Thursday, October 24, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Kevin Kline, 66.

Good stuff:

1. Andrew Sprung argues with me about GOP dysfunction and the Constitution. My point: unless you can show that GOP dysfunction is a consequence of the Constitution or that it is particularly harmful because of the system of separated institutions sharing powers, then you're not making a Constitution argument. I don't believe that the Linz argument does the former, and I disagree that it succeeds on the latter. 

2. Dan Drezner assesses the Obama Administrations motives on Syria policy.

3. And more Colorado politics and parties from Seth Masket. Question: would a particularly nice ambassadorship solve this one? 


  1. #3:
    It’s actually 607 small islands in the South Pacific. Interestingly, while its total land mass is only 270 square miles, it occupies more than a million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. Population is 127,000 and the U.S. Embassy is located in the state of Pohnpei and not, as many people believe, on the island of Yap.

    Why would a person have that information at their disposal?


  2. In both Sprung's retort and Jonathan's original, GOP dysfunction is a sort of parlor trick: in Jonathan's case, its driven by a charlatan (Gingrich), in Sprung's its systemic; in neither is it remotely organic. (About which, interestingly, PF pushed back against Sprung's post - and hit the nail squarely on the head).

    Folks like Jonathan and Sprung should come spend some time out here in my humble neighborhood in flyover country. Out where the SUVs are abundant and the post-secondary degrees are sparse. Where Fox News and AM radio throw a shadow over everything.

    Y'all would surely feel uncomfortable, here, at first - but before long I think the cultural dislocation my neighborhood feels would start to be coherent to you - as PF noted, its a very real phenomenon, and not the kind of thing that can be solved by reversing trickery with more tricks.

    1. For example, why are those irrational Republicans so opposed to Obamacare, in particular pushing to delay or discard the individual mandate?

      Maybe it especially sucks for a lot of them?

    2. Yes, for those who have insurance already and don't have pre-existing conditions. Cost will go up in states where, previous to ACA, insurers were allowed to exclude people with health issues. I live on one of those states with little or no competition, but with a long-standing law that anyone had to be accepted. And our cost go down.

    3. Sure - and I absolutely don't mean to sound flip - but if the ACA is (comparatively) a help to you, you will be happy with it; it if isn't, you won't. The fact that the "isn't" folks tend to be concentrated in places accused of *the crazy* is hardly a coincidence; my neighbors may be none too bright, but they don't need a charlatan to rouse their opposition to things that aren't in their interest.

    4. CSH, I think those neighbors will also be relieved that their cousin with a history of cancer can now get insurance. The pre-existing condition ban doesn't begin until Jan. 1; at which time I think you'll be surprised how some opinions might change, despite slight increases in cost. For the system to work, to bend the cost curve, will take some time; but if it does work, they'll also see their premiums decline as the deficits of uncovered care work their way out of the system.

    5. I live in a very red county myself, and the people I hear complaining most about Obamacare are those who either get their insurance from their employer, or from Medicare--those, in other words, who don't have to worry about the mandate.

      Note that you don't have to have silver-level coverage (the kind priced out on that linked graph) to avoid the penalty. In addition, if the required contribution for the cheapest bronze plan in your exchange is more than 8% of your income then you are exempt from the mandate.

    6. CSH:

      1. I don't think it's just about the Newt/Nixon/McCarthy legacy; I also think it's about the conservative marketplace, which in turn is to a large extent about the consumers in that marketplace.

      2. I cry foul! I'm sure you can get more "flyover" than suburban San Antonio, but not *much* more, at least not where actual people live in any numbers. And I've spent 12 of the last 13 years here, with the other one in small town Indiana. Plus I grew up in Phoenix (I'd say suburban Phoenix, but that's redundant).

      I feel very, very comfortable in neighborhoods that have lots of SUVs.

    7. Jonathan - that was your rising Democratic star mayor giving the keynote address at last summer's Democratic National Convention, no?

    8. The real problem for the people in these states is with their conservative state governments -- that are refusing Medicaid expansion (which many of the region's workers would now quality for). Governments that have supported the conditions that left the region so inadequately provided for, in terms of health care access, before reform. (Gee, I guess low regulation and the "free market" don't do that great a job of providing adequate care on their own -- in a region with such high numbers of impoverished people -- too impoverished to provide health care providers and insurers with the kind of viable, lucrative market that encourages competition). In this these governments are consistent with a long history of Southern conservative governance designed to keep much of the laboring population in or near poverty and dependent (on the benevolence of employers).

      You are correct that outsiders don't appreciate the differences and unique conditions that often apply in the South. But do you appreciate why those conditions prevail? The middle class the South enjoys today developed MUCH later than, and under extremely different conditions from, much of the rest of the country. The region's comparative -- to its past -- prosperity today was achieved by selling its labor cheap (compared to the cost of labor in the rest of the country) and eschewing regulations that protect consumers and the commons, rather than, as in the rest of the country, through union activity that wrested decent wages and benefits from employers and through significant public investment in education -- as well as in other forms of social, material and cultural infrastructure. The irony is that the South was provided with the opportunity to compete in this way by massive investment in energy and transportation infrastructure (created in the 50s and 60s) provided in large part by the federal government -- infrastructure that, again ironically, was built by skilled, unionized craftsmen from outside the region.

      I lived all over the South in the 1950s and early 60s because of my father's work in the hydropower and atomic energy field -- federally supported development that led to, as it was intended to, a broadening of the region's economic base. People who imagine the 1950s and 60s as some sort of "Happy Days" Southern California idyll should understand this; in the South, there was hardly ANY middle class to speak of at that time. When my father's work took us to Atlanta in the mid-50s, for instance, the city had a population of about 350,000 and I had classmates (in my white, segregated school) who came to school, in near rags, only for the first few weeks before the cold began to make decent coats and shoes a requirement, and their family's inability to buy supplies and textbooks made the effort to get there pointless anyway. (This doesn't even begin to provide a full picture of the comparative poverty of a region in which even more prosperous classmates often asked me if I "was rich" because I had more than one dress to wear to school. Even a community's most respected members were often quite poor -- I'll never forget the invitation of a classmate, in Millegeville, GA, the daughter of a prominent family of lawyers and judges, to her family's historic Georgian home that provided me with a shocking tour of room after unheated, mostly unfurnished, rooms with mildewed draperies and moldering wall coverings.)

      It's understandable that Southerners see Reagan era economic ideas that coincide with their improved fortunes starting in the 70s and 80s as viable, and low wages and less regulation as the path to prosperity -- but they forget the federal investment that gave them the opportunity to compete in the first place. They also don't realize that their improved circumstances were very largely dependent on the cannibalizing the middle class prosperity elsewhere in the country. As such, its not sustainable.

    9. This NYT piece breaks down who's left out because of the choices made by states.

      And Coates pondered this through the lens of racism, here:

      This conversation started as 'flyover country' and shifted to the south; but there is not doubt that the poor so afflicted by the choices of Republican Governors and Legislatures did not need be. And being so afflicted should not turn into reason to blame ACA.

  3. I guess we’ve already gone 100 times around the barn with this one, but while we’re at it, can I point out a problem I have with Linz’s argument? He puts a huge amount of weight into some mystical intangible thing called “legitimacy” as if political parties and people who get involved with politics feel they must wait until they’ve won an election big time before they can actually do anything. As he puts it:

    “But what is most striking is that in a presidential system, the legislators, especially when they represent cohesive, disciplined parties that offer clear ideological and political alternatives, can also claim democratic legitimacy. This claim is thrown into high relief when a majority of the legislature represents a political option opposed to the one the president represents. Under such circumstances, who has the stronger claim to speak on behalf of the people: the president or the legislative majority that opposes his policies? Since both derive their power from the votes of the people in a free competition among well-defined alternatives, a conflict is always possible and at times may erupt dramatically.”

    As I see it, everyone who gets involved in politics at some level stakes a claim on “democratic legitimacy” whatever happened in the latest election. The Labour party in Britain doesn’t let David Cameron do whatever he wants because they respect the sacred “legitimacy” of the previous election. Oh sure in the Westminster system they are at a disadvantage, but it’s not like they are giving up until the next election. In fact they are fighting the Tories and Lib Dems with everything they’ve got on basically everything:
    Basically he’s confusing cause and effect, political parties that win big generally try and do a lot of stuff, but that’s more because their victory means they can do a lot of stuff. Parties and politicians don’t wait for the green light of “legitimacy” before they try and implement their agenda. Sure they might use language about “mandates” blah blah blah, but that’s just because politicians and parties will use any rhetorical tool at their disposal, like claiming the last election gives them a magical sense of “legitimacy.”

    I guess I should read Linz’s actual book before I pass judgment, but it seems like his whole argument is built on a foundation of sand.

  4. The most important thing to remember about Linz is that he was writing primarily about Latin America--because that is the only part of the world where a large number of democracies have adopted the US-style "presidential" system." (Sorry, Jonathan, "system of separated institutions sharing powers" is just too long; "presidential" has been around since Bagehot, and is the best convenient shorthand we have, regardless of the theoretical arguments that can be raised against the word.) For such nations, his argument may indeed have some validity; see my post where I cite one of the contributors to his book as explaining why a Prime Minister Allende might have been better for Chile than President Allende was.!original/soc.history.what-if/0k9d0qhYf_4/Ezdo0ZefpioJ Linz specifically mentioned that the US was different because of a different party system, though toward the end of his life he started to question whether it would remain so.


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