August 25, 2007
More like this, please
By Kathy G.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Darcy Burner at Yearly Kos. I attended nearly all of the feminist and women's sessions, and so did she. She was most impressive. Here's what was really cool about Darcy: unlike other candidates, she didn't just swoop in, introduce herself, make her little speech, and swoop out. She stayed. She listened. She seemed to care about what people had to say. And she made valuable contributions to the sessions.
For example, at one of the meetings we decided we wanted to create a wiki of women's media resources. Darcy volunteered her services and website to do this. And guess what? It was up the next day.
A little about Darcy: she's from the Seattle area and was a top executive at Microsoft. She's especially strong on women's issues, the environment, and civil liberties. In 2006 she came very close to beating her Republican opponent. She probably would have won if not for a last-minute dirty tricks operation, in the form of Republican headquarters making upwards of 500,000 phone calls spreading malicious lies about her (telling voters that she was going to be indicted, for example).
You can make a contribution to Darcy's campaign here.
August 23, 2007
Who wants to be a President?
By Kathy G.
Via Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok has a unique and highly diverting solution to the low-information voter problem. He proposes a multi-part game show for the candidates:
Coase it Out: Presidential candidates have 12 hours to get a bitterly divorcing couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner. (Bonus points are awarded if the candidate convinces the couple to stay together.)
Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers - say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless - make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn't refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.
Spot the Fraud: Presidential candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight). Three experts propose plans. The candidate must choose one of the plans. After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the "experts" are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist. Which did the candidate choose?
It takes a special breed of economics nerd to imagine something like this, but I kind of like it.
One objection I have is putting Salma Hayek on the Game Theory panel, because unless a male equivalent is added, Hillary would have an unfair advantage. So I suggest we include George Clooney as well. I already think Hillary is tougher than the rest of the candidates put together. But if she can withstand a sultry glance from Clooney without dissolving into a warm puddle on the spot, she truly is an Iron Lady. Or made up of far sterner stuff than I am, at least.
N.B.: Tabarrok says he is dead serious about this. What do you think?
And do you think part of Tabarrok's attraction to Salma Hayek might be his unconscious association of her with this dude, who shares the same last name?
August 18, 2007
Words of Wisdom
By Kathy G.
Adding, that the argument that Hillary shouldn't be the nominee because she's too "divisive" never made a lot of sense to me. I agree with Ezra that she probably wouldn't be the best choice for the nomination, because by temperament she's an extremely cautious centrist and I think we need a Democratic president who's far more willing to pursue strategies and policies that are about change.
But let's face it, by the time of the Democratic convention, the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, is going to be portrayed by the media, and is going to be seen by a significant swathe of the public, as "divisive." They did this with candidates as bland and moderate as Gore and Kerry, so what's going to stop them from viciously smearing Obama or Edwards? As Max points out, Obama will be tarred as "an Islamicist version of the Manchurian Candidate."
As for Edwards, Ann Coulter has already unveiled the ultra-classy Republican strategy of dealing with him: call him a faggot! If he's the candidate, come November '08 I predict that at least 30% of the electorate will be convinced he's gayer than Gay Gayerson at the Gay Pride parade.
And actually, I think the allegedly "divisive" Hillary has an advantage, in that she'll exceed expectations. In the fantasy world of the wingnuts, of course, Hillary is a shrieking Marxist harridan from hell, but in debates and speeches, she sounds reasonable, quietly authoritative, like a normal person. People will see this, and I think even a lot of the Republicans who are so hostile to her will calm the fuck down a little. They'll never like her or vote for her, but they may be a lot less motivated to defeat her than people think.
It leaves me with a question, though: why aren't Democrats doing more to aggressively discredit the Republican candidates? It's essential that we shape the negative narratives about those bozos right now, before it's too late. Yet none of the operatives on our side seem to be doing that. Why is it that the Republicans always seem to be thinking and planning at least three steps ahead of the Democrats?
April 16, 2007
Chuck Todd on Hillary and Obama
Usually my coverage of the Democratic primary race has an Edwards-related focus, but this piece by Chuck Todd on Hillary, Obama, and what you can tell about their campaigns by their responses to the Imus situation is too good not to link to. (Or maybe I'm just surprised to see original thought in a MSNBC analysis piece!) Short version: Hillary wants to be known as "the female candidate"; Obama doesn't want to be known as "the black candidate."
April 12, 2007
Commitment vs. Comprehension
Noam Scheiber's critique of the problems Obama's unifying, reformist message poses for his campaign is very smart. Scheiber writes:
The problem with Obama's reformist message is that it prevents him from singling out Bush and the GOP in a way that's very satisfying. In his speech to the fire fighters, for example, Obama only assigned blame elliptically. "It's a noble calling, what you do. ... But sometimes Washington forgets," he said. "Instead of making your job easier ... they try to cut funding so you couldn't buy masks and the suits that you needed." Later, he concluded: "What keeps Washington from doing all that it needs to do to better protect our fire fighters ... [is] the smallness of our politics."
But it's not Washington that has tried to cut funding for first-responders and won't give them the equipment they need. It's Bush's GOP. It's not the smallness of our politics that's holding these things up. It's the smallness of their politics. Pretty much every Democrat in Congress, given the chance to fix these indignities, would do it in an instant.
That's quite true, and quite smart. But I think the problems with Obama the message stem from problems with Obama the candidate. A week or so ago, a reader suggested I watch this Townhall with Obama. And I found it striking. The first question comes from the town's mayor, an older woman who's not yet eligible for Medicare, but can't afford her insurance, which has more than doubled its premiums since 2000. She'd love to get all those tests the doctors are recommending, she says, but she just can't afford them.
Obama stands up, looks at her, and says, "Well, your situation is obviously not unique." And he's right, it's not. But that wasn't the wisest response. From there, Obama takes what should be a morally impassioning issue and delivers a cool, calm, smart, and bloodless disquisition on various problems within the health care system. He's too removed. There's no sense that this grabs him in his gut, or that he'd stay up nights thinking about her plight. He answers the question, in fact, much like I'd blog the question. Facts and figures, calm analysis. That's good for a blog. Not so much for a candidate. And that's because a blog and a candidate reach different audiences looking for different things.
It's been said by others that Democratic primaries usually feature "a struggle between a candidate who draws support primarily from upscale, economically comfortable voters liberal on social and foreign policy issues, and a rival who relies mostly on downscale, financially strained voters drawn to populist economics and somewhat more conservative views on cultural and national security issues." But what that obscures is that Democratic primaries also feature a contest between two types of voters.
The first are high-information partisans, of the type who supported Dean, Hart, or now, Obama. By definition this group is more involved, more engaged, more educated, more politically aware. They like a candidate whose message is about "us," because they want to be involved. And that's what Obama's reformism is: It's about "us." That "we" can iron the absurdities and indignities and idiocies out of our political life, and create something shinier, better, newer, smarter. They understand what's wrong, and want a candidate who shares that understanding.
By contrast, primaries also feature low-information Democratic voters, most of them economically downscale, somewhat older, somewhat less engaged on a daily level. They don't want to be involved for the next four years. They want someone they can trust to fight for them. Hillary's prominent flaunting of her years in the Democratic trenches comforts these voters, as does Edwards visceral populism, as did Bill Clinton's preternatural empathy. And this is what Obama lacks. Until he can project some sense that he's "with" these people on a gut level, he won't win them over. Because they're not looking for comprehension of the cause, but commitment to it. And that's what Obama's unifying reformism doesn't display.
The problem for Obama is is that I'm not sure this can be generated. Clinton's warrior persona is deeply felt; she's spent decades engaged in a vicious battle against the right, and her enduring presence on the national stage is proof positive of her commitment. John Edwards grew up in the white working class and spent decades as a trial lawyer battling large corporations; his populism is effortless and obvious. But Obama has not fought the same fights. His ascension into public life has been mostly positive, his toughest races against Democrats rather than Republicans, his treatment from the right largely -- or at least atypically -- positive. He feels the possibility of unity, of bringing people together, because his experience has taught him that that's possible. His reformism is deeply held. But it may not be what Democratic primary voters want.
April 04, 2007
Does Money Equal Votes?
What sort of surprises me about Obama's mega-take is how disconnected it is from his apparent momentum. He appears to have functionally matched Hillary's fundraising, despite routinely trailing her in national polls. Moreover, he's not only been unable to gain much early traction in Iowa, where Edwards leads, but he just ceded second place in New Hampshire to Edwards (with Hillary in first).
We may be seeing the further disassociation of fundraising from widespread support. Take Obama's haul. Given the remarkable 100,000 donors, I'd guess you're seeing widespread support from the "netroots," broadly defined. In other words, from computer literate, highly-informed, well-educated, fairly young, political junkies who, due to the sophistication of online fundraising techniques and their particularly high response rate to such appeals, are emerging as an actual funding bloc even as they remain weak as a voting bloc. That said, most primary voters, as we saw with Dean, are not computer literate, highly-informed, well-educated, fairly young, political junkies. We'll see whether Obama could build the bridge that Dean could not. Clinton, meanwhile, has the broadest support but not the broadest donor base, because he supporters skew older, poorer, and are less politically involved.
On the other side of the aisle, it looks like Romney's huge haul relied heavily on donations from the Mormon community, which presents an even more extreme version of this problem. Most primary voters really aren't Mormons, and it's an open question whether they're comfortable with a candidate funded heavily by that demographic. In his case, the money may actually turn into a liability
March 08, 2007
Steve Benen writes:
According to a new NBC/WSJ poll, Sen. John McCain is “facing unexpectedly formidable challenges,” and now trails Rudy Giuliani in a head-to-head match-up by 20 points nationally. The WSJ adds, “All told, 2008 is shaping up as the worst presidential year in three decades to be the candidate of the Republican establishment, the spot some in the party think Mr. McCain has assumed.”
Remember four years ago, when John McCain was the maverick? When John Kerry was feeling him about to be his vice-president? When the Washington Monthly was running cover stories begging him to run for the Democratic nomination?
The tragicomic part, for McCain, is that in 2003, he was the perfect candidate for...2008. But he spent the intervening years sucking up to Bush and cozying up to the establishment and making nice with Jerry Falwell and generally debasing himself to coalesce the Republican Party around him, only to find, for the first time in memory, that that may have been a sucker's game. It's possible that, when all is said and done, not only will he have humiliated himself only to lose, but he'll have lost because he humiliated himself. It's downright Shakespearean.
February 05, 2007
The Edwards Health Plan
Here's how it works: On first blush, the plan is much like the Wyden initiative, though it puts the onus of the responsibility for funding health coverage on employers, a decision I don't quite understand. The employers can satisfy that responsibility by either providing comprehensive care, or helping employees purchase from a menu of insurance options provided by newly formed, state-run "Health Markets."
As of now, the plan doesn't explain how much employers must provide towards health market coverage, but it's a safe bet to assume that it's somewhat less than the total cost of health care, and so the incentive will be for employers to encourage their employees to purchase from the HMs. And that's where things get interesting. The HMs will offer a menu of private options that are totally community rated. The plan "will require insurers to keep plans open to everyone and charge fair premiums, regardless of preexisting conditions, medical history, age, job, and other characteristics." These days, though, community rating is a common enough.
Where the Edwards' plan takes a big step forward is in mandating, along with the private options, that HMs offer "at least one plan [that] would be a public program based upon Medicare." And the intent is explicit: "Health Markets will offer a choice between private insurers and a public insurance plan modeled after Medicare, but separate and apart from it. Families and individuals will choose the plan that works best for them. This American solution will reward the sector that offers the best care at the best price. Over time, the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan."
In other words, the public sector will finally be allowed to compete with the private sector, and consumers will be able to decide which style they prefer. For Democrats, this is a significant step forward. From there, the plan offers the usual mix of sliding subsidies to ensure affordability, individual mandate to universalize coverage, pay-for-performance promises, and public health fixes. You've heard those bits before. What's new, and what's important, are the community rated health markets that include public insurance. Indeed, the plan satisfied every plank of my progressive health reform test from last week.
The plan will cost between $90 billion and $120 billion a year, and according to Edwards, taxes will have to be raised to pay for it. Readers should remember that this is the first full health reform plan from a major candidate in the 2008 election. As such, it has widened the field of the debate, and unless the other candidates want to explain why they lack the boldness of Edwards' plan, they'll have to offer similarly comprehensive proposals. What they will have to match is full community rating, a public insurance option, total universality, scaleability towards more public involvement, and a willingness to propose something comprehensive enough to require revenue increases to fund. In other words, the goalposts have been moved. To the left.
Crossposted to the lovely Tapped.
January 31, 2007
Bye Bye Biden
I know all the other blogs have it, but I don't think you can repost Joe Biden's description of Barack Obama enough:
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
The first. What's about Oprah? Or Harold Ford? Or, uh, Martin Luther King Jr.?
Defend Biden how you will, ascribe the most generous meaning to his words possible, assume it's just a genuine compliment with unfortunate resonances. This guy's not a rookie. He's not an amateur. He's not new to political campaigns. If, after approximately 112 years in the political spotlight, he's still making gaffes like this one, then that alone eviscerates the rationale for his candidacy.
Update: Josh Marshall writes:
I think at this point you have to say that Biden suffers from what one might with real generosity call chronic racial grandpaism. That is to say, the penchant for making comments that are not only racially offensive but also extremely silly and the sort of things that are sometimes excused or at least passed over from men, say, over 80 on the reasoning that they're from a different era and why get into it. Actually, the clock has probably even run out on that excuse when you figure that a man who is 80 today was forty in 1966. But however that may be, excuses that fly in the retirement community or family reunions just doesn't cut it in a man who aspires to the presidency.
These points on the money primary, coming from the other Klein, are sound:
I think that [money is] less important than it's been in recent campaign cycles for several reasons. I mean, why do politicians feel compelled to raise gazillions? To buy television advertising, mostly negative...Negative advertising, which was used overwhelmingly by Republicans, didn't seem all that effective in 2006, which may be a sign of things to come. Of course, candidates do need to raise some money--the Democrats' ability to respond cleverly to Republican trash was an important aspect of their 2006 victory--but they don't need to raise as much as they think they need to raise.
Second, I think the perambulations of various money people--Bob Farmer, for example--are less important than they used to be. I'm far more interested in money raised on the web as a thermometer for what's going on in a campaign.
So why do journalists obsess about The Money Primary? Because it's quantifiable. Journalists overvalue things you can count: money, poll ratings (which are completely meaningless at this point--except, perhaps, in places like Iowa and New Hampshire) and endorsements.
That's all true, at least so far as the primary election goes. Competing in Iowa and New Hampshire just isn't that costly an exercise, remember where Dean's millions got him. Better, candidates who excel in either testing ground will find their coffers full by lunchtime the next day -- particularly given the internet's capacity for accelerating and absorbing funder excitement.
That said, if California does move up to February 5th, money becomes significantly more important. A few days ago, I opposed the primary move for just that reason. A few other bloggers (Kevin and Atrios, I think?) suggested that, in fact, what the Golden State would test were the real operative skills of modern campaigners -- media control, fundraising ability, and telegenicism. But while a California primary may let Obama, Clinton, or even Edwards demonstrate their media savvy, it won't do the same for potentially adept candidates the press hasn't already decided to cover. If a candidate expertly dodges a question, but no reporter was there to hear it, did he even make a sound? Moreover, fundraising skill is fine and well and good, but it relies more on expectations of electability than talent, and a small candidate facing the California primary is going to present a dim bet. That said, covering primaries is the sort of thing my job allows me to do, and so it's hard for me to really oppose moving California, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico into more prominent positions.