Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shutdown Odds and Bluffing

My post yesterday over at Plum Line emphasized the extent to which the fact that everyone in the budget negotiations has an incentive to bluff, and otherwise conceal their true position, makes a shutdown more likely.

I should add, though, as sort of a viewer's guide for those who are watching the negotiations, that it also makes it mostly pointless to pay a lot of attention to the minute-by-minute accounts of how the bargaining is going.

Pointless, that is, if one has only a purely passive interest in what's going to happen. For those who are outside of the negotiations but have interests at stake in the results, it's well worth paying attention to information that leaks out -- because those "leaks" may well be deliberate trial balloons, sent up to gauge the reaction of allies to the possibility of giving ground on specific points. That might be what happened with rumors today (now, for what it's worth, shot down) that Democrats were willing to agree to policy riders restricting the EPA. Or maybe not! Maybe it was just misinformation of some sort or another. That happens too.

I continue to think that the odds of a shutdown are very high. Basically, for two reasons: one is because it seems fairly likely that quite a few Republicans in the House want at least a brief shutdown in order to show Tea Partiers they're tough, but more importantly because the policy riders, and to some extent the location of spending cuts, are very difficult to compromise. And I believe those who say they won't allow another short-term CR that (on the one hand) continues spending cuts at a higher rate than Democrats want and on the other is "clean" with respect to those riders. Mostly, however, the point now is that we really won't know more until something definitive happens, one way or another. My advice is not to be taken in by reported "momentum shifts" and the like in negotiations.

Women in Politics, 1984 vs. 2011

Aviva Dove-Viebahn has a column up at TNR today that bizarrely makes the claim that:
Ferraro’s nomination signified hope—a hope that a country mired in institutionalized misogyny could one day see its way to true equality between the sexes. Now, 27 years later, her death compels me to wonder whether we’ve seen much progress.
True equality may not be here yet, but if she's really wondering about progress, she needs to learn a lot more about what the American political system was like in 1984 compared to how it is now.

Why was Gerry Ferraro -- a Member of the House with relatively little experience and what turned out to be real vulnerabilities -- the person Walter Mondale selected to be the first woman on a national ticket? Mainly because there were so few alternatives. In 1984 (all facts from CAWP):

There were two women in the Senate, matching the then all-time high. Both were Republicans. Over the three election cycles leading up to 1984, the Democrats nominated a grand total of four women for the U.S. Senate. Currently, 17 women serve in the Senate (12 Democrats).

Governors? There was one woman out of 50 in 1984, a Democrat who had just taken office that year. In the previous three election cycles, the Democrats had nominated a total of three women for governor (and the GOP hadn't nominated one since 1974). Currently, there are six women servings as governors, down from a high point of nine.

In the House, Ferraro was Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus -- the only woman in a leadership role in either party, and one that Democrats had traditionally held by a woman, at least sometimes, since the 1940s; no woman from either party had ever held any other party leadership position in Congress. Nor were any women chairs of a House committee. Nada. Things, of course, are different now (especially for the Democrats).

In 1984, there had been one female Supreme Court Justice ever; there are three now. There had never been a woman at the top of any of the big four cabinet departments (State, Defense, Justice, Treasury).

I suppose I should also mention that women now serve in senior military posts, too.

Yes, it's true that women who run for office are still attacked in ways that, as Dove-Viebahn says, amount to basically thinly veiled sexist stereotypes. The golden age of perfect equality isn't here...indeed, it's not unreasonable to take a pessimistic view of where we are now, although my tendency is to be more optimistic. But to say that there's no progress, or little progress, or in any way to diminish the differences between 1984 and 2011 is to really miss a major, significant shift. Back then, Ferraro was one of at best a half-dozen of even somewhat plausible candidates for VP, and all of them were going to raise legitimate (not, that is, gender-related) questions about their qualifications. That's never going to be the case again.

If That's an Odd Couple...

OK, I'm completely stumped today. On what basis does the New York Times believe that Tea Party organizations and business lobbyists are an "odd alliance"? Or that "The Tea Party movement is as deeply skeptical of big business as it is of big government"?

Are there any issue positions associated with Tea Partiers that could fairly be described as anti-business, including big business? Are Tea Partiers out there marching for strict enforcement of antitrust laws? Union rights? I suppose it's possible to see anti-TARP sentiment as "skeptical of big business," but it's not as if Tea Partiers were for Dodd-Frank -- or alternative, tighter, regulation. TARP talk for them is anti-government, not anti-business, rhetoric.

(Unless, of course, reporter Mike McIntire is implying that Tea Partiers aren't really skeptical of big government either, which one can make a case for on social issues, civil liberties, national security, and other issue areas. But he's not really doing that -- and it would 't explain the headline, either).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Boehner and the Shutdown

Jonathan Chait has a strong argument up today against my conclusion that John Boehner should avoid a shutdown. His best point, I think, is that while Boehner is in trouble regardless, at least if there's a shutdown he can say that he fought hard for conservative priorities. That's a fair point.

Still. Chait asks "What is the downside to cutting a deal? GOP backbenchers revolt against Boehner and depose him as Speaker of the House." But my argument is that at the end of the day, for better or worse, Boehner will eventually have to sign off on a deal. The question is, I suppose, whether he'll get more points for "fighting" -- or whether he'll be in more trouble because the longer the shutdown, the more high-profile it's going to be, and the less conservatives outside the House will be to look the other way and forget about it once it's over.

Not to mention that within the House the non-crazy part of the conference will have a lot less reason to support Boehner if he couldn't spare them from a budget disaster. One that, once it starts, may be very difficult to control.

In the event, it probably doesn't matter; odds are that Boehner doesn't really have much choice at this point, anyway.

At any rate, if you find my argument compelling, be sure to read Chait's different interpretation, since he may well be correct.

Worst. Spin. Attempt. Ever.

Really silly budget showdown strategy: the House is apparently going to pass a "Government Shutdown Prevention Act" that says that a shutdown would be a really, really, bad thing...while also enacting the House-passed H.R. 1, which means that the Senate won't pass the Government Shutdown Prevention Act.

I haven't seen details yet, but it seems to me there are two ways to go with this.

Option 1: "We can't be at fault; we passed the Government Shutdown Prevention Act."

If you're going that way, then you really, really need a provision that explicitly says that Democrats in the Senate are to blame for the shutdown. Then you can go on Fox News or whatever and explain that everyone agrees that the Democrats are to blame; after all, just look at the bill that says so! 

But that, I think everyone will agree, is lacking in firepower. No, what they really need is:

Option 2: "The Democrats don't agree with our Shutdown is Bad bill -- so they're for a shutdown."

In that case, might as well add provisions that say that we Support the Troops, and that America is an Exceptional Nation, and that Gosh We All Do Love the Flag, and that Kicking Puppies is Bad. See, if they don't pass this (and H.R.1), then Democrats oppose all those things!

The really scary thing, of course, is that it's possible that the Republicans actually believe that this kind of obvious, boring spin could affect anyone who wasn't already completely convinced of the GOP cause. Believing your own spin is dangerous, but so is believing that you can spin anything.

DC Statehood and Party Strategies

One of this blog's hobbyhorses, D.C. Statehood, is back in the news today, thanks to an NYT op-ed from historian Kate Masur. Jamelle Bouie has more. Both of them blame race and partisanship for the failure to secure meaningful democracy for the District.

If I recall correctly, my old posts on this consisted mainly of wondering, without any answer, about why Democrats in the historic 111th Congress didn't press the issue -- especially during the brief window of 60 Democrats in the Senate. But I think, now, that I have the answer, although I'll admit that it's speculative. It's not race or partisanship, per se, although both obviously set the stage for it.

No, I think perhaps the reason is that for whatever reason, in recent years Republicans have tended to use their best legislative and executive chances to secure long-term electoral advantages, while Democrats have tended to use theirs to enact substantive policy. (see my previous post on this here, Kevin Drum here, and me again here). As I said, I'm very reluctant to assert that there are long-term strategic differences between the parties, but this sure seems to be one.

Remember, the point here isn't that the Democrats are especially spineless (or that Republicans are especially ruthless) -- it's that they (may) think about, and use, power differently. On the whole, I tend to think that Democrats have the better strategy...there was no conservative policy triumph equivalent to ACA during the Bush years, in my view. Using majorities to "consolidate" power is, I think, futile. But others disagree.

Speaking of which...this also explains another of this blog's hobbyhorses, the GOP certainty that Democrats are going to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine in order to shut down Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio hosts. If it's true that conservatives do think as Drum and I have speculated, then their belief is explained because they know that that's what they would do if they were in a similar situation. And guess what? As soon as they gained a majority in the House (at least this time around), conservatives moved quickly to defund NPR, which they see as the liberal alternative to conservative talk radio.

I do want to caution that this is only speculative, and I can think of several counterexamples. Still, there does appear to be a pattern here. And it does help explain what I think is otherwise a very puzzling lack of interest by national Democrats in DC statehood in 2009.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Catch of the Day (How Deep is the Red?)

The catch goes to Ezra Klein, for a close reading of Tim Pawlenty's book:
Evidence aside, this line of argument also presents a tension with the rest of Pawlenty’s book. It’s clear that he doesn’t really like liberals (“the current administration and Democrat-controlled Congress have led us further down the liberal, socialist road than at any time in the history of this country,” he laments). But it’s also clear that he really does like Minnesotans (“Let me tell you about Minnesota strength, and Minnesota people, and Minnesota resolve, and Minnesota commitment and service,” he says). Explaining how this great, wise, strong, service-oriented, deeply patriotic state could’ve become so committed to the liberal-socialist agenda is, however, left as an exercise for the reader.
I'll also, while I'm add it, direct everyone to a quite interesting analysis of recent newspaper and blogging coverage of the various 2012 candidates from Nate Silver. I'm not sure that calling the former "Beltway" really works, and I can think of a few other methodological questions, but it's better than no data at all, and interesting.

I agree with Klein (and, I think, Silver's data) that it's worth making an effort to spend more time on Pawlenty. I don't know that I agree with Jonathan Chait that Pawlenty is the clear frontrunner, but he's certainly a plausible winner in a field that I've said is down to about eight plausible winners, four or five of whom don't appear, at this point, all that likely to be candidates as of August this year. And whatever his other strengths and weaknesses, Tim Pawlenty definitely fulfills the Woody Allen requirement of showing up.

Broken Promise Land

I'm afraid that I have to agree with Matt Yglesias about the latest Newt flap: in the world Newt is engaged in, it makes perfect sense to say that there's a grave danger of the United States becoming a "secular atheist country...dominated by radical Islamists." I mean, it's nuts, but it's not really internally contradictory in the sense that people are laughing at him about.

So since I can't pick on that...well, other than to note that it's nuts, I'll turn back to yesterday's Newt flap, which was Greg Sargent catching him rewriting the history of his position on Bill Clinton and impeachment. Newt, now, understandably, would like everyone to believe that it was only a legal matter and had nothing to do with condemning Clinton's morality or private personal behavior, but of course that wasn't actually the case back then.

This reminds me of my absolute favorite Newt flip-flop, which is also from 1998. In a TV special about Newt and the 1998 election (I think it was Frontline, but I don't have my copy with me right now) shot during the campaign, Newt spends quite a bit of time complaining that the press will discuss nothing but Lewinsky. Unmentioned, however, is that earlier that year the soon-to-resign-in-disgrace Speaker had pledged to raise the scandal in every single public appearance.

Of course, because on principle, and probably by temperament, Newt insists on taking everything to the extreme at all times -- he's going to talk about Lewinsky in every appearance, and Obama is the most corrupt  president, and this is the most critical election ever (note: not actual quotes, although I've heard him say things like each of these but don't really feel like looking them up right now...and granted that everyone always says that every election is the most critical one) -- Newt is easy to catch contradicting himself in spectacular ways. The right thing to remember about him isn't that he flip-flops (that's common enough among politicians), but that he customarily dresses up trite comments and claims in fancy-yet-extreme language. In other words, he's just a snake oil salesman.

All These Strangers

Mori Dinauer says:
But outside of a hard-core set of political junkies who have firm opinions on all matters politics, are highly informed, and aren't particularly willing to change their minds on anything, the public simply is incoherent. This is why strong political parties matter: rather than pretending the public believes what you believe, tell them what you believe and trust them to make a choice. It sounds corny, but that's what democracy is all about.
Ah, an excuse to trot out some arguments about political parties and democracy -- arguments I believe are quite important. Because I disagree. Not about the "public is incoherent" part of it, or that political parties are important -- those are certainly correct.

But for the most part the part of politics that's about incoherent, uninterested folks doesn't really need parties, and certainly not strong parties. For that sort of democracy, all that's necessary is to have some sort of opposition to the incumbent(s), which all by itself creates incentives for those incumbents to run the nation well (which, in turn, should get them re-elected).

So why are political parties important? For one thing, because while most of us may not know or care much about most issues, most of us also have group identifications that matter to us politically, and parties are an excellent shortcut for voters who want to stick with their group (whatever that group might be). That's why people (i.e. early 20th century Progressives) who don't think voting should be an individual, not a group, act tend to hate parties.

Parties are also important because while most of us do not have strong political views on most issues, many of us do have strong political views on some issues, and permeable parties are the best mechanism invented so far to give ordinary citizens entry into the political system -- to give them a chance to actually have an effect on policy in a large democracy. They aren't the only mechanism; people can also form interest groups. But for democracies, parties have the advantage that they teach people to bargain and form coalitions. In other words, parties both provide an avenue for participatory forms of democracy and teach democratic skills.

This is also why, in my view, strong political parties should also find a way to be relatively loose ideological coalitions. Rigid parties are, more or less by definition, not permeable. If firm party ideology covers all issues and is enforced by hierarchical organizational structures, then the only roles for new enlistees are foot soldiers and cannon fodder. If, however, parties are organized so that local groups can have meaningful chances of affecting policy -- whether because they are loose confederations of state and local parties, as they were in the US before 1970, or perhaps now through internet-based self-starting individuals and groups -- then they produce a far more meaningful kind of democracy.

Getting Mighty Crowded

Michele Bachmann is, as she tends to do, drowning out the various other people in the increasingly crowded pool of Republicans "running for president" who have no chance to win the nomination, and probably know it. There's Bachmann, there's Newt Gingrich, there's Buddy Romer, there's Herman Cain...and that's not even counting a couple of New Yorkers who aren't even going to get as far as "running" but still take up some media space. Or John Bolton. And don't forget Gary Johnson and either Ron or Rand Paul. And Rick Santorum. Including all but the two New Yorkers, I count an astonishing eight candidates who may enter primaries and caucuses without being serious candidates for the nomination.

So I wouldn't be surprised if you missed the exciting news that there's yet another hopeless noisemaker getting in: the Ten Commandments judge, Roy Moore of Alabama. That makes nine.

You really do have to wonder about what the debates are going to look like at this point. Could the GOP really shut any of these "candidates" out? And if all nine are there...yikes! Especially the five or six whose entire candidacy is presumably to promote their own brand as conservative voices (as opposed to the more policy-oriented "candidacies" of Bolton, Johnson, and Ron or Rand Paul). If the goal of the real candidates, especially Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, is to keep the distance between themselves and the loony fringe small enough that no one can accuse them of being moderates and RINOs, then how much tougher is that going to be with five or six candidates egging each other on for the title of King or Queen Crazy?

Should be interesting times, indeed.

Read Stuff, You Should

What should I start with today? How about, if you don't mind too much, a little bit of self-promotion. My latest TNR column, on Libya and the rally effect, is here; my latest Plum Line post -- more Bachmann -- is here. And I'll be contributing to Greg Sargent's Plum Line more regularly now, so regular readers can look for me over there, along with Greg and Adam Serwer. Please stop by!

And on to the good stuff:

1. I didn't do an ACA anniversary post, but others did. On health care, I highly recomment Ezra Klein's primer on just what ACA does. Also: advice for Democratic pols about the mandate from Paul Waldman.; Aaron Carroll fisks Senator Ron Johnson; and the polling from Peter Ubel, Aaron Kay, and Gavan Fitzsimons.

2. The budget? Start with Stan Collender's encounter with Tea Partiers, and then add Ezra Klein's interview with Christina Romer. Susy Khimm looks at the consequences of one spending cut. And why household budgets are different than the federal budget, from Matt Yglesias. Excellent.

3. Seth Masket knows more about parties in California than anyone. And Alex Massie, on partisan polarization, Dickens, and America.

4. Kevin Drum on education.

5. Very good post on presidents and "Going Public" from Matthew Dickinson. And, as usual, I think Andrew Sprung reads Barack Obama well -- this time on Libya.

6. Andrew Sullivan. Torture.

7. Nate Silver on statistical models.

8. Dave Weigel reports on liberal attacks on GOP-aligned media; Annie Lowry and Angela Tchou visit content farms; and if you missed Ann Friedman's rebuttal to the NYT Style Section, it's a must-read.

9. Very nice: Glen Johnson's ode to local politics.

10. A good Jennifer Steinhauer profile of a new House Member.

11. And apparently almost no one finds it as funny as I do, but I'm still pushing the Trump/gardening/PCP thing, and I'm glad that at least my brother is playing along.

Monday, March 28, 2011


For those who want to understand the conservative view that I've described as a "war on budgeting" please see a basically honest description of the GOP approach to budgeting and deficits by Keith Hennessey. I recommend reading it through, but the gist of it is that there are (in his, and the GOP view) two sides to the fiscal coin: the budget deficit, and the total size of government spending...and that the latter is the fight that matters the most:
We think we’re fighting about the deficit, when in reality the deep philosophical and political divide in America is mostly about the relative sizes of government versus the private sector.
Nothing literally dishonest about that...but it's a way of framing the issue that solidly downplays the importance of the deficit, and allows deficit-busting Republicans to think of themselves as "fiscally conservative" no matter how large they want the deficit to be. That is, it's a very small step from where Hennessey is to "deficits don't matter." After all, Hennessey says, "Almost all elected officials of both parties will tell you (and believe) that deficits are bad." Well, he's right that they'll all tell you that, and it's even possible that they all believe it, but the truth for the last thirty years or more has been that most of the ones with the big "R" next to their names have supported policies that yield large deficits, while most of the ones with the big "D" next to their names have supported policies that reduce or close those deficits.

Hennessey understands the budget process -- and GOP budget rhetoric -- as well as anyone, so he's a good source for these things.

Complicated Game

Matt Yglesias has a very good comment about how Congress works -- but it's incomplete in at least one important way. Yglesias says:
For a bill to pass, it needs a majority in at least one House subcommittee. Then it needs a majority in at least one House full committee. Then it needs a majority in the entire House of Representatives. In parallel, a bill that is identical in all respects needs a majority in at least one Senate subcommittee, one full Senate committee, and sixty votes on the floor of the United States Senate where objections from even a single Senator can force days of delay. Members of congress need to do all this work while simultaneously fundraising & electioneering, positioning themselves for sundry bids for higher office, etc. The only veto player you need to explain why something doesn’t happen in the federal government is basic human laziness and risk aversion.
That's correct, and a very good point. But it's worth point out that many (most? I suspect so, but I'm not aware of a count) bills don't become law by passing through all of those hoops. Many bills that become law the way that, say, the CLASS Act did: by hitching a ride on some other legislative vehicle that was going to pass. Indeed, one of the big stories of the historic 111th Congress (that is, the 2009-2010 Congress) is how many different bills "passed" by getting included in either the stimulus or the health care bill.

What this means is that intense, but small, support for a bill can wind up being enough for it to pass, even if it wouldn't have a majority on its own.

What that also means is that generally intense objections, rather than majority objections, are what's needed to stop a bill. That is, it may appear that bills need to win concurrent majorities in a whole bunch of committees and subcommittees, but in fact many bills never actually get (separate) votes in all those places, so it doesn't really matter whether the bill can command a majority or not. What really matters is whether including something as a provision of a larger bill will spark enough opposition to force a separate vote (or even to place the larger bill in jeopardy).

A bill almost certainly has a better chance of becoming law with a handful of Senators (or well-placed Members of the House) in strong, sustained support against the mostly indifferent opposition of the rest of the whole Congress than it does with very mild, but almost unanimous, approval. Or, of course, than any combination that includes strong dissent (by any Senator or by well-placed Members of the House).

On the whole, I think that leads to reasonable solutions that are properly described as democratic. Regardless of how one assesses it, however, it's important to remember that the textbook "How a Bill Becomes a Law" version of Congress is not, in fact, how things often work.

Catch of the Day

Rortybomb, on wealth through austerity:
These budget cuts are entirely minnows.  If we release a minnow, it’ll just be eaten by a whale. If we cut funding for the Special Olympics do we honestly not believe it’ll just be reallocated to the military, or health-care costs, or to tax cuts for the top 1%? And if we know that you can bet the bond market knows that. This theory requires the bond market to be terrified of a permanent rent-seeking hegemony of people with challenges getting to compete in sports while being recognized as equals among each other in a public space and poor women having reasonable access to pap smears, and thus we need to smash the Special Olympics and Planned Parenthood immediately to show “political will.”  It just doesn’t make sense within its own theory (emphasis added).
By the way, I'm not sold -- yet -- on Ezra Klein's sense that the outcome of the budget showdown will be a big GOP win on the substance, even if they lose on the politics. At least, if he means it in terms of a bargaining victory beyond what one would extrapolate from the election results last November. That is, the result will certainly be very different than what the 111th Congress would have produced, but it's not clear, yet, that the GOP negotiating strategy of demanding numerous policy riders and far larger spending cuts than anyone thinks are possible will actually wind up pushing the final result in their favor. We're not quite there, yet, I don't think.

At any rate, Mike Konczal's (Rortybomb) post is excellent on the substance of budgets and economic growth, and well worth reading in full.

Procession Towards Learning Land

From right at the end of an excellent NYT article yesterday by Kirk Johnson about people not really paying much attention to the military action in Libya:
Eric Heisser, 21, a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said he was relying on friends to keep him in the loop on Libya.

"My roommates are kind of keeping me informed," he said. "They have a little more time to watch Jon Stewart than I do."
Yes, we're all doomed.

Geraldine Ferraro

She was, in one sense, one of a group of terrible VP selections...although not, I think, as bad as Nixon, Agnew, Quayle, and Palin. She was selected out of nowhere, and the vetting missed important things that made her ride in 1984 a very bumpy one.

Not that it mattered, of course, as far as winning or losing in November that year. And, in my view at least, she handled the process well. Despite both her own rocky candidacy and the ticket doing badly, I don't recall anyone then or later ever pointing to Gerry Ferraro as a reason that women shouldn't, or even weren't, advancing nationally.

She never, unfortunately, found a way to build on it. Her Senate campaigns were as uninspired as Nixon's gubernatorial campaign (or Quayle's presidential run) were, and I found her TV appearances or op-ed columns mostly lightweight (at least until the 2008 Democratic primaries, about which the less said the better). My best guess is that she was just badly miscast as a national figure, but probably, as far as I know, would have been at least a solid and perhaps an excellent Member of the House. She certainly could have remained in her seat as long as she liked, and it's hardly impossible to imagine her as Speaker had the cards dropped right (not, to be sure, an original observation, there, but one that's important in understanding her career). Among other things, her career is a reminder that even the best of Congressional insiders (and few are the equal of Tip O'Neill, Ferraro's big supporter in 1984) have a history of utter cluelessness when it comes to presidential politics.

But then again, in 1984 there weren't all that many women available (or at least logical choices) to be the First Woman Vice Presidential Nominee.

All in all, I think that as much as it was in some ways a bad choice, in more important ways Walter Mondale made a good-enough choice.

She was, all in all, a great American, and she deserves to be remembered warmly.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Hmmm...what's an issue that you think mainstream liberals get totally wrong? I'm not looking for something where you feel that you are normally liberal but on this one you're more conservative; I'm looking for issues for which you think the consensus, or at least normal, liberal position is just backwards -- and that either the mainstream conservative position, or perhaps a position that no one in the mainstream holds, is really more consistent with mainstream liberal values.

For example, I believe that most liberal education reformers believe that they're position is in fact the real liberal position.

So: what do most liberals have wrong?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

In today's NYT story about social conservatives and Iowa, Michele Bachmann is quoted as saying:
It can’t just be a Republican. We need to have people who have guts, who you won’t see melt like wax when they get there.
Does this strike you as correct: that a major problem for conservatives has been that Republican officeholders are lacking in guts?

Also: regardless of what you think, do you believe that most conservatives would agree with Bachmann's diagnosis?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

Libya, Libya, Libya. Also Syria, also get the idea.

Budget negotiations continue to go slow, at best. I'm feeling pretty good (or, to put it another way, not good at all) about my TNR column a few weeks ago saying that riders = shutdown.

What else? I never know for sure what it means when someone announces he or she is not running for president...but if it's true that Jim DeMint dropped out this week, I actually think that's a much bigger deal than, say, Michele Bachmann's much-hyped semi-announcement that she's in. I don't know what DeMint's chances are, but I'm confident that they were better than Bachmann's. Tim Pawlenty made his already certain run a step more official, but that's just a change in formal status, not news.

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

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

I'm afraid it's the Elo thing over at baseball-reference again.

OK, folks, we have a few problems. One is that as of this writing, eight of the top ten all time batters are OFers. Only Gehrig and Hornsby have made it from the rest of the field...well, I suppose you could count Musial as a 1B, but I don't think of him as a 1B -- do you? Now, it's not as if the list is filled with undeserving guys...I'm happy to see all four of the greatest CFers (Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker) doing well, and since I don't think there's any clear ranking of those four, I guess you can't say that any of them are inappropriate on the top list. Ruth, obviously, is legit, and right at the top where he belongs. That leaves Aaron, Williams, and Musial as the shakiest of the top 10, but I suppose I can see a case for each of them...but c'mon! Where's Wagner? Where's Schmidt?

Second problem -- eight of the top ten of all time are OFers, but somehow the greatest LF ever doesn't seem to be around. Checking the full rankings: Bonds has moved up to 15th (he was 19th when I first looked last week). Very lame, folks. As is Roger Clemens at 14 on the pitcher side.

Back to the hitters...Wagner is 12th, just ahead of Alex Rodriguez at 13. Schmidt is 18. I mentioned that Hornsby is in the top ten, actually at 8; the other three of the quartet at 2B (Lajoie, Morgan, Collins) check in at 19, 25, and 26. The highest catcher by Elo voters is Bench, at 32 overall. Obviously a lot of people don't remember what Casey Stengel said about catchers, no?

I'm not sure what all this means, if anything. My guess is that either people are overly focused on hitting and ignoring positional considerations, or that the WAR calculator that baseball reference uses undervalues positional considerations.

On the other hand, it's not as if there have been tons of trials here, and so there could be some random effects -- if every time Barry Bonds happens to show up he's matched against Ruth, well, then he's going to lose a bunch. One oddity: it looks as if active players show up about three times as often as retired players. It doesn't really feel like that to me when I've played with it; I keep getting Ellis Valentine, for some reason. Hey, the guy had an arm, didn't he?

...and that's it for offseason Friday Baseball Posts. By next Friday, the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and all those other teams will be playing for real. Batter up!

Catch of the Day

Yeah, yeah, this will be the second CotD for basically the same subject, but I enjoyed Benjy Sarlin's detailed accounting of all of the flips that Newt Gingrich has managed on Libya so much that I just had to go for it. Plus I loved Andrew Sullivan's summary: "The common theme? He's always obviously right; Obama is always insanely wrong." Perfect.

My only disappointment is that none of Sarlin's quotations included Newt's best word: "Frankly." Which means...well, you know what it means.

The guy is a total fraud.

Bachmann, Tea Partiers, and Nomination Politics

Michael Shear, in the NYT, says that the Tea Party is a winner if Michele Bachmann mounts a full-blown campaign:
Lots of Republican candidates offer lip service to the Tea Party. Even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and the definition of the establishment, has nice things to say about them now.
But Ms. Bachmann is a true champion of their cause. If she gets in the race, they will have a voice at debates, during television interviews, and on the stump around the country. She might not win, but Tea Party activists would certainly like to see her try.
It's certainly true that Bachmann will be much more of a full-throated advocate for Tea Partiers than most of the other candidates. What I don't really understand is exactly what that buys Tea Party true believers, other than louder lip service. Are there policy positions that Bachmann would take that differ from those of the other candidates? I don't think so; conservative Republicans dominate the presidential nomination process, and every viable candidate has and will tailor their positions to appeal to movement conservatives. Are there Tea Party positions that differ from other movement conservative positions? Perhaps a few things, on the flaky side (such as repealing direct election of Senators), but other than that? No.

Bachmann has, perhaps better than the other candidates in the race, fully absorbed the symbolic side of Tea Party politics, but the others are going to be tossing the words "Constitution" and "liberty" into their stump speeches just as much as she will.

Meanwhile, to the extent that the Tea Partiers really are separate from older branches of movement conservativism, there are several real dangers here for them: first, that Bachmann isn't exactly the most calm, sober, and careful politician around and they risk being branded with whatever nuttiness comes out of her mouth; but second, that they wind up being identified with their flakiest positions (see direct election of Senators, above). That is, if she wants to differentiate herself from the other candidates but cannot easily do so based on policy or even rhetorical differences, she may wind up emphasizing the goofiest stuff. Assuming, that is, that there are other, more mainstream and popular issues, that Tea Partiers would rather focus on.

One other thing worth mentioning about Michele Bachmann. She's the leader of the House Tea Party caucus, which has around 50 Members. And yet I think it's worth noting that she utterly failed to bring those Members with her on the first CR extension vote, a few weeks ago (a total of five Republicans joined her). Now, it's certainly been the case for a long time that clout on the Hill and success on the campaign trail are two entirely different things (as Lyndon Johnson learned in 1960, Howard Baker in 1980, Bob Dole in 1988, and Richard Gephardt in 1988 and 2004). Still, it's worth noting that no one in the House Republican conference feared that breaking with Bachmann would damage them with their Tea Party constituencies. Perhaps a presidential run would increase her stature...perhaps other circumstances would be different. But overall, it sure looks to me, as I said yesterday, that she's far more likely than not to wind up irrelevant to the serious working of choosing a nominee.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Didn't Read It Here

I'd just like to be on the record saying that I don't believe that Donald Trump is really addicted to PCP, or gardening, or that he's been convicted of driving with an expired licence, even though it is true that Trump easily could have cleared up those rumors by just releasing a clean drug test and answering a few questions that he's ducked so far.

Again, I absolutely believe that none of it is true. But you do have to wonder about why he would allow these rumors to just float out there and keep morphing like this.

Also, I do think that it's only sensible to test all presidential candidates for PCP. And to check under their nails for suspicious dirt.


It occurs to me that I've been doing posts on each presidential candidate as they jump into or exit out of the race, and I didn't do one on Tim Pawlenty this week.

Uh...he's a serious candidate with a solid chance to win.

I think that exhausts what I have to say about Pawlenty. David Frum nailed this a while back: he's running as the Generic Republican.

Counting the contenders, not establishing an order: Pawlenty (1) clearly could win, along with Romney (2), Barbour (3), and (if they're in) Daniels (4) and Huck (5). Rick Perry (6) could, in my view, still run and have a solid chance of winning, and I suppose that's true of Jeb Bush (7), and there's still Palin (8). But that's about it. National Journal has a new Top 15 candidate list out this week, and I don't seen anyone else from that list with a realistic chance (Perry is on their sub-list "on the bubble" category, and Jeb isn't even there). Longshot but plausible nominee Jim DeMint is now putting out word that he's definitely not running, and it's not clear that he (or Thune, or a few others) could enter or re-enter any later than now and still have a chance.

So if all that is correct, then that leaves only eight real plausible nominees at this point -- I'd probably say those eight have collectively far better than a 90% chance of winning the nomination, probably around 98%) and of those only three are clearly in and running at this point. For what it's worth, my eight only have about 72% of the combined odds on Intrade, so I suppose I think that these candidates are, collectively, pretty severely undervalued over there (see, by the way, here and here for some caution about interpreting prices at Intrade and other such markets).  And for what it's worth I'll add that Jeb Bush would really be starting from scratch; as far as I know, he hasn't been doing any sort of candidate-like things at all over the last couple years

I suppose the upshot of all of that is that I should really be paying more attention to Pawlenty.

The Bachmann Effect?

So, it looks as if Michele Bachmann is going to be a presidential candidate in 2012. Of a sort. She's certainly not running for president in the sense of potentially winning that office (although it's always possible she might believe she can win). She is not, of course, a plausible nominee, much less a plausible winner in November 2012. Members of the House don't get nominated; Members of the House with a history of saying nutty things don't come close to being nominated.

That doesn't mean, of course, that she will have no effect on the contest. Some possible scenarios and consequences:

1. She'll get a fair amount of attention -- as Dave Weigel correctly notes, at the very least a Bachmann candidacy is very good news for the Daily Show and the cable networks.

2. Still, the most likely result is that she'll be like Alan Keyes, B-1 Bob Dornan, and Gary Bauer...capable of making some noise, but eventually garnering well under 10% in early states and promptly disappearing. Remember that the noise a candidate generates is not necessarily related at all to actual votes -- or else Ron Paul would have been a far more serious distraction in 2008 than he was.

3. Also remember: all presidential nomination fields are narrowed, and many contests are decided, before voters get involved beginning in Iowa. Fringe candidates have essentially no effect on that process.

4. If, however, several candidates are plausible nominees but no one has wrapped it up...yes, it's possible that Bachmann could mess with things a bit. Ed Kilgore makes a case that she'll do relatively well, and perhaps if the cards fall just right even win, in Iowa. As I said, I think a sub-10% ceiling is more likely, but it's not implausible that Bachmann could join Pat Robertson as a non-serious candidate who does seriously well in Iowa.

5. If (and note that we're now two deep in "ifs") Bachmann does do well in Iowa, the main effect to watch for is that it pushes someone else out of the top tier there. Kilgore (and Steve Benen) think Tim Pawlenty is likely to suffer...I think there's more uncertainty to that part of it than to any other portion of this speculative chain. I would only say that in an open contest, it would be a severe blow to any candidate to finished out of the top three in Iowa (or in New Hampshire).

6. Also: the debates! Kevin Drum has an excellent item about it. Remember, both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich are basically capable of saying anything at all during a debate, and they will be somewhat harder to just ignore than Alan Keyes was. On top of that you probably have either Ron Paul or Rand Paul, who are slightly more predictable but similarly off-the-wall and disruptive. And Drum missed Gary Johnson, who isn't quite a wacky as Ron or Rand Paul, but still figures to add to the general chaos. Obviously, if the Sage of Wasilla is there, well, there's that, too. Most of what you'll read (not Drum, who gets it right) about the effects of such debates (either on the dynamics of the nomination contest or especially on the effects for November 2012) will be massively overblown, but it sure will be fun if they're all in, and it'll be something of a  pain in the ass for the serious candidates.

Still Against Laura Roslin and Glenn Walken

Marc Ambinder heard Rush Limbaugh say something crazed and inflammatory, but instead of responding with snark Ambinder wrote a fascinating article about the current state of play in executive branch preparations for emergency continuity of government. As Ambinder points out, you never know when a Borg cube will show up over Washington, let alone a Cylon sneak attack.

The only thing I wish Ambinder had discussed is the real need for legislative action. I've blogged about this before, so I won't go into detail really is a shame that Congress hasn't implemented the generally very sensible plans formulated by the (post September 11) Continuity of Government Commission. Alas, it's unlikely under the condition of divided government that a party would legislative itself out of the presidential succession chain (and perhaps it's too much to ask Congress to do so, regardless of vague party interests). But it really is a very, very, stupid idea to have the Speaker and the President pro tem of the Senate as part of that chain -- and it's worth noting again that Congress wasn't part of the chain of succession until 1947.

Hey, Tea Partiers! If you think elected Senators are a bad idea because they're contrary to the Framers' design -- how about fixing presidential succession? Surely the Framers wouldn't have agreed to the 20th century version, with its unkosher mixture of two branches of government. If Tea Partiers want a cause with clear Constitutional origins and a real chance of passage, they could do a lot worse.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Catch of the Day

Sure, it's fish in a barrel, but I'll award a CotD to CAP's George Zornick, for noting that Newt Gingrich executed a complete partisan reversal on Libya, going from beating on the president for not establishing a no-fly-zone to attacking him for doing so without so much as a phony explanation. And for noting Newt's historical amnesia (Newt is certain, also without any actual argument or explanation, that this is as "badly run as any foreign operation we’ve seen in our lifetime," apparently managing to exceed Vietnam, Iraq, and the Iran hostage rescue, among other things, despite not producing even anything anecdotal that's gone wrong). And for noting that Today Show host Matt Lauer didn't challenge any of that. See Dave Weigel for transcripts.

Of course, the thing to remember about Newt is that he's a total fraud. So calling him out is not that hard to do. Still, kudos to Zornick for doing so, and a nice job, too. Great catch!

GOP Budget?

I've been pushing a notion over the last few days that Republicans in the House won't put forward a formal budget as part of the regular yearly budget process. Therefore, I need to note today's Politico story, in which the leadership says that it plans to "unveil an aggressive 2012 budget in three weeks."

Could be. I'm going to remain skeptical on this one until I see it. I can't see how Paul Ryan can square the circle of keeping taxes at Bush levels, repealing ACA, and protecting all current Medicare and Social Security recipients while shrinking the deficit. Ryan certainly could show lower deficit projections for FY 2012, but cuts deep enough to get good five or ten (or twenty) year projections are almost certain to be political poison.

What does that leave? Submit a budget with phony numbers, and then slam CBO when honest projections are produced. Forget entitlements, and focus only on FY 2012, with spending cuts similar to the House-passed ones in the current FY 2011 fight. Or find an excuse ("Obama isn't serious about the deficit! We can't start 2012 until we finish 2011!) to avoid putting together a formal budget, and instead go with a press release -- it's much easier to achieve deficit targets in press releases, which do not have to be scored by CBO.

Or maybe Boehner and Ryan can and will submit a real budget that does what they now say it will do. As I said, could be. But I think if they do that, they're just asking for trouble. If I were advising them, I'd tell them to go with the press release.

For more, see Bruce Bartlett and Stan Collender.

Leadership on the Budget

I think I agree with much of Matt Yglesias's post on the budget yesterday...but I really didn't like the title he gave it: "Conservatives Must Lead on the Deficit."

Lead? It's far too late for that. The Democrats, and the Obama administration, took the lead one year ago by "dealing with entitlements" -- that is, by slashing Medicare spending and enacting long-term cost controls. That's ACA. Yes, we have no idea how well the cost controls in ACA will work, and yes, Republicans in some unreal theoretical word would have proposed some other type of entitlement reform...but in this world, Democrats acted and Republicans opposed without proposing an alternative.

Then, as Yglesias points out, Barack Obama has a budget proposal. Republicans do not have a budget proposal. I have serious doubts about whether Republicans will ever have a budget proposal. (Not a GOP specialty, of course; Congressional Democrats didn't bother to pass a budget proposal last year, and they didn't even have the excuse of divided government). Yes, again, in some unreal theoretical world Republicans might be proposing lower deficits than Obama and the Democrats...but once again, in this world, Republican plans as they exist to date appear to offer higher deficits in the middle and long term than what Obama proposed.

It's far, far too late for Republicans to lead on the deficit. If they want to get in the game, however, they need to put a proposal on the table. Until they do so, or at least until their separate proposals would add up to a lower deficit than what Obama proposed, there's really no reason for either the president or the Democrats in Congress to be at all defensive about deficits. Nor, in my view, is it wise for them to open negotiations (beyond the current fiscal year, for which the GOP has in fact made their bid) without insisting that Republicans put a budget on the table.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Barbour and Playing By the Rules

Haley Barbour has, presumably, the exact opposite problem than the one that plagues Sarah Palin's presidential ambitions. Barbour certainly plays by the rules; I don't know what he really thinks about issues, but I don't think there are many GOP constituencies that would worry about being locked out of a Barbour White House, or not being able to cut deals with a President Barbour (some Tea Partiers might sense he's not really their type of Republican, but he doesn't have the kinds of difficult past positions to defend, as far as I know, that many in the rest of the field have).

The problem for Barbour, one that has led many liberals to assume that his candidacy is entirely implausible, isn't going to be with insiders; it's with voters. It is true that Barbour starts with very little support, presumably; he's a small-state governor with little national profile. But the big thing is that as a dealmaking former lobbyist, he seems more like a cartoon character than a national politician. He's no John Thune, or even a Mitt Romney; he just doesn't look the part, and his resume matches the look.

This, however, is where the primaries come in. Republican leaders (as always, interpreted very broadly) who either would be very happy with or at least could easily live with Barbour as president may share the suspicion that voters just wouldn't like Haley Barbour very much. The traditional way to test this has been to watch the results of presidential primaries and caucuses. Candidates who intrigue party leaders but seem risky to put before voters -- everyone from John Kennedy in 1960 to Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 -- have "proved" their strengths or weaknesses. Now, I'll be the first to agree that Howard Dean's poor showing in Iowa in 2004 didn't really prove anything, but party leaders need to make choices and don't have clearly better information available, so they're likely to overemphasize what they do have. Thus the demise of Dean after Iowa in 2004, and the flight of party leaders towards Obama after Iowa 2008.

I have no idea whether Boss Hogg will be an appealing image to Republican caucus attendees in Iowa next winter, or to Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. If, however, he can survive those two events (that is, at least a respectable third place finish in both); if no clear nominee has emerged; and if the other finalists are unacceptable to major constituencies within the party...well, at that point, he's a pretty logical nominee. How likely is it that all three things would happen? I don't know, but I'd say better than one in twenty, anyway. If you believe that Mitt Romney is certain to collapse either because of health care (which I don't expect) or religion (which I think is possible, but I can't make odds on it), then Barbour's chances are that much higher.

I said a while ago that I thought Barbour, Jim DeMint, and Rick Perry were the three candidates seriously undervalued in Intrade's market. At that point they were at 2%, 1%, and 1%, respectively; today Barbour is up to 5% while the other two round up to 1% and still have made no formal steps toward running. I'll stick with that bet, still. I'm not predicting one of the three will win, but I think they're all plausible, while, say, Newt Gingrich (steady at a bit under 6%) just is not.

Bad Votes

Excellent posts today by Steve Benen and Matt Yglesias, pointing out that Republican Senators coming out against stripping Planned Parenthood of funding do so only after having voted the other way -- by supporting the House-passed FY11 CR -- only recently.

It sure seems to me that Senate Republicans seriously misplayed their hand when they chose to almost unanimously support the House bill (all but DeMint, Lee, and Paul voted for it).

By getting 44 votes for H.R. 1, Republicans won bragging rights, since the Democrats only managed 42 votes for their substitute. Republicans made a fair amount of hay for a few days, but I can't see what it got them. It's not going to affect the spin war once shutdown gets here, and it's hard to see how it affects the real bargaining over appropriations, once that starts.

On an individual basis, presumably moderates including Brown, Collins, and Murkowski were more concerned about primary challenges than about general election voters. That's reasonable. Single votes on the Senate or House floor only rarely have been shown to affect general election voting (which is mainly driven by party, of course). It's very plausible, however, to imagine a single vote sparking a Tea Party or other conservative primary challenge.

However, by flipping (as the three of them have done) on Planned Parenthood, and presumably on other individual riders attached to the bill, it sure seems to me that they're getting the worst of both worlds.

It's hard to believe that the vote on the House CR is going to be enough to shield GOP moderates from a challenge if they then come out against various provisions of that bill (provisions which, too the dismay of movement conservative activists, won't be enacted into law despite the Great Tea Party Landslide of 2010).  At the same time...look, we can show that individual votes normally don't affect general election results, but usually the votes to examine are more or less consistent with the candidate's promises. Here, we have candidates who ran as moderates on abortion, the environment, and other issues casting votes for extreme measures in the opposite direction. I'm open to evidence to the contrary, but I don't think we really have very much evidence on the results of such votes.

Not that I'm saying that Collins will lose in four years, much less Murkowski in six years, based on this vote. Still, while normally I'd be willing to say that GOP Members of Congress right now are correct to be more worried about the effects of single votes on renomination, I can't really say with confidence that votes such as this one will really be harmless in November.

The oddity is that normally parties work hard to shield legislators from such choices. I don't really understand why Brown, Collins, Murkowski and others voted for this one (and why the party wanted them to); they easily could have found Tea Party-friendly reasons to oppose it while also, perhaps more quietly, noted that they disagreed with the various policy riders. For that matter, they could have -- should have, I'd say -- come out against many of the individual spending cuts in the bill while simultaneously complaining that the bill didn't cut enough overall. That's a safe position to take into either a primary or a general election, next year or far down the line.

Palin and Playing By the Rules

Why is Sarah Palin, as she is now, not going to win the Republican nomination for president? And why will the leaders of the Republican Party be acting sensibly in making that choice?

I've talked several times about "playing by the rules." I've said that the main reason Sarah Palin was unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination was that she refuses to do the sorts of things that candidates for president have to do. Wonderful, wonderful example of this in a post yesterday from David Frum. Frum describes in some detail one group of GOP elites (the Republican Jewish Coalition) and what Palin did to annoy them. The gist of it is that the RJC has sponsored Israel trips for numerous GOP presidential candidates, and that Palin chose to use another group to arrange her trip without even bothering to RSVP to the RJC's invitation.

Now, Frum is no Palin supporter, and probably wouldn't be no matter what the Sage of Wasilla did at this point, so one should take his criticisms with that in mind. However, the key here isn't so much that Frum dislikes or criticizes her, but the process he describes. And what he says is quite revealing about how nomination politics works, and why Palin is failing at it:
But normally candidates are in the business of adding to the number of their friends — including converting former non-friends into new friends. Candidates seek to broaden their basis of support. They are more interested in future successes than in past irritations. Successful candidates are strategic. They may hold grudges, but they do not reveal their grudges. And they do not act on their grudges against their own best interests.
Frum believes that Palin rejected the RJC because he and what he describes as one or two others on the organization's board had taken public shots at her. That could be it; it could be, instead, that Palin isn't plugged in enough to Republican politics to know who the important players are -- which would mean that she hasn't cared enough to know.

Again, this is how nomination politics works. For all one hears about efforts to market candidates to mass electorates (that's what things like the "authenticity" debate are all about), the bulk of nomination politics is retail, not wholesale -- and the customers candidates are trying to reach are a relatively small group of party elites. It is not, to be sure, only party's a fairly large and usually evolving group; it includes not just formal party officials, but also leaders of party-affiliated groups, campaigning and governing professionals, activists, and politicians. That's more like thousands, not hundreds, of people; it's only the dreaded "establishment" if the term is used very loosely to mean anyone with a long-term commitment to party politics, and even then both parties are at least somewhat permeable to new people and groups. Read Frum's description of the Republican Jewish Committee, and then multiply that by all the other organized and informal groups that make up the Republican Party.

It's thousands of people, but over a three year nomination campaign it's not that hard for a candidate to have personal contact with quite a large number of them, and virtually all of the leaders within that larger group (and, for most candidates the nomination campaign caps off an even longer career in national politics; Ronald Reagan spent about 15 years seeking the nomination, and Bill Clinton basically spent his whole life on it). And don't forget that these are communities, both overall (as the Republican Party) and in various different groups and subgroups. Maybe a candidate doesn't have personal contact with all of the thousands of people involved, but she can certainly get within one degree of separation to an awful lot of them.

That's what Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have been doing for the last two-plus years -- well, for Romney, for most of the last six years. Group by group, piece by piece. It's what, by every report I've seen since November 2008, Sarah Palin has just not done.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself: wait a second. Isn't this incredibly petty of all these groups? Are you telling me that RJC board members are going to be so peeved that Sarah Palin booked her Israel trip with some other organization that they're correct to take that snub and turn it into a presidential nomination preference, regardless of how Palin or any other candidate actually stands on issues of public policy?

Yup. And even more: I'll tell you that it's not petty. They're correct to do so.

Choosing a presidential candidate is serious business for these folks. For some, it's their career that's on the line; they want to be in line for some assistant secretary job over at HHS, or a position at the RNC -- or they want the best possible coattails for their re-election campaign. For others, it's a specific, tangible, policy payoff (such as, for unions in 2008, the question of how high on the agenda card check would be for a Democratic president). For others, it's achieving the goal that motivated them to enter politics in the first place, whether it's getting universal health care or ending legal abortions or whatever. By definition, each of them has put significant personal resources -- time, money -- into the party. But they have no guarantee that the nominee, if she becomes president, will actually do what they want. All they have is trust. This isn't a parliamentary system, in which a candidate who betrays supporters once in office risks being bounced by his own party. Once she's there, a president is there. And there's very little party loyalists can do about it; even the threat of withdrawing support for re-election is usually empty, because the alternative is almost always going to be much worse and everyone, including the president, knows it.

So, if you're a party leader (and remember: I'm talking, always, about that very large group as leaders), what can you do? Sure, you can collect position papers, but you know how meaningless those are going to be; even issue-oriented groups can't always predict which issues are really going to matter down the line. Much better, even if still risky, is assessing the personal commitment the candidates have to your group. What's the rapport like? Who has the candidate hired on her staff that has a history of working with you? Will her White House take your calls? Consult you on appointments your group cares about? What's the candidate's reputation? Has she bargained honestly? Is she loyal to her supporters? How will she deal with honest disagreements?

Who will she listen to, if she becomes president?

It's not petty at all to care about the answers to those questions, even if the evidence groups and individuals must use to guess at the answers often seems trivial or even, perhaps, petty; it's the only evidence that's available.

Now, of course, it's very possible that what Sarah Palin is actually telling everyone is that she's really not interested in running for president. But all of this applies to "normal" candidates, anyway. It's how presidential nominees are really chosen. And if you're trying to follow nomination politics, it suggests that you're much better off reading about the sorts of things Frum is writing about here than analyses about candidate style and packaging. Candidates do have to demonstrate at least some ability to appeal to mass electorates, but first and foremost they need to win the support of the most active portions of the party. Without that, they have no chance.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Movie Post

I don't usually cover documentaries with these posts...I'm not sure why; there are some good ones that I've seen, and others I'm confident are very good that I haven't had a chance to see yet. I do remember writing about the absolutely must-see Times of Harvey Milk. But that's about it.

Anyway, I stumbled into one recently, and so here's a second documentary Monday Movie Post. It's The City, from 1939 -- apparently prepared for showing at the World's Fair (in New York) that year. Did I say documentary? Really, just straightforward propaganda, proselytizing against modern American large cities and in favor of invented, planned, communities, in particular (unnamed in the film) Greenbelt, Maryland. Indeed, it's written by the urban reformer Lewis Mumford, so, well, that's what you're getting.

First, about the movie: it's an odd bird indeed. It's highly stylized, very much a self-conscious art film, I'd say (and I know nothing whatsoever about 1930s documentaries, so this is all just my very uninformed reaction). Lots of unusual cuts and jumps, especially in the middle section -- about modern urban living -- designed to make city life as people then knew it as jarring and unpleasant as possible. That's set against the early section set in pre-urban America and the final section in beautiful, peaceful, sanitized, couldn't-be-whiter, Greenbelt.

The other thing about this as a movie is that it heavily features, and in fact is choreographed around, an original work by Aaron Copland, so if that interests you then you'll want to see it.

As far as the politics of the movie are concerned, there's really two things I got out of watching it. One is that the language of the narration is extraordinarily collective, or community, oriented. Just very different than anything that would be made today, at least in my experience. Granted, it's made by people on the left (the narrator would later be blacklisted, per imdb), but I don't think that today's US lefties really sound like that, at all.

The main reason, however, to watch The City if one is at all interested in the political culture and American urban thought is just how viciously anti-city it is. The section set in modern cities (apparently, again per imdb, it's filmed in Pittsburgh) is just brutal. It begins in slums, which are presented as typical of urban living. But the more devastating sections, at least in intent I'm sure, are devoted to showing the normal, middle-class life of the city as highly inhuman: too crowded, too regimented, too machine-like.

Oh, and it's short, so you don't have much to lose. As a movie, it's a curiosity, and not really worth bothering with unless you're a major Copland fan, in which case you should track it down. For the politics, I'd say it's a high-recommend, and perhaps even a must-see, if you're interested in American ideas about cities. Especially if you like cities; it's important to know what you're up against.

Is GOP Tax Orthodoxy Waning?

Jonathan Chait, who has long been a careful observer of movement conservative insistence on cutting taxes -- he calls "anti-tax dogma" the GOP's "central precept" -- believes that cracks may be showing up in the wall. I'm very, very skeptical that there's anything going on there. Chait links to a WSJ piece about Republican Senators who may be willing to include revenues as part of a budget deal. Yes, Tom Coburn is willing to take shots at Grover Norquist, which is certainly worth noting. But we're a long way from that turning into a real change in GOP priorities.

This is one that, until proven otherwise, I'm probably going to assume that taxes will trump deficits for just about all Republicans, and certainly most mainstream conservatives -- and that most GOP hints and feints to the contrary are about as serious at Chuck Grassley's negotiations over health care reform in summer 2009. That is, they're primarily part of spinning the question of which side is "serious" and "bipartisan," not a sign of willingness to compromise.

It is plausible that Coburn may be an exception; he's been willing to buck his party on spending issues before, and that suggests that he may actually be an honest deficit idealist, and not just part of the GOP anti-tax war on budgeting. But one or two dissenters doesn't change much of anything.

I'll add: really, it's not clear to me that giving that much influence to Norquist is in any Republican politician's interest. However, that's the party they have, and I'll be shocked if there's any real interest in a budget deal that would cross Norquist's line.

Catch of the Day

A group award, for a three-part takedown of an Alan Greenspan paper which attempted to give an economic justification to the GOP talking point about uncertainty. Paul Krugman sneered; Brad DeLong analyzed; and Kevin Drum supplied the context:
But all that aside — which is to say, aside from the actual truth of the uncertainty meme — it's impressive, as usual, that the conservative movement managed to find such a big name to put his name to defending the indefensible. After all, news reporters almost have to take the uncertainty meme seriously now, and that's really all that matter. Mission accomplished!
I suspect he's right. And more: Greenspan's paper focuses on stimulus and financial market regulation; that's the uncertainty he believes is spoiling the party. There's nothing, for example, about health care at all. But this is not apt to slow Republicans down; odds are that if they do wind up using Greenspan as Drum suggests they will, they won't hesitate to apply it far beyond what Greenspan said. I have to say, though, that I'm not convinced that the "uncertainty" claim will really survive very long; it's much more likely, in my view, that the GOP will go back to its all-purpose explanation that all economic growth is caused by tax cuts and all recessions are caused by tax increases. At any rate: great catch!

Hey, Reporters! (Health Care Update)

(Updated below)

Plain Blog clout continues: after I did a "hey, reporters!" item about ACA waivers a while ago, the New York Times finally ran a story about it yesterday.

Unfortunately, the he said/she said style of the story meant that I'm no closer to knowing whether the waivers being granted are a healthy part of implementing the law or an indication of real implementation problems -- and, I suppose, I'm no closer to knowing whether GOP charges that the Obama administration is using waivers as political payoffs are true. Robert Pear's NYT repeats both sides' talking points, which isn't a bad thing, but it would be nice to get beyond that. Jonathan Cohn has a follow-up post that's a bit more helpful, but he sounds pretty uncertain about it, too. Hey, reporters! Keep digging!

Either way, I will note one highly alarming thing from right at the top of the NYT story:
Obama administration officials say they were expecting praise from critics of the new health care law when they offered to exempt selected employers and labor unions from a requirement to provide at least $750,000 in coverage to each person in their health insurance plans this year.
Anyone who really believed that waivers -- or anything at all -- would produce praise from ACA critics is far too naive to serve in the White House.  I want to be careful...there's nothing wrong, or at least nothing horribly wrong, about claiming that flexibility should have mollified critics. But if anyone in the administration really believed it, that's trouble with a capital T.

UPDATE: Finally; Ezra Klein has an excellent discussion of exactly what's going on here, pro and con. Bottom line, in his version: this is a messy and unfortunate part of the elongated transition to the post-2014 system, but really doesn't have anything to do with the core (eventual) program.

Read Stuff, You Should

You know, there's no question that the liberal critique of neo-cons, that for some people it's always Munich, is correct. For them, it hardly matters what the consequences are of war, because it's just a question of fighting now or fighting later. "Bobbing and squinting/just like a nitwit" indeed.

But I'm also struck about the extent to which many antiwar liberals really do seem to see Vietnam around every corner -- every involvement will inevitably wind up worse than the currently foreseeable worst case scenario; every claim of progress from the military is phony; every claim of limited goals is a smokescreen. Not that they're always wrong! And it's certainly better than taking everything the president or the Pentagon says at face value. However, seeing only the downside of military action can lead to mistakes, too. All of which is an elaborate introduction to an excellent series about leaving Iraq by Whitney Terrell in Slate. The first segment is an absolute must-read. 

More good stuff, as  I wonder whether I can really pretend that Paul Krugman was including me as one of the "Jons at the New Republic"...nothing from the real Jonathans, Chait and Cohn, below, but as always you should be reading them. Also:

1. Budget and the economy: from a ways back but hardly stale, a great piece by James Lardner over at the excellent Remapping Debate site on how Pete Peterson brings deficit idealism to students. Stan Collender's birthday tribute to Alice Rivlin. David Leonhardt on economic blind spots. Jobs are good -- even public sector ones, Ezra Klein reminds us. And Brad DeLong takes down a Tyler Cowen column.

2. Thanks to all those votes in the House so far, we already know that the House is polarized but that as Barry Pump points out Democrats aren't quite as unified now that they're in the minority.

3. The Republican war on women, from David S. Bernstein -- and on contraception, from Lindsey Beyerstein.

4. Conor Friedersdorf, continuing to take on blowhards; Beyerstein carves up O'Keefe. Also, Adam Serwer on Grover Nordquist and Jihad.

5. Did I say Adam Serwer? How about one from him on homophobia. And one on Gitmo. And one on W. and freedom.

6. Black gentrification, from Shani O. Hilton. Real good.

7. More political scientists...Seth Masket knows that government isn't a business. Lisa Blaydes and Drew Linzer study anti-American sentiment in Muslim nations. Henry Farrell has a good complaint about the NYT.

8. And in case you missed them originally: Superman and immigration, and you know that this Fun With Newt was one of my favorite things ever, even if they didn't ever do Newt with Bill McNeil.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

I guess this one has to be about Libya...

Part of the liberal fear about Libya seems to be that the administration has not really thought through the downside properly; many liberals, even those who are okay with the concept of aiming American bombs and missiles at bad guys and who agree that Qaddafi is a bad guy, don't believe that anyone has answered the "what comes next?" question to their satisfaction. Here's my question: do you trust Barack Obama to avoid turning this thing into a morass? Any more than you would have trusted, say, George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? Why or why not?

Or, to put it another way, how many coalition deaths do you expect in this intervention? 0-10? 11-50? More than 50? More than 500? Would your expectations be any different if any of the other recent presidents was serving now?

(Of course, there are certainly liberals who would oppose this action on other grounds; if you're in that boat, feel free to answer this one any way you would like).

Sunday Question for Conservatives

How's John Boehner doing so far? I know, we're not even at the three month point, but I think it's not too early to ask. Are you happy with what he's done so far as Speaker?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

Not much question here, right? Libya and Japan. Beyond that, well, the other events in the Middle East.

By the way...if I had to guess -- and it's just a guess, nothing more -- I'd guess that Libya winds up a lot less important than this week's headlines would indicate. Not that it isn't important, but I just think it might be on the overhyped side.

For a second guess, I'm very much on the side of those who suspect that (whatever the merits) the US nuclear power industry is now dead for another generation.

What else? I don't know that it mattered a lot, but the House vote on leaving Afghanistan was certainly interesting. There was also a three week delay for government shutdown...I'm pretty confident that the House vote on NPR goes in the "didn't matter" category.

OK, that's what I have. What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

Don't hate me: hate Steven Rubio, from whose (excellent) blog I'm stealing this item. Or blame Sean Forman. Either way, you're going to hate someone, because...well, I'll let Steven explain what's about to happen to you:
It sounds a bit pointless … well, it is, I guess … and it’s not clear at first exactly what your votes “mean.” But the design of the damn thing is pretty much perfect for creating a time-wasting addiction. You get two players, you vote for one or the other, and a new pairing appears. You think “oh, just one more,” you vote, new pairing, one of the players is a favorite of yours, you vote, new pairing, you think “oh, just one more,” and the next thing you know, you’ve wasted an hour.

And that’s why you’re going to hate me, at least if you are a baseball fan. Because one day, maybe not now, but one day, you’re going to go to the EloRater page, you’ll vote once or twice to see how it works, and an hour later you’ll wonder why you’ve wasted all that time.
That's all from me. I'm gonna go play. In case you missed it, that's baseball-reference's EloRater page. I have to do Wes Helms vs. Aaron Miles right now. See you later.

Will House Republicans Propose a Budget?

Ezra Klein has a nice item out this afternoon about the budget after today's CBO scoring of Barack Obama's budget (by the way, should I do a glossary post to explain stuff like that?) which ends:
My prediction, incidentally, is that this will hold true — perhaps even more true — for the Republican budget.
Which gets me thinking: do we really expect there to be a GOP budget? It's not clear why it's in their interest, at this point, to produce one. A formal budget proposal scored ten years out, or even five years out, isn't going to make Tea Partiers happy (they aren't going to get to balance), and even getting down below Obama's numbers after a year or two would require some cuts that would make other constituency groups upset. Paul Ryan's roadmap emphasizes far-future (in budgetary terms) cuts...even if everyone in the Republican conference wanted to sign on to that, and so far there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of enthusiasm, it isn't going to produce great numbers within the budget window. The safer path for the GOP leadership would be to just work on appropriations bills and bash the Democrats.

My understanding about the House rules passed by Republicans back in January give them the mechanism needed to maneuver without a formally passed budget; if that's the case, why go through the trouble of submitting one in the first place?

(The big advantage to working under a budget would be to use reconciliation to get things through the Senate. However, it's not likely that anything major is going to pass the House, narrowly pass the Senate and then be signed into law; any major budget deal is going to wind up having 60 votes in the Senate regardless of procedural requirements).

I guess I won't go out on a limb and make a firm prediction, but it sure wouldn't surprise me if the House Republicans decide to just ignore the "budget" part of the budget process entirely this year.


I feel that I should be posting something about Libya. But mostly what I have to say is that I think it's really too early to have a real sense of what's happening. I've read some pretty good comments, but I think the one I liked the most was from Matt Yglesias, who said he was "struggling to develop real convictions about this Libya business." I'll send everyone over to Erik Voeten at the Monkey Cage as well.

As far as the presidency is concerned: I don't particularly worry about tyranny as far as the president acting "alone" (it's not alone; the executive branch is with him, apparently), but I do think that it would be smart for Barack Obama to press Congress for a rapid vote of some kind once they get back in town. At least, that is, assuming that any sort of military action is ongoing in ten days or so. Generally, the more that Obama can broadly share whatever actions are to come, the less risk there is for him. And given that military action and foreign policy is always inherently risky, presidents who do believe such actions are necessary should do what they can to dilute their personal exposure.

More, I'm sure, later.


As expected, this is the second installment of a continuing item. The House is going taking a break for a week, so it's time to check in on Republican promises that the "repeal" vote back in January was only the first step in a repeal-and-replace agenda.

So how's that "replace" phase going? Not so much. Still haven't seen a bill, yet (it's possible someone has introduced something, but certainly no high-profile launch). What about (as promised) committee hearings to develop a new bill? Nope.

As I did last time, I checked with the three main committees that might be holding hearings. Ways and Means had a hearing on health care fraud, but there's no indication that it's in the context of developing a bill. Energy and Commerce had two hearings about ACA implementation and funding (here and here), both of which would be appropriate to a strategy of amending and improving ACA but utterly irrelevant to replacing it. Ed and Labor...sorry, Education and the Workforce held a hearing on employer health care costs, which seemed from the subcommittee press release to be focused mainly, again, on bashing "ObamaCare" and its supposed "government takeover of health care."

Now, I should note that subcommittee Chair Phil Roe did hint in that press release that replacement was still on the agenda. And it's still only been two months. But, at least as I can gather from the materials on the various committee web sites, replace is still just empty rhetoric, primarily employed because polling shows that repeal-only is massively unpopular.
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