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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.

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The Non-Shakeup Shakeup

[ 9 ] February 11, 2008 |

So, Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, is out. She’s being replaced by longtime Clinton advisor Maggie Williams.

The Clinton camp insists that this is no nervous nellie shakeup. No, no, no signs of trouble in that campaign. Certainly, Clinton has got to be unhappy with last night’s results. But she’s still got the delegate lead. Still, losing her campaign manager (or loosing her) is not going to project an image of confidence in the way things are going.

Meanwhile, Obama took Maine, making this weekend a clean sweep. Back in October, polls showed that Mainers preferred Clinton by a 57-10 margin. Not anymore. On to “Chesapeake Tuesday.”

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The Empty Calculi of Electability

[ 0 ] February 10, 2008 |

Drezner writes

This process meant that the Democrats ran Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry in November. There’s no way that any politico can justify a process that delivers that set of outcomes.

…which reminds me of this excellent post by Lance Mannion on the ghost of John Kerry:

The ghost of John Kerry haunts many of the various discussions about “electability” I’ve read on the web. There seems to be a consensus that Kerry was the nominee in 2004 because Democrats thought he was the most “electable.” There’s also general agreement that the Democrats were out of their minds on that one because Kerry turned out to be highly unelectable… In 2004 Iowa and New Hampshire decided the nomination for the rest of us by handing Howard Dean his hat. Maybe Iowans based their decision on Kerry’s supposed greater “electability.” The rest of us were just along for the ride, hoping that Kerry was in fact electable.

But the proof offered that he wasn’t actually electable is simply that…he wasn’t elected. There’s a sense out there that Kerry should have won. This idea seems to have two meanings in one. Kerry should have won because all the advantages were his and he should have won because in a fair and just universe George W. Bush would have been thrown out of the White House on his ear and by losing to that jamoke Kerry committed a sin and a crime against nature and the nation.

Behind both senses is the belief that, no matter how electable Kerry was, George W. Bush was indisputably not re-electable. Which brings us back to this: The fact that Kerry could not get elected over an obvious loser like Bush is proof that Kerry was unelectable.

Another way to think about this is to try out a counterfactual. What if Gary Hart had prevailed over Walter Mondale in the 1984 Democratic primary, then had gone on to win, say, eight states against Reagan in the general election? Is there a shadow of a doubt that Hart would have become a national joke (four years early, as it turns out), and would have joined the pantheon of utter Democratic failures that Drezner recounts? Moreover, is there even any doubt that supporters of Walter Mondale would be in the first rank of those making such claims?

Political science has some tools for differentiating between a genuinely bad candidate and a candidate in a genuinely difficult campaign, but those tools have failed to trickle into either elite media discourse or the popular conversation. Consequently, we got comments like Drezner’s, which assert that because a group of candidates lost, they must all share the dispositional characteristic of being poor candidates. This is particularly irritating from Drezner, who really should know better, but it’s a distressingly common theme in conversations about past elections.

Lance successfully demolishes much of the myth about Kerry in 2004, particularly that part that might be characterized as “If I and my immediate circle of friends really hated George Bush and thought he should be impeached, then it’s obvious he was a weak candidate, and consequently Kerry was even worse for not beating him”. I think that the other part of this claim, which runs something like “If only we had nominated Dean/Edwards, we would have won this thing,” is just as weak. Maybe Howard Dean could have beaten George Bush by being aggressive and “ballsy”, but then again when he ran assertively to the left in the subset of the population most likely to respond to an assertive leftish campaign he lost 48 states. For the electability of John Edwards I have even less regard; he’s always been attractive because of his perceived ability to appeal to moderate white men, but he’s now demonstrated in two different campaigns that he lacks the ability to appeal to very many people who aren’t moderate white men. Similarly, it’s hardly an endorsement of his electability that he felt vulnerable as an incumbent Senator in his home state, or that he was so badly beaten this time around by a guy who was running for the Illinois state Senate when Edwards was running for Vice President.

I’d also like to think that this cycle has brought the “momentum” theory of primary elections into deep question. The most common narrative of John Kerry’s nomination victory in 2004 is that by winning Iowa he acquired sufficient momentum to roll over the rest of the candidates, irrespective of his or their actual merits. It’s worth thinking, however, about how rarely such a thing actually happens. Of the major party nominees since, say, 1980, how many can we actually say won because of momentum, rather than because they had larger, better organized campaigns from the start? Really, are there ANY other extant examples of what we think happened in 2004 (the nominee rolling over candidates of similar capability because of victories in Iowa and New Hampshire)? And doesn’t this year demonstrate that momentum is rather secondary to the establishment of a good campaign around a candidate that people like, such as Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Another way of putting this is that Kerry may have won because of the Iowa momentum in 2004, but it would be a rather unique event in the history of modern primary campaigns, and even if so it says much more about the weakness of his opponents than the contingency of his candidacy.

I guess my point is that the problem with electability issue is even more intractable than it seems. It’s commonly observed now that electability is hard to determine in advance, which is why we should be at least a bit careful about claims that we should prefer one candidate to another because of their chances in November. It’s even worse than that, because we can’t even say all that much (using the tools we’ve been using, anyway) about electability in an election that has already happened. Winning or losing an election really isn’t much better of a determinant of candidate quality than winning or losing a baseball game is determinant of pitcher quality. And it’s doubly unfortunate that we fall into such traps because the language we use to discuss these questions tends to be more dispositional than situational. To return to the counterfactual above, Gary Hart would have lost 42-8 to Ronald Reagan because he was a terrible candidate (dispositional) rather than because he was in a situation where Democrats were unlikely to win (situational).

But then again, that might have saved him some later difficulty.

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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.

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Nikloting

[ 4 ] February 10, 2008 |

Niklot, born sometime in the late 11th century, was a chieftain of the Obotrites, a confederacy of Slavic pagan tribes living along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. The Obotrites and various other northern Slavic tribes were collectively referred to as the Wends. From the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire onward, the Obotrites played an important role in Germanic affairs. The Obotrites also successfully resisted Danish efforts to establish hegemony over the Baltic region.

The German Emperors consistently sought to expand into Wendish territory, and the Wends just as consistently resisted the Germans. In the eleventh century, the growing power of the papacy, among other things, allowed Western Christendom to focus its efforts on doing battle against the infidel, wherever that infidel might be found. This led most notably to a combined Frankish-German invasion of the Holy Land, but also lent ideological purpose to ongoing struggles between Christians and non-Christians in Iberia and the Baltic region. After twenty years of heavy fighting, the Wendish Crusade was launched in 1147, designed to permanently bring Christianity to the Baltic region, and incidentally to expand the lands and power of the Germanic princes. The initial campaign did not succeed, as Niklot successfully resisted a siege of his fortress and ended up buying the Crusaders off. In 1160, however, another campaign managed to catch and kill Niklot, and to disperse the lands of his tribe amongst Saxon lords.

Niklot, however, was survived by a son named Pribislav. After a bitter four year guerrilla campaign that captured or destroyed several Saxon fortresses, Pribislav was restored to power as the Prince of Mecklenburg. Along the way, he had converted to Christianity, and in 1172 he made a pilgrimage along with Henry the Lion to Jerusalem. One of his sons would later participate in the Fifth Crusade. Crusading in the Baltic region would continue at least until the 1386 conversion of Lithuania to Catholicism.

Over time, the rulers of Mecklenburg (they became Dukes in 1347), shed their Slavic origins in favor of German forms. Albert of Mecklenburg ruled Sweden from 1364 until 1389, and for five years ruled both countries with unified title. House Mecklenburg also had some claim to the throne of Norway. The state of Mecklenburg was divided in the 17th and 18th centuries to create Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz. In 1815 the Dukes of Mecklenburg became the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg, having endured French control for a time. The establishment of the German Empire in 1871 limited but did not eliminate the power of the Grand Dukes, especially in local matters. The Mecklenburgs remained socially and technologically somewhat behind the rest of Germany into the twentieth century.

In Mecklenburg as in the rest of Germany, monarchy did not survive World War I. The Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz committed suicide without issue in 1918, leaving his cousin as the only potential heir. Unfortunately, his cousin had decided in 1914 to join the Russian Army, and renounced any claim to the throne. Just to make sure, the state of Mecklenburg paid Charles Michael (the cousin in question) five million marks in 1921 to further renounce the throne. The Mecklenburg-Schwerin line survived until 2001, when its last heir died and the title Duke of Mecklenburg (arguably) devolved upon Georg Friedrich of House Hohenzollern. The other current claimant of the ducal title is one Georg Borwin, who is related in complicated fashion to the line of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and who has put forward (with the extinction of the elder Schwerin line) a claim to both Mecklenburgs. Prospects for a return to the throne seem grim. The potential claimants have made no political effort to assert their claims, and hopes for the re-establishment of monarchy in Germany appear quite low. Also, Duke Georg Borwin has displayed little inclination to pursue an actual restoration, either to the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg or to the thrones of Norway or Sweden. On the upside, however, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (r. 1948-1996) was a member of House Mecklenburg, and the family remains sufficiently involved in European royal circles to hope for similar such developments in the future.

Trivia: What royal family was deposed in 1960, only to be restored in 2001?

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Wow, Conservatives Really Do Hate McCain

[ 0 ] February 10, 2008 |

Yes, it’s over, but it’s still pretty remarkable that McCain is going to get swept tonight by Mike Huckabee.

On the other side, the Maine caucus tomorrow should be fascinating; Obama absolutely crushed Clinton tonight, and I have to wonder whether it’s going to have an effect on the election tomorrow. If Obama wins Maine, then I think he’s a clear favorite for the nomination, both for momentum reasons and because the delegate advantage is going to start piling up, especially if the victories on Tuesday are as decisive as expected.

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At least she didn’t mention onion rings

[ 0 ] February 9, 2008 |

Saith Ann Althouse [no link, but you know where to find her]:

Really, how bad is it to say “pimped out”? Is it “nappy-headed hos” bad? Did anyone think Shuster was literally calling Chelsea a whore or even making any reference to her womanly virtue? “Pimped out” is a common colloquialism these days. According to the Urban Dictionary, which gives a good read on how young people use words, the connotations having to do with exaggerated fashion and style predominate.

Even if the clear associations with prostitution remain, we often make figurative references to prostitution in speech, and the cause of feminism is not served by requiring special limitations when we’re talking about women. We ought to be able to call a female publicity hound a “media whore.”

Oh, absolutely. Like Ann Althouse, I too look forward to the day when “common colloquialisms” used by “young people” at last supplant the awkward, artificial, and unfairly restricting discourse of the professional news media. If, for instance, Brit Hume were to go ahead and describe Mike Huckabee as a “douchebag,” that would also be perfectly unproblematic, since Urban Dictionary tells us that a douchebag is merely “an individual who has an over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intellegence, behaving ridiculously in front of colleagues with no sense of how moronic he appears.” (Alternately, we learn that the term also refers to “a student or instructor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.”)

As well, I’m sure that one day soon, Ann Althouse will be there to defend Joe Klein when he describes Obama’s supporters as having given him a “rusty trombone.” After all, we often make figurative references to simultaneous hand/rim jobs in speech, and the cause of polymorphous sexuality is not served by requiring special limitations when we’re talking about presidential candidates.

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Wild Guesses on a Saturday Afternoon

[ 26 ] February 9, 2008 |

Scott and Matt’s rather under-analyzed prediction of a Clinton victory pushed me to make a quick and dirty assessment of my own.

Here are the states I expect Obama to win:
North Carolina
South Dakota

Here are the states I expect Clinton to win:
Rhode Island
West Virginia
Puerto Rico

And here are the states I have no idea about:

Further assuming that the winner of a state takes 55% of that states delegates (again, quick and dirty, but not terribly far off), this results in…. almost exactly a dead heat.

Now, a dead heat as to be counted as a Clinton advantage, as she’s doing better among superdelegates and the Florida-Michigan situation has yet to be resolved. Based on that, I’d probably have to very tentatively agree with Matt and Scott. The next step, though, is to identify any states that I’ve placed in the wrong category, or any good reasons to place the remaining four in one category or the other. I think that Wisconsin looms large in this analysis; the last I read Clinton had a nine point advantage….. although as John mentions below, the Wisconsin poll is an ARG poll, and consequently is suspect. I’m not sure that there’s a way for Clinton to win if she doesn’t take Wisconsin.

…upon the advice of the comments section shifted Oregon into Obama column. It’s a primary in a state with no African-Americans, but he did well enough in Washington to merit the call. With that and the size of the victories today, Obama comes in about 35 delegates ahead with the above state calls.

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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.
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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.]

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Nebraska Nixes Ol’ Sparky

[ 0 ] February 9, 2008 |

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled today that execution by electrocution is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment.
The court’s logic seems pretty sound to me:

“We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer,” Justice Connolly wrote. “But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes.”

Interestingly, the court relied wholly on its state constitution, so the U.S. Supreme Court will not have jurisdiction to review the decision…

State legislators can (and likely will) seek other execution procedures.

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Alaska to Polar Bears: Drop Dead

[ 10 ] February 8, 2008 |

It’s been nothing short of infuriating to watch Alaska’s resistance (sub.) to the possible (though unlikely) listing of polar bears as a “threatened” species. The state has exactly zero polar bear researchers on its staff at the Department of Fish and Game, and it’s devoted most of its time and resources to claiming that there aren’t enough data to justify invoking the Endangered Species Act on behalf of the bears. Rather than carry out actual population surveys of their own, they’ve turned to professional skeptics: The state’s case, for example, has relied quite significantly on the work of J. Scott Armstrong, a marketing professor from Penn’s Wharton School who makes his living by insisting that forecasters who don’t adhere to his method are destined to be wrong.

The confrontation has a familiar look and sound.

Gov. Sarah Palin is leading the state’s fight. In an op-ed column in The New York Times earlier this month, she said there is “insufficient evidence” to justify such a listing — an opinion she said was based on “a comprehensive review” of the science by state wildlife officials.

With limited peer-reviewed science available that concludes the bears are doing fine, however, the state devotes most of its space to challenging everyone else’s work.

That pits [deputy commissioner of Fish and Game Ken] Taylor and his staff — and several national consultants from the warming-is-overblown camp — against polar bear biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and leading international authorities in the World Conservation Union’s Polar Bear Specialist Group, not to mention the climatologists of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Studies by those scientists contend that Alaska’s polar bear populations are already showing signs of stress and decline linked to summer melting of their ice habitat. Ice shrinkage models suggest that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be gone by the year 2050. Scientists now say the Arctic ice may be melting even faster than that.

In addition to claiming a scarcity of data on polar bear populations, the state’s position so far has been to insist — and I’m not kidding here — that global warming might not actually result in Arctic ice-shelf depletion, and they’ve suggested as well that polar bears might simply adapt better to living on land. This latter hypothesis should remind us of Jonah Goldberg’s Katrina-week suggestion that people hunkered down in the Superdome might do well to stockpile weapons, “grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents.” (Interestingly, that infamous entry appears to have been scrubbed from The Corner’s archives.)

In the end, of course, Palin’s administration is lobbying against the listing for a number of reasons, all of which have something to do with future oil and gas exploration in the state. With that in mind — and if indeed the polar bears manage to forsake the ice shelves for year-round subsistence on land — I suppose they’ll have plenty of humans to eat once they run out of caribou.

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