Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Blog

Hey everyone, got any space in your RSS readers? I know you do, because space on those things is unlimited. If you like my writing, you might want to add Library Grape to your feed. I just submitted my first post over there as a new front-pager, alongside the existing crew, which includes Gherald the thoughtful libertarian and Metavirus the occasionally irascible (but good-hearted) lefty. It looks like a good team of writers and I'm thrilled to be a part of a group blog, which should be good because there are bound to be plenty of interesting discussions and differences taking place between us. So if you want to follow me and the other folks, you should head on over there.

I don't think I'm going to shut down my Area completely, and I'm sure I'll be back from time to time with random things to amuse and befuddle. But the real action is going to be going down at the Grape, so by all means, join us!

Credit where it's due

My current opinion is that John McCain's soul is either sold or at least in the middle of a very long lease, but I have to give him some credit for putting his neck on the line for START. Of course, he is simultaneously trying to derail the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to complete his evolution from voting against a constitutional ban on gay marriage to becoming Tony Perkins's best friend, which is just sad on so many levels, but on START he's doing the right thing.

Where I Am

I have a new policy: If I see TSA anywhere in the title or first paragraph of a blog post anymore, I just don't read it. I realize it's A Big Thing that is Worthy of Serious Discussion, but I rather feel that the topic is completely exhausted and has been for some time now, and it's just time for people to move on.

I'm nearly at the point of doing the same thing for Wikileaks. There are interesting things to be said about it, but only so many, and it seems like too many of the blogs I'm reading are turning into TSA-and-Wikileaks-only affairs. There's an awfully big world out there. I have no objection to commentary on those topics, but seriously.

Okay, this is really a content-free minirant. Enjoy the rest of your day.

A Triumph

Tell me this isn't a complete triumph for the forces of equality:

Nearly seven in ten U.S. troops said they served alongside someone in their unit who they believed to be gay or lesbian, and 92% of these servicemen and women said their unit's ability to work together was fine. What's more, 89% of Army combat units and 84% of Marine combat units saying they had good or neutral experiences working with gays and lesbians.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after noting the non-existent risk to military readiness, "strongly" urged the Senate to pass the pending legislation "before the end of this year." He added that repeal "would not be the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted."

Commenting on the Pentagon report, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, "We treat people with dignity and respect in the armed forces, or we don't last long in the armed forces: No special cases, no special treatment."

Message to the Senate: pass the damn DADT repeal and do it smartly by legislation, or let judges do it for you, and be responsible for any consequences. Quite adept. I wonder if this is going to finally budge those recalcitrant Republicans in the Senate.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

"He's a silly, simple-minded man whose success leads a cynic to the conclusion that the world is run by similarly silly, simple-minded men." -- Alex Pareene on Tom Friedman.

Oh, that it weren't the case...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Future of Climate Denialism

Think Progress has an interesting post on what a winning message on climate change might look like. It includes this figure that breaks down how two different groups--one with that believes in an essentially just world and one that doesn't--react to a climate argument that emphasize the importance of the problem and the ability of solving it, as well as a climate argument that makes it sound impossible to solve it. Here are the outcomes:

In essence, the tone of the message made little difference to people who don't think the world is or should be just, but it was hugely divergent to people who do. Maybe I'm feeling a bit cynical today, but this seems like the next step for climate deniers. I believe in climate change as I tend to trust science and scientists far more than politicians and spin. I go even further than that and support taking significant action to curb the effects of climate change, but as they say, admitting there is a problem is the first step. Republicans increasingly view climate change as a hoax, but this in the long run this stance isn't terribly tenable. For one thing, the epistemological implications of the "it's a hoax!" view are far more terrifying than actual global warming, since it would seem to make suspect literally every scientific fact we know, and possibly all the other ones as well. Additionally, the climate deniers tend to be much older than the average person, and part of an age cohort that is quite a bit less friendly with science in general terms, as this chart demonstrates:

There's a lot on the chart, but notice how much less likely older people are to vote for someone who believes in evolution. Among most people it's a pretty neutral factor--in fact, perhaps a positive one without seniors pulling it over. What I contend is that the current crop of senior citizens--one that does not yet include the Baby Boomers in significant numbers--is an incredibly conservative generation, one that missed the Depression and WWII for the most part, but rather came of age during Eisenhower and the conservatism of the 50's. Being conservative doesn't invariably imply climate denial, but the media of the right have indeed pushed this argument for some time now, and seniors are Fox News's bread and butter, demographically speaking. It's quite a confluence of message, media and audience that isn't replicated demographically anywhere else. Ultimately, climate denialism is a generational artifact for the most part, and eventually it will die off because it just can't be substantiated with the data, and the typical generational turnover will take care of some of it as well. But not all the deniers are going to die off, so the study that TP did seems to show the next step: instead of saying that climate change is a hoax, why not admit that it's happening but simply say it's too late to do anything about it and that we're all doomed? With that message, skepticism of climate change shoots through the roof among people who are natural targets to believe in taking action. Ironically, making the concession that the globe is warming seems to increase actual skepticism of this scientific phenomenon. It will be interesting to see how the debate plays out over the next decade or so.

Monday, November 22, 2010

By Republicans For Republicans: Who would referee the closed-circuit Republican debate?

The indispensable Steve Benen runs down the chatter among Republicans against any sort of engagement with non-partisan media:

The Daily Caller's report went on to note that Grover Norquist disapproves of "nitpicking from left-of-center journalists asking questions that will impress their fellow journalists." Far-right activist Brent Bozell was similarly displeased: "When, oh when will Republicans learn? Every four years the presidential debate season takes place. Republicans dutifully line up for debates moderated by liberal 'moderators' except there's nothing moderate about these moderators who mercilessly attack them."

Just at the surface, blasting NBC News and Politico as "liberal" seems pretty silly. MSNBC has some liberal hosts in primetime, but NBC News itself doesn't appear to have any political agenda to speak of. Politico, meanwhile, appears to me to lean pretty clearly in Republicans' favor.

Indeed, in 2007, there was an NBC/Politico event, and the moderators were practically deferential towards the candidates, asking one softball after another.

That said, I don't much care either way whether the event takes place, or whether anyone shows up. What's more interesting to me is the competing partisan standards. A year before the 2008 presidential election, you may recall, Fox News was scheduled to host a debate for Democratic presidential candidates. The highest-profile Dems quickly balked at participating in an event aired and organized by a Republican propaganda outlet, and the debate was scrapped.

But it was the reaction from the right that stood out. Bill O'Reilly compared Democratic presidential campaigns to Goebbels; Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes said Dems were guilty of "Stalinism"; and Fox News president Roger Ailes argued in all seriousness, "The candidates that can't face Fox, can't face Al Qaeda."

And yet, here we are. Republicans are complaining about an NBC/Politico event, and at this point, aren't facing any pushback at all.

It's a shame and it would be a disgrace if there was that much left for Republicans to disgrace. But what interests me is who would form the panel to moderate such a debate. I very much doubt Rush Limbaugh would be asked, since polls like this one show him as politically toxic and having every Republican sucking up to him would be devastating to the party. It would, among other things, revive the meme that Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party and be worth a couple billion propaganda points for the Democrats. So it can't be Rush. It can't be Michael Savage, for reasons obvious to any follower to politics. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck would probably be out--not for conflict of interest reasons due to moderating a debate with their FNC colleagues, since they don't really care about that stuff (see Beck's pimping of Goldbug for a prime example of this)--so much as because all of these guys insist on self-identifying as independents as a defense against the liberal attacks against them as party hacks. They are party hacks to varying degrees, but the justification behind Fox News is that applying a conservative lens to current events is somehow a corrective for the liberal lens that the mainstream media allegedly uses when presenting the news. Of course, even this frequent justification is misguided, since opposing biases don't just cancel each other out, presuming the bias even exists in the first place. But there is a difference between presenting yourself as just an independent trying to present the news as stripped of bias instead of a Republican trying to get out what the party wants you to get out. It turns out that there is no substantive difference when it comes to the outcomes produced by these two approaches, as Fox News is generally in sync with unapologetic partisan organs such as Weekly Standard, but it makes a difference in terms of perception among your viewers.

So, if O'Reilly and Hannity were to moderate a debate amongst Republicans (I'm guessing Beck would not get an invitation, for even more obvious reasons), they would be inserting themselves into the political process in a way that would severely undermine their professions of "independence" to such an extent that even Fox News viewers might find it hard to justify. It might not matter that much, since Beck has been inserting himself into the political process quite baldly and has not lost support at Fox, but I think O'Reilly and Hannity see themselves very differently than Beck does. And if all those people are off the table, you're down to the second-string right-wing crew, with the likes of Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and so forth. Considering the weakness of the GOP field so far, I wonder if such an event absent a marquee right-wing panel would really summon up all that much interest.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Home State

Political Wire pointed me to a survey of what Californians believe. Lots of interesting stuff in here, though not too much of it is surprising. This should seem familiar to anyone following politics these days:
The party faces a critical collision between its own voters, a minority in California, and those it needs to attract to win. The most faithful Republicans this year — those who voted for both Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for Senate — said by a 27-point margin that to be more successful, Republicans should nominate "true conservatives."

But among the majority of voters who spurned Whitman and Fiorina in November — and in whose good graces any future winning candidate would need to be — the results were reversed. Forty-three percent said that future Republican candidates needed to be more moderate. Only 20% said that Republicans should nominate "true conservatives."

As those figures help illustrate, the GOP's difficulties in California rest on two overlapping conflicts, ideological and demographic. The party's conservative primary voters determine nominees, even if their views are often opposite those of the far more moderate general election audience. And the party's white and conservative voter base is increasingly giving way to the state's non-white and nonpartisan population.
And then there's this, which is nothing if not an I-told-you-so moment:
Marjorie Smallwood, a Democrat from Palo Alto who was among the poll respondents, illustrates the difficulty that GOP candidates face in the state. The only Republican she's been tempted to vote for recently, she said, was Senate candidate Tom Campbell, who lost in the primary after a barrage of criticism that he was not conservative enough. "He's moderate, he's a thinking person," she said. "If they want independents and Democrats to vote for them…"
I wouldn't exactly call Tom Campbell a moderate, but he is reality-based and a decent guy who feels the weight of civic responsibility. Kind of a shame what happened to him.

In any event, the import of all this beyond California is debatable. California has a lot of things you don't see anywhere else in the country: a demographically significant Asian-American population that has tilted strongly in the Democrats' favor over the past two decades, a larger-than-average LGBT population thanks to San Francisco (and Los Angeles as well), and a voting population that's quite a bit younger than normal states, which translates into a lot of voters whose formative years were spent under Bush 43's rule and are rabidly anti-Republican as a result. In fact, California has the fourth-lowest median age of all states, though the overall list suggests less of a correlation to voting than one might expect. Still, this is an overwhelmingly young and Hispanic-heavy state, and one where both cohorts are deeply influenced by progressive values and ideas. Republicans often dismiss California as some sort of non-mainstream exception to their center-right nation claims. They better hope they're right.

Will they shut it down?

Grover Norquist is practically lusting over a potential Republican government shutdown. Chait points out an important difference between now and 1995-96:
If Republicans refuse to let the government continue running at current levels while they negotiate with Obama, then they are indeed the ones who are shutting down the government. But as a matter of political reality, it's true that the existence of Fox News and the power of other Republican organs gives the GOP a better chance to spin a shutdown as Obama's fault -- or, at least, to lose the battle for public opinion less decisively. Norquist is also right that Boehner is not acting like, and being treated as, a kind of prime minister, and that factor would also reduce the degree to which Republicans are held accountable for outcomes like the shutdown.
My view is that it's going to be pretty hard to blame Obama for a government shutdown when some of your most influential activists are already cheering one on so forcefully. And if, as Norquist suggests, Republicans try to shut down the government over the debt ceiling, he really is drinking his own Kool-Aid, er, tea, since Americans don't really care about the deficit but will not stomach grandma not being able to cash a Social Security check. Then again, you never know. Spin can only go so far, but this isn't 1995, and it's certainly something to keep an eye on.

I'm not sure this quite fits with the post, but it's Friday, so I think a little Talking Heads is perfectly warranted:

This issue doesn't seem to be on anyone's radar

But I think I'm with Ron Wyden on the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfits Act. Click to learn more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The right in a nutshell

Have I mentioned my loathing of Eric Cantor recently? Here's a reason why I don't care much for him:

The plan would replace some corporate and income taxes with a 6.5% sales tax "as well as an excise tax on sugar drinks like soda." Proponents told the Journal the sales tax "was a good way to go rather than try to put more burden on an income tax," a concept which doesn't sound especially European on its face. In fact, it sounds a lot like the so-called "fair tax" national sales tax plan conservatives have been pitching for years.

Cantor sees it differently. The proposal sounds like a value added tax to him. And that's, well, you know.

Cantor, according to the Journal, said lawmakers "wouldn't support VAT-type tax because its ties to Europe might make it politically poisonous in Washington."

"I don't think any of us want us to go the direction of the social welfare states around the world," Cantor said.

Look, I don't care for the right's corporatism or its obsession with marginal tax rates, but what drives me crazy the most is when they make policy arguments on the basis of cultural signaling. Where this happens the most is on transportation policy (What, you want us to give up our SUVs and ride a train? What, are we going to concentration camps?) and with the VAT. The latter is literally the most stupid thing the right argues, since they're the ones who are always arguing that we should tax consumption. Virtually no liberals push this. And not only in America, but European conservatives have implemented VATs in order to make way for flatter taxes with lower rates. Without a VAT, sustainably lower personal income tax rates are not possible. But some European countries did it, so it's socialist, even though it's strongly related to what they actually want to do. You start to see the contortions and contradictions that being an American conservative entails, and one wonders how anyone with a thinking apparatus could possibly fall for it, but Fox News proves its worth by keep many of them thinking from their id at all times.

Personally, I'm not wild about a VAT. It's a regressive tax and a complicated one, which leads me to believe that loopholes would be abundant, though there is something to be said for an incentive structure which actually makes it a good idea to pay your taxes, so that you get more back. I'd prefer doing something like implementing a millionaire's tax bracket with higher marginal rates, but I'd be willing to consider a VAT as part of a serious long-term deficit reduction project. Not that this matters to Republicans like Cantor who don't really care about the deficit. I just wonder what the logical endpoint of his argument would be. Of course, America is more like Europe than unlike it, what with liberal democracy and a common cultural and intellectual heritage. But let's take Cantor's argument further: Should we oppose new nuclear plants just because France has a bunch of them? If France is doing it, it can't be good, right? And of course there's socialist Britain, passing austerity measures that would never be considered here in the States. Should we oppose those because they're too European? Should we protest the building of aqueducts because they're too much like the old Roman Empire? Cantor probably wouldn't say these things because they're silly, but they flow naturally from his precepts. Of course, "Europe" doesn't exist, and in reality Europe is a large group of different nations that disagree on many things, including politics. For every France, there's a Poland that balances things out. The reason so many countries over there have universal health care (though in many different models: from the fully socialized British to the fully market-oriented Dutch) and a transportation policy that makes sense is because the case for them is self-evident. When you don't feel the need to confront some sort of inferiority complex as Cantor seems to here, you can actually have a conversation. And when that happens, the European Cantor equivalents simply get ignored. If only we were so lucky.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pelosi officially staying put as leader

Josh Marshall sees ominous signs in the final vote:
Two term Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), as anything other than a protest candidate against Nancy Pelosi, was a preposterous candidate to lead the smaller, more liberal House Democratic caucus. And it's not my understanding that he did anything to canvass for votes. So it's a bad sign for Nancy Pelosi that 43 members of the caucus voted for the guy. That's almost a quarter of the caucus. If a serious challenger had opposed her, it would have been a tough race.
I see two basic possibilities. The first is that Pelosi has just had her Anthony Meyer moment, and her leadership is nearing its end (Meyer gained notoriety by presenting a failed Tory leadership challenge to Margaret Thatcher, one that showed her political weakness and led to Thatcher being ousted a year later). The other basic possibility is that Democrats are pissed that the party lost a bunch of seats and are taking it out on Pelosi, and if the Dems do well in 2012 all will be forgiven.

The Pelosi puzzle is a complicated one. She's a talented legislative leader but a polarizing figure (intentionally so). My instinct is that loathing toward her is wide but not deep, that voters have a vague dislike of Pelosi due to what they know of her profile but that only hard-core partisans on both sides have deeply-held opinions on her. But I'm willing to listen to the argument that what might generally be a nominal effect might be quite a bit less nominal in places like Mississippi, where it could well have taken just enough votes away from, say, Gene Taylor. I wonder if running for minority leader was the smartest move at this point--maybe letting Hoyer (or better yet someone new) take the hits at the top for a few years in exchange for Nancy getting to be speaker when the Dems get the House back. But the Democrats' problems this cycle were at least 98% not Nancy's fault, and I'm personally happy she's sticking around.

New developments on New START

I must confess that the maelstrom of New START defeatism confuses me a bit. I never figured that Jon Kyl would come around and support ratification because Kyl is cynical and stupid and doesn't care about wreaking havoc. The politics of this whole episode are pretty dumb, too: screwing with national security is going to bring a price, and it looks like the Administration is actually going to try to make Kyl pay it. As well they should, since unlike Democrats calling for Iraq withdrawal in 2005, Kyl really is screwing up national security here. The thing is, though, Kyl was never going to be there for this treaty, and passing the treaty was always going to involve getting some Republicans to defect from their leadership's position, and it still doesn't seem impossible that the thing will pass: between avowed supporters, retiring senators and Senate moderates, you get about as many Republicans as you need to pass the thing. And there are some cases--like the Sotomayor confirmation, for example--where this has actually happened. So that's something, I guess.

The main takeaway from this should be that McConnell and Kyl simply can't be trusted to follow-through on their agreements, and that the Senate Democrats need to kill the filibuster ASAP to neutralize them. I don't actually expect this will happen, but I don't see any reason to hope that these guys will behave better in the future if they're going to compromise national security and foreign policy now.

One-term Obama Watch, ctd.: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

They're coming:

This is joblessness plus part-timers looking for full-time work, just so that you know. Both are going down individually as well. I've found Gallup's measure a pretty good leading indicator that almost always tracks what the next Thursday jobless claims will look like--if Gallup's number goes down, there's usually fewer jobless claims. Here is Gallup's overall analysis:
Gallup's economic data suggest that the job market continued to improve during the first half of November. As noted previously, if current Gallup unemployment trends continue, the government's unemployment rate for November is likely to show a decline when reported in early December.

Because Gallup's U.S. unemployment rate and underemployment measure are not seasonally adjusted, some of the late October and November improvement is probably the result of retailers hiring for the Christmas holidays. This is particularly likely because Gallup's most recent spending estimates suggest at least a slightly better holiday sales season this year.

Although many economists and politicians continue to complain about the Federal Reserve's efforts to inject money into the economy, it may be that anticipation of this aggressive Fed policy has increased economic optimism among the nation's business leaders. In turn, this could be leading to more companies being willing to hire.

Regardless of the reason, this is good news for retailers and the overall economy as the holiday season gets fully underway.

I maintain that if unemployment is around 8% in November 2012 and moving in the right direction, I say Obama's second term is assured. And there's this poll out of Virginia by the great pollster PPP:
When matched up against Mitt Romney, Obama has a 48%-43% advantage. His lead is an identical five points against Mike Huckabee (49%-44%). Against both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, that lead grows to 11 points -- 51%-40% against Palin, 52%-41% against Gingrich.
Also, Jim Webb is leading Macaca for another term. Let's just keep in mind that this is how things stand now, before next month's job numbers, before the Republican freak show in the House gets going next year, before Obama starts ramping up attacks on an unpopular do-nothing Congress, headed by an unpopular party which has several key vulnerabilities that a leader like Romney would only intensify.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yeah he is

John Thune is the Republican John Edwards.

One-term Obama Watch, Part Two: How to read Schoen/Caddell

I find it interesting that Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell wrote a (perhaps) serious article about Obama stepping down after Larry Sabato's post last week effectively mocked every one of their premises. Lots of good takes on this (Weigel's is good, but you can't beat this one). I suppose my reaction to this is my reaction to about 99% of D.C. discourse, which is that it's pointless. This is sanctimonious and perhaps a truism, but I mean it sincerely: don't these guys have anything better to do? Isn't there something more productive they could spend their time on? I don't read the big op-eds very often, but when I do I keep picking up on this at times frantic unease, a distaste for having to play the role of an "independent" and ostensibly liberal pundit under a Democrat, which seems to involve hilarious nitpicking as to why a pundit can't just support health care reform, or calls for some new third party that they can support so that they don't have to say they support the Democrats. This is all evidently more stressful than when they're playing the same role under a Republican, when you can issue limp dissents on everything and nothing really happens, their status is protected, and the party invitations keep rolling in. This is the sort of culture that could produce an article saying that Obama should not run for re-election despite the fact that he's the most popular politician in America, bad economy and all. It's a way of showing the "independence" that all pundits apparently need.

Incidentally, the presidential approval rating today is 48%.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good choice

"In a sign that Democrats hope to do a better job claiming credit for their accomplishments, and emphasizing the differences between themselves and the GOP, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has merged the Senate Dems' policy and communications shops, and tasked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) with chairing the new office as a member of party leadership.

Schumer has developed a reputation among his colleagues, and across Washington, as a shrewd political strategist and a master of message control."

Schumer suffers from a decent amount of smugness, and he's notoriously camera-seeking. But he's also one of the few Democrats I know of who doesn't mind throwing an elbow when it's required and can actually land it. The ingredient to political success that Democrats lack the most is tenacity, which is something Schumer has quite a bit of, so this seems quite smart to me.

The job nobody wants...but should!

Senator Mike Bennet has become the most recent Democrat to turn down the job of running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, i.e. the committee designed to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Evidently quite a few other Democratic Senators--including Chuck Schumer and Al Franken--have also turned down the gig, ostensibly because the Democrats will have over twice as many seats to defend as Republicans will in this election cycle. It certainly seems like the sort of thankless job that nobody wants, but I wonder why it's so difficult to find someone when one considers the following factors:
  1. Since everybody expects the Democrats to lose seats, the bar for success will be low.
  2. Since nobody wants the job, the person who takes it will earn some serious points from the party for being a good sport.
  3. The 2012 electorate will not be the same as the 2010 electorate, and there are a number of signs that the economy, including the employment numbers, are starting to improve. It will be a much more favorable environment to run a campaign than 2010 was for Democrats, which should make recruiting easier.
  4. Obama's 2012 re-election effort will undoubtedly feature an extremely robust GOTV effort that would help Democrats running for lower offices.
And looking at the 2012 Senate battlefield, it seems far from likely that a second bloodbath is even plausible. The Democrats will be defending a very large number of seats, but many of those are among the safest the Democrats have. There's just no way the Republicans are going to knock off someone like Daniel Akaka. The Republicans had an outside chance of beating Boxer this year (that they helpfully squandered, thankfully) but they have no chance of unseating the less-polarizing Dianne Feinstein, or her most obvious replacement if she retires. Ditto someone like Tom Carper or Ben Cardin. In fact, by my count, there are only seven Democratic Senators that ought to be in significant trouble, all red- or purple-state Democrats who could be vulnerable with the right challenger:
  • Bill Nelson of Florida
  • Claire McCaskill of Missouri
  • Jon Tester of Montana
  • Ben Nelson of Nebraska
  • Kent Conrad of North Dakota
  • Sherrod Brown of Ohio
  • Jim Webb of Virginia
There are others that are more of a stretch--Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, for example, is an extremely good fit for a socially conservative/fiscally moderate-to-liberal state and should be safe, but you never know--however, these are the obvious takeover ideas for Republicans. I would have figured Nelson would be in trouble over health care reform but evidently his polling against two established commodities--outgoing Senator George LeMieux and Jeb Bush--looks pretty good. McCaskill's approval looks tepid, but the Republicans are looking to field two-time loser Jim Talent against her, which could help her get another term. The other Nelson's problems are obvious, but he's got a pretty longstanding relationship with his state's voters that could help him stick around. Conrad might squeak by because the ND GOP doesn't seem to have another giant-killer around like they did in 2010 with against eleventy-term Senator Byron Dorgan, and Sherrod Brown is quite progressive but a deft populist who won big last time. Webb might or might not get another term, but there's always Tim Kaine if he doesn't. I'm not saying that all these folks are going to win even if the economy improves greatly, but none of them are sure losers if they run again, and in most of their cases the boost of a national campaign along with some points in their favor should prevent really any of them from being doomed. If a bunch of them retire, of course, things get a lot tougher.

On the other hand, Lieberman's seat seems all but assured to fall to an actual Democrat, Scott Brown isn't likely to stick around when Obama wins 60% of the vote in Massachusetts, and John Ensign is a sure loser in Nevada, especially since he's running again and appears to have substantial Republican support. That should be a gimme in the general election. Throw in Olympia Snowe's inevitable primary loss (another probable Democratic pickup), and maybe one or two other outside possibilities (Janet Napolitano stepping down from the Cabinet to challenge Jon Kyl?), and there's a good chance the Democrats can keep the Senate in 2012. The real challenge will be keeping it in 2014, when you have some real tough ones like Alaska and Louisiana coming up in the traditional "six-year itch" elections. If I were a young Democratic Senator trying to make my name, I'd step up to the DSCC in 2012 and stay the hell away in 2014.

Obama knows what he's doing today

Two examples:
  1. Middle-East diplomacy: Like most everyone, I've grown not to expect too much from the current round of peace talks. But they're not dead, and this can only be seen as promising. During Bush's last year, he tried to accomplish Middle-East peace with the Annapolis process and suffered a high-profile failure, as his White House hyped the effort and increased expectations. Obama's team seems not to have pushed back on a lot of the defeatist rhetoric but kept things going, so any progress actually made will be a much bigger deal. I'm not going to get too optimistic, but as a J Street supporter I remain hopeful for a two-state solution. And if it were to happen, it would be huge.

  2. Obama takes the blame: I can only imagine what Krugman and the Kossacks are saying about this:
    “I neglected some things that matter a lot to people, and rightly so: maintaining a bipartisan tone in Washington,” he told reporters in a brief question-and-answer session aboard Air Force One as he returned from a 10-day trip to Asia. “I’m going to redouble my efforts to go back to some of those first principles,” he promised.
    Democratic partisans must be livid over this sort of stuff, but I think there are basically two ways Obama could have responded to this most recent election. He could have continued with the fierce (and usually correct) attacks on the Republicans that he lobbed around during the 2010 campaign, or he could have offered the Beltway opinionmakers a bit of a bone. Most of what I read suggests the Administration has about as dim a view of the news media as the partisans do, but one cannot get around the fact that these idiots do have a lot of power. Throwing down a marker at this point would probably not have gained Obama anything, but statements like this make sense if Obama wants to set the tone for the next two years, with himself as the reasonable adult in the room and the GOP as hyperpartisan crazies. And it's not like he's giving up anything of substance yet. Meanwhile, after having used the drawn-out process of passing health-care reform to hurt the favorability of Obama and the Democratic Congress and witnessed the damage done firsthand, their evident response is to get themselves some of that too. Time will tell how serious they are, since repeal right now would mean bringing back recissions, benefit caps, the "donut hole" and so forth, and the government shutdown card would be quite a radical one to play.

Why won't capital punishment go away?

I'm glad Ta-Nehisi follows this stuff. I think there are by now a number of examples where it seems clear that an innocent person was executed (David Grann's lovely, heartbreaking piece on Cameron Todd Willingham and the circumstances of his execution is something that everyone should read), and yet public opinion still overwhelmingly backs the death penalty, even though almost everyone surveyed admits that it's likely that someone innocent has been lost due to the practice. Capital punishment was one of the first areas where I rebelled from my evangelical conservative upbringing, and one of the causes that I am personally passionate about (though it's probably fallen into my second tier at this point). Capital punishment is an excellent example of man's hubris, the notion that people can somehow determine for sure that someone can never be rehabilitated, that we can really see into another person's soul (or, for my materialist friends, whatever term you wish to substitute in for the soul). There is, in my opinion, not really any satisfying argument in favor of the practice, though John Stuart Mill's comes close. But capital punishment has almost completely dropped out of sight as an issue in American life, and nobody even bothers to defend it on its own terms anymore.

There are a lot of reasons for this state of affairs. Crime has gone down dramatically since the early 1990s, but I don't think people have adjusted to the new reality in their minds. My personal experience growing up in suburbia is that it involves highly distorted (and self-glorifying) views of the realities of urban living, since why else did they move to the suburbs? And it cannot be denied that there is a sort of caveman justice to capital punishment that intuitively makes sense to people with certain assumptions. One of the key problems to anti-death penalty argumentation that I've come across as a death penalty opponent is that opponents tend to emphasize the poverty of the "deterrence" argument in favor of capital punishment. There is a major point to be made here, since the Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty for nearly two years with the Furman v. Georgia decision in the mid-1970s, and crime did not shoot up. Not only that, but the common sense rebuttal is compelling as well--one of the earliest episodes of The West Wing noticed that drug kingpins live every day under the threat of execution, so why would a more sanitary and drawn-out one threaten them at all? All of this is solid reasoning, but the problem is that it proves the wrong point. Nobody believes in capital punishment as a deterrent, as that's just the reasonable facade to make it seem a lot less like something intolerably dark. Fighting this point won't change any minds in and of itself, but most death penalty opponents (in my experience) tend to be rational types more swayed by evidence and reason than by emotion. Which is to say that they're basically the opposite of how most people process something like the death penalty. Which is part of the reason why things are the way they are. After all, if 2/3 support capital punishment and almost 9/10 admit that innocent people have been executed, there's clearly something other than dispassionate logical analysis going on here.

At some point, we death penalty opponents are going to have to realize that the reason we're getting our asses kicked is because we have never been able to rebut the Dukakis question. It's not terribly likely that one's wife or daughter will randomly be raped by a stranger and murdered, since most rape is date rape to begin with, but that is such a vivid and emotional example that virtually everyone can project themselves into, and all the reasonable arguments in the world aren't going to overtake emotionalism of that magnitude (Incidentally, the weakest rebuttal to the question, "If your daughter were raped and murdered, wouldn't you want to see the killer executed?" is "No."). I suppose the equivalent for the anti-capital punishment side is "What if your son happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got falsely accused of a murder and was sentenced to death?" which is simply a lot weaker than the other argument since accepting the premise requires someone to assume their child is associated somehow with undesirables, and if your strategy involves overcoming parental denial it's probably not a good strategy. It might work well among minorities with whom the police have a less friendly relationship overall, but that's going to reach only a limited amount of people, necessarily. How to make this argument to your average suburban household, then? I admit that I really don't know, and the lack of institutional support for ending capital punishment makes outreach all the more difficult. At best, the pro-life movement pays lip service to capital punishment. And that's at best. Then again, considering their track record, I don't think anyone is really crying out for their help.

When you get down to it, though, capital punishment functions as a microcosm of the American public's relationships with our civic institutions. In most cases, Americans are skeptical of pretty much all authority, rightly or not, and I can think of plenty of examples of both types. But when anything related to public safety comes up, people seem to become practically inured to any argumentation arguing for healthy skepticism. I'm always the optimist, and I do believe that America will eventually mature into a nation where emotionalism does not guide public policy with such a heavy hand. But that day has not come yet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

And we liked it!

Zack Handlen's write-up of the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Best of Both Worlds" (part one here, part two here) has some interesting insights into how television viewing has changed over the past 20 years:
I don't think I watched "Worlds" when it originally aired, so I have no idea if people actually believed Picard was lost. I kind of doubt they did, given Beverly's comments, and seeing as how we never actually see Worf firing the Magic Bullet that will supposedly take out the Borg cube; most cliffhangers don't resolve by just giving us the most obvious next step. But this was back before everyone knew about actor's contracts, before every casting development hit the Internet before the ink was dry. Plus, the episode is structured in such a way as to strongly indicate that Picard is on his way out.
Yes, secrecy and mystery are important to make any sort of creative endeavor more interesting. But there is also the possibility of picking up on different perspectives and missed details, which is a plus with one considers how much more sophisticated television has gotten since the 90s. I find it interesting that the cliffhanger seems to be out of favor these days--DVDs have encouraged people to see the season and not the episode as the fundamental indivisible unit of television, making the season-ending cliffhanger feel lazy instead of thrilling. Plus, after 24 ended every episode with a cliffhanger, and sometimes even put multiple cliffhangers in a single episode, it just seems like a tired device by now. But there is something to be said for the shock value of something like "Worlds", coupled with having to wait three months before seeing the conclusion.

Is Webb done?

Rumor has it that Jim Webb might not run for re-election. It is just a rumor. At this point, though, nothing would surprise me. It's amazing how quickly the Democrats seem to have just given up and accepted the "center-right nation" notion. Webb certainly seems to be one--he started out outspoken, economically populist and proud, and slowly he's morphed into a Bush tax cuts-supporting, DADT-anxious Southern Dem. It's been kind of sad to watch, actually.

I've mentioned this a few times, but I think Greg Sargent captured the struggle within the Democratic Party:
Three dozen moderate Dems have signed a letter to Dem leaders demanding a vote on extending all the tax cuts. And behind the scenes, they are telling House Dem leaders in no uncertain terms that they don't want a vote focused on just the middle class ones, the sources say. The leadership aide says moderates are complaining that if they take the vote, "they'll be subject to a 30 second ad saying they raised taxes."
When you have overwhelming public support for many of your agenda items, and you can't convert that into political victories, there are big, big problems. Not all of those are of the Democrats' making: Fox News, the corporatist Pravda; its enablers in the mainstream media, who are content to let lies stand as truth; Citizens United and its consequences; intense polarization based on cultural factors; and a thoroughly busted structure of government are all things that it's difficult to see how the Democrats can really address alone. So, I've been willing to cut them some slack, since in spite of all this they have accomplished a lot. More than any Congress/Administration pair since the Lyndon Johnson days, as a matter of fact, with a considerable handicap. That's worth a lot, in my opinion.

But the quote Sargent gets here tells a lot about how Democrats in Congress think. I get that there are tough obstacles, but in order to actually succeed, you have to actually believe you can succeed. That's not all you need to succeed, but it's an important precondition. I've met quite a few successful people in my day, and approximately none of them got that way because they were afraid people would say nasty things about them--if anything, they thrive on that stuff, as it gives them more of an incentive to succeed to prove the naysayers wrong. If you're in a place where you're afraid to vote for a tax cut for the middle class because it will be portrayed as a vote to increase taxes, then you've lost. You've been psyched out. All those obstacles don't even matter if you can't even get over the obstacles inside your own mind. And it's nuts, because while spin can accomplish a lot (like retconning Operation Iraqi Freedom into a mission to install liberal democracy in the Middle East), the spin suggested here is simply unintuitive. There's logic here, but the counterargument is so simple I don't see how it could be outspun. There's no desire to fight back against the smears, and there's not even a desire to fight the good fight, even if they lose. The implications are pretty shocking, if you draw them all out.

This just makes me think of the Iraq War Resolution, voted on a bit over eight years ago. Since then, we've had three wave elections that have produced major turnaround in the ranks of Congress. The Democratic Party's demographic makeup is way different now than it was back then, but when I think of the Democrats' performance in the immediate post-9/11 era, there are some striking similarities with how it still operates today. I keep thinking about the Jerry Seinfeld bit about how old people don't buy new clothes, they somehow keep finding new old clothes, which makes me wonder how the Democrats keep finding defeatist seat-fillers to take the place of the departed ones. Every once in a while, they get someone like Tom Perriello in there for a while, but it's hard not to see that as an exception. After the classes of 2006 and 2008 turned out to largely be busts, politically speaking, 2012 will present the Dems with a chance to get it right at last. Let's hope they don't screw it up.

Reality Check: One-term Obama Edition

Larry Sabato has a funny, tongue-in-cheek argument as to why Obama is absolutely a one-term president:

Nonetheless, we are quite confident in our assertions. President Clinton’s easy reelection to a second term in 1996 should imply nothing about 2012. The pendulum of American politics cannot swing so quickly in just two years, except maybe in 1994-1996.

Despite his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the ’08 Democratic contest and his easy win over a much more seasoned John McCain in November two years ago, Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it. And there is no chance at all the new Republican leadership in Congress could over-reach and repeat the errors of Newt Gingrich and his allies. The GOP legislative caucus contains no core of rigid ideologues that might go too far and create an opening for Obama.

Historically, incumbent presidents who have sought another term have won them by a two-to-one margin. Those aren’t impressive odds. How many of us would bet on a horse with minimal chances like that? Since 1900 only one incumbent president whose party captured the White House from the other party four years earlier (Jimmy Carter) has been beaten. The other incumbent losers—Taft, Hoover, Ford, and the senior Bush—were from a party that had held the White House for two or more consecutive terms. But the key is that Carter and Obama are practically twins; both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Enough said. Moreover, the present moment is unprecedentedly perilous for an incumbent president. There’s really no comparison in the existence of the American Republic, save for about a dozen crises like the Civil War, economic panics, the Great Depression, world wars, and 9/11.

I hadn't thought about the fact I bolded, but it's a good point. It's true that the economy will be a major determining factor here. But you have to have somebody to beat somebody. The president has a pretty unique hold on the public's attention and imagination in our system, for better or worse, and due to the personality-centric model of contemporary politics, for the Republicans to beat Obama they are fundamentally going to have to find somebody that the public actually likes more than Obama. None of their top-tier guys come close, with the possible exception of Huckabee, who has serious problems himself.

Of course, as the Republican blogs would say, there's always Marco Rubio. But will he Jindalize after inevitably being asked to respond to Obama's next SOTU, or will he be smart and decline the offer?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

I'm a little too busy today to blog, but I just wanted to point you to this post, which breaks down the idiocy of Jim DeMint's following quote:
"Well, you can't be a fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative. A large part of the expansive government is to make up for a dysfunctional society because our culture's falling apart. The family's falling apart."
It's really not, of course. But did you expect anything else from DeMint?

Monday, November 8, 2010


I have been reading that it's likely to be stripped out of the Defense appropriations bill. Some liberals are wailing about it. Am I the only one who remembers that the law has already been overturned in the courts, which made the government ask for a stay pending appeal, and the law can come down at any time if Obama orders Eric Holder to drop the suit? Which is probably the most likely outcome at this point, though I wish that Democrats would actually try to land a few blows on the "moderate" Republicans who are keeping this from happening. And abolish the filibuster, since if Snowe/Collins/Brown/Kirk are too afraid to stand up to their leadership on this, where else are they going to provide bipartisanship?

The problem with Christian media

Sully links to a great article about why Christian-themed media is so awful. It's worth a read in full. As a Christian who avoids that stuff like the plague unless the purpose is to mock it (Fireproof: A laugh and a half for believers and heathens alike. It really is!), I think there need to be a few distinctions made here. I don't have anything against people who just don't care to watch movies with profanity, sex or violence in them. Personal preferences are what they are, and since there are plenty of movies that I won't watch due to my understanding of their content--the synopsis of the film Antichrist intrigued me, but after reading about the genital mutilation I skipped it--and if I were to say that people should watch a bunch of stuff that is just unpleasant to them, I'd pretty much be a hypocrite.

I don't really think this is the problem, though. I remember that my parents for a time received the Focus on the Family critical mag, which was titled "Plugged In", which is a great ironic title. I always found it to be a pretty good gauge of the evangelical/fundamentalist attitude toward art and culture because it was incapable of understanding several things. It was incapable of understanding that portraying something is not the same thing as endorsing it. I suppose this is an arguable point, and maybe in some specifics that is true (Truffaut's argument about the impossibility of making an anti-war film applies). But we're talking about a magazine that would do things like pan both Half-Baked and Requiem for a Dream because they were both about drug culture. Which is true--they are both about drug culture. But other than that, they are essentially opposite films, in terms of tone, approach, and their fundamental attitudes toward drug culture (and the drugs they portray, it should be noted). I get that critics miss the point sometimes, but there is a real disservice done here. I mean, both Philip Roth and Eyes Wide Shut are about sex, but Roth's books are all about how having sex is great, a part of vitality, and not really anything that should be suppressed, while Eyes Wide Shut tries to show a few reasons why sexual repression is necessary on some level, and how we couldn't function without it. Roth's work and Kubrick's film have flaws--I'd say Eyes is a severely flawed film that has some serious lapses in direction that go to show that Kubrick wasn't at full power near the end--but you almost have to be willfully obfuscating not to recognize the differences between different visions like that.

What this reflects is, as the author argues, basically an inability to think about art in any manner other than at face value. It's part and parcel of a movement in Christianity to reduce literally every aspect of the Christian experience to feelings (and, particularly, upbeat feelings), with learning being a tertiary (or even nonexistent) influence. It's unbalanced, obviously, and it's been pretty damaging to Christianity over the past decade on a number of levels--note the soaring number of people who don't claim a particular faith, for example. I can't imagine Kirk Cameron's performance in Fireproof, inspires anyone to take Christianity more seriously. Willem Defoe in The Last Temptation of Christ? Admittedly not a fully canonical Christian film, but who knows?

Democrats after defeat

Benen and Drum are disgusted:
Honest to God, stuff like this just makes me want to scream. Why do Democrats panic so badly whenever they lose an election? Why run to the nearest reporter to spout idiocies about Obama not feeling middle class pain or not being an extrovert like Bill Clinton? Bill Clinton! For chrissake, I like and defend the guy, but he was an extrovert who felt people's pain and he lost 54 seats in the 1994 midterm. No one cared if he felt their pain. Likewise, no one cares if Obama feels their pain. They want jobs, not pursed lips and moist eyes.
Drum is right: the talking point about Clinton is really stupid. But my take on this is pretty different: I was just thinking that the circular firing squad isn't nearly as intense this time around as it has been in the past. I mean, the despair after 2004--in which Democrats lost a national election by all of three percentage points--was quite dispiriting and just unnecessary. But so far, all I've heard are the complaints of an outgoing conservative Democratic governor from Tennessee, a TNR columnist who always thinks the Democrats are too far to the left, and Alex Sink, who is most likely just looking for someone to blame after losing a high-profile election to an ex-con in Florida. If that's as bad as it gets, then I'm not that worried.

Also, on a tangentially related note, Yglesias is right about this:
It looks like Nancy Pelosi is going to stick around as Top Democrat in the House. This has led to a dumb media meme about her continued presence being a political millstone for the party moving forward. That’s dumb. People pushing that narrative should recall that when Pelosi first took over as minority leader the CW was that her ascension doomed the party to perpetual minority status. The fact of the matter is that congressional leaders just don’t play that kind of role. House leadership is very important to what actually happens in the House of Representatives and their political importance is strictly secondary to that.
Pelosi was never the problem. Every poll shows her as more personally popular than Boehner, but nobody ever suggested that Boehner's presence as leader would consign the Republicans to a minority status. People generally seem to have a vague dislike for congressional leaders because they have a dislike for Congress, largely because the economy is so poor. But outside of the far right, is there really an intense animosity to Pelosi? My impression is that few really know or care too much about her. And if that's the case, her legislative talents recommend her to stay at the top spot. On the other hand, there might be good reason for Senate Democrats to ask Harry Reid to step down and let Chuck Schumer have a shot at the leadership, on the basis that Schumer is more tenacious, has a more aggressive style that could rile up the base a bit more, and can communicate a lot better than Reid. But I've come to the conclusion that Reid has done about as well as can be expected under the circumstances, and I suspect that his come-from-behind victory for re-election has boosted his personal stock considerably. I bet he doesn't even draw a leadership challenge.

California vs. Texas ctd: Goldilocks?

Yeah, that ubiquitous talking point of yesteryear turns out to be not even correctly premised. Texas's budget hole is now comparable to California's, and Republicans are looking to slash education funding and end health care for kids as well as Medicaid, and maybe even Social Security somehow (?). All made necessary by conservative dogma, no doubt, but one suspects that these actions would be politically disastrous, not to mention truly catastrophic on a human scale (and a clear example of why states shouldn't have any responsibility to provide health care for their residents).

My operating theory is that, despite the voting attitudes of the public, right-wingery simply isn't that popular overall. The public dislikes "government" but likes most government services, even the ones that it should really dial back on, like military spending and the drug war. So, while the right often scores points when attacking "government" there is usually careful taken not to get too specific, outside of a few very small examples like foreign aid. On social issues there is much the same pattern: a lot of signaling and rhetoric about the horrors of church-state separation with very few concrete ideas on where to take that balance. This is all politically smart because we have seen countless evidence that when people actually try to achieve ostensible right-wing goals, they achieve massive public notoriety and disgust. There are just a couple off the top of my head: Terry Schiavo. Bush's Social Security privatization scheme. The Dover, PA board of education trying to ban the teaching of evolution. The Texas State Board of Education rewriting history from an extremely biased Tea Party-esque perspective, which was so poorly received that all of those people were voted out of office in a Republican primary. Not even Republicans in Texas could stomach that crap.

Of course, that Texas history episode didn't really have a broader electoral impact, since Republicans did quite well in Texas anyway this year. But what is being considered here is quite a massive rewriting of the social contract, one that might or might not plug the state's deficit, but that will cause quite a bit of real-world suffering and could cause considerable political backlash. For all the Republican discussion about the effects of "uncertainty," they have never seemed to be too worried about introducing uncertainty themselves, and this is uncertainty on a really unprecedented level to me. I somehow doubt that it'll actually happen, but if it does, I will be monitoring the fallout to see if my theory has been vindicated.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Feingold in 2012: Not happening

I was just wondering when the chatter about Obama getting a primary challenge in 2012 would commence. Pundits are nothing if not predictable: when one considers that nearly every president suffers losses in the midterm elections, the notion that this would be an inevitable precondition to a primary challenge is pretty silly to my way of thinking. Every president would get primaried! After the 1994 elections, pundits kept speculating about Bill Clinton getting a primary challenger. Of course, no prominent Democrats even seriously considered it, because it would have been crazy. But it looks like a Republican pollster is trying to kickstart the conversation with respect to Obama:

Other tea leaves McInturff read this morning are less positive for team Obama. McInturff's polling finds that those opposing Obama's current Afghanistan strategy are "overwhelmingly Democratic."

McInturff said the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the continuing housing of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay and Obama's propensity to "compromise" leave his left flank wide open for a Democratic challenger in the primaries. He added that based on his reading of things, a primary challenge is actually "very likely."

McInturff even had a potential name for Obama's liberal foil in 2012: just-defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI.)

Feingold has already denied an intention to challenge Obama. I've alternately gushed and gnashed teeth about Feingold, but he is not an idiot. According to the most recent Gallup poll I could find with crosstabs, Obama's approval rating is 83% with Democrats and 88% with liberal Democrats. The latter number represents near-universal acclaim. There is no opening here. What's more, liberal Democrats are not the only kind of Democrats and Obama's numbers are fairly strong with both moderate and conservative Democrats, which would be harder groups for a challenge to Obama from the left to penetrate. As a side note, it is bizarre to me that much of the liberal blogosphere has scrambled to speak to the subset of that disapproving 12% that actively looks for news and commentary online, while ignoring those making up the other 88%. There's Balloon Juice and The Daily Dish for sites that don't take a completely hostile approach to Obama, I suppose.

There are two essentially firm rules about primary challenges to presidents. The first is that one they almost never succeed. It's hard enough to beat an incumbent president seeking re-election, but in order to get there in the first place you have to form a lot of relationships with powerful people within your party and earn their favor in order to win. Even a president widely considered an apostate by the base (as Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush were) is still extremely hard for more ideological insurgents to knock off for that reason. For such an effort to be a success a president would probably have to alienate every single powerful interest in their party as well as breeding intense hostility among both the base and elites, which is rare since most presidents actually want another term--the only president who ever did anything like this was John Tyler way back in the 1840s, which is basically the same as saying it never happens. That's not to say it couldn't happen, but it's mostly to say that backing an insurgent is a very risky move for activists to take--it's an abandonment of a still very powerful person in favor of someone who has no track record of winning a national election--that few will go for it even if they sympathize with the insurgent more. I mean, most Republicans wanted Reagan to primary Ford in 1976, but it was not successful, and this is why.

The other firm rule is that presidents who face stiff primary challenges usually lose the general election. Ford faced Reagan in 1976, beat him and lost to Carter. Carter defeated Ted Kennedy in 1980 and lost to Reagan. And Bush won easily against Pat Buchanan, who had a lot of support from then-embryonic conservative talk radio. Bill Clinton beat him in the general election. These sorts of primaries breed intraparty divisions and bad blood that make it hard for the incumbent president to rebound from to unify the party (though Ford came very close). Feingold is no fool, and he is certainly aware that launching such an effort, even if he would want to, would fail and help hand the White House to a Republican. What's more, while I like Feingold and a lot of other liberals do as well, he doesn't have anywhere near the stature in the party to make a credible go of it--he's no Ted Kennedy, if you will. Ultimately, I doubt Obama will face any serious threat to his leadership in 2012 (perhaps Dean would try it, but I said serious), as the liberal discontent we often hear about is exaggerated, and the extent to which liberal Obama followers are disappointed with certain actions he's taken or not taken usually doesn't outweigh overall support for the man, which is hardly an insane position when one considers what he's accomplished, as this Rolling Stone article does. But if you don't believe me, listen to someone you trust to lie always: Bill Kristol thinks it will happen. So it won't.

This notion that Russ Feingold will challenge Obama for the Democratic nomination seems to be entirely a right-wing desire. There have been no stories about bad blood or feuds between the two men that I've come across, and while I'm sure he frustrated the White House on FinReg (and vice versa) that seems like a thin reed from which to launch a candidacy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

George W. Bush: puzzling, conflicted

This quote from a new interview with George W. Bush is getting quite a bit of attention:
"I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn't like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low."
Okay, I can understand not liking to be called a racist, though taking Kanye West seriously is something anyone in touch with the culture couldn't possibly do. And I might even be able to give him a slight point on the WMD, because I don't think he lied so much as he didn't ask the questions he should have asked of the data and the people bringing it to him, or that he flat-out ignored anything contrary to his gut feeling. Gross incompetence has always seemed more Dubya's speed than anything else. But how on earth can he deny that his tax cuts mostly benefited the rich? That's just fact. Bush could claim that tax cuts for the rich help everyone by extension, but that's a hard one to argue. They sorta did for Reagan, but Reagan's success in taking apart the redistributive mechanisms that let working people share some of that growth mostly ensured that regressive tax cuts would never work that way ever again.

Anyway, this is old news. Bush comes off as something less than the sociopath that some people thought he was, more as someone who is just now grappling with his legacy. Then again, I never thought he was a sociopath, nor Dick Cheney for that matter. Rove, sure, but Cheney's thing always seemed to me to be a desperate attempt at self-justification by a man who, deep down, knows he has committed some horrible wrongs. The energy he projects in his post-VP appearances always seemed to hint at that. I've picked up a lot of self-loathing from him, as though the moral man within him hates what he's become. Which doesn't excuse what he's become at all, or Bush either, but it is interesting.

Palin the Weak, ctd.

With the AP finally calling the Colorado Senate race for Mike Bennet, we now have merely another example of a botched attempt by Sarah Palin to influence an election. In fact, most of her high-profile endorsees (Tancredo being the most recent) lost elections that another candidate might well have won. Absent Palin, the Republicans might well have won the Senate, and I would perhaps be gritting my teeth about Senator Jane Norton, Senator Sue Lowden, Senator Tom Campbell, etc. She couldn't even get her own crony elected to the Senate in her own state! Palin showed several traits--notably poor judgment of character and ignorance of the state of the electorate--that cost the GOP real life stakes. You might think that this would wake up a number of Palin supporters and let them wonder if Palin really has what it takes to run a successful presidential campaign.

I very highly doubt that thought will cross their minds.

In fact, I think that Palin will use the media stories about Republicans fretting about her to her advantage. Why did so many of her candidates come up short? Media sabotage! Why do senior Republicans worry about a Palin run? Because they're afraid of her shattering the establishment boys' club! She is already running, and the two or three themes she has will probably be enough to dispense with most problems. Questions about her initial support for TARP and taxing oil companies will likely be harder to answer, but I'm sure any explanation will either bear a strong resemblance to her other two lines of attack, or will be completely incomprehensible. Not that it matters to her fans! What's more, every article written about her bad endorsements or how much other Republicans fret about her candidacy will only strengthen her position, instead of hurting it. Republicans are not wild about their establishment right now, a position that is likely to intensify once Boehner and his crew aren't able to deliver on what they promised. I can easily see Palin drawing sympathy from otherwise skeptical voters out of shared disdain for the Republican establishment, which is only likely to be assisted by her main rival being the uber-establishmentarian Mitt Romney, a man who, incidentally, has little compunction with employing slashing, personal attacks on his opponents. The sorts of attacks that might make Republican primary voters get angry at mean old Mitt, I'm thinking.

At this point, while I can't say I'd prefer Palin winning the nomination due to some nominal chance of her victory, I think there would be certain advantages to that state of affairs. I think it would certainly revive Democratic enthusiasm for 2012 and would probably send the indies back to Obama. I think Palin as president is simply unthinkable to a very large segment of the population, even a fair number of Republicans, and it would probably open the door to a third-party "centrist" candidacy (perhaps by Mike Bloomberg), that would mostly siphon center-right votes from Palin. But in a larger sense, a Palin loss to Obama (and particularly a really bad Palin loss, like 60-40 for example) would simply be devastating to the right-wing fringe to such an extent that they would probably never recover. As someone who holds out hope for a Republican Party that isn't dominated by venal, nutty people, I think a Palin run is the most plausible, quickest path there. After all, if Romney loses, Rush and Fox will just blame his prior moderation. But they couldn't well do that with Palin, could they?

The Boll Weevils and their damage done, plus where do we go from here?

Josh Marshall acidly notes, "Thinking that decision to punt on the tax cut debate was simply brilliant move by the Democrats," which seems to have produced some sort of karmic justice since the Blue Dogs' size was diminished by more than half, and their organization seems to have been completely decapitated, leadership-wise. But even more important than their relative presence within the caucus is that their composition has changed dramatically. Most of the surviving Blue Dogs actually voted for health care reform, which is because most of them represent districts that could easily support sending a more liberal Democrat to Congress. I mean, someone like Dan Boren (OK) or Jim Matheson (UT) is probably irreplaceable at this point in time, but people like Dennis Cardoza and Jane Harman of California and Jim Cooper of Tennessee could easily be primaried if they move too far to the right, and their opponent would likely win the general election, so they can't get too conservative. One would think this more common dynamic would make the Blue Dogs somewhat less aggressive in intraparty policy debates, but we'll see. In the long run, of course, the Boren/Matheson wing is going to be eroded away slowly with every election as people select representatives increasingly based on party affiliation, which is only right and proper. We merely need to adjust our institutions accordingly to reflect this way of thinking and voting.

Of course, the lesson that Democrats will undoubtedly take from this election cycle was that they got too liberal and ambitious. It's simply the nature of the Democratic Party on an elite level, one that simply isn't really in touch with its supporters (or, at this point, the electorate). But I think that there are a number of ways Obama could ease the bad blood among the electorate that don't involve substantive policy changes. For example, having Geithner step down would be a good symbolic way of letting the public know he understands their anger about the bailouts, sort of like how Bush "got" 2006 by letting Rumsfeld go (which, admittedly, didn't help him in the long run). Picking someone like Warren Buffett to take his place might or might not be a good idea--it might seem a little gimmicky--but he's someone the average person knows and it would probably be well-received, and it could buy some goodwill from the business community. At this point, a little symbolism could go a long way, and set a tone for the next two years. I also think it would be smart of Obama to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a job in the government, probably Cabinet-level. There are a couple of reasons why this wouldn't be a good idea--like most Californians, I haven't been too hot about his tenure as governor--but what this White House has been quite poor at so far has been in finding articulate, effective spokesmen who can command attention to its policies. Whatever one can say about Arnold, I'm pretty sure that the spectacle of him joining Obama's cabinet would command a lot of press wattage, and he'd sure generate a lot more interest in what the government is doing were he to regularly feature on the Sunday morning circuit. Plus, you're telling me that you don't want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger yelling at Mitch McConnell at 8:45 AM? I'd actually pay good money to see that.

Also, I think Obama has to act quickly to give Russ Feingold an important position. Feingold is a progressive hero, and his defeat was a big blow last night. Obama giving him a key role should buy him some goodwill among the left, and it will keep him tied over should he want to take back his old seat next time around. He's still young enough to do it! Obama probably should offer one to Sestak too, though I'd be willing to bet Sestak just runs for his old House seat in 2012 and gets ready to fight Pat Toomey next time. When one considers that Toomey really underperformed other Republicans on the ballot and his own lofty poll numbers--only winning by 2% in a state that easily elected a new Republican governor and turned out a handful of Dem House incumbents--the most obvious interpretation is that Toomey benefited from the outsized senior turnout and would not have won without it. Essentially the same thing happened in 1994, when Rick Santorum won the state's other Senate seat. The bad news for Republicans is that in sixteen years from now, Pennsylvania will not have a Senate seat up for grabs, so it will be difficult to squeeze an extreme right-winger in there when President Tim Ryan (D-OH) goes through the same thing as Obama and Clinton did.

California's not-Republican Wave

Pretty good night out here in California for Democrats, though that didn't seem to be the case nationwide. Brown and Boxer won of course. The Democrats seem to have retained all the House seats except for Jim Costa's, which is a race that really came out of nowhere. But I had the opportunity to prove Nate Silver wrong here in CD-11, where the OFA team and myself apparently managed to get Jerry McNerney another term in office against some fairly stiff odds. And while it looked like California might elect a Prop 8-defending drug warrior Republican for A.G., which still doesn't compute for me, it looks as if Kamala Harris pulled the upset, which is good news for, well, everyone in the state.

As for propositions, Prop 19 expectedly went down for defeat (though not by a terribly wide margin, as I expected), but the majority budgets amendment passed. Regrettably, the more conservative off-year electorate also approved another 2/3 tax rule that was widely pushed by oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce/Howard Jarvis types. But it didn't win by much. Those people did lose their fight to repeal the state's global warming initiative, by a pretty hefty margin as it turns out. So, you gotta take victories where you can.

So there you have it. Not a perfect night, but a very good one overall.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The elections

I guess I should put an official post about today's elections in the can. The reason I've avoided it so far is that I don't have much to say predictively. I suspect the polls are accurate, and while I have some hope they aren't, it's not much hope. I hope that the Democrats do better than the polling suggests they will. I hope that Russ Feingold somehow holds on in Wisconsin. I hope that Joe Sestak manages to beat out that smarmy Club for Growth creep. I hope Ken Buck and Sharron Angle return to the obscurity their cretinous views and actions should consign them to. And I would love for the Democrats to retain the House, if only with a nominal majority. I would rather Nancy Pelosi get the chance to leave her job on her own terms. But the nature of power is such that it sometimes doesn't get to happen that way, and I've resigned myself to it.

What I feel most is the unfairness of this whole cycle. Okay, bailing out the banks was odious, though successful. The stimulus wasn't big enough. Health care reform got ugly and the jobs didn't materialize. Believe me, I can understand why people are pissed off. Obama is responsible for some of these things, though not all of them. But the past two years has been filled with a right rebounding politically with obviously insincere straight talk on spending, a variety of baseless and disgusting smears of Obama, and flat-out lying about so much of what's actually happened. HCR is a prime example of this, but so much of what the government has done positively has been distorted or ignored. I don't even blame the voters for voting Republican, since if I were inundated with all the garbage I might well act the same way. But between the money unleashed by Citizens United and the media's unending commitment not to offend the right by offering up the facts, the Dems never really had a chance to get out the facts or really any other side of the argument. I mean, the polls show 2/3 of people believing that the Affordable Care Act raises the deficit and almost nine out of ten unaware that the Obama Administration cut their taxes. Complaining about the media is becoming passe, but realistically, who else can be to blame when the public simply doesn't have the most basic facts under discussion? And how can there even be a discussion when the opposition is controlled by people dedicated to exploiting the fears of people suffering from an ill economy? I mean, how can one side have a conversation with the other when both sides believe that the other side is on the verge of enacting a putsch? There has to be some level of trust for there to be any understanding or cooperation, and the bile of Fox/Rush/Drudge--enabled by the pundit establishment, in my opinion, because of its entertainment value--seems designed to keep that from happening. Because if it did, they'd be out of a job. And they know how to push their follower's buttons. The levels on which we have failed--at such a crucial time!--are astounding. Despite various disappointments I still believe in Obama and I think he's the absolute best hope Democrats have for the future, and a lot of the bullshit just can't be laid on him. His mission is going to be a lot harder than I ever thought it would be, but we've gone through worse. I admire the steady nature of the man's leadership, and after reading Bob Woodward's book I still believe he takes his responsibilities seriously. Which is a rare enough commodity these days, and it is something to be embraced once found. All in all, I'm not sure were in a better place as a country now than we were in 2008, but we must remember this at all times:

Practically speaking, the Democrats keeping the House might be too much to hope for. But keeping the Republicans to a majority in the single digits? That might be realistic. And were that to happen, it's unlikely that they'd have as much of an ability to gum up the works with a government shutdown, since small majorities are extremely difficult to shepherd. Maybe that's being both optimistic and naive, since Republicans seem to be willing to cut off anyone who tries to compromise or go against the party line. That policy has been self-defeating in a lot of ways--you can easily argue it will keep the Republicans from winning the Senate--and it is some consolation that the rigidity of Toomey and Johnson will very likely lead them to be one-termers swept out in the more robust election year of 2016. But that's still six years of being stuck with them.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Democrats will fare better than expected in the Senate races--I think Reid will stick it out, and I think Mike Bennet and Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois will get in there barely. I also have a gut feeling that John Hickenlooper will win the governor's race in Colorado, and so will Alex Sink in Florida and Ted Strickland in Ohio. But that's as far out there as I'm willing to go, outside of the standard predictions. I'm also pulling for Prop 19 here in California to somehow surpass expectations and win (I think it will come closer than expected, but it won't pass) and for California to finally end the insanity that is the 2/3 budget majority (which I think will happen). And I'm hoping that the Alaska Senate race will be an entertaining one: it seems like it's possible for the Democrat, Scott McAdams, to actually win since he's doing about as well in the polls as Joe Miller. Miller is terrible, and with Murkowski as a write-in you just never know. That the right wing qualified a shitload of write-in candidates to crowd out Murkowski's name might well make voters looking for her proper spelling forget about it and vote for McAdams instead. In any event, I suspect Alaska will become the Minnesota of this year, with all the fun that that entails.

Regardless of the results, this election cycle has radicalized me in a lot of ways. I've gotten more involved with this cycle than ever before, with donations and phonebanking mainly. I'm ready to do the hard work necessary to make the country better. And the long-term trends still look favorable to the Dems, from my point of view. Screw those Firebaggers who think that everything is lost. I've only begun to fight. So the Obama era didn't turn out to be a walk amongst the daisies after just two years. I'm over it, and I'm ready to start the next go-round.

Bachmann to join House Republican leadership?

Sam Stein has the scoop.

Eh, it probably wouldn't matter substantively. Michele Bachmann already has tons of influence in GOP circles. The talk radio guys and Fox News love her, which is basically where the power is at this point in the right. But she'd be saying her future insane ramblings as a member of the House Leadership, which would probably be bad for the Republicans. Right now, she's just a backbencher, so nobody really pays much attention to her aside from right-wing radio and liberal blogs. But as Conference Chair? There would be a lot more scrutiny.

It should be a good test to see how much the Republican establishment is going to give the tea types.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Good news for Sharron Angle haters

People who know think Harry Reid might pull out his race.

Palin: The Repubs McGovern?

[Yes, a historical parallel, but strictly to explain a concept and not as an assertion. And yeah, that promise I made a few months ago about never posting on Palin didn't pan out, did it? Moving on...]

I really wonder what people in D.C. are thinking about sometimes. If one assumes that the Republican establishment doesn't want Sarah Palin to win the Republican nomination, why on Earth would they dish to Politico about how much they don't want Sarah Palin to win? For people who are presumably smart and competent at politics, this is just a really stupid thing to do. This is the sort of thing that endears Palin's hard-core supporters to her, and one that might even make Republican non-fans of Palin a bit more sympathetic to her. Many Democrats have expressed the sentiment that bile from people like Chris Matthews directed toward Hillary Clinton in 2008 made them feel more sympathetic toward Clinton, so it's possible that Republicans will feel the same way for Palin due to things like this. After all, it's easy enough to call the other campaigns a boys' club when one considers that all the other prospects are white dudes, and when their staffs are talking about actual conspiracies.

My personal theory is that this kind of thing is the only way Palin can win. Most polls (including this one from about a month ago) show her behind at least Romney and oftentimes others too. If ignored by the other candidates, she'll be able to attract her core group of fans, but few others. There are large numbers of Republicans that like Palin but don't want her to run for president, possibly leaving a cap on her support. Something along the lines mentioned in this article, though, will only make other Republicans feel more sympathetic toward her, and these days Republican voters seem to be perfectly willing to throw away races if they feel that the establishment is trying to tell them what to do (such as this example). Palin's antipathy toward the Republican establishment seems to be more or less where most Republicans are these days, and in the absence of someone else for conservatives to get really excited about, I'm beginning to think Palin isn't badly situated to get the Republican nomination. Of course, she'd actually need to campaign and build an operation to do so, which she is probably too lazy to actually do. I guess we'll see. Of course, this has nothing to do with her prospects in the general, which are practically nonexistent. Her marquee endorsements (excluding the sure things intended to up her batting average) this cycle have either stumbled enough to make easy races into competitive ones (Nikki Haley, Sharron Angle), stumbled enough to turn competitive races into losing ones (Carly Fiorina, O'Donnell), or just failed to win the primary altogether (Vaughn Ward, Karen Handel). She has no handle on what the public wants, and that will go double for the inevitably less-Republican electorate of 2012.

If Palin gets the nomination, I think she'll be worse for the Republicans than George McGovern was for the Democrats (or, more accurately, Richard Nixon's distored version of McGovern that he fed to the public). McGovern lost badly because he wasn't a competent-enough politician to dispel the persona that Nixon crafted for him. But his defeat, contrary to conventional wisdom, did not destroy liberalism or the Democratic Party in the mind of the public. Nixon's landslide did nothing for congressional Republicans and within two years the voters were electing extremely liberal candidates to office after Watergate. It did, however, create divisions within the party that still haven't fully healed. I don't really think that Palin's nomination will create enormous cleavages in the GOP, since they'll all support her. Maybe David Frum will endorse Obama in 2012, but you won't see the Chamber of Commerce backing him the way the unions backed Nixon in '72, to name an example. It could, however, completely solidify Palin as the image of right-wingery in the public mind, and make that concept completely radioactive for a generation. After Bush, a Palin nomination would send a message of doubling down on Bushism instead of changing course with someone like, say, a Mitch Daniels. Putting someone avowedly unpopular and lacking in communication skills, vision, and leadership to even a greater extent than Bush ever did is simply madness, and if she is unable to define herself positively, the only definition that will stick is what her opponents say. Palin does have a nonzero chance of winning, but I think the public has already decided how they feel about her, and a public craving steady economic stewardship just isn't going to vote for a half-term quitter. Which is something that would come up--Obama could just make "Strong and Steady" his campaign slogan were the Republicans to pick Palin, to remind voters of Palin's biggest weakness at all times.

Update: She's endorsing Tom Tancredo in Colorado. Congrats, Gov-elect Hickenlooper, I'm guessing.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.