Thursday, January 31, 2013

Going With Their Strength

I'm mostly over a Greg's place today, but I'll do a quick post here based on a twitter's in reference to Ted Cruz's questioning of Chuck Hagel today, which featured a bunch of dubious Hagel quotes.

So I said: "GOP takeaway from 2012 seems to have been: wow, we need more campaigns built around out-of-context quotes"

To which Matt Yglesias had the sensible reply: "It’s a kind of hammer/nail issue, right? They’re really good at drawing attention to out of context quotes."

Yeah, that's just about right.

I suppose I can also do the "elsewhere" stuff here, since it's relevant: at Plum Line I said that the hearing won't matter much but that the question is whether Hagel will have 60 votes; oddly enough several people are treating the possibility of a filibuster as if it was 1990 and that Republicans might just let him win with 55 votes. And at PP I talked about what confirmation is supposed to be for.

Read Stuff, You Should

Lots of good choices today, but I'll go with a Happy Birthday to Connie Booth, 69.

And a bit of good stuff:

1. We have a new Senator. Okay, not for long, but still: Sean Sullivan answers "Who is Mo Cowan?"

2. TNC on Mamet. Also: they're reading Hobbes over there, apparently. Sounds like fun...I really don't think I can justify taking on one more thing (I'm a little scared by how the collapse of the cover-up is going to play out for me over the next few months), but, well, it's a little tempting.

3. And grading Professor Hagel: Dan Drezner is up to the job.

January 30, 1973

Gordon Liddy and James McCord are convicted on all counts. The first Watergate trial is over, with the other five all having plead guilty. Everyone has stuck to the cover story: they acted alone, with Hunt and Liddy having no authorization from anyone else.

The Senate investigation is looming...but the court isn't done with them yet. 

McCord has been busy during the trial, with Jack Caulfield arranging a series of meetings with McCord in which Caulfield assured him that McCord would receive clemency after a year in jail and would otherwise be taken care of. As we have seen, however, McCord found this entirely unacceptable. 

McCord has now been convicted, and he's very much still "off the reservation," as the president's men said. It's not too late, still, but it's getting later. And now, there are no more meetings with Caulfield. McCord is out there on his own. He and Liddy and the rest have now been convicted. The next step will be Judge Sirica's decision about sentencing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Catch of the Day


The Catch goes to Ed Kilgore, who notes the similarities between this year's and last year's Republican obsessions. The key point, however, generalizes beyond that:
When a significant group of politicians decide to make some event or issue the center of media attention, they can often do so to a considerable extent whether it makes sense or not. When an entire political party becomes committed to an event or issue as of transcendent importance, it instantly becomes so regardless of the merits of the case.
That's right; we tend to assume that heavy news coverage is the result of the choices of editors and producers, but it's just as common for news coverage to be driven by whatever politicians believe, or pretend to believe, is important.

Plus it's a good excuse to tell my favorite GOP-scandal-obsession story, which I've told here before, but unless my search skills are awful it appears I haven't told it for some time now. This was about the Clinton-era White House travel office story...I tried to explain the scandal last time, so you can click over if you want a bit of context, but you don't need it (although if you do click through, you'll get the Frank Grimes theory of anti-Clintonism). The basic idea was that it was a major fizzle of a scandal, but that didn't prevent it from looming large for at least some Republicans trapped in the mid-1990s early and primitive version of the conservative information feedback loop.

Anyway, the story (which may be apocryphal, but is too good to drop; if anyone actually has a source for this, I'd appreciate it  see update below)) is that during the 1996 debates the Dole campaign arranged for the guy who had been fired from the travel office to sit in the front row. The theory, you see, was that Clinton would panic when he saw the victim of his supposed corruption -- I guess it's sort of on the analogy of Hamlet's "catch the conscience of the king" plan, except even less clever. Because, well, first of all, Bill Clinton was highly unlikely to be thrown off his game -- uh, had they ever actually watched Clinton in action? And second of all, because, as the story goes, Clinton wouldn't recognize the guy; he had never met him, and as president had less fictional things to pay attention to.

I'm sorry for repeating myself, but it really is my favorite Clinton story. The thing is that the important context for Clinton-era scandals is that Fox News didn't exist, and the blogs didn't exist, and still they managed to obsess about this stuff. And not just on the fringes, as was the case with some of the more bizarre left-based obsessions during the George W. Bush years; the Clinton "scandals" were very much mainstream within the GOP. So much so that (okay, if the story is really true, but I do believe it is) a presidential campaign fooled itself into believing that it was actual news, not puffed up silliness. Which, of course, hasn't changed a bit.

Oh, also: nice catch!

(Update: Dave Hopkins passes along an AP story confirming most of the story: that Dole's campaign did put him in the front row, and did it to "rattle" Clinton. Not confirmed by that story, but probably correct, is that Clinton didn't recognize him; at any rate, Clinton wasn't rattled. Thanks, Dave!).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Davey Johnson, 70. Best manager of his generation, in my view. Anybody know why the Braves released him in 1975, right at the beginning of the season? His fluke year had been 1973, and he returned to normal in 1974, but his normal was still a whole lot better than what Marty Perez, who replaced him, could do. And Perez was 29, so it's not as if there was any question about what he could do. Of course, without the full year as a regular, maybe the Braves couldn't have managed to snag Willie Montanez from the Giants the next year for Perez. Oh, except they also tossed in Darrel Evans. Oops! Perhaps I've answered my question.

Just a bit of the good stuff:

1. You want to know about the 2016 nomination process. Josh Putnam gets us up to date.

2. Speaking of 2016, David Leonhardt is exactly right in this tweet: "Resolved: Talking about who may run in 2016 is less silly than constantly asking the potential candidates whether they're running."

3. Dylan Matthews runs down what economists think about immigration.

4. And, yeah, that Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop is still functioning, as Greg Sargent reminds us.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tom Harkin

I forgot to write a post about Tom Harkin's decision, announced over the weekend, not to seek re-election next year.

I've never been a big Harkin fan, but make no mistake about it: the Americans with Disabilities Act was a major, major accomplishment. Harkin doesn't get the credit alone; just in the Senate, Bob Dole was a major player. But if that's all he had done in his career, and it isn't, Harkin would still have left a lasting mark. I mean, literally. Young'ns may not realize that things such as regular curb cuts at intersections didn't exist in many (most?) places before the ADA passed in 1990. I mean, let alone the employee protections, and other provisions.

Meanwhile, with John Kerry confirmed as Secretary of State today, we have four Senators from the 113th Congress who won't be around for the 114th: Kerry (who will be 71 in January 2015), Harkin (75), Jay Rockefeller (77), and Saxby Chambliss (71). Jim DeMint is gone; he'll be only 63 by then. The big one yet to drop, still, is Frank Lautenberg (would be 90); at the very least, he's under a lot of pressure. So on the old, old, Senate, we're off to a pretty good start for the next cycle as far as exits are concerned; now we just need some new Senators (such as Tim Scott) in their 30s and 40s.

Rumor has it that Harkin's ADA was responsible for the loss of the fabulous Skyway to Fantasyland, but a bit of quick research suggests that's not true. When the ADA passed, there were plenty of predictions that similar disruptions would be common, and for all I know some businesses really were harmed by the need to comply with the law. Even so: the gains from it were immediate and long-lasting, and as far as I can tell the law has been about as much of a success as you can get from public policy. I know it's been a major help for my family over the years. So, thanks, Tom Harkin, and good luck enjoying your post-Senate years.

Is "No Budget No Pay" a Misstep?

I highly recommend Stan Collender's latest on GOP budget strategy for those who aren't quite sure what a "budget" (that is, a Congressional budget resolution) is and why it does or doesn't matter.

I think I disagree with him, however, on the question of whether "no budget no pay" was a mistake for the Republican leadership.

Not on the part having to do with the Senate; I agree that pushing the Senate to pass a budget resolution is basically a waste of the House's time. But on the other hand, I don't think it matters much. Sure, if the Senate actually passes a budget resolution this year then Republicans will have lost a talking point, but (1) given that the talking point was nonsense I'm not sure it matters; and (2) even if the Senate is careful to be as vague as possible -- and they might not -- it shouldn't be hard to develop new talking points out of whatever they do. I'd call that part of it a wash.

No, the real advantage of "no budget no pay" has nothing to do with the Senate. It has to do with the House, where the Republican leadership has to balance between a bunch of Members who want to pass the most extreme budget possible and a probably larger group of Members who want nothing to do with it. The leadership, which needs the crazies and crazy fellow travelers from time to time, wants to give them their budget resolution...and "no budget no pay" will help them pass it. Or at least, it certainly should help.

More generally: there are plenty of things that Congressional leaders want Members to do that Members don't particularly want to do. In normal times, budget resolutions are probably one of those; Members want it done, but there's not much of an upside in voting for it. Whether intended or not (and I have no idea whether this was thought through or not), "no budget no pay" gives House leaders an extra weapon for keeping Members in line for what should be a tough vote. In my view, it's a terrible precedent -- legislators shouldn't have a personal stake in specific votes (I called it flat-out corruption last time I wrote about it). And I have no idea how strong an incentive it will turn out to be. But either way, if it has any effect I'm pretty confident it will be over on the House side.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Louie Perez, 60.

Lots of good stuff today, so better get right to it:

1. Mike Konczal on the debt-to-GDP ratio: if there is a magic danger point, economists don't know about it.

2. Filling the IPAB: the problem you didn't even think of. Sarah Kliff explains.

3. How parties maintain and lose technical advantages, by David Karpf.

4. The Electoral College still turns out to be relatively unbiased (as far as partisanship is concerned); Andrew Thomas has the graphs.

5. Josh Putnam corrects me: the Electoral College is easier to rig than I suggested; it just takes some creativity. I think he's correct. We both continue to agree, however, that the incentives are all wrong for the current GOP scheme to rig it to actually happen.

6. Scott Lemieux takes on the recess appointment decision.

7. If you were interested in the All-Dead and All-Alive teams, you should probably click over to an interesting discussion it kicked off. Hint: any time you see Voros McCracken's name, you want to start reading.

8. And the great Christina Kahrl on Earl Weaver. I really want to know whether Paul Richards came up in their conversation, and if so what Weaver had to say about him.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Tricky Math of Rigging the Electoral College

Rick Hasen has a good column about about the national GOP effort to get Republican-controlled legislatures in states which vote for Democrats in presidential elections to switch to apportioning electoral votes by Congressional districts. Mainly I agree with his bottom line: it's unlikely to go anywhere. In particular, he focuses, correctly, on some of the ways in which the incentives for the legislators and governors involved run against the incentives of national presidential candidates.

Hasen is certainly correct that there's nothing illegal or unconstitutional about the scheme. I don't really think he's right that Democrats have been overly hyping the thing, though; even if it's both legal and unlikely to happen, it's still pretty outrageous.

But it's worth going over again just how tricky the math of this scheme is.

Remember, while a national electoral-vote-by-Congressional-district plan would strongly favor Republicans, there's virtually no chance it could happen. So we're talking state-by-state "reform," which in practical terms means states with partisan control. Not only that, it means states with Republican partisan control which support Democrats in presidential elections. There aren't many of those!

Indeed, the 2010 GOP landslide sandwiched by two good Democratic years set up the rare situation in which there actually are several states which sort of fit. Which leads to columns noting how if all of them -- FL, WI, VA, PA, MI, and OH -- went for it, Romney could have defeated Obama.

But here's the thing. Outside of all the other reasons that it's unlikely, the math of doing it in a few selected states gets weird quickly.

That's because we don't know, in advance, exactly how the next election is going to turn out; nor do we know the exact rank of the states (that is, from most to least Republican).

The thing is that splitting the electoral votes is double-edged: it helps Republicans if Democrats win the state, but it helps Democrats if Republicans win it. That's true even if there is a strongly Republican bias; even if Republicans gain a lot more if Democrats win than Democrats do if Republicans win (say, a state with 20 electoral votes in which the districts will likely produce a 12-6 GOP edge in a close race), it's still a real problem for Republicans. That's the complexity of the situation that, say, Micah Cohen really overlooks.

See, the more Republican the state, the more Republicans would risk giving away electoral votes. But if they only do it in relatively safe Democratic states -- some subset of the six states mentioned above -- then the total electoral vote haul is less likely to make a difference.

And, again, we don't know the rank-order in advance. Could Ohio go Republican while Virginia and Florida go for the Democrats? Sure. And if Ohio is the only state that buys in and then goes Republican in an election which would have yielded a very slim GOP electoral vote edge, it could easily turn instead into a Democratic win. It's even order to do this the GOP needs to act now, before the risk that midterm elections make it impossible to do in some states -- but that also opens up the risk of a big Democratic win in  one or more state followed by a flip back, thus potentially leaving the scheme in a "wrong" combination of states (such as only the most Republican-leaning one).

Not to mention that, as I said in the earlier piece, the people who actually have to support this -- elected Republicans -- are very likely to take the very fact of their election as a reason to be believe that their state is trending Republican, and therefore passing the measure would be counterproductive! When it comes to their own elections, I'm perfectly willing to believe that politicians are paranoid and would want the largest possible electoral advantage in their district; that's why bipartisan, incumbent-protection gerrymanders are more common than partisan, seat-maximizing gerrymanders.

But the point here is that even if state Republicans were perfectly willing to ignore their own incentives and instead do whatever the national party believed was best, it still would be extremely difficult to game out the proper combination of states in advance. If they could do the entire nation, then it would be easy. But since that can't be done, what remains just isn't very promising.

Future of Senate Reform

Chris Bowers (who seems to be blogging a lot now, which is excellent news) argues that the main obstacle to  Senate reform has been senior Senators -- and that therefore cohort replacement will eventually produce much more significant reforms that what the Senate managed to enact last week. He has a nice chart which highlights the role of senior liberal Democrats in opposing Merkley/Udall.

The problem here is that we don't know whether folks such as Barbara Boxer and Carl Levin are reluctant to support reform (or perhaps reluctant to support majority-imposed reform) because they share values and norms of a disappearing Senate -- or because Senators tend to evolve in that direction as a result of long service in that chamber. If the former, the Senate Democratic caucus might be purely pro-reform in ten years; if the latter, a different group of senior Senators will be reluctant to move quickly on reform -- if though they supported it this time around.

And there's a third possibility. It's possible that the senior Democrats who resisted reform were in speaking for many junior Democrats who found it difficult to take that position publicly.

Of course, the other part of this -- perhaps the most important part -- is that the partisan context overrides most of this. I strongly suspect that had Democrats had only mild setbacks in the 2010 elections and then emerged from the 2012 elections with unified control that they likely would have implemented more substantial reform last week (if not earlier). On the other hand, while I don't really expect Jeff Merkley or Tom Udall to flip, I would guess that most Democrats will turn anti-reform if Republicans take control of the Senate in 2014 or 2016 -- and most Republicans will turn pro-reform.

I do expect the next Republican majority to be somewhat less hesitant on reform than the current Democratic majority. On the other hand, Republicans did not, in fact, use majority-imposed reform when they had the Senate during the George W. Bush presidency (although they did threaten it in order to get judicial nominations through by simple majority). On the other other hand, however, Democrats didn't enforce a full 60 vote Senate back then; they might, following Obama-era Republicans, do that next time.

Meanwhile, if Democrats survive 2014 with little damage and then win a landslide in 2016 -- especially one that leaves them with united government but a few short of 60 Senators -- then I think majority-imposed reform (or very significant reform driven by the threat of majority-imposed reform) becomes very, very, likely.

Which is only to repeat that partisan context matters more than cohort replacement.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jacob Cruz, 40. Continued playing, and usually hitting, in the minors up through 2010, including stops in Korea and Mexico. Would he have made it if he was handled differently? Probably not, but we'll never know. I always liked him.

Some good stuff:

1. Jennifer Victor pivots off the schmoozing discussion to talk about social networks and why they matter.

2. Andrew Rudalevige on the recess appointments decision.

3. Patty Murray as Senate Budget Chair; Matt Yglesias is right about this.

4. Dan Larison listened to Bobby Jindal. He was not impressed.

5. Andrew Sprung on Obama and moving public opinion (and me).

6. And Chris Cillizza's great ode to "Saxby." Key catch: yup, it's Lamar!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

This is going to be the same one that I set for conservatives; as I said there, I don't think I've done it for a while. Which liberal columnists, bloggers, radio hosts and TV pundits are overrated and overexposed? Which ones should get more attention?

(And meanwhile -- this is the second time in a week that I forgot to hit the final button for a post to go live. Argghh!).

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I don't think I've done this one for a while: which conservative columnists, bloggers, radio hosts and TV pundits are overrated and overexposed? Which ones should get more attention?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I'll go with the end of the ban on women in combat. As with the demise of DADT, this is one that isn't ever going to be reversed, and will make a big difference for the people involved.

For didn't matter...the whole Hillary goes to the Hill thing is too obvious, right? (Not that I'm against oversight hearings). If you don't like that, I will say that Inaugural Addresses are invariably overhyped.

So that's what I have. What did you notice? What am I missing? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

I said last week I had nothing particular to say about Stan Musial, but that's not quite true; I just wanted to wait a week out of respect. But now that I've done that, it's time to consider how his passing affects...the All-Time All-Alive Team and the All-Time All-Dead Team. Hey, I've done the All-Alives before, but I'll start from scratch this time; I didn't look back at the old post until I was done.

I'll start with the All-Dead Team. Talk about a hard OF to crack! We'll certainly carry five OFers on the 25-man roster, and I'd think that the selections have been easy: Williams starts in LF, Ruth of course in RF, and then pick 'em from Cobb, Mantle, and Speaker. Does Musial displace one of them? Yikes! That's a tough call. By the way, just as a shortcut, that group of six count for six of the top twenty all-time in baseball-reference's WAR list.

(Aside: B-R's WAR is fine, in my view, but because of how easy it is to access, it seems to be everyone's go-to all-in-one stat and is therefore quite a bit overused, from what I see. Although I don't see all that much these days, so I guess it depends, and I'm certainly very guilty of it myself).

Let's see...the All-Dead Team has Gehrig and Wagner for sure. Unless I'm forgetting someone, Eddie Mathews is the 3B. The roster construction is tough though. Both Hornsby and Eddie Collins have to be on the team, right? We can fight about who starts at 2B, but clearly they're both in the running. I'm going to want to consider taking Lajoie, and even Jackie Robinson. Truth is, I don't know which of those four guys is better. But how can we have a roster with four guys whose primary position is 2B? And none of them is really a great fit for back-up SS, although Hornsby did spend a full season there at one point. See, I like the idea of Robinson on the team since he's excellent for UT (pretty much everything but C, SS, and CF). You know what? Let's can Lajoie, keep Robinson, and instead have a more reasonable roster by adding George Davis..

I'm going to say that we go with mostly modern pitching staff usage, so 10 or 11 pitchers, meaning we have 14 or 15 roster spots. Without Musial, I count five OFers and seven IFers...that's leaving Ott and Foxx off (and Anson, Conner, and the rest of the 19th century; also, MLB only, since I have no idea how good the Negro Leaguers were, although surely it's likely that one or more could be here). Truth is, though, that Musial is a very nice fit for this team too -- if he's not the LF, he's the backup there, for Ruth, and for Gehrig. If he's #13, then we add Dickey and Cochrane and we're good.

Wait, hold on: I forgot about Gary Carter. I'd really have to think about that one. He's awful good. I'm going to leave him off for now, but I'm open to argument.

Looking back, I think Ott is probably the guy who's being bumped here. Ott for Robinson?

So that's my roster:

Dickey, Cochrane
Gehrig, Hornsby, Collins, J. Robinson, Wagner, G. Davis, Mathews
T. Williams, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, Ruth, Musial

Now, for the All-Alives...

The starting OF is easy, especially with Musial gone: Bonds, Mays, Aaron. We want Frank Robinson, too, and for a real roster the 5th OFer has to be Rickey Henderson, no? There's no true backup CF unless we carry Griffey, but both Aaron and Henderson could fill in.

I'll skip to catchers, because we're taking three: Piazza, Bench, and Berra.

Now, the IF. Might as well start with 3B since it's the easiest. Schmidt. Alex Rodriguez at SS, no? Morgan, obviously.

Ah, now it gets tricky. In fact, Musial wasn't really in the OF; he was the All-Alive 1B. So instead, we have a whole bunch of guys: McCovey, Thomas, Bagwell...but really, I think it's already Pujols, and it isn't close.

So that leaves the infield bench. Again, roster construction is difficult. See, Ripken is probably the best guy out there. But Ozzie Smith does more for the team -- comes in for defense and pinch runs. And there's really no one for a real backup at 2B -- who, Rose? I don't want him. Molitor? Not really. Even worse, the best three guys off the team right now are probably all 3Bs: Brett, Boggs, Chipper Jones (OK, Yaz and Kaline might not agree, but they don't fit, either). And we need someone to back up at 1B...I think I'll take a LH hitter, because my bench leans righty. And because I want Stretch. And no real backup 2B; if I have to I guess it would be Rose, but I'd rather just let one of the SS play out of position.


Piazza, Bench, Berra
Pujols, McCovey, Morgan, A. Rodriguez, Ripken, O. Smith, Schmidt
Bonds, Henderson, Mays, Aaron, F. Robinson

Who am I missing? What are my bad choices?

Hey, Conservative Hacks: An Opportunity

Thinking about two of today's major stories, the court decision to eliminate the recess appointment power and the plot to rig the electoral college...

It strikes me that there's a major unexploited market out there in Crazy Land: an argument for why only the House of Representatives, and not the president or the Senate, is really a legitimate democratic institution.

It's really not even that hard to make, although it needs to dive far off the deep end when you get to the part about consequences (which presumably entail everyone having to do whatever it is the House wants). After all, it doesn't take much creativity at all to argue that the Senate is a democratic eyesore. And while the presidency is a bit harder to take down, any conservative hack worth his Regnery contract, Heritage desk, and guess slots on Fox news should certainly be capable of doing it. And from that, it pretty much all follows that unchallenged government by the majority of the majority party in the House is pretty much what God revealed to the Founders in Philadelphia. Of course, that's also why Democratic-leaning states should apportion their electoral votes by House district, and why direct election of Senators is a bad idea, and Benghazi and Fast and Furious and the rest of it, too.

So, hop to it, conservative hacks! The easy marks you prey on are just waiting to put this one on the best-seller lists.

Rigging the Electoral College -- Get It Right

I was going to let this go, but I just saw Andrew Gelman's post about what a terrible idea electoral-votes-by-congressional-district would be, and that makes the third one (here's one of the others; I've lost the other one) I've seen that gets this wrong in the last 24 hours.

Hey, everyone writing about this: the Republican plan isn't electoral-votes-by-congressional-district. It's electoral votes by congressional district in the states where it would help Republicans (see, for example, here). In fact, it's probably better to just say that their plan is that electoral votes in every state should be apportioned in whatever way is best for Republicans.  How do we know this? Well, RNC Chair Reince Priebus said so: “a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at.”

I still think it's far more likely than not that all of this will fizzle out; passing the plan requires state legislators to act against their personal and state interest and in favor of their national party interest, even putting aside the possibility that they would be subject to a vote backlash. But who knows -- it surely could happen, and certainly a fair number of Republicans are talking it up. Sure, it's fine to use it as an excuse to talk about various electoral vote schemes, as Gelman does in an otherwise perfectly fine, informative post. It's just that everyone should make clear exactly what Republicans are doing, and it's just not a national uniform plan.

Recess Appointment Power? Gone, Says DC Circuit

Big, big news in recess appointments today: if an appeals court gets its way, they no longer exist.

The DC Circuit was asked to decide whether Barack Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB were kosher, given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding them: that the Senate was on a "recess" that was broken up every few days with pro forma sessions. The questions expected to be answered were: how long does a recess have to be? And: who decides?

Well. Forget about all that. Instead, the court, with David Sentelle writing (excerpts from Philip Klein, who covered this really nicely on twitter; full decision) threw out recess appointments altogether, overturning the way they've been practiced for the last century.

First, the court decided that only intersession recesses of the Senate, and not any intrasession recesses, count for the Constitutional option of recess appointments. So it doesn't matter how long the recess Obama used was; no recess within the session counts.

And, second, the court decided that contrary to a century of practice and various judicial decisions, only offices which become vacant during the recess may be filled by recess appointments.

If this stands, it will render the Constitutional clause a nullity, or very close to it, under current conditions. Intersession recesses are often short (sometimes very short, such as the one earlier this month), and under the court's ruling a vacancy would have to occur and be filled in the same (short) recess. In other words, no more recess appointments at all.

Okay, here are the issues.

The Article II Constitutional provision reads: "The President shall have the Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session."

The two issues are what "the Recess" means, and what "may happen during" means. Here's an old CRS backgrounder. Basically, up to now it's been settled that both recesses between sessions and recesses within sessions count; and it's been settled that "may happen during" means "exist." The DC Circuit flips both: only intersession recesses, and "may happen during" means "newly arise."

I'm not sure about the "happen" question, but I think they're wrong about recesses. To begin with, if I recall correctly (and I'm certainly no Constitutional scholar) one of the rules of interpreting the Constitution is that you an interpretation that makes a clause a nullity isn't right. If it was the case that all the Senate had to do to prevent recess appointments is to make the period between sessions an intrasession recess (by not adjourning sine die), only ending the session just before the next one started, that would entirely prevent recess appointments under Sentelle's reading, despite Congress being just as unable to act as they would be had they ended the session properly.

Indeed, what's happened historically is that Congress went from having relatively short sessions with very long breaks between sessions to having almost continuous sessions with moderately long breaks within the session.

Now: the fact that Congress is gone from Washington for relatively shorter periods of time should, in my view, work against recess appointments. But that they take their breaks within, rather than between, sessions? I don't see why that should. The Court makes much of the notion that "the Recess" must mean a particular recess, but I'm not at all convinced that it has to be "the" intersession recess (which, after all, was only one of three intersession recesses back when most Congresses had three, not two, session). Nor am I impressed by the court's recitation of evidence that early presidents used only intersession recesses -- as far as I know, there were no other kinds of (prolonged) recesses at that time!

So I think the court is dead wrong about the type of recess.

On the other question, however, I'm not so sure. What is clear (see the CRS report) is that the issue has been settled by the Justice Department and the Courts since the 19th century: any vacancy that happens to exist during a recess may be filled by a recess appointment. But there's no particular reason it has to be read that way that I can see; nor does it do violence to the spirit of the clause to interpret it narrowly.

It's true that if the court's interpretation held, recess appointments would be very different. In modern practice, recess appointments are used after the Senate has failed to act; presidents usually nominate someone, wait to see what happens, and then if the Senate refuses to confirm they go ahead and appoint someone anyway. However, if we accept the court's "happened," then recess appointments would mean that the vacancy happened and was filled during a single Senate recess: the Senate would never have any opportunity to act. Granted, that could happen now, but it usually doesn't.

(An exception, I suppose, would be if the president nominated someone to replace a current office-holder who retained the position until her successor was confirmed. Wouldn't work at the beginning of a presidency, but otherwise it would work, with the office-holder prepared, if the Senate didn't act before recess, to then leave the position and allow the recess appointment).

Anyway, if that's the correct interpretation -- and again, I really have no opinion on it -- then recess appointments would be rare. But they would be rare mainly because the Senate is in session far more often than it was in the 18th century, which strikes me as a perfectly acceptable reason for recess appointments to be rare. That is, if a Constitutional provision winds up becoming a nullity because practices change and make it irrelevant, that's fine; but, going back to the "recess" question, a provision shouldn't become a nullity because the courts constructs it that way.

And once more: if the court interpretation of "recess" holds, all any Senate that wants to deny the president recess appointments will have to do is to end the year, whether it's in December or September, with a long intrasession recess that ends when the next session of Congress begins in January. They won't even have to keep two Senators around for pro forma sessions; all they have to do is to avoid the magic words "sine die."

That has to be wrong, in my view.

Of course, the Supremes will have the final say on this one. And there's also the practical matter of what happens to the NLRB (and, presumably, any other recessed official; under the decision, I'm guessing that almost every recess appointment since the nineteenth century, and perhaps since the eighteenth century, was illegal).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Ed Goodson, 65. Not, strictly speaking, a great ballplayer, but one of my childhood heroes thanks to his time with the Phoenix Giants. Actually, 1300+ PAs is fairly amazing for a corner infielder with a lifetime 84 OPS+.

To the good stuff, mostly more filibustering:

1. Sarah Binder on the Senate reform plan; in case you missed it, Greg Koger on the Senate reform plan.

2. Should activists be proud of what they did on Senate reform? Chris Bowers makes the case.

3. More: David Waldman on the filibuster fight.

4. David Dayen on Senate reform.

5. Andrew Sprung argues against my Reagan/Obama argument.

6. And here comes the Senate Democratic Budget; Ezra Klein has Patty Murray's plans.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Elsewhere: Senate Reform

I have two pieces out on the compromise package on Senate reform -- at PP I say that the package does nothing about the 60 vote Senate, but should help a lot with the problem of filibusters when there is a 60 vote supermajority. That's not what reformers wanted, but it's not nothing.

And at Greg's place, I discussed the factors that led to more major reform fizzling out. One point that wound up getting edited down that I do want to emphasize is that what they're trying to do -- a middle-ground reform is simply very hard to do. It's especially hard to do by rules instead of by norms, which is how it used to be done. The problem is that the current crop of Republicans simply isn't willing to abide by institutional norms; they believe in exploiting the rules whenever possible. That's their right, but it's hard to overcome.

I'm sure I'll link to other things soon, but I'll call Greg Koger's analysis of it to your attention right now.

I'll also say that another big part of whether this will really work depends on whether they really go through with use-it-or-lose-it post-cloture time. If so, it's going to be a lot easier -- maybe I would even say easy - to move non-controversial district judges and executive branch nominations, and even those who have some opposition, but no intense opposition.


I have a column up over at TAP arguing that it's a mistake for Barack Obama to aspire to being a "liberal Reagan" -- because, well, because politics doesn't work like that. And with some advise on what Obama should do going forward. I think it's a good one, so maybe you will too.

Meanwhile, since I wrote it the "liberal Reagan" pieces keep on coming -- two smart observers, E.J. Dionne and Greg Sargent, each pick up the theme. I'll note a couple of things that go a bit beyond the TAP piece in response.

Dionne says that "Like Reagan, Obama hopes to usher in a long-term electoral realignment." It's very, very hard to see a Reagan realignment. Republicans won the presidency in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988; I can't really see 1980 as anything special in that sequence. Or, to put it another way, after Reagan Republicans have won the national presidential vote only in 1988 and 2004. Reagan did come into office with basically a conservative coalition majority in the House, the first one in a while...but it disappeared rapidly in 1982, and didn't reappear until 1994, which was also when Republicans recaptured the Senate after loosing it in 1986. To me, the Congressional story seems more like continuity through 1994, especially on the House side. To put it yet another way: I'm aware of no election study -- or anything else, for that matter -- that gets any explanatory power by using 1980 to help explain things. That is, if you're studying the 1968 election and the 1988 election, you toss in the same things -- economic fundamentals, presidential approval, perhaps candidate factors -- and the results work fine. You don't need to add "oh, and this one was after Reagan" to the 1988 analysis. It won't help.

(I am aware of one similar variable that's been used -- David Mayhew, in his book about divided government, included a variable for a liberal era which, he found, predicted more significant legislation. However, his "activist mood" begins in 1961 and ends in 1976; it's over four years before Reagan wins the White House. Hey, political scientists: if there's anything I'm missing, please let me know).

There has been, to be sure, one development that could be called long-term electoral realignment: the conversion of the bulk of Anglo southerners from conservative Democrats to conservative Republicans. But if anything, Reagan stalled that conversion; at the congressional level, it wound up taking place in one big and fairly permanent surge in 1994. Not in 1980. At the presidential level, meanwhile, it was an ongoing process from the 1940s forward. Reagan didn't delay it as far as I can tell, but he didn't accelerate it, either.

In my view, there's just very little evidence for claiming, as Greg does, that Reagan's presidency was a "turning point in American history" (indeed, Greg says that Reagan's Inaugural speech was the turning point, which is an even harder sell).

There's more of this in the TAP piece, but also, as I said, more on what Obama should actually do rather than trying to be a liberal Reagan (or, in Greg's version, an anti-Reagan).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Terence Bayler, 83. Who? He's the guy who said, "A Samaritan? This is supposed to be a Jewish section" and "Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products." Also played The Bloody Baron in Potter, and was in an excellent episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, among other things.

1. Mark Blumenthal surveys what we know about the bully pulpit -- absolute must-read.

2. Gershom Gorenberg, sounding almost optimistic, on the Israeli elections.

3. The only way to deal with Republicans these days sometimes seems to be developing "why don't they just" lines. Kevin Drum has a solid one.

4. The latest from John Sides and Lynn Vavreck's The Gamble.

5. And a funny from Dan Amira (vaguely security theater related, so it's sort of politics, I suppose). Here's a question for what may be a slow news day: how do you rank Rob Reiner's first five movies? I'm pretty sure I'd put Harry Met Sally last...I could see a case for Tap, Sure Thing, or Princess Bride as the top one, and Stand By Me is awful good, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sometimes, the Final Vote Hides the Real Vote

The House today approved the Republicans' debt limit extension. It was a tough vote...I was going to say for Republicans, but it's probably a tough vote for a lot of Democrats, too. Not so much because of the junk the GOP tacked on, but because raising the debt limit is never popular, even when you call it "suspending" the debt limit.

The vote also demonstrated something important to remember about voting on the House (and Senate) floor: all sorts of things go into final votes.

So: Dave Weigel tweeted after it, "33 R "nay" votes. Without Obama endorsement and D votes this would have gone down."

Maybe. On the first half of it, certainly; without a presidential signature at the end of the path, there's no reason for Republicans to bring this to a vote in the first place.

But I wouldn't be so sure about the rest of it. I took some notes (well, I tweeted them) during the vote, and here's what happened. It was a five minute vote, and Republicans voted rapidly, and at first voted solidly for the measure. Democrats held back their votes, with those who voted against it mostly voting no. It thereby, I didn't take really good notes, but when it reached a winning number Republicans supported it at 199/9 while Democrats opposed it by something like 19/49. After that point, Democrats split fairly evenly but with somewhat more of them voting yes, while Republicans went from 199/9 to...well, I had 200/32, but I'll trust that Weigel was correct on the nays, so 199/33.

The question is what happens if Democrats had all voted no. My guess? Boehner probably had the votes, if he needed them. Almost certainly if he needed just a handful more, but perhaps if he needed to supply all of them. Indeed, I'm not certain, but I think that there were at least two yes-to-no switches among Republicans along the way, and perhaps more. Now, those could have been people who accidentally pressed the wrong button...but they also might have been Members who told the leadership they would be there only if needed.

Now, given that Barack Obama and Senate Democrats had already signaled that they would go along with the not-quite-clean-extension that the Republicans had concocted, it's hardly a surprise that quite a few House Democrats were willing to vote for it. And remember -- that's gong to be true anything intended to actually get enacted into law comes to the House floor. So there's a fair among of gamesmanship going on with the Democrats, almost all of whom probably wanted the thing to pass even though over 100 wound up voting against it.

And the thing is: no one says (at least not on the record) that their vote was available if needed, but they were happy not to have to vote for that necessary measure that they just voted against. Not only would that ruin the gain of being on record the other way, but no one wants to be seen as the Speaker's lackey. Nor can we believe the leadership when they claim vote counts.

So, really, we have no certain way of knowing whether Republicans had the votes on this one if they had to do it alone. But I'd bet they had more than the 199 they got.

Overlooked on the Senate Budget?

I linked earlier today to a good WaPo piece by Rachel Weiner explaining why Senate Democrats haven't passed a budget resolution -- mainly that there was no particular reason to do so, and therefore they were happy to duck tough but meaningless votes on one.

I should add, however, one other point that perhaps really might change things in the 113th Congress: the leadership of the Budget Committee. Retired Chair Kent Conrad was a real rarity in Washington. He actually did care about federal budget deficits. A lot. So much so that he once left the Senate because he had pledge to do so if he didn't solve federal budget deficits.

And, yes, Conrad did fight for agriculture programs, so he wasn't a pure budget cutter...but you can be a real deficit cutter even while supporting specific programs, whatever they are; what matters is the bottom line, and Conrad by all accounts really did care about that.

Unfortunately, this put him at odds with pretty much everyone in his party, given that most of them cared a lot less about wheat, and almost all of them cared a lot less about deficits (not to mention that almost all Republicans, whatever they claimed, also cared a lot less about deficits, but that's not the point here).

Anyway, Conrad is gone, and Patty Murray is now Budget Chair. I don't really know anything at all about her views on budget deficits, but she almost has to care about them less than Conrad did, and in most things she's an absolutely mainstream liberal Democratic Senator.

In other words, part of the difficulty in getting a budget resolution done for the Democrats -- especially a symbolic one, which was all that was available in the 112th Congress -- was that it meant conflict with their own Budget Chair. That should be gone now, and may well be part of why they appear to be far more willing to go through the motions on it.

It's still purely symbolic; the real negotiations over the current continuing resolution, over the sequester, and over FY 2014 spending and revenues really won't be affected at all by whether the Senate passes a budget resolution. But to the extent that anyone cares about it, my bet is that the transition from Conrad to Murray makes it a fair bit easier.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Charlie Spikes, 62. If I recall correctly, he was once featured in a Sam "Mayday" Malone story. Immortality! (wait -- baseball-reference has a page for Sam Malone? Yup).

On to the good stuff:

1. Seth Masket reads Sasha Issenberg, The Victory Lab.

2. Five Roe myths, from Scott Lemiuex.

3. Why haven't Senate Democrats passed a budget resolution? Rachel Weiner has a good summary.

4. What should the press do with conspiracy theories? Brendan Nyhan, of course, is on it.

5. Thomas Friedman, taken entirely apart by Dan Drezner. Brutal, Juice.

6. And I suppose I should link to an interview of Juan Linz by Dylan Matthews, even though I disagree with most of what he has to say.

Elsewhere: Debt Limit, Obama's Speech

Over at PP yesterday, I argued that regardless of whether it violates the 27th Amendment it's a really, really bad idea for the House to tie specific Member votes to whether they get paid.

I guess I'm a little late on the Inaugural, but I did two posts on it Monday. At PP, I was struck by how little Obama gave to Republicans. And at Greg's place, I remarked on the foreign policy sections -- and while I agreed that most of it was boilerplate, I thought that flat-out declaring that war is ending is a fairly big deal (and, yes, I know he's said it before, but still).

And really late, but I might as well: over the weekend at Salon, I pointed out how impossible the job of conservative NYT columnist is.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Catch of the Day

To former Ambassaror Christopher Hill, who wrote a nice, concise column about the broken executive branch nomination and confirmation process (via Wonk Wire).

The key point here is that there are two ways in which the process is broken, and they really aren't all that closely related. The one we've all been talking about a lot, what with Senate reform in the works, is the difficulty nominations have had on the floor of the Senate. Holds, successful partisan filibusters sustained over cloture votes, and slow-walking filibusters that can't beat cloture but chew up too much time -- they're all real issues, and one would hope that Senate reform could smooth the process. I've been advocating for simple-majority cloture and for help on post-cloture time (perhaps use-it-or-lose-it rules, perhaps the Udall-Merkley idea of severely limiting post-cloture time).

But that's only the very final stage of things. As Hill makes clear, even if nominations sailed through from the committee stage to the floor and confirmation, the process up to that point is a disaster:
Today, any nominee to a position requiring Senate confirmation can expect to spend many hours listing past places of residence, attaching tax returns, detailing family members’ campaign contributions, and answering questions about the employment of domestic help or gardening services and whether such employees were legal, tax-paying US residents. The vetting process will even go back to one’s teenage years – all to ensure that anything that the Senate’s own investigators can find is known before the nomination is formally submitted.

During my career, the Senate confirmed me five times. Each time, the vetting essentially started from scratch. In addition to the countless forms, lengthy questionnaires, and background investigations, there was an interview with a paralegal whose job was to ferret out any information that might conceivably bear on the nomination.
As Hill points out, this can easily be a grueling year-long (or longer) ordeal -- for a job which the nominee may only intend to fill for two or three years.

It's nuts! I'll say it again: both Congress and the White House should agree to dramatically scale back the vetting. Way, way, back. Even if it proves impossible to clear up the mess on the Senate floor, there's absolutely no excuse for overvetting. It just takes some real presidential initiative to reverse the long-term inertia on this one. Which we haven't yet seen from this president, but I'll hold out hope that things may change in the second term.

Meanwhile: nice catch!

A Bit More on Peaceful Transitions and Democracy

Some commenters to my post (and, separately, Kevin Drum) point outed out yesterday that the US string of consecutive peaceful democratic transitions that Dylan Matthews posted on overlooks the case of 1861.

Yup, 1861 is a breakdown. No question about it. On the other hand...they do manage to have an elections during the civil war -- and I'm hardly an expert on the period so correct me if I'm wrong, as far as I know there's no doubt that Lincoln would have given up the presidency had he lost in 1864. And once the war is over, the system endures.

So it's a major, serious, breakdown, but one which doesn't lead to, you know, the army having George Washington's great-grandnephew to take over as dictator.

I don't know how that counts, but I'd say it's not as simple as saying that the US has always had peaceful transitions -- but also not as simple as saying that 1861 wasn't.

The real point here, I think, is just that democracy is really, really, difficult. I think rather than focus on how to "count" the case of 1861, what's clearly correct is to say the question of slavery wasn't resolved democratically. And that's a big blot on the ability of Madisonian system -- although it's not at all clear that any other system would have worked any better, and again it probably is a point in favor of the system that it did survive the Civil War, even as it's a point against that the Civil War happened at all. I'd add that some commenters have also drawn attention to assassinations as non-"peaceful" transfers, but I would take the other point of view -- the ability of the system to deal with the death of elected officials shows its strength, not its weakness. On the other hand, the case of Hayes/Tilden in 1876 is a much harder call; to the extent that they resorted to extraconstitutional measures, that's a serious blot on the record.

Meanwhile, peaceful transfer of power is hardly the only way to judge a democracy. Another would be how inclusive it is; the fact of slavery itself was (obviously?) a much bigger blot on democracy than was the means used to end it, while the failure to extend full citizenship after the Civil War was, again, a serious and important shortcoming that should call into question whether it's appropriate to consider the US a proper democracy at all before 1965. Another, one that I pay a fair amount of attention to, is the extent to which public policy is directly controlled by elected officials and not by the bureaucracy (or, for that matter, by any other anti-democratic elements such as an aristocracy or established church). Of course I've mentioned often that I think a key indicator is how permeable the political parties are. And there are, presumably, more.

Of course, pointing out these other important criteria for democracy does tend to knock down my point that it's appropriate for the US to brag about (mostly) getting the peaceful transfer of power part correct. On the other hand, that's a good one, too, and I still think it's worth bragging about, even if it isn't the whole ballgame.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to John Hurt, 73.

And some good stuff:

1. A few basic facts about the US in Afghanistan, from Paul Waldman.

2. Voteview on the ideological placement of US presidents. Worth looking at, but I'm far from convinced that what it's tapping into really measures something we're very interested in.

3. Arizona, (perhaps) making trouble again with the presidential nomination calendar. Josh Putnam has it, of course.

4. Sarah Binder looks ahead to the 113th.

5. While John Sides says that partisanship is what works.

6. And Joe Sheehan on Lance Armstrong -- and Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, and the rest of the gang.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Movie Post

I haven't been doing these for a while, mostly because I just haven't been watching a lot of political movies lately. Not sure why...part of it is what I've been re-watching with the kids (I suppose you could do a political analysis of Vertigo or Clueless, and I'm certain you could with Chinatown, but I didn't have much interest). I did just re-watch Branagh's As You Like It (which I absolutely love), and it sort of has politics in it, but...well, not especially, I don't think.

At any rate, I did get around to watching a couple of Reagan movies, fortunately -- the second and third of the four Brass Bancroft efforts. First, "Code of the Secret Service," and then "Smashing the Money Ring," both from 1939.

There's hardly anything to "Code" (among other things, it clocks in at just under 60 minutes), but if you want a sense of what the studios saw in Reagan, it's as good as anything. It's pretty clear what Reagan has going for him: he's extremely charming and likable. As a tough guy -- and he has several chases and fights -- he's...well, he's up to it, and throws himself into it as much as he can, but he's mostly charming and likable. "Smashing" is a bit less fun. As far as Reagan, what this one has going for it is that he goes undercover and has to pass as a hardened criminal. Fortunately for him, crooks in 1939 were easily fooled by a scowl and...well, that's about it; Reagan doesn't have much more than that as far as passing for a thug.

Really, the Brass Bancroft movie that you want to see is the final one, Murder in the Air, which was a war picture about a super-scientific death ray. Not because it's the best; I think "Code" was probably a bit better. But because, c'mon, Reagan and a super-scientific death ray. But if you want to know what Reagan the actor was all about and you're flipping past Turner and it's on, I'd say Code of the Secret Service is about as good as anything.

Oh, plus he's in Mexico for almost all of it, so you get to enjoy Hollywood's 1939 version of Mexicans.

Both of these are actually the same year as "Brother Rat," which I've talked about before, but in these Reagan's the star, and he pulls it off perfectly well. Is "Code of the Secret Service" a great movie? Not even close. But, again, if you want to get to know Reagan the youngish actor, it's not a bad choice. And it certainly is better than the one where he played Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Yes, the US Should Brag About Peaceful Transition of Power

Dylan Matthews tries to spoil the party by pointing out that the United States is not, in fact, unique in its ability to transfer power peacefully.

To which I say: nuts to that. It is a big deal -- a very big deal. And while other nations have gotten the hang of it, the US was very much a pioneer. Yes, we could argue about the Brits vs. the US, but either way when Jefferson replaced Adams it really was something amazing and rare in world history.

And we do it all the time. Not just the Bush-to-Obama version of four years ago, either; we just had a Pelosi-to-Boehner transition two years ago, and six years ago the Democrats took both Houses of Congress. Not to mention all the turnover in the states, and the mayors, and all the rest of it.

To be sure: what I'm talking about is democratic transitions. Matthews points out that China has apparently figured out how to do peaceful transitions now, but that's hardly the same thing.

What all of world history, from Rome to Russia, from ancient Athens to modern Egypt, tells us is that democracy is very, very, difficult. Madison, in his studies of republics as he prepared for the Constitutional Convention, focused on the demise of that form of government, and rightly so; what history told him, and what everyone who studied it at that time had concluded, was that republics did not last. There surely was no guarantee that the United States would be any different; even now, there's no way of knowing whether republican government in the United States of America (or any of the other world democracies) will endure. 

So, yeah, it's very much appropriate to celebrate and commemorate such events, and to remember just how rare they still are. And that they're not as rare now as they were in 1776 or 1800? That, too, is in part an accomplishment that citizens of the United States should take pride in. More than any other nation, the United States is the one that figured out how to do it. 

Inauguration Day

As regular readers might imagine, I love all the pomp and ceremony of Inauguration Day. I was able to attend just once; I was on a research trip to Washington in 1993 and scored a ticket to the Clinton festivities. In 1989, when I lived in Washington, I watched on TV. I did thoroughly enjoy going to the Clinton inauguration, and the surrounding events. The research, alas, was a flop, although I did learn a lot (it was about partisanship and Hill staff. Oh well). But being there for the presidential turnover was a lot of fun.

I'll be over at Plum Line and PostPartisan today, for the most part...I may be able to post something here later, but I'm not sure. Oh, and I'll be tweeting, I'm sure.

Anyway, consider this an open thread on today's events, and if anyone has memories of past inaugurations, feel free to leave them below.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

What's the most important lesson that you hope Barack Obama has learned from his first term?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Here's one for inaugural weekend...what, if any, lessons -- positive and negative -- do you think Republicans should learn from the way Barack Obama has conducted his presidency? Has the Obama presidency affected what experience or qualities you would look for in the next Republican nominee?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

RIP to two great Hall of Famers, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver.

On Musial...I don't have much to say other than the obvious. I've always thought that Albert Pujols was the modern-day comp for him: came into the league hitting, and just never stopped. As good as they come, an obvious inner circle HOFer.

Weaver? Great, great, manager. I'm always interested in managerial families. Weaver's first Orioles team produced two great ones: Davey Johnson, who for my money is the best of his generation, and Frank Robinson, who is an underappreciated manager (take a look at what he did with what he had; it's very, very, impressive). Moving through his career...I never thought much about Johnny Oates, but his managerial record is actually very nice. I've never been a Don Baylor fan at all, but he did take an expansion Rockies team and get three winning seasons out of them, plus one with the Cubs.

In the minors, Weaver managed Joe Altobelli with Rochester in 1966, Lou Piniella with Elmira in 1965,

Also, lots of names I recognized as long-time coaches. Plus, Pat Gillick was on the Elmira team in 1962 and 1963.

I might have missed one, but that's six managers, all with pretty good or better records.

Interesting about Weaver...he was a player-manager for a long stretch in the minors, first taking over for Dick Bartell at the end of the 1956 season, when Weaver was just 25. Bartell did not play for John McGraw, but he played for both Terry and Ott -- but Bartell came up with the Pirates teams managed by Donnie Bush, who was a big influence on Paul Richards (who was also presumably a direct influence on Weaver). Bartell also played for Burt Shotton, who had played for Connie Mack, and for Gabby Hartnett, who among others played for Joe McCarthy. Bartell himself didn't have much of a managerial career at all, just three minor league seasons, with the one in the Sally League with Earl Weaver the last one. Who knows; maybe all those influences meant nothing, but you have to wonder whether Bartell liked to tell stories, and stories he heard from all those guys. Other than Bartell, Weaver spent a long time in the minors playing for a guy named George Kissell, who managed in the Cardinals chain for a long time.

So, a big loss to baseball, two of the very greatest.

What Mattered This Week?

I'll take an easy and obvious one: the GOP retreat on the debt limit. If you thought that was a sure thing all the time, then you may not think it mattered; I thought it was at least a solid possibility they would run right up to it, and do at least a bit of harm to the economy.

Democrats admitting they'll vote for the president's nominee for Secretary of Defense? No great surprise there, to me. The real ballgame there has always been whether 60 votes would be required, and if so whether Hagel can get five Republicans. As far as I know from the coverage, we don't know that part of it yet.

So that's what I have. What did I miss? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, January 18, 2013

More on the GOP Senate Budget Resolution Obsession

Over at PP today, I talked a little about what budget resolutions are, and said that GOP demands for the Democratic Senate to pass a budget are purely symbolic...but as symbolic demands go, it's not particularly unreasonable.

I didn't remember to note, however, that whatever one thinks of the Senate's obligation to pass a budget resolution right now, it's hardly without precedent. Whose precedent? Why, the Bush-era Republican Congresses. As a 2010 CRS report explained: "At least one budget resolution has been adopted every year except 1998 (for FY1999), 2002 (for FY2003), 2004 (for FY2005), and 2006 (for FY2007)."

OK, so the first of those was a Clinton-era Republican Congress. Either way, it's not as if failing to do a budget resolution is a Democratic innovation. 

The other question that's come up on twitter this afternoon is why conservatives are so obsessed with it. I think there are two reasons. One is that in my experience, people really don't understand what budgeting is about; there's a sense that it's like balancing one's checkbook: it's about keeping track of what's coming in and what's going out. Or maybe it's because a lot of people feel guilty and irresponsible for not constructing a household budget (or virtuous when they do), and think that without a budget, the government has no idea what's coming in and what's going out -- because without a budget, they don't know what's coming in and going out in their own lives. Of course, that's not true. Congressional budget resolutions are a tool, and perhaps a useful tool, and certainly a tool that they're supposed to use, but it's not a tool that's really all that comparable to a household budget, and certainly not the way that the government "learns" about total inflow and outflow.

The other reason is...well, we don't need a reason. That's the lesson of (among other things) "czar" craziness; the GOP-aligned media is perfectly capable of stirring up an obsession out of absolutely nothing. 

What Kind of Crazy Are the GOP?

Dan Drezner suspects "large swathes of the GOP elite simply lack instrumental rationality." My verdict: not quite correct. But not all that wrong, either.

He has two counts against them, so I'll take them one at a time. The first is that now, after Chuck Schumer has declared he'll vote for Chuck Hagel, a GOP-aligned group is organizing to raise money to take Schumer on. Drezner suggests that Hagel's nomination is a sure thing by now, and so "there are at least ten other ways to spend this money that would be more efficient than trying to oppose Hagel right now."

Is that correct? Let's say Schumer's endorsement means that Hagel has won the support of mainstream Democrats. That certainly gives him the 50 votes he'll need in the Senate for confirmation, with Joe Biden breaking a tie; he could afford to lose five Democrats with tough re-election fights as well as all the Republicans.

Except...that doesn't get you to cloture; for that, he'll need all those marginal Democrats, plus five Republicans. Or he'll need Republicans to allow a simple majority confirmation vote without a filibuster. I'm pretty skeptical of these kinds of lobbying campaigns in the first place, but the tactic of elevating this fight doesn't seem irrational at all to me if the goal is pressuring Republicans to filibuster, and marginal Democrats to bail.

That's one way to look at it. Another way is that it's just the donors who are...well, not crazy, but easily duped. Suppose we have a group of wealthy donors who trust GOP elites, but the GOP elites are taking advantage of that trust to funnel lots of money into their operations, much of which winds up in their pockets. So the GOP operatives basically have to rile up the donors periodically, get their cash, turn it into very visible campaigns, and pocket the fees. That's not a breakdown in instrumental rationality; it's a case of party dysfunction, in which the results of everyone following the incentives the system gives them yields results which undermine the party as a whole.

Okay, on to the second one: House Republicans, getting battered by everyone for hostage-taking on the debt limit, appear to be retreating to a plan of passing a short term extension, something like three months. Drezner: "All this does is set up House GOP members to have to vote multiple times to raise the debt ceiling.  Why force numerous no-win votes if you can economize on the pain, have one vote early in everyone's term, and then engage in actual budgetary politics?"

Is that the plan, however? More likely, Republicans intend to do what they did with the fiscal cliff: bring it to the floor, but make Democrats supply the votes. They even might go back to what they thought about doing on the cliff vote and split their votes between "no" and "present" so that Democrats have to all vote "yes." And then repeat it and repeat it.

Now, just as with the public campaign against Hagel, there's probably not much difference between attacking a Member of Congress for voting to raise the debt limit vs. voting to raise the debt limit six times! But I'm not sure that's grounds for questioning their ability to reason.

So I'm not fully convinced by either of Drezner's examples. And yet...I'm not totally dismissing it, either. The Bachmann/Gohmert wing of the GOP conference may really be incapable of adding 2 and 2 together. Sticking to these examples...I'm really not sure what a successful filibuster and defeat of Chuck Hagel gets them in terms of policy; the Hagel they are attacking is at least 75% fictional, after all. So at the very least Drezner's point may hold for the donors. On the debt limit: it's not really clear what exactly House Republicans are going to settle on or why, but there do seem to be a lot of Members who believe that holding their breath until they (and the nation) turn blue is a sure-win strategy.

Do I have a larger point? Sure. I'm inclined to think that only a small group, if that, of Republican politicians or other party actors are really nuts in the way that Drezner suggests...but that the party as a whole may have wound up as severely dysfunctional, perhaps in part from incentives introduced by the crazies.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jason Segal, 33. It was really nice to have the Muppets come back, I thought.

And a bit of good stuff:

1. Andrew Rudalevige takes a closer look at exactly what Barack Obama did on guns this week.

2. Ezra Klein is looking for discharge petitions to make the House work. I don't think that's going to happen.

3. And Carah Ong at the Miller Center has been looking through the oral histories for Inaugural stuff. This one is brilliant:
Well, first thing that happened, they got in deep do-do with Speaker O’Neill and they never recovered the whole four years. Hamilton Jordan also got cross-wise with the Speaker. After a while, [Frank] Moore hired Bill Cable and Dan Tate, who were Hill people. Great guys, perfect, but they should’ve been brought in at the start. He didn’t hire anybody. He was just going to do it himself. He didn’t return a phone call from Tip O’Neill and he didn’t get him all the tickets he wanted for the inaugural and Tip never ever let him off the hook. He couldn’t get in Tip O’Neill’s office; he was barred. Congressional relations barred! So when we got up there we never had any contact with him whatsoever, none. In the two years, I never saw Frank Moore. And I don’t think any of the Republican Senators or staff—I think they’d tell you the same thing. I don’t know where they were. But I think that was part of Carter’s problem, obviously.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Elsewhere: Rolling, DOMA, More

At PP today, I asked when is a roll not a roll? It's about the Hastert Rule and House Republicans. Also about House Republicans: at Greg's place, I said that the reason they don't adopt the sensible divided government strategy that Democrats used in 2007-2008 of passing the legislation they wanted to run on is that, well, they don't have any. I don't think I was clear over there: I don't consider this an inherent weakness of Republicans or conservatives; it's just the mark of this particular group of conservative Republicans.

What else? I have a new column up at TAP today about executive orders, Congress, and presidents.

Yesterday at PP, I said that the key for Senate reform now is whether Democratic Senators are, right now, hearing things from their constituents which will send them back to Washington in a mood for pushing Harry Reid on the filibuster. And earlier in the week I defended the House's right to use money to support DOMA in the courts.

Q Day 10: TV News?

Okay, one more. N asks:
I read about politics online every day, mostly via Twitter, magazines, and newspapers. For at least as long as Obama's been president, however, I've stopped watching televised news with the exception of the very occasional Colbert episode (I'm 32). Temperamentally, I just have no interest in that medium for politics. My q: do you think there are any compelling reasons to keep up with politics through television? Corollary: do you watch politics on tv?
I have to say -- other than live events, I now very rarely turn to the TV news. 

I wonder sometimes about it...I know that in the 1990s, when I watched CNN a fair amount, I thought it was important to tune in to the broadcast evening news shows during campaigns in order to get a sense of what the campaign looked like to most people. I guess now there's no longer much of a "most" people any more.

Now, granted, I've never exactly been a normal news consumer, and that's even more the case since I started blogging. I want efficiency in how I learn what's going on, and I don't need to hear additional opinions beyond what I'm otherwise reading. And TV news just isn't very efficient. I also shy away from TV news as entertainment...I get enough of that on twitter. I suppose I do occasionally flip around the dial (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) to see what they're up to, but I rarely stop for more than a few seconds.

I do wonder about the distortions I get from my twitter feed, but again my sense is that everything is so dispersed now that there's no getting around that. I've definitely found out well after the fact about some Fox News or MSNBC obsession, and I find it increasingly difficult to understand what politics looks like to the still substantial chunk of the population who still watch NBC, CBS, and ABC; it's just that in the 1980s or 1990s you could keep an eye on all of it, and now you really can't. Or at least not unless that's what you're specializing in. 

So overall, no, I don't really watch much TV news now, and I don't miss it. 

Q Day 9: Big House?

Writer asks:
At what point does the growth of the population demand (require/suggest/whatever) that the House expand? What logistical challenges exist? I see that politically, there would be little chance of anything but a doubling to 870, but that would require a massive increase in office space in an already crowded area of DC. Still, the number of constituents per Representative has to peak at some number, right?
Ah, an old Plain Blog favorite. My position on this is that a Big House (of Representatives) is an intriguing idea, but ultimately a bad one.

Basically, once you have over 100,000 constituents in your district, I'm not sure how much it matters for representation whether it's 500K or 500M. Well, at least whether it's 500K or 5 million. Either way, you're not going to be personally interacting with very many of them.

What a big House would do to the governing of the House, however, isn't any good. It would mainly produce more backbenchers -- folks who would have no real responsibilities (or opportunities) for legislating beyond just showing up to vote. That's already a problem with the House, and it's one that increasing the size would almost certainly make worse.

American democracy works best when individual Members of Congress do serious legislating; that's the whole point, the whole advantage, of having separated institutions sharing powers. Much better to have a huge district with a Member who actively tries to represent the district and has some capacity for action than a much smaller district with a Member who can do little more than vote with the party on the floor or in committee.

Q Day 8: How Did Republicans Get This Way?

EJF asks:
[W]hat are the root historical causes of the current Republican Party dysfunction? When did things start going wrong? Was it 1993?
I don't think we really know, but I think there are two or three reasonable theories.

One is that it's demand-driven. Essentially, there's a very good market that responds strongly to The Crazy. They'll donate for it, they'll buy products of it, they'll listen to or watch shows about it. It's not a huge market, but it's big enough that it creates seriously goofy incentives for Republican politicians and other party leaders -- there's a lot of money in being Rush Limbaugh, so much so that third-rate talentless hacks can make a very good living as pale imitations of what he does.

A second theory is more elite-driven, and is based more or less on the concept of "learning" -- that people tend to copy those things that they perceive of as having worked. Alas for the Republicans, the two big winners over a half-century were...Richard Nixon and Newt Gingrich. So if you emulate those two, you're going to wind up with a much worse type of politics than if you emulate, oh, FDR.

But wait -- isn't there also Ronald Reagan? Yup, there is. But for a variety of reasons, Reagan's pragmatism hasn't been much of a model for the GOP. The big thing that they took from Reagan, alas, was that detailed policy knowledge was a net-negative: thus George W. Bush. There is an impulse to find a Reagan -- thus the movement to draft Fred Thompson in 2008 -- but that's about it. Instead, they've invented an ideologue Reagan who never compromised his pure conservative principles, something that Reagan made easy to do because his particular political (and personal) genius was precisely an ability to constantly believe in his own purity regardless of what he had actually done.

As far as when they become dysfunctional, I don't know...I don't think I'd put a clear date on it (although the Gingrich defeat of the Bush budget summit agreement is surely a very big marker). Some of it goes back, perhaps even before Nixon; some of it appears to be much more recent.

Q Day 7: The WH '16 Dem Field if Clinton Runs

TapirBoy1 asks:
To what extent does an HRC presidential run pre-winnow the field before the Iowa Caucus?
(Slightly edited for clarity)

That's a great question.

Democratic fields for open nominations have typically been fairly large, with one big exception: 2000, when only Bill Bradley challenged Al Gore. 2008 was typical, with six plausible nominees running (Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Dodd, Richardson, Biden). Similarly, in 2004, there were about seven plausible nominees who made it to Iowa. Democrats typically have done little winnowing between the "all-in" stage and Iowa; that is, there are candidates such as Mark Warner and Evan Bayh who say they are exploring runs and then get out, but few if any similar to Pawlenty, Liddy Dole, and Quayle, who mount full-on campaigns but then fold well before Iowa.

So 2000 really was unusual for the Democrats. Could 2016 be similar?

I'm afraid all I have here is a very strong and definitive...maybe.

What we need to ask, basically, are two things: is Hillary Clinton '16 similar to Al Gore '00? And: if so, would it have the same result?

The thing is that there's really no similar case. In 1972, perhaps Humphrey or Ted Kennedy would have been similar, but Humphrey didn't understand the new system and entered late, while Kennedy didn't run at all. In 1976 only Kennedy, who didn't run, might have been a similar heavyweight. In 1984 Mondale didn't really have the same kind of strength as Gore '00...he had never really run for president before, was four years out of office, and had been the VP for a failed president, not one who was wildly popular among Democrats. Kennedy, once again, didn't run. There's no one in 1988 or 1992 that comes close to qualifying. In 2004 there's Gore, who would have been a very interesting test, but he didn't run. In 2008, perhaps Gore still might have had field-clearing strength, but again he didn't run.

In other words, probably the second-strongest candidate to enter the Democratic primaries during the modern era was Walter Mondale in 1984, and he failed to clear the field. But that's in the early days of the reformed process, when it was far less clear how party actors could control nominations (in fact, 1984 is generally accepted as a major turning point).

It's perhaps also worth peeking over to the GOP side: in 1988, George H.W. Bush totally failed to clear the field, despite being if anything in a stronger position than Gore in 2000.

What I think all of this history says is that there are very few precedents, and those few we have don't really point in the same direction. And so...maybe.

Q Day 6: Midterms

It's still question day around here. Why not? Several good ones I wanted to get to. Such as this...

Bajsa asks:
Off year elections are as important as years with Presidential elections. What can Obama do to get his coalition to vote in a mid-term election?
It's a great question, so I wanted to highlight it, but I'm not sure I have much of an answer. So instead I'll give four answers.

One answer is: not much. It's just a basic truth that different demographic groups vote at different rates, and that midterms are lower-interest elections than presidential contests. So you're going to get fewer voters, which in practice means that you'll still get the every-time voters but far fewer of the sometimes voters.

The next answer is: electioneering probably can't do very much, but it almost certainly can make small differences on the margins. Which could be important! So, sure, run the best campaign that they can; the president can probably help the most by involving himself (carefully) in candidate recruitment and, yes, fundraising.

The third answer is: it may be less important than you think. Yes, it's true that midterm electorates are likely to lean more Republican, but we only have to go back to 2006 to find a Democratic landslide in a midterm. The biggest problem for Democrats in 2014 isn't that midterms are bad for Democrats; it's that midterms are bad for the party in the White House.

And the fourth answer is: the biggest thing that Obama can do to help Democrats in the midterms is to be a very popular president. Worked for Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002; failure to be a popular president had a lot to do with midterm disasters for Bush's party in 2006, Clinton's in 1994, and Ronald Reagan's in 1982. I suppose that's just obvious, but sometimes obvious is the truth.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Muhammad Ali, 71. Lots of great choices today, but certainly can't go wrong with The Greatest.

And just a little good stuff:

1. Sarah Binder on the Sandy vote and the Hastert rule. 

2. The Voteview gang confirm it: the 112th was the most polarized Congress yet.

3. And a cute White House response to the petition for...impeaching Barack Obama.

By the way, I think I'm going to extend question day. I only did five yesterday, and there are lots of good ones remaining. So if you have one you didn't ask, feel free to post it now, although I can't promise to get to anything in particular, of course.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Q Day 5: Presidential Persuasion

Bill Harshaw asks:
Okay, you aren't on board with shmoozing as being important for a President, how about good ole Texas style arm-twisting a la LBJ? Or has that gone out the window with the pork barrel?
Presidents should attempt to use whatever they can to persuade, whether their targets are interest groups, Members of Congress, bureaucrats, leaders of foreign nations, party leaders, whoever.

What Neustadt says, more or less, is that substance mostly trumps style. Presidents usually don't persuade by badgering, bullying, sweet-talking, or befriending. Yes, those things can help. Perhaps a related point Neustadt does mention is something that Newt Gingrich has talked about, which is that just walking in to the Oval Office can be intimidating. They aren't the main tool.

In the long run, presidents persuade best by changing incentives or by finding something to trade that the target wants. Now, it's possible that what a Member of Congress might really want is to hang out with the president! Or, say, a Member might really care about being on the invitation list for a state dinner, perhaps because that's what it's going to take to make his or her spouse happy. But that's not really about making a transaction easier by establishing a smoother relationship, is it? What it is about, and what LBJ was really good at, is figuring out just what each Member of Congress (or bureaucrat, or governor) really wants. That takes political instinct, but it mostly takes information. Or, perhaps, a combination; it takes constantly seeking out information and having good instincts for what information is helpful -- for learning to see everything as a potential bargaining chip and knowing how to use it.

Remember, with Johnson, his bullying style may well have won him some victories, but it also made him enemies, and may well in the end made it harder for him to learn things he needed to know, whether on implementation of Great Society programs or, of course, on Vietnam.

And that's only on the bargaining part of things. I do think it's important -- but the bargaining president model shortchanges the overall political context. It's certainly easier for Obama to convince the 111th Congress to do something than the 113th Congress, no matter how skilled he might be.

So, sure, reading people and knowing how to adapt during negotiations, whether it's to turn on the charm or turn on the bully, is a useful skill for a president. It's just real easy, in my view, to overrate it.
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