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More On Experience

[ 38 ] February 25, 2008 |

Kevin Drum objects to my argument about experience, claiming that Obama’s experience will be a disadvantage against McCain but Clinton’s would not. I’m not entirely convinced. It’s worth untangling the normative and empirical issues here. The heart of Kevin’s argument is this: “Like it or not, most voters have a sort of vague operational view of experience that means something like “involvement in big league politics.” And on that score, Hillary gets 15 years: 8 years as an activist first lady and 7 years as U.S. senator. Obama, conversely, gets a total of 3 years as U.S. senator.” The problem here is that this seems pretty arbitrary, with the general criteria selected to give Clinton maximum advantage. Do most voters believe that serving as first lady counts as full “involvement in big league politics” but Obama’s longer (and arguably more effective) history as a legislator doesn’t count at all? Maybe, maybe not. The difficult first lady question is particularly crucial, because without full credit Clinton is clearly at a major disadvantage to McCain if experience matters, and my guess is that voters not only won’t give full credit to this but will indeed give less credit to it than I would consider appropriate. At any rate, it’s even less clear that this qualified edge in experience matters very much. Consider not only this year’s Dem race but compare Bill Clinton (zero years big time experience by Kevin’s criteria) against the lengthy resume of George H.W. Bush, or the latter’s son against Al Gore. Either voters evaluate experience in a more nuanced manner than Kevin suggests, or it’s a pretty trivial consideration. Perhaps a little of both, but pols from Henry Clay to Robert Dole might suggest that it’s more the latter. (Or maybe the things that go along with experience in politics make candidates unattractive for other reasons.)

On the normative question, I have a hard time believing that Obama’s somewhat greater inexperience make him much riskier than Clinton. Clinton’s extra Senate term means pretty much nothing, especially since she got the most important question of her tenure wrong. Her first lady experience may be marginally more relevant than Obama’s good state legislative record, community organizing, and work in legal academia, but it’s hard to see that it would compel you to vote for anyone you otherwise wouldn’t. (And this cuts both ways; some Clinton supporters may think I’m underrating the importance of her experience in the White House, but I also don’t think that her husband’s general failure to mobilize support for major progressive reform is much of an indicator of what Hillary Clinton would do as president.) The Presidency is sui generis, and you really are rolling the dice either way (including McCain, even though he’s the most experienced.) None of the major remaining candidates has experience that really sheds much light on how effective they’d be. You pull the lever and takes your chances.



[ 66 ] February 24, 2008 |

Reactionary vanity candidate Ralph Nader is apparently pleased enough with record of the man he put in the White House that he’s running again in hopes that we can get four more years of similar policy outcomes. This time, of course, it won’t matter. Unlike in 2000, I believe that the vast majority of people willing to see the parties as indistinguishable after 8 years of Bush really are people unlikely to vote for any Democrat until they try to grab the true pulse of the American people and run a Chairman Bob Avakian/Mumia ticket. I’m more sad than angry about what Nader will do to his reputation with another pointless Republican-funded campaign at this late date.

Are You Experienced?

[ 0 ] February 24, 2008 |

Related to this point, arguments for Clinton proceeding from her allegedly greater experience have always been unpersuasive, precisely because if Clinton’s rather marginal and contestable experiential advantages over Obama should be decisive any of the other major Democratic candidates would be unquestionably preferable to either. (And, even worse, the same would be true of McCain in the general.) Fortunately for the Dems in November, I also agree with Yglesias that experience tends to be “the time-honored election argument of losers.” I think there may be exceptions in cases of long-time executive or high-ranking military experience, but no viable candidate has that.

Send Good Thoughts

[ 0 ] February 24, 2008 |

…to terrific blogger and friend of LGM Sara Anderson. Hope she’s well soon.

Carville: If Only Democrats Were All Southern Conservatives

[ 0 ] February 23, 2008 |

Of course person whose opinions nobody cares about James Carville wants Harold Ford to replace Howard Dean. After all, this is the man who thought that Zell Miller would be a great vice presidential candidate

…the context is that Ford is carrying water for New England Republican Chris Shays.

McCain Secretly Agrees With Me!

[ 6 ] February 22, 2008 |

The myth that never dies.

The Expansion of Religious Exemptions To Deny Women Health Care Continues

[ 26 ] February 22, 2008 |

Most of our readers are familiar with wingnut pharmacists claiming that they should be exempt from doing their jobs for religious reasons. In Canada, some doctors are apparently extending this to pap smears.

Better Policies: Sometimes Even Easier To Sell

[ 28 ] February 22, 2008 |

I had it on while doing other work and then watched it at the gym, so I didn’t see at all, but it should be noted that I don’t know whether it’s happy or sad that it was surprising to see a presidential candidate would say this:

And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton’s entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba.

In a sane world, this would be the starting point of a rational policy as opposed to an unusual claim, but once again thank Article II for giving relatively small constituencies in a few key states wildly disproportionate power.

To give the optimistic take on the debate tonight, in a rare triumph of public reason having the better policy on the merits was a considerable advantage to the debater. Clinton is at a bit of a disadvantage on her best issue, because while mandates are the better policy they can be a tougher sell politically, but she parried Obama bringing up garnishing wages very effectively. On the other hand, on the biggest American issue of the young century, Obama cut right to the heart of the matter:

But it also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that.


And I think that, when we’re having a debate with John McCain, it is going to be much easier for the candidate who was opposed to the concept of invading Iraq in the first place to have a debate about the wisdom of that decision…


… than having to argue about the tactics subsequent to the decision.

Exactly right, and also proves the political benefits of good policy judgments at a larger level. As Clinton showed tonight, she isn’t a bad candidate, at all; very smart, likable, tough-minded. She continued to waste time with the “plagiarism” idiocy, but her closing (as has been noted elsewhere) was outstanding. Obama has gifts she doesn’t, but she’s a good candidate who would make a good president. But getting the biggest issue of her Senate tenure wrong, which also produces a clear political liability in the 2008 election, creates a prima facie case against her when up against a credible anti-war candidate. Among a majority of Democrats, she hasn’t overcome this (correctly, in my view.) But it’s hard to imagine that had she voted the right way her initial lead wouldn’t have been beyond even the ability of Mark Penn to screw up, especially since Obama may well have sat out this race. I think there’s a lesson there.

The Clinton Campaign

[ 0 ] February 21, 2008 |

Ezra and The World’s Most Dangerous Professor get in some shots before the plug is officially pulled. And, indeed, the late Penn/Ickes era of strategery is pretty much begging for mockery. What, for example, is this trying to accomplish? It’s 1)silly-to-appalling on the merits (with the particularly high comedy of a campaign dedicated to arguing that states don’t count if they’re too small, use caucuses, have too many black people, if Obama once spent a week there on vacation, etc. arguing that retroactively counting straw polls as elections is central to a “50 state strategy”), 2)not going to work directly because superdelegates aren’t going to reverse a loss in pledged delegates, and 3)unlikely to work politically (“if we go down narrowly we’re taking the Democratic Party with us” is unlikely to persuade many swing voters in Texas and Ohio to help stop the bleeding.) On the other hand, at this point such nonsense is just borne out of desperation; there’s no effective strategic means of getting out of the kind of hole the campaign finds itself in.

In some respects, then, I agree with Matt’s more charitable take although I’d put it a little differently: it was a failure to adapt. Pre-Iowa, the Clinton campaign was a logical frontrunner’s strategy well-executed. I agree with Matt that her communications and speech-writing people are good. What Iowa should have revealed, however, is that Obama was an unusual underdog not only because he has more compelling political gifts but — and this is the key — he had more resources. A frontunning strategy works against Huckabee, although he’s a better politician than his major competitors, because he just didn’t have the resources to compete outside of his base. Because Clinton almost but not quite squandered her big New Hampshire lead, she had a reprieve to react to Obama’s unique advantages, but she failed to do so; rather, her campaign seemed to think that their initial strategy was vindicated. It’s not exactly that the campaign intentionally left states on the table, but that focusing on big states usually allows the frontrunner to take the small states. However, Obama’s fundraising changed the usual calculus, and the Clinton campaign did blunder badly by failing to recognize this in time and not making the modest investment necessary to control Obama’s margins in small states.

In this sense, making fun of Mark Penn’s silly “states we lose don’t count” spin isn’t just a cheap shot, because it seems to reflect genuinely mistaken beliefs about the nature of this particular campaign. Usually, frontrunners can clean up small states off the momentum of big wins, but there’s nothing inevitable about this, and in a PR system failing to understand this is particularly costly. Clinton’s campaign did a lot of things well but could never react properly to the unique challenge posed by Obama.

Arbitrary Executive Power Hack Watch

[ 6 ] February 21, 2008 |

Julian Sanchez is probably right that in order to refute Andy McCarthy’s claim that the Sixth Circuit rejecting the ACLU’s standing to sue over the the Bush administration’s wireless wiretapping (and then the Supreme Court rejecting the appeal) demonstrates that the program is constitutional on the merits one needs merely to restate it. But just in case Tim Lee gives the long version. I’ll add that if anything the fact that the two Republican judges rested on standing if anything suggests that the program isn’t constitutional; if they believed the program to be constitutional they could have granted standing — as the dissenting judge plausibly did — and simply upheld the program on the merits. Although it’s possible in theory that the two conservative judges felt the program was constitutional but decided to rest on an illogical standing argument instead, it seems rather unlikely.

I’d have to say this may be my favorite example of McCarthy’s hackery since he suddenly reversed course and discovered in 2005 with no textual or logical support that filibusters of judicial nominees are unconstitutional. If all goes well, I think we can expect him to revert back to the correct position in roughly January of 2009.


[ 27 ] February 21, 2008 |

From what I can gather, at least from the standpoint of someone who has never thought John McCain had any particularly high level of integrity and could care less even if unsubstantiated implications that he might have had sex with someone not his wife are true, this is about as much a “blockbuster” as The Hottie and the Nottie. I just don’t see anything remotely surprising or, with the exception of the well-known Keating scandal, terribly important (although perhaps this portends something else or its political impact will be greater.) And although one might take solace from the fact that the Times is actually taking on the Straight Talkitude Express, the fact that they let his campaign kill an apparently more substantive version dilutes this.

Publius has more. In a rational world, I would agree that it’s “hard to imagine the NYT (after institutional deliberation) going forward with such an explosive article with such a thin foundation,” but when we’re talking about the former employer of Jeff Gerth and Judy Miller this isn’t necessarily true.

Today In Media Sexism

[ 7 ] February 21, 2008 |

The bad news is that Neil Cavuto discussed Hillary Clinton’s “kind of bitchy image.” The good news is that it was on Faux Business, so nobody was watching.

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