Sunday, September 30, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

Well, it's awful close to Friday. Sort of. A quick notes-style FBP on Sunday:

* Why don't we see more of the old "start a RHP and switch to a LHP after one batter" against platoon-heavy teams in the postseason? Granted, that will only work if you have a plausible wrong-handed bluff pitcher, but surely quite a few postseason teams these days have one of those. Certainly the Giants do this time around; I really have no idea what the Giants should be doing about the rotation in October, but Zito could certainly be used as the bluff pitcher. Or Lincecum, I suppose.

* I still don't understand why MLB can't do a better job of selling the last week of the season. Especially since they've gone out of their way to try to make it interesting. It's not as if baseball can't be sold; the first week of the playoffs will get plenty of hype (and coverage), but I'm not sure that it's as good as the last week of the season.

* The key thing, of course, is that they're restored the possibility of excellent teams playing games that matter at the end of the season. I still don't think it's the best solution, but it beats the 1995-2011 system, no question.

* That said: MLB Network does do an excellent job of it. Granted, I often have it on with the sound down, but still, an excellent job.

* And: every good team got to play meaningful games during the last week except the Giants. Luck of the draw, I suppose.

* Oddly enough, however, the new system didn't really help things much. The AL West and AL East races would have still been okay under the old system (assuming of course that everything plays out the same), with the loser in each division competing for the sole WC, and the Angels and the Rays on the fringe either way. In the NL, we go the dubious thrill of the Cardinals vs. several barely better than .500 teams race for the second WC, which was...less than thrilling. Sure, if you were a Brewers fan the late surge into semi-contention for the coin flip game was presumably better than nothing, but it wasn't much. The thing is: if the Orioles and Yankees were each five games better, then the advantages of the new system would have really come into play. As it is, get ready for a round of complaints if the Cardinals beat the Braves. And we know how Selig deals with that sort of thing...

* Oh -- and I doubt that anyone cares, but my Blue Sox really stunk up the league this year. My one and only year that I've ever had Mariano Rivera...but I can't even blame injuries. Poor starting pitching choices all year.

I think that's all I have for now.

Sunday Question for Liberals

Yeah, just the same question as I asked of conservatives: what topics would you like to see discussed during the debates but suspect will not be raised?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What topics you would like to see addressed during the debates but suspect will not be raised?


My Salon column this weekend is about the Catch-22 Republicans find themselves in: the best way to really reclaim their party from the crazy is to have a successful president who kicks it out, but it's hard to get that as long as the crazy has such a strong influence on nominations.

Meanwhile, in home news, I've always resisted having a formal comments policy, and I'm not exactly going to begin now. However, I'll refer everyone to an admirable statement about comments from Alan Jacobs, a new blogger over at The American Conservative, which pretty captures what I think about it. Parenthetically -- it occurs to me that of any current publication out there, TAC might well be the one that I'd have the highest expectations for a new blogger I'd never heard of before. Okay, not if you count The Monkey Cage as a publication, but still. Dan Larison, Noah Millman, Rod a world in which sensible, interesting conservatives are sometimes hard to find, that's just an outstanding lineup. Certainly not something I would have expected, and I'm no more of a Pat Buchanan fan now than I ever have been, but there you are.

Anyway, I'm going to be more aggressive about zapping comments which are partisan talking points, or rude, or repetitive, or contain characterizations of other commenters other than those they embrace, or are gibberish. As Jacobs says, if you don't like it, start your own blog. But like him I certainly will not delete a comment because the commenter disagrees with me; to the contrary, I welcome such things...I'm a lot more tolerant of attacks on me than I am even small slights on other commenters. I've always been very proud of the comments section here, and I intend to keep it that way.

(Technical note: If I haven't previously zapped a commenter, I'll still almost always issue a warning first...but that's my norm, not a Rule. And blogger continues to occasionally misidentify some comments as spam, and I'm not always quick to fix it. If that ever happens to your comment, please feel free to email me and let me know; unless you've been warned, it's almost certainly a spam filter issue).

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

The presidential race: a week ago it was still plausible that Barack Obama's lead was unchanged from August but artificially large from a temporary convention bounce. Now, it's not. He's winning by four points at the end of September...maybe a point of that is still convention bounce, but a four point lead right now puts him from having a small edge to being a real favorite. Not a sure thing: there's a lot of premature certainty, in my view. But the current lead seems a lot more solid to me than it did even one week ago.

I'm inclined to think that the semi-kerfuffle about what the administration said about Libya and when it said it is a prime "doesn't matter." If it turns out that there was significant negligence before the attack, that could be a real scandal, and the attack itself and the aftermath certainly seem like real things to me. But the rest of it? Not so much.

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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Elsewhere: Obama/Bush, Senate Tea Party

At Greg's place, I look at how Barack Obama's approval ratings continue to track George W. Bush's from 2004...but just a bit behind.

And at PP, I argue that Tea Party primary challenges from 2010 are costing the GOP in Senate races in 2012 -- and that they'll continue to do so down the road. I've run this point out before, but I continue to think it's potentially a very big deal indeed. As I say over there, I have no idea whether there's been any effect lower on the ballot; I'd be very interested if anyone has any data on GOP quality candidates (that is, previously elected to office) in this year's House races, or even any good anecdotal stuff about how recruiting went for them in this cycle. The other part of this is whether there were enough Tea Party upsets in primaries this year at the House level (or elsewhere) to scare off good GOP candidates next time around. Note that not every Tea Party win works that way, of course, since plenty of Tea Party backed candidates also have conventional credentials, or defeat weak primary opponents. But when a seemingly weak "outsider" defeats a heavily recruited mainstream conservative in a primary...that's where the effect should come from.

Nixon's the One

By the way, speaking of that Politico story:
Others have overcome innate political limitations on the way to the White House, including George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon.
Did Bush have below-average campaigning skills for someone at that level? His electoral record is pretty mixed. He couldn't win statewide in Texas in two tries during an era in which Texas was competitive but still leaned Democratic. His 1980 presidential run wasn't a winner, but was hardly an embarrassment. He captured the 1988 nomination...but as a sitting vice-president; he certainly didn't win as easily as, say, Al Gore did in 2000. His 1988 general election run strikes me as about par for the course, as does, really, his 1992 race -- combined, I don't think he stands out as either particularly impressive or awful. For whatever it's worth, he did a fair amount of party-building in Texas, so that might count as a plus.

Going back to 1980: he finished a clear second in a field that included Howard Baker, vice-presidential nominee Bob Dole and John Connally -- and he gave Ronald Reagan at least a bit of a scare for a while. That's pretty good!

But Richard Nixon? All candidates have "limitations," but Nixon was a terrific campaigner. Beat an incumbent to win a House seat. Jumped rapidly to the Senate -- and jumping from a House seat to the Senate in California isn't easy. No, he didn't defeat JFK in 1960, but barely losing during an era in which Democrats had a solid edge for the WH isn't a particularly bad result. He won both Republican nominations he sought (1960 and 1968) easily. He didn't win by much in 1968 against Humphrey, but overall it's hard to say that he did worse than reasonably expectations would have predicted in his three presidential general elections.

What I think this gets to is that some in the press have a very narrow indeed version of what constitutes political skills -- although remember that Nixon, in particular, was thought to be great on television right up to the debates in 1960, and one can make a pretty good case that he actually was pretty good on TV throughout his career. So even when it comes to things such as "good at giving speeches on TV" our memories and judgments are not very good guides sometimes. And "good at giving speeches on TV" just isn't that crucial a skill for electioneering. It's something, but I doubt if it would turn out to be that big a deal if we had a good study of it. Forming coalitions and alliances, having good judgement about policy and party actors, hard work, knowing how to work a room, willingness to put up with the indignities of the campaign trail, and plenty of other things matter, too.

Anyway, I mostly wanted to make the point about Nixon being good on TV (which, I should say, I mostly am cribbing learned from Garry Wills).* I think part of this is because both liberals and cynical sophisticated reporters were, shall we say, unmoved by the mawkishness of the Checkers speech, and so the fact that it was an enormous success and saved his career has been forgotten. Part is because of the 1960 debates, I suppose; part is because the hatred between him and the press really was mutual, especially by the end (enemies lists will do that!), and so they had a hard time seeing what many American saw in him. But whatever that was, it sure worked.

*I'm really overdue for re-reading Nixon Agonisties; I've looked through it on and off, but haven't fully re-read it in quite a few years now. On the other hand, I've had the Wills book on Julius Caesar at the top of my pile for a few months now and haven't gotten to it, so I'm not sure when any re-reading will actually happen. Anyone know how good the Julius Caesar book is?

Catch of the Day

Today's goes to Dave Hopkins, who read today's Politico story in which Mitt Romney's personal flaws are alleged to be the source of his current campaign woes, and tweeted out:
Paging @jbplainblog: anon. Romney-ites admit he's a bad politician but say he'd be a really successful pres. Unlikely!

Political skills are equally important to succeeding in office as they are to successfully gaining office.
Yes, exactly. Now, in fact, I think Romney's political skills are, at the moment, underrated; no one accidentally winds up as a major-party nominee for president, certainly not in an era in which parties have re-asserted control over nominations (I'd be willing to go with Jimmy Carter and perhaps George McGovern as accidental nominees). But that points to the real point here: there's more to being a good politician than simply being able to come up with the right folksy metaphor all the time.

Note, for example, that the "$10,000 bet" that Politico makes much of didn't actually seem to hurt him very much in his quest for the nomination. But something did help him: his apparent ability to assure party actors that he was an acceptable candidate.

(There's also the question about whether Romney's current problems have anything to do with his electioneering skills or with the campaign at all; remember that he's down by about four points in current polling, which isn't very far from where "fundamentals" models would put him, depending on which model you look at).

Granted: there's George W. Bush. While I don't think his general election candidacies were anything special, his nomination victory in 2000 was a truly impressive political accomplishment. Bush did successfully sell himself to key party leaders -- most notably, the other Republican governors of the time -- as a good presidential candidate and presumably someone who could be a president who would not damage Republican interests. That turned out to be dead wrong, and the skill Bush appeared to show in doing so turned out to predict little of how he would behave in office. Still, I think the point generally holds: good political skills are useful both in campaigning and governing, and glaring weaknesses revealed in one most likely reveal defects in the other. What I'd probably say is that if we break political abilities down into specific skills, we would wind up with a broad overlap between those used in electioneering and those used in governing. Not identical, and some would show up in both lists but would be more central for one than the other, but nevertheless overlapping.

Also: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Janeane Garofalo, 48...but mainly because she was Dave's girlfriend back home that he had so much trouble breaking up with, much to Lisa's frustration. OK, she was on Larry Sanders, too.

Getting to the good stuff:

1. Yes, early voting is a thing worth paying attention to -- but Paul Gronke throws a little perspective at us.

2. Excellent piece by Ezra Klein on budget caps vs. actual budget numbers

3. Drew Linzer has polling house effects...warning: they're not all that large. In fact, the average distance between PPP and Rassmussen is all of 1.6%.

4. And Mike Shannon and Will Feltus bring us beer partisanship. Great stuff (via Tucker), and an excellent excuse to link to my old paper (with Becky Bromley and Krystle Meyer) "Republicans and Golf, Democrats and Outkast: Or, Party Political Culture from the Top Down" (gated; used to be available with free registration, but I'm not sure whether it is now or not).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

About that Flip to Responsibility....

So, it turns out that Mitt Romney may be walking back his shift to having a reality-based tax plan after all.

At least, sort of. To recap, the Romney tax plan calls for a 20% cut in tax rates, protecting certain current tax treatments of investment, revenue neutrality, and no tax increases for middle-income filers. The numbers, however, don't work; something has to give -- it's what Matt Yglesias calls "Romney's trilemma." Earlier in the week, a Romney adviser said that the numbers do so work, but if they didn't then the fix would be to lower the rates by less.

Now, however, we get a report that the campaign is insisting that "All of these goals are achievable, and the governor will work with Congress to enact tax reform that meets each of the goals he has proposed."

I don't know....I guess I want a bit more. I really don't have a major problem with the campaign presenting a plan that is probably not actually achievable, as long as they really mean it about the general direction of the policy and there's some fine print spelling out some clarifications. At least from the story at TPM, there's no direct contradiction of the previous position; it's just an insistence that the plan, as it is, still goes forward (see also a comprehensive post on the entire issue from Dylan Matthews).

As I said, I don't know. I'm still inclined to believe that when push comes to shove, the piece they abandon is revenue neutrality, covered by phony numbers. In other words, what is really going to happen if Romney is elected and gets his way is a large, mostly unfunded, deficit-exploding tax cut. But unless there's a somewhat more forceful walkback, I'm inclined to hold off a bit. Hey, reporters: We know that Team Romney's basic position is that they can do this. What we need is for the campaign to be pressed on the "what if?" question: if it turns out that for whatever reason something has to give, what would it be?

Inexplicable -- or Epistemic Closure?

Kevin Drum is baffled by the GOP's willingness to follow Paul Ryan over a cliff on Medicare.

Really, it's pretty amazing. Just two years ago, Republicans walloped Democrats in the midterm election, at least partly due to a tsunami of ads accusing them of taking money away from Medicare. And Republicans have been on the receiving end of Medicare attack ads too. So they know perfectly well just how sensitive this issue is and how much damage it can do. And yet, somehow they convinced themselves that Paul Ryan had some kind of magic fairy dust that would make the American public sit up and suddenly say to themselves, "He's right! We do need to turn Medicare into a voucher!"

I dunno. The entire Republican Party seems to have fallen into some kind of Svengali-like trance, convinced that Paul Ryan, alone among men, can deliver the bracing tonic that will convince voters to do away with program benefits they've loved and supported for decades. The self-delusion here is inexplicable.
But we have an explanation! This is exactly what those of us who keep beating on the conservative closed information feedback loop (that phrase is mostly Jonathan Chait's, by the way) have been on about these past couple of years. Remember, the Julian Sanchez post that got everyone all hepped up about "epistemic closure" (which is just a fancy way of saying it) was about conservative actors -- elites, not masses -- really believing the (false) stuff that they were saying because they only receive information that supports the myths.

And I think that's just about right. Remember how the one that Drum is worried about works. Over on Fox News, it's axiomatic not only that reducing the deficit is necessary to make the economy healthy, but that Americans overwhelmingly support that sort of thing -- both propositions, one might note, that have plenty of support outside the conservative information loop. Moreover, it's also taken as a given that "reduce the deficit" basically means slashing government spending -- which is also overwhelmingly popular -- while also cutting taxes. Which, again, is overwhelmingly popular. The response on spending that in fact the polling shows that Americans are ambivalent about spending, supporting cuts in the abstract while opposing specific cuts, is either dismissed as so much liberal sophistry, dismissed as liberal polling bias, or perhaps just never even noticed at all.

Not only that, but Ryan and other Republicans have been arguing for years that they are the ones who are really saving Medicare; remember, their claim is that present Medicare is unsustainable and that it's the Democrats, by opposing reform, who are putting Medicare in jeopardy. Ryan's proposal, in this world, is simply the only responsible position for those who support Medicare.

Now, most of those beliefs are either nonsense or highly contentious or at least subject to other interpretations which could damage Republicans. But if you watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh and, I strongly suspect, hang out among GOP-aligned wonks, you're not hearing any of that. You literally might not know about it. Just as you might not realized how unhinged it sounds to talk about 47% of Americans as moochers, or to talk about the president who killed bin Laden as a Islamist sympathizer. Or that most Americans do not think that the main problem with George W. Bush was that he was way too liberal.

And that's just the information-flow side of it; several of us have also talked about the various perverse incentives around which perpetuate it. But I strongly suspect the information-flow portion of this goes a long, long ways to explaining what Drum finds inexplicable.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mike Schmidt, 63. There are four positions where "greatest ever" is contested, and four where it's uncontested. Of the uncontested, only two are recent: Barry Bonds in LF, and Michael Jack.Schmidt (I'm assuming that Alex Rodriguez counts as a worse SS than Wagner, and not as serious competition for Schmidt). How about top-ten in the NL in OPS+ almost every year beginning in 1974 and going through 1987, missing only once, and leading the league at one point five years running and six out of seven? And a great glove. Wonderful, wonderful, baseball player.

The good stuff:

1. Can't-miss NYT piece by Suzanne Mettler and John Sides about who really draws government benefits. It's not 47%.

2. Possible bias in polling, assessed by Dan Hopkins. Also, he sends us to Drew Linzer for possible effects of bias.

3. Brutal takedown of a Paul Ryan comment on Libya and Iran by Heather Hurlburt.

4. And is a Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel opinion shredding civil liberties still in effect today? Rachel Levinson-Waldman has the (newly uncovered) Jay Bybee opinion; now, reporters should be pressing the Obama Administration about it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Elsewhere, and Housekeeping

Over at PP today, I did a bit of evening out; I've been mostly hitting Republicans for ignoring reasonable expectations for the election this cycle, but this time I was able to take a shot at a Democrat who is doing the same thing. Of course, the incentives are if anything even stronger for Democrats: if they believe that the economy should make Obama a big loser, then they can believe, as Robert Reich does in the piece I quote over there, that Americans have suddenly woken up and become convinced that Democrats are correct about everything and Republicans are wrong about everything. Of course, that's just as wrong this time around as it was in the other direction in 2010, or for that matter in the Democrats' direction in 2008.

Meanwhile, just a quick housekeeping note: I just noticed that a half-dozen or so perfectly good comments over the last few weeks had fallen into the spam filter. Restored, for whatever that's worth. My apologies -- and I should note that I won't zap anything without saying something (and I very, very rarely have zapped anything), so if your post doesn't show up, it's probably the spam filter, and please let me know so that I can do something about it. I'm suppose to check regularly; I don't always manage that.

And that's it for me until Thursday morning. I'll wish a Gmar Chatima Tova to all those who are observing the holiday, and I'm off to observe the day -- for the goyim and non or differently observant Jews, feel free to make this an open thread if there's anything going on, or for that matter if there isn't.

The 1980s: A Distant, Distant Era

I don't have time before sunset to do a proper takedown of Marc Theissen's incredibly weak defense of his idea that it's very, very, important that Barack Obama mostly uses written instead of oral daily security briefings, following fact-checker Glenn Kessler's thorough demolishing of the Theissen's original piece, which has been updated to reflect the latest from Theissen. Kessler was, shall we say, not impressed. Nor was Alex Pareene.

See, the problem for Theissen is that it turns out that most presidents preferred written to oral briefings, including Ronald Reagan. Which is a bit of a problem, since Reagan was perfect in every way, right?

Anyway, other than advising everyone to be very careful any time anyone says that "everything changed" on September 11, 2001 -- or the even more ludicrous idea that the threats facing George W. Bush and Barack Obama after that date were more serious than what Cold War presidents faced -- and laughing at the idea that somehow George W. Bush's national security habits are somehow self-evidently what anyone should be emulating -- I only really have one serious thing to say about it. Which is to marvel at the idea that, according to Theissen, Reagan and Richard Nixon served during "an era when advanced technology consisted of electric typewriters." I mean, I realize that it must be tough to be assigned the tough challenge of explaining why it's a disaster for Barack Obama to use a Ronald Reagan method instead of a George W. Bush method, but Theissen really should have stuck to the all-purpose howler about 9/11 changing everything. The guy is making Bob Woodward look good.

For the record: no, the primitive state of technology in the 1980s, 1970s, or 1950s, during which time presidents communicated via tin cans with strings and "surveillance" meant asking people to pose for Matthew Brady-style photographs, did not slow the pace of foreign affairs to the extent that "The volume, speed and complexity of intelligence has changed dramatically in the intervening decades — and with it the need for interactive briefings." I think anyone who has even a vague appreciation of, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis would just laugh at that idea.

Bottom line is that if the main evidence that oral briefings work best for giving the president the best intelligence is the record of George W. Bush, I'd certainly hope that subsequent presidents figure out a different way of doing things.

Passing (Or Failing) the June Test

The thing to remember about Eddie Haskell is that he never, ever, not even for a second, fooled June Cleaver. We all knew that; Wally knew it, too.

Which brings us too the latest adventures of Paul Ryan -- and of (some members of) a press corps, Dave Weigel reports, who entirely fail the "June test" and are reporting that Ryan is an uberWonk because he uses...wait for it...PowerPoint. And because he included a few pie charts.

Weigel passes the June test. So does Kevin Drum. Paul Krugman, too. Sort of. Krugman says that Ryan "very clearly doesn’t know what his numbers actually mean," but I don't think we have evidence of that; we know that he's comfortable using phony numbers, but that doesn't mean he doesn't realize they're phony. Eddie surely knows he's putting on an act for Wally's mom, after all; that Eddie grins like an idiot when June is around isn't evidence that Eddie is an idiot.

(I don't remember: did we ever see Eddie's act fool anyone? Teachers, maybe? I'm certainly not going to be upset at having a reason to go back and re-watch a few episodes...).

Meanwhile, Ed Kilgore -- who certainly passes the June test -- raises the point that with Ryan forced to keep his "Eddie" mask on for the duration of the campaign, he risks harming his reputation with those who like the other Eddie, the one who comes out when the grownups aren't around (the one, that is, who doesn't hesitate to play along with the crudest ACA myths). While that's possible, my suspicion is that the real threat to Ryan's future isn't that he has to play along with Mitt Romney during the campaign. Kilgore uses the example of Jack Kemp to argue that Ryan could be hurt, but I suspect that Kemp's problem may have been more that his interests really did diverge from mainstream conservatives. Meanwhile, the examples of Richard Nixon in the 1950s and, more recently, Dan Quayle would seem to point the other way; while Quayle never recovered from national ridicule, conservatives never really help George H.W. Bush's various sellouts against him.

The real danger to Ryan is if his constituency outside of the party, the non-partisan budget hawks and the press, wise up. In other words, it's not his mask that he's wearing for this campaign, but his long-term Eddie Haskell act that people outside the GOP have bought that's at risk with his high-profile national campaign.

Well, that and one other thing: Ryan also convinced the Wally Cleavers in the House Republican Conference to vote for all sorts of unpopular things, including those Medicare cuts they ran against in 2010, and which they're presumably getting hit for on the campaign trail now. I mean, Wally never really liked Eddie all that much, but Eddie never gets him into real trouble, does he? If the elections wind up going worse for House Republicans than they expect, and the budget gets some of their blame, you do have to wonder whether they'll trust their Eddie next time he comes up with some cool idea for them.

Romney's Tax Flip Towards Responsibility

Yesterday afternoon at PP, I wrote that Mitt Romney's tax plan -- as he most recently at that point had described it on 60 Minutes -- still didn't pass the giggle test. However, soon after that post the Romney campaign clarified its position, and I'm glad to see that it was clarified in the direction of becoming a responsible proposal.

Recall that Romney said he would cut income tax rates by 20%; protect various preferred treatment of certain types of income; keep overall taxes the same or lower for middle-income filers; and keep overall revenue neutral. The problem? It didn't add up; there aren't enough available tax breaks to close to make up the revenues lost from the rate cuts without increasing taxes on the middle class. At first, some liberals attacked it as "Romney has a plan to raise taxes on the middle class." But when Romney then emphasized the "no middle class tax increase" part of it, what legitimately remained was only that something had to give, because the math simply didn't work.

Ah, but yesterday, as Suzy Khimm reports:
Romney adviser Kevin Hassett denied that his plan was mathematically impossible in a discussion with Obama economic adviser Jeffrey Liebman. But Hassett suggested that if Romney’s plan proved impossible, or too difficult to get through Congress, Romney would choose to make his tax cut smaller rather than increase the deficit or put the burden on poor Americans.
Okay, then. I'll toss in the major caveat that an actually responsible plan would also accept conventional estimates of the effects -- Romney has at least flirted with making the math "work" by simply asserting a highly implausible growth effect so that the taxes would supposedly pay for themselves. But if Romney uses regular estimates, then this is a perfectly reasonable campaign program. No, he doesn't fill in the details, but in my view that's not a problem, or at least not a major one. We have a goal of eliminating enough deductions and credits to get tax rates down by 20%, some guidelines for how to do that, and an escape hatch if they can't agree to enough reform to get to 20%.

I'd point out two things about the plan that remains. One is that I'm not sure, at this point, that Romney's tax reform plan differs at all from Barack Obama's other than that Romney is currently putting more emphasis on his (which does probably mean it's somewhat more likely to be a priority for him).

The other is that whatever you think of tax reform, it's still hard to believe that it will either happen quickly (especially in Romney's "let Congress handle all the details" version) or have fast-acting positive effects; the experts who support tax reform generally think it's good for the long-term growth of the economy, not a way to give a quick boost. Which doesn't mean that it's necessarily a bad idea, but Romney's emphasis on it is another reminder that he and the current GOP don't actually support doing anything in particular to combat the current economic situation.

But overall, as one who has been very critical of Romney's tax plan on the grounds that it didn't add up, I'm very pleased to see this shift towards responsibility.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mark Hamill, 61. His performance in the first movie is highly underrated, for some reason; he's excellent, in my view. And fine in the other two, too.

The good stuff:

1. Whether you like a policy or not could depend on whether it's described as a Republican (or Democratic) plan. John Sides reports.

2. Good polling overview, focused on the Gallup/Rassmussen issue, from Mark Blumenthal.

3. Brendan Nyhan is right about feel-good phony rhetoric from Barack Obama.

4. I suppose I'll link to Abby Rapoport on non-partisan solutions to administering elections, although my usual anti-Goo Goo instinct is to pretty much oppose that sort of thing.

5. Sabl's Law appears to be safe for now.

6. And no one should care about Bud Selig; the real question was how Sean Forman would handle the Melkman "problem," and of course he's being sensible about it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Catch of the Day

One for Sarah Kliff for some very nice ACA reporting. She went to a McDonald's, where calories per item are now listed, and asked what people thought about it. Key bit:

I did find one customer who had noticed the calorie labels: Dick Nigon of Sterling, Va. He and his wife, Lea, had stopped by McDonald’s after seeing an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. Dick had ordered for the couple, noticed the calorie labels and liked them.

“I like that you have the information before you order,” he told me, when I asked about the labels. “It’s better than some kind of government health mandate in Obamacare.”

I told him that the calorie labels were, in fact, a government health mandate in Obamacare.

“Well that changes things a bit,” he responded. “I thought this was more of a voluntary sort of thing. Now I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.”
Which is a reminder of how difficult it is for anyone to talk about "Obamacare" as a particular thing because the ACA just contains so many different, and in many cases largely unrelated, pieces. It's also a reminder that one of the outdated bits of "I'm Just a Bill" is the idea that a "bill" is one specific idea written by one Member of Congress in response to one problem. Most things nowadays that pass Congress do so as part of larger, omnibus bills which contain many different bills, many of which began life as individual measures. Most of these bills/provisions (or whatever we should call them) never receive separate votes on the House or Senate floor, or even in committee. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but good or bad it's just how Congress does business.

Of course, this also makes the Tea Party demand that Republicans pledge to repeal -- and hate -- every single bit of the ACA into a terrible trap for Republican politicians, because even if one opposes the core reforms there are still plenty of consensus, wildly popular provisions. I mean, outside of the problem that many of the popular provisions are linked to unpopular pay-fors or enforcement mechanisms, which can at least be played both ways, and which Democrats are as apt to demagogue (by only mentioning the benefits) as Republicans are (by only mentioning the costs). 

Also: nice catch!

A Quick Note on the Necessity of Spin

No, Jimmy Carter didn't really lead Ronald Reagan for most of the 1980 campaign, only to have Reagan suddenly surge from behind at the last minute (John Sides really took care of this a while ago).

But, you know, what's a campaign behind in the polls supposed to do? Of course they're going to find some historical evidence, no matter how dubious, to show that everything is going exactly as they want it to be. And they better do that; it would be irresponsible not to. After all, for a candidate who is not all that far behind but would need some external shock to change things (which is increasingly where it appears Mitt Romney is right now), the trick is to keep the situation from imploding so that even a significant external shock wouldn't be enough. Donors need to be told to keep giving, volunteers have to be inspired to keep volunteering...even the paid staff needs to be given some reason to believe they're not wasting their time.

It's not just the possibility of winning, either; even a doomed campaign, a Dole '96 or a Mondale '84, needs to maximize whatever vote it can get in order to avoid pulling the rest of the ticket down with them.

The Reagan/Carter/1980 thing is really just a twist on the old idea that every losing candidate in my memory would pitch themselves as Harry Truman, ready to hit the stump for personal campaigning that would turn the whole thing around. I guess the 1980 version of it appeals to Republicans because it's Reagan...and I suppose there's at least some vague analogy in the economic situation, although not really.

There's another piece of this, which is the constant partisan arguments about individual polls -- that the sample is wrong, or whatever.

The key is that unless one is that these are really pretty innocent lies. I mean, it's fine for reporters or pundits to call them out on it, but it's not on the same scale as, say, lies about policy or about the opponent's character. Just stipulate that both sides are going to  interpret the polls in whatever way serves their interest, and that no campaign is going to admit that it has little or no chance to win. It's not lazy mendacity for Republicans to dredge up this particular myth; it's really the only responsible way to run a campaign.

Early Voting and Polls/Predictors

I put this up on twitter, but I might as well write a post about it: I feel that there's pretty good information out there about the rules and extent of early voting (see Michael McDonald's excellent work tracking voting-so-far, plus follow links to his other work on this), but a lot less about how the various public opinion polls handle early voting and how the various predictor models out there that are primarily based on polls handle it.

Or maybe it's out there and I just haven't seen it. But for example Nate Silver today, in a very nice state-of-the-race post, noted in a short paragraph that there are lots of people voting over the next few weeks...but as far as I know, he hasn't detailed how his model handles it. Nate Cohn's similar post didn't mention it at all.

I vaguely remember that pollsters deal with it, but I don't really remember what I'm supposed to know about it. Hasn't mattered yet -- there are just a handful of people who have voted so far -- but in two or three weeks, it's going to start becoming a huge deal. When I brought this up on twitter, Josh Putnam pointed out that part of the problem is that there's limited reporting on all of this by some of the states. So there's that, too.

I don't know; I guess if there is something out there about it, I'd appreciate a pointer from someone; if not, I hope that one of the polling aggregator/polling-based prediction folks can give us a thorough discussion of the issue. Presumably, early voting makes the election a whole lot easier to "predict" from this point on than if there was no early voting, right? But I don't have any idea how much easier, or what kinds of error we should be looking out for.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Kenneth Tigar, 70. Cheers (twice)? Star Trek (twice)? Whedon connection? That'll do it.

So how about some good stuff:

1. I mostly agree with Josh Marshall's reader here, although Marshall makes a good point about what appears to have been in the heads of Team Romney. If the fundamentals really are playing in favor of the president, there's probably not a lot that Romney can do about it...but if it's close, then misunderstanding the fundamentals may hurt their ability to frame it the best way, and that could -- again, if it's close -- make some difference.

2. Lynn Vavreck on the undecideds.

3. Sarah Kliff on the state-by-state adoption of standard benefit packages under ACA. Prediction: assuming full implementation, the losers in the states will appeal to Congress, and odds are they'll eventually win (meaning that we'll eventually get national, not state-by-state, standards).

4. Joseph Cera explains why the Obama bump might be persisting.

5. Those of you uninterested in whether an attack ad meets truth-checker standards may nevertheless find Glenn Kessler's quick history of how presidents have received daily intelligence briefings worth checking out.

6. And an excellent post from Hans Noel about voting the party, not the person.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Okay, I know that you're all excited about the prospect of Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, so you don't have to tell me about that one. But which other, if any, of the Democratic candidates for Senate do you have high hopes for if they win in November?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Which, if any, current Republican Senate candidates do you have high hopes for within the Senate (and perhaps beyond) should they win in November?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I'll go with what appears to be good news: the anti-militia (and pro-American) rallies in Libya.

As far as what didn't matter...I'll take the easy way out, and go with the change-from-inside supposed gaffe. Mainly because I need to link to my somewhat-related Salon column.

But I'm sure y'all have plenty more. What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

So apparently Bud Selig has passed some sort of addendum to the rules so that people whose last names start with a "C" and were born on August 11, 1984 are ineligible for the batting title. This is presumably to avoid the embarrassment of the taboo guy finishing first in batting average, although it does it by generating yet another story about how the taboo guy is going to finish first in batting average.

I suppose it's not quite the same thing as not counting Rose as the hits leader or Bonds as the HR leader or something like that. The Melkman, as you all probably know, finished up one PA short; the rules in that case call for outs to be added to get him up to the line, and Selig's fix is to say you can't do that in this case.

Of course, no one really cares who MLB considers the "batting" champ. Presumably baseball-reference will list it properly, and at any rate however anyone wants to count it Melky Cabrerra will have posted a .346 BA in 501 PAs this season. He won't "really" have had 502 PAs either way.

The solution, of course, is pure Selig -- an ad hoc fix to something that happened to come to his attention and which he decided was a problem.

What's really amazing is how resilient baseball is in the face of all of it. Baseball is, alas, worse off, but hardly ruined...well, I should say, I guess, that we baseball fans are worse off, but the game itself -- and I'm talking about the MLB version of it -- remains wildly, out-of-control popular. And to Selig's credit, he really did learn his lesson from the 1994-1995 fiasco, which is a hell of a lot more than you can say for the people who run the NHL, apparently. I don't really know how to weigh the balance between losing the end of 1994 vs. labor peace since, but the upside of that is probably a bigger deal than all the stupid format changes and getting rid of the league offices and switching teams from one league to another and....blech. I can't stand him.

Anyway, the Giants magic number is down to two, so what am I going to be crabby about? As long as I don't think about Bud Selig, I'm pretty much fine.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Representation and Change

I have one up at PP today about the question of change coming from the "inside" or the "outside." Just to add on to it a bit...

I see most of this through the lens of representation. Obama and Congressional Democrats made promises in 2008; they interpreted them; and those interpretations guided what they tried to do in office. “Promises” here means not just specific public policy choices, but also governing style, priorities, and all the rest of behavior in office. Different campaign in 2008, different promises, different interpretation, and therefore different behavior in office.

Getting back to Ezra Klein (who emphasized the limits on presidential-led change, especially from "going public") and Andrew Sprung (who emphasized the way the 2008 election did really produce results): the answer, then, is that they’re both right. No, Obama couldn't go over the heads of Congress in summer 2009 to force action on health care, or over the heads of Congress later to force action on his jobs bill. Any presidential action of that sort is at best going to produce extremely limited success in normal times, and can easily backfire.

But it's also true that elected officials in democracies generally try to keep their promises; they try to have healthy representative relationships with their constituents, which really does seem to involve taking seriously the job of making promises, interpreting them, and acting while in office with that interpretation in mind. It doesn't mean that there's an absolute one-to-one correspondence between everything a politician ever says and what they do; that's not how it seems to work. It's more that they try to be who they say they are, and that creates a situation in which they do, or attempt to do, more or less what they said they would do. Or at least some version of it.

Thinking this through turns out to be extremely difficult...we know both that politicians really do seem to take their promises seriously, but also that most actual, real-world constituents don't pay very much attention to this stuff at all, and that even for those who do it's hard to see how the interpretations of the constituency are related to the interpretations of the politician. I do have an answer to it; it has to do with party politics as the practical real-world link between politicians and constituents (well, that's some of it; it also has something to do with Act 4 of Henry V, the "little touch of Harry", but I'll save all the explanations for some other time). The shortish answer is that, yup, campaigning and electioneering -- the "outside" part of it -- matters a whole lot.

Hey, it's Friday late afternoon; I'm sure I'll get back to this some other time. As you can see, I have a lot of thoughts on this one, even if this post is a bit scattered. Sorry about that. The quick answer to how Klein and Sprung are both right, at any rate, is: representation.

More on Why Romney Goes With Such Weak Stuff

Yesterday over at PP I argued that GOP obsession with "vetting" Barack Obama, and with a variety of ill-fated attack lines, comes from two things: the divergence of incentives between the Romney campaign and what my brother calls the "movement conservative marketplace"; and, the closed information loop that makes it difficult for insiders to have any sense of how outsiders would see these attack lines.

As Romney rolled out yet another of these insipid, implausible campaign talking points, however, it occurs to me that there's yet another reason that the GOP-aligned media makes it more likely that Romney will do these sorts of things, even if they don't actually move voters. I was thinking earlier that it was a case of the Republican press influencing the campaign: they keep talking about something, and Romney feels pressure to start talking about it too. But there's a laziness to all of this too, which is also a function of how easily influenced Fox News and the rest of them are. In the old days, a campaign would come up with a theme or a line-of-the-day, and then would have to work really hard to insert it into the (neutral) media. Oh, you could do it, but it took message discipline and some real effort.

But that's not true with campaigns right now and the partisan press -- and no question but that it's far more developed on the Republican side, although it certainly exists on both sides. All Romney's campaign has to do is pull out a sentence and call it a gaffe, and it instantly becomes one. It blows up on twitter, it goes straight to Fox News and most of the conservative radio's all over the place. Indeed, if it's in those places, it's also going to be in Politico and Buzzfeed, too. So on the one hand, it must encourage laziness to know that all you have to do is come up with something vaguely appropriate to movement conservatives in order to get that effect; on the other hand, it must just feel as if you're making something happen when you do it. And the more it hits the sort of things that the GOP-aligned media loves, the more you get the immediate effect. Really, for campaign operatives, it must be incredibly temping to do it.

There are even internal bureaucratic incentives. After all, it's never easy to measure whether some campaign line moved voters, but it's easy to measure how much it resonated in the press. And the more it appeals to movement conservatives in the media, the more you'll get that "hit."  So if you're in the Romney press office, it's just incredibly easy to monitor the president's speeches, pull out a "gaffe," turn it into a firestorm, and show your bosses that you've been productive. Sure, it might blow over in 24 hours without actually having any effect at all on voters, but who is going to point that the midst of a campaign, who will even know?

Such incentives exist when you're trying to directly score with the neutral press, too, but it's a whole lot harder, and so presumably there's more of an incentive to work hard at it -- and to save the effort for the ones you really think will work (on voters).

And even worse: campaign professionals within the nominee's candidacy may well find the prospect of working for Fox News a lot more appealing than either working in the White House or returning to the campaign trail with the next candidate -- and so pleasing the conservative-aligned media might be at least compete on even terms with winning the election as a personal career incentive for top campaign staffers.

So overall you have several institutional incentives all pushing Republican presidential campaigns towards, well, mediocrity. There's pressure from the movement conservative marketplace to create "products" (as David S. Bernstein puts it) that can be sold to the marks who they make money off of instead of points that will push swing voters; there's the danger of a closed information feedback loop which makes it harder for the campaigns to even see those swing voters; and there's the personal rush and career rewards that come creating and placing flaps in the press, whether they help the campaign or not.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to David Gregory, 60. Oh, you know which David Gregory I'm talking about.

Lots of good stuff today:

1. An excellent piece by Dan Drezner about presidents and foreign policy, but I do have one caveat: I wish he had mentioned something about how executive branch resistance (including Pentagon resistance) does constrain the president in foreign affairs and national security, even if Congress often does not.

2. Matt Yglesias clears up a couple of QE 3 myths.

3. Greg Marx rewards the Denver Post for it's excellent coverage of "47%."

4. Amazing this took as long as it did. I've seen stories about it for some time, but I'd love to see a real investigation into exactly why, with names named. Ernesto Londono has the news.

5. More people should be reading Abby Rapoport's great reporting on state and local issues, including this one on Pennsylvania and voter ID.

6. I actually disagree with Jamelle Bouie about the Founders and virtue...but his position is probably the mainstream one, and certainly has evidence on its side (although not, in my view, as much as a different interpretation of virtue that is more compatible with our views of democracy). Anyway, I suppose that means that I disagree with the lines he's drawing between now and then, but it's a reasonable argument and could well be correct.

7. I somehow missed this one, but it's still very much worth reading: excellent point by Seth Masket about how Team Romney deals with gaffes. It's party, not personal.

8. And if I had read this early enough I would have tossed Alex Pareene a CotD for...well, for catching Politico's brutal takedown of Politico.

September 20, 1972

No real Watergate stuff today, but Nixon is busy plotting the second term. From Haldeman's diary:


Later today he had E[hrlichman] and [OMB Director Cap] Weinberger up to Camp David for a general meeting....
The huge social programs have been tried. They don't work. People don't want more on welfare. The don't want to help the working poor, and our mood has to be harder on this, not softer.
Most of the programs he wants to drop are in [the old Department of] HEW, the higher-education subsidy, and that kind of thing. Make it clear to the NEA that they supported McGovern and they're not welcome anymore at the White House. In the health field, we should do much less....On welfare, we should support HR 1 until the election. Afterward, we should not send it back to Congress.
Say as little as possible during the campaign so we have the fewest promises to have to keep, so that we have an ability to interpret our mandate our way.


And I'll sneak ahead and grab a bit more from the diary, from the next day:


Got into some discussion [with Nixon] on postelection ideas. On Supreme Court appointments, they're to be all conservatives. The next one is to be a Catholic, the best ethnic we can get, or the Fordham Dean. Then we need a woman. He's not concerned about Jews on either the Cabinet or the Court, any of the courts, but will keep [Herb] Stein and K[issinger]. As a guideline, we should work for Catholics, Labor, Ethnics, Democrats. Not blacks, not Jews. No Democrat is to be appointed to anything unless he supported the P. In other words, it's only our Democrats that are to be considered at all.


I don't know about you, but I find this stuff just fascinating. It's such a mix of smart politics, cheap revenge fantasies and resentment, actual interest in policy, and self-defeating deviousness. It's just too bad he had to go and ruin it all so we can't have tapes like this from all the presidents...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Late Changes and the Rally Effect

I'm a fan of Harry Enten, but I have to take exception to one thing he said today in his state-of-the-election summary:
But what about a game-changing event? Gaffes like Romney's 47% remarks have shown no ability to move the polls. Debates, as John Sides points out, have historically almost never made a difference. A foreign policy fiasco would almost certainly result in a rally around the leader effect, a la Carter in 1980, before the incumbent gets blamed. There isn't enough time for the "blame" part of the equation to occur before the election.
It's that last one that I need to talk about. It's not actually true that all major foreign policy events yield a positive rally effect, and certainly not true that all fiascoes yield a positive rally effect. This is one that regular readers will recognize because I've talked about it many times: it turns out that sometimes there can be no rally or even a negative rally. For example, there was no rally during the Libyan intervention last year. The biggest slump? The Iran-Contra affair in November 1986 produced a huge drop, with Ronald Reagan's approval ratings dipping 21 points (a dip that lasted for months, in that particular case).

So, yeah, something going wrong in the world could certainly hurt Barack Obama in the final weeks of the campaign. No guarantee it would; some events produce the rally that Enten is talking about even if they objectively appear to be failures.

Looking beyond the rally effect, bad news at home could surely hurt Obama this late as well (just as good news could help him). It's true that the later we get, the less likely some event like this will happen. And while I don't know if there's any specific research on this, I would guess that events at the end of a campaign would tend to get swallowed up by the campaign; the campaign cues everyone to switch to maximum partisanship, and so presumably voters will tend to see events through a partisan screen and therefore tend more than usual to simply reinforce their prior opinions.

But that doesn't mean that events couldn't change the election this late. If Obama really does have a solid lead this late (and I'm still being cautious about that), I agree that it's very unlikely that campaign events would undermine it. Events in the world, however, are another story. It's not especially likely that a major new event would happen, and there's no guarantee at all that such an event would hurt and not help Obama, but I'm not aware of any reason to say that an external event couldn't make a difference late in the game.

In a Sane World...

Actually, I have no problem with the world we live in. Politicians are held to incredibly foolish standards, but the rules are for the most part spelled out, so basically that works out reasonably well. But it is sometimes worth pointing out the insanity of it.

What brings this on is today's big campaign gaffe, in which Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine managed to mangle his talking points on taxes during a debate, somehow winding up supporting tax increases for those who don't currently pay income taxes. Who are, as we've been hearing all week, in many cases elderly, disabled, or very poor (although there's also a pretty large group who are just middle class but hit all the incentives which, after all, most people support). As Dave Weigel put it:
This is one of the dumbest ways a politician can get tripped up. No one -- literally no one -- has a serious proposal that would make "everyone" pay a minimum income tax. This was obvious in 2011, when Michele Bachmann was occasionally asked to explain this concept, and muttered some stuff about even paying "a dollar" would learn 'em about how government cost money. Any Democrat, especially a Virginia Democrat, knows that any statement that sounds like willingness to raise taxes can be turned into 100,000 or so TV ads.
The thing is: it's not really Kaine's position. If he wins, he's going to vote the standard moderate/liberal mainstream Democratic line on taxes, supporting increased rates on wealthy people and status quo or tax cuts for everyone else. In fact, that's what he said before he got tripped up, and that's his official position. He's not going to be a crazed renegade from his party on this issue. He just wandered away from his position during a debate.

What should we take from it? It's possible that he screwed up because he was ill-prepared, or because he's not well-versed in public policy in the first place, or because he performs poorly despite knowing his stuff, or because he's just not very bright at all, or even just because sometimes these things happen and they don't always reveal anything at all.

And so in a sane world, here's what would happen. He'd walk it back (which I assume he'll do soon or has already done). He'd take questions from the press, and demonstrate to them that he actually knows what he's talking about on taxes; indeed, the way they covered it would be informed by their prior coverage of him and by how political insiders who knew him in Virginia thought about him, so press coverage of his walk-back would depend on his (earned) reputation plus how well he showed that it was a meaningless slip. And basically it would either totally go away as a story in the first place, or become part of a larger story about how a candidate for US Senate didn't know what he was doing on major issues.

Some of that will, no doubt, happen. And some of it won't. We'll also have people in the press trying to get inside Kaine's head to assess what it "really" means. We'll have some who treat the whole thing as a chance to judge Kaine on a debate performance standard, instead of, you know, reporting on what he's actually done in government and what he would do in the Senate if elected. That's just the press; George Allen's campaign will no doubt run ads on it right up through election day as long as it tests well, regardless of what Kaine says now. And part of the reason that can be successful is because a lot of the press will consider it fair game because Kaine said it, regardless of what he says before and after or how plausible it is that he meant it.

Note: I'm not saying that Kaine should get a pass. I'm saying that if he deserves a pass, this sort of thing should be forgotten, and there are some pretty good common-sense ways to to determine whether he deserves a pass or not -- and that in a sane world, that's what would drive, for example, the press coverage. On the other hand, if he doesn't deserve a pass it's because there's a larger story than flubbing an answer in a debate, and that story really deserves to be covered because the abilities and skills of the candidates is generally a story that should be (but isn't) covered.

(I should add here at some point that I don't actually have any sense at all of Kaine's reputation as far as any of this is concerned).

As I said, I'm not so broken up about it not being a sane world. Kaine knew perfectly well that he's supposed to know give the correct pre-packaged answers to debate questions, and while that's not a very sensible test of whether someone should get good press coverage, at least it's a clear and publicized standard. Still, it's worth mentioning that most of it doesn't really make much sense at all.

Hypocrisy and Sequestration

The Hotline's Reid Wilson says:
Every member of Congress who complains about sequestration should be required to admit whether voted for it in the same breath.
I strongly disagree with the implication here, which is that it's hypocritical to have voted "for" sequestration but then be against it.

Remember how we got here. House Republicans (and, I suppose, Senate Republicans too, although they as a group weren't really driving the process) demanded huge spending cuts as a condition for raising the debt limit. Democrats refused. The result was a stalemate, which threatened to produce a government default.

Democrats and Republicans agreed to negotiate for a "grand bargain" deficit reduction package. There's quite a bit of dispute about why that grand bargain was not reached. Democrats believe that Republicans really had no intention of reaching any deal that involved any compromise at all; Republicans believe that Democrats weren't really willing to cut spending in any kind of serious way. Note that the key thing there was that both sides claimed to want a large deficit reduction package but didn't believe the other side was sincere (the Democrats, or at least the White House and many leading Congressional Democrats, claim to want long-term deficit reduction and have advanced plans to achieve that, but didn't want to tie it to the debt limit).
At any rate, the grand bargain talks failed: more stalemate, and a more urgent threat of a real calamity.

The solution that both sides could live with involved some immediate cuts, and a process for continuing the grand bargain negotiations: first through the "supercommittee" process, and then if that didn't work through the normal legislative process but with a sequester programmed in at an agreed-to deadline. The sequester was intended, then, not to be implemented, but to force other action. It was deliberately designed to consist of things that everyone found unacceptable: domestic spending cuts that Democrats didn't want; defense cuts that Republicans didn't want; and an across-the-board process that would produce lots of cuts that no one wanted.

So: the threat of the sequester was intended to force a compromise that both sides claimed to want (and, in the meantime, to avoid the GOP-threatened default) by inventing something worse that no one wanted.

And therefore I don't think there's any hypocrisy at all in a Member having voted "for" the sequester -- that is, for a process to end the debt limit threat and to work for a grand bargain -- without actually supporting the sequester. No one wanted the sequester if it was properly designed; that was the point.

Basically, I don't see any hypocrisy or dishonesty at all in anyone who voted for the Budget Control Act last summer but who currently supports deficit reduction while opposing the sequester. That's an entirely consistent position.

Moreover, given the specific choices available at the time, I'd say that a vote for the Budget Control Act was probably the best choice even for someone who didn't want large-scale deficit reduction at all. If the choice was large deficit cutting then or a procedure to induce large deficit-cutting in eighteen months, then kicking the can down the road was a reasonable choice. And of course it ended the threat of default then, although that too was just kicked down the road. Sometimes, that's the best choice. It doesn't require endorsing the sequester.

No, voting for the Budget Control Act in 2011 while now objecting to the sequester isn't at all inconsistent.

Now, what is inconsistent is to claim, as some Republicans are, that the sequester is some sort of Barack Obama plot to sink the economy. Or to claim that immediate deficit reduction through spending cuts is absolutely necessary to save the economy but that defense spending cuts will sink the economy. Or, in my view at least, insist both that budget must be balanced but also that taxes should be slashed and that cuts to most spending would be calamities.

But there's nothing at all wrong in simply having voted for the sequester and now opposing implementing it. That was the whole idea from the beginning.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Sophia Loren, 78.

The good stuff:

1. Hey, a local House race is getting national press! A new poll has challenger Pete Gallego leading first-term Republican incumbent Quico Canseco by five points in TX 23. Reported by Scott Bland, who does an excellent job with House elections.

2. Speaking of which: a House seat prediction from Eric McGhee, John Sides, and Ben Highton. See also Eric on the uncertainty in the forecast...and what it's good for, anyway.

3. Also, Republican chances in the Senate are weakening; Nate Silver has the numbers.

4. Ooooh, shiny., preparing to replace Thomas, which will not be missed. Explanation by Emi Kolawole. Have at it, reporters and Congress scholars (and lobbyists, and Hill staffers, and...).

5. And Amy Fried's point about "47%" -- it's all in the context of those focus group people who just wouldn't believe that any politician would support policies that horrible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beware the Poll Write-Ups!

Oy, Pew:
At this stage in the campaign, Barack Obama is in a strong position compared with past victorious presidential candidates. With an eight-point lead over Mitt Romney among likely voters, Obama holds a bigger September lead than the last three candidates who went on to win in November, including Obama four years ago. In elections since 1988, only Bill Clinton, in 1992 and 1996, entered the fall with a larger advantage.
That Barack Obama was winning by 8 points last week -- the poll was taken September 12-16 and released today -- is a pretty good reading for him.

But, c'mon. This poll was done very soon after Obama's convention (September 4-6), when his bounce was still in effect. Now, let's see about the "last three candidates" Pew is comparing Obama 2012 to. In 2008, they had Obama exactly tied with John McCain...but that one (seems to have been September 9-14) would have been during McCain's convention bounce; the Republicans went last in 2008, with their convention taking place September 1-4. In 2004, the Republicans met August 30 - September 2. The one in their current table was taken September 11-14 and had Bush up one point...but they also fielded a September 8-10 survey, and that had Bush up a whopping 16 points! Plus a September 17-21 poll had Bush +3. Going back to 2000, the Democrats met in mid-August, well ahead of Pew's September poll that had Al Gore up by 5, so that one is at least unrelated to a convention bounce.

Basically, they're overselling Obama's advantage, because they're not comparing like with like. The 2004 case is particularly bad, but overall the advantage for Obama here is just a lot less impressive than the write-up would lead us to believe.

Moreover: since all individual polls are subject to random variation, this kind of comparison just multiplies that kind of error. Think about the three September 2004 polls: odds are that Pew was "wrong" high on the first one, low on the second, and about right on the third (even given that Bush's read lead was probably higher early in the month than later).

Again: any 8 point lead in a poll is good news, and I'll agree that a September lead is a lot more meaningful than a July lead. The polling averages suggest that Obama's lead last week was more like 3 or 4 points than 8 (and no, it wouldn't totally discredit a pollster to include that in the write-up, at least not in my view), but sure, even post-convention a candidate is still going to be happier up by a few than even or down. The problem here is just that the added comparison to 2008, 2004, and 2000 confuses more than it clarifies -- and yet it's highlighted in their release -- what I quoted above is the top paragraph of the write-up on the web page.

Pew does great work, as most of the nationally known pollsters do. What this example reminds us, however, is that the write-ups are often just as prone to error as the numbers -- and, perhaps, even more.

Ignore The Electoral College! Follow-Up

I've been saying for months that it's best to completely ignore the electoral college until at least after the conventions. Well, unless you're making decisions about where to put resources if you're a presidential campaign; then you don't have much choice.

A little confirmation that it's good advice comes from Nate Silver's latest big look at the electoral college bias. He's been reporting for months that the electoral college had a slight bias for Barack Obama -- that is, if the election was a 50/50 tie nationally, the odds favored Obama to win the election because his votes were likely to be better distributed across the states. Except's reversed.

I agree completely with Silver that whatever you think of his forecast model, this is exactly the stuff that he's going to get right. So I'm inclined to accept that if he says that's where the numbers fall, based on the polls he collected as of this post (yesterday morning), that's where they fall.

So what value added was there from paying attention to, say, how Florida looked back in May? I just can't see it. You were way better off getting a good estimate of how the election looked nationally (which at that point would have put very little weight even on national head-to-head polling), and then assume that you'll get more-or-less uniform swing. And that if it projected as very close, then the best thing you could say was "very close" -- you couldn't actually get any more accurate by looking at individual states.

What I'm not sure is whether there's any utility even at this point in looking at the individual state polling -- that is, if what you're really interested in is who is going to win the election. (Clarification: it's certainly worth it to look at individual state polling as part of figuring out the national situation; if we see Ohio and Florida and North Dakota and Utah all move two points to Obama, that tells us something about what's happening nationally, and the polling aggregators/modelers do and should use that information). I had been saying that now was about the time to start paying attention to the states, but I really don't know if that's true. After all, think about it this way: Silver had Wisconsin surprisingly close, and therefore it had moved up to the 4th most likely tipping-point state...but there's a new poll out today that puts Obama way up there, and I'm guessing that will be enough to move Wisconsin back to a uniform-swing state -- and far from the top of the tipping point state list.

Look, eventually, we know that we won't get 100% perfect uniform swing, and presumably a fair amount of whatever non-uniform swing will happen will be evident as soon as there's enough state-level polling information. Right? It's not as if we expect Ohio (or New Hampshire or Virginia or whatever) to suddenly veer off in the last few weeks, for the most part; we expect unusual swing to be the product of longer-term stuff than that. So presumably if there were enough state-level polls, we could pick up on some (most?) of it early on. It's just that it's not going to matter unless the race is very close, and if it is we still won't quite know enough to know about electoral college bias until, most likely, a bit farther down the line.

"Fundamentals" Frustration

John Sides isn't quite as frustrated yet about the idea that the economic "fundamentals" of the 2012 cycle make a Mitt Romney victory so inevitable that anything else needs to some fantastic explanation as he is at misreporting of independent voters, but I think he's getting close to breaking out the all-caps.

(Short version again: the prediction models are basically predicting a close race; as I read them, it's with Barack Obama as a slight favorite, but it really depends on how you look at it -- some models predict a Republican win, some a Democratic victory).

I think the level of frustration that John (and some of the rest of us) feel at this has a pretty simple cause: almost everyone who is open to persuasion on this point gets it, and so we don't get any more easy victories. That is, those who are open to reading what political scientists have to say -- and it's an impressive number of reporters, pundits, and practitioners -- are reading the Monkey Cage, reading the other political science blogs, reading evidence-based sites such as Nate Silver's, and taking what they read seriously. Indeed, I've been consistently struck since I started doing this by how many people really do want to learn what political scientists have to say.

The problem is that what's left are those who for whatever reason aren't very interested. There are lots of reason for it...their own biases, in some cases; in others, perhaps incentives for believing, for example, that election results are mainly driven by gaffes and other day-to-day campaigning events (not that campaigns are irrelevant! No one is saying that!).

All of which makes for a lot of frustration. But I do think that the flip side of that frustration is that a lot of progress is being made.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Tegan and Sara Quin, 32.

Been a while, so right to the good stuff:

1. Gaffes. Or as John Sides refers to them, "gaffes." Yeah, don't get carried away.

2. Lots of good items written the last couple days on Mitt Romney's fundraiser comments, but beyond John on the electoral politics of it I'll just link to a nice one by Jonathan Cohn about entitlements, and another nice one by Suzy Khimm about taxes and welfare.

3. Floyd Norris on job growth, public and private, through history.

4. Noah Millman on Romney's Libya comments and his foreign policy ideas.

5. And Paul Waldman asks: Is Newsweek really that awful?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

L'Shana Tovah (and Housekeeping)

I won't be around the next couple of days, with Rosh Hashanah beginning tonight. I may be back Tuesday night, but you can definitely expect things to be running normally on Wednesday.

In the meantime, my Salon column this weekend was about why Republicans turned to press-bashing this week; I argued that it had to do with how little they have in terms of policy positions and how little room Mitt Romney has between what's popular among swing voters and among the people with the loudest voices among Republicans.  And then there's also my article in the current WaMo looking at what a Romney administration might look like.

So a Shana Tovah to all who are celebrating and observing the holiday, and I'll be back in a bit.

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question that I asked conservatives; same good opportunity to link to a new article from John Sides about debate effects. So for those who support Barack Obama:

Looking forward to the debates, or fearing the debates?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I'll be using the same question for liberals later, and it's a good opportunity to link to a new article from John Sides about debate effects, so for those who support Mitt Romney:

Looking forward to the debates, or fearing the debates?

September 15, 1972

"He had the kind of steel and really mean instinct that we needed to clean house after the election."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

Surely the attack in Libya matters, and not just from the casualties.

The Fed actions? We'll see how important they are to the economy. I'm an optimist on this, but no question about that there's divided opinion from both conservative and liberal economists. I think it's very unlikely to have any effect on the election, however.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Elsewhere: Romney budget, polling

At PP today I sounded a note of caution about current polls, saying (again, sorry) that it's just too soon to know where the presidential race stands. We still have to wait another week to ten days to let the temporary convention effects go away.

And at Greg's place I accused Mitt Romney of magical thinking on the deficit and taxes. Referenced: Geordi, Harry, Jeannie, and Tink.

One thing to note about that is that Romney isn't even pretending to have any economic theory or projections behind his magic. So it's a step down from Reagan, at least, and maybe from George W. Bush (I'd have to look that one up). He doesn't have any economist run numbers and say that lowering tax rates by X amount will generate Y revenues; he's basically just saying that we should trust him that the effects will be real and the size he assumes. It's not simply a case of dynamic scoring vs. static scoring; it's scoring vs. making stuff up. Yeah, that's harsh, but that's what he's given us.

Catch of the Day

One for Nate Silver, for this about some new swing-state polls showing Barack Obama in the lead:

We have seen a shift toward Mr. Obama in the polls since the Democratic convention. It appears that if an election were held today, he’d win it by somewhere in the neighborhood of four or perhaps five percentage points.

If Mr. Obama is ahead by four to five points nationally, we’d certainly also expect him to post his share of leads by about that margin in swing states. Because of statistical variance and differences in methodology, some of the numbers are going to be a little bit better for him than others. But the consensus of the data ought to quite strong for him.
Remember, the first assumption should be uniform swing. If Ohio and Florida figure to be dead even if the national race is dead even, then they figure to show a five point lead for Obama if he's up five nationally. Indeed: if that's the situation, then a new state poll showing uniform swing isn't new information about that state.

Now, we know that we don't really have uniform swing, and in a very close race it can matter a lot if Ohio, say, swings a bit more and Utah swings a bit less.

If it's not a close race, however, that stuff just doesn't matter. More than that: we're still more likely to be mislead by a state poll that's a bit off, especially a single state poll, than we are by just looking at the national polling averages and just assuming uniform swing. That's going to change some over the next couple of weeks, as we get a lot more state polls (meaning that we'll start having meaningful averages of state polling independent of the national polls), but we're not there yet.

Perhaps, at the risk of redundancy, I should explain a bit more. Say we get an Ohio poll today showing Obama +5. Well, what we want is to make an Ohio polling average. But if we're only getting one Ohio poll a week, then the previous one might be from right after the Democratic convention (maximum Obama bounce!) and the one after that from before either convention. So you can take a simple average of them, but that's pretty useless because what we want to know is opinion in Ohio now, and the other two would be dated. So our choice is just one poll (lots of uncertainty) or averaging using outdated polls (meaningless for assessing now).

The best of the polling aggregations sites (Silver very much included) can do a bit more -- they can take each state poll and adjust for how it compared to the national average at that point, thus deriving an estimate for a state that should be a bit more precise than uniform swing. And yet, I'm pretty skeptical that we can extrapolate forward from June to November when it comes to that. Given that once we get beyond a three point national lead the state swings become totally irrelevant, and even with a one point national lead the state swings are probably irrelevant, I'm really just fine with holding off until just after this point in the calendar before I pay any attention to the state estimates at all.

And: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Walter Koenig, 76.

The good stuff:

1. I'm going to strongly recommend an optimistic piece about the Arab Spring from Heather Hurlburt. I'm not expert enough to know whether she's right, but it's a point of view that needs more attention right now.

2. See also Fred Kaplan on Libya.

3. I hope you've been reading Dan Larison, who has been excellent; here he is on the convoluted arguments that defenders of Mitt Romney have had to go through the last couple of days.

4. Team Romney bashed the press; Scot Galupo responds.

4. Matt Yglesias is correct, of course, about Paul Ryan: his budgets have never had much in the way of details. In addition to what he says, don't forget that Ryan's tax "plan" was to cut rates and then tell CBO to just assume lots of revenues from...well, we have no idea.

5. Sarah Binder watches the Fed.

6. And there were a lot of good ones on QE3, but the best I saw was from Binyamin Appelbaum: "Fed: We will provide the punch for the party. Heavy pours. And we're not going to be too careful about closing time." I guess now we'll have to see if it works.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Liberal and Conservative Impulses

I think I'd classify this one as amateur ideological interpretation; I don't want to claim much for it, only that it seems to come in handy for me when I try to make sense of things.

Anyway, I wrote over at Greg's place yesterday about the liberal impulse:
[I]f the liberal impulse is “we can do better,” and the liberal danger is a hubris that trying to do better is always an unambiguously good idea, the threat to liberals is a cynicism that we really can’t do better. That trying to do something difficult is inherently something to be mocked. And the truth is that anti-liberal cynicism isn’t without some merit at times, and it certainly isn’t without some political appeal.
So I'd want to extend that a bit, and to say that if the liberal impulse is "we can do better," then the conservative impulse is "don't make it worse." The conservative danger is allowing injustice to go unchallenged, and the threat to conservatives is the suspicion that caution and prudence are really masks for indifference.

Or something like that. The basic idea is that both of these impulses are valuable and necessary in any polity, and perhaps especially in democracies. And I guess I'd also say that both those impulses don't always map easily onto public policy positions that we associate with those who call themselves liberals and conservatives.

And the problem with American politics is that the "conservative" party post-Reagan really doesn't seem to possess the conservative impulse. The party of Paul Ryan, George W. Bush, and Newt Gingrich is a party of neither the conservative nor the liberal impulse, but a radical one. They are the party who not only embraces, as Ronald Reagan did, Thomas Paine's claim that "We have it in our power to begin the world anew," but that often doesn't seem to temper that grandiose attitude with any of Reagan's FDR-worshiping liberalism that ground their idealism in the real world (okay, Reagan's version of the real world, which caused all sorts of problems, but it was real to him at any rate and therefore imposed limits). Anyway, it leads them to absolutes, which everyone from Andrew Sullivan to Hannah Arendt could tell you aren't very healthy when it comes to politics.

Again, this is all sort of doodling; if you really want to know about ideology, you'll want to read Hans Noel. Just saying that it helps me sort things out when I think about it this way.
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