Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oy, Bai

Yes, it's important to note that Matt Bai is completely wrong about what he calls "the rise of independents" -- we're living through a very partisan time, and there is no growing number of true independents.

Yes, it's important to note that Bai is completely wrong about the relationship between Tea Parties and the Republicans, and MoveOn and the Democrats.  He's completely wrong, too, that Barack Obama somehow proved that an independent candidate could raise lots of money; we don't know what percentage of Obama's money came from people firmly inside the Democratic Party network, but it was presumably a fairly high percentage.

Yes, it's important to note that Bai really doesn't seem to understand what political parties are and what they do, and he doesn't understand why and how third-party candidates sometimes thrive, to the extent they do.  Nor does he understand why they don't win.

But beyond that...the central conceit of Matt Bai's latest valentine to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is that something fundamental has changed over the last twenty years:
Since he wouldn’t need to build a party organization in the way Mr. Perot did in 1992, Mr. Bloomberg can wait considerably longer — perhaps even until the 2012 primaries — to assess whether a campaign might be viable.
This is entirely wrong -- but not in a "check with a political scientist" way, but in a "check Wikipedia" way.

Bai seems to be under impression that Ross Perot built a "party" organization in 1992.  That is wrong.  Perot didn't transform his personal campaign organization into the Reform Party until well after the 1992 election.  And Perot's mix of centralized campaign organization and grass roots volunteers began with a Larry King appearance on February 20, 1992.  In which, by the way, Perot claimed he was not running...although Ross Perot hardly invented that dodge, which Bai is so impressed with.  At any rate, Perot's campaign started two days after the New Hampshire primary, so Bloomberg would not "wait considerably longer" if he didn't start his campaign "until the 2012 primaries."

Oh, and Bai might not remember the previous similar candidate, but John Anderson's national campaign began in spring 1980, after he had unsuccessfully competed for the Republican nomination in 1980.  No party organization for Anderson, either.

So: Bai's description of Perot '92 doesn't at all fit Perot '92 or Anderson '80, although I suppose it does fit Perot '96.  The kind of candidacy Bai envisions and claims is brand new is, in fact, (at least) thirty years old, and exactly matches the campaign that Bai sets up as its opposite.

Nice job, Matt Bai!

(Fine, I'll mention that the entire notion that the nation yearns for a short, liberal, Jewish Mayor of New York is preposterous, anyway.  It is correct that if Barack Obama is unpopular entering 2012 that a third-party candidacy on the order of Anderson or even Perot is quite plausible, although it's extremely unlikely to do anything positive except entertain political junkies.)


  1. Well as we saw in 2000, it could also lead to Obama winning an electoral college majority despite losing the popular vote (or vice versa).

  2. The great unanswered question is, why does drivel like Bai's keep getting propagated? As with Broderesque bipartisanism, who is the audience for this stuff?

    The conventional answer is 'Beltway elites / Villagers,' but presumably those people tend to be both politically sophisticated and partisans one way or the other, not an obvious audience for Bloomberg 3rd party fantasies.

    For that matter, who IS the audience for this stuff? I'm sure there are a great many people who dislike politics and have a vaguely positive impression of Michael Bloomberg; if made to take a poll they would likely say they they favor him running. But they also probably avoid political journalism like the plague, and never heard of Matt Bai.

    I can see it as a kind of ritual, an invocation of an imagined bipartisan past intended only to prove that Bai is a worthy, serious person - but even as ritual, who is it aimed at?

  3. Who is the audience for this kind of drivel? Absolutely, it is the beltway elites. They LOVE Matt Bai. They defend Matt Bai. They quote Matt Bai.

    Sophisticated? They chat among themselves every night over drinks at their local after-work watering hole, and from thence the beltway narrative is evolved. Matt Bai then writes it up with the conceit that everyone thinks and believes exactly what he wrote up. And the beltway loves it, because that "everyone" who Matt Bai pretends -- or actually believes -- is the majority of the American people, is actually the majority of his friends and colleagues in the beltway.

    They love it so much they quote it, they link to it, they work it into their own narrative, and thus, the whole beltway press is writing up what Matt Bai believes, and believe what Matt Bai believes, believing that it is the wisdom of the American People. That's how that works. It's the ultimate self-sustaining information bubble.

  4. Does Matt Bai make political scientists into Cassandras?
    We say what's going to happen, and the Matt Bais of the world have convinced each other that we're wrong, so we get ignored as ivory tower eggheads.

  5. The solution, Prof J, is for some colorful political scientist to become one of the beltway go-to quote sources. Come up with a quotable opinion on a moment's notice and you're in.* From there you start writing Op-Eds for the Washington Post and New York Times, then you get a blog on the WaPo or a column in the Times. Make interesting appearances on Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough. Have a solution to Ev. Ry. Thing. Then you start attending the cocktail parties and frequenting the watering holes, all the time providing good quote fodder. Voila! No longer ignored. No longer an Egghead.

    *The Congress reporter from AFP, Olivier Knox, is wont to quote poli sci profs at Middlebury College.
    To wit:
    "It's a local calculation made in a national context," said Matt Dickinson, a political science professor at elite Middlebury College in Vermont. "It fits the times."

    "The Democrats running now are banking on hopes the voters do not have incredibly short memories, but can look back over four years and saying 'hey we inherited this mess'" from George W. Bush, Dickinson told AFP.

    Source: AFP: US lawmakers face home-front skeptics

    "The fate of health care reform will depend a lot more on what Barack Obama does and the Senate does than on Ted Kennedy's legacy. Ultimately, it will rise or fall on its own merits," said Eric Davis, a political scientist with Middlebury College in Vermont.
    Source: AFP: Democrats: Honor Kennedy with health care overhaul

    Why not you?

  6. Rick and all,

    I took a crack at this a while ago:


    Go down to the last two paragraphs, and you'll have an answer.

  7. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere would be politicall­y relevant and equal in presidenti­al elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--eno­ugh electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidenti­al candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislativ­e chambers, in 21 small, medium-sma­ll, medium, and large states, including one house in AR (6), CT (7), DE (3), DC (3), ME (4), MI (17), NV (5), NM (5), NY (31), NC (15), and OR (7), and both houses in CA (55), CO (9), HI (4), IL (21), NJ (15), MD (10), MA(12), RI (4), VT (3), and WA (11). The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 76 electoral votes -- 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.



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