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)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sovereign wealth fund = greater transparency?

A common lament about sovereign wealth funds is their lack of transparency -- no one knows their investment strategy. The chart below -- cribbed from a Standard Chartered report summarized by the FT's Martin Wolf -- makes this visually clear:

It's generally assumed that a chief source of this opacity is that the governments chruning out SWFs are largely authoritarian and this impervious to domestic scrutiny.

I tend to agree with this assessment. But I did find this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Heidi Crebo-Rediker and Douglas Rediker to be counterintuitively interesting on this point -- transparency on SWFs would have domestic effects within these countries as well:

When even the most secretive sovereign wealth fund makes an investment, it must comply with the disclosure obligations of the countries in which it is investing. So, when the newly formed China Investment Corporation bought into Blackstone last summer, it was compelled to disclose the terms of the deal and other material information as part of Blackstone's regulatory filings in the U.S. That turned out to have some very real consequences back home.

Soon after CIC invested in Blackstone, the holding lost nearly $1 billion in less than a month. Chinese citizens immediately let their political leaders know how they felt about their country's savings being squandered by flooding the Internet and other media outlets with angry criticism.

When it emerged that China Development Bank, having already lost another cool billion in its investment in Britain's Barclays Bank, was considering pouring $2 billion into Citigroup as part of the American lender's January rescue package, Chinese politicians quietly killed the deal. While no official explanation was given, China experts believe that the State Council's rejection of the CDB-Citi investment was driven by fear of taking another highly visible loss and the desire to avoid the resulting political backlash at home. It is not just the public grumbling that was noteworthy, but that Chinese political leaders heard it and apparently reacted.

And it is not just China. Following the flurry of sovereign investment in Western banks over the last several months, people world-wide expressed real concerns, alarmed about foreign government shareholdings in the fragile international banking system....

As was the case with China, Singapore and Kuwait, investing globally in our markets has already piqued the interest of those who stand to benefit from those investment decisions. It is likely that increased disclosure of a sovereign wealth fund's attempt to invest for the "wrong" reasons would engender criticism not just from the West, but from those with the most to lose. This could begin to break down the distinctions between "the state" and "the people."

The idea that undemocratic governments might consider the voices of their own citizens regarding how their money will be invested may be one of the most underappreciated benefits of sovereign funds' disclosure. It may also be one of the most effective.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 02:38 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Responding to Foggy Bloggom

In latest issue of The National Interest, I have a small response to David Frum's "Foggy Bloggom" essay (see my initial reaction here) in which point out a few empirical problems with Frum's essay:

In his essay, Frum suggests that bloggers are “pretty much the opposite” of the foreign-policy community, which “insists upon formal credentials, either academic or bureaucratic.” It is puzzling, then, that the first four bloggers quoted in Frum’s essay possess the very credentials that the foreign-policy community extols. Duncan “Atrios” Black holds a PhD in economics from an Ivy League institution. Matthew Yglesias is a Harvard graduate writing for the Atlantic. Steven Clemons is the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. Glenn Greenwald is a Salon columnist and a partner in a DC law firm. Pajama-wearing stereotypes to the contrary, most influential bloggers possess the elite credentials necessary to crack the foreign-policy community.
Read he whole thing -- Megan McArdle has a response letter as well.

Publicly defending the credentials of Atrios, Matt Yglesias, Glenn Greenwald and Steve Clemons leaves me in a grumpy mood, so blogging will be light for the rest of the day.

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spare me the public intellectual nostalgia

I see that Ezra Klein thinks that William F. Buckley's passing is symptomatic of an entire generation of public intellectuals leaving the stage:

[I]n the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that's a shame. They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions of copies -- they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an actual political junkie. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger.
Now I know I've picked on Klein in the past, and I know that Megan McArdle has picked on him today -- but give me a f#$%ing break. Comparing Galbraith/Friedman to O'Reilly/Coulter is like comparing apples to worms -- they both grow out of the dirt but are otherwise of a different species.

There are plenty of economists, historians, lawyers, and general-interest writers alive today who can claim the mantle of discourse that the departed once held:

Economists: Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, Tyler Cowen, Steve Leavitt, myriad Leavitt-clones.

Historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, Ron Chernow, John Lewis Gaddis, Paul Kennedy

Lawyers: Cass Sunstein, Richard Posner, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Laurence Tribe, Ruth Wedgwood

General Interest: Samantha Power, Andrew Sullivan, Fareed Zakaria, Martha Nussbaum, Theda Skocpol

Readers can think of other names to post in the comments. Hell, all you have to do is click over to and you'll get perfectly civil and discourse from a welter of interesting critics and thinkers -- including Ezra Klein.

Some of these people are more partisan than others -- but I suspect they would all tend to get along as well as the people on Klein's list. They're just more likely to do it via short e-mails rather than long letters.

The O'Reillys and Coulters of the world also existed back in the heyday of Buckley and Galbraith: Walter Winchell comes to mind, for example.

Cable television and the Internet enhance the attention directed at hacks -- but I seriously doubt that the state of discourse -- or emnity among those producing the discourse -- among the best and the brightest today is any worse than it was forty or fifty years ago.

UPDATE: James Harkin has an essay in today's Financial Times that underscores the strength and vitality of American thinkers -- compred to Europe:

Ideas are all the rage. Good ideas have always been contagious, but thanks to the internet and the increasingly globalised media, they are now making their way around the world almost as soon as they are invented. As this new market for ideas begins to settle, something else has become clear too - America is way out in front. If distinctively European thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin and émigrés from Europe to America such as Hannah Arendt had dominated the battleground of ideas during the age of ideology (defined, by the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, as the years between the first world war and the fall of the Berlin Wall), one of the oddities of this new landscape of ideas is that Americans seem to be much better at generating them. There are still some heavyweights around in Europe with novel things to say - Jürgen Habermas in Germany and Slavoj Zizek in Slovenia, for example - but they are few and far between. When France's Jean Baudrillard died in March last year, at the age of 77, it seemed to signify the close of an intellectual era. In any case, Baudrillard was canny enough to know which way the intellectual wind blew. For all his criticism of American culture, he was enchanted by this place he called "the original version of modernity". France, he pointed out, was nothing more than "a copy with subtitles"....

America's dominance in the new global landscape of ideas is not only a matter of resources. Americans have also become expert packagers of ideas. American writers and thinkers seem to have acquired the knack of explaining complex ideas in accessible ways for popular audiences. The success of idea books such as The Tipping Point and Freakonomics and a rather depressing glut of books about happiness has signified to cultural commissars a thirst for good ideas clearly expressed. It helps that journalism in America is taken more seriously than it is in most other countries; its newspapers and magazines have been happy to whet the public appetite for interesting ideas, clearly articulated. The New Yorker, buoyed by staff writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, James Surowiecki and Louis Menand, has developed a reputation for helping to explain complex ideas to a lay audience. In 2000, The New York Times even inaugurated an annual "ideas of the year" supplement, handing out gongs to the best new ideas around the world.

Assaulted by this battery of sometimes flaky new ideas, it would be easy for European thinkers to sit back and sniff. Some of it is mere gimmickry - zappy headline titles that seem to capture the essence of a complicated idea while intriguing the reader enough to read more. Unlike many European philosophers and social scientists, however, the new idea-makers lack verbosity or obscurantism and do not retreat into jargon. A country that controls the market for ideas, remember, has its levers on a great deal else besides. Europeans thinkers, who were so formidable at producing practical ideas during the age of ideology, need to think about catching up.

Harkin raises a point worth stressing again. Part of the vitality of American thinkers is that demand seems to be higher. In terms of books, historical narratives are more popular than ever. Publishers are killing each other trying to find the next Freakonomics. We don't lack for tomes about grand strategy.

Let's face it -- it's a great time to earn a living through the power of ideas.

posted by Dan at 11:26 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Jacob, your long 3-1/2 hour nightmare has ended

I can only hope that Jacob Levy and Brad DeLong survived yesterday's Starbucks closure better than The Daily Show's Jason Jones:

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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)

Drezner gets results from the Financial Times

Yesterday I kindly requested that the mainstream media look into Canada and Mexico's reaction to the deplorable NAFTA exchange in Tuesday's Ohio debate.

And the Financial Times delivers, in the form of this Andrew Ward and Daniel Dombey story:

Mexico and Canada on Wednesday voiced concern about calls by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, as the Democratic presidential hopefuls compete to adopt the most sceptical stance towards free trade ahead of next week’s Ohio primary election.

In a televised debate on Tuesday night, Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton both threatened to pull out of Nafta if elected president unless Canada and Mexico agreed to strengthen labour and environmental standards.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the US, told the Financial Times that the US, Canada and Mexico had all benefited from Nafta and warned against reopening negotiations.

“Mexico does not support reopening Nafta,” he said. “It would be like throwing a monkey wrench into the engine of North American competitiveness.”

Mexican diplomats believe a renegotiation could resurrect the commercial disputes and barriers to trade that the agreement itself was designed to overcome.

Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, also expressed “concern” about the remarks by the Democratic candidates.

“Nafta is a tremendous benefit to Americans and perhaps the [candidates] have not had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the benefit to Americans and the American economy of Nafta,” he said.

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.

In fairness, the New York Times' Michael Luo argues that both Clinton and Obama aren't out-and-out protectionists. Of course, saying that Clinton and Obama aren't as bad as Sherrod Brown or Byron Dorgan is damning with faint praise. Furthermore, just because Clinton and Obama voted for some free trade deals does not mean they're really keen on the idea.

UPDATE: Scary fact of the day: the anti-NAFTA pandering is not the worst trade rhetoric emanating from the candidates. No, for that you'd have to turn to Obama's co-sponsoring of the Patriot Employer Act -- which Willem Buiter and Anne Sibert label, "reactionary, populist, xenophobic and just plain silly."

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw.

ANOTHER UPDATE: CTV reports the following:

Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama's campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.

The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value....

Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign said the staff member's warning to Wilson sounded implausible, but did not deny that contact had been made.

"Senator Obama does not make promises he doesn't intend to keep," the spokesperson said.

Low-level sources also suggested the Clinton campaign may have given a similar warning to Ottawa, but a Clinton spokesperson flatly denied the claim.

During Tuesday's debate, she said that as president she would opt out of NAFTA "unless we renegotiate it."

The Canadians have denied the specifics of the report.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (8) | 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)

NAFTA is not responsible for Ohio

Perhaps an unanticipated benefit of Clinton and Obama outbidding each other to see who could savage NAFTA more is that the mainstream media will actually point out that NAFTA is not responsible for the rust belt's economic woes.

David Leonhardt makes this point in his New York Times column today:

The first problem with what the candidates have been saying is that Ohio’s troubles haven’t really been caused by trade agreements. When Nafta took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, Ohio had 990,000 manufacturing jobs. Two years later, it had 1.03 million. The number remained above one million for the rest of the 1990s, before plummeting in this decade to just 775,000 today.

It’s hard to look at this history and conclude Nafta is the villain. In fact, Nafta did little to reduce tariffs on Mexican manufacturers, notes Matthew Slaughter, a Dartmouth economist. Those tariffs were already low before the agreement was signed.

A more important cause of Ohio’s jobs exodus is the rise of China, India and the old Soviet bloc, which has brought hundreds of millions of workers into the global economy. New technology and better transportation have then made it easier for jobs to be done in those places and elsewhere. To put it in concrete terms, your credit card’s customer service center isn’t in Ireland because of a new trade deal.

All this global competition has brought some big benefits, too. Consider that cars, furniture, clothing, computers and televisions — which are all subject to global competition — have become more affordable, relative to everything else. Medical care, movie tickets and college tuition — all protected from such competition — have become more expensive.

Leonhardt also raises an obvious point that has, curiously, not been aired all that often:
[W]hen you read [Clinton's] plan, or Mr. Obama’s trade agenda, you discover none of it is particularly radical. Neither candidate calls for a repeal of Nafta, or anything close to it. Both instead want to tinker with the bureaucratic innards of the agreement. They want stronger “labor and environmental standards” and better “enforcement mechanisms.”

It’s a bit of an odd situation. They call the country’s trade policy a disaster, and yet their plan to fix it starts with, um, cracking down on Mexican pollution.

Repeat after me: attaching labor and environmental standards to trade agreements will have no appreciable effect on trade flows. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.

UPDATE: Simon Lester does make a valid point: "Demanding that labor and environmental provisions be included could scuttle some trade deals, and that would have an impact on trade flows." Of course, that's not really an argument in favor of inserting them. Denying market access to poor countries doesn't make them richer, and poor countries tend not to care about labor and environmental standards.

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (8) | 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)