Wednesday, May 10, 2006

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Drezner dares you to explain HUD!

Most poltical scientists believe that regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study. However, most political scientists will also acknowledge that there are events that occur which simply go beyond our analytical toolkit and fall under the category of "random variation" -- in layman's terms, "we have no idea what's going on."

Which brings me to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The Dallas Business Journal's Christine Perez describes the close of a speech he gave in late April to minority contractors:

After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said canceling a government contract due to political views "is not a door you want to open."

"Whether or not it's legal, it certainly draws your judgment and the judgment of your office into question," Jillson said. "It's just not the tone you want to set."

This prompted a lot of blogosphere reaction -- as well as some coverage in the Washington Post.

Today, the story gets even stranger, as Frank James of The Chicago Tribune's DC blog The Swamp reports:

I called HUD and talked with Jackson's spokesperson, Dustee Tucker, about the incident. After talking with Jackson, she returned with information that made the matter even more extraordinary.

She essentially said that Jackson made the whole story up. He told a room full of people something happened which didn't.

"What the secretary was talking about (in his speech) was all of our accomplishments with minority contracts. At at the very end of his statement, the secretary offered an anecdote to explain politics in Washington D.C. He was speaking to a group of business leaders in Dallas and there were lots of Dallas Cowboys in the room.

"So he was offering an anecdote to say, this is how politics works in DC. In DC people won't just stab you in the back, they'll stab you in the front. And so the secretary's point was a hypothetical, what he said was an anecdote. It did not happen."....

But with partisanship in Washington so nasty in reality, why would Jackson feel he had to resort to inventing a scene like the one he described in Dallas?

Let's pick up with Tucker's explanation. "It did not happen. The secretary is not part of the contracting process here at HUD. That is handled by a senior official in our procurement office. He was offering it as an anecdote to say this is what happens. People in D.C. will come up to you, trash you, say terrible things about you, trash your boss, and then they'll turn around and ask you for money.

"So the secretary was offering it as an anecdote," she said. "He definitely said this in front of the (Dallas) meeting. But this meeting did not occur. The meeting with this official (in his office.) It was a hypothetical. He was offering it anecdotally.

"You know when you tell a joke you put yourself in first person, for delivery," she said. "You say I was on this train and so and so did this even if you know it wasn't a train. The secretary was putting himself in that first person to make the story more effective...

"The secretary was taking situations that have happened to him in the past. As you know, people come up to political figures all the time and say 'I don't like you, I don't like your politics, I don't like the president... He was blending together things that happened to him in the past."

This was all so "complicated, confusing and to be honest, a bit weird," I told Tucker.

"I can understand that," she said....

Clearly, Jackson very much would prefer to have evaporate the notion that he's torpedoeing contracts of administration critics, so much so that he'd rather push the idea that he says untruths in his speeches. Either way, it's all very strange.

I, for one, would like to thank Secretary Jackson for his odd behavior -- until now, the only thing about HUD that I had found funny since Eddie Murphy's TV series The PJs put a sign outside a government building saying, "HUD: Keeping you in the projects since the 1960's."

Readers are invited to try to divine what, exactly, Jackson was thinking over the past week.

posted by Dan on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM


I can explain it. The President ordered his cabinet to take performance enhancing drugs, but they were accidently switched with stupied enhancing drugs;). It's as good an explanation as any:).

posted by: flaime on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

what, exactly, Jackson was thinking over the past week.

Where's the Scotch?

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

More like "what was he thinking after the press and the blogs picked up his speech?"

posted by: Anderson on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

It simply won't do to evaluate the Secretaries statement from a reality based framework, anymore than the motion of electrons can be explained by Newtonian mechanics.

Mr Jackson has simply learned the lessons of the Bush administration , create your own reality. What is needed is a political science that can explain the strange universe created by Dubya.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

HUD is a bad idea from the Great Society made worse by the Republicans.

So at least it is a bipartisan mess.

And as long as Karl Rove is apart of the Bush administration do not believe anything you hear, unless it is blazingly stupid.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]


1. The event happened pretty much as described, initially.

2. The HUD Secretary sent a memo saying "do not approve".

3. The memo was ignored by professional staff; BUT

4. They denied it anyway, for a defensable reason.

5. They let the HUD Secretary believe what he wanted to believe, bcause he isn't really running the agency anyway.

6. But, now that an explanation was given, the folks answering the phone had to come up with some plausible story. This was the best they could do.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]


"regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study"

can you give an evidence for this claim? Which political theory was able to predict something, anything? (This is an honest question, not mockery. I'm just not familiar with political science.)

posted by: Lee on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]


Dr. Drezner won't like this, but here's a law. Take an ethnically divided society under a dictatorship, release the pressure of the dictatorship, and you get -- ethnic conflict. See Yugoslavia, see Iraq. Obvious? Well not to the supergenii in the Bush administration. But here is a non-obvious corrolary, if you increase the amount of ethnic diversity in a society, the amount of government action (oppression) to prevent conflict will increase. See hate speech laws in the UK, Australia and Canada (and coming to a state near you, most likely).

posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]


Actually, recent work in political science suggests that the inevitability of ethnic conflict in diverse socieities is much-overstated -- there is certainly no "law" that ethnic groups are bound to come into conflict with one another. James Fearon and David Laitin at Stanford have done a lot of work on this concept in general; see especially their piece "Explaining Interethnic Cooperation" in the American Political Science Review, 1996, Vol. 90, No. 4. They demonstrate that ethnic groups are much more likely to cooperate than to fight and provide evidence and an interesting theoretical explanation.

As far as Yugoslavia, V.P. Gagnon of Ithaca College has written a book with a fairly convincing account of what happened without referring to some innate hatred among ethnic groups. The book is The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s.

posted by: Brenton on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

IIRC, a "gaffe" is when a politican accidently tells the truth.

We have a gaffe here.

Dryen was sentenced to what, 5 years in prison?, for the same antics at the Air Force prior to joining Boeing. I am SURE the same standard will be applied here.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

You mean you don't remember Reagan walking up to his HUD Secretary (Samuel Pierce IIRC) at a Mayor's Association meeting and saying "Hi, Mr. Mayor"?

posted by: Randy Paul on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]


First, look at what I said. Is said when you have a dictatorship, then release that pressure, you get ethnic conflict. Second, while I haven't read the Fearon and Laitin for a while, I seem to recall objecting to their definition of ethnic group. Laitin tends to use language diversity, but that's not a good proxy. But I'll have to go look it up again. Thanks for the reminder. Third, it seems to me there is a general tendency in western societies, in response to increasing ethnic diversity, to abridge freedoms. That may be anecdotal, but I think a prima facie case can be made.

Finally, I am in the middle of reviewing Gagnon for There are a couple of problems. First, while his concept of demobilization (i.e. those committed to the Yugoslav ideal became demoralized) is valuable, he cannot explain why the commitment to that ideal was so weak. Nor can he explain the general centrifugal nature of Yugoslavia despite Communist rule. He cannot, for example, explain the 1968 "declaration on the name and situation of the Croatian language" by an appeal to politicians and media 'demobilizing' those who believed in the Yugoslav project. He even more certainly cannot explain patterns of conflict in Bosnia between Orthodox and Muslims dating to the early nineteenth century and before.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

Oh, and here's a bit more about ethnicity, conflict, etc

The more academic version is here.

An iron law of nationalism and federation?: A (neo-Diceyian) theory of the necessity of a federal Staatsvolk, and of consociational rescue

Brendan O'leary
Nations and Nationalism
Volume 7 Page 273 - July 2001

Of course, O'leary calls his theory the 'Dicey-O'leary' theory, with tongue in cheek.

The upshot is that ethnic equilibria can develop, but its a process that is often bloody (Iraq, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Georgia, Armenia etc) or relies on a leading people (e.g. Singapoor)

posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

What was he thinking when he made the speech: 'Nice little establishment you've got here. Sure would be a shame if something was to happen to it.'

What's he thinking now: 'Hey, I didn't threaten anyone. You can look it up.'

posted by: Anon on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

Mitchell, thanks for the pointers and explanation.

posted by: Lee on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

my favorite part of this whole HUD mess is the use of the word anecdote. Anecdote doesn't mean lie. And it's one thing for the boss to be stupid, but he should be smart enough not to hire stupid.

posted by: sean on 05.10.06 at 01:07 PM [permalink]

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