Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Zoe Cake

I always try to make my kids a gorgeous cake for their birthdays. I may be the most proud of this one. My daughter just turned two and is a big fan of "Sesame Street"'s Zoe. The party store only sold Elmo molds, so I had to give Elmo a substantial rhinoplasty to turn him into Zoe, but I'm pleased with the results.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Punxsutawney Phil is Full of Shit

Okay, maybe I planted too early. I'm still hopeful the seeds are alive under the six inches of snow that fell in the middle of the night. But my tomatoes are toast.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


My wife is a major hoo-hah in the scrapbooking world. For the record, I'm not sure I understand this subculture too well, but it's obviously pretty huge. Anyway, my wife tells me I shouldn't judge it before I try it, so I gave it a shot. Here is my first and only attempt at making a scrapbooking page (click to enlarge):

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Edwardses

Needless to say, my thoughts are with John and Elizabeth Edwards. Their announcement this morning that her cancer has returned - and shown up in a bone - is sad and sobering news. The fact that they've both decided to continue the campaign is inspiring.

Nonetheless, I can't help thinking that the campaign is sunk at this point. John Edwards himself said that no matter what was going on in the campaign, if she needed him, he would be there for her. I hate to say it, but if she's undergoing treatment for bone cancer, she's going to need him. A lot. Bone cancer, as I understand it, is brutally painful, and treatment will likely be a lot more disruptive than it was for her breast cancer in 2004.

I'm sure John Edwards recognizes this, and I'm quite sure that those who have endorsed him (some big unions, for example) and those who have given him money recognize this, as well. It will be harder for him to rake in money and support than it was before. That's not fair, but for Democratic backers, winning the next presidential election is more important than doing the right thing for the Edwardses. It has to be.

I hope I'm wrong about this. I still think he's a great candidate and would make a great president, and I still consider myself a supporter. But I fear that family concerns will take precedence over politics, as well they should.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Parties and Meetings

A lot of party activity comes down to meetings. One of my favorite writings on political parties is Joseph Lyford's short manuscript, Candidate. It's a description of the author's attempt to get the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat from Connecticut in 1958. A lot of the essay is a discussion of meetings Lyford had with party bosses, elected officials, and others. Most of those meetings were cordial, with Lyford asking for support, and the other person saying “I can’t support you right now.” In very few of those meetings did Lyford’s deportment make a bit of difference – the party leaders were already committed to another candidate. But Lyford still needed to ask – not doing so would have been a sign of disrespect.

I’m getting the impression that when party actors meet with a candidate they can’t support, it helps to have a reason why they can’t support him. For example, it was pretty obvious to everyone but John Kerry that John Kerry was not going to be the 2008 Democratic nominee. But how do you get that message into Kerry’s head? Well, enough donors and endorsers from 2004 have to tell him they won’t be there for him the next time around. But a one-on-one meeting with a senator can still be pretty intimidating, and Kerry will give you all these reasons why he’s improved as a candidate and why he should be supported again. So it helps for the donor/endorser to have some specific apostasy to bring up, so he can say, “John, I’d love to support you again, and I would, if it weren’t for X.” In Kerry’s case, X proved to be his botched joke about the troops. It was a stupid joke, and no one was going to back Kerry anyway, but that’s a convenient excuse for party actors. (Some evidence here.)

So, on the Republican side, how do we get to the point where the Big Three candidates drop out so the party leaders can back a Fred Thompson/Mike Huckabee type? Well, enough donors/endorsers have to meet with McCain, Giuliani, and Romney and say, “I’d love to support you, and I would, if it weren’t for X.” So what’s X in these cases? We’ve got some good ones in just the past few days. Somehow, I don’t think divorce will be the problem for Giuliani, since the GOP has ways of making amends with that, like they did for Reagan and Dole. (Although Giuliani has had more divorces than the entire Democratic field of candidates combined.) But there are plenty of Xs for McCain, a big one which arrived yesterday – he dissed the Club for Growth, accusing them of costing the GOP control of the Senate. And Romney managed a real doozy the other day when he quoted Castro in a speech to Cuban Americans. Schmuck.

I don’t know if these events quite rise to the level of Popkin’s gut rationality – they’re lower salience events that only the party hardcores are going to care about. But maybe that’s enough?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Make Your Own Motivational Poster

Man, what a great idea. You can do this yourself here. Hat tip to Monkeys for Helping.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Picture of the Day

Remember in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when the Nazis loaded the Ark into a crate and left it overnight, and by morning, God had burned a six-pointed star onto the crate?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Picture of the Day

That's Danny Kaye and Judy Garland meeting with John Kennedy in the Oval Office. Check out Judy Garland - she's leaning on the President's desk and smoking a cigarette. JFK would have been well with his rights to send her to Gitmo for that one.

2008 Predictions: The Republicans

The Republicans have a really fascinating field of candidates this time around. What makes them so interesting is that the top tier of candidates consists entirely of people that the GOP wouldn't normally nominate. The traditional conservatives are basically in the second tier. Weird year.

John McCain
In 2000, this guy learned the nasty lesson that becoming America's favorite politician is not the way to win the Republican nomination. The parties, as I tell my students, work very hard to filter out the centrists, so that voters are forced to choose between extremists. It's not very satisfying for the bulk of moderate voters out there, but that's how it works. McCain never took my class so he had to learn this lesson the hard way.

So he's been steadily marching rightward, sucking up to the folks he derided as "agents of intolerance" a few years ago. Is it working? I'm not convinced. Political activists have very long memories. McCain is certainly saying all the right things to win over the party's hardcores, but I'm not sure they'll trust him. After all, if he gets in, he's in for four, possibly eight years, and he can do a lot of damage in that time - appointing centrists to the Supreme Court, putting limits on torture, balancing the budget, working with our allies overseas, etc. Who needs that?

So maybe, just maybe, McCain will convince the hardcores that he's with them, and will give them all sorts of pledges as to how he'd behave in office, and they can hold him to those. But it's still a struggle for him. And even if he does win them over, he's lost a lot of his cache with centrist voters. It's been hard not to notice his transformation lately. In the words of Jon Stewart, the Straight Talk Express has been re-routed through Bullshit Town.

Rudy Giuliani
I have a really hard time imagining him as the nominee. He's pro-choice, supportive of gay rights, okay with gun control, etc. He's committed adultery and is on his third marriage. My Republican friends keep telling me I understate his appeal among conservatives. That is, in Rudy's heart of hearts, he's really a conservative - in the words of Sideshow Bob, he wants to "lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king." He had to moderate to some extent because he was, well, mayor of New York, but he'd actually be good for the Republican cause in the White House.

I'm still amazed at how much Americans in general seem to like Rudy, and all because of 9/11. I mean, what did he really do? He gave an excellent press conference on 9/11 while Bush was running and hiding all day long. Don't get me wrong, it really was an excellent press conference. He was very much in control of the information flow - he communicated what he knew very effectively and tried to avoid speculation, he expressed the right combination of anger, remorse, professionalism, etc. These really are leadership qualities. But basically it was one day and one crisis. Most days are not like that.

And, of course, he wasn't much of a uniter prior to 9/11. Reviews of his leadership in New York were pretty mixed, with some folks being impressed by his ability to clean up Times Square and others terrified by the methods he used to do that.

On the whole, though, I'm guessing he'll win if he's nominated, but that his chances for nomination are very low.

Mitt Romney
I don't particularly care if the man's a Mormon. I know many devout Christians are bothered by some of the main claims of Mormonism - you know, the stuff about there being new tablets written by God that showed up in upstate New York in the 1830s, Jesus visiting North America and talking to the natives, etc. To me, this doesn't sound any crazier than the founding myths of any other major religion, except that it happened after the Constitution was written.

At any rate, I know that many Evangelical Christians within the Republican party do care about this stuff and are not inclined to vote for Romney as a result. Probably more important is that Romney was to Teddy Kennedy's left on several key issues - like gay marriage - until pretty recently. Suddenly he's a born again conservative. Hey, even Ann Coulter likes him now.

So, it probably helps Romney that he's the sort of Republican who can win in Massachusetts. But that's only if the Republicans are just thinking about electability. If they care about, you know, conservative principles, Romney's got to fall in the same category with McCain and Giuliani - "Sure, we like what he's saying now, but judging from his past, can we trust him in the future?"

Mike Huckabee
Huckabee is probably the best of the second tier. He's more of a traditional conservative but knows how to communicate his beliefs in a way that doesn't terrify people. He came off as disturbingly sane during a recent Daily Show interview - I would even describe him as likeable. Perhaps he figures he has conservative enough credentials that he doesn't need to suck up to the right at this point in the game.

I don't know too much about his work as Arkansas' governor. I've heard decent things about his health initiative for children and about his policies in general. My Arkansan friends used to deride him as "that fat Baptist preacher," but this has lost its sting since he lost 100 lbs. Generally speaking, the absence of much of a record can be helpful, particularly when other opponents have problems with their records.

To me, Huckabee seems like a natural coordination point for Republican kingmakers. Three very big and very powerful candidates have to stumble for Huckabee to end up the nominee, but I still think he should be taken seriously.

Tom Tancredo
He's in this for the immigration issue, which people in New Hampshire really don't care about, except for those damned Canadian tourists bringing in coins with Queen Elizabeth's face on them. This campaign will go nowhere quickly, but he'll be able to declare victory and go home.

Sam Brownback
He's pretty batshit, as I understand it.

Newt Gingrich
I have a colleague that believes Newt will be the next nominee. I ain't buyin' it. He's never won an election outside of Cobb County, Georgia, and I've seen nothing to convince me he ever will. Sucking up to the right by confessing adultery is a novel campaign tactic, so I give him full points for that, but I really don't see this going anywhere.

I'd recommend him as a good ticket-balancing vice presidential candidate for Huckabee. After all, Huckabee is a DC outsider who can control his weight, while Gingrich....

Monday, March 5, 2007

Sunday, March 4, 2007

2008 Predictions: The Democrats

Why make predictions? I don't purport to be clairvoyant, and I've actually made some pretty bad political predictions in recent years. (For example, I didn't think the Republican House would actually impeach Bill Clinton. That would be crazy, right?) Still, I pretty much nailed the House seat change last fall.

Nonetheless, publicly predicting an event and explaining why it will happen seems like a reasonable way to test one's understanding of a process, so I'm giving it a shot here.

Barack Obama
Obama sure seems like a great guy. It's a delight to hear him speak - he's eloquent and uplifting and manages to not sound like a politician. That's a rare gift. He also seems to have that Kennedyesque gift of being "inspirational" in a broad, if vague, sense. That is, if you ask pretty much Democrat in politics today over the age of 45 why they first got involved in politics, they'll say they were inspired by John Kennedy. Why? The Peace Corps? The space program? Nailing Marilyn Monroe? It's non-specific. He was just inspirational.

It's the same with Obama. My wife is clearly smitten with him, as are several of my brighter students. What do they like about him? It's hard to say. What does he stand for? No one knows.

So, is that enough for him to win the nomination? I don't think so. I may be wrong here, but I'm not convinced he can actually beat a Republican. I feel he's untested, not because he hasn't been in the Senate long enough, but because he's never faced a serious Republican in a general election. (Alan Keyes doesn't count.) Maybe he can do it. Could he win states in the South? Harold Ford's experiences suggest no. After all, Ford was about as conservative a black Democrat as you'll find, and all the Republicans had to do was run a little race-baiting, Birth-of-a-Nation-esque ad and Tennessee's white voters abandoned him in droves.

So whether an African American (and I think that label is appropriate for Obama, given he had an American mother and an African father) can actually win outside the northeast is an interesting question. But I don't think a presidential race is the place to gather data for that question. And I think most Democratic insiders agree with that and will ultimately not nominate him.

Hillary Clinton
I used to work for Bill Clinton and thus feel some kind of loyalty to Hillary. I think she's bright and passionate, and I think her heart and her head are absolutely in the right place. She's been a good senator and could spend a lot of years there doing wonderful things for this country.

I do not think she'd make a particularly good presidential candidate. Unless it's a ridiculously bad year for Republicans, I don't see her winning states outside the northeast and California. Too much of the country has its mind made up about her, and her unfavorables have been stuck in the 40s pretty much since early 1990s. (See here for nice graphs and analysis.)

On top of that, and I say this with all due reverence, I do not find her particularly inspiring. I'm not sure how much that matters in elections (Nixon won two, possibly three times without ever being the more inspiring candidate). Still, I've heard her speak on numerous occasions, and never have I felt an ounce of emotion during or after.

Regardless of my feelings, I don't see her as the nominee. Yes, she has the loyalty of many in the party, but certainly not all, and there are other options. Being out of the White House for two particularly destructive terms has made the Democrats extremely hungry to get back in. And a lot of them sense that she is just too broadly despised and that a general election contest with her at the head of the ticket has little chance of success and absolutely no margin for error.

Bill Richardson
Great resume! I keep hearing rumors about him having had affairs years ago. Are such things really still problems for American politicians, even in the post-Monica world? Maybe. At any rate, if the top tier of candidates falters, he's not a bad guy to nominate. Popular governor for a Western swing state, moderate Latino, good on the stump, etc. But a lot of things have to go wrong for a lot of people for Richardson to become the nominee.

Joe Biden
How has this man not learned that words matter? This campaign was over before it began.

Chris Dodd
That's nice.

John Edwards
I really do see him as the go-to guy. Full disclosure: I am an Edwards supporter. I am betting a small amount of money on him at Intrade.

Yes, there may be some taint on him due to his 2004 association with John Kerry. Nonetheless, Edwards seemed to campaign well in 2004 in every place that Kerry faltered. The Democrats knew that Mary Cheney's sexual preference was a liability for the Republican side. Kerry blew the line in the debates, making himself seen like a craven opportunist. Edwards got it just right, making it sound like a compliment but really irking the far right. Also, as exit polls in open primaries showed, Edwards generally did better among independents than Kerry did.

Besides that, Edwards has actually proven that he can win in southern states. I'm guessing he can win a chunk of western states, too. In short, he's electable, and that's the main reason Democrats will come to support him.

Granted, he won't be nominated solely because he's electable. Joe Lieberman is electable, too, but loyal Democrats can't stand him. Edwards could get elected while pushing for a relatively populist and progressive agenda. His "two Americas" schtick is even more suited to the post-Katrina world than it was in 2004. He's got plans on top of plans for what he'll do when elected. He admits his vote on the Iraq War was wrong and he wants to bring the troops home. And on top of that, he's got the best enemy a Democrat could ask for.

So I'm guessing Edwards gets the nomination. If I'm wrong, hey, I've been there before.


Okay, I probably should have mentioned Al Gore. I just don't see him as a candidate this time around. There are enough heavy hitters in there that the field just isn't begging for him. And if he really wanted to run, he'd be better doing it in a year in which many of his loyal White House aides weren't already committed to Hillary. Besides, there was enough doubt about his 2000 performance to keep him from being a candidate in 2004, and I don't see that those doubts have been erased.

He has been absolutely wonderful in his recent reincarnation as a public intellectual. Both in "An Inconvenient Truth" and in the media blitz surrounding it, he has struck just the right tone, educating without being patronizing, provoking without being defensive, etc. I doubt, however, that he'd maintain such composure when thrown back into the political ring.

And fine, I should probably mention Wesley Clark. He made some rookie mistakes in 2004 but is, on the whole, a pretty effective candidate. Southerner, military, great under media questioning, doesn't back down in front of Republicans, etc. I like him but really don't see him making a serious run out of this. He could, however, be an excellent vice presidential candidate.