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Wooden Puppet

[ 0 ] February 11, 2008 |

Good to see the fine folks in Tuscaloosa grasp what the Washington Post was unable to:

Michael Mukasey may have a distinguished career as a judge but as U.S. attorney general, he’s a loser. For all the interest he has shown in the duties of his new office, we may as well have a smiling wooden puppet seated in his chair.

Make that a partisan puppet. By his studied inattention to issues that might embarrass the Republican Party, Mukasey has made it abundantly clear that President Bush pulls his strings.

He has dodged questions on torture techniques advocated by Bush and Vice President Cheney; balked at acting on the firings of U.S. attorneys that led to his predecessor’s sacking; and dragged his heels on investigating the destruction of damning videotapes by the CIA.

His failure to look into an allegation that partisan political interests guided the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is part of this dereliction of duty. Although he told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that it is inappropriate for politicians to try to influence criminal prosecutions, Mukasey admitted under questioning by Rep. Artur Davis that he has not looked into the Siegelman case allegation. He should. It is a serious charge that demands attention. An Alabama lawyer said in a sworn statement that she heard fellow Republicans discuss White House involvement in pursuing Siegelman’s prosecution. The officials she named have denied the charges, as have federal prosecutors in the case.

Obviously, this is an editorial board that needs 48 hours of immersion in High Contrarianism, stat. Don’t they know that the immense amount of leverage Congress will wield over Mukasey will force him to come clean and pursue ambitious reform projects?

Via Scott Horton, whose article about evidence regarding White House-coordinated selective prosecution in Alabama is very much worth reading.


Count The Votes Until Our Frontrunner Is Ahead

[ 0 ] February 11, 2008 |

Via Matt W., the fact that the GOP has “progressed from 2000 where they refused to count Democratic votes, to 2008 where they are now refusing to count their own votes” is indeed very amusing. It’s bizarre for a party to just announce a winner in a close race before counting every vote, and you also have to think that a court inquiry embarrassingly revealing and overturning a trumped-up Potemkin 25.5% “victory” would be far more damaging to McCain that just straightforwardly losing the WA primary in the first place.

Everything Is Good For McCain!

[ 33 ] February 10, 2008 |

Yglesias points out the problems with Ambinder’s claim that “Obama cannot win the states where the majority of Democrats reside”: i.e. it’s a more tendentious way of saying that “Clinton won California,” which I don’t think entitles her to the nomination in itself. But Ambinder goes on to make a straightforwardly illogical assertion:

John McCain’s advisers are probably thinking: woe unto the Democratic nominee who refuses to organize; woe unto the Democratic nominee who appeals to activists perfectly and regular Democrats kinda sorta.

The idea that Obama’s greater appeal to independents and purple-state swing voters makes him a less formidable general election candidate is simply bizarre. Given that the Dems would win New York and California with a Mark Slaughter/Jani Lane ticket, a candidate very well-liked among Democrats isn’t remotely vulnerable there even if primary voters in those states marginally prefer another strong candidate. Meanwhile, his greater appeal to independents and ability to mobilize lower-turnout groups (like young people) has the potential to put states into play that Clinton (who seems strongest in states where the Dems are already a mortal lock) can’t –indeed, this why I think polls showing Obama to be a much stronger opponent for McCain are almost certainly right. (Indeed, I think they understate Obama’s advantage; piling up larger majorities in solidly blue states doesn’t help the Dems in the electoral college.) In theory, it’s possible that the candidate who’s a little stronger in red states would be much more conservative, but in this case that’s not true (which is why Obama has in fact won several blue liberal states, including one in Clinton’s backyard.) For that matter, I’m also not sure why Clinton not spending resources in caucuses she doesn’t think she can win hurts her general election chances, but I always forget that everything is always good for McCain.

To follow-up on Rob’s state-by-state counts, they seem about right. My reasons for thinking that Clinton should still be favored are that 1)The demographics that make Obama a better candidate in the general make Clinton better in the primaries: her older, more female base is more certain to turn out, which makes it harder for Obama to get upsets, and 2)if the delegate count is very close, Clinton has to be favored among the superdelegates. In addition to Wisconsin, to put this beyond the reach of the superdelegates I think Obama needs to pick off one of the big three. Ohio seems like the most likely spot to pick off a state Clinton is expected to win, but a string of victories (Maine tonight would help with the narrative) could create a dynamic that puts the less demographically favorable Texas and Pennsylvania into play.

The Shuster Suspension

[ 0 ] February 9, 2008 |

I have mixed feelings on the suspension of David Shuster:

  • To state the obvious, Shuster’s comments were sexist, unless you can point me to some example of Shuster discussing Mitt Romney or John McCain “pimping out” their children because they’re active in their father’s campaign. The double standard here is pretty obvious.
  • As many people have said, though, in the context of MSNBC’s endless misogynist attacks in Clinton, it’s far from obvious why this comment in particular — objectionable but mild compared to the works of Chris Matthews passim — earned a suspension.
  • Having said that, even an arbitrary suspension suggests that there may be at least some attenuation of standards of political discourse in which major pundits and television bingo callers can say absolutely anything about the Clintons in general and make nakedly sexist attacks on Clinton specifically. With Clinton likely to win the nomination, Democrats have to be aware of this, and be prepared to fight back. This is a good sign, although whether it’s an isolated incident or will portend some return to sanity in the way Hillary Clinton is discussed on air remains to be seen.

Whiskey! Democracy! Patriarchal Torture!

[ 0 ] February 9, 2008 |

Ugh. Remember when installing an Islamist quasi-state in Iraq was defended as a boon to the interests of Iraqi women (oddly enough, usually by people otherwise hostile to women’s rights?) That still depresses and infuriates me too. [via Thers.]

Anti-Clinton Sexism

[ 49 ] February 8, 2008 |

A valuable roundup. It’s easy to understand why this kind of stuff pushes people into Clinton’s camp.

GOP VP II: The Supply Sidening

[ 0 ] February 8, 2008 |

Hair Club For Growth President Pat Toomey suggests some running mates for McCain; the first few seem plausible. However, I would strongly urge McCain to go with the boundless charisma and highly popular non-crackpotery of Phil Gramm or Steve Forbes. (Maybe Gramm and Giuliani could run as a two-headed vice presidential candidate representing the most embarrassing presidential runs in living memory.)

Toomey’s editorial is also available in video format.

“Hey. I’m Pat Toomey. I’m not putting my name on the line for a fiscal policy that doesn’t work.”

The Superdelegate Question

[ 0 ] February 7, 2008 |

I agree with Ezra that it would be unfortunate for the nomination to come down to superdelegates, and I would hope that there would be a norm among many superdelegates to support a clear winner. A couple of additional points:

  • The election getting to the superdelegates may not be quite as dire in practice as it seems. In a case where a candidate has a clear lead but not quite enough to win, incentives are likely to take care of themselves, as it’s in the interest of superdelegates to back a winner. If the result of the primaries and caucuses is a near-tie, conversely, the election being settled by the superdelegates is less problematic, since a very narrow lead could be almost entirely a product of arbitrary choices in the primary schedule anyway. I could be optimistic, but the scenario that could produce a really bad outcome — a clear winner being thwarted by superdelegates — seems relatively unlikely.
  • As Publius says, trying to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates should be — in absence of a fair election with known stakes being held in those states — considered the nuclear option, one that would tear the party apart. There’s an important distinction between maximizing your advantages within the existing rules and retroactively changing the rules when they don’t work in your favor that has to be maintained. It’s fair for candidates to fight for superdelegates; it’s completely unacceptable for candidates to try for ex post facto rule changes to turn a non-election into an election.

Gang of 14: A Huge Win For the GOP

[ 36 ] February 6, 2008 |

Jack Balkin points us to this article in the WSJ defending John McCain on the question of judicial appointments. Part of the op-ed consists of the usual vacuous buzzwords like “judicial restraint” (although they at least avoid the usual procedure of decrying “judicial activism” and then proceeding directly to a claim that judges should strike down affirmative action programs or railing against Kelo.) But — as with many conservative defenses of McCain — their overall point that McCain will nominate reliably reactionary justices is certainly correct. This point is particularly important:

Others are concerned that Mr. McCain was a member of the “Gang of 14,” opposing the attempt to end filibusters of judicial nominations. We believe that Mr. McCain’s views about the institutional dynamics of the Senate are a poor guide to his performance as president. In any event, the agreement of the Gang of 14 had its costs, but it played an important role in ensuring that Samuel Alito faced no Senate filibuster. It also led to the confirmation of Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and Bill Pryor, three of President George W. Bush’s best judicial appointees to the lower federal courts.

Of all the attacks on McCain from the right, criticism for being part of the “Gang of 14” is the most bizarre to me, given that the Democrats gained absolutely nothing from the compromise. The Democrats agreed to let several unacceptable judges on to the federal bench, and in return retained a theoretical ability to filibuster they didn’t use against either of Bush’s two very reactionary Supreme Court appointments. Moreover, if you’re willing to issue a farcical ruling to break a filibuster it’s hard to believe you wouldn’t go back on the Gang of 14 deal. And, of course, starting in 2009 maintaining the filibuster will directly help Republicans, and not creating a precedent where filibusters can be stopped by violating procedural rules is good for conservatives in the long run. What’s inexplicable about the Gang of 14 is why the Democrats agreed to it. Why a conservative would hold it against McCain is beyond me.


[ 35 ] February 6, 2008 |

Brad Plumer reports that Karl Rove (and I sort of admire the spare elegance of Rove serving as an election analyst for Fox News; I mean, why not just skip the middleman) threw cold water on the idea of a McCain/Huckabee ticket. I have no idea who McCain will pick, and I understand the logic: McCain needs to shore up support among conservatives who don’t like him, but many of these people also hate Huckabee. But it does seem to me that there’s another side to it. Are the Limbaughs who hate McCain with an irrational frenzy likely to be assuaged by any VP pick? It seems unlikely. Huckabee, conversely, is well-liked by Southern evangelical voters and hence could be a real asset to voters who aren’t crazy about McCain but are open to persuasion.

If I were McCain, I would probably try to go with a plain vanilla southern conservative — like Fred Thompson, but alive. The bench seems pretty thin, though, and I think Huckabee would bring real advantages to the ticket.


[ 0 ] February 6, 2008 |

I decided to watch the returns with the second-best commentariat in the blogosphere, which meant that I couldn’t hear the speeches, etc. I think Yglesias gets the bottom line about right. 10 days ago, an Obama supporter would certainly take a result that left him alive, and he did a little better than that. On the other hand, Clinton not only hung on to the states she needed, but won pretty substantially in the big ones (the delegate count in New York being especially important.) Ultimately, it’s tough to catch a good candidate from behind, and Clinton has to be considered a strong although not overwhelming favorite. There’s still a scenario for a Obama victory for sure, but a lot has to break right. Maybe he can use the time to take Ohio and Texas, but it’s hard to bet on it.

The GOP race, of course, remains over, with McCain once again getting just enough help from Huckabee to hasten the inevitable. Ironically, the fractured GOP field was crucial to the quick coronation — McCain would have had a much harder time against any single challenger, but got the right opposition to clean up delegates with frequently unimpressive vote totals. The Democratic race could go to the convention precisely because you can’t split the vote and win a less favorable state.

"Phoenix in August can’t be considered hot by any conventional standard."

[ 8 ] February 6, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Hugh Hewitt: “McCain can’t be considered a frontrunner by any conventional standard.”

Sure, keep telling yourself that and you’ll…oh, actually, even he couldn’t actually convince himself of that.

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