Saturday, August 31, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Well, Syria, obviously. I'm going to mention, however, the latest confirmation that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is going nowhere anytime soon. Really could be a very big deal.

It sure was an unusually newsy week for the last week of August, no?

Not sure what I have for "didn't matter." How about impeachment talk? I'm as guilty as anyone for picking up on stray comments by GOP politicians, and in some symbolic sense one could make a case for it being important, but I'm not really sure the comments do matter.

What do you think? What am I missing? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Elsewhere: Heritage/GOP, Syria, more

I put together my thoughts on Syria in a Plum Line post this afternoon. Sort of an extension of what I've already said around here, but a bit more.

Oh, and I liked this one from yesterday about Heritage and the GOP. But mostly because the Post's editors let me use, for the Republican realization that Heritage may have different goals and incentives than GOP politicians: "Sokath, his eyes uncovered!"

Oddly enough, they changed "weed" to "pot" in another post yesterday. Really, I think "Weed and the complexity of giving the president a hard time" would have been better, no? Shaka, when the walls fell.


The Fed Chair circus is (mostly) great.

Here comes some more Obamacare misinformation.

A quick shutdown/default overview

Catch of the Day

The first thing to understand about the “special” relationship is that it doesn’t exist in the real world...

Somehow the alliance–which had nothing to do with attacking anyone–survived [Vietnam and Suez]. It will suffer no real damage from one vote on Syria.
Yup. There are good reasons for the US and UK to be close allies -- otherwise they wouldn't be! But that doesn' t mean they must always agree.

Indeed: to the extent that their behavior, as opposed to basic interests, have anything to do with keeping the alliance strong, surely they're better off disagreeing when their interests diverge.

I'll slip in one more point here...I don't want to overly minimize the importance of US military action. If what's expected now takes place, people are going to die in Syria. And to the extent that the action does or doesn't deter future use of chemical weapons? Sure, that's important. There's also the very real risk of something going wrong; as much as I've harped on Barack Obama's willingness to accept losses and walk away instead of getting stuck in quagmires, there's always the chance that this time is different. Not to mention the possibility that what the US does will have unexpected terrible consequences for Syria, and the region.

And yet...I do get the sense that a lot of people out there are treating this as an opportunity to re-argue the invasion of Iraq. As far as we know there's nothing even remotely similar to that going on here.

Look, again, I don't mean to dismiss this. Yes, missile strikes are a capital letter Act of War -- how could they not be? But to say that the US is Going to War just doesn't really capture what's been proposed. At least, what is apparently being proposed. As far as I can see, and keeping in mind all those potential downsides, the stakes here are actually fairly low here. At least for the US.

At any rate: nice catch!

Forced To Be A Jerk Over Impeachment

Yeah, only a jerk would point out that "impeachment" is what happens in the House, while trail and conviction, or acquittal, or "Not Proven," is what happens in the Senate. Well, I'm afraid today I'm just going to be that jerk.

In response to a Kay Steiger inforgraphic over at TPM, which asks:
Republicans are talking a big game about impeaching the president...Could they actually pull it off? 
And concludes that, no, they couldn't, because the Senate.

But of course 218 Republicans in the House certainly could impeach Barack Obama.

(As long as I'm at, technically, it doesn't have to go through the Judiciary Committee, either.)

Why does anyone care? Because it surely is worth noting that Republicans can, if they want, impeach the president. Hell, they can do it once a day, and have a special session on Sundays to do it twice. And they can force the Senate to dispose of it, which would certainly tie up the Senate floor for quite some time, even if the whole thing is a joke.

And, as with shutdown and a default, I'm pretty confident that John Boehner wants no part of it, having learned that lesson very well when Tom P. Baxter was Speaker. And yet, as with shutdown and default, there sure is plenty of demand for it within the conservative marketplace (see this key point from Paul Waldman), and therefore, as Joaquin Andujar always said, youneverknow.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bill Daily, 86. Of course I'm a big Bill Daily fan; you knew that, right?

The good stuff seems to have more political scientists and a lot more Syria than usual:

1. Molly Jackman on discharge petitions -- and the immigration bill.

2. James Fearon on Syria.

3. Deborah Avant on Syria.

4. I already linked to this one at the other place, but it helped my thinking a lot so I'll repeat it here: Charli Carpenter on Syria.

5. And Dan Drezner's "Shatners." Unfair! To Kirk, that is. On content...I'm skeptical that there isn't something worse than the last one on his list, the Somalia misadventure.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Obamacare Disappearing Already?

TPM today has a nice collection of ads for the various health care exchanges. Except the word "exchanges" isn't mentioned in the ones that I looked at. Nor are words such as "Obamacare." Or "Affordable Care Act." Or even "government." A couple of them did hit on the word "affordable," I suppose.

Which is as good an excuse as any to trot out again my claim that if the ACA works, it will disappear. That is, few will realize that they've had any interaction with "Obamacare" at all. They may be only marginally more aware of the government's role in making health insurance affordable than most employees with good (government subsidized, through the tax code) employer-provided health insurance are now.

Seriously: watch a couple of the ads. How many people do you think will associate the Hawai'i Health Connector with Obamacare? I'm thinking no more than 10, 15%. Could be a lot less. Even, I'm guessing, when people actually go to the web site once it's up.

Of course, the other half of this I've been talking about is that while the actual program disappears, the mythical one can live on, at least within the conservative information feedback loop.

And if things go wrong -- whether it's glitches with the software, or larger problems -- then it won't be invisible at all.

But mostly, I think the odds are that it will work reasonably well, and most people will wonder what ever happened to Obamacare.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jim Brady, 73.

1. Andrew Sprung on Obama's speech. And yes -- I noted the lack of GBA, too. Maybe Fallows got to him!

2. Jamelle Bouie on Obama's speech.

3. And Laura Sjoberg on networking at APSA. Good advice, as far as I can tell, although I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I'll toss in my two cents: keep in mind that if someone (an important scholar, a senior colleague, someone you took a class from in grad school) ignores you or otherwise doesn't seem to treat you as well as you hoped, it may well be that person's poor social skills, not anything at all about what he or she thinks of you.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Elsewhere: Immigration, Age Limits, More

I'm mostly over at Greg's place this week, so I guess I should drop one of these "elsewhere" posts by now, no? Let's see...

Yesterday, I responded to an excellent Ezra Klein post and asked (and partially answered) the question of what should incoming Senators read?

This afternoon at Plum Line, I said that the "calendar" as an obstacle to immigration reform is bunk.

And I'm beating the drum again for eliminating minimum age requirements for federal offices.


Why going to Congress before war helps presidents

Yes, people still dislike ‘Obamacare.’ But they also dislike GOP plans to undermine it.

Conservatives make selling them out really easy

The debt limit timetable

The Iowa caucuses aren’t going anywhere

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Great judge, terrible political analyst

He's a Man You Must Believe

I never know how to take self-reports about information's probably not a very good idea to take them at face value.

But for whatever it's worth, I'm a bit intrigued at one bit from today's new Kaiser poll. It turns out that of the various sources of information about the ACA, people say they trust "your doctor or nurse" the most (quite sensibly, people claim to trust "social networking sites" the least, although that they say that doesn't, again, mean it's actually true). It's not anywhere close to the most used source; only 22 percent say they've recently heard something about ACA from "Your doctor or another health care professional." But what they hear, they say they trust.

What all this makes me wonder about is whether doctors are in fact a significant source of misinformation about Obamacare.

It's pretty unlikely, in my view, that doctors are particularly well-informed about the ACA -- at least, about the kinds of questions that consumers would have. Why should they be? I suppose some they would know about some of the cost-control reforms, at least to the extent that it directly affects them. But the whole exchanges/subsidies/mandate portion of it doesn't really have much to do with doctors, at all. At least not directly.

Meanwhile, doctors strongly tend to be Republicans, and I'd guess that doctors probably fit comfortably into the Rush Limbaugh listening demographic. The odds that doctors have heard, and would believe, various Obamacare myths strikes as very high. Are they then passing those myths along to patients (and others they meet)? And are people who might dismiss something if it was email forwarded from Uncle Larry assuming that if a doctor said it, it must be true? If so: how much of the misinformation out there does it account for?

Obviously, this is totally speculative. Any step in the logic I'm setting out here could be dead wrong, including the assumption that doctors are relatively uninformed about health insurance reform. I'd sure love to see a study about it, though.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to J. August Richards, 40.

Ah, yes, the good stuff:

1. Adam Serwer on one of the more awful reactions to the Obama years from (some in) the conservative press.

2. Seth Masket: media coverage matters for making congressional elections work well.

3. And Ben Lindbergh on Jeter's defense. Fascinating, on a subject I would have thought was long since played out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Failing Trial Balloon 101?

I have to say: if Barack Obama really does wind up nominating Larry Summers for Fed Chair, it's got to be some sort of record-breaking performance for Worst Use of Trial Balloons.

We've been hearing about the possibility for months. As far as I can tell, the reactions -- I think from both parties and all ideologies, issue positions, and experience with the potential nominees -- fall into basically three baskets:

1. Larry Summers is the World's Greatest Monster. Having him at the Fed would be an abomination (includes subgroup: Bob Rubin is the World's Greatest Monster, and Summers is disqualified by having had anything to do with him).

2. There are a handful of good, qualified, people, of whom Summers is one...but there's no reason at all to select him over Janet Yellen, who overall is the better candidate (plus a small subset of who have a different candidate)

3. Brad DeLong, who thinks that there are a handful of good, qualified, people, and who would give Summers a very small edge over the rest of the field.

OK; maybe I missed someone else in camp 3. And as DeLong points out, those are only the people, mostly outside of the administration, who will speak out publicly. But that's why you do a trial balloon! If you only want to know what your current economic team thinks, you don't need to go public to find out.

In other words, the administration put up a series of trial balloons, which were shot down, blown up, popped, deflated, or whatever else you do to balloons to make them dead, dead, dead, and gone away forever. And yet it appears that they're still going full speed ahead.

Very strange. If you want Summers, regardless of what anyone thinks, why go through all this? Just do a (relatively short, please) rollout. Or, if you do care what people think...listen to them!

Keeping this thing going for weeks and weeks for no good reason just makes it look like the White House doesn't know what it's doing. It's not the end of the world, but it's surely not a plus, either.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jim Thome, 43.

Right to the good stuff:

1. Dahlia Lithwick on Ginsburg and Scalia.

2. Good catch on Ted Cruz, from Juliet Lapidos.

3. I sort of wonder if we'll hit the point of some Republican Member of Congress refusing his or her salary -- and trying to get away with refusing staff salaries. Until then, we have this. Brian Beutler reports.

Monday, August 26, 2013

More Monday Cranky Blogging

Well, actually, it's over at Plum Line: I get cranky when people say that the Iowa Caucuses are going away. They will not.

But I'll toss in a good point that Ed Kilgore made:
You really need to dig into the details to understand Iowa, and that’s the real hold the state has over political junkies and candidates alike: the time you have to invest in the place tends to reinforce its importance.
To put it in a more positive way...

The point of primaries and caucuses isn't so much to contest the nomination; it's to generate information for party actors. Well, it also technically does determine the nomination, but because large electorates generally follow opinion leaders, as long as party actors collectively come to a decision, the chances of regular voters overturning that decision are very small. If party actors collectively -- and remember, activists or insurgents or whatever you want to call them are included in my definition there -- cannot come to a collective decision, then the primaries and caucuses to wind up determining the winner. But whether that's as an independent force or whether it's ratifying the winner of internal party decisions...well, it's harder to say.

But getting back to the question of generating information: one reason that party actors nationally are satisfied with Iowa and New Hampshire first, as opposed to perhaps rotating lots of states, is that they know a lot about Iowa and New Hampshire and therefore have relatively little difficulty understanding in context the results from those states.

At any rate, Iowa isn't going anywhere, as I said over there. And those who are constantly writing Iowa's obituary...well, they make me cranky.

The Search for the Wrath of the Conquest of the Planet of the Bride of the Son of the Return of Cranky Blogging

Oy, Fournier.

There's just about no way to get a "generational" analysis of anything right. People aren't really grouped, naturally, into generations -- Baby Boomer mythology notwithstanding.

So when Ron Fournier went to look for how the "Millennials" are going to change US politics, the odds of a train wreck were high. And, yeah, it's Really That Bad.

We learn, for example, that students at the Kennedy School aren't planning to run for office. Is that news? I have no idea! I don't know how many similar students thirty or fifty years ago wound up running for office, or what their plans were at a similar life stage.

We learn...well, I'll quote:
College students increasingly prefer the private sector, graduate school, or non-profit work, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s analysis of the 2011 National Association for Colleges and Employers Student Survey. In 2008, 8.4 percent of students planned to work for local, state, and federal governments after graduation. That number reached an all-time high of 10.2 percent during the 2009 recession, before dropping to 7.4 percent in 2010.

Now, just 6 percent of college students plan to work for public sector institutions, and only 2.3 percent want to work at the federal level.
Students "increasingly prefer the private sector"? C'mon. Fournier is apparently putting a ton of "generational shift" weight on a shift from 2009 to now), which makes no sense at all. There's nothing at all here about comparable data from the 1980s or 1960s. Or how well college preferences line up with actual career choices. And even within these data, it seems far more likely that the year-to-year shifts are either meaningless reactions to the latest news, or even more meaningless random variation. It's hard to believe that there's something truly radical going on if the "all-time high" in the other direction was just a few years ago.

And it's not the only time he does that in this article:
Diggles is the first to admit that, contrary to conventional wisdom, her party does not have a lock on the youth vote -- and thus Democrats are not immune to the withering forces of generational change. For instance, she says, 51 percent of Millennials believe that when government runs something it is usually wasteful and inefficient, up from 31 percent in 2003 and 42 percent in 2009: “Hardly a ringing endorsement for a bigger government providing more services.”
But how do those numbers compare to sentiment in the general population? This sort of thing, again, goes up and down all the time in reaction to events and political fortunes (note that lots of indicators of government approval jumped up after the September 11 attacks; that 2003 number may be unusually low for that reason). But it's not at all clear that it matters in any way at all. There are some political preferences that are "sticky" over time (such as party identification), but others just aren't; they're just answers to pollster questions.

All of this, to Fournier, are "hard data" that back up his conclusions, which are about how the parties are going to be replaced by apps, or something like that: "The GOP and (less likely) the Democratic Party could die." Oh, and he has "experts on the Millennial Generation say they can easily envision a future without a two-party system." Perhaps so -- but perhaps Fournier should have checked with some experts in, well, the two-party system. It exists not because of some particular technology or ideology of government, but because of the very logic of large democracies and a first-past-the-post electoral system.

Or, perhaps, I'm just an old guy who can't see something new coming. But here's the thing: these millennials have actually been around for a while now (the oldest, by Fournier's definition, are thirty), and there's no sign yet of anything like that. Instead, the parties are if anything getting stronger and more institutionalized. It's nothing like the real crack-up and destabilization of the parties that happened when the baby boomers first entered the political scene, although to be fair the disruptions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s only sometimes had anything to do with baby boomers as a group.

Basically, what Fournier finds is that high school kids, college students, and Kennedy School students are perfectly comfortable mouthing the same anti-party sentiments that have been popular in the US for a century or more; that many of them also like to repeat anti-politics rhetoric that's been popular for even longer; and that many of them believe that there's something "new" coming that they get and their elders don't, which is probably how the younger generation has thought since forever.

Hey, there may be something to all of this, but it's just not here. For example, Fournier is concerned that millennials aren't going to run for office...but it would be nice to check and see what the oldest of this cohort is actually doing in state and local elections, and to compare that with what people in their 20s were doing in 1995 or 1975. But throughout the piece, there's no hint of any baseline that would allow us to see how anything happening now is any different from what happened before.

Of course, new technologies and new ways of thinking will change the parties and how government works...which is the story of pretty much all the time. The parties we have now are a lot different from the parties of the 1960s, or the parties of the 1930s, or the parties of the 1890s; the government we have now has some continuities, but plenty of disruptions, too. I'm sure there will be disruptions to both the parties and the government in the future, too! But there's nothing at all here to tell us anything about any of that.

Yeah, it's enough to make me cranky.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Chris Pine, 33. He's okay as Kirk, I suppose; not bad enough to keep the first movie from being quite entertaining, but certainly not even remotely good enough to rescue the disaster of the second movie. You know what? I definitely at this point hate Star Trek Into Darkness a lot more than I dislike Phantom Menace. And it's not because I'm going soft on Phantom Menace.

Okay, enough of that: much better to think about the good stuff:

1. Joshua Foust on Glenn Greenwald.

2. Are national security types entering electoral politics? Dan Drezner goes with the "three makes a trend" and gets a worthwhile post out of it.

3. Andrew Sprung says the time for Democrats to force a budget confrontation is sooner, not later.

4. Getting ready for Obamacare: more implementation reporting from Sarah Kliff.

5. Fred Kaplan on Syria.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

What should the US do in (or about) Syria?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What's the worst foreign policy/national security mistake that Barack Obama has made? By "worst" I mean the one with the most important consequences, so I'd also like to know what you think it has major effects.

(And technically: I'm asking for the worst mistake by the US government, or at least the presidency/exec branch, during the Obama presidency. It's always difficult to know, especially in this realm, which are presidential decisions and which are not. But the shorthand is okay most of the time).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

The events in Syria this week, and the emerging world reaction, mattered.

Not sure what I have for "didn't matter," although someone did report a poll in some state matching Hillary Clinton against one of the Republicans for 2016. Obviously, Ignore those polls!

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

I was going to argue with Jonathan Chait over the question of why college football is popular when minor league sports are not, but Scott Lemieux beat me to it and basically nailed it.

[I]f college sports would work just as well if it’s turned into a minor league, why aren’t minor-league sports popular? I can’t think of a single example anywhere in the world of a minor-league sport that even approaches the popularity of the major-league version.

The reason college athletics is the sole exception is that it’s college athletics, and not a minor-league sport. The top 500 college players could drop out and form their own league, but, like the NBA Developmental League, nobody would watch it, even if the quality of play was higher than college football.
I find the idea that Chait (or any non-trivial number of fans) will stop caring about Michigan football if players are compensated more fairly implausible in the extreme. For example, did people stop caring about Olympic hockey when (non-Soviet bloc) professionals were allowed to play? Not hardly—the tournaments became so popular even Americans were willing to watch hockey in large numbers. Similarly, fans in Ann Arbor and Tuscaloosa and Eugene and Gainesville will continue to watch NCAA football in large numbers even if players are permitted to make money when jerseys with their numbers are sold to fans.
Yeah, that has to be right.

College football has three things going for it over minor league baseball (and hockey, and I suppose the NBA Developmental League for that matter).

1. College football preceded major league football; minor league baseball basically developed after major league baseball, or at best along with hit. Minor league baseball was never the biggest event.

2. College football has meaningful games in which they contest for a championship, which is the entire point of the teams and the game (well, they have problems with it, but still). Minor league baseball is dedicated to developing players for the parent team; the pennant race, and for that matter the games themselves, is largely incidental to that.

3. And then there's the schedule. Thanks to the cartel in both major league and college football, the colleges get a window almost entirely to themselves, without competition.

I'm looking around and I can't find attendance figures for the old Pacific Coast League, but basically that one meets Chait's challenge of a minor league that approached the popularity of the major league version. Of course, the PCL was shielded from competition by geography, in those pre-TV days. But that's just a different version of how college is shielded from competition.

And you know what? A ton of people watch minor league baseball. The PCL last year averaged just shy of 6000 a game, despite all those disadvantages. No, that's nowhere near MLB, but it's still overall league attendance of 6.7 million, which is actually quite a lot of people...for one of two top-level minor leagues, with plenty more below that.

Now, that's obviously nothing like elite college football. But imagine two reforms. On the one hand, imagine that the PCL went amateur -- the players maybe would get room and board, and let's say they also get education vouchers, but otherwise they don't get paid. On the other hand, imagine that the PCL was a free minor league -- players were under the control of the teams, and teams really put the pennant race first. I don't really know how a top-level independent minor league would do, but I'm pretty confident that it would help more than the amateur thing.

The real way to imagine it is if the old nineteenth century American Association had somehow managed to survive as a free, top-level minor league.Or perhaps if the American League had failed to reach parity with the National League, but was successful enough to make a go of it. Is it hard to imagine such a league having real fan loyalties, and enough of a following to have a solid national TV deal -- and very solid local TV deals?

Now, while I'm totally on Scott's side of the college football argument, I don't really have a dog in that fight. What I do care about is that I'd love to see the baseball minor leagues freed. I grew up in AAA Phoenix, and I've lived for years now in AA San Antonio, and I think it's just awful that we're not allowed to participate in meaningful baseball leagues, with access (unlike today's independent leagues) to the very best players who aren't quite good enough for MLB.

Elsewhere: Gerrymanders, Obamacare/ACA, more

A new column at the Prospect today defending odd-shaped House districts, and arguing that gerrymandering in general isn't that big a deal. Note that you don't have to believe the latter in order to believe the former. One important point I didn't make in the column: compact, "pretty," districts have a predictable bias in any jurisdiction, and the people who fight over how the lines will be drawn (or at least the smart and informed ones) know what they bias is and who it helps.

Also...there's news on the ACA/Obamacare front, with a bit more reporting confirming my view that people won't realize that the exchanges are "Obamacare." Remember -- there also a number of less visible things that people already haven't realized are part of Obamacare. Anyway, I had some fun with it over at PP.

And some other recent posts:

The real choice coming for House mainstream conservatives

Newt’s party, Newt’s world

Is health insurance a good deal for ‘young healthies’?

(Pretend to) Run, Joe, run!

Catch of the Day

You probably read about that PPP poll result in which Louisiana Republicans blamed Barack Obama for Katrina. Great fun for liberals! But do read Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy for a round up of coverage and their analysis of the question, especially this:
The problem with this question should be obvious: It was asked only of Republicans and offered just two choices: Bush, who was president at the time and Obama, who was still a junior senator from Illinois. "If you ask the vast majority of Louisiana Republicans to identify the leader most responsible for the Katrina response," the conservative Louisiana blog The Hayride argued, "you’re going to get Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin as the answer. Replacing those two on the ballot with Barack Obama so that the only choices available are Bush, Obama or 'not sure' is malpractice, and mean-spirited malpractice at that....The question was designed to force Louisiana Republicans to trash the former president in “It’s Bush’s fault” fashion. And that was transparently obvious to the respondents. Anybody could see what they were trying to do. So 72 percent of those polled basically told PPP to do something anatomically impossible. 44 percent chose the most non-responsive response they could, which was to say 'not sure.' And the other 29 percent went even further and gave the in-your-face answer of Obama.
Here's what you need to remember about surveys: they don't primarily report opinions, or predicted action; they report how people answer the specific questions asked in the circumstances under which they are asked.

In many cases, the way people answer questions from a pollster does in fact have a close relationship with their opinions; in many cases, it can predict action. In plenty of other cases, however, that's just not the case.

For a common sense rule of thumb...the closer a question is to something that respondents have been actually thinking about, the better the chance of the answer indicating something we would normally think of as a real, stable, opinion. The closer a question is to something that someone is already planning to do, the better it will actually predict actions. So, in the classic case, asking someone who they will vote for tomorrow is going to be an excellent way of finding out election results in advance; asking someone who they would vote for if an election scheduled three years from now was to take place today is going to produce a very poor prediction of future actions.

So, yeah, feel free to have fun with this sort of thing...I have no problem with PPP for doing it. Just be careful not to read it too literally or take it very seriously.

And: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

 Happy Birthday to Barbara Eden, 82.

And good stuff:

1. Larry Bartels on polarization in Europe.

2. The lawsuit against Texas voter restrictions, from Molly Redden.

3. And a set I haven't read yet, but intend to: Marc Ambinder on the NSA story; Conor Friedersdorf's response; and Ambinder's last word.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Catch of the Day

For the uninitiated, HSAs are tax-preferred vehicles that provide people with bare bones insurance an incentive to put away money in the event they develop chronic illness, require long term care, or experience a costly accident. Modeled after IRAs, they allow qualified people to put pre-tax dollars into an account that can only be drawn from without penalty to pay for certain medical costs.

There’s plenty to dislike about HSAs, but that’s an old debate for another time. Instead, I’m here to ask: What mysterious, benevolent government agency do Republicans think enforces this critical aspect of their supposedly grand plan to reform the health care system? Hint: It’s three letters long.

There's certainly a tension between the GOP grovel to libertarians and real small government types, typified by John Boehner's insistence that the House shouldn't be judged by how many laws it has passed because only big government socialists pass laws...and the GOP attempt, at times, to actually propose 1980s and 1990s style conservative ideas. Of course, that's most obvious in the GOP hatred of "Obamacare," which after all is a 1990s style conservative idea.

The trick is that mainstream conservatives are willing to use the rhetoric of "no government at all" libertarians (or, even more so, simply nihilists) without really wanting to commit to following the actual anti-government implications of that rhetoric. So they want the credit for proposing solutions to real-life problems, pretending not to notice that the rhetoric they use against "liberal" solutions is equally valid (or not) against their own solutions. It's not just Obamacare; the same thing shows up in Republican-backed tax treatments in the current tax code such as the child tax credit (and, I suppose, the EITC). As with HSAs, you need an IRS

I'm not sure how much any of that really does constrain them, but it's certainly possible that part of the "post-policy" turn they've taken -- for example, their long-time failure to come up with the "replace" part of "repeal-and-replace" -- is a result of many conservatives taking the rhetoric too seriously.

I should add, by the way, that I don't want to say that the political/policy model implied by the more extreme anti-government rhetoric that virtually all mainstream Republicans use is per se "wrong." I would say, however, that an actual party that lived by those principles would be very, very, unpopular in the US.

And: nice catch!

Iron Law of Politics? House Republican Leaders Are Always Squishes

There's a lot of good talk this morning about the GOP House leadership's current maybe-plan to trade in the possibility of shutting down the government over Obamacare for the threat of defaulting the government over Obamacare. Regardless of how it plays out, it occurs to me that there may be an Iron Law of Politics: House Republican Leaders Are Always Squishes.

John Boehner, of course, is a well-known traitor to true conservatives. He replaced Denny Hastert, who mostly was a blank slate for most any rate, by the end of his tenure as Speaker, conservatives were quite unhappy with the drift of the House towards earmarks and spending.

Hastert replaced Newt Gingrich, who is sort of an unusual case; his demise probably had more to do with his overly centralized style as Speaker than about his lack of fidelity to conservative ideas. But conservatives never trusted him (and with good reason).

Gingrich replaced Bob Michel, who was clearly chased out as Minority Leader because he was insufficiently conservative and confrontational.

I'm not aware of any significant conservative action against John Rhodes, who preceded Michel. Before Rhodes was Gerald Ford, who everyone seemed to have liked.

Ford defeated Charles Halleck. According to one source I have (Richard Reeves' biography of Ford), the confrontation was along age, and not ideological lines...Halleck wasn't seen as a squish, or not sufficiently conservative, but just out of touch.

Halleck, however, ousted Joe Martin because Martin wasn't aggressive enough.

OK, that's the basic outline. The idea here isn't just about who is more conservative; it's a particular complaint that the current leader is always too accommodating of liberals, too ensconced in the "Washington" culture, not sufficiently confrontational, and other such complaints.

Hmmm...does that make an Iron Law? I'm mostly working from memory here. Hey, House historians! Am I getting these transitions right? The clear cases I see on transitions are Martin/Halleck, Michel/Newt, and Hastert/Boehner, with the current unhappiness with Boehner also a very good fit. I don't really know or remember enough about the pre-Michel leaders, though. I'm comfortable cutting it off with Martin, though.

Granted: at all times in every party, there are going to be moderates and hardliners, and the hardliners are going to find the leaders to be too moderate; that's the nature of an ideological spectrum, at least to the extent that spectrum is real. But I don't really see a similar dynamic happening with the other three Congressional leadership chains, especially within the House and Senate. Tom Foley might fit as someone regarded as insufficiently confrontational. There's a bit of that in the Senate, but I think it's mostly about complaints from outside interest groups and party actors about Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and Trent Lott. I don't think many Republican Senators joined in. And it's important that the complaints are regularly personal; there are (often? usually? always?) a group within the House who believe that Republicans would get much better outcomes with tougher, more confrontational leadership.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Valerie Harper, 74. Was in "Blame it on Rio." Also a Columbo. Seems totally weird to me that most young folks nowadays don't watch the classic sitcoms; one of the few things that definitely makes me feel like an old guy.

Also some good stuff:

1. I pretty much disagree with Scott Lemieux about the filibuster, but I do agree with him that it doesn't really matter what the Framers thought.

2. I still love the election reports series from the Monkey Cage. One of the most valuable things out there. This time, it's Natalia C. Del Cogliano and Mariana L. Prats on Argentina.

3. And Nixon just keeps on saying horrible things. Elspeth Reeve has more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

...And One More Thing

Yes, it's a good idea for news organizations to report on Dem and GOP WH 2016 right now. It's important. It's likely a good story.

But so is what's happening in Congress. So is implementation of various laws in the executive branch departments and agencies. So is what's happening in the White House. So is what's happening in the states. And in the courts.

Presidential nominations are absolutely very important, but so are House and Senate elections, both in 2014 and 2016. Including the nomination battles in those contests. Including not just the horse race stories and the implications for partisan balance, but also the fights over policy, and the question of what kind of Members of Congress the winners are going to be. And the same is true for gubernatorial elections and other statewide contests, and for state legislative elections.

So, yeah, by all means, cover presidential nominations right now. But keep in mind that there's a lot more to American government than the president, and a lot more to American elections than presidential elections.

On the Other Hand...

There's very little to say right now about the 2016 general election. I'm not going to say that there's no point at looking at changing demographics, or early financial mobilization, or whatever, but almost all of what you're going to read in 2013 and 2014 about the 2016 general election is going to be useless.

In particular, speculation about the electoral college is mostly a waste of time. So are the specific comparisons of how this or that candidate would do in the general election; even to the extent that candidates can matter, which is limited, it's very unlikely that we can say very much about how Chris Christie would do compared with Marco Rubio, or how Hillary Clinton would do compared with any of the alternatives. At least I'm not aware of any evidence that there's much of anything we can say at this point. It's also surely the case that most of the events of 2013 are going to be long forgotten by November 2016; not only the gaffes, but even substantial things such as votes in Congress and how laws are implemented. Well, not all of them will be forgotten, but few will have any effect on the 2016 general election vote. ACA implementation is a terribly important story, but will it change votes in 2016? Probably not. And probably not in any way that's easy to predict from where we sit now.

Again: that's not true of the nomination contests. Because, remember, the choice between Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker is a very difficult choice for most people who will be making that choice; the choice between (say) Cruz and Clinton, or between Chris Christie and Amy Klobuchar, would be a very easy choice for almost everyone.

So, yeah, go ahead and focus on the nomination contests...but it really is too early to be talking about the 2016 general election.

Official Permission: You May Think, Write, and Talk about Dem and GOP WH 2016 Without Guilt

Look, I never do this, but I think this time it's justified. I'm going to very officially give everyone permission to think about the 2016 nomination contests without guilt or apology.

I shall begin by, officially, declaring credentials. I've published on and written about presidential nominations for a long time, and I even have a fancy Ph.D. to show for (in part) my expertise about them. As a result, I wound up as co-editor of the quadrennial edited volume about the presidential nomination, I'll even throw a link to the 2012 edition, just in case you should want to buy it (which you should - it's excellent!). For whatever else it's worth, I blogged GOP WH 2012 from 2009 on, and not that I want to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty confident that if you read my stuff about it, you had a pretty good understanding of what was going on as it unfolded.

In other words, when it comes to presidential nominations, I'm a certified, qualified, expert. Not by any means the only one, or even the only blogging one, but nevertheless. And I'm pretty sure all of us agree on this one.

So I'm officially telling all of you -- reporters, bloggers, pundits, whatever: you have official permission to report on and opine on and otherwise write and talk about the contests for the 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. Right now. Because they are happening. Right now. In fact, it's been going on for months now.

I know you know this. It's not as if a bunch of candidates will show up in winter 2015-2016 in Iowa and the campaign will start know that candidates are going to Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina right now, and that they're giving policy speeches aimed at 2016 right now, and that they're working the party networks right now, and that they're staffing up for 2016 right now.

And there's nothing wrong with that! Is it too long before the election? Actually, the US is the outlier here; many nations choose their nominees for office long before the election; the British Labour Party chose their current leader, Ed Miliband, way back in September 2010, long before they'll contest a general election. Yes, there are differences that make that sensible, and yes, that's not part of a years-long public and semi-public campaign, but still: it's not necessarily a bad thing that the US has an unusually open process and unusually permeable parties. At any rate, it's the process we have.

Of course, a lot of the speculation and reporting about 2016 are junk. That will be true in winter 2015-2016 as well! Someone during that winter is going to talk about a late-entering candidate even though it's long since past time for it. Someone is going to get carried away by a no-chance candidate who has a good debate. Someone is going to start speculating about a "brokered" convention. The point here is that we should ignore (and, if you like, laugh at) the foolish pieces now just as much as you should ignore them then. That has nothing to do with whether there are good pieces now. If you decide to pay no attention until fall 2015, there's a very good chance that you'll have missed the real contest.

The bottom line is that the campaigns are going on right now. If you ignore them because you believe that they are not going on, or that they shouldn't be going on, you're going to be missing two enormously important least if you think, as you should, that presidential nomination contests are important.

So stop feeling guilty about it. Stop feeling a need to justify it. Just get on with it.


Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to James Burton, 74.

Some good stuff:

1. Discharge petition talk bubbled up again recently; Joshua Huder shoots it down. Yup -- as I've said, I think it's a lot less of a problem for the leadership to endure a Hastert violation than it is to allow a discharge petition to work.

2. Seth Masket on the parties and campaign finance reform.

3. Dave Wiltse agrees about skipping Iowa.

4. Matt Yglesias on the health care cost slow down.

5. A big thing that's still underappreciated about the ACA: it's not really one thing, but a whole bunch of marginally related things all bunched together into one bill. Outside of the specific policy issue, that's the real takeaway from a good Ezra Klein post (in which he gets to bash Peggy Noonan, so there's also that).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Yes, Madisonian Democracy Protects Minorities

Most people aren't Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jehovah's Witnesses are mildly annoying when they go door-to-door prosyletizing, so you might see a proposal to trample on Jehovah's Witnesses interests by banning them from knocking on doors. In this case, the filibuster would defend the interests of a minority group because it makes it harder to pass laws.

On the other hand, most people aren't gay and some straight people think gay sex is immoral, so gay people may be subject to discrimination in employment and other venues. You might see a proposal to advance gay interests by banning employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In that case, the filibuster harms the interests of a minority group because it makes it harder to pass laws.
Two things. One is that Yglesias places the whole debate in the context of minority groups. That's fine, but it's not the whole question; there's also minority opinion and interests. Indeed: the real issue here is probably majority and minority opinion, more than anything else.

And then...well, yes, it's not only true that Madisonian democracy has a status quo bias, but it's one of the chief drawbacks of the system. I absolutely concede that.

But his example here shows why we it can be more helpful to think about majority and minority opinion. Who is the minority in his example of discrimination against gay people? It's trickier than he thinks. If the group is just LGBT people, then they surely are a minority...but if they are a minority, then their efforts to affirmatively pass laws is going to be unsuccessful in a plain majoritarian legislature because they won't have a majority of the votes!

On the other hand, if the group in question is, say, all tolerant people who also believe in government intervention to protect against discrimination, and if that group is in the majority...well, then, it is absolutely true that the filibuster (and other Madisonian devices) might prevent them from passing laws. Absolutely true -- but not a case in which "the filibuster harms the interests of a minority group." Because in this case, the filibuster is harming a majority -- the people (assumed to be a majority) who want to pass the bill. The minority are (if the facts are as stipulated), whether Yglesias likes it or not, the people who hate the gays (and/or hate government intervention).

If, however, we want to only talk about minority groups, which is also reasonable, then we're in a bind. Because in that case lots of people, and almost certainly the plurality, don't care much either way, which means that both gay people and bigots who hate them are minorities! One or the other will be shafted. And, while one might protest that haters aren't really a "group," in fact we're probably talking here about members of certain churches (who think of their political action on this issue as a manifestation of their religious belief). We all agree, I would think, that church members are a group.

Now, it may be the case that one of these claims is more just than the other. But in my view, that's not a claim that democracy has much to do with. Democracy per se isn't (in my view) about making sure that justice prevails; it's about making sure that people can self-govern in some sort of meaningful way. Which is hard enough.

So to go back to "one or the other will be shafted," what Madisonian democracy attempts to do, in my view, is to make sure that the side that loses isn't destined to lose on everything forever or even for the medium term; that the losing side on one thing doesn't have to be on the losing side of everything; that intensity counts, so that an intense minority will (often?) defeat an indifferent majority; and otherwise ensuring that self-government does not become an oppressive rule of the majority. And it does all of that using a variety of devices and incentives to make sure, above all, that one stable majority does not confront one stable minority. For whatever the justice of that situation may or may not be, what Madison was certain of (and what keeps being proven out, from ancient times to Egypt this year) is that it just isn't stable.

If we're to return to the filibuster specifically, that's a much harder question. As I've written, I think the filibuster is most justified simply in terms of democracy when it comes to judicial nominations -- because that's exactly where other checks and balances are weakest. For legislation (and to some extent for executive branch nominations), what I like about (more limited than current) filibusters is that it strengthens individual Senators, which in my view strengthens overall self-government. But really we're not so much talking filibuster in particular here than we are talking about the general idea of majoritarian vs. Madisonian, or anti-majoritarian, democracy.

And for that, yup, Yglesias is correct that a status-quo bias is a very real problem for advocates of Madisonian systems. There's no inherent reason why status-quo bias is good for democracy...indeed, it absolutely goes against one of the major arguments for democracy -- the ability of people to collectively choose their own destiny. So I'll certainly acknowledge that drawback, and that the benefits I see much outweigh it -- which, in fact, I believe they do.

But he's absolutely wrong about majorities and minorities.

No, Really, You Can't Skip Iowa (First 2016 Edition)

Yes, it's time to roll this one out already:
The first question Team Christie will have to confront will be whether they play in Iowa at all.  (Christie adviser Mike DuHaime declined to engage questions for this story.)

The last two GOP victors of the caucuses — Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008 — were ardent social conservatives, backed by gritty grassroots networks of evangelicals, pastors and home-schoolers and bolstered by a relentless retail repertoire.  At first glance, the Hawkeye State does not look like hospitable turf for the bawdy, biting Christie who has cultivated much of his personality around losing his patience.
That's David Catanese, with a balanced approach to the question of whether Chris Christie should skip Iowa (if he runs in 2016, that is).

Unfortunately: a balanced approach is the wrong approach. The correct approach is that no one should ever skip Iowa. You basically can't win a nomination while skipping Iowa. I'm just going to repost a couple of paragraphs from what I said about this way back in 2011...

Skipping Iowa doesn't work. Most people don't pay attention to presidential politics until very late in the game. When they start paying attention -- when the non-obsessive section of the news media starts paying lots of attention -- is around the Iowa caucuses, and a candidate not playing there will, naturally, not receive the publicity that the other candidates receive. Then comes the caucuses, and another blast of publicity that the non-participant will miss. And the last bit is that the winners in Iowa will at the very least be taken more seriously, and perhaps get the kind of windfall positive publicity that Jimmy Carter in 1976 or Gary Hart in 1984 got. Note that Hart's came from a weak second place finish; the news media have to find some candidate to give the rest of the primaries and caucuses some drama.

The truth is that if you don't have a realistic chance of finishing top three in Iowa, you really don't have a realistic chance of winning the nomination. And, yes, I know that John McCain fell just short of that, but that would certainly put him in the category of having had a realistic shot at the top three.

That's what I wrote pre-2012. Just a bit more: you don't have to win Iowa. You don't need to finish second in Iowa. I'm not even convinced that you need to finish third in Iowa. You certainly don't have to go all-in in Iowa, and you certainly can try to lower expectations there. You just can't take yourself out of the conversation for several months in the heart of the nomination battle and still expect to be the nominee, and that's pretty much what happens to anyone who skips Iowa. It's not a realistic strategy.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to KRS-One, 48.

Good stuff:

1. Hey, academics: you'll want to read "How Not To Publicize Your Research" from Seth Masket.

2. Amy Fried:
Maine is the whitest state in the country (96.9% white) and Vermont is the second most white (96.7% white). Obama won both, convincingly. Twice. In 2012, Obama won 56.3% of the vote in Maine and 66.6% in Vermont. In 2008, Obama won 57.7% of the vote in Maine and 67.5% in Vermont.

And how did LePage do in Maine in 2010? Not anywhere near Obama’s total — just 38%.
3. And I'll lump the baseball ones together: Joe Sheehan on Dempster/Rodriguez, and Scott Lemieux on A Rod.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Christie, Strategic Politicians, and the 2012 Cycle

John Sides makes the point today that Chris Christie's choice to pass on WH 2012 was consistent with the pretty good chance that Barack Obama would be re-elected. Strategic politicians, John says, consider the chances of winning in their decisions about running, and that
a strategic candidate might have looked at the landscape in 2011 and said, “You know what, I’ll have a better shot in 2016.”  And we aren’t suggesting that there aren’t idiosyncratic factors at work either.   It’s just to say that Christie’s decision was nicely in line with what political science says.
Put that way, I would have to agree. And yet.

If we can assume that Christie really did have a very good shot at the nomination...had he asked me at any point in 2011 whether he should run or not, I would definitely have said to go for it.

Yes, the economy plus a first-term president made any Republican a legitimate longshot. However, the economy was rocky enough in 2011 that a significant downturn was a very real possibility. And then there's the chance that Obama would have stumbled in some other way: a scandal, mismanagement of Afghanistan, or a Katrina-like disaster.

And then there's the other side of the coin. First of all, if Christie passes and Obama does tank, then Mitt Romney is president and he has a vice president (who is almost certainly not going to be Christie; it was going to be a conservative favorite), and who knows when the next open nomination opportunity might be?

Then there's the possibility that the economy keeps Obama afloat through 2012 and then really gets going after that, putting the Democrats in excellent position for 2016. John refers to Gary Jacobson on strategic politicians, and rightly so, but waiting for a shot at a House seat is a lot different from strategic choices for presidential elections -- there are just far fewer opportunities.

And that's also true on the nomination side. If it's really true that Republican party actors were ready to ditch Romney for Christie and he therefore had an excellent chance for the nomination, it may turn out to have been by far his best shot at that prize. And he could have known that in 2011, too. A significant feature of the 2012 cycle for Republicans is that thanks to Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008 followed by a Republican landslide in 2010, there were a surprisingly small number of potential Republican candidates with conventional credentials in 2012 -- but an unusually large number who were on track to have those credentials for 2016. That's something that a strategic politician needed to take into account, too.


I'm really not convinced that Christie had much of a chance at the nomination. John is reacting to an anecdote from the new Dan Balz book, that (as David Lauter puts it) "Republican notables, including Henry Kissinger, Nancy Reagan and some of the nation's wealthiest businessmen" were trying to get Christie to run. Okay, I haven't read Balz, but: meh. If Kissinger is one of the big names recruiting you...well, ever, but certainly in 2012, then you really don't have much. It's not at all clear that Nancy Reagan has had any significant independent clout within the GOP for some time now. As for those "wealthiest businessmen," if they aren't important players within the party, then I'm not sure why we should be so impressed by them. Even if they were ready to open their checkbooks.

What I actually think Christie shows is, in part, how conventional credentials work. Christie gets elected in 2009; unless he's ready and willing to run right out of the box, he's getting a very late start. Was it possible? Maybe. But surely it wasn't for those elected in 2010. By the time they could have got started, too many people had made too many commitments. And it's very possible that was the case for the class of '09, too.

But if he really had an inside track to the nomination...I'm not even sure I would have advised against going for the 1984, 1972, and 1964 nominations for out-party prospective candidates. I definitely would not have advised Christie against a run on the basis that Obama was a small, but solid, favorite.

Hey, Political Scientists!

Next week it looks like I'm going to mostly be over at Greg's place, while he and most of the political world is on vacation. I'm already looking forward to scrounging for posts for Plum Line, but I'd also like to keep something going over here. So if you happen to have an APSA paper you've written that should get some publicity, or if you encounter someone else's paper that deserves a bit more visibility over the next couple of weeks, please let me know! Can't promise anything, but I'm very likely to be looking for items even more now than usual.

Of course, this also applies to new papers (books, chapters, whatever) that aren't for the meetings. And it doesn't have to be political science...I'm open to publicizing material from other disciplines, although I'm certainly less able to figure out if it's any good. I don't do a lot of posts like that, but I'm always open to it. So if you have something, let me know.

Tweeting and Elections

I have a TAP column out today in which I'm not very kind to the sociologists who got a ton of publicity last week from a claim that "tweet share" could predict elections. I only had access when I was writing to an early version of the paper, and I wasn't impressed...but the bulk of my item was really about what polling and survey research is good for, based on one of the authors unimpressive op-ed which made implausible claims about the technique.

Blog posts here go up, usually, as soon as I write them (although every once in a while I'll write in advance and hold it, or sometimes during the day I'll hold one for a while just to keep a better flow). Blog posts at WaPo usually take half an hour or so, and it's not unusual for them to sit an hour or two. Columns are different...I almost always write the Saturday Salon column on Friday, while TAP columns sometimes take a while to go through editing, and then another wait sometimes for them to slot it in where they want. All of which is to say: since I wrote the this one, some excellent critiques of the study itself are out.

So if you're interested in the study, please read Jonathan Nagler over at the Monkey Cage, who casts quite a bit of doubt on the findings. That's the best one, but you may also want to read Rob Santos over at The Fix. And Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy are also very good at HuffPollster. Add it all up, and what you get is this: the study is a dud, and the op-ed publicizing it made claims that the study didn't even support, even if it had been solid.

Fortunately, my piece is just fine as is, even without all of that (well, I suppose it's not for me to say it's fine; I just mean it didn't depend on the tweet study actually being any good). That's because I'm primarily using the tweet study as an excuse, as I said, to discuss what polling is good for. Which is quite a lot! I know I'm always saying that people should ignore this or that poll, but that doesn't mean polling and survey research is worthless. Not at all. So if you want a short primer about what polling is good for anyway, that's my column.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jonathan Frakes, 61. Fire at will! Directed an excellent episode of Dollhouse. On the other hand: Sub Rosa. Fire at will!

Another week, another load of good stuff:

1. International treaties banning weapons...actually seem to work pretty well. From Charli Carpenter.

2. Ed Kilgore remembers Bert Lance.

3. Ezra Klein on young healthies and health insurance.

4. David Roberts on climate and conservatives.

5. Philip Klein is right about debates.

6. Josh Putnam on what, if anything, the RNC can do about debates it doesn't want.

7. And Reid Wilson introduces GovBeat. Excellent.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

I think I'll go with the same question. Presidential nomination debates, 2016: What would you like to see? Format, frequency, moderators -- what would you like?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What would you like to see for the 2016 nomination debates? Format, frequency, moderators -- what would you like?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I'll go with Egypt.

What didn't matter? I guess I can plug my Salon column here: it doesn't matter a whole lot whether GOP presidential debates are on CNN or Fox or whatever.

But I'm sure there's more out there. What have you got? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Elsewhere: Budget, More

I did sort of a summary post at Greg's place yesterday on the whole shutdown/debt limit showdown situation. One of the key differences, it seems, between those of us who think a disaster is relatively unlikely and those (Chait and Benen, for example) who think it's more likely turns out to be views of John Boehner. I think he's pretty good at what he does -- in very difficult circumstances -- while others don't see a long-term plan, and think that's dangerous.

I'll toss in another point here that I should have made in one of my pieces yesterday. I talked about the importance for conservative hard-liners for the leadership to sell them out; that's what they need to prove that they are the real conservatives. What I should have added -- and it's important -- is that it's only necessary because of the absence of real policy differences. Liberals in Congress, for example, can and do differentiate themselves from moderate Democrats by, say, prefering single-payer health care to the ACA. In fact, among Democrats, it works both ways; we could just as easily say that the moderates differentiate themselves from the liberals by choosing ACA over single-payer. It breaks down on the Republican side in part because there aren't very many Republicans at all who want to be seen as moderates, and because the post-policy GOP doesn't really supply very many policy alternatives for Members to use for these purposes. That is, there is no mainstream conservative health care plan or any radical conservative alternative; without those, politicians trying to prove their differences have to invent crazy ACA opposition strategies to embrace, so that they can bash those who sell them out over those strategies.

Others from this week:

Just how stupid does Heritage think Republican politicians are?

Reading invisible tea leaves

Not all Hastert violations are alike

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Evanna Lynch, 22.

What about some good stuff?

1. Seth Masket on political science and geography.

2. Paul Krugman on good reporting and the blogs. One point I'll make again: from 2009 through 2010, and then on through the courts and through implementation today, the coverage of health care reform has been outstanding. Outstanding. I'd love to see a study comparing it with coverage of Medicare in the 1960s or Social Security in the 1930s; my guess is that it's night and day.

3. The second and third parts of Sean Trende's look at party makeovers. I agree with a lot of this, and it's all worth reading. Again, my big disagreement is that I do think that healthy parties (1) will take better advantage of their time in office, and (2) that will strongly tend to help them stay in office. But I agree with his basic conclusion that out-party dysfunction doesn't have significant electoral effects.

4. Abby Rapoport on pre-K in Houston.

5. And Dan Drezner on networking at the political science meetings.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Fun of Nixon/Obama Comparisons

George Will trots out the lame argument today that Barack Obama is a far more serious crook than Richard Nixon ever was. Jonathan Chait does a takedown, and it's fine, but I get the sense that he's not really into it...perhaps because Will puts so little effort into his own column.

I mean, really.

Will's big case is that the Obama Administration has selectively implemented the ACA. This is picking up steam among conservatives...but Will (as Chait notes) doesn't really argue it; he merely asserts it. Truth is, it's at about the level of "he has czars!" All presidents, all executive branch agencies, need to interpret laws while they implement them. Have some agencies during the Obama presidency crossed over the line between "interpret" and "rewrite"? Probably! It's a very fuzzy line at best. Implementation really does pose challenges; virtually all laws, no matter how well written, wind up colliding with reality in unexpected ways, and that creates tough calls for regulators and administrators. However, just as with the first term "czars!" talking point, what we're getting here is the implication that no interpretation is ever needed or justified. That's just not so.

At any rate. Obama's administration delayed implementation of some ACA provisions for a year; Nixon illegally refused to spend Congressionally appropriated money, which got him slapped down by the courts and eventually overridden by an angry Congress.

Obama's administration conducted an undeclared war in Libya; Nixon's administration conducted an undeclared and secret war in Cambodia. OK, not secret to the Cambodians.

Obama's administration hounded whistleblowers and prosecuted them to the full extent of the law. Nixon's broke into a whistleblower's psychiatrist's office to (attempt to) get dirt on him, and wound up all told doing so much that the case against him was thrown out in court because of administration malfeasance.

Obama's IRS...well, Chait covers this. Unless new information suddenly emerges, Nixon is the champ here, too, and it isn't close.

Obama's NSA did a wide range of things which were probably legal, but still in the view of many constituted abuses; Nixon wiretapped government officials and reporters. And we're still pre-Church, so the FBI and the CIA are up to all sorts of things. This one is probably the least bet is that when all the evidence is in the 1969-1974 abuses will top the Obama-era abuses, but it could easily wind up being a judgement call.

And then there's the accusations, backed by at least fairly strong evidence, that Nixon spiked peace talks before he took office; I can't think of anything analogous with Obama.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh, year: Watergate. Haven't mentioned that one, yet. Well, Watergate per se; some of this stuff wound up being folded into it, but nothing about about breaking into the DNC, or for that matter about ordering the Brookings firebombing, or having an operative trail Ted Kennedy, or campaign dirty tricks, etc.

Anyway, the fun of this is that whatever the accusation against Obama, it's pretty easy to come up with something similar that Nixon actually did, but worse.

I should note: that doesn't imply that Obama hasn't done anything wrong! Just that "worse than Nixon" is the wrong place to go.

Hey, Everyone: We Haven't Avoided Shutdown Yet

The conversation over the last couple of days has moved on from the threat of an imminent shutdown of the government over Obamacare to a possible debt limit breach over Obamacare. That's thanks to reporting by Robert Costa and others that House leaders are pitching that switch to hard-liners. Which is all well and good, except:

1. Costa's an excellent reporter. Nevertheless, it's not entirely clear that he's reporting Congressional leader success -- or Congressional leader spin. It is clear that Congressional Republicans are not going to stand solidly behind Lee and Cruz, but especially in the House if a few dozen Republicans stick with the Lee/Cruz plan, then Boehner can't pass anything with a party-line vote.

2. Even if it's true that the Obamacare showdown has been delayed, perhaps I said the other day, that only brings us back to square one. Boehner still probably wants to find 218 votes for a CR to take to conference, and certainly needs to find 218 to pass a final CR that will also pass the Senate and get signed into law by Barack Obama. It's still hard to see any yes votes out of the hard-liners; it's still the case that the bulk of his conference hates voting with Democrats and against the hard-liners, regardless of substance.

I'm not saying a shutdown is inevitable. If I had to bet, I'd bet on Boehner dodging this one, too. But it's very much a touch-and-go question. It ain't over and won't be until the votes are counted, no matter what Republican leaders wish -- we're still heading for a shutdown confrontation.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Stephen Breyer, 75. Yeah, 75.

Some good stuff:

1. Sometimes, a good obliteration is exactly what you're in the mood for. If so, Amanda Hess has one.

2. "[Milton] Friedman hasn't disappeared from policy discourse; he's disappeared from right-wing policy discourse." That's Noah Smith, nailing it.

3. And Tom Nawrocki's appreciation of Jack Germond.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Catch of the Day

What Greg Sargent said:
This latest move from a shutdown-based strategy against Obamacare to a debt limit-based one (presuming it will even happen) is part of a larger pattern, in which GOP leaders try to talk conservatives out of the favored insane and dangerous strategy of the moment by promising another confrontation around some other leverage point later. Indeed, GOP leaders have done exactly this in the past, in order to avoid a confrontation over — yup — the debt ceiling...

Now we are being asked to believe that Republicans will use the debt limit — on which they caved last time — to force concessions on Obamacare. But the problem is that the timing of all of this makes this strategy even more suspect this time.
Here's the thing: no matter what happens -- no matter what the Speaker does, or who the Speaker is -- the Speaker is going to be the squish in the little morality play being staged by conservatives. Why? Because on true must-pass legislation under the current conditions of divided government, at the end of the day the Speaker is going to support, tacitly or explicitly, a deal with the Democratic Senate and the Kenyan Islamist-Atheist Socialist in the White House. Because eventually (before or after a shutdown, before or after a debt limit breach) the must-pass thing will pass, and the only way that happens is that it passes both Houses and is signed by the president. Which means that the Speaker goes along with something that the Democrats can live with.

And the way that Capital-C Conservatives prove that they're real Conservatives and not RINOs is by opposing whatever that deal is, and by making the Speaker the scapegoat. If only they had held their breath even longer, and turned an even more beautiful shade of blue, surely then the Democrats (who are both incredibly devious partisan fighters and wimps about to cave any second now) would have surrendered. The fault is with their traitorous leaders. Always.

What follows from this is a few things...

1. Boehner's kick the ball down the road might be working not because he's duping hard-line conservatives in his conference but because they need him to do it for their story.

2. Boehner's position is relatively safe, as long as he wants it in these conditions (and yeah, most Members who get on the leadership ladder at all really, really, really want to be Speaker for Life, whatever the conditions it's under) -- in large part because the opposition to him is structural, not personal, and whoever is next in line would have exactly the same problems. And everyone knows it. So the rest of the leadership is content to wait for a better time to grab the big chair -- and even the nuttiest of the Crazy Caucus don't really want to be toppling a Speaker once a month.

3. As I've been saying for a while: the specific demands of those who aren't going to vote for the eventual deal really don't matter very much.

None of this means there won't be a shutdown or a debt limit disaster. Boehner will still need the votes, and that's going to be hard; even beyond that, brinkmanship always carries with it the danger of miscalculation.

But, yeah, the Speaker has developed a solid record of ducking disaster in these showdowns, and there's a good chance he's on course to do it again.

And: nice catch!

Jack Germond

Jack Germond, presidential politics reporter, RIP.

Germond was, at his peak in the Reagan/Bush years, mainly known for two things: his quadrennial books (with Jules Witcover) about the presidential elections of 1980 through 1992; and his appearances as a regular on The McLaughlin Group. He and Witcover also had a syndicated column for years.

The books were...well, they carried on the tradition of White's "The Making of...", which these days is "Game Change." As I remember them (and I think I read at least the 1984 and 1988 editions, maybe more), they had the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. The strengths are that good reporters can amass a mountain of data; the weakness is that they usually present that data as evidence for the importance to campaign outcomes of all sorts of day-to-day minor events and strategies. I definitely don't want to say that the events they tell are unimportant in an absolute sense; they're just usually unimportant to campaign outcomes, especially general election outcomes. Germond and Witcover had the bad luck to have competed, in 1988, with Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes, which is simply a much better book than any of the other "The Making of..." successors, but otherwise their stuff was first rate for what it was.

As far as the Group: Germond was really good at TV. He cultivated a cynical, seen-at-all persona that played really well off the insane host (captured nicely by Dana Carvey in a bit someone linked to this morning). The McLaughlin Group really was a big deal in those years, at least for a while, when CNN was new but many people still didn't have cable TV.

And he supplied Triple Crown picks for the Hotline (hey, current Hotline editors -- I'm available if you need someone for that important task), and apparently retired to Charles Town race track.

He shared the faults of his generation of reporters, but he had more than the average amount of the virtues. I was a big fan.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bruce Thomas, 65.

Good stuff:

1. Good summary by Ramesh Ponnuro of the case against Newt's revisionism about the 1995-1996 shutdown.

2. An argument for the fact-checkers from Lucas Graves.

3. Byron York on the rodeo clown that's been in the news.

4. Seth Masket on Colorado recalls. One question for him: if successful recalls have an additional benefit of intimidating everyone else, what about unsuccessful recalls? Do they intimidate because it's a pain to go through even an unsuccessful recall -- or do they backfire because they reveal the weakness of the recallers?

5. And the New York Times covers one of the great ones: Russell Baze.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Smart But Mistaken Case Against A Healthy Party

This may be a little unfair, but I'm going to react in advance to a three-part series by Sean Trende about party makeovers. Despite that he's only published part one.

Trende proposes to answer seven questions about elections:
1) What if elections are simply random?
2) What if it really is just the economy, stupid?
3) What if Republicans actually aren’t that out of step ideologically?
4) What if party makeovers don’t work?
5) What if the American people just automatically self-correct?
6) What if this period of introspection is just what out-of-power parties do?
7) What if it makes no sense for a party to think more than 10 years out?
Part one, today, answers questions one and two. It's okay, I suppose, although there's a more straightforward way of making the point he's trying to make. Rather than asking his first two questions, what I think he really wants to say is that presidential elections from at least the 1970s on, and probably well before that, are best thought of contested between two basically evenly matched parties with results mostly dictated by "fundamentals" such as the economy, presidential popularity, and other pre-campaign objective factors. I mean, it's true (as Trende says answering his first question) that election results could easily just be random variation, but in fact we know very well (as he points out when turning to the second one) that election results are not random at all.

At any rate, Trende's main point as I understand it so far is that the underlying fundamentals of an election year, and not the current health of the parties, is the main driver of election results -- and in that, he's exactly right:
So maybe all of this talk about party rebranding and the success of the Democratic Leadership Council running to the center may be irrelevant, or at least mostly irrelevant. It’s pretty clear to me that if Bill Clinton had run in 1984, he would have lost in a landslide -- probably not as big of a landslide as Walter Mondale, but still a landslide. If he’d run in 1988, he probably would have lost, although the election might have been close. We’d probably then conclude that DLC centrism was a ticket to oblivion, and celebrated the revival of New Deal liberalism when Tom Harkin defeated Bush in 1992.
And yet...

The next question, and one that Trende's seven questions doesn't get at, is whether the "fundamentals" are fixed -- or if they can be powerfully affected by the health (or lack thereof) of a party.

The party in office, that is. I'm with him about the party out of office; they have to be in extremely bad shape to lose their opportunities to cash in on in-party difficulties. It can happen...that's Goldwater and McGovern (both of whom turned solid defeats into even worse landslides).

But in office...a dysfunctional party in office can strongly affect, if not actually determine, the fundamentals of subsequent elections. That is, we can think of the failures of both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush as party failures, not personal failures of an incompetent president (or as random fluctuations of the economy and foreign policy which would have happened to any president of either party during those years).

My own view? The DLC and other 1980s efforts to reform the Democrats were largely irrelevant. The big problem for the Democrats had been earlier, with the crackup of the party over race and Vietnam after 1964 (with roots going back decades, to be sure). By the time Walter Mondale beat Gary Hart in 1984, all that was mostly ancient history, and the Democrats after 1982 were probably as ready to govern as they were in 1992. They just didn't have much chance, thanks to election-year fundamentals -- but to the extent they did, in the House after 1982 and the Senate after 1986, they were fine.

Nor is it clear what, if anything, could have prevented Democratic problems in the aftermath of Vietnam and the slow-motion realignment of Southern Anglo voters (with the latter surely something that virtually all of today's mainstream liberals believing was a worthwhile tradeoff for the gains in justice from civil rights). The particular disaster they got (an ill-formed nomination process and terrible nominees in 1972 and 1976, and especially the particular awful nominee that popped up in 1976) were probably somewhat random and perhaps avoidable, but the problem in the party was real.

The current Republican dysfunction has been building for years, but if you want a marker on it a good one is the House GOP revolt against George H.W. Bush's budget deal in 1990. Since then, Republican dysfunction hasn't affected elections when they were the out-party (especially in 1994 and 2010), but it's probably made them less capable of governing, which caused problems for them at the ballot box in 1996, 1998, 2006, and 2008. And, I'd say, 2004: a more successful George W. Bush first term might easily have produced a Nixon/Reagan type reelection.

Now, you have to make an argument here that Bush was an awful president (and that the Newt-era and Boehner-era Houses were dysfunctional) as a systematic consequence of Republican Party dysfunction. As regular readers know, I think that's a very big part of the truth (see, for example, my recent Salon column about the party of Newt and Nixon). Which then gets to the question of what can anyone do about it if the Republican Party is dysfunctional in ways that make it less likely to govern successfully...and I'm not sure what the answer to that one is.

Basically, however, the critique here of what Trende is (as far as I can tell) up to is that treating the fundamentals as external to the (governing) party's health is a real mistake. It's not a full causal connection, of course; recessions and recoveries, and war and peace, and natural disasters, and all the other things that can be part of those "fundamentals" are not pure functions of the health of the incumbent party. But healthy parties, and the good politicians they elect, are in a much better situation to capitalize on the good things and avoid the bad ones.

All of which means that the Republican Party would be smart to get its act together -- not so that they can win office, but so that they can get more out of it and have it last longer when they do win. 
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