‘We R in Control’ Category Archive
So I kind of quit blogging, because it was taking me too much time to develop and refine the things I wanted to write about, which is both unproductive in general and not great blogging in practice in particular. But this week I was caught by an idea I could get figured out fairly quickly.
It stems from this New Republic post bemoaning the tendency to blame the government shutdown (and ideological extremism in general) on gerrymandering. This is basically correct. The idea behind your garden variety gerrymandering is to pack as many of your opponents voters into as few districts as you can, giving them a few very safe seats and you the bulk of the seats, but with narrow margins. If you do it right, you wind up with something like Pennsylvania, which voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and also gave 13 of its 18 House seats to Republicans. But also if you do it right, you’re winning a bunch of 52-48 districts, which means you should be incentivized to run relatively moderate candidates. So it’s not a very attractive explanation for systemic polarization or individual extremism.
But what is? Well one clear one is the willingness of far-right conservatives to mount primary challenges against Republican incumbents. This is an asymmetric strategy, as liberals are far less able or willing to mount such campaigns against incumbent Democrats. Primaries are low turnout elections, and the strongly ideological are the most likely voters. That means that Republican challengers come from the right, and challenged incumbents must move right to meet them. In theory, this should make the winner of the primary (whether the incumbent or the challenger) more vulnerable in the general election, because they’ve moved away from the median voter, and the Democratic nominee can move to the center in response. And indeed, this is essentially the dynamic that we’ve seen with the awful Senate candidates the GOP has put up in the last two cycles — they are far enough to the right to win a primary contested strictly among ultra-conservatives, but the statewide electorate wants nothing to do with them.
OK, so how does the House differ? There are a few key factors here. First, Senate campaigns get much more attention from national media and the national parties than House campaigns do, on average. So when Todd Akin talks about “legitimate rape,” it becomes national news. When Kerry Bentivolio (now the Representative from Michigan’s 11th district) is called “mentally unbalanced” by his own brother, it doesn’t. Additionally, Senators don’t have districts, they have states, which experience less change than districts do based on either demographics or map changes (the latter of which never happen for states). At the district-level, voters are gradually self-segregating along political lines, creating safer districts without necessarily gerrying the mander. This has the potential to make party ID even more salient in these elections than it is for statewide and presidential elections.
Where this all points is in the direction of low-information primaries producing nominees who appeal to extremely partisan electorates, leading into general elections where party ID trumps nearness to the median voter. This is where the idea of “safe seats” shifts from incumbents to parties — these are districts in which voters are pulling the lever for the party without knowing or caring much about who the candidate is. Once they get to Washington, fealty to the movement and service to the party become the most important thing. What’s so incredible about this is that it might be as close as the US has ever come to installing a parliamentary system. The problem is that the rest of our system isn’t designed to handle a parliament — the Senate gets in the way, the President gets in the way, the 10th Amendment gets in the way, etc. Our House has to push as hard as it can to get through all those veto points, and as long as its relatively undisciplined among its parties, that’s fine. A House that is discretely divided is going to have a tendency to break our system, and that tendency isn’t going to go away when the present crisis ends.
Filed: We R in Control || 20:02, October 5 || View Comments
The levers of power are inherently political, Michigan edition:
The state House of Representatives voted 58-51 today to pass a right-to-work bill for public employees, and 58-52 on a bill for private sector workers.
Both right-to-work bills have already passed the Senate. All that is needed now is Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature and Michigan becomes the 24th right-to-work state.
In a parliamentary manuever, the House Republicans asked for a reconsideration of the bill to keep Democrats from asking for the same thing, which would have delayed final passage until Wednesday. Technically, the Republicans could remove that request later today and the bills will automatically head to Snyder.
It almost goes without saying that the Michigan GOP didn’t campaign on this in 2012, and that Snyder even testified earlier this year before the U.S. Congress that right-to-work wasn’t right for Michigan. But much the way traditional norms of government have been violated up and down the ladder of power over the past couple decades, so it is. The disparate protest movements that rose up in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere in 2011 failed to congeal into something broader, and that’s left Michigan vulnerable. It’s left state employees in Illinois to watch their pensions be stolen. And wherever else it’s possible, it will happen there, too.
Rep. Brandon Dillon — inexplicably elected as a Democrat from Grand Rapids — railed against this bill, saying that it’s only being shoved through now because the votes won’t be there in the 2013 session. Maybe that’s true, but it elides the point a little bit. It’s being shoved through now because this is the period of least accountable power. It’s why George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security immediately as his second term began, it’s why Scott Walker went after the unions only weeks after being sworn in, and it’s why there’s such demand for a bipartisan “Grand Bargain” to keep rich people’s taxes low and destroy entitlements.
President Obama has thrown his weight behind the unions (which he somewhat conspicuously didn’t do in Wisconsin), and that’s big, but it’s probably too late. It’s entirely possible that Michigan unions are simply screwed. Even if the momentum built this week is enough to drive Snyder from office in 2014, keep in mind that when Tom Barrett ran against Scott Walker in the Wisconsin recall, he never promised to repeal Walker’s unionbusting bill. In Michigan, there’s no guarantee that Snyder’s replacement (with the help of a Democratic legislature) would undo this. (And if you want close coverage of the Michigan protests, follow Eclectablog.)
Voters with a union member in their household voted 40% for Mitt Romney. In 2008, it was 39% for McCain. That’s about 7% of all voters casting their ballots in favor of the gun that’s pointed at their own feet. Typically I’m happy to blame voters for their own bad outcomes, but in this case I think it’s a tremendous failure of imagination on the part of the Democratic Party. Get half of those voters back and you win every election forever. This ought to be the mandate for the politically unshackled and, yes, largely unaccountable second Obama term: Look for the union label.
Filed: We R in Control || 15:00, December 11 || View Comments
It’s never the same thing, but it’s always something. American presidential elections are horrible things, though I can’t say whether they’re any more or less horrible than other countries’. Ours are sinkholes of mendacity and gamesmanship, in which winning is measured by the players in skim and by the public in the desperate hope that things don’t get any worse. At best, the campaign provides a distraction from the fact that our government is designed to fail, the institutional version of Monty Burns’s million diseases all getting in one another’s way. A public mismatched with its responsibility will again send a divided government to rule a structure that even one party could never reliably handle, expecting the president to “reach out” to the other side, and for the parties to “come together,” as if these magic words will erase the serious and deep divisions between them on fundamental issues of policy, values, and beliefs. If we’re lucky, only one incompetent or corrupt local election official will screw up thousands of ballots, and the winners will be known before the morning after Election Day; if so, we’ll be ready to leap right into Decision 2016. The lessons we will have learned this year are that truth, on every level, is valueless in the gate-kept circle of Hell inhabited by the Gang of 500; that because money couldn’t buy the presidency or the Senate, it’s OK if it buys mayors and judges; and that everyone who uses science to correctly predict things is just getting lucky or at least gay. We’ll play out this psychodrama again in four years, because most of us have no choice.
And now, on to the predictions!
I made a friendly wager that Barack Obama would defeat Mitt Romney well before the Republican primaries began, and I see no reason to deviate from that prediction now. His electoral vote margin will be smaller than it was in 2008, losing six votes to post-census shuffling, and then losing Indiana (11 votes), Florida (29 votes), North Carolina (15 votes) and the 2nd district of Nebraska (1 vote). All the other states will hold steady, for an Obama win with 303 votes to Romney’s 235. Obama will also become the first president to be elected a second time with a lower share of the popular vote than he got the first time since Grover Cleveland returned to the White House in 1892 with slightly less than he’d won in 1884. A final tally of 51% for Obama and 48% for Romney (rounded) will also indirectly point to the incredible disappearance of Gary Johnson, who had been seen as having the potential to swing New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and maybe even Colorado. Total votes cast for president will be around 135 million.
Democrats will retain control of the Senate, flipping seats in Massachusetts and Maine (via Dem-caucusing independent Angus King), while Republicans take Nebraska and Montana. The push on Election Day will leave the Senate split 53 to 47. Democrats will gain five seats overall in the House of Representatives, but will be well short of a majority, leaving John Boehner with the Speaker’s gavel by a count of 237 to 198. I’d like to be wrong about that one, but I have a hard time seeing where 20 more seats are going to come from.
Effete liberals, commies, moochers and anti-colonialists, let’s get out there and make it happen.
Filed: We R in Control || 15:08, November 5 || View Comments
Skewerism is the latest fad to take hold in the Republican Party:
Do you think pollsters are intentionally skewing their polls this year to help Barack Obama, or not?
GOP Dem Ind All Yes 71 14 45 42 No 13 65 40 40 Not sure 16 21 16 18
In the face of such an assault on reason and the very notion of shared reality, I’m tempted to fall back on The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Something about it doesn’t seem to fit, though; Hofstadter’s paranoid style requires more acknowledgement of reality than we’re seeing here. And now that Mitt Romney has “won” the first debate, expect to see even more of this when he doesn’t launch into a big lead in the polls (despite the fact that this is not how debates work).
Filed: We R in Control || 9:50, October 4 || View Comments
Mitt Romney’s campaign took kind of an odd turn this week — odd even in the context of this campaign. They sent out a mailer in northern Virginia touting Romney’s plan to deal with the epidemic of… Lyme disease. This was not merely one line item in the mailer, it was the whole point: “What can a president do about Lyme disease?” asks the cover side, with the interior calling it a “massive epidemic threatening Virginia.” Virginia had 9.3 cases per 100,000 people in 2011, just above the national average of 7.8. Needless to say, this is an addition to the campaign agenda, and I’d wager an addition to campaign agendas in general going back a long, long time, and maybe forever. George Bush declared a Lyme Disease Awareness Week back in the summer of 1990, which is probably the closest it’s ever come to being a campaign issue.
The Romney mailer suggests a few ways that Romney will end the scourge of Lyme disease. First, “improve synergy.” Sure, sounds good. Second, “increase awareness.” This mailer sure has him off to a good start! Finally, “support treatment.” The interior of the mailer makes clear that supporting treatment is primarily about tort reform, because doctors who might get sued for malpractice can’t effectively treat Lyme disease. A friend suggested to me that this is really the point of this weird strategy, but I’m skeptical. The GOP desire for tort award caps is not something that is sublimated in any way — they’re open about it and they talk about it a lot. So why put out this odd mailer where tort reform is buried in one phrase of an interior bullet point, if tort reform is the point?
Simon van Zuylen-Wood, guest-blogging at Political Animal, had the same initial reaction I did: it’s about dog-whistling the Christian right. First, Virginia and its evangelical governor, Bob McDonnell, have actually been pushing Lyme disease prevention for the last couple years. McDonnell put together a Lyme disease task force headed by the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, rather than, say, a scientist. Apparently Romney’s desire to “get the CDC out of the way” resonated with this guy and now they’re pals.
This narrative is based on some nice dot-connecting among all these individuals and institutions, and it’s well worth reading the whole thing. My impression, on the other hand, comes largely from following and studying fringe beliefs over the last several years, and specifically from a study I conducted last fall. This is data I presented at MAPOR last year, and will follow up this year. One of the beliefs I examined in that study was the belief that vaccines can cause autism, and unlike some other science-related beliefs (climate change, evolution), there was absolutely no effect of ideology and partisanship. There was also no effect of using partisan political media. There was, however, a significant effect of using Christian media, that positively predicted belief in the autism-causing power of vaccines. To the extent that this belief is rising up, it’s happening in a venue that has little traction in mainstream social and political discourse. This is nothing new for American fringe beliefs — when Dr. Strangelove‘s Commander Ripper expressed concern over our “precious bodily fluids,” that was a satire of contemporary fringe concerns nearly 50 years ago.
So I find myself wondering if what Romney’s doing here is trying to innovate in the domain of fringe issues, playing on a right-wing Christian health and government paranoia. For a campaign still trying to solidify its base, and desperately in need of something to change the election’s trajectory, that kind of enterprise campaigning has a lot of upside and carries little risk. If it makes the campaign look kooky and generates some laughs on the national level, so be it — people are laughing anyway.
Filed: We R in Control || 12:13, September 30 || View Comments
If you’re a sports fan, or if your social networks include sports fans, you probably know about what happened last night. If you don’t, the short version is that the NFL has locked out its regular referees and has been using replacement refs (from low levels of college football, high school football, and other places such as the Lingerie Football League); an astonishing display of incompetence by the replacements gave a win last night to the Seattle Seahawks, which they shouldn’t have gotten. The lockout is largely about the refs’ defined-benefit pensions, which the NFL wants to replace with defined-contribution 401(k)s, and fund at a lower level. Reports put the difference between the two sides at about $2 million per year, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the NFL has annual revenues totaling more than $9 billion. No one disputes that the NFL could afford the roughly $62,000 per team per year that it would take to close the gap.
The replacement refs have made plenty of high-profile mistakes during the first three weeks of the regular season; however, observers have noted that the league has no incentive to move in negotiations as long as viewership, ticket sales and merchandise revenue remain in place. If a tipping point were to come based on on-field performance, it would have to be a game being decided by a blown call, which is what happened last night. To their credit, ESPN — a close league partner and an organization that depends on access to league resources — minced no words and spent quite a bit of coverage last night framing the event as a debacle for the league. As it so often does, Twitter “blew up.” People are talking about quitting the NFL until the regular refs are brought back. More broadly, an enterprise that has put considerable effort into image management and control over the year — “protecting the shield” — and which made the pursuit of New Orleans Saints players and coaches involved in “Bountygate” the biggest story of the offseason, in the name of protecting the integrity of the game, has shown that image and integrity must fall in line behind union-busting.
Hall of Fame quarterback, ESPN analyst and Brigham Young University JD Steve Young summarized the situation well last night when he said that the league (and it should be noted that “the league” is really the 31 owners of the non-Green Bay franchises, not Commissioner Roger Goodell) views officiating as a commodity. So much the way they recently switched from Reebok to Nike as their uniform supplier, why should they find themselves beholden to some bunch of refs that don’t like the deal that’s on offer? After all, people follow and support the franchises, and the resources that go into maintaining those franchises (uniforms, refs, players) are just the cost of doing business. Plus, pretty everybody else has already had their pensions stripped away and replaced by the 401(k) guessing game, and not doing the same for refs is just going to distort the futures market for football officiating services. Indeed, attacking defined-benefit pensions is explicitly what the league is doing:
“From the owners’ standpoint, right now they’re funding a pension program that is a defined benefit program,” said Goodell, who was in Washington on Wednesday attending a luncheon hosted by Politico’s Playbook. “About ten percent of the country has that. Yours truly doesn’t have that. It’s something that doesn’t really exist anymore and that I think is going away steadily.”
There’s a reason that doesn’t really exist anymore, of course; it’s part of multi-decade war on labor that has ratcheted up significantly in the last few years. And while it has manifested in 2012 as a fairly broad disdain for workers, it would be ironic if a labor dispute at the high end of the income range, in a sport so often associated with a caricature of midwestern industrial labor, was what finally moved a significant chunk of public to action, or even awareness. Other than the liability for a significant injury that can be connected to shoddy officiating, the public changing the channel is the only thing that will get the NFL’s attention.
Filed: We R in Control || 8:58, September 25 || View Comments
I spent the summer busy with travel and research, and let the blog go on hiatus. Well, fall classes start today, so now’s a great time to get back to
procrastinating thinking out loud.
USA Today and Suffolk University released an interesting survey of “unlikely” voters a few days ago, which has gotten quite a bit of attention. It’s worth noting that their methodology is unclear in the report — they’ve got a sample of 800, but was that simply culled from a larger, general sample that also included some number of likely voters? At any rate, the big takeaway is that unlikely voters strongly favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, though about one-fifth say they would vote for a third-party candidate if they were to vote. This is perhaps the strongest evidence yet for the importance of turnout to Obama’s chances. In 2008, he got much bigger than usual turnout from traditionally low-turnout groups, most notably young adults and African-Americans. Many of these voters are probably still turning up as “unlikely” in typical polling models.
But a deeper look inside the data shows just where the Obama ground campaign is needed the most: convincing overconfident supporters that their vote is needed. Three-quarters of “unlikely” black voters expect Obama to win, but almost all say they would vote if they felt it could swing the election. Now, this probably shouldn’t be taken too literally, since no one really expects the election to come down to one vote, but it is worth thinking about how and where energized black turnout to have the most impact. Of the ten states with the highest proportion of African-Americans, six are solid red, two are solid blue, and North Carolina and Virginia are up for grabs. These were big Obama takeaways in 2008, in part because of black turnout. Florida is number 11 on that list, and carrying those three swing states would basically clinch the election.
The assumption in 2008 was that the Obama campaign had a great turnout operation, but I’m not sure if anyone knows whether that’s true or not — his candidacy certainly energized a lot of black voters on its own, but that doesn’t mean the campaign necessarily did anything extra-special to get them out to vote. If the campaign has data similar to what this poll shows, they would be well served by targeting black voters now, not with persuasive appeals that are largely unnecessary, but with sobering reminders that the election isn’t over until it’s over.
Filed: We R in Control || 10:12, August 20 || View Comments
Mitt Romney lost two more states yesterday, finishing third in both Alabama and Mississippi. Rick Santorum won both states, which were seen as Newt Gingrich’s last chance at relevance; he’s apparently pressing on regardless, though it certainly seems that doing so hurts Santorum much more than it does Romney. Despite lackluster performances in strongly conservative states, Romney’s still basically on track to secure the nomination at some point, but it’s probably going to take winning some of the big, winner-take-all states later in the calendar. That means there’s theoretically still time for a Santorum miracle — he needs to win a significant majority of remaining delegates to actually secure the nomination before the convention — or that we could be heading for the ultimate Washington press corps fantasy, the brokered convention.
As Ed Kilgore notes, relaying comments from Jonathan Bernstein, party elites retain considerable power in the nominating process. They want Romney, and they have for a long time. Whatever happens in traditional primary states, there are enough delegates chosen at county- and state-level conventions (that is, the later parts of the caucuses that actually matter) to keep things slouching toward Romney if the voters don’t come through. But what happens if the party bigwigs change their minds? What might make Santorum suddenly palatable?
Romney’s big selling point has always been electability, and it’s been especially prominent since he’s had to focus on an opponent whose last election was a 17-point loss. But the more he tries to balance appeals to the far-right of the GOP primary electorate and general-election moderation, the tougher it becomes to secure his own base going into the general election. With the economy picking up and Barack Obama looking like more of a favorite, GOP elites might start thinking not just about who they want as President (it’s still Romney, and will continue to be), but also about damage-mitigation in the event of a loss. I don’t think there’s any question that a Santorum loss to Obama is better than a Romney loss for the future of the Republican Party; frankly, a Romney loss could lead to the kind of intra-partisan shake-up we haven’t seen since the Dixiecrats switched sides. That he wasn’t conservative enough to win would be the rallying cry of the right going into Obama’s second term and the 2014 and 2016 campaigns. A Santorum loss wouldn’t necessarily push the party back toward the center, but it would provide leverage for those trying to pull it there.
But let’s be clear: A flood of elite abandoning Romney for Santorum is the only way Santorum wins the nomination. Romney might not win it cleanly or anytime soon, but if the party chiefs want him, they’ll find a way to get him before the convention. The brokered convention dream is an illusion in modern politics, in much the same way the small-conference national college football champion dream is an illusion pursued by so many sports reporters and pundits. Like the Boise State Broncos, Rick Santorum can only win if the system wants him to win, and right now it doesn’t.
Filed: We R in Control || 16:07, March 14 || View Comments
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in HBO’s “Game Change,” a dramatized version of the story of the McCain campaign’s selection of Sarah Palin in 2008. But as someone who spends a lot of time sorting through the mythologies and shibboleths of both the liberal and conservative blogospheres, what most caught my attention was two references to TelePrompters.
If you’re not up to speed on why this would grab me, allow me to lay out perhaps the silliest of the tribal markers currently in vogue on the American right. It is taken as a truism by many conservatives that Barack Obama is dumb and not much of a speaker, and it’s only through the aid of a TelePrompter that he’s able to come off as so eloquent. Without the TelePrompter, he’s just a regular guy, or maybe not even that. This is part of a larger, racially driven narrative that suggests Obama only got into the universities he attended because of affirmative action, or at times that he actually didn’t go to either Columbia or Harvard. Offhand references to TelePrompters have been big laugh lines in conservative speeches for the last several years, despite the fact that every national politician since the invention of the device has used it.
What I hadn’t put together previously, was that this weird obsession might derive from some cockeyed Sarah Palin origin myth. Until “Game Change” got to Palin’s convention speech, I’d forgotten that the TelePrompter supposedly died on her halfway through, meaning she just winged it the rest of the way. I don’t buy this — the Palin portrayed earlier in the film doesn’t seem like the sort to be able to memorize her entire speech, and the Palin we saw in real life doesn’t seem like the sort to be able to string together a coherent 10-15 minutes to fill out her time slot — and Politico disputed it at the time, but a myth is a myth. Later in the film, Palin demands the opportunity to give her own concession speech and orders a campaign staffer to “load it in the TelePrompter,” and of course she and every other national Republican are frequent TelePrompter users.
Several years later, cue Rick Santorum calling for the outlawing of presidential candidates using TelePrompters. Why? “Because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.” Presumably President Santorum will have no speechwriters.