from McCord and a security guard coming by on a regular sweep and telling them that they would have to leave, most of the group gave up for the night -- except for Hunt and the locksmith, Virgilio Gonzalez. The two of them hid in a liquor closet until the guard was gone, only to find that by the time they gave at at 11 when the door alarm would be activated, the door out of the banquet room was now locked, and the two of them were stuck there overnight, staying hidden in the liquor cabinet until it was safe to come out.

Or at least that's the story that Liddy tells in his book, which if I follow this correctly seems to come from Hunt, but as Emery reports the story doesn't quite work -- among other things, there doesn't seem to have been any alarm on the door in question, 11 PM set-time or no. What Emery also ads, but Liddy does not, is that Liddy's group after leaving the banquet room went back to McGovern headquarters, but failed to make any headway there, either.

One more bit: Baldwin, McCord's new assistant, met Hunt and Liddy at the Howard Johnson's that night -- and people tried to use aliases, but botched that. McCord rented the HoJo room through his own security firm, thus making it perfectly traceable to him; Baldwin made traceable personal calls to his family from the room. The Cubans used phony names and a phony business at the Watergate, but to get the banquet room, used stationary from a company in Miami that Barker was associated with. Earlier in the week, to learn the Watergate offices better, they just went there and looked around, which required them all signing the security register on the main floor (the one they were avoiding with the whole banquet room scam). Why does any of that matter? If any of them were ever caught, or say if the bugs they were trying to plant had been discovered, the Liddy-Hunt team were leaving plenty of clues for anyone investigating it, clues that would very rapidly lead to CRP, the White House, and potentially the Plumbers operations, including the Fielding break-in.

And so that's the first try at the Watergate.

What Mattered This Week?

I'll start with the Egyptian elections...don't have any clue how it matters, but surely it fits. Then there's the Euromess, for all sorts of reasons. Did anything that matters happen in the Iran negotiations? I don't think so.

Back in the US...I don't know that any of the campaign stuff this week mattered, outside of the House primaries on Tuesday. I strongly suspect, for whatever it's worth, that the SpaceX launch matters. Don't know whether anyone will agree with me on that, but I suspect it easily tops the Facebook stock stuff. Oh, and I'm not sure if it's really this week, but there was an AP story about the Army no longer taking new recruits last year with various black marks, now that the recruiting pinch of the Iraq war is over, with the Army (apparently?) surviving the last decade in pretty good shape. There were quite a few scare stories in the middle of the last decade about what Iraq was doing to the Army, but it seems to me those turned out, eventually, to be a false alarm. Anyway, I'll say that might matter.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

First of all, I give: Melky's okay. Well, he's obviously a lot better than okay so far this year, but he's enough better that I'm ready to say I was wrong about him.

What I said after the trade was that it all depended on whether he could play CF. After all, he's coming off a 339 OBP/470 SLG year that looked like a bit of a fluke, and even if it was for real that's just barely okay as a LF. It's only 200 more PAs, but I'd say the evidence is a lot stronger that 2010 was a genuine improvement, not a fluke, even if he does come crashing back down. And of course it's not unusual for a player to show real improvement at age 26 (last year), although it will be shocking if his true level is anywhere close to what he's been doing so far this year.

There's still the question of whether a ~120 OPS+ guy is doing anything for you in LF. But since right now he's been much better than that, and since it's not as if there's anyone better that he's pushed to the bench or off the team...

Second point: this now makes three years in a row in which a fairly good Giants team has been chasing what appears to be a complete fluke team. In 2010 a 92 win Giants team spent the year chasing a 90 win Padre team...the Pads win totals over the last five years are 63, 75, 90, 71, and they'll be lucky to reach 71 this season. Then it was the Diamondbacks, who spiked to 94 wins after years of 70 and 65 and are back to pumpkin this year. So now it's the Dodgers turn. They're not quite as much of a fluke, since they were basically a .500 team the last two years, and of course there's no way of knowing what they'll look like going into the future...still, it sure looks like a fluke year to me. For what it's worth, Clay Davenport's adjusted standings says that they've been lucky, but I think overall they also just have a lot of guys over their heads. I mean, it's not as if the Giants don't have Melky, Gregor, and Pagan all overachieving, but still...I'm not really making any predictions here, just saying that it's weird that this appears as if it will be the third straight season structured the same way.

May 25, 1972

With the McGovern headquarters still a possible target -- they would do, perhaps, both McGovern HQ and the Watergate incursion while the Cubans were in town -- Gordon Liddy and Frank Sturgis go to check out the area. The floodlights behind the offices (as Emery explains; see also here) make the area too Liddy pulls out his gun and shoots them out.

Sure, it's a fun episode. But really the next bit is a better indication of what's going on. According to Jeb Magruder, Liddy's boss at the campaign, Liddy reported this to him while he was meeting with Gordon Strachan, who you'll recall was Bob Haldeman's liaison to the campaign. Magruder testified that he was upset by that, because Liddy wasn't supposed to do anything that could be tied to the Committee to Re-Elect. Of course, it also means that the White House was fully in the loop about what was happening at CRP.

They haven't been just dealing with McGovern, however; plans to break into the DNC at the Watergate complex are moving ahead. That included waltzing straight in to the Democrats' offices to inspect the doors and, Liddy reports, have Hunt take an impression of the lock. It also involved James McCord renting a room at the Howard Johnson's across from the Watergate and moving in the electronics they would need.

Everything is moving into place for some action, finally, after months of delay, and with the White House still pressing them, always, for more good information.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Boomers Done It?

Regarding my discovery that the Senate is getting older in part because incoming recent Senators have become a lot older, which as I said earlier I had found but couldn't explain, my brother has a theory: it's the baby boomers.

Could be! I'll note, however, that over the last three cycles (that is, elected in 2006, 2008, and 2010) there have actually been four pre-boomers, four new Senators born during WWII. OK, Dan Coats is a new but not a first-time Senator, but still. And that might not be it. David Dewhurst was born in August 1945 -- after the war ended, but I think the demographers call 1946 the beginning of the boom. And Angus King? Born before D-Day (March 1944). Chris Shays is a lot less likely than either of them to make it to the Senate, but he was born in October 1945.

At least all of them were born after Pearl Harbor. Tommy Thompson, who I suppose is technically the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in Wisconsin, was not. OK, I don't think he's going to get the nomination...I mean, I really, really, don't think he's going to get the nomination...but I like the idea of Thompson losing to Tammy Baldwin and then going back in time to November 1941 and explaining it to everyone.

By the way: that's a realistic if slim chance that five pre-boomers could enter the Senate in 2013 (you could add Bob Kerrey -- 1943 -- but it's hard to believe that Kerrey, Shays, and Thompson could all get elected). If I'm counting correctly, the maximum number of post-boomers who could make it is only four. Yikes!

Also by the way: the demographers say 1965, but I think that's ridiculous; in my view, there's no way that those of us born after JFK died should be considered baby boomers. The idea that we share a cultural world with Sally Draper just doesn't work.

Marriage, Obama, and Public Opinion

Glenn Greenwald asks:
The significant increase in support for marriage equality is strong evidence that Presidents can change public opinion with advocacy, yes?
To back up a bit...Nate Silver has the very tentative evidence that there has been a shift among African Americans; here's my contribution from Plum Line yesterday to what I suspect explains the shift, if it exists; and John Sides did an overview of it later yesterday and added some additional evidence about opinion leadership.

Which brings us to an excellent post by Scott Lemieux:
[A]ssuming arguendo that Obama’s position-taking has in fact increased support among African-Americans — this represents a fairly unusual political situation, in which 1)a stalwart part of the Democratic base 2)among which Obama is particularly popular has 3)a position that is in tension with much of the rest of the rest of the Democratic coalition 4)on a relatively low-priority issue for most voters 5)on which public opinion has been trending positively (including among African-Americans) anyway.   It’s not like this kind of dramatic shift can be replicated in all that many other cases.
Yes -- but there's more! The signal that's getting the response is an extremely strong one because it involves the president changing his position. That matters because it automatically made the president's advocacy front-page news; it also matters because anyone who wanted to keep her positions aligned with Obama's would, of course, have to switch.

The upshot of this is that if it is true, which we don't know yet, this is evidence of a situation in which a president may be able to affect public opinion, but it's one that isn't apt to show up very often at all or to be very useful. In particular, it doesn't apply at all to the most common situation, in which a president attempts to change public opinion by making a stronger, louder case for his already-declared policy position in order to sway people outside of his strongest supporters (who, usually, already agree with him).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Paul Weller, 54. I'm not really a fan of the rest of his career. But I certainly am a fan of The Jam. If I thought that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was something to care about, I'd be outraged that they're not in. If The Clash is Hank Aaron, The Jam is Frank Robinson ...probably not quite as good or quite as important, but are you absolutely sure? (Analogy is for quality only, not career shape or type, obviously).

I seem to be sort of music-obsessed this week, birthday-wise; hope everyone doesn't mind to much. On to the good stuff:

1. Yesterday I linked to and discussed Sean Trende's article on Barack Obama and Appalachia; today I'll have to link to Ed Kilgore's very nice post on Trende. Gets it exactly right.

2. Conor Friedersdorf vets "The Vetting." As I've said, I think there's essentially zero chance that any of this stuff could have any effect on the 2012 election. And no question that the particular methods used by the folks he monitors are useless for anything, and certainly the best way to tell what Barack Obama is going to do in a second term is to study his public actions during his political career and, even more importantly, the Democratic party. But is it entirely useless to understand our presidents better? I guess my position is no, it isn't. My usual rule of thumb is that personality explanations for presidential actions should only be considered when other explanations (party, skills, political context) don't seem to help, but that doesn't mean that personality never matters.

3. Redistricting at the state legislative level seems to have been particularly rough on women, reports Sara Libby.

4. And I have to say that I really enjoyed the Tom Nawrocki's list of Top Ten Rock Hits With a Trombone Solo.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Candidates and Position-Taking

I'm a little behind on my "elsewhere" posts, but in lieu of one of those I'll mention that I've started looking at Republican Senate candidate web sites now, and wrote a couple of posts yesterday -- I found that Paul Ryan only rated a mention by a single candidate (out of 16 I looked at) and that marriage showed up for about half of them. Oh, just in case you're wondering -- not a single one of the candidates I looked at said anything about the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Not exactly a surprise, but we shouldn't forget how successful the roll-out of that one has been. I mean, we're talking about quite a few very conservative candidates, many of whom are running in competitive Republican primaries, and none of them think they can get any traction with gays in the military -- and half don't want to speak publicly about any sexual orientation issue at all. The old language about "special" rights is fading fast, as is perhaps the whole conservative rhetoric of sexual orientation.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is to get some suggestions. I'm set up to go back through the Republicans, or I could look at the Democrats again -- are there any issues that would be of interest? I've looked at marriage, public option, torture/civil liberties, and Senate reform for Democrats, plus the two above ones for Republicans. I think I asked about this before, but I find this stuff interesting (and the underlying question of what policy promises the parties are making is an important one, even though it's not clear how useful the web pages are for that). So, what would you like to know about what Senate candidates are saying?

Catch of the Day

I'm a bit late on this, but Andrew Sullivan deserves one for his takedown of a Tim Cavanaugh line about how Barack Obama is supposedly getting away with ruining the nation. I think part of this is normal rhetoric -- it's reasonable for Obama's opponents to complain about "vast unemployment...a moribund economy, record deficits" even if it's also reasonable for Obama's supporters and neutral observers to note that Obama inherited those conditions.

But what really interests me is the part that I skipped over in that quote, which is "soaring inflation." Just entirely bizarre; inflation, as Sullivan documents, has been basically flat during the Obama presidency. It's not just Cavanaugh, either, although at least some of the inflation Chicken Littles, such as Tom Coburn, only say that it's just around the corner. Of course, Ron Paul and his gang, along with all the goldbugs, are big on this one. My favorite thing is that there's a whole group of people who think it's clever to call the Fed chair "Zimbabwe Ben." You know, because the three great examples of hyperinflation are Zimbabwe, Weimar Germany, and Bernanke-era US. I know I've gone through three wheelbarrows already this year...

If we had wonk elections in which the candidates actually debated their real policy preferences -- not that I'm saying we should, but if we did -- then one of the central issues of the 2012 election would be whether we should be focused on inflation or jobs. I think this is one of those areas in which the press gives a party a pass because it's position just seems so improbable -- I'm thinking of the Bush Administrations (operational at least, but also theoretical in many cases) lack of interest in going after bin Laden as another example, along with the current GOP's preference for fighting inflation over jobs. In both cases, in my view at least the GOP position does have a serious argument to be made on its behalf, but there's no way it's an electoral winner. Anyway, we don't have those kinds of elections, and the press isn't interested in pushing a substantive debate over it, so there you are.

At any rate: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan, 71.

A little more good stuff:

1. Brad DeLong asks some tough questions to Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein.

2. What exactly is it about Mitt Romney's experience that will make him a good president? Turns out that Romney has some difficulty explaining it; Jonathan Chait notices.

3. I don't really think that Sean Trende is at all convincing in arguing that Barack Obama's poor showing in some primaries means anything -- but he's definitely correct about the region he identifies as shifting sharply to Republicans. I've written in particular about West Virginia, but I think he makes a strong case for a multistate region. Not at all as clear, however, is whether that region (including bits of it that are in swing states) will shift over 2008-2012 more than the nation as a whole.

4. Hoping I can get to reading soon a new project in democratic theory from Henry Farrell and Cosma Rohilla Shalizi they're calling "Cognitive Democracy." I'm not a huge fan of justifying democracy on the basis that it makes better decisions, but if it turns out to be true I'd certainly be happy about that.

5. And Digby on the Kevin Williamson thing. I don't know that she's right, but maybe...there certainly seems to be a strong market among conservatives for quack history, and it does seem to be begging for an explanation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Buck Showalter, 56.

A little good stuff:

1. Nathaniel Beck on youth unemployment and the NYT op-ed page. At the Monkey Cage.

2. The 1884 presidential election. By county. The not-quite-yet Solid South. Great stuff from Erik Loomis.

3. And Dan Larison on "expantionist" Russia, Iran, and others

May 22, 1972

It's time to prepare for OPAL, the first break-in. But which target? There are two possibilities: the DNC, or McGovern headquarters. Remember -- McGovern is the likely nominee, but it's hardly a sure thing. The May 16 primaries in Michigan and Maryland had gone to Wallace, of all people, with Humphrey and McGovern splitting 2nd and 3rd. On May 23 McGovern would win big in Oregon and Rhode Island, and then he would win in California and two other states on June 6...but it's only May 22 now.

Here's Fred Emery:


Liddy's first OPAL target had been McGovern headquarters on Capitol Hill. Politically, it made the most sense in that McGovern now appeared to be the likely Democratic nominee. Thomas Gregory, their McGovern plant, attended the briefing; so did the rest of the team, including the Cuban Americans. Gregory had supplied the headquarters layout and arranged a tour of the office for [Committee to Re-Elect security guy James] McCord, who posed as an out-of-town uncle. McCord recorded the bugs that could be planted within five minutes. The plan was to have Gregory be the last one to leave work in the evening and admit McCord. That plan fell through, however, and Gregory became jittery. Hunt revived the plan that had worked with the Fielding break-in -- making a fake delivery...Again the plan aborted when the McGovern campaign deployed security men.


More on the target. On May 16, the day after Wallace was shot (and the day of the Maryland and Michigan primaries), Haldeman's diary reads: "[Nixon] feels that from a political standpoint this now assures Hubert's nomination, and we talked about that a little." Then, on May 18: "I talked to [Connally] a little about Wallace, he doesn't think Wallace can run as VP on the Democratic ticket. Hubert can't take him, because Wallace is stronger than Hubert, and third party's out of the question because he's come so far in the Democratic Party  now that he'd have no reason to go over and diminish his stature. Connally feels that if he's smart, and he thinks he is, that he'll go through the Democratic Convention and then say that he can't take the platform or McGovern or whoever the nominee is so the best thing to do is elect Nixon."

Again, that was May 18. On May 20, Nixon, Haldeman, and others left Washington for a major Moscow summit, not returning until June 1; there's nothing in Haldeman's published diary (paperback edition, as always) about the Democrats now until June 7, the day after the California primary.

So the best evidence I'm aware of, and the logic of the situation, says that the White House was at best uncertain about the likely Democratic nominee on May 22, when Liddy and his operatives were making plans. They may have thought Humphrey the more likely fall opponent. As far as I'm aware there was no plan to hit the Humphrey campaign, for whatever reason, but given the situation, including uncertainty about the party rules and the role that party leaders would play if the nomination became a mess, the Democratic National Committee wasn't actually that nutty of an idea.

Then again, they haven't made that decision yet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Which Conservatives Get Their Own Fables of Faubus

National Review's Kevin Williamson has a new article about the parties' historical positions on civil rights, which I guess is a preview of an upcoming book which I guess is going to make the argument that the point of the Great Society was to turn the nation into helpless wards of the government so that they would vote for Democrats from then on. Which is both silly (in that it is historical nonsense) and pernicious (because it attacks motives, and because it assumes a lack of agency on the part of most voters), but isn't the main point of the current article, so I'll mostly stick with that.

(Okay, I have to put this somewhere. Jonathan Chait has written a terrific piece on Williamson's article, and he posted it as I was finishing this one. I'm just going to leave mine as is -- it's very much overlapping, but he focuses more on Republicans and I'm more interested here in the Democrats. You should read his).

Williamson makes the case that Republicans have always been in favor of civil rights against the racist Democrats. It's perfectly fair for Republicans to point to their long history of supporting civil rights, up through the adoption of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And it's also certainly true that the history of the Democratic Party is filled with racism.

But it's bizarre to say that the Democrats didn't flip on civil rights.
[T]hose southerners who defected from the Democratic party in the 1960s and thereafter did so to join a Republican party that was far more enlightened on racial issues than were the Democrats of the era, and had been for a century. There is no radical break in the Republicans’ civil-rights history: From abolition to Reconstruction to the anti-lynching laws, from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964, there exists a line that is by no means perfectly straight or unwavering but that nonetheless connects the politics of Lincoln with those of Dwight D. Eisenhower. And from slavery and secession to remorseless opposition to everything from Reconstruction to the anti-lynching laws, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, there exists a similarly identifiable line connecting John Calhoun and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Supporting civil-rights reform was not a radical turnaround for congressional Republicans in 1964, but it was a radical turnaround for Johnson and the Democrats.
You know what's missing from Williamson's version of Democratic Party history?

Three things. Hubert Humphrey; two-thirds; and African Americans.

Humphrey: you would never know from reading this quite long article that there was a northern wing of the Democratic Party at all. Democrats, for Williamson, were Southern Democrats, and they collectively and inexplicably had a "radical turnaround" in 1964. But of course that's not even remotely true. The real story is that the Democratic Party essentially split in two over time, with the Southern branch eventually disappearing. The key event is the 1948 Democratic National Convention, at which Humphrey gave a famous speech in favor of a strong civil rights plank, and the South responded by walking out and running a separate campaign.

Two thirds: That's the infamous rule that required a Democratic presidential nominee to get two-thirds of the delegates, thus insuring a Southern veto over the nomination. It was finally repealed in 1936, leading, eventually, to a presidential wing of the party which was liberal on civil rights. It's very fair to criticize Adlai Stevenson's civil rights record, but John Kennedy in 1960 was clearly in favor of civil rights. For that matter, Williamson makes Truman's support to be some sort of trivial footnote, but that's not true;  Note, too, that whatever LBJ's true feelings about race, it was clear by then -- including in 1957 -- that a solid segregationist would no longer be a viable presidential candidate, because civil rights was highly salient and the party majority would insist on it.

African Americans: In Williamson's account, they are a purely passive constituency, to be manipulated by cynical white politicians. That's not what actually happened. It is certainly true that in northern black voters were a key swing constituency in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and that appealing to them was a key driver of both Democratic and Republican support for civil rights. However, black politicians and civil rights leaders were active combatants in the fight over the Democratic Party, throughout the crucial period. That included, famously, the (losing) fight to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party at the 1964 convention, but it was also true among the small but growing group of (northern) black Democratic Members of the House.

What happened to the Southern Democratic Party? Some of it died off. Some remained very conservative and switched to the Republican Party. Some became mainstream liberals -- that's the story of Robert Byrd, who (as Williamson and Republicans in general are eager to remind everyone) was a Klan member and opposed civil rights early in his Congressional career, but switched entirely before long.

Did the parties swap places? Not really, exactly. The old Southern Democratic position is no longer found anywhere near the mainstream of American politics; for all practical purposes, it just disappeared. It is unfair and wrong to say that the current Republican Party adopted that position. However, it's juts as fair to note that the Goldwater/Reagan Republican Party has consistently opposed the policy preferences of civil rights leaders and the overwhelming majority of rank-and-file African Americans for the last few decades, while the liberal wing of the Republican Party, the wing that actively and strongly fought for civil rights, disappeared too.

As for the Democrats: they completely adopted the Humphrey position on civil rights. That's as clear a flip in position from where the Democratic Party was before FDR as possible. As a continuing organization, the Democrats certainly should be -- and to the best of my knowledge generally are -- ashamed of Woodrow Wilson and other twentieth (and nineteenth) century disgraces, and not exactly proud of how long it took to overcome that. But they did overcome it, absolutely and completely, long ago, and that's a proud part of their history that they should celebrate.

Williamson's version of history bears little resemblance to what really happened. Chait recommends that if Republicans really want to be the civil rights party, they should support same-sex marriage. What I'd suggest is that the first step Republicans could take if they really want to be the party of Lincoln and the party whose liberal wing strongly supported civil rights would be to support the position of civil rights leaders on voting, right now, and give up on the various schemes Republicans have been pushing that will have the effect of reducing African American voting participation.

I suspect that is what the majority of the Republican Party of the civil rights era -- and the majority of the Democratic Party of the civil rights era -- would have wanted.

Catch of the Day

To Brad DeLong, for having a little fun at Greg Mankiw's expense. It seems that Mankiw claims that George W. Bush never blamed Bill Clinton for his economic troubles, which to begin with isn't true, but more to the point is a silly comparison, given that the economy in winter 2000-2001 was, shall we say, just a wee bit stronger than the economy in winter 2008-2009. I'm struggling to think of an's sort of like if Nixon had blame JFK and LBJ every time there was a hiccup in the space program, or if Joe Girardi blamed Joe Torre for anything that went wrong with the Yankees, or if Yoko blamed Jane Asher from breaking up The Beatles.

Anyway, DeLong pulls out one quote to "gotcha" Mankiw directly, but I seem to recall that it's a standard talking point that Bush's economic record up until the end of 2007 or so was great, excepting the early-term recession that you can't blame him for because of  what he inherited and the September 11 attacks. Which, you know was totally reasonable, or at least the part about Bush not being responsible for the 2001 recession (although it does undermine the talking point about magic tax cuts solving everything the moment they get introduced).

At any rate, I enjoyed it. Nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Chris Butler of the Waitresses, 63. I hadn't realized that Butler -- he wrote the Waitresses songs -- was in the crowd at Kent State in 1970, as were (I believe) Mark Mothersbaugh and one or two other members of DEVO and Chrissie Hynde. Or maybe it's just one of those things like the millions of people who were there live for various sports events. Anyway, I saw the Waitresses once, but without Patty Donahue, who had split with the band at the time...Holly of Holly and the Italians was filling in, and needed index cards, if I recall correctly, to get through the lyrics to "I Know What Boys Like." Hmmm...if Wikipedia is correct, that was sometime within a two week window, so I guess I'm sort of lucky, or unlucky, depending how you look at it. I saw them again later with Donahue, though, but they were pretty over the hill by then. Great band, if only very briefly; for those of us who liked them way back when, it's weird that they will apparently live forever mainly because of a Christmas song.

Hmmmm...I seem to have got a bit carried away there. Better get to some good stuff:

1. Tim Noah confronts a talking point about inequality.

2. New research by Lisa Blaydes and Drew Linzer on public opinion -- in particular, anti-Americanism -- in Islamic nations.

3. Good Matt Yglesias post clarifying what Barack Obama actually proposes to do on taxes (using a Tax Policy Center chart). His point is that those puzzled by why rich people don't like Obama should realize that Obama really does want to raise taxes on upper-income folks, and that people don't like paying taxes. Fair point -- but I think what bothers a lot of liberals is that, as they see it, what the rich are buying with Obama is a non-imploding economy, which is worth a whole lot more to the rich than they would be paying in taxes. This doesn't make Yglesias's point wrong! But it requires either the rich not agreeing that there is a systematic reason why, say, the stock market thrived under Clinton and Obama while tanking under Bush, or the rich valuing money lost through higher taxes a lot more than money gained through better economic times.Or both.

4. And, yes, there does appear to be swearing in baseball, from Sam Miller.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Elsewhere: Presidential Campaign History, Judges, Jobs

I'm doing a bit more over at Greg's place this week while he's on vacation (but only a bit more, because the great Jamelle Bouie is guest-blogging; I'm thrilled to be sharing the space with him). So I may wind up with a bit less than usual around here all week. That was certainly the case today, but I'm going to try to keep to normal around here, or at least close. Although I expect that the morning links posts will be shorter than usual, since I'm doing the Roundup over there (and I try not to repeat things, although I'm not really sure that makes any sense). Anyway, if you want lots and lots of links, just head over to Plum Line.

To the business at hand. At Plum Line, I did a post on the Ninth Circuit nominee who was confirmed this afternoon. As I said in the update over there, this one had a curious resolution; after scheduling a cloture vote today, it turned out that Republicans dropped their filibuster and allowed just one regular old-fashioned confirmation vote, which turned out to be a 61-34 easy win. I'm looking forward to some reporting on it: did they just drop it because they had counted the votes? Or was it a deal, and if so in exchange for what?

My other Plum Line piece was a quick one about jobs numbers and Romney campaign claims.

And over at Post Partisan, one I liked, although I think it would have been better divided into three posts: a reminder that most of what's happening in the presidential campaigns now doesn't matter; why everyone acts as if it does matter; and a quick history of spring campaigns, in which I pointed out that the 1996 cycle was actually the first one in which the nominations were decided this early and at least one campaign had plenty of money to spend.

Old New Senators

You know how I'm always complaining about how old Members of Congress have become? Well, I learned something new about it: it turns out that newly elected Senators now are a lot older than newly elected Senators used to be. I wrote it up for a Salon piece over the weekend, so check that out for the data, and for a terrific picture of 1972 Joe Biden that they found to put with it.

(Quick caveat: it's a Salon column, not a proper study. I looked at four large Senate classes from the past, and the most recent three Senate classes, and there's a gap of as much as a decade. Looks real to me, and that it will continue this cycle, but it is possible that it's just a fluke, although I don't think so).

Two things. I've complained about old Congresses quite a bit, but I haven't really talked about consequences -- I'm very reluctant to try to be very speculative about things like this. I'm not going to tell you that Congress would be more popular if the average Senator was 50 instead of 60, or that their age has anything to do with the feeling people have that Congress is out of touch...I don't think there's any way of knowing those things, and at any rate we don't know it. But I will note one thing...I was reading Marc Ambinder's list of ten things he learned while reporting in Washington, and two of them are about Washington being out of the current US mainstream on sex and drugs. If that's true -- and I don't know that it is, but it may be -- then I can't imagine that it really helps that so many Senators and Members of the House were born before 1950.

The second thing is about causes. I really have no idea why incoming Senators have become much older. The commenters over at Salon were sure it was about money -- that you have to be rich to be a Senator, and you're more likely to be rich when you're older -- but that doesn't seem right to me. I will note that Joe Biden was elected to the Senate at age 29 in the heyday of weak parties and strong, independent candidates, the kind that Alan Ehrenhalt wrote about in The United States of Ambition. Does something about the way candidates are selected in the current era of strong, networked parties yield older Senators?

Or is there some other good reason for the increasing age of incoming Senators? Anyone have any ideas?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Senator Al Franken, 61.

Straight to the good stuff:

1. Great New Yorker interview with Ali Soufan from last week: highly recommended. From Amy Davidson.

2. Nice Catherine Rampell column yesterday about the American Community Survey. Everyone is talking about the (Member of Congress) Daniel Webster quote about how it's not scientific because it's a random survey -- and sure, that's a doozy -- but I rather liked "'What really promotes business in this country is liberty,' he said, 'not demand for information'" for it's pure ideological inanity.

3. And a takedown of Amity Shlaes, from Henry Farrell.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question as the one for conservatives: what liberal bloggers, reporters, or columnists should more people be reading?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I've think I've done this one before but quite a while ago; it's worth another round. What conservative bloggers, reporters, or columnists should more people be reading?

What Mattered This Week

More developments in Greece and with the Eurozone.

Back home, the Nebraska Republican Senate primary struck me as relatively important. And the Fed is finally, at long last, at full strength.

That's all I have; what do you think mattered this week?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

Brian Sabean is bizarrely consistent, no? Obviously, the current team looks nothing like the Bonds-era teams. Sabean's earlier Giants only used one source for hitters: established major league veterans. Now, the Giants seem almost all home grown. So what makes him consistent? Sabean doesn't seem to think of players as individuals, with different types of abilities which can be assessed based on their previous records. Instead, he appears to just see categories. When it was major league veterans, that was all he seemed to need to know -- it could be Ellis Burks (who was terrific), it could be Neifi Perez (who, well, wasn't) -- it didn't matter. The way to assess them was to have them play until they proved that they were Russ Davis, because you couldn't possibly have figured that out in advance.

And so it is with the homegrowns, or at least that sure is how I see it. Sabean says: now we give our minor leaguers a chances. And so they all get a chance -- Posey and Panda, but also Crawford and, this week, Culberson.

Oh well. The one real improvement that Sabean has made is that after a decade where he wouldn't look at them, he's now open to free talent. He struck big with Andres Torres; this season, he picked up Arias and Blanco. No, I have no idea whether they'll wind up helping the team long-term, but so what? They didn't cost anything to find out.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Q Day 9: SCOTUS?

Ron E. asks:
If the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA by a 5-4 partisan majority based on weak arguments about inactivity or the slippery slope to forced broccoli-eating, does that indicate there are fundamental problems with our court system? And if so, what kinds of reforms should we implement in response (term limits and/or age limits? limiting judicial review?, others?)?
No, I don't think it's a problem with the court system; I think it's a problem with the Republican Party.

By the way: my position on this is that there is a clear and consistent reading of the Constitution that can knock out the ACA...but only by rolling back huge chunks of the New Deal and subsequent government. I disagree with that reading, quite strongly, but I don't think it's inconsistent. On the other hand, I do think that a broccoli decision would be just strictly partisanship, an attempt to find some fig leaf to hang a pre-ordained opinion. Or, perhaps worse, an indication that the conservative Supremes are just as locked into a talk-radio driven feedback loop as any yahoo out there during afternoon rush hour.

But, yeah, I don't think it calls for institutional reform, at least not of the courts.


And with that...I think I'm done for now. I may try to get another question or two over the weekend, but I suspect not, so my apologies for those I didn't answer. And thanks to everyone for the really fun questions.

Q Day 8: Jimmy Carter?

longwalkdownlyndale asks:
You have a really negative opinion of Carter as a president and have expressed it before. I know the standard argument against Carter, a bunch of bad stuff happened (stagflation, gas lines, the Iranian Revolution etc). Do you have a criticism based in political science literature about his presidency or about his approach to the presidency at all? Just curious.
Ah, Jimmy Carter. Yes, I do not like Jimmy Carter very much at all.

Let's say that it's one part my reaction to his personality, and one part relatively objective critique of his presidency.

On personality: I've always found him sanctimonious, and I have very little tolerance for that particular character trait. I also thought he had a very unattractive mean streak.

On his skills, or lack thereof, as president...

Well, actually, it gets back to personality, perhaps. Carter was one of those presidents -- like Woodrow Wilson -- who as I read him believed that he had some sort of mystical connection to the American people, and that by virtue of that connection, or perhaps by virtue of his election by the whole nation, his views were legitimate and the views of other actors within the political system were not. Congress, the executive branch bureaucracy...they were not people to work with and govern with, but people to ignore and go over the heads of. This is, alas, a governing style that promises to yield both policy and political disasters. And so it did.

Q Day 7: Origins of the GOP War on Budgeting?

A commenter asks:
The GOP War budgeting: when did start, and which pols got the ball rolling?
Another good question.

To link back to some earlier stuff...I suppose it goes back to Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. Reagan, because when confronted with policies that added up to bigger budget deficits even though he was a longtime anti-deficit crusader, he was capable of believing that nothing had changed in his positions. And Newt, because he believed in using words that polled well or focused grouped well regardless of whether they had anything to do with underlying policies. And, substantively, because Reagan's flip to embracing supply-side tax cuts and then Newt's role in cementing anti-tax extremism within the party made it necessary to play word games (knowingly or not) in order to remain dedicated to "balanced budgets." I might look, too, at the Ross Perot campaigns, which were extremely heavy on budget deficit talk but entirely empty of deficit reduction planning, other than to automatically oppose any plans that were out there.

Some Republicans during the Bush years played with the notion of giving up the budget rhetoric (Dick Cheney gets cited a lot), but it didn't take, at least for now. I'm not sure, however, whether the real collapse into a war on budgeting comes from the 1980s, the Obama years, or some time between them. If I wanted to research it, I might look at the rhetoric surrounding the George H.W. Bush budget deal and then the Clinton budget package in 1993.

Q Day 6: Effects of Voter Supression?

jcbhan asks:
Voter suppression efforts by new GOP governors in key swing states are well-known. How much of an impact will they have in the Presidential election? Does Obama start a couple points in the whole in each of those states as a result compared with 2008? Similar question on gerrymandering by GOP legislatures. Have the GOP done a good job of consolidating their gains from 2010 and making it increasingly difficult for Dems to take back the House? 
I really have no estimate of the size of the effect, at all. My guess would be that it's on the small size -- that a couple of percentage points is too big. But I really don't know.

I suspect the biggest effect isn't voter id or aggressive purging of voter roles or restrictions on voter registration drives; I'd guess it's restrictions on felon and ex-felon voting. Some of which is new, some of which is ongoing. Of course, measuring that one depends on what you compare it to (since lots of people have different views of who should have the franchise), but I think that's the big one. Otherwise, while I agree with those who think it's outrageous to try to win elections by preventing people from voting, I suspect that the overall effects are relatively small.

(Again, anyone lurking who knows the turnout literature more than I do is urged to chime in).

On gerrymandering: What I've seen on this is that it's basically a push. Remember, the last round was after a decent Republican year, so it's not as if we're seeing a brand new shift to Republicans drawing lines in all that many states, and there are some -- California, for one -- that are going the other way.

Q Day 5: How's Boehner doing?

Colby also asks:
Do you still think Boehner is doing a good job managing his caucus?
Yes, I pretty much do. I continue to think that he has a very difficult job to do, given the median preference in the GOP conference, the general rejectionist attitude towards the entire concept of compromise, the understandable paranoia among the Members about Tea Party primary challenges, and the cold hard facts of divided government. And given all that, he's managed to avoid complete disaster. He's flirted with it several times, but so far seems to have managed to have avoided it. So I'd give him relatively high marks, keeping in mind that the degree of difficulty here is high.

Q Day 4: Independents, the Economy, and Elections?

Via email, Dan Rice asks:
From your writing and that of other political scientists I've absorbed two main messages about presidential elections.  1) There are few true independents; most people have a clear partisan voting record, including many who identify as "independent." 2) A dominant factor in determining the outcome of a presidential election is the state of the economy.  My question is, in a political system marked by strongly partisan voting behavior, where does the flexibility to respond to the economy come from?  Do the few "true independents" vote almost purely in the direction of the fundamentals and swing the election by themselves?  Do the partisans of the party facing bad fundamentals not show up to vote?  Is the action mostly with a large number of "weak partisans?" Something else?  All of the above?
That's a good question. I'll take a shot at it, but if anyone is lurking around here who is more expert about voters than I am, I welcome additions/corrections/better explanations.

First, the quick tour of the numbers. The rule of thumb here is that the electorate is equally split three ways between Democrats, Republicans, and those who say that they are independents, and that the latter group is split three ways between functional Democrats, functional Republicans, and real independents. I just like to repeat that formulation whenever I get a chance.

Okay, on to the question. The way to think about it, I think, is in terms of multivariate probability at the individual level. Suppose we think of a voter, and assume to begin with that she has a 50/50 chance of voting for either candidate. If she has a partisan attachment, that's going to make her far more likely to vote in the direction of her partisanship (with that number being bigger for strong partisans than for weak partisans). Then there's her evaluation of the economy and, more generally, of the in-party's record; that's also going to have a good-sized push on her vote decision. And then there's everything else: to the extent that we can separate them from party and retrospective judgement, there's her feelings about the candidates, and specific issues, and her reactions to campaign materials, and whatever else. Those things may have real, but very small, affects. Add up each of those effects, and you wind up with her vote. You can also separate out the "retrospective effect," if you like, at least conceptually -- the biggest part of it will usually be the economy, but there might be real if small bits for evaluation of  foreign policy, or allowing major US cities to drown, or whatever.

So, yeah, a lot of what's happening is going to be among true independents and weak partisans, because they're closer to 50/50 after factoring that in. And, then, it's certainly possible that turnout could play a part, too -- but generally remember that the hardest partisans are also generally going to be the ones most likely to vote.

Q Day 3: Interesting Presidents?

Colby asks:
I saw you say on Twitter once that you thought...and I'm doing this from memory...that LBJ, Nixon, and Reagan were the most interesting post-war Presidents. What's your criteria for "interesting", and why do these guys stick out? From a psychological standpoint, I'd think Clinton should be in the Top 3, too...
I do think that Clinton is interesting, too...I suppose I'd rank him #4.

Hmmm....criteria for interesting? I guess it's just personal. I do think that the era of the more personal presidency made personality stand out, and Johnson and Nixon are smack in the middle of that, so that's one factor, perhaps. I mean, Barack Obama has a fascinating life story, but it's not as clear how it affects his presidency.

What else? With Johnson and Nixon, you have elements of tragedy: great abilities and skills, great flaws. I guess I don't see Clinton has having great flaws in the same way. Oh, flaws all right. But difficulty controlling appetites just doesn't strike me as nearly as fascinating as what crippled LBJ and RMN. As for Reagan, I find his relationship with facts just incredible. Some of the Reagan stories about things that he believed were true, or at least stories he told as if they were true...people find them hard to believe. And yet Ronald Reagan was a very successful man, who came from nothing and wound up with three successful careers (radio, Hollywood, politics). How do those things fit together?

I guess I'm sort of answering the question...what I seem to find interesting are contradictions in personality, especially when they seem to be closely related to outcomes in the White House.

Q Day 2: Openly Gay Presidential Candidate?

William Burns asks:
First serious presidential candidate with a chance at election who is openly gay--what year, if ever?
That's a tough one. Let's do some perspective. As far as I can remember, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin this year is the first Senate candidate with a serious chance at election who is openly gay. Baldwin was previously the first openly gay or lesbian non-incumbent elected to the House of Representatives. That was in 1998; I believe that Jared Polis was the first openly gay man non-incumbent elected to the House, and that wasn't until 2008. Has there ever been an openly gay or lesbian gubernatorial nominee? Not that I recall...I don't remember anyone who was a serious contender for a nomination, although I'm sure someone will remind me if I've forgotten one.

So the pipeline isn't there right now. Does that mean there are real barriers? Hard to say. The Wisconsin Senate race will surely be interesting. At the very least, it seems quite meaningful that Baldwin was able to clear the field in the primary as far as strong candidates are concerned, suggesting that Democratic Party heavyweights were happy to rally to her.

Let's put it this way: would it be a real surprise if Baldwin wound up a legitimate presidential candidate as early as 2016? No more than Barack Obama was a surprise in 2008 (of course, she's at best a very slim favorite to become a Senator, so it's certainly possible her political career will wind up fizzling out very soon). Would it be a shocker if Polis moves up the ladder to a Senate seat and eventually launches a presidential run? No, I don't think so.

Overall, I think that there are only light barriers right now in the Democratic Party, and anyone who wins a nomination is automatically a viable general election candidate.

On the other hand, we're not talking about a very large population to begin with. If issues of particular interest to their community recede in the future, it's hard to know whether gays and lesbians will be disproportionately drawn to politics or not. And even light barriers, if they work throughout the system, could make it significantly less likely that a viable candidate will emerge. So it wouldn't shock me, either, if it doesn't happen for decades.

Q Day 1: Why the Crazy?

Let's get it rolling. Matt D. asks:

I know you talk about how dysfunctional the GOP caucus is, but what do you think is causing it, and what can be done about it?
Why do you think polarization has been so asymmetric? Why would one party become so extreme while another becomes less extreme?
I don't know the answer to this one, and I don't think anybody does. I have two basic answers to "why the crazy?" on the GOP side, but I'll stress that they're quite speculative.

Factor one is the conservative marketplace: there just seems to be a lot of consumers for right-wing crazy, whether it's the success of Glenn Beck in his many platforms, or the conservative books that dominate the NYT best seller lists, or...well, no need to go through it all. As far as why that is, I don't really know; I've seen some smart-sounding speculation, but nothing that was conclusive at all. Regardless of where it comes from, the effect is that it creates all sorts of bizarre incentives for embracing the crazy.

Factor two is the perverse influence of a handful of Republican leaders over the years who were particularly destructive in their political styles. I'm mainly thinking of Nixon and Newt. Both parties have had shrewd and sharp partisans, but Nixon and Newt were different; they were institution-destroyers, and their success (which at least in Newt's case had little to do with his institution-destruction) made it likely that they would be emulated. As far as I'm concerned, that's just luck. I might, even more speculatively, talk a bit about Reagan. Reagan wasn't exactly anti-intellectual, but I do get the sense that his success (and of course especially his perceived success among Republicans) may get his semi-known-nothing style emulated as well. Note, though: this is all speculative, and it's easy to see holes in the argument! Reagan wasn't an institution-destroyer; Nixon had, and projected as having, detailed factual knowledge at his command at all times. So in wondering if Republicans have emulated the worst in them, well, I can see someone saying that it's unlikely.

As far as how to dig out of this, I have no idea.

Who links to my website?