September 30, 2006
Dangers of DeFoleyation
Nobody knows how the Mark Foley scandal will develop, but it could be wildly disruptive to the Republican Party. It's not just that it puts us in position to win Foley's district, where his name will still be on the ballot even though the votes will go to someone else. Tom Reynolds, who runs the NRCC (the House Republican campaign fund) was among those who knew about Foley's creepy behavior a year ago. He's also in a surprisingly competitive race -- a recent poll had him leading Jack Davis only 44-42, with a Green getting 8%. The Green won't actually be on the ballot, and Davis has money. I wonder if there's a possibility of Reynolds suddenly getting selfish with the NRCC cash, and depriving Republicans across the country.
Then there's speaker Hastert. If his image gets tarnished too much for him to hold a leadership position, will other Republicans be plotting to fill the power vacuum? That can't be what you want going into a midterm election.
Bob Woodward's new book paints the president as a resolute leader so in awe of his own conviction and resolution that he can't adapt to new realities, and thus has been unable to learn from the mistakes in Iraq. That's in stark contrast to Bob Woodward's last book, which painted Bush as a resolute leader whose in awe of his own conviction and resolution was perfectly suited to the new, post-9/11 reality. Matt asks:
Why were the earlier books so different? Did he somehow not notice this stuff before? It's a serious problem for the most prominent people in the journalism world to be merely lagging indicators, praising leaders when they're popular and then pointing out that, in fact, they suck only after a whole series of disasters discredit them.
Nah, he noticed all this stuff before. And he mentioned it all. His last book was perfectly explanatory. It's merely that then, Bob Woodward thought pigheadedness was a virtue, now it's a vice. The problem is that Woodward is not what folks might call an analyst. Here's Nora Ephron, who was married to his partner Bernstein, explaining Woodward's technique:
Bob has always had trouble seeing the forest for the trees. That’s why people love to talk to him; he almost never puts the pieces together in a way that hurts his sources. And that’s also why he has so much access: his sources can count on him to convey their version of events. When Bob says that when he was first told about Valerie Plame, he [just] didn’t think it was important.
Woodward knows what's going on, but not what to think of it. He's a safe vessel for hall-of-power confessionals precisely because he doesn't put the pieces together in any sort of innovative and damning way. But without that analytical approach, Woodward simply colors his reporting with whatever crayons everyone else is using. If Bush is atop the world, Woodward's interviews show why. If he ain't, the very same interviews will shed light on that, too. What's impressive about the two Woodward books isn't how different they are, but how similar. The reporting hasn't much changed, it's the conventional wisdom that's shifted and, thus, Woodward's adjectives.
And, so far as political experts being nothing but lagging indicators, it's really much, much worse than that. Try incorrect indicators.
When Don't Coattails Matter
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
I'll have more to say on the topic of coattails later, but for the moment, let me mention the conditions under which the results at the Senate or Presidential level don't have much impact on House races.
In states with only a single, at-large House member, the results of the Presidential and Senate races have virtually no impact. Presumably, this is because their is enough media coverage of the two or three races that voters can consider more independently than voters in, say, the New York City media market. In addition, a small number of "freak of nature" politicians have little or no impact on House races. Democratic Senators in Nebraska, for instance, or Republican Senators in Rhode Island, cannot convince their voters to punch a straight-ticket ballot.
The punchline for this year is that Jon Tester (D) will probably be unable to drag Monica Lindeen (D) to victory in Montana. But, it also means that Senator Craig Thomas's (R) campaign will have little impact on Gary Trauner's (D) bit for a House seat in Wyoming.
How The Bloggers Got It Right
We all know what happened. For partisan gain, Republicans decided to embrace torture, shred the most fundamental principles of American law, and put innocent people at risk of spending their lives in jail without trials on terrorism prosecutions. They intended to give Democrats a horrible choice. Go along, and their base would be demoralized at the ensuing disaster. Fight, and they would be hammered for supporting terrorists' rights.
Most Democrats -- 160 of 194 in the House, and 32 of 44 in the Senate -- fought. Admittedly, they didn't filibuster. That would've taken at least 7 more Senators. And even if Harry Reid could've somehow put it together, Republicans would've been happy to use the filibuster as a month-long commercial about Democrats obstructing the War on Terror. Whenever they wanted their triumphant ending, the nuclear option was available. It's hard to see how Democrats could've beat this thing, even totally united.
The purpose of this post isn't to excuse Senate Democrats, though. It's to call attention to the people who may yet make this whole maneuver backfire on the Republican Party.
If the major progressive blogs are any indication, the Democratic base was smarter than Republicans expected. Rather than attacking their own party for failing to stop the disaster, many Democratic bloggers took a realistic view of the situation, and took up arms against the real enemy.
Let's start with The Editors (go to their place if you want all the links):
It’s true, “the Democrats” didn’t send this awful, anti-Democratic bill to defeat. But, then, they didn’t have the votes for it. Nor, indeed, did they fillibuster the bill. But, as Sen. Reid confessed, and as the final vote proved out, they didn’t have the votes for that, either. But they should have made a futile gesture! you complain. Well, many Democrats did make futile gestures, futile speeches even, even crappy Hillary Clinton. But they should have made the futile gesture I wanted them to make! Well, perhaps they should have, but I fear we this discussion may now drifting from political commentary into interpretive dance criticism. The bottom line is the votes weren’t there. The day was lost.
Scott is right as usual:
this is a Republican bill, and it would not have passed if Democrats controlled Congress.
The most basic error that people who want to put most of the blame on the Democrats make is the assumption that you can infer voting behavior when you control the agenda from voting behavior that occurs after the agenda has been set by someone else. But this is foolish. The fact that John Kerry voted for the Iraq War does not mean that he would have sought to invade Iraq if he had been President
Chris Bowers lists a bunch of issues on which most Senate Democrats voted right. It's a long list with plenty of important stuff. He continues:
I am not sure if there has been a single issue in the Senate over the past four years where the majority of Senate Democrats did not side with the progressive position and oppose the Republican majority. Would it have been better if all Senate Democrats had stood united on all of these issues and stopped any one them from passing? Obviously. But to characterize an entire party because of the actions taken by a minority in that party is simply unfair.
Amanda forcefully explains why not voting for Democrats is really dumb:
if you start howling at them for not controlling what they have no power to control, you’re making a joke of yourself. Telling people to pull our support from them when they’re all we’ve got is, like torture, self-defeating. If you’re so gung-ho about people not being complicit with the Republicans, the first step is to quit being complicit with Republican attempts to hold onto power by telling people to abstain from voting the Republicans out.
But my favorite of all was Bitch PhD, who lists the six things she's going to do about this:
1. Mail in my registration to vote at my new address today.
2. This weekend, talk to Mr. B. about volunteering, money, and a strategy for what to do about the upcoming election.
3. As I get to know the other parents at PK's school, ask what they think about the upcoming election, the new law suspending habeas corpus, etc.
4. Convince my dad, who lives in a reddish part of a blue state, that he has both the time and responsibility to call *his* local Democratic organization and volunteer to help register/get out the vote.
5. Call *my* local Democratic organization and volunteer to help with whatever.
6. Join the ACLU. No, I don't belong yet. Yes, I am ashamed. Find out who else to join/read/subscribe to, especially locally, to get the political lay of the land here.
If a substantial portion of the Democratic base responds to this the way Dr. B did, the Republicans will have hell to pay when November comes around. And making sure that they pay for this is absolutely essential. For the good of America -- not only today, but a hundred years from today -- we have to show that any party that tries to destroy the most historic and essential principles of American law for partisan gain will face devastating retribution. Democratic Senators weren't able to inflict this retribution. But we can.
I'm already registered to vote, so that takes me to #2 on Dr. B's list. It looks like time to double the amount of money I've spent on beating Republicans this year. The first beneficiary is Jim Webb, the former Secretary of the Navy who's running for Senate in Virginia. The torture bill came up in one of his debates:
Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb said Sunday that President George W. Bush's terror-detainee legislation would weaken the Geneva Conventions and potentially subject captured U.S. soldiers to torture.
"We have to stay on the moral high ground," Webb said during a debate with his opponent, Republican Sen. George Allen, on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press."
Webb is slightly behind in most polls, but the latest one has them tied at 43. Allen, in keeping with his tendency to act out all the most vicious behaviors of the Republican Party, voted to pass the legislation. Matt, Ezra, and hilzoy don't really have a habit of asking people to give people money, but that's what they did here. And on this last day of the fundraising quarter, I'm willing to listen.
I've already told you about the wonderfulness of Victoria Wulsin and Gary Trauner, but they're also getting more cash from me today. They're both in very close House races against weak opponents, and they have less money than other equally competitive challengers. So whatever you give them will have a real impact.
And as I've done before, I encourage you to donate too. If you'd like to look at the candidates I'm supporting, they're on my cute werewolf-themed page. The events of the past days make it absolutely clear why we can't let the Republicans control both chambers of Congress going into the 2008 elections -- do you want them with the ability to control the agenda and serve up their favorite country-destroying wedge issues again? That's what committee control, which is the result of having a majority, allows them to do. But if Democrats control just one chamber of Congress, they can block terrible legislation in committee, without even letting it come to a floor vote.
So please do whatever you can to help out. For some of you, that'll involve money. For others, that'll involve volunteering. For me, it'll be a little of both. The Republican strategy based around this bill must utterly fail, and lead them to a devastating defeat this November.
September 29, 2006
GM Makes Good Business Decisions
Apparently, GM just made Sean Hannity their spokesman. Their new ad campaign is the "You're A Great American!" giveaway, and who better to kick that one off than the guy who said a Kerry win -- which 48 percent of the country voted for -- would be a victory for the terrorists, and keeping Nancy Pelosi out of the speakership would be "worth dying for."
Guess they thought the problem with their cars was that too many folks bought them.
Bad news for the middle class in this new CAP report. Wages are flat, average job growth is one-fifth that of previous business cycles, the top five expenditures of most families (health care, housing, food, cars, and household operations) are racing upward, fewer than a third of families have savings that could weather three months of income loss (and that number is going down), and so job loss and health emergencies are more dangerous than ever. They don't call me Happy McSmiles for nothing.
All of which reminds me of an idea I've been meaning to plug. In his new book The Great Risk Shift, Jacob Hacker argues for a new scheme of economic protection he calls Universal Insurance. The plan is to have an all-purpose form of insurance that covers catastrophic expenses from health emergencies, job losses, or whatever. How much is covered depends on the extent of the loss -- did you take a pay cut or lose your job? -- and how high your income is. So a massive income drop for a low-income person will result in relatively generous benefits, while a moderate drop for a wealthy individual will attract less generous compensation.
This all-purpose economic security would protect families from the eventualities and unexpected events that they are, for now, clearly unprepared for, and in doing, would ease the need for bankruptcies, credit debt, and all manner of nasty compensation practices that are bad for both families and our economy. Seems to me like something savvy politicians may want to take a look at.
At le Tapped too.
But The Economy Is Really Good! Promise!
This ain't good news:
According to the study, less than a third of all American families have accumulated income equaling three months of their wages. The trend is particularly pronounced among the 60 percent income distribution that makes up the middle class: those with dual incomes earning from $18,500 to $88,030 a year.
From 2001 to 2004, the proportion of middle-class families that has saved three months' worth of income dropped to 18.3 percent from 28.8 percent, the study said.
Higher prices for a range of things -- including health care, energy, transportation, food and education -- have put Americans in this position as corporate profits have risen, the study said.
It said, that five years into the current economic recovery, average job growth is one-fifth that of previous business cycles and wages are flat when inflation is factored into the equation.
To maintain day-to-day consumption, families have taken on a record amount of debt, equal to 126.4 percent of disposable income in the first quarter of 2006, according to the study.
And that's coming at the same moment that income volatility -- the likelihood of massive, negative shocks to your income -- is way, way up. So not only are American families more likely to lose their jobs and salaries, but they're less likely to have the savings to endure the downturn. Yikes.
Want To Read Something Depressing?
Here's Sherrod Brown on the detainee bill. And MSNBC lauding defecting Democrats for their brilliant politics. At no point in the article does the author deploy right or wrong as a relevant metric.
In Praise of DivisionDavid Broder's gushing encomium to Arnold Schwarzenegger's newfound moderations has already been rightly, resoundingly mocked throughout the blogosphere. Broder's belief that Schwarzenegger's election-year conversion to a liberal agenda "demonstrat[ed] in the most dramatic way possible the value of political independence" is so naive as to be hilarious, particularly coming from an ageless political observer like Broder. Schwarzenegger's actions demonstrate the value of being liberal in a liberal state. Had Arnold gone independent in the opposite direction, as he had in the preceding period, we'd all be buzzing with excitement over incoming governor Phil Angelides.
That said, there is an interesting dynamic that Broder fails to note. When the legislature is controlled by one party and the governor hails from the other, election year conversions on the part of the executive can actually be much more successful. Say you have Democrat Gray Davis and a Democratic Congress. Gray wants to herald the election by passing some major global-warming bills, a minimum wage increase, and various other do-gooder bills. Republicans want to deprive him of the accomplishments. And so they do: They filibuster, they block, they hold up in committee. They keep the legislation from happening, as it both offends their ideology and harms their political chances.
Now let's say you've a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. He spends part of his first term trying to govern from the right, and is stymied at every turn. Come election year, polls show him behind, so he decides the minimum wage really isn't that bad after all, and while some warmth is nice, he doesn't really want the planet cooked. So he pivots and begins pushing a liberal agenda. The Republican Party in his state, completely yoked to his success, will not block the legislation. They need him to succeed, and win reelection. And the Democrats in the legislature want the bills. And the governor wants the accomplishment. It's a much smoother process that sets up incentives allowing divided governments to pass a whole lot more legislation than governments dominated by a single party.
That's what Arnold was able to do. His "independence," while completely opportunistic, actually allowed for much more liberal legislation than a Democratic governor could have passed. Had Bustamante been wielding the pen, Republican legislators would have blocked his agenda. As it is, Arnold decided to go liberal but, being a Republican, could do it without his party's outright opposition. Neat trick, and one that's had good results for California.
September 28, 2006
Good Thing We Cut Taxes
Following up on the good news out of Iraq, a new congressional analysis shows that we're spending $2 billion a week on the war -- more than twice as much as it cost per week during the first year of operations. The change in spending is coming both from increased combat, but also from "the building of more extensive infrastructure to support troops and equipment in and around Iraq and Afghanistan." Here's how that looks:
All in all, the Congressional Research Service estimates we've spent more than $500 billion on war since 9/11. One might wonder what we're getting for all that money, particularly with the new NIE report showing it's made us less safe from terrorism, but then they'd be weak-kneed Defeatocrats.