Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Someone keep Fleet Street away from Bill Clinton

So by now everyone knows that Bill Clinton thinks the American press corps is in the bag for Barack Obama. Indeed, I suspect that in their heart of hearts, more pundits and reporters like Obama than Clinton (though, as Chris Matthews pointed out a few weeks ago, what they really like is a never-ending horse race).

Still, despite the possible bias on these shores, I can't imagine any major American newspaper having the following lede for their story:

Seventeen months after she sat regally in her New York living room and calmly declared: “I’m in and I’m in to win,” Hillary Clinton stands on a stage in a stifling hot shed in South Dakota, coughing and spluttering, as her daughter, Chelsea, grabs the microphone from her hand to take over the show.

“A long campaign,” the former First Lady chokes out between sips of water. Her husband, red-faced and exhausted – and having just apologised for another angry outburst in front of reporters – looks on wistfully at the final rally of his wife’s presidential bid, an endeavour that has been transformed from an inevitable juggernaut into a costly train wreck.

So,for those of you interested in Bill Clinton's continued good health, I'd recommend not showing him any of the Fleet Street covers tomorrow AM.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, June 2, 2008

So.... are the Clintons morons?

James Fallows writes the following about Hillary Clinton's mindset in running against Barack Obama:

The Clinton team doesn't worry about hurting Obama's prospects of winning in the fall, because they assess those prospects at zero. Always have. Obama might not win if he leads a bitterly divided party, but (in this view) he was never going to win. Not a chance. He would be smashed like an armadillo in the road by the Republican campaign machine, and he would be just about as ready as the armadillo for what was coming.
Others have made similar assessments of the Clinton mindset.

Here's my question: how objectively stupid does someone have to be to come to this conclusion? Forgetting about the candidates for a second, the current political and economic environment suggests a clear Democrat victory this November.

The economy is... let's call it uncertain. Inflation is rising. Things seem to be improving in Iraq, but the U.S. still has a large number of troops in theater five years after the start of the war, and it's still pretty damn unpopular.

Standard prediction models suggest this -- as does the (un)popularity of the incumbent President and the responses to the question about the direction of the country.

Now, if Barack Obama were to scream "F*** America!" during his acceptance speech, those figures wouldn't matter too much. But I suspect even the Clintons don't think he's that stupid. Negative attacks can drag a candidate down, but there are limits on their effectiveness. The preliminary evidence that some right-leaning media figures are relatively sympathetic to Obama. Why, therefore, would the Clintons believe that Obama has no chance of victory?

I suspect this goes back to their experiences in the nineties, when they viewed themselves as the only ones who could vanquish the GOP in political battle. They've seen every other national Democrat in the past twenty years -- Michael Dukakis, Tom Foley, Al Gore, Tom Daschle, Richard Gephardt, John Kerry -- felled by the GOP, and I suspect they think of themselves as endowed with special Republican-smiting powers.

Still, if they are thinking as Fallows and others describe, then they are even more narcissistic than I (or Todd Purdum) had previously believed.

Which is saying something.

UPDATE: Rob Farley provides a kinda sorta defense of the Clintons.

posted by Dan at 04:51 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The New York Times didn't ask me, but then again, that's why I have this blog

The New York Times Book Review asked a bunch of writers which books they would recommend to the presidential candidates. Most of the submissions said more about the writer's politics than anything else, though I liked Gore Vidal's response best:

I can only answer in the negative: I want them not to read The New York Times, while subscribing to The Financial Times.
Well, I'd like the candidates to read this blog during their oodles of spare time, so here are five books worth perusing:
1) David Stockman, The Triumph of Politics. This is the classic parable of a bright young man who went to Washington brimming with ideas -- only to run into the brick wall of politics.

2) James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds. The President of the United States has a bias towards centralization. This book is a very useful guide to understanding the large category of issues and phenomenon when centralization and/or hierarchy is not the best course of action (and the small category when such an approach is vital).

3) Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals. What comes through this book is how Lincoln was able to lead -- starting from a position of initial weakness -- so effectively. Two things stood out for me -- his complete lack of pettiness or vanity, and his keen recognition of when doing the political thing was actually the right thing to do.

4) Martin Wolf, Why Globalization Works/Dani Rodrik, One Economics, Many Recipes. Obama should read Wolf, and McCain should read Rodrik.

5) Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit. I can't see how a politician could navigate the Beltway without grasping this concept at its deepest level.

And for Hillary Clinton, I also have a book recommendation -- and not Macbeth, which popped up more than once on the NYTBR's list. No, Senator Clinton should read Jeff Shesol's Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade. A story about two ambitious politicians with similar policy objectives and radcally different styles. Plus, t would allow Clinton to refresh her memory about those historical references to the sixties that she keeps making.

posted by Dan at 09:54 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where should Hillary go?

The New York Times' Carl Hulse and the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane file similar reports: the notion that Hillary Clinton will downshift from presidential candidate to Senate Majority Leader or a similarly high-ranking position is complete fiction.

To sum up: Clinton does not have a ton of seniority. All the high-ranking Dems show no signs of budging. Based on endorsements, it's not clear how many members of her caucus really like Clinton all that much. If the best post she can get is the chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, we're not talking about a lot of plum advancement possibilities for Hillary Clinton.

Whither Hillary? There's been a lot of careless chatter about other career possibilities for Hillary Clinton -- vice president, governor of New York, Supreme Court Justice, etc. -- so as part of this blog's continuing dedication to careless chatter, the following are the top five jobs she should consider after losing the nomination:

1) Secretary of Defense. Following up on my bloggingheads debate with Megan McArdle, if Hillary Clinton truly wants to continue her trailblazing path, Obama shouldn't make her VP, he should give her this job. Given the current military state of play, it's not going to be a fun assignment. This has the added benefit of (relatively) sidelining Bill Clinton -- a cabinet spouse has a lower profile.

2) Buy and run The New Republic. Hey, campaign debts aside, she has the money. Marty Peretz, watch your back.

3) Give Oprah a run for her money. Hey, her numbers are down, and if Cinton started a talk show, she'd be able to deepen her bond with the very demographic she claims to command now. Plus, sticking it to Obama's chief celebrity endorser would have to be a fringe benefit.

4) Produce, direct, write and star in new documentary "An Inconvenient Campaign." Look, if Al Gore can go from world class stiff to possessing the World's Most Awesome Mantle Ever, I have every confidence that Hillary Clinton could start rubbing shoulders with environmental celebrity activists within two months of trying.

5) Enter Dancing with the Stars competition. Based on this video, I have to think she'd at least place in the top three:

Another possibility: replace Paula Abdul on American Idol.

posted by Dan at 09:11 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 26, 2008

There are crazy people everywhere

Lots of people are fretting about the persistent and mistaken belief of some Americans that Barack Obama is a Muslim. [Not that there's anything wrong with that!--ed.]

Over at his Politico blog, Ben Smith puts this 10% of mistaken Americans in perspective:

[L]arge minorities of Americans consistently say they hold wildly out-of-the-mainstream views, often specifically discredited beliefs. In some cases, those views should make them pretty profoundly alienated from one party or the other.

For instance:

22% believe President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
30% believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
23% believe they've been in the presence of a ghost.
18% believe the sun revolves around the earth.

Smith makes an excellent point here -- but I think he's actually being too modest. It's not just minorities of Americans who hold out-of-mainsteam views -- minorities (or majorities) of every nationality hold strange beliefs. In Africa, the Congo has been gripped by outsized fears of penis theft; a few years ago, there was the great vampire frenzy in Malawi. Lots of Brazilians believe the United States is hell-bent on taking over the Amazon. And let's not get into Arab public opinion on who was behind 9/11.

posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A powerful incentive to fix the comments feature on this blog

Longtime readers are likely aware that I've been relatively slow to fix the comments feature on the blog. Partly this was due to being distracted by the day job, partly because I enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with an end to comment spam.

It appears that John McCain has provided me with an incentive to fix the comments. According to Politico's Jonathan Martin:

John McCain's campaign is using their campaign website to encourage supporters to post supportive comments on political blogs, including the most well-known liberal site in the blogosphere. And to make things easier, they're including talking points with which sympathizers can use to get out the McCain message.

"Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here, go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known," instructs the page.

McCain supporters are asked to send the details of their comment to the campaign, which in turn will verify it and then reward the supporter with "points" (assumedly to accumulate for McCain swag).

[Um... according to McCain's campaign site, the blogs of attention are Red State, DailyKos, and Jeff Emmanuel. Plus, it's the commenters getting paid, not you--ed. Ah, but I can delete their comments unless they hand over the McCain swag! Mmmmmmm..... swag!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 02:23 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Hillary Clinton's remaining political argument for staying in

Over at The Plank, Josh Patashnik makes an argument about the limited appeal of both Obama and Clinton:

[W]hat's become clear at the end of this primary season is that neither Democratic candidate's appeal is as wide as Democrats would prefer. It's difficult to project what will happen in November from primary results or even general-election polling at this stage, so any such speculation should be taken with a major grain of salt. I think it's fair to say, though, that in general Obama appears to have a problem with working-class whites east of Illinois, and Clinton appears to have a problem with Westerners and more upscale independent-minded voters. This pattern has been remarkably consistent since the beginning of the primary season. My suspicion is that these weaknesses basically cancel each other out, which is why you see both candidates sporting approximately equal-sized small leads over John McCain in national polls.
There's one asymmetry that Patshnik doesn't discuss, however: every exit poll I've seen confirms that a larger fraction of Obama voters at this point are willing to vote for Clinton in November than vice versa.

Those numbers will fade somewhat once the heat of the primary season fades, but I suspect that they'll be more resistant to change among Clinton supporters. Despite McCain's presence as a reasonably attractive GOP candidate, I seriously doubt Obama's coalition of voters would vote for him. On the other hand, Clinton's "hard-working, white Americans" have voted for the GOP in the past and could easily do so in November.

There's been a lot of speculation in the press about why Hillary's staying, in, but this is the only politically viable argument I think she has left. Oddly enough, Saturday Night Live pretty much drove this point home in this sketch:

posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Your political quote of the day

Ed Rollins:

Today, if you’re not rich or Southern or born again, the chances of your being a Republican are not great.
From George Packer's New Yorker essay.

posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A nice word for Mike Huckabee

I've made it pretty clear that I'm not Mike Huckabee's greatest fan. That said, I do think he's a decent human being, and liked this apology:

During my speech at the NRA a loud noise backstage, that sounded like a chair falling, distracted the crowd and interrupted my speech. I made an off hand remark that was in no way intended to offend or disparage Sen. Obama. I apologize that my comments were offensive, as that was never my intention.
None of this, "I'm sorry if someone else thought my comments were offensive." He knew he'd screwed up, and he owned up to it.

posted by Dan at 02:28 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Please tell me this is a very late April Fool's joke

I've een cautiously optimistic that John McCain would choouse a Ron Paul -type Republican (minus the conspiratorial bigotry) since the Huckabee wing of the party is much less likely to vote for Obama.

Now James Pethokoukis reports the following on his Capital Commerce blog:

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and defeated contender for the GOP presidential nomination, is currently at the top of John McCain's short list for a running mate. At least that's the word from a top McCain fundraiser and longtime Republican moneyman who has spoken to McCain's inner circle. The fundraiser is less than thrilled with the idea of Huckabee as the vice presidential nominee, and many economic conservatives—turned off by the populist tone of Huckabee's campaign and his tax record as governor—are likely to share that marked lack of enthusiasm.
Based on what I know of Huckabee's policy views, my reaction to this piece of information:

posted by Dan at 01:11 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hillary Clinton's inexcusable bigotry

So I see that this quote from Hillary Clinton is now making the blog rounds:

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
Naturally, the debate is over whether Clinton's linkage of "hard-working Americans" to "white Americans" carries just the teensiest tinge of racism.

That's not my concern. My concern is that she links "hard-working Americans" to those "who had not completed college." The notion that college-educated workers do not work hard is, I'm sorry, complete and utter horses**t.

[So, have you finished your grading for the semester?--ed. Er, yes. Are you teaching this summer?--ed. Not really, no. Do you see where I'm going with this?--ed. Sure -- if you don't count editing one book, writing part of another book, prepping two grant proposals, drafting two additional articles I've committed to writing, and refereeing a few articles and book manuscripts, I have no real work to do. I think I've made my point about your "job," Mr. Hey-Look-At-Me-I'm-A-Full-Professor!--ed.]

For some reason, whenever I'm told that I don't work that hard, my mind drifts to end of this scene:

posted by Dan at 03:54 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Some final thoughts on Hillary Clinton

In the wake of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign being declared effectively dead by one and all, it is worth reflecting on what she gained by staying in the race for the past two months and change.

Primarily, she managed to graft Bill Clinton's reputation as the indefatigable fighter who can always come back from the dead onto herself. There's also the working class hero thing, though I suspect that will fade. Finally, she's managed the rare reverse Greenhouse Effect, earning Strange New Respect from Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Patrick Buchanan.

These are not insignificant gifts. When her political fortunes are discussed from here on out, they will frame the media's perception of her. She will always be painted as someone who should not be ruled out in a political fight, and it will surprise no one if she mounts another presidential candidacy.

There's a more important reason why these past six weeks have helped her immeasurably. Had she dropped out of the race back in early March, the narrative frame would have been how Hillary Clinton blew the nomination in spectacular fashion.

Stepping back, it's hard to overstate the advantages she brought to the primary race. She possessed unbelievable name recognition, a well-oiled fund-raising machine, a strong association with the most successful Democratic president of the past 50 years, an, er, Clintonian grasp of policy detail, strong ties to the women's vote and (until very late in this electoral cycle) the African-American vote, and tight connections with the Democratic party establishment. In the aftermath of New Hampshire, she could claim, plausibly and simultaneously, to be the most experienced candidate and a candidate that would represent a real change from the staus quo. With no appreciable domestic policy differences among the Democratic candidates, there was every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton was going to win.

Despite all this, Hillary Clinton did not win the nomination. Her failure to win says less about her defects than Barack Obama's strengths. But if nothing else, her performance over the past few months has managed to shift perceptions about her in ways that salvage her reputation as a politician of national standing.

posted by Dan at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hillary Clinton's contribution to the all-purpose excuse genre

To date, this blog has observed the political innovation of the All-Purpose Excuse -- the signature line that can be used to justify anything. Two examples:

1) "If we don't do it, the terrorists will win."

2) "If we don't do it, the Republicans will do it in the fall."

Hillary Clinton came up with a new one yesterday on This Week:
"I’m not going to put my lot in with economists."
Try it around the house -- it's easy and fun!:
Honey, you should really brush your teeth before you go to sleep.

I’m not going to put my lot in with dentists.

Will we have enough money to pay our bills this month?

I’m not going to put my lot in with accountants.

That cop has his sirens on... maybe you should pull over.

I’m not going to put my lot in with the heat.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A real policy difference. Yippee!!

The New York Times' John Broder reports on a genuine, honest-to-goodness policy disagreement among the Democratic presidential candidates:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

While Mr. Obama’s view is shared by environmentalists and many independent energy analysts, his position allowed Mrs. Clinton to draw a contrast with her opponent in appealing to the hard-hit middle-class families and older Americans who have proven to be the bedrock of her support. She has accused Mr. Obama of being out of touch with ordinary Americans who are struggling to meet their mortgages and gas up their cars and trucks....

At a meeting with voters in North Carolina on Monday, Mr. Obama said lifting the gas tax for three months would save the average consumer no more than $30, a figure confirmed by Congressional analysts. Mr. Obama has previously dismissed Mr. McCain’s proposal as a “scheme.”

“Half a tank of gas,” Mr. Obama told his audience. “That’s his big solution.”

President Bush’s spokeswoman essentially sided with Mr. Obama in saying that tax holidays and new levies on oil companies would not address the long-term problems of dependence on foreign oil.

You have to love an issue that puts George W. Bush and Barack Obama on the same page. As an added bonus, in this case they happen to be right.

This will be an interesting test -- if I were Obama, I'd hit the thirty dollar line very, very hard. This would seem to be a classic example of "politics as usual" and why it won't really solve long-term problems of energy and the environment.

Of course,I'm a lousy politician, so the fact that I would recommend this course of action suggests that it's doomed to failure.

posted by Dan at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The most comforting thing I've read about Obama today

Michael Crowley has an essay in The New Republic on whether a President Obama would actually withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The key paragraph:

The truth is Obama has no secret plan for Iraq. Interviews with nearly two dozen foreign policy and military experts, as well as Obama's campaign advisers, and a close review of Obama's own statements on Iraq, suggest something more nuanced. What he is offering is a basic vision of withdrawal with muddy particulars, one his advisers are still formulating and one that, if he is elected, is destined to meet an even muddier reality on the ground. Obama has set a clear direction for U.S. policy in Iraq: He wants us out of Iraq; but he's not willing to do it at any cost--even if it means dashing the hopes of some of his more fervent and naïve supporters. And, when it comes to Iraq, whatever the merits of Obama's withdrawal plan may be, "Yes, We Can" might ultimately yield to "No, we can't."
Why does this cheer me up? Because the article suggests that Obama and his advisors might actually let, you know, facts on the ground influence their decision-making. Which is how it should be.

Anyone who tells you they have a foolproof Iraq plan to put in place nine month from now is lying to you.

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Looking for a non-pander

Today, both Democratic candidates decided, "Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Complete and total pandering on the non-existent relationship between vaccines and autism!" Of course, in doing this, they were merely following John McCain's lead.

Still, it's days like this when the major party candidates for president look the smallest. So it is nice to see that there is at least one issue in which one candidate will not pander:

Republican John McCain made a risky argument in a hard-hit Ohio steel town Tuesday, telling residents that free trade can help solve their problems.
That is a tough sell in communities that have hemorrhaged jobs as manufacturing moved overseas and cheap imports flooded the market. But McCain insisted that free trade is the solution and not the cause.

"The biggest problem is not so much what's happened with free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy," McCain said during a town hall-style meeting at Youngstown State University.

"I think the answer is to understand that, free trade or not, we are in an information and technology revolution," he said. "So we want people to be part of that revolution, and we've got to be part of that new economy, rather than try to cling to an old economy." (emphasis added)

Bonus points to McCain for the use of the word "cling."

Hat tiip: TNR's Michael Crowley, who observes, "On the one hand you have to admire McCain's refusal to pander. On the other you have to wonder if he's commiting electoral suicide."

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A random elitist question

Given the media firestorm over Obama's "bitter" statement, and given the overwhelming commetariat consensus that this episode would hurt Obama in the polls, and given the polling results clearly indicating this not to be the case in either Pennsylvania or across the country, what can be inferred?

A) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they don't watch cable news outlets;

B) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they aren't likely to show up as "likely voters" in a poll;

C) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that their phone service has been cut off;

D) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they dislike Hillary Clinton even more than Barack Obama;

E) The commentariat is elitist and out of touch with what engages gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers.

posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Trade destroys jobs....inside the betway

Freer trade doesn't lead to much job loss in the real economy -- but the effects of trade in the world of presidential campaigns can be devastating:

Mr. [Mark] Penn, who has kept his job atop the global PR giant Burson-Marsteller to the chagrin of other officials in the Clinton camp, met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. a week ago to discuss the firm's contracted effort to sell the U.S.-Colombian trade pact -- which Sen. Clinton opposes, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week. After that came to light, Mr. Penn apologized and called the meeting an "error in judgment" -- which in turn upset the Colombians, who on Saturday terminated Burson-Marsteller's contract. Late yesterday, the campaign said Mr. Penn asked to "give up his role as chief strategist" but that he and his political-consulting firm "will continue to provide polling and advice."....

Today, Mr. Penn's association with the campaign could raise questions about Sen. Clinton's commitment to trade policy two weeks before the key Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where, as the Journal reports, trade issues are likely to count for a lot. But it's the reminder of how much candidates are being sold that could resonate more than the doubts that many industrial workers have about trade accords.

A bitter irony of this latest kerfuffle is that this will likely be the most prominent mention of Colombia during the presidential campaign -- just as the NAFTA imbroglio will have been the most prominent mention of Canada.

Just to repeat myself:

I've said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America's standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.

posted by Dan at 08:03 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dumbest poll ever

I certainly think public opinion matters in the formulation of policy -- and that, over the long term, foreign policy leaders ignore the public at their peril.

That said, this Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll/press release might be the dumbest f@#$ing thing I've ever seen:

In sharp contrast to views recently expressed by Vice President Cheney, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe government leaders should pay attention to public opinion polls and that the public should generally have more influence over government leaders than it does.

Eighty-one percent say when making "an important decision" government leaders "should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views." Only 18 percent said "they should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will distract them from deciding what they think is right."

When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz cited polling data showing majority opposition to the Iraq war, Cheney responded, "So?" Asked, "So--you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."....

When Americans are asked whether they think that "elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions," an extraordinary 94 percent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections. (emphasis added)

Wow, so let me get this straight -- when asked by pollsters whether polls are important, the American people agreed?

Seriously, the question, as phrased, is only slightly less biased than the following possible substitutes:

A) "Do you think the people's voice should be heard by politicians -- or are all y'all really just a bunch of morons?"

B) "Dick Cheney is a complete f%$#ing &%$hole who once shot someone in the face and probably likes to eat newborns. Do you think that anything he says is true, like, ever?"

C) "Which society would you prefer: one in which leaders responded to the will of the people, or one in whch leaders ignore public sentiment and send in jack-booted thugs to break up any demonstration, thus evoking Nazi Germany?"

If you look at the actual results, it's clear that PIPA simply cherry-picked responses to an old (January) poll and released them to embarrass Cheney (and say that, "hey, polls matter!!").

I'd find the exercise much more persuasive if the questions weren't so loaded. For example, did PIPA ask whether either the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve should respond to public sentiment when they make their decisions? When that 3 AM phone call comes in, should the president immediately put a poll out to calculate a response? I'd actually be interested in serious polling on the tradeoffs between expertise and democracy. This PIPA exercise is pretty much completely unserious.

In the 5 1/2 years of this blog, I don't think I've ever defended Dick Cheney, but in this case he's right and PIPA is, well, stupid. Of course leaders should not respond to every poll fluctuation on an issue. That's called leadership.

Now let me stress here that Cheney's response is still disingenuous, because polls on Iraq have not "fluctuated" so much as "sunk like a crater after recognizing that victory ain't gonna happen."

Still, PIPA's press release doesn't rebut Cheney -- it only shows how it's possible to frame poll questions to get any kind of response you want.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Drezner predicts the political future!

Me, last Tuesday:

I should add that, based on what I've heard while here [with Bill Richardson], it's pretty damn obvious that Richardson would like to endorse Obama.
The New York Times, today:
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who sought to become the nation’s first Hispanic president this year, plans to endorse Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination on Friday at a campaign event in Oregon, according to an Obama adviser.

posted by Dan at 08:20 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Your quote of the day

For anyone with libertarian instincts, Virginia Postrel's post about John McCain makes for disturbing reading. The key sentence:

McCain is an instinctive regulator who considers business a base pursuit.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Virginia yesterday, and during the chat, an interesting question arose: if McCain is an insinctive regulator, but appoints those less inclined to regulate, which policy wins out?

posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reversing Clausewitz

In a Reuters story on Barack Obama declining Hillary Clinton's premature offer of a VP slot, we get to this priceless bit of spin by Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson:

Obama took note of Clinton's repeated attacks and said the vice president's primary role would be to take over if the president died or was incapacitated.

"If I'm not ready, how is it that you think I would be such a great vice president? Do you understand that?" he asked.

Asked about the contradiction of touting Obama as a vice presidential candidate while condemning his ability to lead, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson implied there was still time for Obama to prove himself before the Democratic Party convention in Denver in August.

"We do not believe Senator Obama has passed the commander in chief test," Wolfson said. "But there is a long way to go between now and Denver."

This begs the question... what, exactly, is required to pass that test? How do the next five months on the campaign trail provide such an opportunity [Wait, Obama won Mississippi? He's definitely commander-in-chief material!--ed.]?

In one way, this is a typical bit of grade-Z spin. In another way, however, it does shed an interesting light on the Clinton campaign's mindset about politics. As the Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons reported, Hillary Clinton's fabled experience in international relations is pretty weak beer. The implicit message of her campaign, however, is that Clinton has faced greater trials and tribulations in the political arena for 15 years -- and that experience translates into preparation for foreign affairs.

Clausewitz famously said that war was politics by other means. Hillary Clinton's zero-sum tactics in the past week suggest an inversion of Clausewitz's dictum. For Clinton, politics is simply war by other means.

This might actually work. Clinton, by throwing out her steering wheel, might actually scare enough superdelegates into following her.

But it's really becoming more difficult with each passing day to distinguish Hillary's mindset from George W. Bush.

posted by Dan at 06:42 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Yet another Clinton scandal

From Mark Leibovich, "No Longer in Race, Richardson Is a Man Pursued," New York Times, February 23, 2008:

Early this month, Mr. Clinton called Mr. Richardson and insisted on seeing him face to face. Mr. Richardson said he could not make it unless Mr. Clinton came down to New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl on television with him, which Mr. Clinton rearranged his schedule to do....

The Bills watched the game in the Governor’s Mansion, Mr. Richardson rooting for New England, Mr. Clinton for New York. They smoked cigars, drank wine, devoured barbecued spareribs, chicken wings and shrimp. They talked politics only at halftime.

From Dan Balz, "Influential Democrats Waiting to Choose Sides," Washington Post, March 9, 2008:
"I'm thinking of changing my phone number," joked [Pennsylvannia representative Mike] Doyle, who had supported New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson but is now uncommitted. He said he got a surprise call from Bill Clinton on Super Bowl Sunday while cooking osso buco for his family. (emphasis added)
Just what was Bill Clinton doing on Super Bowl Sunday? There's clear photo evidence to support Richardson's version of events -- but I have no reason to believe Doyle is lying.

This apparent paradox contained within the spce-time continuum raises a whole bunch of reasonable questions:

1) Do the laws of physics make it possible for Bill Clinton to cook osso bucco at location A and then watch the Super Bowl in location B?

2) Who the hell cooks osso bucco for a football game? Which menu would you prefer to consume during the Super Bowl?

3) Has Bill Clinton been cloned?

4) Have the Clintons discovered time travel? Did Bill first chow down with Richardson, and then travel backwards in time to cook osso bucco for Hillary and Chelsea?

Your intrepid blogger will try to get answers to these vital questions when he crosses paths with Richardson over the next few days. [Good... it's clear you need a few days in the sun--ed.]

UPDATE: A concerned reader e-mail to suggest that I'm misreading Balz's account -- that it was Doyle who was cooking osso bucco for his family, not Clinton. Hmmm.... this does makes temporal and logical sense, but it's not as much fun as my interpretation of the (not artfully worded) sentence.

posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Scheiber effect?

Four and a half years ago, Noam Scheiber wrote a cover story for The New Republic about Howard Dean's great new political machine and how it was going to transform politics. The piece was beautifully written, utterly convincing, and -- of course -- wound up overhyping the Dean phenomenon just a tad.

Fast forward to the present. Scheiber writes another story for The New Republic, "The Audacity of Data," about the pragmatism and savviness of Obama's economics and foreign policy advisors. Once again, the story takes a fresh angle, and is utterly convincing -- partiularly to meself.

In the week since Scheiber's piece went online:

1) Chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee gets into trouble for saying or not saying things to a Canadian consular official about NAFTA;

2) Foreign policy advisor Susan Rice, responding to the Hillary ad on national security, tells MSNBC's Tucker Carlson “They’re both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call.” -- not the most comforting way to frame the argument.

3) Foreign policy advisor Samantha Power gets into hot water for thinking she was off the record speaking to The Scotsman's Gerri Peev: Ea

rlier, clearly rattled by the Ohio defeat, Ms Power told The Scotsman Mrs Clinton was stopping at nothing to try to seize the lead from her candidate.

"We f***** up in Ohio," she admitted. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win.

"She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.

Ms Power said of the Clinton campaign: "Here, it looks like desperation. I hope it looks like desperation there, too.

"You just look at her and think, 'Ergh'. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive."

The Scheiber effect: correlation or causation? You be the judge. However, if I were on the Clinton or McCain campaign teams, I'd be wanting to say as far away from Noam Scheiber as humanly possible.

The curel irony, of course, is that Goolsbee, Rice, and Power did nothing to suggest they would be bad policy advisors. Indeed, all three of them appear to have proffered candid and correct (well, maybe not the "monster" line" advice. It's just that they committed Michael Kinsley-style gaffes.

posted by Dan at 08:26 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Identity politics and the irony of the 2008 campaign

MoDo's column about identity politics in the Democratic Party today actually got me thinking. Particularly this part:

Dianne Feinstein onto the Fox News Sunday-morning talk show to promote the idea that Hillary should not be forced out, regardless of the results of Tuesday’s primaries, simply because she’s a woman.

“For those of us that are part of ‘a woman need not apply’ generation that goes back to the time I went out to get my first job following college and a year of graduate work, this is an extraordinarily critical race,” the senator said.

With Obama saying the hour is upon us to elect a black man and Hillary saying the hour is upon us to elect a woman, the Democratic primary has become the ultimate nightmare of liberal identity politics. All the victimizations go tripping over each other and colliding, a competition of historical guilts.

People will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first. Is misogyny worse than racism, or is racism worse than misogyny?

As it turns out, making history is actually a way of being imprisoned by history. It’s all about the past. Will America’s racial past be expunged or America’s sexist past be expunged?

This leads to a central irony about this campaign. I don't doubt that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have suffered a multitude of small slights in their professional and personal lives because of their gender or race. However, if you think about this as a contest to see who has suffered the greatest because of their identity, it's not even close.

The candidate who has suffered the most in his lifetime is.... John McCain. As an individual, he has paid a much higher price for his identity as an officer in the United States military than Obama or Cinton has individually paid for their race or gender. And there's simply no way to spin it otherwise.

As a collective entity, of course, African-Americans and women have white males beat on the suffering front. It is interesting, however, that the avatars of identity get all jumbled up once we look at the candidates' individual biographies.

posted by Dan at 08:34 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Open Super Tuesday II thread

Me, I'm just going to watch some episodes of House on the DVR for the next few hours, but the rest of you feel free to comment away on tonights primary results.

I can't resist one thought, however. Howard Fineman blogs "Win or lose, pressure on Clinton to exit will mount" over at Newsweek:

It's no longer a question of what Hillary herself thinks—she wants to stay for the duration, a close friend of hers tells me—but whether and when the leaders of the Democratic Party unite, publicly and privately, to tell her to get out if she wants to have a future leadership role in her own party.

As my colleague Jon Alter convincing showed today—calculator in hand-there is just no way, barring some kind of cataclysmic event, that Clinton can overtake Sen. Barack Obama in pledged delegates. Obama won't have enough of them to clinch the nomination on that basis alone, but she can't catch him....

[I]f Clinton continues to the next stage-if the results tonight allow her to fend off those telling her to quit—the next round is going to be a lot nastier. It's going to get into Obama's South Side Chicago roots; into some of the wilder statements of his longtime minister, Jeremiah Wright; and into the not-so-sly raising of doubts about Obama's religious beliefs.

Does Hillary really want to go there? Maybe not, which is why I think some of her own supporters (and maybe even some of her own campaign aides) would just as soon that this thing end tonight.

Here's the thing, though -- I think the mainstream media has underestimated the number of core Hillary supporters who would be unbelievably pissed by the optics of the Democratic "establishment" -- read, mostly men -- telling Hillary that her time on the stage has ended. Trust me, these people do exist, and they exist in significant numbers.

So my prediction is that any kind of stage-managed effort by the Democratic Party leadership to nudge Hillary Clinton aside will end in disaster. Either Clinton will refuse the overtures, declaring herself to be a "fighter" for the upteenth time -- or she will step aside in such a way that it costs Obama significant slices of the Democratic demographic come November.

UPDATE: Wow, CNN's numbers are screwy on Texas. As of 8:45, Obama and Clinton combined have nearly 800,000 votes, with less than one percent reporting. Unless the illegal immigration and ballot fraud problems are a lot worse than I thought, those vote counts are way too high.

posted by Dan at 08:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Those naïve Brits

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that the London Times' Sarah Baxter gets face time with Barack Obama. Some fascinating nuggets come out:

Obama is hoping to appoint cross-party figures to his cabinet such as Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator for Nebraska and an opponent of the Iraq war, and Richard Lugar, leader of the Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee.

Senior advisers confirmed that Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran and one of McCain’s closest friends in the Senate, was considered an ideal candidate for defence secretary. Some regard the outspoken Republican as a possible vice-presidential nominee although that might be regarded as a “stretch”.

Asked about his choice of cabinet last week, Obama told The Sunday Times: “Chuck Hagel is a great friend of mine and I respect him very much,” although he was wary of appearing as though he was already choosing the White House curtains....

Obama believes he will be able to neutralise McCain by drawing on the expertise of independent Republicans such as Hagel and Lugar, who is regarded by Obama as a potential secretary of state.

Larry Korb, a defence official under President Ronald Reagan who is backing Obama, said: “By putting a Republican in the Pentagon and the State Department you send a signal to Congress and the American people that issues of national security are above politics.”

Korb recalled that President John F Kennedy appointed Robert McNamara, a Republican, as defence secretary in 1961. “Hagel is not only a Republican but a military veteran who would reassure the troops that there was somebody in the Pentagon who understood their hopes, concerns and fears,” he said.

Now besides the virtue of poking Paul Kruigman with a sharp stick, I have to think that this is just one of those "let's have some fun with Fleet Street" moments in an otherwise exhausting campaign. To be sure, I suspect Obama actually will appoint at least one Republican to an important Cabinet department -- but there is zero chance of both Hagel and Lugar becoming cabinet secretaries in an Obama administration. There are simply too many Democrats who desire high-ranking positions at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom for this to happen.

Not to mention the fact that if Obama is smart, he wants Hagel and Lugar exactly where they are. They might be Republicans, but they are also GOP Senators willing to "do business" with an Obama administration in the Senate. Unless the fall election is a complete blowout (a possibility to be sure), these politicians are scarce commodities.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What's the best experience to be president?

That's the topic of my latest commentary for NPR's Marketplace. Here's how it closes:

As a management question, the problem with being the president is that one cannot anticipate what important issues will arise in the future. No one thought terrorism would be the paramount foreign policy problem during the 2000 campaign. I guarantee you there are issues that will not be talked about during this election year, but will dominate the presidency in 2009 and beyond.

Perhaps the best experience to be president, then, is the ability to successfully cope with the uncertain and the unknown. Of course, some managerial experts would not call that "experience." They would call it "judgment."

Go check it out!

UPDATE: I do find this post from the Hotline to be particularly interrstin on this point:

Responding to the release of HRC's new TX TV ad, which asserts in no subtle terms that only she has the experience to deal with a major world crisis, and, relatedly, to keep your children safe, Slate's John Dickerson asked the obvious question:

"What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" he said.

Silence on the call. You could've knit a sweater in the time it took the usually verbose team of Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein, Clinton's national security director, to find a cogent answer.

posted by Dan at 12:25 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ask Bill Richardson!!

Last Sunday Mark Leibovich had an amusing story in the New York Times about the wooing of New Mexico governor (and distinguished Fletcher alum) Bill Richardson's endorsement. The article focused primarily on the Clintonian wooing. It included this photo:


Glenn Kessler now reports that Richardson might be endorsing someone soon. Furthermore, Marc Ambinder reports that some of Clinton's surrogates -- like Madeleine Albright -- have ticked off Richardson with their overbearing pleas on Senator Clinton's behalf.

I bring all this up because as it turned out I'll be having dinner with the man in a few weeks -- we'll both be attending this UCLA Conference on U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Rogue States. Richardson is delivering the keynote address -- I'm waiting tables during the drink hour.

I therefore leave it to the readers -- which question should I ask Richardson if I get the chance?

A) Who was the most irritating member of Clinton's cabinet? Just nod your head if It was Albright.

B) How many wings did you and (Bill) Clinton down watching the Super Bowl?

C) You've served as a U.S. Representative, Ambassador to the United Nations, and U.S. Secretary of Energy. How cheesed off are you, Dodd and Biden when Hillary starts touting her experience?

Readers are encouraged to post other good questions in the comments.

posted by Dan at 02:01 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ohio debate hangover

The day after the Ohio debate, there's a lott of blog chatter about NAFTA and the whole Farrakhan imbroglio. However, I'd really like to see the mainstream media look into two big questions:

1) How, exactly, does the political leadership of Canada and Mexico feel about this whole NAFTA renegotiation business? Are they real big fans of this idea?

2) The following excerpt is from Hillary Clinton's intervention during the Farrakhan dust-up:

[O]ne of the parties at that time, the Independence Party, was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti- Israel. And I made it very clear that I did not want their support. I rejected it. I said that it would not be anything I would be comfortable with. And it looked as though I might pay a price for that....

And there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting. And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know, inflammatory -- I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is absolutely sincere. But I just think, we've got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching. (emphases added)

Could the mainstream media ask Senator Clinton the following two questions:
a) How did rejecting the Independence Party (whose candidate won less than one percent of the vote) pose a risk to your 2000 Senate campaign?

b) How, exactly, do you propose not letting, " anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have"?

posted by Dan at 01:41 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Live-blogging the Ohio debate

This could very well be the last presidential debate for the next six months, so it seems worth live-blogging. On the other hand, this is the 20th debate on the Democratic side of the ledger, and I've watched enough of them to feel like we're in re-runs.

Updates once the debate starts.

12:00 PM: One last thought -- my bet is that the press coverage will focus on the tonal contrasts between Clinton and Obama. It should focus on the fact that both candidates want to threaten withdrawing from a treaty as one of their first acts in office as a way to build up America's image abroad.

10:39: ACK!!! Keith Olbermann!! Run away, run away!!!

10:37 PM: Well, it's over. My take is that Obama brought it home -- his tone and demeanor were measured -- he seemed unflappble and, you know, presidential. Clinton had too many carping moments. The times where she could have proffered grace notes (the to and fro on Farrakhan) she was overly aggressive.

10:29 PM: Obama tries to end on a similar grace note to mirror Clinton's Texas valedictory. The funny thing is that Hillary's face is completely impassive during the first part of his answer.

10:28 PM: Clinton's last answer always seems to be her best.

10:20 PM: Obama gets political science props for critiquing the methodology of the National Journal rankings. He gets political props for turning the question back to his overarching campaign themes.

10:17 PM: Sullivan thinks Obama's Farrakhan response was, "A weak response - reminiscent of Dukakis." I'll just note that the Official Blog Wife concurs. Greg Sargent disagrees. What I found really disturbing was this statement by Clinton:

I just think, we've got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching (emphasis added).
Um... as a really big fan of that whole first amendment thingmabob, let me suggest that at president, Hillary Clinton damn well should "let anyone in any way say these things."

10:13 PM: Wow. Did Hillary Clinton just say that rejecting an anti-Semitic party endorsement was going to put hurt her 2000 Senate campaign at risk.... in New York?!! That is just so politically brave of Hillary Clinton.

10:08 PM: Russert tells Obama, "You have to react to unexpected events in this campaign." I half-expect him to then leap over the table, stab Obama with a shiv, and then say, "like that!!"

10:05 PM: And at 65 minutes, my Russert allergy kicks in.

10:01 PM: Obama's response to Clinton's "fighter" point on health care is pretty sharp. His counterpunching has definitely improved over the course of the campaign.

9:57 PM: Hillary gets off a good line in response to her Obama-mocking: "It's hard to find time to have fun on the campaign tail."

9:49 PM: A sign of growing debate fatigue -- I welcome the commercial break. Hmmm.... must consult doctor about Abilify....

9:45 PM: I can't tell whether Russert is more obsteperous towards Clinton in his questions... or if Clinton is so used to Russert that she feels she has to interrupt him to make her point. Neither of them looks particularly good during these exchanges, however.

9:40 PM: I do hope that the general election debates are at this level. Clearly, these two are disagreeing, but on the whole it's been at a pretty high level. The resolution of today's McCain-Obama dust-up is encouraging here.

9:39 PM: Josh Marshall: "you've clearly got both of them right on their game tonight. These are both just incredibly accomplished sharp people and both at the top of their game."

9:34 PM: Sullivan is right: "[H]e seems like a president. She seems annoyed."

9:27 PM: I'm glad that the first thing Hillary Clinton will do to improve America's image abroad is inform Canada and Mexico that we'll withdraw from NAFTA unless we renegotiate the trade deal. That'll do wonders. UPDATE: Oh, goodie, Obama agrees. Excuse me while I go bang my head against a wall. [UPDATE: Hey, shouldn't someone call Obama for flip-flopping on withdrawing from NAFTA?]

What I find so fascinating is that both Obama and Clinton are saying that NAFTA benefited some parts of the country but not others. This is undoubtedly true, but the policy response to that is not to renegotiate NAFTA -- tougher labor and environmental standards won't affect Ohio's economy. The answer is to expand trade adjustment assistance programs within the United States.

9:19 PM: Did Hillary Clinton actually complain that, "I keep getting asked the first question" and then reference Saturday Night Live?! And she says that Obama isn't tough enough for the general election?! You got to be f***ing kidding me. UPDATE: The Clinton campaign is apparently obsessed with SNL.

9:17 PM: Just 16 minutes on health care, and no applause -- yay, MSNBC!!

9:11 PM: Hillary's giving a good rebuttal on health care -- but at the beginning of her answer, she seemed to iply that it's perfectly fine to use attack mailers on other, lesser subjects -- but it's different with health care.

9:08 PM: I continue to be impressed with Obama's improvement over the arc of these debates.

9:03 PM: Health care is a passion of Hillary Clinton? Who knew? After the debate, MSNBC will be airing its 14-part series, The Passions of Hillary Clinton.

9:01 PM: Oh, MSNBC gets immediate bonus points ffrom your humble blogger for not bothering with the walking-out portion of the debate.

8:00 PM: The debate starts in an hour. In the meanwhile, to liven things up, consider the following drinking rules while watching this debate:

Take a sip if:

a) Obama holds Clinton's chair for her;

b) Clinton talks about how universal health care should be a core element of the Democratic party;

c) Either candidate suggests the other one said something nice about NAFTA;

d) Hillary says "35 years";

e) Obama scapegoats China for Ohio's economy.

Take a shot if:
a) Hillary mentions Tony Rezko;

b) Obama mentions the Clintons' tax returns;

c) The health care section of the debate exceeds 30 minutes;

d) Either candidate starts a sentence with "John Edwards and I...."

e) Either candidate has to respond to questions about their spouse;

f) Either candidate offers to bar foreign actors from competing in next year's Academy Awards.

Drink everything in your house if:
a) LeBron James is in the audience;

b) Either candidate says a positive word about trade

c) Hillary shouts, "Bitches get stuff done!"

d) Obama grabs an American flag, tears it in half, spits on it, then jumps up and down and shouts "Attica!! Attica!!"

e) Clinton says to Obama, "You know, I've earned this so much more than you have."

f) Obama says to Clinton, "You're going to be just fine."

posted by Dan at 07:31 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's not beatify policy wonks just yet

In the context of writing about anonymous negative leaks emanating from Hillary Clinton's campaign, Brad DeLong posits a typology of staff:

There are two kinds of people who get involved in politics--those who care about the substance of policy, and those who want to get White House Mess privileges, or as a consolation prize become media celebrities. The first kind--the policy people--will be loyal to a politician as long as he or she is trying his or her best to achieve the shared policy goals. The second kind--the spinmasters--will be loyal to a politician as long as he or she is a winner who favors them. If a politician stops looking like a winner, or if a politician starts favoring others for what they hoped would be their west wing job, they will jump ship as fast as they can--and you will start seeing the "infighting" stories.

The moral? A politician with an ideological policy compass is best off not hiring spinmasters as his or her senior aides. Hire people who care about the substance of policy instead.

I see what Brad's getting at, but in the context of a presidential campaign, methinks Brad is being a bit simplistic. Policy wonks can act strategically as well -- they just act strategically a little earlier in the process.

Let's formalize this.

Let win = p(candidate) = ex ante probability of a candidate winning an election

Let policy = 1/the square of (wonk's ideal policy point - candidate's preferred policy point) = the ideological proximity between candidate and staffer

A wonk will maximize his/her utility by maximizing win*policy.

So, when a wonk is choosing which campaign to join, ideology undoubtedly plays a role. So, however, does the assessment of the candidate's chances of victory. Indeed, as I've blogged before, one of the striking aspects of foreign policy wonks is that they've been surprisingly good at picking winners.

A policy wonk will not rarely stab a candidate in the back during a campaign -- but their prior choice of who to back is, in fact, quite strategic.

[Does this really matter? Doesn't a presidential nominee simply consolidate the cream of the crop after the primary season?--ed. Based on the last two election cycles, my answer would be no. Kerry did not do this in 2004. As for 2008, let's outsource to Michael Hirsch:

They were devotees of the cult of Clinton. Greg Craig was Bill Clinton's lawyer, defending him on TV against impeachment charges. Susan Rice was a protégée of Madeleine Albright, the 42nd president's secretary of State. Anthony Lake was Clinton's personal foreign-policy consigliere, his first-term national-security adviser. Now, however, Craig, Rice and Lake are all top advisers to Hillary Clinton's main rival, Barack Obama. In an increasingly bitter fight for the best and brightest policy advisers of Clinton's presidency, these defectors are aggressively recruiting junior- and midlevel officials from his administration.

That's provoked anger in Hillary's camp—and, Obama aides charge, threats of retaliation if she wins the nomination. "The word some people are hearing is, 'You're making a big mistake. If Barack Obama wins, he'll welcome all into his administration. But if Hillary wins, that's not going to be the case'," says a midlevel Obama adviser who would speak about infighting only on the condition of anonymity. The main Hillary enforcer has been Richard Holbrooke, Bill Clinton's former U.N. ambassador (and an aspiring secretary of State), says a senior adviser to Obama, who would also discuss personnel matters only anonymously. "I have had at least two people directly tell me they had been told by Holbrooke if they went with Obama, the Hillary people would not forget and forgive," says the adviser, refusing to identify them.]

UPDATE: Over at The New Republic, Noam Scheiber suggests that Obama's strength in policy wonks comes not from ideology, but from choosing people more open to ideological diversity than the Clintons:
In some respects, the sensibility behind the behaviorist critique of economics is one shared by all the Obama wonks, whether they're domestic policy nerds or grizzled foreign policy hands. Despite Obama's reputation for grandiose rhetoric and utopian hope-mongering, the Obamanauts aren't radicals--far from it. They're pragmatists--people who, when an existing paradigm clashes with reality, opt to tweak that paradigm rather than replace it wholesale. As [Richard] Thaler puts it, "Physics with friction is not as beautiful. But you need it to get rockets off the ground." It might as well be the motto for Obama's entire policy shop.

The Clintonites were moderates, but they were also ideological. They explicitly rejected the liberalism of the 1970s and '80s. The Obamanauts are decidedly non-ideological. They occasionally reach out to progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute, but they also come from a world-- academic economics--whose inhabitants generally lean right. (And economists at the University of Chicago lean righter than most.) As a result, they tend to be just as comfortable with ideological diversity as the candidate they advise.

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 25, 2008

My one and only post about Ralph Nader

Why does a man who received 0.38% of the vote in the last election merit valuable minutes on Meet The Press, not to mention hours of speculation about his candidacy and its effects on the 2008 campaign? Will Tim Russert bestow similar press time to the Libertarian Party candidate -- who received a similar number of votes?

Seriously, who gives a f***?

posted by Dan at 11:57 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Which candidate will hoard executive power the least?

A common lament of the Bush administration has been it's relentless drive to accumulate more tools of power for the executive branch. One might assume that this problem would be corrected in a new administration -- particularly since the remaining candiates are based in the Senate, a body that has seen its influence over the executive branch on the wane in recent years.

It's a funny thing, however, about becoming president -- the prerogatives of power that look so monarchical from the outside don't look so bad on the inside.

So I find this Washington Post story by Michael Abramowitz to be particularly interesting:

Asked by my colleague Glenn Kessler whether he would ever consider issuing a signing statement as president, Sen. McCain was emphatic: "Never, never, never, never. If I disagree with a law that passed, I'll veto it."

The comment brought to life the question of whether President Bush's aggressive defense of presidential prerogatives will outlast his administration. Bush has been heavily criticized by lawmakers and others over his extensive use of signing statements, in which, rather than veto a bill, he makes it clear he will not be bound by what he considers unconstitutional provisions included by Congress.

All three of the leading presidential contenders have suggested they would take a different approach than Bush: What's striking is that McCain appears perhaps even more radical than his Democratic rivals in adopting a seemingly ironclad refusal to issue signing statements. If he truly were to follow that approach, it would represent a sharp break in presidential practice, according to lawyers on both sides of the ideological divide.

Responding to a questionnaire late last year by the Boston Globe, Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) made clear their view that Bush has gone too far in issuing signing statements -- but that there are circumstances in which such statements are necessary.

"The problem with this administration is that it has attached signing statements to legislation in an effort to change the meaning of the legislation, to avoid enforcing certain provisions of the legislation that the President does not like, and to raise implausible or dubious constitutional objections to the legislation," Obama answered. But, he added: "No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president's constitutional prerogatives."

In her own Globe questionnaire, Clinton made a similar point about legal issues. "I would only use signing statements in very rare instances to note and clarify confusing or contradictory provisions, including provisions that contradict the Constitution," she wrote. "My approach would be to work with Congress to eliminate or correct unconstitutional provisions before legislation is sent to my desk."

This is of a piece with what McCain said late last year.

posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tyler Cowen thinks I'm rational

In his New York Times column, Tyler Cowen articulates my basic attitude towards evaluating presidential candidates:

[T]he public this year will probably not vote itself into a much better or even much different economic policy. To be sure, the next president — whoever he or she may be — may well extend health care coverage to more Americans. But most of the country’s economic problems won’t be solved at the voting booth. It is already too late to stop an economic downturn. Health care costs will keep rising, no matter who becomes president or which party controls Congress. China is now a bigger carbon polluter than the United States, so don’t expect a tax or cap-and-trade rules to solve global warming, even if American measures are very stringent — and they probably won’t be, because higher home heating bills are not a vote winner. A Democratic president may propose more spending on social services, but most of the federal budget is on automatic pilot. Furthermore, even if a Republican president wanted to cut back on such mandates, the bulk of them are here to stay....

[I]f you’re still worrying about how to vote, I have two pieces of advice. First, spend your time studying foreign policy, where the president has more direct power, and the choice of a candidate makes a much bigger difference. Second, stop worrying and get back to work. (emphasis added)

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hello, pot? It's Hillary Clinton's kettle calling!!

Hillary Clinton, February 21, 2008 debate with Barack Obama: "You know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."

Hillary Clinton, later on in the same debate: "You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country."

Jack Stanton speech, in Primary Colors (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 162: "Y'know, I've taken some hits in this campaign. It hasn't been easy for me, or my family. It hasn't been fair, but it hasn't been anything compared to the hits a lot of you take every day."

I can't find the actual 1992 Bill Clinton speech upon which this fictional version was based, but I suspect there are some strong similarities. [UPDATE: Thank you, Josh Marshall -- "The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time."]

Josh Marshall picked up on this as well:

9:46 PM ... That was an interesting final moment to end on for Hillary. Candy Crowley is on CNN now saying how it was a good connect moment for HIllary, which I suspect it may have been. But we all do remember that those words were borrowed from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, right?

UPDATE: Politico's Ben Smith picks up some more lifted lines.

posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

McCain vs. Obama.... oh, right, and Clinton too

John McCain went right after Barack Obama in his victory speech tonight. A few thoughts:

1) Matthew Yglesias beat me to the punch on this point -- it's a bit strange for McCain to critique Obama for saying the U.S. should unilaterally use force against terrorists in Pakistan on the same day the Washington Post reports that the U.S. is using unilateral force against terrorists in Pakistan.

2) On MSNBC, Howard Fineman reported that the Clinton people were delighted that McCain went after Obama. Over at TNR, Christopher Orr ponders whether this really works to Clinton's advantage: "the more McCain treats Obama as his general-election foe, the more the public (and Democratic voters) may begin to think of Obama as his general-election foe, which could be more bad news for Hillary Clinton."

I'd go one even further. If John McCain is making the same criticism of Obama as Clinton -- flowing rhetoric but no experience and weak on national security -- then Hillary Clinton becomes superfluous in this campaign. Obviously, Clinton and McCain differ on policy, but does anyone seriously think that Hillary Clinton can credibly claim to be more experienced than John McCain? Would Clinton try to argue that McCain wasn't ready to be commander-in-chief from day one? Why does Clinton need to be in the race if McCain is parroting her line of attack?

POSTSCRIPT: Mickey Kaus relates a possible anti-momentum theory that could help Clinton:
Hillary does best when Democratic voters sense she's about to get brutally knocked out of the race, as in New Hampshire. That prospect taps a well of residual sympathy for a woman who has devoted her life to politics, etc. But when Hillary is triumphant she seems arrogant and unbearable, and voters feel free to express those perceptions at the polls. It follows that Hillary will do better in the crucial states of Ohio and Texas if she loses in Wisconsin and has her back to the wall.
The problem with this logic is that.... if it were true, she would have actually won Wisconsin. Clinton's back was already against the wall after eight straight losses, and there had been a week for these losses to sink into the electorate. The cable nets delighted in discussing her massive losses in the Potomac primaries. That combined with more favorable demographics should have pushed her to victory in the Badger state -- and yet it didn't.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Jamal Simmons observes the eerie similarities between the 2008 campaign and the fictional 2006 campaign that played out on The West Wing. My only quibble -- Hillary Clinton isn't Abby Bartlett -- she's John Hoynes.

LAST POSTSCRIPT: Worst... surrogate... ever:

The most painful part is the background derisive laughter you can hear at the tail end of the clip.

posted by Dan at 11:40 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Musings about the Obama backlash

It's just so three hours ago to talk about how an Obama cult member gets through the day or how Barack Obama can help sustain marriages that cross party lines or how Obama is feeling the love in Japan and Europe. Right now it's all about the backlash!!

Kevin Drum is all over this meme. Deep within the Obama cult, The New Republic's Christopher Orr implies that Republicans like David Brooks were just waiting for Obama to surge... so they could then pull the super-secret double-cross and drag him down into the mire.

As a potential Obama-can, I'm still on the fence. This is not because of Brooks' column today though he is clearly one spur for this conversation. Rather, Clive Crook got at it a bit better in his Financial Times column:

Mr Obama is a paradox, as yet unresolved. His plan and his votes in the Senate show that he is a liberal, not a centrist. And he is no wavering or accidental liberal. His ideas are of a piece. He sees – or convinces people that he sees – a bigger picture. And yet this leftist visionary is pragmatic, non-ideological and accommodating of dissent. More than that, in fact, he seems keen to listen to and learn from those who disagree with him. What a strange and beguiling combination this is.

It makes him an electrifying candidate – one the Democrats would be crazy not to nominate – but also, to be sure, a gamble. If Mr Obama is elected, it might turn out that there is no “there” there. Indecision, drift and effete triangulation are one possibility. Equally disappointing would be if the office wore away the pragmatism and open-mindedness, to reveal an inner dogmatist. Perhaps, though, Mr Obama really can transcend Washington’s partisan paralysis and build support for one or two big important reforms – starting with healthcare. Voters (and commentators) have the better part of a year to decide whether this pushes the audacity of hope too far.

Now, on the one hand, Steve Chapman soothes my anxieties here when he compares Clinton's mortgage plan with Obama's:
Obama is not a staunch free marketeer, but he grasps the value of markets and shows some deference to economic laws. Clinton, however, tends to treat both as piddly obstacles to her grand ambitions.

You don't have to take that from me. Some on the left see the Illinois senator as suspiciously unenchanted by their goals and methods. Robert Kuttner, an economics writer and co-editor of The American Prospect, scorns Obama's advisers as "free-market guys who want to use markets to somehow solve social problems, which is like squaring a circle." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman denounced Obama because his health-care and fiscal stimulus plans "tilted to the right" and concludes Obama is "less progressive" than Clinton.

If progressive means issuing dictates that prevent informed people from entering into mutually agreeable and economically valuable transactions, that is undoubtedly true. Many liberals prefer to rely on command and control. Nowhere is the contrast between the Democratic contenders more vivid than on how to deal with the fallout from the epidemic of mortgages gone bad.

Clinton has a stunningly simple solution, as stated in one of her TV ads: "freeze foreclosures" for 90 days and "freeze rates on adjustable mortgages." Those are a perfect answer, assuming this is the question: How can the government reward irresponsibility, discourage mortgage lending and increasing the cost of financing a home?....

Obama is not willing to let this turbulent market sort itself out without the intervention of government, but he offers nothing remotely as alarming as Clinton's dual freeze. Among his main proposals are tougher enforcement of laws against fraud and deception and mandates for "easy-to-understand information" for borrowers -- ideas few advocates of economic freedom would find objectionable.

More important than what he advocates is what he doesn't. His chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, told me that Obama thinks "we shouldn't have a blanket policy of bailing out everyone." In formulating remedies, Goolsbee said, "you have to think how not to reward bad behavior."

On the other hand, we get to what Obama is saying right now, and I start to get very worried. The Financial Times' Edward Luce explains:
Barack Obama on Monday made an aggressive pitch at Ohio’s blue-collar workers by proposing a “Patriot Employers” plan that would lower corporate taxes for companies that did not ship jobs overseas.

The proposal, which came two weeks before the critical Ohio primary and just before on Tuesday’s nominating contest in Wisconsin, is the most radical any presidential candidate has put forward so far to mitigate the perceived effects of globalisation on US manufacturing....

Mr. Obama’s plan met instant scepticism from otherwise sympathetic Democratic economists who said it would require a large regulatory apparatus to put into practice. They also said that companies could “game the system” by spinning off overseas subsidiaries in order to reduce the offshore-onshore workforce ratio.

“I would say that this plan is borderline unimplementable,” said a Democratic economist in Washington. “It is also puzzling. Normally presidential candidates only come up with plans that are unrealistic when they are losing. But Obama is now the favourite.”

Clive Crook, correctly, concludes that this plan is, "on its economic merits, remarkably stupid." And I haven't even gotten to Obama's NAFTA-bashing.

So what's a possible Obama cultist to think? I can offer four words of solace in considering whether to embrace a President Obama:

1) Part of this is the remaining primary schedule. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all fertile ground for economic populism, and this is presumably why Obama has been tacking in this direction. As John Broder and Jeff Zeleny point out in today's New York Times:
[B]oth candidates appear to be looking for ways to avoid taking positions that would give them problems in the general election or expose them to a business backlash....

“Revolutions in communication and technology have made it easier for companies to send jobs wherever labor is cheapest, and that’s something that cannot be reversed,” Mr. Obama said. “So I’m not going to stand here and say that we can stop every job from going overseas. I don’t believe that we can — or should — stop free trade.”

2) Chapman is still right -- compared to Hillary, Obama remains the more market-friendly candidate. Indeed, this might even remain true if Obama is compared to McCain. The latter's first instinct on other issues (campaign finance) has been to regulate.

3) One wonders if, right now, Obama wants conservative criticism. Assuming he manages to continue his victory streak, this allows Obama to counter-punch while still being on top. This subtly signals to other Democrats that a) he really is a Democrat; and b) Hillary Clinton's not the only only one taking pot-shots from the right.

4) Matthew Cooper makes an excellent point in Portfolio -- if one judges economic competency based on how one runs a campaign, then Obama deserves superior marks:

Obama's sheer abilities as a C.E.O. haven't received much attention. There was no reason to think that a lawyer who had never run anything larger than a Senate office would really have been able to build such an amazing campaign organization. Yes, he was a community organizer, but you wouldn't expect orchestrating street protests to necessarily translate into assembling a machine that stretches from coast to coast and spends tens of millions. One benefit of the endless primary season is that it tests not just the mettle of candidates but also that of their organizations. Obama's campaign is a testament to his abilities. It's flexible. It's fast. And it got built quickly, unlike the Clinton machine, which has been assembling itself for years, like a conglomerate that keeps acquiring new companies. (Disclosure: My wife is a senior adviser to Clinton.) Unlike other insurgent campaigns that have found themselves suddenly within striking distance of the nomination, Obama's rose in a way that was simultaneously revolutionary and orthodox. On the orthodox side, he actually raised the money and secured the endorsements and built the ground operation. Unlike, say, George McGovern or Jimmy Carter, who defeated established front-runners to win the Democratic Party's nomination but faced frantic, last-minute, anybody-but movements led by party elders determined to snatch it from them, Obama did it the old-fashioned way, only in record time. Mitt Romney is the businessman in this race, but Obama may just turn out to be the real C.E.O.
Contrast this with the Clinton campaign, which seems uninformed about the rules in Texas and couldn't name enough delegates in Pennsylvania. Indeed, is it wrong to compare Clinton's "shock and awe" approach to the primaries with prior uses of that tactic.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Your political dare of the day

Elizabeth Bumiller reports in the New York Times that John McCain has come up with an interesting way of defusing Barack Obama's financial advantage:

Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign said Thursday that it stood by a year-old pledge made with Senator Barack Obama that each would accept public financing for the general election if the nominee of the opposing party did the same. But Mr. Obama’s campaign refused to reaffirm its earlier commitment.

The McCain campaign’s latest stand on the issue was first reported Thursday by The Financial Times. On Tuesday, one of Mr. McCain’s advisers told The New York Times that the campaign had decided to forgo public financing in the general election, an awkward admission for a senator who has made campaign finance reform a central part of his political persona.

That adviser was speaking on the assumption that Mr. Obama, who has broken all records in political fund-raising and is currently drawing more than $1 million a day, would find a way to retreat from the pledge in order to outspend his opponent in the fall by far. Under public-financing rules, the nominees are restricted to spending about $85 million each for the two-month general election campaign, far less than what Mr. Obama might be able to raise on his own.

On Thursday, in an effort by the McCain campaign to speak with one voice and put the onus for abandoning the system on Mr. Obama, several McCain advisers called on him to make good on his pledge. Mr. Obama was the candidate who proposed the pledge in the first place, in February 2007, a time when he was not raising the prodigious sums he is now.

Mr. McCain, co-author of the McCain-Feingold act of 2002, which placed new restrictions on campaign financing, was the only other candidate to take Mr. Obama up on his pledge.

At first blush, I think this is a double-edged sword for both candidates.

For McCain, proposing this reminds everyone of McCain-Feingold and potentially neutralizes Obama's fundraising power. On the other hand, McCain-Feingold hasn't really worked out as envisaged, and it's a major sore point with conervatives.

For Obama, accepting McCain's proposal would remind everyone that it was Obama who came up with the idea in the first place. It would also allow him to blunt McCain's attempt to woo back independents who have shown a liking for Obama. On the other hand, Obama's fundraising capabilities are quite prodigious. Furthermore, accepting now leaves him open to charges of taking the nomination for granted.

If you're Obama, do you accept the dare?

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Eugene Robinson defends my ilk

Eugene Robinson is (sort of) defending Republicans today in his Washington Post column:

It would be insane to waste time and energy worrying that somewhere, doubtless in a high-tech subterranean lair, Republican masterminds are cackling over their diabolical plot: The use of reverse psychology to lure unsuspecting Democrats into nominating Barack Obama, an innocent lamb who will be chewed up by the attack machine in the fall. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Or maybe Republicans are using double super secret backward reverse psychology to exploit the Democratic Party's congenital paranoia: Let's say nice things about Obama so Democrats think we really want to run against him, and that will make them play into our hands by nominating Hillary Clinton, who so energizes the Republican base that we can actually win an election that we ought to lose. Cue another round of deranged mad-scientist laughter.

Amazingly, those are the kinds of things you hear Democrats saying out loud these days. Let me suggest that the party has enough to think about without dreaming up dilemmas....

Enough with the Dr. Evil routine. I think there's a simpler reason that so many Republicans speak admiringly of Barack Obama and say he would be the tougher candidate to run against. Obama disagrees with conservatives without demonizing them. He even invites Republicans to join him in building the post-partisan America he envisions.

Hillary Clinton, author of the phrase "vast right-wing conspiracy," is more confrontational, to say the least.

Democrats can and should argue about which approach is better. But they should worry about their own strategy -- and not obsess about Republican mind control.

posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Your logical conundrum of the day

Over the past few days, the Clinton campaign has made the following two arguments:

a) Caucuses don't really count as much as primaries because, "the caucus system is undemocratic and caters mostly to party activists."

b) The superdelegates -- which consist only primarily of party activists -- should not follow the primary results but instead, "should make an independent decision based on who they thought would be the strongest candidate and president."

In the comments, someone please logically reconcile those two statements.

[But isn't Obama equally contradictory by making the reverse of both arguments?--ed. Actually, no. I think the Obama campaign's argument is that because of turnout, the caucus states have largely reflected the will of the voters -- and therefore superdelegates should simply follow suit in making their decisions. I think that's consistent -- but I'm willing to be corrected in the comments.]

UPDATE: It's been pointed out in the comments that a lot of elected officials are also superdelegates. I was assuming that any elected Democrat is a de facto party activist (they're not mutually exclusive categories), but others might not make the same distinction. That said, looking at this list of superdelegates, I do believe a healthy majority of them consist of party activists of one stripe or another.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Slate, Christopher Beam takes a closer look at the superdelegates:

Clinton and Obama are fairly close among governors (10-10, respectively), senators (12-9), and congress members (71-58). It’s among DNC officials that Clinton really takes the lead, with 125 to Obama’s 57.5. In other words, Clinton’s sway appears to be much stronger among party hacks than among elected officials (emphasis added).
This reinforces the logical conundrum -- is there any way Clinton can reconcile her spin on the caucus states and the superdelegates?

Hat tip: '08 Guru

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A quick thought on superdelegates

Based on turnout to date, this is not going to be a fun year for the GOP. Say this for the Republicans, however -- the path to the presidental nomination makes more sense than the Democrats (the Washington caucuses excepted). The Republicans handled Michigan and Florida's decision to move their primary dates early by punishing them -- stripping half their delegates -- but not punishing them as severely as the Democrats did.

Plus, for all the talk of the GOP being an elitist party, they don't have superdelegates in a position to decide the nominee at the end of the day.

This is now a source of agita in the op-ed pages and the liberal blogosphere. Kevin Drum mildly defends them, asking, "The very existence of superdelegates assumes that they'll vote their own consciences, not merely parrot the results of the primaries. After all, why even have them if that's all they do?"

Similarly, Matt Yglesias observes, "The Democrats have had this dumb superdelegate thing in there for a couple of decades now with people mostly not focusing on it because it never comes into play. Well, now it might come into play and it doesn't sit well with people."

On this latter point, it's worth observing that Matt's analysis is a bit superficial. The superdelegates were designed to play a pivotal role at the beginning rather than the end of the primary season. Way back before the time of the blogs, a frontrunner could become a frontrunner by making it clear that he'she had the supprt of a supermajority of superdelegates (yes, I've always wanted to write that phrase). This was how frontrunners became frontrunners -- and how they preserved that status despite inevitable insurgent challengers. The idea is that their mere existence was sufficient to affect the dynamics of the primary campaign much earlier in the process.

Lest one think that I'm defending their existence, it's worth pointing out that the superdelegate idea has hisorically had disastrous consequences for the Democratic party's presidential aspirations. With the partial exception of Bill Clinton, the superdelegates helped ensure that the frontrunner wound up winning the nomination since 1984. This process meant that the Democrats ran Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry in November. There's no way that any politico can justify a process that delivers that set of outcomes.

Irony of ironies -- if the GOP had superdelegates, does anyone still think that John McCain -- the Republican who poses the strongest general election threat to a Democrat blowout this fall -- would be the presumptive nominee?

UPDATE: Jacob Levy is entertainingly bemused by the whole contretemps.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The vice presidential paradox

In a post on whether Mike Huckabee might be John McCain's wingman on the 2008 GOP ticket, Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point regarding the ratcheting up of standards for Vice Presidents:

The job of the vice president has changed, thanks to Clinton's decision to pick Al Gore in 1992 and Bush's decision to pick Dick Cheney in 2000. These men, at the time they were picked, were extraordinarily well respected; and they went on to have greater responsibilities than previous vice presidents. I think voters now expect vice presidential nominees to pass a higher bar. They can't be picked solely to win a state or lock down a constituency. They have to be plausible presidents. I expect that consideration will be even more important given McCain's age. And I'm not sure that Huckabee can clear that bar.
I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Huckabee is clearly not ready for prime time as a president, and based on his foreign policy views, I want pretty far away from the corridors of power.

On the other hand, the ratcheting of the VP bar creates a different problem -- instead of a buffoon or a lightweight, you have a talented, ambitious politician placed in an ambiguous position. This means presidents need to give them something to do in terms of policymaking. And, frankly, the results have ranged from unproductive (negotiating a global warming treaty that had zero chance of ratification; outsourcing government) to destructive (screwing with the foreign policymaking process).

The paradox is that an ideal vice president should be ready to be president from day one. At the same time, such a person -- in order to take the job -- requires major policy bailiwicks to tide him or her over.

I'm not sure what the right mix is for a VP selection, but I don't think either the "true lightweight" or "ambitious heavyweight" molds works terribly well.

Anyone have any suggestions?

UPDATE: Over at the Monkey Cage, Lee Sigelman crunches some numbers to try and divine who the actual VP picks might be for the donkey side.

posted by Dan at 04:32 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

So you can see why I'm in a good mood today

As near as I can figure, the following people would have to be classified as the "losers" from Super Duper Tuesday:

Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, John Kerry, and the African-American "establishment" in the Deep South: so much for the Kennedy's pull with either Massachusetts voters or the Hispanic community [UPDATE: Hmmm... Matt Yglesias makes a convincing case that the endorsements had some pull in Massachusetts.] And so much for the endorsements of the "establishment" African-Americans in the South swaying the black community.

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and James Dobson: so much for their pull with conservative voters

So it's a Super Wednesday for me.

[Wait, what about bad political prognosticators?--ed.] Oh, I'm always a loser in that category

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

And in the end, I voted for....

John McCain.

I was tempted to vote for Romney -- not because I'm really a fan of Mitt, but because I wanted to se Romney push McCain on economic issues. I've never bought the supposition that candidates who lock up the nomination early are better placed for a general election victory. Competition is what brings out the mettle in a politician.

McCain has certainly been tested, and he deserves some credit for sticking to his positions even when they cost him the frontrunner status. I liked a lot of his Foreign Affairs essay, and I really like his take on executive power.

Still, like Ross Douthat, I can't shake the impression that McCain has reclaimed that status more by default, luck, and the utter incompetence of the rest of the GOP field.

Think about this. Giuliani self-destructed. Romney's pandering was about as subtle as a 15-year old boy would be in a room with the Pussycat Dolls. Paul's a bigot -- or quite friendly with bigots, I'm not sure which. Tancredo and Hunter were non-entities. Only Huckabee has improved his standing from the campaign he's run, but that's not saying much.

It would be good to see Romney, as the last man standing, push McCain to be a better candidate. In the end, when faced with his name on the ballot, I couldn't seriously pull the trigger on someone who appears to hold no core values whatsoever.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why Republicans feel OK about Obama

Peter Wehner, a former deputy assistant to President Bush, writes in the Washington Post about why Republicans have positive feelings towards Barack Obama:

What is at the core of Obama's appeal?

Part of it is the eloquence and uplift of his speeches, combined with his personal grace and dignity. By all accounts, Obama is a well-grounded, decent, thoughtful man. He comes across, in his person and manner, as nonpartisan. He has an unsurpassed ability to (seemingly) transcend politics. Even when he disagrees with people, he doesn't seem disagreeable. "You know what charm is," Albert Camus wrote in "The Fall," "a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question." Obama has such charm, and its appeal is not restricted to Democrats.

A second reason Republicans appreciate Obama is that he is pitted against a couple, the Clintons, whom many Republicans hold in contempt. Among the effects of the Obama-Clinton race is that it is forcing Democrats to come to grips with the mendacity and ruthlessness of the Clinton machine. Conservatives have long believed that the Clintons are an unprincipled pair who will destroy those who stand between them and power -- whether they are political opponents, women from Bill Clinton's past or independent counsels.

When the Clintons were doing this in the 1990s, it was viewed by many Democrats as perfectly acceptable. Some even applauded them for their brass-knuckle tactics. But now that the Clintons are roughing up an inspiring young man who appears to represent the hope and future of the Democratic Party, the liberal establishment is reacting with outrage. "I think we've reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons," writes Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Many conservatives respond: It's about time.

A third reason for Obama's GOP appeal is that unlike Clinton and especially John Edwards, Obama has a message that, at its core, is about unity and hope rather than division and resentment. He stresses that "out of many we are one." And to his credit, Barack Obama is running a color-blind campaign. "I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina," Obama said in his victory speech last weekend. "I saw South Carolina." That evening, his crowd of supporters chanted as one, "Race doesn't matter." This was an electric moment. Obama's words are in the great tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. Obama, more than any figure in America, can help bind up the racial wounds of America. In addition, for the past eight years, one of the most prominent qualities of the American left has been anger, which has served it and the country very poorly. An Obama primary win would be a move away from the politics of rage.

I'd say this sums it up nicely, but the last point in particular should be stressed. Every single conservative I've talked to since the South Carolina primary has mentioned the Clinton comparison between Obama and Jesse Jackson -- and it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

posted by Dan at 01:31 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Listen.... to the BBC World Service!

UPDATE: To listen to the entire discussion, click here and then click on the "listen to the debate" link.

On Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern time I'll be participating a live debate on the BBC World Service. What's it about? I'll let the BBC explain:

Ahead of Super Tuesday - the day when 24 US states decide on their preferred candidate for the Presidency - BBC World Service and Chicago Public Radio present a major debate on the big election issues live from Chicago on Saturday 2 February.

Election 2008: America's Decision - Your Business comes from the Jim And Kay Mabie Performance Studio of Chicago Public Radio and can be listened to live on the BBC World Service website.

Presented by the BBC's Claire Bolderson and Richard Steele from Chicago Public Radio, the debate will see four select studio guests and their audience focus on the global economy and foreign policy, internal debate in the US, and the impact on the rest of the world.

The panellists are Tom Bevan, editor of the website RealClearPolitics; professor Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago; Laura Washington of the Chicago Sun-Times; and professor Daniel Drezner of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

I believe you can listen to it online as well.

Since I wrote my Newsweek column on this issue, there's been some straight news coverage on this from the New York Times, as well as Roger Cohen's recent op-ed.

None of these stories cover Chinese perceptions of the campaign. Thank goodness for sexyBeijing.tv!!!:

After seeing myriad YouTube clips of geographically illiterate Americans, I have to say it's refreshing to see a U.S. citizen displaying more positive traits.

And for those wondering where the title of this post comes from.... well, see below:

posted by Dan at 12:48 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Live-blogging the Democratic debate

Because I feel compelled to do one of these.....

7:58 PM: Yep, even two minutes of Lou Dobbs Tonight is painful.

8:02 PM: Wow, Clinton dominated the walking-out-on-stage part of the debate!!

8:06 PM: Jesus, there have been seventeen debates?!!

8:07 PM: From the opening statements, a clear advantage that Clinton has over Obama in these formats is the latter's hesitancy in his voice -- which plays into the belief that he's inexperienced. Hillary, on the other hand, does not lack in confidence. This will impress the commentariat, at least.

8:12 PM: Clinton just gave the GOP one guaranteed YouTube clip to use if Obama wins the nomination -- about how their policies are really so similar. This is not a new thought, but to have Hillary say it right next to Obama will make for a great ad.

8:17 PM: I like Obama's reply on the mortgage crisis.... and he's definitely winning the "kiss John Edwards' ass" contest.

8:24 PM: Clinton's response on the political realities of health care makes her sound like George W. Bush: neither of them will negotiate with themselves.

8:27 PM: Obama's "broadcast health care dialogue on C-SPAN" seemed like a deft comparison to Clinton's 1994 health care fiasco... until Wolf Blitzer made it overt.

8:28 PM: K-Lo on the debate: "Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney makes you feel good about America. McCain vs. Hillary makes you stressed."

8:30 PM: Andrew Sullivan: "They are not disabusing me of the notion that discussing the details of healthcare policy is really boring."

8:34 PM: GEORGE!!!!! Jason Alexander is in the house!

8:36 PM: As a former employee, it's worth pointing out that Hillary Clinton's claim that the RAND Corporation is "far from liberal" is a bit rich. If memory serves, they're actually pretty liberal on health care .

8:40 PM: I don't know if it will win him any votes, but Obama's refusal to blame immigration on inner-city unemployment was the right answer

8:48 PM: Clinton gets a point for bringing up the fact that she was co-sponsoring immigration legislation in 2004

8:50 PM: Is there any issue Clinton does not feel personally?

8:53 PM: We're almost at the halfway point... and my card-carrying Democratic Party life partner wife gives the edge to Clinton.

9:03 PM: A Bradley Whitford sighting... our long national nightmare is over.

9:06 PM: Wow, Hillary's wants to let me use my own crieria to evaluate my choice for president?!!! That's the most libertarian thing she's ever said.

9:11 PM: Pierce Brosnan in the house... is he an American citizen?

9:13 PM: And now I see Diane Keaton and Rob Reiner... thank God this audience is truly representative of America.

9:19 PM: One of the problems with watching too many of these debates is that many of these lines have been repeated seventeen times.

9:20 PM: America Ferrara and Alfre Woodard in attendance.... it's good to see Hollywood looking more like America.

9:23 PM: Hillary is proud to have Maxine Waters endorse her? Man, that's sad....

9:27 PM: Topher Grace looks intense.

9:32 PM: Official Blog Wife on Hillary's answer on her Iraq vote: "Is this her 'I did not inhale' moment?"

9:33 PM: Hillary claims that no one could forsee that President Bush was bound and determined to go to war in Iraq? Um, really? That was pretty obvious to the entire blogosphere in the fall of 2002. UPDATE: And Obama makes exactly this point.

9:39 PM: Lou Gossett Jr. sighting. The first Oscar winner. UPDATE: And Spielberg as well... Garry Shandling did not win an Oscar.

9:46 PM: Good Lord, Hillary Clinton has the worst, most annoying laugh ever.

9:52 PM: Maybe they're good actors, but there seemed to be genuine affection between the two of them at the end of the debate.

9:53 PM: From the Blog Wife -- she gives a thumbs up to the earth-tones of Hillary's brown suit with the turquoise jewelry, but Obama's tie exuded cool.

FINAL ASSESSMENT: I thought Clinton did marginally better on the nitty-gritty of policy, but Obama did better on everything else. More importantly, given his past debate performances, Obama did much better than expected.

Thumbs up to Doyle McManus as well... and thumbs down to Wolf Blitzer.

posted by Dan at 07:57 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Behold the awesome power of undorsements!!!

In December I wrote: "[M]y two undorsements of candidates that could ostensibly win are.... John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani."

Today, both Edwards and Giuliani are dropping out.


Many thanks to Minipundit for the shout-out.

posted by Dan at 10:19 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

I won't have Rudy Giuliani to kick around anymore

I know I've picked on Rudy Giuliani during his presidential campaign, and it seems a bit cruel to dogpile on him after he finished a distant third in his make-or-break state.

That said, after reading Michael Powell and Michael Cooper's dissection of the Giuliani campaign in the New York Times, I do have one final thought. Consider this passage:

Mr. Giuliani’s campaign was stumbling, even if it was not immediately evident. He leaned on friendly executives who would let him speak to employees in company cafeterias. Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain, by contrast, compiled lists of undecided Republican voters and invited them — sometimes weeks in advance — to town-hall-style meetings.

“Rudy Giuliani had a tremendous opportunity in New Hampshire that his campaign never embraced,” said Fergus Cullen, the state Republican chairman. “They vacillated between being half committed and three-quarters committed, and that doesn’t work up here.”

Mr. Giuliani also relied on a New York-style approach to photo-friendly crowds. “Rudy went very heavy on Potemkin Village stops, working what I call ‘hostage audiences,’ “ Mr. Cullen said. “It looked like he was campaigning, but he didn’t know who he was talking to.”....

In the end, Mr. Giuliani and his advisers treated supporters as if they were so many serried lines of troops. If they tell a pollster in November that they are going to vote for you, this indicates they are forever in your camp, their thinking went.

But politics does not march to a military beat; it is a business of shifting loyalties. By Tuesday night, even those voters who rated terrorism as the most important issue were as likely to vote for Mr. Romney or Mr. McCain as for Mr. Giuliani.

From the way he organized his campaign, it seems like Giuliani would have been a complete failure at any kind of governance that would have required, you know, politics or legislation or wonky stuff like that.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 28, 2008

This year, pollsters know nothing

From the Wall Street Journal's Christopher Cooper and Amy Chozick:

This has proved a tough season for statewide pollsters even by historical standards. Mrs. Clinton eked out a win in New Hampshire even though most pollsters expected her to be buried by Mr. Obama. A recent analysis of polls in that state by Survey USA found that pollsters were off by an average of 10 percentage points in the days leading up to the election. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, where Mr. Obama routed Mrs. Clinton on Saturday, Survey USA found that prognosticators did even worse, chalking up average error rates of 17 percentage points.
What's odd about this is that the bulk of Cooper and Chozick's article is about how Hillary Clinton has a built-in advantage come Super Tuesday... because of statewide polls showing her in the lead.

posted by Dan at 09:40 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking on the bright side of politics

Kevin Drum is grumpy about the post-South Carolina primary reaction:

I haven't been impressed with very much of the chatter about Barack Obama's primary victory last night. Hillary didn't give a concession speech? Give me a break. Who cares? Turnout was up? Yes, but it's been an exciting and money-filled campaign and turnout has been up everywhere. Obama won the black vote and lost the white vote? Nothing new there. Obama won young people and Hillary won among the elderly? Again, no surprise.
I'll maintain that South Carolina is another notch in an argument I made in Newsweek ten days ago:
In a pleasant surprise, negative campaigning has not worked. Part of the explanation for Huckabee's rise in the polls has been the relentlessly upbeat quality of the campaign and the man. Mitt Romney, in contrast, has not gained much from attacking either Huckabee or McCain. Obama's optimism on the campaign trail worked well for him, until women thought Hillary was being unfairly attacked and rallied behind her. In South Carolina, however, Clinton will likely pay a price for statements made by her, her husband, and her surrogates impugning Obama in particular and, in some instances, the civil rights movement in general.
I think this thesis still holds up. Romney did well n Michigan because he stopped pandering to social conservatives and started pandering to scared auto workers campaigned on his economics and business expertise.

My real test will come in Florida on the GOP side, however. Yesterday John McCain went negative on Romney in a pretty misleading way.

If my hypothesis is correct, Romney wins Florida.

As Drum wryly observed in a previous post, "As long as negative campaigning works — and it's worked pretty effectively ever since Og defeated Ug 56-55 for the presidency of the Olduvai Gorge Mammoth Hunting Alliance — we'll keep seeing it." Drum is likely correct, but so far this year, negative campaigning has been a stinker of a campaign tactic.

posted by Dan at 09:56 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Everybody hates someone

Let's see if we can briefly summarize who irrationally dislikes who:

1) According to the New York Times' Michael Luo, all the other Republicans personally dislike Romney;

2) Paul Krugman's dislike of Barack Obama is a matter of public record;

3) Matthew Yglesias dislikes McCain;

4) Andrew Sullivan really loathes Bill and Hillary Clinton -- and clearly, he's not alone

5) Stephen Bainbridge dislikes everyone except Fred Thompson.

This was just off the top of my head.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Your political quiz of the day

Who wrote the following?

The Clintons play dirty when they feel threatened. But we knew that, didn't we?

....High-minded and self-important on the surface, smarmily duplicitous underneath, meanwhile jabbing hard to the groin area. They are a slippery pair and come as a package. The nation is at fair risk of getting them back in the White House for four more years. The thought makes me queasy.

It's a multiple choice:
A) Jonah Goldberg

B) William Greider

C) Maureen Dowd

D) Bob Novak

For the answer, cick here.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

A small memo to the Center for Public Integrity

Dear CPI staffer,

So I hear you have this brand-new website that, "documents 935 false statements by top administration officials to justify Iraq War." This is a great public good, and you have reason to feel happy about it.

On the other hand:

1) Sending me approximately 935 e-mail notifications about the new website will not put you in my good graces [C'mon, it was really close to 935?--ed. OK, it was closer to five, but I can confirm that these e-mails actually existed, and they clearly have the capability to send me 931 more. I had to act preemptively.]

2) Just to nitpick a little more, you aver that:

Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period. Congressional oversight has focused almost entirely on the quality of the U.S. government's pre-war intelligence — not the judgment, public statements, or public accountability of its highest officials. And, of course, only four of the officials — Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz — have testified before Congress about Iraq.
OK, except that the other four officials that you highlight in the report are "White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan," President Bush, and Vice President Cheney. The latter two ain't testifying, and do you really think that the first two would provide any value-added?
Warm regards,

Daniel Drezner

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An assignment to the mediasphere and blogosphere

Well, that South Carolina debate sure was pleasant, wasn't it?

I'm intrigued by Obama deciding to bring up the "Bill issue," as it were:
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign this week in South Carolina is essentially running Mr. Clinton against Mr. Obama. The two have been engaged in a war of words, with Mr. Clinton accusing the Obama campaign of voter coercion in the Nevada caucuses, and Mr. Obama saying on Monday that Mr. Clinton had made comments that were “not factually accurate” and that his advocacy for his wife had grown “pretty troubling.”....

Mr. Clinton has drawn particular criticism for saying, just before Mrs. Clinton’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, that Mr. Obama’s depiction of his steady opposition to the Iraq war was “a fairy tale,” given that Mr. Obama voted for a time for Iraq war financing and once indicated that he was not sure how he would have voted on authorizing military action in Iraq.

At the Ebenezer congregation on Monday, an Obama supporter, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, appeared to take a shot at Mr. Clinton over that comment as he sat a few feet away.

“In this beautiful, all-American morning,” Ms. Franklin said, “we are at the cusp of turning the impossible into reality. Yes, this is reality, no fantasy or fairy tale.”

Pundits are also chatting up Bill Clinton's advocacy.

Which leads to my question to readers and reporters: it would seem that the obvious comparison to Bill Clinton's conduct in the 2008 campaign is George H.W. Bush's conduct during the 2000 campaign. To what extent has President Clinton's advocacy for his wife exceeded Bush's advocacy for his son?

Combing through Google news archives during the primary phase of the campaign, it's tough to find much at all on Bush pere. There are a few mentions of Bush's father campaigning for his son, but frankly, there was less than I expected. I could not find anything about Bush attacking McCain, Forbes, or other primary candidates (which does not mean anything can't be found). Even more surprisingly, I can't find a story this month that has made this comparison (again, that does not mean anything can't be found).

Question to readers: has Bill Clinton crossed the line in campaigning for his wife? Is there a line to cross?

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Managing the bureaucracy....

Henry Farrell summarizes an interesting blog exchange between Timothy Burke and Brad DeLong on the proper relationship between leaders and bureaucracies.

Burke first:

[O]ne of the interesting bits of information to come out of the Iraq War so far has to do with why US intelligence was so off about Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. People who want to argue that intelligence was purely concocted for political purposes are too simplistic, people who want to reduce it all to the will of Dick Cheney or a few neocons are too simplistic, people who want to make it a sincere mistake are too simplistic. Some of what strikes me as actually involved includes:

a. That very indirectly, almost “culturally” or ideologically, actors inside the Bush Administration made it known that they, even more than their predecessors, would not welcome intelligence which blatantly contradicted beliefs or assumptions that they were inclined to make. No one ever sends an order down that says, “Here’s the casus belli we need, please write it up! kthnx.” This kind of pressure gets exerted when someone like Cheney says in a conversation that includes key advisors and heads of executive departments that intelligence has been “too timid” in the past, or is too dominated by experts who are unwilling to act. The thing is, Cheney (or various neocons) could believe that statement as a reaction to some factual understanding of the history of US intelligence, could say it as a reflection of a much more intuitive kind of personal, emotional orientation towards leadership (think John Bolton here), and so on–and could not entirely know themselves why they say it, or how that statement is likely to be received or interpreted.

2) Another thing at play: how the movement of information through institutions is rather like a game of telephone, that there is a kind of drift and transformation which has less to do with intentionality and more to do with processes of translation, reparsing, repackaging and repurposing as information travels from office to office, up and down hierarchies. So at one level of action and knowledge, you can get a very granular, nuanced understanding of the extremely limited value of a source like “Curveball”, but a process rather like genetic drift starts to mutate that knowledge into something else by the time it reaches the layer where ultimate decisions are made.

Now DeLong:
Tim Burke is both right and wrong. He is right: courts are the natural habitats of deceitful courtiers who tell the princes exactly what the princes want to hear, the people on the spot who control implementation matter in ways that the people around polished walnut tables in rooms with green silk walls do not, and the movement of information through bureaucracies does resemble a game of telephone with distortions amplified at every link.


Those with sufficient virtu to become princes in this modern age are well aware of all these deficiencies of bureaucracies and courts....

by the time anyone (a) possesses sufficient virtu, (b) is forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five, and (c) has seen the world, there is no excuse for not understanding that as a czar your cossacks respond to the incentives you set them, that you can change those incentives, and that you are responsible for the behavior that your incentives elicit. By the time you are forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five, you know very well that when you say that "intelligence has been 'too timid' in the past," what they hear you saying is "don't tell me what you think, tell me what I want to hear." George W. Bush--the feckless and virtu-less hereditary prince--may well not have clued in to the fact that Condi Rice had decided that if she told him what he needed to hear she might get fired, while if she told him what he wanted to hear she would get promoted. But Colin Powell knew damned well what the flow of "intelligence" from George Tenet to him was worth unverified, and knew damned well that taking care not to try to verify it was a way of preserving his own options for the future. And Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld knew damned well--unless they are much farther into their dotage than I believe--that their confidence in Saddam Hussein's WMD program was based not on intelligence but on their judgment that they would have active WMD programs if they were Saddam Hussein.

The frictions and distortions of the bureaucracy and the court exist. They are, however, counterbalanced by the intelligence, the sophistication, and the energy of the principals at the top. If the czar wishes, the cossacks do work for him. And if the czar doesn't want to take the time to make the cossacks work for him--well, that is his decision and what happens is his will just as well.

And now Henry:
I’m with Brad on this, but I want to go one step further. The very fact of ambiguous motivations and uncertainty about what the people at the top really want can be a crucial source of strategic power for those people. By combining ambiguous information about the motivations of those in power with implicit incentives to please them, powerful people can strategically shape the things that underlings do and do not do, without ever specifically demanding that they do anything....

More generally, the problem of ambiguity, reflects, as Brad says, to a very considerable degree the desires of those at the top. Moreover, it may be a crucial source of power for them. It allows them to blur lines of accountability and responsibility, by making underlings guess what they want, while never having the comfort of explicit instructions. Hence decisions by underlings over torture, to destroy tapes, to skew intelligence in the one way rather than another, that are based on well grounded inferences about the preferences of those above, but which don’t allow others later to reconstruct clear chains of causation and responsibility that lead from those at top to those who want to implement their wishes. That motivations may not be unambiguously discernible from context doesn’t mean that their motivations don’t exist, or that beliefs about those motivations aren’t important. Moreover, precisely that ambiguity over motivations allows for all sorts of strategic actions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

My take: there are cross-cutting effects in the relationship between bureaucracies and "courts" as Brad puts it. No doubt, bureaucrats will want to please their superiors, and that can affect the kinds of information that they receive.

On the other hand, there is an large and robust literature in political science on the fact that bureaucracies can also resist, evade, or sabotage the policy preferences of their political superiors. Indeed, this came up earlier this week in the Nevada debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (NOTE: if anyone can find a shorter YouTube clip that only encompasses the first 7 minutes, post it in the comments):

Hillary Clinton's concern with bureaucratic evasion mirrors the Bush administration's utter and complete conviction, when they came to power in 2001, that they faced a hostile and ideologically biased bureaucracy. Being embedded in said bureaucracy at the time, I think the Bushies were about 15% correct and 85% incorrect, and this led to some horrible policymaking processes. An interesting question going forward is whether Clinton would display the same kind of organizational pathologies.

To be clear, Brad and Henry are correct to say that leaders should be wary of eager-to-please courtiers, and should be willing to pulse the system in order to get alternative sources of information. The irony of the Bush administration, however, is that in the case of intelligence gathering, Cheney and Rumsfeld did precisely this very thing. In their case, however, it was because they thought the intelligence apparatus' inherent risk aversion was preventing them from drawing the conclusions that they had already drawn about Saddam Hussein. And, as Hillary Clinton's statements suggest, this is hardly a GOP phenomenon.

One last quick thought: I don't really buy Farrell's strategic ambiguity argument -- or, at least, it was at best a minor key in this administration. George W. Bush is a lot of things, but "ambiguous" ain't one of them. And it's Bush's decisions that, in the end, set the tone for the administration. One of the biggest problems with liberal critiques of the Bush administration has been the assumption that Bush has been from the nose by Cheney, Rumsfeld, neocons, etc. Bull s**t. The president has been the decider.

posted by Dan at 09:06 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Old-time prediction markets

In my latest Marketplace commentary, I pointed out that the accuracy of prediction markets would improve as they went more mainstream. Essentially, as markets widen and deepen, their informational efficiency should improve.

I had assumed that we would need to wait for the future for this to happen. However, Paul Rhode and Koleman Strumpf provide some fascinating evidence from the past in thieir paper, "Historical Presidential Betting Markets." The highlights:

This paper analyzes the large and often well organized markets for betting on presidential elections that operated between 1868 and 1940. Over $165 million (in 2002 dollars) was wagered in one election, and betting activity at times dominated transactions in the stock exchanges on Wall Street.

Drawing on an investigation of several thousand newspaper articles, we develop and analyze data on betting volumes and prices to address four main points. First, we show that the market did a remarkable job forecasting elections in an era before scientific polling. In only one case did the candidate clearly favored in the betting a month before Election Day lose, and even state-specific forecasts were quite accurate. This performance compares favorably with that of the Iowa Electronic Market (currently the only legal venue for election betting in the U.S.). Second, the market was fairly efficient, despite the limited information of participants and attempts to manipulate the odds by political parties and newspapers. Third, we argue political betting markets disappeared largely because of the rise of scientific polls and the increasing availability of other forms of gambling. Finally, we discuss lessons this experience provides for the present....

The extent of activity in the presidential betting markets of this time was astonishingly large. For brief periods, betting on political outcomes at the Curb Exchange in New York would exceed trading in stocks and bonds. Crowds formed in the financial district – on the Curb or in the lobby of the New York Stock Exchange— and brokers would call out bid and ask odds as if trading securities. In presidential races such as 1896, 1900, 1904, 1916, and 1924, the New York Times, Sun, and World provided nearly daily quotes from early October until Election Day....

In the 15 elections between 1884 and 1940, the mid-October betting favorite won 11 times (73 percent) and the underdog won only once (when in 1916 Wilson upset Hughes on the West Coast). In the remaining three contests (1884-92), the odds were essentially even throughout and the races very close. The capacity of the betting markets to aggregate information is all the more remarkable given the absence of scientific polls before the mid-1930s. The betting odds possessed much better predictive power than other generally available information. Moreover, the betting market was not succeeding by just picking one party or by picking incumbents. Over this period, Republicans won eight of the elections in the Electoral College and Democrats seven; the party in power won eight, the opposition seven.

Hat tip: The Monkey Cage's John Sides.

posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reason #342 why Election is the greatest movie ever made about American politics... ever
Thank you, Slate.
posted by Dan at 11:31 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A snow day bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog -- with Henry Farrell -- is now online at the brand-spanking new bloggingheads site. We talk a lot about the 2008 campaign in all its facets.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 07:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Let's save everyone the trouble of reading Paul Krugman for the rest of 2008

Shorter (but equally dogmatic) Paul Krugman:

We’re heading into a recession (ignore what I've said before -- this time I'm sure).

The Republicans are blinkered.

Everything is Alan Greenspan’s fault.

I luuuuuv John Edwards.

Barack Obama is not a real progressive.

Repeat twice a week until about, I'd say, mid-August.

posted by Dan at 08:31 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Your dumb-ass quote of the day

From John Kerry's endorsement of Barack Obama:

"Experience is not defined by years spent in Washington but by instinct and judgment and wisdom,” Mr Kerry told a crowd of about 2,000 at a college in Charleston, South Carolina.
I can sort of see judgment and wisdom emanating from experience... but instinct? Isn't that pretty much the opposite of experience?

Doesn't that almost sound like Stephen Colbert said it? I was wondering what his writers were doing during the strike.

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder has more.

posted by Dan at 08:21 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Great, I should vote for the nutjob

It turns out that half the country will be voting in a primary where the outcome is not preordained. This is a good thing -- but which candidate deserves your vote?

We here at danieldrezner.com will not be endorsing anyone -- despite claims to the contrary. However, as a useful exercise, some political scientists have put together a 36-question issues survey to see where you fit on the political landscape. It's called Electoral Compass. (One obvious downside to the survey: there's no effort to weight issues to your intensity of preference).

Taking the survey, I discovered -- yet again -- that I'm a social liberal and on the economic right. The only candidate even close to my orbit is Ron Paul. Among the Democrats, the closest candidate to my ideal point is Barack Obama. Among "contending" Republicans, it's Rudy Giuliani.

This, by the way, is why things like pesonality and leadership style are relevant to voting decisions (and are tough to capture in suveys). A candidate's policy positions are not the only thing that matter. The way in which the candidate will try to implement these policies matters too. I wouldn't vote for a candidate who shared my precise policy positions but decided to implement them by constitutionally questionable methods, for example. Process matters just as much as substance.

Mostly, the survey confirms that it's lonely out there for both libertarians and populists. The Democrats are tightly bunched in the socially liberal/economic left category, the Republicans are (somewhat less) tightly bunched in the socially conservative/economically right category. This is why, by the way, efforts to forge bipartisanship can lead to wildly divergent outcomes.

Take the survey yourself and report back where you land.

UPDATE: James Joyner has further criticisms of the survey methodology.

posted by Dan at 09:20 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hey, I'm just the publisher, don't look at me!

The New Republic's Jaime Kirchick looks at the newsletters Ron Paul used to send out to subscribers back in the day. The results are not pretty:

[W]hoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul's name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.
Read the whole thing -- it's pretty devastating. Ron Paul's response is here, and includes this passage:
When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.
Note to self: reconsider outsourcing blog to nice man from Nigeria who promises to transfer 1 million pounds to my bank account.

UPDATE: At one point, Kirchick writes that Paul's supporters are "are nothing like the urbane libertarians who staff the Cato Institute or the libertines at Reason magazine." Does this mean there are no libertines at Catoand no urbane libertarians at Reason?

Of course, Kirchick also forgot the final clause in his sentence: "or the complete geeks at the Institute for Humane Studies."

posted by Dan at 07:26 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Deconstructing Hillaryvision

Two snippets of video regarding Hillary Clinton have/will dominate the current news cycle. The first one happened at the weekend debate in New Hampshire, and is currently #1 at YouTube:

The second one happened today -- as Newsweek put it, "Hillary Tears Up." Take a look:
Here's the New York Times' coverage of the same incident

If Hillary does worse than expected, pundits will point to the first snippet of video as an example of her "heated response" turning off voters. If Hillary does better than expected, pundits will point to the second snippet of video as the moment when Hillary "humanized" herself to the voters of New Hampshire, and made the political personal.

Me, I saw the exact same Hillary in both pieces of footage. In both instances, Hillary's words and intonation made two things abundantly clear:

1) Hillary Clinton genuinely thinks the country needs change, and that she has the capacity, as president, to make the country a better place;

2) Hillary Clinton genuinely thinks that no one else but her possesses that capacity, and that it is insulting to suggest otherwise.

On foreign policy matters -- and that's the primary issue area I care about in this election -- there are ways in which I trust Clinton's experience more than Obama's. That second point, however, scares the ever-living crap out of me. That kind of belief bears a strong resemblance to the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvaia Avenue.

Screw the politics of fear and, frankly, screw the politics of hope. I want the politics of doubt. I want a president who, in these complex times, has the capacity to admit error before all is lost.

I get absolutely no whiff of that from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

UPDATE: I'm fascinated by the comment thread to this post. To clarify a few matters:

1) I'm fully aware that "the politics of doubt" is not a winning platform, and that all candidates must project confidence and reassurance in their campaigns. I have no illusions that my preference matches those of others (interestingly, I feel the same way about doctors visits. Doctors tend to project authority because patients feel better if they are completely sure of their diagnosis/course of action. Growing up with a doctor, I much prefer having my physician give a more probabilistic assessment of whatever is ailing me).

2) There's something else I didn't quite nail about Clinton's video sequences -- her sense of entitlement. Put it this way -- while Obama has taken some shots at Hillary's "experience," I haven't heard him say imply that she's unfit for the office. On the other hand, everything in those two video snippets suggests that Clinton has internalized the belief that no one else is remotely deserving of the Oval Office.

3) I'm not endorsing Obama -- not even close. I am paying more attention to the Democratic primary than the Republican one because I'm 80% sure that whoever gets the donkey nomination will be the next president.

posted by Dan at 06:26 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm not saying this definitively, but I'm pretty sure that in a past life, Mark Penn killed a man

Your humble blogger has returned from his overseas travels in better physical shape but still jet-lagged.

I'm not so jet-lagged, however, to not appreciate this supreme bit of karmic payback that Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn might be facing this Tueday.

I received the following in an e-mail from Clinton's press office on Saturday (likely authored by Penn) entitled "WHERE IS THE BOUNCE?":

Two polls that had the race within a few points before the Iowa caucuses have the race tied in New Hampshire after the Iowa caucuses.

In today's CNN/WMUR New Hampshire poll, Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama are tied at 33 percent - their last two polls had Hillary up 4 points and before that had Hillary down 2 points, so there is no statistically significant change in their numbers before and after the Iowa caucuses.

And the Concord Monitor is out as well today with a poll showing the race at 33 percent for Hillary Clinton, 34 percent for Barack Obama and 23 percent for John Edwards – exactly the same margin as before Iowa.

Contrast that with the 17 points John Kerry gained in 2004 in the Boston Globe poll, which catapulted him from a 17-point deficit to a 20-point lead in New Hampshire after the Iowa caucuses. Or with the 7 points Al Gore gained in 2000 in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, increasing his lead in New Hampshire from 5 points to 18 points.

New Hampshire voters are fiercely independent. They will make their own decisions about who to support.

According to Reuters, the fiercely independent New Hampshire voters are beginning to make their decision:
Democrat Barack Obama rocketed to a 10-point lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire one day before their showdown in the state's presidential primary, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Monday.

This is the first of the rolling New Hampshire polls taken entirely after last week's caucuses in Iowa, where Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee scored breakthrough wins that left Clinton and Romney reeling.

Obama, an Illinois senator bidding to make history as the first black U.S. president, gained 11 points on Clinton to lead the one-time Democratic front-runner 39 percent to 29 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was third with 19 percent.

"This is a breathtaking movement in Obama's direction," said pollster John Zogby. "It's a surge for Obama and movement away from Clinton."

To be fair to Penn, not all of the tracking polls are showing this big a lead.

Still, there's something about the initial press release that suggests that karmic payback is coming.

posted by Dan at 09:02 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 4, 2008

My one thought on the Iowa caucus

In the wake of Obama's victory speech after the Iowa caucuses, I was bemused to read this take by Matt Yglesias:

The Obama who gets panned in Paul Krugman columns and sundry blog posts -- the one who just wants to make nice with Republicans and doesn't care about progressive values -- doesn't seem to be on the podium tonight.
Now, I have no doubt that this is what Matt saw when he heard the speech -- but compelling political speeches are often like Rohshach tests -- you see what you want to see. The speech I heard was one where Obama certainly touched on a lot of progressive themes, but one in which he also took pains to speak in very nonpartisan terms:
You have done what America can do in this New Year, 2008. In lines that stretched around schools and churches; in small towns and big cities; you came together as Democrats, Republicans and Independents to stand up and say that we are one nation; we are one people; and our time for change has come.

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that's been all about division and instead make it about addition – to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that's how we'll win in November, and that's how we'll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation.

We are choosing hope over fear. We're choosing unity over division, and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America....

Hope—hope—is what led me here today – with a father from Kenya; a mother from Kansas; and a story that could only happen in the United States of America. Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.

That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can change this country brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand – that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things; because we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America; and at this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.

Now I'm not saying Matt is wrong and I'm right. What I'm saying is that a politician who can make different people hear what they want to hear -- or just be compelled to actively listen -- is not someone who is going to be brought low easily.

Or maybe it's me. Watch for yourself and post your reaction:

posted by Dan at 02:04 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 31, 2007

Your 2008 predictions.... today!!

Greetings from the year 2008!

You poor people who have to wait... uh... several hours before the new year have no idea what awaits you!! You'll commute to work by helicopter or jetpack and wear aluminum-colored clothing. Curiously, the communication devices will be clunkier than current cellular phones.

In the waning hours of 2007 and the beginning hours of 2008, however, it seems appropriate to provide loyal readers with a place to post predictions for 2008. So, the bold amongst you are asked to hereby predict the following:

1) The presidential nominee for the Democratic Party;

2) The presidential nominee for the Republican Party;

3) The winner of the 2008 presidential election

4) The Academy Award Best Picture winner for 2008 (not who should win, but who will win)

5) The winner of the 2008 World Series

6) The winner of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize

My submission is below the fold....

1) Barack Obama (I'm sticking with my original prediction on this, but I'll admit that I can think of way too many land mines over the next few months)

2) Mitt Romney

3) Obama

4) No Country For Old Men

5) The Boston Red Sox over the Arizona Diamondbacks

6) Bono

posted by Dan at 09:59 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Question time for John McCain

It's apparently endorsement season in the blogosphere. The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com is deep in debate about presidential endorsements. With this blog's powerful and deeply distrubed coterie of supporters, it's humbling to think that I could very well double the poll numbers of Duncan Hunter or Chris Dodd if I so chose.

The staff is nearing a consensus, but frankly, it hasn't been easy. I can reveal, however, that the blog is taking a hard look at John McCain. Even if I disagree with him about Iraq, I thought his Foreign Affairs essay was well crafted, and a few weeks back the Economist made some smart points about McCain:

His range of interests as a senator has been remarkable, extending from immigration to business regulation. He knows as much about foreign affairs and military issues as anybody in public life. Or take judgment. True, he has a reputation as a hothead. But he's a hothead who cools down. He does not nurse grudges or agonise about vast conspiracies like some of his colleagues in the Senate. He has also been right about some big issues. He was the first senior Republican to criticise George Bush for invading Iraq with too few troops, and the first to call for Donald Rumsfeld's sacking. He is one of the few Republicans to propose sensible policies on immigration and global warming.
Today, the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg writes about McCain's views on executive power -- and after eight years of the unitary theory of the executive branch, it's very refreshing:
McCain is not much of a sentimentalist, but over a series of scattered remarks in recent speeches and informal interviews he has begun to lay out a vision for a presidency that would feature the trappings of a much simpler time. Besides cutting back his Secret Service coverage so he could move around Washington in a single car instead of a full motorcade, the Republican presidential hopeful says he would like to host weekly press conferences and even subject himself to a congressional version of the rhetorical brawl that Britons know as Prime Minister's Question Time.

To undo what he calls the "lack of credibility in government official statements" on Iraq, McCain says he would hold a separate weekly war briefing to delve into military and political specifics. "I don't know if a lot of Americans want to pay close attention, but at least you're giving them an opportunity to get details," he said in an interview.

The McCain administration he describes would stand as a stylistic riposte to the modern imperial presidency, and especially to President Bush, whose White House is described by specialists as one of the least accessible in recent history.

Read the whole thing. I'm not sure how much of this will actually happen if McCain were elected -- but the fact that his instinct is to push in this direction is a major bonus for me.

I'm a foreign policy wonk, which means that my natural tendency is to sympathize with the executive branch. But even I think the imperial presidency needs to be scaled back a fair degree. So one of the things I'll be asking myself during this endorsement debate is: which candidates will cement the Bush position of executive authority, and which will not?

posted by Dan at 11:18 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Your interesting political observation of the day

From Slate's John Dickerson:

In McCain's conversations with voters, I'm struck by the contrast between him and Barack Obama. I have covered Barack Obama more than John McCain this campaign. Obama tells audiences he's going to tell them uncomfortable truths, but he barely does it. McCain, on the other hand, seems to go out of his way to tell people things they don't like, on issues from immigration to global warming.
Read the rest of the piece for an example.

posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Huh. That's weird...

I reckon that other political bloggers are used to this, but for me, it's very strange to read one's own words in a candidate's press release.

In this case, there's two things that are especially odd. First, Romney's attack on Huckabee largely consists of pointing out how much Huckabee sounds like the Democrats -- which is fine, except that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

Second, everyone and their uncle is harping on the "bunker mentality" quote that Huckabee uses to characterize the Bush administration's policies. If you look at what Huckabee actually proposes -- and admittedly it's now always crystal clear -- there's not a stunning difference between a Bush and a Huckabee approach to foreign policy.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this blog post makes an excellent point. If I had to choose between a dinner at Romney's favorite restaurant in New York and Huckabee's apparent favorite restaurant in New York, I'd go with Romney hands down.

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Paul Krugman says goodbye to his self-awareness

The last few paragraphs of today's Paul Krugman column:

[W]hat happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?

He will probably win — but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform. Let’s be blunt: pundits who say that what voters really want is a candidate who makes them feel good, that they want an end to harsh partisanship, are projecting their own desires onto the public.

And nothing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done. (emphasis added)

Let's stipulate that Krugman is not necessarily wrong in the bolded passage.

Maybe, just maybe, however, pundits who imply that what voters want is a full-throated, partisan, populist candidate are also projecting their own desires onto the public.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks that the Obama campaign is "poor[ly] handling... its relationship with the country's highest-profile liberal columnist," but I have to wonder if Obama is calculating that the long-term benefits outweigh any short-term costs.

As Krugman acknowledges at the beginning of his column, "Broadly speaking, the serious contenders for the Democratic nomination are offering similar policy proposals." Therefore, he's going to broadly support whichever Dem is nominated.

Obama, on the other hand, is not going to be hurt in the general election from a pissing match with Paul Krugman. Indeed, dust-ups like this provide Obama with the kind of perceived independence that plays well with... er... independents.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Random GOP debate thoughts

Through a clever strategy of ignoring almost all of the presidential debates to date, I have now positioned myself to be like the majority of voters who are now paying attention to the race.

So here are some idle thoughts as I listen to the GOP debate that C-SPAN is streaming live on its website:

1) A 30 second response to an answer? Gimme a f@#$ing break -- at best you can talk in vague generalities, at worst you sound like.... this person.

2) Hey, Alan Keyes is running for president again??!! Why, yes, apparently he is. Who knew?

Keyes, remember, ran against Barack Obama for the Illinois Senate seat in 2004. That went really well.

3) Maybe my expectations are low, but Romney's doing a better job than I expected. He doesn't sound "genuine," but he does sound reasonably coherent.

4) Same with Giuliani -- better than expected. I still won't vote for him, but now I can understand why he's managed to remain the titular frontrunner for much longer than bloggers predicted. Compared to a lot of the people on the stage, his demeanor is... reassuring, for lack of a better word. Part of me wonders if the Giuliani campaign is surreptitiously funding Tancredo, Paul, Hunter, and Keyes just so he can look sane by comparison.

5) Did Duncan Hunter really just bash the United States as turning into a "polyglot boarding house"???!!!

6) I believe if Ron Paul were asked how he would cure cancer, he would answer, "eliminate the inflation tax."

7) I don't know if Fred Thompson would make a great president, but he was the only one who gave an answer to any question that had any whiff of brutal candor to it. [Maybe he's just the best actor--ed. No, this was real!]

8) Man, after listening to that for more than an hour, I need a stiff drink.

UPDATE: Debate transcript here.

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bloggers 1, reporters 0

Over at Slate's Trailhead blog, Christopher Beam listens into two conference calls for GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, one for reporters and one for bloggers. Beam's conclusion:

[T]the bloggers’ questions were more substantive by a long shot....

Everyone knows the media is shallow, horse-race obsessed, blah blah blah ... but in many cases, bloggers really are the ones driving discussion of the issues.

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Paranoia about paranoia?

In the Boston Globe today, Drake Bennett takes a closer look at the fears of a conspiracy to create a North American Union -- and what it means about the United States:

The NAU may be the quintessential conspiracy theory for our time, according to scholars studying what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the "paranoid style" in American politics. The theory elegantly weaves old fears and new realities into one coherent and all-encompassing plan, and gives a glimpse of where, politically, many Americans are right now: alarmed over immigration, worried about globalization, and - on both sides of the partisan divide - suspicious of the Bush administration's expansive understanding of executive power.

The belief in an imminent North American Union, says Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and author of a 2001 book on conspiracy theories, "reflects the particular ways in which Americans feel besieged economically, powerless politically, and alienated socially."

Bennett is not the first writer to make this point with regard to the fictional NAU. And certainly, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com is not above poking holes in conspiracy theories or relying on Hofstadter's "paranoid style" to explain a particularly absurd line of argumentation.

Before concluding that America is awash in conspiracy theories, however, there are some paragraphs in Bennett's essay that makes me wonder whether the paranoia problem is less acute now than before:

As a social anxiety, the NAU's roots run deep. Global government and elites who secretly sell out their own citizenry have long been staples of conspiracy theories, thanks in part to the Book of Revelation's warning that world government will be an early indicator of the Apocalypse. Over the centuries, the world's puppeteers have been thought to be, in turn, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Freemasons, the pope, the Jews, international bankers, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rockefellers, and the Communist International.

For most of the 20th century, American conspiracy theories tended to focus on communist infiltration of the upper echelons of the US government. The founder of the John Birch Society, a leading source of such imagined schemes, accused President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, among many others, of being communist agents.

Conspiracy theories have wreaked far more damage on past policies than present ones. One could plausibly argue that in the past, the paranoid style helped torpedo America's entry into the League of Nations and exacerbated the worst excesses of McCarthyism. The paranoias that exist today -- the NAU, the 9/11 conspiracies, Bush stole the 2004 election -- are certainly irksome to policymakers and candidates alike. That said, as political roadblocks I'm not sure they rise to the same level as previous waves of paranoia.

[But the Internets, the Internets!! Surely this shows that conspiracies are omnipresent in a way that never existed before!!--ed. No, they just make them more visible than ever before. The Internet also makes it easier to puncture conspiracy theories earlier than ever before as well.]

I'm not sure I'm right about this, so I'll put the question to readers -- are today's conspiracy theories more harmful than the conspiracy theories of the past? How could we test this assertion?

UPDATE: Hmmm... this Scripps-Howard report suggests the prevalence -- but also the limits -- of the paranoid style (hat tip: Tom Maguire):

A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government's knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds.

The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government.

"You wouldn't have gotten these numbers a year or two after the attacks themselves," said University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster. "You've got an increasingly disaffected public that is unhappy with the administration."....

All the talk about oil and terror has distracted some of the believers in government cover-ups of UFOs. Thirty-seven percent of the respondents said they think it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" flying saucers are real and the government is hiding the truth about them. In a 1995 Scripps survey, 50 percent of Americans responded the same way to the same question.

"The kind of anxieties or mistrust of the government that might have been expressed as a belief in UFOs has shifted," said political science professor Jodi Dean. "Now people are worried about things that are much realer to them."

The decline in the UFO response suggests two things: a) The X-Files has been off the air for some time now; and b) there is a residual belief in some conspiracy at any point in time -- but when the global political economy seem threatening, conspiracy theorists migrate towards those issues.

posted by Dan at 09:45 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good news on stem cell research

Gina Kolata explains in the New York Times:

Two teams of scientists are reporting today that they turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today’s drawbacks will prove to be temporary.

Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work should reshape the stem cell field. At some time in the near future, they said, today’s debate over whether it is morally acceptable to create and destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells should be moot.

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Time to collect my Gore bets

Some colleaues at Fletcher -- who shall remain nameless -- were convinced Al Gore was going to run for President in 2008. When informed of this conviction, I quickly put down bets.

This Fortune story by Marc Gunther and Adam Lashinsky makes me think it's time to collect:

The recovering politician, environmental activist, and Nobel laureate is adding another title to his résumé: venture capitalist. After "a conversation that's gone on for a year and a half," according to Gore, he has decided to join his old pal John Doerr as an active, hands-on partner at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley's preeminent venture firm.

The move is more than another Colin Powell moment (the former Secretary of State signed on as a Kleiner "strategic limited partner" two years ago and has hardly been heard from since). Gore is joining the firm as Kleiner makes a risky move beyond information technology and health-care investing into the fast-growing and increasingly competitive arena of "clean technology."

According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner's latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner's 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.

posted by Dan at 01:34 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A post in which I defend the most insipid magazine article of the year

The nice publicists at Vanity Fair e-mailed me an alert about this Maureen Orth essay about the decline and fall of the Washington social scene (apparently, partisans killed the socialite stars).

Here's how Orth's essay opens:

Red Fay, undersecretary of the navy under John F. Kennedy, was a charming bon vivant, a great pal of the president’s, and the uncle of my roommate at Berkeley in the 60s. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, in May 1964, just six months after Kennedy’s assassination, to have “Uncle Red” invite me to dinner on the presidential yacht, the Sequoia. A few minutes after we arrived on board, I was amazed to see not only Jackie Kennedy but also Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband, Steve Smith, walking up the gangplank. They were followed by George Stevens Jr., the youthful head of the U.S. Information Agency’s motion-picture division; the Peruvian ambassador and his wife; and my roommate’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGettigan, of San Francisco. This was one of Jackie’s first nights out since the tragedy, but she greeted everyone graciously. She was in ethereal white and spoke little during dinner, except to the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was seated to her right.

What I remember most vividly about that evening was an exchange I had with Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general. “What are you going to be next, vice president or senator?,” I asked rather impudently, because I did not want him to think I was a brainless bimbo. The question of how the Kennedy dynasty would proceed was very much in the air, for Lyndon Johnson had not yet announced a running mate. “What do you think I should be?,” Kennedy shot back, his steel-blue eyes boring into me. “Well, I think you should be senator,” I said, “because everyone remembers you trying to twist arms at the last convention, and I don’t think Lyndon Johnson will let you be vice president.” He then opened up a barrage of questions: “Who are you? What does your father do?” In the middle of one of my answers, he turned away and waved to a group of tourists on a boat at least a hundred yards from us across the Potomac. I was highly insulted, for I had been planning to enlist in the Peace Corps, whose director was his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, and suddenly Bobby Kennedy seemed to me like just another pol. (In those days he was still closer to J. Edgar Hoover than to César Chávez or Martin Luther King Jr.)

The dinner was great fun, however, with lots of jokes and toasts, and the next day Uncle Red took me out to Hickory Hill, Bobby and Ethel’s residence in McLean, Virginia. R.F.K., in cutoff jeans, was playing touch football on the front lawn. Ethel, wearing a two-piece bathing suit, was visibly pregnant. In the driveway, a limousine waiting to take the attorney general “up to New York” was sure proof, I felt, that he must be going for the Senate. (Like Hillary Clinton, R.F.K. became an instant resident of the state, and he went on to defeat incumbent Ken Keating.) “Bobby,” Red Fay said, “I brought Maureen out here so you could give her some advice about her life.” Bobby smiled. “Advise her?” he said. “Hell, last night she told me what to do!”

As you can imagine, a whole lotta of bloggers have gone to town on the piece -- and I really can't blame them. Beyond her personal reflections, the piece primarily consists of older DC doyennes bemoaning that people don't know what finger bowls are anymore, or socialities that lack old money, an illustrious family, or great wealth..

At one point Orth actually complains, "Washington is far more diverse today than it was when Wasps with pedigrees who went into journalism and government service constituted the Georgetown set." Mon dieu!!

In the perverse joy of contrarianism, however, I will try to find two things that are useful in Orth's essay.....

1) Orth's essay will be a great template for the Vanity Fair arrticle I will write in 2042 about how the blogospheric social scene ain't what it used to be. Here's how my essay will open:

Tyler Cowen was a bon vivant, a gourmand, and an acquaintance of mine from my days orbiting Virginia Postrel's intellectual salon. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, to have “the Big Kahuna” invite me to dinner at one of the best hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants in DC. A few minutes after we arrived, I was amazed to see not only Megan McArdle but also Ana Marie Cox, Steve Clemons, Matthew Yglesias and Josh Marshall, walking up the order window to get some tacos. This was one of Megan's first nights out since leaving New York City for DC, but she greeted everyone graciously with her dewy green eyes. She was in ethereal white short shorts and spoke little during dinner, except to Jacob Levy, who was seated to her right (she asked him to pass her the hot sauce).

What I remember most vividly about that evening was an exchange I had with Andrew Sullivan. “Where are you going to blog next, Harper's or The Atlantic?,” I asked rather impudently, because I really wanted him to think I was a brainless himbo trying to grab up his old slot at Time. The question of how Sullivan's political arc would proceed was very much in the air, for his mud-wrestling match with Mickey Kaus had yet to be scheduled. “Where do you think I should blog?,” Sullivan shot back, his steel-blue eyes boring into me as he wiped guacamole from his beard. “Well, I think you should go to the Atlantic,” I said, “because everyone remembers Lewis Lapham's little faux pas from 2004, and I don’t think he'll let you go on bloggingheads.tv.” He then opened up a barrage of questions: “Who are you? What do you think of gay marriage?” In the middle of one of my answers, he turned away and waved to a group of really hot guys on the prowl across the road. I was highly insulted, for I thought I still had my looks -- plus, I had really been hoping to blog for The New Republic, whose boss was still tight with him, and suddenly Andrew Sullivan seemed to me like just another blogger. (In those days he was still closer to Glenn Reynolds than to Spencer Ackerman or Glenn Greenwald.)

And so on.

2) The piece suggests that there has been no real replacements for the old hostesses: "Susan Mary Alsop, Oatsie Charles, Evangeline Bruce, Kay Graham, and Pamela Harriman." What puzzles me is why. If we're drowning in a sea of the super-rich, surely there must be at least a few individuals who would choose to specialize at the task of non-partisan power-schmoozing. (One possibility is that these people, rather than creating non-partisan social environments, take the charitable cause route. Damn those AIDS victims!! Damn them to hell!!)

posted by Dan at 03:51 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Political winners and losers from the Hollywood strike

Forget the troubles in Pakistan -- let's focus on something really impirtant, like the Hollywood writers and how it affects the 2008 campaign.

USA Today's Gary Leven and Bill Keveney explain the immediate effects from the strike: "Jay Leno and David Letterman will go dark tonight as last-ditch talks failed and the first strike by movie and TV writers since 1988 began at midnight." Also The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, etc.

In other words, every show that takes delight in mocking/satirizing the presidential candidates is now down indefinitely. If the politics of campaigning is a zero-sum game, who wins and who loses?

I'd have to say the big losers are Barack Obama and John McCain. As his SNL cameo suggests, and as Kevin Drum elaborates, Obama has largely been immune from press criticism, and I'd wager that this extends to the satirical shows. McCain, as everyone knows, is the Ed McMahon to Stewart's Johnny Carson. As I pointed out in The National Interest, Obama and McCain are unusual in that they are politicians that can get (and want) access to "soft news" outlets. They don't have that option for the near future, denying them free media.

The big winners are all the candidates who are vulnerable to satire.... or the favorite targets of Hollywood writers. In other words, Hillary Clinton and the entire Republican field.

The biggest winner is likely the news media itself..... they won't have Jon Stewart to kick them around for the indefinite future.

posted by Dan at 10:09 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A question for the fair and balanced reader

Kevin Drum asks an interesting question:

[I]is there any subject among liberals that has the same totemic appeal as tax cutting does to conservatives? As near as I can tell, every single Republican running for president publicly says that cutting taxes always raises revenues — even though the idea is as absurd as Ron Paul's gold standard crankiness. Ditto for the Heritage Foundation, AEI, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc. etc. Deviate from the party line, as Bruce Bartlett has, and you're quickly excommunicated.

Liberals agree on lots of things, but I just can't think of anything that's enforced quite as ruthlessly as the conservative party line on tax cuts. Any ideas?

OK, fair and balanced readers... have at it.

[Your two cents?--ed. There's an easy and a hard answer. The easy answer is what's enforced ruthlessly right now vs. what's been enforced ruthlessly over the past two decades. I think I have at least one answer to the former question (don't touch Social Security). My only answer for the latter would be abortion rights.

posted by Dan at 09:18 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Brooks vs. the netroots, round XVII

David Brooks' column today makes me rethink my truculence about the death of TimesSelect.

Brooks' argument is that the liberal netroots are not meeting expectations in affecting the Democratic Party:

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.

Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.

Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class.

That’s what’s happening again.

Read the whole thing... definitely not crap. But I do have a few cavils. Are celebrities mobuls really shying away from Clinton? Wasn't Steven Spielberg's endorsement a signal to other members of the cultural elite to line up behind Hillary? Similarly, hasn't Hillary's supporters been more likely to max out their campaign contributions to date -- suggesting that Obama has done just as well in tapping support from low income households? And would the netroots really be upset by President Hillary? Wasn't there a fair amount of netroots enthusiasm about Hillary's health care plan?

Readers are requested to link to the most hyperbolic netroot response they can find to this column.

posted by Dan at 08:35 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The unique legacy of George W. Bush

According to the Wall Street Journal, "lifelong libertarian Republican" Alan Greenspan does not think much of President George W. Bush:

Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes.
As strange as it seems today, Greenspan's expectations about the incoming administration were not completely out of whack. There was a time when people thought Paul O'Neill would make a great Treasury Secretary. Norwas this expectation limited to fiscal policy. On foreign policy, for example, Colin Powell, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all had good to excellent track records in previous administrations.

At this stage of the game, however, there are clearly four categories of legacies that come with working for George W. Bush:

1) Those lucky few who will emerge with their reputation intact somehow. Examples: Bob Zoellick, Rob Portman, Ben Bernanke.

2) Those whose reputations acquired a stain that will be difficult to erase. Examples: Colin Powell (and his speech to the U.N.), Alan Greenspan (and his endorsement of the Bush tax cuts).

3) Those whose actions have led journalists to engage in psychoanalysis to figure out what the heck went wrong: Examples: Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld.

4) Those who have committed career suicide through repeated screw-ups. Examples: Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzales.

(1) and (4) do not interest me as much as (2) and (3). How is it possible for so many distinguished policymakers to have been brought so low by one administration?

UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out that Greenspan's endorsement of the tax cuts do not fall into the same category as what other officials did, since he certainly did not endorse the massive spending increases that followed the tax cuts. I think this is a fair point, and can be summed up in an exchange Greenspan had with Bob Rubin about his testimony regarding the tax cuts:

Bob Rubin phoned.... With a big tax cut, said Bob, "the risk is, you lose the fiscal discipline."...

"Bob, where in my testimony do you disagree?"

There was silence. Finally he replied, "The issue isn't so much what you're saying. It's how it's going to be perceived."

"I cant be in charge of people's perceptions," I responded wearily. "I don't function that way. I can't function that way."

It turned out that Conrad and Rubin were right....

Let me put it this way. I think Greenspan can erase his stain with less effort than others in category (2). However, he's going to have to deal with people very eager to keep refreshing that stain.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Did I miss something to obsess about?

Today I received an e-mail from the folks at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas imploring me to check out Bernard Schwartz and Sherle Schwenninger's article, "Public Investment Works." The one-sentence summary of the argument:

BLS Chairman Bernard Schwartz and New America Foundation Senior Fellow Sherle Schwenninger posit that in an age of decaying infrastructure and failing schools, we can - and must - eschew our obsession with balanced budgets and find ways to make smart public-works investments. (emphasis added)
Um.... how do I put this.... was I in a coma when this obsession gripped the country?

President Bush and most of the Republican members of Congress haven't cared much about balanced budgets for some time.

As for the Democrats, in this century,* the only griping about fiscal rectitude came during the first term of the Bush administration, mostly as a way to attack Bush's fiscal policy. During the second term, I keep reading folks like Paul Krugman articulate the exact same set of talking points as Schwartz and Schwenninger.

What does someone like Hillary Clinton -- whome one would assume to be closest in spirit to her husband's legacy -- think about this? Let's go to her economic speech from last year:

We can return to fiscal discipline. We can invest in infrastructure, research and education, jump start a smarter energy future, promote manufacturing, rein in healthcare costs. And we can do it in ways that renew the basic bargain with America's middle class.
There's certainly a nod to fiscal discipline -- but she seems way more keen on those infrastructure investments to me.

Seriously, has anyone out there been obsessed about reducing the deficit in recent years?

*It's certainly true that, way, way back in the nineties, key parts of Clinton's team were fiscal hawks. Even then, however, folks like Bob Reich were hell-bent on infrastructure investments.

UPDATE: Ah, I see the problem now -- I'm "too knowledgeable". Truly an unusual problem for your humble blogger.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Your Giuliani observation of the day

Take this for what you will:

Over the past month, I've had at least two dozen conversations with various people about Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. A lot of these people are Democrats, but there were a healthy number of Republicans and independents as well. These are all smart observers of politics who generally do not make knee-jerk assessments. The one common denominator was that, at some point, all of these people had lived in the New York City area while Rudy was mayor.

What is astonishing is that, despite the fact that this collection of individuals would likely disagree about pretty much everything, there was an airtight conensus about one and only one point:

A Giuliani presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States.
That is all.

UPDATE: Commenters have reasonably asked the "why?" question. For some answers from New Yorkers, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 08:03 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Let the campaign commence!

Well, it's after Labor Day, so I guess that the presidential campaign for 2008 should be gearing up right about now.

I, for one, think that Fred Thompson fellow is smart to be laying the groundwork to declare so early -- he'll have a jump on the rest of the putative field.

I wonder when the first debates will be.....

posted by Dan at 07:52 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 27, 2007

John Dickerson sums it up for me

In the wake of Alberto Gonzales' resignation, John Dickerson has a Slate column that nicely summarizes a big deficit in Bush's managerial style:

The personnel failures make it very hard for Bush fans to defend the president because they so deeply undermine the tenets of his management style as he articulates it. Bush has often talked in almost mystical terms about his ability to take the measure of people by looking them in the eye. His most infamous snap judgment, early in his first term, was peeking into the soul of Vladimir Putin and finding goodness. But even with years of presidential experience, he continues to make terrible judgments about the aptitudes of his own staffers. Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales may be very nice people, but they were never competent for the jobs Bush wanted them to have.

In talking about the skills necessary for any president, Bush has almost always focused on personnel first. "If I were interviewing a guy for the job of president," he said when I interviewed him for Time in August 2004, "I'd ask, How do you make decisions? How would you get unfiltered information? Would you surround yourself with hacks? Are you scared of smart people? I've seen the effect of the Oval Office on people. People are prepared to come in and speak their minds, and then they get in there, and the place overwhelms them, and they say, 'Gee, Mr. President, you're looking good.' I need people who can walk in and say, 'Hey, you're not looking so great today.' "

This kind of talk thrilled Bush supporters, but the president has never exercised the kind of emotion-free decision-making he bragged about. When it came to personnel decisions, his personal sense of loyalty, his hostility to the Beltway establishment, and his stubbornness all clouded his judgment. Tolerating incompetence has harmed Bush in any number of ways. The worst of these is locking in the idea that he's oblivious to reality.

This has undoubtedly been a key failing of Bush's managerial style. But it's hardly the only one.

posted by Dan at 02:20 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I, for one, would watch this show

Alex Tabarrok proposes So You Think You Can Be President? One proposed segment:

Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers - say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless - make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn't refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.
Diplomacy and Salma. Oh, that's hot.

posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Your Giuliani quote of the day
Rudy was perfectly capable of getting crazy, stupid ideas, and then forcing them on everyone else, when there was absolutely no sex involved.
Megan McArdle, over at her shiny new Atlantic digs.
posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Democratic Party's awful track record, explained

Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry -- Bill Clinton excepted, the Democrats have managed to nominate for president some of the biggest stiffs in the history of modern American politics.

Nevertheless, one has to credit bad Democratic advisors as well. Consider, for example, the lead paragraphs in this USA Today story by Jill Lawrence and Judy Keen:

Karl Rove may be leaving his roles as hard-nosed strategist and bookish policy expert in the Bush White House, but that doesn't mean Democrats can rest easy.

"Karl outside the White House is more dangerous to Democrats than Karl inside the White House," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager. Her view: He'll have lots more free time now to dream up ways to boost President Bush's standing, "rebrand" the GOP and conquer the 2008 electoral map.

My view: Any Democrat who hands Brazile the keys to his/her campaign doesn't really want to win.

Seriously, what kind of analysis is this? Readers are requested to offer suggestions for how the GOP get "rebranded".

posted by Dan at 10:07 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Karl Rove's legacy

So Karl Rove joins the long line of senior officials leaving the Bush administration.

Judging Rove's legacy is a bit different than other policy principals. With someone like a Colin Powell or a Donald Rumsfeld, the question is whether they advocated and implemented worthwhile policies. With Rove, there needs to be an additional question: did his advice provide Bush with the political capital necessary to implement the policies Bush wanted?

Paul Gigot argues in the Wall Street Journal that Rove deserves a lot of credit on this metric. Of course, Rove agrees with this:

Mr. Rove's political influence has been historic, notwithstanding the rout of 2006. His crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior and "a different kind of Republican." In 2002, the president's party gained seats in both the House and Senate in a first midterm election for the first time since 1934.

And in 2004, for only the second time in history, a president won re-election while helping his party gain seats in both houses of Congress; the other time was 1936. Much has been made of John Kerry's ineptitude, but the senator won some eight million more votes than Al Gore did in 2000, and Mr. Rove claims Democrats outspent Republicans by $148 million thanks to billionaire donations to "527" committees. Yet amid a difficult war, Mr. Bush won by increasing his own vote by nearly 25% over 2000, winning 81% of U.S. counties. The Rove-Ken Mehlman turnout effort was a spectacular achievement. If it did nothing else, that 2004 victory put John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

A big debate among Republicans these days is who bears more blame for 2006 -- Messrs. Bush and Rove, or the behavior of the GOP Congress. Mr. Rove has no doubt. "The sense of entitlement was there" among Republicans, he says, "and people smelled it." Yet even with a unified Democratic Party and the war, he argues, it was "a really close election." The GOP lost the Senate by its 3,562 vote margin of defeat in Montana, and in the House the combined margin in the 15 seats that cost control was 85,000 votes.

A prominent non-Beltway Republican recently gave me a different analysis, arguing that the White House made a disastrous decision to "nationalize" the election last autumn; this played into Democratic hands and cost numerous seats.

"I disagree," Mr. Rove replies. "The election was nationalized. It was always going to be about Iraq and the conduct of Republicans." He says Republican Chris Shays and Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman survived in Connecticut despite supporting the war, while Republicans who were linked to corruption or were complacent lost. His biggest error, Mr. Rove says, was in not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal.

What about that new GOP William McKinley-style majority he hoped to build -- isn't that now in tatters, as the country tilts leftward on security, economics and the culture? Again, Mr. Rove disagrees. He says young people are if anything more pro-life and free-market than older Americans, and that, despite the difficulties in Iraq, the country doesn't want to be defeated there or in the fight against Islamic terror. He recalls how Democrats thought driving the U.S. out of Vietnam would also help them politically. "Instead, Democrats have suffered ever since on national security," he says.

Mr. Rove also makes a spirited defense of this president's policy legacy, sometimes more convincingly than others. On foreign affairs, he predicts that at least two parts of the Bush Doctrine will live on: The policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are as culpable as the terrorist; and pre-emption. "There may be a debate about degree," he says, "but it's going to be hard for any president to reverse that."

I have a different take: Karl Rove did maximize Bush's short-run political influence. The long-term costs, however, will not be experienced until well after 2009. And my hunch is that those costs are far greater than Rove acknowledges.

In many ways, this boils down to just mow much power one places in the tyranny of the status quo in politics. It is far more difficult to change policy from its current equilibrium thanb most commentators realize. The question is whether Rove's actions will lead to equal counter-reactions. My hunch is yes, but Karl Rovbe does this for a living... whereas I just teach it.

[Whoa.... earth-shattering analysis here!!--ed. Hey, sometimes the mainstream analysis is correct!]

So, who's more deluded -- Rove or me? You be the judge!

UPDATE: Oliver Willis makes a fair point:

The presidency is failing because of the president. As he has said, he is "the decider", Rove is the adviser. Karl Rove has zero constitutional power or responsibility, while the president has truckloads. Bill Clinton's presidency excelled not because of folks like Begala, Carville, Dick Morris, etc. but because of Bill Clinton's decisions - and similarly Bill Clinton's catastrophic failings were not the doings of his advisers, but himself.

We need to quit elevating these guys to the level of Gods - and the mainstream media, especially people like The Politico's John Harris - are the most guilty of this. Karl Rove is, historically, some freaking guy who worked in the White House. President Bush is the one who history should record as the ultimate "architect" of his own darn failure.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The New York Times has a transcipt of Rove's gaggle with the press on Air Force One.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 3, 2007

This is, I believe, the third concentric circle of hell

Garance Franke-Ruta describes the 2nd annual YearlyKos convention:

[T]his conference does not feel as grassroots or exciting as last year's. It feels like a cross between the annual Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet conference in Washington (which draws a who's who in political technology circles), a Bloggingheads.tv marathon viewing session, and a bunch of National Press Club press conferences by liberal interest groups.
Run, Garance, run!!!

Seriously, this is simply another data point confirming that the co-optation phenomenon Henry and I predicted oh so many years ago (it's coming out in a real political science journal very soon! We swear!!) is coming to pass.

UPDATE: More confirming evidence from Matthew Yglesias:

[I]t really was striking to get the visual of yesterday's gate crashers quite literally mingling with the dread establishment at a cocktail party. The question that nobody seems to know the answer to, though, is whether the revolution ended because the revolutionaries won, or because they sold out? The boring, but probably boring-because-accurate, answer is that it's a little of both.

posted by Dan at 08:28 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dan Balz confuses me

Over at the Washington Post's blog The Trail, Dan Balz makes an observation about the Democrats shifting to the left:

The story line almost writes itself: Democratic president candidates snub centrists but plan to court liberal bloggers. Another sign of the party's leftward drift?

That's the easy and partially correct interpretation of what is happening this week. But not the whole story.

In the past two years, the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC's) annual summer meeting has been a Mecca for would-be candidates. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was there along with three Democrats who have since fallen by the wayside: Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack. Last year in Denver, Clinton among others was there again.

Today, none of the presidential candidates will be in Nashville to address the group that helped redefine the Democratic Party in the late '80s and early '90s -- but the man who did most to put the DLC on the map and who used it as a springboard to the presidency, Bill Clinton, will be.

The candidates cite scheduling conflicts for their absence in Nashville, but a number of them have found time later this week to address the second Yearly Kos convention in Chicago--a clear sign of the ascendance of the blogosphere's influence on politics generally and the Democratic Party in particular.

So what's the whole story? I'm not entirely sure. Balz implies that the DLC is simply less relevant now because of, "the collective desire to put aside what differences remain and focus on winning the White House in 2008." Um, OK, but didn't that collective desire also exist in 2004? Isn't the primary difference between then and now is that the netroots are better organized?

Then Balz closes with:

The Democratic Party has moved to the left since Bill Clinton left office and many independents have moved toward the Democrats because of the Iraq war. But DLC officials predict the party's nominee almost certainly will be at next summer's gathering.
Again, that's actually a sign of waning DLC influence. What matters now is whether the DLC-types can influence who the nominee will be. They have little choice but to provide a platform for whoever the Dems pick.

The fact that YearlyKos matters more than the DLC seems like pretty damning straightforward and uncomplicated evidence to me of where the party has traveled over the last four years.

UPDATE: Changed the word "damning" -- it was a bit more pejorative than I had intended.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum thinks the shift is less about substance than style:

The real difference is that the average Kossack is obsessed with Democrats having the stones to stand up to the modern Republican machine. Presidential candidates get trashed in the Kos diaries not so much when they take disfavored policy positions (though of course that happens too), but when they're viewed as backing down from a fight. The median Kossack may indeed be to the left of the median Democrat — it would be shocking if an activist group weren't — but mainly they just want their candidates to show some backbone.

I suppose in some sense this is a distinction without a difference. A median Democrat who stands up to the GOP and refuses to budge is, willy nilly, going to end up to the left of a median Democrat who looks for bipartisan compromise. But let's face it: if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you'd see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party's positions ten years ago. If that's the case, though, I've missed it. No one's talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one's proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they're personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that's a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.

posted by Dan at 09:33 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 27, 2007

A great way to referee the Obama-Clinton debate

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin' and a feudin' since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post's campaign blog summarizes the state of play:

Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states.

"You'll have to ask Senator Clinton, what differentiates her position from theirs?" Obama challenged reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

Clinton waited a few hours, then fired back. "What ever happened to the politics of hope?" she said in a CNN interview, tweaking the optimistic Obama campaign theme.

Their tussle -- the first real verbal engagement of the Democratic primary between the top two candidates -- began during Monday night's debate in South Carolina.

Asked whether they would agree to meet leaders from hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran in their first year in office, without preconditions, Obama had said he would. Clinton said she would not. Clinton advisers quickly cast Obama's answer as a rookie mistake, and in an interview on Tuesday, Clinton referred to him as "irresponsible and naïve."

Obama, who has promised to run a "different kind of campaign" free of acrimony, did not shy away from quarreling with Clinton over the substantive policy question at hand. "The Bush administration's policy is to say that we will not talk to these countries unless they meet various preconditions. That's their explicit policy," Obama said. But he did qualify his earlier answer about meeting with rogue leaders without preparation.

"Nobody expects that you would suddenly just sit down with them for coffee without having done the appropriate groundwork. But the question was, would you meet them without preconditions, and part of the Bush doctrine has been to say no," he said.

By late Thursday, officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were squabbling on a split-screen on CNN over the matter.

Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it's still too damn early.

However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there's a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps:

Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?

posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A post in which I send my readers on a blog hunt

President George W. Bush and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer both seem way too fond of executive privilege.

Bush, of course, has gone so far as to order Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten ignore Congressional subpoenas. The AP story sums up the state of play:

Miers' testimony emerged as the battleground for a broader scuffle between the White House and Congress over the limits of executive privilege. Presidents since the nation's founding have sought to protect from the prying eyes of Congress the advice given them by advisers, while Congress has argued that it is charged by the U.S. Constitution with conducting oversight of the executive branch.

The dispute extended to Congress' request for information on other matters, including the FBI's abuses of civil liberties under the USA Patriot Act and Bush's secretive wiretapping program.

But it is a pair of congressional subpoenas for two women who once were Bush's top aides that has moved the disagreement to the brink of legal sanctions and perhaps a court battle.

Former White House political director Sara Taylor appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and in a tentative performance sought to answer some lawmakers' questions and remain mum on others, citing Bush's claim of privilege. Senators didn't seem eager to cite her with contempt, but Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said he had not yet made that decision.

Miers, in contrast, chose to skip the House hearing Thursday, citing White House Counsel Fred Fielding's letter to her lawyer conveying Bush's order not to show up. In letters sent the night before to Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Sanchez, Bush and Fielding cited several legal opinions that they said indicated that the president's immediate advisers had absolute immunity from congressional subpoenas.

Miers and Bolten now face possible contempt of Congress charges.

Now we turn to Eliot Spitzer. Danny Hakim summarizes the state of play in the New York Times:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer vowed on Wednesday to fight any State Senate inquiry into his administration’s internal operations, even as Republican senators were laying the groundwork for an investigation that could lead to subpoenas of top officials.

The administration’s stance sets the stage for a potential showdown with the Senate, and it came amid rising concerns even among Mr. Spitzer’s fellow Democrats about whether the governor and his staff had been candid about their office’s effort to discredit a political rival.

A scathing report issued on Monday by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo concluded that the governor’s staff had broken no laws but had misused the State Police to gather information about Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, in an effort to plant a negative story about him.

The governor has maintained that he was misled by his staff and knew nothing about the effort to discredit Mr. Bruno. But two of his closest aides refused to be interviewed by the attorney general’s investigators, intensifying suspicion, especially among the governor’s critics, that Mr. Spitzer and his staff had not been forthright.

At a fiery press conference in Saratoga Springs, Mr. Bruno, the state’s top Republican, lashed out at the governor and signaled that the Senate fully intended to examine the matter further....

[W]ith the decision to fight a Senate inquiry, Mr. Spitzer appeared to be shifting from quiet contrition to a more confrontational stand. The move not only sets up a potential constitutional clash over executive privilege, but could also create a major distraction in the Capitol. Senator George H. Winner Jr., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, wrote to Mr. Cuomo on Wednesday, seeking copies of depositions, statements and e-mail traffic he had obtained. Mr. Bruno, asked if a Senate committee had the power to subpoena the governor, said “I am told by counsel that we have subpoena powers and that we can subpoena the governor, anybody.”

But Christine Anderson, the governor’s press secretary, said in a statement, “The State Senate lacks the constitutional authority to conduct investigatory hearings into the internal operations of the governor’s office.”

Assignment to blog readers: is there anyone in the blogosphere partisan enough to defend one of these claims of executive privilege but attacked the other?

posted by Dan at 10:40 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When should experts matter?

An underlying theme of a few recent posts is the role that experts could and should play in a democracy. There is no clear-cut answer to this question. One can extol the wisdom of crowds -- except when crowds are sometimes mobs. One can extol experts -- except that experts are frequently wrong. This issue is especially sticky with social science questions, because while expertise exists, it is more inexact and generally less respected by publics.

Of course, even "hard science" has its problems in the policy world. For a non-American example, the following New York Times story by Elisabeth Rosenthal:

Amflora potatoes, likely to become the first genetically modified crop in the last decade to be approved for growth in Europe, have become the unlikely lightning rod in the angry debate over such products on the Continent.

The European Commission now says it will approve the potato “probably this fall,” even though European ministers have twice been deadlocked on approval over the last eight months, with only a minority voting in favor. According to European Union procedures, “the ministers have not been able to take a decision, so we will have to reaffirm our earlier opinion to recommend it,” said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Commission’s Environment Directorate.

But European environmental groups are critical of Amflora potatoes, saying they could release dangerous genes into the environment. Approving Amflora would make “a mockery of E.U. law,” said Marco Contiero, an expert on genetically modified organisms at Greenpeace in Brussels.

Still, perhaps the biggest hurdle for Amflora is the visceral popular reaction against genetically modified crops on a continent whose food culture is ancient and treasured.

“I just don’t like the idea,” said Monika Stahl, 31, waiting for a bus with a sack of fresh vegetables in Mannheim, just 12 miles from the Amflora field. “I worry about safe food and about the environment. I have children and worry about them.”

In one sense, the irony is that Amflora is not a food at all. Although it looks, feels and smells like any other potato, each one is actually a genetically engineered factory for amylopectin, a starch used to make glossy paper coatings, clothing finishes and adhesive cement.

A few questions to readers:
1) Is massive public hostility to GMOs a sufficient reason to ban their use?

2) As I discuss in All Politics Is Global, here is a strong scientific consensus that GMOs are as safe as conventionally cultivated crops. If this scientific consensus, in and of itself, is insufficient to change public attitudes, can anything change public opinion on this point?

3) The scientific consensus on GMOs cannot refute concerns about possible losses in biodiversity. Is this unknown still a sufficient reason to ban their use? In other words, when is the precautionary principle sufficient to warrant regulatory action?

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Starbucks liberalism (??)

There's something about writing about Starbucks that apparently renders me incapable of determining whether the writer is being satirical or straight (click here for an earlier example).

Will someone please tell the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com whether or not Shadi Hamid is trying to be funny in these paragraphs?

There is something rather amusing (and self-indulgent) about “coffee-cup liberalism,” but at the end of the day, I kind of like it. Let’s export it. Oh yea, we’re already doing that. If you weren’t aware, Starbucks is in the process of colonizing Egypt. I can’t say that this is a bad thing, particularly as there is a new theory emerging in the political science literature called the “Starbucks peace theory" – i.e. countries with Starbucks don’t go to war with each other. So, instead of invading the Iranians, why don’t we force a Starbucks store in Tehran down their throats? That can be our stick, until we think of a carrot (or is it the other way around?).

Back to the original point. Your local Starbucks store is a fun place to spend time in with your laptop. If you spend enough time there, you begin to form a community of people endlessly peering with quizzical stares at their laptop screen while indulging in an exceedingly expensive coffee concoction of some sort, and you make lifelong friends (on one of those big six-person tables with the two blue lamps…yeah, you know what I’m talking about). This is liberalism at its best, and I’d very much like to see us impose it on other people. Why not?

UPDATE: I'm glad too see that others are confused by Starbucks.

posted by Dan at 09:22 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Clive Crook vs. economic populism

Clive Crook's Financial Times column today ($$) plows a familar road -- the Democratic turn towards economic populism:

Whoever wins their party’s presidential nomination, the Democrats are preparing to fight the next election on a platform of left-leaning populism. The contrast with Bill Clinton is evident. He was a centrist, pro-trade, pro-enterprise president – an avowed “New Democrat”. The next Democratic occupant of the White House, if the candidates’ campaigns are to be believed, will be old-school.

Mr Clinton campaigned against the odds to secure passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Today the party is against such deals. Mr Clinton worked hard to get China into the World Trade Organisation. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are Senate co-sponsors of a new China-bashing law. And the move to the populist left is not confined to trade. All the Democratic contenders are turning up the volume on stagnating middle-class wages, soaring profits, swindling bosses, dwindling union membership (Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama back the abolition of secret ballots on union representation), tax loopholes for the super-rich, oil company gouging, insurance company gouging, drug company gouging and every other kind of gouging....

Mr Clinton’s conviction that globalisation was good for America owed a lot to the experts – including economists of the highest professional standing – who surrounded him. Recently, eminent economists such as Alan Blinder, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers (who served as Mr Clinton’s Treasury secretary) and Brad DeLong have all expressed new doubts about the benefits of globalisation for the US. It is all more complicated than we thought, they say. It was hard enough for Mr Clinton to fight for freer trade when every highly regarded economist in the country said it was good for the US. Now that their message has changed to “We might have been wrong about this. We’ll get back to you”, the prospects for liberal trade have dimmed.

Economic populism traditionally marries scepticism on trade with fear of big business: “It’s all about profit.” A striking feature of many Democratic proposals is the belief that cheaper petrol, cheaper drugs, universal health insurance, higher wages, more generous employment benefits, almost any good thing you can think of, can be achieved by demanding them, in one way or another, from companies, or else by raising taxes on the super-rich.

The perverse results of the tax-subsidised healthcare mandate on American businesses show where this approach leads. In the end, the burden falls back on workers and consumers as lower wages and higher prices. The dispiriting wedge between growth in productivity and growth in earnings, the organising principle of the Democratic party’s current economic thinking, gets even bigger.

There is no question that the Democratic contenders are talking about the issues that concern most Americans. There is an excellent centrist case to be made for tax reform, to lift the burden of income and payroll taxes from the low-paid and to increase the burden on the better-off. Universal healthcare is long overdue, a shameful state of affairs in so rich a country. Americans pay more than they should for their medicines. More generous and more imaginative assistance for Americans who lose their jobs because of trade – or because of changing tastes and technology – is needed.

The present administration has little to offer on any of these questions. But the costs of reform cannot be confined to foreigners and plutocrats.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 16, 2007

The best sentences I read today

From the AP, "Positive Trends Recorded in U.S. Data on Teenagers," July 12th:

The teenage birth rate in 2005, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17 — an all-time low. The rate in 1991 was 39 births per 1,000 teenagers.
Is it just me, or is that both a stunning and unambiguously positive change?

Actually, Ezra Klein manages to provide just a smidgen of ambiguity (though I suspect even he would approve of this outcome).

posted by Dan at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The libertarian center cannot hold

This month's Cato Unbound is a debate over Brink Lindsey's Age of Affluence. In the lead essay arguing that the country is more and more libertarian, Lindsey allows the following caveat to his argument:

[A]t best libertarianism exists as a diffuse, inchoate set of impulses that operate, not as an independent force, but as tendencies within the left and right and a check on how far each can stray in illiberal directions. Second, as I conceded in an earlier essay for Cato Unbound, American public opinion is noticeably unlibertarian in many important respects. In particular, economic illiteracy is rife; much of government spending – especially the budget-busting middle-class entitlement programs – remains highly popular; and the weakness for moralistic crusades, long an unfortunate feature of the American character, remains glaring (though today’s temperance movements direct their obsessive zeal toward advancing health and safety rather than virtue).
At which point we flip over to Robin Toner's lead story in today's New York Times:
On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.

Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year’s Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy....

Even as Mrs. Clinton has sought to associate herself with the economic growth of her husband’s administration, she, like other Democratic presidential candidates, has been expressing a sharp skepticism toward trade and globalization under President Bush. In recent weeks she has announced her opposition to the proposed South Korean Free Trade Agreement and denounced globalization that “is working only for a few of us.” She accepted the endorsement of former Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who spent much of his political career fighting what he asserted were unfair trade agreements.

And Mrs. Clinton has increasingly focused on “rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force,” and suggested that another progressive era is — and ought to be — at hand.

Former Senator John Edwards, another Democratic candidate, staked out similar positions months ago and regularly notes that in the last 20 years, “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.” Mr. Edwards praises recent efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge funds. His campaign manager, former Representative David E. Bonior, notes that Mr. Edwards has been sounding these themes since his first presidential campaign in 2004.

“John Edwards was there at the beginning of this,” Mr. Bonior said.

While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy — get more education for higher-skilled jobs — were losing out.

“People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, “and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”....

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said, “Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they’re losing their jobs, but they think it is.” (emphasis added)

Kudos to Miller for at least being honest that much of the Democrats ire is wildly misplaced.

The Democrats are right to focus on stagnant wages and health care concerns -- those are their bread-and-butter issues. Conjuring up a trade bogeyman as the primary source of all of this.... well, let's just say it fuels Dani Rodrik's barbarians quite nicely.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks some questions about this post -- and I provide some answers.

posted by Dan at 09:13 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Meet David Petraeus, patsy or savior

William Kristol, "Why Bush Will Be A Winner," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:

Bush has the good fortune of having finally found his Ulysses S. Grant, or his Creighton Abrams, in Gen. David H. Petraeus. If the president stands with Petraeus and progress continues on the ground, Bush will be able to prevent a sellout in Washington. And then he could leave office with the nation on course to a successful (though painful and difficult) outcome in Iraq. With that, the rest of the Middle East, where so much hangs in the balance, could start to tip in the direction of our friends and away from the jihadists, the mullahs and the dictators....

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

Thomas E. Ricks, "Bush Leans On Petraeus as War Dissent Deepens," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:
Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said.

Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences, often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress.

"It seems to me almost an act of desperation, the administration turning to the one most prominent official who cannot act politically and whose credibility is so far unsullied, someone who is or should be purely driven by the facts of the situation," said Richard Kohn, a specialist in U.S. military history at the University of North Carolina. "What it tells me, given the hemorrhaging of support in Congress, is that we're entering some new phase of the end game."

In his public comments, Bush has not leaned nearly as heavily on the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, Petraeus's political counterpart in Baghdad. At his news conference Thursday, the president mentioned Petraeus 12 times but Crocker only twice, both times in his prepared statement.

This is not a "same planet, different worlds" kind of comparison. If the Iraq war ends well, then Kristol's scenario is correct; if the status quo persists or worsens, then the Ricks scenario is correct.

Unfortunately for Petraeus, I suspect most experts would give Kristol's scenario less than a 10% chance of coming true.

posted by Dan at 11:39 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 2, 2007

A post I knew I'd have to write sometime before January 2009

Both Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong go off on Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post yesterday. Hiatt's lament first:

As the Bush presidency implodes, some of its worst policies mercifully will go, too -- including, we can hope, the torture and unregulated detention of alleged enemy fighters that have so discredited the country throughout the world.

But valuable strands of policy also may end up strewn in the wreckage, victims (in varying combinations) of President Bush's ineptitude, inconstancy and unpopularity. Among these are what Bush called compassionate conservatism, now moribund; American promotion of democracy abroad, now flailing; and accountability in elementary and high school education, losing ground as it approaches a major test in Congress.

This prompts the following from Yglesias:
There's just no story here. The Bush administration has almost no positive legacy, and on those areas where good things have happened (NCLB and AIDS funding are the two I can think of) Democrats show every sign of wanting to continue the positive and perhaps make some improvements around the margin.
DeLong goes even further, however:
The policies that were Bush's weren't valuable. The policies that were valuable weren't Bushes--they were either implemented by others or they never got implemented, being for the Bushies at most boob bait for the bubbas who populate the Washington Post editorial board.
Look, let's stipulate that on many dimensions, the Bush administration has implemented policies that border on catastrophic. On other dimensions, there's simply been either benign or malign neglect. I'm not claiming here that George W. Bush has done anything close to a great job. On foreign policy, the issue I care about, the only two president who come close to matching Bush's negatives in the past 50 years are Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson.

With all of this so stipulated, DeLong's statement is simply false. Here are ten policies that team Bush implemented that I would qualify as a) important; b) constructive; c) not simply a continuation of prior policies; and d) not guaranteed to persist in their current form or at current funding levels past 2009:

1) The Millennium Challenge Corporation

2) The Strategic Economic Dialogue with China

3) The Proliferation Security Initiative

4) Our bilateral policy towards India (general warming trend + civilian nuclear deal)

5) Applying the post-Enron brakes on corporate governance regulations (Remember, when it was passed, Sarbanes-Oxley was thought to be milquetoast reform; now it's though to be too onerous)

6) Appointing Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman.

7) The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (I'm being optimistic about Senate passage here).

8) Trying to cut China and India into existing global institutions.

9) Creating the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department.

10) Creating the Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America (I confess that this one's in here mostly to annoy Lou Dobbs).

None of this outweighs the screw-ups in Iraq or New Orleans. But they are policies that suggest Hiatt has a small point. Reflexively rejecting a Bush policy only because Bush proposed it is as stupid as... as.... rejecting Bill Clinton's policies because Clinton favored them (which is pretty much what the Bushies did when they took office in 2001).

Question to readers: what other Bush policies do you want to see maintained?

posted by Dan at 05:27 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Meet Neville Bush

Lynne Olson is the author of Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England. Today he has an op-ed in the Washington Post that discusses George W. Bush's admiration of Winston Chruchill. The key paragraph:

I've spent a great deal of time thinking about Churchill while working on my book "Troublesome Young Men," a history of the small group of Conservative members of Parliament who defied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler, forced Chamberlain to resign in May 1940 and helped make Churchill his successor. I thought my audience would be largely limited to World War II buffs, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the president has been reading my book. He hasn't let me know what he thinks about it, but it's a safe bet that he's identifying with the book's portrayal of Churchill, not Chamberlain. But I think Bush's hero would be bemused, to say the least, by the president's wrapping himself in the Churchillian cloak. Indeed, the more you understand the historical record, the more the parallels leap out -- but they're between Bush and Chamberlain, not Bush and Churchill.
Read the rest of Olson's essay to see the comparisons. For someone who was not terribly familiar with Chamberlain's leadership style, the parallels are quite surprising.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, in Slate, US Weekly editor Janice Min compares Bush to someone else entirely.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Peter Baker has a front-pager in the Washington Post today that discusses Bush's frame of mind. Olsen's book is mentioned explicitly -- Olson's analogy is implicit but shot through the piece.

posted by Dan at 08:09 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 22, 2007

My moral midgetry

Following a link at Fairer Globalization, I came across this Moral Sense test at Harvard.

It's an eight question test in which an action is described and then you are asked to award damages.

In the scenarios I was given, I awarded an average of $129 in fines. The average response of all test takers was approximately $72,000.

So, clearly, I'm a heartless bastard. [And you also like to make fun of short people!!--ed.] Or, I'm more willing to blame fortuna than people when bad but (largely) accidental things happen.

Take the test and let me know how moral you are.

UPDATE: Well, after reading the commentary, I do feel better about my moral standing. Well, except for Mike Munger's reaction, which just makes me want to grab a baseball bat, apply it to Munger, and then see whether the tort system really works.

posted by Dan at 06:28 PM | Comments (61) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How should I feel about Fred Thompson in 2008?

Gideon Rachman went to hear Fred Thompson give a big foreign policy speech in Lodon and came away unimpressed:

I'm afraid that what he had to say was utterly platitudinous.

The US is "an inspiration for all those who seek freedom"; Tony Blair is a "gallant friend" of America; the uncoupling of the Atlantic alliance would be a bad thing. Winston Churchill was a great man; Neville Chamberlain was not so great. We should worry about Iran because - "If we know anything from modern history, it is that when fanatical tyrants pledge to wipe out an entire nation, we should listen." He even had the nerve to quote that Harold Macmillan line about the biggest problem in politics being "events, dear boy, events." Haven't heard that one before.

Admittedly, he was marginally more interesting in the q&a. He thinks it would be a good idea to blockade Iran, which he describes as a "very, very serious threat." He still thinks it was right to invade Iraq and that there is some evidence that the surge is working. But he is clearly worried that American politicians are going to pull the plug prematurely - "We have a multi-year plan, which the political process might give only weeks or months."

As for the goal in Iraq - "We need to do everything possible to avoid the appearance of utter weakness." And America needs to strive to leave the country in something "better than terrible conditions." That, at least, struck me as a fairly realistic assessment of what is achievable.

I find it hard - or perhaps just alarming - to imagine Fred Thompson as president. He seemed to me to be not terribly bright.

Click here to read Thompson's speech and judge for yourself. After reading it, I'd say two things:
1) His sense of humor is better developed than his policy recommendations for the Middle East.

2) You ain't gonna find a lot of difference between this speech and Mitt Romney's Foreign Affairs article.

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How should I feel about Bloomberg in 2008?

So Michael Bloomberg has left the GOP, and is enticing media hordes about the prospect of a 2008 campaign (though Howard Kurtz dissents). He's the Time "action hero" of the week.

Should I be interested in him? Matt Yglesias thinks so:

From a Reason magazine perspective, it seems to me that a Bloomberg Administration is likely to be substantially more libertarian than either a Democratic or a Republican one would be. Bloomberg, however, is specifically identified with a brand of trivial nanny-stating -- indoor smoking ban, trans fat ban -- that seems to be to aggravate libertarians in a manner that's out of proportion to the actual significance of the policy issues.
Over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Scott Lemieux advises libertarians to be cautious: "there is a serious reason libertarians should be skeptical of Bloomberg: the appalling string of arbitrary detentions with no serious justification during the 2004 GOP convention."

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My soft spot for the Stassenites

Over at Slate, John Dickerson has story that crops up every four years -- the indefatigable, perennial and completely obscure presidential candidate:

While covering the Republican and Democratic debates last week, I thought I might have a shot at eating a late breakfast at the Merrimack candidate-free. John Cox, the Republican superlongshot, has an office above the restaurant, but I knew he was away, trying to wangle his way into the Republican debate. So, I knew I wouldn't run into him. I thought I was in the clear. I sprinted toward the door, then slowed down briefly to pull the handle. "Are you a reporter?" asked a man standing on the sidewalk. He was typing on a laptop he'd perched on one of the newspaper machines. Busted.

His name was Robert Haines, and he was running for the GOP nomination. He'd been shaking hands on the corner since early in the morning. "I usually get the first spot," he said, pointing to his maroon Mazda 626. In the window was a small laminated sign that read, "Robert Haines for President." He explained his parking strategy. "In the first spot people can see the side of your car from the road. These other candidates wouldn't know something like this, but I know the ins and outs. I know what it takes. I've been running here since 1992." Haines once lived in Denver but moved to New Hampshire with his family so that he could get pole position....

Haines didn't "want to get into" what he does when he's not running for president but stressed that he has a master's degree in applied solar energy and other educational qualifications that made him an expert on energy issues. A social and fiscal conservative, he opposes amnesty and—surprise—favors a strong national defense. He objects to all presidents named George Bush. He even ran against the current president in the 2004 Republican primaries, when most of us in the media thought Bush ran unopposed. "I came in fifth in the 2004 New Hampshire primary," he said, taking off his sunglasses to wipe them. (He got 579 votes. I looked it up.) "These other candidates didn't have the guts to run. You follow me?" He finished a lot of sentences with this question.

I find something unbelievably charming about the Harold Stassens of the world, but I honestly don't know why. In theory, these kind of people should repel me. If you think about it, what's endearing about a guy whose ego is so out of proportion to reality that he thinks he should be president?

I think what I find endearing is that, deep down, these guys know their odds and yet they persist anyway, election cycle after election cycle. That requires a mixture of optimism, faith in one's abilities, and partial self-delusion that is quintissentially American.

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Rainbow/PUSH goes off the deep end

As a recent academic study of NBA referees demonstrates, there's no question that race is something to be talked about in sports. Clearly, according to an ESPN/ABC poll, African-Americans view Barry Bonds' pursuit of the home run record in ways different than whites. Those differences are worthy of conversation, debate, and maybe even a bit of learning on both sides.

However, is it possible for sports fans of all races to agree that, according to this Atlanta-Journal Constitution story by Carroll Rogers, Rainbow/PUSH has offiially gone way, way off the reality-based reservation?:

Upset over the lack of African-Americans on the [Atlanta] Braves roster, members of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow-PUSH Coalition asked for a meeting with team officials. They got one Monday.

Joe Beasley, Southern Regional Director for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said he and Dexter Clinkscale, the director of sports for the organization, met Monday morning for nearly two hours with Braves general manager John Schuerholz, assistant general manager Frank Wren and three other Braves officials.

"The team slipped ... down to [no African-Americans]; it wasn't something that just happened," Beasley said Monday afternoon. "I think it was a lack of diligence on the part of the Braves to recruit African-American players. There's not diminished enthusiasm for African-Americans playing baseball. It's simply the opportunity hasn't presented itself."....

Less than 10 percent of major league players are African-Americans. In a recent interview on the subject, Schuerholz said: "You go to where the talent leads you. Finding major league-caliber baseball players is far too difficult if you try to narrow your criteria down to demographics."

Countered Beasley, "As I expected, [Schuerholz?s] idea is the bottom line: I'll put the best 40 men I can get wherever I can get them from on the field, and that's fair. But the fact of the matter is if they put resources into recruiting here in the United States, and more specifically here in Atlanta, there are talented players here."....

"You slipped down to nothing, now you've got one, we expect it to start going up higher," Beasley said was the sentiment he voiced in the meeting. "We want to see incrementally it move back up, rather than moving down. There was an openness on [Schuerholz's] part to talk and to be in dialogue and hopefully be in partnership in trying to make sure that it happens. He was very nice, a gentleman. I'm going to hold him to his word to work with us and move those numbers back up to a respectable level." (emphases added)

For those in the audience sympathetic to affirmative action: is there any way to interpret Beasley's statements as anything other than a demand for a quota of African-Americans to be on the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster?

Is there any way to interpret these comments without arriving at the conclusion that Rainbow/PUSH is run by idiots?

Seriously, I want to know.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Random questions on a Sunday morning

Perusing the Sunday papers,I have two political questions for readers:

1) Maureen Dowd, covering the French presidential election, has some fun at Segolene Royal's expense, but then drops this stunner of a sentence:
France is chauvinistic — women got the vote in 1944 and compose only a small percentage of the National Assembly — but the country seems less neurotic than America about the idea of a woman as president.
Question: on what basis is Dowd making this assertion? I know that Hillary Clinton has many, many detractors, but has the discourse on her campaign to date really focused on her gender all that much? The dominant theme in the discussions about Clinton have been her position on Iraq and her campaign's Bush-like quality of recording friends and enemies. Where is this gender neuroses Dowd mentions?

2) In the Washington Post, Perry Bacon Jr. profiles the GOP's non-candidate candidate, Fred Thompson. The lead is pretty clear:

Fred Thompson fervently backed the Iraq war, railed against an expanding federal government, took stands that occasionally annoyed his party and rarely spoke about his views on social issues during his tenure as a senator from Tennessee or in his writings and speeches since leaving office.

In short, the man some in the GOP are touting as a dream candidate has often sounded like the presidential hopeful many of them seem ready to dismiss: Sen. John McCain.

The story makes it clear that besides his strong defense of federalism and his obvious telegenic qualities, Thompson does not cut a profile different from the top-tier GOP candidates. Question: will Thompson only be the flavor of the month until he announces?

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Debatable debate headlines

I'm sure my readers will be shocked -- shocked!! -- that I did not watch any of the presidential debate last night.

However, from today's headlines, I have a clear sense of what happened:

"Hillary Clinton shines in Democratic candidates' debate," The Guardian

"No Breakout Candidate at Democratic Debate," ABC News

posted by Dan at 07:33 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tragedies, opportunities, and opportunism

I've blogged long enough to know that when an event like the Virginia Tech shootings takes place, I don't have all that much to say. This is true of many bloggers. Tragedies like this render most insta-commentary completely superfluous.

Eugene Volokh, however, raises a valid question -- is it appropriate to talk about policy immediately after such an event?:

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I thought I'd pose the question here (hoping that at least there's nothing wrong with using the tragedy as an occasion for asking this meta-question). I don't think the answer is clearly "yes, wait," the way it is as to critical obituaries of writers whose work one dislikes; responding to death using unpersonalized policy discussion is different from responding to death using personalized criticism of the dead person. On the other hand, I don't think the answer is clearly "no, go ahead," at least as a matter of first principles; perhaps we ought to have a social ritual of grief and condolences first, policy analysis (even of the most cerebral sort) later, and perhaps the very immediacy of the tragedy may lead to unsound first thoughts about the policy questions.
Orin Kerr is more cautious:
[T]he problem with responding to news of tragedy with policy ideas right away is that we tend not to realize in such situations how often our "proposals" are really expressions of psychological need. It's human nature to respond to tragedy by fitting it into our preexisting worldviews; we instinctively restore order by construing the tragic event as a confirmation of our sense of the world rather than a threat to it.

This means that often we won't pay a lot of attention to the details of tragedies and what caused them. We'll just know deep down inside what happened, and what caused it, and how to stop it next time. Take today's tragic events at VA Tech. If you're committed to gun control, the tragedy probably proves to you that there are too many guns; if you're against gun control, the tragedy probably proves the exact opposite. Given that people will tend to see in events what they want to see, turning to policy right away will come off as rudely "playing politics" to those who don't share your worldview. And obviously this doesn't foster a helpful environment for policymaking, either.

There's another problem, however -- events like today's shootings open up what John Kingdon labels a "policy window" -- a moment in the media glare for policy entrepreneurs to hawk their policy wares.

On the one hand there are first-mover advantages to framing an event in a way that privileges your preferred policies. The conundrum, of course, is that on the other hand, articulating such a frame before the facts are clear carries extraordinary risks of a) creating a backlash by pouring salt on a public wound; b) being labeled as opportunistic, and c) looking foolish as the facts become clearer.

I don't have any grand answers here -- but I'm sure my readers will.

posted by Dan at 10:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

True or false?

I'm conferencing tomorrow, so blogging will likely be light.

Talk amongs yourselves. Here's an interesting question, from this Peter Suderman post at NRO's Corner:

[T]he war is a major dividing issue in our country right now. It’s going to be tough to reach even a rough national consensus on it no matter what, but that we can’t even agree on who to trust for information—and, as a result, what’s actually happening—only makes things more difficult.
Question #1: Is Suderman correct in his assessment?

Question #2: if Suderman is correct, then how can any useful policy be formulated?

posted by Dan at 10:08 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

News stories to make Karl Rove weep

For six years, the essence of Karl Rove's political strategy has been to have a Republican base so unified, motivated, and organized that it gives the GOP a clear leg up on Election Day.

This is why I'm thinking that Rove can't be happy with stories like Martin Stolz in the New York Times:

The invitation extended to Vice President Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of the nation’s most conservative.

Some of the faculty and the 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, who are overwhelmingly Republican, have expressed concern about the Bush administration’s support for the war in Iraq and other policies, but most of the current protest has focused on Mr. Cheney’s integrity, character and behavior. Several students said, for example, that they were appalled at Mr. Cheney’s use of an expletive on the Senate floor in a June 2004 exchange with Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

“The problem is this is a morally dubious man,” said Andrew Christensen, a 22-year-old Republican from Salt Lake City. “It’s challenging the morality and integrity of this institution.”

[Well, it could be worse, right? I mean, Rove can still count on veterans?--ed.] Yeah, not so much now. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks explain the problem at the elite level in the Washington Post:
The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

The White House has not publicly disclosed its interest in creating the position, hoping to find someone President Bush can anoint and announce for the post all at once. Officials said they are still considering options for how to reorganize the White House's management of the two conflicts. If they cannot find a person suited for the sort of specially empowered office they envision, they said, they may have to retain the current structure. (emphasis added)

[C'mon, that's just a couple of generals!!--ed.] As Bryan Bener explains in the Boston Globe, it's more than just generals:
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.

According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show.

The figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of members of three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave as the military downsized following the end of the Cold War.

[Well, I'm sure things will improve for the GOP in 2008!--ed.] Sure they will.

posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Strange things are afoot at the CRS

Last week I noted that the director of the Congressional Research Service was issuing some odd directives, limiting the flow of information coming from the CRS.

This week, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund points to another odd CRS decision:

Nothing highlighted Congress's spending problem in last year's election more than earmarks, the special projects like Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" that members drop into last-minute conference reports leaving no opportunity to debate or amend them. Voters opted for change in Congress, but on earmarks it looks as if they'll only be getting more smoke and mirrors.

Democrats promised reform and instituted "a moratorium" on all earmarks until the system was cleaned up. Now the appropriations committees are privately accepting pork-barrel requests again. But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS)--a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency--has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks. "They claim it'll be transparent, but they're taking away the very data that lets us know what's really happening," says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. "I'm convinced the appropriations committees are flexing their muscles with CRS."

Indeed, the shift in CRS policy represents a dramatic break with its 12-year practice of supplying members with earmark data. "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," stated a private Feb. 22 directive from CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan....

When I asked a CRS official if the new policy stemmed from complaints by appropriations committee members, she refused to answer the question, citing "confidentiality" concerns.

But other CRS staffers are happy to talk privately about the political pressure members often exert, despite Mr. Mulhollan's new directive that all employees inform management within 24 hours of any contacts with the media. "The director operates out of fear members will get upset," says Dennis Roth, a CRS labor economist who is president of a union representing 250 CRS workers. "The groundhog doesn't want to see his shadow, so he stays in the dark hole so he won't."....

CRS's independence appears to have declined since Gilbert Gude, a former member of Congress from Maryland, departed as director in 1985. Mr. Mulhollan was appointed by the librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, in early 1994, before the Republican takeover of Congress. So far Mr. Billington hasn't spoken out on Mr. Mulhollan's new earmark policy.

Today squeeze plays on CRS are not uncommon, and they have come from both parties. In the 1990s, GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey was so angry with a CRS report questioning the workability of a flat tax that he temporarily zeroed out the agency's budget. Rep. Henry Waxman, as a member of a Democratic minority, demanded and got revisions to CRS reports on how prescription drug pricing rules in his bills would work. "Everyone expects Waxman and others to be even more insistent on getting what they want now [that he's in the majority]," says another CRS staffer.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 26, 2007

A few online tomes about Hillary Clinton

Ron Brownstein argues in the Los Angeles Times that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination because of her appeal to white, blue collar Democrats.

Michael Crowley argues in The New Republic that Hillary Clinton's foreign policy hawkishness is not a form of political calculation, but rather what she actually believes. This part does ring true:

[I]t's clear that the Clintonites left office deeply frustrated at the unsolved problem of Iraq and perhaps believing that some final reckoning was inevitable. "President Clinton recognized, as did I," Albright writes in her memoir, "that the mixture of sanctions, containment, Iraqi defiance, and our own uncertainty about Saddam's weapons couldn't go on indefinitely."

Bush's approach was clearly blunter than what Clintonite foreign policy would have dictated. But, even as the "smell of gunpowder" turned into a stench, the foreign policy experts to whom Hillary was closest remained supportive of war with Iraq. "Most of the top [Clinton] national security team had sympathy for what Bush decided, in the broadest terms," says a Democratic foreign policy analyst.

The most hawkish among them was former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, with whom Clinton conferred that fall. "If all else fails, collective action against Saddam is, in my view, justified by the situation and the record of the last decade," Holbrooke told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2002. Holbrooke's standard for "collective" seemed to include only the British and perhaps a handful of other allies. And Holbrooke made clear that a war to topple Saddam was unlikely to be easy and that U.S. forces might have to spend years in a postwar Iraq. Nor was Holbrooke alone. Varying degrees of support for the Bush resolution came from the likes of Rubin, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg. And, though she raised red flags about the war's risks, Hillary's close friend Albright ultimately concluded that Bush "should have this authority."

posted by Dan at 11:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

While Congress gets all high and mighty about executive privilege....

The Washington Post's Elizabeth Williamson reports that the Congressional Research Service is about to get very chary with their information:

This week, Congressional Research Service chief Daniel P. Mulhollan issued a memo to all staffers in the service, known as Congress's think tank. From now on, he wrote, CRS researchers will require a supervisor's approval before giving any CRS report to a "non-congressional."

Non-congressionals are, said CRS spokeswoman Janine D'Addario, usually fellow researchers in "U.S. government entities and nongovernmental entities, the media and foreign governments, like embassies."

The CRS works exclusively for Congress and is legendarily closefisted with its reports. For years, open-government groups and some members of Congress have fought unsuccessfully to put the reports online. Now it comes out that CRS researchers have been trading reports like baseball cards with these special non-congressionals, sharing knowledge on North Korean counterfeiting, wheat subsidies and other topics commissioned by Congress.

That can continue, according to Mulhollan's memo, but "prior approval should now be requested at the division or office level."

However: "Product requests can also originate from other non-congressional sources including individual researchers, corporations, law offices, private associations, libraries, law firms and publishers. The Inquiry Section typically declines these requests, and most often refers the caller to his or her congressional representative's office," Mulhollan wrote.

So let's review. All governmental, nongovernmental, foreign-governmental, media researcher-type non-congressionals -- and you know who you are -- can still have CRS reports, if a CRS supervisor approves.

For the rest of you non-congressionals, the rules have not changed. The answer is no -- go ask Congress.

Or.... you can click here.

posted by Dan at 10:44 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 19, 2007

How HDTV affects campaign 2008

Megan McArdle explains:

The first thing you notice about HDTV is that some of the politicians look really awful. Studio makeup is not enough to cover up the sagging, cragging, and pitting of all those cruel years in Congress. Some of them look fine . . . John Kerry is positively handsome, if you like men who look kind of like a wrinkly old orange. (Can't his wife buy him a really convincing fake tan? Sigh. Yet another reason not to bother getting rich.) Others—and you know who you are, Senator Specter—not so much. Charles Schumer has a deep crease on the side of his forehead that looks like he slept on his glasses . . . on top of a lit stove. And Tim Russert seems to have a little rosacea problem....

Today, though, it suddenly occurred to me that this might have an impact on the 2008 election. Just as the introduction of television famously altered voter perceptions of the candidates in the 1960 election (those who listened to the debate thought that Nixon had won, but those who saw it on television overwhelmingly favoured the more telegenic Kennedy), HDTV could skew who we nominate and/or elect....

For example, though I've never met him, my understanding from those who have is that McCain's image of vitality is very carefully projected, and that when you actually meet him up close, he looks pretty frail. Will that come out on HDTV? How about Hilary? HDTV is least kind to older women; I'd bet it puts at least ten years on her. I suspect that Obama is the only candidate who will actually look good on HDTV; he's younger, and even light black skin ages better than caucasian.

I've seen Obama and met McCain -- Megan's conjectures seem sound to me.

That said, even on HDTV there are methods to conceal flaws -- see here for one example. It is possible, however, that makeup and/or other techniques to look good on HDTV would be too subtle to have an affect on normal televisions. This leads to an interesting tradeoff -- which television audience should a candidate target? Would the targeting shift between the primary season and the general election? Would it depend on the demographic being targeted by the candidate?

You known, you just know, that some candidates are going to spent a lot of money on consultants to answer this very question. And if you ask me, Megan deserves a 10% cut on all this swag to help defray her moving expenses.

posted by Dan at 12:02 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hey, it's been two years -- let's talk about gender and op-eds again

One of the assignments for my Stafecraft class this term is that the students must draft a cogent op-ed submission on a policy issue they care about. "In this case,"cogent" not only means well-written, but written in such a way that would actually pique the interest of an op-ed page editor.

With this assignment in mind, I see via Tom Maguire that the New York Times' Patricia Cohen is writing about seminars designed to encourage female participation on the op-ed pages:

Uproars over the sparse numbers of women in newspapers, or on news programs, in magazines, and on best-seller lists regularly erupt every couple of years. A doozy occurred in 2005, after the liberal commentator Susan Estrich and Michael Kinsley, then editor of The Los Angeles Times’s opinion pages, got into a nasty scuffle over the lack of female columnists. That dustup is what motivated Ms. [Catherine] Orenstein to take her op-ed show on the road, which she has done with support from the Woodhull Institute, an ethics and leadership group for women.

“It’s a teachable form,” Ms. Orenstein said recently over coffee and eggs. “It’s not like writing Hemingway. You show people the basics of a good argument, what constitutes good evidence, what’s a news hook, what’s the etiquette of a pitch.”....

Over the past 18 months several hundred women and men (though in fewer numbers) have taken the seminar, which can cost a group up to $5,000, Ms. Orenstein said (although she has also donated her services). She has not kept records, but said about two dozen former students have sent her clips of their published essays to say thank you. Suzanne Grossman at Woodhull didn’t have comprehensive statistics but said that the first pilot session for a dozen women at a Woodhull retreat produced 12 op-ed articles. (Some participants wrote more than one.)

“I try to convey the idea that there is a responsibility,” she said. “Op-ed pages are so enormously powerful. It’s one of the few places open to the public. Where else is someone like me going to get access? It’s not like I can call up the White House: ‘Hello?’ ”

About 30 women who also are not in the habit of calling up the White House gathered Monday evening for one of Ms. Orenstein’s seminars....

Ms. Orenstein asked: Could every woman at the large rectangular table name one specific subject that she is an expert in and say why? The author of “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale,” Ms. Orenstein began by saying, “Little Red Riding Hood” and writing the words in orange marker on an oversize white pad.

Of the next four women who spoke, three started with a qualification or apology. “I’m really too young to be an expert in anything,” said Caitlin Petre, 23.

“Let’s stop,” Ms. Orenstein said. “It happens in every single session I do with women, and it’s never happened with men.” Women tend to back away from “what we know and why we know it,” she said.

Next she asked the participants why they thought it important to write op-ed articles. Women shouted: “Change the world,” “shape public debate,” “offer a new perspective,” “influence public policy.”

“You are all such do-gooders,” Ms. Orenstein said laughing, “I love this.” She then proceeded to create another kind of list that included fame, money, offers of books, television series and jobs.

The Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, an Episcopal priest and the executive director of Political Research Associates in Boston, frowned. “It’s not why I do it,” she said.

That, Ms. Orenstein declared, is a typically female response: “I never had a man say, ‘That’s not why I do it.’ ”

“What I want to suggest to you,” she continued, is that the personal and the public interests are not at odds, and “the belief that they are mutually exclusive has kept women out of power.” Don’t you want money, credibility, access to aid in your cause? she asked.

Cristina Page, a spokeswoman for Birth Control Watch in Washington, leaned forward. “I’ve never heard anyone say that before,” she said. “What you’ve just said is so important. It’s liberating.”

Two thoughts. First, after describing the assignment to my Fletcher School students -- who are generally perceived as a group of idealistic, altruistic overachievers -- their immediate reaction to the prospect of publishing an op-ed was, "How much do we get paid for it?" I might add that this query transcended gender. Small sample issues aside, I'm very dubious about the notion that women don't seek out the things that Orenstein says they don't seek out.

Second, think about that "Little Red Robin Hood" line in the excerpt, as well as this paragraph:

A bunch of women joined together on one side of the table to discuss an op-ed piece by Ms. Orenstein that appeared in June 2004 in The New York Times on the remake of the movie “The Stepford Wives.”
Orenstein's expertise raises a question about the ways in which women seek to get op-eds published. Is the problem that women write on topics similar to men but face a glass ceiling at the op-ed desk? Is it that women do not write about "hard news" issues that are generally discussed in op-ed pages (politics, economics, foreign policy, social policy, ec.)? Or is the problem that what is defined as appropriate for the op-ed essays overly gendered? I tend to think it's the middle one (does Orenstein seriously think that op-eds about Little Red Riding Hood or the Stepford Wives will influence any White House?), but I'm open to suggestions from the readers.

posted by Dan at 09:43 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why not Drezner in 2008? It was a great two seconds....

So I've decided that, contrary to my earlier Shermanesque pledges forswearing elected office, I shall run for President in 2008.

Drezner in 2008!!! Drez for Prez!! DREZ FOR PREZ!!! [DREZ FOR PREZ!!!-ed.]

No, wait, I've changed my mind, I don't think I can raise the money.

Think this post is absurd? Consider this Des Moines Register story by Thomas Beaumont:

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack withdrew as a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination today, saying he could not raise enough money to compete with his nationally known rivals....

The Iowa polls were also a factor, he said. Vilsack said it had been difficult to tell potential donors "that you're not the prohibitive favorite in the caucus process."

I haven't seen a presidential run this brief since Jimmy James had to withdraw in 1996.

UPDATE: Will Dennis Kucinich survive this Kos assault? [Judging by this clip, I don't think Kucinich needed Kos to be sunk--ed.]

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 16, 2007

It's just me, myself, and I

According to Pew's political typology test, I'm an... enterpriser:

Enterprisers represent 9 percent of the American public, and 10 percent of registered voters.

Basic Description
As in previous studies conducted in 1987, 1994 and 1999, this extremely partisan Republican group’s politics are driven by a belief in the free enterprise system and social values that reflect a conservative agenda. Enterprisers are also the strongest backers of an assertive foreign policy, which includes nearly unanimous support for the war in Iraq and strong support for such anti-terrorism efforts as the Patriot Act.

Defining Values
Assertive on foreign policy and patriotic; anti-regulation and pro-business; very little support for government help to the poor; strong belief that individuals are responsible for their own well being. Conservative on social issues such as gay marriage, but not much more religious than the nation as a whole. Very satisfied with personal financial situation.

Who They Are
Predominantly white (91%), male (76%) and financially well-off (62% have household incomes of at least $50,000, compared with 40% nationwide). Nearly half (46%) have a college degree, and 77% are married. Nearly a quarter (23%) are themselves military veterans. Only 10% are under age 30....

2004 Election
Bush 92%, Kerry 1%. Bush’s most reliable supporters (just 4% of Enterprisers did not vote)

So, in other words, I belong to a group that comprises only one percent of the ten percent of registered voters who agree with me -- roughly 0.1%.

Man, I am feeling that love right now.

In all seriousness, however, the test sucks. For example, you are asked which statement you agree with: "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength" or "Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace." I'm pretty sure it's not an either-or distinction. Good diplomacy without military strength is largely ignored in world politics. Military strength without good diplomacy bears a strong resemblance to the Bush administration's first term. So, I voted for military strength, because it's more of a necessary condition -- but I wasn't happy about it.

Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias.

UPDATE: Headline Junky alerts me to this ABC Sunni-Shiite quiz. Readers concerned about whether I know what the hell I'm talking about whenever I blog about the Middle East may or may not be relieved that I aced it.

posted by Dan at 02:38 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (4)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Republican Hillary Clinton

Is it just me, or does Rudy Giuliani seem to inspire antagonism levels on a par with Hillary Clinton? From this Kevin Drum post alone, I find Matthew Yglesias having all kinds of fun with Rudy:

One quirk of American politics is that leading presidential candidates normally go into the campaign with little if any foreign policy experience. Most, however, at least recognize this as a problem and try to study up as part of the campaign effort. Giuliani comes to us as a rare duck -- a candidate whose signature issue is national security but who doesn't know anything about national security, and therefore won't study. Result: Nonsense, combined with temperamental authoritarianism.
Then there's David Freddoso in the National Review:
If Giuliani’s stances on babies, guns, and gay marriage do not sink him in the Republican primaries, he will probably suffer in a general election campaign from the fact that there is so much evidence in the public record that he is a total jerk....

Those who lived in New York prior to 9/11, myself included, remember an excellent mayor who was obsessed with getting credit for everything and making his critics pay; an effective mayor who called rivals “jerks” and “morons;” a decisive mayor who knowingly set out to drag his 14- and 10-year-old children through one of the nastiest and most publicized divorces in history. They remember a ruthless mayor who responded to the accidental police shooting of Patrick Dorismond in 2000 not just by defending the cops (as a good mayor must), but by illegally releasing the victim’s sealed juvenile rap sheet and declaring on television that the deceased “isn’t an altar boy.”

The scorned Bratton would later tell The New York Observer, “He’s an a**hole, but a successful a**hole.” And perhaps Rudy was such a great mayor precisely because he is such a jerk. Maybe a hard, mean man was what New York City needed after decades of feel-good, politically correct thinking had made the place unlivable and nearly ungovernable. “If you tell me off, I tell you off — that’s my personality,” Rudy once said on his weekly radio show. But as successful as this approach was in New York, it’s hard for a known a**hole to win a presidential election.

Kevin concludes, "At this rate, I give him a couple of months before he implodes completely."

It seems hard to dispue any of this, but then I look at the rest of the GOP field, and I'm not sure any of it matters. Romney, McCain, the rest of the Gilligan's Island castaways.... they all have whopping flaws too.

Question to readers: is Rudy Giuliani uniquely vulnerable?

posted by Dan at 07:52 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Where is your liberaltarian God now?

That's the question I ask Brink Lindsey in my latest bloggingheads.tv duet. Other topics covered include whether Barack Obama is the next Ross Perot, the inequality debate, the globalization of populism, and why trade talks are stalled.

Also, my wife makes a cameo appearance, and I provide a sneak preview of my next book, All Politics Is Global.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I'm intrigued -- does that means he's doomed?

Many moons ago, my wife and I were roped into a focus group that was viewing a proposed television pilot. At the end of the half hour, we were asked to fill out some demographic information, including education level.

At that point, my wife and I looked at each other, knowing that because we had post-graduate degrees, our reactions were not going to matter one whit -- we're not exactly the target demographic of profitable shows.

This memory came to mind when someone e-mailed me this Fortune story by Nina Easton on Newt Gingrich's quixotic run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008:

[T]his year, as he throws warm-up pitches for a 2008 presidential campaign, hoping that his big ideas, combined with his grass-roots popularity, will produce a "draft Newt" movement, even his most ardent loyalists doubt he can pull it off. "He's a better Moses, leading the party out of the wilderness, than he is a King David, running the show," says Frank Lavin, a veteran of Republican administrations who now serves as commerce undersecretary.

While Gingrich has plenty to say on national security and social issues, the core of his resurrection and unusual race for President are his ideas on health costs - a national migraine that has driven the likes of General Motors toward bankruptcy, put insurance out of reach for 46 million Americans, and now threatens to strangle the economy by ballooning entitlement costs. The problem is so severe that state governors - most recently California's Arnold Schwarzenegger - have given up on Washington and are promoting their own sweeping reform plans.

Gingrich got a headstart on the issue at the turn of the millennium, when he began building his credibility as the voice of free-market-style reform. He has preached his evolving message to business and health groups around the country. In Washington he has transformed his reputation from polarizing politico to business visionary who might strategize with Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt one day and Senator Hillary Clinton the next.

What Gingrich has to say is not so much a unified theory as a way of rearranging the way we look at things - a refusal to accept the cultural status quo. At the Tempe conference, Gingrich politely listens to such proposals as applying Toyota-style production-control techniques to the health system - and then slices through them with an alternative mantra of competition, deregulation, modernized information systems, and personal responsibility.

Leave the middleman out. Force doctors and hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid, to disclose pricing and compete with one another. Put all the latest information on databases so that American consumers can go online, plug in their personal health profile, and shop for the best prices on drugs and services.

In other words, in Gingrich's world consumer health care should look more like Travelocity....

For the next nine months Gingrich intends to promote sweeping solutions to difficult issues of the day - particularly health care and national security - and then, like Lincoln in 1860, see if the call comes.

While such other GOP candidates as Senator John McCain, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani are hiring consultants and building donor networks, Gingrich has formed a tax-exempt advocacy group to raise money and promote his policies. He will wait until September - the eve of primary season - to announce whether he has the support to make it official.

Gingrich intrigues me -- he's far more complex and interesting a thinker than the nineties stereotype of him suggested. And if Hillary Clinton can remake herself as someone who's learned from past mistakes, I see no reason why Gingrich can't as well.

However, I can't shake the feeling that because I'm so interested in a Gingrich, he's doomed to fail. Can someone who scores well in the blogger wonk demographic really develop mainstream appeal?

Readers, help me out here.

posted by Dan at 03:26 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Open SOTU -- oh, hell, I'm bored already

Comment on the content of Bush's State of the Union address if you'd like.

Me, I don't see the point. With a 28% approval rating and both houses of Congress controlled by Congress Democrats, we know that:

1) Bush's domestic policy proposals are immaterial, since they are DOA unless they provide an opportunity for Democrats to toss some lard at their favored interests (see: energy policy, ethanol subsidies).

2) Reaction to Bush's foreign policy proposals are immaterial since Bush still controls the executive branch, Congress is really bad at directing foreign policy, and no one is going to successfully use the A-bomb of defunding a policy initiative.

UPDATE: The Democratic response is by James Webb.

posted by Dan at 09:36 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Vote early and (reasonably) often

Pajamas Media is conducting a thoroughly unscientific but nevertheless intriguing online Presidential straw poll. You are allowed to vote once a week.

Vote here -- and the ongoing results can be viewed here.

Again, Rudy Giuliani is showing surprising strength (as is Barack Obama). The names that intrigue, however, are the ones in second place -- Dennis Kucinich and Newt Gingrich.

As I said, onlinew straw polls like this one don't have a lot of scientific value -- but I have to wonder if the first thing the nascent campaign staffs of all the candidates do in the morning is go to sites like this to boost their candidates' standing. Typical early morning list:

1) Make coffee
2) Check e-mail
3) Vote in every online straw poll imaginable
Of course, at this stage of the campaign there's another competition that matters greatly. The New York Times' Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny do a good job of covering the money race among the Dems.

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"The next year of the war could be bloody"

Comment away here on the President's speech tonight, in which, according to the Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright, "President Bush will announce this evening that he is sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq and will warn Americans that the next year of the war could be bloody as U.S. and Iraq forces confront sectarian militias and seek to quell the Sunni Muslim insurgency."

Here's a link to the NSC slide show report that apparently summarizes Bush's own Iraq Strategy Review.

I've filed this under "politics" rather than "foreign policy" for reasons proffered earlier today.

posted by Dan at 08:12 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What the f%$@ was Sandy Berger thinking, redux

I was dumbfounded by Sandy Berger's theft of classified documents when it was originally reported, but was "willing to believe that Berger did not have nefarious motives."

The latest round of reporting makes that second part impossible. From the Associated Press:

President Clinton's national security adviser removed classified documents from the National Archives, hid them under a construction trailer and later tried to find the trash collector to retrieve them, the agency's internal watchdog said Wednesday.

The report was issued more than a year after Sandy Berger pleaded guilty and received a criminal sentence for removing the documents.

Berger took the documents in the fall of 2003 while working to prepare himself and Clinton administration witnesses for testimony to the Sept. 11 commission. Berger was authorized as the Clinton administration's representative to make sure the commission got the correct classified materials....

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that National Archives employees spotted Berger bending down and fiddling with something white around his ankles.

The employees did not feel at the time there was enough information to confront someone of Berger's stature, the report said.

Later, when Berger was confronted by Archives officials about the missing documents, he lied by saying he did not take them, the report said.

Brachfeld's report included an investigator's notes, taken during an interview with Berger. The notes dramatically described Berger's removal of documents during an Oct. 2, 2003, visit to the Archives.

Berger took a break to go outside without an escort while it was dark. He had taken four documents in his pockets.

"He headed toward a construction area. ... Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ (Department of Justice), and did not see anyone," the interview notes said.

He then slid the documents under a construction trailer, according to the inspector general. Berger acknowledged that he later retrieved the documents from the construction area and returned with them to his office.

"He was aware of the risk he was taking," the inspector general's notes said. Berger then returned to the Archives building without fearing the documents would slip out of his pockets or that staff would notice that his pockets were bulging.

The notes said Berger had not been aware that Archives staff had been tracking the documents he was provided because of earlier suspicions from previous visits that he was removing materials. Also, the employees had made copies of some documents.

In October 2003, the report said, an Archives official called Berger to discuss missing documents from his visit two days earlier. The investigator's notes said, "Mr. Berger panicked because he realized he was caught."

The notes said that Berger had "destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash."

For more details click here and here. This is the kind of case where the accused either pleads incompetence or malevolence. In this case, he might have to go with both.

Question to readers: will this new news cycle in any way affect Berger's current venture, Stonebridge International?

UPDATE: Pajamas Media has posted the Inspector General's report online.

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How good is the data on Giuliani?

I received an e-mail today about the join Rudy website. This triggered a question that's been in the back of my head since I read Ryan Sager's The Elephant In The Room. Sager mentioned in the book that in a 2005 CPAC straw poll, Rudy Giuliani was the co-leader. Given CPAC is probably to the right of Guliani on every social issue known to man, this was a bit of a surprise. And somewhere in my brain I've been registering this kind of support for Giuliani in various straw polls.

So along comes this Washington Post story by Michael Powell and Chris Cillizza, saying, essentially, that Giuliani has no shot in hell of getting the GOP nomination:

His national poll numbers are a dream, he's a major box office draw on the Republican Party circuit, and he goes by the shorthand title "America's Mayor." All of which has former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani convinced he just might become America's president in 2008.

He is showing the early signs of a serious candidacy: Giuliani's presidential exploratory committee throws its first major fundraiser in a hotel near Times Square on Tuesday evening, and he recently hired the political director of the Republican National Committee during 2006. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week found that Republicans give Giuliani an early lead over Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is far ahead of the former mayor in organizing a national campaign.

Despite that lead, conservative party strategists and activists in key primary states are skeptical and warn that the socially liberal Republican faces a difficult campaign. They question whether a Republican who has had one marriage end in annulment and another in divorce, and favors abortion rights, gun control and immigrant rights, has much retail appeal in the evangelical and deeply conservative reaches of the GOP.

"If the Republican Party wants to send the social conservatives home for good, all they have to do is nominate Rudy Giuliani," said Rick Scarborough, a Southern Baptist minister and president of Vision America. "It's an insult to the pro-Christian agenda. . . . He's going to spend a lot of money finding he can't get out of the Republican primaries."

Scarborough's statement is not surprising. However, Hugh Hewitt thinks Scarborough is wrong:
There is an advantage in doing scores of events for radio audiences and Republican activists over the past two years: At each of them I get to conduct my straw poll. In early 2005, I offered audiences the right to vote for one of five possible nominees --Senators Allen, Frist or McCain, Mayor Giuliani, or Governor Romney.

Two years ago, Senator Allen usually won, but Mayor Giuliani was occasionally on top of the poll --the older the audience, the better he did-- though usually he came in second.

By the dismal end of the 2006 campaign season --and I have only done one large event since the election-- Rudy always wins and Romney is always second, and it is usually close. Before he dropped out Senator Frist had close to zero support, and Senator McCain usually gets about 2%.

From the rest of Hewitt's post it seems like he's a Romney booster, so the fact that he said this about Giuliani is telling.

Or is it? Is the WaPo right and online commentators like Hewitt and Sager are wrong? The National Journal's Blogometer thinks it's the latter. But Glenn Reynolds notes:

I caught a bit of Hannity's show on XM today, and there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for Rudy Giuliani from conservative callers there. That's happened before. Maybe the larger GOP base isn't as socially conservative, at least in the context of the 2008 Presidential election, as people think.
Now is normally the time when I offer my sage bits of wisdom on the matter.... and I've got nothing. I don't know how much to trust the data. It's all anecdotal, except for straw polls, which at this stage of the campaign are only a slight bump above anecdotal.

Do any readers believe that Giuliani's popularity with the GOP base is anything other than an ephemeral phenomenon? Will they continue to support a man who endorsed Mario Cuomo for governor in 1994? If so, why?

UPDATE: Yes, I misspelled Giuliani's name in my original post. So sue me.

posted by Dan at 10:04 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (9)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mendacity and stupidity are not a party-specific phenomenon

As my previous post might suggest, I'm just a wee bit fed up with the deteriorating and costly U.S. position in the world. It's annoying because, at so many points in time, the Bush administration could have avoided so many of these costs. Instead, we've received ample doses of Bush-endorsed mendacity and stupidity.

However, it should be noted that these qualities are certainly present on the Democratic side of the ledger.

Click here for mendacity.

Click here for stupidity.

posted by Dan at 02:46 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The Campaign for America's Future... and its enemies

In what I am convinced is a plot to make me reject Brink Lindsey's efforts to get libertarians and liberals to kiss on the first date, I was sent the following press release:

More than 100 leaders, speaking for dozens of progressive organizations, assembled today to organize a campaign to back major portions of the House Democrats' early legislative agenda. The attending groups represent an expansion of a regular meeting of progressive leaders known as the "Tuesday Group." Organizers said support for key elements of the agenda represents a down payment on a more ambitious agenda for change promised by the new majority in Congress.

More than 40 groups, led by Americans United, U.S.Action and the Campaign for America's Future, met to outline plans to press House and Senate members to vote for a minimum wage increase, negotiating for lower drug prices, student loan interest rate reductions, and a repeal of tax benefits for the oil and gas industry to pay for public investment in alternative energy sources. These agenda items are part of House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi's agenda for the first 100 legislative hours of the House next month.

The groups devoted almost their entire meeting to building participation and momentum for the coalition effort, known as CAN - Change America Now. The campaign is growing as groups turn their post-election attention to moving an immediate agenda, which they see as a down payment on a larger agenda for creating an economy that works for working people.

"Democrats ran the most populist elections in memory," said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future and a co-chair of today's Tuesday Group meeting. "We need to make sure the Democrats deliver on their promises, and that the 100 Hours Agenda is just the first step in creating an economy that works for working people. The 100 Hours Agenda gives Democrats a chance to show that we support positive policies for change, and we're not just against the Republican agenda." (emphasis added)

I should add that I do think the Campaign for America's future is likely correct in its assertion that "Democrats ran the most populist elections in memory." For support, click on this Stan Greenberg analysis of the midterm exit polls, as well as Public Citizen's report, "Election 2006: No to Staying the Course on Trade."

posted by Dan at 07:12 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 4, 2006

Who's going to fuse with libertarians?

Over at The New Republic, Brink Lindsey argues that Democrats should start catering liberarians more aggrssively:

Libertarian disaffection [with the GOP] should come as no surprise. Despite the GOP's rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq.

This woeful record cannot simply be blamed on politicians failing to live up to their conservative principles. Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions....

Libertarian-leaning voters started drifting away from the GOP even before Katrina, civil war in Iraq, and Mark Foley launched the general stampede. In their recent Cato-published study "The Libertarian Vote," David Boaz and David Kirby analyzed polling data from Gallup, the American National Election Studies, and the Pew Research Center and concluded that 13 percent of the population, or 28 million voting-age Americans, can be fairly classified as libertarian-leaning. Back in 2000, this group voted overwhelmingly for Bush, supporting him over Al Gore by a 72-20 margin. By 2004, however, John Kerry--whose only discernible libertarian credential was that he wasn't George W. Bush--got 38 percent of the libertarian vote, while Bush's support fell to 59 percent. Congressional races showed a similar trend. In 2002, libertarians favored Republican House candidates by a 70-23 spread and Republican Senate candidates by a 74-15 margin. Things tightened up considerably in 2004, though, as the GOP edge fell to 53-44 in House races and 54-43 in Senate contests.

To date, Democrats have made inroads with libertarian voters primarily by default....

In short, if Democrats hope to continue appealing to libertarian-leaning voters, they are going to have to up their game. They need to ask themselves: Are we content with being a brief rebound fling for jilted libertarians, or do we want to form a lasting relationship? Let me make a case for the second option.

I'm not going to excerpt Lindsey's case because it should be read in full (click here to read it if you're not a TNR subscriber).

One critique of it is that while Lindsey focuses on the possible areas of common ground (corporate welfare, immigration, tax reform) he elides the issues where Democrats want to promote economic populism (the minimum wage, trade expansion) because it gets more votes than libertarians can proffer themselves. Even here, however, Lindsey could argue that programs do exist (trade adjustment assistance) that could potentially split the difference.

My only other critique comes with what's missing in this paragraph:

Conservative fusionism, the defining ideology of the American right for a half-century, was premised on the idea that libertarian policies and traditional values are complementary goods. That idea still retains at least an intermittent plausibility--for example, in the case for school choice as providing a refuge for socially conservative families. But an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends. Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era--the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration--were championed by the political left.
None of what's in this paragraph is incorrect. Again, however, Lindsey does omit the successes in microeconomic policy -- deregulation, welfare reform, declines in marginal tax rates, shifts in antitrust policy, the 1986 tax reform -- that conservative fusionism produced in the past few decades.

UPDATE: Sebastian Mallaby mulls over Lindsey's essay in the Washington Post today. Hat tip to Inactivist, who also has some thoughts on the matter. Also check out the series of posts at the Volokh Conspiracy.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at The American Spectator, John Tabin suggests that a liberal-libertarian fusionism won't take:

The problem with this idea is that classical liberalism (or libertarianism) and modern liberalism (or progressivism, or egalitarian liberalism) are fundamentally at odds philosophically. The crux of the split is the difference between negative and positive liberty, a difference that illuminates how libertarians and liberals are separated even when they seem to be allied.
It's convenient for conservatives to make this argument, but Tabin shrewdly links to this Matt Yglesias post from a few months ago that makes the same point:
For one thing, a lot of the views liberals tend to think of us libertarian-ish liberal positions aren't actually especially libertarian at the end of the day. For example, liberals, like libertarians, don't think the coercive authority of the state should be deployed to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Unlike libertarians, however, liberals generally think the coercive authority of the state should be deployed to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians. We think that landlords shouldn't be allowed to refuse to rent houses to gay men, that bartenders shouldn't be allowed to refuse to serve them, that employers shouldn't be allowed to fire them, etc. Liberals believe in a certain notion of human liberation from entrenched dogma, prejudice, and tradition, but this isn't the same as hostility to state action, even in the sex-and-gender sphere.
To argue in favor of Lindsey now, these are good but not devastating points. Both Tabin and Yglesias assume that all libertarians are so dogmatic that they cannot compromise in the interest of pursuing larger gains. Most libertarians -- including, I suspect, the overwhelming majority of the 28 million voting-age Americans that Boaz and Kirby identify as libertarian -- will not automatically blanch at, say, anti-discrimination laws as a deal-breaker. Well, they'd blanch, but they wouldn't faint.

In other words, libertarians run the gamut from Murray Rothbard to, say, Milton Friedman. And more of them are sympatico with someone like Friedman than someone like Rothbard. [Rothbard had reasons to link with the left as well!--ed. True, which suggest a very different lib-lib fusionism than the one that interests Lindsey.]

Tabin responds to my points here.

posted by Dan at 08:10 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (7)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Google-Earthing Bahrain

Democratic activists in the United States achieved some success in Google-bombing Republican candidates during the 2006 midterms. Now, Passport's Mike Boyer reports that Bahraini cyberactivists are exploiting Google tools for their legislative elections:

In the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections this Saturday, cyber-activists in Bahrain are using Google Earth to highlight the excesses of the ruling al-Khalifa family. It's always surprised me that more authoritarian regimes do not block access to Google Earth. Bahrain has tried in the past, but its efforts to do so proved mostly futile. And since Google ratcheted up the resolution of its images of Bahrain, Google Earthing the royal family's private golf courses, estates, islands, yachts, and other luxuries has become a national pastime. Most Bahrainis have long known that these things existed, but they've been hidden behind walls and fences.

posted by Dan at 03:37 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In defense of Hillary Clinton

Anne Kornblut and Jeff Zeleny have an NYT front-pager that seems designed to knock Hillary Clinton down a peg or two:

She had only token opposition, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton still spent more on her re-election — upward of $30 million — than any other candidate for Senate this year. So where did all the money go?

It helped Mrs. Clinton win a margin of victory of more than 30 points. It helped her build a new set of campaign contributors. And it allowed her to begin assembling the nuts and bolts needed to run a presidential campaign.

But that was not all. Mrs. Clinton also bought more than $13,000 worth of flowers, mostly for fund-raising events and as thank-yous for donors. She laid out $27,000 for valet parking, paid as much as $800 in a single month in credit card interest and — above all — paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to an assortment of consultants and aides.

Throw in $17 million in advertising and fund-raising mailings, and what had been one of the most formidable war chests in politics was depleted to a level that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even trailing some of them.

Now this would be an interesting story -- if the context suggests that she did in fact spend in a profligate manner compared to other politicos and diminshed her ability to collect future revenues.

Alas, the meat of the story suggests precisely the opposite:

[T]he way she spent the money troubled some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, many of whom have been called on repeatedly over the years to raise and give money for Bill Clinton’s two presidential campaigns, his legal expenses, his library, his global antipoverty and AIDS-fighting program and now his wife’s political career. One Clinton supporter said it would become harder to tap repeat donors if it appeared that the money was not being well spent.

Nonetheless, the senator is among the most formidable fund-raisers in her party and could raise a large amount of money quickly if needed....

Political campaigns are expensive affairs for any candidate, especially those running in a state as big as New York. Some of Mrs. Clinton’s expenditures, including the more than $10 million for direct mail fund-raising solicitations, will pay off if she runs for president by giving her an expanded list of individual donors around the nation.

She has now amassed a database that includes several hundred thousand new donors, 90 percent of whom contributed $100 or less, her advisers said. Under the new campaign finance law, such small donors are considered crucial to raising the large sums of money needed for a presidential campaign.

Other types of expenses are seen by campaigns as necessary good-will gestures toward donors and other supporters; Mrs. Clinton’s campaign cited this in justifying the roughly $51,000 she spent on professional photographers to provide pictures of her with guests. The candidate also sought to generate good will among her fellow Democratic candidates by giving more than $2.5 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other party groups.

Candidates routinely use campaign money for all types of expenses. Representative Corrine Brown, Democrat of Florida, spent $24,000 of her campaign money this year on flowers; her campaign said she sent them to the families of constituents who died. Representative Richard W. Pombo, Republican of California, spent $17,250 on balloons for a single event in July.

Mrs. Clinton’s aides offered varying explanations for her spending record. Some, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are barred from discussing Mrs. Clinton’s intentions for 2008, said much of the spending amounted to an investment in voter and fund-raising databases that could form the basis of a presidential campaign. Others said the money went to ensuring as convincing a victory as possible.

Look, any candidate that has enough money to hire a blog consultant is probably overspending just a bit. That said, anyone prepping for a 2008 run would be expected to overspend in this election cycle. Clinton needed to win convincingly and to amass a healthy donor base, and both of these activities cost money.

I'm hardly a big fan of Hillary's, but this piece seems like ovekill to me.

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

David Brooks rousts me from my Sunday torpor

In the past 24 hours I had to go from presenting a paper at the inaugural meeting of the International Political Economy Society to spending the night with my son at his Cub Scout campout. In other words, I'm wiped.

So I ordinarily wouldn't bother to blog today... until I saw David Brooks' column devoted to Milton Friedman.

Brooks accomplishes a unique two-fer in this column, simultaneously infuriating me on one point and making me agree with him on another.

So, in order... the part of the column that is utter horses%&t:

[Friedman's] passing is sad for many reasons. One is that from the 1940s to the mid-1990s, American political life was shaped by a series of landmark books: "Witness," "The Vital Center," "Capitalism and Freedom,""The Death and Life of American Cities," "The Closing of the American Mind." Then in the 1990s, those big books stopped coming. Now instead of books, we have blogs.

The big books stopped coming partly because the distinction between intellectual movements and political parties broke down. Friedman was never interested in partisan politics but was deeply engaged in policy. Today, team loyalty has taken over the wonk's world, so there are invisible boundaries that mark politically useful, and therefore socially acceptable, thought.

Oh, please, spare me the crap about how today's deep thoughts fail to rival those of the past. Brooks listed five books to cover five decades. Here are five books from the past decade that would meet his criteria (note I am far from endorsing the content of these books -- but they're big in the sense that their arguments cannot be ignored):
Samuel Huntingon, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies.

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds.

Jacob Hacker, The Great Risk Shift.

I did this without breaking a sweat. If I actually glanced over to my library or checked out my book club recommendations, I could probably come up with twenty more.

To paraphrase Gloria Swanson -- books are big, it's the politics that got small.

Oh, and it's not the blogs either -- the last three authors in that list either have blogs or have interacted with them on a regular basis.

At the same time, Brooks got me to nod with this pararaph:

His death is sad, too, because classical economics is under its greatest threat in a generation. Growing evidence suggests average workers are not seeing the benefits of their productivity gains--that the market is broken and requires heavy government correction. Friedman's heirs have been avoiding this debate. They're losing it badly and have offered no concrete remedies to address the problem, if it is one.

posted by Dan at 12:32 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Rumsfeld out, Gates in, Drezner happy
If this AP report is correct, then the midterms have claimed another big loser:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, architect of an unpopular war in Iraq, intends to resign after six stormy years at the Pentagon, Republican officials said Wednesday.

Officials said Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, would replace Rumsfeld.

The development occurred one day after congressional elections that cost Republicans control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate as well. Surveys of voters at polling places said opposition to the war was a significant contributor to the Democratic Party's victory.

President George W. Bush was expected to announce Rumsfeld's departure and Gates' nomination at a news conference. Administration officials notified congressional officials in advance.

If true, the news will provoke a triple "yee-haw!" from the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com.

[Why three yells?--ed.] First, this blog has wanted Rummy to retire for quite some time. Second, Gates is a member in good standing of the Bush 41 crowd -- i.e., he's, you know, competent.

Third, if it is Gates, this might reduce some of the paranoia about Joe Lieberman-replacing-Rumsfeld-and-then-being-replaced-by-a-Republican scenario that's been discussed in some parts of the blogosphere. This also kills the Santorum-for-DoD campaign just after it starts, by the way.

UPDATE: It's official! Yee-haw!!

Rich Lowry makes an interesting point over at The Corner:

The public probably wanted Bush to reach out to and listen more to critics. They wanted him to break-out of the "stay the course" stalemate in his Iraq policy, which had been embodied by Rumsfeld. They wanted him to acknowledge, really acknowledge in a serious way, their deep disatisfaction with the course of things in Iraq. And lo and behold, about 18 hours after the election, he is doing all of things. American democracy is a marvelous thing.
ANOTHER UPDATE: In what I believe is the fifth sign of the coming apocalypse, the Rumsfeld resignation story was apparently broken by Comedy Central's Indecider blog.

posted by Dan at 01:15 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (17)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Open midterms thread

Comment away on the election results here. AP reporting on the exit polls is suggestive of a big Democratic night:

In surveys at polling places, about six in 10 voters said they disapproved of the way President Bush is handling his job, and roughly the same percentage opposed the war in Iraq. They were more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republicans.

In even larger numbers, about three-quarters of voters said scandals mattered to them in deciding how to vote, and they, too, were more likely to side with Democrats. The surveys were taken by The Associated Press and the networks.

Over at the US News and World Report blog, Kenneth Walsh notes a statement against interest:
More evidence of a big Democratic surge. Fox News's commentator panel led by Brit Hume, which is considered mostly right of center, has reason to be skeptical of this perception of Democratic gains. But the Fox panel, which includes Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol, Mort Kondracke, Juan Williams, and Hume, is now saying the exit polls and their analysis suggest what Barnes calls "a good Democratic night."

The conservative commentators warned viewers to beware of a Democratic bias in exit polls, but they conceded that things look very good for the Dems.

Fifty-seven percent of late deciders, the Fox exit polls show, are breaking for the Democrats, and 39 percent for Republicans. This is a very important harbinger.

I have mixed feelings on this evening. I only hope that Question 1 is approved in Massachusetts, and that there be as few disputed results as possible.

UPDATE, 10:30 PM: Question 1 goes down. Grrrr.......

UPDATE, 10:34 PM: Just when I think John Kerry can't say something dumber, he pulls it off. CNN showed him at the Deval Patrick headquarters saying the following:

We have made history tonight, because we have elected, for an unprecedented ninth time, the greatest Senator in the history of the United States Senate, Ted Kennedy!!

And we have made history, not just here but across the country, because it is clear, from those who are winning in America, that Americans are not just voting for Democrats and for Republicans, they are voting against the politics of smear and fear. They want a change.

That's how I'd interpret Kennedy's re-election as well.

UPDATE, 10:52 PM: I'm not going to stay up late, but glancing at the results so far, I can't imagine the Democrats will be overjoyed. If the numbers hold, the GOP will hold onto Senate seats in Virginia, Missouri, and Tennessee. Some of the vulnerable Republicans have held onto their House seats. If the Dems retake the House, it's impressive, but this doesn't look like 1994 at this point in the evening (see final update below)

We'll see how long it will be before the "blame Britney" crowd becomes a mob.

UPDATE, 12:17 AM: So I stayed up late -- so sue me. The Dems have retaken the house, and have a slim chance at the Senate since Jim Webb looks like he's barely going to beat George Allen. More impressive, but as Jeff Greenfield observed, this would be the first time in quite a while that the House flipped but the Senate did not.

Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru suggests the GOP will actually have to suck up to libertarians now:

If Sodrel loses in Indiana, as looks likely, it may be because a libertarian candidate took votes from him.... So far, losing because of libertarians hasn't caused Republicans to move toward the libertarians ideologically. But maybe things will change this time.
Good night.

UPDATE, 7:10 AM: Well, it seems like there are shades of 1994 in the election. If Jim Leach went down in Iowa, and the Democrats win the Senate and they win a majority of governorships, then it's fair to describe this as a tidal wave.

posted by Dan at 07:07 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

In case you were wondering about the exit polls....

Howard Kurtz reports in the Washington Post that exit poll data will be more closely held this year than in the past:

The biggest behind-the-scenes change in network coverage involves what has been dubbed the Quarantine Room. Determined to avoid a rerun of recent years, when its exit polls leaked out by early afternoon to the Drudge Report, Slate and other Web sites, a media consortium is allowing two people from each of the networks and the Associated Press entree to a windowless room in New York. All cellphones, laptops and BlackBerrys will be confiscated. The designated staffers will pore over the exit polls but will not be allowed to communicate with their offices until 5 p.m.

The consortium, called the National Election Pool, is conducting no surveys for House races. The exit polling will take place for Senate and gubernatorial contests in 32 states with competitive races.

The recent track record with such polling has been pockmarked with failure. There was, of course, the debacle of election night 2000, when the networks used polling data from Florida to prematurely award the presidency, twice, within hours. In 2002, the network consortium's predecessor, Voter News Service, suffered a computer meltdown and pulled the plug on its exit polls. Two years ago, its sample was so skewed that the group's surveys showed Sen. John Kerry beating President Bush well into the night. (emphasis added)

The Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold reported on Saturday that the media reps in the Quarantine Room will "even monitored when they use the bathroom."

Lorne Manly has more at the New York Times Caucus blog.

Hat tip: Open University's David Greenberg.

UPDATE: Jim Lindgren is right: "Expect heavy hinting by the networks after 5pm ET today."

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

I live in a one-party state

So I went to vote this morning -- and discovered that a whopping three out of the 13 races had both a Democrat and a Republican running for office (and one of those was for Ted Kenney's seat, so it doesn't really count). A few of the minor state offices had a Green/Rainbow candidate as well as a Democrat running. Barney Frank was running unopposed.

How lopsided is this ballot? I remember there being more Republicans running in Cook County, for Pete's sake.

This leads me to wonder -- what's the most lopsided ballot in America this election day? Tell me, dear readers, how lopsided is your ballot?

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 6, 2006

My one endorsement for 2006

Unlike two years ago, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com will not be offering any grandiose endorsements for anyone holding political office.

However, it is worth noting that the staff has finally found an issue where the blog wife and I will be voting one the same side: Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot:

This proposed law would allow local licensing authorities to issue licenses for food stores to sell wine. The proposed law defines a “food store” as a retail vendor, such as a grocery store, supermarket, shop, club, outlet, or warehouse-type seller, that sells food to consumers to be eaten elsewhere (which must include meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, and other specified items), and that may sell other items usually found in grocery stores. Holders of licenses to sell wine at food stores could sell wine either on its own or together with any other items they sell.
This is an easy call for the missus and me -- hell yes, I'd like to see grocery stores sell wine.

The Boston Globe's endorsement provides sufficient explanation:

In 34 other states, shoppers at grocery stores can buy wine with their steaks. This has not caused an epidemic of drunken driving or teenage alcohol abuse. But the availability of wine with groceries does make life a little more convenient for the many adults who like to sip wine with their dinner.

Massachusetts allows only limited sales of wine at supermarkets. By loosening some of the state's restrictions, Question 1 would promote competition among retailers, and convenience for consumers. The Globe urges a Yes vote on this question.

Ah, I love it when the Globe asks for more market competition. You can find more information on this ballot question by clicking here.

But let me urge all blog readers in the state of Massachusetts -- help the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com get tanked expand our consumption choice set.

posted by Dan at 04:13 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Why is the GOP gaining strength?

Over the past 72 hours, every poll announcement I've seen has the Republicans gaining momentum. Mickey Kaus and Charles Franklin argues that this trend actually started 10 days ago -- so no one blame Kerry.

How serious is this momentum shift? It's actually forced the NYT's Adam Nagourney to perform his prognostication pirouette 24 hours before the election takes place -- contrast today's Page One story with yesterday's Page One. The contrasts with Nagourney's usual tactic of having a "Democrats Gaining Steam" headline on Monday of election week followed by a "Republicans Display Hidden Strengths" headline Thursday.

I have a very simple question -- what's driving this? Is it:

a) Positive headline numbers on the economy (Dow Jones Industrial Average + falling unemployment numbers)?

b) Election coverage crowding out depressing Iraq coverage?

c) Foot-in-mouth syndrome among other prominent Democrats?

d) A general lack of faith that the Dems offer a viable alternative?

e) Republican "dirty tricks"?

UPDATE: Hmmm... maybe the GOP isn't gaining strength -- Fox News shows gains by Democrats (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

How Kerry helped the Democrats in 2008

Over at The Guardian's website, James Crabtree makes a great point about how Kerry has helped his party for 2008:

Yesterday was, in fact, a tremendous day for the Democratic Party. John Forbes Kerry, uniquely among his fellow Americans, genuinely appeared to believe that the next President of the United States could be John Forbes Kerry. Much in the same way as Nixon ran against Kennedy, was defeated, and came back, Kerry thought his phoenix could rise again. That is now not going to happen. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. John Kerry 2008. RIP....

[T]here is something uniquely unfortunate about Kerry - his caution, his pratfalls, his pusillanimity - that invite this sort of attack. And somehow, the ways he overcompensates for his weaknesses ("reporting for duty", duck hunting, saying yesterday he had nothing to apologise for) only make it worse.

For Republicans, Kerry comes with an easy-hit red target painted right in the middle of his high-brow Brahmin forehead. Two little-known stories illustrate why. In the first, Kerry attended a campaign event in Missouri, in 2003. He was asked by a reporter if, hypothetically, Saddam actually had WMD and refused to disarm, would Kerry have invaded? He answered resolutely: "You bet I might have."

The second comes from a chapter in Joe Klein's book Politics Lost. Kerry was dithering over his address to the 2004 Democratic convention. His brilliant young advisor Andrei Cherny had drafted a brave, lyrical speech. In particular, the speech had Kerry taking on his opponents and addressing honestly the issues on which he and America disagreed. He was against the death penalty, but for reasons of Catholic faith. He was pro-life, in principle. He believed in a Kennedy-esque call to service and sacrifice.

What happened? Kerry nixed the speech. It was too risky. Frustrated, Cherny told Kerry he would have to take a risk somewhere if he was going to win the presidency. Kerry replied that he knew this. He would take a risk. On early years education policy.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Kerry reminds us why he lost in 2004

From David Stout, "Kerry and G.O.P. Spar Over Iraq Remarks," New York Times, October 31, 2006:

Debate over the Iraq war seemed to reach a new intensity today, with President Bush and other Republicans accusing Senator John Kerry of insulting rank-and-file American troops and Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, lashing back at some of his critics as “assorted right-wing nut jobs.”

The latest flap, in which Mr. Kerry accused Republicans of distorting what he said on the West Coast on Monday, was another example of the heated rhetoric surrounding the war issue as the Congressional elections approach. President Bush said Monday that a Democratic triumph in the races for the House and Senate would amount to a victory for terrorists.

Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who is believed to be considering another run for the White House in 2008, set the stage for bitter back-and-forth as he addressed a gathering at Pasadena City College in California.

The senator, who was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides, opened with several one-liners, joking at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas but now “lives in a state of denial.”

Then, Mr. Kerry said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

President Bush, campaigning this afternoon in Georgia for a Republican House candidate, condemned Mr. Kerry’s remarks as “insulting and shameful.”

“The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots — and Senator Kerry owes them an apology,” Mr. Bush said, according to the White House.

Earlier today, Mr. Kerry’s remarks were denounced by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and, like Mr. Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, as well as by a group of House Republicans.

“Senator Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. McCain said any suggestion that only the poorly educated would agree to serve in Iraq is “an insult to every soldier serving in combat.”....

But if anyone should apologize, Mr. Kerry said, it is President Bush and his administration officials who started the ill-conceived war. He said his remarks, which he conceded were part of a “botched joke,” had been distorted and called the criticism directed at him the work of “assorted right-wing nut jobs and right-wing talk show hosts.” (emphasis added)

[OK, on a gut level this is pretty offensive to someone in the military. But is Kerry right about a lack of education being correlated with military enrollment?--ed.]

The evidence seems mixed. Consider this Terry Neal summary in the Washington Post from last year:

David R. Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organizations at the University of Maryland, said contrary to conventional wisdom both the poorest and the wealthiest people are underrepresented at the bottom of the military ranks, for completely different reasons. This trend held for both from the conscription years of Vietnam through at least the late 1990s.

Poorer people, he said, are likely to be kept out of the military by a range of factors, including higher likelihood of having a criminal record or academic deficiencies or health problems.

Back during Vietnam, "the top [economic class] had access for means of staying out of the military," said Segal. "The National Guard was known to be a well-to-do white man's club back then. People knew if you if joined the guard you weren't going to go to Vietnam. That included people like Dan Quayle and our current commander in chief. If you were rich, you might have found it easier to get a doctor to certify you as having a condition that precluded you from service. You could get a medical deferment with braces on your teeth, so you would go get braces -- something that was very expensive back then. The wealthy had more access to educational and occupational deferments."

Today's affluent merely see themselves as having more options and are not as enticed by financial incentives, such as money for college, Segal said.

The Army was able to provide socioeconomic data only for the 2002 fiscal year. Its numbers confirm Segal's findings that service members in the highest and lowest income brackets are underrepresented, but because those numbers chronicle enlistments in the year immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks, it's difficult to ascertain whether this was a normal recruiting year.

Also of note: Jerald G. Bachman, Peter Freedman-Doan, Patrick M. O'Malley, "Should U.S. Military Recruiters Write Off the College-Bound?" Armed Forces & Society 27 (July 2001): 461 - 476:
This article examines trends and relationships involving high school seniors' military service plans, their college plans, and their actual entry into military service. Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the Monitoring the Future project show that, although individuals planning to complete college are less likely than average to plan on military service, the upward trend in college plans cannot account for many of the year-to-year changes in military propensity. Moreover, it now appears that the majority of young men expecting to enter military service also expect to complete a four-year college program. Most important, planning for college does not reduce enlistment rates among high propensity males, although for some of them it may delay entry by several years. These findings suggest that educational incentives for military service are now particularly important, given the high proportions of potential recruits with college aspirations.
And, finally, Meredith A. Kleykamp, "College, Jobs, or the Military? Enlistment During a Time of War," Social Science Quarterly 87 (June 2006):
This article questions what factors are associated with joining the military after high school rather than attending college, joining the civilian labor force, or doing some other activity. Three areas of influence on military enlistment are highlighted: educational goals, the institutional presence of the military in communities, and race and socioeconomic status.

The analysis uses data from a recent cohort of high school graduates from the State of Texas in 2002, when the United States was at war, and employs multinomial logistic regression to model the correlates of post-high-school choice of activity in this cohort.

Results confirm the hypothesis that a higher military institutional presence increases the odds of enlisting in the military relative to enrolling in college, becoming employed, or doing some other activity after high school. Additionally, college aspirations are clearly associated with the decision to enroll in college versus enlist and also increase the odds of joining the military rather than the civilian labor market, or remaining idle. Unlike previous studies, few racial and ethnic differences are found.

Voluntary military enlistment during wartime is associated with college aspirations, lower socioeconomic status, and living in an area with a high military presence.

Tim Kane, "Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005" Heritage Center for Data Analysis:
[I]t is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pen­tagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005....

the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) sup­port the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas.

Anyway, although I do like the description of Rush Limbaugh as "doughy," perhaps it would be best for the Dems if they took Kerry and locked him in a closet for the rest of the week.

UPDATE: Here's Kerry's explanation in fuller detail:

My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops. The White House's attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe.
OK, so the line as Kerry says he intended it is not as offensive as the New York Times story suggests. YouTube has video of Kerry making the quote in context.

The title to this post still stands, however -- this is a classic replay of Kerry's "global test" statement during the 2004 presidential debates. As Andrew Sullivan puts it: He

may not have meant it the way it came out. That doesn't matter. It's wrong to talk about the military that way - wrong morally, empirically and ethically. And the way he said it can be construed as a patronizing snub to the men and women whose lives are on the line. It's also dumb politically not to kill this off in one news cycle. Is Kerry not content to lose just one election? Does his enormous ego have to insist on losing two?

posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Beware the reverse Michael Moore effect!!

Does everyone remember how the release of Fahrenheit 911 triggered a debate about whether its huge box-office success presaged Bush's downfall in the 2004 election?

I bring this up because of this Reuters report by Steve Gorman:

The provocative film "Death of a President," which imagines the assassination of George W. Bush, bombed at the North American box office with a meager $282,000 grossed from 143 theaters in its first weekend.

The pseudo-documentary played at 91 U.S. theaters and 52 Canadian cinemas during its first three days of release, averaging an estimated $1,970 per screen, according to distributor Newmarket Films, which reportedly paid $1 million for U.S. rights to the picture.

"That's a very poor opening," said Brandon Gray, an analyst at industry watcher Web site boxofficemojo.com....

Newmarket distribution chief Richard Abramowitz called the opening tally for "Death of a President" "a little disappointing" in light of the "enormous awareness" generated by the film since its premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival.

posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Congress gets body-slammed in Foreign Affairs

Neither Peter Beinart nor Matthew Yglesias will make libertarians feel all that sanguine about how a Democratic takeover would affect U.S. foreign economic policy. Beinart fears, correctly, that any Democrat taking their economicpolicymaking cues from Lou Dobbs is going to wind up having to embrace a full-throated economic nationalism that in the end won't do much but lower economic growth. Yglesias fears, correctly, that Democrats have not properly appreciated the way in which trade policy helps advance U.S. security interests.

So I'm not feeling good -- and then I stumble across Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann's "When Congress Checks Out" in Foreign Affairs:

One of Congress' key roles is oversight: making sure that the laws it writes are faithfully executed and vetting the military and diplomatic activities of the executive. Congressional oversight is meant to keep mistakes from happening or from spiraling out of control; it helps draw out lessons from catastrophes in order to prevent them, or others like them, from recurring. Good oversight cuts waste, punishes fraud or scandal, and keeps policymakers on their toes. The task is not easy. Examining a department or agency, its personnel, and its implementation policies is time-consuming. Investigating possible scandals can easily lapse into a partisan exercise that ignores broad policy issues for the sake of cheap publicity.

The two of us began our immersion in Congress 37 years ago, participating in events such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's extended hearings on the Vietnam War. Throughout most of our time in Washington, tough oversight of the executive was common, whether or not different parties controlled the White House and Congress. It could be a messy and contentious process, and it often embarrassed the administration and its party. But it also helped prevent errors from turning into disasters and kept administrations more sensitive to the ramifications of their actions and inactions.

In the past six years, however, congressional oversight of the executive across a range of policies, but especially on foreign and national security policy, has virtually collapsed. The few exceptions, such as the tension-packed Senate hearings on the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2004, only prove the rule. With little or no midcourse corrections in decision-making and implementation, policy has been largely adrift. Occasionally -- as during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year -- the results have been disastrous.

That Ornstein and Mann wrote this in Foreign Affairs is telling for two reasons.

First, Ornstein and Mann are about as mainstream as you can get in the world of congressional analysis. We're not talking partisan hacks here. To quote Joe-Bob Briggs, "These guys are the feedlot." For Mann and Ornstein to co-author this kind of article at this point is telling.

Even more telling -- that it ran in Foreign Affairs. I say this because if there's one thread that runs through most foreign policymaker wannabes, it's a desire to have Congress butt out of foreign policy. No one who works in the executive branch on foreign policy ever wants to deal with Congress on anything -- because it's a colossal pain. The natural inclination of most foreign policymakers is to work for the executive branch. And yet, this argument gets the Foreign Affairs imprimatur.

I don't like seeing U.S. foreign economic policy shift in a more populist direction, and I look forward to bashing Pelosi and company if that happens. But if forced to choose, I'll trade that off for greater congressional oversight.

UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett offers his support for gridlock as well.

posted by Dan at 12:15 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is it just me or did the earth move for everyone?

Ever since Bush and Cheney went to the Vietnam analogy well in talking about Iraq, it strikes me that the political ground has shifted.

In the past week alone, the White House has jettisoned the "stay the course" rhetoric, Bush has said in a press conference that he's dissatisfied with the current situation, and military commanders on the ground have painted an even bleaker picture.

From a policy perspective, it's good to see that the president is starting to think about other alternatives to simply staying the course. From a political perspective, however, my hunch is that this shift in rhetoric will be a disaster.

Why? For the past five years, Democrats have been vulnerable on national security issues. Bush and the Republicans projected a clear image of taking the war to the enemy, and never yielding in their drive to defeat radical Islamists. The Democrats, in contrast, projected either an antiwar position or a "yes, but" position. The former looked out of step with the American people, the latter looked like Republican lite. No matter how you sliced it, the Republicans held the upper hand.

The recent rhetorical shift on Iraq, however, has flipped this phenomenon on its head. If Bush acknowledges that "stay the course" is no longer a statisfying status quo, he's acknowledging that the Republican position for the past few years has not worked out too well. If that's the case, then Republicans are forced to offer alternatives with benchmarks or timetables or whatever. The administration has had these plans before, but politically, it looks like the GOP is gravitating towards the Democratic position rather than vice versa.

If this is what the political optics look like, then the Republicans will find themselves in the awkward position of being labeled as "Democrat lite" in their positions on Iraq. And in elections, lite never tastes as good as the real thing.

If these midterms really function as a referendum on U.S. foreign policy, then the GOP is in big trouble.

Of course, my political prognostications should be taken for what they are worth -- which is very little.

posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Does losing Tom Friedman mean losing middle america?

It seems that a lot of people in the Bush administration read Tom Friedman's Tuesday column, which characteizes recent Iraqi insurgency tactics to, "the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive."

ABC reports that this came up in Bush's interview with Georege Stephanopolous:

Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago.

"He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

"George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we'd leave," Bush said. "And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear. Look, here's how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw."

Meanwhile, in a Time interview, Dick Cheney brings up the analogy on his own:
The other thing that I'd mention, too, not really in response to your question: I'm struck by the fact that what's being attempted here is to break our will. (New York Times columnist Thomas) Friedman has got an interesting piece today on it, talking about the extent to which the enemy in this stage in Iraq aim very much at the American people... (they) use the media to gain access through technical means that are available now on the Internet and everything else to create as much violence as possible, as much bloodshed as possible and get that broadcast back into the United States as a way to try to shape opinion and influence the outcome of our debate here at home. And I think some of that is going on, too.
The U.S. military also seems obsessed with Tet, as Michael Luo reports in the New York Times (link via Kevin Drum):
The American military’s stepped-up campaign to staunch unrelenting bloodshed in the capital under an ambitious new security plan that was unveiled in August has failed to reduce the violence, a military spokesman said today.

Instead, attacks have actually jumped more than 20 percent over the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan, compared to the previous three weeks, said Gen. William Caldwell, the military’s chief spokesman in Iraq.

In an unusually gloomy assessment, General Caldwell called the spike in attacks “disheartening” and added that the American military was “working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts.”....

General Caldwell also raised the possibility that insurgents have intentionally increased their attacks in recent weeks as a way of influencing political events in the United States.

“We also realize that there is a midterm election that’s taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur,” he said.

By almost any measure, the situation in the capital is in a downward spiral.

While it's interesting that the administration is now embracing Vietnam analogies, there's a problem with comparing Iraq now to the Tet Offensive. The two ostensibly share the efforts by insurgents to affect the domestic political landscape of their adversary. Today's New York Times front page spells that out.

However, Tet, was a military reversal of the first order for the Viet Cong and NVA. Is there any evidence, any metric out there, that shows the insurgency in Iraq to be weakening in any way? Even Cheney allows in his interview, "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence, I think that was premature. I thought the elections would have created that environment. And it hasn't happened yet."

Question to readers: given current trends, is there any evidence that it will ever happen?

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What if the Dems take over the Congress?

Bruce Bartlett has an op-ed in today's New York Times that spells out what will happen should the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress. Bartlett's answer: not much:

As a Republican, I have a message for those fearful of Democratic control: don’t worry. Nothing dreadful is going to happen. Liberals have much less to gain than they believe....

I didn’t make myself very popular by reminding people that Bill Clinton was still going to be president for at least another two years. How were we going to get these measures enacted into law over his all-but-certain veto? Flush with victory and convinced that they had a mandate from the American people to pass a conservative legislative agenda, my friends simply dismissed my concerns as defeatist.

Well, Cassandra wasn’t very popular, either, but she was right, and so was I. Within a year, the conservative revolution was all but over....

For starters, President Bush will still occupy the White House for the next two years. And although his veto pen may have been misplaced for most of the last six years, he found it again this summer.

For another thing, Democrats are unlikely to get more than a very thin majority in the House. If they get the Senate as well, it will not be with more than a one-vote margin. Consequently, effective control will be in the hands of moderates who often work with Republicans on specific issues. In a delicious bit of irony, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, lately excoriated by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, may end up holding the balance of power in the Senate.

As for impeachment and cutting money for Iraq, such actions would be politically insane and the Democratic leadership knows it. They will make the White House pay a price for Iraq, but will ensure that they don’t get blamed for any debacle resulting from failure to provide adequate money for our troops.

Democrats may have more success using Congressional committees to investigate accusations of wrongdoing by the Bush administration, but that will be much harder than they think. The Republicans cut thousands of committee staff positions when they took control, and it will take considerable time to find the money and staff to do any serious investigating.

Also, the Bush White House can simply use all the stalling techniques that the Clinton White House perfected to frustrate Congressional investigations by Republicans. The only thing left to worry about is expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which Democrats will certainly not want to extend. But most of them don’t expire until 2010, so there is no urgency. Anyway, there is no certainty that continued Republican control of Congress would assure extension of the tax cuts. If party control were all that mattered, they would have been extended already.

In short, there is really no reason for conservatives, businessmen or investors to worry particularly about a Democratic victory in November. Congress will be on automatic pilot for the next two years regardless of which party is in control.

Bartlett's take is correct as far as it goes, but it's a bit incomplete.

It is undoubtedly true -- as it was in 1994 -- that a political party can't really execute an ambitious governing strategy from the legislative branch. However, a Democratic Congress would alter the political and policy playing field in one certain and one uncertain way.

The certain way is that the Democrats would get some agenda-setting power. Even if Bush can veto a bill, the Democrats can send up bills that might be politically popular as a way to make Republicans look bad. This is one reason why everyone inside the Beltway believes that a Democratic takeover will lead to a hike in the minimum wage. Hearings will be an even cheaper way of doing this -- and the staffing issue that Bartlett raises seems pretty minor to me.

The uncertain way is that a Democratic takeover gives Nancy Pelosi an effective veto over anything Bush wants/needs from the Congress. What's uncertain about this is the effect it will have on actual policy. Will the Dems act as deficit-cutters beyond refusing to extend some of the Bush tax cuts?

I dunno -- I'll ask the Dems in the crowd to give their provisional answers.

UPDATE: Harold Meyerson's Washington Post column addresses this topic as well.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Boy, my tribe can be dumb sometimes

Michael Powell has a story in the Washington Post about how Tony Judt got prevented from speaking at the Polish Consulate last week:

Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.

The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate.

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech. He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had complained.

I might think Tony Judt is wrong about the Israel Lobby, and I think his one-state solution to the Israel/Palestinian problem borders on delusional, but if the ADL and AJC did what Powell implies, their behavior is absurd, counterproductive, and, frankly, un-American.

If they think Judt is wrong, say so, protest his talk, critique his arguments, the whole megillah -- but preventing him from speaking merely provides fodder for Judt's claim about the stifling of debate in this country.

UPDATE: Suzy Hansen has more background on what happened in the New York Observer. After reading the story, the extent of ADL and AJC pressure is still not clear to me.

posted by Dan at 10:34 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

The most interesting spin control of the year

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) has come up with an interesting line of argumentation to protect himself from the Foley fallout: From Ray Long's story in the Chicago Tribune:

The Illinois lawmaker who oversees the Congressional page program said Wednesday that teens who participate are "safer in our program than in a lot of homes."

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) defended his actions as chairman of the page board in an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday, saying he moved quickly to confront former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida based only on information about 2005 e-mail traffic that wasn't sexually explicit.

Shimkus acknowledged he did not ask Foley if there were any other electronic exchanges with pages, such as the sexually suggestive instant messages from 2003 that first surfaced on Friday and led to Foley's swift resignation.

"The thing that's frustrating to me is that I'm not the bad guy here," Shimkus said. "Leadership's not the bad guy. The bad guy is whoever had these explicit instant messages that were done in 2003 and held them. That's the bad guy.... because those instant messages are what put these kids at risk."

He insisted the page program is safe. "They are as safe there as they are at home," he said. "In fact, in a lot of homes—they're safer in our program than they are in a lot of homes." (emphasis added)

Am i reading this incorrectly, or is Shimkus actually claiming that large numbers of parents of being so negligent that they'd be more likely to overlook a sexual predator than the United States Congress?

posted by Dan at 11:22 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

My one post about Mark Foley

It's time for this blog to stop talking about sexy topics like trade policy and move to the serious, weighty, and potentially boring question of whether former U.S. Rep Mark Foley committed the legal act of pedohpilia or was just plain creepy.

Actually, let's leave that question to Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias. The best thing I've seen in the blogosphere on the Foley fall-out comes from this Robert George post.

Question to readers: will Mickey Kaus' Feiler Faster Thesis apply to the Foley scandal? In other words, will this still be an issue come Election Day?

UPDATE: Oh dear, this AP story is close to Hastert's worst nightmare:

A senior congressional aide said Wednesday he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office in 2004 about worrisome conduct by former Rep. Mark Foley with teenage pages -- the earliest known alert to the GOP leadership.

Kirk Fordham told The Associated Press that when he was told about Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages, he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene."

The conversations took place long before the e-mail scandal broke, Fordham said, and at least a year earlier than members of the House GOP leadership have acknowledged.

Fordham resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Does America have a social policy deficit?

I just noticed that Francis Fukuyama sorta joined the blogosphere -- he's occasionally posting over at The American Interest's blog.

In this post from last month, he issues a provocative question that remains relevant:

What is it that leaders like Iran’s Ahmedinejad, Hezbollah’s Nasrullah, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increases their local appeal? Anti-Americanism and an aggressive foreign policy are of course components. But what has really allowed them to win elections and cement their support is their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on, social policy—things like education, health, and other social services, particularly for the poor. Hugo Chavez has opened clinics in poor barrios throughout Venezuela staffed with Cuban doctors; Hezbollah has offered a complete line of social services for years and is now in the business of using Iranian money to rebuild homes in the devastated south of Lebanon. Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Evo Morales in Bolivia all have active social agendas. Organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas do not merely lobby the government to provide social services; they run schools and clinics directly while out of power.

The United States and the political groups that it tends to support around the world, by contrast, have almost nothing to offer in this regard. Washington stresses democracy and human rights—that is, procedural safeguards that institutionalize popular sovereignty and limited government—as well as free trade, with its promise of economic growth. This is a good agenda in line with American values, and it has worked well in Eastern Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere. But it tends to appeal to middle-class, educated constituents. In those parts of the developing world that suffer from deep social cleavages and inequalities, free elections and free trade have relatively little resonance for the great majority of the population that is poor....

Washington has lots of advice to give developing countries on economic policy, in terms of deregulation, privatization, reduction of tariff barriers, and the like. But there is no equivalent of the “Washington Consensus” on how to help Bolivia or Pakistan or Egypt improve its primary education system, or how to get health services delivered more efficiently in poor neighborhoods.

The United States and its liberal democratic friends around the world need to start thinking seriously about a social agenda that will appeal to the poor if they are ever to compete successfully with the Islamists and populists of the world. This is not a call for a return to the old social democratic agenda of the 1950s and 60s.... But all governments have to provide social services, and it is important to figure out how to do this well rather than poorly.

I do think Frank is overstating the problem here. First, it shouldn't be that shocking that local leaders have the ability to craft social policies that resonate better in the short run than the United States.

Second, all you have to do is read Bill Easterly to become immediately wary of anything that smacks of a "Wasington Consensus" on health and education in the developing world. I'm pretty confident that such an animal does not exist.

Third, and most important, the one element that would belong in anything resembling a Washington Consensus on social development would be an intensive focus on educating women and providing them with greater health choices. How many conservative societies in the developing world are going to be truly receptive to that kind of program?

Finally, one of the few Bush administration policy innovations that does get kudos across the ideological spectrum is the Millennium Challenge Corporation. No one pays attention to it, however. Why? Well, it's been a bit slow in dispensng aid, and, oh, yes, there's Iraq.

That's the thing about big foreign policy screw-ups -- unfortunately, all the soft power in the world can't erase them.

posted by Dan at 11:04 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How much meritocracy is there in American politics?

In my last bloggingheads.tv appearance, Mickey Kaus and I debated whether Paris Hilton's rise to fame was proof that there was a meritocracy within different American subcultures (Mickey and Bob Wright follow up on that question here).

This question came back to mind as I was perusing Chris Cillizza's washingtonpost.com blog on the latest primary results:

Famous Last Names: Last night's results in Rhode Island proved that the Chafee name is still a powerful brand in the state's politics. But Lincoln Chafee wasn't the only candidate who benefitted from his last name last night. Attorney John Sarbanes (D), the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), won the primary in the open 3rd District House seat in Maryland. The seat, which is being vacated by Senate nominee Ben Cardin, has a strong Democratic lean and Sarbanes should have little trouble winning it this November when a number of other political legacies are on the line. There are plenty of other famous last names on the ballot this fall. In Delaware, Beau Biden (D) -- son of Sen. Joe Biden (D) -- is seeking the state Attorney General's office. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor, officially claimed the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in November. Across the Hudson in New York, another Cuomo looks likely to hold a statewide office.
Now, this penomenon has existed in one form or another since the dawn of the republic (see Adams, John Quincy). And the children of politicians have often acquitted themselves well as statesmen (again, see Adams, John Quincy -- as Secretary of State, not President).

Still, a question to my colleagues in American politics -- to what extent has politics become a hereditary sport?

posted by Dan at 08:06 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Your Katherine Harris update for the week

It appears Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Katherine Harris has stepped into some more hot water, according to the Associated Press:

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a weekly religious journal that God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws" and made other comments that have drawn criticism in recent days.

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected to political office politicians will "legislate sin," citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples in an interview published Thursday.

Harris made the comments - which she clarified Saturday - in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. The publication interviewed political candidates, asking them questions about religion and their positions on issues.

Let's go to the actual Florida Baptist Witness interview to see what she said... yes, yes I believe I have found the problematic answers:
Q: What role do you think people of faith should play in politics and government?

A: The Bible says we are to be salt and light. And salt and light means not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended. So it’s really important that members of the church know people’s stands....

Q: Why should Florida Baptists care about this primary election?

A: ....the real issue is why should Baptists care, why should people care? If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong. ...

Harris' campaign has issued a "statement of clarification" in response to the brouhaha:
In the interview, Harris was speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government. Addressing this Christian publication, Harris provided a statement that explains her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values.
The statement would also appear to explain her shallow grounding in American history.

[This entire post was just an excuse to link to this Ana Marie Cox post, wasn't it?--ed. Nolo contendre.]

posted by Dan at 08:11 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can science solve the stem cell debate?

According to the Financial Times' Clive Cookson, there may be a way to end the ethical debate over stem cell research:

Scientists in the US have created human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, a discovery that appears to get round a basic ethical objection to stem cell research.

The breakthrough – published online on Thursday by the scientific journal Nature – could help lead to greater public funding for the field and make it more appealing for commercial investment.

Researchers from Advanced Cell Technology, a US biotech group, have generated stem cell cultures by plucking individual cells from newly fertilised embryos, which are not harmed. Stem cell production until now involved taking larger masses of cells from slightly older embryos, which are inevitably lost.

The discovery “has the potential to play a critical role in the advancement of regenerative medicine”, said Ronald Green, director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute and head of ACT’s independent ethics board.

“It appears to be a way out of the political impasse in the US and elsewhere,” Prof Green added. “I see this as a real opportunity for the Bush administration to address the need for embryonic stem cell lines, while maintaining their ethical position that embryos should not be destroyed to obtain them.”

Here's a link to the actual article in Nature.

The FT article does go one to assert that,"hardline critics of embryo research – such as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – are unlikely to accept the manipulation even of a single embryonic cell, which they say could theoretically become a human being."

Question to readers: assuming that this is a real breakthrough, will it sway a sufficient number of stem cell opponents to render the debate moot?

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Your photo sequences of the day

Click here.

Then click here.

Thank you, Xavier Sala-i-Martin. And thanks to Tyler Cowen for the links.

posted by Dan at 01:46 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who's going to McCain McCain?

John M. Broder has a story in today's New York Times on John McCain's efforts to monopolize GOP operatives and policy wonks in preparation for 2008:

Senator John McCain is locking up a cast of top-shelf Republican strategists, policy experts, fund-raisers and donors, in a methodical effort to build a 2008 presidential campaign machine, drawing supporters of President Bush despite the sometimes rocky history between the two men....

Other Republican presidential hopefuls are doing likewise, but Mr. McCain is widely judged to be farther along in assembling the kind of national network necessary to sustain a long, expensive campaign for his party’s nomination to succeed President Bush.

At a point in the election cycle when policy positions may be less important than general impressions, the signal Mr. McCain is seeking to send to the Republican Party is that anyone who wants a place on his bandwagon should jump on now.

“We are a party that gravitates toward front-runners,” said Rick Davis, who was Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign manager in 2000....

His still-informal network includes Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state; John A. Thain, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange; and Sig Rogich, who directed the advertising for the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns of Mr. Bush’s father.

He is reaching out to Christian conservatives, who helped sink his 2000 presidential bid, by enlisting the aid of figures like Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah and former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, both of whom have strong evangelical followings.

His growing kitchen cabinet spans an array of issues and backgrounds, and includes James Jay Baker, a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association; Niall Ferguson, a historian at Harvard; and Barry McCaffrey, who was the drug czar under President Bill Clinton.

There is as yet no formal policy council and no regular meetings of the McCain brain trust, aides said. They cautioned that the senator consults widely and that some of those enlisted as advisers or supporters might not play official roles in his campaign, if he decides to run.

Some figures listed as advisers by McCain aides, like Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, have been silent in public about their preference, and it is not clear how involved they may become.

Yet the scale and breadth of the list suggest how much time, effort and care Mr. McCain is investing in preparing for a presidential campaign, using the lessons of his race in 2000 and his subsequent effort to rally the party around him.

McCain's list includes a fair number of foreign policy heavyweights -- a telling sign of front-runner status.

This leads to the obvious question -- who's going to play the role of insurgent outsider to McCain's front-runner? At some point, there has to be a media boomlet for a candidate other than McCain. [But the media loves McCain!!--ed. They love a good horse race a lot more... besides, this allows reporters to push the "McCain has changed" meme in the way that rock enthusiasts talk about how they only like early Nirvana.] This candidate will inevitably be painted as an authentic straight-shooter who is somehow more "authentic" than McCain.

According to Greg Mankiw, the only other Republican with an active Tradesports market is Giuliani. While it would be hard to picture neither the frontrunner nor the challenger coming from the Christian conservative wing of the party, it's hardly unprecedented -- look at 1996 or 1988.

Readers are encouraged to offer who they believe will be McCain's McCain. My money is on this man.

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Democratic Party vs. Wal-Mart

In the New York Times, Adam Nagourney and Michael Barbaro have a story on how the Democratic Party has arrived at a new bogeyman -- Wal-Mart:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, delivered a 15-minute, blistering attack to warm applause from Democrats and union organizers here on Wednesday. But Mr. Biden’s main target was not Republicans in Washington, or even his prospective presidential rivals.

It was Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer.

Among Democrats, Mr. Biden is not alone. Across Iowa this week and across much of the country this month, Democratic leaders have found a new rallying cry that many of them say could prove powerful in the midterm elections and into 2008: denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health care benefits.

Six Democratic presidential contenders have appeared at rallies like the one Mr. Biden headlined, along with some Democratic candidates for Congress in some of the toughest-fought races in the country.

“My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” Mr. Biden said, standing on the sweltering rooftop of the State Historical Society building here. “They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?”

The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor.

Their alliance with the anti-Wal-Mart campaign dovetails with their emphasis in Washington on raising the minimum wage and doing more to make health insurance affordable. It also suggests they will go into the midterm Congressional elections this fall and the 2008 presidential race striking a populist tone.

Biden's comment here is revealing in how the Dems want to frame the debate -- they think Wal-Mart's greatest impact is as an employer. Most (thought not all) economists, I suspect, see Wal-Mart's greatest impact as lowering the costs of consumption for Americans who frequent their stores -- including the middle class.

In the Financial Times, Jonathan Birchall and Holly Yeager report on Wal-Mart's response:

Under Lee Scott, chief executive, the company has in the past year expanded beyond the usual realm of corporate lobbying to wage a fully-fledged campaign in the mainstream of American politics. “When a company is as large as ours, we’re certainly going to have a lot of interaction with both politics and government,” says Bob McAdam, vice-president of corporate affairs.

On Tuesday it sent 18,000 “voter education” letters to its employees in Iowa, pointing out what it said were factual errors made by politicians who had attacked the company. The group is to despatch similar letters to its staff in other states....

Wal-Mart’s evolving political strategy, shaped with advice and support from Edelman, the public relations consultancy, has been twofold. First, it has attacked its critics – arguing that it is the victim of an unholy alliance between Democrat lawmakers and the unions they rely on to deliver votes and campaign financing. Second, it is seeking to make the argument that the company is good for America.

It is doing this by mobilising its own political constituency, seeking alliances with local community leaders and businesses – in particular, black and Hispanic groups – that accept Wal-Mart’s argument that the company helps low-income Americans by offering low prices and jobs with the prospect of advancement.

Working Families for Wal-Mart, funded mainly by the retailer, is part of both strategies....

John Zogby, the pollster, argues that focusing too much on Wal-Mart “means no net gain”, because union voters already favour the Democrats and the party must seek other support if it is to recapture the White House in 2008. “When are the Democrats going to talk to Wal-Mart shoppers?” he asks (see below left). Mr Zogby, who has done some polling work for Wake Up Wal-Mart, says Democrats still lack “a strategy that deals with Joe and Mary Middle America – and Joe and Mary Middle America are at Wal-Mart”.

Two questions to readers:
A) Who's going to win this battle over the next few years?

B) Who should win this battle?

UPDATE: Well, I think it's safe to describe Andy Young as a loser in this battle.

posted by Dan at 10:58 PM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Find a hobby for Cynthia McKinney!! Please??!!

From an Associated Press story by Errin Haines on Cynthia Mckinney's primary loss:

"Cynthia McKinney is loved nationally, locally and internationally," said Brooks, who is president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. "I expect her to move to the international scene, especially as it relates to peace, justice and environmental issues. This is going to elevate her to another level."
It's always nice to see Americans interested in foreign affairs -- but I'm not entirely sure that this is the best use of McKinney's .... er... talents.

Readers are encouraged to offer Rep. McKinney career advice that does not involve her entering the "international scene."

Please? Pretty please?

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Noam Scheiber confuses me

My specialty is in international relations and not American politics, so maybe that explains why I don't completely understand Noam Scheiber's op-ed in the New York Times on the implications of the end of Joementum:

[T]here was a time when the support of key Democratic interest groups would have more than made up for such heresies. That he could not depend on that traditional lifeline this time should be alarming even for those who hoped for his defeat.

Consider the way Democratic politics has worked for most of the last 40 years. If you were a Democratic member of Congress, pretty much the only way to earn yourself a primary challenger was to oppose a powerful local interest group on an issue it deemed critical. If you represented a Rust Belt district, for example, you could all but count on winning your party’s nomination every two years as long as you voted with the local union on trade legislation.

Under this old model, Mr. Lieberman was an all-star. He was a reliable vote on what Connecticut liberals care about: defending the right to abortion, fighting oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic, raising the minimum wage. When he did depart from Democratic orthodoxy, it usually involved attacking constituencies with little influence in his state, like Hollywood movie producers.

But over the last six years this old model has broken down. As anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave knows, traditional Democratic interest groups have steadily lost ground to a more partisan, progressive movement skilled at using the Internet to communicate and raise money. The most visible faces of the new movement are the thousands of political bloggers — and their millions of readers — who delighted in panning Mr. Lieberman these last several months.

But the movement also consists of national fund-raising and advocacy groups like MoveOn.org and Democracy for America (the current incarnation of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign). Call them the counter-Bushies, after the president whose singular talent it is to drive them to paroxysms of rage.

What matters to the counter-Bushies is basically the opposite of what mattered to the traditional interest groups. The new gang doesn’t care so much about any one issue; it wants Democrats to present a united, and generally liberal, front. (According to a Pew Research Center survey released last year, more than 80 percent of Democracy for America supporters consider themselves liberal, versus less than 30 percent of all Democrats.)

But to discuss the counter-Bushies’ approach strictly in terms of substance doesn’t do them justice. Often they care as much about style as about issues — they want Democrats to denounce Republicans loudly and stridently, and to block the administration’s agenda whenever possible.

Oddly, a party in which the counter-Bushies have replaced the traditional interests may even move rightward in particular cases. Under the new model, for example, our old Rust Belt congressman can probably buck the local union on trade. But the changes do make the party more liberal over all, because our congressman must now make up what he lost in labor backing with support from the counter-Bushies. He can only do that by stridently denouncing the Republican Party and racking up a more liberal voting record.

The flip side of this calculus for that Rust Belt congressman is that simply voting the right way on trade no longer suffices. Labor has lost the power to deliver him the nomination, just like it’s lost the power to sandbag him.

Formally, Scheiber's argument has some logic -- if an interest group holds a veto over the nomination process, and they care only that their rep take position A* on issue A, then Congressman Smith can adopt any position on issues B-Z. If the netroots have veto power, Scheiber is arguing that Smith can adopt A' rather than A*, so long as he compensates by modifiying his positions on issues B-Z such that they conform to the base's preferences.

There's only one problem with this argument, and it's contained within Scheiber's op-ed: "they care as much about style as about issues — they want Democrats to denounce Republicans loudly and stridently, and to block the administration’s agenda whenever possible." The netroots would not tolerate Congressman Smith adopting a free-trade position -- because that means cooperating with the Republicans. Indeed, since cooperation with the other party is more politically visible than one's ideological profile, this will matter a lot more.

The point is, I don't see the netroots generating more free-trade Democrats in the rust belt.

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My contrarian take on George Will's contrarianism

Late on Monday, Steve Clemons from the Washington Note sent around an e-mail trumpeting George Will's column blasing neoconservatives, the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, Condi Rice, et al. The piece has attracted a fair amount of blog attention.

My reaction was similar to Passport's James Forsyth: "George Will savages neocons, dog bites mailman":

I must confess that one of my pet peeves in life is how everyone treats it as news when Will criticizes the neoconservatives. Will has never been a neocon and has been being critical of them for years. Obviously, this doesn't invalidate his criticisms--it just means that it is no more surprising when he attacks them than when his fellow WaPo columnist Richard Cohen does....

Anyway, I doubt that the facts will get in the way of the narrative here. Get ready for a thousand columns that begin "Even conservative commentator George Will thinks the neoconservatives have gone too far"--except, that is, in the Weekly Standard, where you probably won't be reading Will any time soon either.

This is not to say that Will's criticisms don't have merit -- particularly this section:
"No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria . . ." You get the drift. So, the Weekly Standard says:

"We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions -- and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

"Why wait?" Perhaps because the U.S. military has enough on its plate in the deteriorating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which both border Iran. And perhaps because containment, although of uncertain success, did work against Stalin and his successors, and might be preferable to a war against a nation much larger and more formidable than Iraq. And if Bashar Assad's regime does not fall after the Weekly Standard's hoped-for third war, with Iran, does the magazine hope for a fourth?

Will is right (see Cato's Gene Healy for an even broader attack on the neocons), but so is Forsyth -- so please spare me the "even George Will" observations.

posted by Dan at 04:27 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Your interesting argument for the day

Ryan Sager argues in Real Clear Politics (and in the Atlantic Monthly) that the new battleground states will not rust belt states like Ohio, but the Mountain West and Southwest:

In fact, it's looking more and more likely that the eight states of the Southwest and the broader interior West -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- are on their way to becoming the next great swing region in American politics. As the Republican Party tilts on its South-West axis, increasingly favoring southern values (religion, morality, tradition) over western ones (freedom, independence, privacy), the Democrats have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. If the Republican Party doesn't want to lose its hold over all of the West, as it lost hold of once-reliable California more than a decade ago, its leaders are going to have to rethink their embrace of big-government, big-religion conservatism.

Why? The interior West is not the South -- not by demography and not by ideology.

Read the whole thing, and see if you're convinced. I'm only about 50% convinced -- but it's interesting.

Hat tip to Virginia Postrel for the link.

posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

In honor of Independence Day....

I'll encourage my readers to engage Matthew Yglesias and/or Tyler Cowen in the ultimate contrarian argument -- was American independence a good idea?

Yglesias has his doubts at the global level:

File this one under "why do liberals hate America?" but this time of year I'm always intrigued by the view that American independence was more-or-less a giant mistake.... The issues at stake were eminently compromisable, had wiser leadership been available, and the examples of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and (to some extent) South Africa indicate that having lost the USA the British government was able to come up with a perfectly workable alternative system of imperial management. And wouldn't it have been better if the USA-British relationship had evolved along the Canadian model?

Consider that Canada and the other dominions entered the world wars at the same time as Britain rather than on the USA's leisurely pace. If we'd gotten into World War II in 1939 rather than 1941 the war, presumably, have been considerably shorter and many lives could have been saved. Even better would be if American entry into World War I in 1914 rather than 1917 could have brought about German defeat fast enough to prevent the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. If that had turned out differently, the world would have turned out to be a much, much, much better place.

For Cowen, the question comes at the individual level;
[T]hink about it, wasn't it more than a wee bit whacky? "Let's cut free of the British Empire, the most successful society the world had seen to date, and go it alone against the French, the Spanish, and the Indians." [TC: they all seemed more formidable at the time than subsequently]

Taxes weren't that high, especially by modern standards. The British got rid of slavery before we did. Might I have concluded the revolution was a bunch of rent-seekers trying to capture the governmental surplus for themselves?

Go ahead, exercise that right to free speech and respond to the question at hand

I'd respond myself, but.... er.... I'm deep into the pursuit of happiness right now.

I do know how Jefferson would have responded:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States....

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

posted by Dan at 01:00 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Is politics really a beauty contest?

Today I received the following e-mail request from Niclas Berggren:

Several studies document that beauty plays a role in the labor market: beautiful people earn more than others. Three economists are conducting a study to see whether there is a beauty premium in politics as well, such that beautiful candidates have greater electoral success. You, humble readers of daniel drezner.com, are hereby invited to participate in the study, run by Associate Professor Niclas Berggren (The Ratio Institute), Dr. Henrik Jordahl (Uppsala University) and Professor Panu Poutvaara (University of Helsinki).

Click over to www.beautystudy.se/ -- and please write DREZNER when asked how and where you heard about the study.

posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Just how much do Democrats and Republicans differ?

In a previous post on partisanship, I asserted the following:

This is where I break ranks with both [Tom] DeLay and [Marc] Schmitt -- I don't think Democrats and Republicans disagree on the first principles of governing. I'm not even sure they disagree on second principles. There are policy differences, to be sure -- but Carl Schmitt (not relation to Marc) does not travel well to these shores.
Evidentiary standards in the blogosphere are pretty low, but still, I should probably back up this assertion a bit.

Now I can, thanks to Greg Mankiw, who posts