Friday, January 30, 2009

The problem with the Zero strategy

As John Kerry notes, now that the Republicans have shown that they have no intention of supporting the stimulus, there's really no need to cater to their wishes.
Reacting to Wednesday night’s vote in the House — where not a single GOP member supported the stimulus package — Kerry told Politico that “if Republicans aren’t prepared to vote for it, I don’t think we should be giving up things, where I think the money can be spent more effectively.”

“If they’re not going to vote for it, let’s go with a plan that we think is going to work.”
Yeah, there's still that little matter of getting 60 votes for cloture in the Senate, but there may be a solution in the works.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


As has been widely reported, Obama's economic stimulus plan passed the House yesterday with zero Republicans voting aye, despite his frequent diplomatic and substantive overtures to them. One way of interpreting this is that Republicans are mean people who just want Obama to fail. Whether that's true or not is besides the point. As Nate Silver wrote, it is in Republicans' own career interests to oppose this plan.

The logic is simple. Obama's plan will pass with or without Republican support. If, a year or so from now, the plan is widely considered a success, Obama and the Democrats will get the credit for it. Having backed it won't do any given Republican much good. On the other hand, if it's widely considered a failure, a Republican who opposed it will at least get some bragging rights, and can say, "If the president had listened to me, we wouldn't be in this fix."

The question, of course, is why didn't Obama see this coming? Why did he and congressional Democratic leaders take some preferred Democratic programs (including family planning funding) out of the bill and add in some tax cuts to appeal to Republicans who weren't going to vote for it anyway? Maybe he was näive in his assumptions about the power of bipartisan pleas. Or maybe he was shooting for coverage like this:
The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama's frequent pleas for bipartisan support.
Rejecting bipartisanship plays pretty poorly among the Beltway media folks. Regardless, Obama might consider Matt Yglesias' advice:
He needs to spend less time seeking political cover to mitigate the downside to possible policy failure, and more time trying to implement the best policies he can.

Humor and the presidency

True story: In 1993, I got my job as a White House correspondence writer largely based on my successful drafting of a message from Bill Clinton roasting his new White House Counsel, Bernie Nussbaum. I don't know if Clinton ever actually saw what I wrote, but it played well around the office and was apparently well received by Nussbaum. The leaders of the correspondence office liked what they saw and offered me a staff position.

That successful moment aside, I really hadn't captured Clinton's sense of humor. I wrote what I thought would be funny, informed by my own white urban Jewish upbringing; I really hadn't seen enough of Clinton's jokes to have a sense of what he would have said. His sense of humor, as I would later learn, was similar to that of many of the other Arkansans I was working with. It was a bit more insult-based. (The Arkansas I've known really like insulting people's mothers. This put me off at first, but I've grown to love it.) Comedy writer Mark Katz, who got hired to write a speech for Clinton, wrote a lengthy article in the Washingtonian about the different joke styles, and how hard it was to get Clinton to try self-deprecation.

George W. Bush definitely has a sense of humor, but it has a more physical side to it. He likes to mug for the camera or make silly faces when he messes up. It's not really my style, but I get the appeal. Al Franken once referred to Bush as the "third funniest guy in a frat." That sounds about right.

I was never sure that Bush Sr. or Carter were particularly funny people, although their speeches at the dedication of Clinton's presidential library were hilarious. Reagan had a sense of humor that was based on telling jokes that he'd learned years earlier. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't.

I'm intrigued by Obama's sense of humor. His is the first in a while that actually appeals to me. If you caught his roast of Rahm Emanuel or his comments about DC weather yesterday or when he referred to himself as a "mutt," he's got this nice, dry, self-effacing wit, occassionally peppered with movie references. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I feel like I can relate to this guy. He's the first president we've had in a long time who's an educated northern urban liberal. The last one was JFK.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who's the party? GOP edition

I'm never sure whether or where to place media figures in the party network, but here's a nice little story about a GOP officeholder who resisted some key conservative media figures, calling them brick-throwers, and then was forced to apologize.

Here's Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) yesterday:
I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn’t be or wouldn’t be good leaders, they’re not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell.
And here he is today, after being flooded with constituent phone calls and e-mails:
I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives — that was not my intent … Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and other conservative giants are the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.

Ritter and terror

Obama's decision to close the Guantánamo detention center and farm the prisoners out to places in the U.S. has led to a predictable free rider problem where no one actually wants nasty terrorists in their states. This makes perfect sense politically, the same way that it makes sense that Sen. Harry Reid won't support expanding nuclear power because it means more nuclear waste in Nevada. The Obama administration will send the prisoners where it needs to send them, maybe cutting deals with state politicians as necessary, even while those politicians rail against the move.

I was therefore surprised to see that Bill Ritter has invited Obama to send the terror suspects to the Supermax prison in Florence, CO:
I don't think it's appropriate for somebody like me . . . who has supported the president's decision to close Guantanamo Bay to say: "Not in my backyard."
This is the principled stance -- one might even call it a profile in courage, especially since Ritter may be facing a tough re-election fight next year and a state legislator has publicly predicted a "pipeline of terror from Kabul to Colorado" if Ritter gets his way.

Why would Ritter do this? Surely he must be aware of the big historical analogy, Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr's (at left) willingness to accept Japanese-Americans internees during WWII while other western governors resisted, a stance that likely cost Carr his job. (See Adam Schrager's wonderful biography of Carr for more details.) I certainly appreciate his principled position, but it seems like a situation where one could easily take a public position against the terror suspects coming to Colorado while ultimately relenting to it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Robert Kennedamus

A student pointed this clip out to me. It's Robert Kennedy in 1968, predicting that we could have a black president in 40 years. Creepy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The logic of strong parties

Atrios plays the tune quite nicely:
I actually hope every Republican votes against the stimulus package, and I hope that instead of trying to please them the Obama team comes up with what they think the right package will be. The Republicans should lay out a competing vision, which won't pass because they aren't in charge. Then, 2 and 4 years from now voters can judge the results and if they aren't pretty they'll know who to blame and decide that the competing vision would have been a better one.

With bipartisanship you'll not only get a compromise that sucks, when it's time to throw the bums out no one will be quite sure which party should be blamed. Then what new candidates do is just run against some generic "Washington."

Common People

Pulp's "Common People" may be one of the best songs about class ever written, and William Shatner's deadpan rendition of it somehow gives it additional authenticity. I'm not sure whether the song's message is undermined or reinforced when set to old animated Star Trek scenes, but the effort is still much appreciated.

Where were you?

David Bergman has assembled a 1.5 gigapixel composite photograph of the inauguration. The application allows you to zoom in on the photo with impressive resolution. Unfortunately, I'm behind a tree, so you can't see me.

Here's the original:
And here's a zoom on the former president and old man Potter:

Friday, January 23, 2009

test post

I'm trying out iBlogger for the first time.
My location is here.
and here's a link to the White House.

Times change

I've been looking at an old GRE political science subject exam from the mid-1980s. It's a quick reminder of how much our academic focus has changed in the past two decades. Almost all the comparative politics questions, for example, involve communism. But here's an interesting question about parties:
Which of the following statements correctly describes changes that have occurred in the presidential nominating procedures in the United States since 1968?

a) Candidates for presidential nomination have relied more heavily on state presidential preference primaries and on winning delegate support through the primary process.
b) It is far more difficult for relatively unknown candidates to challenge obvious "frontrunner" candidates successfully.
c) A number of court decisions have made it clear that when national political party rules are in conflict with state law regarding presidential nomination procedures, state law takes precedence.
d) Changing practices and rules have clearly reduced the importance of the mass media, particularly television, in the presidential nominating process.
e) The political party organizations have attempted to strengthen their control over the presidential nominating procedure by making the procedure more closed and more centralized at the state and national levels.
For the record, the "correct" answer is A, but you could make a pretty good argument for B and E. I'd say there's no real consensus correct answer today, although it may have been pretty obvious in 1985.

Another odd Senate pick

I don't know too much about Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Governor Paterson's choice for Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat, but from what I've read this morning, she's pretty conservative as Democrats go. She has a 100% rating from the NRA, she supported telecom immunity, she used to work for Al D'Amato, etc. She's had some pretty anti-gay stances, too, but has demonstrated some recent flexibility on that issue.

Now, all this might be justifiable if she were being appointed to a Senate seat in, say, Colorado, where a moderate voting record would be really helpful in the next statewide election. But she'll be running in New York, where liberals like, say, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton can win statewide. Meanwhile, elevating her to the Senate means opening up a moderate district to a special election which could easily go the Republicans' way.

Most peculiar.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Congress Schmongress

Behold the power of the executive order. As Spencer Ackerman writes,
For all the talk about Obama not governing as a progressive, take a look at his first not-even-48 hours in office. He's suspended the Guantanamo Bay military commissions, a first step toward shuttering the entire detention complex. He's assembled his military commanders to discuss troop withdrawals from Iraq. He's issued a far-reaching order on transparency in his administration that mandates, among other things, a two-year ban on any ex-lobbyists working on issues they lobbied for. And now he's shutting down the CIA's off-the-books detention complexes in the war on terrorism.
In another seemingly-minor but symbolically-powerful gesture, the Obama folks have re-written the source code for the White House website to make it more easily searchable from outside search engines. The Bush source code had 2,400 lines of code to make it difficult to search. As Ezra Klein writes, this move
bespeaks an administration that, at this point, doesn't think it needs to hide its words and actions from the people it governs.
Now, when do they start legislating?

The departure

Here's the Bushes departing aboard Marine One, while the Obamas and Bidens wave from the Capitol steps.

Political science = sexy

Some unimpeachable data from John Sides, derived from the "hotness" scale provided by

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My view

Okay, you can get a sense of my view of the ceremony in this photo. I was just southwest of the Capitol. If it were any other event, I would say my seat was horrible, but the fact that there were about 2 million people standing behind me made my seat seem somewhat better. And I could actually see what was going on.So you can see the dais there with the presidential seal. And if you zoom in close (thank you, 10-megapixel camera!), you can see this...
That's Barack Obama being sworn in, with Michelle Obama in the center and Chief Justice Roberts off to the right.

Colorado's newest senator

Here I am with Michael Bennet at the Colorado ball. He was quite gracious and funny, and didn't throw my Politico quote back at me. Much appreciated.

Bork Bork!

Okay, this is exciting. During the Inauguration, I sat next to a journalist for the Swedish publication Expressen. He decided to give me a quick interview and take my picture. We didn't get to speak for very long, but it turns out he used me in the article. Here's the left page of a two-page layout on the Inauguration:
I actually have had my picture in the paper before, but never on the same page as the First Lady and Bruce Springsteen.

Random celebrity sighting

Alfre Woodard (I swear that's her.)

Last minute tchochkies

At the "America!" political memoribilia store at Dulles. The line was
roughly 30 minutes long.

Nice town

Let me just give a little shout out to the residents of the District
of Columbia, who were extremely gracious and patient with the throngs
of tourists, including me, who descended upon their city. Either
everyone in DC was just very well-mannered, or the ill-mannered folks
wisely left town. Either way, thanks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Old man Potter

I've now heard several people compare the wheelchair-bound Dick Cheney to Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life." It's hard to ignore the similarities.


I attended the Colorado Inaugural Ball last night. I declined to attend any balls this evening, although I had a line on a few of them. The old saw that balls are overpriced and overhyped remains basically true. You pay $10 for a ticket to buy alcohol, then you give that ticket to a bartender who gives you a glass of $4 wine. Plus, you've spent at least $100 on a rented outfit that you wear for maybe 3 hours. It's a bit disappointing. On the other hand, you look great.

Still, I did have fun at the Colorado ball. I met up with a lot of my fellow delegates and got to chat politics with them, which I always enjoy. I got to speak briefly with our newest senator, Michael Bennet, and got a nice photo with him, too. (I'll post that later.) Just about the whole Colorado congressional delegation was there, with the exception of the Salazar brothers. I didn't see Betsy Markey there, either, but I might have missed her.

The band played a nice rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine." I ate cheesecake.

Apologies for the light posting

Cell reception was really bad during most of the day, and by the time it had cleared up, my iPhone was nearly out of power. So I wasn't able to post as much as I'd hoped.

Needless to say, it was a very moving inaugural experience. I have some photos on my digital camera that I'll upload when I get home. But the speech was really impressive. I particularly loved this line:
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
Awesome metaphor. I wish I could write like that. Also, I was impressed by his shout out to nonbelievers, especially since George H.W. Bush, who once described atheists as neither patriots nor citizens, was up there on the dais.

My friend Marc ended up being shut out of the inauguration along with several thousand other people in the purple ticketed section. He had an amazing experience anyway. I'm hoping he'll write down that experience, and I'll link to it when he does.

Crowd reactions

Cheers for Powell. Respectful silence for McCain. Boos for Lieberman.


Springsteen just walked by.

3G my butt

Cell phone signals are hopelessly compromised. I hope some of these
posts get through.

I'm in my seat!

Just two hours to go. Great view.

Lots of different security forces here. The Capitol Police were a bit
surly, but the Marines are in great spirits. Someone in line was
complaining about the cold. A Marine said, "It's cold in Inchon. It's
cold in the mountain of Afghanistan. This is just fine!"


Assuming my cell signal holds out, I'll be doing a phone interview
with Denver's 9News at 8am mst.

In line

The crowds are really impressive. I've never seen Metro so jammed
before. A Metro employee was shouting instructions to the passengers
as they left the Capitol South station. She ended her instructions by
saying, "Do not ask me any questions. I am from Baltimore."

I'm waiting in a very long line by the House office buildings to get
into the orange section. It's frakkin' cold.

Morning commute

Metro Center, 7:30am

Monday, January 19, 2009

Random celebrity sighting

Maura Tierney at the Men's Wearhouse on Connecticut Ave.

At the WWII memorial

It's pretty cold.


I inaugurated my morning with the traditional lox and cream breakfast
at Parkway in Silver Spring, MD.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shoulda flown earlier

I've just arrived in DC. Apparently, I missed a free Springsteen/U2
show at the Lincoln Memorial. Oh, well, I hope there's still some
history left for me.

DC Bound

I'm on the plane for Dulles. Lots of enthusiastic folks on board
wearing Obama shirts and whatnot. This should be great, although I'll
miss Denver weather.

Friday, January 16, 2009

George, grab your gun

Via LGM, Jonathan Schwarz has a nice idea for Bush's post-presidency. But would you want to be his commanding officer?
George W. Bush, age 61, to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, March 12, 2008:

"I must say, I'm a little envious...If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed...It must be exciting for some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks."

George W. Bush, age 62, in farewell address, January 15, 2009:

"We see America’s character in Bill Krissoff, a surgeon from California. His son Nathan, a Marine, gave his life in Iraq. When I met Dr. Krissoff and his family, he delivered some surprising news: He told me he wanted to join the Navy Medical Corps in honor of his son. This good man was 60 years old - 18 years above the age limit. But his petition for a waiver was granted, and for the past year he has trained in battlefield medicine. Lieutenant Commander Krissoff could not be here tonight, because he will soon deploy to Iraq, where he will help save America’s wounded warriors and uphold the legacy of his fallen son."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee"

Sadly, Ricardo Montalban passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 88. He was a hero of mine from his days playing Mr. Rourke and Khan.

I actually have a bit of history with the man. As a White House correspondence writer, I was tasked with writing a letter to Montalban from President Clinton congratulating him on receiving a lifetime acting award. I poured my heart into that letter, figuring I probably wouldn't get too many other opportunities to publicly declare my love for the man and his work.

It apparently paid off. A few weeks later, our office received a signed letter from Ricardo Montalban describing how touched he was by the president's words. If memory serves, he mentioned that he wept.

Liveblogging the inauguration

Jennifer Victor, who is both an outstanding scholar and a fine friend, will be liveblogging the inauguration here. I will attempt to do the same, although the presence of roughly a million people on the Mall all using their cell phones at the same time may cause some delays.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When testimony matters

I doubt most legislative testimony on pending bills matters all that much. Most legislators have their minds made up or are far more likely to listen to lobbyists/staffers/pollsters/colleagues than members of the general public who show up to speak.

However, there's currently a bill pending in the Colorado House that would mandate carbon monoxide alarms. The realty and property management groups that have opposed it ran into some very compelling testimony:
Shaking and crying, Don Johnson turned to the lawmakers in front of him, produced an urn holding his daughter's ashes and begged them to pass a bill mandating carbon monoxide detectors in new homes and apartments.

"This is my daughter today!" he screamed. "That's all that's left of her!"

"And what's the difference? What's the difference? There it is. Twenty bucks," he said, holding up a bill to show what it would have cost for a detector that could have saved his daughter's life...

The appeals appear to have swayed at least some skeptics of the bill and assured its passage to the House floor. Rep. Larry Liston, a Colorado Springs Republican who on Monday questioned the need for mandating carbon monoxide alarms, said Tuesday that the support he's seen from individuals and Realtors has convinced him to back it.

(c/o ColoradoPols)

Mayhem in the Tennessee legislature

Wicked cool.
The mood in the hall of the General Assembly Tuesday morning oozed with anxious anticipation.

Republicans stood poised to take control of the Tennessee General Assembly for the first time in nearly 140 years. Even Gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp roamed the halls. "What I say to all my new colleages here in the state house and state senate is with this new majority, is you cant just be the opposition party now because the burden is on you to govern."
What happened next some may describe as the political play of the decade as all 49 Democrats backed Kent Williams, a Sophomore Republican from Carter County, a district just miles from Mumpower's hometown.

During the voice vote on the Speaker's position, the House clerk called every Democrat first, then every Republican, except Williams. The 49 to 49 split was then decided by Williams.

Williams accepted the position amid cheers and boos, prompting state troopers to enter the House chambers ready to respond to an outburst.
(via Atrios)

The same thing happened in 1995 when the GOP took over the California Assembly. In a maneuver orchestrated by outgoing speaker Willie Brown (D), Dorris Allen (R) became speaker thanks to all the Democratic votes plus hers. She then got recalled by a group of angry conservatives in Orange County. Tennessee doesn't have the recall, but Williams should still watch his back.

For further study

Some sort of informal party organization going on here, but I'm not totally sure how powerful they are.

Improving university teaching

I learn from Ezra Klein that Texas A&M will be giving out $10,000 bonuses to faculty members who score high in student evaluations. This strikes me as an astonishingly bad idea. Robert Farley has a number of important criticisms of Klein's post, but the nub of the problem is that student evaluations are only modestly correlated with teaching ability. I don't think they're irrelevant -- evaluations have helped me spot problems in my courses and correct them rather than repeat them. And those who receive high evals are probably, on balance, better educators than those who receive low evals. But there are a huge number of things that affect evals -- including the professor's personality, looks, political leanings, sexual preference, gender -- that have nothing to do with teaching ability.

More importantly, the A&M proposal just creates an incentive to rig the class to provide better evals. This can be done quite easily. You can give out food on evaluation day. You can give higher (undeserved) grades. Hell, for a shot at $10,000, it might even make sense to pay students for high evals. Yes, as Ezra notes, professors might try doing things like teaching better, but generally speaking, it's far easier to do other, less beneficial things to juice the evals.

A&M might be better off using this money to train their professors in modern pedagogy, or to hire professional teaching coaches who observe professors in the classroom, which almost never happens.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ice Vice Baby?

Somebody please stop me.

Why Ritter didn't pick Romanoff for Senate

Steve Balboni at Steam Powered Opinions offers some further explanation of the tensions between Gov. Ritter and former Speaker Andrew Romanoff:
Romanoff was very anxious to get some movement on education reform at the start of the 2007 session and the governor dragged his feet for months and months. When he did jump on board with the Speaker's agenda he took it over and slowed the process down by creating another commission (the P-20 Council) that took many more weeks to create. The governor essentially sunk Romanoff's legacy project. I can't imagine that there's not lingering tension in that relationship.
It's really not unusual to have interbranch tensions like this, even among politicians of the same party. Governors and state legislators have different constituencies, different time tables, different career paths to consider, etc. Ritter and Romanoff are both terribly well mannered in public, but that shouldn't blind us to some real conflicts.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Obamicize yourself

This is undeniably cool.

I made this one:
Some enterprising individual came up with this one:
Here's another one I made:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Great moments in advertising

From a Chicago newspaper:


Another gem from the folks at FYS:(Get it? Gem? Ruby? I've still got it, baby.)


Today is my last day in the under-40 demographic. I don't seem to be as freaked out as some are at this point in their lives. If memory serves, my father was well into his second midlife crisis/sportscar at this point. I'm pretty content with where I am at this point. I'm happily married, I've got great kids, I like my job, I own my house, I have more hair than I know what to do with, etc. So I really don't have much cause to complain. Also, I can't afford a sportscar.

Still, according to the actuarial tables, I likely have more days behind me than ahead of me at this point, so that's something to think about.

When I contemplate the age of 40, I often think about John Lennon, who died at that age. Lennon really went through the wringer in his 30s, trying in every sort of way to figure out who he was and what life was all about. He wrote songs of anger and songs of beauty, he experimented with different religions and drugs, and then he kind of dropped out for a while. Then he emerged in his late 30s with the "Double Fantasy" album, writing songs about life that seemed like he'd finally achieved wisdom or some sort of state of grace. As he sang in "Watching the Wheels,"
I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
He was at peace. He'd figured it out. And he was friggin' 40. Food for thought.

What was Ritter thinking?

I did an interview with CNN yesterday (watch for it on Saturday) regarding the Bennet appointment. I was asked by the reporter what Ritter was thinking. Let's just stipulate here that appointing Bennet to the Senate was a risky move. Not a bad one -- again, I think Bennet will be a good senator. But given that Ritter could have gone with people with proven records of winning elections outside of Denver, or anywhere at all, this was somewhat risky. So what was Ritter thinking? I have several theories at this point, with limited evidence to support any of them. But here's what I've got.
  1. Goo goo. Ritter just likes the idea of good government and thinks that Bennet, regardless of his prospects for a 2010 election, was the best choice for senator. It's hard to believe that someone would rise to the rank of governor with such a sincere (which, in political science, is a synonym for näive) world view, and it sort of cuts against his own history of moderation and triangulation, but it's possible.
  2. Mile-High Macchiavelli. As described previously, Ritter recognizes that he's going to have a difficult reelection campaign in 2010, so he wanted to put an even weaker Democrat on the statewide ticket to draw the strongest Republicans away from him. Personally, I doubt that he's that cold, and I don't think that the Republicans are really hurting so much for credible candidates that they could only field one good one statewide.
  3. What Barack wants, Barack gets. I'm hearing some talk that Bennet really impressed Obama when they met to discuss the Secretary of Education position. Obama went with Arne Duncan (possibly a safer choice, given Duncan's national reputation), but still wanted to see Bennet involved in the federal government, so he strong-armed Ritter to appoint him. In return, Obama offered to help out Ritter in a big way during the latter's reelection campaign next year. I suppose this scenario is possible, but I'm not sure why Obama would dismiss Bennet as being unready for a cabinet position but ready to be a senator.
  4. It was Hick's idea. Denver Mayor Hickenlooper, considered a top prospect for the Senate appointment, may have actually not wanted the job. He probably could have won the governor's office in 2006 or become a senator last year if he'd expressed any interest in either job. He's got big name ID well beyond Denver's borders and a ridiculously high approval rating, despite multiple tax hikes and a nasty blizzard two years ago. But he seems to like being mayor, and being one of 100 senators might not be nearly as fun or interesting. So when Ritter asked him to be senator, Hick declined, but strongly suggested Bennet for the job and even ponied up a bunch of money for a Bennet election campaign in 2010. (I don't know that this is true -- we'll have to wait for the next FEC reports.) Again, a possibility, although I keep hearing that Hick really did want the Senate seat.
  5. There was no other choice. This seems crazy, but think about Ritter's options. He could have gone with Joan Fitz-Gerald, Peter Groff, or Andrew Romanoff, all of whom have good reputations from their work in the state legislature. However, it wouldn't be surprising if there was some bad blood between the governor and legislative leaders. Interbranch rivalries are real. Ritter also could have gone with Rep. Salazar or Rep. Perlmutter, both of whom have shown an ability to win in moderate districts. But that would expose a congressional district to a special election which the Republicans might well win at this point. He could have gone with Rep. DeGette, but she's widely known as the state's most liberal member of Congress and would likely lose in 2010. And maybe Hickenlooper didn't want the job (see above). So who's left? Bennet.
I'm open to other suggestions.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Who advises Ritter?

I just noticed this column from TV reporter Aaron Harber in the Dec. 26th edition of the Colorado Statesman:
Colorado’s pundits and politicos are advising Gov. Bill Ritter to replace U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar with someone well-known and well-connected in Democratic circles, someone who can raise the millions of dollars likely to be needed for the 2010 election campaign.

Those criteria are too simplistic — if not altogether wrong.

Instead, Ritter needs to make a bold choice, selecting someone who has academic training in economics, significant business experience and an intimate knowledge of the financial world.

Okay, that's exactly what Ritter did. Maybe Harber has the governor's ear?

Stand by me

In addition to being technically brilliant, this is also quite beautiful.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Breaking: Salazar passes his katra to Bennet via mind meld

On the manned space program

Matthew Yglesias writes:
My only beef with [the civilian space program] is that the program has been disproportionately focused on the idea of manned space exploration. Human beings, being fragile creates who evolved on the planet earth, turn out to be hard to send into space. They also, being humans, tend not to be interested in taking extremely long trips even though many interesting things in space are very far away. Under the circumstances, it’s just not very practical to send human beings into space unless there’s something important that only human beings can do. And in recent decades, there just [haven't] been the sort of compelling projects that justify the difficulties of manned space flight. Instead, we’ve been making up missions — most recently the preposterous idea of a manned mission to Mars — in order to justify the human-oriented space program.
All true. To which I would add, not only are manned space missions expensive and impractical, they are also incredibly risky. The shuttle has something like a 1% failure rate. That is, of the two hundred or so shuttle missions we've launched, two have resulted in the loss of the spacecraft and all its occupants. That's two orbiters worth $1.7 billion each and 14 astronauts with an enormous amount of specialized training. The shuttle's predecessor, Apollo, had two catastrophic failures, as well, one of which took the lives of three astronauts and one of which nearly did the same. In what other fields, short of the military and maybe police and firefighting, would we find such mortality rates remotely acceptable?

Send robots. They like the work, and they're cheap.

The Bennet angle

I was talking to a reporter yesterday who had a somewhat Machiavellian explanation for Ritter's choice of Michael Bennet for the Senate seat. Ritter is likely facing a difficult reelection campaign in 2010. The economy is souring, his approval ratings seem iffy (although they're not polled very often), and the initiative he championed last year (Amendment 58) went down, suggesting he doesn't have a ton of mojo right now. Perhaps Ritter wanted to put an even weaker Democrat on the ballot to draw the most qualified Republican competitors away from him and toward the Senate seat.

It's like that joke about the two gazelles running from a lion. One gazelle stops to put on sneakers. The other says, "What are you doing? That won't help you outrun the lion." The first one says, "I don't have to outrun the lion. I just have to outrun you."

It's an interesting theory, but I kind of doubt there's much to it. For one thing, it doesn't square with what we know about Ritter's personality. For another, it's not like there's only one or two qualified Republicans out there who could make a capable run for statewide office.

Interesting reactions to this decision abound. Most state Democrats seem willing to give Ritter and Bennet the benefit of the doubt, although a few were surprisingly critical. Here's one:
Susan Barnes-Gelt, a former Denver City Councilwoman, questioned how many people a Denver-centric educator with no experience in campaigning would appeal to in a statewide race.

She also wondered why Ritter would choose him over [Andrew] Romanoff when the outgoing House speaker had the legislative support that Ritter needs to pass his agenda.

"Here's yet another example of Bill Ritter making a strange choice that reflects nothing but the fact that he has not been listening to an overwhelming number of Coloradans," she said.

Another interesting reaction came from Wally Stealy in Pueblo:

"We're in total shock," Stealey said. "We don't think he can win the next election. We think he is the wealthy man's candidate."

Meanwhile, Politico interviewed me about the Bennet pick. You can read it here. I sound like an idiot, and I don't think that's entirely my fault.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Partisanship and the public sphere

This is a really interesting article by Henry Farrell in the latest American Prospect. Henry argues that there has been a rise in civic participation recently, and this has not been the result of any bipartisan dialogue. Rather, intense partisanship is saving the public sphere. As Henry says,
The rebirth of civic participation this year is not a product of experiments in deliberative democracy or a new interest in league bowling. Rather, it is based on party politics, coupled with and accelerated by new opportunities provided by the Internet. Skocpol's claim that "conflict and competition have always been the mother's milk of American democracy" tells part of the story. Just as social-movement theorists might have predicted, the major innovations came from outsiders, like members of, who wanted to challenge the system. At the time when it led opposition to the Iraq War, MoveOn represented a point of view that had little support among political elites, which meant it wouldn't have been able to use conventional tools of interest-group politics even if it had wanted to. Instead, it turned to the Internet and created a new model of mass mobilization.
Very much worth the read.

Message/Messenger Mismatch

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol sought to discourage teen pregnancy Friday in a statement posted on the governor’s website welcoming her first grandchild, Tripp, into the family.

Michael Bennet - quick reaction

Well, I'll give Gov. Ritter credit for thinking outside the box. Just about no one here expected him to name Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate. He wasn't on any serious short list.

I'm still pretty flabbergasted about this. Mainly, it strikes me as a risky pick. (Disclosure: Bennet signs half the paychecks that come into my household.) It's not risky because Bennet won't be a good senator -- quite the contrary. He's very bright and gets both the business world and the political world quite well. He knows a lot, but he's not afraid to turn to the advice of experts when he doesn't know something. These are all very good qualities for a school superintendant and a senator.

The risk is that he's largely unknown outside Denver, has never run for office before, and will have a tough time defending his seat in 2010. It's my strong impression than 2010 will be a relatively difficult year for Democrats. Midterms are usually tough for the president's party, and the economy isn't likely to have made a big turnaround by then. On top of that, interim appointee senators historically have a hard time holding onto their seats when they run for office. Bennet can't win this seat in 2010 solely with the votes of Denver Democrats; he'll have to win some of those western slope voters that put Ritter and Udall over the top. Bennet can do it, but he's got his work cut out for him, considering most of those voters have never even heard of him and only know he's a Denver Democrat.

Andrew Romanoff is a Denver pol but has a good reputation statewide. Joan Fitz-Gerald is also well known and is a serious campaigner. John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter have a proven ability to win in moderate districts. Gov. Ritter, who's a pretty cautious politician, passed over these and other well qualified Democrats in favor of a real unknown quantity. The more I think about it, the more this move surprises me.

Polarization isn't a function of personality

In his new blog, Nolan McCarty gives us a quick assessment of the outgoing 110th Congress. This was the Congress that was supposed to reverse our partisan polarization trend since it involved the election of so many Red state Democrats. As the evidence shows, polarization only continued. Both chambers are now as polarized as they've ever been:He further predicts that, judging from the party affiliations and regions of the newest elected members, the 111th Congress will be even more polarized.

Political journalists, including but not limited to Joe Klein, tend to see party polarization as something that must end soon, and they hold politicians who promise to end it in high regard. Bush, for example, was widely portrayed as the uniter who would have to govern from the center due to his slender and controversial 2000 victory. That didn't happen. But the fact that it didn't happen had little to do with Bush. The parties have simply been moving apart from each other ideologically since the 1970s. This can be attributed to the polarization of districts, the empowering of ideological activists, white Southerners getting over their hatred of Lincoln, the development of air conditioning, and several other factors.

Similarly, while Obama has made a few overtures to conservatives, his administration is not likely to transcend partisanship. It's bigger than him.

(h/t The Monkey Cage)