Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I'm sticking with the new plan from last week: leaving it up to you. But in a very newsy week, I'll kick it off by saying that the ACA decision obviously did matter (if not, as I've argued, to the election)...and I'll say that the Holder contempt stuff goes in the "did not matter" pile.

So, turning it over to you: what do you think mattered this week?

June 29, 1972

Haldeman has a meeting with Mitchell, intending to ask him to resign from the campaign -- but Mitchell beats him to the punch, saying that he needs to step aside because of his wife, Martha. As Haldeman says in his diary: " That solved my having to raise the thing. I let it go in this instance and it worked out very well."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Elsewhere: Court Reform, Health Care

I have a new column up at Salon today saying that liberals should oppose Supreme Court reform. I'm not a huge fan of the incentive to appoint extra-young Justices who will then stay there forever, but the basic argument is that liberals should want a strong, independent Court.

The rest is post-SCOTUS stuff. At PP yesterday, I argued that the Court decision wouldn't have a significant effect on the November elections; today, I talked more about that, including why it feels as if it does have an effect. And then yesterday at Greg's place I got into the discussion of whether Republicans really would repeal ACA if Romney wins and they get a Senate majority. My answer: not clear; Senate rules are a real, but not unbeatable, obstacle, so it would depend on how big their majority is and what their activists and party-aligned interest groups are saying. Not exactly a prediction!

Oversight vs. Scandal-Mongering

What’s particularly sad about the fishing expedition that Darrell Issa and House Republicans have been conducting in an effort to turn Fast and Furious into a Watergate-type scandal is the opportunity cost. By focusing exclusively on scandals, the House inevitably does less of the real, tough oversight that they should be doing.

As many have noted (see for example Mann and Ornstein’s The Broken Branch), Congressional oversight slumped in the 1990s and then collapsed during the stretch of unified Republican control during the George W. Bush years. The problem is that instead of the traditional oversight, two types of partisanship have emerged: Members of Congress stopped taking their institutional role seriously when the White House was in their party’s hands, and when it’s not they focused on discovering huge scandals instead of just making sure that executive branch departments and agencies were doing what they’re supposed to do.

Granted, in its origins, at least the Fast and Furious investigation isn’t as oversight-free as, say, Whitewater. But we’ve long ago left substance behind. Even in the event that Issa can manage to find something that looks bad for Attorney General Eric Holder to people outside of Rush Limbaugh’s audience (and, no, comparing him to the parent-murdering Menendez brothers isn’t helping), it’s hard to see what the investigation at this point has to do with making the Justice Department better run.

Which is, in fact, the point of Congressional oversight: not to protect or attack the current occupant of the Oval Office, but to make sure that the executive branch is doing a good job carrying out policy. And there’s about as much evidence that Darrell Issa is interested in that as there is that Eric Holder has done anything worth investigating.

The ACA Court and the Future

There were two important questions about what the Court would do in the health care case: what would happen to reform, and what if any new doctrines would the Court embrace which would matter in the future. ACA survived, but what of the second question? There's just a ton of commentary out there, from both liberals and conservatives, on all sides of it. Clearly, there are two important threads here, with the Commerce Clause either further restricted or not, and also with the ability of the Feds to get states do to things either endangered or not.

I think on balance I'm most persuaded, so far, by Scott Lemieux's argument:
But, in reality, this is no major conservative win in any sense...First, Roberts's opinion, even if it constrained future Supreme Courts in perpetuity, is a narrow one that does not substantially alter existing commerce clause and spending powers jurisprudence. And second, what Roberts wrote in NFIB v. Sebelius will do nothing to constrain future courts.
I should back up a bit, because I've been trying to make sense of all of this based on my own understanding of things going in. What I've been saying throughout is that it would be very difficult for the conservative Justices to put together a case that (1) struck down ACA; (2) did not constitute a major judicial overturn of the way that the US has been governed for the last 80 or so years; and (3) was internally consistent and passed the giggle test -- that is, wasn't just pure partisanship (as opposed to strong ideology). So my assumption was that it would be very hard to overturn ACA unless they were willing to either attack the New Deal arrangements or look like hacks. I suspected that they wouldn't want to look like hacks, and had no idea whether they did or didn't want to go the whole "Constitution in exile" route.

But that didn't really work out, did it? Because Roberts did embrace Broccoli Liberty (which I continue to think is just silly), but didn't do it in an effort to carve out a special "No major Obama legislation" exception. So, basically, I'm trying to fit what did happen into the framework I was using to understand what would happen, while of course leaving open the possibility that I was just wrong. But if not: what I think happened is that Roberts wound up using hack logic as window dressing, but that when it counted, he wound up with reasonable reasoning. If that's right -- and I'm not sure about it -- then I can return back to my framework, and say that Roberts just wasn't willing to disrupt how the US was governed just in order to knock out the ACA. But, yeah, I have no idea whether that's true or not, and I don't know what it says about the future. Does Roberts really not want to kill off the New Deal and Great Society? Did he just think that this case was the wrong time to do it, whether for political reasons or technical law-related reasons? I don't know. On the other side: is Kennedy really okay with such a disruptive dissent, or would he have pushed for more moderation (or even switched?) if the conservatives had four other solid votes?

All of which is fine; that whole line of thought may be asking for more consistency (not just legal consistency; political consistency) than what we actually get. And, as with other politicians, there's no way to know what's really in their heads. It's all speculation. But I'll defend some speculation here, because the stakes are indeed very high.

Meanwhile, for right now, I think Lemieux is correct and this decision at least is a liberal win. I just can't figure out what, if anything, it tells us about the future.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Matthew Weiner, 47. Wesleyan Class of 1987.

Gotta get to the good stuff:

1. There's so much out there to read about the ACA decision, but I'll mainly link to the excellent commentary at the Monkey Cage. Among the highlights: Michael Bailey and Forrest Maltzman on how Justices decide; Sarah Binder on what it means for Congress; and John Sides has the research on what the states might do.

2. One more: Scott Lemieux on the dissent.

3. And since it's all about the legal commentary, how about some analysis about Nick Fury's choices.

June 28, 1972

Remember Hunt's White House safe? Hunt had retained it after he no longer worked regularly at the White House, and that's where he put various Plumbers and Watergate evidence immediately after the June 17 arrests. Then they had extracted the safe. But what to do with what was inside?

Dean, by June 28, had already passed along to FBI agents the items he felt were safe to give up to law enforcement. Now, Dean and Ehrlichman decided to give the rest to Patrick Gray. After all, they could then say they had turned over everything to the FBI, right? Gray was given sealed envelopes, told that the material was not related to Watergate, and that none of it should ever be exposed for political reasons. Gray -- remember, he's the Acting Director of the FBI -- would take the materials, sit on them for six months, and then burn them. And that's how that particular batch of evidence, which included the diplomatic cables the Plumbers had forged to falsely incriminate JFK in the murder of South Vietnam's Diem, was handled by that group of lawyers.

Meanwhile, the FBI finally made Gordon Liddy.That one took a while, but once the FBI finally got the address books from DC police and started investigating them, it was only a matter of time -- because Liddy's CRP phone number was in one of them, albeit listed under an alias. On June 28, the FBI showed up at CRP to talk to Liddy, who began a silence that he wouldn't break until he got out of prison and wrote a book. It did, however, finally cost him his job with the campaign committee.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CNN's Real Gaffe

I'm not sure whether anyone has pointed this out yet, but CNN has more to apologize for than just getting the decision wrong this morning. That was bad -- but it was also very understandable. Ask whichever network it was that pronounced Gabby Giffords dead last January. Breaking events are hard to cover, and frequently produce erroneous reports.

No, the pressure to get it first is always going to produce getting it wrong sometimes. That's just the nature of the business. Nothing for them to be proud of, granted, and they certainly should be sure to check what exactly happened and why and try not to let it happen next time, but the crosspressure is always going to be there.

So what did they really do wrong? They referred to the individual mandate -- not once, but regularly when I was watching on and off during the morning -- as the "centerpiece" of the Affordable Care Act.

Centerpiece? That's just terrible reporting. Sure, the mandate is important (although there's considerable argument about how important), but not in and of itself'; it's important to the extent it makes the really important stuff work. That is, without the mandate to supply customers you couldn't get private insurance companies to agree to turn themselves into what some have called highly-regulated utilities -- forcing them to take all comers, limiting the products they can offer, and even (as those getting rebate checks will soon learn, sort of) limiting how much they can spend outside of benefits. Nor is it clear that the mixed system of employer-based insurance and exchanges work unless everyone is forced into the pool. But that doesn't make the mandate the "centerpiece" any more than, I don't know, a good modern fielder's mitt is the centerpiece of a great catch.

It's really bad reporting, and there's no excuse for it.

InTrade and the Decision

Dave Weigel tweets:
Fun fact: InTrade put "mandate will be overturned" at 73% yesterday. Another fun fact: InTrade is useless.
Disagree! InTrade isn't useless; it's just that you have to use it for what it's good for, which is putting a number on conventional and insider thinking. That's quite useful, indeed; it just isn't the same thing as saying that InTrade will always be good at predicting the future. For that, you need to know whether conventional wisdom and insider thinking is likely to be correct or not.

So, for example: during the GOP nomination battle, there was a ton of hype at one point about Herman Cain, and you could find plenty of examples of people saying that Cain really had a significant chance of winning. But if you look at InTrade, you find that at least according to those in that market, it was all phony hype. As opposed to the Newt Gingrich bubble, which really did involve (foolish, but still) people thinking he really might win.

Now, how accurate is InTrade at judging conventional and insider wisdom? Obviously, that's impossible to know, but I think it holds up pretty well. In the Supreme Court example, I think in fact that the bulk of opinion from oral arguments on was that the mandate was toast. So InTrade did what it does; it's just that even the wise guys were wrong on this one (collectively, that is).

So how do you use it? Exactly as you would use any non-numeric indication of what insiders are thinking. If there's good reason to think that insiders know a lot, then what they predict is apt to be a good prediction. If not, not.

It's a tool. As with all tools, be careful to use it only for what it's design allows it to do.

ACA Myths, Always

So my initial reaction to the Supremes on ACA is up at Plum Line. Short version: reform lives to fight another day, but there's still plenty of fights ahead.

Meanwhile, the Plain Blog offices are still in disrepair this week, which meant that I had to drive around a bit between that and now, and naturally I was interested in what Rush Limbaugh had to say, which right away had to do with the 16K IRS agents that the law hires (did hire? will hire?). Of course, regular readers here will know that those IRS agents are entirely mythical, but it does make for good propaganda.

Meanwhile, apparently the entire thing is a plot to (1) force employers to dump health insurance, thus (2) forcing people out of the private sector for insurance and into the exchanges, which will then produce (3) single payer! Alas, I didn't stay in the car enough to get clarification on very much of this, other than apparently it's obvious that employers will dump health insurance because, well, they want to save money, don't they? No, that doesn't make any sense at's amazing how often people talk about employee wages and benefits as if they're some sort of voluntary benevolent choice by employers, or how people talk about various bits of stuff that consumers purchase in the same way. Oh, Rush also pointed out that now (!) that the Supremes have said that Congress can tax things, they could use the tax code to limit people to one child per family. Which I thought was pretty funny, not only because it's another thing that no actual real-life Congress would want to do, but also because Republicans in Congress over the last couple of decades, at least, have in fact been pretty intensely into using the tax code to give incentives for how many children they have.

Anyway, I did get to watch Mitt Romney's statement earlier, which was pretty amazing as these things go. He's still on about the Medicare cuts, which I continue to think are a vastly underappreciated reason for why ACA polls badly. But generally, his statement was: Obamacare is entirely evil because it has costs (Medicare cuts, taxes, mandate); he'll get rid of it (magically, I guess) on day one, and then put in place something that will deliver all the benefits of health care reform -- pre-existing conditions, access to insurance -- without any of the costs. Now there's an honest plan!
But back to Rush: it really is amazing the extent to which the opposition to ACA is wrapped up in purely mythical stuff. I mean, the opposition is never all that careful to stick to the facts, but this does seem unusually divorced from the truth to me.

More later, I"m sure.

UPDATE: Well, blessed, cool, air conditioning has been restored to the Plain Blog offices, so normal blogging will soon resume. Meanwhile, on the way home, I got to listen to another Rush segment; this time, he was busy speculating about whether there were "threats and intimidation" that got Roberts to "change" his vote, although he hastened to add several times that he was just speculating. Bottom line for Rush -- it is so obviously clear that ACA is unconstitutional, and the decision (which, as he said, he hasn't read yet, what with being on air and everything) is so obviously not based on the Constitution, that people are naturally in shock and grasping around for any logical reason that it should have come out this way.

ACA/SCOTUS Comment Thread

And so, ACA survives for now. I'll be writing about this later today, but figured I might as well leave an open thread for comments for now, if anyone is interested. The decision is here. Have at it -- I'll be back here later.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to John Cusack, 46. I think I've seen 17 movies he's been in, plus parts of three others. That sure seems like a lot. I bet there's ten I like more than Say Anything, and I like Say Anything. Maybe not. The easy calls for me are the two Rob Reiners, the two Woody Allens, and the two Savage Steve Hollands, plus Grosse Pointe Blank. I think there's about four more that it depends what mood I'm in.

Ah, rambling again. How about a bit of good stuff as we wait for the big news:

1. Dan Drezner: what the rest of the world should know about the US election.

2. Drew Linzer defends what his presidential election prediction model is telling him. I'm pretty skeptical, but discount that heavily because I haven't really focused on it yet. Generally, I recommend at least adding his projections into the mix of what to look at.

3. Good to see that Dem WH 2016 is off to a solid early start. Well, good for those of us who are die-hard presidential nomination junkies. I do understand that there are some of you who prefer time off between election cycles. Crazy talk, I say! Reid Wilson and Courtney McBride report.

4. And I don't do a lot of Jon Stewart links, but I suppose I'm obliged to link to anything that mentions Watergate that many times.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Elsewhere: Spin, Spin, Spin

At PP today, I said that Tea Partiers chalked up wins in both Utah and Oklahoma yesterday because whatever the reasons were for the outcomes of the primaries there, conservatives will win the spin, and that's what will matter.  By the way, after I wrote that one, I looked around and discovered that Dave Weigel had beat me to it, or at least that our pieces are overlapping -- be sure to check his out.

But at Greg's place, I argued that spin will be pretty much irrelevant tomorrow when it comes to the SCOTUS ACA decision. 

Enjoy. Expect posting, alas, to be irregular for a while: Plain Blog offices are unfortunately suffering a bit of an AC outage right now, so between that and whatever else is going on, things may not be on exactly the normal schedule. I should have one more post coming this afternoon/evening, I hope, and then we'll see how things go tomorrow. But if there's no links post in the morning, you'll know why (and I'm doing the roundup at Plum Line this evening, so if you need stuff to read you can always go there).


Congratulations to Orrin Hatch, renominated for a 73rd term as Senator from Utah.

OK, it's not really his 73rd term. Still, he's quite the survivor. It's unfair to him that he's getting paired with Charlie Rangel in news coverage. Rangel is a disgraced Member of the House who lost everything (including his reputation) but his seat and is clinging to just that; Hatch is still going to be a formidable presence in the 113th Congress next year. Rangel got himself in trouble; Hatch's trouble had nothing to do with anything he ever did.

Hatch has been a serious legislator. He's similar to Bob Dole, I think, without the sense of humor (or perhaps I just don't properly appreciate Hatch's sense of humor): both did more than their share of serious work in the Senate, but both also were perfectly willing to use the most vicious partisanship when they wanted, too. They're not quite Ted Kennedy types, because Kennedy really seemed to be driven by real dedication to don't get that sense, or at least I don't, with Hatch, or with Dole. Maybe George Mitchell was a good comp from the Democrats? I liked Dole's style more than I like Hatch's style; Dole used mean humor, while Hatch, to my ears, uses sanctimony, although it's certainly not as annoying to me as Joe Lieberman's act, probably because I assume with Hatch he knows it's an act. And also, of course, because I think Hatch really does work hard the rest of the time; with Holy Joe, it's all posturing.

Anyway, congrats to Hatch on another term.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Matthew Lewis, 23.

A little good stuff:

1. "Gaffe receivers are expected to be less persuadable." Michael Tesler, getting deep into how "doing fine" didn't move anyone. Via Sides.

2. Jared Bernstein on employment vs. investment.

3. And Alex Pareene on David Brooks and other hip-for-Bruce conservatives.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 1972

President Nixon and his chief of staff, another day in the office:

Island Conspiracy Real Motives Exposed! Sort Of!

I'm clearly not on enough email lists. Or maybe I'm on just the right number of email lists. Anyway, I somehow had missed this one: Barack Obama supposedly is giving several islands to the Russians! As you might expect, if it's in a wacko email, sooner or later a real Republican candidate is going to start repeating it. Anyway, Tim Murphy at that link tracks down where it came from (maybe not an email, but I'm sticking with it, because it sounds better), and links to and explains the much less thrilling debunking.

What's missing from it, however, is what I've now learned is the key to understanding Fast and Furious: the real reason why Obama is intent on this treasonous conduct. Why would he give away US possessions and resources? I think I'll give the possibilities I can think of in quiz form:

A. As part of Obama's plan to drive up the price of gasoline. Needs no explanation (note: "needs no explanation" is highly recommended for filling gaps in the logic of any conspiracy thoery).

B. Same as Fast and Furious: first give the Russians a few islands, and next step is gun control! How, you ask? Well, Obama is just asking for armed revolt from Alaskans, which will give him exactly the excuse that he needs to impose draconian gun control, won't it?

C: When in doubt, go with the safe one: Sharia Law. After all, those Rooskies are probably all Muslims, just like him. So when they get those islands...okay, I'm not sure exactly how that works. But, creeping Sharia!

D. And, folks, what do you think I'm going to include: yup. it's part of the plot to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. And yes, they're still worried about it.

Feel free to use this post as proof of the true motives of the Obama Administration concerning this nefarious plot.

Ignore Those Polls! ACA/SCOTUS Edition

There's a lot of polling coming out about health care reform, and most of it I just wouldn't pay a lot of attention to. Harry Enten had a good column on that today, concluding:
The truth is that healthcare reform is a very confusing and highly technical topic. Americans may support a policy presented in one form, but not in another. Americans may approve of certain individual policies of Obamacare right now, but may not once a strenuous debate takes place. For many, Obamacare remains for the most part an abstraction, which they find hard to judge without having directly felt the effect of several key measures, such as the individual mandate.
I think that's true on all sides -- it applies to the unpopular mandate, and it applies to popular provisions, too -- sure, everyone loves the idea of getting rid of pre-existing conditions, but do they like the particular way ACA does it, including the trade-offs involved? For almost everyone, it's just guessing, or responding to code words. We can get a fair idea of what people don't or didn't like about the health insurance market, but what you want to know about whether ACA would ultimately be popular -- if the Court lets it try -- will come more from policy analysts at this point, not voters at large.

Particularly useless, it seems to me, are polls such as the NBC/WSJ one out now asking people for their anticipated reactions to Thursday's SCOTUS ruling. I hate this kind of poll: people don't always predict their reactions very well! Of course, all they're really tapping into is another way of asking whether people like ACA or not, and that overall question we know pretty well by now, Of course, since there's every possibility that the actual decision will be more complicated than simply affirm or reject the law (or even affirm or reject the mandate), there's not much point in anyone figuring out how they'll react.

Regardless: in terms of electoral effects, what will matter, if anything, won't be anyone's initial reaction to a Supreme Court decision. Best bet? Ignore those polls!

Was Any Health Care Reform Doomed?

Paul Waldman makes the case that Democrats shouldn't second-guess themselves about the ACA if it's knocked down by the courts. His argument? It didn't matter what was in universal health insurance; whatever was in it, Republicans would have found a Constitutional case against it, no matter how flimsy, and it plays out the same.

I agree in part, and disagree in part (with SCOTUS on our minds, we all have to write like that this week).

I agree that the Broccoli Liberty argument is entirely bunk, and therefore I agree that it's likely there would have been some sort of Constitutional case against any possible universal health care law passed by the Democrats. And I agree with most of Ezra Klein's history of how this particular Constitutional case moved from joke to, well, joke that might get five votes from the Supremes. I certainly think it's incredibly naive for single-payer advocates to believe that "Medicare for all" wouldn't elicit a Constitutional challenge (and, by the way, incredibly naive to believe that the logical next step if ACA is voted down would be passing single-payer, and naive to believe that Medicare for all would be a one-page bill).

However: none of that means that the eventual result would have turned out exactly the same. To begin with, of course, we don't know what the Court is going to say on Thursday (I think Klein is absolutely right when he says speculation about what they'll do is pretty much worthless).

The truth is that (as the decision in the Arizona case should remind us) the current Court is certainly not simply the legal equivalent of the Sean Hannity, no matter how many crazed partisan rants Scalia might indulge himself in. We might get there in the future (or not), and we might get some decisions that sure look very partisan, but that's not where we are now. It's simply not true that there are five solid votes (or even four solid votes) for whatever wacky, ad-hoc legal theories GOP spinmeisters come up with.

Yes, four of those Justices are strongly conservative by all measures, but there is a real difference between supporting a long-standing judicial program and simply doing whatever the short-term partisan preferences of the Republican Party might be, even though those things will naturally (and quite legitimately) overlap much of the time. I do believe that Bush v. Gore was decided on ad-hoc partisan grounds...but that's 12 years ago already, and I don't think that anything since then shows that the Court's conservatives are merely partisan hacks.

So: maybe, on this issue even if not on others, there are five solid votes against anything that Obama and the Democrats would have done. Perhaps not. We'll find out more on Thursday. And, yes, then Democrats should learn from it -- because unless they want to give up passing any laws at all until they have a better mix on the Court, it certainly does make sense for them to second-guess themselves and learn how to live with the Supremes they have.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mick Jones, 57. The only Mick Jones who matters, I guess I should say by way of clarification.

Some good stuff:

1. I know this was last week, but I meant to link to E.J. Graff's excellent post about women, men, work, and families.

2. Why not: Jonathan Chait on the Florida 2000 recount, or non-recount. Worth remembering.

3. Great post from Hans Noel: "What if the Tea Party were an actual party?" Warning: Candadian content.

4. Seth Masket: against (mandatory) open primaries. I agree; more to the point, since it's highly unlikely that open primaries will actually do much (see his first point), it's hard to see much point in mobilizing the resources to force change. Indeed, while at a theoretical level I think parties should be free to choose open or closed primaries (or no primary at all), I wouldn't put any energy into repealing laws that for open primaries, either. It's just not a big deal.

5. And Scott Lemieux reads Scalia.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25, 1972

Haldeman's diary:


Got into the Martha Mitchell problem. Apparently she called [reporter] Helen Thomas the other night and said if John didn't get his ass out of politics she was going to kick him out of the house, but her phones were then pulled out either by her or someone in her room. She's demanded that they be reinstated, and the phone company has delayed on it, and she's now threatened to the phone man that if they don't get her phones in, she's going to blow the whole Republican deal, whatever that means.


One of the many wild stories of Watergate. Martha Mitchell's phone had in fact been yanked out of the wall by a security man at the orders of Fred LaRue of the campaign committee. As Emery tells it: "She had then reportedly pushed her hand through a plate glass door and was sedated and secretly hospitalized...Once free from the hospital, she had been on the phone again to the press with allegations she was a 'political prisoner,' that she knew all about Watergate and threatened to leave her husband if he didn't quit politics.

Meanwhile, during that first weekend after the break-in, Acting FBI Director Pat Gray began having everything about the investigation sent to him at his house -- the better, it turns out, to keep John Dean informed of exactly what was happening.

Elsewhere: Hardball, Arizona, and Exec Branch Nominations

Three pieces to steer you to today.

James Fallows has sparked plenty of talk by using the word "coup" to talk about the possible decision by the Supremes on ACA. At Greg's place, I talk about Constitutional hardball and why a Broccoli Liberty decision would be problematic, even if it knocks out less than a more sweeping Commerce Clause decision.

Over at PP, I make the case for why the Arizona decision today in particular and SCOTUS decisions in general won't affect the elections in November.

And at Salon, I argue for executive branch nomination reform. Regular readers will have heard this stuff, but it's together in one column: make it a simple majority for cloture on these nominations in the Senate, and dramatically reduce the vetting both at the White House and in Senate committees. Yes, some duds would get through. It's worth the price. Note that I'm okay with holds on exec branch nominations, as long as they're by single Senators or small groups, not entire political parties. How would that work in practice? Judgement call by the Majority Leader -- but if he or she thinks it's a partisan filibuster, then the next step is to go right to a cloture vote.

What my reform agenda doesn't help with is divided partisan control of the White House and the Senate. We may have this one coming up: if Obama is re-elected and the Republicans take the Senate. Would a Republican Senate just decide not to confirm anyone? I don't know; that would be a step more than they've gone in opposition, but it's certainly possible to imagine them collectively, or at least one or more committee chair, taking that step.

Only Revenue-Neutral Tax Reform Has a Chance

CBPP's Chuck Marr and Chye-Ching Huang published a paper earlier this month arguing that some proponents of tax reform are going about it all wrong; in particular, they argue, tax reform must raise revenue.

I agree very much about the sequencing of tax reform -- Jared Bernstein explains their argument about that. Paul Ryan's method, which involves first specifying the tax rates in the final plan and only after that worrying about which expenditures to eliminate is in fact a "trap" likely to deliver much lower revenues -- or, perhaps, just making a final deal relatively impossible to achieve.

But if Marr and Huang believe that "today, revenue neutrality would be harmful" in tax reform, than what they really should be saying is that now is the wrong time for reform. Because there's simply no chance for revenue-positive tax reform to pass in the foreseeable future.

Why? It's the nature of tax reform. The reason that reform is appealing is that it promises to be a net positive: a tax code which treats all (or at least more) income the same is going to be more economically efficient than one that makes all sorts of exceptions and therefore gives all sorts of oddball incentives. The reason reform is very difficult is because there are clear losers: everyone who specifically benefits from provisions in the current code loses if those provisions are eliminated. And it's pretty simple to see the political problem this causes -- the result of how the gains and losses are distributed produces relatively indifferent proponents of change against intense minorities against change. That's a formula in the US political system for stalemate.

What's more, the main vehicle for overcoming such problems, the political parties, are highly unlikely to help. Neither party has tax reform as anywhere close to the top of its priority list. Nor are they likely to do so. Partially that's because tax reform is generally by nature a technocratic, not an ideological, goal; partially it's because no party constituency is likely to have it at the top of their list precisely because the benefits are widely shared.

What all of that means is that tax reform is that it's no surprise that the last time tax reform happened it was not only during a period of divided government, but well into such a period, when partisan stalemate was well-established and promised to go on for some time (as, indeed, it did).

All of which means, in my view, that a status quo election (that is, Barack Obama is re-elected and Republicans retain the House) probably does make conditions good for tax reform.

But not revenue-positive tax reform. Tax reform is hard enough as it is; doing it while violating the core principle of one of the parties makes it absolutely impossible. And make no mistake about it; avoiding any tax increase is a core GOP principle. Insisting on revenue-positive tax reform immediately makes eventual support from mainstream conservatives almost impossible, and there's just no way you get it without them. The truth is, even if the relatively moderate mainstream conservatives were willing to consider it (which in my view is unlikely), you just can't go into something like this without at least the potential support of every ideological faction -- because you go in knowing that you're going to lose support from those representing whatever discrete interests wind up the losers.

What I do think that liberals should demand of tax reform, and where I agree with these pieces, is that revenue-neutral tax reform should also produce a code at least as progressive as what exists now -- and one that generally helps, not hurts, with the problem of income inequality. Or, to put it another way: for liberals to insist on anything is to declare that goal to be an ideological priority. And neither balanced budgets nor increased revenues for their own sake are liberal ideological priorities, but dealing with income inequality surely is.

And if tax reform would make budget problems worse, and that's more important than the benefits of reform? Then it's not time yet for reform.

The bottom line is that tax reform is almost impossible to begin with; tax reform that going in is going to be a far harder lift for either of the parties (that is, for the Republicans if it increases revenues or for the Democrats if it increases inequality) does make it impossible.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jackie Swanson, 49.

Time for the good stuff:

1. Solid post by Andrew Rudalevige on Obama and executive powers, agreeing in part and dissenting in part from a Ross Douthat post.

2. An ACA FAQ, from Kaiser's Mary Agnes Carey. Useful. More: Sarah Kliff has a good post setting out the issues and what might happen, and Jonathan Cohn reminds everyone of the big picture.

3. Nate Silver talks house effects.

4. And Andrew Sullivan on writing like a blogger. I like the typical blog for my own writing, I know that I'm better when I take a bit more time, but there are certainly trade-offs involved, and overall I'm probably where I want to be on that -- but I do wish I could cut down on typos and such.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Question for Everybody

I'm sticking with the obvious question, and tossing it open for everyone: what is the Supreme Court going to do on health care?

June 23, 1972

The "smoking gun" conversation.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

New experimental format this time: I'm going to just turn it over to all of you, and save the time for Watergate. General reminder: the way I've thought about "what mattered" is extremely open-ended: it can matter for electoral politics or policy or anything else substantive. It can be something that happened this week, or something that happened in the past but was revealed this week. Anyway, I'm not sure whether this is a one-time thing or what...I've thought that this item was getting really stale, so maybe this will open it up a little.

So, what do you think? What mattered this week?

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22, 1972

A late-morning meeting at Nixon's EOB office. Remember, this is the President of the United States of America and the White House Chief of Staff.

Friday Baseball Post

The big news this week? Roger Clemens, not going to jail.

A few points:

* As long as there's a shortage of prosecutor time and courtroom time -- in other words, always -- decisions about who to indict are about prosecutor discretion, not whether someone is guilty or not. Discretion involves both whether the case is very strong and how important it is. Obviously both the Bonds and Clemens prosecutions failed the first test; I've never seen a particularly good argument for them passing the second test, either. They may well have committed the crimes they were charged with or other crimes; many, many people commit crimes over the course of their lives (taxes, drugs, more) and are not charged.

* Did Clemens and Bonds use steroids? I have no idea. Nor do I care very much. It has zero effect on how I evaluate their careers.

* On steroids specifically, anyone who believes that they know (1) who used and who didn't, and (2) what effect it had on the field -- they're just fooling themselves. OK, I guess we have some people who we have some strong evidence that they used. But everyone else? We really don't know. I'd be shocked if there isn't already someone in the Hall of Fame who used. I would not be surprised if one or more of those who everybody knows were steroid users really wasn't, after all.

* More broadly, virtually everyone  -- my shorthand is that it's everyone but Dale Murphy -- who played in the major leagues in the last 60 years up until very recently violated the current MLB rules. I've yet to see any convincing argument for why Clemens and Bonds (assuming every accusation is true) are any different from Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Pete Rose.

* We haven't, I suppose, lost out on much on the playing field as a consequence of this nonsense. But still...I remember seeing Willie Mays, and I wouldn't have if his career was cut short a couple of years. There are kids now who won't remember seeing the great Barry Bonds because he didn't get to play his last couple of seasons. Thirty, forty years from now, no one is going to care whether he was a jerk or not or whether he "cheated" or not; he's going to have been the great Barry Bonds.

* As for the Hall of Fame: of course Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. And I still expect that, eventually, everyone who is supposed to be in (the usual mistakes and biases included, of course) will be in. It might take a while, but the Hall has strong incentives to have regular inductions and to have a reasonable match for the group of players who people think of when they talk about Hall of Fame players.

Elsewhere: Smoking, Ryan in Montana

It's almost time in the Watergate blogging to get to the smoking gun tape; I did an item about it over at PP today.

And at Greg's place, I posted about the Montana Republican Senate candidate who is running ads against the Ryan budget. I do think that Mitt Romney is a bit vulnerable on this one; I'm guessing, from how GOP Senate candidates are dealing with it, that the Ryan budget polls badly. But Romney is stuck with it, and he's going to (continue to) get attacked on it. Of course, as always these things have to be placed in's not going to cost Romney 5 points, or anything like that. But could it hurt a bit? Yeah, I think so. I'll say one thing: it would really be nuts of Romney to put Ryan on the ticket, and I'll be shocked if he does it.

Fun With Forecast Models

Ah, I see that Nerdfight has flared up again (be sure to look at comments on the first of those). I'll just mention that I think Nate Silver really overstates his case about the failures of the objective indicator models; I make the case for that here (see points 5-10). My key point? If you look at the three strongest prediction systems from the group that Silver collects, they do quite well indeed. And there's a pretty good argument, in my view, that that's not just cherry-picking the best ones.

At any rate: it's a Friday afternoon, so I'd rather have fun.

Here's what we can take a first-run crack at thanks to the prediction models: who did best beyond the fundamentals? If fundamental-based predictors say one candidate should win by 5 points and he wins by only one, then we can suppose (although many caveats would have to apply) that it's the things beyond the fundamentals -- candidates, campaigns, events that matter but for whatever reason are not in the models -- that hurt that candidate and helped his opponent. I'm not even going to bother spelling out the (necessary!) caveats here; I just want to have a little fun.

So: Silver collected predictor systems from 1992 through 2008. I'm only going to look at three systems, however, and not all of them show up for each election. The ones that have performed well overall are Abromowitz, Wlezien & Erickson, and Hibbs. I'll take a straight average of any of their forecasts that show up, and compare that to the election results, specifically to the incumbent party percentage of the two-party vote (all data from Silver).

1992: Predictors average 47.6; Bush gets 46.6. Clinton does a bit better than expected.

1996: Predictors 55.4; Clinton gets 54.7. This time, Clinton does a bit worse than expected.

2000: Predictors 54.4; Gore gets only 50.3. A big miss; Bush overachieves a lot (I've always thought the big thing was late-breaking economic weakness, some of which showed up only in after-the-election revisions...but that could be totally wrong).

2004: Predictors 52.9; Bush actually comes in at 51.2. I've done this one before: Kerry did better than the fundamentals models predicted (and, for what it's worth, the models I'm looking at here lean far more towards Kerry than the ones I'm not using).

2008: Predictors: 47.3; McCain gets 46.3. Obama does a little better than expected.


First of all, the only real miss here is 2000. The predictors are pretty good (remembering, of course, that I picked which ones to look at).

Second: the only one that's way off had Bush beating expectations and Gore failing to reach expectations in 2000.

Third: Bob Dole's losing campaign and John Kerry's losing campaign did a bit better, not worse, than what the predictors thought would happen. Again, that doesn't mean they really had great campaigns after all, but I'd say it's at least a bit of evidence in that direction.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Donald Faison, 38.

Some good stuff:

1. Excellent news: with the top spot at Commerce once again vacant, Matt Yglesias has revived his always-fun history of Secretaries of Commerce. Only two more to Maurice Stans!

2. Sarah Binder on Olympia Snowe's late conversion to reform (I wrote a short thing about a related topic for PP yesterday, so I'll link to that too).

3. Jennifer Victor on research relevant to the question of mandatory voting.

4. And Ben Adler looks through the history of moving from business to politics.

June 21, 1972

Haldeman's Diary:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Voter Behavior, Action, Veepstakes, and Civil Rights

I'll warn you going in: this is going to be one of those meandering posts that sort of wanders around a bit to get where it's going. I think there are some really important issues here about politics and political science, but I'm going to get to them in a less direct way than I might.

To begin with: Molly Ball has a mostly excellent post arguing for the importance of Veepstakes. She points out that how a nominee goes about selecting a running mate really does tell us something about both the party and the person. Those are fair points!

I'd say that the danger of Veepstakes for the press is that there's a temptation to speculate endlessly about it. But, sure, reporting on any real news is a legitimate thing to do. And I absolutely agree that reporting on the campaign should not be restricted only to things that will likely affect the outcome. Overall, it's a good post, one that I solidly recommend.

However, I can't agree with one part of her argument:
Can we all declare a moratorium on the trope of pundits deciding what voters do and don't care about? It's condescending -- who are they to say what voters, the vast majority of whom they have never met, care about? It's based on a political-science fallacy -- just because voters are smart enough to base their final judgments on policy fundamentals rather than relative trivia doesn't mean they don't welcome a wide range of information. 
This is going to lead me into two topics, both difficult (well, three if you include the notion that there's a "political-science fallacy" about basing votes on important things...that's not exactly what political scientists say about individual voters).

The first is, basically, about the validity of survey research and other methods for studying voters. No, no one has met any more than a very tiny portion of the electorate. But that simply doesn't mean that we can learn a whole lot about how the electorate, in the aggregate, behaves. There's nothing condescending about drawing conclusions about aggregate populations from previous research, whether it's old election results or polling or other useful data. Just as there's nothing condescending about saying that traffic will pick up around 7 in the morning and then again at around 5 in the evening (or whatever rush hour is), or about saying that more people are going to go see the new Batman movie than the new Woody Allen. Nor is it condescending to say that people will do that regardless of the quality of those movies (not that I'm saying that the Woody Allen will be better than the Dark Knight conclusion!), and it's only slightly problematic to interpret that by saying that people don't care about movie quality in their choice about which movie to go see. Note, too, that it's really tricky to actually get some of this stuff right; note too that people can't be trusted to correctly report their own reasoning on these things (that is, people might say that they care mostly about movie quality, but in fact can be observed to go to whatever is playing at the closest theater, or always choose big franchise movies).

So that's the first problem.

The other isn't really a problem with Ball's item, but with something of a paradox that we need to acknowledge and deal with properly. This came up recently in the kerfuffle over conservatives and civil rights. When I said that Kevin Williamson's argument was "pernicious (because it attacks motives, and because it assumes a lack of agency on the part of most voters)," Williamson replied:
Jonathan Bernstein is closer to the truth when he writes that my argument “assumes a lack of agency on the part of most voters,” which is true — I think, in fact I know, that voters are in the aggregate ignorant and prone to making bad decisions.
That's a non-sequitur.

It is true that "voters are in the aggregate ignorant." But that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether they have the ability to make choices and act on them, regardless of and separately from the larger influences that are acting on them. Or, perhaps, I should write that in the singular: no matter what larger influences can be used to explain any individual voter's choices, he or she is still free to act.

This turns to be a fairly important point. It's a subject that Hannah Arendt wrote about long ago when she presented the contrast between "behavior" and action, in which behavior is defined as conforming to larger historical laws or trends (see The Human Condition, especially 41-45).

When we talk about politics, we need to somehow keep both things in mind, simultaneously. On the one hand, people do "behave" all the time, in theoretically perfectly predictable ways. I know that an overwhelming percentage of African American voters will support Barack Obama this November, and that an overwhelming percentage of LDS voters will back Mitt Romney, and there's nothing wrong with me "predicting" that, just as there's nothing wrong with predicting that Veepstakes isn't likely to affect voter choices. Just to emphasize (given what Williamson said), that has nothing at all to do with how well-informed or ignorant voters might be -- well-informed voters, overall, are somewhat more predictable than ignorant voters (because they're more likely to be solid partisans).

And yet. Action is always possible. Choice is always possible. Action, as Arendt argues, is as unpredictable as behavior is predictable. Of course it is not without influences, but it involves deliberate choice.

The trick is that we have to think about these things both ways, at once. Hubert Humphrey may have given his 1948 convention speech because he was a northern politician, and because of Cold War pressures, and because of the general sweep of the way that the Democrats emerged in Minnesota from the confused party structure that preceded their success. But he also made the choice to do it. He didn't have to. He might have chosen otherwise, and if so things could have developed differently. Strom Thurmond might, you know, have chosen to reconcile himself with civil rights then and there, but he didn't; yes, we can think of that decision in terms of his political situation or his upbringing, but it's also an individual choice he (and other Dixiecrats that year and later) made to walk out.

We can similarly examine the choices of other leaders, whether it's Martin Luther King or Thurgood Marshall or whoever. We can even extend this kind of of thinking to larger groups of people acting as individuals, such as those who chose to fight for or against civil rights. And, yes, if you step back far enough a lot of that is going to look like behavior, but it's important not to forget what else is or could be going on.

That is, we need a vocabulary which simultaneously speaks the truth about "behavior," about the way that large numbers of us can be described -- accurately! -- using statistical laws, while also allowing for action: the possibility that each of us, at all times, actually retains the capability of purposefully and deliberately doing what we wish. We are part of a large populations; we are individuals with choice; and we are also members of groups, with the capacity to affect and be affected by others within the group through action.

This is difficult to get right! I have said, and will continue to say, for example, something basically like: third parties have no chance in US politics and are therefore a huge mistake in most circumstances. Because, really, they don't have any chance. Except that there should always be an "if normal patterns hold" caveat on any such claims, because we're still talking about humans, and humans have the capacity for acting outside of their normal patterns. Individually, and through the influence of individuals, in groups, and eventually in large populations.

I'm not sure how to bring this to a close...perhaps this is a situation where it's hard to describe what would constitute getting things right or wrong. I guess what I'd say is that when we're talking about mass behavior -- large populations, to be sure made up of individuals, who nevertheless are behaving as masses -- then it's okay to use the language of mass behavior, but we should be careful not to overdo it. So in the case that Ball cites, I guess technically I'd agree that it's wrong to say that voters "don't care" about running mates, at least without specific polling to back that up...but perfectly reasonable to say that they won't vote based on the VP, even if we leave off the necessary caveat that they might after all. In the case of Williamson, what bothered me (and perhaps some of the others who raised the point) wasn't so much his comments about African American voters in bulk, but that he omitted from his narrative anything about action taken by African Americans, both by top-level elites or even by those who took part in demonstrations and protests and voter drives and the rest of it. It was what they did, as much or more than what white political leaders did, that eventually resulted in party realignment. They made choices; they did not simply behave. They acted, and action, as Arendt says, is "to set something in motion" (177): "The new always happens against he overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, which for all practical, everyday purposes amounts to certainty" (178).

What I do strongly believe is that there's a lot at stake in whether our polity preserves the possibility of action, not just for presidents and others at the top of the system, but for as many people as possible. Even, audaciously, for every individual person. No one before the modern age believed such a thing was possible; the Greeks and Romans never imagined that everyone, and not just a select few, could be citizens and entitled to the possibility of political action (one might say no one before 1865, or 1920, or 1965, even in the US, but I think that's wrong; the principle if not the practice was there in my view from the start). More than that: I tend to believe that preserving, or more properly creating, the opportunity for action is the best justification for democracy...even if you know that most of the time, most of us are just going to be sheep. And from that, I think you can derive federalism, separate institutions sharing powers, strong, but permeable and not hierarchical parties, a relatively weak bureaucracy, and more.

Which I guess is the final point of why I found Williamson's original article so awful, outside of botching the history: the civil rights movement is one of the great instances of people breaking out of mass behavior to really begin something anew -- and Williamson didn't see it, either within the Democratic Party or in the civil rights movement. It is absolutely critical to recognize agency and action when they happen. Without that, democracy itself is, I'd say, hard to justify.

Catch of the Day

Remember that business about Barack Obama saying that the private sector was doing "fine," and the question of whether or not it was a gaffe that mattered? Well, John Sides decided to test it, and guess what? Only about half of the YouGov respondents were able to correctly identify "doing fine" as something that Obama said. Via email, John tells me that the number for Democrats and pure independents was even lower; what's driving the numbers up are Republicans who know about it, which presumably isn't winning any votes.

No wonder polling averages remain mainly flat following this world-class gaffe.

What this survey makes clear is that even after national headlines, some kinds of stories just don’t register to busy Americans who have more things to do than follow every jot and tittle of the news. Which is one reason why the attention devoted to gaffes dwarfs their actual impact at the ballot box.
Now, granted, if Mitt Romney and outside GOP groups feature the quote in heavy advertising from here to November, more people will hear about it. But it's not as if they would otherwise not be advertising; the question then would be how much additional effect that particular quote has compared to whatever the alternative would have been. Given the limited effect of campaigns overall, and that advertising is only one part of campaigns, and that this would still be only a subset of all advertising...I'm pretty skeptical that having this particular one out there compared with whatever alternative would have been used will make much of a difference at all.

But that's just informed speculation. The numbers that we have are information. And: nice catch!

ACA Update

The Supremes didn't get to the ACA case today. It'll either happen Monday or later next week.

Meanwhile, a couple of links putting the decision in context. Jonathan Chait has a good rundown on what might happen, and how it would matter substantively. And Sarah Kliff has an overlapping, also good, item, focused especially on how likely a "death spiral" would be.

I wouldn't, by the way, entirely ignore the possibility of a legislative fix, presumably after the election (and presumably only if Barack Obama wins). If the mandate is stripped but everything else remains, then -- depending on exactly what the court does -- the general consensus is that it wouldn't be all that hard to substitute something else, but Republicans are extremely unlikely to allow any such thing. That makes sense, but remember that insurance companies and other interests really don't want a collapsed insurance market.

I know it seems impossible right now that Republicans could start acting like a normal party and attempting to win specific policy gains for its party-aligned or party-friendly interest groups instead of just automatically opposing everything that the Democrats support, but you never know. After all Republican Congresses during Bill Clinton's second term increased the minimum wage and passed a new program bringing health insurance to children. Granted, they also impeached him, but the point is they didn't (always) let pointless partisan destructiveness get in the way of doing some legislating.

Read Stuff, You Should

Lot of good choices about a Happy Birthday to Berkeley Breathed, 55. Yes, kids, there was once a time when the comics in your daily newspaper were excellent.

And the good stuff:

1. Fed-watching from Sarah Binder.

2. A very helpful primer on executive privilege, by Andrew Rudalevige. Yes, I'm sending you to the Monkey Cage twice, and really you should just be reading everything at the Monkey Cage, but it seems best to list the individual items that I take particular note of. But yeah, really, just read it.

3.Matt Yglesias makes the case for more low-skill immigration.

4. And a good Nate Silver post about outliers on the occasion of a goofy reading from a normally reliable pollster (see also Mark Blumenthal) opens up a reader opportunity for a catch of the day: did any prominent Democratic or liberal blogs get all excited about yesterday's Bloomberg poll, with its 13 point Obama lead? I didn't notice any, but then again I certainly don't read 'em all. I'd also be impressed if anyone can find a Republican site gushing about the latest Gallup or Rasmussen numbers -- slight Romney lead -- while ignoring Bloomberg entirely. But mostly, I'm interested if any Obama-supporting writers played up the Bloomberg poll.

June 20, 1972

Nixon and Haldeman are back in the White House, which means that the tapes are rolling...and, in late morning, the famous 18 1/2 minute gap tape.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Elsewhere: Romney and the Fed, Parties, Republicans

At Plum Line today, I posted about the Fed's decision today -- and dragged out a quotation from Romney on Face the Nation on Sunday that in my view didn't get enough play; Romney went, as I say over at Greg's, half-Paulite.

My PP piece today was about political parties, working from a wonderful Garry Wills riff about voting for the party, not the person.

And yesterday, I did a PP item that I haven't linked to yet about arguing, once again, that Republicans really have been misbehaving lately.

I really do think that Romney quote on Face the Nation is a big deal. Greg earlier today said that Romney and Ryan benefit from a "presumption of deficit hawkery," which I thought was an excellent phrase for something regular readers know I believe is true; I stole it and said that Romney also gets a presumption that he cares about economic growth, when in fact he seems a lot more interested in inflation (and, of course, tax cuts). That's not necessarily wrong -- but it is a big policy difference, and one that doesn't get reported much because I don't think it's so far from expectations that reporters don't know what to make of it, and therefore ignore it -- sort of like (as Bill James said long ago) Dick Stuart's 66 home runs.

Veepstakes Chatter

Lots of Veepstakes reporting yesterday. First Marco Rubio was reported to be out of the running; a follow-up had a list of finalists down to Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, Paul Ryan, and Bobby Jindal. By the end of the day, Mitt Romney himself was saying that Rubio was still alive.

My main response is: why should we believe any of this? Oh, I’m not blaming the reporting. It’s just that there’s a long history of nominees who do plenty of spinning and misdirection on their way to selecting and announcing a running mate. Most of that is with good reason; it's generally good politics to appease various party factions by pretending that their favorites are serious Veepstakes players, even if it isn't actually true. Don't forget, also, that there's actually a reason for the vetting, and it's certainly possible that things could turn up that disqualify a candidate.

(Although: has that ever happened? Have we had good postmortem debriefings of the VP vetters focused on how the vetting part of it actually goes? Obviously the vetting team didn't screen out Palin in '08, Edwards in '04, or Cheney in '00 -- yes, I know -- so we're getting some Type II errors, but as far as I know we have a lot less information on whether the vetting process actually does disqualify anyone, correctly or not).

As for the specific sense of this has always been that the research establishes a clear strategy, because the upside (a couple of points in the home state of a running mate who is popular back home) is much less than the downside (hard to know exactly, but probably a couple points nationwide in the case of a disaster pick). And I think the best way to avoid a disaster, Edwards sort of notwithstanding, is to choose someone who successfully survived a nationwide campaign. Unfortunately for Romney, there's really only one person out there who fits. Which is why, at least based on what we know on the surface, that I think the Huck is the best bet. But beyond that? Find someone who has been successful statewide, and hope for the best. I'd avoid those who were first elected in 2010 (unless they have other credentials; Portman sort of does). I'd certainly avoid Paul Ryan for multiple reasons. Beyond that, you're really just hoping that you get lucky.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Doug Gwosdz, 52.

How about some good stuff?

1. Seth Masket on Bob Kerrey's wacky (and undemocratic, and unworkable anyway) plan to Nebraska-ize Congress.

2. Brendan Nyhan thinks he knows why reporters have suddenly found new confidence in Mitt Romney's attitudes.

3. Reviving the argument that instead of forcing spending cuts, the actual effect of the Norquist tax cut agenda is to decouple spending and taxing and therefore leading to increased government spending. Ezra Klein, whose been especially good lately, discusses.

4. And a new foreign policy poll from YouGov, with lots and lots of data. Dan Drezner starts picking at it.

June 19, 1972

Nixon and Haldeman are still in Florida on the Monday after the break-in, so no tapes, and the published Haldeman diary has them thinking about George Wallace again; nothing at all there about Watergate (although apparently they discussed Watergate in Florida, and then again on the plane back to Washington that night).

Nixon is talking to Chuck Colson, telling him to prepare for a counterattack (the only way Nixon knew how to play politics).

As far as the rest of it...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Annals of Spin: The Greatest Spin Line Ever

I'll get to more of the narrative later, but I want to separately mark the anniversary of the greatest spin ever: Ron Ziegler's line that the Watergate break-in was a "third-rate burglary attempt."

It's perfect. Going back to front...the word "attempt" is often omitted, but it's good: it keeps the emphasis on the idea that nothing really happened. Of course, that was a kind of lie, although I don't believe that Ziegler knew that (or anything else beyond what was in the newspapers and the bland campaign statement the previous day). In fact, this "attempt" was the second break-in at the Watergate, and one in a long series of illegal acts, unethical acts, or just things that would look terrible if exposed. But no; it was just an "attempt."

Burglary. Watergate wasn't a burglary! Even from what was in the newspapers then, it was clearly some sort of campaign espionage. Calling it a burglary, rather than a break-in or a black-bag job or a bugging expedition or dirty tricks, is a great way to play down the seriousness of it and distract from the trail that goes from Watergate to everything else that it goes to.

And to cap it off: third-rate. What exactly was third-rate about the Watergate break-in? Nixon and others will soon argue that the target was third-rate. That's a complicated question, I suppose (if they wound up with a stupid target, does that make the crime any less serious)? Third-rate -- it certainly is true that the operatives (the "burglars", as we all call them) were incompetent, or at least left a trail of mistakes and screw-ups throughout their work both for the campaign and the White House. Were either of these things important? Not really. And yet calling the thing third-rate is just perfectly dismissive.

Did it "matter"? I have no idea. In large ways, no. But in small ways...well, the cover-up really never ended, and part of that has always been the job of minimizing what Watergate was really about, and Ziegler's gem was a piece of that -- in 1972 through 1974, and then on through the argument of history. Sure.

Of course, among the many reasons that Watergate was a great political story are the great phrases. Ziegler's "third-rate burglary attempt" was the first of these, and it's a good one.


My Sunday question this week was about why liberals don't use Democratic House and Senate primaries the way that conservatives use Republican primaries.

Nick Baumann believes it's just about an ideology gap, and refers to Gallup's charts which show that far more Republicans identify as conservatives than Democrats identify as liberals.

I'm pretty skeptical about this. It's certainly true that there's a big difference in self-identification, but it's not at all clear what that means. It does not, for example, mean that the movement conservative position on most issues tends to be the most popular one. Instead, polling majorities on policy are all over the place.

I don't want to say that the self-identification thing is totally meaningless. It certainly seems to reflect something out there, and it has consequences; in terms of primary elections, it's certainly true that Republican candidates fight over who is "really" conservative while Democratic candidates don't really do that. But does that have anything to do with issue content? Does it have anything to do with what we think of as ideology? I don't think there's a lot of evidence for that.

Again: the difference that I was talking about in Congressional primaries doesn't seem to be there at the presidential level. For presidential nominations, both sides seem to me to have a more or less equivalent set of litmus test issues, and you really can't get nominated unless you're on the correct side of them -- and I think it's hard to make the case that Democrats are more flexible about it than Republicans, or more likely to nominate party moderates.

And as for the self-identification numbers, I just don't think they're worth very much. Something, yes, but not very much.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Gena Rowlands, 82. One of the many terrific things about Columbo is that lots of the Cassavetes gang wound up in them. She's terrific in the one that she's in. Not, perhaps, as great as she is in A Woman Under the Influence, but nevertheless. I especially like when Val Avery shows up (he's Artie Jessup in the one where the police commissioner kills his wife, but he's in four Columbos in all).

Anyway, I better get to the good stuff:

1. Larry Bartels, on the "white working class" and who they vote for.

2. Dean Baker fisks a truly awful Robert Samuelson column about the ACA. Brutal.

3. "The Smoke-Filled Room" is an excellent name for political scientist blog. This brand-new one is by a team of grad students at Yale. I'll be checking in on it. First up: Louis Wasser on what's up in Egypt (via Voeten).

4. I don't link to Matthew Shugart enough. Here he is on the California top two ballot (including a picture of what it actually looked like.

5. And I may or may not wind up ever posting about The Wire, which I just finished a few months ago, but I'm definitely going to be reading Alyssa Rosenberg's rewatching of the famous HBO series. Here's the first entry, for the first three episodes.

June 18, 1972

Nixon returned to Key Biscayne.

Haldeman spoke with Nixon at least twice that day, with one call, according to Haldeman, certainly about Watergate at least in part. Nixon also spoke with Colson twice. But there's no tape on those phones, so we have unreliable reports about what was said. Whatever Nixon's involvement that day, Haldeman had switched into high gear: the cover-up was on, and he was coordinating it for the White House.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Elsewhere: Scandals, Romney's Iran, Health Care

First up: at Salon, I had a column over the weekend about the unusually intense dead zone we're in now, and why it's a ready-made trap for reporters -- leaning on Brendan Nyhan's research on the press and scandals.

My PP post today was about the long-term electoral effects of health care reform. Short term, as I say over there, I'm not convinced that whatever the Court will do matter much this year.

And at Plum Line, I talked about Mitt Romney's claim that the US could not "survive" a nuclear Iran.

A couple comments about that last one. First, when I blog over at the Post, there's usually a time lag between when I write and when it gets published...usually doesn't matter at all, but in this case between when I wrote it and when it went live there were a bunch of comments about what Romney said. I was able to get a quick update to Greg with a couple of them -- just to link again, Dan Larison, who was harsher than I was,  and Andrew Sullivan, who compared Romney to Cheney -- but there's also a larger point that was raised by them and by Conor Friedersdorf that I should say something about, as long as I'm on the topic. That's the other part of what Romney said, which was about Congressional authorization for military action.

I think I've written about this before, but not recently. Basically, I agree with a lot of what Kevin Drum said today. First, that small-scale presidential actions without Congressional authorization are really not much of a big deal; and second, that the real fault here is with Congress, and not the president. There's more, but I guess I'll save it for a proper post later. Anyway, as Drum said, Congress is perfectly free to pull the plug on any foreign misadventure at any time. Worth noting.

Partisanship and the Supremes

Kevin Drum makes what I think is a potentially good point – including the necessary caveat that we don’t want to pre-interpret a Supreme Court decision that hasn’t been issued yet – about what a Supreme Court decision knocking out the ACA might mean:
If the court does overturn the mandate, it's going to be hard to know how to react. It's been more than 75 years since the Supreme Court overturned a piece of legislation as big as ACA, and I can't think of any example of the court overturning landmark legislation this big based on a principle as flimsy and manufactured as activity vs. inactivity. When the court overturned the NRA in 1935, it was a shock — but it was also a unanimous decision and, despite FDR's pique, not really a surprising ruling given existing precedent. Overturning ACA would be a whole different kind of game changer. It would mean that the Supreme Court had officially entered an era where they were frankly willing to overturn liberal legislation just because they don't like it. Pile that on top of Bush v. Gore and Citizens United and you have a Supreme Court that's pretty explicitly chosen up sides in American electoral politics. 
Why do I say it's only a potentially good point?

Because there's another possibility here: that the SCOTUS conservatives don't care at all about ACA or partisan positioning, but instead really do want to return Constitutional doctrine to where it was before the New Deal.

In my view, it was the wrong interpretation of the Constitution then and would be wrong now...but it's not really just plain naked partisanship on the part of the Court's conservatives if that's what they believe. And there's of course reason to believe that a lot of people do believe it that theory of the Constitution.

However, if we get a 5-4 decision that doesn't challenge the New Deal but relies on fatuous broccoli stories to knock out part or all of ACA...yeah, that's pretty much as close as you can get to substituting the Supremes' partisan-derived policy preferences for the decisions of Congress and the president. 

Yes, He's Running Against Congress

Last week, I listened to Barack Obama's campaign speech and what I heard is that he intends to run against Congress -- and against MittRomneyandCongress. As a fan of Congress in the abstract, I'm not happy to see that, but I also think it's logical, given that everybody (almost) hates Congress. I had a fair amount of pushback from commenters, however, who didn't hear the speech the way I did.

Well, I'm going to declare victory on this one, at least for now. Now, granted, Obama's weekly radio addresses aren't quite campaign speeches, but his speech this week is all Congress-bashing, all the time. This time, there's only one mention of "Republicans", and none to Paul Ryan, John Boehner, or anyone else by name. It's all "Congress," or "Members of Congress." Here's the conclusion:
Every problem we face is within our power to solve.  What’s lacking is our politics.  Remind your Members of Congress why you sent them to Washington in the first place.  Tell them to stop worrying about the next election and start worrying about the next generation.  I’m ready to work with anyone – Republican, Democrat, or Independent – who is serious about moving this country forward.  And I hope Members of Congress will join me.
Again, I think it  makes lots of sense for Obama to do this. No one knows who Paul Ryan is, or even John Boehner, so why take the time to try to educate swing voters about them? Meanwhile, it allows Obama to take an above-the-fray rhetorical stance even while what he's actually doing is partisan bickering (why is it above-the-fray? Because he gets to say that he's representing all the people, while Congress is easy to use as a symbol for petty partisan squabbling. No, it's not true, and in my view it doesn't make logical sense, but it absolutely taps in to how the political culture treats Congress).

I've actually been saying for a while that Obama would run against Congress -- not Republicans, but Congress -- and I the evidence so far is solidly that he is.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Sir Paul McCartney. 70.

On to the good stuff:

1. Sarah Binder on the Thurmond Rule.

2. Andrew Rudalevige on second terms.

3. Working without a mandate: the case of Washington state, by Sarah Kliff.

4. Groceries, over thirty years. NPR's Lam Thuy Vo has the charts.

5. And a Kevin Drum reader on education at public vs. private universities.

June 17, 1972

They were caught.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

I've been pointing to the reluctance of Democratic Senate candidates to run on many liberal issues; Rachel Weiner has a WaPo story today about how poorly some liberal candidates have been doing in House primaries.

Of course, there's no shortage of stories about conservative victories in Republican House and Senate primaries. One can take this too far; it's not even close to true that the more conservative candidate regularly wins Democratic primaries. But still, there does certainly seem to be a difference. I've talked about the consequences...I think on balance it does lose seats for Republicans, but make them more reliable votes when they do win. But the question is: what's the explanation for the difference?

Note: I don't think the same is true for presidential nominations, for whatever that's worth.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Beginning in 1980, there's been someone on the Republican ticket with a father who had a prominent political or government job in every cycle but one (1996; some might not count 2008, but I would). Good thing? Bad thing? Neither?

Why do you think it's happening? Is it just luck of the draw, or is there some systematic reason for it?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16, 1972

Liddy's secretary, Sally Harmony, testifying to the Ervin Committee:

What Mattered This Week?

Oh, the Eurozone.

More primaries this week, plus a new Member of the House from AZ-8. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but I'll certainly include it.

Let's see...the new quasi-Dream policy. Does it matter? I'm really not sure. Substantively, it depends on implementation, and that appears uncertain from what I can tell. Electorally, I sort of doubt almost certainly doesn't change votes, and I'd have to be convinced that it will make a real difference to Latino enthusiasm (and therefore turnout) down the line. It also might signal change in the future -- or not. So maybe.

I haven't written anything about the showdown between Justice and Issa. Does that matter?

What I also haven't been writing about but does matter, at least on some levels, are the legal fights in Florida, Texas, and other states over restrictions on voting.

And, hey, it matters to me: Matt Cain pitched a perfect game.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Elsewhere: Public Option, Podcast

At PP, I noted again how wrong I've been about the public option, and called out liberal activists for forgetting about it. Seriously: I'm baffled that the liberal favorite in a contested primary in Hawaii doesn't support it, at least not visibly.

And a new one for me: I'm a guest on an American Prospect podcast, along with host Jamelle Bouie and TAP's Jaime Fuller. I really don't listen to podcasts at all...too much good music and too many baseball games to listen to, so I can't judge how good it is, but we talked about judges, and Obama's speech yesterday, and some other stuff.

Nothing at Greg's place today, so that's it. There's a Salon column coming out sometime today or tomorrow, no link  But stick around all weekend: in addition to the usual, I'm sort of guessing there are things to write about happening 40 years ago.

Annals of Embarrassing Forced False Equivalence

NBC's First Read, which is Chuck Todd (who I often think is quite good) and others; my emphasis added:
Another thing that struck us about yesterday’s dueling speeches by Obama and Romney: their selective amnesia. Romney’s remarks never acknowledged the Bush years -- either their economic record or the financial meltdown that took place before Obama took office. For his part, Obama pretty much skipped over the relatively slow growth and the political stalemate that occurred over the past three years. The election could very well come down to which side does a better job of reminding voters of those things.
I can sort of see an argument that Obama downplayed slow growth over the last three years. Here's what he said:
OBAMA: But let’s be clear: Not only are we digging out of a hole that is 9 million jobs deep, we’re digging out from an entire decade where 6 million manufacturing jobs left our shores; where costs rose but incomes and wages didn’t; and where the middle class fell further and further behind.
So recovering from the crisis of 2008 has always been the first and most urgent order of business, but it’s not enough. Our economy won’t be truly healthy until we reverse that much longer and profound erosion of middle-class jobs and middle-class incomes.
So the debate in this election is not about whether we need to grow faster, or whether we need to create more jobs, or whether we need to pay down our debt.
Of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be. Of course we have a lot more work to do. Everybody knows that.
Is that "pretty much skipped over"? I'm not really convinced, but I suppose it's a question of interpretation.

But stalemate? That was the entire theme of the speech! As Barack Obama might say (and I really wish he'd cut this out; anyone else as annoyed by it as I am?): this isn't my reading of the speech; it's just a fact. Or at least, it's what First Read's Michael O'Brien thought important enough to lead his speech story with yesterday. There's just no way that it makes sense to say that Obama downplayed policy stalemate. Emphasized it? Hyped it? Yup. "Pretty much skipped over"? No way.

It all reads suspiciously like the First Read squad had a criticism of Mitt Romney's speech and were flailing around looking for a parallel criticism in Obama's speech. But they wouldn't do that, would they?

Catch of the Day

To Matt Yglesias, for something that we've seen many time before but is always worth pointing out: that, as he puts it, "only a fool would outline a credible specific plan to reduce the deficit" because Americans actually support spending more, not less, on just about everything. He explains more here.

This is all based on new numbers from Pew, which trumpets the finding that Americans really, really, really think budget deficits are important. No surprise; almost everyone who talks about this stuff on TV, certainly including the leaders of both major political parties, say that deficits are important, and when there's (rhetorical) elite consensus we would expect public opinion to reflect that.

If Pew really wants to be helpful, however, what they would do is to explore what people really think about when they say "deficit." Long-time readers will know that I'm extremely skeptical of this one; I suspect that a substantial number of voters use "deficit" as a synonym for recession, not to mean the difference between government revenues and expenditures. And that's not even taking into account "war on budgeting" Republicans, who seem to use deficit as a shorthand for government spending they don't like.

Anyway, I'd love to see someone ask some questions that would get at all of that. As far as I know, there's never been anything like that; every polling question about deficits goes in assuming that respondents know what "deficit" means in (normal) Washington policy-talk, and use it the same way. Maybe they do! That would only mean that voters are inconsistent on deficits, as they surely are about spending (liking cuts in general but not in specific areas). But I'm not altogether sure about it, and I would love to find out.

Oh, and: nice catch!
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