Monday, August 29, 2011

Once more, Mr. Friedman

Oh, why do I bother?
As for America, we’ve thrived in recent decades with a credit-consumption-led economy, whereby we maintained a middle class by using more steroids (easy credit, subprime mortgages and construction work) and less muscle-building (education, skill-building and innovation). It’s put us in a deep hole, and the only way to dig out now is a new, hybrid politics that mixes spending cuts, tax increases, tax reform and investments in infrastructure, education, research and production. But that mix is not the agenda of either party. Either our two parties find a way to collaborate in the center around this new hybrid politics, or a third party is going to emerge — or we’re stuck and the pain will just get worse.
Two quick points: First, we're not in a deep hole because we live in a post-industrial society. We're in a deep hole because of a massive recession combined with a decade of tax cuts, wars, and un-financed expansions of Medicare. Spending increases plus declining revenues equals big hole. It's really not rocket science.

Second, yeah, it's too bad that we can't get one of our parties to champion an agenda of spending cuts, tax increases, and investment in infrastructure and education. Oh, wait, that's exactly what the Democrats have been pushing. But yeah, hybrids, the kids all love the hybrids.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On the benefits of marriage

According to Amanda Hess, recent research suggests that marriage is a better deal for men than for women. But there's a part of this I don't get:
Married men make more money and get more promotions than single guys. They live longer, have less heart disease, drink less, smoke less weed, and experience less stress. Meanwhile, married women have less fulfilling sex lives and less free time than their husbands. They also have smaller paychecks. (They do get to keep smoking the same amount of weed). These factors help explain why women are less into marriage than men are. And they may also contribute to the gendered risk of gaining weight after getting hitched.

Bluntly, marriage "is more beneficial for men than for women," write Ohio State University sociologists Dmitry Tumin and Zhenchao Qian. "Men after marriage do not gain [significant] weight because they enjoy a healthy lifestyle and receive stronger emotional support"—in other words, they've got the time, energy, and help to maintain a steady weight, thanks to the sacrifices of their spouses. Across the aisle, though, "the unsettling effect of a marriage for women may be strong enough to cause large weight gain." [emphasis added]
The explanations in the first paragraph above don't really line up with those in the second. Married men might be healthier than unmarried men simply because their behavior is being monitored. Guys who are comfortable having a beer or two and smoking a joint or two while watching "Braveheart" and eating Pretzel Combos alone in their apartment might be somewhat less inclined to do so if a wife is watching. And if you drink less and smoke less weed, you're probably going to weigh less and generally be healthier. But then comes the claim that married men have the time and energy to maintain a steady weight, time that unmarried men allegedly don't have. I'm not sure about this -- is marriage really a time-saver? Do divorced men end up working out less?

To make a democracy, not so fast on the democratic stuff

Reporting from Libya, Marc Herman notes some interesting research by political scientists Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig on how dictatorships successfully transition to democracies:
In 2009, working with data collected since 2007, the two claimed to have found a connection that could predict a successful transition between dictatorship and democracy. It was, simply put, to have a post-Revolution legislative body in place before holding national elections to put a single leader in power. The Vaclav Havels and Nelson Mandelas of the world, it turns out, are in the minority.
This strikes me as a rich area for political scientists to make a real contribution. Kudos to Marc for talking to some of us about it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The depravity of mistaking correlation for causation

Via Matt Yglesias, here's David French at National Review Online speaking about poverty:
It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.
French here is committing the sadly common sin of assuming a correlation indicates a causation, and he's doing so in a way that conveniently reinforces his worldview. It is certainly true that people who complete an education and stay married are less likely to be poor. But it is not obvious that the former leads to the latter. Note that the second sentence quoted above:
If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor.
can easily be reversed to say the following:
If an American has money, they will complete their education, get married, stay married, and find meaningful employment.
while still staying faithful to the correlation.

After all, these key things -- education, a successful marriage, and a job -- are a lot easier to come by if you're not poor. What's more, they're a lot easier to come by if your parents weren't poor. But just being born into a poor home means a person is going to have a much harder time coming by these key things that keep him or her out of poverty. That doesn't make the person depraved. It makes the person a victim of circumstances.

Some of that can be remedied, of course, or at least mitigated, through job training programs, a better public education system, and other things. But those generally fall under the category of government, and French doesn't want to cede a space for that. It's far easier to say that the poor are poor because there's something wrong with them.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bad spin can't save a bad poll

Last week in Wisconsin, Democratic state senator Jim Holperin survived a recall attempt, winning the race by a healthy 55-45 margin. Automated pollster We Ask America didn't do such a great job forecasting the race, though, showing Holperin only holding on 51-49. Now, to be fair, it's really hard to forecast these off-year, off-season recall elections -- you never know who's going to show up (although PPP was pretty close). But We Ask America's COO Gregg Durham decided to defend his organization anyway:
It's so hard to tell when you do one poll. One thing you can't judge is what the turnout will be. In this case, unions were heavily involved in turning out Democratic votes. Now, I will stand by the numbers -- this may be what the general electorate wanted, but not what the people who turned out wanted.
A pollster should know that those who turn out to vote are the general electorate. I'm not sure what group We Ask America surveyed, but it wasn't the general electorate.

Thought for the day

If Kaddafi's ouster leads to plummeting oil prices, and that leads to an improved American economy, Obama will owe his election to a group of Muslim militants, which is what the right has been alleging for years anyway.

Bite sized nuggets

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The social lives of children

Researchers put RFID chips on students in a grade school in Lyon, France, and observed their social interactions for a day. Lunch and recess are particularly cool.
(h/t Scott McClurg)

Dissing science

Jon Huntsman, responding to Rick Perry's claim that climate change is bunk and climate scientists are manipulating data to make money:
I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party - the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science - Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.
The Republican Party has to remember that we're drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush. And we've got a lot of traditions to draw upon. But I can't remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a - a party that - that was antithetical to science. I'm not sure that's good for our future and it's not a winning formula [emphasis added].
I appreciate what Huntsman is doing here, and it's a rather sad state of affairs that Perry is perceived as courageous for endorsing the scientific consensus. But I can't help noting that what Huntsman keeps suggesting is that by taking such anti-scientific stances, the Republicans might lose. Let me just suggest a bigger problem: they might win. That is, it is far from implausible that a president and a substantial chunk of the majority party in Congress could be sworn in in 2013 believing (and publicly avowing) that scientists are con artists and any finding that undermines the beliefs of the petroleum industry is criminally suspect.

Regardless of the absurdity of these allegations, they are substantially more extreme than what Bush was pushing in the last decade. To be sure, the Bush White House was not particularly welcoming to scientists, but it rarely demonstrated the profound hostility that Perry and others are demonstrating today.

What of Huntsman's suggestion that these stances hurt his party electorally? I think Perry is calculating, correctly, that such stances help him among voters in the early Republican primaries, and they help him win over Bachmann's supporters when her campaign folds, as it almost surely will. Yes, such stances might help to portray him as an extremist in the general election, but I think the short term bonus is more certain than the long term penalty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Journalistic trends both awesome and terrible

If you care about campaign journalism, I've got good news and bad news for you.

Let's start with the bad news. That would be Kathleen Parker's latest column about Rick Perry. Excerpt:
The same things that drove liberals mad about George W. will repeat themselves with Perry. It’s that certitude mixed with bravado. It is also, dare I say, their certain brand of manliness. Weathered, creased and comfortable in jeans, they convey a regular guyness that everyday Americans relate to. Take it or leave it, it happens to be true.
Regular guy,
comfortable in jeans.
Please just kill me. I can handle the stuff about candidate personality and pop psychology, I can handle the outlandish claims about fundraising and advertisements tipping elections, but I feel like if I have to go through another whole election cycle filled with this sort of gender-stereotyping, regular-guyness, Americans-can-relate-to-him-because-he-jogs-with-a-gun-and-never-rethinks-anything, my-schoolgirl-crushes-correlate-with-American-voting-behavior-at-1.0 kind of crap, I'm just going to snap. Quick reminder, Ms. Parker: W. lost the popular vote to an egghead in 2000, barely beat another egghead in 2004 despite being a very manly commander-in-chief during a war, and left office with an approval rating in the 20s. Even if Americans can relate to such "regular guyness" -- a dubious proposition -- there's about zero evidence that matters politically.

Luckily, there is a decidedly good development in campaign journalism pulling me back from the abyss. A few weeks back, political scientist Hans Noel challenged journalists to try covering the party aspect of nominations rather than the candidates themselves. Mark Blumenthal has decided to do exactly that, conducting a survey of party elites (or what he calls the "power outsiders") in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The survey questions are pretty limited so far, but this approach has the potential to yield some very useful information about how the party picks its nominee -- a lot more useful than information about Michele Bachmann confusing Elvis' birthday with the anniversary of his death, entertaining though that may be.

For some other encouraging coverage along these lines, check out this piece by Jay Cost and Nate Silver's recent post that features this awesome Venn diagram:
Kudos to Cost, Silver, and Blumenthal, and to Hans for saving the universe.


Thank you, Jonathan Bernstein:
Anyone who says that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme either misunderstands Social Security, misunderstands Ponzi schemes, is deliberately lying, or some combination of those.
I once nearly came to blows with someone on this very topic at a New Year's Eve party. Nice to know that, had Bernstein been there, he'd have had my back.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Obama and Post-partisanship

Sean Smith makes some interesting points in this Politico piece. His argument is that many of those on the left now criticizing Obama for not being partisan enough were among those praising him in 2004 and 2008 for his post-partisan style. (Remember, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America.") They convince themselves, Smith argues, that Obama is too worried about his poll position or his reelection prospects to fully take on the Republicans, that he's feigning bipartisanship. But, says, Smith,
It’s never been an act. It’s who he is. After seven years of exposure to him, you would think more people would accept that.
A few points here. One, Obama was backed in 2008 by everyone to the right of Dennis Kucinich and to the left of Colin Powell, nearly all of them believing that Obama stood for what they believed in. Someone in that coalition just had to end up disappointed.

Second, this article reveals an important point about partisanship: everyone hates it until they think their side is losing, and then they want more of it. That is, "I want an end to the bickering and I want politicians to set aside petty grievances and do what's right, but they damn well better fight for the things I believe in and not sell out to people I perceive as wrong or evil."

I disagree with Smith that next year's election will help settle this internal debate. If Obama loses, many on the right will say it was because he was too far to the left, and many on the left will say it's because he gave too much to the right. That is, he was both too partisan and not partisan enough. If he wins, that will be either evidence of the genius of his post-partisan style or of his tenacious defense of liberal values. It's all relative.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Using economic projections to make vote projections

When I'm asked whether I expect President Obama to get reelected, I often look around to see if there's an economist nearby to tell me how the economy is going to be doing next year. Well, here are some economists now, in the form of USA Today's survey of 39 economists. Unfortunately for my purposes, they don't forecast real disposable income, which is probably the most reliable predictor of presidential elections, but they do use gross domestic product, which is the next best thing. Their average projection of GDP growth from the fourth quarter this year to the third quarter next year is 2.53 percent. How does that stack up with economic growth and electoral performance in previous years?
Well, if we use this metric and the USA Today forecast, Obama will be facing lower economic growth than what Bush faced in '92 and his son faced in '04. That's real nail-biter territory. The regression line suggests Obama getting 50.9 percent of the vote, although, as the graph shows, that line is being pulled upward a bit by Eisenhower's unexpectedly good performance in 1956. If you take out that case, the Obama forecast is 50.03 percent of the vote. In other words, don't expect to get a lot of sleep on election night next year.

All the usual caveats apply here. The forecast for 2012 economic growth is just a prediction -- it could get substantially better or worse. And this is just a bivariate regression model, which doesn't include things like foreign policy or ideological extremism or campaign quality. And, of course, past performance does not necessarily predict the future.

But this could be a really, really close race.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A lotta more

Can we boycott bipartisanship instead?

In the NY Times, Joe Nocera advocates boycotting donations to political campaigns as a way to get politicians to "begin acting responsibly." Somehow, he considers this idea "hardheaded and practical." There are so many things wrong with this column it's hard to know where to start, but I'll give it a shot.

The first and most important point here is that the column bespeaks an outright hostility to democracy. Nocera approvingly quotes Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz* as saying, "The fundamental problem is that the lens through which Congress approaches issues is re-election." A word of advice: avoid reform suggestions from people who claim that the re-election incentive is a problem. The re-election incentive is the entire point of a representative democracy. It's what distinguishes members of Congress from tyrants. It ensures that elected officials will try to do what the people who elected them want them to do, rather than just doing whatever they want or following the lead of the most charismatic politician in DC.

Okay, that issue aside, the whole idea of boycotting contributions to candidates has a serious collective action problem associated with it. As Nocera admits, the boycott would have to be bipartisan to work, otherwise one party would dominate the party that refused to give to candidates. Yeah, that's kind of a big stumbling block there. Since those who donate to candidates tend to be the most loyal partisans, you're going to have a hard time convincing them to lay down arms while trusting that the other side is doing the same thing.

Third, Nocera and Schultz seem to be confused about the role money plays in politics. Note this paragraph:
Schultz began doing some research. In 2000, he said, total campaign contributions, to all politicians, amounted to $3 billion. Four years later, it was $4 billion. In the 2008 election year, he said, "it went up another billion, to $5 billion. I was astonished.... It is a sad state of affairs that the only thing they’ll listen to is money."
It's really not clear to me how they get from point A (donations are increasing) to point B (money controls politicians). You might as well say that the only thing politicians will listen to is votes. (After all, turnout has been increasing!) And that, of course, would be just fine.

Finally, seriously, a boycott? According to the 2008 ANES, about 10 percent of Americans donated to candidates that year. That just has to be a huge overstatement, given how inflated self-reported voting tends to be. So, very few people are even doing this activity that Nocera wants to see boycotted, and those that are are the most committed partisans in the country. This is a "hardheaded and practical" idea?

(h/t Michael Tofias and Hans Noel)

*Just two weeks ago, Tom Friedman was being seduced by the Americans Elect CEO in his "swank offices, finance with some serious hedge-fund money." What is it about wealthy CEOs that makes NYT columnists swoon?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The staff hikes weren't Hancock's

Under the provocative page-one headline "Mayor Ups Pay to Aides" (although the on-line title is different), the Denver Post implies that new Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is ratcheting up salaries on his staff. They compare his staff salaries so far with those of former Mayor Hickenlooper during his first year in office, 2004. Yes, the new mayor is paying about $1 million more on staff than Hick did in his first year. But is that really the right point of comparison?

Notably, in a table buried on page 6A, Mayor Hancock's staff payments are compared with those of Hickenlooper in 2009, and they're virtually identical. Hick paid $2,512,651 in salary to his discretionary appointees; Hancock is paying $2,514,211. Yes, Hancock is paying all of $1,560 more for these appointees than Hickenlooper did two years ago. This is a scandal?

All this really demonstrates is that Hickenlooper ratcheted up staff salaries during his term, and Hancock is maintaining salaries at that same level.

Does any of this matter? Katy Atkinson gets in the key quote:
Sometimes you have to pay more for really good top people. Success will breed all kinds of forgiveness Failure? Everyone will be screaming about everything.
But really, this is a pretty pathetic way to gin up a scandal.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Supercommittee's ideal points

Dan Hopkins suggested looking at the ideal points of members of the new Supercommittee, but he didn't actually plot them out, so I'm giving that a shot. The ideal points come from Simon Jackman's August 2nd estimates.

Just eyeballing it, this looks to be a pretty good balance between the parties. The Democrats' points are all between -1.5 and -0.5, and the Republicans' are all between 0.5 and 1.5, with roughly equal proportions of extremists and moderates. The mean ideal point is -.088. Granted, these ideal points are based on all votes and don't tell us much about how these folks will vote on specific budgetary matters like taxes and social programs, and they don't tell us a thing about negotiating style or tenacity, which could be important. But all in all, this looks like a pretty balanced group who should agree on approximately nothing.

Update: At Darren Schreiber's wise suggestion, I've added the mean ideal point for all members across both chambers (in black) and the respective party means across both chambers. Notably, both parties contain three members to the left of their party mean and three to the right.

Further update: Over at Monkey Cage, Sarah Binder uses Poole and Rosenthal's common space ideal points to draw up the same figure -- these have the virtue of treating all members of Congress as though they were in one big chamber instead of a House and a Senate. And you know what? It looks different!
Notably, the Democrats on the committee look somewhat more centrist than the Republicans do, and Baucus looks like more of a moderate outlier for his party than anyone on the right does. Still, see Binder's post for some important points about where a committee majority might come from.

Even further update: Keith Poole himself writes up a great description of the supercommittee members' ideal points, and generates this awesome chart:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Riots ain't so pretty when they're closer to home

Some interesting observations about the British riots and social media from John Hendrickson:
Unlike the Middle East uprisings earlier this year, the relationship between this week's riots in Britain and Facebook, Twitter and other social-media platforms is not entirely clear.
Follow the story on social media, and the rioting looks less like a direct response to a single shooting than an excuse for restless youth to act out during a time of summer vacation and unemployment — and to stay glued to their mobile phones.
I don't presume to be an expert on either the Arab Spring or the current rioting in Britain, but let me just suggest that the differences described above have more to do with the observer than with the participants.  For an English-speaking reporter in the States (and I'm not singling out Hendrickson here) trying to cover a riot in Egypt, it's much easier to fall back on a heuristic like "Young freedom-seekers rising up against an unjust tyrant," and to comb through the very small percentage of organizational speech conveyed in English tweets. The same reporter trying to understand events in Britain, however, has greater familiarity with the organization of Western society and can read a much higher percentage of the relevant communication. Suddenly the components and causes of a riot don't seem quite so clear. The riot seems more complex because the observer has so much more data and context and doesn't need to rely as much on heuristics.

As it turns out, there are lots of reasons people participate in a riot. Some people are trying to bring down a tyrannical system. Some want to see what all the noise is. Some notice that the police are busy elsewhere and decide to grab a television from an electronics store. I doubt there has ever been a perfectly noble or a perfectly hedonistic riot. The closer you get, the more complicated it seems.

Essential party readings I

I'm going to try to start a new feature on this blog. Any time I find a key passage that helps us understand political parties, I'll run it under "Essential Party Readings." The first comes from Jon Stewart in his book America, p. 108:
Each party has a platform, a prix fixe menu of beliefs making up its worldview. The candidate can choose one of the two platforms, but remember - no substitutions. For example, do you support universal health care? Then you must also want a ban on assaults weapons. Pro-limited government? Congratulations, you are also anti-abortion. Luckily, all human opinion falls neatly into one of the two clearly defined camps. Thus, the two-party system elegantly reflects the bichromatic rainbow that is American political thought.

Shoulda, woulda...

Some things I should have been blogging about but haven't gotten around to...

The third party fantasy

If you're not content with the way this country is being governed, one of the best ways to change it is to get involved with one of the existing parties and work to nominate and elect candidates at all levels of government who will fight for the things you care about. Odds are, one of the parties will want much of what you want. Pining for an independent, third-party dictator is not only a waste of your time, but if you somehow got what you wanted, you'd quickly find it wasn't what you wanted at all.
So argue Hans Noel and I in today's Los Angeles Times.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A view to a downgrade

I woke up early this morning to the sound of screams, which I'm now pretty sure were my own. I don't know exactly what kind of effect the S&P downgrade will have on the U.S. or world economy; Dylan Matthews says it could be trivial, as it was with Japan's recent downgrade. But symbolically, it's horrible. It's a (technically) neutral observer saying "We know you have debts, and we know you have the money to pay them, but we don't think you'll do it." And it's hard to counter that assessment given recent political events.

Ezra Klein has a good take this morning. He notes S&P's chutzpah -- they told us just a few years ago that all those financial products from a few years ago that turned out to be complete junk deserved an AAA rating, which contributed to the massive meltdown of 2008. Oh, and thanks to that meltdown, government revenues have dropped and outlays have increased, which is a large part of the reason our debt has spiked. But that aside, they're not wrong to question America as a solid investment. As Ezra says, quoting the S&P statement,
“The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges,” they explained in the statement accompanying Friday’s decision. After Republicans in Congress spent three months weighing whether or not to default on our debt and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that paying our bills would never again be a foregone conclusion, can anyone really argue with that? After every Republican presidential candidate save Jon Huntsman either remained silent on, or flatly opposed, the deal to raise the debt ceiling, can anyone really say that U.S. debt is completely riskless? That there’s no chance of a political miscalculation, and if there is such a chance, that they can perfectly predict the outcome of the ensuing chaos?
I'd like to think that such a sobering assessment from an ostensibly neutral observer would turn this into a cooperative game, that it would force members of Congress to reconsider some of their previously held beliefs. It won't. Republicans read this as evidence that the cuts in last week's debt ceiling deal weren't deep enough. Democrats read it as evidence that Republican recalcitrance on taxes is killing the country.

What might be more realistic to hope for would be a reassessment of how the U.S. structures its political institutions. For example, perhaps we should just do away with the debt ceiling, an unnecessary vote that just invites hostage-taking. More generally, perhaps we should do away with counter-majoritarian rules (like the filibuster) and just let the majority party govern as it wishes. If Democrats want to increase services and taxes to pay for them, let them, and let the voters decide if they should remain in power or not. If Republicans want to return us to 1920s levels of services and taxation, let them, and let the voters judge.

I recognize that such an ideal can never be quite achieved in a system where executives and legislators are elected separately, which allows for divided government. But moving toward this ideal would likely be better than our current situation, in which one party's top priority is to protect government services and the other's top priority is to not pay for those services and both have the power to see their top priorities enacted simultaneously.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The debt ceiling metaphor I was looking for

Last week, I did a post comparing John Boehner with Indiana Jones pointing a bazooka at the Ark of the Covenant. In retrospect, I think the better metaphor would be the bounty hunter in Jabba's Palace using a thermal detonator as a negotiating tool. Interestingly enough, Obama's response was almost exactly the same as Jabba's -- pay the price demanded, and let the bounty hunter spend the night in the palace.

Give a Man a Job

David Karol alerted me to this fantastic 1933 video of Jimmy Durante plugging FDR's National Recovery Administration, urging wealthy audience members to hire people as a great patriotic act. (Watch for Moe Howard!)

Obviously, Obama has tried to sell his stimulus efforts in a very different way than Roosevelt tried to sell his. It's frankly difficult to imagine the modern White House working with a major studio to put out a film clip like this in which Jessica Alba urges business owners to take on more employees in front of a portrait of Obama. It would be labeled dictatorial socialism -- as FDR's efforts were. Somewhat more problematically, it would probably be seen as a joke.

Also, Jimmy Durante was never young.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The South has risen

Alert reader Marc Herman points me to this piece by Michael Lind at Salon. Lind notes the regional patterns of the Tea Party:
Whether by accident or design, the public faces of the Tea Party in the House are Midwesterners -- Minnesota's Michele Bachmann and Joe Walsh of Illinois. But while there may be Tea Party sympathizers throughout the country, in the House of Representatives the Tea Party faction that has used the debt ceiling issue to plunge the nation into crisis is overwhelmingly Southern in its origins.
It is clear that the origins of the debt ceiling crisis are to be sought, not in generic American conservatism, but in idiosyncratic Southern conservatism. The goal, the methods and the passion of the Tea Party in the House are all characteristic of the radical Southern right.

Elites, not deciding

Nick Confessore, in today's NYT:
Two and a half years after Mr. Bush left the White House, the formidable network of Republican donors he assembled has largely melted away. Fewer than one in five of Mr. Bush’s Rangers and Pioneers, the elite corps of “bundlers” who helped Mr. Bush smash fund-raising records in his two runs for the White House and remain the gold standard of Republican fund-raising, have contributed to any of the current Republican candidates, according to a New York Times analysis.
This is a solid piece of analysis; kudos to Confessore for doing the legwork here. Like Hans Noel says, there's no one definitive piece of information that tells us how "the party insiders" are leaning, but early high-level donors, particularly those who participated actively in previous campaigns, are a decent indicator, and so far they're suggesting that elites in the GOP are having a hard time settling on a favorite for the nomination.

There are a few possible interpretations of this. It may be that the political world has changed since 2000 and you really don't need the party's elites in your corner to win the nomination anymore, as long as they're not actively opposed to you. Perhaps Internet fundraising has given candidates the ability to collect sufficient sums that they're no longer dependent on key elites for support. 

It's also possible that the same basic rules that have existed since 1980 are still in play (read The Party Decides for details), but GOP elites just can't pick a favorite, as happened in 2008. They may like Romney as a general election candidate but worry about his ideological flexibility and the difficulty a Mormon would have in winning over some conservative voters. They may like Pawlenty but have been unimpressed with his campaigning skills thus far (Shades of Fred Thompson four years ago). They may like Perry but are worried that he'll be easily caricatured as an extremist. And perhaps in their hearts they like Bachmann but in their heads they think she's nuts.

Additionally, the Tea Party movement may have made all this elite coordination a lot more challenging -- it's hard to know whether Tea Partiers would accept someone like Romney and, if they didn't, whether they could or would actually derail a presidential nomination if the rest of the party was behind him.

It's possible that some of these elites will come off the fence if Perry officially jumps in (although see here). Or perhaps they're just doing what some elite Democratic donors did in 2008 -- just sitting back and waiting for the early primaries to provide some information as to how well these folks campaign, deal with setbacks, and connect with voters.

Monday, August 1, 2011

You think the Bush tax cuts are temporary? A play in one act

Scene: Third presidential debate, October 2012. In the most recent tracking polls, Obama leads the Republican nominee by only two points.
GOP nominee: "Mr. President, are you going to raise the American people's taxes this December? Or can you promise all of us right now that you will extend the Bush tax cuts?"
Obama: "Homina homina homina..."
Well, what do you think he says?