Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Catch of the Day

To Jeffrey Toobin:

But the responsibility for Obama’s failure to make a dramatic impact on the courts does not lie completely with the Senate. There are currently seventy-four vacancies on the circuit and district courts, and Obama has nominees in place for thirty-two of these seats—in other words, less than half of them. The Senate cannot confirm judges who were never nominated in the first place. (I wrote about this tendency early in Obama’s term.) It is true that Obama has often tried to “pre-clear” judges with Senators before formally nominating them; unlike recent Republican Presidents, he has also agreed to allow the American Bar Association to vet nominees. Those processes slow things down. Still, by neglecting the judiciary, Obama has limited his own legacy as President.
The President’s lethargy on the matter of judicial nominations is inexplicable. So is his silence on the subject. George W. Bush complained loudly when he felt Democrats in the Senate had delayed or obstructed his judicial nominees. Obama has said little. Indeed, Bush had a public judicial philosophy as President, frequently calling on judges to “strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench.” As a former president of the Harvard Law Review and long-time lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, Obama has a great deal of familiarity with legal issues but hardly ever talks about them. His legal philosophy, if he has one, is unknown.
Yes, yes, and yes.

Republican obstruction on judges has been unprecedented. There's really no question about that. But as I've said too many times, if the president doesn't make things like this a priority -- and let everyone know it's a priority -- then it's not going to happen.

That was especially the case during the 111th Congress, when the votes were there in the Senate to get every single judicial nominee confirmed. What was lacking was the effort. Yes, it would have taken some floor time to do it, but it's not as if the Senate used up all the available floor time, and had Harry Reid threatened to use nights and weekends, there's a very good chance that the Republicans would have folded their bluff. That's less the case when at least some nominees didn't really have 60 votes during the current Congress, but even then that's only a handful of cases. And when it comes to time, if there's one thing the current do-nothing Congress has plenty of, it's excess floor time.

The one culprit I'd add here, on top of the Republicans and Obama, are liberal activists and interest group leaders, who in many cases (not all!) just ignored the problem.

It's just a really, really big deal, and one that will cost liberals for a long time, especially if Obama loses this fall. And if he wins: is he, and are liberal activists, prepared to make the judiciary a higher priority?

Nice catch!

For Tuesday I Walk to the Village

It's election day here in Texas. I voted, just as I did on primary day in May, in an empty polling place, although a few voters were wandering in as I was leaving.

Today was the primary election run-off, so it's a small ballot, although both parties have run-offs for Senate (which I wrote about yesterday over at PP). All told, my ballot had only five choices. Not bad: U.S. Senate, one judge, the county sheriff, and the county tax assessor-collector. Plus a "Precinct Chairman" (sic; this is Texas, after all). So I sort of know what most of those jobs do. Not bad!

I should stick this somewhere...I finally did wind up seeing a few ads in the Senate Republican race -- they've spent a ton of money, but whether it's the shows I watch or that I have the dish and not local cable or whatever, I don't see a lot of ads. In fact, I saw two Obama ads on TV before my first Texas ad. But I did finally see, and also hear on the radio, Nolan Ryan pitching for David Dewhurst. Both, I think, on Rangers broadcasts, so that makes sense. I don't know what Dewhurst was running elsewhere; I can't bring myself to watch the local news to find out. I'm expecting a big Cruz blowout tonight, but we'll see.

Back to voting; this was the third election day for my precinct this year, with a total of 43 choices so far. Four election days in the two-year cycle, with 45 total votes cast. Still running well behind the previous cycle, and still doesn't look as if we'll hit 100 choices, and unless there's one coming up I don't know about (which certainly could be the case) we won't match the five election days from 2010.

As always, I find voting a great occasion for patriotism, and wish all the candidates good luck.

Convention Speeches

Josh Kraushaar says:
Tapping Elizabeth Warren to give a Wed primetime address before B Clinton is one heckuva gamble for the Obama campaign. His biggest mistake recently was emulating the rhetoric Warren used to great acclaim ("you didn't build it on your own"), which prompted the president to cut an ad "explaining" his comments. Warren 's rhetoric is a hit with liberals, but not convinced it has mainstream appeal. The risk: It could be the Dem/lib equivalent of Pat Buchanan culture war speech in 92, if it's too hard-edged.
Okay, I hope I only have to say this once.

This is not only not your father's national convention, this isn't even your slightly older sister's national convention.

The broadcast networks are going to take, what, three speeches? The two from the ticket, and I suppose the one labeled "keynote." Beyond that...maybe bits of a couple more. I suppose it's possible that they'll take one or two more speeches live...probably not.

Even for what they do broadcast, you're not getting the captive audience that you once had, given the way that TV has changed.

But for the rest, primetime or not, over on the cable nets, you're getting the hard partisans and a handful of political junkies, and that's it. And mostly, that means the committed supporters; the other party's supporters don't watch second-tier speeches, for the most part.

And so there's virtually no "risk" in giving Elizabeth Warren or anyone else a prime time speaking spot, because no one except committed Democrats are going to be watching. Oh, sure, the opposition research team over at the Romney campaign will be watching -- but if anyone says anything damaging, it won't matter when it was originally said, at all.

I should point out, too, that we're not going to get any Pat Buchanan type speeches in 2012, because there's virtually no one in either party who has earned the right to give a speech that won't be pre-screened by the campaigns (the only possible exception I can think of would be Ron Paul).

So: there's a bit of importance within the party about who gets high-profile speeches. But not only will the speeches have no effect on the November vote, which was almost certainly true back in the days of full network coverage, but in almost every case no one is even going to know about other "prime time" speeches.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to J.K. Rowling, 47.

Straight to the good stuff:

1. Larrry Bartels and Lynn Vavreck have a comprehensive look at the remaining undecided voters in the presidential race.

2. Scott Bland has today's House runoffs in Texas.

3. Great quote about party hacks, mined from a John Reynolds book that I really would like to read at some point by Seth Masket.

4, Excellent takedown of a terrible Newsweek cover (I haven't read the Newsweek story, which sounds bad too, but the cover is awful) from Jonathan Chait. Yes, the George H.W. Bush one was awful, too.

5. And a nice Jamelle Bouie piece about deficits, public opinion, and more.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Real Question About the Democratic Platform

"Our Constitution is not a nuisance. It is the foundation of our democracy."
(2008 Democratic Platform)

There's been a fair amount of attention today to reports that the Democrats will support marriage equality in their platform. Was this really news any more? I don't expect that every single Democratic candidate around the nation will support that position, but it's hardly surprising that the kinds of activists who become Democratic delegates would reflect the president's position on this issue. And politically, there's really no other way to go. If supporting same-sex marriage is going to hurt Democrats, that's already a done deal; the only thing that would be worse would be to leave it out of the platform and wind up with all the activists on both sides of the issue upset with them.

No, the real question, it seems to me, is what the Democrats are going to do about a set of issues over which many liberal activists are unhappy with the president: detention, torture, and civil liberties issues. I haven't seen any reporting on this one at all, but in my view it's a much bigger deal -- not because the issue is necessarily more important (not my job to say), but because it's far more contested within the party.

The Democrats had strong platform language (after jump) on those issues four years ago. Will they retain it, or will they water it down?

Electoral College Advantage Revisited

Andrew Gelman takes me to task for what I said about the electoral college last week, pointing out that he's established that small-state voters are much more likely to be the tipping-point vote than large state voters.

I'm aware of the finding, but I disagree with the interpretation. I don't think the question of whether a voter in a particular state has a better chance of tipping the election -- the question which Gelman's articles consider -- is the same question as whether that state has an electoral college advantage.  It's a piece of it, but not, I don't think a very important one.

The question of individual voter power looks at it from the point of view of the individual voter.  What we want, however, is to look at it from the point of view of the campaigns. What matters there is whether there are differences between states linked to size. As I said earlier, it used to be the case that big, urban states tended to be closer than the smaller, rural states. That seems to be less true now, but I it's still somewhat the case. Let's see...in 2008, there were 18 states with a total of 101 electoral votes that were 20 points or more from the national average (in other words, Republican states where McCain won by at least 13 and Democratic states where Obama won by 27 points or more). That's an average of 5.6 electoral votes in the least competitive states. What about the closest states, those within 10 points of the national average? There are 19 of those...with a whopping 221 electoral votes, for an average of 11.6 per state.

Conclusion: if you go after close states, you'll be going after big states. And so, overall, the big states tend to have an advantage, over and above the advantage that their size alone would give them in a direct vote system.

Moreover, it's probably not just a random effect, but built into the electoral college system. For one thing, it's probably true that larger states are less homogeneous and therefore more likely to be competitive. But more broadly, it makes sense in the long run for parties to chase after big states as units, shifting their policy preferences to try to work those states. It's true, as Gelman says, that the correct comparison point (or at least the one I was working from in the original post) is to a direct vote system, and the large numbers in big states would of course get attention in that system as well. However, this is where the points made in the comments to Gelman's points come in. Looking ahead in the long run, it's probably a lot easier for a party to target big, potentially close states and ignore the little ones, all things being equal. Granted, things are not necessarily equal: if the same policy could appeal to lots of little states, or if there's no policy that would appeal to a big-state-as-a-whole, then you won't do that.

But the fact that big states strongly tend to be more competitive, and the fact that the effect persists over time, suggests that things are not equal -- things favor the big states.

One more bit of this. To the extent that big states tend to share interests and small states tend to share interests -- something that may or may not be true, but to the extent that it is -- then even the big states that are not competitive may be helped by the electoral college. That is, if New York (not competitive) is similar to Pennsylvania (very competitive), then any policies adopted by the candidates in order to appeal to Pennsylvanians may also help New Yorkers. Again, that's not a sure thing; direct aid to states, for example, wouldn't work that way. And there's also the complication that even if most people in the state have an interest in something, there may be plenty of people who do not, or who disagree with a policy popular elsewhere in the state. But again, on balance this may tend to work in favor of the big states.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Peter Bogdanovich, 73. I just saw Last Picture Show again last week; it's just astonishingly good, isn't it? And I do love Paper Moon. That's not bad.

On to the good stuff:

1. Kevin Drum keeps us up to date on the state of climate denialism.

2. Sarah Kliff on that Federal District judge who isn't sure whether mandating that employers who provide health insurance include contraceptive coverage is kosher or not. Two things: that's a Carter appointee, senior status since 1988. And second: merits aside, gotta love any case called Hercules v. Sebelius.

3. And don't cry for Brad DeLong, Noah Smith. Or something like that. At any rate, Zachary's makes a really good pie, and I miss it a lot, although I actually preferred Rustica -- is it still in business?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

I wrote a post elsewhere this week defending the early start of the 2016 presidential nomination race, but that sort of begs the question: what should that fight be about?

Specifically, I'm wondering about second-tier issues that a candidate might run on effectively. I want to exclude climate; I assume that a strong climate agenda will be mandatory for any Dem '16 candidate. Of course, we can't know yet what the context of the 2016 primaries will wind up being...presumably an Obama defeat followed by an ACA repeal would affect the agenda differently than an Obama re-election and a full or partially implemented ACA, and it's hard to guess right now what the economic and budget context will be in 2016. But still, given that the cycle is already getting started already and will really start being shaped after November, I don't think it's too early to toss the question out there.

I'll take either things you would want or things that you think would play well.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Okay, have at it, folks. I've been pushing the notion that Republicans have been guilty lately of lazy mendacity -- not just lies, misleading statements, and taking things out of context put particularly easily disproved versions of all of those. And I've said that there's no equivalence here; all politicians skirt the truth at times, but it's unusual for them to do so in ways that are so easily disproved.

But maybe I'm wrong! Let's hear it: are there good examples of liberal lazy mendacity? It's especially good if it (1) comes from Barack Obama or other leading Democrats and (2) hasn't been shouted down by other liberals, but I'll take what you have.

July 28, 1972


Saturday, July 28, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I suppose I'll go with the GDP numbers as my contribution for something that matters, although it came in at expectations and therefore doesn't change anything (either economically or politically). Still, sure, it matters.

The obvious one for doesn't matter would be Mitt's fumbled trip to London. Highly amusing, but very unlikely to survive even a full week.

What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Q Day 8: The Ultimate Constitutional Hardball?

OK, this is going to have to be the last one. I'll try to double back to the original post and answer some of the rest in comments if I get a chance this weekend. I feel like the great bloggers of old -- this is, if I'm counting right, my 14th blog post of the day, plus I wrote a column and I'm working on a second draft of a magazine article. And I still have a scheduled baseball post to do later (fortunately, no Watergate post tonight I don't think..I know there's one coming up, but I think it's tomorrow). All in all, a fun way to spend the anniversary. Thanks for all the terrific questions, and sorry I didn't get to all of them. I'll do it again before too long, I'm sure.

So, Greg asks a great question:
Why isn't there more state-level gerrymandering? That is, when there's unified partisan control of the federal government, why don't parties use that to admit more states to bolster their advantage in the Senate? If New York City (or even each borough) seceded from the state, there'd be two strongly Democratic states instead of one. Texas could split off several chunks to create more Republican states.
Two answers. First is: there are all kinds of institutional crosscurrents involved that make it harder than it might seem. Politicians aren't only party actors; they also have their own personal self-interest, which often conflicts with a party interest...for example, a New York Democratic Senator from upstate might worry that she would put her seat in jeopardy without the NYC vote, and prefer two safe NY seats instead of two extremely safe NYC seats plus two lean-Dem other seats. At the same time, some of her constituents may have strong interests in keeping the status quo in New York state government. The bottom line is "what's good for the party?" is often not the most important question politicians and other party actors ask. I'll point out, too, that it would surely have been filibuster bait any time in the last thirty years at least, and maybe even before that, and there haven't been too many occasions to test it in that case.

Second answer? I don't know! It's a complete mystery to me why Democrats in 1993 didn't try to make the District into a state, and even more of a mystery why Democrats in 2009 didn't do it. I've heard several suggested answers (basically they come down to what I think is an absolutely wrong belief that anyone in Nebraska or Missouri would care in an election two or four years later, although it's certainly plausible that the Benator or whoever actually believed it, even though it wouldn't have been true).

Q Day 7: Third Parties?

Two questions about third parties. Another anonymous one:
...Mike Bloomberg wanting to run for president and going so far as to consult well connected political consultants to guage a run...what are they telling him that keeps him from running? IF he really wanted to run, wouldn't this cycle have been best? A slow recovery hurting the incumbent and a weak challenger should have been a wide-open window, right?
They're probably telling him the Iron Law of American Politics that NYC Mayor is a dead-end job. Beyond that, it's correct that this was a (fairly) good cycle for a third party candidate to run "successfully", but that means getting to 10% or maybe 20%, not winning. So those most likely to try under those circumstances are (1) people with real issue commitments who want to get some policies on the national agenda; (2) people with egos that will be satisfied by getting on TV a lot, maybe even the debates, and then getting crushed in November; (3) people stupid enough or egotistical enough to believe they'll win despite the strong evidence that they won't. Presumably, Bloomberg is not in any of those categories. Or, he just doesn't want the job.

Chris asks:
Do you think the current situation in California (i.e., an uncompetitive state Republican party and a Democratic party that's not particularly unified or effective) could set the stage for a meaningful third party presence (e.g., due to an intra-Dem schism)? If not, what structural factors are preventing it? And what's preventing the California Republicans from moderating themselves? Is California enacting the Emerging Democratic Majority scenario?
The traditional problem for third parties is "Duverger's Law", which is more of an empirical observation and logical conclusion than a "Law," but says that first-past-the-post elections will produce a two-party system because third party votes will switch to the big party that has the best chance of winning (since there's no reward for anything except winning. I don't see any reason to expect that to fail in the long run, but I wouldn't be shocked to see a serious third-party runs for major offices, and wouldn't be shocked if one or more succeeds. I don't really agree that the Democrats are weak, though; but what you want for all of this is Seth Masket's book, which is excellent.

If the demographics of the US eventually look like California now, I'd expect Republicans to adapt. But there are a lot of ways that could happen.

Q Day 6: Boehner?

Drew asks:
How would you evaluate Boehner's speakership thus far?
I think he's done a pretty good job with the challenge he's had, all told. I'd say the two most successful Speakers of the post-reform era were Tip O'Neill and Nancy Pelosi, while Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright were fairly clear failures, although Wright had more significant successes before his fall than Newt did.

My interpretation of Boehner's Speakership is based on two important things about the context: divided government, and the nature of his majority, which is characterized both by extreme polarization (so cross-party compromise is very difficult) and the Tea Party rump along with paranoia about renomination, which makes things within the conference difficult.

Given that, and pending any new information (which certainly could change things), I think Boehner has done what he can in most of the major fights that have developed. The biggest downside is that he hasn't seemed to find any way so far to educate his more reality-challenged Members to reject the crazy -- so he hasn't really done anything to improve the situation. But I think he's basically followed Pelosi (and O'Neill) in doing a good job of balancing party and committee, leadership and rank-and-file.

Again, all of that is very much subject to revision if more information comes out. And it's also based on the idea that there aren't really a lot of serious policy goals involved, or at least not ones that were plausible given divided government.

Q Day 5: Obama 2016?

Karl asks:
If President Obama lost to Romney in November, do you think there would be any possibility down the road for him to pull a Grover Cleveland and win the presidency again? He is a relatively young man and still the most charismatic Democrat at a national level. Could he plausibly win again down the road or would the narratives of him as a defeated one-termer and party pressures make it too much of a challenge?
That's a fun question, isn't it?

Let's see. The defeated (or early retirement) presidents since the two-term limit were Johnson, Ford, and Carter. What do they have in common? Johnson resigned in the face of a nomination battle; Ford and Carter barely managed to get themselves renominated. So none of them is really a good comp for a defeated Barack Obama. Going back before the 22nd amendment...Truman, too, was hardly a lock for the nomination had he chosen to run in 1952.

I don't really know anything about Hoover's renomination in 1932, but of course his defeat in November was  a wipeout. Coolidge presumably wanted to stay retired. Wilson couldn't have had the nomination in 1920 even if he wanted it (which he probably did). Nor could Taft, I assume, if he had tried in 1916.

That gets us back to the closest thing to Cleveland's comeback, the Teddy Roosevelt effort in 1912. And before that...well, I guess before that is Cleveland himself.

So there's really nothing at all similar. The defeated or retired presidents in the 20th century either had serious opposition within their party or lost a blowout or really wanted to be retired. There's no way of knowing whether Obama would want a comeback, but assuming the presidential race remains close, he would pass the other two tests.

On the other hand. Michael Dukakis didn't do that badly, but I think Democrats were pretty united against inviting him back. The same is probably true, although not quite as definitely, about John Kerry and Al Gore; it's hard to tell how much of their choice not to run again was personal and how much was a calculation of the politics. Hubert Humphrey came close, but didn't quite win the 1968 nomination. There's also, for whatever it's worth, the Democrats' habit of nominating first-time candidates (in every recent open nomination except for VP Gore and former VP Mondale, and Mondale hardly ran in 1976). So there's at least a bit of evidence that the post-1968 Democratic Party doesn't like retreads.

Put it all together, and the obvious answer is: who knows? I wouldn't entirely rule it out, though. Presumably the conditions that would make it most likely would be a very close loss in November, perhaps even one with some controversy involved, followed by a further economic downturn; it's hard to see Obama as a strong 2016 candidate if the economy does well for President Romney (of course, it's hard to see any Democrat winning in that case).
I suppose it's also worth mentioning that he wouldn't necessarily have to do it in 2016, when he'll be 54. In 2028, he'll just be a little bit older than Mitt Romney is now. But presumably his best chance would be losing a close election this fall, then Romney winds up an unpopular president, and then running next time.

Q Day 4: Electioneering Bias?

Via email:
One thing I've been wondering about: it seems like building a massive amount of manpower for a campaign is (one of?) the most effective way to deploy campaign resources for voter persuasion. But it also seems presiding over a huge media budget is much more lucrative for senior campaign flacks. Is there an agency problem here?

OK, I'm tempted to just leave it there...I don't really know how cost-effective massive personal-contact voter persuasion (and GOTV) are compared with TV ads, but yeah, I think that there's a good chance that the self-interests of campaign staff and especially consultants is a problem. I'd also guess, however, that there's also a bias among candidates in favor of electioneering that they can actually see. Stories of billboard ads purchased only on the route from the airport to an incumbent, Washington-based candidate's house in the district are not completely apocryphal.

I'm not sure who if anyone has done work on this, however, so I don't know whether we have any idea of the effect. Remember too that a lot of the research by Don Green and others is relatively recent, and there's also a big status quo bias against innovation. I'll also link to an article I haven't read yet about it; it's a practitioners and political scientists roundtable and is likely very useful if you're interested in these questions.

Q Day 3: Change the Constitution?

An anonymous commenter asks:
If you could propose one constitutional amendment knowing that it would seriously considered and had a good chance of passing, what would it be and why?
I'd like to see something to change the malapportionment of the Senate. I'm really not sure exactly what; it's not worth even thinking about since it's so unlikely to happen. You could I suppose have between one and five Senators per state instead of two each; you could have two Senators per state, but have their vote within the chamber proportional to the population of their states. I do like the small Senate...as I said, I'm not really sure how I'd do it, but I'd want to try to alleviate the apportionment problem without destroying what I like about the Senate.

There are a number of relatively minor constitutional amendments I'd go for if I could be king for a day. I'd remove the minimum ages for federal offices. I wouldn't eliminate the electoral college, but I would eliminate electors -- there's absolutely no justification for the possibility of unfaithful electors. Oh, and I'd make the District a state.

Q Day 2: Veepstakes!

Three questions about Veepstakes. TN asks:
All the discussion over VP candidates focuses entirely on their effect on the election, but I wonder: What do you think is the ideal type of person to do the actual job of VP? 
Kal asks:
Do you think the emphasis in the media on the VP's home state is overblown? The last candidate to be picked in large part because of his home state was LBJ 52 years ago. 
Greg asks:
I've noticed that governors are almost never chosen as VPs, and the ones that have been--Agnew and Palin--are two of the worst choices of all time. Another example would be Rockefeller, who was chosen as Ford's VP but not nominated as his running mate in 76. Is this just a coincidence? Is there a reason why governors would make for bad VPs? 
There was a piece in the Times Sunday about how the job of the vice president has really expanded from Walter Mondale on. They tend to be fairly important players within the administration, although what they do varies a lot. I'd say what you would want as far as doing the job well would be pretty much what you look for in a president -- good politician skills on both the campaigning and governing sides -- but with one additional requirement: lots of extra helpings of loyalty. That's because VPs are so hard to get rid of...really nearly impossible in normal circumstances, compared to a normal cabinet secretary or White House staffer who can be fired with hardly any difficulty in most cases. By the way -- note that this is yet another reason that the Sage of Wasilla was a particularly poor choice.

As far as home states: I think the record does show that candidates haven't tended to go with choices intended to sway home states, but I think that mainly shows that presidential candidates have made poor choices. I guess what I think is that the press should report the research, which is that running mates are unlikely to have any significant positive effect beyond a point or two of help in their home states. Beyond that, they should report whatever they're hearing from the nominee's camp, I suppose.

Governors. There's bit a tradition that governors as nominees will choose a Senator, presumably in order to address their traditional weakness in foreign affairs (and, no, that doesn't really make any sense, but it's been the tradition anyway). So since we've had a lot of governors as nominees, that accounts for a lot of it. So we have, what, two governors chosen, one by a (former) VP and one by a Senator, while Gore, GHW Bush, Kerry, Dole, and Mondale (and whoever else I'm missing...trying to do this quickly) didn't go for governors. So it's not that uncommon when the nominee is a governor, but not very common either.

I do think that the problem with Agnew and Palin wasn't really about being governors; I did something on this a while back and if I recall correctly they were the two least experienced Veepstakes winners ever.

Q Day 1: Case for the Electoral College?

Daniel D. asks:
What is the case for the electoral college? I'm familiar with the pragmatic arguments (a national recount would be a nightmare, voting fraud in one municipality could have a massive effect, etc.), but what is the principled reason why an electoral college is superior to a national popular vote?
That's a good question. I'm mildly in favor of the status quo on the electoral college, mainly because I think the case against it turns out to be fairly weak.

The strongest case for it, I think, is that historically the biases it introduces tend to be somewhat different than the biases involved in the rest of the system, and so using the EC method for presidential elections has tended to bring some balance. In particular, the malapportionment of the Senate, and the traditional malapportionment of House (and state legislative) districts until about 1960, meant that urban areas were shortchanged in Congress -- while the big, urban states traditionally did very well in the electoral college. As it happens, however, that's been much less the case recently. Remember, New York used to be a major swing state; California also was very contested once it became large, and even Texas had a run as a competitive state with big cities for a while. For whatever reason, all of that has slipped some over the last twenty or thirty years, which in my view makes the electoral college less worthwhile.

Still, all else equal, a presidential candidate would rather pander to a large state with lots of winner-take-all electoral votes than a small one, which should tend, over time, to balance out the small-state advantage in the Senate. So in terms of a positive case, I'd probably emphasize that.

Question Day

It's Plain Blog's birthday -- three years of doing this, now. I'm celebrating by declaring it Question Day. Haven't had one of these for a while...you ask, I'll try to answer. Whatever you have -- the elections, budget, Senate reform, parties, the press...I'll try to get to as many as I can. Leave them here in comments, or email, or twitter. I can't promise that I'll get to all of them, but I'll do what I can.

Meanwhile, some thank yous are in order: to readers, to commenters, to everyone who has linked to my stuff over the last three years. I very much appreciate it. Thank you! Thanks also to Greg, and to the folks at Post Partisan, and Salon, and all the other places I've been found recently. Looking forward to all sorts of election-year fun here over the next few months, and I hope everyone will stick around.

But for now: anyone have any questions?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alex Rodriguez, 37. Well, he's at 644 HRs and holding, for now. He surely won't get to Mays this year, but surely will in 2013 barring catastrophe. But then? Well, he needs 70 for Ruth, 111 for Aaron, and another 7 for Bonds. Say he ends this year at 650: at 25 per year (more than he's managed last year or presumably this), he would get it early in his age 41 season. That still seems more likely than not -- players as good as him should be able to play at 41 -- but he's lost most of his enormous leeway, hasn't he? Granted, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he has a 40 HR comeback year in 2013 and winds up as a regular at age 43, in which case he'll smash through it, but if 2011-2012 is really his true level now, then it may wind up turning on how much he really wants the record.

Ah, for the good stuff.

1. Brendan Nyhan on how the press keeps botching the basics of how income taxes work. Related botched point that we can get ready for if tax reform is an issue going forward: as Matt Yglesias has pointed out many times, the idea that fewer rates equal simplification for taxpayers is entirely without merit (people either consult tax tables or use software to figure out tax owed and would do so pretty much however the system works; it's entirely irrelevant how the numbers are generated in the first place.

2. Alan Abramowitz tackles the question of enthusiasm.

3. Larry Bartels dives into the question of partisan effects on perceptions of the economy. Really interesting topic, in part because perceptions of the economy not only may affect voice choice, but can also affect the action economy. I'd love to know whether partisan-based perceptions of the economy bleed over to choices voters make in business or as consumers.

4. E. J. Graff argues for diversity, including diversity of political involvement, on behalf of Sally Ride's choices, in response to Andrew Sullivan's comments. The topic of choosing a life in politics is, it seems to me, both a very interesting one and also one that does not have clear answers, whatever the context might be. I'd probably refer people to Hannah Arendt's Men in Dark Times; I don't think she has answers, but does help think things through.

5. And a reminder from Stan Collender of (yet another) reason why cramming most of the year's business into a lame duck session is a bad idea: the strong possibility of sloppy writing in the resulting laws.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Catch of the Day

Goes to Alec MacGillis, for taking down The Fix's Aaron Blake. See, Blake wrote an item about that latest out-of-context quote that Mitt Romney's campaign is using in which not only did he assess it purely in terms of whether it would "work" or not, but in which he just threw up his hands about the possibility of assessing it in any other way.

Here's Blake:
The problem is, the gray area is just too gray. Fact-checkers are great (especially our Glenn Kessler), but as long as either side has an argument to justify its attacks, the history of politics dictates that it’s all fair game.Romney’s team is exploiting that fact — to the credit of its political acumen, if not its strict adherence to accuracy.
But as MacGillis points out (his emphasis):
Ah yes. If only there was someone whose job and calling it was to ferret out the truth of such things, to provide some context for voters. Let me think, there must be someone we can think of, a profession of some kind perhaps, sort of like a researcher but also a communicator...
What he didn't include this time around, but did mention in a tweet recently (but not in another excellent item on the topic he wrote yesterday), is that leaving this stuff for the fact checkers is not good enough. Not only are some things better reported on by regular reporters than by fact checkers (whose job, if it's going to work, really needs to be limited to clear cases of fact), but it's simply, as MacGillis points out here, bad reporting to omit most of the full story -- which in this case, is simply that Barack Obama never said the thing that the Romney campaign is claiming he said.

By the way, in my view it's fairly reasonable for horse race reporters to also discuss the likely effects of an attack (although keeping in mind that the likely effects of any campaign attack in a presidential general election campaign are going to be very small). As long as they tell us the whole truth, which is that in this case Romney is attempting to pull a fast one, and that part of the whole truth is that if the press reports it as such, the effect of the slur on Romney's reputation may be a factor as well.

Also: Great catch!

Today's Lazy Mendacity Update

...is provided by Dave Weigel, who notes that there's yet another video clip of Obama out there that uses edits to force his words out of context.

Kevin Drum calls this kind of thing "creepy" in his headline, but I think the best way of thinking about it is that it just insults our intelligence and shows utter contempt for voters. Especially Republican voters. And I really don't think it's a Romney campaign thing; I think it's generally a Republican thing. After all, Newt Gingrich. And Michele Bachmann. And Herman Cain.

And the thing that got me going on lazy mendacity was the Scott Walker ACA op-ed that linked to all his cherry-picked examples...and all the context he ripped them out of. To be sure: not every Republican is doing this sort of thing. But it's where the bulk of the active party is.

I do agree with Drum, however, that it's new. He gives a few examples of past Republican nastiness, but he's right: they're different. The Willie Horton attack was at least plausibly true (I don't remember whether the actual ad, produced outside the campaign, was factually accurate or not, but that's sort of the point; what was wrong with that attack wasn't, in fact, anything about whether the story was accurate or not). Similarly, the Swift Boat attacks might have been entirely and totally false, but they weren't obviously false, or easily shown to be false without actually digging up some evidence.

We're not getting this because of Mitt Romney. This is how a party acts when it doesn't care about getting called a pack of liars, on the one hand, and don't care about lying to their supporters, on the other. Romney, at best, is just an excellent fit for the GOP.

Of Course Romney Would Embrace Budget Deficits

Dana Millbank wasn't born yesterday, but I have to say that this question is remarkably naive: "[W]hich one will Romney choose: defense spending or tax cuts?"

The obvious answer is: neither. A President Romney, with a Republican Congress, would almost certainly choose very large deficits rather than cut defense spending or raise taxes. After all, that's been the policy of incoming Republican presidents beginning with Ronald Reagan, hasn't it been? Eat dessert now in the form of enormous tax cuts and spending on GOP priorities, and then remember the overriding importance of the deficit later on, preferably when the Democrats take over.

That's what Reagan did. That's what George W. Bush did. The only exception was George H.W. Bush, who was a real deficit-cutter. And he wound up repudiating it when conservatives revolted.

Now, Millbank is surely correct that if it ever gets down to it, Republicans care far more about tax cuts for rich folks than defense spending. And it's certainly true that Democrats are trying to force that choice on them, and that Republican complaints that the sequestration is some sort of insidious liberal plot sort of ignore why it was on the books in the first place -- although Republicans surely are correct that they didn't want the defense portion of sequestration.

Millbanks says that "If Romney wants to keep his vow not to cut Social Security and Medicare for those age 55 and older, he’d need to shut down all functions of the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior, Justice, Labor and Treasury as well as the National Institutes of Health." Well, that's the true effect of the promises Romney has made, and I think it's definitely fair game to point out the implications of what Romney and House Republicans say that they would do. But in reality, they're not going to shut down most of the government; they're going to blow up the deficit.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Nana Visitor, 55. Outside of being a lot of fun as the Intendant, I thought she was quite good in her BSG guest spot.

A bit of the good stuff:

1. I'll kill two birds here. I wrote something that I pretty much liked over at PP yesterday about the "who invented the internet?" thing that's going around and conservative feedback loops..but have since found out that Alex Pareene had already been there. In my defense, he didn't get to it until the end of an item, but it was a nice item.

2. Annie Lowrey: "Senate passes extension of the tax cut for the first $250k of income (not earners up to $250k!). #petpeeves"

3. Nate Silver on "the incredibly steady presidential race." I think it's mostly an effect of how efficiently the GOP operates these days; often, it takes a long while for the challenger to gain the support of his party, but this year it basically was a done deal by April.

4. A really excellent post by Jamelle Bouie about how to make elections more competitive.

5. And via TPM, Al Franken's Senate-floor tribute to Tom Davis.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When There's No Party For You

Conor Friedersdorf is, understandably I guess, upset about being poorly represented on the issues by either of the major parties. But he realizes that third-party voting is generally not much of a useful protest. His suggestions, however, fall short:

1) Postpone your calculated support for someone you don't like until you're standing in the election booth. Before then, support the third-party nominee you'd like to see win. If a pollster asks who you support give their name, not the major-party candidate you may wind up voting for in the end. Doing so doesn't squander your vote on someone who won't win, but could be the difference between a Libertarian or Green Party candidate being included or excluded from TV debates.
2) Think about whether or not you live in a swing state. If so, maybe it makes more sense to vote Republican or Democrat. But if you live in a state like California, where the Democrat will obviously win, or a state like Utah where the Republican is obviously going to win, your vote is going to have a lot more impact if you're part of a third-party surge that signals disaffection to others. 
Look, this is thinking about things completely backwards.

The truth is that Friedersdorf's target group here is actually pretty small. We're talking people who care enough about politics and public policy to have strong opinions, but whose opinions aren't close to being represented by the major parties (presumably we're only talking about people who have major across-the-board conflicts, not Republicans who want gun control or Democrats against marriage equality). And then on top of that, he's talking to people willing to act strategically. Put it all together, and it's a very small group.

But it's a group which is already, by definition, putting an enormous amount of time and energy into politics already, if only by reading (or viewing) a lot of it.

The deal is that if you're that kind of citizen, then you can, and perhaps should, be doing a whole lot more than just voting in November. At the very least, you should be voting in presidential primaries -- and your vote there (at least if you are lucky enough to live in the right state) is worth a whole lot more than your vote in November). But that's just the start of it. The truth is that American parties are permeable, and if you're the kind of citizen Friedersdorf is talking about you can have some real influence.

You can attend party meetings. You can volunteer with a campaign, especially a sub-presidential nomination campaign. You can talk to your friends and family. You can, of course, donate money. You can, if you have the skills, write about how your party should change to reflect your views. You can, if you have the skills, recruit people to join the party and help change the balance of power within that party.

Of course, all of that means you have to start by choosing a party, which means you'll be choosing a party with which you disagree on lots of things. That's the price for effectiveness.

There is another plausible path: get involved with an interest group. If you hate torture and detention policies, get involved with the ACLU or Amnesty or whoever is working on those issues.

The point is that if you care enough about all of this to think about it, you have resources -- at the very least, information -- that is at least somewhat useful politically, and at any rate more useful than your vote.

And you know what? If you want, if you're in this group and you've acted to move your party towards your views or to strengthen an interest group, and then you get to November and really just can't stomach voting for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama..hey, if you want to vote for the Greens or the Libertarians or whatever, knock yourself out. Your vote just doesn't count enough to make it a major political sin; it's more like a minor misdemeanor.

Catch of the Day

Goes to Norman Ornstein, who had the pleasure of being (with Tom Mann) on the receiving end of a Senate floor attack from Mitch McConnell the other day, and used his Roll Call column to remind McConnell of the actual reason for Senate gridlock: Lots and lots of quotes from McConnell bragging about shutting down the Senate (and I talked about this also over at Greg's place today).

Of course, if you want more, you could just read Mann and Ornstein, It's Even Worse Than It Looks.

A couple of other things. On the substance, McConnell is correct, as Norm says, about Democratic efforts to block amendments. That's a real thing, and in my view Senate reform should include limits on the ability of the majority party to block individual Senators from offering amendments. I'm not sure how exactly that would excuse Republicans from (say) requiring 60 votes for district judges and low-level executive branch appointments, however. Or, for that matter, circuit and SCOTUS nominees and high-visibility exec branch nominees. Or the abuses of the approval (blue slip) process by which judicial nominees are cleared to begin with (yes, I blame the White House and Harry Reid for reacting passively to those delay tactics, but Republicans surely deserve the bulk of the responsibility). Beyond that, it's pretty clear, as Norm shows in his long list of quotations, that a gridlocked Congress is exactly what McConnell wants.

I do have to wonder, however, that this will buy him anything:
But a guy who, with his co-author, dedicated his last book, “The Broken Branch,” to the late New York Republican Rep. Barber Conable, and who had “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” receive an enthusiastic endorsement from former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, is not so easily pigeonholed as McConnell would like.
Sorry. I'm afraid that for a party which considers Barack Obama a socialist, palling around with Hagel and Conable are certainly no defense against a charge of being an "ultra, ultra, liberal." Those guys are "ultra, ultra, liberals by current GOP standards; Bob Bennett, who is also cited, was perhaps just a regular liberal, and was certainly a RINO. Sure, that's goofy to anyone outside the bubble, but it's not an argument that anyone is going to win.

At any rate: nice catch!

ISO Very Stupid Jews

I want to make it clear: I don't believe that only stupid Jews would support Mitt Romney. There are all sorts of reasons for people to be Democrats or Republicans, and I've met smart Jewish Republicans and Democrats, and stupid Jewish Republicans and Democrats.

I do think, however, that flipping from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney because of Obama's (non-existent) anti-Israel policies is, well, not very bright:
Mr. Goldstein said he gradually became disenchanted with Mr. Obama when his promises to change Washington did not come to pass. He said he was particularly incensed by the administration’s stance toward Israel, particularly the president’s view that the 1967 borders should be a starting point for negotiations for a two-state peace solution. He said he also believed that Mr. Obama showed disrespect to Mr. Netanyahu.
Or this:
Mr. Goldstein...conceded that some of his frustrations at Mr. Obama were also a result of what he saw as the president’s failure to uphold liberal principles on gun control and some social issues. But he said that his discontent was strong enough that he would cast a vote for Mr. Romney and that he intended to campaign aggressively in Pennsylvania.
Again: if you vote Republican because you're anti-abortion, or support GOP tax policies, or oppose unions...well, then you should vote Republican. If you vote Republican because you identify with a group that generally supports Republicans and in turn is supported by Republicans when they win, then you certainly should vote for Mitt Romney. That would include, I'd say, anyone who has flipped on those issues or identifications since the last election. Look, I'd probably even say that if your main concern is Israel and you believe that Mitt Romney is unusually suited for handling policy there because of his long friendship with Netanyahu...well, I don't think that will matter at all for a Romney presidency, but it's not nuts to believe it might, I suppose.

But flipping from Obama to Romney because Obama hasn't done enough for liberal social issues? And because you believe some mischaracterization of Obama's policies on Israel?

So I don't know that I should be picking on Michael Goldstein, who is apparently the star of Sheldon Adelson's anti-Obama ad campaign targeted at Jews, although he volunteer himself for the role. I'll just say that if that's the pitch Adelson is using, he's really looking for very stupid Jews. My guess? He won't find many. Oh, I expect Mitt Romney will do better than John McCain did with the Jews, but I'll be that it winds up all being the result of general reasons (that is, the economy), not because of anything to do with Israel or specifically Jewish concerns.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Santiago Casilla, 32. I've always thought he was a good pitcher, although as with most of us I didn't always think he was Santiago Casilla (check out the b-r url, by the way). Currently a poster boy for the closer thing, but he's been a good pitcher for a long while, whichever inning he's tossed into.

On to the good stuff:

1. Spencer Ackerman studies Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech, and thinks he's found some substance in it. Interesting.

2. Excellent point by Seth Masket about politicians vs. experts. I fully agree with him, as regular readers might guess.

3. Dahlia Lithwick and Raymond Vasvari make the case against the case against disclosure. I don't think they really convinced me that it's an example of the same thing as the stuff in the first few paragraphs, but just ignore that and get to the disclosure argument.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Elsewhere: Lazy Mendacity, ACA (Or: The Crooked Line)

I've been writing quite a bit about lazy mendacity, although I've had no success at getting it going as a hashtag. Over the weekend, I had a column over at Salon talking about the whole idea of it, and then today I had a PP post about lazy mendacity in a Mitt Romney TV appearance today.

Meanwhile, at Greg's place today I looked at the new CBO reports and talked about ACA, the budget, and the Republicans.

This Offer Is Unrepeatable

Mitt Romney gave a speech billed as a major foreign policy address today, just before he embarks on a quick world tour.

I may get around to the substance later (here's Dan Drezner's quick reaction post), but I noted several comments about target audiences just after the speech. Drezner figures it's aimed at domestic constituencies, and notes that "swing voters don't care about foreign policy," which is no doubt true; indeed, it's hard to find very many Americans who care much about foreign policy, certainly as a voting issue. Chuck Todd said it sounded aimed at Republican voters. Seth Michaels speculated that Romney had to keep selling to those Republican voters, since they still don't trust him. And Heather Hurlburt had my favorite one: "#Romney speech specifically aimed at greatest generation voters, given lack of references to post-1945 developments."

So: who should presidential nominees be targeting with their foreign policy speeches?

That's easy. Since Drezner is correct that voters mostly don't care at all about foreign policy, there's no point at appealing to them. So foreign policy talk, even more than any other policy talk, should be targeted squarely at elites. That is, in this case, the foreign policy and national community expert community. The goal? For normal non-incumbents, it's very simple: to prove competence.

Here's the chain. Voters probably don't care about foreign policy -- but they may care about the possibility that the person they're electing is totally incapable of dealing with those issues. Partisan voters will naturally absorb the views of partisan opinion leaders from their side, who of course are going to give the partisan-appropriate answer. However, very weak partisans or true independents may soak up impressions of less partisan general opinion leaders. In turn, those less partisan opinion leaders will probably absorb the impression of non-partisan or at least not-very-partisan foreign policy and national security experts.

So, sell the experts that you're not a moron, and they'll sell the David Gergens of the world, and you'll be fine.

What complicates this for Romney is the distance on some issues between Republican partisans on national security and, well, everyone else. It's hard to say something that will please both John Bolton and Dan Drezner. The likely result in such situations is mush, and for the most part that's the direction Romney is taking.

Really Mystified

I missed this yesterday: Jonathan Chait takes apart Amity Shlaes, who is apparently ready to junk the Constitution and give the Articles of Confederation another try. You might think that Chait is exaggerating, but, no, he really isn't; she refers to the Articles as "our tradition" compared to the newfangled income tax.

Ah well. Chait is exactly right; Shlaes embrace of the Articles gives away the game, which has been about pretending (or, perhaps, ignorantly believing) that the Constitution was written to restrict the power of the federal government, when in fact exactly the opposite was true.

I'll add one thing: the substantive point that Shlaes seems to be embracing is almost certainly wrong, too. She's daydreaming about a scheme that would have the states raise tax money and then pass it along to the federal government, which she suspects would be a good idea because she thinks the US is suffering from "fiscal illusion" -- that people aren't aware of how much they pay in taxes because governments hide the true size of taxes from people. That's something that theoretically could happen, but I'm confident that if anything what the United States has is the opposite. Surveys find that people always believe that taxes have recently gone up, even then they've been cut; while federal income tax is obviously not the only tax out there, we also know that a lot of people who feel oppressed by tyrannical levels of federal income tax actually pay none at all. The truth is that most people who take home a paycheck do in fact know about the tax bite out of that paycheck (even if they mistake exactly which tax it is), and that's by far the bulk of federal tax revenues. Sales taxes (or even more so, a VAT) are far less obvious than a payroll tax or income taxes.

No, what really is "stealth" in the US system isn't taxes -- it's spending, particularly spending done through the tax code.

Which is neither here nor there, anyway. We know what the American people want: less spending overall but more spending on practically every specific category; lower taxes for most and higher taxes on the rich, except when you actually do raise taxes on the rich they don't like it much; and balanced budgets. I'm willing to place a strong bet that shifting who collects taxes, or even what kinds of taxes are collected, won't do much to unmuddle that mess.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Summer Glau, 31. OK, I'll try to get off Whedon tomorrow. Depending on who shows up.

The good stuff:

1. Mona Yacoubian on Syria. Not cheerful, at all.

2. See also C.J. Chivers on the military situation there. Via Drezner.

3. I'm really impressed with Chris Cillizza. He had a column all about how the local economies in swing states would affect the election yesterday morning. Later, he became aware of the political science findings that in fact impressions of the national economy, rather than what's happening close to home, is what makes the difference...and he not only ran an item about it over at The Fix, but he reprinted an entire John Sides post. Really: I can't blame anyone for getting it wrong sometimes, but the difference between the good ones and the bad ones is whether they're open to admitting mistakes, or at least presenting evidence to the contrary. I don't know anything about how this all came about, but there are a lot of reporters who wouldn't even come close to doing that. (And of course, kudos too to John for writing about all this so well).

4. And Matt Yglesias takes on Michael Jordan and taxation. As usual, I claim no knowledge of the NBA. The obvious point to make is that (1) it's absolutely true that Jordan's success made lots of money for people in and around the Bulls, but (2) all of that probably is exactly the same if Jordan was taxed quite a bit more than he actually was, which was also higher than what he'd be paying now. I was not, however, aware that Wilt Chaimberlain is an example in a classic argument against progressive taxation.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Catch of the Day

Here's one for Ed Kilgore, for calling out a very poorly thought out Thomas Edsall column that, as Kilgore says, equates running negative ads (purportedly designed primarily to convince soft Mitt Romney voters to stay home) with the GOP "war on voting" things such as voter id laws and purges of voter lists.

Even if you buy Edsall’s assumption that the Obama campaign’s anti-Romney ads are designed to convince non-college educated white voters who won’t support the incumbent to give Romney a pass as well, it is fundamentally wrong to treat such efforts as equivalent to utilizing the power of government to bar voters from the polls altogether. Voters hypothetically convinced by the Obama ads to “stay home” in the presidential contest are perfectly free to skip that ballot line and vote their preferences for other offices, just as they are perfectly free to ignore both presidential campaigns’ attack ads and make a “hard choice” between two candidates they aren’t crazy about. Lumping negative ads together with voter disenfrancisement under the rubric of “vote suppression” legitimizes the latter as a campaign tactic rather than what it actually is: an assault on the exercise of fundamental democratic rights.
First of all, I completely agree with Kilgore's main point. Trying to convince voters to do something is just fundamentally difference from disenfranchising them; the one is unquestionably and completely legitimate politics, while the other is, well, difficult.

That is, I have to admit that I am somewhat ambivalent about the last bit I quoted from Kilgore. I do find what the Republicans have been doing appalling. And yet, when I think about it, I find that the case against it as a legitimate "campaign tactic" is harder to make than one might suspect.

Here's the problem: I am certain that full democracy does depend on every citizen having the vote; more broadly, it depends on every citizen having an opportunity to amass and use politically relevant resources, and the vote is essentially a gateway resource. On the other hand, politicians and parties are going to legitimately compete over votes, and we expect them to use whatever they have to do so. I'm tempted to say that just because in the US right now we happen to have one party which generally wants high turnout and another which wants low turnout, we should naturally expect one party to favor policies which make voting harder, and that's just how it goes. I do feel that way about other ground rules type policies which might have  partisan effects, whether it's redistricting or campaign finance. For example, I see nothing at all wrong with a majority party conducting a partisan gerrymander. That's just politics. I continue to believe that a "good government" view that we can have neutral ground rules and only compete on policy is wrong in all sorts of ways (among other things, because there's no neutral point from which to set those rules, because in a healthy politics as much as possible should be able to be contested if people do in fact disagree).

And yet...voting feels different, doesn't it? I guess it goes back to what I said above: voting really is the gateway resource. Even, perhaps, more so than speech. Surely, a polity which limits the franchise to only some citizens is (unless there's a damn good reason) going to be to that extent an imperfect or incomplete democracy. Or, if you prefer blunt interpretations, undemocratic at least to that extent. And so it's hard to say that a party's actions are legitimate in a democracy if they tend to make that nation undemocratic.

But as I said, I think it's a less clear-cut case than some might think.

What's not difficult at all, however, is the main case that Kilgore makes. Edsall could have made an interesting argument against negative ads by pointing out the potential effects and noting the surface similarity to GOP voter suppression...but what he actually wrote is basically calling those things one and the same, that's just not the case. And so: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Charisma Carpenter, 42. I have to say that Angel is easily my least-favorite of the Joss Whedon TV shows...there are certainly bits I like, but overall I found it rather forgettable. I do like, however, what happened to Cordy (really? I would have thought it was spelled Cordi), at least in the first couple of seasons. A character who had earned the right to grow up.

On to the good stuff:

1. An excellent contribution to the WaPo "5 Myths" series: Michigan's Ted Brader on campaign ads.

2. The idea that most undecided voters typically break towards the challenger turns out to be a myth (one that I used to believe, until Nate Silver did the work on statewide elections that convinced me otherwise). Now Silver turns to presidential elections to show the same thing.

3. Nice Ezra Klein post about taxes, small business, and jobs.

4. Suzy Khimm discusses some options for reforming the filibuster; good post, and always good to ask Sarah Binder on this topic -- but she didn't mention Superbill!

5. And I'm not watching The Newsroom now, and probably won't catch up with it later, but I still totally enjoyed Alex Pareene's great Sorkin rant.

July 22, 1972

Three segments of Nixon and Haldeman, who are talking at Camp David in the afternoon.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Curious about this one...the campaign finance proposal I'd support would be no public funding of presidential elections, partial public funding of House (and I suppose if I really had my choice Senate) general elections -- something like 250K or 500K per House district; full disclosure; and other than that, something like unlimited contributions (not entirely certain about exactly what I'd say yes to and what I wouldn't, but that's the general idea).

So, the question is: in the unlikely event that Republicans would agree to that plan as a compromise (they presumably like the unlimited part and until recently liked the disclosure part, while they dislike any public funding): would you support that deal?

I'm assuming that few liberals would choose my preferences as their ideal system, and I certainly do not believe that a deal like this one could be made...but the question really is would you prefer it to the status quo.

By the way: I'd also be open to partial funding of all federal primary elections, too, probably with some sort of matching funds up to some fairly low dollar amount scheme, but that's even more impossible to imagine getting through Congress.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What, if anything, are you hoping for out of Mitt Romney's overseas trip?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I've been generally on the side of those who think that what's been happening in Syria has wider importance, so that's going to be my contribution for this week. I have no idea whether or not the regime will fall, but it certainly seemed that the events in Damascus this week were a significant step.

As far as not mattering...that's easy; this week's big flap over Obama's "didn't built that" comment is a classic one.

So, what do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

July 20, 1972

They're back in Washington, and Nixon had long meetings about Watergate with Ehrlichman and Colson on the 19th, and then with Haldeman on the 20th. Nothing is really new. The FBI is still questioning people, and the grand jury is beginning its work. John Dean is actively running the cover up, reporting to Haldeman, who keeps the president informed. Most of the conversation over these two days is about the same thing: working towards a coherent story they can tell the prosecutors, and who if anyone they have to sacrifice to do that.

Friday Baseball Post

OK: I had a long, very dull post three-quarters written about how Jeter has no chance at Rose, because Joe Sheehan doesn't entirely dismiss it earlier this week. "Maybe a 5% chance, tops." I promise, it was a lousy post. I'll make it short: on the one hand, if Jeter came anywhere close, it's reasonable to believe that absolutely everyone at MLB would be doing everything possible to drag him across the finish line -- but on the other hand, there's just no way he's going to get close enough for that to kick in.

Instead, I'll check in on the other guy who I made a strong prediction about. I said last May that he wasn't going to make it, and then checked in again in September when he had improved his position. Well, that was then. He's now at 2762...nope, he got three hits tonight, so that's 2765. However, it's only 42 hits this year, and he's been pretty awful in a part-time job (he improved tonight from 286 OBP/347 SLG). A full time year for Johnny Damon these days is about 150 hits...it seems unlikely that he has another of those to come, doesn't it? Still, he's not quite out of it yet. He needs something; he needs to put together a couple of good months. It's also easy to imagine him getting to the end of the line really fast. I'll be watching.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Polite. Prudent. Politicize.

There are three kinds of issues properly surrounding whether it's appropriate to invoke political discussions in the wake of the events in Aurora.

The first is etiquette. Etiquette suggests that it may be appropriate to wait a bit before we discuss policy options, electoral effects, or any of the other practical stuff of life, or it might be appropriate to use quieter voices in the initial aftermath. May be appropriate. Whether it is or not depends on the particular circumstances of the calamity, as well as the particular context of who is talking and where and how. Who are you speaking to? How do they feel about, how are they connected to, the victims? Etiquette tells us to respect people's emotions and try not to offend; we want to follow that just as we would if we suffered a death among our family or our workplace or some other group. But what it exactly entails may be not entirely obvious.

The second is prudence. Making policy pronouncements immediately isn't just crass; it's foolish. Politicians and pundits need to constantly remind themselves: initial reports of sudden events are always confused, and may include things that turn out to be absolutely incorrect. When in any doubt, waiting another hour, or even another day, may be the wisest course.

But the third is: of course it is at some point and in some way appropriate to discuss the political implications, including policy implications, of these types of events, and to advocate for the policies we prefer.

One way of thinking about politics is that it's about how we collectively decide how to organize ourselves. That includes decisions over which aspects of our lives we will choose to treat as within the realm of politics, and which we choose to treat as beyond that realm. In a democracy, all sorts of questions like that -- not just what to do, but which things we should even consider to be "political" at all -- will be contested. David Waldman put it well this morning: "If you live under a regime of self-government, everything is political. Even the decision to decline to address things politically."

And there's more than that. In my view, the best justification for democracy is only that we want to have the ability to collectively choose how we wish to live (including, always, the leave-each-other-alone options big and small). The idea that democracy gives the objectively best policy answers is, as far as I can see, an unproven assertion at best; the idea that democracy means that the correct people are policy winners is not only theoretically silly in my view but, again, another unproven assertion.

What this means, however, is that things are political and politicized because ultimately we want them to be. The United States is an invented nation, invented in order to allow its citizens to engage in politics, and so virtually everything is open to politicization. I don't accept what Jamelle Bouie said over the at Plum Line this morning -- that "we look at this from the perspective of our culture and not our politics." The democratic answer is that our culture is at least from one point of view part of our politics as well. We may well choose that government-influenced cultural change is worse than leaving culture to its own devices; we may choose that even if we actually agreed on what cultural changes were positive and that government could effect those changes, just because we feel strongly that government shouldn't be involved in that area. But that, too, is a political choice.

Oh, and that goes for extra-governmental politics, too -- private organizations organizing boycotts, for example, or people publicly arguing for some sort of cultural changes. That's politics, too, and it's also part of what the American Republic is about. Suggestions for such as Jamelle's that we should collectively change our culture are in at least one sense political suggestions even if they are meant to be carried out without any electoral or governmental involvement at all.

(To be fair, I suspect Jamelle agrees with what I'm saying here and just didn't word what he said the way I would have; his post is just the closest example at hand).

So: be polite; be cautious. And then, if you believe that change is needed (or if you believe that proposed changes should not take place -- there's nothing in what I'm saying that is meant to imply that advocating change is on any different ground than advocating the status quo), do not hesitate to propose it and work for it, and (as long as you're attending to etiquette) ignore anyone who says that it's wrong to politicize or to exploit an awful situation. There's nothing more patriotic in the United States of America than engaging in political action.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Stephen Strasberg, 24.

And some good stuff:

1. Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, SEK actually reads the Bachmann et al. complaint about creeping Sharia in the State Department and is, shall we say, less than impressed. It's true, you know; Bachmann really is the inferior crazy.

2. Dave Weigel explains the "magic word gaffe." Excellent concept...but it's not the name I would have chosen.

3. All political junkies will enjoy the amazing 19th century parties map, available at Mapping the Nation author Susan Schultan's blog. Via Seth Masket, who makes a great point about the stability of the Democrats and Republicans. A big part of that was the trade off with the Australian ballot and then eventually primary elections; the parties gained government support in exchange for what eventually would be some real loss of control of their nominations (although after several decades, they did learn how to regain it, but of course in very different ways). Other thing to note: the 19th century absence of Majority Leaders in the Senate.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Elsewhere: Filibuster, The Crazy, Romney

Over at PP today, I noted that filibuster reform might be coming -- and pushed for everyone to think carefully about what a post-reform Senate should look like, and how to get there. Without, for better or worse, mentioning Superbill!

At Greg's place, I say that what John McCain did yesterday was good, and it's even better that many including John Boehner piled on today -- but it will only really help the GOP excise the crazy if they follow up by finding some real penalties for Michele Bachmann and her gang of neo-McCarthyites.

And one from yesterday: I talked about yesterday's hot campaign rumor that Romney was going to start "vetting" Barack Obama, and put it in the context of campaign incentives when there are two very different target audiences for Romney to deal with.

As long as I'm here: I don't know how many of you (especially those reading these posts) have been following the Watergate posts, but if you're drifting in and out of them you might want to read the one from last night. Not because it's startling (although the George Wallace stuff sort of is), but because I try to describe exactly what the cover-up was all about, which is pretty much the context for the next several months.

The Context of the Campaign

I wasn't really sure whether this one was worth an item or not, but anyway...I was in the car yesterday, and flipping around I wound up on the local conservative talk radio station. Very first words I heard: I can't do it verbatim, but it was essentially "I've come to the conclusion that Barack Obama is deliberately trying to ruin America." Followed by a bit about how George W. Bush was just incompetent, and the host had entertained that possibility with Obama...but after careful reflection, he's now decided that it must be deliberate. After all, he went on, you can see it in his eyes. After that, he then talked about how Mitt Romney should issue an edict when he became president to nullify the Supreme Court decision on health care reform, and something about how we need a good Constitutional crisis about now.

The guy turned out to be a guest host: Mark Williams, who got some publicity when he was kicked out of one of the Tea Party groups for a flap a while back. As I was saying, I wasn't really sure it was worth an item, but that tipped me over the edge was the radio show web sight, which had a different topic highlighted entirely:

Getting A Voter ID Is "Inconvenient"...do We Really Want These People To Vote In The First Place?
The obvious question is which is worse: "These People" or "We"?

Anyway, it's a good reminder of the context that Mitt Romney is operating within. This isn't to make excuses for Romney; party leaders can do a fair amount to change their own party's context. But it does help explain what he's up to. He's heading up a party which is constantly told that the President of the United States hates this country and is actively trying to undermine it. At the very least, that sets a pretty weird context for the campaign and gives Romney a set of choices that wouldn't be immediately apparent without understanding that context.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to George McGovern, 90.

The good stuff:

1. An Ezra Klein reader teaches how to be a political pundit, in four easy phrases. Huh. I don't believe I've used any of those, at least not non-sarcastically. This may explain why I'm not on TV.

2. I think Kevin Drum's analysis of the tax returns question is the right way to go: it's not that swing voters are listening now, but that they might be later. Or: whether or not swing voters will actually pay any attention to it and potentially switch their vote based on it, as long as everyone in the political system believes that swing voters might do that, then Democrats and the "objective" press (which loves this kind of goo goo thing) will keep the pressure on, and Republican elites too will continue to push Romney to resolve it.

3. Good Mark Blumenthal look at likely voter screens and related polling issues.

4. Mann and Ornstein's latest, via Suzy Khimm: Norm says that what's needed to change things would be CEOs and other business leaders stepping up. Well, I agree that would help. Specifically, if they decided that GOP brinkmanship and general poor behavior was a real threat to the economy and either successfully pressured Republicans to cut it out, or if they gave up on the GOP in large enough numbers to have a real effect.

5. And goyim are playing gaga? Really? That's new to me. Karen Alexander reports.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 18, 1972

The California trip is over, and they're flying home. First, a little non-Watergate fun from Haldeman's Diary:

Catch of the Day

The catch is to Jonathan Chait, for noticing that Mitch McConnell's threat to Harry Reid on the filibuster wasn't especially scary:
Ooh, repealing Obamacare with a majority vote — scary! Except that McConnell has already threatened to do this anyway through budget reconciliation rules, which don't require a supermajority. That's not really much of a deterrent.
Well, yes.

A broader point: if Democrats believe that Republicans will inevitably turn the Senate into a majority party rules institution as soon as they get the majority, then there's a strong incentive for Democrats to make that reform now whether or not they actually support it.

The tricky thing is if Senators and other insiders believe that Republicans will be very hesitant to move on reform, but if liberal activists and other outsiders are absolutely convinced that Republicans will do so -- which may be exactly what Reid is faced with. In that situation, activists will find the inaction of Democratic Senators totally inexplicable, but Democratic Senators may believe that the outsiders are just wrong.

Of course -- that leaves out the big question of which side is actually correct. It's very possible that Republican Senators currently believe that they will not initiate Senate reform should they take the majority, but in fact pressure from Republican activists will push them to do so anyway. In that scenario, using Republican Senators (and their staffs, and other Senate insiders) as a source would be actively misleading.

On the other hand, it's certainly possible that Republicans (whenever they take control) will live by the same rules that Democrats have live with for the past few years. After all, Republicans did not, in fact, go nuclear when George W. Bush was president. Some fudging of reconciliation rules, a fair amount of bluster, but nothing more. There are in fact strong incentives for individual Senators to retain their rights, and that applies just as much to Republicans as to Democrats. So if Senate Democrats believe that Republicans would respect Senate rules -- and the fact that Democrats have moved slowly towards reform indicates they do -- then they might be right, after all.

My guess has been that what Republicans would actually do will depend on lots of different things, including size of their majority, presidential priorities, and which particular Republicans make up their Senate conference. So it's uncertain.

But to get back to the original point: Nice catch!

Reports of an Imminent Pick May Be Exaggerated

August 24, 2012

Mitt Romney today unveiled his running mate...or at least, he might have. The national media entirely ignored Romney's hastily-called event, and reports of who the lucky man or woman might be are still sketchy.

It's not that no one cares who will be chosen; speculation still runs high. It's just that no one in the entire press corps is willing to believe that this time, the rumors are finally true and it's not yet another attempt to distract the media.

How did we get here?

It began in June, with hints from Team Romney that an early announcement might be coming. But that accelerated in mid-July. First, a Drudge-reported "It's Condi!" fiasco that caused a brief media frenzy, at least on twitter. When that faded, it was followed rapidly by a "could be this week...." and "Friday! I hear it's Friday!" mid-July tease, to diminishing returns.

Next, just before Romney left for a foreign trip, was an elaborate charade of chartered planes flying ostentatiously from Louisiana, Ohio, and Minnesota to Romney's Ohio location. You'll recall the impressive choreography: first, the leaks of the flight plans; then, the leaks of the "real" locations of Jindal, Portman, and Pawlenty which "proved" they couldn't be on their way to being anointed; then the reporting that none of them were actually in those locations; and finally the perfectly ordinary campaign rally in which no announcement was made.

It was brilliant...but also a kind of turning point. The following week, when Paul Ryan suddenly turned up at the Romney suite during the Olympics and NRO floated a rumor of a London announcement ("reminiscent of Churchill and Thatcher, something that will fully demonstrate how Obama still hasn't learned to be an American"), the enthusiasm had noticeably faded.

That worsened when Romney returned to the US and the ill-fated Sununu rumor showed up on Drudge, especially when it immediately splintered into a muddled report that the Massachusetts Governor had settled on not the 73 year old former White House Chief of Staff, but his son, the former Senator, which was followed by reporting that, no, it was all some sort of garbled dictation about "getting a copy of that Beatles song Here Comes the Sun, you know." At least that was an accident; the mid-August decision to have 15 different staffers leak 15 different names just seemed sad, even if it did lead to a pretty funny moment when Fred Barnes rushed to Fox News to talk about how terrific Ben Quayle was without managing to say anything negative about his father. It seemed just cruel, however, to assign Jennifer Rubin the task of showing what a brilliant strategy it was to select Scooter Libby as Veep, although she certainly was up to the task.

And while it's hard to blame Boston for the dual "scoops" earlier this week -- Dick Morris's claim that Hillary Clinton was about to resign in order to take the second spot on the GOP ticket, and Bill Kristol's inevitable discovery that Sarah Palin would be named -- it all added up for the national press corps.

Which all gets us to today's campaign failed announcement. Now if we can only find out who it was...he did finally name somebody, didn't he?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Terry Chambers, 57.

And some good stuff:

1. A good Medicaid update from Sarah Kliff.

2. Nice item from Jonathan Cohn about how Barack Obama really does differ from Mitt Romney despite not actually being a crazed communist or anything like that.

3. I had assumed we would be getting a short-term Continuing Resolution to kick the question of FY 2013 appropriations beyond the election, so it would be considered along with the sequester and the rest of the year-end traffic jam. But Stan Collender makes a pretty good argument that House Republicans aren't going to allow it, and we could be in for a pre-election mess. I still don't think so; however, I'm going to start keeping an eye on it.

4. And speaking of which, here's a Dylan Matthews explainer about the fiscal cliff.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I usually like Harry Enten's work, but I don't get this argument:
Mitt Romney currently trails in the polling average by about 2 percentage points. If Romney got even half of what Kerry received or about the median vice-presidential declaration effect, then he would move into the lead in the polls. It would mark the first time all year that Romney will have lead in a majority of polls. Romney would almost certainly garner good press and perhaps some extra fundraising. It would also stop the Romneys' financials news cycle. 
Well, yes, Romney would likely get a bounce. After which...the bounce would go away; that's the nature of bounces. Yes, he would get good press for a few days, but then Barack Obama's campaign would start pressing him again on taxes and Bain and all, and if he continued to handle it poorly, he'd be right back where he started. If he's able to handle it well, then he should just do that now.

Sure, as Enten says, the VP bounce is also likely to produce new fundraising success. But again: so what? That bounce will happen whenever it happens, and produce whatever fundraising it will produce. There's no reason to think that the Romney campaign has a cash flow problem, so shifting a little fundraising from August to July isn't likely to matter at all.

My own sense of this is that the later, the better. Why? Because the longer Romney waits, the more relevant information will be produced. That's true even if Romney has already reached a (tentative) decision; better to leak it out in order to learn from the reaction. If they really care for whatever reason about keeping the pick a surprise (and why?), they can always leak out two or three other names between now and the final unveiling.

I still can't really see any significant advantage in doing it now.
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