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Is This Rich?

[ 1 ] November 16, 2008 |

All-star commenter IB says:

OT (but appropriate to a previously stated position of this blog): Another smart Sunday piece by Frank Rich.

(Noted because: About a week ago, someone (SL, I think, but correct me if I’m wrong) argued a la Somerby that one’s saying something unfair about Al Gore in 2000 should forever banish one from publication. I defended Rich by saying that, while he has certainly on occasion been wrong, he is more often right and worth reading. So here’s what I feel confident is the first of many examples offered in treal time.)

Well, first of all, “something unfair” is one thing, “making up lies about Al Gore when not obsessing about trivia while repeatedly arguing that he was indistinguishable from George W. Bush” quite another. (And, to be frank, I am in fact inclined to think that someone who thought that it wouldn’t make any difference whether Al Gore or George Bush is in the White House really shouldn’t be pulling down six figures a year to write about politics.) At any rate, while I will concede that (as with many of his columns) there’s nothing especially objectionable about this one, I would also be interested in IB (or anyone else) IDing the point at which Rich tells any mildly informed liberal anything they don’t already know. Parties engage in circular firing squads after losing elections? You don’t say!

I should also say that, to the extent that Rich’s point isn’t banal, I don’t actually agree with it. Obviously, comparisons to 1936 are silly; the Republicans, working in exceptionally bad structural conditions, got 162 electoral votes (as opposed to, say, 8) and lost several other states by very close margins. They maintain a solid regional base that is going to gain electoral votes in 2010, and their coalition remains probably more internally coherent than that of the typical large brokerage party in a two-party system. Party fissures are always more apparent in defeat, but it’s premature at best to think that 2008 portends a major realignment in American politics.


Moneyball Campaigning

[ 1 ] November 15, 2008 |

I think Ezra gets this right. Obama’s primary campaign, in particular, was clearheaded, methodical and rational, focusing on delegates rather than “media cycles” and other mystical nonsense. With the Clinton campaign, the frightening thing was not merely their “voters/states that vote for us count more even if it’s a minority coalition” spin — when doomed campaigns are spinning, they have to by definition say things that aren’t true — but that they acted as if it was true.

None of this is to say, of course, that Obama’s win was inevitable. Resources and institutional advantanges matter; you can get away with hiring a Mark Penn or a Ned Colletti if your opponnent is a Bob Dole or a Brian Sabean. If Edwards had been Clinton’s major opponent, her old-school campaign/attractive candidate combination would have been enough. And Obama’s ability to get funds from online donors is a rare instance of the internet really having a major impact on a campaign. Even Billy Beane can’t win consistently with nothing to work with, and without the ability to tap enough small donors to make his campaign clearly viable the Obama’s vastly superior tactics wouldn’t have been enough. Same thing in the general — although I rarely say such things, I think McCain’s campaign really was abysmal, but under the right structural circumstances he could have won. (And conversely, under these structural circumstances he had virtually no chance; we can quibble about margins, but I don’t think there’s any serious question that Clinton/Penn would have also beaten them pretty badly.)

But, then, sabermetric analysis is always about probabilities, not certainties. Obama’s smart decisions increased his odds, and in both cases it was enough.

Joan Walsh Would Like You To Pay For This

[ 0 ] November 14, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: “Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.” Ah, yes, center-right “contrarianism” defined: you expand a progressive coalition by simply defining “not-x” as “x.” The value of this type of expansion is not explained.

Or try this one: “For example, I had thought for many months that the flap over Obama’s birth certificate was a tempest in a teapot. But simple questions about the certificate were never resolved to my satisfaction.”

Or…well, look, pretty much every sentence she’s ever written for Salon could be a “verbatim.” Why they think that this will attract readers — let alone subscribers — in 2008 remains inexplicable.

Exit Polls and Retrospective Bandwagons

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby, responding to CNN’s exit polls:

It’s hard to believe that those data are accurate. Did four percent of last week’s voters really vote for someone other than Bush or Kerry in 2004? And what would explain that nine-point gap between Bush and Kerry voters? In theory, Democrats were enthusiastic about last week’s election, Republicans somewhat less so. Can it really be that 46 percent of last week’s voters voted for Bush in 2004—versus only 37 percent who voted for Kerry?

Bob isn’t considering one crucial possibility here: misreporting. Political scientists have found a “retrospective bandwagon” effect in which some people will remember having voted for the winner even if they didn’t. One example, as this paper reminds us, is that after his razor-thin victory about 65% of respondents claimed to have voted for JFK. Admittedly, Bush’s extreme unpopularity should lessen these effects, but then this a pretty small retrospective bounce.

It is, of course, true that exit poll data should be treated carefully. But there’s nothing about the 2004 election question that would suggest that CNN’s sampling was bad; it’s about the result you would expect.

But I Manage ‘Cuz I’m A Savage Inside

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Some excellent work from Dan Savage here:

The point about churches engaging in political funding and activism and then hiding behind the bushes is a particularly important one. It’s also good that Savage has apologized for his post-election scapegoating of African-Americans.

By the way, does the backlash against Prop 8 prove that initiatives are a bad political strategy? Or does this logic only apply to backlashes against progressive strategies?

Doubling Down on Twenty

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Apparently, in response to their initiative getting roughly 0.0% of the vote in Colorado, advocates for giving zygotes constitutional rights are planning to broaden their campaign. I would advise anti-choicers in the strongest possible terms to put their resources behind this movement. But who will protect the Spermatazoan-Americans?

"Law & Order" Conservative of the Day

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Nino Scalia.

Yet More Backlash

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

As Jeffrey Rosen’s dialogue partner, Richard Just makes several very good points here. Two are worthy of emphasis. First, he’s right to say that “I am not convinced that the backlash against gay marriage is fueled primarily by a dislike for judicial tyranny. Rather, I think it’s fueled primarily by a dislike for … gay marriage.” As Just says, opponents of gay rights have mobilized against actions by elected officials, and on the other hand there’s been little backlash in Massachusetts or Connecticut, where the policy outcomes show every sign of being stable. Which brings us to his second important point: “Second, I think it’s important to point out that the gay rights movement has not worked exclusively through the courts. The reason it sometimes appears that the gay marriage movement has focused on the courts is because those are the only places it has actually had success.” This is a pretty high bar for those claiming that litigation is always a bad stretegy to get over.

Meanwhile, Rosen’s reply doesn’t really address these points squarely, but has a couple of additional howlers. This argument is very strange:

I suspect that that gay people in California as a whole would have had the right to marry more quickly if the political process had taken its course. Repealing Prop 8 will be more difficult, given the mobilization of well-funded anti-gay marriage forces from around the country. (The pro-choice movement learned the same lesson after Roe v. Wade.) I wonder, for example, whether 70 percent of African American voters would have turned out to oppose a legislative, rather than a judicial, declaration of gay marriage…

First of all, and rather embarrassingly, Rosen still seems unaware that the California legislature couldn’t legalize same-sex marriage; the previous initiative functions like a constitutional amendment. On the second point, and leaving aside the fact that I’m going to guess that if any additional African-American voters “turned out” most of them did so to vote for Barack Obama rather than to vote against same-sex marriage, where’s the evidence? Rosen doesn’t have any, but that we do know is that less than 10 years ago a much larger majority of Californians voted against same-sex marriage before the California courts had done anything. There’s no reason to believe that the judicial intervention is the key variable here.

In addition, trying to backtrack from his previous argument that the enduring support for judicially-protected abortion rights proves…that litigation is a bad strategy, Rosen engages in some revisionist history about Roe, arguing that “[m]ost of the backlash against Roe focused on restrictions on later term pregnancy, which national majorities supported and the Supreme Court eventually permitted.” Again, there’s no reason to believe that this is true. First of all, none of the statutes struck down in Roe limited their restrictions to late-term abortions. Secondly, Roe itself permitted the state to ban post-viability abortions with a health exemption, and this remains Supreme Court doctrine. The changes in Casey had nothing to do with late-term abortion; rather, the “undue burden” stadard permitted various regulations of abortion that were applicable at any stage of pregnancy. Indeed, the regulations the Court upheld in Casey if anything make it more difficult for women to obtain first-trimester abortions by putting regulatory obstacles in their path. At any rate, it’s hard to see how abortion regulations that Roe permitted could have been the source of the backlash against Roe.

Why Wasn’t This Briefed?

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

The Supreme Court yesterday denied cert in two cases asking them to review standards for the “victim impact” statements that the Court decided to reverse course with unusual speed and permit at the sentencing phase of death penalty trials. The dissents make some interesting arguments, but I think they overlook a key constitutional issue:

All 37 states and the federal government that maintain the death penalty allow victim impact evidence in the sentencing phase of murder trials. In the cases denied review on Monday, the evidence was composed of a 20-minute videotape in one case, and a 14-minute videotape in the other. The 20-minute presentation included dozens of still photographs and video clips depicting the victim’s life, set to the music of recording star Enya, with a voice narration by the victim’s mother.

If forcing a captive audience at a state trial to listen to Enya isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is. I hope a future case will consider the second Eight Amendment issue.

Meanwhile, in the interests of being fair-and-balanced for those Enya fans out there, I present an alternative perspective from an objective critic:

Pondering the fate of post-September 11 pop, everyone predicted what they already wished for–Slipknot undone, Britney in hiding. What happened instead was the unthinkable–sales of Enya’s first album since 1995 spiked 10 months after release. (And she thought that movie where Charlize Theron fucked Keanu Reeves and died of cancer was a promotional coup!) Two years in the making with the artiste playing every synthesizer, the 11 songs here last a resounding 34 minutes and represent a significant downsizing of her New Age exoticism since 1988’s breakthrough, Watermark–it’s goopier, more simplistic. Yanni is Tchaikovsky by comparison, Sarah McLachlan Ella Fitzgerald, treacle Smithfield ham. Right, whatever gets folks through the night. But Enya’s the kind of artist who makes you think, if this piffle got them through it, how dark could their night have been? Like Master P or Michael Bolton only worse, she tests one’s faith in democracy itself.

Maybe a little generous, but…

The Next "Real America"!

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

I think we have the media’s winner starting in 2010:

“Among Oklahomans, Mr. Cook and Mr. White are hardly alone. Though the state’s Democrats still outnumber its Republicans, you would never know it by looking at the election results. Oklahoma voters went for Senator John McCain by almost two to one, bucking the tide that swept Mr. Obama to the presidency. Not a single one of the state’s 77 counties backed Mr. Obama…


“Oklahoma Democrats, with very few exceptions, are the old-line white Southern Democrats,” said David Ray, another political scientist at the university. “They don’t like liberals or liberalism.”

Indeed, the state has a political landscape closely resembling that of the old solidly Democratic South, especially in its southeastern corner, known as Little Dixie, where many Southerners settled after the Civil War. When conservatives of the Old South began abandoning the party decades ago, Oklahoma’s Democrats lagged behind the historical trend. Further, the state has relatively small black and Hispanic populations, and so the Democrats did not absorb as many new voters from those groups as in the states of the old Confederacy.


Another Republican, State Representative Sally Kern, who recently declared that homosexuality was a greater threat to the nation than terrorism, easily won re-election.

Wow, I think according to Mark Penn’s calculations Oklahoma’s votes should count at least 12 times those of quasi-“Americans.” And I expect David Broder to write a column urging that Oklahoma be moved to the front of the primary calendar, as recent elections results have suggested that Iowa and New Hampshire are becoming a touch less American.

On a related note Mark Schmitt grades the election theories, and notes that the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — the very opposite of the “obsessive focus on the Real American reactionary rural/exurban white voter” beloved by so many pundits and Republican politicians — is looking better than most of the alternatives.

Infrastructure + Cap & Trade = Good Stimulus Package

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

I’m convinced.

John Kyl’s Profound Respect for Tradition

[ 0 ] November 8, 2008 |

John Kyl, April 2005: “For 214 years it has been the tradition of the Senate to approve judicial nominees by a majority vote. Many of our judges and, for example, Clarence Thomas, people might recall, was approved by either fifty-one or fifty-two votes as I recall. It has never been the rule that a candidate for judgeship that had majority support [nice dodge to write the Abe Fortas filibuster out of history!–ed.] was denied the ability to be confirmed once before the Senate. It has never happened before. So we’re not changing the rules in the middle of the game. We’re restoring the 214-year tradition of the Senate because in the last two years Democrats have begun to use this filibuster…This is strictly about whether or not a minority of senators is going to prevent the president from being able to name and get confirmed judges that he chooses after he’s been elected by the American people. And it’s never been the case until the last two years that a minority could dictate to the majority what they could do.”

John Kyl, this week: “Kyl said if Obama goes with empathetic judges who do not base their decisions on the rule of law and legal precedents but instead the factors in each case, he would try to block those picks via filibuster. [What does this even mean? How can judges apply law and precedent without considering particular facts of the case?–ed.]”

That didn’t take long! I suspect that Andy McCarthy is about to re-discover that the Constitution does, in fact, permit filibusters within a couple months as well. As, I’m sure, will George Will.

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