Sunday, May 29, 2011

Voting one's race

The Denver Post's map of the early May Denver mayoral election showing which of the top three candidates received the plurality in each precinct. The candidates were Hancock (who is African American), Mejia (who is Latino), and Romer (who is white):

And now, the Census Bureau's map of the distribution of racial and ethnic groups in Denver, courtesy of the New York Times:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Direct mail and accountability

A while back I wrote about some of Denver mayoral candidate Michael Hancock's recent campaign flubs, including one in which he he said that intelligent design should be taught in schools. (He quickly retracted that.) Not surprisingly, his opponent, Chris Romer, has put together some direct mail pieces hitting him on this. You can see a picture of one of them at left.

Here's something I found innovative: you see that QR code on the center left? It links to a video of Hancock's debate appearance in which he made the offending statement. Say what you want about negative ads, but this is about as well-sourced as they get.

How to pick a candidate in a low-information, nonpartisan race

The runoff contest in the Denver mayoral race is between two mainstream Democrats, each with an impressive array of endorsers, substantial funding, highly similar positions on most issues facing the city, and roughly equal place in the polls. How does one make a informed choice between them? I have a useful indicator: former undergraduate students of mine are now staffers for each of the candidates. I can infer qualities of the candidates from qualities of the students. The trick is, on what basis shall I judge the students? Ideology? Grade point average? Manners?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Obama scandal starting in 3... 2...

Brendan Nyhan has a really interesting piece up on the rather remarkable lack of scandals emerging from the Obama administration. Really, you have all the pieces in place -- an opposition party that despises the president and has subpoena power, a polarized political environment, a media system predisposed toward scandal coverage, etc. Where are the scandals?

Brendan suggests that Obama has been blessed, in a way, by a series of substantive events that have eaten up much of the available media time:
Just as slow news periods seem to encourage scandal coverage, my research shows that pressure from competing stories diverts attention and media resources that could have been devoted to negative coverage of the administration, reducing both the likelihood of presidential scandal and the volume of coverage those scandals receive. In Obama’s case, it is clear that external events have consumed much of the news agenda over the last eighteen months, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Arab Spring revolts, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the killing of Osama bin Laden. The saturation coverage that these stories received left little room for scandal, particularly given the volume of debate over the merits of the president’s legislative agenda and his confrontation with the new Republican majority in the House.
I suppose one can quibble about the definition of scandal. The birther controversy, for example, was held as important by a nontrivial portion of the Republican Party, although it hardly derailed the administration and didn't really result in hearings or trials. But we really haven't seen anything like a Watergate, an Iran-Contra scandal, or even a Whitewater (which was based on only slightly more substance than the birther affair). At this point in Clinton's presidency, Dan Burton was already conducting simulations of Vince Foster's death using a handgun and a pumpkin in his backyard. Are these guys even trying today?

Brendan estimates that the likelihood of an Obama scandal will increase substantially over the next year. And so we wait.

A noble spirit embiggens the smallest party faction

Via Sullivan, here's Mike Tomasky's take on the danger's of a Sarah Palin presidential nomination:
The Republican primary will likely be set up in such a way that she’ll be able to pull the field, and the party, hard to the right, and while that will be fine for Barack Obama come Election Day, it will help cripple any attempt to do anything constructive afterward.
This differs from the situation today how exactly?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I went to see U2 last Saturday at Invesco Field. It really was a great show -- those guys still know how to play to a stadium crowd in a way very few other bands can. The set list was wonderful, although I wish they'd played some different stuff off the new album. ("Unknown Caller" and "Breathe" would have been welcome replacements for "Get on your Boots" and "Moment of Surrender.")

I have to say that Bono came off a bit weird, with his old swagger coming across as more of a stagger. He seemed to be either a) in his 50s; b) recovering from back surgery; or c) suffering from altitude sickness. It is entirely possible that all three were true. He's still got plenty of energy, and his voice is pitch-perfect, but the stories he was telling were somewhat unfocused. Still, I suppose it's an improvement over when he used to make me feel guilty for playing Sun City or supporting the IRA. (Not that I did those things, but he was very effective with the guilt.)

I've been reflecting a bit on U2's contribution to the genre of aging rock acts. Below is a video from the "Rattle and Hum" film showing a 1987 performance of "Where the Streets have no Name." The performance is fantastic, as is the cinematography. But what struck me was just how little most of the band moves. Edge is pretty stationary and can make the sounds he makes without a whole lot of theatrics. Larry obviously has to exert some energy as a drummer, but he avoids Keith Moon's antics or Neil Peart's anal retentiveness or even Ringo's personality and instead just goes for quiet competence. And Adam, God bless him, probably burns fewer calories per dollar earned than any other entertainer in the world.

It's Bono who does all the real work. He belts out the very lyric-heavy tunes with tremendous power, in addition to dancing and strutting a bit and going off on political rants, and he's the only one who attempts to connect with the audience. The man works his butt off. That's a big burden to carry for a 50-year old with a back injury. My impression is that the rest of the band can continue to perform well into their 60s or even 70s, but Bono's going to have to come up with a different way of doing this sooner or later.

The predictive power of polls

If you're already looking at polls for the 2012 presidential election, be sure to glance at the awesome graph below from Chris Wlezien and Bob Erikson, courtesy of John Sides. The chart depicts the R-squared of polls predicting outcomes in presidential elections. R-squareds range from 0 to 1, with 1, in this case, meaning that polls perfectly explain what will happen in the election and and 0 meaning there is no relationship between polls and the election outcome.
Notably, we are still currently more than 300 days away from the next presidential election, meaning that any polls pairing up Obama against possible Republican nominees are functionally meaningless. But enjoy them anyway.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Party agendas, responsibility, and punishment

History seems to be repeating itself. In 2008, Democrats were elected by wide margins nationally after running on a platform emphasizing health care reform and fixing the economy. So once they were in power, they reformed health care and attempted to fix the economy, and then were punished heavily for doing so in 2010. The Republicans were put in charge of the House that year after running on a platform of fiscal responsibility. Once in power, they voted for the Ryan budget outline, which called for drastic decreases in federal spending on expensive items like Medicare. And now they're starting to get punished for it.

Did the GOP fail to learn the lessons of the Democrats? Was this avoidable? Well, that all depends on your view of a party's responsibilities.

In theory, the Democrats could have avoided some losses in 2010 by not doing anything on health reform. Sure, they would have still suffered due to weak economic growth and President Obama's relative unpopularity, but it might have been less of a slaughter if so many members in moderate districts hadn't voted for ACA (although it's hard to know the demoralizing effect on activists of failing to act on a longstanding priority). But would that have been the responsible thing to do? The party has been advocating for health reform for decades and suddenly found itself in control of the White House, the House, and 60% of the Senate. Even if they had known in advance about the drubbing they would take for it, would that have been a valid excuse for inaction?

And please don't suggest that they could have reformed health care in a less controversial way. Any effort to restructure a seventh of the economy is inherently controversial. The plan Obama ended up pushing was seen as the moderate, uncontroversial approach just a few years earlier only because no one was opposing it at the time. In a polarized environment, any effort made by one party to do something this big is going to encounter significant opposition.

Similarly, would it have been responsible for the Republicans to not push something like the Ryan plan this year? Republicans have been criticizing Medicare essentially since it was created, and any serious effort to deal with long term budget deficits -- something that Republicans promised to do when they ran in 2010 -- will have to address Medicare in some fashion. Now, they didn't have to do it in precisely this way, but it looks like they were being responsible. That is, they knew this plan would be unpopular but felt they had to push it.

I'd suggest that the alternative -- irresponsible parties that propose something in a campaign and then avoid acting on it in order to stay in power -- is far worse for representative democracy. Campaigns would become meaningless and politicians would be utterly unpredictable. The fact that we have parties that actually seek to deliver on campaign promises is something we should be celebrating.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why the recall wasn't a circus

The 2003 California gubernatorial recall was supposed to be a circus. You only needed $3,000 and a few dozen signatures to be on the replacement ballot, and the parties had no primaries to cull the number of candidates. Soon the ballot contained 135 candidates, including Gary Coleman, Gallagher, Mary Carey, Larry Flynt, and a certain Austrian bodybuilder-turned-actor. Journalists and politicians issued all sorts of warnings about the dangers of this recall, suggesting that the replacement governor could take office with as little as 10 percent of the vote. In fact, three candidates split 94 percent of the vote, and the plurality winner came within a point of a clear majority. The election results looked surprisingly normal and un-circus-like.

How did this happen? In an article that's out in the new State Politics and Policy Quarterly, I argue that the parties imposed order on what would otherwise have been a chaotic environment. The article focuses specifically on the Republicans, noting how party leaders rallied around Schwarzenegger (whom they'd been grooming for office for a few years) and pressured other candidates to step out of the race through a combination of conversations, endorsements, and donations.

What's the matter with the states?

Betsy Russell chronicles some interesting goings-on in state legislatures of late in a recent article in the Spokesman-Review:
Montana lawmakers backed a bill to let local sheriffs stop federal law enforcement officers from making arrests in their counties, though the governor vetoed it. They also debated measures to legalize hunting with a hand-thrown spear and declare global warming “beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.”
Florida legislators outlawed droopy pants on schoolkids that show their underwear. Illinois made it legal to pick up road-killed animals for food or fur, saying it’ll clean up the roads.
Utah lawmakers ordered schools to teach kids that the United States is a “compound constitutional republic” rather than a democracy, after the bill’s sponsor said “schools from coast to coast are indoctrinating children to socialism.” South Carolina looked at setting up its own gold or silver currency in case the Federal Reserve system fails. And a Georgia lawmaker pushed unsuccessfully to abolish drivers licenses because he said requiring them violates people’s “inalienable right” to travel.
What's going on lately? I'm pleased to report that Russell interviews no fewer than four political scientists (including yours truly) in an attempt to answer this question. My contention is that the recent Tea Party movement has encouraged people to run for office who wouldn't normally be interested in politics. Many of these candidates had little or no background in the traditional Republican Party, and since it was a good year for Republicans in general, many of them just wound up in office. The issues they're advocating aren't necessary Republican or even Tea Party issues per se, but they're the issues of outsiders who are new to politics and government. Whether they're crazy or thinking outside the box is really just a matter of perspective.

There's some nice arguments from Thad Kousser, Alan Rosenthal, and Gary Moncrief in there. Check it out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Solid state

My university is finally, after four long years, buying me a new Mac. They'll give me the bare-bones Macbook Pro, but I can pay for upgrades. And now I notice that Apple will install a solid state hard drive instead of a standard mechanical spinning-wheel one, if I'm willing to pay for it. Is it time to make that jump?

Needless to say, I've been excited about the prospect of going solid state since my great hard drive crash of 2007. But I've been researching the topic a little bit, and now I'm not sure I should make the switch.

The pros of going solid state come down to durability and speed. I doubt I'd notice the speed so much, since I don't do too many hard-drive-intense activities like video editing, although my computer would surely start up more quickly. Durability's the big issue. Solid state chips can handle getting bumped around and dropped. I've dropped my iPhone enough to know how important durability is.

But one of the major down sides of solid state is that the chips don't age all that well. As Mark Chinsky writes,
Flash memory quite simply has a limited number of times that information can be written to a location (a bit). Most consumer drives on the market today can handle about 10,000 writes to a bit. Once that spot is used up, it can never be used again.
Now, it's quite possible that this wouldn't really affect a user like me. Given how I use computers, the flash memory might not degrade for at least five years, which is beyond the lifespan of a typical laptop anyway. And some estimates suggest that solid state memory could last decades. But there is some chance of degradation. So near as I can analogize, standard hard drive failures are like aneurisms (rare, but they can kill your brain suddenly and without warning) while solid state drive failures are like senility (slow but pretty much inevitable if you last long enough).

Another concern is that solid state drives might be prone to sudden crashes, as well. The research done here isn't very scientific, but it reports a disturbingly high incidence of solid state failure. The author justifies their continued use simply for the speed, but I don't think that's enough for me.

The final concern is price. I'm generally an advocate of buying as much computer as you can afford, at least in terms of processor speed and hard drive space. But solid state drives cost significantly more than standard spinning drives, and that's not about to change. 512 gigabytes of solid state drive space costs over $1,000 more than the same amount of standard hard drive storage. From what I've read, the dollar-per-gigabyte costs of solid state drives are dropping at about the same rate as the costs of standard spinning drives, so half a terabyte of the former will always cost a lot more than half a terabyte of the latter.

It's sounding like solid state memory is great for those who do disk-heavy computing and for those who expect their laptops to get bounced around a lot. Basically, if you're a war correspondent and you do your own digital video editing, you want solid state. But for me, I'm not sure it's worth the price.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another great milestone for academic bloggers

John Sides has been tenured by the George Washington University.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

State legislative seats are cheap, except where they're not

A novel solution for campus libraries?

The University of Chicago thinks they've figured out how to deal with the problem of too many books in too little space: dig down. They've built a 50-foot deep Batcave that can hold 3.5 million books, and they've created an automated retrieval system by which robots bring you your requested book within five minutes. No, this still doesn't help faculty who like to browse the stacks, but at least it's not moving the books miles away.

(h/t: Monkey Cage)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arnold's problem: no role models

I'm reflecting on Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie career today and thinking that he very rarely plays a father and even less frequently plays a husband. Sure, sometimes he ends up in a relationship at the end of the film ("Kindergarten Cop,"), but he's usually just a single guy -- or a robot -- doing his job.

His fatherly roles, while few, are actually fairly respectable as models of behavior. In both "True Lies" and "Commando," he risked his life to save his daughter (Alyssa Milano in the latter). He was arguably playing John Connor's father in Terminators 2 and 3, and again, the character's actions were commendable. Recall Sarah Connor's assessment in T2:
The Terminator would never stop, it would never leave him. And it would never hurt him, never shout at him or get drunk and hit him or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there and it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.
And in both films, he did end up dying to save John. T3 was particularly interesting -- he died deceiving John in order to save his life. Hey, sometimes dads have to do unpleasant things.

But when was he a husband?

From what we know of Schwarzenegger's own upbringing, his father wasn't much of a role model, either. I'm not saying any of this excuses his behavior, but we should keep in mind that he hasn't had a whole lot of great training in being a husband.

Breaking: Mallard Fillmore cartoon makes no sense

There's almost half a kernel of humor to yesterday's Mallard Fillmore cartoon, except that it's obviously untrue:
Yes, on some level, the birther controversy was good for Obama -- it made his opponents look unhinged. But the controversy didn't just go away. Obama killed it. So, hardly for the first time, I'm scratching my head wondering what the hell Bruce Tinsley is talking about.

Newt as the Republicans' Frankenstein

Jonathan Bernstein, on Newt Gingrich's attacks on the Ryan Medicare plan:
He’s still the same old irresponsible Newt, willing to say pretty much anything as long as it’s phrased as strongly as possible. Even if he said the opposite, in just as dire terms, two weeks ago. Or yesterday. Only this time, since he’s in a GOP primary, he’s going to turn some of that fire on his own party. And, yeah, they don’t like it. But they might have thought about that before, during the decade they were pretending he deserved to be on the Sunday shows and the op-ed pages, making the case for why Clinton or Gore or Kerry or Obama was fundamentally wrong for America. They propped him up. Now — for a while, at least — they’re going to have to live with him.
I remain a bit fuzzy on the whole mechanism of how prominent people get to be on the Sunday political talk shows or get printed in op-ed sections. Bernstein suggests here (and elsewhere) that Newt's regular appearances on "Meet the Press" and "This Week" and everywhere else have been on the orders of, or at least with the permission of, the national Republican Party, broadly defined. And to some extent, that's probably true -- if Newt was going to go on TV and talk about how Obamacare was radical socialism, I doubt too many Republican leaders were going to protest.

In another sense, though, just how much control did Republican elites have over him? Gingrich is a well-known egomaniac given to bombastic rhetoric, meaning a) he'll want to be on TV as much as possible; and b) TV shows will be happy to have him on because they can count on him saying something newsworthy. If Newt calls up Cokie Roberts and says he'd like to be on the show next week, does he really need to check in with anyone else first? Even if a Reince Priebus or a John Boehner or the Koch brothers didn't want Newt to do a show, just how much influence would they have over him?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Anatomy of a rally effect

Why did President Obama's approval rating rise in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death? Many political scientists will tell you it's because elite discourse suddenly became very favorable to Obama. Those who usually hear neutral or critical media messages about Obama suddenly heard more positive messages, and their evaluations responded accordingly.

There's some nice evidence from MeaningMine that's consistent with this story. MeaningMine is a software program that analyzes coverage in newspapers and social media. For this project, it examined over 690,000 articles and postings and determined whether the coverage was "healthy" (supportive of Obama) or "unhealthy" (critical of Obama). The trend matches Obama's Gallup approval rating nicely:
Of course, these trends moved simultaneously, so this is hardly proof of causality, but it's certainly consistent with the elite-driven theory. I'd be curious to see how the results break down by media type (MSM, blogs, Facebook, etc.).

(via Edie Lush)

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I'm glad Matt Yglesias emerged from his unfortunate encounter relatively unscathed and still good for some policy analysis. But it's nonetheless a sobering reminder. The streets of most of America's cities are a lot safer than they were 20 years ago, but random violence is still out there. Take care of yourselves.

Once is a flub; 3 times is a pattern

Denver mayoral candidate Michael Hancock stepped in some significant doo-doo the other night when he was asked at a debate whether creationism and intelligent design should be taught in schools and he replied yes. He then reportedly got an earful from the audience, realized the enormity of what he said, and changed his answer to no. 

Now, it's important to keep in mind that the mayoral candidates have done a lot of debates, and many of these debates have featured rapid-fire yes/no questions. That a candidate would misunderstand a question and give a quick, wrong answer is certainly not hard to imagine.

However, Hancock's self-described "flub" comes on the heels of some other similar unforced errors. A month ago, when asked at a debate whether he believes in evolution, he replied, "I believe in God." At another point, when the candidates were filling out a Planned Parenthood issues survey, candidate Chris Romer identified himself as "pro-choice," while Hancock called himself "pro-family planning."

A mayoral race is a relatively low information contest. The candidates' formal positions are not terribly distinct from each other -- both are mainstream Democrats -- and there are no party labels on the ballot to help voters choose between them anyway. They also both come off as pretty decent, intelligent guys with lots of important endorsements behind them. In such an environment, small, symbolic items like Hancock's recent flubs are magnified in importance as the candidates seek ways to distinguish themselves from each other and as voters try to choose between them.

The most charitable interpretation of Hancock's flubs would be that he is making some amateurish mistakes in a heated campaign -- hardly inexcusable, but still, these are mistakes his opponent is not making. Denver's largely Democratic electorate, however, would be well within its rights to interpret these events as signs that Hancock is unreliable on vital issues like abortion and science in the schools. Denver Democrats might have given former Governor Bill Ritter's pro-life stance a pass when the alternative was a Republican, but when the alternative is a pretty capable pro-choice Democrat, these voters may not be so forgiving.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Are political scientists under-engaged?

Via Henry Farrell and Archon Fung, here's a notable quote from the late great Lee Sigelman:
If "speaking truth to power" and contributing directly to public dialogue about the merits and demerits of various courses of action were still numbered among the functions of the [political science] profession, one would not have known it from leafing through its leading journal.
I touched on this a bit in my article in the Forum last year. We actually have some evidence of of under-engagement by political scientists, provided by a 1969 survey of academics performed by Everett Ladd, Seymour Lipset, and Martin Trow. Here are responses among academics to the question of whether they have ever been active in a student group or club:
This, to me, suggests that the people who become political scientists are disproportionately inclined to join groups and get involved in politics. This shouldn't be terribly surprising -- political scientists took to their line of work because they actually care about politics. That they would have been involved politically in the past doesn't seem like a real stretch.

But note the next chart, for which academics were asked whether they are currently involved in consulting local businesses or governments, nonprofits, or national businesses or governments:
Suddenly political scientists don't look so special. Indeed, they seem to be underperforming relative to other social scientists, despite a disproportionate penchant for political participation. 

It's regrettable that political scientists are not sharing (or do not feel welcome sharing) their knowledge with the political world. It's also regrettable that we are ceding this role to other fields.

Some Newt thoughts

There are a lot of Gingrich gems in this Business Week article. My favorite, of course, is that he compares next year's presidential election to that of 1860, which involved a progressive Illinois politician facing off against racist white southerners. I'm not sure how far he wants to push that metaphor. I also enjoy his odd claim that GE would pay more in corporate taxes if we lowered them. And then there's this nice juxtaposition:
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier Friday Gingrich said he's grown more mature since his days as House speaker, and before that, when he was often described as a bomb-throwing insurgent member of the House Republican minority.
Last year, he suggested U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a racist, said Obama is best understood by his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior," and argued that placing a mosque near ground zero in New York City was akin to placing a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.
These statements, ridiculous as they are, are not the reason that Newt won't get the Republican presidential nomination. The main reason is, as Jon Bernstein has been pointing out for some time, major parties just don't nominate House members for the presidency, and they certainly don't nominate people who retired from the House over a decade ago. In disgrace. The man has never won an election outside suburban Atlanta, and he's provided no evidence in recent years that he ever will. Really, it's hard to imagine that a guy whose last electoral victory was over Cooter feels prepared to take on Obama.

More specifically, Newt faces the problem that a lot of Republicans really don't like him. John Podhoretz's takedown is pretty epic along these lines.

I'm not quite so quick as Bernstein to dismiss Newt as a complete charlatan. While I think he received (and claimed) too much credit for the Republican takeover in 1994, he was responsible, as far as I know, for recruiting quite a few high quality House candidates that year and seeing that they received proper funding. Recruitment matters a great deal in elections, and he was one of very few DC insiders who saw a GOP House takeover as a real possibility long before it happened. And he actually does stumble across clever ideas once in a while, and if you heard his 1995 speech upon becoming Speaker, you know that he can, at times, be quite interesting, historically-minded, and gracious. But those moments are rare.

For the record, I have personally encountered Gingrich twice. Once was in the summer of 1990 -- I was interning on Capitol Hill and got to eat in the House dining room at the same time that he was there. He was eating alone at a table, deep in thought. The second time was at the Irish Times bar on Capitol Hill on the 100th day of the 104th Congress. Republicans were out celebrating all over town. I was actually sitting with some NARAL employees when Newt walked in. A friend of mine invited him to sit with us. He very politely declined. (To my relief -- it would have been an awkward evening.) Oh, and a friend of mine got to use the urinal next to Tony Blankley that same evening. Good times.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Colorado redistricting: Were they even serious?

As today is the final day of the 2011 session of the Colorado state legislature, it looks like there will not be a democratically-produced redistricting plan for the state's congressional districts. This means that a panel of judges will once again draw the state's districts. There's plenty of blame to go around, but I think it's fair to ask whether either party was very serious about this from the outset.

Recall that just a month ago, the state's redistricting committee produced nine redistricting maps. There are only ten people on the committee. Under the principles of collective action, the act of appointing a committee is a form of delegation, by which we empower a small group of people to make decisions on behalf of the whole, since it's far easier for a small group to reach an agreement than a large one. This committee did not do that job. Indeed, one gets the impression that everyone figured this would end up in the courts anyway. After all, a committee with even numbers of Republicans and Democrats would be unlikely to reach a consensus, as would a legislature with Republicans controlling one chamber and Democrats controlling the other.

One thing the committee might have done, if they wanted to keep redistricting power in the legislature's hands, would be the common bipartisan approach of making every incumbent's district safer. That's not necessarily great if you value competitive elections, but it would at least have had a strong chance of passage. Instead, they just punted to the judicial branch. They're certainly welcome to do that, but none of us should be thrilled to watch the most democratic branch of government abrogate one of its major powers.

The persistence of ideology

Name the speaker:
[The President] has lost faith in the American people. Just look at the men surrounding him. They are cynics who scoff at our simple virtues. They think that the people are too dumb to understand democracy. Their idea is that they, the intelligentsia, can govern us with catch phrases and sleight-of-hand.... Give our country back to us. We want it. We love it.
Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Michelle Bachmann? Good guesses. No, those words were spoken by Wendell Willkie during his 1940 run for president against Franklin Roosevelt.

I learned this gem from John Gerring's wonderful book Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996. Gerring demonstrates a remarkable stability in the language and imagery used by party orators over time. The themes that modern Republicans discuss in their speeches -- limited federal government, low taxes, the supremacy of small business, etc. -- were really developed back in the 1920s. Speeches delivered by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan could just as easily have been delivered by Herbert Hoover or Calvin Coolidge.

Gerring also finds some interesting turning points in the history of American ideologies. Whigs and Republicans in the 19th and early 20th century used to have a different set of beliefs, speaking of liberty as though it were inextricably linked to personal responsibilities, and seeing the government as the means to inculcate and enforce those responsibilities. The notion of "self-government" had two meanings in Lincoln's era, both choosing one's leaders and ruling one's own passions.

I'm still in the middle of this book, but I'm learning a ton from it. I hope to share more later.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thank you, stranger

I'd just like to take this moment to thank the gentleman who stopped to repair my bike on the South Platte bike trail yesterday in Denver. He removed my punctured inner tube and replaced it with a spare he happened to be carrying. He refused my money and just told me to pay it forward.

It shouldn't be terribly surprising to learn that there are decent people out there who will stop and help strangers, but it's nice to be reminded of that once in a while.

Meanwhile, I now have a huge karmic debt to repay, so if anyone needs me to review a paper, change a diaper, or selectively recall the details of an alleged crime, now's the time to ask.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Won't you take me to Honkeytown?

In the Denver mayoral race, Chris Romer and Michael Hancock are going to a runoff election next month. Here's how the Denver Post begins its contrast piece about the two candidates today:
Romer is a white, affluent native of Denver whose father was a popular three-term governor and who spent a career in the world of banking.
Michael Hancock is an African-American who overcame a poor upbringing to become a Denver councilman and get elected twice as City Council president.
Anyone want the spoiled white banker? Yeesh. Tough coverage for Romer. I suppose one could argue that the Post is trying to plug a party narrative into a nonpartisan race, casting Romer as the Republican and Hancock as the Democrat. Of course, both men are Democrats, as are the bulk of the city's voters. Sure, Romer has the backing of Republican Josh Penry, but Hancock is getting money from John Elway, so I guess they're about even on Republican-ness.

Sounds like Romer is going to have to spend some more time kissing up to Post reporters.

On reporting election results

Yesterday I complained that neither I nor the vast majority of voters in Denver's Tuesday election had any idea how to pick a good candidate for municipal clerk and recorder. I want to revise that statement slightly. I now have a pretty good idea of what poor behavior by a clerk and recorder's office looks like. That would be that office's decision to update election results every 90 minutes on election night.

I understand that most of what that office does really doesn't require real-time updating, and the only people checking election returns on election night are journalists, candidates, and nerds like me. And it's good to be careful. But I'm pretty confident that election night is when the office's website gets the bulk of its hits. I can't imagine it's that time-consuming to just throw the most recent results up on the web.

At any rate, the clerk and recorder's race is going to a runoff between Sarah McCarthy and Debra Johnson. Whichever candidate can most credibly promise to provide frequent, accurate vote updates on election nights has my vote.

Update: I am told by some people in the know that I should ease up. After all, the director of the elections division recently left, there were write-in candidates, and there was a surge in ballots on election day, not to mention that they have a small staff and time spent updating a website is time not spent counting ballots. This all may be true, but it's still possible to plan for the inevitable Tuesday crunch. I wonder if the elections division would take in volunteers on election day. Not to count ballots, mind you, but to help report numbers. It wouldn't be that hard to create a user-friendly computer template that allows volunteers to update the results as ballots are counted. I'd volunteer for this sort of thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kaddish for Osama, round-up

Too many elections

It's Election Day in Denver! I just voted for mayor and two city council offices.* But what's really important is that I had a chance to vote for the city clerk and recorder's office. Whoever wins that race better, um, record... stuff... just the way I like, or there'll be hell to pay. Oh, and I also voted in the city auditor's race. Now, obviously, as a voter, I have strong opinions about auditing, so if the next incumbent doesn't audit in a fashion consistent with my auditing vision, I'll go out and find someone else who will.

Um, yes, I was being snarky. The point is, I don't see why these positions can't be appointed by the mayor and/or confirmed by the city council. I relied heavily on endorsements when casting votes because I really have no idea what makes someone a good municipal clerk/recorder or auditor. Frankly, I doubt the endorsers know much about that, either, but I'm counting on them to at least not endorse lunatics.

*I don't want to offer too many predictions about the mayoral election, except to say that it will go to a runoff featuring Romer and either Hancock or Mejia, and that Linkhart will under-perform his most recent polls. If you've followed this election at all, you know these aren't particularly brave forecasts.

Monday, May 2, 2011

This is our Bin Laden, look at his head noddin'

Awesome video. Such a piece of its time.

All victory is fleeting

A quick reaction to last night's historic announcement that U.S. forces have killed Osama bin Laden. First of all, woot. Seriously, this is pretty huge. I can't remember the last time thousands of young people gathered in front of the White House in support of the actions of its occupant. Major, major props to all those involved.

Second (not to get all political, but that's what I do), how big a bump for Obama? Bouie says his approval ratings will go over 50, Bernstein says around 60... I'll split the difference and go with 55. But I think it important to recognize that this will be a temporary bump -- a month at most. This is a big story, and the president is rightly receiving accolades from political elites on both sides of the aisle, which is what creates a bounce. But it's not the only story out there, and eventually Republicans will find reasons to criticize him again.

Third, does this assure Obama's reelection? Hardly. Keep in mind that this is occurring at roughly the same point in Obama's presidency as the Gulf War victory occurred in George H.W. Bush's. Maybe it will scare off one or two of Obama's challengers, but it really shouldn't. Economic growth over the next year or so, rather than military victories, will determine whether Obama is another Reagan or another Bush 41.

Oh, and by the way, add killing bin Laden to the list of things President Clinton attempted and Obama achieved.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Actually, Gary, maybe it's just you

Gary Hart, in today's Denver Post:
In my experience, endorsements don't turn out votes. I have endorsed candidates in the past. I don't think I turned one vote.