Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31, 1973

Just a short segment today, with one big development.

Ehrlichman and Haldeman (in California) talk to Kleindienst about the Gray nomination, which they all agree is dead, and about cooperation from Justice on Watergate -- but on the latter, Kleindienst talks about some sort of independent counsel (a three-judge panel) running the prosecutions.

Back in Washington, Dean is continuing to tell his story to his lawyer, at Shaffer's Friendship Heights apartment. And that's not all: Jeb Magruder, having failed to talk his former assistant out of telling the truth to the Ervin Committee, decides the jig is up and hires a lawyer, too. Of course, he doesn't know about what Dean is up to, but he did feel it was urgent; Magruder's lawyer is at a convention in Bermuda, so that's where Magruder flies to (I think it's on this Saturday; the narrative from Emery isn't quite clear, other than he's definitely behind Dean).

Of course, while Magruder is certainly a threat on both Watergate and the cover-up, the big difference is that Dean knows the extent of Richard Nixon's involvement in the cover-up -- although, for now, he has only his word.

Sunday Question for Liberals

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the legislative progress on guns and immigration?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

The conservative push in GOP Senate primaries over the last several cycles: a net plus or net minus for conservative policy outcomes?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30, 1973

It's a travel day: Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman are off to the Pacific White House. Which means, alas, no more tapes during the following week. Before they leave, however, we do get Nixon and Haldeman talking. And elsewhere, it's a very busy day.

What Mattered This Week?

It was sort of this week, sort of not, but I'll make a mention here of all of the implementation fights on the Affordable Care Act: they certainly matter.

I'll go with North Korea again in the "doesn't matter" category.

I'm not sure what to do with the SCOTUS hearings on marriage, so I'll leave it to you.

And beyond that, I've probably missed stuff...what do you think? What do you think mattered this week?

March 29, 1973

The Ervin Committee moves quickly, subpoenaing Magruder's assistant Robert Reisner, who the FBI and the prosecutors had totally overlooked.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

Hey, the season is (almost) here!

A couple of things...

Okay, a month ago I said that the main thing (beyond health) that I would pay attention to for clues about the future was...Brandon Belt's extra base hits. I guess I'm happy now! Of course, who knows whether it means anything, but I'll choose to interpret it as a (very mild -- I'm not nuts) positive.

And Jay Jaffe has a fun column of "20 ways to improve baseball right now." I'll tell you the ones I disagree with:

* Designated hitter in both leagues? No way; I'd like to see more differences (bring back the split umps!).  

* Expand to Montreal and Puerto Rico? I would like to see a two-team expansion, but I'm all for another New York team, probably in New Jersey but it doesn't really matter. I'm skeptical that Puerto Rico would work, but willing to be convinced; Montreal would be fine.

* Stronger PED suspensions? I don't so much disagree as don't care, but anything to end the obsession with that stuff. I tend to think the current regime is too strict, for what it's worth.

* Vin Scully calling the 2013 World Series? Sorry; I'm a big Vin Scully fan, but he really is past his prime, and wasn't all that great in a two or three person booth anyway. Giving him one inning a game on the radio broadcast, alone, would be fine by me, though, but if you put him on TV he's going to get lousy reviews at this point, deserved or not.

And I'll add five more:

* Hey, I see David Aardsma was DFA today, leading to: pay David Aardsma to change his name, dropping that second "a." Hey, it was really cool that Hank Aaron was the very first player in alphabetical order. 

* Adopt my postseason scheme: two divisions per league, first and second place teams advance and play cross-division, first place teams get an easier route through the first round.

* Along with that: get a proper TV contract to promote the hell out of "pennant race week" -- the last week of the regular season. It's a drama that the other sports don't have, and baseball needs to learn to exploit it.

* Is it too soon to put Sean Forman into the Hall of Fame? I suppose so, but not by much. How about in seven years, when baseball-reference turns 20? I'm quite serious about this; he's in my view (perhaps controversial view) more deserving than the people behind the MacMillan book or Total Baseball. 

* And this one isn't an "implement today" kind of thing, but...yeah, baseball would be better off if the number of balls in play could increase, and pitches/batter decrease. I'm fairly sure that what's happened to date is simply players learning optimal strategies, but I don't think the results are best for the fans. You don't want to mess with things too much, but I'd love to have someone thinking about it.

Elsewhere: Teens Vote, More

New column up at the Prospect today supporting teen voting. Regular readers know that I've been on this for a while -- this one is primarily about just dropping the voting age a couple years.

Speaking of old themes, I hit Mitch McConnell and the GOP for exec branch nominations obstruction over at PP today.

Wednesday at PP I said that tax reform is the new repeal-and-replace, and made an actual prediction that there won't be a tax reform bill this year (or at least a scoreable, revenue-neutral one).

And then yesterday it was the House Republicans, in one amazing quote.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Lucy Lawless, 45. OK: I wasn't really much of a Xena fan, at least not as far as actually watching the show. But I very much liked her D'anna.

The good stuff:

1. James Fallows on the costs -- to the US budget -- of Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. Micah Cohen looks at turnover in the Senate.

3. Ann Friedman interviews Chris Hayes, and talks quotas.

4. And a dissenting view to my post on public opinion, from Steve M. He argues that you can create "artificial" intensity that leads to action, which I said couldn't be done by presidents, by working at it in a sustained way for years. It's fair to say that there are some people who are partisan activists who were sparked by leading politicians, as opposed to those who became involved because some issue get them out of their houses. But in practice that's a very small group. Most of the people he's talking about, the Rush Limbaugh audience, don't become activists (more, although still a relatively small group, become avid consumers, but that's not the same thing). They learn, basically, the "right" answers to give on policy questions...but even then, it's not unusual to find that those answers are just a thin layer; that's why, for example, pollsters get surprisingly high rates of Republicans supporting some Democratic positions (minimum wage, background checks). Of course, the same happens on the other side, too.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28, 1973

In public, or close to in public, a landmark: a hearing of the Ervin Committee. It comes about because James McCord is reluctant to continue with the committee attorney and demands to speak to the full committee. They agree to hold a closed hearing; Ervin himself is unable to attend. It rapidly leaks out, with Connecticut maverick Republican Lowell Weicker the main source. And it's big news: McCord, having already named Magruder and Dean, now says that John Mitchelll and Chuck Colson had prior knowledge of the break-in.

However, it turns out that the real breakthrough was someone else McCord mentions: Jeb Magruder's assistant at CRP, Robert Reisner. Reisner had never been questioned by the FBI or the prosecutors, but he knew about all three Gemstone meetings, and had even been the one deputized by Magruder to tell Liddy, eventually, that the final plan was approved.

Meanwhile, in the White House, another series of meetings, with John Mitchell coming down after yesterday's request. Haldeman's diary, on his first meeting with the president: "We need to decide what to do if events overrun us."

That's in the morning. They meet again early in the afternoon, after Haldeman has learned more of what Magruder is now saying:


Haldeman: John [Ehrlichman] talked to Dean on what Jeb [Magruder] had told him....[J]ust trying to lay out what he thinks, what happened here is that the whole intelligence plan was hatched here at the White House by Hunt, Liddy, and Colson. And Colson called Jeb twice to tell him to get going on this thing, and specifically referred to the Larry O'Brien information. [...] [Magruder] says that there were four people in the White House who had full knowledge of the Watergate operation -- Colson, Dick Howard, who worked for Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Haldeman.
Haldeman: And Haldeman because Gordon Strachan told him that I approved the plan. Now Gordon Strachan says flatly and absolutely that he did not know and that I did not approve the plan...

President Nixon: And you didn't approve the plan.

Haldeman: No, sir. I did not.

President Nixon: But I think it's the important thing here that Strachan says it too.


They continue, talking now about Magruder's charge that Dean coordinated his (Magruder's) perjury, but that the problem now is that Dean is surely going to the grand jury and wants to tell a different story -- one that will undercut Magruder. Remember, Magruder's story -- everyone's story -- was that Liddy and Dean ran off unauthorized, with no one at the committee or the White House knowing anything about it, and siphoning off moneys that were given for something else. Now Dean wants to testify about the two Gemstone meetings so that he can say that he, Dean, opposed Gemstone. Which, so far, isn't supposed to exist (the problem being that Dean, who hasn't yet testified, doesn't want to commit perjury).

Haldeman then has John Dean in to talk to Mitchell and Magruder. Dean is only just now back from Camp David, where he still isn't writing the Dean Report, and now he asks Mitchell about it all. In his conversation with Mitchell, Dean says that Mitchell confessed. The story, as Emery relays it, is that Dean talks to Mitchell about the two Gemstone meetings he attended, and then at Mitchell's urging speculates that "Colson and Haldeman had piled on the pressure" and Mitchell eventually just authorized the thing to get rid of it. To which Mitchell replies: "Your theory is right, except we thought it would be one or two times removed from the committee." So that's Dean's story; Mitchell, however, denies it.

Dean also tells Haldeman, in addition to all that, that he is planning to consult a criminal attorney about the situation, something that Colson has been urging the president to do because none of the staff has expertise in what they're up against now.

Nixon and Haldeman mention this in their evening phone call:


President Nixon:...I think the difficulty in Dean's case is that (unintelligible) he can hire a criminal lawyer and so forth and so on, but where's that going to lead him? I mean, if you look at Dean, why I suppose --

Haldeman: We, he may show him a way around this, you know, that's a technicality basis or something like that.

President Nixon: I really feel that Dean's -- Dean is a damn good thing here. You know what I mean? I think I would stand on that. I mean, I personally would stand back of him on it, what the White House counsel simply can't talk. You know?

Haldeman: Well, but he's got to talk on his own charge. I mean, if he's charged directly, unless he takes the Fifth, and then you've got to fire him.

President Nixon: Well, maybe that has to e done. What good would that do? Then the question is about the others.

Haldeman: Yeah. And Dean's capable of talking just like Magruder is, if you undercut him very far too.

President Nixon: Oh, Christ, I wouldn't think of undercutting him. Never. He's been a hero, really.

Haldeman: Yeah.

President Nixon: Really, he's been a sturdy, like a giant. No, no, no, no, no.[...]
President Nixon: Be sure he knows we -- that he's backed to the hilt, doesn't he?

Haldeman: Oh yeah. He's in good shape.

President Nixon: Just thinks this won't work?

Haldeman: He just sees what at the moment is a knotty problem that he doesn't see the end...

Catch of the Day

Yeah, everyone is linking to this, but it's too good to pass up. Luke Johnson read John Boehner's quote from Lincoln today, and noted:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) quotes Abraham Lincoln in a memo released Thursday as warning of debt, but ignores the former president's call for a tax or tariff.
Of course, the reason that Boehner did that -- I mean, apart from the appalling sloppiness and laziness that a generation of easy accommodation by Fox News and the rest of the GOP-aligned partisan press has taught to Republican politicians -- is that Boehner, and most of the House Republicans don't actually care about federal budget deficits. This is our old friend, the War on Budgeting: Republicans have plenty of spending they don't like, but they are at best indifferent to the difference between federal revenues and expenditures, and most of the time they just don't acknowledge that revenues, expenditures, and the deficit have any relationship whatsoever.

Oh, speaking of lazy: Greg Sargeant is good on the incoherence of the Boehner memo when it comes to sequestration, which continues to be both a great GOP achievement and all Obama's fault. As for me, I just can't get over how pathetic it is for a party to brag about "forcing" the other party to pass a pretty much meaningless budget resolution.

The bottom line here is that there really are strong disincentives for, well, trying hard. That is, if your job is to spin, and you are guaranteed a solid hit across the GOP-aligned press no matter what junk you send out (and, along with that, you know that your core audience won't ever see the criticisms of your spin, even if they were open to believing them).

At any rate: Nice catch!

The Real Reason Public Opinion Doesn't Work

Jonathan Chait gets it half-right:

At his remarks today touting support for background checks on guns, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Actually, since background checks command 90 percent in the polls but lack support from Republicans in Congress, pretty clearly millions of voices calling for change are less powerful than holding a House majority. They're also less powerful than a Senate majority. Or even 41 Senators, who can stop anything they want. A well-funded lobby probably beats millions of voices calling for change, too.

Basically, everything is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.
See, the problem here is equating "90 percent in the polls" with "calling for change." Sure, 90 percent of citizens, or registered voters, or whoever it is will answer in the affirmative if they're asked by a pollster about this policy. But that's not at all the same as "calling for change." It's more like...well, it is receiving a call. Not calling.

Those people who have been pushing for marriage equality? They were calling for change. And marching for it, demanding it, donating money to get it, running for office to achieve it and supporting candidates who would vote for it, filing lawsuits to make it legal. In many cases, they based their entire political identity around it.

Action works. "Public opinion" is barely real; most of the time, on most issues, change the wording of the question and you'll get entirely different answers. At best, "public opinion" as such is passive. And in politics, passive doesn't get results.

Action works. Oh, not all the time: sometimes action on one side is met by action on the other side, and on some things there's just going to be a winner and a loser. Sometimes, too, action by some is not enough, or it takes too much time, especially in a political system that is even more biased towards the status quo than most.

What's more, it's perfectly understandable why most of us, on most issues, barely have opinions, let alone take action. Action is hard! Action can be painful. Action is risky. Action is unpredictable. We all have plenty of other things to do, after all. For the most part, we only take action when we can't do other things -- when something is so wrong that we just have to do something about it. It's almost impossible to manufacture that artificially...that's why presidential attempts to go over the heads of Congress to the people rarely work. Not because Congress will ignore their constituents. But because a president, no matter how eloquent or popular, isn't going to stir people to action on something just because they happen to agree with him. Meaningful action is too big a commitment for the tiny signal of a presidential exhortation to get it to happen. It usually take something with a much more direct effect on our day to day lives. But if it does happen, look out.

So, yeah, Chait is right about the strategy of going over the heads of Congress, and that's the key point to make about all of this from the perspective of what a president should spend time on. But from the point of view of citizens: yes, action can make a difference. And it may not even take millions.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Ken Howard, 69. Do people even know about the White Shadow?

A little good stuff:

1. Doug Ahler, Jack Citrin, and Gabriel Lenz on polarization and the new(ish) primary law in California.

2. Conor Friedersdorf on drones.

3. Dan Larison makes an obvious but overlooked point.

4. And welcome to the news media, 2013 edition.

March 27, 1973

Nixon and Haldeman are back in Washington, dealing with the McCord accusations that have leaked, Jeb Magruder's new threats, Dean's impossible situation, the continuing possibility that Hunt or Liddy will start talking, the continuing effort to find some way to get on top of things, the Gray nomination (which is still out there)'s going to be a busy day.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tim Johnson

Earlier this week, Tim Johnson announced he won't be running for re-election. That makes seven announced retirements (five Democrats), along with the two resignations from John Kerry and Jim DeMint. 

Johnson will be 68 by January 2015, so his retirement is another stop towards a somewhat less aged Senate. 

In fact, we already have the three most likely replacements already in place. Former Governor Mike Rounds (b. 1954) is already running and is the probable Republican nominee, although we've learned not to count on such things always working out for the GOP. On the Democratic side, either Johnson's son Brendan Johnson (b. 1975) or Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (b. 1970) will probably make the race, perhaps setting up a tough primary. Yes, this is could be yet another example of a relatively old Republican nominee. 

As political junkies will have noticed, this also could be a setback for ridding the Senate of dynastic politicians. Tim Johnson was not a dynastic politician, at least not as far as I can tell. Of course his son would be. And so would Stephanie Herseth Sandlin -- in fact, she's a third generation South Dakota politician. Mike Rounds also comes from a political family; his father (according to wikipedia) had several jobs in state government, including state director of highway safety. I haven't looked at the other retiring Senators, other than noting that Jay Rockefeller (obviously a dynastic politicians) may be replaced by Shelley Moore Capito, whose father was governor of West Virginia. Oh, and she was born in 1953, so that's going on, too. 

Manufacturing New ACA Myths

Here's how myths get started.

Over the weekend, Alyene Senger at Heritage ran an item called "Obamacare at Three Years: Increasing Cost Estimates." Her claim:
Over the last three years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has revised its cost estimates for Obamacare’s new entitlements—the Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies—many times, and they have more than doubled since 2010.
And she has a chart showing estimated new costs rising from $898 billion in March 2010 to $1.6 trillion in February 2013. The chart is titled "Obamacare's New Spending Estimates Keep Rising," and includes text saying "The Congressional Budget Office as made several estimates of the 10-year cost of Obamacare's new spending on the Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies, and the costs keep rising."

The chart is important, because it's easily exportable. So David Frum today ran an item which was just the chart; the only thing Frum added was a one-sentence introduction, "The estimated costs of Obamacare keep rising."

I haven't looked, but I'm sure the chart will get plenty of play.'s entirely phony. The real story from the CBO charts she cites says the estimates haven't really changed at all.

Senger's own article undermines, to some extent, the story the chart tells. As she (quite honestly) points out, the March 2010 estimate was a ten-year projection in which the ACA only kicks in for the last six years. For the February 2013 estimate, which she again (very honestly) points out, is an eleven, not a ten, year estimate, the number she uses for the chart subtracts out the 11th year (2023). So it's nine years (plus one pre-expansion) compared with six (plus four pre-expansion).

But there's more! Neither the subsidies or Medicaid is projected to kick in all at once. In the original March 2010 estimate, for example, subsidies were expected to grow from $15B in 2014 up to $75B in 2017, and then increase more slowly ($82B in 2018, $87B in 2019). So the original estimate wasn't really for 6 full years of ACA; it was really four years before costs kick in, three partial years, and three full years. The February 2013 estimates, then, are for one pre-ACA year, three partial years, and six full years.

What we really need is year-to-year comparisons of the coverage expenditure estimates. These appear to be the numbers Senger is using from the CBO tables:

Year     2010 est     2013 est
2014         $49B        $47B      
2015          100           96
2016          158         153
2017          184         186
2018          197         206
2019          210         217

Um...that's not doubling. Indeed, since I assume that the 2010 estimate is in 2010 dollars while the 2013 estimate is in 2013 dollars that the small increase is pretty much all inflation-related. Indeed: the CBO reports also list four categories of payments (including for example penalties for individuals who don't have insurance), and the estimated offset from those goes from $42B in the 2010 estimate for 2019 to $68B in the 2013 estimate for 2019 (although some of that may be that the revenue effects were changed by other tax changes). By the way, that means that the net cost of coverage expansion now appears to be lower in 2019 than it appeared three years ago.

Now, if you want to use these numbers to say that keeping the original cost estimate under $1T was phony...I'll be right there with you. It was. Once fully phased in, the ACA has costs far greater than $100B per year. It pays for them, but yes, that number was phony.

But if you want to use these CBO reports to claim that "the costs keep rising"....well, that's not what CBO says. A better description of the data would be "the cost estimates have not changed at all over the last three years."

So everyone who runs Sanger's chart should know: it's massively misleading. Or, I should say: the bar graph is misleading; the text is just plain dead wrong. All in all, it's garbage.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Buster Posey, 26. Oh, and with ~300 games, he's easily the all-time San Francisco Giants catcher, no?

The good stuff:

1. I know those of you who are not political scientists may not be interested, but I'm going to keep linking to items about the funding fight. The latest: Peter Hanson on the next steps. Also, Seth Masket has four examples of actual political science research.

2. Josh Putnam on Iowa/New Hampshire -- and what the parties are actually concerned about.

3. James Pethokoukis on Amity Shlaes.

4. Alyssa Rosenberg on gender roles and what's wrong with romantic comedies these days.

5. And Matt Yglesias on Star Trek episodes. Have to disagree with him on "Chain of Command." That's the Next Generation Cardassian torture epsiode, and I find it unwatchable; it's exactly that kind episode that Next Generation is easily mocked for. Torture is something that the other guys (and not even other humans, but evil aliens) do, and guess what? It's bad. Also, typical of a more important flaw in that series, which was that few of the two-parters had a payoff that was worth it. I'd recommend Darmok instead.

March 26, 1973

Haldeman's diary:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catch of the Day

To Harry Enten, who teaches WaPo's Richard Cohen a bit about Republican primary and caucus electorates. Uh, yeah, New Hampshire Republicans are sharply less, not more, conservative than typical GOP primary-goers.

I do wonder about Iowa, however. As Enten details it, caucus attendees are quite a bit more likely to call themselves "very conservative" than primary voters in Ohio. I should know more about this than I do, but presumably some of that is about caucuses compared with primaries (caucuses get only the most intense voters, who are most likely not only to be strongly ideological but also more likely to think of themselves that way). The part I'm curious about is whether Iowa's first-in-the-nation status also plays in, with Iowa's voters getting the most partisan "education" of any.

At any rate: the more important point here is that everyone tends to overestimate the effects of going first. Yes, Iowa and New Hampshire do still perform some winnowing, but for the most part they simply implement choices made by the party as a whole. Candidates who are rejected by party actors nationally but take advantage of favorable local circumstances to run well in these early contests -- and Rick Santorum is a fine example -- generally tend to fizzle.

This also is the legitimate basis for the much derided "expectations" game. Some of that derision is deserved, but some of it is simply noting that context matters: a conservative candidate doing well in moderate New Hampshire should be treated as having accomplished more (all else equal) than that same candidate doing well in Iowa or South Carolina. And smart party actors react accordingly.

In other words, the whole complaint about Iowa/New Hampshire has been massively overblown, at least since the mid-1980s when the parties learned how to deal with the reformed process.

Also: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to James Caan, 73.

Yes, good stuff:

1. How political science should lobby, by Jennifer Victor.

2. Wait -- you mean goofy-sounding research may actually be useful? Carl Zimmer.

3. Gershom Gorenberg on Obama's speech in Jerusalem.

4. Irin Carmon on Justice Ginsburg, abortion, and marriage.

5. And E.J. Graff on marriage.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chag Sameach (and Elsewhere)

So I'll wish a Gut Yontif to everyone celebrating the Passover tonight. Absolutely the best holiday.

Which also explains why there's nothing much here today. Well that, and (hope you don't mind a little kvetching, otherwise just skip ahead to the "elsewhere" section below)...look, it's one thing to be up half the night with a sick kid; as parents, we all sign up for that. What's not fair is when, after doing that, you have to take the (feeling much better, fortunately) kid young woman to the airport because her first college spring break is over...which among other things means she'll be having her seder tonight with her uncles and aunts and cousins. First Passover away from home, surely rougher on the parents than on the kids. At any rate, between that, and that cleaning the kitchen is my job, and my share of the cooking, and the younger daughter's birthday yesterday...well, it's not a real productive blogging day. Did I mention there's a mother-in-law visit, too? Which is excellent (really; no complaint there, except for the well-spent time sink). But again, not much writing today. Probably tomorrow, too. Normal posting should resume as the week goes on.

I did write one about judges and Obama over at PP today. On Friday there I talked about the origins of the budget deficit obsession. At Salon on Friday, I managed to get Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and, yes, the Sage of Wasilla herself all into the top paragraph. There's also one over at Greg's place about the future of "repeal Obamacare."

The one that I liked is from PP -- there's been some argument around the interwebs about the effects of Iraq on policy change, and I responded with a broad one about Iraq, the ACA, democracy, retrospective voting, and other such things.

So again, Chag Sameach!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Nick Lowe, 64.

And some good stuff:

1. Dan Hopkins on how to influence policy if you're a lobbyist.

2. Bob Dole and the current Senate, by Michael Kranish.

3. And Mark Kleiman tries a little education.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24, 1973

In Washington, Senate Committee counsel Sam Dash continues meeting with James McCord. In Florida, Nixon and Haldeman are calling around for advice.

And at Camp David, John Dean is writing, or not writing, the Dean Report. Which, if completed, was to be used to exonerate and protect the president -- but, as Dean realizes, only by landing the responsibility for the cover-up squarely on John Dean. 

Dean's suggestion, which he's made before but pushes again on the phone this weekend to Haldeman, is for Dean to go to the soon-to-be-revived grand jury, get immunity, and then tell the truth about Watergate. At least from Dean on down. Obviously, an appealing strategy for Dean! But not so much for the others (who might not trust that Dean's new story would survive the grand jury, and that once he has immunity he might just rat out the rest of them). 

The idea just doesn't really make sense for the president or the rest of them (and certainly not for Magruder or Mitchell, who Dean would presumably implicate), although Dean keeps returning to it. And at any rate, it wouldn't have worked; Dean couldn't have received complete immunity regardless, and surely not without inflicting more damage than any of them were prepared to accept. 

But that leaves them -- and Dean in particular -- with no good options. 

Sunday Question for Liberals

I'll stick with Iraq, but try to find something a bit different...we've heard plenty from Democrats who supported the Iraq War in 2002/2003 and are now apologizing for it; we've also heard a fair amount from Democrats who opposed the war then and are pointing out now that they were correct to do so. So putting all that aside: for liberals those who opposed the war then, were there any lessons that they should have learned from what happened, either in the run-up to the war or after it began?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I suppose I'm a few days late for this, but: what lessons, if any, do you think the Republican Party has learned from the Iraq War? What lessons should the party have learned?

March 23, 1973

Judge John Sirica began the proceedings by saying he had a preliminary matter to attend to first. He had the clerk unseal the letter, pass it to him, and the judge read (original available at the link):

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

You know what mattered, I think? The CR: that is, the decision by the Democrats to pass on an opportunity for a budget showdown. I suppose it's also a decision by the Republicans to pass, too, although it seemed to me that this one would have been a much better playing field for the Democrats. We'll see...the next showdown opportunity will be over the debt limit, with Republicans so far sending mixed signals. After that, the end of the fiscal year.

As far as the budget's nice to see the Senate functioning properly for a change, but other than that I doubt that it matters very much at all.

So that's two budget-related items, but of course there's plenty more going on. What did you notice? What do you think mattered this week?

March 22, 1973

Patrick Gray is still testifying in support of his nomination, which is by now pretty clearly doomed. Or if it wasn't...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Catch of the Day

Ezra Klein asks one of my favorite questions today: what ever happened to the public option?

Regular readers will know that I've been dead wrong on this one, at least so far. I thought it would be an extremely popular position for Democratic politicians, especially those running in competitive primaries. In fact, I thought it would be virtually required for such candidates. But it wasn't, really, in 2010, and it was only rarely mentioned in 2012. That was even true in Senate primaries, for example, in New Mexico and Hawaii, in which one would have expected the candidates to try to score points with Democratic activists.

And yet? Virtually nothing.

So I don't understand it, either.

Great catch!

Today in Comic Relief

Sure, there's war, and unemployment, and all sorts of other terrible things...but at least we get the unreported story of the 2012 nomination battle: that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich almost formed a unity ticket to take on Mitt Romney.

Okay, granted, there's apparently less to this than meets the eye, or at least the headline ("nearly toppled Romney"). The story (nicely reported by Joshua Green) is apparently that in the run-up to the Michigan primary, the Santorum campaign pushed the disgraced former Speaker to drop out and endorse the struggling defeated Pennsylvania Senator. Newt, with typical Newtness, instead tried to get Santorum to go for a "Unity" ticket with Newt on top. The negotiations got as far as face-to-face meetings between the candidates, but eventually fell apart.

Now, this was after Santorum's big day on February 7 in which he posted surprise victories in Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and a Missouri beauty was at the high point of the Santorum campaign. But it was also a month after Romney had pretty much locked up the nomination. More to the point, there was no large Gingrich constituency ready to follow him to Santorum; to the contrary, if they had really named a Santorum-Gingrich ticket it's extremely likely that Santorum would have drawn fire from the large portion of the GOP who didn't want Newt anywhere close to the White House.

The truth is that if party actors wanted Rick Santorum, they would have rallied to him, and they very much did not. They did not after his win in Iowa; they did not after his CO/MN/MO big day. Even in the extremely unlikely even that a Newt endorsement would have been enough to push him past Romney in Michigan (Santorum lost 41/38 there, with Newt pulling 7%), Romney still would have won the day by winning the Arizona primary. And party actors still wouldn't have rallied to Santorum. Especially not to Santorum/Gingrich.

As for Gingrich/Santorum...well, if there's one thing that was clear from the beginning of the nomination process to the end it's that practically everyone who ever knew or worked with Newt Gingrich thought he would be a simply awful presidential candidate, much less president. And while many of them were willing to play along up to a point, every time he had any momentum at all they came out of the woodwork to make sure that whatever debacle Republicans would suffer through in 2012, at least it wouldn't be that debacle.

I'll give the last word to Jonathan Chait:
This is not surprising: Gingrich is always making elaborate historical arguments, and they always seem to justify his political self-interest at any given moment. If Santorum were really clever, he would have accepted the vice-presidential spot and waited for the inevitable Gingrich impeachment — misappropriating funds for jewelry? starting a war with Mars without Senate approval? declaring himself president for life? all the above? — and taken over then as a comparatively reassuring figure. Sadly, the world will never know.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to William Shatner, 82.

And some good stuff:

1. David S. Bernstein on Elizabeth Warren, Senator (bonus: David on Mo Cowan, Senator).

2. More on defunding political science, from Seth Masket.

3. Useful Suzy Khimm update on where sequestration stands.

4. Good David Roberts item on why climate change is not just another environmental problem.

5. Is it possible that Democrats now have a real, albeit small, electoral plurality favoring them? Molly Ball reports, with quotes from the great Laura Stoker.

6. And thank the writing gods we still have the great Ta-Nehisi Coates.

March 21, 1973

As Patrick Gray heads up to the Hill for yet another day of testimony, today is a big day at the White, and as it would turn out, a day that would be terribly important in the months to come.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Catch of the Day

How about one for Conor Friedersdorf, who today looks back at the demonization of opponents of the Iraq War during the run-up and early stages of that conflict.

It's a good item. I do want to think about this stray point:
You know the conservative account of how the media covered Tea Party rallies, heaping disproportionate attention on offensive signs and crackpot attendees, as if the least defensible elements of the protest movement represented and defined the whole? That's basically how the pro-war faction covered the protest movement that opposed the war.
I think that's basically fair -- but also unfair. With the anti-war protests, it was pretty clear what the main point was: they didn't want the United States (and allies) to invade Iraq. Reasonable coverage of those protests could have started and ended with that; making hay over crackposts in the crowd was clearly superfluous.

I'd argue that the same was not true about Tea Party rallies. Within the Tea Party movement (or whatever you want to call it), there were certainly some people with coherent policy demands or ideologies. But as a whole, it was extremely difficult to figure out what the Tea Party was about. And not just from a few people carrying crazy signs; there was plenty of stuff from the podium that was, well, pretty goofy. It was in fact perfectly plausible to hypothesize that, say, bigotry against Barack Obama was a significant part of Tea Partyism. And that therefore the more explicit evidence was a plausible clue to what was going on.

That's not to say that the bigotry theory was necessarily correct, and it's certainly not to say that the coverage never took isolated or out-of-context evidence and generalized inappropriately. It's just...look, it's usually a good idea in politics (if not in political analysis) to ignore motives. Arguments stand and fall on their merits, regardless of why they're made. That's why I usually defend hypocrisy; in politics, hypocrisy is at most a very minor sin, if that. But the Tea Partiers, at least in my view, practically begged us to consider their motives, because much of what they were saying on the surface just didn't make any sense (as in the iconic "keep government away from my Medicare").

I'll stop there...I'm not sure I have a final point. Just that the situation is complicated.

Oh, and that has almost nothing to do with what Friedersdorf is up to on the post overall, for which I only need to say: Nice catch!

Political Science as an Interest Group

Dan Drezner has a very pessimistic item on the lobbying power of political scientists. It's good, and I agree with most of it. I do think, however, that political science does have one advantage that virtually no other interest group shares: political scientists just happen to have tons of personal connections with Members of Congress and Hill staff.

The less important factor: many political scientists get to know politicians and their staffs in the course of doing their jobs -- we study them, we invite them to speak to our classes, some of them use our expertise, and more. Most of these interactions are casual and meaningless, but some of them turn into longer-term relationships.

The more important factor: dozens and dozens of political scientists have actually worked on Capitol Hill or on congressional campaigns or both. Some of them as Congressional Fellows, but many of them prior to going to grad school, or (in the case of electioneering) during or after grad school. That translates into dozens and dozens of personal relationships, no?

How many of them are there, and how strong are their relationships with their former bosses and former co-workers? I have no idea! Obviously having the occasional political scientist actually in Congress isn't enough to prevent this sort of thing.

I guess I should note one more thing: there are plenty of Congressional staffers (and campaign professionals) who have at least political science MAs, and a fair number of people who finished or almost finished doctorates. Now, some of them are hostile to political science, no doubt. But surely some of them are disposed to be friendly to political science.

Anyway, all of this should translate into access -- or potential access, at least -- allowing political science to fight well above its weight class. But it's only apt to be successful if it's organized, and as far as I know it really isn't. Getting that organized and effective would seem to me to be the most promising avenue for advocating for the profession, during a time when it's really needed.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Sabrina Le Beauf, 55. Didn't realize she was in a Star Trek.

The good stuff:

1. The Senate, on a voice vote, has cut off (some) funding for political science research. Awful.

2. The Arkansas Medicaid plan. Will it fly? Sarah Kliff examines it.

3. I didn't know about this, and now I do and I'm happy: the British budget box. From Matt Phillips.

4. And Jay Ulfelder wants social scientists to have some fun.

March 20, 1973

I'll start with the biggest development of the day, although it won't be visible until the end of the week. On March 20, James McCord -- convicted, but still awaiting sentencing -- leaves a letter for Judge John Sirica. Sirica, after getting witnesses in case it's a bribe, opens and reads the letter and reseals it, telling his clerk: "This is going to break the case wide open."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A "Lesson of Iraq" Which I Thought Everyone Learned But I Guess Not

Reading over all of the Iraq stuff this week, I'm sort of stunned that almost everyone -- supporters, opponents then, supporters then who believe they were wrong -- are still using the phrase "weapons of mass destruction."

Cut it out, everyone.

"Weapons of mass destruction" was a stupid category then, and it's a stupid category now.

Unless it's for a critique of the poor thinking that went on then, no one should use it. Ever.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Spike Lee, 56.

No shortage of good stuff:

1. Nice Seth Masket item mourning InTrade -- but remembering that it wasn't actually all that useful.

2. Jared Bernstein on the health care curve -- more details on what's going on, and whether it will last.

3. The latest (but still necessary) Conor Friedersdorf rant about sane conservatives and the GOP-aligned partisan press.

4. Yes, as long as Jennifer Rubin is out there, we'll have Jennifer Rubin takedowns, and they'll still be useful. This one on Obama and Israel from Emily Hauser is nice.

5. Matt Yglesias is right about the news...except probably not at the state and local levels. At least, that's where worries about news media, technology, economics, and democracy should be directed; the other stuff is in terrific shape.

6. Good point by Ed Kilgore about the states and partisan victories.

7. And Sarah Binder is still tracking the CR on the Senate floor.

March 19, 1973

It's Monday, a relatively quite day on what will be one of the three or four biggest weeks of Watergate. Today's topic is only the fight over testifying on the Hill. From Haldeman's diary:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What is Waste? Answered.

I linked to it from Plum Line yesterday, but I want to make sure everyone sees a great survey from Emily Swanson and Mark Blumenthal about what "waste" means to those who want to get rid of wasteful government spending.

This all came out of a post I wrote a whole ago in which I wondered about exactly that; it seems Swanson and Blumenthal decided to find out the answer. Cool! It's well worth reading the whole thing -- the data are fascinating -- but I'll quote the key paragraph:
When it comes to fingering specific programs for government waste versus pointing more generally to inefficiency or foolish spending, the survey results find little variation by party. But a more detailed look at which programs were named by Democrats and by Republicans suggests that for many, waste is indeed defined as "money spent on some government program I don't like."
That's about half of it. Interestingly enough, to me at any rate, the rest is split between two kinds of "real" waste -- that is, stuff the government supposedly spends without getting anything at all to show for it. Of that, about half is basically about politicians and bureaucrats living high on the hog. The other half is Swanson and Blumenthal classify as "Inefficiency/Fraud/Foolishness," but I'd note that a large chunk of that, such as unnecessary/ridiculous research, could easily be classified under programs, as well -- although to be fair, it's certainly possible that some of the objections to programs could be because of perceived inefficiency or fraud. Not criticizing the study or the analysis; it's just that it's hard to know exactly what people are thinking.

Fascinating stuff. And the emphasis on money wasted on salaries and "perks" of politicians certainly explains the latest round of lies from Michele Bachmann; there appears to be a receptive audience ready to believe that politicians are exploiting their positions for personal gain.

Anyway, it's great stuff. Now if anyone would like to find out what people mean when they say "deficit"...

Catch of the Day/Tom P. Baxter Update

David Leonhardt:
Five and counting: consecutive @newtgingrich tweets on driverless cars.
Oh, gosh, it's worth giving you this:

Catherine: I realize no one can actually predict the future, but I understand you have a unique insight into where we might be headed as we approach the turn of the century.

Tom: Yeah, I do. As I see it, Catherine, the future of business, well, the future of this country in fact is... computers.

Catherine: Computers. Okay, would you care to elaborate on that?

Tom: Oh, you bet! I think computers are great! You can keep records on them, play games. They're, well, they're like magic.

Catherine: Uh-huh...

Tom: I mean, I don't have one yet. But I'm gonna get one, you better believe that.

Catherine: What exactly do you do for a living, Tom?

Tom: Well, I'm between things right now, but all that's gonna change just as soon as I get a computer!
We're doing a #newtu course on driverless cars. Any specific areas you would like us to cover?

Would you use a driverless car? Why or why not? We're making a #newtu course on this. Share your ideas.

What are some creative ways for us to use driverless cars? Tweet me your ideas. #newtu

Have you read or seen anything interesting on driverless cars? Tweet it to me, and I might use in my next #newtu course.

RT if you'd ride in a driverless car. I would. #newtu

Clipped from the clip linked above? The part where Jimmy calls Tom P. Baxter a "total fraud."

And: nice catch!

Underrated Villains of Iraq

Okay, let's talk blame for the Iraq War.

Matt Yglasias, in a smart post, says:
The main not-totally-obvious thing I have to say about this is that the underrated villains in this drama are the leading Democratic Party politicians of the 2002-2003 era. “Because trusted leaders of my political party say so” is of course not a good reason to back any political position. But the evidence is overwhelming that elite signaling and top-down leadership matter for public opinion formation. I remember quite clearly that in arguments around the dining hall people who were (rightly) opposing the invasion would (wrongly) emphasize the Bush Bush Bush factor in their arguments and I would rebut by pointing to Hillary and Bill Clinton, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, John Kerry and John Edwards. Madeleine Albright. The whole crew
I think that's correct if "this drama" refers to mistaken policy preferences of college-student Yglesias and others who basically mistakenly lined up on the "wrong" side - wrong not in that it was poor public policy (although I certainly agree that was the case) but wrong in the sense that they were following sensible cues which nonetheless betrayed them.

But I don't think it's correct in the sense that the liberals who wound up voting for the war (many with some sort of reservations, but even putting that aside) really weren't in a position to have very much influence over whether the war would happen or not. Had mainstream liberal Democrats been solidly opposed, the resolution still passes the Senate, for example. It would have been less popular, yes, but I don't think there's much that Democrats, or at least mainstream liberal Democrats could have done in 2002-2003 to stop it. So, sure, those who voted for it should be held responsible, but I don't think they're the underrated villains.

No, to find those, I suspect we need to turn to what Yglesias says later:
On the actual policy, what holds up reasonably well from the old pre-war case is that the Clinton era “containment” policy on Iraq was crumbling. The endless sanctioning of Iraq was not a viable long-term strategy for the region. That left you with two kinds of options. One—the wrong option—was to get more aggressive. The other—the correct option—was to realize that the goal of military domination of the Persian Gulf is just fundamentally misguided. The project is motivated by fuzzy thinking about oil, and it’s been extremely costly over the decades. Protecting Kuwait from a direct and flagrantly illegal cross-border military attack is a defensible (though arguably not necessary) use of military force, but the whole rest of the undertaking dating back to long before Bush was a mistake.
I'm not sure about "crumbling", but I would definitely agree that the GHWB-Clinton policy after the first Gulf War was extremely costly and long-run unstable.

What that points to is that the first Gulf War was a mistake -- a mistake that wasn't recognized, and still isn't recognized, because of the almost picture-perfect execution of the policy.

George H.W. Bush and his national security/foreign policy team deserve tons of credit for managing the end of the Cold War; I think their handling of that is severely underappreciated (thanks to Democratic reluctance to praise Republicans and Republican insistence on glorifying Ronald Reagan). Given the decision to use force to kick Iraq out of Kuwait, they handled it about as well as possible. But for all that, the US wound up with a situation considerably worse than another Korea and in a worse part of the world in which to have that situation.

It wasn't a good enough reason to go to war in 2003, but that only goes to show that when there are no good decisions one can still make a relatively worse decision.

Which means that long-term US policy in general, and the George H.W. Bush Gulf War, are really the underrated villains of the Iraq War.

At least that's one theory. The other theory is just that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld etc. are underrated as villains because there's a tendency to look for more complicated explanations.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Brent Scowcroft, 87.

Good stuff:

1. Sarah Binder is tracking the CR. Which is easier said than done.

2.  Interesting David Karpf item about technology and politics.

3. And the amazing history of GOP minority outreach: it didn't start in 2013.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Primary and Caucuses Shuffle

The other big procedural reform discussed in the RNC party assessment document today is to shift the party convention back from August to July or June, and compress the primaries and caucuses further to make that work. In order to do that, they suggest that the party "should strongly consider a regional primary system or some other form of a major reorganization."

We should divide this into two parts. The date of the convention is fully within the control of the RNC, and if they want to move it, they can.

As Josh Putnam has been tweeting today, however, the dates of the primaries and caucuses are...a lot harder to control. The RNC would need the cooperation of state governments, and in most cases the Democratic Party, to do any sort of "major" changes -- indeed, even getting the states currently holding primaries in the first week of June to switch is awful hard to do.

Moreover, it's a bad idea! Whatever the weaknesses of the Republican Party these days, it's pretty hard to see how the flow of primaries and caucuses has worked against them.  Perhaps Ames and the pre-primary period -- it's possible to make a case that Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Bob Dole would have been replaced by better candidates if getting to Iowa was easier. But from Iowa on, it's hard to see where they've gone badly wrong, especially in this latest cycle. What's more, whatever one thinks of the GOP losing candidates over the last couple decades, at least the process allowed them to reach a decision with a minimum of fuss. There's no guarantee that a new schedule would work nearly as well.

Fortunately, we can treat that whole section as (perhaps misguided) hand-waving. There's no reform commission, there's no proposed schedule, there's no buy-in to any of the longstanding reform schedules that people have been pushing forever. So it's probably not going to happen.

As for the convention...the report claims that the convention needs to be 60-90 days after the last primary. That's silly. Most of the pre-convention planning doesn't really depend on the nominee; the rest doesn't take that long. The 1980 Republican convention began on July 14, with the final primaries on June 3; the 1992 Democratic convention began on July 13, with the last primary on June 9. Granted, in both cases the convention was locked up earlier, but that virtually always happens, giving the nominee plenty of time. A full month still gives them basically all of July for the convention.

On the other hand, there's absolutely no reason to think that it matters at all whether the convention is in June, July, August, or early September. The convention's purpose these days is to signal to party voters who haven't tuned in yet, or who supported another candidate in the nomination contest, that the party nominee has the full and enthusiastic support of everyone who matters in the party; it doesn't really matter a lot when that happens, as far as I can tell. And to the extent that conventions (if they're run well) produce an additional brief polling surge, it's hard to argue that there's any advantage for that to happen any time other than the week of the election.

(Typo fixed)

Could Postponing Debates Matter?

I'm going to look at the GOP presidential nomination process suggested reforms out today, starting with the debates.

The RNC wants to chop in half the number of primary-season debates next time around, starting later (not until September 2015) and ending earlier ("after the first several primaries").

It is worth noting this would mean that the first debate wouldn't be until after the Ames Straw Poll...and whatever one thinks of Ames, it's now become a regular pattern that one or more candidate is knocked out before the suggested date of the first debate.

If Republicans really were able to enforce both a ban on early debates and either a ban or at least a de-emphasis on early straw polls, it might -- might! -- mean two changes. Candidates who are fully in, but whose candidacies turned out to be duds, might well continue on into the fall...and perhaps if they make it to October, they might stick around until Iowa just in case lightning strikes.

On the other hand, the lack of any clear markers (debates, straw polls) early in the process might encourage candidates to extend the half-in/half-out period that, say, Sarah Palin managed to milk for months in the run-up to 2012.

So...I'm not exactly predicting any of these things happening. First of all, the RNC said nothing about Ames, although there has been a fair amount of Ames-bashing previously. Second of all, there are good reasons that early debates and straw polls happen. The press wants them, most definitely including the partisan press. Longshot candidates want them. Crank candidates (that is, those who are running not for the nomination but for a contract with Fox News or a radio show) want them. The sponsors/hosts want them. So whatever the merits, it's not at all clear that the RNC will succeed in getting those early markers delayed closer to the election year.

And second, it's not entirely clear exactly why Republican candidates have been exiting before Iowa, anyway. I do believe it's real, and a fairly big deal, and has to do with candidates realizing that their chances are very slim. It's a lot harder to know, however, exactly how that works, and therefore how changing the architecture of the year before the primaries will actually change things.

It's also not at all clear that the Republican Party would have been better off if Tim Pawlenty, Dan Quayle, Liddy Dole, Pete Wilson, and others had made it to Iowa.

At any rate, getting back to debates...if the natural tendency of debates is to keep spreading, then perhaps it's worth it for the RNC to fight back -- not so they'll actually get whatever they think is their perfect debate schedule, but in order to control the spread some.

Elsewhere: Boehner Rule, Next in Line

Two new columns out...

Today over at TAP I have one developing an idea that comes from Sarah Binder: that the Speaker has replaced the Hastert Rule with a Boehner Rule of "Make the Senate Go First." It's actually a two-track process. When the party wants things to pass, they let the Senate negotiate out deals and then allow them to pass in the House, even if it means support from only a minority of Republicans. For everything else, however, the House is free to accommodate the crazies, since anything initiated by the House is on the "make a statement" track, not the track that yields legislation signed by the president. 

The other one is an update, over at Salon, of my debunking of the theory that Republicans nominate their "next in line" presidential candidate. Basically, most parties most of the time nominate anyone who is an identifiable consensus candidate going into the cycle, but beyond that there's no real indication that Republicans defer to "next in line" candidates.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Grant Hart, 52

Some good stuff:

1. Adam Serwer takes down Jennifer Rubin (and updates us on Justice Department scandals and non-scandals).

2. Why Paul Ryan isn't courageous, by Ezra Klein.

3. DLC veteran Ed Kilgore assesses GOP reform.

4. Sarah Posner and Wil Gafney on the History Channel's "The Bible." As usual when I link to a bloggingheads episode.

5. And Seth Masket on GOP reform. As I've said, my basic sense is that at least for presidential elections, GOP extremism is probably a very minor negative for them at most, but it is a big deal when it comes to governing.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Why do you think deficit-cutting is so popular with the neutral press? What, if anything should Democrats be doing about it?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Is CPAC a good representation of conservatives? If not, what should conservatives do about it?

March 16, 1973

Still in limbo waiting for sentencing, Howard Hunt now arranges a meeting with Paul O'Brien, a CRP lawyer. Emery explains what happens next:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Oh, I suppose I'll say that it mattered that Rob Portman flipped on marriage. It's one of those where it sort of depends on what you mean by "mattered" I suppose...but it certainly marks where we are in the process.

The budgets? They don't matter all that much.

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

March 15, 1973

Haldeman's Diary:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Elsewhere: Medicare, ACA

Two today on Medicare, based on the latest evidence that the health care cost curve could be flattening. At Greg's place, I asked: what if there's no deficit problem?

At PP, I argued that the national press has basically been telling us a completely backwards story about Medicare reform. I thought that one was pretty good, actually.

Oh, and yesterday I had fun at the expense of Eddie Haskell because he apparently still believes both that "repeal and replace" is still a thing -- and that Republicans should and will get credit for the "replace" part of it.

Will a Marriage Fight Break Out in GOP WH 2016?

With today's big news -- and it certainly is big news -- that Senator Rob Portman has flipped to supporting marriage equality, the obvious question is where that leaves the Republican Party. Portman joins Dick Cheney and a handful of other prominent Republicans, and Portman was thought to have at least some potential as a presidential candidate in 2016. 

Just last week, I wrote a piece on the policy debates Republicans should be having among themselves, and I didn't talk about marriage at all; in the original draft, I said something about a debate on marriage still being too unlikely to expect. 

I might have been wrong, but I'm still guessing that Portman will remain the exception, and that opponents of marriage will still maintain a solid veto over the presidential nomination in the 2016 cycle. 

To some extent, that's because public opinion within the GOP, and presumably especially among the presidential primary electorate, still runs overwhelmingly against marriage equality. It's possible that could change, especially if GOP elite opinion continues to change, but right now it's hard to see a same-sex marriage supporter benefiting even in a large field in which staking out a minority position could have some advantages. 

But the real reason I don't see it happening in 2016 is group-based. Right now, large, well-organized GOP-aligned groups strongly oppose any change in the Republican position; there's simply nothing comparable on the other side of the issue. Nor is there really likely to be anything similar. 

Truth is, I'm not sure a policy debate on this is really in the GOP's interest. There's really not much to debate; it's pretty clear where the issue is going, and hard to see how a knock-down-drag-out within the party helps them (in contrast to issues such as national security in which they really need a well-thought-out position, and a nomination fight is probably a good way to get there). Nor is there any real need for Republicans to flip on the issue; it's not going to be a major voting issue, after all. No, I'd think that the best strategy for the GOP on this one is to figure out how to walk away quietly. Yes, that will involve more politicians doing what Portman did -- but it will also involve others just not talking about it, and accepting defeat when defeat comes, and then treating it as a dead issue after that. 

If that's correct, then the best bet is to continue to give Christian conservatives a veto on the issue in 2016, at least -- but to otherwise keep the issue on the back burner.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Ry Cooder, 66.

What about the good stuff?

1. Fine, I admit it: I really struggle to care about Ecuadorian elections. But I'm linking mainly as a reminder of how terrific the Monkey Cage's series of election reports from around the globe are. This one by two Ph.D. candidates. Just a terrific public service.

2. Again, because it's really important: Scott Lemieux on magic and presidents.

3. And the Boston Phoenix, R.I.P. A sad day, and not just because the terrific reporter David S. Bernstein was there. The Phoenix has been one of the leading alternative papers for years, and it's terribly sad to see it go down, and so many of the others disappear or thin out. I'm actually quite optimistic about national political coverage, but state and local's hard to see how that works in the new world, and it's hard to see how robust, healthy, democracy works without it.

March 14, 1973

Nixon and Dean, again.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Catch of the Day

You may have heard that the draft Affordable Care Act application for coverage under the exchanges is a whopping 21 pages long. Complicated, right?

Well, not really. Kevin Drum looks at it and realizes:
[T]here's a single 2-page section you have to fill out, and then there are five more 2-page sections for other members of your family. So sure, it might be long if you have a big family, but a lot of it is repetition. And if you're just a single earner? Then aside from instructions, there's really only about four pages (five if you're an American Indian or Alaska Native): one page of basic contact information, two pages of income information, and one page of current insurance information. And even the repetitive pages you mostly leave blank if they apply to your children, who have no income or job information.
This is going to be even easier on the computer screen, where most people will see it; presumably, all of the repetition will disappear, and once you say either that you don't have kids or that your kids don't have jobs, you're down to that short version.

Basically, what this boils down to is that if there are going to be income-based benefits from the government, people will have to fill out forms so that the government can figure out if they qualify. And then there's a second bit having to do with whether the applicant(s) currently has health insurance, or is offered employment-based insurance. Granted, that in itself can be challenging, I realize. Still, it's not as if this form is overflowing with extraneous or intrusive questions. I do wonder if the ethnicity question will survive, but other than that, I don't really see much. It's not as if people applying for insurance expect to keep the size of their family a secret.

Anyway, if you want to look at the full form, Sarah Kliff has it here.

And: nice catch!

The Single Best Economic Reform for the Next Time

Glad to see that Matt Yglesias is talking about this one again:
3. We should beef up automatic stabilizers in the budget by creating some kind of national rainy day fund that automatically releases unrestricted funds to state governments in times of recession. Some elected officials will use the money to avoid pro-cyclical service cuts and furloughs, while others will use it to finance tax cuts and we'll just live with disagreement about the best way to proceed.
He also wants to make monetary policy work better, but I think he undervalues the ideological resistance to those suggestions (or at any rate, whether he undervalues it or not, I think that strong ideological resistance makes any legislative effort in that area very unlikely to succeed).

However, I continue to believe that countercyclical "automatic stabilizers" for the states should, in principle, be something both sides should be able to cut a deal on. To get Republican buy-in, what's necessary is for those funds to be transfer-neutral in the long run. But if that's the case, with money flowing out of state budgets during good times, I really don't see why conservatives should oppose it in principle. After all, no one really believes that states should massively build up programs during good times and then slash them during bad times, but the incentives contained in state revenue flows make that a likely result. It's also easy to imagine the interest-group coalition that would support this kind of thing, and harder to see exactly which influential interest groups would have a strong incentive to oppose it.

In general, I'm much more willing than Yglesias is to leave things in the hands of legislatures. But I think this is the big missing piece of the New Deal regime of moderating the effects of business cycles via automatic government action.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Penny Johnson, 52. I really should think about going back someday and watching "24" -- I've watched maybe five minutes of one episode, and never had the sense I would enjoy it at all. It sure did have a lot of actors I like, though, although (and don't tell me) I have the sense that most of them were killed off pretty quickly. She was very solid on Larry Sanders, and even better on DS9. Okay, it helped that "Kasidy Yates" is one of my favorite names. And I enjoyed seeing her show up on Castle, too. Hmmm...hey, I'm pretty sure I watched at least some of the Paper Chase TV show when it was on, and turns out she was in that, too. I wonder how many other actors there are who I've watched as regulars, or at least significant occasional characters, on four different shows?

Oh well, better get to the good stuff:

1. Scott Lemiuex on drones.

2. Kevin Drum on judicial nominations.

3. And the 80th anniversary of the first Fireside Chat was this week; Carah Ong discusses. I don't really know how important that speech was, but if there was ever a moment when confidence in the president mattered, that was it: at issue was whether citizens would trust that re-opening banks were safe. If they did not, the result could have been further runs on banks, and the continued collapse of the banking system...and then, who knows? People didn't know, in March 1933, that capitalism and democracy were the wave of the future.

March 13, 1973

John Dean, with the President of the United States. Haldeman is there at the beginning, but leaves sometime after the first segment below. (Comments between segments in brackets are from me).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Yes, Winning Veepstakes is a Good Idea

With Eddie Haskell back in the news with his new House GOP budget, Steve Kornacki had a piece this morning about the history of those who were Veepstakes winners but general election losers. His conclusion: it doesn't really help them, and may even hurt them.

Ed Kilgore looks at the same examples and interprets it much more favorably for the VP losers.

I'm with Kilgore here. Take, for example, Bob Dole. Sure, he received terrible reviews for his debate performance and his 1980 presidential campaign was a dud. And, yes, his stints as Finance Chair and then GOP Senate Leader certainly helped him in his marathon quest for a GOP nomination. Still, it's hard to overall say that his career arc was damaged by 1976. It's not as if he would have had a better chance in 1980 if he wasn't on the ticket in 1976. And who knows; some of the contacts he made and the experience he earned in 1980 (and even 1976) may well have helped him be a viable candidate in 1988, and then eventually the nominee in 1996.

The easily overlooked point that I'll add to the discussion is that if Dole, John Edwards, and the rest of them hadn't been nominated...someone else would have been. Suppose, in 1976, Ford picks Paul Laxalt instead. Laxalt probably wouldn't have challenged Reagan in 1980, but it's easy to imagine the national exposure helping him emerge as the mainstream conservative alternative to Bush in 1988, no? At any rate, it surely would have elevated a potential Dole rival. The same would be true had John Kerry selected Joe Biden or Bill Richardson in 2004; if either of them had come even a little closer to the top tier in 2008, it might well have made it harder for Edwards to get as far as he did. And the same is true of the one that Kornacki leaves out, Ed Muskie. Like Edwards, he wound up as a serious candidate who fell far short; like Edwards, he probably was helped not only by being on the ticket, but by blocking some other politician with a similar profile getting the VP nomination instead of him.

The only real exception, I think, is the Gerry Ferraro one -- not because things didn't work out for her as a national politician, but because (as Kornacki points out) that if she had stayed in the House, she might well have wound up high in the leadership, and even Speaker. Giving up a safe seat in the House with a path to the leadership in order to run as VP (assuming you have to give it up, which depends on the state) really does have a major downside risk. For everyone else, however, winning Veepstakes is generally a good move.

What Parties Want

Everyone interested in political parties should read recent posts by Hans Noel and Greg Koger about what parties "really" want. Should we think of parties as ultimately interested in seeking and winning office? Or in ultimately controlling public policy?

I have a dog in this fight. I think both sides are (partially) wrong.

It's a mistake, in my view, to think of parties in such a way that they must ultimately be defined one way or another. It misses part of the essential nature of political parties, which is that they are open-ended: parties are creatures of their members, and of their political context (which includes such things as the rules of the political system, but also perhaps political culture), and therefore different parties at different times are interested in different things. Some will be driven by office; some by policy; some by organizational maintenance; some by profit.

For any given party, we can look at which of these motives tends to predominate. It's probably the case that we can generalize some, too. Within parties, politicians and others whose jobs depend on office will tend to be driven more by the election motive. Party-aligned interest groups and "amateur" activists will tend to be driven more by policy. Those within formal party organizations (the DNC, the NRCC) will tend to be motivated by institutional maintenance -- like government bureaucrats, they'll care more about maintaining their departmental and organizational budgets, and try to insulate themselves from either electoral defeat or public policy. The current US case is unusual comparatively and historically as far as I know, but it ads another potential group and motive. When party professionals are organized outside of formal organizations and become for-profit entrepreneurs (true of campaign consultants in US now; also presumably true of, say, Fox News), then the profit motive is involved, as well.

On the other hand, generalizations only take us so far. We think of politicians as motivated primarily by office, but Aldrich and others show that policy can really matter to them. In some situations, profit may as well; think of presidential candidates running for a Fox or MSNBC contract. Party-aligned interest groups may be in it for the policy...but it's not unheard of for organizational maintenance to be important within lobbying shops or PACs. For any particular party or party component, motivation is an empirical question -- and one that's hard to get at.

But putting that complication aside, part of the job of party students is to assess the factors which will make these various groups become more or less important within parties. What we know going in, however, is that parties differ, considerably, on which of these is more important -- and therefore we should expect "ultimate" party motivations to differ, as well. So no single study is going to tell us what "parties" or "politicians" or "interest groups" want, because we should expect all of those to differ over time and polity based on different political contexts.

Party scholars, too, could research the troubles associated with different parties as different motivations dominate, both in terms of the health of the polity and for democracy. So for example excessively bureaucratic parties may be problematic for democracy because they may be impermeable to anyone outside of the formal organization. Or, parties dominated by the profit motive may be dangerous if they wind up having incentives to lose elections.

I'm open, too, to other potential motives.

At any rate: I do think that this is the best way to think about parties, and that a lot of useful work could be done filling out the relationships I'm talking about here. I don't think we've done much of that within American party studies, and to the extent I'm aware of it (some, not nearly enough) the same holds true in comparative parties.

Two More Notes on Imaginary Numbers

Two more quick notes on the Ryan budget's tax numbers:

1. I said yesterday that what's real about the budget as a whole is that it's an opening bid for further negotiations. That might be wrong. The other possibility, as Ed Kilgore says, is that it's simply a gift to the crazies in exchange for not blocking the debt limit increase last time around -- and perhaps the next time, too.  Could be!

2. The implausibility of the tax numbers is drawing a lot of attention. But on second thought, I'm not sure that's fair, or at least necessary. This is a budget, not a tax reform plan. As long as the tax cuts proposed in the budget are only intended -- and will only be implemented -- as part of revenue-neutral comprehensive tax reform, then who cares (from a budget point of view) whether it's going to be possible to come up with enough offsets to make it work? If it doesn't, then (presumably) tax policy just reverts to the status quo.

So perhaps what people need to know about Ryan and the House Republicans is (1) whether they'll use real numbers in their projections -- which it appears so far that they are -- and (2) are all the tax cuts mentioned in the budget contingent on revenue-neutral tax reform, or only the tax rate cuts? As long as the answers tell us that we can trust that their plans should get to the overall revenue estimates, then I'm not sure how much it matters that what they're promising for tax reform is entirely implausible.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Will Clark, 49.

Good stuff:

1. Brendan Nyhan on Glenn Kessler's plan vs. talking point column.

2. What we don't know from Paul Ryan's budget, from Ezra Klein.

3. But Ryan does appear to be using honest growth estimates, Dylan Matthews reports.

4. Adam Serwer profiles Thomas Perez, who will be the next Secretary of Labor if he can survive a filibuster. My guess? I don't have one, other than a cloture vote is virtually certain and I can't imagine he'll get much more than 60 at best.

5. Senators who won't talk to reporters. Interesting, although I would have liked just a bit more context. From Ginger Gibson. 

6. And Robert Greenstein on Ryan's budget.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12, 1973

The president makes a statement:

Comparing Imaginary Numbers

How do you go about comparing imaginary numbers?

Kevin Drum says:
The fiscal cliff deal increased top marginal rates from 36 percent to 39.6 percent. Ryan's plan is based on reducing top rates to 25 percent. In other words, not only does he want to get rid of the 39.6 percent rate, he wants to make it even lower than it was before the fiscal cliff deal. He doesn't accept the fiscal cliff increases at all.

Right? What am I missing here?
While Suzy Khimm reads the same budget and concludes:
Buried in Rep. Paul Ryan’s new budget is one surprising detail: He wants to raise more revenue for the government than he did before.

Ryan’s budget sets a revenue to GDP target of 19.1 percent by 2023. That’s higher than his target last year (18.7 percent after a decade) and his target two years ago (18.3 percent), as the Urban Institute’s Howard Gleckman points out. It’s a notable shift as many Republicans have used an 18 percent revenue to GDP ratio as a benchmark to justify or oppose changes to the tax code—including Ryan (R-Wis.) himself.
Who is right? Both, either of them, neither...what's important is to pay attention to what is real, and what is imaginary.

There are three ways to look at this. One is that we can basically trust the budget. In that case, we need to pretend that revenue-neutral tax reform will happen, and with real numbers.

Or, we can assume that tax reform will pass, but that the House will wind up ignoring the revenue targets in their budget, either through phony numbers or by just insisting on setting rates at a low number even if it means less revenue. In that case, it doesn't really matter what Ryan puts in the budget.

And yet another possibility is that tax reform collapses. In that doesn't really matter what the budget said about it.

But step back, and you realize that all of that is imaginary. After all, this is the House Budget, and at best it winds up totally changing in negotiations with Democrats in the Senate and the White House. So we're not really talking about a real budget that's going to be carried out, regardless.

However, there is some reality in here: the budget, whatever it isn't, is almost certainly the Republicans' opening bid in budget negotiations. And yes, it probably does matter, at least to some extent, that Republicans start off that dealing by fully accepting a higher level of revenues than they did last year -- just as it probably does matter that Democrats start by accepting the deficit targets in the Budget Control Act, including sequestration. 

A Minor Defense of Ryan and the Republicans

Since I took it to Paul Ryan and the Republicans in fairly strong language yesterday, and I suspect I'll not wind up saying nice things about Ryan's budget, I'll back up a bit and say one thing in their defense.

Ryan is taking a fair amount of heat from some liberals because the budget matches the Romney/Ryan campaign plan and because the ticket that ran on that platform lost. For example, Jared Bernstein: "OK…but the thing is, we had a national election on this preference set, and it lost."

I suppose there's nothing wrong with this as a talking point, but really: what else do you expect Republicans -- who after all, retained their majority in the House of Representatives -- to do?

The idea that Republicans should just give up on their preferences because Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney -- by a solid, but hardly overwhelming, margin -- doesn't make sense. For that matter, it's also a very weak argument to claim that an electoral win is a popular endorsement of specific policies.

Granted, winning the (presidential) election entitles Democrats to use that talking point, but it's really not much of an argument. And of course Republicans could choose to change policy preferences after electoral loss, but that's not an argument for why their current proposals, same or different from the old ones, shouldn't be taken seriously.

Elections are not referendums on specific policy.

To the extent that Ryan's "budget" turns out to be based on phony numbers, that's irresponsible and he should be called on it. And it's a big problem -- it's also irresponsible behavior -- if Republicans refuse to negotiate from their policy preferences. But stating those preferences in the first place? Even if they are massively unpopular, it's not irresponsible to state them -- and election defeats don't change that at all.
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