Friday, May 31, 2013

Catch of the Day

How about one for some solid reporting: Garance Franke-Ruta completely explodes "The Fake Story About the IRS Commissioner and the White House."

The story here was that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman had supposedly spend Barack Obama's first term camped out in the Oval Office scheming and plotting, but as it turns out...not so much.

What's useful about all this? As with the Benghazi talking points "controversy," there's a bit of useful stuff here about how the bureaucracy actually works, and how the "White House" interacts with the departments and agencies -- to begin with, that the White House is physically not just the White House, but the Old (Eisenhower) and New Executive Office Buildings -- the Old one is familiar to those who have been following the Watergate posts, since Nixon had a hideaway there that he used quite a bit (and for which there was a taping system installed). Here's something I don't know: have presidents since Nixon maintained an office over in what's now the Eisenhower building?

At any rate...first of all, it's worth noting that just because the IRS Commissioner didn't really have 157 White House meetings, or even "White House" meetings, doesn't actually mean that there was nothing improper going on. You don't need 157 meetings to do something wrong! It's just more evidence, if any was needed, not to believe everything Bill O'Reilly says or to believe that everything in the Daily Caller has been fully reported.

And, as usual, the fact that this one has been exposed as much less than meets the eye will almost certainly not end it's life as a GOP talking point.

Also: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to D.M.C., 49.

Good stuff:

1. Francis Wilkinson on the House and immigration.

2. Andrew Gelman on "those 'Psychological Science' papers (menstrual cycles and political attitudes, biceps size and political attitudes)."

3. And Alyssa Rosenberg on being a writer.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Representation Works (Weirdly Enough)

Jordan Ragusa has a very nice post today using the business about PolitiFact ratings to write about research showing that, yes, Members of Congress keep their policy promises.

As I've discussed at length, but not recently, there's more to representation than just policy promises. That's on of the main findings of Richard Fenno's work: promises also include all sorts of things, including style of representation. Among other things, that to me, is the "solution" to the question of whether representatives "should" be delegates or trustees; the answer is that they should do whatever they said they would do when they were campaigning. But that's just one of the many things that can go into representative style and the representative relationship that politicians develop with their constituents.

At any rate, one of the things I find most interesting is why any of this happens. Ragusa is good on this:
Finally, if citizens are (a) unaware of who their elected lawmaker is and (b) as a result woefully ignorant of their representatives’ position on key votes, the question is: what keeps lawmakers honest?  The answer is that while private citizens may not know how their representative or senator voted, general election opponents and interest groups sure do.  Thus, while the electorate is generally inattentive to lawmakers voting record, the reelection incentive—and the threat of attack ads from one’s rival—keep lawmakers honest.

Indeed, in the underlying paper, Tracy Sulkin argues that risk-averse politicians will likely attempt to keep their promises as if they would get in trouble from abandoning them. That sounds right to me, as is her argument that politicians are probably likely to make promises in the first place that they have an interest in keeping.

What fascinates me about this, however, is that I really don't buy the idea that politicians, no matter how risk-averse, are really keeping promises because of electoral incentives. It just doesn't wash that it's a significant enough constraint. Especially when it comes to promises about representative style. What we know about the ignorance of voters is just very hard to square with the idea that they will punish their representatives' misbehavior.

Sulkin's suggestion that politicians may choose to emphasize particular issues (and presumably style) for personal reasons, rather than for electoral reasons, is promising.

But overall, I think it's one of the more puzzling problems in representation, and therefore in democracy. I have an old paper in which I try to get to it (it involves political parties, Arendt, and the "touch of Harry in the night" scene, and yes, I suppose I should try to do something with that paper). I do think that representation is real, and really "works," and that the fact it works is central to how democracy actually does what we want it to do...but the whole topic is filled with difficulty.

Ignore Those Polls! (Scandals and the Economy Edition)

There's a new Quinnipiac poll out with findings about scandalmania that are drawing attention, including a ranking of the scandals (respondents answered that the IRS scandal is more important than Benghazi or the AP stories) and something that sounds very nice at the moment for Democrats: by a large margin, respondents say that the economy is more important than the scandals.

Ignore those polls!

First: people are notoriously terrible about predicting how events will affect their votes, or even their future opinions. People may say that the economy is more important than scandals...but if scandals are in the news constantly, people will pay attention, and they could well affect vote choice even if in some abstract sense voters don't "think" they are important. What's more, constant news coverage -- if it continues -- will strongly signal that a scandal is important, and people will respond accordingly.

Second: the polling that really tells us something about voters and the scandals so far is already out, with the president's approval ratings holding steady over the last month (actually, Pollster's average has had Obama's approval ratings on a slow decline since the beginning of the year, but setting it to "less smoothing" shows that decline has decelerated since mid-March, and certainly no apparent new movement since the IRS thing broke). Here, the Q poll has a low Obama approval number of 45%, down three ticks from May 1, but as always the polling averages are more useful, and they've already told as that nothing's happening.

Third: So we know that unlike, say, Iran-Contra, the current scandalmania is not having a significant direct effect on the president's popularity. But we also know that absent new revelations, each of these stories will be ancient and forgotten by the time voters engage in the 2014 election cycle. Really, then, what's needed is good guesses about the scandals themselves, and voters aren't in a particularly good position to make those guesses.

In other words, if it turns out that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton secretly worked with zombie bin Laden to plan and carry out Benghazi, then nothing voters say now about the IRS story being more important, or the economy trumping any of the scandals, will matter. If on the other hand Benghazi continues to be about parsing the difference between terror attacks and terrorist attacks...well, we've long known that no one apart from dedicated partisans cares about it.

All in all, other than tossing another number into the approval averages, I think we're safe ignoring this stuff. Given that scandalmania isn't doing anything significant now, the way that people rank the individual stories or how they compare them to other vote factors just isn't telling us anything.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mark Sheppard, 49.

Which brings us to the good stuff:

1. Good Ta-Nehisi Coates item about Medicaid expansion, ethnicity, and what "color-blind" means.

2. Greg Sargent listens carefully to Paul Ryan.

3. Scott Lemieux on the DC Circuit nominations.

4. Abby Rapoport looks at the Shor/McCarty data on state legislature polarization.

5. Lamar Alexander is off-message and on-reality on climate. Interesting. Coral Davenport has the details. Lamar!

6. Is the ACA too complicated? Dean Baker has a very nice answer.

7. And Andrew Sprung listens to Marco Rubio and hears Linus. You know, Lucy's little brother.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm Here I'm Not

Hey, it's MMM -- Marjorie Margolies, one term Clinton-era Member of the House (and now Clinton extended family member) is reported to be running for her old House seat in Pennsylvania. I have no idea whether she'll return to Congress; she'll apparently have to survive what could be a tough primary for an open Democratic seat.

Margolies (at the time Margolies-Mezvinsky, thus MMM) is famous for supplying the winning vote for the Democratic budget in 1993 and then, as Republicans predicted, losing her seat in the GOP landslide of 1994. At the time, her district was hotly contested, and so it's no surprise that she failed to hold it; 1992 was a good year for Democrats, and 1994 a bad one, however she had chosen to vote on that bill. She had won very narrowly in 1992, by less than a single percentage point, and then lost by four points in 1994 -- a far smaller swing than her party suffered nationally. One has to be careful about these things...the national swing was probably driven mostly by enormous shifts in Southern districts, so it would be useful to match up comparable districts to see what happened. Still, it's hard to say from those numbers that her loss had much to do with her, or her vote. It's more of a myth than fact.

At the same time -- it's hard to argue that Democrats in 1994 would have been worse off if their economic plan had been defeated in the House (if there really was no other available vote). Republicans could still have run against it -- and against Democratic chaos, as well. Of course, they had plenty of that, with Clinton's failed stimulus and failed heath care plan. That is, failed in Congress.

The other point about Margolies, which I talked about last time she was in the news, is that her vote is often discussed in terms of voting her convictions against her district, but that's not how she describes it; in an op-ed during the Obama-era health care debate, she defended her vote in terms of how it (in her view) was good for her district, not in terms of putting some other priority ahead of representation. That doesn't necessarily mean she was a good representative -- that's a much more complicated question. But it does seem that she was attempting to do what she thought was good for the district.

I'm sure nothing anyone says at this point can change what everyone "knows" about her brief tenure in the House. It's worth noting, however, that much of what everyone "knows" appears not to be actually true.

Dear Liar Love Me (Elsewhere...)

At PP today I have an item talking about fact checkers -- and echoing the point from John Sides and Brendan Nyhan that one should be extremely cautious about concluding anything from the ratings that those fact checkers give out.

Yesterday over there I wrote about the coming showdown on judicial nominations.

At Greg's place yesterday, I discussed one of the potentially dangerous consequences of the post-policy GOP: that they may not be able to tend to the policy preferences of their aligned interest groups.

And at Plum Line on Monday I looked at the math for immigration reform in the House.

My Crazy Afternoon

Michele Bachmann, retiring from the House one step of the ethics investigators and, most likely, her district's voters. Garance Franke-Ruta watches her announcement video; Jonathan Chait remembers some of her greatest hits.


1. No, she was never the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, or anything more than an extreme longshot.

2. Yes, she certainly did bring The Crazy. If she didn't really believe the things she said, she did an excellent job of acting as if she did.

3. No, it's not true that most Republican Members of the House are interchangably nuts. There's really only a small group, maybe only a handful, who share Bachmann's true dedication to The Crazy.

4. However, it's also true that sane conservatives in Congress are not only reluctant to criticize the Crazy Caucus, but are in many cases willing to borrow liberally (or perhaps I should say generously?) from things the Crazy Caucus comes up with or dredges up from Beck or chain emails or wherever.

5. More generally: to the extent that one of the big driving motivations for mainstream, sane conservative politicians is to avoid the "RINO" label -- and it appears that this motivation is quite strong -- they, the GOP-aligned press, and rank-and-file conservative voters give enormous power to the fringe Crazy Caucus.

6. That is, and to generalize: mainstream liberal Democrats try to differentiate themselves from the most extreme liberals in order to appeal to general election swing voters; mainstream conservative Republicans try to group themselves with the most extreme conservatives in order to appeal to primary election RINO-hunters, and have not found any way to cling to extreme but sane conservatives without also keeping fairly close to the Crazy Caucus.

7. Back to Bachmann: assuming she's not going to jail, Beck's network certainly seems like the logical destination for her. I've seen some twitter chatter about the possibility she may seek higher office, but it doesn't much matter; she's almost certainly never going to be elected statewide in Minnesota, and if she does run for president again she'll remain a fringe candidate with no realistic chance of doing anything more than (perhaps) crowding out other fringe candidates.

8. All bloggers will, naturally, miss her: our lonely eyes now turn to Louie Gohmert, and to the near-certainty that, as Sarah Posner points out, there will be others.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alessandra Torresani, 26. Caprica was pretty much a mess, and the acting wasn't a strength, but I mostly liked her. Also, I haven't watched "Husbands," and I'm pretty sure that I'm supposed to have watched it.

Some good stuff:

1. Irin Carmon on those shoes, those shoes.

2. Why California's exchanges may be more effective at cost control than most, from Sarah Kliff --- very useful context for everyone linking to CA stories last week.

3. Jared Bernstein on Jason Furman, reported to be the next Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

4. Alec MacGillis on the NRA.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Are Harry Reid's Threats Working?

Item: Sri Srinivasan was confirmed for the DC Circuit Court, the first Obama pick to reach that important bench.

Item: District Judge nominee William Orrick was confirmed 56-41 on May 15 (with two Democrats and one Republican missing the vote); no cloture vote was taken. There was also a minor executive branch confirmation a week before that with a 53-45 vote, also without a cloture vote.

Item: Rob Portman is apparently trying to cut a deal on the Cordray nomination for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the "nullification" blockade filibusters. In the Roll Call article, he's supposedly only asking for an Inspector General (something that Democrats would almost certainly be glad to give him), rather than for the restructuring that Republicans have been demanding as the price for letting any nominee through. I agree with David Dayen's skepticism that Republicans really would do that deal, but for whatever it's worth, that's the report.

Put it all together, and do you have evidence that Republicans are actually moving a bit in response to Harry Reid's threats to go nuclear?

To tell the truth...I'm not sure. A Cordray deal the Democrats could live with would be a major GOP loss, but that's pretty much at the rumor stage at best. The two nominations without 60...that's something we've seen in the past, too, and remember that we're talking here about a District Court nominee (where several Republicans have been reluctant to take the filibuster) and another obscure one. The Srinivasan confirmation, and in fact that's one of six appeals court judges confirmed this year against one killed by filibuster, is certainly a positive step, but again it's not as if Republicans have ever blocked absolutely everything, so it's very tricky to know what's a retreat and what's just business as usual.

And certainly there's no shortage of current filibusters and threats of filibusters. It's hardly the case that Republicans have full-out retreated.

As I said earlier today over at PP, we just don't know yet how much of Republican talk about the remaining DC Circuit nominees (assuming that actually happens) is bluff, and how much of it is real. Nor do we know whether nominees for Labor and EPA will get five Republican votes for cloture. My best guess is that one or two of this group -- CFPB, Labor, EPA, DC Circuit -- will be killed by filibuster, and the other four or five will just barely make it...and that this will be just enough to avoid the nukes. But that's a guess!

I know that a lot of liberals believe that Republicans simply will not back down at all. That might be true, but there's just no way to know right now.

Which is why what Reid's been doing -- keeping the threat of majority-imposed reform alive and increasing it as needed -- is the right strategy.

At any rate, I guess we're going to know a lot more in a few weeks.

No Available Fix for Politician Paranoia

I highly recommend a post by Ezra Klein today about money in politics. He's following up on an earlier item he did about money in the 2012 election cycle being overhyped; today he's taking on criticisms of that one. It's excellent: he doesn't back down on the basic point that the "campaign finance community" (as he puts it) overstates, and often dramatically overstates, the importance of campaign finance.

One topic he covers, however, is one where I've become increasingly pessimistic over time: the way that raising money eats into the lives of elected officials. It's something that Mark Schmidt raised in response to Klein's original item, and it's correct. It's absolutely ridiculous for Members of Congress to have built for themselves an expectation that they should spend four hours a day raising money.

(By the way: we have good reporting that such an expectation exists, and good reporting that Members spend way too much time raising money...but I have to admit I'm pretty skeptical of this four hours a day business. Do they really do that, day in, day out? Or do most of them reluctantly do a lot less (although still enough to cut way too much into their real jobs), but exaggerate it for the reporter's notebook? Again, I'm not denying that it's a big deal; just questioning the specific claim).

I used to believe that a campaign regime of floors-not-ceilings would help; by allowing candidates to raise money in larger chunks, they could reach their fundraising goals in far fewer hours of work. And given diminishing returns (that is, in that more spending produces relatively fewer and fewer votes), the incentive to just use the same time but raise more money wouldn't be all that high. I think that was, alas, wishful thinking. The evidence seems to be that they all raise whatever they can, even if it's a waste of their time. Moreover, if floors-not-ceilings succeeded in bringing viable candidates to more districts, even more incumbents would be even more obsessed with the theoretical possibility of a future plausible nominee who had to be scared away by building even larger warchests.

The only things I can really imagine that would de-escalate all of this, other than full public financing, would be ways of reducing the pain of losing re-election. But surely that's a cure worse than the disease; we want our Members of Congress to be paranoid about losing. We just want them to deal with it by working hard to represent their districts, not by working the phones to scrape up every last available dollar for their campaigns.

Oh, and apart from the other reasons I don't like full public financing, it's a pipe dream anyway, both politically and, with any plausibly foreseeable Supreme Court, Constitutionally.

All of which leaves me stumped about what to do with this very real problem.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Gordon Willis, 82.

And some good stuff, which certainly isn't what I would have called that new Star Trek movie. Wow, what a clunker...

1. Correlation, or causation? Close call -- from Chris Blattman.

2. I think Paul Krugman is essentially correct on differences right now between liberals and conservatives -- and that it's not an inherent difference, but one that happens to be the case now, essentially through (in my view) historical accident.

3. On the Monkey Cage: David Schleicher on the direct election of US Senators. Interesting.

4. And Monica Gray brings us Memorial Day speeches from old presidents.

Monday, May 27, 2013

One Small Point on ACA Implementation

I have a post up at Plum Line about a familiar topic to regular readers here -- that Affordable Care Act polling now is unlikely to predict much about how people will react to the law once it's implemented.

I'll add one more point, however. There's a possible press bias involved which might help the ACA. For the most part, the people who are helped the most the Obamacare -- people who did not have health insurance, wanted it, and will be able to get it through the exchanges, in many cases with subsidies that really will make it affordable -- are not opinion leaders. There's one exception, however: freelance political reporters, bloggers, and columnists should be big winners from the ACA, and can make a fair amount of noise.

Now, of course, if Obamacare really does turn out to be a disaster, that won't matter much -- indeed, if full-time employees of large newspapers and magazines wind up losing insurance and the exchanges are difficult to navigate and deliver an inferior product, then the press will collectively wind up turning against the program. But if that's the case, it won't really matter, because everyone will hate ACA if it's an across-the-board disaster.

I've talked before about another bias which should hurt Obamacare approval after implementation; the press tends to have a bad news bias, in which things functioning smoothly is boring and therefore not news, while glitches and snafus make for good stories. And we've already seen, and should see more of Republicans blaming anything that ever goes wrong with anyone's health care or insurance on Barack Obama and the Democrats. So I have no idea how big a deal this counter-bias might be, but it's at least worth a little mention as implementation continues.

Memorial Day

I'll mostly be over at Greg's place today, but wanted to pop in at least once to wish everyone a nice Memorial Day.

I'll contribute one item, really a follow-up to the weekend questions. There was one new coalition death in Afghanistan recorded yesterday. It was the first one in ten days -- ending a streak which had dramatically improved the pace of May casualties after a very disappointing first half of the month. The death yesterday put this month's coalition total up to 25. That's the highest this year (and in fact the highest since September), but that's to be expected given the seasonal nature of the war in Afghanistan. More promising is that May will wind up down from the 45 coalition deaths last year. There have been 67 coalition fatalities to date in 2013; last year, there were 183 through the end of May. There's still a plausible chance that coalition deaths will wind up under 200 for 2013.

There are (at least) two obvious interpretations of Barack Obama's policy with respect to all of this. The negative one is to question whether any of these deaths are in the service of anything more than a graceful exit; given that Obama continues to define the mission down, John Kerry's famous question would seem to apply here just as much as it applied to Iraq.

The positive interpretation would be that Obama has shown a solid pattern of actually following up on his stated plans to withdraw, even if it opens him up to criticism for "retreating" or for losing a war which (supposedly) was about to be decisively won. That interpretation would also give Obama credit for how difficult it is to turn the boat around, and stress that at least for now it appears that the Obama Administration will have successfully ended two wars and started no new ones. Remember, a lot of people in 2008-2009 believed that the US would find a way to keep a major troop presence in Iraq; that didn't happen.

(Yes, Libya, and yes, drone wars...but even there Obama displays an impressive ability to avoid escalations and to move to end things).

Is one of these interpretations correct? I don't know; perhaps they both are.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

At this point: how much, if any, do you trust Barack Obama on national security issues? I'm talking here about trust, not about whether you support or oppose his stated other words, if there's incomplete information, do you give him the benefit of the doubt, or not?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I've said that the fate of the immigration bill depends on whether mainstream conservatives in the House Republican conference want it to pass or not. Most of them won't have to vote for it (ultimately, Democrats are going to vote for any comprehensive immigration that can get through the Senate), but John Boehner won't put something on the floor if they don't want him to.

So: first, what do you think they'll choose to do? And, what should they do?

May 23, 1973

One upshot from Nixon's May 22 statement was that Silber and Glanzer advised the new Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, that Richard Nixon should be on the list of witnesses to be questioned.

Meanwhile, a rare break in the tone of Watergate: Tony Ulasewicz, the bagman of the hush money payoffs, testifies to the Ervin Committee and breaks everyone up. In a story which produced more than it's fair share of characters, Ulasewicz, the former New York City cop who Nixon's White House had hired as in-house private investigator, was the most comical.

Inside the White House, Nixon and Haig are pleased with the May 22 statement -- and Nixon continues to rail against John Dean, and worry about Dean, and worry about the Walters memos on the intervention to get the CIA to turn off the FBI: "Those are really very bad. But what the hell can you do about it?"

He also talks to Rose Mary Woods, his longtime secretary, about Thomas Pappas -- that Pappas should have his story straight about Nixon's supposed lack of knowledge about what Pappas was raising money for.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

There's a new judge on the DC Circuit, the first one nominated by Barack Obama. That's going to matter. I'll add that the developments over nominations and Senate reform matter more generally, although it's still too early to know how they will turn out.

I'm inclined to think that the McCain/Cruz feud won't turn out to matter much. I certainly don't think it matters whether or not Congress goes to a formal conference committee on the budget.

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

May 22, 1973

(Sorry, behind again, that kind of week...)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rebranding? No. But Get Ready to Govern

Paul Waldman has a nice post today about GOP "rebranding." He's quite right: ideological shifts, real or perceived, do far less to explain electoral results than basic economic performance and other "retrospective voting" things.

In particular: I think it's very likely that a Democrat would have won in 1992 even if there had been no DLC. And I think that at best Democrats have a very narrow national advantage based on perceived Republican extremism, almost certainly smaller than the presidential vote margin in 2008 and 2012.

However, as I've said before: that doesn't mean that party reform isn't necessary. If it's really true that Republicans have become "post-policy" -- both indifferent to public policy choices in many cases, and incapable (or at least severely challenged) in devising complex policy -- then their ability to govern will be compromised. Indeed, in my view, that's a large part of what went wrong during the George W. Bush years. To begin with, Republicans nominated a president ill-suited for the policy demands of the job without apparently seeing the dangers in that; once he was in office, a Republican Congress too often abdicated its own policy role missed opportunities to nudge the party back on course when policy disasters were looming.

To put it bluntly, I think Democratic success in 1992 and 2008, and Republican success in 1980, was basically an accident -- but Republican failure in 2008, and perhaps Democratic failure in 1980, was no accident at all.

(1980 is tricky. That Carter was a failure of a president was no accident, as Nelson W. Polsby argued in Consequences of Party Reform. But I'd say it's very much open for argument whether the process which produced Carter's nomination was a consequence of a broken Democratic Party or, perhaps, just a fluke of history. Regardless: I see no reason to believe that Walter Mondale in 1984 or Mike Dukakis in 1988 (or Gerald Ford in 1980 or perhaps Bob Dole in 1996) couldn't have governed successfully).

And I think it would have been very difficult for a Republican elected in 2008 or 2012 to govern successfully.

So, I do think that Republicans desperately need to reform. But not in order to win.

Explaining John McCain

Jonathan Chait considers John McCain's career, on the occasion of McCain's recent Tea Party bashing and immigration bipartisanship, and concludes that it's all about national security:

The basic way to understand McCain is that neoconservative foreign policy is his ideological core. Everything else about his ideology can shift radically depending on his ambitions, circumstances, and whom he’s most angry with at any given moment. He favored immigration reform under George W. Bush, abandoned it to refashion himself as a “build the dang fence” border hawk, and, in the wake of last November, embraced it again...

But the foreign policy hawkishness has remained constant. 
Perhaps. I personally subscribe to the other theory: it's a combination of electoral incentives and personal vendettas.

What we need is for a neocon to pick a fight with McCain (to see if he'll go dovish as a reaction) or for some electoral situation in which hawks are at a disadvantage. I don't think either of those has ever happened in his career, or at least I don't think he's perceived belligerence in foreign affairs to be an electoral negative.

What both theories have in common is the idea that McCain is largely indifferent about policy at least of outside of national security and foreign affairs. Well, indifferent isn't quite right...McCain can be quite passionate about all sorts of issues while he's engaged in them; it just doesn't seem to be based on any kind of consistent ideology, or even a consistent view on the specific issue.

I am wondering how McCain's push for reconciliation with Vietnam counts here. I'd argue that it cuts against Chait's theory and in favor for everything being either electoral or, in this case, personal. I'd also argue that his relatively moderate position on the Chuck Hagel nomination fits my theory better; McCain opposed the first cloture vote and final confirmation, but he provided the key vote for cloture in the second cloture vote. Perhaps because he was more annoyed with Ted Cruz than he was loyal to the neocons. But neither of these is anywhere near conclusive.

Anyone else have examples that can help resolve this one?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Greg Briley, 48. One of my Blue Sox heroes, long ago. Sometimes, that 24 year old season is the peak.

Sorry for the slow start today, but there's still time for the good stuff:

1. Richard Arenberg on the Senate floor skirmishes.

2. Fred Kaplan on Obama's national security speech.

3. And Brad DeLong on, well, the economy.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sri Srinivasan Confirmed

Sri Srinivasan was confirmed unanimously this afternoon, 97-0,  for a position on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. He was originally nominated on June 11, 2012 for a position vacant since November 1, 2008.

So there's one obvious point, and one huge question.

The point: yes, it's absolutely ridiculous that a unanimous pick took eleven months. The only somewhat reasonable part of the delay was in the run-up to the 2012 election; it's traditional for the out-party to drag their feet to prevent confirmations just before an election, even though Republicans in this case push that to (and beyond) reasonable limits. But there was a lame duck session; they could have taken care of unopposed nominations then. Or in February, March, or April.

The question: having given up on Srinivasan, will Republicans now blockade the remaining three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court, perhaps on the bogus pretext that those judges aren't actually needed? If so, that's something that's almost certainly worth going nuclear over. It's certainly possible, however, that they're only going to target those they consider "extremists" -- and that those will be a small minority of all nominees. Surely that's what Mitch McConnell and the Republicans would claim as the July showdown over obstruction gets closer. But as of now, we don't really know the answer.

And for that, yes, it would help if there actually were nominees for those three vacancies.

Dept. of Missing the Point (Kinsley ed.)

A wonderful example of the myopia of the deficit scolds...

The background is that Michael Kinsley wrote a particularly bad column last week about "austerity," a key point of which was based on factually incorrect memories of what went wrong in the 1970s; as you can imagine, this earned him plenty of corrections and dismissals from people who used access to accurate economic and government policy statistics. 

Kinsley was quite taken aback by this, apparently, and wrote a follow up to defend himself. Dan Drezner has already pointed out that Kinsley is still relying on the same inaccurate memories that got his first column into trouble, but I actually found a different part of Kinsley II more interesting, in which he thinks he's caught Paul Krugman in a contradiction.

Kinsley writes:
Paul Krugman takes credit for good economic news whenever it happens. On Krugman’s blog site (“The Conscience of a Liberal”) last week were two bits of prose side-by-side. One was an ad for his latest book, End This Depression Now! “How bad have things gotten?” the ad asks rhetorically.” How did we get stuck in what now can only be called a depression?” Right next door is Krugman’s gloat about the recent pretty-good economic news. “So where are the celebrations,” he asks, “now that the debt issue looks, if not solved, at least greatly mitigated?” Greatly mitigated? By what? Certainly not by anyone taking Paul Krugman’s advice. He has been, in his own self-estimate, a lone, ignored voice for reason crying out in an unreasoning universe.
What's the problem? The linked post by Krugman isn't a gloat about good economic news! It is, to be sure a gloat; it's a gloat about deficits...Krugman goes so far as to call lower deficits "progress," although as I read it he's really just saying that lower deficits should be counted as progress from the point of view of the deficit scolds.

What's happening here is that Kinsley is projecting onto Krugman a classic deficit scold mistake; Kinsley is conflating the federal budget deficit with the economy. Krugman isn't doing that; it's purely Kinsley's invention.

It gets, however, to exactly why Kinsley was buried under a large pile of abuse after his first column. Well, in part; the other part, as Krugman notes elsewhere, is "the existence now of a policy blogosphere...which makes bluffing harder." Say something factually inaccurate these days, and you're going to get slammed; it seems that some pundits who preceded that development find it hard to get used to it.

But the other part is conflating the federal budget deficit and the economy is really a pretty big deal. It might even explain, by the way, Kinsley's faulty memories of the 1970s; if bad economic times are synonymous with large budget deficits, then there "must" have been deficits back then. It's less of a argument about deficits causing bad times than a tautology about deficits meaning bad times.

And the problem is that outside the myopia of deficit scolds, there are real policy choices about fiscal policy. Which are extremely difficult to make well when a large part of the political culture is trapped inside, well, deficit nonsense.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Laurel Holloman, 42.

Right to the good stuff:

1. Seth Masket has a quick note on quality challengers.

2. Jonathan Chait on Josh Barro...and on climate, the DC Circuit, and filibusters.

3. Sarah Kliff on the fluoridation wars, before Portland clobbered a fluoride vote.

4. And Kevin Collins tweets something very sensible: "Presidential elections are the least common type of contest, so be wary of general conclusions about US electoral politics drawn from them."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

No, Don't Wait Two Months For Public Opinion Effects

Is it worth a post over a headline? I suppose so...that's what people read, after all.

Michael Catalini writes over at National Journal today goes over the public opinion reaction to Watergate, Iran/Contra, and Lewinsky. His accounting of Iran/Contra and Lewinsky are fine, but he's a bit tripped up on Watergate. I wouldn't bother, but the headline and subhead are awful:

Wait About Two Months, Then Check the President's Approval Rating

Reagan and Nixon saw their approval ratings drop two months after Iran-Contra and Watergate. Clinton was a different story.
Actually, I wrote about this just yesterday, and it's totally wrong. The actual story on Iran/Contra was that Reagan's approval rating collapsed in the very next Gallup poll -- but it was taken several weeks after Iran/Contra broke, back in the days when Gallup polling was far less frequent. So Catalini gets that right in the body of the story, but the headline writer somehow turned that into two months -- for all we know from the Gallup number, it was instant, but at any rate it's only one month.

As for Watergate, Catalini writes:
The break-in at the Watergate occurred in June 1972, five months before Nixon rode to a landslide reelection, but the scandal did not damage his approval ratings until after two aides were convicted of conspiracy in January 1973. Between January and August, his approval rating dropped from 67 percent to 31 percent after the resignation of his top staffers, attorney general and deputy attorney general. 
However, what is important here is that the cover-up was largely effective up until early March 1973. That's why there was no effect on public opinion! People didn't actually know what "Watergate" was about yet. Specifically, things start unraveling in public with Pat Gray's Judiciary Committee hearings, which began on February 28 and continued well into March. There are plenty of news stories throughout the earlier months, including some pretty important revelations, but it's still a marginal story until then.

The point of all this is that we shouldn't expect some sort of delayed reaction to the current scandalmania.

Assuming, that is, that the basic facts stay more or less the same. But don't expect continued publicity about the same facts to change public opinion in any dramatic way, and don't expect people to mull it over for a few weeks and then decide they no longer approve of the job Barack Obama is doing. That's not what happened in those other cases, and it's not likely to happen with this one.

Catch of the Day

From last evening, actually: Dave Weigel notes that Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee have invented a "tradition" that it takes 60 votes to raise the debt limit. He also makes an excellent point about why most Senators don't want to establish any such tradition:
Nobody likes to have a pro-debt limit vote on the record, so votes to raise it are usually pretty limited and partisan. In 2012, the last time the Senate gave the thumbs-up to a debt limit hike, it got only 52 votes. So the Cruz/Paul/Lee gambit will fail, it's in the interest of most Republicans that it fail, and the rebels get to say they, the proud and lonely few, stood and fought for the right for supermajority debt limit votes.
Exactly. The more responsible Senators are, the more they should want debt limit increases by simple majority; that way, at least when they're in the minority they can vote against those increases.

Full story on the Senate floor flap, which pitted the Cruz gang against John McCain and Susan Collins, here.

I'm not exactly on Cruz's side here, but I do think that the Democratic grandstanding over the GOP refusal to go to conference on the budget is both silly and annoying, although no more silly and a lot less annoying than the old Republican complaint about Senate Democrats and budget resolutions. And I like old-fashioned regular conference committees and wish they were revived. But there's no particular reason that the deal that will need to be struck on budget issues this year will need to be in the context of the budget resolution, and no real reason to think that it's likely to happen there. Basically, getting all worked up about "regular order" is a big waste of time; the real issue is what's going to happen whenever the two parties get together to cut whatever deals they'll make this year -- perhaps a minimal one to get through 2014 appropriations plus the debt limit, perhaps a larger one.

But at any rate: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jay Carney, 47.

Also, don't forget the good stuff:

1. Harris Mylonis on nation building.

2. Dan Larison on signaling.

3. And the Reagans, mowing. From Amber Lautigar Heichert.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Against Democratic Certainty That Republicans Will Go Nuclear Next Time

Paul Waldman makes a claim that I see all the time:
Let's be realistic here. Unless there's some kind of major upheaval within the Republican party that moves it back to the center, when the day comes that there's a Republican president and a Republican senate, the filibuster will be gone. It won't take a Democratic minority using it with the profligacy Republicans have, either. All it will take is one filibuster on something Republicans care about. Today's Republicans don't care about the institution's traditions, or about what kind of precedent they might set. They care about getting what they want. If you think they won't do it, you haven't been paying much attention to American politics over the last five years.
Of course, there's no way to prove this one way or another, certainly not yet. But while I think Republicans have less restraint than Democrats do in violating norms, I think this claim is overstated.

After all, we do have some experience with this: Republicans really didn't get rid of the filibuster during the George W. Bush presidency. Are current Republican Senators really all that different than Frist-era Republican Senators? Maybe. Maybe not.

In fact, Republicans during the Bush years wound up arguing that judicial filibusters were illegitimate (although enough were willing to cut a deal that nothing was done). They probably didn't care about executive branch nominations because Democrats basically didn't use the filibuster against those, so it wasn't a big deal. Legislation, though, mattered -- and Republicans from 2003 through 2006 did nothing to end filibusters on bills, even though Democrats continued the Bob Dole practice of filibustering all major bills.

Would things be different for a Republican Senate in 2017 or 2021? Maybe. On the other hand, the longer they remain in the Senate minority, the more Republican Senators will use strong language in support of rules which allow obstruction. That won't entirely constrain them in the future, as it hasn't completely constrained Democrats who were in those Bush-era Senate minorities, but it will tend to constrain them. It's no surprise that many of those Democrats least enthusiastic about eliminating the filibuster are those who made strong pro-filibuster statements during the years of Republican majorities in the 1990s and 2000s.

The basic story of filibuster reform is that there are cross-pressures for Senators between their interests as party members and their interests as individual Senators. It may be true that Republicans are more likely to think of themselves as party members than Democrats are, but I think it's unlikely that Republicans wouldn't be cross-pressured at least to some extent. And that means that they, too, might be reluctant to act.

Of course, all that assumes that the filibuster survives intact until Republicans get the White House and a Senate majority. If Democrats have a couple of good election cycles while Tea Partiers continue to gain seats in the Senate at the expense of other conservative Republicans, then that's probably not very likely.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mr. T., 61.

And the good stuff:

1. More from Sarah Binder on going nuclear.

2. Seth Masket on the Obama scandals and public opinion.

3. And James Fallows on Barack Obama.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dynasty Semi-Update

Is there a new wave of dynastic politicians coming to Congress?

National Journal's Sarah Mimms has the story... or, at least, the beginnings of the story, highlighting a bunch of dynastic candidates (Mike Collins, son of Mac; Michelle Nunn, daughter of Sam; Gwen Graham, daughter of Bob, and more) running or considering running in the 2016 cycle.

Regular readers will know this is a story I follow. So I'm interested. At the same time, I'd urge caution about concluding that there's a trend here. The way this works is that national reporters are more likely to notice the candidates from famous families who are running or thinking of running, and to collectively overestimate their chances. In this story, we have some candidates who are actually running, others who are being urged to run, and even one who is saying he would like to run when the current incumbent retires -- which, as far as I know, could be in 2014 or could be in 2024.

The point is that we're far more likely to hear from the national press that Brendan Johnson (son of retiring Senator Tim) "hasn't ruled out" a campaign than we are to hear that some state senator that no one in Washington has ever heard of has also not ruled out the contest. And so it's easy to get an exaggerated impression of how common dynastic politicians really are.

Which isn't to say that the actual number is the correct one, whatever it may be.

Anticipating Nuclear Fallout

Sarah Binder wrote last night about the new threats that Harry Reid is making to go nuclear. The first thing you need to know is that if you're at all interested in the filibuster, you need to read everything that Sarah writes. Especially if you read me on it -- if we differ, remember that I'm just a consumer of Congress research: she produces it.

To begin with, she emphasizes that the mechanism for majority-imposed reform is far more blunt and uncertain than I (and some others) tend to describe it. That's important.

Sarah also argues, also on something that I didn't take into consideration in my posts on this last week: "Republicans can credibly threaten to retaliate procedurally if the Democrats go nuclear.  And that might be a far more credible threat than Reid’s."

I have two reactions to this.

The first is that a lot of liberals will read dismiss it, claiming that Republicans are already maximizing obstruction. That is incorrect. Only one judicial nomination has been defeated by filibuster during the current Congress; there are also a handful of other judicial and executive branch nominations which probably have not been brought to the floor because Reid doesn't have 60. On the other hand, there's a long list of nominations that the Senate has confirmed so far this year. There's also one judicial selection who withdrew after "blue slip" obstruction, but that speaks to Sarah's point: Republicans could make more trouble in other ways than they currently do.

Republican obstruction on nominations is unprecedented and, in my view, unjustified. They have invented a 60 vote threshold for virtually all nominations which never existed before 2009. But it is certainly not universal obstruction. It could be much worse under the current rules.

On the other hand...

I'm very hesitant to disagree with Sarah, but I really don't think much of the retaliation threat. It makes sense to threaten to shut down the Senate, but after majority-imposed reform is imposed, does it makes sense to carry out that threat? I don't think so -- because if it was in the GOP's interest to shut down the Senate, they would be doing it now. In other words, I don't think Republican Senators hold off on more extreme obstruction now because they're nice; I think they do it because they believe it's in their interest. And once they're faced with a new status quo, it would turn out that more less the same incentives apply.

Indeed, we've seen this before. Republicans threatened retaliation if Barack Obama used a recess appointment despite the House-forced pro forma sessions during a Senate recess, but when Obama acted the threat of retaliation turned out to be a dud. That doesn't prove that retaliation wouldn't happen this time, but as I said, I'm just skeptical about it. I'm sure there would be a lot of shouting, and there's a good chance there would be some demonstration of something on the Senate floor, but after a few weeks I suspect it would fizzle out. Now, to be fair, one could go back to that quote I'm so fond of from Maltese Falcon about how in the heat of the moment people don't always act in their own best interests. Given that, and just generally, I'd expect managers of the immigration bill to want to get that done before a filibuster battle begins.

But overall, I continue to think that the threat of massive retaliation if the Democrats go nuclear -- the threat that Republicans could respond by "shutting down" the Senate -- is a relatively minor factor in the chess game. Still: read Sarah's post in full; while I haven't been convinced, there's every possibility that she's right and I'm wrong on this one.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Tahmoh Penikett, 38.

And for some good stuff:

1. James Fallows on presidents and leaks. Exactly right. As I said last week: don't worry about leaks; listen to them.

2. Wonderful piece from Sarah Kliff looking at the rollout of Medicare.

3. Brendan Nyhan has advice for reporters on covering scandal. Good.

4. Ed Kilgore dissents in part from my take on Harry Reid.

5. Philip Klein on what might happen to the ACA.

6. And Elizabeth Drew on Nixon. I don't agree with everything she says, but it's still a good quick summary of what Watergate was from someone who remembers it well.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Oh, why not: we're six months away from 2012 Election Day now, and the first 100 days of Barack Obama's second term are long gone. How does everything so far compare to your expectations? Disappointed? About what you expected? Worse? If worse: who do you blame?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What do you think of the job that Darrell Issa has done so far, over the last two plus years, as Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee? How much confidence to you have in him to do a good job going forward?

May 18, 1973

Another big day. The Watergate Committee hearings continue. The most important development of the day, however, is that Elliot Richardson has now chosen a Special Prosecutor: John Kennedy's old Solicitor General, Archibald Cox.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Barack Obama's Gallup approval rating is back to 51% today, which is back up to the upper part of the range it's been in for the last couple of months. I'm ready to say that the feeding frenzy of this week didn't matter.

There's some sign that the AP warrants may turn out to really matter in policy. I'm going to go ahead and guess it will, so I'll say that that one matters. 

Disagree? Have something else? What do you think mattered this week?

May 17, 1973

Sorry, I ducked out and took a little break after all the craziness of March and April. But back to it now.

What's been happening?

Friday Baseball Post

It wasn't enough to do a whole cranky blogging thing about, but the NYT Sunday Review thing of people doing a column hooked to their new book -- which has made for quite a few very useless Sunday Review items -- seems to have leaked over onto the sports pages. In this case, this past Sunday, Tom Clavin, who has a book coming out on the DiMaggio brothers, was given the opportunity to argue for Dom DiMaggio as a HOFer. It's full of the cherry picking you expect from this sort of thing:
During his 10 full seasons, he totaled 1,679 base hits, more than any other major leaguer in that time. The next four players — Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Pee Wee Reese — are all in the Hall of Fame.
If you need me to explain what's wrong with that, I'll instead tell you to pick up an old Baseball Abstract and learn from Bill James how to spot a phony argument. It goes on from there...testimony from teammates who thought he was great, more cherry picked stats.

Look, Dom DiMaggio was a pretty good player. And he lost his prime -- his age 26, 27, and 28 seasons -- to the war.

That said...there are certain players who get a reputation for being underrated, and there's nothing you can do to shake it. Dom DiMaggio is an excellent example.

Here's the thing: he's not the most deserving Red Sox CF to not be in the Hall. You would think he'd have to manage that, at least, to really merit consideration, no?

Let's try this with OPS+, best ten seasons -- something that works well for the guy with only 10 seasons:

Dom D    123 121 113 110 110 108 107 105 104 102
Reggie S  168 162 155 150 143 142 137 129 127 127
Fred L     176 162 142 137 133 132 130 129 118 117
Ellis B      163 149 139 137 132 128 128 122 114 113

DiMaggio does have a couple edges over the others. He was much healthier -- I used a fairly low PA cutoff to include seasons, and if I had used 500 then he loses the 110 season but the others lose more. And he was in CF for 1338 of his 1373 defensive games, while the others all moved to corner positions, and eventually to DH or 1B. Reggie Smith had a bit over 800 games in CF; Ellis Burks had 1061; Fred Lynn, however, had almost 1600.

Really, however, there's just no way that the defensive position adjustment is going to make up for the huge gap at the plate. I'll go ahead and give you baseball reference's one-number stat...I'd take small differences here with a huge grain of salt, but c'mon: DiMaggio 31.8, Smith 64.4, Lynn 49.9, Burks 49.5. Dom's best season scores out as a 5.1...he would have to average 6 wins a year for his three missing years, averaging a full game better than his actual best year, to get to where Lynn and Burks are. But it's worse: that 5 win season was 1942 -- a war year. Not the worst of it, but still, he's not competing against the best that year.

I mean, he's missing what could easily have been his prime years. Maybe he goes nuts and has a 9 win year if there's no war. Maybe this fielding system is shortchanging him. Maybe...but you just can't come anywhere close to a strong HOF case. I mean...I didn't even mention Red Sox CF Johnny Damon (56 WAR).

What I really would like to put together is a team of guys who don't rate the HOF, aren't in it, and yet have a significant cheering section for their candidacies.

1B Gil Hodges
2B ?
SS Marty Marion
3B Ken Keltner?
LF Tony Oliva (yeah, I'm moving him over)
CF Dom DiMaggio
RF Roger Maris
C   Thurmond Munson
P    Jack Morris

Does anyone really think that Keltner belongs? And I couldn't think of a 2B, or a proper LF, and Morris (alas) isn't going to last on this list for long. Beat my list!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Elsewhere: Campaign Finance, Leaks, More

I don't think I've done one of these all week...I was waiting for some columns to go live, but I guess I'll go ahead now with at least one of them up.

So: at TAP today, I make the case for floors, not ceilings, and strong disclosure. I used to think it had the added virtue of being a good compromise between the Democratic and Republican positions, but that's before Republicans flipped on disclosure (they're now mostly against). Not that it was ever all that likely to ever happen anyway.

The best thing I wrote all week, I think, is one at PP on the topic of leaks -- saying that presidents should stop worrying about leaks and start listening to them.

I also looked at the effects of the scandals on 2014; discussed why Barack Obama's popularity still matters; dismissed the Benghazi talking points as important; and sketched out the path for immigration.

Time for Some Nominations. A Lot of Nominations


Today's news, outside of the continuing scandal stuff, is Greg Sargent's big scoop that Harry Reid is tentatively planning for July to be nominations month -- complete with the threat of majority-imposed reform. I already wrote about it as a chess move over at PP today (I think Reid did well), and I probably should write something at some point about what the substance of the threat in terms of Senate rules and procedures. But there's one more point that's important to get to:

If Harry Reid is willing to spend serious floor time on nominations, he needs more nominees. Lots more nominees.

In particular, he really needs those three DC Circuit Court selections that the president still -- still! -- hasn't sent up. Okay, there's some excuse on one spot because he had a nominee who was defeated by filibuster. But still, that cloture vote was ten weeks ago, and she withdrew her name almost two months ago (and it's not as if the cloture vote defeat was a big surprise, either).

But that's not all! Reid needs Obama to supply a full complement of executive branch nominees. Yes, as Greg points out, the high-visibility slots are the head of EPA, Secretary of Labor, and the nullification case of CFPB. There's also a Commerce Secretary nominee to confirm, and a full set of NLRB nominees. There should be, however, far more. With Reid signaling a window of available floor time, it sure would be nice to have as full a slate as possible of subcabinet executive branch nominations for the Senate to confirm.

And, yes, as many of the other 50-plus judicial nominees as possible.

To get all of those picks through committee and ready for the Senate floor in July, they really need to be selected very soon. C'mon, Mr. President: it's time for a fully functioning administration, and that takes executive branch nominees.

UPDATE: I should note that in the last couple of weeks the White House really has been starting to roll out more judicial picks -- one circuit court selection and three district court selections yesterday, on top of a few last week. That's good! But there's a lot more to go. And plenty of executive branch vacancies as well.

Attention Civics Teachers

I mentioned that we had local election in Texas this past's one result I missed that may be of interest. One of the small-town school boards around here had a one-vote election. No, not a one-vote margin...well, that too. A one vote election.

It happened in the Lytle school district, in Lytle, Texas. It's a small town to begin with, population about 2400, although the school district must be bigger -- there are apparently 1700 students involved. Local elections normally include city council and tax measures as well as school board, but none of the council elections were contested, so they were canceled, and no tax measures were needed this time. So it was just the school board, with only two contested districts out of seven total. And in one of those, only one person bothered to vote.

The candidates? The rules say they don't need to live in their districts, and as it happens neither winner Christina Mercado or loser Patty Cortez did live there.

There wasn't a recount -- would have been fun! -- but there was some suspense in the form of one provisional ballot, which turned out to have been cast by someone outside of the district, and thus not allowed.

I suppose if you want to look at this from a elections policy angle, I'd probably question why these local elections can't be on the same day as the general election. On the other hand, since there's no account of either candidate actually campaigning, it's not as if a larger general election day electorate would have been making a more informed decision on what is (I'm pretty sure) a nonpartisan election.

But anyone who wants to tell stories about why one vote might make a difference: clip and save this one from Lytle.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Peter Gerety, 73.

And the good stuff:

1. Sean Trende on House districts and the GOP advantage. No, not gerrymandering.

2. Good Ed Kilgore on "political correctness." As I've said: most of this is all about conflating politics and etiquette. Be polite, and most of the problem melts away.

3. An employer survey shows minimal planned changes in reaction to ACA kicking in -- very few intend to drop insurance or to fire or hire in order to game the system; the biggest planned change has to do with manipulating workers hours to keep them from qualifying, but even there it's not all that many employers. Jeffrey Young reports. The same caution applies here, however, that applied to less optimistic earlier reports: there could be big gaps between planning and doing (in either direction), and there could be huge gaps between changes attributed to ACA and changes actually caused by reform.

4. Nice update from Abby Rapoport about what's going on in the state legislatures on voting.

5. Brad DeLong on Kevin Williamson...well, actually Kevin Williamson on Kevin Williamson, via DeLong.

6. And I stepped out yesterday, and all of a sudden everyone was talking "Bulworth." I love Bulworth -- it's very, very, funny, and has other virtues as well. Anyway, Ezra Klein has the president Bulworthing. Okay, but if it doesn't rhyme, I'm not sure it counts.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ignore the Twitter News Cycle on Scandals

On Tuesday, they were measuring out the president's tomb. Today, with no big revelations on any of the current scandals (or "scandals" as the case may be), liberals at least, and I get the sense much of the neutral press, is almost ready to announce the whole thing a dud.

They were wrong on Tuesday; they're wrong today. The truth? We mostly don't know what will happen.

Look, the Benghazi thing remains, as far as I'm concerned, just as big a nothing as it's been all along; the talking points, which have been the GOP focus, just don't matter. That said, however, there's nothing that's happened which makes it likely that Republicans are going to give up on Benghazi. And if they keep pushing, they'll eventually have another day somewhere down the road where neutral reporters will get tempted to buy back in on the "where there's smoke" theory.

As far as the IRS mess ..well, it's absolutely possible that we know pretty much everything that will matter. On the other hand -- there's going to be a serious investigation on the IRS, and Congressional hearings. There's no way of knowing, at this point, whether there's anything else to find out or not. The IG report (as one conservative tweeted today; sorry, don't remember who) is not necessarily the final word; it's really not hard to imagine any number of fresh revelations that could emerge which could make the scandal much worse, without resorting to far-fetched scenarios. I'm not predicting it will; just saying that there's absolutely no reason to guess one way or the other what an investigation will show.

The same is basically true about the AP/DoJ story, although there it's less a case of discovering what happened in this particular case and whether it was kosher than of deep press interest in keeping the story alive. Still, a live story means reporters actively digging for something to justify it. They might find stuff!

Again: I'm not predicting very much here, other than that Republicans are almost certainly going to stick with Benghazi and IRS regardless of what they find, and that the press is likely to behave the way they always behave -- which includes love of scandals. But I didn't get around to writing a "calm down, relax, be patient" post about all this back on Monday and Tuesday when the press was freaking out, and that kind of thing is still just as worth saying to the extent that they're now ready to declare the whole thing over.

Real investigations don't conform to twitter news cycles. Or even the old 24-hour news cycles. Just remember, when you're consuming the news, that you're reading a lot of people who have massive incentives and norms that involve rushing to judgement on everything. Be aware of it, and be ready to fight it.

Presidential Approval Probably Isn't Stuck At Midrange

Ezra Klein poses a hypothesis I've heard a few times before at the end of a nice post earlier this week:
Tucked inside Abramowitz’s take is an interesting structural prediction about American politics: As party polarization increases and the persuadable middle dwindles, scandals and gaffes will become less meaningful as they’ll only be able to convince those who want to be convinced. It’s not clear that the IRS mess, Benghazi, or the DoJ/AP issue will rise to the level of being a useful test of this thesis. But something will.
It's tempting to believe that polarization is producing presidential approval results which are little more than reflections of partisanship. Barack Obama's Gallup approval history would seem to suggest that might be happening. His best rating of 69% ranks 10th best of the 12 presidents in the Gallup era, and is really in a tie for last with Nixon (67%), Reagan (68%), and perhaps Ford (71%). Everyone else had higher highs. And yet, at least to date, Obama's lowest point of 38% approval beats everyone but Ike and Kennedy. Obama's overall average to date is 49%; since the beginning of 2012, his weekly Gallup number has ranged higher than 55% and lower than 45% only once in each direction, and overall, outside of a brief honeymoon in 2009, he's been in that range almost his entire presidency.

And yet...there's no reason to believe that polarization has advanced significantly in the last fifteen years, but George W. Bush's approval ratings were all over the place. Bush holds the highest spike in the history of Gallup, hitting a soaring 90%. And when he crashed, Bush bottomed out at 25%, lower than everyone but Truman and Nixon. Bush's first term was, overall, fourth-highest (and also fourth farthest from 50%); his second term is tied for second-lowest (and also tied for second farthest from 50%).

Conclusion? Most likely, Obama's approval ratings have stayed in a narrow range mainly because there really haven't been that many events, and those that have happened have roughly balanced out. The economy has mostly been the same from 2010 on -- recovering, but not recovering enough to get people thinking "prosperity." The same, really, with foreign affairs; with the exception of the bin Laden killing, the administration can't really offer peace, but also isn't running up the level of policy disaster that occurred during the Bush presidency...good news (out of Iraq! overall casualties in Afghanistan way down!) seem to be balanced by bad (Benghazi -- the real event, not the phony scandal; the Boston bombing; various high-profile attacks in Afghanistan).

Granted, it could be that it's harder for events now to move the needle, but the reaction to events during the Bush administration just makes me very skeptical of that.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to David Boreanaz, 44. Totally impossible for me to get my mind around the idea that there are people who think of him as the guy from Bones; he still has a few more episodes as Angel, but not very many. Angel is my least favorite of the Whedon TV shows, but I am happy to see that Gunn is going to be on the Avengers show. Excellent.

Oh, I shouldn't forget the good stuff:

1. I only have a very plain blog, full of what are apparently technically called text-heavy pieces of content. Nevertheless, I agree with Chris Cillizza.

2. Sarah Kliff on the Senate actually confirming someone to head the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

3. Framing. No, not the public opinion kind; the baseball kind. Catchers, that is. Ben Lindbergh explains what a big deal it appears to be.

4. And Matt Yglesias on Star Trek -- including his best-of rankings. Only one quibble, really: I still think the torture episode of Next Generation is pretty awful. He underrates the Kirk series, but I'll give him that on changing tastes and standards over time. He nailed the movies, though. Maybe I'd put First Contact a bit higher, but no real complain there. I do think, on his main essay, that the quote that best captures the Star Trek idea is the cultural imperialism speech that Quark makes at one point about root beer and the Federation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Harry Reid and Senate Reform

Brian Beutler has the latest on Harry Reid's current plans, or at least his current rhetoric.
Reid’s decision to eschew significant reforms to Senate filibuster rules at the beginning of the current Congress — and his continuing reluctance to revisit those rules despite recent filibusters of cabinet nominees — angers allies both on and off of Capitol Hill.

But he continues to approach the issue cautiously.

“I’m not going to do anything now, precipitously,” he said. “But I’m looking at this very closely…. We’re going to fill that job. Cordray is there now. He’s going to get a vote.”

Reid wasn’t able to explain why he believes (or claims to believe) Cordray will ultimately be confirmed. But he alluded to the possibility that he may pursue a rules change mid-session.

Good reporting, but I'll make two points about it.

1. One of the pieces here is that Harry Reid has to educate everyone, contrary to the conventional wisdom pushed in large part by reformers over the past few years, to the reality that the rules can be changed during a session of Congress. Probably necessary if he wants to get buy-in from editorial boards and good government types. As is really demonstrating just how bad the problem is in ways they can understand -- remember that numerous reporters claimed that the Hagel nomination was the first to be filibustered during Obama's presidency, despite the plain fact that every nomination has been filibustered during Obama's presidency.

2. Don't assume that Harry Reid has a lot of autonomy here. Even Speakers of the House must be responsive to their conference, but Senate Majority Leaders really just don't wield all that much influence. They are servants of their caucus, not masters of it. Reid can't do anything at all here without 51 of the 55 Democrats, and if (again) he wants to keep the good government folks on his side, he's going to need all or almost all of those with him. And if they don't want to? He has very few ways to influence them.

Worth repeating: the bottom line here is that almost every Democrat would prefer an outcome that allows most nominations to pass by simple majority vote while leaving the basic filibuster rules intact. They probably prefer eliminating the filibuster to complete and total obstruction...but there's almost certainly some point at which partial obstruction is more acceptable for them than reform. And that's a reasonable position!

And of course, the level of obstruction, while unprecedented and thoroughly unjustified, is still not total. And it's not even clear what the level is at any particular time.

All of which makes Harry Reid's job a lot more difficult than it might seem.

Young Voting Update

Takoma Park, Maryland, has gone ahead: they've lowered the voting age for local elections to 16. Excellent.

We're talking a suburb of 17K citizens, so it's not exactly a ton of 16 and 17 year old voters. Not to mention that giving them the vote only for local elections isn't exactly likely to produce stampedes at the polling places. Still, it's something. More about the case for teen voting here.

What we really could use is a state deciding to give this a try for all elections. Who wants to step up? Hey, state legislators -- here's an issue available for you which could attract a fair amount of publicity. Someone step up and give it a try!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to David Krumholtz, 35.

And a little good stuff:

1. John Huber studied electoral systems and ethnic politicization: "[I]n fact PR is associated with lower levels of politicization.   This finding has important implications for constitutional design in divided societies and provides fact-based evidence supporting advocates for PR."

2. Dan Drezner on Richwine.

3. W.W. on Richwine.

4. And Emily Bazelon on the Obama War on Leaks.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Catch of the Day

So many "scandals," so many silly analogies -- but Steve Benen appears to be exactly correct about Lamar Alexander's ridiculous comparison between Iran-Contra and Obama Administration efforts to raise money for publicizing options under the ACA. Benen:
In order for Alexander's comparison to make sense, here's what would have happened: imagine Obama asked Congress to approve the Affordable Care Act, but instead, Congress did the opposite, approving a measure ordering the president not to change the existing the health care system. Obama, undaunted, sold weapons to North Korea and then used the profits to do the opposite of what Congress instructed.
That sounds about right.

Benen's whole post is good, but I'll expand some of the history, anyway. He notes that there's plenty of precedent for public-private partnerships in these kinds of cases. Alexander's point is that if Congress doesn't fund it, the government can't pay for it. That's correct -- but that's not relevant here, since what HHS is doing is finding funds for a private entity ("Enroll America"), not a government agency. Alexander thinks that doesn't matter because the Contras were also a private agency, but the major difference is that in the 1980s the Boland Amendment and other law specifically prohibited the government from doing anything to help the Contras; the narrower issue of Iran-Contra was whether that prohibition applied to National Security Council staff. In this case, while Congress didn't supply any money for HHS to fund Enroll America, they did not specifically tell HHS that it couldn't implement the law as part of their normal responsibilities.

At any rate, Alexander has forgotten even more: the larger problem of Iran-Contra wasn't that the administration was raising private funds for the Contras; it was that the Reagan Administration retailed weapons to Iran and then used the profits elsewhere. That's not the executive raising money from the private sector for something in the private sector; that's the executive generating new funds that they control and that Congress can't touch. Indeed, the real scary part of Iran-Contra (and here, I'm working from memory) was the idea that this could be self-sustaining; the executive branch could develop permanent funding streams that Congress would have nothing to do with. That would indeed upset the Constitutional balance, and that's probably the core of why Iran-Contra was such a large scandal.

And back to Benen's point: unlike the Contra war, which Congress opposed and was trying to stop, the ACA is actually law; it's the responsibility of HHS to attempt to carry it out as best it can. Certainly, if there's no funding for a specific task, they can't spend money on it. But there's no Congressional prohibition against trying to execute this particular law; indeed, the presumption is exactly the opposite, that HHS has been told by Congress to enact Obamacase as best as it can.

And meanwhile: Nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to George Lucas, 69. Despite everything. Graffiti and Star Wars is still a one-two punch that stacks up with the very best, and then add his contributions to Empire and Raiders, and the good bits of the rest of his career (and I remain a big fan of Jedi)...He couldn't sustain it? Well, he's not the only one; he just did it in a way more public way than most.

And some good stuff:

1. Brendan Nyhan on the scandal(s) he predicted.

2. Fenno's Paradox and re-election, from Michael Ensley.

3. So much for rebranding, Ed Kilgore notes.

4. I think Conor Friedersdorf's continuing insistence that the War Powers Act matters is wrong, maybe even silly, but he's right about the CIA and Benghazi. The obvious answer, of course, is that Republicans don't actually care about the policy disaster in Benghazi.

5. And Abby Rapoport on the next approach for the US labor...oh, movement is too optimistic, isn't it? At any rate, the next thing they're going to try.

Monday, May 13, 2013

You Call That a Cover-Up?

Obviously, things don't have to be as bad as Watergate to be important malfeasance, but given all the loose talk about "cover-up" and "worse than Watergate" in the context of Benghazi, I figured it was worth just pointing out quickly the general outlines of the Watergate cover-up. 

* The cover-up was essentially directed by the president, overseen by the White House Chief of Staff, and at the operational level run by the White House Counsel. 

* A false story was concocted.

* Both at the White House and at the campaign committee, everyone involved destroyed evidence. 

* Low-level people arrested for the initial break-in were paid off to stay quiet; they were also promised pardons (or at least pardons were hinted at). Among those directly involved in directing and raising funds specifically to be used for hush money were the White House Chief of Staff and, probably, the President of the United States.

* Others lied to the FBI and to a grand jury; the White House Counsel prepped them for the grand jury so they would stick to the cover story.

* The White House counsel also arranged to receive regular briefings from Department of Justice prosecutors, including FBI interview reports, so that the cover-up could stay one step ahead of the law

* When that arrangement became public and collapsed, the president himself began receiving regular briefings from the Department of Justice, about their prosecution strategy, including grand jury testimony, which he then shared with targets of the prosecutions. That arrangement only stopped when the president pushed too hard for information, and really only stopped for good when a special prosecutor, beyond the reach of the president, was appointed.

* The President of the United States had his chief domestic adviser, the second-ranking White House staffer, order the CIA to tell the FBI to stop the investigation based on a false claim about,

* Part of the reason for the cover-up was to protect illegal White House operations (Watergate itself was basically a campaign operation, although with plenty of blurry lines). The president specifically ordered the head of the the Department of Justice Criminal Division not to look into an illegal White House activity based on a false claim of national security.

* And that's just the internal story -- the real cover-up. To the public, the Nixon Administration falsely claimed that the White House was not involved in the original crime, falsely claimed that his White House Counsel had carried out an investigation and written a report clearing the White House, and denied several -- maybe dozens -- of specific, true, press reports. 

By the way, I'll stick with what I always say about this: it's the crime, not the cover-up, that gets people in trouble. The reason for the Watergate cover-up was that specific crimes had been committed, crimes which could have (had they been confessed to in June 1972) sent much of the senior White House staff, much of the campaign organization, and perhaps the President of the United States straight to prison. 

And, for those who are not following my Watergate updates, the above does not include the cover-up of the cover-up; once the initial cover-up collapsed in spring 1973, the president then initiated a new cover story which falsely claimed that he himself had not been involved in the cover-up at all. Because, again, the alternative was admitting the truth, which was worse.

Oy, Fournier

Say what? 
Why does this matter? Because a president’s credibility matters. President Bush’s second term effectively ended when Americans grew tired of his administration’s spinning and dissembling over Iraq and Katrina. They stopped trusting him. They stopped listening to him. He no longer had the moral authority to lead.
That's Ron Fournier on Benghazi and the IRS story, and it's dead wrong.

What hurt, and then destroyed, Bush's approval ratings was very simple: events. There was no way to spin the ongoing policy disaster in Iraq from summer 2003 through, well, pretty much the end of the Bush Administration. There was no way to spin the drowning of a major US city (including the parts of that which were mostly unfair to the administration). There was no way to spin a recession from the end of 2007 on, or the financial disaster in fall 2008. 

Generally, if we follow Neustadt, it's better to think of these "credibility gap" arguments has applying mainly to Washingtonians -- people who directly or indirectly deal with the president -- rather than to mass publics. Voters, as such, don't pay close attention to whether the president is trustworthy, at least not as a separate category from whether they think much of him, which in turn is probably not really a separate category from (1) partisanship and (2) events. 

That's easy to see in the presidency of Bill Clinton, right? Clinton certainly lied, and was caught lying, with regard to the Lewinsky scandal. But his popularity went up during that period. Why? Surely not because of his "moral authority to lead!" No, it was because of every president's best friends, peace and prosperity. 

Now, obviously, it is possible for scandals to affect presidential popularity -- see Watergate in 1973-1974 and Iran-Contra in 1986-1987. But even then, my guess is that what the presidents did mattered as much as anything -- and of course, with Watergate, the lies were much larger and more consistent than anything that's even been hinted at so far with Obama. 

I do think that presidential credibility matters in Washington. By the end of his presidency, neither Democrats nor Republicans really trusted George W. Bush very much, and that mattered -- see, for example, Republican resistance to TARP, among other things. But I think it's the wrong way to think about voter views of the president.
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