Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oy, Bai

Matt Bai complained in the NYT Magazine on Sunday (yeah, as usual I'm a bit behind on the Sunday papers)* about the proposed Ike Memorial, saying "I mean, Ike was a terrific general, but was he really one of our greatest presidents?"


Assuming we're talking here about just the world of public affairs (so leaving aside Louis Armstrong, Willie Mays, Martin Scorsese, Bob Mould, and other great Americans from other walks of life), are your really going to top Ike? Let's see...for the twentieth century, the consensus Greatest President is certainly FDR, and there's probably something very close to a consensus that King is the greatest non-president. Both have memorials. But I think an excellent case can be made for Ike as a logical third choice.

First, his value added as president. It's pretty high. The consensus of academic and other expert surveys puts him at 5th among 20th century presidents, behind FDR, TR, Wilson, and Truman. Since I think Wilson belongs somewhere, er, below that...I think you can make an argument that Ike is in a group for #2, and it's hard to argue he's much lower than 5th. That's pretty good! But then his value added outside of his presidency is extremely high for a president. Not, I'd say, as high as King. But in a group there of the other important non-presidents of the twentieth century, along with Warren, Humphrey...I don't know; pick your favorites. Want to argue Thurgood Marshall? George Marshall? Fine, but Ike is going to be at the very least in the running for top ten -- this, again, just for outside of his presidency. No? (Remember, we're just considering public affairs, so no  So we have a top-five president who may well be top-five for outside of his presidency as well. Certainly puts him above, say, Truman and TR, not to mention Wilson, at least unless you put a lot of emphasis on having a pre-political career as a political scientist.

Now, I can understand an argument that warriors should be de-emphasized in our political culture, but that would be a real change, for better or worse. And Bai's concerns about Taft notwithstanding, I don't think we've really gone overboard on twentieth century figures, at least so far. So, yeah, Ike seems like a pretty reasonable choice to me. I don't know that it's necessary for him to have a major memorial, but neither do I think of him as a marginal case to celebrate in some serious way.

*Sorry, couldn't find a link to it; it's just a short little thing on the one-page magazine page.

Romney's Skills and the General Election

Over at PostPartisan, I'm arguing today that Romney is underrated, and actually has important political skills. I don't think it's just luck that he's emerged as the almost-certain nominee.

Projecting that's what I expect. Romney will be under a lot of pressure, just as John McCain and George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole were, to find a suitably conservative running mate to excite the party. He'll handle it reasonably well, more like Dole than like the other two. He'll give a solid convention speech that will beat expectations...that's an easy one, all the mediocre orators and nominees who have struggled during nomination season beat expectations in their convention speeches. He'll perform adequately in the presidential way to predict whether he'll "win" them or not, but he won't embarrass himself or his party. His campaign operation will be reasonably scandal-free, at least unless he's really heading for a blowout loss (for reasons other than his electioneering skills). His move to the center will be somewhat awkward, but that's more a function of the situation (and the current GOP) than the candidate.

In short, he'll be a perfectly adequate candidate. If he loses -- and Obama is probably a slight favorite now, but if the economy really is improving then Obama becomes a solid favorite -- he'll be seen as dull and uninspiring, and every campaign gaffe will be magnified in retrospect. Republicans will vilify him as not sufficiently conservative to have excited the party. But in reality, every candidate commits gaffes, every candidate has weaknesses to attack and exploit, and every candidate is insufficiently conservative for the current GOP.

Of course, if he wins, people will discover no end of virtues in him, and a lot of those will be overblown, too. He's not a great politician. But he's a good one, and he'll almost certainly be an adequate general election candidate. Which is, really, the best a party can hope for most of the time.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to leap baby Bart Stupak, 60. Most of you only know Stupak from the ACA fight, but I've been following him for some time; one of my undergrad students wrote about him, Fenno-style, in something I worked on long ago when I was back in grad school. So I've always payed at least a little attention to Stupak over the years. I thought he was a good Member.

Moving on to the good stuff:

1. Reihan Salam reads the epic Bawn, Cohen, Karol, Masket, Noel, and Zaller party theory paper. I have my differences with them, but it's good to see great political science work getting a wide audience.

2. Greg Sargent notes that the birth control wars are coming to Senate races.

3. Shani Hilton reads the WaPo coverage of black women and is, shall we say, not impressed.

4. Matt Glassman and I have been having a sort of "how fast would unicorns be if they were real?" argument about deadlocked conventions, and he took another run at it yesterday. I think I've maybe half-convinced him, which is fine because I'm only half-convinced myself.

5. And via Bouie -- this is absolutely brilliant. I've always argued that Lucas's mistake was that he really should have cut Phantom Menace down into a 10-15 minute prelude to Episode II, which leaves room to make a movie set during the Clone Wars...but Rod Hilton's ideas here, I think, make that entirely irrelevant.

Romney Wins Two

Over at Plum Line I have a quick reaction to Romney's nice night in Michigan and Arizona.

Just to add a bit to what I said over there...I hope you don't mind if this is a bit self-something or other, but I'll start with something a bit more generally interesting I hope.

As I'll discuss below, I think Romney wrapped up the nomination in either South Carolina or Florida. I still do not believe that there's convincing evidence that he had it sewn up any earlier than that. If I recall correctly, Ed Kilgore wrote a column a ways back arguing against that idea, and I strongly agree with least to the extent that there's no major information that we don't know about yet. Barring that, however, I do believe that Tim Pawlenty could have broken through last summer had he happened to have had one or two good debates, and if that had happened or if he had found some other way to generate positive buzz, he might well have been the nominee. I have no idea why Rick Perry was so awesomely bad in the debates, but had he begun to improve just one debate earlier (and therefore avoided the iconic "oops" moment) I think it's very possible he would have regained enough ground to do well in Iowa, and then have been viable going forward. As for Rick Santorum, well, his initial break-out was very unlikely, but after that I have no idea why Republican party actors were so uninterested in rallying to him. Perhaps there was something he could have done differently in the week between Iowa and New Hampshire to change that. Maybe just showing up early on the networks and proclaiming victory while they were counting the votes in Iowa might have moved the needle enough. The point is that it probably didn't have to be this way. Romney may have always had the best chance to win, but it was still just a possibility, not a certainty.

OK, on to a little self-assessment, again with my apologies for being self-indulgent. I didn't quite have the nerve to say it at the time, but realistically I thought that Romney nailed down the nomination in South Carolina. Yes, South Carolina. The one that Romney got clobbered. I did say after that primary that "he’s probably a bit closer to winning it all now than he was after New Hampshire" and, as always, I ruled Newt Gingrich out, so all that was good, but I did say that Santorum "may still be barely viable." I should have taken the leap; it is what I was thinking, but it just didn't seem quite right to say it. After all, a week earlier I had said that if Newt won South Carolina (which I thought was unlikely, so I sure got that wrong), then Romney "would still all but certainly win the nomination."

Then, after Florida, I did call it over:
At this point, Romney essentially has the nomination wrapped up. Yes, people will point out that only a very small portion of delegates has been selected, but most of these contests are usually long over when the winner finally hits the mark that technically clinches it. Realistically, only some sort of external and utterly unexpected event could derail Romney now.
And I've been pretty much treading water ever since. As, for that matter, has Romney.

To grade myself...I think I've been a pretty good guide to the general structure of the race. The only thing I think I really was wrong about, as I've said, was that I should have noticed that Santorum might be viable in the very unlikely event that he ever took off, unlike Newt and Bachmann and Cain. Otherwise, though, I don't have anything I feel bad about on that score. And it's still not clear that Santorum was ever viable, for whatever that's worth.

Where I've been useless was in medium-term predictions about specific states. I was quick to see Santorum's surge in Iowa once it started, but didn't anticipate it at all. I thought Santorum would do much better in New Hampshire. I didn't see Newt's South Carolina surge in advance. I certainly didn't see Santorum's Colorado/Minnesota shocker. I got a few things right, but my score is terrible on these.

On the other hand, I have a ridiculously good record on election-day (or day-before-election) picks. I'm pretty sure, alas, that it's mostly luck, but I've had a string of hits on those guesses, starting with Santorum in Iowa and including the right call on Michigan today. So make of that what you will.

At any rate, while I think it's "over" in the sense that Romney is the nominee unless, as I said, some sort of external event happened (and here I'm thinking about a major scandal or health issue or something along those lines), that still leaves the possibility that we'll have heavily contested primaries for some weeks yet. Or, perhaps, Romney will win Ohio and one or more of GA/TN/OK next week, and the general election campaign will begin for real next Wednesday. But more about that, I think, later.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Arizona and Michigan Day

I guess I should post something about Election Day in Arizona and Michigan. Well, I've posted a couple of things already, so this is my "Elsewhere" post for the day, too. At Plum Line, I argue that there's a big story going on in that conservatives have already won on policy within the GOP, regardless of which candidate eventually wraps up the nomination. In my other piece, I urge the press not to ignore (winner-take-all) Arizona, but note that they probably will, given the normal media biases. Which ones? There's a bias towards keeping nomination fights going as long as possible (for both parties; hey, don't forget all the speculation about a primary challenge to Obama last year); there's also a bias towards covering new developments, and everyone believes that Arizona is a done deal for Romney. But, I point out, that doesn't mean it isn't important -- and that unless something very surprising happens, Romney will have a good night in both total votes and delegates.

Anyway, that went up a few hours ago, and it sure doesn't seem to be doing any good; I'd guess that the ratio of Michigan to Arizona mentions out there are around 25-1, maybe more. Expect plenty of hard spinning by Romney to remind everyone about the Grand Canyon State later tonight, but everyone else has incentives to ignore it.

By the way -- I'm guessing a Romney win in Michigan. It's just a guess; the polling is far too close for anything more.

As always, the spin is interesting -- how will neutral Republican opinion leaders (including Fox News in general) treat the results? Meanwhile, MSNBC should, if party incentives hold, certainly be treating tonight as a massive defeat for Romney, if at all plausible. So that's something to watch for as the returns comes in.

Dark Horses And Other Extinct Species

Matt Glassman has a really good point that there's a real difference between talking about a "dark horse" candidate and talking about a potential deadlocked convention. He's right: these two things are conceptually different. Could a dark horse emerge from a deadlocked convention? Sure, it's possible. But it's more likely that one of the current candidates would win. The whole discussion, meanwhile, just shows again how difficult it is to use the vocabulary developed for the convention (that is, pre-1972) system while discussing modern contests. For one thing: remember, before candidates had to run in primaries and caucuses and before they had to file with the FEC, the whole question of who was running and who wasn't was a lot murkier than it is now. Or: the pre-convention period was sort of similar to the first three years of the invisible primary these days, when it's not always easy to know who is a candidate and who is not.

Matt doesn't think much of my nightmare scenario of one or more candidate's delegates bolting the convention:

I don’t see this as a possibilty, even conditional on a deadlocked convention...While there is probably intense personal loyalty among committed delegates (the campaigns choose them), I don’t see the schism required in the paty to support bolting. When bolting has occurred in the past, it has almost always occurred over a single buring issue — the Southerners walking out of the Democratic convention in 1860 (slavery; or more specifically the defeat of platform support for Dred and a federal slave code for the territories) or 1948 (segregation). And in both of those cases, there’s a fair amount of evidendce that the bolters were acting at least plausibly rationally, in an attempt to push the election in the House of Representatives. A bolt at the 2012 GOP convetion would plainly not accomplish this, as there would be no visible way for the bolting candidate to get on the ballots.
And so the only reason to bolt would be in an attempt to wrestle the nomination away from the other candidates and for oneself. But this is obviously a high-risk strategy, and one that would probably be net-negative for the successful candidate. Now, net negative could be arguably better than not having the nomination, but party actors — particularly those whose job depends on winning the election — would be uniformly against it. 
I'm going to stick up for my argument a bit. The thing is: Matt's objections are also objections to getting to a deadlocked convention in the first place. So if they really reach Tampa with no resolution, then that means that the party didn't unify around one candidate during the primaries and caucuses, and they didn't work something out during the two months between Utah and Tampa, and they didn't work out anything in the first days of the convention. If all that happens, then either the rules and norms of the game are somehow getting in the way of cooperation (contrary to what I and some others believe, which is that the rules and norms of the game facilitate cooperation), or that there really is some sort of serious schism either predating the nomination battle or caused by it.

So basically, if we grant the implausible premise of a deadlocked convention...I'm going to say that all bets are off, and lots of chaotic outcomes are very possible. Including the possibility that some of the actors involved may not behave very rationally at all. For two reasons: one is the emotions of the moment, but another is that a lot of the delegates are probably not very sophisticated or experienced political actors at all.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Paul Krugman, 59, blogger, columnist, and, oh yeah, a pretty good economist, from what I understand.

1. Fascinating reporting on Rick Santorum's college days, by Molly Redden.

2. Dana Goldstein on Santorum, Barack Obama, and vocational education.

3. Where did Santorum get his take on JFK? Sarah Posner explains. See also a good Ed Kilgore post.

4. David Frum really, really didn't like Mitt Romney's Detroit speech -- the substance, that is.

5. And an outstanding AP story, by Malcolm Ritter, about voters in primary elections.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Even If It's Deadlocked, It Probably Wouldn't Be Deadlocked

I wrote about this a while ago, but a tweet just now reminded me: InTrade's current market for "brokered convention" is absolutely insane. It's now at 20%, which is approximately 19.999% too high. OK, I'll take seriously an argument that it's really only 19.9% too high, but it's somewhere in there.

Actually, this is sort of an excuse to make a point I've been meaning to add to this discussion about contested or deadlocked conventions. Here's the deal: InTrade defines "brokered convention" as a multiballot convention:
If the Presidential nominee is not decided after the first round of delegate voting at the party convention the convention will be considered "brokered" (i.e. it takes multiple rounds of voting by party delegates to decide the nominee).
But the thing is, even if we have the highly unlikely event that the normal delegate accumulation process doesn't yield a winner, it's still very likely that everything will be settled long before the convention. Not certain, but very likely.

Once again, there are two possible scenarios. One would be a contested situation, in which one candidate comes close close enough that he only needs to win over some of the unpledged or unbound delegates in order to get to 50% + 1. In that case, unless the candidate was clearly unacceptable to party actors (Ron Paul this year), it's almost certain that he would pick up enough of those delegates in plenty of time to have a normal, ordinary convention. Remember, the last event in the primary season is in Utah on June 26* -- but the convention isn't until August 27-30. That's two whole months, more than enough time to resolve it.

On the other hand, in the even less likely scenario of a true deadlocked convention, in which pledged or bound delegates to three or more candidates make it impossible for anyone to get to 1144 delegates...we'll still probably get there in time. Everyone in the party who is not specifically tied to a candidate is going to have a massive incentive to settle things as soon as possible, and the odds are that even in this situation, one of the candidates would concede defeat and drop out without it actually going to the convention. After all, most conventions during the last generation of the old mixed system (through 1968) were resolved on the first ballot, even though they were all "contested" by modern standards. So it would probably get worked out in advance.

Probably. But not for sure. There is a real possibility that everyone digs in and refuses to budge, and that there's real multiballot chaos in Florida. I think that's extremely unlikely this year; it's possible, but unlikely, for it to ever happen under current rules and procedures.

But the main point here is that whatever the odds are that things will not be resolved by late June, the odds are smaller -- and perhaps considerably smaller -- that they won't be resolved by August 27.

*The last event is June 26, but I don't really know when the very last delegates are selected; those states with caucuses or other multilevel procedures for selecting the actual people to go to Tampa will all have begun their process by then, but I don't actually know whether all of them will have finished. Not to mention that Texas could wind up going really late, as the date for their primary is still unresolved.

Elsewhere: ACA for Obama, and More on Santorum's Slim Support

At Plum Line today, I argued that ACA is unlikely to be a significant liability for Barack Obama this fall -- and at any rate, the current polling on it is unlikely to predict how it will play then.

And at PostPartisan, I talked about another aspect of what I find the most fascinating thing in this GOP nomination cycle: the almost complete endorsement shutout for Rick Santorum. This time, I suggested that in addition to the lack of support causing his recent slide in the polls, it may also have predicted it: perhaps one of the reasons the people who have worked with him aren't supporting him is because they didn't think he was national candidate material. Of course, as I mention there and have said before, there's also the possibility that many of them, even strong conservatives, really support Romney but just don't want to say so out loud.

I still basically think that Santorum could have had an excellent chance of winning the nomination had high-profile conservatives rallied to him after Iowa (yes, even if he had apparently finished a few votes behind Romney). That can't be proved, nor can we prove why they didn't. We sure know that it happened -- or, rather, didn't happen, however.

Mitt Romney and the GOP War on Budgeting

I very much like Jonathan Chait's piece today about Mitt Romney's new tax plan, which as Chait says makes it clear that Republicans will once again ignore -- and explode -- the budget deficit if they get the chance, just as they did in 1981 and 2001. If you don't know what "dynamic scoring" is or why it's a tip-off of GOP intentions, you should definitely read it. Actually, you should read it anyway; it's excellent.

Just one nitpick. Chait says: "Since Ronald Reagan, budget deficits have been something Republicans talk about in fervent and often apocalyptic tones when there’s a Democrat in the White House" and that "If Romney wins, the agenda will increasingly come to focus on “growth,” and his party’s monomania with debt will be increasingly quaint." I think that's not quite it. Republicans during the Reagan years and, once the deficit returned, during the Bush years, were almost always quick to condemn deficits and to support gimmicks such as a Balanced Budget Amendment or a line item veto that they claimed would end it. Yes, one can find the occasional statement to the contrary, such as Dick Cheney's famous line that "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter," but in public it's rare to hear it. Almost always, Republicans have one line about the deficit, whether it's 1981 or 1993 or 2001 or 2009: it's terribly horrible and will ruin the nation, and so what's necessary is cutting taxes and talking a lot about cutting spending, but rarely specifying specific cuts, and always getting very offended if anyone suggests that they would cut Social Security or anything else that's popular.

I'll agree that there is a bit of difference in the emphasis they publicly place on deficit-cutting, but GOP policy proposals for any of this rarely change -- because the stated goal of deficit reduction doesn't seem to constrain them at all to adopt policies which would match federal revenues with federal outlays. They are, to be sure, willing to paper that over at times (thus the "magic asterisk" that Chait refers to, which made Paul Ryan's budget appear to reduce the deficit even though in practice it probably would do the opposite; thus, going all the way back to 1981, David Stockman's famously phony numbers). But since at least 1981, actual, real, deficit reduction has both always been on their agenda in the abstract, and never been on their agenda in reality.

Catch of the Day

Alyssa Rosenberg watches a Lou Dobbs rant about...The Lorax and The Borrowers. Well, actually, about two new movies based on those classic books, which were apparently part of some sort of obscure left-wing conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America. As Rosenberg says:
But the lesson here is less that Dobbs is reaching to make his case in this particular instance. It’s how desperate conservatives are to marginalize some totally reasonable ideas. You can see this sort of thinking in the paranoid argument that bike lanes are part of a United Nations plot to control American communities or the extreme reaction to taxation. These are the sorts of arguments people turn to when they’re out of good, rational ideas to put up against something they just don’t want to happen, because it makes them angry or uncomfortable.
What I'd add are two things. One is that if you have a partisan press which makes most of its money off of chumps who are eager to believe the wildest things out there, then you have very little incentive to try for anything better. Real policy, and even real critiques of policy or politicians or culture, is hard. Making stuff up is a lot easier, and if your audience doesn't care and no one on your side is willing to call you out on it, then there's just a lot of incentive to take the easy road.

The other thing, and I said this the other day but it bears repeating, is that this kind of junk is generated naturally on all sides of the partisan divide. The difference, and it's a huge one, is that Democrats for the most part ignore or condemn such things when they arise on the left, but Republicans? Not so much. So you have a presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, who is peddling outright fantasies about euthanasia in the Netherlands, and we have another whose entire foreign policy case to the American people is based on an complete myth about "apology tours."

So are they "out of good, rational ideas"? Or just lazy because their market encourages it? Or both? Either way, it's sad and pathetic, and not good at all for producing viable public policy, conservative or liberal.

And: great catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to the great Kent Desormeaux, 42. I lived in Washington when Desormeaux was riding in Maryland, and, well, it doesn't get much more dominant than that. (Although I was also in the Bay Area in the 1990s, so there's that).

On to the good stuff:

1. Nate Silver has an excellent overview of the GOP delegate rules; Josh Putnam has an excellent rant about misconceptions about the delegate rules. I'm with Josh about calendar being more important than delegate allocation in this cycle, certainly so far.

2. Really good piece by Greg Marx last week looking at how liberals -- and some in the neutral media -- got Rick Santorum's "phony ideology" comment wrong, and what Santorum was actually saying.

3. Ed Kilgore notes that the only attacks that have worked, and almost the only ones that have been used, in GOP WH 2012 have been from the right .

4. CNN moderators talked the least, Fox moderators the most, during GOP debates. Eric Ostermeier reports a Humphrey School study.  I've previous noted that CNN (at least in the early debates; I haven't tracked since then) tended to ask the most straight-up issue questions (that is, what is your position on X). Granted, they do toss away a big chunk on the front end with their silly introductions and the national anthem, but I think on the whole CNN has done the best job.

5. And a wonderful post by Matt Glassman on the occasion of Arizona's 100th birthday, all about how Arizona (and New Mexico) wound up looking like they do now thanks to the politics of the 1850s and 1860s.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

How do you think Barack Obama has done with regard to the uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa over the last year plus?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Assuming that Mitt Romney is the nominee...who do you want for VP?

What Mattered This Week?

Significant news again in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Yemen, at least.

Congress was out of town, so nothing much there, and no GOP primary, although there was a debate in Arizona. The most important thing in GOP WH 2012, however, was the continued silence by conservatives who are still not backing Rick Santorum.

The Supremes took an affirmative action case, with court-watchers predicting that they'll knock out affirmative action.

What else? What did you think mattered this week?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

So apparently the Giants are in fact thinking of Angel Pagan (30 year old season, 331 lifetime OBP, 322 last year OBP) as the everyday leadoff hitter, and Melky Cabrerra (also 331 lifetime OBP, although at least he'll be 27 this year) as the everyday left fielder and, perhaps, the guy who will bat second.

This is an excellent plan to keep Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey's RBIs really low, so as to keep them more affordable in the future.

Woo Sabean!

Mitt Romney and the Birth Control Conspiracy Theory

Have you heard the one about the wild White House conspiracy with the press to trip up Republicans on birth control?

If you were watching the debate Wednesday night, you have, because Mitt Romney couldn’t wait to peddle it:
ROMNEY: John, what's happened -- and you recall back in the debate that we had George Stephanopoulos talking out about birth control, we wondered why in the world did contraception -- and it's like, why is he going there? Well, we found out when Barack Obama continued his attack on religious conscience.
It wasn’t a Romney original; conservative talk shows and blogs had been running with the idea for a while. Steve Benen did a good item on this yesterday, but I think it's worth digging up all the bones on this one.

The idea was, as one conservative blogger said:
There was no active controversy over contraception, it wasn’t in the news, and there were far more pressing political issues.
But then:
Well what do you know, about a month later the Obama administration proposes administrative rules under Obamacare which would require free contraception be provided even by religious institutions which oppose contraception on religious grounds. It’s almost as if Stephanopoulos got the memo first. Unless, of course, you believe in coincidences.
And that’s where Mitt Romney got his conspiracy theory talking point from.

So, was George Stephanopoulos secretly in cahoots with the White House? I have no idea about that, but it’s a great manufactured controversy, isn’t it?

Only thing is: “no active controversy”? Well, putting aside the thirty year war over whether there’s a right to privacy in the constitution, which is the perfectly ordinary but appropriate thing that Stephanopolous was asking about…why, yes, there are several active controversies surrounding contraception. First was the controversy that conservatives suddenly discovered, or pretended to discover, that all the fuss has been about this month. But anyone who was following ACA implementation knew all about that; for example, here’s an op-ed opposing the then-in-progress regulations from back in September.

Second, putting aside the particular issue of religion: Republicans happen to be campaigning on repealing ACA, which has as one of its potentially most popular provisions the requirement that insurance cover contraception. Of course, that’s the general provision that made the Catholic complaint relevant, but again: this is in fact a major issue in the campaign, and was made one by the Republican candidates themselves.

That’s not all! House Republicans and Republicans in various state legislatures spent last year attacking Planned Parenthood. “No active controversy”? That’s a pretty major active controversy. It is possible that some Republicans are oblivious to the fact that many people use Planned Parenthood for birth control, and in fact most women who use Planned Parenthood probably think of it primarily as a place to get birth control (yes, there are other health services there too, but you know, it is in the name of the organization). But just because they’re oblivious about it – if they are – doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

So: there have been at least three overlapping but separate controversies regarding contraception. Do they rate a debate mention? Certainly, ACA repeal does. Again, just because Republicans want to talk about "government takeovers" and, understandably, not the actual benefits to consumers that ACA will produce doesn't mean that questions about those benefits are somehow off limits.

Regardless; even if none of these things were going on, key Supreme Court doctrines are certainly legitimate fodder for presidential debates questions and always have been. Which is all that the original question was about. Republicans, in my view, would have had a plausible case to make that the way Stephanopoulos asked about the right to privacy and Griswold v. Connecticut, the case that established that right, was tilted against them. But the idea that the question and the general topic were somehow inexplicable in a presidential debate...well, that's just nonsense.

And for Mitt Romney to bring it up? I'm entirely convinced that far-right and far-left conspiracy theories are basically equivalent, but it's impossible to imagine a serious Democratic presidential candidate repeating nutty things that came across the email or showed up in the goofier liberal blogs. If anyone can think of an example, please let me know. Republican presidential candidates? It's practically the bulk of their rhetoric.

Future Rick Santorum Issues

Rick Santorum’s latest effort to prove he’s in the mainstream is an accusation that Barack Obama wants kids to go to college because…American colleges are “indoctrination mills” and they’ll all lose their religious faith if they attend. I’d like to say something about this, but both Kevin Drum and Ed Kilgore really have it covered, so I’ll just try to stay ahead of the curve by predicting future Rick Santorum discoveries:

1. Starbucks is pretty obviously brainwashing Americans, what with their foreign drink sizes and pagan symbolism.

2. Soccer: why are the secularists foisting on us a sport played mainly in heathen nations such as Brazil and Mexico?

3. Cable companies, with their bundling policy, forcing regular Americans to have IFC, BBC America, and other weird anti-Christian TV in their homes.

4. I’m really not all that sure about whether water parks promote good, clean, wholesome values. Are you?

5. We all know that cosmopolitan liberal elites have run Hollywood from the start, but what’s with all the pantheistic junk they’re serving up now? Thor? Really?

6. Now, I’m not saying that HOV lanes and energy standards for refrigerators are Satan’s handiwork, but there’s every chance that they are. Better safe than sorry.

7. Everyone knows that Ikea is mainly a plot to force Americans to stay home on Sundays assembling bookshelves and cabinets instead of going to church, right? Insidious.

Granted, what I’d really like to hear is what Santorum thinks about rap music, but we can’t have everything, can we?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Edward James Olmos, 65. We've been rewatching BSG over on BBC America as they show it, and we're almost to the middle of season's the second time through for me, and it's holding up extremely well. I'm not certain it's the best acted show in TV history, but it's certainly on a very short list of contenders. In my view, it just gets better as it goes along, too.

And on to the good stuff:

1. If nominations have been Barack Obama's biggest weakness, then the DC Circuit is probably the worst of the worst. Good article by Joan Biskupic explains.

2. Steven Rattner blasts Mitt Romney over the auto bailout.

3. Mark Blumenthal asks his panel of "Power Outsiders" about the Arizona debate. Yes, he's still working with these GOP party actors, and has expanded to a national pool -- terrific stuff.

4. Depressing news about the further politicization of basic science eduction, from Blad Plumer.

5. And Uri Friedman has a good point about Newt's constant (public) calls for covert action, but I think the real way to understand this is that Newt probably realizes that it's a great opposition move to always call for covert operations, since the incumbent administration can hardly respond by pledging to do so (or by saying that they're already doing so).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Elsewhere: More Deadlock, Post-Debate, and Partisanship in Action

Over at Plum Line today, I'm looking around at what conservatives are saying about last night's debate and making (again) the point that their reactions are part of the party deciding.

At PostPartisan, I found an great example during the debate last night of how partisanship works.

And I was on the radio today, on "Here & Now" out of WBUR, Boston's NPR station, talking deadlocked (or brokered, or whatever) conventions. They pushed me a bit for definitions, and I wound up saying (although I haven't listened, so I'm not sure whether it wound up getting included or not) that a contested convention is one in which the winner is unknown but there are enough uncommitted or unbound delegates for at least the leader to win the nomination by adding some of them, while a true deadlocked convention would be one where the the distribution of committed/bound delegates make it impossible for any candidate to win on the first ballot, at least if everyone stays put where they are. So if 2001 delegates are needed to win and the distribution is 1700 Cooper, 1000 Molitor, 400 Yount, 100 Gantner, and 800 undecided, then we have a contested convention; if it's 1400 for Brett, 1200 for Patek, 800 for Balboni, 400 for White, and 200 undecided, then it's deadlocked, because the most anyone could get is 1600.

I don't know; I'm not sure there's any utility in trying to figure out different names for different types of something that's very unlikely to ever happen. But the categories make some sense to me. As long as no one is calling them brokered, since the thing that we're not going to have is certainly not brokered, whatever else it would be if we had it, which we won't.

(Station corrected)

The Limits of Campaigns

Nate Silver made the case this past Sunday in the NYT Magazine that Barack Obama will run a populist campaign because, all else equal, it works best for him in the electoral college.

Here's the problem with that: Silver's analysis depends on a massively unrealistic estimate about campaign effects. If the president goes populist, Silver speculates:
So let’s conduct a thought experiment. Suppose that against Romney, Obama does 10 points better among white voters whose households make less than $50,000 per year. The trade-off is that he does 10 points worse among whites making $100,000 or more and 15 points worse among whites making at least $200,000.
10 points! There's no way that an incumbent president can move voters that much by any combination of 4th year rhetoric and promises.

Fortunately, we have a bit of evidence to look at. Silver says, and I agree, that the president has shifted to a more populist tone in recent months, with policies to match. Since Gallup keeps week-to-week crosstabs on its daily tracking poll, we can see what effect, if any, the shift has. The categories don't match up perfectly -- Gallup only gives us ethnicity and income (and education) variables separately. But if there's any effect, it should show up, I'd say, in the income breakdowns. Gallup gives us four categories, by monthly income: the ones we're interested in are below $2000 (or $48K  $24K a year*) and above $7500 ($90K/year).

So: Obama gave his jobs talk to Congress on September 8. In the five weeks preceding his speech, the average approval rating difference between the "working class" and "rich" groups was 7 points (I'm using five weeks because the number jumps around quite a bit, as small-sample crosstabs in polls will do). And in the most recent five weeks, that gap has...been reduced, to under 6 points. Overall approval rating in the lowest income group went from 46.4% in August to 50.4% over the last five weeks; in the highest income category, the shift is from 38.4% to 44.8%.

Granted, these are not exactly Silver's groups, but the fact that they moved together -- and that there was more movement among the highest income group -- is certainly suggestive. Of course, it's unlikely that the president's rhetoric had much to do with the shift, which (I think Silver agrees) was primarily caused by improving economic conditions, along with getting farther away from the ugly debt limit fight. But that's the whole point; presidents really can't do much by rhetoric and position-taking alone to affect approval, or, as we get closer to November, vote choice.

Now, none of this means that Silver's advice to the Obama campaign is necessarily wrong. After all, even if the realistic maximum effects are closer to 1% than to 10%, well, Al Gore would have been very happy to get another 1% in Florida in 2000. Of course, whether the electoral college math works the same way at 1% or 2% instead of 10% is another question, as is the important question of whether the tradeoff Silver speculates about would really play out evenly overall, so that the campaign would merely be shifting where support comes from. So I'd still advise a bit of caution.

The larger point, however, is just to be very careful about anyone who claims very large campaign effects in general election presidential campaigns. The truth is that if they existed, we would know about it. Campaign effects in my view do exist...but we're talking about very modest stuff, and my guess would be that's even more minimized when we're talking about an incumbent president, who is mostly going to be stuck with the reputation he's built over the previous campaign and his time in office.

*Update: apparently multiplying by 12 was too much for me; I had this wrong originally. Sorry about that. I don't think it particularly changes the point, so otherwise I'm going to leave the post alone.

Two Questions About the GOP Debates

1. Why would a modern political party turn over a large chunk of influence over their nomination process to the candidate best able to...pack the room for debates, thus ensuring that his points would be interpreted as resonating with real voters and that whoever failed in this minor organizational achievement would risk getting booed if they attacked that candidate?

2. How is it that Mitt Romney didn't figure out that he was supposed to be packing the room until about the 17th or 18th debate of this cycle (and after living through the same thing in 2008)?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to the HBP king, Ron Hunt. He's 71. Managed to get himself plunked 50 times in 1971, which is 15 more than anyone has done it in the modern (post-1900) era.

Dust ourselves off and head to first, and then to the good stuff:

1. Daniel Drezner has more on the question of leaks -- making the case for the virtues of bureaucratic maneuvering over the whistleblower mentality. I agree!

2. Kevin Drum on Rick Santorum and The Crazy. Note: there really are parallel beliefs like these conservative ones, beliefs entirely detached from reality, held on the left. The difference is that basically not a single liberal politician in the US will go anywhere near those beliefs, and consequently they're only held by a small group of people on the fringes.

3. More on negative ads. Phil Arena responds to John Sides, and then John responds to that and to commenters.

4. Andrew Sullivan, on Rick Santorum's selective Catholic outrage. Since I'm certainly not a Catholic, I don't really have a dog in this fight, and I'm certainly not one to be bothered by hypocrisy...but, nevertheless, I'm very much with Sullivan on this one.

5. And Alyssa Rosenberg has compiled the known examples of Barack Obama, singing on camera.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Arizona Debate

I did a wrap for it over at Plum Line. Short version: these candidates are awful. I was a little more cranky than usual, so you might or might not enjoy that.

My usual practice is that I watch the debate with twitter, so it's basically MST3K style -- which has it's advantages and disadvantages. But then when it's over, I don't look at anything until I've sent my wrap in to the Post; I figure that I pick up on the reactions of individual moments from my twitter feed, but I want to reach my own conclusions about the debate as a whole. At any rate, looking around now it looks as if the press consensus is that Rick Santorum did poorly. I can see that -- in fact, several of my examples of poor debate skills used Santorum. Still, two major cautions. One is that what matters in the first instance is how all of this looks to undecided Republican primary voters, and they live in a very different world than almost all of the people who are punditing about it tonight. Including, for that matter, many conservative yakkers. But the second thing is that what matters even more than the first reactions of those GOP voters is the reactions of conservative opinion leaders, because they're the ones who are going to pick which clips to play, and which quotes to repeat. At least, on the shows that those undecided voters watch and listen to.

In other words, I'll repeat again what I've said before. As far as picking winners and losers -- don't trust me, don't trust most pundits. Sure, sometimes it's obvious, such as Rick Perry's famous gaffe. But usually, the winner of the spin war wins the debate, and you need to watch Fox News and the other partisan media outlets to get a sense of that.

Perot Myths

I have an item up at PostPartisan talking about third party candidates, but it also gives me an excuse to try again to debunk the myth that Ross Perot was a strong and effective champion of reducing budget deficits. It ain't true!

Here's what got me going. Tom Friedman quotes David Walker, Friedman's fave prospective 3rd party presidential candidate:
“He did three things,” says Walker. “He woke up the American people to the truth about our fiscal situation in clear, concise and compelling terms. He made the presidential debates much more substantive, and he helped to set the next president’s agenda, and, as a result, we made great progress in reducing the deficit from 1993 to 2000. Now we have lost all of that and more.”
None of these three claims are true. First of all, Perot's campaign began in 1992, but deficit politics totally dominated Washington for a full decade before that. On the third point, I don't think it's reasonable to read the record of the Clinton administration and conclude that their deficit focus in 1993 was inspired by Perot; it was, to the contrary, both regular Democratic policy from 1982 on, and shifted to a higher priority because of the all-mighty bond market and concerns about its effect on the economy, not fear of a direct electoral threat from the deficit.

And as for "made the presidential debates much more substantive": that's a good laugh. I defy anyone to run through the 1992 presidential debates and find anything substantive in anything Ross Perot said. Here's a very typical example. I'm sorry it's long, but I think it's useful to make the point:
PEROT: Step one, the American people send me up there, the day after election, I'll get with congressional--we won't even wait till inauguration, and I'll ask the president to help and I'll ask his staff to help me. And we will start putting together teams to put together--to take all the plans that exist and do something with them. Please understand. There are great plans lying all over Washington nobody ever executes. It's like having a blueprint for a house you never built. You don't have anywhere to sleep. Now our challenge is to take these things, do something with them. Step one, we want to put America back to work, clean up the small business problem, have one task force at work on that. The second, you've got your big companies that are in trouble, including the defense industries--have another one on that. Have a 3rd task force on new industries of the future to make sure we nail those for our country and they don't wind up in Europe and Asia. Convert from 19th to 21st century capitalism. See, we have an adversarial relationship between government and business. Our international competitors that are cleaning our plate have an intelligent relationship between government and business, and a supportive relationship. Then have another task force on crime because, next to jobs, our people are concerned about their safety. Health care, schools--one on the debt and deficit. And finally in that 90- day period before the inauguration, put together the framework for the town hall and give the American people a Christmas present. Show them by Christmas the first cut at these plans. By the time Congress comes into session to go to work, have those plans ready to go in front of Congress. Then get off to a flying start in '93 to execute these plans. Now, there are people in this room and people on this stage who've been in meetings when I would sit there and say, "Is this the one we're going to talk about or do something about?" Well, obviously, my orientation is let's go do it. Now, put together your plans by Christmas, be ready to go when Congress goes, nail these things. Small business--you've got to have capital, you've got to credit, and many of them need mentors or coaches. And we can create more jobs there in a hurry than any other place.
Remind you of anyone? It's Prince Herman on every subject other than taxes. No substance at all; elect me, and I'll come up with something. That's about it.

Meanwhile, Ross Perot spent the entire campaign ridiculing the budget deal Bush and Congress had made that actually did shrink the deficit, and the then spent the first four Clinton years bashing the 1993 budget which took care of the rest of the job.

On balance, I'd say that Ross Perot did absolutely nothing for deficit reduction, but if pressed I'd say his contribution, if it had any effect, tended to make deficit-cutting harder. There was no good reason for anyone to buy Perot myths twenty years ago, but there's even less reason now.

Tax Reform is (Almost) Impossible

Ezra Klein today has a terrific overview of why corporate -- and individual -- tax reform is so difficult. Part of this is a classic collective action problem. The advantage in a clean tax code is generally something that's equally shared by everyone, while the costs of removing each preference or loophole will be absorbed by specific corporations (or individuals), all of whom would be best off if tax reform was passed but their particular provision was retained. So if everyone gets their first preference, you get a reform that retains every preference, which turns out to reform at all.

Indeed, it's even worse. Remember, every single provision of the tax code is exploited by some company (or group of individuals) who would be aware of its loss. The gains, on the other hand, are a lot harder to see, even if they are real. So it's quite possible that individual corporations might mistakenly believe that reform will be flat-out bad for them (as opposed to the collective action problem in which they understand that it would be good, but would just prefer to opt out of the costs). And that's before getting to the problem that some individuals and departments within corporations might have mixed incentives here because tax reform might cost them their jobs.

And then there's yet another problem: tax reform is basically never a high priority for either party. It's no coincidence that the last major successful tax reform took place in 1985-1986, during a rare period in which not only was there divided government, but no one expect that to change in the near future. It's only in those situations when ambitious politicians looking for something to accomplish turn from their party's agenda, which is impossible to pass given divided government, and take what they can get. If there's unified government, the governing party naturally attends to its highest priority items that can pass -- no tax reform there. In divided government periods such as the current one in which one or both parties anticipates unified control after the next election, then the kind of bipartisan cooperation necessary is usually impossible. How often do you get those opportunities? Maybe 1955-1956 when Ike was president; perhaps chunks of the Nixon years; 1985-1986 for Reagan; 1989 and 1990 for George H.W. Bush; and 1997-1998 for Clinton. I'd have to double-check, but I think that's it...over the last century. However, it is worth noting that a status quo election or close to it this year might set up another such situation in 2013-2014.

Hey, maybe I should have put that up top in this post: if you really want tax reform above all else, vote the all-incumbent ticket in November.

But of course I'm very, very certain that there isn't a single person reading this who has revenue-neutral comprehensive tax reform as his or her top policy priority.

Watergate Wasn't a Press Story

Excellent column yesterday by Jack Shafer, which makes several very important points about leaks, the press, bureaucracies, and bureaucrats. Highly recommend it.

The occasion of the column is a new book coming out soon about Watergate and Mark Felt -- Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat. From what Shafer says, Max Holland in Leak gets it right: Watergate was fundamentally not a press story. It's probably true that had there been no press at all things would have been much easier for Nixon and his gang, and perhaps even easy enough for them to get away with it, but the point is that individual actors and actions by the press were never central to what was going on. The key players who brought the president down were the prosecutors, both in Justice and then the Special Prosecutors offices; the courts; and Congress. And, with the pressure that those people put on (and, to be fair, the press were part of it, if not the key actors), the whole thing collapsed internally. Oh, that, and that there was just a ton of good evidence against them. And, perhaps more than anything, Richard Nixon had alienated a large percentage of Washington, including his own party, by the way he conducted his presidency, just as Lyndon Johnson had before him.

All of which, or at least most of which, is just history, however interesting. For the lessons about reporting and governing, go read Shafer's column.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jeri Ryan, 44, Star Trek actor who played a bit role in the rise of Barack Obama. Which I suspect is not what she wants to be known for, so my apologies to her as well, but we are all political junkies around here. Meanwhile, I hadn't meant for this feature to be so Star Trek intensive, but I've actually passed on two or three others already; apparently being born in February is a prime qualification for getting a role. Perhaps I should just get on to the good stuff.

1. John Sides attempts to correct the record by pointing out the minimal effects of negative advertising.

2. Another remembrance of LBJ staffer Harry McPherson, this one from presidency scholar Matthew Dickinson.

3. Did you know that there was a work-sharing provision in the extenders bill passed last week? I didn't -- but Jared Bernstein gets us up to date.

4. Brad Plumer examines the evidence of connections between gas prices at the pump and presidential approval (and re-election). Citing Brendan Nyhan, he concludes that it's not apt to matter -- unless it derails the economy, in which case it matters a lot.

5. And the best news for blog readers this week is that The American Prospect has given Jamelle Bouie and Paul Waldman their own blogs. Both are highly recommended! The bad news is that the Prospect continues to make blogs difficult to read. Hey, American Prospect! They're blogs. We want to read the full item on the main page, or at least any item that's, say, three paragraphs or less. Or at least I do. At any rate, however you like reading blogs, make sure you add them to your rotation. long as I'm at it, I don't know that I've ever specifically recommended E.J. Graff's terrific blog, also at the Prospect. Here's a sample of her stuff.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Elsewhere Today: Debate Preview, Vanity Super PACs, and Deadlock Nightmares

Hey, folks a little bit of housekeeping: in addition to all the other cool places you can read me, I'm now going to be contributing to PostPartisan, which is (another) one of the blogs over at the Washington Post. I'll try to keep to the same pace here. But I'm not sure whether I'll wind up doing one post a day with links to whatever else I've done (usually a post over at Plum Line and another at PostPartisan, but sometimes there's a column -- see below), or if I'll try to do a separate follow-up post for each item elsewhere.

For today, I'll just be doing this one. Let's see...over at Greg's place, I did a debate preview. I'll do a wrap on the debate over there tomorrow, by the way, and of course I'll be tweeting it as usual. You do all follow me, right?

My first post over at PostPartisan is about vanity Super PACs and the presidential nomination process. I have a speculative hypothesis, by the way: I suspect that vanity Super PAC dollars might turn out to be somewhat similar to self-funding dollars -- that is, relatively ineffective. Of course, even if they don't actually produce votes, they could alter the nomination battle by preventing normal winnowing, which really could lead to disaster for parties.

Speaking of which, I'm also up with a Salon column about the disasters that could happen if we ever do get a true deadlocked convention. I came up with several possibilities, the last of which is a real doozy (what if a large chunk of delegates walks out, holds a rump convention, and claims that they are the legitimate Republican Party -- and entitled to the GOP ballot line in November?!?). OK, perhaps that's not all that likely, but check out the piece for others nightmares that lurk, and I bet that the creative commenters around here could come up with several more. Not that it's actually going to happen, at least not this time around.

Okay, that's about it for now. Except: thanks to all of you for your support.

Yeah, This Isn't Going To Work

Jeffrey Goldberg makes a reasonable point concerning Republican presidential candidates who believe that Iran is a weakness for Barack Obama -- that Obama has been "tougher" on Iran than George W. Bush was. Fair enough. On the other hand, I'm not sure that it matters in a campaign context; if swing voters believe that Obama has failed on Iran and care about it, they'll surely hold him responsible even if they can be convinced that Bush was worse (and the biggest advantage Obama has in that comparison, it seems to me, is skipped over by Goldberg: that Bush invaded Iran's hostile neighbor, evicted the anti-Iran government, and replaced it with a government which promises to be at least mildly friendly to Tehran, and more likely a firm ally. But I digress). But that's not the bottom line, which is that the group of swing voters who care about Iran is, absent military action, almost certainly tiny. So I'm not sure any of this makes any electoral difference.

I wanted to write about it anyway because Goldberg quoted Rick Santorum's claim that "If Barack Obama has taught us anything, it’s that experience matters." Helpful hint to Republicans: you really, really, really, are not going to be able to convince anyone that they should support you over Barack Obama on the basis of experience.

(OK, to be fair, it's not entirely clear from the context whether Santorum is claiming that his experience makes him a better choice than Obama or whether he's just claiming it makes him a better potential president than the other Republican candidates).

Getting back to something that's closer to a serious point and away from the fun cheap, really, there's no evidence that people vote on the basis of vague foreign policy threats. And purely based on my subjective reading of the various polls out there, I'd guess that a new military adventure anywhere, and especially in that part of the world, is a lousy selling point during WH 2012.

Catch of the Day

To Steve Benen, who finds four examples of Republican efforts to brand some Obama scandal or near scandal or whatever as "Obama's Watergate." Excellent fun.

Benen asks: "[C]an the right at least come up with a new touchstone to serve as a point of historical comparison?" Ooh, I don't think so. I mean, you're not going to want to call something Obama's Whitewater, much less Obama's Travel Office Scandal, are you? I mean, you don't want to telegraph going in that it's going to be a big fizzle. You could call something Obama's Lewinsky, but probably not unless there's sex involved somehow, and of course that one backfired on Republicans, anyway. And you hardly want to remind anyone of the fiascoes that took place during the George W. Bush administration, so you're not going to use Katrina or the Justice Department scandal, especially since Republicans I believe retain the position that nothing wrong was done in any of those. So Watergate it is, now and forever.

Which reminds me...I'm thinking of getting back to my Watergate blogging. Lots of stuff happened in winter 1971-1972, but my readily available sources don't have as much stuff to produce fun posts (the Kutler collection skips from September 1971 to May 1972). I mean, I can write narrative stuff, but I think direct quotes from the tapes (or other sources) were why I liked doing the Watergate posts. I don't think I'll start up again regularly until later in the spring, but perhaps I'll do some catch-up posts in the meantime. After all, there's plenty to report about...

The GOP Trouble on Taxes

New polling research out late last week shows exactly the mess that Republicans have made for themselves on taxes. A YouGov study by political scientists Gregory Huber, Conor Dowling, and Seth Hill shows a sharp divide between the way Democrats and Republicans think about tax fairness – and shows that independents side with Democrats.

The study asks people what they think a marginal rates should be for various levels of (high) income, beginning with families earning $100,000. At each level, it’s no surprise that Democrats preferred higher taxes than Republicans, with independents in each case falling in between. So neither party appears to have any advantage on the general amount of taxation, or perhaps Republicans have a slim edge. But beyond the overall level, the parties were also sharply divided on how progressive taxes should be. And here, independents are considerably closer to Democrats. So Democrats believe that marginal taxes on families earning $250,000 or $500,000 should be 8 points higher than on those earning $100,000, and independents have virtually the same preference (7 points), while Republicans want a flatter structure (3 point difference). The same was true, although it’s a closer call, for preferred taxes on families making $750,000 or $1M.
In other words, what the study found was that there’s a real divide about what constitutes “fairness.” Republicans tend to believe that fairness demands that everyone pay the same rate, while Democrats – and independents – believe that fairness requires the rich to pay more.

(From the study as presented, there’s no way to know whether Republicans differ here because people with those beliefs become Republicans, or if people who are Republicans learn to believe it. My guess is on the latter).

The dilemma for Republican politicians here is clear: their primary voters are pushing them into a position on taxes which embraces a version of fairness that few outside the GOP base share. So something such as Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan can be wildly popular among Republican voters, but electoral poison in November. Repeat across enough issues, and you wind up with a Mitt Romney, backing his way into a presidential nomination of party that doesn’t really like him very much while at the same time taking positions that could hurt him in November. For Republicans, there doesn’t appear to be any easy solution.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to John Lewis, Member of Congress and American hero, 72.

Straight to the good stuff:

1. David Mayhew on the most important elections in US history.

2. "Harry McPherson and Presidential Decision-Making," from Andrew Rudalevige.

3. Dylan Matthews surveyed "Modern Monetary Theory" in the Washington Post over the weekend. Excellent.

4. As usual, everything Ta-Nehisi Coates says is terrific; here, on writing.

5. And Alyssa Rosenberg on pop culture and contraception.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Against P Day

(Becoming a tradition -- I just rerun this old thing. For a different perspective, see Matt Glassman. Also, probably light posting here today because I'll be over at Greg's place all day, and so I also won't do separate posts following up on what I do there...but I'll likely have some things here, too).

Presidents Day is a terrible idea for a holiday.  Just an awful idea.  In this republic, there's absolutely no good reason to take a day to honor our presidents.

On the other hand, Washington's Birthday is a perfectly good idea.  If we're going to honor great Americans, I'm not going to argue with those who put George Washington first on the list of those to be honored.  In fact, the official federal holiday is Washington's Birthday, but lots of states have renamed it to Presidents Day or something similar.

The consensus Three Greatest Presidents are Washington, Lincoln, and (Franklin) Roosevelt, and I wouldn't argue with any celebration of those three. The other two Greatest Men Who Were Presidents are Jefferson and the sadly undercommemorated Madison, and I'm also on board with honoring them (I'm not a huge Jefferson fan, but I don't really object to his status as a great American. Want to argue Adams?  Ike?  Take it to comments).  On the other hand, I'm also pretty comfortable with Washington and King being the only two Americans honored with national holidays.

So, Happy Washington's Birthday, even if it isn't actually Washington's birthday, and even if most of what you're seeing are references to Presidents Day, President's Day, or Presidents' Day -- any way you spell it, a really bad idea.  Which reminds me -- if you happen to think of James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, or Richard Nixon today, I think what you're supposed to do is spit twice over your left shoulder to avoid bad luck.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Just checking -- everyone assumes that clear support for same-sex marriage, no hedging in any way, will be mandatory for all Democratic WH 2016 candidates, correct?

Bonus question, since that one (I assume) is fairly dull: give me the date that Barack Obama officially flips his position.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Where do you see the Republican Party headed on same-sex marriage?

First, do you think that conservatives somehow or another turn the tide back?

If not, when does opposition cease to be a litmus test for presidential candidates? 2016? 2020? 2024? The day after it becomes enacted nationally? Of course, that might take a long time -- can you picture a situation in which same-sex marriage is legal and not particularly controversial in, say, 35 states, but illegal in the remaining 15 states and still a litmus test at the presidential level? How do you see this all playing out for Republican politicians?

What Mattered This Week?

Yes, I'm still running late this weekend, sorry.

Let's see: Syria, Iran, Egypt, to begin with. For the economy, developments in Greece and Europe, and the passage of the extenders bill for payroll taxes and unemployment insurance.

Big week for same-sex marriage, with a law being signed in Washington, a veto in New Jersey, and advances in Maryland.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

A little's probably Friday somewhere, right?

Anyway -- I really thought I was done with this, but I guess it's never going away. I wound up going out today with a Giants hat, and Giants jacket, and a Giants cap, so I wasn't exactly hiding anything. At any rate, I wound up in a conversation with a sales clerk, and within five sentence he was on about asterisks and steroids and the whole nine yards. Giants fans not in the Bay Area, I'm sure, had the same experience with all this stuff that I had here in Texas during the last decade: people really, really, really want to tell you what they think about Barry Bonds. Why? I have no idea. But they sure do.

Anyway, I thought it was all ancient history, but I guess not. The good news was that the other sales clerk I spoke to today wanted to talk about Lincecum's contract, and was hoping he'd wind up on the Rangers eventually, so that was better. Hey, I did very much enjoy watching and rooting for Barry Bonds, but the other stuff is just dull.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Q Day 6: Demographics and the Future of the GOP?

A commenter asks:
A lot of people think that the Republican Party is heading towards irrelevancy demographically because of its increasing trend to the right unless there's some kind of significant change. I'm less curious as to whether it will happen than I am curious about the mechanics of it. How could a party disappear? How could another rise to take its place? It's hard for me to see a 3rd party growing like that or the Republican party disappearing like the Whigs did. Any ideas on what will happen if these demographic predictions are correct? Will one faction take over the Republic brand while another heads out on its own? WIll both parties change based on new wedge issues?
As far as the future of the Republicans...I'm with those who believe that Latinos will become "white" (that is, they'll be thought of as part of the majority "racial" group) and that Republicans will compete for the Latino vote the way they now compete for the Irish or Italian vote. I do think in the near term there's a chance that Republicans could box themselves into a corner that would put them into the minority for an extended period thanks to demographic shifts, but I think it's unlikely in the long run.

On the larger question, my general sense of this stuff is that a two-party system is more or less inevitable given the US electoral system, but that the permanence of the Democratic and Republican parties has something to do with various "reforms" that make it hard for either to be replaced. Ballot access and campaign finance laws have favored the existing two parties. That certainly could change...let's see, for one thing the campaign finance thing is less of an issue now than it was a few years ago.

I think it's just very unlikely. It's almost always going to be easier for an unhappy faction to either jump to the other party or to take over their own party than it is for that faction to build a new party from scratch.

Q Day 5: Birth Control and the GOP?

TN asks:
Do you have any idea what the GOP is thinking by going all-out on this war against contraception? I can't imagine what possible political benefit it could have. They might as well campaign in favor of segregated water fountains.
Oddly enough, this is exactly what I was writing on over at Plum Line today, although it just got published now. So I'll send you over there for the answer. Short version: parties sometimes go ideological, suffer the consequences.

To expand a bit, I'll go back to one of the things that I've talked about less lately but I think is still functioning: that there are a lot of people making money off of being conservative who have perverse incentives. One of the reasons that parties work, and therefore that democracy works, is that normally both parties have strong incentives to try to win elections. But Rush Limbaugh probably makes more money if Republicans lose (although he doesn't get to hang out at the White House). More conservatives are going to buy books about Barack Obama in 2009 than they did about George W. Bush in 2001. So that is something to worry about within the system, along with the other reasons that parties sometimes leave the mainstream.

Q Day 4: Delegate Count?

(Updated below)

Matthew Carroll-Schmidt asks:
Do we have any idea what the real delegate count is right now?
Excellent question!

There are basically two flavors of delegate counts out there right now. One of them includes only delegates that are either formally bound to a candidate or selected delegates who have declared for a candidate. I've been looking at Josh Putnam's count.

The other flavor is based on AP projections of caucus state delegates based on the straw vote taken at the caucuses. Here, for example, is the New York Times version. Note that in this count Iowa's delegates are listed as 13 for Santorum and 12 for Romney. But that's based on an assumption that we know is not true -- that there are no significant differences between the straw vote and the first-stage delegates chosen later in the evening, and that there is no further change when those first-stage delegates eventually (through multiple stages) choose delegates to the national convention. Not to mention, although I think it's the least important part of it, that even when those delegates are chosen they will be formally unbound.

The thing is that Josh's count, while terrific, is in my view losing some real information that the straw vote is supplying (for example: we can be fairly certain that Maine, which split between Romney and Paul, isn't going to send Santorum delegates to the convention if Romney, Paul, and Santorum are still around by then). So what I'd really like to see is a single site with both the "hard" count of actual delegates along with the soft AP or other projections from the caucuses. Well, I'd really like the AP to get a count of the preferences of all first-stage delegates chosen in caucuses -- for those who remember 2008, that's similar to what the Democratic Party supplies in Iowa (although yes, I know, it's not really quite the same thing). But I don't suppose the AP, or GOP state parties, are going to start doing that. So the next best thing would be a combination site. If anyone knows of one, I'll be happy to start using it.

Just to be clear: what all of this means is that no one knows what the real delegate count is to this point. The first-stage delegate elections in the caucus states so far (and we're talking about over 100 delegates, compared to the 135 in Josh's hard count) really do matter, and if we knew exactly what their preferences were we could make a very good educated guess about the eventual delegate counts from those states. I should say: as far as I know, no one knows. It's possible that the Paul and Romney campaigns know what happened in all those caucuses. I wouldn't want to bet on the Santorum or Gingrich operations, such as they are, knowing much of anything about it.

UPDATE: I knew that the folks at Democratic Convention Watch were tracking the GOP automatic delegates, but it turns out they're also running the duel count I was recommending. Excellent! I'm afraid Republicans will have to avert their eyes from some partisan posts over there, but it's right up in the top left corner.

Q Day 3: GOP Presidential Field Strength

An oldie but goody. Daniel D. asks:

Does the weakness of the Republican presidential field have anything to do with Obama's strength as an opposing candidate? Were younger guys who would've been stronger candidates than Romney or Santorum like Jindal, Ryan, Christie, and Thune actually whittled by party actors, or does their decision not to run have to do with them wanting to pick their spot better and wait until the Democrats run a weaker candidate?
My basic feeling is that the apparent weakness of the GOP field is mainly a function of two things. One is that there were no real heavyweights available this time -- unlike, say, the 2008 Democrats, who had two former nominees (one of whom was a former VP), a seemingly successful recent VP nominee, and a former First Lady who was a twice-elected Senator from NY. Republicans had, at best, a very flawed recent VP nominee and...I don't know; Dan Quayle? Beyond that, however, the GOP field, in my view, was OK on paper, with Romney, Perry, Pawlenty, and Barbour making up a reasonably decent group of candidates. Then there are those who sort of ran: Palin, Thune, and perhaps Daniels and others. All of those sort-of candidates got squeezed out by some combination of lack of party support, lack of sufficient ambition, or strategic choices...but in each case, presumably more party support would have tilted the sort-ofs towards full runs.

Anyway, because of the very early winnowing, the eventual field looked much weaker than it really was.Of course, the other big factor was that one of most impressive candidates on paper, the multiterm governor of Texas, ran such a terrible campaign that he now appears to have been more dwarf than serious candidate, but that's probably not really true.

Q Day 2: Centralization and Polarization in the House?

Bryan asks:
I'm working through Polsby's How Congress Evolves, which details how liberal Democrats overcame the conservative coalition in the House. In the course of doing so, the House reforms seem to have aided in the sharp polarization of the parties and tighter Leadership control of the House. Question is a two-parter: In your view, (1) would decentralization of power in the House reduce partisanship, and (2) would that be a good thing?
I'm certainly an easy mark for anyone who plugs NWP and that book.

I think I'd say that partisanship drives centralization, not the other way around. So it's not like anyone could impose less centralized rules on the House and therefore get less polarized results. That said, there are presumably a lot of ways that a polarized, partisan House could be run. I do think that a House in which committees and subcommittees do as much meaningful, substantive work as possible and really develop and take advantage of substantive expertise is a good thing. I hadn't realized until yesterday that committee staff numbers have been dropping while leadership staff goes up; I don't believe that's a good trade-off (although I'd probably be happy with the leadership keeping it's staff and making the House more expensive to run, rather than trading back). It's possible that if the majority party allowed the minority party more substantive input at the committee and subcommittee level, at least beyond the most highly charged items, that the minority might have more of a stake in the operations of the House in general. That's how it was pre-reform; it's not clear whether that's a plausible outcome for today's parties.

Generally, I don't think that partisanship is a bad thing at all: I think strong parties contribute to democracy. On the other hand, the kind of strong parties that I like are less ideological, and less hierarchical, than the ones that have evolved over the last fifty years. For the House, that would mean, I think, both strong majority-party leadership and strong committees. No reason you can't have both; that kind of thing isn't zero-sum.

Question Day 1: Spending

Charlie asks:
Is there anyone who analyzes where the MONEY in the primary season is being spent? TV? local parties? local consultants? Who is benefiting from an extended primary?
Great question, but I only have a partial answer. Generally, official campaign committees must disclose what they are spending, in some detail...but whether reporters dive into those disclosure statements, and how complete they are, are open questions. PACs (and Super PACs) have to disclose their spending, too, but with the same caveats.

On the plus side: you probably want to read what the Wesleyan Media Project, headed by Erica Fowler, Michael Franz, and Travis Ridout, have to offer. They "track and analyze all broadcast advertisements aired by or on behalf of federal and state election candidates in every media market in the country." So that's a big chunk of your story, right there. Open Secrets has some spending information (see e.g. Mitt Romney). but I haven't poked around there enough to know whether it gets to some of the things raised in the question. You can also go straight to the FEC for disclosure statements, if you want the raw data. Again, whether anyone is turning all this into useful-sized findings is a more difficult question. There's always some disclosure-based reporting, but probably not as much as some would like.

Question Day

Well, it's Friday, and it's raining here, and my solution: Question Day! You ask 'em, I'll answer. Leave your questions in comments below, or tweet them or email them, and I'll give it my best shot.

In the meantime...Intrade thinks that there's a 25% chance for a "brokered" convention??? That's nuts! And how exactly are they defining it, anyway? I mean, it's unlikely that we'll hit the end of the primaries and caucuses without someone getting to 50% + 1 of the delegates, but it's even less likely that no one will go over the top by getting pledges from unbound delegates before they arrive in Tampa, and even less likely that the nomination will go beyond a first ballot. Which of those are they counting as "brokered"?

Not to mention that a true "brokered" convention is of course impossible under the current process (someone, please, tell John Avlon, and while you're at it tell him that he really shouldn't be writing about how the GOP switched to proportional representation in this cycle months after Josh Putnam exploded that particular myth). Once again, what we're not going to have is a "deadlocked" or perhaps "contested" convention.

At any rate: Question Day!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Roger Craig. He's 82. When I was little, the Giants were a great team, and my memory stretches back to the end of that era, but my real memories of being a Giants fan was 1972-1985, when they were a joke franchise. You know -- we don't really have joke franchises any more in baseball. The Pirates are probably the closest it gets, and on the field as a bad team is even longer, but it doesn't seem quite like what the Giants (and Indians) were in that era, and what some other teams were earlier (hard to be a joke franchise when you have a decent ballpark). Anway -- then Al Rosen and Roger Craig showed up, and it's as if it never happened; the Giants have certainly had bad years since, but from Opening Day 1986 on they were just done with being a joke franchise. Hum baby, indeed.

The good stuff:

1. Brad Plumer has a nice post about the documents leaked from a climate denialist organization. Including this excellent point about their apparently minimal fundraising from the oil industry: "That’s a sign that climate skepticism has become less the sole concern of self-interested oil companies trying to fend off regulations — and more an ideological enterprise on the right."

2. Harold Pollack on the contraceptive flap.

3. At the Monkey Cage, Lucy Barnes cites the research on comparative taxation and concludes that the US taxes are in fact more progressive than most comparable nations, but at the same time US taxes and transfers produce less redistribution of wealth. Got that? If not, click through and read the explanation.

4. Update from yesterday's links: Jon Cohen explains the WaPo policy on using robopolls.

5. And Kylopod on the question of ideology in US politics.
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