Friday, August 31, 2012

But If Charlie Brown Was Their Bench Manager...

Whatever the Republican National Convention did for Mitt Romney, it seems to have one solid accomplishment: it boosted the careers of several Republican politicians, leading to an emerging media consensus that the Republican bench is strong should they have an open nomination fight in 2016. As a reporter said to John Sides:
It seems that plenty of Republicans are mentioned as potential candidates in 4 years: Christie, Daniels, Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush… even Nikki Haley and Rand Paul. It seems far fewer Democrats are on the bench… there’s always Hillary, and some talk about Martin O’Malley and Andrew Cuomo, but I don’t hear too many more.
I think there’s a real misconception here about candidates and the process.
Republicans in 2012 did have an unusually small group of conventionally qualified candidates to choose from because of the 2006 and 2008 landslides – some experienced potential candidates lost, and few if any new ones were elected in time to serve at least four years (well, almost four years – what Obama had served by Election Day in 2008).

But still, there were lots of Republicans who had political talent and conventional credentials. However, the primary process – which severely penalized candidates for any deviation from conservative norms, which themselves appear to be ever-changing – probably did a lot of pre-winnowing that we don’t even know about. Vote for TARP? Oops. Support Romney-style health care reform? Well, obviously it didn’t prevent nomination, but it was an issue. Immigration? Thanks for trying, Governor Perry.

Not to mention that some of the bright lights of the convention and the party – Condi Rice and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, for example – are ineligible because of the absolute veto anti-abortion activists have on the nomination.

But we can see abortion now; what we can’t know is what tough votes any of the rising stars will have to cast over the next few years, and how they’ll turn out. Which governor, for example, will be pressed by a Democratic legislature to sign a tax increase? Which one will wind up on the wrong side of the marriage issue? Nor can we tell which of this group (or, to be sure, the seemingly promising Democrats we’ll be hearing from next week) will have a macaca moment, or get involved in a personal scandal, or otherwise be disgraced. Many of them will have to go through re-election campaigns in 2014, and all sorts of things could go wrong.

Some of that would, I'd think, apply equally to both sides: for every John Ensign, there's an Eliot Spitzer. However, the combination of ideological and policy issue vetoes, on the one hand, and rapidly and constantly changing must-have positions, on the other, certainly appears to me to be far more of a problem on the Republican side at this point.

So it’s good for the Republican Party that they have a good-sized group of talented politicians. If the past is any indication, they’ll need it just to manage to have one or two solid candidates the next time they have an open presidential nomination contest.

Epistemic Closure Watch (GOP Convention Edition)

Do Republicans have a problem of living in closed information feedback loop? Does it make it difficult for them to communicate with the rest of the nation?

Let me ask you this: remember when Solyndra was a monster scandal and a household word? I suspect that if you listen to Rush Limbaugh regularly, you do -- but if not, and believe it or not it's not only a handful of extreme left-wingers who don't -- then no, you probably don't know anything about Solyndra. There's an excellent chance, in fact, that you've never even heard of it. So if you're a typical low-information undecided voter who tunes in to Paul Ryan's speech, what do you make of this:
It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make believe markets.
My guess is: huh?

It wasn't just Ryan, either; I'm sure I heard Solyndra name-dropped half a dozen times at least throughout the convention, as if it meant something. And yet, while I certainly could have missed something, I think Ryan's explanation was the most thorough one given.

Granted: you have to throw something to the rabid fans, too. But if Solyndra is really something worth talking about, you would think it's worth a paragraph or four -- even an entire speech, really -- explaining. Obviously I have no way of knowing this, but my strong guess would be that it isn't that Republicans thought that more on Solyndra would weaken the point or wouldn't appeal to independents; it's that Republicans assumed that more wasn't needed. And if so, it's exactly the kind of damaging effect of epistemic closure that I and others have been harping on for some time now.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Gina Schock, 55. Just watched the Go-Go's concert in Central Park video again the other day: excellent.

A little bit of good stuff:

1. I thought that when I was mostly not listening to Rand Paul I heard him tell the Ronald Reagan's drunk dad story -- and, apparently, he did. Noah Millman notes that it wouldn't have made any more sense had I heard the full (out-of) context.

2.Video fun: Michele Goldberg interviews Jon Voight

3. Matt Yglesias looks beyond the question of one plant in one town to ask about overall manufacturing in the Obama era. Good post, but where's the parody song about the Jainsville factory?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Building It, Day 3

My wrap on Mitt Romney's speech is over at PP. Short version: eh.

I'll add a couple things to what I said over there in a minute, but first -- holy cow! We're watching a national party convention, and all of a sudden a great TV moment breaks out. Well, that was certainly unexpected. The Clint Eastwood appearance would have been amazing TV wherever it was plunked down, but as it was it was even more incongruous than it would have been at, say, an awards show or on Oprah or whatever, and so that made it even that much more TV TV. It wasn't something to like or dislike; it was just something to appreciate, and marvel at, and to remember to thank television, in its twilight years, for all the great moments its given us.

Now, Romney. The one thing that I didn't mention over there that I probably should have is about the truth. My sense? There's a very good chance that they deflated the speech and removed some of the trademark Romney lies after the vehemence of the reaction to Ryan. In particular, it was striking that the welfare thing was gone. Oh, sure, the (fictional) apology tour made an appearance, and I noticed a couple of other whoppers, but overall the complaint against Obama didn't seem entirely divorced from reality, or at least not actively insulting the truth.

As for the rest of the day, we did actually have a little policy section -- Jeb Bush on education -- which seemed totally out of place for at least the parts I saw of this convention, although perfectly normal for a regular convention of either party. We had one nice moment about Romney himself, with regular people who Romney had helped in his capacity as an LDS bishop. But the rest of the day did little to really humanize him. Including, for the most part, the film, this time used early instead of bringing the nominee on stage. It was fine, but it was forgettable. My brother has been pushing a theory that it's a waste of time to try to get people to like Mitt, and the convention organizers certainly acted as if they believed that. I liked the Olympics part.

And of course you can imagine that I liked the balloon drop and the parade of the running mate, the wives, and then the families on to the stage. For whatever it's worth, this version was nicely done.

So, the Republicans have had their turn. Time for a nice long weekend away from conventions (well, at least away from watching them), and then the Democrats get their turn on Tuesday.

Catch of the Day

The catch goes to Paul Glastris, who (via Ed Kilgore) looked at Paul Ryan last night and saw Eddie Haskell.

That's perfect. If you young'ns don't remember, Eddie Haskell was Wally Cleaver's friend who was noted for "his unctuous politeness to adults and his weasly, sharp-tongued meanness to everybody else." The great thing about Eddie Haskell as a character, though, was how utterly phony his act was, and therefore how ineffective it was; Ward and June were never, if I recall correctly, even remotely tempted to fall for it. Which, of course, is pretty much how I feel about Ryan.

Kilgore also points us to Charles Pierce, who sees "there's a lot of old Dick Nixon in young Paul Ryan." That's not what he means, though, in that (as he explains) it's not the old Dick Nixon -- it's the young Nixon of the 1950s that's on display in Ryan, albeit one who didn't actually work his way up from nothing the way the real Richard Nixon did. Nor does Ryan, off screen, appear to have Nixon's incredible work ethic; and while Nixon's targets were hundreds and hundreds of local Republican big shots that he constantly tended to for decades until it finally paid off for good in 1968, Ryan's targets were the much smaller, albeit apparently just as easily duped, Republicans of the Washington conservative establishment plus some of the Washington press corps. No, it's no surprise that some of them are not as wise as Ward and June Cleaver.

The two are closely related; apparently Garry Wills didn't go with Eddie Haskell, who after all never did an honest day's work in his life -- which was hardly Nixon's story. Nixon, as Pierce says, earned his resentment the hard way. For Wills, Nixon is Dickens's unctuous Uriah Heep. Since I know Leave it to Beaver much better than I know David Copperfield (at least the one with two p's; I know about the other one), I won't comment further on it, except to say that Nixon Agonistes is as good a book as you're going to read about American politics and I can't recommend it highly enough.

At any rate, I'm supposed to be on Ryan here, and not making it all go back to Nixon all the time, but you know, sometimes that's just how it is. And: great catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

One of the tougher decisions I've had in a while, but I'll have to go with a Happy Birthday to Lars Frederiksen, 41.

Have to get straight to the good stuff this morning:

1. Members of Congress who lost renomination attempts over the last few decades, compiled by Greg Giroux.

2. Adam Serwer on the five weirdest items in the GOP platform.

3. Pre-speech, John Sides has five things polling tells us about Paul Ryan.

4. Huh. I had no idea that the current doctor shortage was caused by the Newt Congress (in their deal with Bill Clinton, so that, too) and could be fairly easily solved. Sarah Kliff reports. Kliff says the problem is money; my question is whether the doctors are for it (to relieve the shortage) or against it (because restricting supply of something should make it more expensive).

5. As far as I'm concerned, we still don't know why offensive levels headed upwards in the mid-1990s, spiked, and have fallen back down in the last several years. Jay Joffe thinks it was the balls.

August 29, 1972

Haldeman's Diary:


P had his press conference today. Went very well. He had 15 questions, 8 of them were political, 4 on Vietnam, 2 a sort of a combination Vietnam/political. One on foreign policy and none on domestic policy.

Building It, Day 2

I don't get riled up often -- regular readers can, I hope, vouch from me on that one. I did, however, get just a bit over the top tonight (specifically, on twitter) when Paul Ryan delivered one of the most awful lies I've heard in a major convention speech. I'm calmer now, and if you want more of that I wrote up a (very watered down) version of my twitter reaction over at Greg's place.

But if you're looking for something more in the way of analysis...

Actually, I do have a point to make about the broadcast network hour. I missed the earlier speeches; sorry, I played hooky to get to (half) of my pick-up game tonight, so other than a bit of Rand Paul on the radio on the way there, and a bit of the Huck on the radio on the way back, I don't have anything, other than to marvel that "build that" wasn't just a one-night thing.

As for the broadcast hour. It featured Condi Rice, Susana Martinez, and of course Ryan. What I have to say definitely applies to the first two, and probably to Ryan as well, although to tell the truth I floated in and out of his speech after the deficit commission thing and I don't really have it in me to go back and read it all. Still. Rice kicked it off with what many of us imagined would be a foreign policy speech, but not so! Instead, it was a perfectly fine speech about the United States, it's strengths, it's challenges and to some extent how her life fit into that. Folks on twitter at least were extremely impressed; I thought it was fairly good, but nothing special. Then came Martinez, who talked a whole lot about herself, took a few shots at Obama, and, well, no policy there, either. As far as Ryan: he talked a fair deal about the deficit, and quite a bit about health care reform, but there was relatively little positive policy stuff there, too -- definitely some on budget, although it's all a bunch of vague generalities, but beyond that I didn't hear much ( I did think that the first extended part of Ryan's speech, in which he made the case that Obama had come in with the economy in terrible shape but had failed to fix it, was overall quite well done. I thought the ACA section that followed was much less likely to appeal to anyone but committed Republicans, and then he got to the deficit...).

Nor, from any of them, did I get much of a sense of why Mitt Romney in particular was particularly well-suited for the Oval Office. We get, as we got on day one, a repeated version of his resume -- business, Olympics, governor -- but that's about it, beyond some vague "good leader" stuff that could have been used for anyone from the Huck to Pawlenty to even Herman Cain.

Anyway: I talked yesterday about how then the party was on policy. But several have been arguing that they're also thin on building up Romney, and I think that's right. As I was watching Rice and Martinez, however, what hit me was that the real goal of having them out there -- and I think the goal of last night's broadcast hour also -- was more basic than that. The goal is just to make the Republican Party seem not scary. That's it. They have normal people, who recite normal, non-scary, cliches. If you're fed up with Obama, you don't have to worry that you'll get some sort of freak show.

And if that was the goal -- and it's a smart goal to set -- then I think they've done a pretty good job of achieving it from what I've watched.

Also, Paul Ryan really did tell a whole bunch of really blatant lies, and his reputation should take a major hit for it. Just didn't think I should leave off on this without making sure everyone gets that part.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Real Me

I have a post up at PP this afternoon that I sort of liked about how the presidency is a job for politicians. Meanwhile, I the hook I used for it was a Romney adviser poor-mouthing him as a poor politician, which as I said was really just a way of spinning away his poor favorability numbers.

I went another way in the PP post, but another way to think about this is that, yes, favorability numbers should be thought of as a function of political skills and not some innate likability. To put it another way: likeability is generally not separate from other skills a politician might have. Oh, sure; there may be someone somewhere who would have terrific bargaining abilities and overall political sense but just repel so many voters that he or she would be unable to be elected. But that certainly can’t be the case for presidential nominees, who cannot make it that far without making themselves at least somewhat appealing to voters.

And the key there is “making themselves.” Political images aren’t something inherent in politicians; they are products created by candidacies and by the interaction of those politicians with the rest of the political world. Remember: everything you see, from one-on-one interviews to convention speeches to, yes, debate performances, is almost always thoroughly rehearsed and prepared. Nor are those performances received in isolation. Barack Obama was more charming – perceived as more charming – in 2008 than in 2010, not because he changed but because the political context changed. One reason why nominees look great at their conventions, as Romney will undoubtedly look great tomorrow night, is because they are by definition winners, and winners always look better than losers.

In that same vein, I have no problem with anyone who wants to watch the candidates -- or their spouses -- to get some idea of the persona that they'll be displaying in public should they win. But don't be fooled: what they show shouldn't in any sense be thought of as who they "really" are. Nor should you trust reporters to get at it. Every politician, and certainly every one of them who reaches that level, learns to put on a public face for the cameras -- and, yes, for those quieter interviews and "candid" moments, as well. Which is fine; of course they do that. It's part of the job. Just don't mistake it for something other than what it is.

(And it's not just what they're trying to do. We have lots and lots of examples of times when reporters apparently just got it wrong, perhaps because they tend to fall pretty easily for politicians -- or celebrities, or ballplayers -- who put real effort into working them. Kirby Puckett, anyone?).

The Paulite Mess

The big puzzle from Day One of the Republican National Convention was: why did Mitt Romney's convention pick a fight with the Ron Paul delegates?

Dana Millbank has some of the details. Basically, the convention took a candidate with a few hundred very aggrieved delegates, and gave them...pretty much nothing. Well, they get a video presentation and a Rand Paul speech today I guess, but what they didn't get was procedural fairness: not only were they not allowed to put Paul's name in nomination, but they also weren't given opportunities to formally dissent on new RNC rules or on the platform.

Some of that, to be sure, was understandable. Actual roll-call votes on the rules and the platform would have been extremely time consuming. But surely the convention could have found ways to accommodate the Paul delegates' desire to be heard. Would a formal nomination, for example, really have hurt anyone? As it was, the Paul delegates still voted for him; the convention simply refused to tally their votes.

The result was a few ruckuses on the convention floor during the rules and platform adoptions, which sparked some second-tier news stories -- and, during the actual nomination vote, much louder cheers for Paul's occasional votes than for Romney's, leading (for the tiny audience watching, but presumably also for the large contingent of working press on the scene) to the conclusion that the convention wasn't very enthusiastic about their nominee.

Now, it's possible that the GOP was stuck with this problem (especially the lack of enthusiasm for Romney) whatever they did. But I doubt it; it sure seems to me that they could have avoided the rules fiasco, at least, without either substantive concessions or blowing up the schedule.

Millbank interprets this as a case of Mitt Romney being a control freak. Could be; on the other hand, I'm always reluctant to invoke personality explanations, especially in cases where we don't know for a fact that the nominee himself had anything to do with it. My guess is that it was a more straightforward miscalculation; whoever was handling these choices figured that they had the votes, so why should they worry about accommodating what is, after all a pretty small minority at the convention (especially since it represents an even smaller minority within the electorate). They knew that they couldn't push Ron Paul himself so far that he would walk out, but that was about it; they didn't consider what the delegates might do.

I don't want to make more of this than it is; the GOP convention wasn't derailed significantly from its function of giving people who were inclined to vote Mitt some reasons for doing so. Still, it's an unforced error; a party doesn't want to get in the habit of making those.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Rebecca De Mornay, 53.

Right to the good stuff:

1. Good survey of what pro-choice Republicans are saying -- and even what some very conservative Republicans are saying -- about the current party, from Amy Fried.

2. Jonathan Chait's point about Republicans and the Constitution is a good one, albeit not exclusively a conservative Republican thing over the course of US history.

3. Garance Franke-Ruta on one of the strongest Day One speakers -- and one of the worst.

4. Mark Blumenthal summarizes what's known about convention bumps. And I think I linked to it already yesterday, but Brendan Nyhan's column on the conventions is especially strong.

5. And, timely: Alyssa Rosenberg reviews the current revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man. I saw the movie a while ago, and have never read the play...I wasn't enthusiastic, but I have thought it's worth another try.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Building It

My wrap on Chris Christie and Ann Romney's speeches is over at Greg's place. Short version: she was pretty good, he was okay, but what a substance-free party they are.

To add on to that a little, after a long day of convention watching...

Quite a few people noted during the day noted how remarkable it was that they build the entire day around an out of context quote from Barack Obama; they spent the day asserting that, yes, indeed, we did build that.

Only they didn't, really. The best one was the guy from Nevada whose entire business, apparently (according to him, that is) was getting government contracts...I think it was for road signs. And how disappointed he was when the stimulus didn't give him any new business. But all day long, we heard speaker after speaker start to explain how they, alone, had built their business, only to eventually credit their family, their workers, their communities.

Well, actually my favorite was the talk-show host who scolded Obama because God, it seems, was really the one who built America. Which, you know, is actually a lot more consistent with what Obama said than what the GOP theme of the day is, but never mind that. It sounded like a good rebuke.

Which really was all they had today. And, for what it's worth, is probably okay, as far as WH 2012 is concerned. You don't convert people through clever arguments at the conventions; you furnish those who really are inclined to vote for you but haven't quite accepted it yet for whatever reasons with acceptable reasons to do do what they want to do anyway. So really a day full of substance-free nothing may be suboptimal, but it sure beats culture war or Tea Party crazies.

That really was an amazingly substance-free day. I know, I know; Republican policy planning shouldn't be expected to necessarily have the detail that liberals have. But there's just nothing there. It's Father Guido's five-minute university, GOP version. Foreign policy? Exceptionalism. Economic policy? Deficits are bad. Anything else? Energy? Drill. Anything else? Nope, that pretty much covers it. Again, for most voters, that's not going to matter. The problem is that it's all they have, as far as I can see.

The other question, I suppose, is whether basing the convention on lies (such as the welfare thing) and out-of-context scare quotes really works with undecided voters. It sure seems to me that the previous idea that Barack Obama is a good man who just isn't up to the job should play better than the idea that Obama hates America and, in particular, is actively hostile to small business. On the one hand, anyone inclined to vote for Republicans should respond to either. On the other hand, any really undecided voters who check out both conventions are just not going to hear anything at all next week that will confirm what they're hearing this week, and it doesn't strike me that they're hearing a message that they could believe even if they leave next week finding Obama to have good intentions. But that's extremely speculative; it seems to me it should work that way, but who knows if it will.

One last thing before I let the first day go. I know it doesn't matter at all -- at all -- whether convention days have coherent themes or not. But for whatever it's worth, the one thing that would have really capped off the day and made the GOP look a lot more intellectually energetic would have been a strong, sane, argument for small-government capitalism. A speech like that would have very much appealed to centrist pundits. Would it play to voters? Only a very well-written one (not that they would object to it otherwise, but it runs the risk of being dull). So, who knows, maybe platitudes and cliches from Christie was a safer path. But for whatever it's worth, it would have tied together the whole day a lot better. And, again for whatever it's worth, it would fit a lot better with the actual Mitt Romney than cliches about leading even when your ideas are unpopular, which just doesn't match the way most people think about Romney at all, and is unlikely to change anytime soon.

I suspect I'm going to duck more of the second day, but we'll see. I should mention, for those who read my earlier item:: a terrific rendition of the nomination roll call of the states, and I totally nailed South Dakota, Corn Palace and all. So I got what I wanted out of this convention.

Convention Time!

Yipee! Well, sort of. I like the idea of the conventions a lot. I like the ritual, the ceremony, the funny hats, the balloon drop, the insipid TV pundit talk about the significance of how well the balloon drop is executed (do they still do that? It was very big for a while, after one of the conventions -- I think it was DNC 1980 -- muffed the balloons), a select and small number of good speakers -- really hoping that the GOP develops a couple of those, the C-SPAN coverage between speakers where they just let the music play and pan around the delegations, the state signs in the delegations, the talk about how favored delegations get good spots and the unfavored ones are exiled to Siberia...I like conventions.

I have not, alas, ever attended one, so my conventions are TV versions.

Now, I like all that stuff about conventions, but actually keeping them on in the background while I'm working; that's another story. Or even when I'm not working. I lasted all of three minutes into the RNC (that's Republican National Convention) this afternoon before giving up for now and flipping on music instead. But I'll try again after this album is over, and again after that, and I'll watch the prime time speeches tonight. My real favorite part is late this afternoon, however; as I'm sure regular readers can guess, I absolutely love the roll call of the states for the nomination vote. You know, the part where you get to see which state political celeb gets to talk about all the wonderful things in The Great State of whatever. It's best when they aren't partisan (The Great State of South Dakota...home of Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and Wall Drug, and hundreds of other beloved if hokey tourist traps, votes unanimously for the Next President of the United States, Mitt Romney!), but partisan digs can be fun too, especially if they're local.

Anyway, with the conventions this week and next week I have no idea what kind of posting schedule I may wind up with -- might do more than normal, might do less. I will be doing late posts over at Greg's place (tentatively scheduled tonight and tomorrow) or, probably, PostPartisan after the big prime-time speech. I'm not sure whether I'll get around to doing "elsewhere" posts after those -- but I'll almost certainly tweet them when they're posted, and I'll probably do a fair amount of tweeting both conventions when I can stomach watching/listening to them, so please follow me if you're interested in that. As always, any live tweeting is more along the lines of theater review than analysis...the conventions do matter, but the specific quality of mid-evening speakers? Not so much.

Hey -- it's democracy! We should try to enjoy it and celebrate it, if possible. Even if that's sometimes are real stretch.

How a 19th Century Akin Would Differ

Seth Masket wrote a really nice post about political parties and the Akin affair a couple days ago that I recommend. I want to push on this bit a little:
[I]t's a stretch to say that the "old time political bosses" had the power to dump nominees who became embarrassments. Yes, party bosses had a great deal of power to hand pick candidates and secure their nomination by controlling nominating conventions. But once a nominee had been selected, it was no small thing to remove them, which is why selecting the right nominee has always been such a crucial task. An Akin situation 150 years ago likely would have had similar results. It's not like some party boss would have kidnapped or murdered him. (I very much doubt that the kind of political violence portrayed in "Gangs of New York" was ever widespread in the United States, even in mid-1800s New York City.)
I don't disagree, but there are some procedural issues here that are worth thinking about. 150 years ago is before the Australian, state-printed ballot, as well as before direct primaries. During that era, the parties supplied ballots to voters, who just turned them in at the polls; you weren't getting a ballot from election officials and then marking which candidates to vote for. Nominations weren't officially registered and adjudicated by the government; they were purely internal choices of private organizations. But that meant that a nomination, once obtained, didn't really belong to a nominee in the way that it does now; there was no official, formally state-certified, nominee. The real limiting factor (and I'm basically just following Alan Ware's The American Direct Primary in all of this) seems to have been the actual printing of the ballots -- remember, by the party, not by the government. And even then if a local party group didn't like the nominee they could replace him by "knifing" him off the ballot or replacing him with a "paster" stuck on the ballot instead of the regular nominee. So presumably up to the point of printing the ballots it would be easy for the party's leaders to substitute a new candidate if everyone wanted to dump the old one, while after the ballots were printed it would be a much more complicated job, but certainly possible. The main point here is that as far as I know the nominee up until the Australian ballot was introduced had no government-sanctioned right to a ballot line at all.

What really changes things, I think, is giving the nominee enforceable legal rights to a ballot line, which is a consequence of the Australian ballot, really -- indeed, the direct primary is partially a consequence of the Australian ballot, because once you have a legal ballot line that you're fighting for then you need procedures that will get you an unambiguous nominee, and a primary election turned out to be a good solution to that. After that, what probably matters is the specific way that the (state) laws are written; it's certainly possible to write a law that allows state party committees to overturn the results of a primary whether the nominee likes it or not, but as far as I know such laws are rare or non-existent. I assume, however, that there is at least some variation across states on the key question of whether the line belongs to the nominee or to the party, but you would need a real election law expert to help with that one.

The rest of what Seth says I agree with completely. And even if parties retain complete legal authority, it's still likely that a nominee might have considerable political leverage. For example, in the 19th century scenarios it's possible that a party might dump Akin completely after nomination -- but if he wanted to fight on, at the very least any personal loyalists he had could if they had the money create their own ballots with Akin on them and attempt to circulate them. Even worse for the party, if a significant party faction -- in this case, the pro-lifers -- stuck with him after the party dumped him, they could certainly keep him in play by printing their own ballots or altering the party-supplied ones; the result would almost certainly mean losing the election (and could be worse -- the pro-Akin faction could threaten, for example, to circulate "Republican" ballots with Akin but without Mitt Romney, or perhaps without some other GOP candidates).

Indeed, that kind of chaos was exactly why strong party leaders supported first the Australian ballot and then direct primaries. The combination meant that the party only had to arrange for it's candidate to win the official nomination; it no longer would have to enforce that nomination in every county and town. That was a big win for the long as they could control the nomination. Unfortunately for them, primaries turned out to be sometimes very difficult to control, although I don't think we have clear evidence of exactly how important that was in the demise of the old 19th century version of strong parties.

But as for dumping candidates: 150 years ago, it would have been easier as far as procedures and the law were concerned -- but a candidate would still have had considerable leverage, at least if he retained support of a significant faction of the party or had other resources which would have allowed him to threaten to go on alone. The big difference, however, is that the lack of a government-certified ballot position would mean he would have lacked one significant resource in the fight against his party.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Darren Lewis, 45. I always thought his reputation for having a good glove was legitimate. Obviously, if you gave him 500 PAs it wasn't going to work out well, although it's hard to blame him for the Giants falling shot in 1993, I guess; amazing that the Red Sox gave him almost 700 PAs in 1998 and sort of got away with it. Although looking at that, that is a depressing group of OFers. By the way -- that 1993 team sure had a lot of gloves, didn't it? Although the fielding stats at least as compiled at b-r shows them about even with the Braves, so no advantage there. What a great, great season for fans, even with the bitter ending. For all of the problems with the new double WC system, at least it brings back the possibility that we'll see something at least close to that again.

Enough about that: the good stuff.

1. Nice Walter Shapiro column on covering the conventions.

2. Ross Douthat points out why James K. Polk is the wrong model of presidenting for Mitt Romney.

3. Excellent piece on race, Romney, and Obama, by Ezra Klein. Interesting to see how mainstreaming of political science research on race will go.

4. Byron Shafer is blogging from the conventions. Recommended. (Via John).

5. And, sure, why not; Rebecca Schoenkopf on Obama, Breitbart, my brother, whatever.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Catch of the Day

...goes to Philip Klein for noticing that the RNC was giving out copies of Mitt Romney's book to the press at the convention...but it's the hardcover original, which says that he's going to give Romneycare to the whole nation. Oops!

I do believe that it was ace reporter and Romney watcher David S. Bernstein who made the initial catch of how the hardcover was re-edited for a less offending paperback edition. Not just on healthcare; the stimulus also got a lot worse between edition.s

At any's worth just stepping back for a minute at the opening of the Republican convention to marvel at the oddity of Mitt Romney -- who really have very little in the way of public accomplishments other than a widely-praised health care reform -- winning the nomination of a party which absolutely cannot stand that program, which therefore he must downplay or lie about at all times.

It doesn't mean he'll lose, and probably doesn't say much about how well-equipped he is to be president, although I do think it says something about the Republican Party and how poorly equipped it is to govern in general. But apart from that, it's just pretty amazing. I still don't really know what to think about whether Romney ran a brilliant nomination campaign (that was so successful that none of his serious challengers wound up seriously contesting the race) or if he was just really lucky (because none of his serious challengers wound up seriously contesting the race). Regular readers will know that I lean towards the former, but I can't really rule out the latter. Either way, it really is amazing.

Monday Cranky Blogging 2

Oh, I assume everyone found something to be annoyed by in the Sunday Times Style profile of Al Gore and his family, written by Patrick Healy. Or maybe not; maybe part of it is that I find all things Gore pretty annoying. But here goes:

First, I find it either baffling or very annoying that we're repeatedly told that Al Gore is done with politics...except that he's obviously very active in politics. I mean, "No family member has moved on from the political world more than Al Gore"??? That's what we're told, when we aren't being told about how politically active he is. Or this:

As for rubbing shoulders with the Washington elite, it is so unappealing that Mr. Gore has chosen to skip the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, N.C., and will instead spend the next two weeks on his cable channel, Current TV, leading the coverage of both major-party conventions from New York.
Offering color commentary in a television studio is a lifetime away from another August convention, just 12 years ago, just before the decline and fall of the House of Gore began. But for Mr. Gore, Current TV is about living in the present; the cut and thrust of politics is the past.
You know what's really far away from the conventions? Playing golf. Going to a ballgame. A business career, perhaps. Jumping out of airplanes. Watching Cheers reruns. Spending two weeks in a TV studio talking about the conventions and orchestrating coverage of the conventions? Not really so far from politics. Far from accepting the nomination, of course, but that would be true no matter what Gore was doing.

On to the second thing that got to me: the premise of the article isn't just that Gore has moved on from politics, but that his family has unexpectedly done so as well. But why should we find that surprising? We're told (by Stephen Hess) that "The Gore family’s move away from politics is a rare one." Really? Where are all the Roosevelts? The Rockefellers, after Jay leaves? The Goldwaters? All of those were multi-generational political dynasties of a sort...until they weren't. And, you know, even with the Kennedys (soon to return to Congress), there are far more Kennedys that haven't entered politics than those who have.

We're also told that "In recent decades, government has been replete with fathers and mothers and their grown children and grandchildren coming in and out of elected office," but in fact dynastic succession has overall declined in Congress -- recent GOP national tickets notwithstanding. Oh, and those national tickets are actually, for better or worse, the norm; they're not some newfangled thing. Just ask Adlai Stevenson, FDR, Taft, B. Harrison, and many, many more.

I suspect that some of this (on all these points) is Al Gore's fault rather than Healy's, but even in the Style section he should still be getting it right. I'll tell you -- it just makes me cranky.

Revenge of the Son of the Return of Cranky Blogging

Now extra-cranky since my youngest started school today, thus switching my sleep schedule. That is, less.

So: I have two complaints about Robert Frank's pitch for a carbon tax in the Sunday NYT Business section.

The first complaint is a false-equivalency complaint. Well, actually, begin before that: I was highly annoyed from the beginning. He starts by saying "Don't expect to hear much about climate change at the Republican and Democratic conventions." Will that be true? Maybe, maybe not. It's just as likely that we'll hear plenty of climate denialism at the GOP gathering, perhaps in "jokes" about the world-wide conspiracy by climate scientists to convince everyone of something that they made up. And it's not at all unlikely that we'll hear a fair amount about climate from the Democrats.

Maybe not; maybe Republicans will be scared off the topic by the midwestern drought and Isacc, and Democrats will be scared off the topic by their fear of, well, Democrats can always scare themselves out of any issue. But actually, I expect to hear a fair amount about it from the Democrats next week. After all, as Frank does get around to mentioning, Democrats actually did try to do something fairly major on climate when they almost had the votes.

At any rate...sure, feel free to bash specific Democrats for putting short-term local interests over the long-term national interest, and feel free to complain about the Democratic strategy in 2009-2010. But Frank hardly acknowledges any difference between the parties on the issue, and that's nuts.

But that's not all! Frank annoys me on budgeting, too, by claiming:
many budget experts agree that federal budgets simply can’t be balanced with spending cuts alone. We’ll also need substantial additional revenue, most of which could be generated by a carbon tax.
"Can't"? Politically, perhaps, but that needs an explanation. Otherwise, of course the budget can be balanced with spending cuts alone. Just because they would be unpopular don't mean it couldn't happen. After, all, by that standard a carbon tax that increased the price of gasoline by $3/gallon also "can't" be done.

There's a point to this. I've been very insistent that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney should be called out for making budget promises that really don't add up: mathematically, they really can't, for example, slash tax rates by 20%, save the tax treatments that they say they want to save, keep middle-class taxes from rising, and achieve revenue neutrality. Can't be done, and they deserve to be absolutely slammed for it. But that's not the same kind of "can't" that Frank is talking about. It's fair to hold Republicans responsible for the cuts that a spending-only balance budget program would make, but not accurate to say that such a budget isn't possible. It's important, in my view, to reserve the "can't" for when it's really needed. Which, alas, is all too often.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Sarah Chalke, 36. I watch all (or most, anyway) medical sitcoms, but no medical dramas. This probably indicates something profoundly unhealthy about me, I suppose.

To the good stuff:

1. Party networks in action: David Karol reads a Politico profile of Paul Ryan.

2. Eric Patashnik on trust funds and double-counting.

3. John Sides on how the conventions will affect WH 2012.

4. "Rising health care costs are an economic, not a budget, problem." Exactly. Rebecca Theiss backs it with a chart.

5. And Anna Clark looks at the reporting -- good and bad -- on Mitt Romney's birther joke.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

So, the Republican convention: ignore it? If so, deliberate counterprogramming, or just whatever you normally watch? Or: Watch and get depressed? Watch and get angry? Watch and laugh? Decide not to watch any of it, but usually find yourself drifting back to it?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What's your favorite speech (or, perhaps, moment) from past GOP conventions?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

The Missouri Senate seat went from about 60/40 Republican to about 80/20 Democratic. All Senate seats matter, so that's a pretty big deal.

What didn't matter? I'm with those who consider the choices of some golf club in Georgia to be the most overcovered story of the last decade, or however long it's been in the national news. So, yeah, I can't see how it matters that something happened there this week.

So that's my kickoff. What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Elsewhere: Conventions, Birther Mitt

I have a new column over at Salon giving the reasons why the conventions are still worth having. The one I'm really pretty interested in is the notion of rituals and symbols of party and of democracy -- how few we have, and how we need them. There's a little academic work on that, but not much, as far as I know. Anyway, I'm fascinated by the difference between the actual place of parties in the US and the place of parties in US political culture.

Also, over at PP yesterday, I argued that Romney's birther joke was perhaps another result of the conservative closed information loop; when you're inside it, you don't realize what birthers look like to those outside of the loop. I've been hitting this them quite a lot lately, over the last week or two -- not sure whether that means that I'm unduly focused on it and see it everywhere whether it's there or not, or if it really does explain a lot of things.

Friday Baseball Post

Well, the Giants are playing extremely well -- 15-6 over the last three weeks -- and they need to, because every time you turn around the Dodgers have added someone else. Tonight, the news is that the Bums are making a blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, although it's really just adding one famous pitcher who hasn't been very good and one very good 1B, which is actually a big deal since they've had a black hole there.

I'm sure I should be upset and worried, but really, I'm mostly not. Sure: the Giants could easily wind up falling short in September, and had the Dodgers played the rest of the season with the roster they had before this, it would be pretty much all over by now, at least assuming that the Giants played the same either way. But I'm just not convinced that the Dodgers really know what they're doing over the longer run. Sure, they're clearly in much better shape now than they were when their ownership was a major problem. So far, however, I'm really not convinced they're building any kind of long-term, or even medium-term, winner. We'll see, I guess.

And I hate to say anything too positive because I'm worried about a jinx, but the Giants really are a pretty well-run team right now. Granted, some of Brian Sabean's weaknesses are still with us, but others have proved to be just circumstances (yes, he can draft and develop hitters) or have just got better -- he's now willing to make use of free talent. I would like to see him go out and get a LF, though.

If you want more, see Dave Cameron at Fangraphs on the big Dodgers/Red Sox trade.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Catch of the Day

I know it's late on a Friday, but I didn't want to let this pass. Charlie Cook ran a column today claiming that Barack Obama should be toast based on the fundamentals, and, well, Matt Dickinson was all over it:
In fact, those fundamentals – at least some of them – do not necessarily suggest that this race “should not be close.” As I noted in an earlier post, based on second quarter GDP growth numbers alone, history suggests Obama will win a smidgen more than 50% of the two-party popular vote.  True, this doesn’t indicate a landslide victory for Obama, but neither does it suggest Romney should be winning this race, despite Cook’s assertion to the contrary.  
There's much, much, more. For those interested in the "fundamentals" debate, it's a very good primer and a very good state-of-the-race-right-now post. There's really no question about it; the "fundamentals" point to a close race. As I read it, it's a close race with Barack Obama as a slight favorite, but it really is a judgement call on which reasonable people can disagree. But, no, it's not reasonable at all to conclude that the fundamentals suggest a Romney landslide and that only differences in the candidates or electioneering skill is keeping it close. That's just wrong.

The good news is that I think on balance there's a lot more good information and analysis out there this cycle than bad. Okay, maybe that's not quite right, but the point is that there are quite a few people writing for relatively large audiences who get it. Just today, and reacting to Cook, Sean Trende at RCP has a very good post that looks at the economic models, and Jamelle also is on it with an excellent item over at Greg's place.

I'll go with Dickinson's for the CotD, but I recommend all three: nice catch!

No, Not NOTA!

From the Political Wire: a judge has knocked out Nevada's famous none-of-the-above line on their elections. Apparently Republicans went after it because they thought it would hurt them (I have no idea whether they are right or not). So says election law maven Rick Hasen.

I have no particular views of either the substantive merits or the legal justification of NOTA. However, I'm for it for two reasons. One is that I like quirky local variation in general; it's a big nation, and it's fun when people do things differently. The other is that every once in a while someone will say that if only there was a none of the above option that the two clowns who the major parties have nominated would be buried by it, and Nevada allowed us to know that in fact hardly anyone would vote for the NOTA line.

So I'm definitely rooting for this one to be overturned. Again, regardless of the substantive or legal merits (and, substantively, it's most likely something like open and closed primaries that turns out to be not worth the fuss of contesting in most cases, so there's that).

The Lessons of Akin

I've been meaning to write something more about conservative pundit Philip Klein's column yesterday about Todd Akin and the GOP. Klein writes that perhaps the Akin affair will be a "remembered as an important development for the conservative movement." Why?
When Akin took to Twitter this week to blame "liberal elites" for his predicament, it came off as ridiculous, because the harshest criticism was coming from conservatives. When all the dust settles on the Missouri Senate race, the Akin mess could be looked back upon as marking a shift in the standards that those on the Right apply to conservative candidates.
What's interesting about Klein's piece is that instead of treating Akin as an aberration, Klein (quite correctly) lumps him in with Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and, yes, Sarah Palin, as examples of conservative heroes who weren't really up to the job (what, no Herman Cain?). Klein notes that in those other cases, conservatives rallied to support their policy-deficient candidates on the theory that if liberals were attacking them, they needed defending. This time, that didn't happen.

As a description of what's happening, I could make several criticisms of what Klein has to say, beginning with how he casts Paul Ryan as some sort of wonkish ideal -- as regular readers know, I'm with those who think that Paul's wonkery is, well, not especially impressive (and see Kevin Drum's pessimism about this).

However, is a work of advocacy, what matters here is the idea that Republicans should aspire to policy competence. And that's been a long fight that smart conservatives have mostly been losing, so I'm very pleased to see the Akin affair framed this way.

That is: I've often talked here about how parties "learn" from their own history, which only means that they interpret what's happened and act on those interpretations. And Republicans have learned two terribly self-destructive lessons in recent decades. Their 1994 landslide was interpreted as a reward for extremism and obstruction, on the one hand, but also as a triumph of Luntzian sloganeering. And the rise and triumph of Ronald Reagan was too often interpreted as a victory over policy expertise.

All of which brought the Republicans to the nomination and (for a while) near deification of George W. Bush, a politician whose policy ignorance and indifference wound up terribly harmful to the nation and, what's more, to the Republican Party. And it also, many have argued, leads to a situation where movement conservatives habitually shrug off basic science, basic history, and other aspects of really if it doesn't fit what they want to believe -- I hesitate to call it ideology, because there's nothing within most flavors of conservative ideology that calls for conservatives to reject the reality of the way things are.

So: for those of us who have complained that there's something seriously wrong with the Republican Party, it would be a very positive sign indeed if they interpreted the Akin affair as a consequence of a longer-term lack of "standards" in GOP candidate selection -- especially if the missing standard has to do with, well, ignorance. Policy-related ignorance. If what matters is how these sorts of things get interpreted within the party, then what Klein is doing here is a very positive step.

All that said...the state of the GOP on policy is in such disarray right now that it's going to take much more than this to make some difference. Remember, this is a party which treated obvious snake-oil salesman and overall fraud Newt Gingrich as a policy expert this year. It's a party which considers Paul Ryan a major policy wonk. In other words, it's a party that doesn't even know what serious policy expertise even looks like. And it's by no means certain that Klein's interpretation is going to be the winner out of all of this. But those who want a better Republican Party should hope that this is a turning point.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to William Morgan Sheppard, 80.

The good stuff:

1. Alex Massie on Barack Obama as a Tory. A sensible argument, although I think it falls short of accounting for the activism of the Obama Administration, some of which has been disguised by the number of separate things packed into some large bills, especially the stimulus and the ACA. On the other hand, one might interpret a lot of that activism as the impulse of the historic 111th, and not the White House. But on yet another hand: are we talking outcomes here, or Barack Obama as a politician? If the latter, then what really matters are his true preferences, to the extent we can understand them, not what he actually could get through Congress.

2. Stan Collender has noticed that federal spending is very popular. Here's number four in a series.

3. Medicare: Jonathan Cohn.

4. John Sides on the state of the election, going into the conventions. And John and Lynn Vavreck's new book about the current cycle, The Gamble, is rolling out -- get the first chapters.

5. And Ta-Nehisi Coates on speaking for cash. Hey, I don't have an agent, but if anyone wants a discount speaker, sure, I'd be up for it. See also Dan Drezner.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Platforms?

Suzy Khimm has a nice summary of what political scientists have to say about party platforms today, but she doesn't address a question I've seen a couple of times this week: why do parties have them, anyway?

Really, though, the question of why parties go to the bother of drafting documents which ordinary voters will never know about at all unless controversial planks are used in attack ads is actually a subset of a broader question: why do parties and candidates take positions on issues at all? Or, at least, why do they take positions on a broad spread of issues? To be sure: in some cases, there may be clear electoral advantage in supporting a public policy position. But usually, a candidate's best bet is to run on apple pie and the flag; why work at finding 60/40 issues when there are plenty of 99/1 "issues" out there?

The answer is that parties are not, in fact, just single-minded seekers of election. Instead, parties are made up of multiple individuals and groups: candidates, formal party officials and staff, campaign and governing professionals, activists, party-aligned interest groups and the partisan press. Some of these have obvious and clear interest in winning; that's especially true (at least in a normal party) of candidates and formal party officials and staff, and is also usually true of campaign and governing professionals. But others -- activists often, and party-aligned interest groups almost always -- may care far more about issue advocacy than in winning election. In some cases, the incentives may even make issue advocacy the main goal of some party actors, with the chances of actually changing public policy on that issue more or less irrelevant. It's also the case that many politicians and other party actors may have practical incentives for winning, but have been recruited from the ranks of those who case deeply about issues, and therefore have personal preferences for public policy which may override their institutional incentive for winning.

The outcome of all this is that parties do in fact take issue positions. How do we know -- how does the party itself know -- what those positions are? Well, there are lots of ways, but a quadrennial formal platform process at least gives one opportunity for issue positions to be fought out with a clear winner (or compromise) at the end of the day. It's not what it used to be when the delegates represented state and local party organizations and the national party only really existed during presidential election campaigns, but even with delegates who represent candidates (or, more properly, represent voters in their choice of candidates) it's still something.

The next step is for the party to find ways of binding their politicians to those positions in a system in which it's very difficult for a party to dump its incumbent politicians. Party platforms are useful for that, too. Not because they perfectly bind the presidential candidate to the party's positions, but because any constraint is better than none.

What's more, it's not just about the presidential candidate; there are thousands of politicians who run under a party's banner. A formally debated and adopted platform is one mechanism for educating all of those candidates about what the party, as a whole, wants to do. Of course, it's not binding on them, either, but again: it's something. Remember, sometimes it's not really about binding; sometimes there's a real lack of knowledge about public policy. A lot of candidates want to support party positions on the many issues where they have no particular reason to take a side but want to prove their party orthodoxy to their electorates. The platform is a way to do that.

Now, the platform isn't the only thing that constrains presidential candidates and other party politicians, obviously. Interest groups and activists certainly can and will attempt to solicit strong statements of support on their issues, platform or no platform. And a lot of this is purely tradition -- it's possible to imagine other ways of making collective party choices on issues and of constraining politicians, because we do in fact have those other ways. But those within the party who care about public policy and not just winning need all the help they can get, and so retaining the platform makes sense.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Aaron Douglas, 41. I don't know whether I currently think that BSG had the best-ever cast performance in a TV show...I sometimes think it's Claudius. BSG's edge? How deep the great performances go. Douglas is a big part of that. Terrific performance.

Eye doctor this morning, so I'm not sure what kind of blogging pace I'll have, but there's plenty of good stuff:

1. Today's must-read: conservative columnist Philip Klein tells the truth about Todd Akin and the Republican Party -- and hopes that the blanket condemnation of Akin is the beginning of something new.

2. Today's other must-read: the great Ta-Nehisi Coates on race and Obama.

3. CJR's Jay Jones updates on the latest in fact-checking: fairness, not facts.

4. Matt Yglesias does a good job of explaining the ACA Medicare cuts. Really, the Romney position here is to be pro-waste, isn't it? I mean, there's a reason both Ryan and the Democrats wanted these cuts.

5. Ed Kilgore on welfare reform. Oh, and lazy mendacity: there's a link provided by the Republicans that he follows and finds that it undermines the case they're trying to make.

6. And this piece on tracking swearing around the US doesn't really deliver all that much, but is still well worth a look. From Megan Garber. While you're at it, see Alyssa Rosenberg on who (and where) is watching gay-inclusive television.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Elsewhere: Biden, Other Stuff

I've fallen behind on doing these, so I never got around to mentioning here that I had a fun Salon column over the weekend in which I argued that he's the Practically Perfect Vice President. At least, that's what I had; they added quotes around it. Oh well. The best part of that one was this response.

Anyway, today at PP I said that the broadcast networks should broadcast the conventions. And I did a fiscal cliff post at Greg's place. As regular readers know, I'm not really one to be upset by a little hypocrisy, but I do think it's worth noting that the austerity-minded Republicans are blaming Obama for, well, the CBO-predicted consequences of sudden austerity.

Might as well give you one more: back on Friday, I had one at PP saying that Romney does, in fact, have an easy way to knock down the criticism of his tax plan; he's just not going to take it.

Cabinet and White House

Nancy Scola has a very nice piece over at The Atlantic talking about the reasons why presidents don't name their cabinets during the campaign (via John). She quotes a number of scholars who point out that for a candidate, naming the cabinet is pretty much all down side. If you've ever wondered about it, it's an excellent summary.

The only thing I'd want to add is that I think some of her framing of the White House/Executive Branch split isn't quite as useful as it might be. There are lots of reasons why the "presidential branch" grew to importance after World War II. Remember, those within the Executive Office of the President respond directly to the president, while cabinet secretaries have multiple bosses. In a lot of ways, that means that knowing who the White House staff will be is actually quite a bit more important than knowing who will be Secretary of HHS or HUD. Put it this way: we elect a president, but we get a presidency.

Which is not to say that presidential executive branch appointments are not important; they certainly can be. Just that it's at least equally helpful to know who is going to be in key White House positions.

Meanwhile, the campaign does give us clues to both the presidency and the exec branch. After all, most campaigns, Romney's included, have various high-profile advisers on most issue areas. If anyone wants to pay attention to it, it's usually possible to figure out the direction a nominee would take policy in any particular area -- or, in cases where there will be internal conflicts, what the issues will be. We can't, of course, figure out who will win those conflicts, because no one knows yet; after all, it turned out that we couldn't determine the course of George W. Bush's foreign policy from his selections at State and National Security Adviser. But we can usually get a fairly decent idea of what's coming.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Cindy Williams, 65.  C'mon: is there anyone who was in American Graffiti who you don't like? Okay, I guess I don't especially have any fondness for Richard Dreyfuss. Hey, I didn't know that Candy Clark played Buffy's mom in the Buffy movie. I suppose I should sit through all of it at some point.

Back on topic; the good stuff:

1. Marc Tracy on Adeslon-bashing and anti-Semitism. Reading this one is Good for the Jews.

2. Jared Bernstein on big vs. small government.

3. WaPo/Kaiser polling on independents. I'm sticking with my rule of thumb, which isn't perfectly accurate but is good enough for most purposes: Americans are evenly split between Democrats, Republicans, and independents, but those independents are almost evenly split between Democrats, Republicans, and true independents.

4. The Romney tax "plan" gets sillier and sillier; as Suzy Khimm reports, he's rallying to the defense of the mortgage interest tax deduction, which of course is a pretty large chunk of the kinds of things he would be closing if he really was putting together a revenue-neutral tax reform. Seriously; by November, isn't it likely that he'll make the whole TPC analysis moot by explicitly excluding so many tax expenditures that it's no longer possible to get to revenue-neutral no matter what?

5. And I'm not entirely certain, but I do believe that this is Brad DeLong apologizing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bad Call, Good Call

Calls I made, that is. In the keeping me honest category...

I haven't mentioned it since the primary, and I should: wow, I was dead wrong about Tommy Thompson. I figured he would fade right out of the picture -- really, I don't think I specified anything and I'm too lazy to look it up, but if I had I would have predicted he would finish third or fourth, far from winning. Obviously, I got that one totally wrong. 

On the other hand, I'm pretty pleased with my advise back during the primaries and caucuses that the Ron Paul "delegate strategy" was basically an overhyped nothing. Today's reports have the Paul people and the Romney folks reaching deals, and Paul certainly appears to have received things he was looking for. And yet it's hard in my view to argue that he would have received much more or much less had his delegate count been significantly different. His leverage has always been walking out entirely, and the threat of taking his voters elsewhere doesn't depend on how many actual delegates he has in the building.  

By the way, I should note that it is possible that his caucus-state organizing might make a difference in other ways if it produces more Paul influence within formal state organizations going forward. It's possible that happened; I don't know how many states link party governance and delegate selection procedures.

This is, by the way, exactly as it should be. My Thompson prediction was basically just a guess based on my reading of the GOP electorate in Wisconsin, the Republican Party, and the various candidates; in other words, basically stuff that I have no particular expertise about. I should, on the other hand, get things I say about nomination procedure right, so I'm glad I did. I hope I make it more or less clear which category I'm doing most of the time.

Anyway, enough about myself, but I did want to mention the Thompson thing. 

About Those Fed Nominations

Kevin Drum says about the Fed Board:
Could better colleagues have won Senate confirmation? There's reason to doubt it.
I really disagree with this one.

Yes, Peter Diamond was successfully filibustered. But at least some of the reason for that one was revenge for a defeated Bush-era nomination; it's not clear that it was something about Diamond in particular, and certainly not clear that it was a policy veto by the GOP.

Meanwhile, the voting on Obama's actual Fed nominees suggests there was room for less popular choices. Ben Bernanke received 70 votes for confirmation -- and 77 votes for cloture. That sounds like there was room for someone else, especially since Bernanke lost some Democratic votes (even on cloture). Two other nominees were approved in September 2010 on voice votes. Both nominees approved in 2012 -- after the Democratic majority was slimmed down considerably -- still cleared 70 votes.

Nor is this an area where I think anyone has made an argument that Barack Obama employed a full-court press on the Senate. Yes, there was some lobbying on Bernanke, but overall it's clearly been a back-burner issue for Obama.

Look, I'm the first one to argue that those who believe Barack Obama could have forced a significantly larger stimulus or a more liberal health reform plan through Congress are overlooking the plain fact that he had no votes to spare. I'm open to arguments on this one, but I just don't see any evidence that Obama couldn't have had a significantly different Fed if he had wanted one.

Catch of the Day

To Matt Yglesias, on monetary policy and the Obama Administration:
This is a Fed full of Obama appointees pursuing a disastrous policy trajectory that's creating all kinds of problems for Obama. But I've never read any repoting indicating that the Obama economic team is upset about monetary policy, I've never heard any discontent with monetary policy from administration officials on or off the recod, and Obama's allies on Capitol Hill have basically never called publicly or privately for more expansionary monetary policy. Rather than someting as simple as an error, there seems to be a totally comprehensive systematic  blunder in which Democrats simply ignore the most powerful tool for bolstering aggregate demand while Republicans call for a disastrous tight money agenda. 

I do have a slightly different interpretation of the Fed's actions than Yglesias does...I guess where he tends to emphasize how little they've done, I would tend to put a little more stress on how they've at least avoided rushing to tighten any time there's mild good news about the economy. And so I'd overall talk more about a weak or suboptimal policy, rather than a disastrous one. But, you know, his interpretation has a lot going for it, too.

And yup -- it's bizarre. This isn't fiscal policy, where there's Congressional obstacles to action and where Keynesian deficits were are counterintuitive for a whole lot of people. If Barack Obama had appointed a Fed Board full of wild-eyed irresponsible inflation-mad economic expanders, the truth is that no one would have noticed. Except for the effects, that is. I mean, Ron Paul would be very upset, but not noticeably more upset than he is already; the same, pretty much, for the Always 1979 crowd. Now, of course, if Fed policies actually produced serious inflation, you would get some real complaints about that, but presumably it would have accompanied a lot less unhappiness about economic growth and jobs, and that's a trade-off Obama should want. Unless he and the administration generally believes that different monetary policy really wouldn't help...but there's really no sign of that, either.

As Yglesias says, the attitude seems to be one of indifference -- they're neither happy nor upset about it. Which just doesn't make any sense to me, but of course things don't always have to make sense. I sure would like to hear more about it, though.

And: great catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Kelis, 33.

To the good stuff:

1. I tend to be more of a Politico defender than Politico attacker, but they really were at their worst in the Galilee story; Conor Friedersdorf gets this one right.

2. Fine. Another shot at Niall Ferguson. From Steve M.

3. Aha! Mark Blumenthal's Pollster ups the ante with a new polling model from Simon Jackman. Add this to (as he says) Nate Silver and Drew Linzer, and you'll be in pretty good shape.

4. And I meant to get to this in my Friday baseball post, but then the weekend sort of collapsed on me and so I didn't do one, but Steven Rubio on Melky. And, hey, as long as I'm there, how about Christina Kahrl on the Melkyless Giants.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ferguson Explanation: War on Budgeting?

I wasn't going to wade into this one, but I just looked at a bunch of take-downs of Niall Ferguson's Obama-bashing Newsweek cover story from this week that I linked to for the Roundup over at Greg's place (oops -- missed Andrew Sullivan's, and it's good), and I noticed something that puts me in something of a dissenting opinion on one point. It's about this bit:
The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012-22 period.
And here's Matthew O'Brien's response:
Maybe Ferguson doesn't understand the meaning of the word "deficit"? The only other explanation is that he is deliberately misleading his readers... That Ferguson looked up the CBO's estimate of the bill's cost and didn't notice that those costs are paid for is peculiar indeed. Even more peculiar is that he is apparently doubling down on this falsehood. And yes, it is a very deliberate falsehood.
Here's the thing: go back to the Ferguson quote. What does that sound like to you? That's right: it's our old friend the Republican War on Budgeting.In other words, O'Brien's guess about mendacity isn't the right path; it's his first option, that Ferguson doesn't know what a deficit is. Or, more likely, that we're dealing with a bit of information feedback loop here, and that Ferguson is recycling junk that's circulating within conservative circles where the old-fashioned idea of budgets as having to do with a comparison of government revenues and government spending has been almost forgotten. Instead, "deficit" means "stuff we don't like." So within that logic what he's saying makes perfect sense: ACA does in fact add $1.2T (or whatever) to "stuff we don't like," or at least stuff that Ferguson doesn't like. Remember, in war-on-budgeting logic, there's no offsets, no trade-offs, no pay-fors. There's just taxes, which are pretty much bad and should always be cut, at least and especially when wealthy people pay them; good stuff, which you should spend money on; and bad stuff, which you should not spend money on, and which is called "deficit" if you do.

Granted, it could be that he's just being deliberately dishonest from the get-go, and I agree that the follow-up is about as close to a "very deliberate falsehood" as you can get. And granted that guessing about motives and such is a mistake to begin with. But nevertheless: it sounds to me as if Ferguson got caught war-on-budgeting logic and said something that made no sense at all from an actual budget perspective, and then tried to scramble to back-fill it in a way that wasn't totally embarrassing.

At any rate: I obviously don't know what he was thinking, if anything, but I do notice that it's a classic war-on-budgeting mistake, and I think that fits a few other oddities in the original article.

Akin and Party Money

I have a post up over at PP about parties and the Todd Akin flap; it's always fun for me when there's news that actually allows me to talk about how parties work.

There's tons of talk about this right now, and judging from the twitter traffic there's one specific part of the topic that I didn't really cover specifically and should revise and extend on: party money. So Benjiy Sarlin says "Something Todd Akin likely considering: Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell raised ungodly sums of grassroots money," while Mark Blumenthal tweets "Akin’s last cash-on-hand was ~$500K. Asking now, can small donors beat NRCC/CW?"

Here's the thing: "grassroots" money and "small donors" are, in most cases, mostly party money, and will therefore respond to party cues. So if the Republican Party network is united against Akin, then there are not going to be any positive cues, and there are not going to be any ungodly sums of money. On the other hand, if some party groups, including a significant subset of the GOP-aligned partisan press, stick with Akin, then he very well could benefit. In other words, while we shouldn't think of small money donations as entirely a function of other party actors' choices, it's likely that those other party actors are the more important variable here.

Unfortunately, unless I've fallen behind on the literature (possible! If so, please let me know, campaign finance and party network scholars!), we really don't know how much of the money spent in a typical House, Senate, or presidential race is in fact party money, properly understood. That's because it's an awful lot of work to figure out whether some individual donor is a party donor or not...well, that's not right; it's relatively straightforward for any specific individual donor, barring confusing coding by the FEC, but it's a lot of work to do that task for all donors.

We also don't really know a lot of the direction of influences here. For example, is a talk show host such as Sean Hannity perfectly free to choose what to do in this case, or does he really have no choice but to follow others within the party network? Or at least, are there strong incentives for him to fall in line, at least if others within the party network are unified? And do the same constraints influence the behavior of, say, Karl Rove? Or the Koch brothers? Don't assume you know the answer: it's possible that Republicans are happy to take cash from big money donors only if those donors are willing to support whatever the rest of the party decides. But it's certainly also possible that they are (at the very least) highly influential. We have quite a bit of good reporting on all of this, but few definitive answers. Same question about other groups within the party. For example, anti-abortion groups might be inclined to continue supporting Akin; what, if any, influence to other party actors have on them to keep their mouths shut? And what influence do anti-abortion groups have on other party actors? In practical terms: suppose organized anti-abortion groups support Akin but most other organized groups in the GOP want him out; how will that affect Akin's small-donor or "grassroots" fundraising?

It seems to me that party network scholars have begun to do a pretty good job of developing a conceptual framework and a vocabulary for answering some of these questions, but many of them are still unanswered (and of course that's the nature of it, since parties are not static, so answers that were correct fifteen years ago might be wrong by now). Usually, nominations are good chances to see how things work within parties, but extraordinary events such as this one can be very helpful.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to James Marsters, 50. By the way, he was the best thing about Caprica. Although granted that's not saying all that much.

And some good stuff:

1. Yes, funny is hard, but Alex Pareene is exactly right about this one.

2. Meghan Kiesel tries to track down the George Romney and McDonald's story

3. Sylvia Friedel talks political ads with GOP consultant Fred Davis.

4. Ta-Nehisi Coates on Obama.

5. And good for Chris Cillizza for drawing even a little attention to state legislatures and their elections.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

If Barack Obama is re-elected, what do you expect him to do in Afghanistan? In Iran?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

If Mitt Romney wins, what do you expect him to do in Afganistan? In Iran?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I'll kick it off with the Obama record on judges...granted, it's not really something that happened this week, exactly, but the NYT ran a high-profile article about it, so there you go. I do think the apparent decision early on to avoid controversial nominees was a reasonable one; the apparent decision, or at least the outcome, of downgrading the importance of filling opening, however, was a flat-out mistake in my view.

What didn't matter? Well, we had the parade of announcements about convention speakers. The keynote speeches will get some attention, so while they won't affect the outcome in November one can argue that they'll matter in other ways, but the rest of it is pretty much nothing.

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

Friday, August 17, 2012

Catch of the Day

To digby, who posts a clip of Mitt Romney giving an interview to a local TV station and makes the good point that "This is why politicians love local news. They can go straight to the people with their lies, without even the lame pushback you might get from the political press."

Exactly. The broadcaster in the clip here -- which, note, is a long one, stretching on for about seven minutes -- actually asks some pretty decent questions, ending up with asking whether there's any difference between the Romney plan and what George W. Bush did. However, there's basically no follow-up at all, and any professional politician can easily use any question, no matter how artfully framed, to pivot to whatever talking point he or she wants to use. The way to break that up is through the use of follow-up questions, which at the very least can make it clear that the pol is ducking something.

So instead, it's basically a seven-minute Romney infomercial given extra legitimacy because it's on the news. Of course, it's not just Romney; all presidential candidates, Barack Obama most certainly included, do this.

The truth is that very few local news correspondents, anchors, or producers have enough knowledge of national issues to really be able to challenge presidential candidates, even if they wanted to (and of course if they do, the candidates can always shop themselves to the other local channels). Even worse, perhaps, Pew tells us that most viewers trust their local news more than they trust any other news source.

I say "perhaps" because I'm not sure it's all that bad a thing that this happens. I think it's a basically a good thing that presidential candidates can get their views out there, after all. It just shouldn't be thought of as a substitute for taking questions from the national press, who know the issues...well, certainly better than the typical local broadcaster.

But good or bad, it's certainly an important part of the campaign, one that we typically pay infinitely less attention to than ads but that for all we know may be more important. And: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Colin Moulding, 57.  I always thought it was odd that "Plans for Nigel" was their biggest single from the first few albums; it's probably my least favorite of their singles (unless you have to count the Christmas one), and my least favorite of Moulding's songs just from Drums & Wires. Which just goes to show what a good band they were, since my least favorite single by their second best songwriter is still an excellent record.

On to the good stuff:

1. Paul Krugman's clear-eyed primer on what's actually in the Ryan budget, although calling it a budget remains a stretch.

2. Via Dylan Byers report, it seems that Andrea Mitchell beat up on the Obama campaign yesterday because the president has been ducking open press conferences. Good for her; he surely hasn't done enough of them.

3. All about Wyden-Ryan, from Andrew Sprung; see also Jonathan Chait on Romney, Ryan, and Medicare.

4. Ezra Klein is pretty brutal about Romney and the budget. Mark Thomas is even more brutal about Ryan and economics.

5. Fact checking? Calling Brendan Nyhan.

6. And Alyssa Rosenberg on conspiracy thinking.

August 16, 1972

One by one, the Committee to Re-elect staff has been visiting the Grand Jury; they also interviewed some White House staff, but not the top people. Haldeman's diary:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Elsewhere: Budgets, Romney

Today at PP, I had one talking about Greg's idea of Romney as a "trust me" candidate, and said that it's the fault of the GOP nomination process -- and a problem for Republicans.

Yesterday, it was war on budgeting again. I said that the Romney position that, contrary to the House Republican position, Republicans should now be against including the ACA Medicare cuts in their budget was a great example of the war on budgeting. After all, Romney is taking some $700B out of spending cuts, and replacing it with...well, nothing, because once it's re-designated as something they like then there's no reason to offset it. Or, more to the point, in a budgetless world the whole concept of offsets doesn't make any sense.

I was thinking of writing one saying that Romney Republicans are the rare party that is explicitly in favor of waste, fraud, and abuse, but I think that's a bit much. Still, apparently the Medicare Advantage portion of the cuts is flat-out waste, and I suspect you could get them on some Pentagon stuff, too.
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