Thursday, September 1, 2011

Notes and Stuff

I'm mostly still over at Plum Line, but I figured I should drop in with a few quick notes, if not an actual full-out post...

1. You all know that the speech scheduling flap is one of those things that absolutely, completely, Doesn't Matter without my having to tell you, right? See Stephen Stromberg.

2. The idea of term limits for SCOTUS is back, thanks to Rick Perry. Jonathan Chait and Kevin Drum weigh in on the "pro" side. I remain on the fence.

3. I'm missing being in Seattle for the political science meetings more than I expected to. Maybe I shouldn't have bailed! Oh well. If anyone hears of any bloggable good stuff there, or if you've written something you would like a bit of publicity for, tell John Sides let me know.


  1. Term limits for SCOTUS would require a Constitutional amendment. Not going to happen in my lifetime, but then, I'm old. Would not mind Thomas resigning in disgrace, though.

  2. So I was intrigued to click over to Stromberg's piece, guessing that he was going to be one of these guys positing that the timing of the speech didn't matter in the political arena. Stromberg was going to be a guy who would argue that we would all soon enough forget, and that it wouldn't impact Obama's popularity or status or other soft characteristics that the political class pays attention to but has little impact on real lives. Which, in fact, he turned out to be. And I said: oh boy, right again.

    Look, in the real world, that is to say, the non-political sciencey world, there are people suffering real problems because of a real lack of confidence among small businesspeople. For the leader of that real world to roll out a vaunted new plan whose very underpinning is hoped-for confidence from small businessman, to do so when none of the target audience is going to be paying the slightest bit of attention, is the height of political cynicism and cowardice.

    But Jonathan and Stromberg might be right. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe small businessmen really don't care a whit what the President says or does, maybe they always act on their own interests, indeed, maybe the Presidency is generally a black box the interior of which is largely irrelevant to the functioning of the empire.

    As a professional political scientist, Jonathan, wouldn't you at least like your President to fake it a little?

  3. In an important sense, yes, the speech flap absolutely does not matter. The enormous majority of Americans will not hear about or could not care less, as is totally appropriate.

    But I think it's wrong to completely blow this off as an absolute nothing (which, frankly, I see too often from political scientists, who spend a lot of time explaining how almost nothing cultural/human agency realm matters when it comes to elections--a point with a lot of validity that I think often gets taken too far).

    One of the perceptions of Obama gaining a lot of traction right now, arguably more so with his supporters, is that he is "weak" or a "coward." While I'm critical of the president, and voted for him, I'm not a fan of this critique, which I find to be rather facile on the whole. But it is becoming a bit of a meme, and this non-story only adds to that. To take just one anecdotal and therefore not very powerful point of data, over at TPM there were 500+ comments on this issue on one article, including from a bunch of strong supporters of Obama who are increasingly seeing the administration as weak or politically inept. There was intense frustration--and these are obviously political nerd types--that the administration would seemingly whiff on something so trivial.

    Now is this perception necessarily going to cost him the election, or even necessarily matter in any way at all? No, of course not, but I don't think it's the case that election prognostications can basically be reduced to economic conditions. Seemingly ephemeral crap can influence perceptions of candidates in a way that can affect results in a close election (the best recent example is perhaps 2004, where it is entirely possible that the ridiculous Swift Boat campaign did enough damage to Kerry to let Bush eke out a victory).

    The "Obama is weak" meme could have an influence on liberal activists and some non-trivial number of voters, and it's possible that will matter. This is actually an incredibly silly example of that meme, but to the extent that it perpetuates it the scheduling flap could have some relevance. As such I don't think it should be completely dismissed, much as I would prefer that to be the case.

  4. 1. I agree the timing of the speech matters not at all. I do think that Obama yet again showing weakness before the GOP is important in that it adds to an ever growing impression of a President who prioritizes bipartisanship over everything else including the economy and his own re-election. I also think there's no chance the content of the speech will at all be proportionate to the continuing economic crisis we face because if it did have big ideas, then Republicans wouldn't like it (they won't like it anyway).

    2. I have long been in favor of either term limits or requiring SC justices to be reappointed every, say, 8 years. The fact that Perry is supporting the idea does give me pause though. If people like him are in favor of it, that makes me scared there must be something about the idea that I'm missing that would result in conservative policy results that would otherwise not happen.

  5. +1 Geoff Johnson.

    And the result of disenchanted liberal voters? Lower turnout among D across the board. And what does that turn into -- D downticket races losing.

    Mr Obama needs to remember he is the head of the Democratic party, and start acting like it.

  6. Normally, I would agree that speech scheduling flap is overblown but not now. Obama just had the worse month of his presidency. He is a year away from re-election and this speech was supposed to start his political comeback and his staff screws up the timing and then has to back down to Congress. Obama has little room for error over the next year and unforced ones that make you look weak & incompetent are a very big deal

  7. Anyone who thinks this was a Very Big Deal needs to take a breath and reassess. It's not all about who comes out of washington's pettiest of petty squabbling looking 'strong' or 'weak.' In fact, it's not about that AT ALL. It only seems to be about that if a) you have your head stuck so far up inside that cloud of nonreality that you think things like the optics of yesterday could even possibly matter, and b) while in that haze, you have a pre-existing narrative you are actively looking for confirmatory data points to pin onto it.

    No offense to anyone intended.

  8. The speech timing was not a big deal at all.


    It does seem indicative of Amateurville at the White House. They picked a date, and either a) did not realize the GOP was debating that day or b) wasn't committed to that as a date, so they folded like a house of cards because they didn't care much about it. Both of those mistakes are the kinds of things we take as evidence of weak campaign staff from folks like Palin, Bachmann, or anyone else. And the thing is, Obama shouldn't have staff that weak 3 years into the damn presidency.

    So, no, the speech won't matter, and neither does the date it's on, and neither does the GOP debate. But, come's just inept.

  9. Michael I don't think there is really anyone saying that it was a "really big deal," my argument above was far more mild than that, namely that it might not be completely irrelevant as Jonathan was arguing.

    I think it's hard to deny that the president has a bit of a problem now with a perception in some quarters that he is "weak." It doesn't matter whether that is fair or accurate, the fact is a number of activist types on the left, in particular, feel that way. This is the sort of incident that could feed into that belief, and that overall impression could be a bit of a drag on the president during his re-election campaign.

    Or it might not really matter in the slightest. But really dumb incidents can affect electoral outcomes in small ways, and this really dumb incident MIGHT be part of a larger pattern in terms of perception of a candidate. I think that's a mild and not unreasonable claim.

  10. Why it matters is because the President will need a huge, enthusiastic turnout of his base to win re-election. And episodes like this only serve to further demoralize the base and make it believe the President will never, ever fight the Republicans for anything. We need to see him standing up to the radicals who are determined to see his Presidency and the country fail not always caving in to them.

  11. Matt Jarvis above made my point far better than I did.

    It matters both in perception & in reality if the President's senior staff is acting like it's Amateur Hour. The speech flap was positively Palinesque at a time where Obama needs to build positive momentum if he has any hope to save his Presidency.

  12. Another shift the polysci people may not be factoring in.

    Ever since the dean campaign, your average door-knocker on a political campaign is just as informed as James Carville. In fact, they probably go home and overdose on the political blogs.

  13. @charlie: pet peeve, but we're not studying multiple science, so I strongly prefer polisci to polysci. Again, personal pet peeve. Carry on.

    As to whether speechschedulinggate will have an impact, I really seriously doubt it. Rather, it's a symptom that usually suggests a disease, but one that should be nigh impossible for a sitting president to have. So, it's perplexing. Were this four years ago, i'd say candidate Obama's staff is green, and that indicates that they won't be good at organizing for caucuses or stuff like that.

    I truly doubt any liberal just decided not to vote in 2012, though. Liberals are going to show up in 2012 not because they love Obama, but because they'll DESPISE Perry. Conservatives, same thing. And indies/moderates just aren't paying any attention to stuff like this.

  14. "I truly doubt any liberal just decided not to vote in 2012, though"

    Actually, I'm fairly certain at least one did. When you're dealing with 75 million people one will be ticked off enough to vote.

    But that isn't the point. Let's go granular. Look at Virginia, which Obama could have carried. Fair bet to say it isn't going blue this time. Depressed liberals in Northern Virginia plus even minor downticks in african american voters gives the senate seat to Allen.

    The president's strategy makes some sense for him. But it is going to hurt his party even more, and that makes his ability to cut deals -- which apparently isn't that great - even worse.


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