Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mermaid cake

I expected to make more of a princess in a dress for this cake, but my daughter really wanted a mermaid for her birthday. And it turns out that the fondant that coats a cake costs a ton of money. The mermaid didn't need any of that. Just tons of frosting.

The shell bikini took a lot of tries to get right. I'm still not 100% satisfied. I wish I'd taken some art classes on the female form.

Why hasn't Edwards endorsed?

I figured Edwards was just holding back on his endorsement because this thing might actually go to a convention floor fight, in which case his 27 delegates might be pivotal. That would make him some sort of kingmaker.

But that's not the reason, says New York Magazine. The real reason is that he was leaning Obama, but Obama blew it:
According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards's imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton's plan (and by extension Edwards's) for its insurance mandate.
That's actually pretty damning. One hears stories about how gracious and charming Hillary can be in a one-on-one meeting, even if that charm doesn't carry over during big speeches. Is Obama disadvantaged in the other direction? Is he great with the big crowds but clumsy in person?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hard drive crashes

Loyal readers may recall that the hard drive on my MacBook crashed last summer when the poor thing was only about 3 months old. It got replaced for free, of course, but I did lose some data and e-mails. I now back up daily. But the same thing just happened to one of my colleagues, and she lost something like three years of data. It was the same batch of MacBooks that mine was - we got ours from the university at the same time.

Are Mac hard drives are somehow more vulnerable to crashes than PC hard drives? That certainly wasn't my impression, but it strikes me as a fishy coincidence that two MacBooks in the same office have crashed irreparably within their first year of ownership.

A further question: hard drives are especially vulnerable to sharp jolts, which is why you should never move a computer when it's hard drive is spinning. Why, then, is it okay to go jogging with an iPod? That little hard drive seems indestructible. So my book project is always in danger, but my Go-Gos music will apparently never die.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NES screws the pooch

If you use the political knowledge questions from the American National Election Studies, you really ought to read this. Turns out that NES kind of screwed up the open-ended response coding on some of the questions. For example, in 2004, they asked if respondents could identify William Rehnquist. The answer they insisted on was "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court." Rehnquist's actual official title at the time, Chief Justice of the United States, may have been coded as incorrect. So that's bad, and explains why only some 31% of respondents appeared to have accurately identified him even though he'd held that office for almost two decades.

Oh, respondents were also asked if they could identify Tony Blair. Here's the coding instructions for the questioners:
The reference must be specifically to "Great Britain" or "England" -- United Kingdom is *NOT* acceptable (Blair is not the head of Ireland), nor is reference to any other political/geographic unit (e.g. British Isles, Europe, etc.) If unsure whether correct, code as best you can and record R’s response as a remark.
Okay, I'm an Americanist, and even I know that's wrong. Blair, of course, was PM of the United Kingdom, which doesn't include Ireland (although it does include Northern Ireland).

This is pretty damned bad. I use some of these questions when I lecture about how uninformed the average American voter is, so at the very least I've been (slightly) slandering my fellow voters. This is worse, of course, for scholars who have been using these tainted questions in their research to study or control for information effects.

Arguably, it's even worse for our profession in general, since we're supposed to be experts on politics but know approximately dick about the U.S. Constitution and the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reached my limit

While a brokered Democratic convention would be great entertainment and a boon for me professionally, I'd really like Hillary Clinton to go away right about now.

That is all.

Calling McCain dumb

I've seen a number of blog posts recently -- including some interesting pieces from Digby and from Josh Marshall -- suggesting that John McCain is a wee bit dim. This actually surprised me a bit. We've all seen him in countless interviews. He handles some better than others, but he's always struck me as articulate, quick with a comeback, and self-effacing, traits that I, perhaps wrongly, associate with intelligence.

But could he be stupid? He's said some pretty stupid things lately, alleging that Al Qaeda is conspiring with Iran, suggesting that the solution to Iraq is to get Sunnis and Shiites together in a room and tell them to "stop the bullshit," conceding that he doesn't understand economics, etc. And it seems clear from his statements on the housing crisis that he doesn't have much of a grasp on that, either.

Of course, sometimes what appears stupid may be strategic (the Iran/Al Qaeda screwup may be a good example of that) or just a good old fashioned case of telling people what they want to hear, even if it's inconsistent with what you just told the last group of people.

There are a lot of ways that Democrats can win this presidential election. McCain seems determined to keep himself tied to an unpopular war (not that he could really untie himself at this point), and Democrats should not hesitate to point that out. Democrats could also lose this election.

May I suggest that calling the Republican nominee stupid is not a good way to win? Does anyone remember how well this strategy worked on Reagan and W.?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The case for polarization

Kudos to Matt Yglesias for making this case so clearly. It's a wonderful read. I'll be using it in my parties class in the future.

Yglesias does a great job talking about the advantages of strong, distinct political parties. But what he also ads to the mix is an explanation of why journalists and lobbyists are always complaining about partisanship and pining for the days of cross-party friendships:

From a journalistic point of view, the resulting system is tragically dull. Legislative outcomes become a simple matter of vote-counting: either a party has a majority or it doesn’t. There’s little room for journalistic sleuthing, and what stories there are to tell lack the color and drama of, say, Charlie Wilson’s War, in which an extremely hawkish Democratic congressman was able to persuade his party’s leadership to back a massive covert war in Afghanistan.

For veteran Washington hands—wheelers and dealers in the lobbying game or at the major interest groups—the new system is worse than dull. It’s emasculating. This is why political elites find polarization so distasteful. In a polarized world, elections and procedural rules largely determine policy outcomes; there’s little room for self-styled players to construct coalitions on the fly, and enhance their own power in the process. The growth in the lobbying industry might seem to belie the point, but consider Tom DeLay’s post-1994 “K Street Project”—which pressured lobbying firms who wanted access on the Hill to hire more Republicans—or the swing of the pendulum back after the Democratic takeover in 2006. Power in Congress is firmly in the hands of the party leadership; lobbyists become less powerful, not more, in a polarized system.

And then he gets in the kicker:
But for voters, the boring new ways can be looked at in another way—they’re straightforward. Elections have a predictable and easy-to-understand relationship to government action. Electing a Democrat means, on the margin, more spending on the federal safety net and more government regulation, while electing a Republican produces policies more favorable to business interests. You don’t necessarily get everything you want (ask any liberal disappointed by the continued flow of funds for the Iraq War), but at least on domestic measures, things move predictably.
To review: parties are good for voters and bad for lobbyists and David Broder. Anyone want to put this to a vote?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Midwest approaching

You ever get about seven-eighths of the way through a conference paper and then suddenly realize that what you're writing doesn't make much sense? Or that your data actually undermine your argument?

Hope my discussant doesn't read this blog.

The Race Card

A relative recently sent me a version of this e-mail. It's a picture from some years ago of a young Barack Obama meeting with the Kenyan side of his family. The e-mail is entitled "Say hello to the next first family" and contains the text, "This should give you incentive to get out and vote."

Along these lines, check out this tirade.

Assuming that Obama will be the Democratic nominee, I'm guessing we can expect a lot more of this. Yet I think there's an upside to all this latent racism coming to the surface. If I'm remembering Tali Mendelberg's book about the 1988 presidential election correctly, her argument was that Bush's use of the Willie Horton ads on Dukakis worked, but only as long as the racism was subtle. That is, as long as people saw it as an ad about crime, it took a toll on Dukakis. Once the Dukakis campaign pointed out the racist undertones of it, and people began to see the ad as being about race, it lost its effectiveness, and Dukakis' support went back up.

Obama's supporters are seeming very sensitive (rightly) on this subject and they're not afraid to cry bigotry when they see it. The Rev. Wright stuff was working against Obama until he gave that speech and framed it as a discussion about race, and then his ratings went back up again. And so far, Obama is still winning, and a lot of accomplished white people who tried the subtle racial jabs (Gerry Ferraro, Bill Clinton(!)) are walking away bruised. And it's not helping Hillary much, either.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stuff White People Like

Since we're having a national conversation about race, now's as good a time as any to figure out what makes white people tick. Here's a great guide. I particularly enjoyed the entry on graduate school. Example:

After acquiring a Masters Degree that will not increase their salary or hiring desirability, many white people will move on to a PhD program where they will go after their dream of becoming a professor. However, by their second year they usually wake up with a hangover and realize: “I’m going to spend six years in graduate school to make $35,000 and live in the middle of nowhere?”

After this crisis, a white person will follow one of two paths. The first involves dropping out and moving to New York, San Francisco or their original home town where they can resume the job that they left to attend graduate school.

At this point, they can feel superior to graduate school and say things like “A PhD is a testament to perseverance, not intelligence.” They can also impress their friends at parties by referencing Jacques Lacan or Slavoj Žižek in a conversation about American Idol.

The second path involves becoming a professor, moving to a small town and telling everyone how they are awful and uncultured.


My wish for 2008

That the presidential election comes down to a music video contest between the works of and this:

Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 - The Year of the Beard?

Seriously, what's going on here?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Washington state seeks worse government - Supreme Court agrees

Alert reader APP informs me that the Supreme Court has just approved Washington state's adoption of the "Cajun" primary. This form of primary election, currently practiced only in Louisiana (hence the name), is essentially just a runoff. All candidates of all parties run in the election, and the top two vote-getters, even if they're in the same party, go to a runoff.

Yes, this assures more moderate officeholders, on the whole. It also means that any sense of order, responsibility, and accountability provided by the political parties goes right out the window. As any student of Louisana's current political system or California's under cross-filing (1913-1959) will tell you, strong parties may be annoying, but weak parties are an invitation for corruption.

I explain this in greater detail here, but the long and short of it is that government by the people pretty much doesn't exist. People simply do not have the time or interest (or, arguably, the competence) to run a government by themselves. So they shirk, and someone else steps in to organize government for them.

That entity can be a party -- which has a public agenda and can be voted out of office if it misbehaves -- or something else, like a group of unelected lobbyists. Or even an unelected super-lobbyist like Artie Samish (left) who controls all the other lobbyists, who control all the legislators. It can be many things, but it's not accountable to voters, and there's no reason to expect it would operate in their interests.

Good luck, Washington!

Um, this speech is really good

Text here.

No time to analyze it now, and I'm really not sure how it will be perceived, but I thought it was amazing. I'm probably too close, but right now it seems like one of the best speeches ever given on race in America. Tell me I'm wrong.

Slow blogging

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. It's my "break" week, which means I'm devoting all my time to writing conference papers (for which my data have not been terribly accommodating) and prepping for classes rather than actually teaching. I'll try to be better in the future.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More on CO delegate poaching

Convention results are starting to trickle in from other Colorado counties. A lot of county parties aren't very good about updating their websites or even creating one in the first place, so data collection has been slow, but here's what I've got so far:So there are a number of counties in which Clinton has picked up a greater share of delegates to the state convention than her Feb. 5th caucus vote would lead one to predict. A few counties (Eagle, Clear Creek) have gone the other way, giving Obama somewhat more support. But here's the difference: most of the counties in which Clinton has been gaining delegates -- specifically Denver, Douglas, and Adams -- are very large urban counties. That means there are a lot more delegates there.

For example, Clinton's 2.1% increase in delegate share in Denver County means about 15 additional delegates for her. Obama's 4.4% increase in delegate share in Eagle County means only about 2 additional delegates for him. So this trend looks like it will help out Clinton's numbers at the state convention in May. How much? Hard to tell so far. And by how much will this affect the number of delegates to the DNC picked at the state convention? Again, hard to tell. I'm guessing one or two national delegates from Colorado that would have gone to Obama will end up going to Clinton as a result of all this. I'll know more as I collect more data. Stay tuned....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More post-caucus fun

Via TPM, Obama's picking up delegates through Iowa's post-caucus process. He's not flipping Clinton delegates so much as he's picking up the people originally pledged to Edwards.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dedicated to Eliot Spitzer

"Bitter Suite," by Marillion (1985)
The sky was Bible black in Lyon
When I met the Magdalene.
She was paralyzed in a streetlight
She refused to give her name.
And a ring of violet bruises
They were pinned upon her arm.
Two hundred francs for sanctuary
And she led me by the hand.
To a room of dancing shadows
Where all the heartache disappears.
And from glowing tongues of candles
I heard her whisper in my ear,
"J'entend ton coeur,"
I can hear your heart.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Wright Stuff

I'm not going to defend Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor, for the things he says here. He could do Obama a real favor by shutting up for a while. But why is Obama responsible for this? Why is this seen as something Obama needs to address?

The rabbi who bar mitzvahed me had an affair with a woman who was promptly murdered by her husband. If I ever run for office, is this something I'll have to address?

Gassing students

While I'm thinking about the 60s, here's a nice trip down memory lane. This photo is one of the few documented cases of a government authorizing the use of a WMD on its own students. It shows an California National Guard helicopter deploying tear gas on Sproul Plaza during a protest at UC Berkeley. This action was authorized by Governor Ronald Reagan.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Here's Baez and Dylan mocking each other during a performance of "It Ain't Me, Babe." This is from 1964. Nineteen sixty-freakin-four. All you had to do then to look weirder than your audience was to just grow your hair a bit long and not comb it that morning. Man, they were beautiful.

Predicting Pennsylvania

A while back, I pointed out the curvilinear relationship between the percent of African Americans in a state and the vote for Obama. In short, he seems to do well where there are lots of African Americans or almost none.

This patterns seems to be holding up:
In the graph above, I've only used the vote in the primary states. (Incidentally, Obama has earned 12.4 more percentage points, on average, in the caucus states. Also, caucus states tend to be much whiter -- no caucus state is more than 11.5% black.) Note that Texas and Ohio, which are both roughly 11.5% black, appear at the nadir (pun intended) of the curve. That is, we would have expected Obama to narrowly lose those states if we were just using the African American percentage to predict the vote.

So, just for fun, let's use this curve to predict what will happen in the Pennsylvania primary. African Americans comprise 10 percent of the state's population. If we plot that out on the curve, we would expect Clinton to win there, with Obama receiving around 48% of the vote. So this is a nice little do-campaigns-matter experiment. Let's see if all the sound and fury over the next six weeks amounts to much.

On whether Obama's states matter

Colbert did us all a real favor the other night by summarizing Clinton's arguments against Obama. And he really didn't exaggerate the Clinton position much. The Clinton argument is that she's won in states that are key swing states in November, like Ohio. She's also won in large Democratic states like California, New Jersey, and New York that would deliver lots of electoral votes for Democrats. Obama, meanwhile, has been doing well in smaller states that aren't likely to vote Democratic in the fall anyway.

I've heard Mark Penn and Lanny Davis make these sorts of arguments, and it strikes me as a politically stupid argument to me making. If you're trying to win Democrats over to your candidate, why tell people that their states don't matter? Is it really wise to suggest that Colorado, which will be hosting the national convention, is unimportant?

That aside, is their truth to this argument? Actually, it's very difficult to glean lessons for the November election from primary and caucus results. Ohio is, of course, a key state in a presidential election. And maybe Clinton would do better than Obama in the general election. But chances are, whoever the Democrat is will get pretty much all the Democratic votes, and whoever the Republican is will get pretty much all the Republican votes. The key question is how will the independents vote? Luckily for us, Ohio was an open primary, so we have some indication who independents prefer. It was Obama, 50-48. But again, how independents would behave with John McCain on the same ballot is difficult to predict. Clinton's argument also ignores Obama's success in swing states like Colorado, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

The other half of Clinton's argument -- that only she can secure places like CA, NY, and NJ -- is pretty absurd. Either Democrat is likely to win those states, along with Illinois.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Clinton delegate poaching

I'm going to start keeping track of how the delegates shake out in Colorado's counties. As I noted yesterday, there's some talk of Clinton being more involved in the caucus states during the later stages. Even if she lost the initial caucus, there are usually several stages involved before actual DNC delegates are chosen, and Clinton could potentially pick up some delegates that way.

Not all the counties are very good about reporting their results, and several counties haven't had their conventions yet, but here's what I've got so far. For each Colorado county, I report the percent of the vote Clinton received on caucus night and the percent of delegates chosen at the county convention to represent Clinton at the state convention in May.Clinton picked up a few percentage points in Denver, Douglas, and Adams counties. Those are all big urban and suburban counties in the Denver metro area. Other counties saw no real change between caucus night and the county assembly.

It's hard to know if this is all due to chance, if she really does have an effective post-caucus strategy in the urban counties, or if the Obama folks are just flakier as the process goes on. It's also hard to say just how much this will matter in the end. Each of the state's seven congressional districts will only send six or seven delegates to the DNC. So maybe she can flip two or three this way, and if she does that in the other caucus states, we're talking about serious numbers, although obviously not enough to overtake Obama in pledged delegates. Still, every little bit matters right now.

I'll keep updating the graph as data become available.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer's tab

Eliot Spitzer was dropping $2,500 a night on prostitutes? I'm a bit naive on this subject -- what exactly does $2,500 get you that, say, $250 doesn't? Just how good can someone be? Does she come with a gram of coke? A vial of plutonium? A bottle of truffle oil? Does she stay up all night playing against you with a Wii?

Maybe she's not so dumb

I earlier suggested that the Clinton campaign was doing too little, too late in the Colorado delegate selection process. She organized like crazy for the Denver county convention this past weekend, but the delegates were basically all pledged from caucus night on Feb. 5th, and the share of Clinton delegates going to the state convention is almost exactly the same as the share of Clinton delegates selected during the caucuses. At least, that's what happened in Denver.

However, here's a description of what happened in Adams County. Because the Clinton county delegates are, for the most part, party regulars, and the Obama county delegates are, for the most part, new to the process, the Clinton folks actually stayed in the game. It's a long process from caucus night to the national convention, and people selected at one level have to be counted on to stick it out to the next one. Democratic caucus-goers in Adams County voted 55-45 for Obama. However, the Adams County Democratic Convention is sending an equal number of Obama and Clinton delegates to the state convention, either because the Clinton delegates are more reliable or because the Clinton campaign is better organized here now.

This is a potentially huge story that's not receiving much media attention, save here. If the Clinton folks are working all the caucus states this way, she could be eeking closer to Obama's delegate share in state contests that have already happened.

Update: I checked the Feb. 5th vote shares, and it looks like that original post from Adams County was in error. Obama only beat Clinton 51-46 there, with 3% unaffiliated. So it actually wouldn't be that much of a stretch for the county to send an even share of delegates to the state convention. Still, Clinton may have picked up all the unaffiliateds.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quick Convention Tale

At the Denver Democratic convention the other day, Sen. Ken Salazar gave one of the opening speeches, and was praising both Obama and Clinton up and down. He said they were both excellent candidates. "We really can't make a bad choice here," he said.

An Obama supporter sitting in front of me shouted, "Yes we can!"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Back from Saudi

My parents both made it back from their recent visit to Saudi Arabia. I'm quite relieved. I really thought I'd never talk to my mother again without the aid of the U.S. State Department. She's a pretty outspoken liberal. I worry about her successfully crossing Orange County. Clearly, I underestimated her.

More on Hillary's organizational weaknesses

The Hillary Clinton folks were out in force at yesterday's Denver County Democratic convention, for no apparent reason. Nearly every delegate in the room had already pledged to either Clinton or Obama. There were Clinton signs everywhere, but the Obama folks didn't bother to organize much, mainly because they didn't need to. Obama won the convention vote 2-1, just about the same proportion by which he won the county's caucuses last month. The Clinton campaign could have changed that outcome by organizing prior to the caucuses, but they didn't think that was important at the time.

This is the pattern we've seen from her campaign. Blow off most states until it's too late, ceding their delegates to Obama. Then, when she realizes she needs the delegates, organize like crazy, usually long after it might make a difference, or cheat or sue.

She's not this dumb or disorganized. I can only assume Mark Penn is the genius behind all this.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Denver Democrats

I just got back from a very long day at the Denver County Democratic Convention and Assembly. The good news is that I got picked as a delegate to the next two levels: the CD1 convention here in Denver and the state convention in Colorado Springs. I'm going to state, baby.

But a few points of reflection on today's convention.

1) Democrats love arguing about process. After the morning voting on the presidential and senatorial candidates, we broke into our state house districts to pick delegates for upcoming conventions. There were around 250 Obama supporters from my district, and we had to somehow pick just 63 delegates and 63 alternates, and of course all of us wanted to go. So a few plans for delegate selection quickly emerged:
  • Lottery. Put everyone's name in a hat.
  • Descriptive representation. Break into racial and ethnic groups and have each group pick its delegates.
  • Geographic representation. Break into our 55 precincts and let each precinct select a delegate. The remaining 8 would be picked by lottery.
The second option got no votes, thankfully. The other two were fought over, but we ultimately went with the geographic version. Most of the precincts, including my own, seemed to just go with a lottery. That went reasonably well, but then we had to pick the remaining 8 delegates and alternates.

Our state representative took to the microphone to beg us to set aside two slots for the two disabled people in the room, who had not been seated as state delegates. Some of us were uncomfortable with this. Yes, we're Democrats, and we believe in sending a diverse delegation to the state convention. But why a setaside for the disabled and not any other group? So then someone else shouted that we should set aside a few seats for gay and lesbian delegates. Another member asked how we would know if a delegate was truly gay or lesbian. At which point a man stood up in his chair and shouted, "I HAVE BEEN CHOSEN AS A DELEGATE AND I AM A HOMOSEXUAL!" We all applauded him and he sat back down. So we ultimately assented to seating the disabled delegates and picked the rest by lottery.

2. For all the focus on process, there was not much focus on planning. The meeting was supposed to adjourn by 3PM. The last two hours were supposed to be spent on platform proposals. We never got to that. The morning agenda was still being worked on when I left at 5PM. All voting was hugely protracted, and there seemed to be no consistent way of conducting elections, checking credentials, or seating alternates. It was the same sort of disorganization I saw at the caucuses last month, but the excuse "We didn't know so many people would attend" was a tad more plausible then. This was an invitation-only event, so organizers knew full well how many people would attend. It was still a mess. But, as someone there pointed out to me, democracy is supposed to be messy. If it's efficient, that's when you should worry. That means the results have been fixed.

3. Speeches matter. The speeches on behalf of the presidential candidates were both good and effectively rallied supporters. But I don't think they changed any votes, and they really weren't designed to in a chamber full of pledged delegates. It was in the smaller breakout meetings where the speeches mattered. My house district had to choose between three Democrats running to replace the termed-out incumbent. I had been leaning toward one candidate most of the day but changed my vote as a result of another candidate's speech. It impressed me. I'm not sure how many other votes moved, but I was rather surprised to find my vote changed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Obama's behavior

I've been citing Josh Marshall a lot lately, I know, but he's really doing a good job covering the post-Ohio/Texas scuffles between the Obama and Clinton campaigns. This post, in particular, nicely describes how Hillary has been "bitch-slapping" Obama pretty much constantly, and it's keeping him on the defensive. I'm not sure how much that moves voters, but that's not the point. It shows the superdelegates (who are going to end up deciding this contest) that she's nasty and tough and that he's a wuss whose ass will be kicked up and down the street by the GOP.

When I teach campaign ethics, I always assign William Galston's 1989 essay "The Obligation to Play Political Hardball," which I highly recommend. Galston has a somewhat unconventional view of ethical behavior by political candidates. His argument, in short, is that candidates' first obligation is to their supporters -- those who have given their time and money to see this person get elected. Thus, candidates have a responsibility to play "hardball," treating rivals toughly, though not cruelly. Attacks should be met with immediate and proportional counterattacks. Playing "softball," or "rising above the fray," displays weakness and invites attacks by others.

Galston's case study in this essay is Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign, during which the former Massachusetts governor refused to dignify Vice President Bush's attacks on his character and chose to stay focused on issues. The result, of course, was that Dukakis went from a double-digit lead in opinion polls in the summer of '88 to an eight-point loss in November. By staying above the fray, Dukakis was being selfish, says Galston. He stayed true to his own moral code but ignored his obligations to his supporters.

Obama's behavior right now is vintage softball. He doesn't want to win in the current political environment -- he wants to change the current political environment. That's certainly a noble sentiment. And who knows, maybe it's possible to do. Obama's done amazingly well so far without going negative.

Still, the fact that pretty much everyone who's tried this route before has lost doesn't really give one great confidence in his approach.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bad move, Hillary

I'm pretty astounded Clinton said this:
“I think that since we now know Sen. McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. And I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold,” the New York senator told reporters crowded into an infant’s bedroom-sized hotel conference room in Washington.

“I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Sen. McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Sen. Obama with respect to his candidacy,” she said.

Calling McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee a good friend and a “distinguished man with a great history of service to our country,” Clinton said, “Both of us will be on that stage having crossed that threshold."

Two points:

1) Of course, primaries should be competitive. They should focus on issues, but it's hardly beyond the pale for them to get personal, even a bit nasty. Part of the reason for having these contests is to see how potential nominees can hold up under fire. But, for the love of God, you don't praise the other party's nominee and then try to gang up with him against your rival within your own party. What is she thinking?

2) National security is not a Democratic issue. The Republicans may have lost some ground on that issue in recent years, but that doesn't mean it's where Democrats should be trying to pick fights with Republicans. The fall election may well turn on national security matters, but Clinton should not be trying to make that happen. Does she really think that, if voters are preoccupied with national security in the fall, they'd prefer her to McCain?

Polling porn

SurveyUSA has put together state-by-state matchups of Clinton vs. McCain and Obama vs. McCain, which were written up over at TPM. You can (and should) quibble with particular states, but the basic message is that we've got us a ballgame here. In these matchups, both the Democrats beat McCain by narrow margins in the Electoral College.

To the left is Obama v. McCain, which Obama wins 280-258. Note how Obama takes a chunk of the mountain West, including Colorado. And he takes Virginia. That's plausible. But I'll put on a dress and curtsy if Obama beats McCain in North Dakota.

Now here's Clinton v. McCain. I don't get how she loses NH and MI but wins in FL, although I guess it's conceivable. At any rate, she beats McCain nationally 276-262. And is the Pacific Northwest so fragile that Obama can take it while Clinton can't?

Anyway, the obvious message for Democrats here is that either of their candidates can win (in very different ways), but that it won't be a walk in the park for either of them.

Update: I'd missed this one, which Matt Yglesias caught. No way does McCain take New Jersey from Obama.


Gary Gygax, the inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, is dead.

Dr. Fairchild, the 5th level half-elf lawful-good cleric I designed when I was 13, is weeping today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The party will decide after all

One of the more amazing things about the Democratic presidential nomination race is that, even though so many party insiders held back before the primaries and just waited for voters to figure it out, the party insiders will end up deciding this race after all. If you play with Slate's delegate calculator you'll note that it's pretty much impossible for either Clinton or Obama to win this thing without the aid of superdelegates. The primaries are now playing the role they did prior to 1972 -- they're beauty contests in which party insiders get to evaluate the candidates' relative strengths and weaknesses before actually deciding on the nominee.

Of course, it's likely that Obama will be the leader in pledged delegates by the time the primaries and caucuses are over, but only by 100 delegates or so. He won't clinch it. So won't the superdelegates just go with the pledged delegate leader? Not necessarily.

Josh Marshall spins this out nicely. In short, this last week was the first time that Obama experienced some actually bad press, and it was also the first time the Clinton campaign went seriously negative on him. And all this stuff seemed to have an effect, breaking his winning streak and costing him 3 out of 4 races yesterday. So the impression insiders might be getting is that Obama has a glass jaw, and they don't want to put such a fragile candidate up against McCain (who will be a lot nastier that Hillary) in the fall.

I imagine Obama can quell some of these concerns with big wins in Wyoming and Mississippi in the next week, and maybe he'll start going more negative on Clinton (although it's amazing how far he's gotten without doing so). But this scenario, if improbable, is far from impossible. Of course, then the superdelegates will have to be concerned about what this would do to the Democratic Party. All these African Americans and young people who have been volunteering and voting in record numbers over the past few months... how will they feel if their candidate, who won more states and more pledged delegates by greater margins, is denied the nomination? Sure, they'll vote for Hillary in November (if they vote), but how much would that dampen their energy? To some extent, that probably would re-create '68. Not the police riot part or the obscenity-shouting mayor part, but the activists-angry-at-their-own-party part.

Late Update: I should credit Jonathan Bernstein for suggesting back in 2004 that this is the way the parties seem to be evolving. His Forum article on the rise and fall of Howard Dean suggested that networks of party insiders are increasingly using the primaries as beauty contests.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hillary's big night

While I tire of the media treating Democratic primaries and caucuses as winner-take-all events when the race is really for delegates, which are awarded proportionally, yes, she did have a big night. Her campaign set the goal a few weeks back that she had to win both Texas and Ohio, and she's apparently done that.

How did she do it? So many factors. Perhaps it was the "3AM" ad that her campaign's been running, sowing distrust in Obama's leadership. Perhaps it was Obama's mess up on NAFTA. Perhaps it was the sympathy evoked by the media dogpiling on her, which SNL picked up on nicely. It'll take some time to sort this all out, and it's really hard to say at this point whether it was her efforts that did it.

We should remember, though, that this is far from over. It's hard to believe it, but this thing is going on at least until the early summer. The Pennsylvania race will be intense but it won't resolve anything. Also, the odds are still long against Clinton winning the nomination. She just doesn't have the delegates, unless a lot of superdelegates are willing to vote for her even when the bulk of regular delegates are leaning Obama. She has to decide how negative she's willing to go on the guy who still is the likely nominee.

Just made a buck on Intrade

Bought three shares of Clinton at 19 last night. Just sold at 23. I'm a rich and wealthy miser.

Huck's out

Too bad. It was a fun ride while it lasted.

Ballot shortages

Basically every primary and caucus so far has experienced historically high voter turnout. Is it really possible at this stage in the game that a county could be caught off-guard and not have printed enough ballots?

Current weather in Ohio

How does this affect turnout?

Delegate calculator

Slate has a delegate calculator - plug in what you think the vote in an upcoming primary or caucus will be, and they'll give you the estimated number of delegates each candidate gets. Pretty cool.

Jonathan Alter plays with some numbers and determines that even if Hillary Clinton sweeps the remaining contests, Obama is still the leader in pledged delegates. She can only become the nominee if the remaining unpledged superdelegates split strongly for her.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ohio and Texas

I had a campaign consultant come speak to one of my classes today. He seemed to think that Obama will sweep Clinton on Tuesday, even though the polls have them pretty much tied or even give a small lead to Clinton (Disclosure: He works for Obama). His rationale behind this is that all the major polling firms are using their tried-and-true models of voter turnout to predict who will show up to vote. However, those models are substantially underestimating turnout by young voters and African Americans this year. Pollsters, he figures, have figured this out by now, and probably have much more Obama-friendly numbers in their private records, but they're not releasing these data publicly since it relies so much on hunches. They at least have scientific rationales for the numbers they're releasing now.

We'll see. Meanwhile, one of my students is urging me to buy some Clinton stock on Intrade and then selling right after her anticipated win in Ohio. She's selling at 19 right now, so it's not a bad buy. I'm tempted.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The joys of parenting

Make no mistake - being a parent is hard work. Long hours, lots of aggravation, etc., and sometimes it's hard to remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. But then, there are those wonderful moments when it all becomes worthwhile. Like when your son wants to learn the ways of the Force: