Monday, 14 September 2009

How Red will Barack's Midterm Be?

In response to a Ross Douthat column both Alex Knapp and Steven Taylor are skeptical that the 2010 midterms will be a “repeat” of the 1994 GOP takeover of the House. While I agree that the fundamentals are somewhat less rosy for the Republicans this time around, there are a few reasons to expect a significant Republican rebound that will endanger the practical center-left majority in Congress:

  • Even if the economy recovers significantly by November 2010, it is unlikely that most voters will “feel” the recovery underway for months after the low point. The nature of retrospective voting is to look over a 12-to-18-month period, which means that either the improvement will have to be drastic or be well underway already. Both of these scenarios seem unlikely at best.

  • Any Democratic achievements during this Congress are unlikely to have a practical impact on voters by November 2010. In the case of health care reform that might be to the benefit of the Democrats, as they can take credit for action without the likely transition costs being apparent to voters by then. However, aspects of the “stimulus” that affect voters beyond the Democratic base (e.g. organized labor in the construction industry) are going to be largely invisible—few important stimulus projects, even the “shovel ready” ones, will be getting a ribbon-cutting between now and then. One achievement, the payroll tax reduction stimulus, was virtually invisible to most workers, and will bite a lot of retirees in the butt in April 2010 when the IRS comes to collect the taxes that weren’t withheld at the time, something unlikely to endear the Democrats or Obama to seniors already upset over the potential for Medicare spending cuts.

  • While the Republicans need 40 House seats to recapture a majority, recapturing even half of that could produce a working “winning coalition” with Blue Dogs on fiscal issues that will endanger any White House plans that can’t pass in the next year (which, at this point, is probably most of them). The Democrats’ filibuster-proof Senate supermajority is exceedingly unlikely to outlast the midterms, even considering that a Republican takeover is unlikely too.

  • Finally, as a practical concern, the Republicans are also likely to do well in major states’ legislative races that coincide with the presidential midterms, putting them in the driver’s seat for the 2010–12 redistricting battles in their states that will affect the Congresses Obama will have to work with beyond 2012 (assuming he seeks and wins reelection). Coupled with likely GOP pickups in California due to the new “nonpartisan” redistricting process there, Republicans should be well positioned as a result of the 2010 elections to gain more seats in 2012 (due to reapportionment) and 2014 (due to traditional midterm loss).

The bottom line: although I agree with Alex and Steven that a Republican takeover is not really in the cards, I suspect the practical impact—chastening a Democratic president into matching his bipartisan rhetoric with some truly bipartisan proposals—of the midterms will be much the same, minus the impeachment silliness that typified the later Clinton-GOP House years.

Update: A commenter clarifies that the California redistricting commission only applies to the state legislature, not congressional redistricting.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Hey, you ignorant rednecks! Vote for me!

Rep. John Murtha (D-Racist Part of Pennsylvania) further confirms his idiocy. There is certainly an undercurrent of anti-black racism behind some of the opposition to Obama, just as there is/was an undercurrent of sexism behind some of the opposition to Hillary Clinton and Palin, and much of that undercurrent is concentrated in the Appalachian homeland of (some of) my ancestors, but surely a sitting House member facing reelection could articulate that sentiment in a way that doesn’t insult all of his constituents.

Friday, 10 October 2008

I've been waiting for a miracle

Via Dale Franks, the only political commentary that will be appearing on my office door this election season:

Campaign fail

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Is it November 5th yet?

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Reviving the experience argument

John McCain’s choice of little-known Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate at first blush does somewhat undercut the McCain’s campaign’s effort to go after Barack Obama on his lack of experience. Nevertheless I think there is a way to keep attacking Obama on inexperience without it rebounding against Palin.

I think McCain’s best argument with moderate voters—who, since Palin has now shored up the GOP social conservative base, are the only voters he needs to worry about—is that he’s the best positioned candidate to deal with a Congress that is, and will be after this election, well to the left of the average American voter. Even assuming Obama is willing to govern from the middle and represents something other than “politics as usual,” his inexperience—surrounded by a vice president even more liberal than he is and Democratic congressional leaders with more experience and savvy—will lead to an orgy of congressional spending and incompetent lawmaking not seen since the first two years of the Clinton presidency, when a similarly naïve Clinton who promised to govern from the center was steamrolled by a corrupt Congress, his wife, and every liberal interest group in Washington. Without any GOP resistance in the White House, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton—not Barack Obama—will be setting the domestic and foreign policy agenda. And can we really afford another four—or eight—years of an inexperienced presidency hijacked by an ideologically-committed, far-more-experienced vice president primarily concerned with foreign affairs, a vice president who took—some might say plagiarized—political inspiration from one of the weakest left-wing political party leaders in modern memory?

All that said, I basically agree that the Palin pick is born from the same desperation that led Walter “49–2” Mondale to the door of Geraldine Ferraro; it didn’t work for Mondale and it probably won’t work for McCain either, but then again nothing is working for McCain now, so why not take a shot?

Monday, 4 August 2008

QotD, everyone is clueless on energy policy edition

Kevin Drum on Barack Obama’s effort to out-flank John McCain in the race to advocate the dumbest energy policy proposal:

[B]etween the two of them, McCain and Obama have now pretty much written the handbook on idiotic energy pimping: a gas tax holiday, offshore drilling, opening up the SPR, a windfall profits tax, and nukes for all. I don’t think either one has come out for a massive coal liquification [sic] program yet, but since that’s about the only thing left that’s worse than what they’ve offered so far, I assume it can’t be more than a few days away.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

There is a time for flip-flopping

If the Iraqi prime minister thinks we should go, we should go. If McCain has any sense (admittedly, not something in evidence so far in his campaign’s response to the Maliki remarks), he’ll pivot to underbid Obama, Name That Tune style: “16 months? I’ll do it in 8!”

Mind you, I’ve already predicted that the net effect, blogospheric bloviation aside, of McCain and Obama’s positions on leaving Iraq on the actual date of departure is on the order of milliseconds, so I really don’t care that much what domestic political games the Iraqi government wants to play to shore up Sunni-Shiite cooperation in parliament.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Obamacon yawn

Andrew Sullivan links the debate between Steven Taylor and James Joyner over the merits, or lack thereof, of the Obama alternative for disaffected conservatives. From my point of view, which is a bit more apathetic than disaffected and libertarian than conservative, and thus theoretically (at least) a bit more analytical, things work out as being roughly outlined as follows:

  • John McCain is, by all reasonable standards of analysis, more conservative than Barack Obama, across the issue space. (At worst on some obscure issue dimensions they may be tied.)
  • All other things being equal, this means the expected policy outcome would be more conservative under a McCain administration than an Obama administration.
  • Therefore, if you want to cast a instrumental vote, and you are conservative, you probably should vote for McCain.

Personally, I don’t think there are large, meaningful differences between Obama and McCain on the few issues that poorly map to ideology, like executive power, where there are few politicians of principle whose positions don’t reflect the partisanship of the executive officeholder. Obama is probably a bit more of a liberal internationalist than McCain when it comes to small-scale interventions, although I can’t see this making a huge difference or really being a useful voting criterion. By and large I think what’s happening in Iraq, rather than who’s in the White House, really matters when it comes to bringing the troops home sooner rather than later, although I suppose there may be a difference in the semantic game we’re going to play with distinguishing “the troops” who leave and those who remain. Afghanistan isn’t going to be fixed until the Pakistanis fix themselves, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. McCain as a hawk can probably more credibly produce a rapprochement with the various pariah states of varying degrees (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela, etc.), but I don’t think there is a huge obstacle to Obama doing the same (he may just have to do less).

From an apathetic libertarian perspective, neither candidate is particularly appealing, although generally speaking I find critiquing Washington from the (Postrel-1990s Reason) economic classical liberal perspective more interesting than from the (Gillespie-current Reason) social/cultural left. As a future upper-middle-income government bureaucrat I suppose the Democrats are more likely to govern in support of my personal, short-term financial interests (throwing money at higher education, lower taxes on the “middle class” which seemingly tops out right at the peak Congressional salary, transferring more of my personal health care expenses onto the backs of Bill Gates and Mark Cuban), even if I have to balance that against the possibility that eight years of Democrats at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could fuck up America economically to the point it becomes Britain circa 1978, and the billboards won’t even be as catchy.

All this is, of course, really just a boring way of saying that since my vote really won’t matter I’m having a hard time feeling all that motivated to care one way or the other.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Paging Dr. Occam

Ezra Klein sees sinister relationships everywhere:

Mark Schmitt wonders why John McCain has had such an interest in America West’s runway operations throughout his career. The answer, it turns out, is predictable enough. “America West was a major financial backer of McCain, and one of his top aides, John W. Timmons, became America West’s lobbyist. America West donated a charter plane to Cindy McCain’s charity, American Voluntary Medical Team, for a trip to Kuwait, and this story in says that Cindy McCain’s Hensley Group holds a large stake in US Airways, the successor to America West.”

How about a simpler explanation: America West was and US Airways is headquartered in Arizona. John McCain is the senior senator from Arizona. McCain has thousands of voters in his constituency employed by AW/US, so maybe it makes sense for him to do things in their interests.

This logic also works for Democrats, by the way. Or are you going to tell me that Barack Obama (you know, from Illinois) has never done anything to support Chicago-based (that’s a city in Illinois) carriers American and United?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Veeping with the Enemy

The Libertarian ticket for ‘08: Barr and Root. With a name like that, you’d think they have a no-bid contract in Iraq or something.

Meanwhile, John McCain is allegedly talking with potential running mates at his ranch, including Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, and Charlie Crist, and the Obama veep spin cycle is ramping up too.

I have no real substance here, I just wanted to use this post title before I forgot it…

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Obama paradox

Sully on Obama’s conversion to speaking truth to power douchebags:

It’s extremely depressing that the first major national black politician who takes on the victimology of Sharpton and Jackson is greeted by the right with the kind of cynicism you see at Malkin or the Corner or Reynolds. It reveals, I think, the deeper truth: the Republican right only wants a black Republican to do this. They are not as interested in getting beyond the racial question, in changing the hopes and dreams of black America, as they are in exploiting it for partisan advantage. Their response to the first major black candidate for president tackling the old racial politics? “We don’t believe him.”

To my mind, the “cynicism” is warranted (and, by the way, it’s a cheap shot to lump Glenn Reynolds—who has spoken very positively of other black Democrats, like Harold Ford—in with the Corner crowd and the odious Michelle Malkin) because, fundamentally, the question is which Obama is genuine. He’s spent two decades in Jeremiah Wright’s pews, and there are two plausible interpretations of that: he sat there all that time thinking “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit” while Wright preached his nonsense about CIA conspiracies to infect blacks with AIDS and spread crack in the inner cities and was being politically expedient in using that as a platform for reaching out to a black community skeptical of his African-American bona fides as a half-white, half-black-but-not-black-American politician, or he’s being politically expedient now reaching out to whites and Hispanics who are rather more troubled by Wright’s bullshit (and the related bullshit spread by Sharpton and Jackson) than he genuinely is. Neither interpretation squares well with the Sullivanesque interpretation of Obama as the Great Black Hope who will unite all the races in the quest for the one ring to rule them all, or at least a quick exit from Iraq or something.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama is a bad person or isn’t telling the truth now; hell, even if he is a liar on this one issue he’s still an order of magnitude more genuine a person than Hillary Clinton, who skillfully combines all of her husband’s artistry for compulsive dishonesty with none of the used-car-salesman charm that made it at least vaguely palatable. But it’s somewhat harder to square Obama the presidential candidate with Obama the inner-city politician than it is to square, say, Ford, who never had to pander as much to the black establishment (in large part because of his father’s coattails) before becoming a DLC-style centrist in Washington.

Update: Timothy Sandefur makes largely the same points, but far more eloquently (particularly with 100% fewer uses of the word “bullshit”), while Johnathan Pierce at Samizdata critiques another part of Sullivan’s argument.

The long arm of Barack Obama

Current MS-1 resident Marvin King and I have been taking note of the surprisingly successful campaign of Prentiss county chancery court clerk Travis Childers, running as a Democrat, against Southaven mayor Greg Davis; the surprise is that this has been a reliably Republican district since 1994, and likely would have turned to the GOP a decade earlier if not for Jamie Whitten’s heroic efforts to get federal largess directed to northern Mississippi.

Now that Childers has placed first in the first round of the contest, it appears the gloves have come off with GOP ads linking Childers to two recent winners of the not-very-coveted National Journal “most liberal senator” award, John F. Kerry and Barack Obama. Childers is now trying to distance himself from the national Democratic party and Barack Obama in particular, but it’s questionable how effective that tactic will be over the course of the campaign. Childers also has to contend with the real likelihood that he will win the special election amid low turnout, only to be turfed out in six months when the presidential contest will bring out more of those GOP-leaning voters and Davis will have a big stack of roll-call votes showing Childers having an 80%+ agreement in his voting record with Nancy Pelosi; I can almost imagine the ads now.

Obama continuing to win the economic literacy debate

As noted previously on these shores, Barack Obama has—contrary to his reputation as the “most liberal senator” ginned up by the National Journal—generally made proposals that make economic sense. His opposition to the hare-brained “gas tax holiday” scheme is another point in his—or at least his economic advisors’—favor.

That said, I will quibble with Dan Drezner’s half-suggestion that Obama run with the “it’ll only save you $30” talking point. My general feeling is that when politicians have belittled dollar figures in the past—most notably when the first $300 tax rebate was being proposed way-back-when (2002?)—voters outside the beltway bubble generally seem to think that they have better ideas about how to spend the money than folks in Washington do, especially when they're not making a six-figure government salary. That said, I think the talking point works better when it’s a relatively non-transparent tax like the 18.4¢/gal federal gasoline excise tax that generally isn’t broken out on receipts rather than a check that shows up in the mail.

Friday, 25 April 2008

QotD, not-so-super-delegates edition

Marc Ambinder on the uncommitted Democratic superdelegates:

So if Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), who comes close to calling former President Clinton a racist, who believes that African Americans think that the Clintons “are committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to a point that he could never win,” who says these things in multiple venues (Reuters, the New York Times).... still won’t endorse and still won’t call for Clinton to drop out, should it surprise us that other superdelegates are even more shy?

Personally my suspicion is that a large part of the non-commitment by the superdelegates is that it goes against the way politicians deal with the tough issues—in large packs like roll-call votes where they can be at least somewhat anonymous. There is no “safe vote” now—or at least there’s nothing that is obviously the safe vote—so why commit now when in a few weeks you might have the political cover to commit after the heat is over?

Friday, 18 April 2008

Voters don't give a damn about policy, news at 11

Alex Tabarrok on the open letter being sent to ABC about the debate that no sane person lots of people watched earlier this week on their network:

The only thing the signatories got wrong was where to send the letter. The letter should have been addressed to the American public. After all, this debate, which came in the flurry of all the tabloid journalism of the past several weeks, was the most-watched of the 2008 presidential campaign. The public got what it wanted.

I’d add the caveat that if there were any substantive policy differences of consequence between Clinton and Obama, this might actually be a worthwhile complaint about the Pennsylvania debate. However the policy debate at present between the two candidates is over minor semantic differences between public policy agendas at levels of detail that will have to be negotiated with other policy actors years down the road. I dare say the nuances of the differences between the two candidates’ health care policies will have the same impact on the average American as whether or not Obama wears a flag pin or not.

Actually, given chaos theory the presence or absence of a flag pin might actually impact the weather in six years’ time. No such hope exists for whether or not there is an individual mandate buried in the health care plan that gets sent to the Hill and then immediately thereon to the nearest shredder.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

swift boat, v.t.

How exactly are Barack Obama’s problems with Jeremiah Wright a swift boating? I like Obama about as much as your average Republican-leaning academic blogger with libertarian leanings, but it’s hard to see that there’s much that’s unfair about attacking a political candidate who willingly associates himself on a weekly basis with a pastor who frequently crosses the line that separates legitimate critiques of American race relations and delusional paranoia.

James Joyner made much the same point Thursday, in reference to a YouTube video that’s been making the rounds and the basis for Sullivan’s defense of his favored candidate:

Does the video play on the fears that some whites have about angry black men? Sure. Mostly, though, it seeks to undermine Obama’s portrait of himself as mainstream. It’s more than a little unfair but that’s the nature of these mashups. It’s no different than the various ads of one candidate morphing into an unpopular politician that we’ve seen over the years. And it’s frankly much tamer than the infamous 1964 ad that implied Barry Goldwater would get us annihilated in a nuclear war or the 2000 NAACP ad featuring the daughter of James Byrd stating that “when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.” Goodness, I’m not sure it’s even as insidious as the “3 a.m.” ad that the Clinton campaign ran to such good effect last month.

All that said, if the McCain campaign wants to shit-can some guy on their payroll who shared that video on Twitter, that’s their prerogative; any campaign that can’t keep their employees on-message is doomed to controversy—ask Amanda Marcotte, or for that matter John “Two Americas But Stuck In Third Place” Edwards.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Wright, past wrongs, and Obama

There are, to steal John Edwards’ shopworn phrase, indeed “two Americas,” and the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright and presidential contender Barack Obama has brought that to the surface, most prominently in the latter’s speech Tuesday in which he discussed the distinction between the African-American experience and the experiences of whites in this country. I haven’t had time to read all the commentary the speech has generated, and probably won’t, but I will at least commend my OTB co-blogger James Joyner’s take as well as that of Marvin King.

The existence of this disconnect is, of course, nothing new in American politics—indeed, perhaps the oddest feature of modern American political history is that for a few years enough of the gap between the two Americas was bridged to bring the Civil Rights Movement to fruition and partial accomplishment of its goals. But as we all know, even that bridge was a fleeting one; in a small bit of serendipity, the Memphis Commercial Appeal revisited a point by which that bridge was largely washed away, the 1968 sanitation worker’s strike.

The paper’s (somewhat unsatisfactory, largely for its failure to recognize that even if white leaders in Memphis—including the CA editorial board—had seen it as a form of civil rights protest, rather than a labor action, they still would have seen it as a threat to public order) effort to address its own coverage of that strike here and here addresses the fundamental disconnect: most blacks saw the Civil Rights Movement as a means to an end, getting redress for the economic and social injustice of slavery and subordination, while whites primarily saw it (in the south) in terms of a challenge to the established political order or (outside the south) primarily focused on securing equal rights in a more classically liberal sense, such as equal standing before the law and the right to participate in the electoral process. As such, the post-Voting Rights Act movement found itself caught between a black community that didn’t think the movement had achieved enough and a white community that thought the movement had either achieved plenty—or, once the issues moved beyond abstract principles to more concrete implementation, such as integration of schools in redlining-induced de facto segregated communities across the nation, too much.

The unenviable challenge, I think, that Obama (and to a large extent, the Democratic Party he represents) faces is the need to move the debate beyond race—in other words, to diminish the importance of white-black differences—while simultaneously addressing the deep-seated, and in my mind broadly justified, demands of the black community for economic empowerment. Without diminishing the perceived racial differences—and, by extension, convincing working-class whites in the traditional Democratic coalition that economic empowerment is not a wealth transfer from them to blacks, a case that may be harder to make given that virtually any such empowerment (if in the form of government intervention) would necessitate increased federal taxation—the left has no hope of building a viable coalition that can do more than fiddle at the margins.

Update: As Megan McArdle indicates, that challenge won’t be a pretty one either, at least for those of us who don’t think the Smoot-Hawley Act was one of the high points of the Hoover administration’s response to the Great Depression:

And then he has to go and make possibly the stupidest remark in this entire campaign—or at least, Best in Class (you can't really expect him to outdo a television anchor.) "This time we need to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you will take your job, it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit."

This is jaw-droppingly, head-shakingly, soul-cringingly, "Oh my God, maw, I think my eardrum just exploded" stupid.

"Don't be afraid of the people who don't look like you—be afraid of the people who don't look like you, and have the nerve to live somewhere else." They'll sneak over the border at night, steal your job, and sell it to some wetback hooker in Juarez.

I understand the political logic that forces Barack Obama to spend a fair amount of time hating on trade. But I sort of feel--call me a starry-eyed idealist though you will--that a speech urging Americans not to hate and fear people who are different from them, should perhaps itself forgo urging Americans to hate and fear people who are different from them. You know, to set a good example for the children.

Megan might be reading in a bit more xenophobia than Obama intended, but it’s a very short bus ride these days from being a Democratic presidential contender to a Dobbsian/Paulian/Tancredian foaming-at-the-mouth zero-summer-slash-Minuteman-wannabe.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

More Obamamania

The Times-Picayune reports on Obama’s visit to Tulane this morning. I was somewhat tempted to go but my desire to sleep in today (since I have a 15+-hour day on Saturday, in addition to the regular 8 am class and the tornado warning that resulted in me getting no sleep Tuesday night) outweighed my desire to stand in line at the crack of dawn.

Meanwhile, Tubby will be here in New Orleans tomorrow to further his apparent goal of running his wife’s campaign into the ground.

Friday, 1 February 2008

How liberal is Obama, really?

I look at Barack Obama’s voting record today at Outside The Beltway, on the heels of the declaration by National Journal that he was the most liberal senator in 2007.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Back of the envelope

As noted by me at OTB, one question going forward for Democrats is whether or not Barack Obama’s voter breakdown by race carries into the next primary states. Here’s some quick-and-dirty math for Florida’s zero-delegates-except-if-Hillary-says-so primary on Tuesday.

Assuming Obama gets 80% of the black vote and 25% of the non-black vote, and 24% of Florida Democratic primary voters are black (assuming no differential turnout, based on Florida’s registration statistics from December 31st), Obama should get around 38% of the Florida vote. That’s well ahead of how Obama has been polling in Florida, so I’m not at all convinced that the extrapolation works well even though Obama’s average has been tracking upwards slightly in the state and one would expect that Florida whites would be less racially conservative than South Carolina whites. I think the safe money is that Clinton will still win the state and its 0 delegates comfortably, but I wouldn’t be overly surprised with a result like 40–35 or so (with both candidates receiving about equal numbers of those 0 delegates at stake, given the Democrats’ high threshold-PR rules).

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Ho hum

Vacation (of a sort) continues. I flipped between the NFL playoffs, some Ashley Judd movie that was on CBS, and the ABC/Facebook debates some last night, and probably paid more attention to the Republicans than the Democrats—I wish I could say it was because I changed my registration to Republican before I left, although that is true, but really it had more to do with my exceedingly low tolerance for listening to Hillary Clinton (there’s your likability problem) and my much higher tolerance for Ashley Judd and John Madden. The competitiveness of the Jaguars-Steelers game probably was a factor as well.

Much is being said about the Obama boomlet and the gushing reaction he has received from across the political spectrum; the most notable to me was that originating from Joe Scarborough, a guy from a different ideological planet than Obama. Does Obama pull away Republicans from Huckabee in a general election matchup? Like James Joyner, I’m skeptical—after all, I’ve read The American Voter and 47 subsequent years’ worth of political science research that says that partisanship is fairly sticky and it’s the primary determinant of vote choice—but elections are won at the margins, not based on the behavior of the bulk of voters. Obama would also be more likely to arouse opposition from Republicans in Congress when he tacks too far to the left; the behavior of the GOP with a Republican in the White House who’s significantly more fiscally conservative than Mike Huckabee suggests that Reagan’s 11th Commandment is more valued by the bulk of the congressional GOP than fiscal sanity. (I’d probably vote for Obama over Huckabee… but then again I voted for John Kerry in 2004, so I’m probably not representative of the typical Republican.)

Interestingly enough, both Alex Tabarrok and Greg Mankiw appear to give the “most economically literate” endorsement from the Democratic debate to Obama. Then again, on any stage containing John Edwards, the threshold for economic literacy is pretty damn low.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

For it while he was against it

DiA observes that Barack Obama may be taking the “all things to all people” schtick a little too far.