"World of Warcraft Gamers Plan Avatar March for Ron Paul". For more, see this site, which includes some fantastic graphics:
Mike Huckabee better watch out...
Paul Krugman on the logical incoherence of John McCain's explanation of his record on tax cuts:
McCain now says that he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Not only that: he’s become a convert to crude supply-side economics, claiming that cutting taxes actually increases revenues. That’s an assertion even Bush administration officials concede is false.
Oh, and what about his earlier opposition to tax cuts? Mr. McCain now says he opposed the Bush tax cuts only because they weren’t offset by spending cuts.
Aside from the logical problem here — if tax cuts increase revenue, why do they need to be offset? — even a cursory look at what Mr. McCain said at the time shows that he’s trying to rewrite history: he actually attacked the Bush tax cuts from the left, not the right. But he has clearly decided that it’s better to fib about his record than admit that he wasn’t always a rock-solid economic conservative.
Sounds like straight talk to me!
The Washington Post and New York Times report on the group of old, increasingly irrelevant moderates who seem to want to draft Michael Bloomberg for a "national unity" government. There's a serious problem, however. Neither Bloomberg nor the people trying to draft him have a national constituency or an actual issue-based rationale for running.
As I've written before, the only people who want Bloomberg to run are (a) moderate former elected officials and pundits who want to be relevant and dislike polarization and (b) consultants who would make a fortune from his candidacy. To repeat my line: some people call pundits and political consultants the elite; Bloomberg calls them his base.
The reasons Bloomberg is exceptionally unlikely to win are straightforward. Third-party candidacies are usually built around an issue that cuts across party lines like the deficit or race; Bloomberg has no such issue. More importantly, the factors preventing a successful third party bid -- which include strategic voting for one of the top two candidates, party loyalty, ballot access, and the Electoral College -- are essentially insurmountable. As a result, Bloomberg would probably follow the trajectory of John Anderson, a moderate Republican who ran for president as an independent in 1980. He entered the race with a splash and then tailed off into irrelevance. I would expect Bloomberg to do the same thing despite his billions.
With that said, Bloomberg would undoubtedly affect the race, particularly if he used his cash to go negative on one or both major party nominees. My take is that he would be more likely to peel moderate Democrats and independents off of, say, Hillary than to pull voters from the Republican nominee. But it is hard to predict.
In the end, he's more likely to pull a Colin Powell and flirt with the idea for a long time before finally saying no. You get a big ego boost without the humiliation of utter defeat. (Ask Fred Thompson what happens when you say yes!)
The only thing worse than journalists pretending to be theater critics is to have actual theater critics writing about politics (see Rich, Frank). The latest perpetrator is TNR's theater critic, who just posted this nonsense on The Plank:
In more cheerful news for Hillary, whatever time she's been spending focus-grouping her laugh lately is paying off. When confronted with a Peggy Noonan column that called her more polarizing than Nixon, she erupted not in the old cackle but a new effusion, with a hint of giggle. Charm!
I missed it, but my friend and former Spinsanity co-editor Ben Fritz points out that Tim Russert, who is legendary for his preparation, apparently asked some pretty inane questions of Ron Paul. My favorite is this exchange:
MR. RUSSERT: You say you're a strict constructionist of the Constitution, and yet you want to amend the Constitution to say that children born here should not automatically be U.S. citizens.
REP. PAUL: Well, amending the Constitution is constitutional. What's a--what's the contradiction there?
MR. RUSSERT: So in the Constitution as written, you want to amend?
REP. PAUL: Well, that's constitutional, to do it. Besides, it was the 14th Amendment. It wasn't in the original Constitution. And there's a, there's a confusion on interpretation. In the early years, it was never interpreted that way, and it's still confusing because people--individuals are supposed to have birthright citizenship if they're under the jurisdiction of the government. And somebody who illegally comes in this country as a drug dealer, is he under the jurisdiction and their children deserve citizenship? I think it's awfully, awfully confusing, and, and I, I--matter of fact, I have a bill to change that as well as a Constitutional amendment to clarify it.
Does Russert even know what "strict constructionist" means? Being one certainly doesn't mean that you can't amend the constitution. If it did, then constructionists would have to oppose the Bill of Rights, the end of slavery, giving women the right to vote, etc. The whole line of questioning makes no sense.
Things I don't understand:
(1) Who decided it was a good idea to waste a New York Times review on Liberal Fascism?
(2) David Oshinsky's highly charitable review, which claims "what distinguishes Goldberg from the Sean Hannitys and Michael Savages is a witty intelligence that deals in ideas as well as insults — no mean feat in the nasty world of the culture wars." Is it now grounds for praise to be less idiotic than Michael Savage? Have we really sunk that low?
Let me echo Matthew Yglesias and suggest that John McCain's surge in the polls is a good reason to pick up Matt Welch's McCain: The Myth of a Maverick. While I'm not sure I buy all of Welch's analysis of McCain's personality, the book is a valuable compendium of everything unflattering in his background, much of which I had never heard of due to the media's love affair with the Arizona senator.
One thing that particularly struck me was the disjunction between McCain's current views on war (he's pro-) and a quote Welch unearthed from McCain's 1983 speech opposing the continued deployment of US troops in Lebanon:
The fundamental question is "What is the United States' interest in Lebanon? It is said we are there to keep the peace. I ask, what peace? It is said we are there to aid the government. I ask, what government? It is said we are there to stabilize the region. I ask, how can the US presence stabilize the region?...
The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place.
What can we expect if we withdraw from Lebanon? The same as will happen if we stay. I acknowledge that the level of fighting will increase if we leave. I regretfully acknowledge that many innocent civilians will be hurt. But I firmly believe this will happen in any event.
As Welch writes, the speech "would have eerie echoes to debates two decades later."
Saturday's New York Times features two particularly insipid articles critiquing candidates' reactions to the Bhutto assassination. Here's the nut graf of the primary story by Patrick Healy:
The Bhutto assassination is one of those rare things in a presidential race — an unscripted, unexpected moment that lays bare a candidate’s leadership qualities and geopolitical smarts. Think of Mr. bin Laden’s videotape message late in the 2004 election — giving President Bush a chance to look more commanding than Senator John Kerry — or the twists of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, as Ronald Reagan made President Jimmy Carter look feckless.
Can someone explain to me how the bin Laden video "[laid] bare" George W. Bush's "leadership qualities and geopolitical smarts"? What is Healy talking about?
After presenting some candidates relatively charitably, Healy then moves on to pedantic nitpicking. This, for instance, is one of the dumbest fact-checks I've ever read:
Some candidates had moments, meanwhile, that sounded a bit out of the presidential loop. Mitt Romney said that, if he had been president, he would have gathered information from “our C.I.A. bureau chief in Islamabad.” The Central Intelligence Agency has station chiefs, not bureau chiefs.
Busted! Clearly, Mitt Romney isn't ready to be president.
The worst, though, is this passage about Mike Huckabee:
Mike Huckabee, the leading Republican in polls of Iowa caucusgoers, found himself on the defensive on Friday, trying to clarify earlier remarks in which he said the chaos in Pakistan underscored the need to build a fence on the American border with Mexico, and that “any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country” should be monitored. A series of misstatements in discussing the issue could buttress criticism that Mr. Huckabee has faced from his opponents that he lacked experience on foreign policy.
Note the passive voice in the last sentence, which seeks to obscure Healy's own role in legitimizing that criticism. Like many people, I'm concerned that Huckabee lacks a deep knowledge of policy, but it's pretty clear that reporters are being influenced by that narrative and writing nitpicky stories that serve to reinforce the perception. (It's the same story as the narrative-driven feeding frenzy over Mitt Romney's minor exaggerations.)
Things get even worse in the accompanying fact-check article on Huckabee by David Kirkpatrick. Ask yourself this question: would misstatements this minor become a story for any other candidate?
In discussing the volatile situation in Pakistan, Mike Huckabee has made several erroneous or misleading statements at a time when he has been under increasing scrutiny from fellow presidential candidates for a lack of fluency in foreign policy issues.
Explaining statements he made suggesting that the instability in Pakistan should remind Americans to tighten security on the southern border of the United States, Mr. Huckabee said Friday that “we have more Pakistani illegals coming across our border than all other nationalities, except those immediately south of the border.”
Asked to justify the statement, he later cited a March 2006 article in The Denver Post reporting that from 2002 to 2005, Pakistanis were the most numerous non-Latin Americans caught entering the United States illegally. According to The Post, 660 Pakistanis were detained in that period.
A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security, however, concluded that, over all, illegal immigrants from the Philippines, India, Korea, China and Vietnam were all far more numerous than those from Pakistan.
In a separate interview on Friday on MSNBC, Mr. Huckabee, a Republican, said that the Pakistani government “does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists.” Those borders are on the western side of Pakistan, not the eastern side.
Further, he offered an Orlando crowd his “apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.” His aides said later that he meant to say “sympathies.”
He also said he was worried about martial law “continuing” in Pakistan, although Mr. Musharraf lifted the state of emergency on Dec. 15. Mr. Huckabee later said that he was referring to a renewal of full martial law and said that some elements, including restrictions on judges and the news media, had continued.
Remember, this is a newspaper that routinely ignores far serious misstatements by the President of the United States about major policy issues. But if Mike Huckabee says "eastern" instead of "western" or "apologies" instead of "sympathies," watch out!
[I]n a sense maybe it's fair to make a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to a minor geography slip-up.
But I don't really think so. That's the same kind of logic that led the press to conclude it was okay to say Al Gore had lied and said he invented the internet even though he (a) never said that, and (b) what he did say was true. To the press, the important points were (a) the press didn't like Gore, and (b) Gore was a liar. Thus, any anecdote that could possibly be seized on to illustrate the point that Gore was a liar was seized on -- whether or not they were actually lies. It was BS then, and it's BS for it to happen to Huckabee. There's solid evidence out there that he's clueless on foreign policy, so point to the evidence.
Like many journalists, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman may sometimes pull his punches when reporting on partisan disputes over economic policy, but when both sides agree something is a bad idea, watch out. Check out his lede for a story on Mike Huckabee's "Fair Tax":
To former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, supporting a national retail sales tax is more than a policy proposal. It has provided much-needed muscle for his campaign, filling rallies and events with fervent supporters hoping to replace the entire income and payroll tax system.
There's one problem: A national sales tax won't work, at least not according to tax experts and economists of all political stripes. Even President Bush's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform dedicated a chapter of its 2005 final report to dismissing such proposals.
"After careful evaluation, the Panel decided to reject a complete replacement of the federal income tax system with a retail sales tax," the panel said. It concluded that such a move would shift the tax burden from the rich to the poor or create the largest entitlement program in history to mitigate that new burden.
...[T]he biggest criticism is that the tax cannot be administered. Many economists say a black market would develop overnight, especially in the service sector...
At the same time, federal spending would shoot up because the government would have to pay sales taxes on purchases. To compensate, the sales tax rate would have to rise to more than 40 percent for the government to take in as much as it does now, said William G. Gale, a tax economist at the Brookings Institution. State and local governments, facing a new burden on purchases, would have to increase taxes to maintain current levels, as well.
On the other hand, Huckabee's website claims that the Fair Tax "will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness"!
In the course of his lament at the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, Evan Thomas says things were not as bad at mid-century:
[T]he middle of the 20th century was a bit better on the question of cooperation. Back then the political parties tried to be big tents. The Democrats numbered conservative Southerners as well as liberal Northerners. The Republicans had some big-city liberals as well as rural conservatives. But then, starting in the 1960s, when Presidents Kennedy and Johnson bravely embraced civil rights, Southern conservatives deserted the Democrats. By the '80s, Democratic strength was centered in the big cities and along the coasts, and liberal interest groups had taken over the party. Neither party tried as hard to reach out to the ideologically diverse.
Atrios is right to slam Thomas for soft-pedaling the composition of the Democratic Party before civil rights in this passage, but the problems with his analysis run much deeper. What Thomas fails to realize is that the bipartisan era was a historical aberration built on conservative Democrats who remained in their party due to the history of race in the South. Once they and like-minded constituents became Republicans, the political system returned to the historical norm of partisanship and polarization.
This point needs to be made again and again because so few elites grasp it. Indeed, Paul Krugman makes the same error as Thomas in The Conscience of a Liberal, which attributes the polarization of contemporary American politics to movement conservatism. In fact, while movement conservatism may be the proximate cause, there's a good argument to be made that the re-polarization of American politics was an inevitable result of the party realignment on race in the 1960s and 1970s. Movement conservatives made the first move, but the process of re-polarization is still ongoing.
So when you hear someone touting how great bipartisanship was in the old days, ask them if they believe the price we paid was worth it.
Writing in Newsweek, Evan Thomas bemoans the increase in partisanship, claiming it decreases participation among the masses:
It's axiomatic that democracies need an informed and engaged citizenry. But America's is indifferent or angry. Washington has entered an age of what Ken Mehlman, President Bush's campaign manager in 2004, calls "hyperpartisanship." Partisanship is nothing new, or necessarily bad—after all, it can offer voters clear choices. But it has become poisonous.
Josh Marshall objects, citing this post by Kos arguing that "the last election in which this nation lacked a partisan media was 1988, and turnout was 50.11%" but "with a strong conservative partisan media, and with a nascent progressive partisan media, [turnout] was at 56.69%" in 2004.
But we can go even further. Turnout hasn't declined at all once you take into account the increasing proportion of the population that is ineligible to vote, as George Mason political scientist Michael McDonald points out. In fact, it's increasing to the highs of the 1950s and 1960s:
[The idea that ever fewer Americans are showing up at the polls should be put to rest. What's really happening is that the number of people not eligible to vote is rising -- making it seem as though turnout is dropping.
Those who bemoan a decline in American civic society point to the drop in turnout from 55.2 percent in 1972, when 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote, to the low point of 48.9 percent in 1996. But that's looking at the total voting-age population, which includes lots of people who aren't eligible to vote -- namely, noncitizens and convicted felons. These ineligible populations have increased dramatically over the past three decades, from about 2 percent of the voting-age population in 1972 to 10 percent today.
When you take them out of the equation, the post-1972 "decline" vanishes. Turnout rates among those eligible to vote have averaged 55.3 percent in presidential elections and 39.4 percent in midterm elections for the past three decades. There has been variation, of course, with turnout as low as 51.7 percent in 1996 and rebounding to 60.3 percent by 2004. Turnout in the most recent election, in fact, is on a par with the low-60 percent turnout rates of the 1950s and '60s.
A Gallup poll released Dec. 20 finds that Hillary Clinton generates far more fear among opposing partisans than any other candidate:
[A] question included in the November and December Gallup Panel surveys finds a majority of Republicans alarmed by the prospect of a Clinton presidency, and insufficient positive sentiment among Democrats to neutralize Republicans' alarm.
Asked whether they would be "excited," "pleased," "disappointed," or "afraid" if each of various candidates became president, more than half of Republicans (62%) say they would be afraid if Clinton were elected. On the flip side, barely half as many Democrats (35%) say they would be excited by this outcome.
No other candidate from either party generates as much cross-party fear as Clinton does among Republicans. The closest are John Edwards with 31%, Obama with 30%, and Giuliani with 29%.
To me, this is evidence against the Ezra Klein hypothesis that Hillary is as electable as the other Democrats. As I wrote before, it has to be harder to win a general election when your opponents start out energized against you. (Gallup's analysis gives more weight to her performance in recent trial heats, which I see as poor predictors of performance.)
A New York Times article on a third-party group supporting John Edwards includes a great quote on the legal definition of "coordination" (which is prohibited):
Legal experts say the restrictions on coordination between campaigns and third-party groups are narrowly defined and difficult to apply.
“The definition of ‘coordination’ has been one of the most difficult legal concepts for the F.E.C. to grapple with for years and years,” said Kenneth Gross, a veteran campaign finance lawyer. “I don’t know if my wife and I met the standard for coordination before we decided to have a child.”
The recent feeding frenzy over Mitt Romney's exaggerations is an example of everything that's wrong with the way the media covers politics in general and political dishonesty in particular. It is driven by perceptions of personality and character (the feeling among journalists that Romney is a phony) and has nothing to do with public policy.
Indeed, it's almost a perfect test of hypocrisy for liberals who denounced the media's obsession with Al Gore's penchant for exaggeration (which was, to be sure, far more pervasive and misleading). So why have so few of them spoken up?
Ezra Klein, to his credit, says what needs to be said:
I don't really feel like courting a "wanker of the day" award, but Romney's statement that he "saw" his father march with Martin Luther King Jr. when, really, he just knew -- or thought he knew -- that his father was marching with Martin Luther King Jr., just isn't a big deal. More to the point, it's not the sort of media feeding frenzy that should be validated, even when it's against a figure as odious as Romney. This is exactly the sort of crap the press pulled on Gore, exactly the sort of thing they routinely haul out against politicians they want to destroy. Sometimes, the leader in their gunsight is a good man, and sometimes he is not. But the press corps' ability to inflate every misstatement or rhetorical overstep in the final months of a year-long campaign into a Question of Character seems like a power we don't necessarily want to bless them with. Romney's sins are legion, his panders clear, his political positions a mixture of the opportunistic and the idiotic. Attack him on that. Not a line about something he thought his father did.
Who else? Anyone?
[W]hen he came to the Globe Wednesday, McCain took refuge in a supply-side myth: the notion that President Bush's tax cuts have created a compelling revenue surge.
Queried about funding programs like expanded healthcare for children by letting some of the Bush tax cuts expire, McCain replied, "I would suggest that most economists agree that there was an increase in revenues . . . associated with the tax cuts." Letting those tax cuts expire might actually have the opposite effect on revenues, the Republican presidential candidate warned.
Asked specifically about the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves, McCain said that "a lot of economists" believe the Bush tax cuts had stimulated the economy and that without them, "the economy would not have boomed, and therefore you would not have seen these increases in revenues."
His campaign later insisted McCain didn't mean that tax cuts pay for themselves. But the notion that tax cuts somehow leave the federal government with as much revenue - or nearly as much - as it would have had without them is a popular one in the Republican universe.
I love the claim that "McCain didn't mean that tax cuts pay for themselves." Obviously he was trying to leave that impression; why else would he say what he did?
On a related note, Matthew Yglesias recently claimed that "Mitt Romney, presumably under Greg Mankiw's influence, has always carefully refrained from saying he thinks cutting taxes increases revenue." This is false, however:
“If you lower taxes enough, you create more growth,” Romney said in a video excerpt on his Web site from a closed-door presentation he made to the Club for Growth, a political organization that favors low taxes, in March 2007.
“And if you create growth, you get more jobs,” Romney continued. “You get more jobs, more people are paying taxes. You get more taxes paid, the government has more money by charging lower tax rates.”
Indeed, as I've shown, Rudy Giuliani has made similar claims (here, here and here), as have McCain (here and here), Romney, and Fred Thompson (here and here). We're still waiting for word from Mike Huckabee...
Via TNR's Michael Crowley, the New York Times published a short item (backed up by TPM) finding that the Politico story alleging Rudy Giuliani hid security expenses for his affair was misleading. This is bad no matter what. However, Crowley attributes Giuliani's decline in the polls to the story:
Rudy Giuliani's candidacy has been derailed largely thanks to a media frenzy around charges that he used city budgeting tricks to cover up his extramarital Hamptons excursions...
[I]t's stunning when you think about it how much damage this story seems to have done to him. Perhaps it was just a vehicle for voters who knew little except for his 9/11 performance to learn that there's a big messy underside to the guy.
Crowley is right that Giuliani's decline in the polls roughly coincides with the publication of the story:
However, if you take a closer look at the pollster.com graphic above or the archive of polls at pollingreport.com, it appears that Giuliani was already declining in the polls by the time of the story's publication on Nov. 28. Did the story contribute to his decline? Sure. But it's far more likely that Giuliani was declining because Republican primary voters began to realize that he's a social liberal. (How many of them have even heard of the story? I'd say not that many.)
You can tell a similar story, as John Sides notes on The Monkey Cage, about the importance of the "macaca" incident in the Virginia Senate race of 2006, which was only part of the story of the race, but has been elevated to being the determinative incident.
To take yet another example, the famous JFK-Nixon debate has become a trite anecdote about Kennedy winning due to the newfound importance of television. But the outcome of the race was essentially a statistical tie.
All of these events "matter," but we should be wary about neat event-based explanations of campaign outcomes. Humans -- and especially journalists -- are skilled at constructing narratives after the fact. But it doesn't mean that those stories are right.
Finally! I've been questioning Hillary Clinton's claims to be the candidate of "experience" since January, and Bill Clinton recently made an obnoxious comment about voters "roll[ing] the dice" with Obama because of his supposed lack of experience.
Nonetheless, the press has largely let her claims to superior experience go without scrutiny... until now. The New York Times's Patrick Healy has a story in tomorrow's edition showing that her experience in the White House -- the basis for her claim -- was not as deep or extensive as she has suggested:
As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton jawboned the president of Uzbekistan to leave his car and shake hands with people. She argued with the Czech prime minister about democracy. She cajoled Catholic and Protestant women to talk to one another in Northern Ireland. She traveled to 79 countries in total, little of it leisure; one meeting with mutilated Rwandan refugees so unsettled her that she threw up afterward.
But during those two terms in the White House, Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti or Rwanda. And during one of President Bill Clinton's major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal dragged on.
In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. But as the junior senator from New York, she has few significant legislative accomplishments to her name. She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her "eight years with a front-row seat on history."
Her rivals scoff at the idea that her background gives her any special qualifications for the presidency, and on the campaign trail have increasingly been challenging her assertions of unique experience. Senator Barack Obama has especially questioned "what experiences she's claiming" as first lady, noting that the job is not the same as being a cabinet member, much less president. And last Friday, he suggested that more foreign policy experts from the Clinton administration were supporting his candidacy than hers. (Hillary Clinton quickly released a list of 80 who were supporting her.)
Clinton's role in her most high-profile assignment as first lady, the failed health care initiative of the early 1990s, has been well documented. Yet little has been made public about her involvement in foreign policy and national security as first lady. Documents about her work remain classified at the National Archives. Clinton has declined to divulge the private advice she gave her husband.
An interview with Hillary Clinton, conversations with 35 Clinton administration officials and a review of books about her White House years suggest that she was more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making, and who grew gradually more comfortable with the use of military power.
It can't be said often enough: Obama has been in elected office longer than she has, and they have the same amount of executive experience (zero).
Brad DeLong denounced the infamously awful rumor-promoting Perry Bacon piece in the Washington Post by calling it a "concern-troll hit piece" (twice). I'm not an expert on obscure liberal blog jargon, but I have been called a "concern troll." As I found out, the phrase usually used to attack "anyone who calls for civility in a blog, and/or centrist Democrats" in the same way that conservatives use "political correctness" to stigmatize criticism of conservatives or offensive speech. What's confusing is that a stereotypical "concern troll" would criticize vitriol on liberal blogs, whereas Bacon gave credence to (false) conservative-promoted rumors that Barack Obama is a Muslim and went to a madrassa. So what is DeLong talking about?
Update 12/27 1:03 AM: DeLong replies in a comment:
In general, one should first consult Wikipedia:
> Troll (Internet) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Concern troll
>A concern troll is a pseudonym created by a user whose point of view is opposed to the one that the user's sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns"...
Perry Bacon assumes the POV of somebody watching Obama trying to deal with those who are spreading the rumors. Perry Bacon never acknowledges that the main effect of his story is to further spread the rumors. It's the false assumption of a POV that does not correspond to the author's real intentions or the articles major effects that makes it "concern." It's the fact that the article is intended to and has the effect of spreading misinformation, confusion, and disorder that makes it "troll."
Concern troll: Noun, derived from "internet troll." A more subtle beast than your standard troll, this species posts comments that appear to be sympathetic to the topic being discussed but who, in reality, wishes to sow doubt in the minds of readers. In a 2006 New Hampshire Congressional campaign, a Republican staffer resigned after reports that he had posted to liberal blogs claiming to be a Democrat who thought the party should give up on the race.
As a result, DeLong has to contort himself to equate Bacon to an online saboteur intentionally trying to sow doubt among participants in an online forum. Awful as the piece may be, Brad has no idea what Bacon's "real intentions" were or what "the article is intended to" do. And speaking as someone who has been called a "concern troll," I can say that my intention has never been to "[spread] misinformation, confusion, and disorder."
The jargon of "concern troll" -- which obliterates these distinctions -- is increasingly used online by liberals to silence and stigmatize disfavored views of any sort. As I pointed out in my first post on the term, it's striking similar to the way conservatives began to use the term "political correctness":
At first, [the term] referred to specific incidents in which colleges and other institutions attempted to enforce liberal norms some perceived as oppressive. Over time, however, as UCLA's Phil Agre argued, some speakers began to use the phrase (or the variants "politically correct"/"politically incorrect") to imply coercion without making a specific argument that it had actually taken place or stigmatize any opposition to a political view as "political correctness." In this way, a set of associated stereotypes could be triggered in increasingly vague and pathological ways.
It's an almost perfect symmetry (though on a much smaller and more limited scale).
Paul Krugman's column today on responsibility for the subprime mess includes a wild anecdote about deregulatory fever:
But Mr. Greenspan wasn’t the only top official who put ideology above public protection. Consider the press conference held on June 3, 2003 — just about the time subprime lending was starting to go wild — to announce a new initiative aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on banks. Representatives of four of the five government agencies responsible for financial supervision used tree shears to attack a stack of paper representing bank regulations. The fifth representative, James Gilleran of the Office of Thrift Supervision, wielded a chainsaw.
Also in attendance were representatives of financial industry trade associations, which had been lobbying for deregulation. As far as I can tell from press reports, there were no representatives of consumer interests on the scene.
This is the kind of stuff that people will look back on in horror in the future.
Via Matthew Yglesias, the great thinker Jonah Goldberg has published the "book" that I mocked a couple of years ago: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Its jacket features this immortal line about my alma mater (also in the Amazon summary text):
Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a “friendlier,” more liberal form. The modern heirs of this “friendly fascist” tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.
Who needs Ann Coulter when you have Jonah Goldberg?
But the best part, as I noted back in 2005, is that Goldberg has a long history of denouncing Nazi analogies:
1/5/01: "Nazism and the Holocaust are hardly joking matters. So let me be very careful in how I talk about this.
"If you honestly think John Ashcroft or elected Republicans in general are Nazis, then you are either a moron of ground-shaking proportions or you are so daft that you shouldn't be allowed to play with grown-up scissors."
..."Calling someone a Nazi is as bad as calling them a "nigger" or a "kike" or anything else you can think of. It's not cute. It's not funny. And it's certainly not clever. If you're too stupid to understand that a philosophy that favors a federally structured republic, with numerous restraints on the scope and power of government to interfere with individual rights or the free market, is a lot different from an ethnic-nationalist, atheistic, and socialist program of genocide and international aggression, you should use this rule of thumb: If someone isn't advocating the murder of millions of people in gas chambers and a global Reich for the White Man you shouldn't assume he's a Nazi and you should know it's pretty damn evil to call him one."
6/19/02: "[T]he use and abuse of Nazi analogies has been a major peeve of mine for quite some time."
9/4/03: "Suffice it to say that the Nazis weren't simply generically bad, they were uniquely and monumentally evil, not just in their hearts but also in literally billions of intentional, well-planned, and bureaucratized decisions they made every day.
"And yet, in polite and supposedly sophisticated circles in America today it is acceptable to say George Bush is akin to a Nazi and that America is becoming Nazi-like. Indeed, in certain corners of the globe to disagree with this assertion is the more outlandish position than to agree with it."
..."When you say that anything George Bush has done is akin to what Hitler did, you make the Holocaust into nothing more than an example of partisan excess. Tax cuts are not genocide, as so many Democrats have suggested over the years...
"Darn those Republicans" does not equal "Darn those Nazis." The Patriot Act is not the final solution. The handful of men in Guantanamo may not all be guilty of terrorism, but it's more than reasonable to assume they are. And no matter how you try to contort it, Gitmo is not the same thing as Auschwitz or Dachau. There are no children there. You don't get carted off to Cuba and gassed if you criticize the president or if you are one-quarter Muslim. And, inversely, there was no reasonable justification for throwing the Jews and the Gypsies and all the others into the death camps. The Jews weren't terrorists or members of a terrorist organization. To say that the men in Guantanamo -- or any of the Muslims being politely interviewed by appointment -- are akin to the Jews of Germany is to trivialize the experiences of the millions who were slaughtered. Even if you think Muslims are being unfairly inconvenienced, when you say they are the Jews of Nazified America you are in essence saying the worst crime of the Holocaust was to unfairly inconvenience the Jews.
Update 12/18 1:13 PM: Matthew Yglesias says it's not an analogy for Goldberg -- he's literally saying liberals are fascists:
Brendan Nyhan thinks he's got Jonah Goldberg nailed as some kind of hypocrite, citing such past Goldbergisms as "the use and abuse of Nazi analogies has been a major peeve of mine for quite some time" and "Suffice it to say that the Nazis weren't simply generically bad, they were uniquely and monumentally evil, not just in their hearts but also in literally billions of intentional, well-planned, and bureaucratized decisions they made every day".
As I understand it, though, the difference here is that in Liberal Fascism Goldberg isn't drawing an analogy. He's saying that "the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood" just are the "modern heirs" to the American tradition of fascism "an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries." Contemporary American liberalism, in short, doesn't resemble Nazism. Rather, according to Goldberg it's a variety of fascism, albeit a "friendly" one.
While that's certainly what it appears from the book jacket text, we don't know yet. But in any case the hypocrisy charge stands -- how can Goldberg possibly square what he wrote before with the book? I've emailed him to ask for an answer...
Those numbers tell a couple of different stories. The first is that it's probably a mistake to compare Hillary Clinton with the other presidential hopefuls. Her many years as one of the most recognizable players in national politics leave her more comparable to a president running for reelection than a newcomer scrapping for a shot at the crown. As pollster Scott Rasmussen tells me, all the other candidates are going to see their negatives go up during the course of the campaign -- and if one of them ultimately wins the race, their negatives will go up even further. "The next president will get to where she is no matter who we elect," he said. It's not that the others are necessarily less polarizing than Clinton. It's that they're not as polarizing yet.
The other message of the Gallup numbers on Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is that voters can change. Hillary Clinton's detractors like to argue that she can't win because her negatives are hard rather than soft -- meaning that people have already made up their minds about her and are not movable on the subject. But history suggests that opinions are rarely set in stone. Between 1992 and 1996, for instance, Bill Clinton flipped from a net favorable rating (the percentage favorable minus the percentage unfavorable) of negative 7% to positive 11% -- that's a shift of 18%, all of it upward. In November 2000, 60% of voters reported favorable feelings toward Bush, while a mere 34% disapproved. In November 2007, only 40% approve, while 55% can't find a kind word -- a net shift of 41%, downward. True, those flips happened over significantly longer spans of time than a single campaign, but the point remains: Voters are rarely unwilling to change their minds.
However, though Klein linked to my post, he failed to address the points that I made in his op-ed. Here's the first:
While any politician will of course become more polarizing as they rise in prominence, it doesn't follow that all of them will converge to some equilibrium level of polarization. The good politicians who endure, survive, and win usually do so by retaining some appeal to independents and moderates in the other party.
In other words, Hillary has become more polarizing than your average national political figure and Obama or Edwards might not be viewed as negatively. He implicitly dismisses this possibility.
The second point is even more important:
[E]ven if we concede that Obama or Edwards would eventually become as polarizing as Hillary, Klein's point still doesn't hold. Surely it's harder to win a general election when your opponents start out energized against you and almost half the electorate starts out with an unfavorable impression of you. Why would we think otherwise?
And while it's true that perceptions of a politician can change over time, does Klein have an example in which someone's favorables improved during a presidential campaign? The change in Bill Clinton's favorables from 1992-1996 is not a useful comparison because he was an incumbent benefiting from a favorable economy.
Right now, the nation's media is faced with a key challenge: explaining the rise of Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama in their respective party's primaries. But rather than study the polling data, most journalists will focus on what they do best -- making up stories after the fact based on campaign events to "explain" something that already happened out in the electorate. (See also the "Dean scream," most accounts of presidential debates making any difference, etc.)
The worst example I've seen thus far comes from the NYT television columnist Alessandra Stanley, who was tasked with writing a story about this year's primary debates, which didn't really have many so-called "moments" and weren't watched by many voters. So she came up with this bizarre claim about Mike Huckabee's rise in the polls:
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, rose from the second tier, in part because of a few deft moments during the Republicans’ CNN/YouTube debate in late November. (When asked by a voter whether Jesus would have supported the death penalty, Mr. Huckabee replied, “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office.”)
Does anyone think that Huckabee "rose from the second tier" because of his "deft moments" during that debate?
Meanwhile, Obama's surge in the polls has led to the inevitable stories portraying his campaigning in a positive light:
The campaign of Mr. Obama, which slogged uncertainly through a period in the late summer and fall, alarming contributors who feared that he might have missed his moment, is now brimming with confidence as he delivers a closing argument to Iowa voters. His speeches are noticeably crisper, his poise is more consistent and many supporters say they no longer must rely upon a leap of faith to envision him winning the nomination.
Vanderbilt's John Geer and Brett Benson and Claremont Graduate University's Jennifer Merolla have released a new study on the extent of anti-Mormon bias among the public and the best ways to counter it:
Bias against Mormons is significantly more intense among the public than bias against either African Americans or women, according to a new scientific poll by three professors from Vanderbilt and Claremont Graduate universities.
The survey was designed to assess bias against Mormons, how best to combat it and its potential impact on the nomination process and general election campaign.
...A national representative sample of 1,200 people participated along with an additional over-sample of another 600 “born-again” Southerners. The over-sample was designed to measure the concerns that people have expressed about Romney’s religion among the evangelical base of the Republican Party.
...Key findings of the study include:
* Bias against Mormons is significantly more intense among the public compared to bias against women and blacks. The bias against Mormons is even more pronounced among conservative Evangelicals. Their bias against Mormons rivals their bias against atheists.
* Only about half the nation claims to even know a Mormon or to know that Romney is Mormon.
* The extent of the bias against Romney is moderated if the individual already knows that he is Mormon. That information seems to demystify the Mormon religion, making people more tolerant of the religion. Those who do not know Romney is Mormon exhibit much greater bias upon learning of his religion.
* When participants in the survey are provided information that stereotypes Mormons, such as ‘Mormons are part of a non-Christian cult” or “Mormons are polygamists,” they react negatively to Romney’s candidacy.
* Participants react favorably to messages that dispel the negative stereotypes about Mormons. Examples would be “about a hundred years ago the Mormon Church banned polygamy,” or “the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints stresses traditional family values.” However, simple appeals for religious tolerance do not win over support for Romney from the respondents.
Unfortunately, as Geer pointed out in an interview about the study with Newsweek.com, Romney's speech on faith in America took exactly the wrong approach:
NEWSWEEK: Let's talk about the address specifically. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Romney said Monday that he would not focus on his Mormon beliefs in a major speech on religion this week and instead would discuss his concern that "faith has disappeared from the public square." Based on your data, is this the right approach?
GEER: The data we have suggests it's probably not a good idea. How much he wants to talk about his faith and the Mormon religion is not entirely clear based on our evidence. But we have pretty compelling results that suggest that if people learn more about the Mormon religion--in a sense checking the kind of bias that exists out there, that Mormons believe in polygamy, that Mormons represent a cult, etc.--that if you check that information with counter-information, such as letting people know that the Mormon church banned polygamy a hundred years ago, and you provide that kind of context, that people become a little bit more tolerant and show less bias. Our data are pretty clear. There is bias against Mormons--but it dwindles once people learn more.
NEWSWEEK: What about a plea for tolerance, like Kennedy made in 1960?
GEER: We gave people the biased information against Mormons and try to counter it with various scenarios, information being one of them--like "the LDS church is big on family and traditional values." Then we just did a plea for tolerance, literally clipping from Kennedy's Houston ministers speech one of the passages where he talks about the need to have tolerance. The tolerance doesn't work. It's the information that checks the bias. When people who are not aware that Romney is Mormon are given the classic caricature of Mormons, that drives down Romney's ratings. But the thing is, you can only bring back the ratings of Romney with new information. A plea to tolerance does not work. Sure, it's a good thing. But you first have to let people know what you're asking people to be tolerant of. That's the key takeaway.
[Disclosure: Benson and Merolla are former graduate students here at Duke.]
My friend Ben Fritz noted an interesting contradiction.
Here's New York Times editor Bill Keller in a public memo on June 23, 2005 (PDF):
Our policy on anonymous sources is a good one, and bears repeating. It begins: "We resist granting anonymity except as a last resort to obtain information that we believe to be newsworthy and reliable." The information should be of compelling interest, and unobtainable by other means. We resist granting anonymity for opinion, speculation or personal attacks.
A quote in an article on "Jackass 2.5" published Thursday by NYT reporter David M. Halbfinger:
“There’s more vomiting, nudity and defecation,” one executive said, speaking more candidly than the companies involved had agreed to and on condition of anonymity. “The stuff that consumers really want.”
If that isn't "newsworthy," "of compelling interest," and "unobtainable by other means," I don't know what is!
Andrew Sullivan asks why Rich Lowry and Charles Krauthammer are suddenly up in arms about the increasingly dogmatic strain of religious conservatism in the Republican Party:
It's amazing to me to watch Rich Lowry and Charles Krauthammer begin to panic at the signs of Christianism taking over the Republican party. Where, one wonders, have they been for the past decade? They have long pooh-poohed those of us who have been warning about this for a long time, while cozying up to Christianists for cynical or instrumental reasons. But now they want to draw the line. Alas, it's too late, I think, for Charles to urge an openness toward atheism or non-religion in a party remade on explicitly religious grounds by Bush and Rove. Who was it, after all, who cited Jesus Christ as the most influential "philosopher" in his life as part of his electoral strategy? Who reorganized his party to base it on churches? The man whom Krauthammer eagerly supported in two consecutive elections.
I don't know about Lowry and Krauthammer, but isn't the general explanation that conservative pundits tend to hold back on criticizing the GOP except when there's a competitive presidential primary? For instance, as Matt Welch reminds us in McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and David Brooks backed John McCain in 1999-2000, but when he lost, they fell in line behind Bush and have been there ever since. I'd expect Lowry and Krauthammer to do the same thing.
One thing you rarely see in tax and budget reporting is an explicit juxtaposition of the cost of domestic discretionary spending with tax cuts. As the Washington Post reports today, President Bush is fighting fiercely over relatively small differences in domestic discretionary spending while advocating an unfunded fix of the alternative minimum tax that dwarfs the savings from limiting spending growth:
In his first six years in office, Bush accepted domestic discretionary spending increases from Republican-controlled Congresses that averaged 7 percent a year, said Brian Riedl, a conservative budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation. In his showdown with the current Democratic Congress, the president is insisting on spending growth of 4 percent at most.
But as he stood his ground, first against $22 billion in additional domestic spending, then against $11 billion, Bush steadfastly opposed Democratic efforts to raise taxes to recoup the cost of a $50 billion measure that would stave off the growth of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The parallel tax system was created in 1969 to ensure that a few rich Americans could not avoid paying taxes altogether, but because it was not indexed to inflation, it now threatens more than 20 million upper-middle-income households.
If, as expected, Congress passes a bill without making up the lost revenue, the cost to the Treasury would swamp the savings from Bush's spending fight.
The more general pattern here is that conservatives routinely blame government red ink on domestic discretionary spending -- particularly earmarks -- while advocating tax cuts that cost vastly more than any feasible reduction in domestic spending. Journalists should put these two ideas in tension with each other more often.
Lines to use a working elevator can stretch around the corner. People sometimes wait for hours to get to hearings, which are held on the seventh and eighth floors. Frequently, hearings have to be postponed because clients and witnesses cannot get to them.
...In some cases, warrants have even been issued for people who are downstairs waiting for an elevator; judges know only that they are not in the courtroom, said Bill Nicholas, the assistant attorney in charge of the Legal Aid Society’s office at the court.
The judges have less trouble getting upstairs because they use a bank of elevators reserved for court personnel. The public is not allowed on those, and may not use the stairs because of security concerns. Among them, there are no cameras in the stairwells, and the narrow stairwells are impractical for small children or people pushing strollers. So they must wait.
And these delays aren't merely a nuisance -- they are fueling human tragedies:
[T]he potential loss is not simply that of time wasted, but of the quality of justice that is dispensed. Consider the case of a client of Ms. Gutfriend’s who was scheduled for a hearing in mid-November to determine whether she could get her daughter back from foster care, where the child had been for 10 months.
The hearing was set for 10 a.m., Ms. Gutfriend recalled, but it was a day when only two of the four elevators in the building were working. The lines to get on the elevator and up to the hearing rooms stretched back two city blocks. Her client phoned upstairs to let her know she was stuck in the line, but was not able to get upstairs in time.
The judge agreed to call the hearing again an hour later, but the client was still in line. So the judge, who had something like 70 other cases to try that day, rescheduled the no-shows for the next available date. For this mother, the next chance to plead her case and get her child back was in January.
As Ben wrote, "Can you imagine how quickly the elevators would get fixed if this was happening in a family courthouse in a middle class or upper class community?" It's just tragic how poor people are treated in this country sometimes.
At what point will people realize that it is impossible to measure the carbon footprint of the food they buy? The concept of "food miles" is only a small part of the story. Consider this case of the potato chip, which is discussed in an op-ed in today's New York Times:
And while it might seem logical that the further an item of food journeys, the more carbon emissions it generates, this turns out not to be the case. When you count the energy used by harvesting and milking equipment, farm vehicles, feedstock and chemical fertilizer manufacture, hothouses and processing factories, transportation emerges as just one piece of the carbon dioxide jigsaw puzzle.
Take the potato chip, for instance. When Walkers, a British snack manufacturer, studied the carbon footprint of a packet of its chips, distribution represented just 9 percent of the total. The greatest emissions came in storing and frying the potatoes. Farmers store potatoes in artificially humidified warehouses, which take energy to run, generating emissions. Because of the way they’re stored, the potatoes contain more water and take longer to fry, generating more emissions. And since farmers sell potatoes by weight, they have no incentive to drive off excess water. Changing the way potatoes are warehoused and sold could therefore significantly cut the carbon footprint of chips.
Obviously, calculating the carbon footprint of food is an extraordinarily tricky business. But only when we understand a food’s energy use throughout its life cycle from seed to kitchen can we make intelligent decisions on where to start on cutting the greenhouse gas it generates.
These sorts of anomalies are likely to be pervasive in the production process. As a result, "we" can't really make intelligent decisions as consumers on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the food production cycle -- producers can, but only if they have an economic incentive to do so. That's why we need a carbon tax. If the price of storing and frying potatoes reflects the damage it does to the environment, then producers will have an incentive to figure out a better way. Consumers won't have to worry about "food miles" and government won't have to try to calculate "carbon footprints" of various industries. The same principle applies to the production of any sort of commodity good.
[A]s Congress struggles to adjourn for Christmas, relations between House Democrats and their colleagues in the Senate have devolved into finger-pointing.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) accuses Senate Democratic leaders of developing "Stockholm syndrome," showing sympathy to their Republican captors by caving in on legislation to provide middle-class tax cuts paid for with tax increases on the super-rich, tying war funding to troop withdrawal timelines, and mandating renewable energy quotas. If Republicans want to filibuster a bill, Rangel said, Reid should keep the bill on the Senate floor and force the Republicans to talk it to death.
Reid, in turn, has taken to the Senate floor to criticize what he called the speaker's "iron hand" style of governance.
Democrats in each chamber are now blaming their colleagues in the other for the mess in which they find themselves. The predicament caused the majority party yesterday surrender to President Bush on domestic spending levels, drop a cherished renewable-energy mandate and move toward leaving a raft of high-profile legislation, from addressing the mortgage crisis to providing middle-class tax relief, undone or incomplete.
"If there's going to be a filibuster, let's hear the damn filibuster," Rangel fumed. "Let's fight this damned thing out."
As I said before, I don't understand what Rangel and the other House Dems think real filibusters would accomplish.
PS Every time there's a change in party control in the Senate we go through this process of recrimination when the majority runs up against the filibuster. Did the House Democrats think the filibuster magically went away in 2006? What were they expecting?
PPS "Stockholm syndrome"? Wow!
For many years, one of Bill and Hillary Clinton's closest friends, TV producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, has been fond of saying that when the Clintons "are dead and gone, each of them is going to be buried next to a president of the United States."
It is an idea that the Clintons began talking about decades ago. Back in 1974, Bill Clinton told his friend Diane Kincaid that Hillary "could be president someday." During his own presidential campaign in 1992, he said in an interview, "Eight years of Hillary Clinton? Why not?"
I was tipped that the quote originates in Gail Sheehy's book Hillary's Choice (pp. 197-198).
While Bedell Smith makes it sound like Bill Clinton brought up the idea of "[e]ight years of Hillary Clinton" unprompted, Sheehy apparently drew out the statement in question:
Eight years of Bill, eight years of Hill.
That was the dream. It was Hillary's private slogan, shared with one of her closest intimates, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Early in his 1992 presidential campaign, I asked then Governor Clinton if he was concerned about being upstaged by his wife. He was unfazed. "I've always liked strong women. It doesn't bother me for people to see her and get excited and say she could be president too."
"So, after eight years of Bill Clinton?" I teased.
"Eight years of Hillary Clinton," he said. "Why not?"
While Bedell Smith's representation of this quote isn't as bad the other distortions catalogued by Media Matters, she is still omitting relevant context.
TNR editor Frank Foer has an amusing post up on the wacky world of political air travel:
Some of my best campaign memories come from air travel. I once awoke from a nap on a transcontinental flight to find Alan Keyes hovering over me. After I rubbed my eyes, he was still there. Apparently, I was sitting a row behind his kids. Where Keyes traveled in first class, he kept his kids back in the cheap seats. As I arose, Keyes delivered a lecture on the curvature of the planet. It was a stunning performance--the same slap shot gesticulation and stentorian tone that he deployed in his compulsively watchable turns at GOP debates. There was no difference, apparently, between his public and private personas--a disturbing and (weirdly) delightful epiphany. Keyes, by the way, will join today's Des Moines Register debate.
When I journeyed to Des Moines last night, I hopped a flight that should rebrand itself Conventional Wisdom One. It is the lone direct flight from Washington National to Des Moines, and it leaves every afternoon at 4:55. The airline assigned me to sit next to a colleague from National Review--not nearly as awkward as you would imagine. Needless to say, David Broder was there, too. (Yes, he talks about the virtues of America's governors even in his down time.) National Review had just endorsed Romney, a source of much buzz. There were lots of jokes about what John Edwards might say about the exceptionally cramped conditions on our Northwest jet. As I plugged in my earbuds and began to read through a stack of manuscripts, I imagined the screed Glenn Greenwald might write after witnessing this scene.
Hillary Clinton's campaign abruptly shifted gears Tuesday, arguing Obama can't beat a Republican. Until now, her attacks targeted Obama's experience, not his electability.
Pouncing on a report that revealed Obama staked out stridently liberal positions in a 1996 candidate questionnaire, Hillary Clinton's campaign argued his past record is easy ammunition for the GOP.
I think the Obama campaign had exactly the right response:
Obama spokesman Bill Burton fired back, "For a candidate who 50% of the country says they won't consider voting for, raising questions about electability is a curious strategy."
Up is down!
Like Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee is now selling electability in a general election campaign against Hillary Clinton -- this was just the top Google ad in my sidebar:
Who Can Defeat Hillary?
Governor Mike Huckabee. Conservatives Find Their Candidate.
But as I noted earlier, the Huckabee backlash is just getting rolling. He may win Iowa, but his campaign will collapse soon afterward. The most important factor is that Huckabee is severely underfunded and has few elite allies in his party. As a result, the flow of negative information about him will be relentless as other Republican candidates, economic conservatives, and liberals pound him in the press and journalists dig up more dirt. The Democratic operative who told Drudge that Huckabee has a "glass jaw" in the general election is probably right, but he won't get a chance to help break it.
In recent days, polls have showed that Barack Obama has drawn even with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and has cut modestly into her lead in New Hampshire. It's important news, to be sure, but his futures prices on the Intrade prediction market have gone up way more than I would have expected.
Here's the lifetime history of the market price for the Democratic nomination contract on Obama (its value can be interpreted as the percent likelihood of him winning):
And here's the price of the contract over the last week:
Have the odds of Obama winning the race actually increased by nine percentage points in the last seven days? It seems disproportionate to the gains that he's made.
Update 12/12 10:13 AM: Maybe I spoke too soon -- the latest New Hampshire poll has Obama and Clinton tied. Wow.
Not long ago, many journalists and Democrats were charmed by a friendly Southern Republican governor who appeared to be reasonably bipartisan and concerned with the plight of the poor. And then he turned into ... George W. Bush. I don't think Mike Huckabee is going to turn into Bush, exactly, but you'd think people would be more wary.
Sally Bedell Smith uses a quote today in the Wall Street Journal that I've never heard before (my emphasis):
For many years, one of Bill and Hillary Clinton's closest friends, TV producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, has been fond of saying that when the Clintons "are dead and gone, each of them is going to be buried next to a president of the United States."
It is an idea that the Clintons began talking about decades ago. Back in 1974, Bill Clinton told his friend Diane Kincaid that Hillary "could be president someday." During his own presidential campaign in 1992, he said in an interview, "Eight years of Hillary Clinton? Why not?"
Does anyone have the sourcing on this? It appears to be from her book on the Clintons, but I can't find the quote anywhere in Nexis.
Update 12/12 8:37 AM: See the Media Matters takedown of the book. There are very good reasons to be skeptical of Smith's claims.
The Hotline gets to the core of the Republican presidential race:
Huckabee is giving GOPers something other WH '08ers haven't: A reason to vote for someone instead feeling obligated to vote against someone (whether that's HRC or another GOPer). Sure, Huck's got a lot of liabilities. But, is his "Dumond/AIDS/immigration/taxes" baggage any heavier than Giuliani's "pro-choice/Kerick/ISG/Judith" or Romney's "landscaping/flip-flopping/Mormon" luggage?
For a while, I've been bashing Hillary's 2000 win in New York, which her campaign thinks proves she is a strong candidate who can win over moderate Republicans, etc. As I showed, however, she actually only did did about as well as Chuck Schumer did in 1998 -- an average Democratic performance in a Democratic-leaning state.
In response to questions from the New York Times about her potential effect on down-ballot races, the Clinton campaign trotted out a new lame bit of evidence from New York:
Advisers to Mrs. Clinton, who has long sought to parry concerns within her party that she is too polarizing, dispute the idea that she could hinder Democratic candidates in Republican districts. They note that New York Democrats gained a net of four House seats in her two Senate elections and that she campaigned actively for House contenders in both.
However, the "net of four House seats" actually means the Democrats dropped a seat in 2000 before picking up three in 2006. All three 2006 pickups came in relatively balanced districts (Kerry drew 47% of the vote in the 19th, 44% in the 20th, and 47% in the 24th). Also, the gains in 2006 were fueled by a national Democratic wave during a campaign in which Hillary did not face a credible Republican challenger. It's not at all clear that these results would extrapolate to more unfavorable terrain in other parts of the country during a hotly contested presidential race.
Not very long ago, Huckabee was the Republican underdog that Democrats liked -- the Bobos in Paradise-era David Brooks of the GOP primaries. He seemed like a nice guy, he was funny, he was something of a populist on economic issues, he refused to demagogue illegal immigration as much as the other candidates, etc. In the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg called it a "nice change" that Huckabee "seems to regard liberalism not as a moral evil, a mental disease, or a character flaw—merely as a political point of view he mostly disagrees with."
But in the last few weeks, Huckabee has surged in the Iowa and national polls. Now Newsweek has put him on the cover -- just in time for the emerging backlash that is going to destroy his campaign. Here's a roundup of what's already come out:
Huckabee apparently lobbied for the release of Wayne Dumond, a rapist who allegedly raped and murdered two other women, but now denies doing so or knowing that Dumond posed a threat. Some of those lobbying Huckabee for Dumond's release believed he had been persecuted because his first victim was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton's.
A closely affiliated pro-Huckabee third-party group is running a push poll in Iowa.
He hadn't heard about the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran 36 hours after its release.
He supports an absurd 23 percent national sales tax that even conservatives agree would lead to massive tax evasion. His website promises that "When the FairTax becomes law, it will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness."
He defends creationism and says it should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
In 1992, he wrote on a candidate questionnaire that homosexuality is "aberrant" and "sinful" and advocated quarantining AIDS patients.
He seemed to credit God for his rise in the polls.
During a 1998 speech to Southern Baptist pastors, he said he "got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives … I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."
An outside group backed by tobacco money paid him to oppose the Clinton health care plan, which included a cigarette tax, while he was lieutenant governor.
There's something in here for everyone to hate! In all seriousness, it's hard to imagine Huckabee and his campaign are going to be able to survive the backlash, especially when economic conservatives are also going to be hammering him for raising taxes in Arkansas.
Update 12/10 9:01 AM: You know you're in trouble when the New York Times is fact-checking you effectively:
The sudden rise of Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who was hardly considered a factor a month ago, has shaken up the race and thrust him into the center of controversies.
He began the day defending his record on “Fox News Sunday,” where he argued that when he called in 1992 for taking steps to isolate people with AIDS, he was not advocating a quarantine...
Mr. Huckabee said that when he called for isolating AIDS patients, “we didn’t know as much as we do now about AIDS.” But as early as 1986, the United States surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, had stated that AIDS was not spread by casual contact.
Apparently many House Democrats want to bring back old-school filibusters:
Mr. Yarmuth said that he and many other House Democrats wanted their Senate colleagues to force Republicans to spend hours filibustering various bills, to illustrate for constituents why legislation is stalling.
I've never understood this argument, which is popular among many liberals:
(a) After the first filibuster, I'm not sure the media or the public would care.
(b) It would slow down work in the Senate to a crawl.
(c) To the extent it draws attention to an issue, it does so by giving a platform to the other side.
(d) The potential for being dragged into a mutually destructive cycle of retribution is obvious (in five or ten years, Democrats would be in the same position).
So what's the rationale? Are Americans supposed to turn on C-SPAN, see a filibuster of an Iraq spending bill with a withdrawal deadline, and rise up as one? This strikes me as, um, a bit implausible.
Tim Russert's interview with Rudy Giuliani on "Meet the Press" is a perfect reflection of the scandal-driven priorities of the Washington press corps. Guiliani is a top presidential candidate with little knowledge of or experience in foreign policy. Norman Podhoretz, one of his advisers, wants to bomb Iran and thinks Iraq's WMD are in Syria. But what does Russert really care about? We'll let the word count tell the story.
Horse race - 701 words
Iran - 1401 words
Iraq - 539 words
Questionable actions/statements/ethical allegations - 6129 words
Huckabee on homosexuality - 249 words
Balanced budget pledge and fuel efficiency standards - 328 words
Or, in USA Today style, here are Tim Russert's real priorities:
Now, there are certainly serious ethical questions about Guiliani. But these pale in comparison to questions about how he would conduct himself in office, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Unfortunately, however, Russert wants to break news and the way to do that is to force Giuliani to go on the record about skeletons in his closet.
Update 5:41 PM: I should explicitly clarify that Russert did ask Giuliani two questions about Podhoretz as part of the 1401 words of Iran discussion. However, as I argue above, Russert devoted far more of his program to ethics and honesty issues that are far less important for the country as a whole.
An ironic Rudy statement from today's Meet the Press (my emphasis):
GIULIANI: ...I don’t think the military option is the thing that we want. I mean, that isn’t the thing that we, we, we want to get to if we don’t have to. Again, we would only get to it if it was a last resort and under this kind of an analysis. Understanding it would be dangerous and risky, but that it would be more dangerous and more risky for Iran, a highly irresponsible regime, to be having nuclear weapons. It was the worst nightmare of the Cold War, the idea that irresponsible people would have nuclear weapons.
As I wrote back in October, he knows nothing about foreign policy, his foreign policy advisers are crazy, he has no understanding of the appropriate exercise of executive power, and displays little concern for the niceties of free speech. Rudy should not be put in charge of the executive branch and I certainly don't want his finger on the red button. Do you?
(Obvious disclaimer that I meant to add per Rob's comment below: I'm not saying Giuliani is the equivalent of the leaders of Iran.)
I remember back to the 1970s and the early 1980s. Iranian mullahs took American hostages, and they held the American hostages for 444 days. And they released the American hostages in one hour, and that should tell us a lot about these Islamic terrorists that we’re facing. The one hour in which they released them was the one hour in which Ronald Reagan was taking the oath of office as president of the United States. The best way you deal with dictators, the best way you deal with tyrants and terrorists, you stand up to them. You don’t back down. I’m Rudy Giuliani, and I approve this message.
The Times accuracy check:
Although the hostages were freed less than an hour after Mr. Reagan was sworn in as president, the complex deal that led to their release was brokered by President Jimmy Carter’s administration. The hostages were released because the United States agreed to return nearly $8 billion in frozen assets to Iran, most of which Iran used to pay off foreign creditors. Some suggest that the Iranians continued to hold the hostages until Mr. Reagan was sworn in as a final affront to Mr. Carter; others say that there were logistical reasons for the delay. And while the advertisement seems to invoke Mr. Reagan as an example of standing up to terrorists, some members of his administration later went on to sell arms to Iran as ransom for hostages held in Lebanon, and to divert the profits to rebels fighting the Marxists in Nicaragua, contrary to official government policy.
The last line is the best part. Reagan's a great example of how we should stand up to Iran... except for the fact that he sold them arms for hostages. Other than that, though, he was tough!
During a speech last night here at Duke, Rick Santorum called for a war against radical Islam but in the process made the English majors cry:
"Maybe [Islamic jihad] is a gathering storm that is a little shower, but the consequences of this could make World War II seem like a walk in the park."
John Sides' effort to quantify how polarizing the various candidates are is interesting but, ultimately, quite flawed. "Polarization" is not a quality intrinsic to the various candidates...
Rather, candidates become polarizing as the press, and the political world, polarizes reactions to them. Hillary has been in the public eye for decades, endured all manner of smears and controversies, and is thus quite polarizing. But that's a function of her time before the spotlights, not her personality.
...Take John Kerry. In January of 2004, his ratio of favorable to unfavorable ratings 1.26, meaning he was net favorable, even though relatively few Americans knew his name. In the final poll before the election, his ratio was .87, meaning he was net unfavorable, despite almost everyone knowing his name. Currently, his ratio is .45, meaning people wouldn't spit on him if he were on fire. During each of these periods, public awareness of Kerry has increased. And during each of these periods, that awareness has fundamentally shifted the electorate's aggregate opinion of him. So too with Obama, or Huckabee, or Edwards. If any of them emerge their party's nominee, they will be smeared, and attacked, and lied about, and derided. They will become polarizing, not because they are polarizing people, but because they are participating in a polarizing process.
That's why I'm so uninterested in these arguments that so-and-so can bring us together. Anyone can look unifying and safe now. I'm sure that Bill Clinton, in 1992, running as a moderate Southerner atop promises to rid the Democratic Party of 80s-era orthodoxies, seemed like a pretty likable figure. By 1994, that wasn't so much the case. Obama, for all his virtues, will be smeared as a Muslim, or a former coke user, and undergo the same process. Edwards will be derided for his haircut, his house, his looks. Polarization happens. The question is who can endure it, survive it, and win despite it.
Doesn't this get it precisely backwards? While any politician will of course become more polarizing as they rise in prominence, it doesn't follow that all of them will converge to some equilibrium level of polarization. The good politicians who endure, survive, and win usually do so by retaining some appeal to independents and moderates in the other party.
To illustrate the point about the lack of convergence, let me quote from a post last year in which I show that Hillary started her presidential campaign way behind both Al Gore and John Kerry in terms of polarization:
To put Hillary's negatives in comparative perspective, let's see where she stands relative to Al Gore and John Kerry, the two previous Democratic presidential candidates. With 28 months to go before the 2008 election, her favorable/unfavorable rating is 54 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable according to the latest Post-ABC poll -- a ratio of 1.3:1. By contrast, the Post-ABC poll from July 1998 -- the comparable period for Gore -- shows that his favorable/unfavorable rating was 54 percent to 26 percent even though he was the sitting vice president. That is a ratio of 2.1:1. And two polls from late 2002 show that John Kerry's favorable/unfavorable ratings were 31 percent favorable, 7 percent unfavorable and 31 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable -- ratios of 4.4:1 and 2.3:1, respectively.
To sum up, Hillary Clinton is far more polarizing today than Al Gore was in 1998. And look what happened to Gore.
To bring this up to date, USA Today/Gallup currently has her at 50% unfavorable. In December 1999, Gore, the sitting vice president, had unfavorable ratings of 42% and 36% in two USA/Today Gallup polls. His unfavorables in that poll never exceeded 42% for the rest of the campaign. In November 2003, John Kerry, who has much less well known than either Hillary or Gore, had a unfavorable rating of 24% in the Gallup poll. His unfavorables never exceeded 44% in that poll for the rest of the campaign. In other words, Hillary is already more polarizing than either Gore or Kerry ever became during their races.
And even if we concede that Obama or Edwards would eventually become as polarizing as Hillary, Klein's point still doesn't hold. Surely it's harder to win a general election when your opponents start out energized against you and almost half the electorate starts out with an unfavorable impression of you. Why would we think otherwise?
As I've said many times in my posts on Hillary's campaign, I'm not saying she's unelectable. The political environment is so favorable to Democrats that she could win, but there's good reason to think she would perform worse than Obama or Edwards.
(PS Kerry's numbers are especially awful now because Democrats are mad at him for losing in '04. If he had won, his numbers would obviously be much better.)
TM: Do you think the press corps is responsible for putting that word out—that the president was lying [about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq]?
BARTLETT: I don’t think they’re purposely doing it. Look, I get asked the question all the time: How do you deal with them when they’re all liberal? I’ve found that most of them are not ideologically driven. Do I think that a lot of them don’t agree with the president? No doubt about it. But impact, above all else, is what matters. All they’re worried about is, can I have the front-page byline? Can I lead the evening newscast? And unfortunately, that requires them to not do in-depth studies about President Bush’s health care plan or No Child Left Behind. It’s who’s up, who’s down: Cheney hates Condi, Condi hates Cheney.
Unfortunately, those incentives are all wrong, as Bartlett correctly points out.
When you're a journalist and therefore not an expert on anything substantive, attempt to read the President's mind based on his body language -- it's swami time!
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I may want to apologize in advance because --
THE PRESIDENT: Please do.
Q -- I can't help but read your body language this morning, Mr. President. You seem somehow dispirited, somewhat dispirited.
THE PRESIDENT: I think you need to apologize for advance -- (laughter.) This is like -- all of a sudden, it's like Psychology 101, you know? (Laughter.)
I am Professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College. I received my Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science at Duke University and have served as a RWJ Scholar in Health Policy Research and a faculty member in the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. I also tweet at @BrendanNyhan, contribute to The Upshot at The New York Times, and am a co-organizer of Bright Line Watch. Previously, I served as a media critic for Columbia Journalism Review, co-edited Spinsanity, a non-partisan watchdog of political spin, and co-authored All the President's Spin. For more, see my Dartmouth website.