Thursday, October 31, 2013

Catch of the Day

Here's one for Jaime Fuller, who tells us about "The Inside the Beltway Center for Presidents Who Can't Lead Good." It's a great item, chock full of links to all the totally excellent advice that pundits have been giving Barack Obama, everything from "stop golfing" to "grow a beard."

That last one was probably not fair; I'm pretty sure Alex Seitz-Wald didn't really think it would solve Obama's problems, much less the nation's. But the rest? Fair game!

Okay, I don't really have more to say about this; I just really enjoyed the list and the title (I should also probably note that Fuller is my editor these days over at TAP, but that doesn't have anything to do with this CotD! All of you finalists who lost out? Yours just wasn't Catchy enough). Hey, it's something of a holiday today, so why not enjoy a fun one.

And of course: nice catch!

Of Course McConnell Has Blocked the Senate 400 Times

Earlier this week, Glenn Kessler wrote one of the puzzling fact-check columns I've seen in a while. It was over a claim by Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes that Mitch McConnell has "blocked the Senate over 400 times."

And right up until the final two paragraphs, it was a fine column; in fact, I'd say it was an excellent, first-rate job. Up to those final two paragraphs.

Kessler makes a number of good points. He recognizes that cloture votes and filibusters are not the same thing. Correct! He recognizes that some cloture votes fail. Correct! And he gets the key point:
Some political scientists have argued that in effect, with 60 votes required for passage on almost any bill, a filibuster is in place for every piece of legislation.

By this logic, counting cloture motions is a very poor substitute for counting filibusters — and that’s why an anecdotal feeling that the Senate is snarled does not show up in the raw statistics.
If you're wondering, that "have argued" would be me, and the "some political scientists" is Sarah Binder, who said in the linked item: "First, let’s put to rest the debate about whether insisting on sixty votes to cut off debate on a nomination is a filibuster or, at a minimum, a threatened filibuster.  It is."

Now, Kessler also makes the reasonable point that attributing all these filibusters to McConnell in particular is at least open to argument.

Anyway, up to that point, it's an excellent item. And not just because he cited me! It's a very complicated topic, and he lays it out in what seems to me to be an accurate and easy to understand way.

Given all of that, I think there are two reasonable ways Kessler could have concluded. One is to just say that everything is filibustered, McConnell is Minority Leader and therefore bears at least some responsibility each time, and so yes, the hit is accurate. In my view, that would have been the best choice. The other -- and I would have had very little problem with it -- is to say that counting filibusters turns out to be very difficult, and whether McConnell "blocked" the Senate 400 times depends on interpreting things that can legitimately be interpreted multiple ways, and therefore the best thing to do is to lay out the facts and stop there with no rating.

Instead, I was absolutely shocked that he finished:
In any case, the Grimes campaign made an elemental error in not understanding the difference between “filibusters” and “blocking” action in the Senate. A number of the cloture motions that Reid has filed were intended to speed things up, to suit his parliamentary preferences, rather than in response to something McConnell specifically had done.

The Grimes campaign might have been on stronger ground if it offered specific examples of what it considered obstruction by McConnell. But, as a matter of math and basic understanding of Senate procedure, this ad falls short.

Three Pinocchios
(That's three on a scale of one-to-four, with three being "Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions").

I don't get it at all. I think what he's saying is that to "block" something is to prevent its passage, as opposed to just delaying it. But surely that's not the only plausible definition of "block" in that context. And at any rate, it's very possible that Republicans have blocked 400 things during the Obama era, if one counts items which never reached the floor thanks to a filibuster.

At any rate, just for the record, once again: Republicans have created a 60 vote Senate in which virtually every item is filibustered. That was never the case before January 2009; it's been the case ever since. 

Oy, Fournier

This is what happens when the two parties ruling Washington lose touch with America and pander to their crazy-extreme bases: President Obama's competency and personality ratings are nose-diving, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll; barely a sliver of the public thinks highly of the Republican Party; and two-thirds of Americans want to replace their own member of Congress.  
This is what happens when a reporter is obsessed with insisting that the two parties are mirror images of each other: he manages to miss what may be a real story because he's so intent on serving up a pre-baked conclusion.

Actually Ron Fournier manages to demonstrate a whole bundle of Worst Practices in this one.

First, he treats the NBC/WSJ poll in a vacuum. Obama received his worst-ever approval here, but the 42% isn't anything special across all polls in terms of an all-time low, so highlighting it is probably misleading.

Second: It's also likely that the five point drop registered in this poll compared to one in the first week of October is flukish, as a check of the HuffPollster numbers would suggest. I'm not sure moving from 47 to 42 is a "dramatic decline" even if real, but the odds are that most of that is just random movement, not reality. HuffPollster's current approval estimate is 43%, down a small fraction of a percentage point since that earlier NBC/WSJ sounding.

Third: Fournier "explains" this "dramatic decline" purely in terms of Obama's choosing to listen to his "base" and not median voters. But if some of the drop (and over several months, there has definitely been a drop -- and perhaps the drop is really concentrated in October) is about ACA rollout, is that really about catering to his strongest supporters? I'd say it's more about mismanagement. Fournier suggests that NSA and Syria could be part of the problem (and never mind that the Syria thing and most of the NSA thing preceded that early October poll); if so, that certainly has nothing to do with being overly focused on keeping liberals happy. More likely, in my view? The long-term decline matches nicely with the long-term decline, since the end of May, of Gallup's economic confidence index -- in other words, this could be about the economy. And, if I had to guess, sequestration.

Fourth: There's also the question of whether those "crazy-extreme" bases are in fact crazy and/or extreme. It matters! It's absolutely true that strong Democratic voters have strong views on, say, health care reform and want the ACA to succeed, and that does impose constraints on a Democratic president. But that's not the same as the constraints imposed by Tea Party radicals who wanted Republicans to shut down the government until ACA was defunded, while also expecting to blame Obama for the shutdown. I'd probably also argue that the influential parts of the Democratic Party are less "extreme" than the influential parts of the Republican Party, but it's quite important to be aware that Democratic-leaning crazies have basically zero influence within their party, while GOP-leaning crazies have quite a bit. Which may well have something to do with the terrible polling Republicans are getting.

Indeed, to the extent that "Crazies are destroying your party" (the headline to the piece, so probably not his fault, but it accurately captures what he's saying), what's probably happening is that the Ted Cruz/Louie Gohmert crazies who pushed the shutdown are hurting the approval ratings of both parties.

Fifth: I don't think I got around to linking to a fun guide to anonymous Washington sources that Ryan Grim and Jason Linkins did earlier this week -- it's excellent! At any rate, it was fun to read Fournier's column, which attributes lots of weight to "a Democratic operative who works with the White House" and a "GOP operative who also requested anonymity." Let's just say that Grim and Linkins weren't exactly impressed with those credentials.

Hey: just this morning, I praised Josh Kraushaar (who I've been hard on in the past) for an excellent column. I'd much rather be doing that! I'd much rather be pointing out Best Practices columns than this Worst Practices one (maybe I should do an Oi! item for good examples). This junk, though? Oy.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mike Napoli, 32. Better than Vernon Wells! Better than Frank Francisco! And congrats to the Red Sox...I'll miss having the Giants as World Series Champions, though. But it was fun while it lasted (again).

Before the good stuff, one other note: Thank you, everyone -- record traffic month at Plain Blog!

1. Norm Ornstein on the right to vote.

2. Meanwhile, Arizona will be voting on voting, as Reid Wilson reports.

3. John Sides passes along some new research on the effect of the Fox News original rollout. I'd be very careful about extrapolating too far from this...but it's worth knowing about.

4. Garance Franke-Ruta explains why delaying ACA is impractical at this point -- although I'll note that if the web site doesn't get fixed relatively soon, it may turn out to be the least-bad option.

5. I give Josh Kraushaar a hard time often, but I think his column on VA-GOV is a pretty good example of how to write about single elections in the context of national elections. He doesn't overplay it; instead, he talks about it in the context of national trends and issues, but without making claims about "what this means" that wouldn't hold up.

6. Back to the Red Sox: Dan Drezner teases John Sides.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Immigration: Dead or Undead?

Greg Sargent has been doing great reporting and analysis on immigration, and today he reports on a third Republican Member who has signed on to the House Democrats' bill.

There are important differences between immigration and the clean CR needed to re-open the government earlier this month, but in many respects the way to look at it is similar. A handful of Republicans willing to go public with their support for comprehensive immigration reform isn't likely to get a bill to the House floor. Even twenty of them, which would be enough for a House majority (if Democrats are unanimous, which may not be the case) wouldn't be enough to force Boehner's hand. It's easy to imagine two dozen Republicans voting for a comprehensive bill; it's a lot harder to imagine them breaking with their party on procedural votes (or a discharge petition) to force that bill to the floor.

Which means that it all comes down to the same thing is always has: what do the bulk of mainstream conservatives in the Republican conference really want?

The biggest difference between immigration (and VAWA, on the one hand) and the clean CR a few weeks ago (and the fiscal cliff deal) is that in this case, there is no eventual must-pass situation. So really mainstream conservatives can do whatever they want; the only limitation on them is that if they do want the bill to pass, at least a handful of them may have to actually vote for it. In that sense, a period in which pro-immigration Republicans come out for a bill may be useful, since every one them is one "yes" vote that those who want a bill over their "no" vote do not have to supply.

And remember: if there is a fairly large group who wants a bill to pass over their public opposition, they're hardly going to tell reporters that they're in it. Since that sort of defeats the purpose. So both the group who sincerely opposes it and almost all of the group who actually wants it to pass are going to tell the press that they oppose it. Right up to the point where it passes. If it does!

In other words, we're back to where we've been on this all year: we really don't know whether the bill is dead or undead. It all depends on what mainstream conservatives want, and while they may tell Republican leadership, they probably aren't going to tell the press.


News broke yesterday from the Senate: "Rand Paul is officially holding Janet Yellin's nomination until Harry Reid agrees to hold a vote on auditing the Fed."

This strikes me as a more or less proper use of a hold, and demonstrates the merits of retaining holds on executive branch nominations.

I like that Paul is specifically attempting to influence the institution involved in this particular nomination. I like that he's not making an unreasonable demand; he's asking, apparently, for a vote, not an outright policy concession (I don't know whether he's asking for a protected, majority-wins vote or just getting to the point of a cloture vote; the latter would certainly be a very reasonable ask). I like that this is a policy which he's personally interested in; this isn't really a partisan hold.

Just to clarify: I'm not taking a position on whether Paul's audit deserves a vote, let alone whether it's a good policy choice. What I am taking a position on is that this is basically how Congress is supposed to work -- it's supposed to be possible for individual Senators, even from the minority party, to be able to take meaningful policy initiatives.

Now, the flip side of this is that Harry Reid does need to bring this one to the floor, and he's going to be willing to spend floor time on it; in fact, he may do that regardless of this hold. Sixty Senators can always overcome a hold, albeit at the cost of floor time, and ultimately Reid isn't going to be stopped from moving forward on it because one Senator wants something. However, my guess (and the above is all the reporting I've seen on it) is that Paul has at least a fair chance of getting what he wants.

All of this is why I support simple-majority cloture on executive branch nominations, as opposed to eliminating filibusters (and with them, presumably, holds) entirely. Technically, the Majority Leader could agree to respect holds even if they had no leverage at all behind them, but realistically I very much doubt that holds could survive the end of cloture.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Charles Martin Smith, 60. The Toad. Also directed "Welcome to the Hellmouth," for which, as long-time readers might remember, he earned an appearance in my epic Reagan thing (which I do try to link back to every once in a while. I like it).

Well, whether you're in the mood for Reagan or not, surely you want some good stuff:

1. The Wall Street Journal really, really, really, shouldn't run op-eds by "expert" Suzanne Somers. Alex Seitz-Wald explains.

2. I think Andrew Sullivan basically gets it right on surveillance, including Obama's role to date -- although my view would be that all of it exploding on him this year suggests that he should have been more aggressive on it early, despite the likely short-term political fallout. In other words, while I have a fair amount of sympathy for a president who ducks an issue for (electoral) political reasons, I think the answer here is that the best political play was to find a way to take it on.

3. Marc Ambinder is also very good on intelligence, although I'm not really buying his Bill Clinton hook -- the rest of the column though is excellent.

4. The latest 2014 forecast from Alan Abramowitz.

5. An explainer about insurance cancellations, from Sarah Kliff.

6. And Chris Cillizza backs off his earlier comments about redistricting when presented with evidence. Excellent!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Elsewhere: ACA/Iraq, Sabotage, more

My TAP column yesterday is about the "ACA is like Iraq" thing, extending what I wrote here a while ago. I argue that the ACA rollout isn't like Iraq, but actually could be a fair comparison...but ultimately won't be.

Over the weeked, I talked ACA sabotage over at Salon. To be clear: this isn't about letting the administration off the hook. But, yeah, I do think that Republican efforts to undermine the law probably had something to do with the inept rollout.

Today I wrote on the successful cloture vote for Richard Griffin, which is actually a pretty big deal.

And yesterday I thought about the budget and post-policy Republicans.

Oh, C'mon (Try Harder, Partisan Spinners)

Bipartisan edition. I usually have been complaining about lazy GOP spin, but today I'm annoyed at both sides...

Item One:
Club for Growth tells Senate R's to oppose Mel Watts's nom to lead FHFA: "It is entirely inappropriate for a politician to fill this role"
Really? Seems to me it's absolutely a good idea for a politician to head up the FHFA. At any rate, it seems to me that this principle (which I only noticed today, but it's been kicking around since...oh, probably since five minutes after Watt was nominated) couldn't be much phonier.

But on the other hand...

Item Two (and, sorry, this came over email but I can't find a link):

The Ways and Means Committee Democrats were complaining this morning that the hearing today on ACA implementation is hypocritical because Republicans apparently waited seven months to hold a hearing on Medicare Part D implementation.

This is a mild example of why "hypocrisy" is such a useless accusation. Yes, absolutely correct: we should judge Republican Members of Congress harshly for acting as Bush cheerleaders (and, not to forget, petty grifters) back when Hastert was Speaker. So what? Tough oversight hearings are absolutely appropriate. They would be appropriate even if everything was going reasonably well, at least on the surface; it's even more necessary given that things have gone badly.

Ways and Means Democrats shouldn't be complaining about the hearing; they should be asking aggressive questions. After all, the bottom line for Democrats (substantively and for electoral politics) is to get the exchanges working well; that matters a lot more than the spin game, and pressure from fellow Democrats will help make it happen.

Hey, Press shops: step up your game!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Tim Minear, 50.

Good stuff:

1. Regular readers will know that I strongly agree with Ilya Somin about the words "democracy" and "republic." There are two reasonable choices: treat them as synonyms, which is what we should do in most contexts...or treat them as about the concepts of Athens vs. Rome, which is interesting and all but has nothing at all to do with the USA or any other modern polity. I mean, of course some of our ideas come from Athens and Rome, but our institutions really don't, and can't. See more here -- really the first three, which are all more or less repetitive, but if you go down a bit you'll see a pretty good point about why it might matter if a nation thinks of itself as a Republic, and also some stuff about Palpatine.

2. Joseph Neeley on "The Republican Brian." I'm no expert at this stuff...but my inclination is to believe it's mainly bunk.

3. And Kevin Drum on Medicaid and transferring money from Republican states to Democratic states.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Catch of the Day/How's the nude lady?

Juliet Lapidos is brutal about the return of creepy Uncle Sam, still trying to scare young people away from getting health insurance.

As she notes, the latest iteration urges that young people should, instead of getting insurance through the exchanges, go for crappy insurance that doesn't actually cover anything.

My question: are the anti-ACA groups who are urging young healthy people to buy insurance which doesn't cover anything talking at all to the anti-ACA wonks who are making the case that regular health insurance is a disaster and that what we really should be doing is pushing everyone into catastrophic insurance?

Or, more to the point: are those anti-ACA wonks hitting back against the groups arguing for crappy insurance which does nothing to protect against major medical disasters?

And, yes, all of this does remind me mainly of when the Vicar tried to put in a claim with his insurance agent, Mr. Devious, only to be told that "It states quite clearly that no claim you make will be paid."

But: how's the nude lady?

Anyway: Nice catch!

The Coming Senate Apocalypse. Or Not.

The first of the three DC Circuit Court nominees is headed to the Senate floor this week. Where we can expect...well, apparently we have no idea. Sahil Kapur has an overview here, but it's noticeably lacking anything very specific about what the dozen or so Republicans who have been available on exec branch nominations, since July at least, intend to do.

Way  back at the start of August, Kapur had Susan Collins reading to consider each of the nominees "on the basis of his or her merits," which presumably would mean a vote for cloture (and perhaps confirmation, although her vote wouldn't be needed at that stage. He also had McCain as probably on board. As of Thursday, only five Republicans are needed to reach 60 for cloture.

But we really haven't heard much beyond that. It's pretty clear that quite a few Republicans will oppose cloture, but as usual what the radicals do doesn't matter much; what matter is whether McCain, Murkowski, Collins, Alexander, and the rest of that group can produce five votes.

If not? My guess is that a blockade of three seats on the DC Circuit Court would be enough to get Harry Reid to go back to another showdown.

I'm against eliminating filibusters on judicial nominees. In my view, large, intense minorities should have an opportunity to block lifetime appointments. As a practical matter, however, they're only going to be able to keep that opportunity if they use it sparingly. Arbitrary declarations by the minority that appointments to regular vacancies are "court packing," backed by partisan filibusters, are exactly the kind of thing that will lead to the demise of any minority influence whatsoever.

At any rate, what's sort of striking is just how little we know about what will happen this week in the Senate. We could be at the start of an epic confrontation...or it's just as possible that half a dozen or even a full dozen Republicans will vote for cloture. Kapur has been doing a good job by following this important story, and he's a good reporter, but he really doesn't have much, and neither (as far as I've seen) does anyone else. I guess we'll find out soon.

NR Takes on the Radicals (A Little)

Sometimes, the twitter machine just spits out perfect material for items to write. So this morning I wound up opening tabs on Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry's epic (five-screen) condemnation of radical Republicans, along side a nice takedown of Russell Brand's recent political babbling from Alex Massie. One of them was about "an adolescent extremist whose hatred of politics is matched by his ignorance" -- want to guess which one?

OK, it's the one calling all politicians frauds...from the Left, where liberal democracy, including the "left" parties, looks like a conspiracy against the True Revolution. But one could pretty easily write exactly the same critique of Tail Gunner Ted and his radical allies. Of course, the key point is that in the US, the radicals have a powerful hold on one of the major political parties. Which is a bit of a problem.

Massie is far more direct and effective. Does he have the easier target? Not really, but he does have the harder argument, perhaps. After all, Massie doesn't care at all that those sympathetic to Brand will consider him Not Left Enough, but National Review certainly cares a lot about being considered a True Conservative publication.

Indeed, Ponnuru and Lowry's five-screen attack on the radicals is packed full of "on the other hand" and "to be sure" qualifications, so much so that at times it's hard to tell whether the point is convincing convincable conservatives or if it's to do just enough to be able to claim credit for being on the side of sanity. Is that unfair? Perhaps. But there sure are a lot of caveats here. "The tendency arises from legitimate frustrations." "The Republican consultant class has often seemed to suffer from an almost clinical deficit of imagination." "It’s not as if the Republican leadership handled this episode especially well." And they endorse the silly Fox-ready spin during the shutdown, the minibills and the Battles of the World War II Memorials, as "smart tactical moves," while calling the Tea Party "one of the wonders of American politics" which they claim, implausibly, would be impossible anywhere else in the world.

Nevertheless, it's good to see a flat-out attack on the radicals from NR.

Even as qualified and caveated as this one is.

I do think the problem is a bit deeper than Ponnuru and Lowry want to pretend it is. They really only attack the obviously suicidal: the awful Senate candidates, the shutdown strategy that had no chance of victory. Their solution is that the party should work hard to win elections in order to implement their agenda, which is all very well and good. However, it also masks something real going on here. The "True Conservative" agenda that the radicals and most mainstream conservatives claim to want, at this point, has become so radical that it probably is at least a modest electoral problem -- and even more so, it would be a massive governing problem, both in practical and electoral consequences. I'm thinking here about the Ryan Budget, with its complete elimination (if you take the budget math literally, which is what we're supposed to do with budgets) of all non-defense discretionary spending. I'm thinking, too, about the "47%" rhetoric, and about Medicare (and presumably Social Security) "reform." Or about the farm bill, where Ponnuru and Lowry are on the side of the "reformers" and ignore that the main reform in the bill is slashing food stamps.

In other words, really detaching themselves from the radicals and healing the GOP might require some rather more difficult choices for mainstream conservatives than just jettisoning Christine O'Donnell. No matter how enthusiastically and (I suspect) repeatedly they're willing to do that.

Still, it's a start, I guess.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Daphne Zuniga, 51. I know I've babbled on about this before, but The Sure Thing is just a much better movie than When Harry Met Sally.

Good stuff:

1. A nice interview with David Mayhew. By the way: the APSA Congressional Fellowship is basically the best thing in the world. I didn't do it (didn't apply; I had already spent four plus years on the Hill, plus it wasn't right for our family situation at the time), but from everything I know, both from talking to friends who did it and from reading the research of those who did it, it's absolutely the best thing.

2.  I really like this one from Andrew Sprung -- especially his point that comparing "Obamacare" plans to 2013 health insurance is a cheat because those 2013 plans already incorporated ACA reforms (no lifetime caps, phased out yearly caps, no rescissions). And no, you probably can't get those benefits without also giving insurance companies what they're getting now: new customers.

3. And more good points on ACA from Austin Frakt.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

I'm curious: are there liberals out there who want to see sequestration continue because it's the best shot at cutting military spending, even though it also cuts spending on things they like? (Or to put it in the form of a proper Sunday question: is that your position?)

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Are you hoping that gets fixed quickly and starts functioning properly? Or are you hoping it doesn't?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I'll put it this way: getting the federal-run exchanges up and running properly matters; the spin over it doesn't matter. What I don't really know is whether the decisions made this week about the exchanges really matter...we won't know that until later, both after the outcome is known and after more of the behind-the-scenes stuff gets reported.

What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

So, Tim Lincecum, two years, $35M.

Here's what I think. It all comes down to one thing: is Tim Lincecum likely to be a reasonable rotation starter for the next two years?

If you think so, then...well, yes, he's overpriced, but it's better to spend $17M on a $10M starting pitcher than to spend $10M  and give 20+ starts to a guy who shouldn't be on the roster. Sabean was looking at three open rotation spots; there's absolutely no guarantee that he could have filled all three with guys you want to take the ball 33 times each at any price. At any rate, if he's a league-average starter than $35M/2 years is high, but not outrageous; there will be much worse contracts for pitchers this winter.

On the other hand, if you don't want him to make 66 starts over the next two years, regardless of price, then it's a bad signing.

It's really that simple.

So do the Giants want Tim Lincecum to be a rotation starter in 2014 and 2015? It's not clear, from the number. He's coming off a year with a 76 ERA+, and before that he was at 68 ERA+. That's not good enough, so the question is whether he'll be better. And I think there's a reasonable case for it. His K/9 is still a very solid 8.8; his unsustainable BB rate spike from 2012 disappeared in 2013. He didn't exactly do clearly better in the second half of the season, but there's at least a plausible case to be made that there was improvement.

It's probably worth noting that he's been extremely durable; of course, that may not last as he gets older, and is only worth anything if he's better than he has been.

Is it wishful thinking to think he could build on what success he had in 2013? Maybe!

There's also a part of this that really does go past the stats. The Giants are in an excellent position to see beyond the numbers. There are risks at that kind of scouting, but there are opportunities as well, and I think it's reasonable to give the Giants the benefit of the doubt on that kind of thing, especially with pitchers.

If they gave him the money because they thought it would sell tickets, it's a mistake. There's no way a mediocre Tim Lincecum is going to sell more than a few season tickets at this point, and he certainly won't help specific game sales if he slumps from the beginning of the season. And at any rate, it's not even close to worth risking a postseason appearance over.

But if they think he's a league-average pitcher over the next two years, and that given their position it's probably a good idea to overspend for a league-average pitcher right now, then it's a reasonable move. As long as they're right about him bouncing back just a bit more.

Elsewhere: Nominations, Tree-Shaking

Today at PostPartisan, I suggested the possibility that daily briefings are driving the need to have something to say at the daily briefings, rather than the other way around. And that it reminds me of the "shake the trees" business from the end of the Clinton administration.

Yesterday, I put in another call for reforming executive branch nominations.

And one earlier one: I wrote a pretty optimistic assessment of the ACA website fiasco.

That's all for now. Should have the usual Salon column over the weekend and a Monday TAP piece; that seems to be getting to be a fairly regular schedule.

Obamacare/ACA Update

Andrew Sprung makes a good point:
@JBplainblog has warned: if ACA succeeds, no one will know it's "Obamacare." Thanks to disastrous rollout, all users'll know (by 25th try)!
I think that's mostly right. My sense of it has been that the sooner ACA simply becomes the way that people by insurance (on the individual market, which remember is only a slim percentage of all those who buy insurance), the less it becomes "Obamacare" in people's minds, and the more it's just a normal thing, and, for many people, the way things have always been.

The more that it calls attention to itself, then, the more users are apt to associate it with government, and with Barack Obama. That makes sense.

And the more that the rollout problems are a big news story, the more people are going to connect Obamacare with the exchanges -- something that really wasn't the case for most of the last few years.

So I think that's a fair comment, but with some caveats. One big one: low-information users may still not make the connection; after all, nothing at says "Obamacare." Indeed: outside of the .gov address, it doesn't really emphasize that it's a government program. So it is quite possible to use the marketplace, and even really hate the marketplace, without associating it with "Obamacare." Will that happen? I don't know.

The other important part: it of course matters how long the problems go on. If the visible problems are mostly gone in the next couple of months, then it also disappears as a news story.

And then we're back to where we were: becomes just the normal way that people have always bought insurance -- much better to go on that site and buy Blue Cross or whatever than to have to deal with Obamacare.

In other words...back to that if it works, Obamacare disappears.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Nancy Cartwright, 56.

With some good stuff:

1. John Ahlquist and Margaret Levi, "The decline of union membership and what it means for politics."

2. Andrew Sprung on Tafts, McCarthys, and Cruzes. The current Taft's claim of "adult" status for Republicans is pretty iffy over the 20th century period he's talking about -- and I wouldn't have suggested it for someone writing about the party of (to put it more crudely in this context than I would in others) the part of Anglo men.

3. I found this Philip Bump post on tech and ACA helpful.

4. Rick Hasen on Posner and voter ID.

5. Yes, tax deductions and exemptions really do benefit those who benefit from them at the expense of the nation and, therefore, other taxpayers -- as Dean Baker points out in the case of Ted Cruz's health insurance.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dogs, Not Barking

An occasional item about things not in the news -- which is, therefore, newsworthy.

1. Why don't we have controversial surgeon generals any more? I had to look to check; turns out it's been (shocker, I know) vacant since mid-July, with apparently no current nominee (to replace Regina Benjamin, who as far as I know mostly stayed out of trouble)...yes, that's a three-month vacancy with no replacement named. I suppose one way to avoid controversy is to avoid nominating anyone, but still...surgeon generals used to be front-and-center in "culture war" issues.

2. The Euro. Or at least the Euro crisis. Yeah, it's been in the general news some, but (at least in the US) it's mostly gone away as an any-day-now kind of crisis story.

3. The Fed board. Yeah, this again. There are basically three openings: one current one, since August; the spot that will open up assuming that Janet Yellen is confirmed (or, I suppose, Bernanke's spot if she isn't); and the one that will be open when Sarah Bloom Raskin goes over to Treasury, assuming that she is confirmed. That's three opening, zero nominees. As Kate Davidson notes in a nice article, there's another potential opening at the end of the year, although presumably Jerome Powell will be renominated when his current term expires.Yes, Fed Chair is a big deal, but the rest of the board matters, too, so it's time to start cranking up the "when is Obama going to get around to this?" campaign. Again.

4. I don't know what to use as the kicker any more. I think fear of a revived Fairness Doctrine is really pretty much dead now (quick googling leads me to more liberals wishing it was back than conservatives fearing it, so I really can't use it any more, I don't think. I certainly can't use gun control; of course the NRA fears of what liberals really wish they could do are silly (not to mention the fears of those who think the NRA are squishes), but Democrats certainly pushed a gun measure, so can't use that. So I'm back to looking for ideas. The idea is something that one party or group is constantly warning that the other party will enact, but in fact the other party has little or no interest in it. Also helps if it's funny in some way.

Quick Oversight Hearing Primer

I'm not watching the big House Obamacare oversight hearing this morning, but half my twitter stream is, and we've reached the point in which they're complaining that we're not going to learn anything.

Here's why they are actually very useful. Even when they're boring.

Time for a quick primer. Congressional oversight hearings are mostly useful because they exist. The actual hearing itself? Not much usually happens. But the threat of being called to account, and then the process of being called to account, should and probably does put pressure on executive branch agencies and departments. That's a good thing!

There's also a part of it which is just getting everyone on record in a formal setting. That's not going to be very informative, usually, at least for attentive observers, since all anyone is going to do is to confirm what's already out there. But there really is some utility to having these things on record, officially out of the mouths of those who are supposed to be getting things done.

Remember that this is part of separated institutions sharing powers; oversight hearings are one tool Congress has to compete over who gets to execute the laws, and how those laws will be executed. So the public part can be very bland but still be a key part of bullying bureaucrats, administration officials, and outside contractors (among other things, a bland hearing can be their reward for being bullied).

Moreover, since the public testimony might be irrelevant to the point of having the hearing, individual committee members can use the time for producing clips that can run on local TV news shows. Every once in a while that will make good TV, but usually not. Don't forget; the witnesses usually have an interest in not making news, and so if they're smart they'll leak things out beforehand in order to better manage the spin. Which again might make the actual hearing boring even if it's been successful in generating information that would otherwise have remained unavailable.

Conclusion: if everyone does their job properly, most oversight hearings will be both (1) boring, uninformative (especially to beat reporters who know the subject) occasions for the worst self-aggrandizing politician behavior; and, (2) a highly useful and functional part of the process of separated institutions sharing powers.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Kevin Kline, 66.

Good stuff:

1. Andrew Sprung argues with me about GOP dysfunction and the Constitution. My point: unless you can show that GOP dysfunction is a consequence of the Constitution or that it is particularly harmful because of the system of separated institutions sharing powers, then you're not making a Constitution argument. I don't believe that the Linz argument does the former, and I disagree that it succeeds on the latter. 

2. Dan Drezner assesses the Obama Administrations motives on Syria policy.

3. And more Colorado politics and parties from Seth Masket. Question: would a particularly nice ambassadorship solve this one? 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23, 1973

The House was back in -- and that meant resolutions of impeachment are introduced by Members of the House. Judiciary Chair Peter Rodino announced that his committee was beginning preparations for impeachment of the president.

Catch of the Day

Matt Yglesias demolishes a conservative talking point about Singapore and health care reform. Bottom line, after he reviews what Singapore actually does:
None of this sounds to me like anything American conservatives favor. As in, there is no legislation that's been championed by major Republican leaders that would do any of these things and, in general, none of these measures comports with conservative aversion to government spending and regulation.
Here's where I think we are. There are several conservative policy wonks who are basically sincere, as far as I can tell, in their views on health care reform. Fragments of their claims and arguments are used, sometimes, by Republican politicians. The latter are basically uninterested in the substance of the issue at all. To some extent that's not unusual; lots of politicians talk about issues about which they have no real substantive interest! Some of it, however, is our old friend the post-policy GOP -- they really just aren't interested in policy at all, and therefore aren't constrained in their choice of talking points by anything policy-related.

In other words, the real-life Republican alternative to the ACA remains "nothing." But that's considered politically inappropriate, and so real-life Republicans get to hand-wave around the issue by identifying various things they theoretically would build a replacement around. However, for Republican politicians and many of the non-wonk other party actors (and perhaps some of the wonks, too), it really is just hand-waving. There's nothing substantive about it for them.

Again: that's not true for many conservative wonks. But politicians aren't using their work to build an alternative; they're using it for an easy way of having something to say that sounds sufficiently serious. And, again, while that's not unusual in any party on any issue at any time, it's unusually try for this particular party, on a very wide range of policy areas, at this particular time.

Also: nice catch!

(Hat tip to longwalkdownlyndale)

Weed vs. Marriage

I said over at PP yesterday that I think Democrats have a fight coming over marijuana, thanks to new polling that shows a majority currently favor legalization.

I compared the situation to marriage, and I see Joshua Tucker did, too; in many ways it's a natural comparison.

I do have one caution about it: I'm a lot less confident that it's a one-direction lasting trend than the marriage trend. This is basically just speculative, but for whatever it's worth...

I've always been fairly confident that the case against same-sex marriage would dissolve if and when it was enacted. The arguments against it often boiled down to "that's weird," and if and when it was enacted, it would rapidly no longer be weird. Sure, there's also some explicit bigotry, but for some time it was pretty clear that explicit bigotry was fading (and the process in which more gay and lesbian citizens come out, leading to less explicit bigotry, leading to more people coming out makes it likely that it will continue to fade). Ten years ago it wasn't at all clear to me that marriage equality would win, but I was very confident that if and where it won, public opinion against it would rapidly collapse.

But I don't think that support for weed legalization is similar. There does appear to be a generational effect, which suggests that the trend will continue to some extent. But it's not at all hard to imagine it reversing. As Mark Kleiman says, marijuana may be less harmful than alcohol, but that doesn't mean it's harmless -- and it's easy to imagine any number of weed-related problems that could make for bad headlines and reverse public opinions. I'm not predicting that, mind you; it's just that I think future trends depend on unpredictable events (or, to be more precise, unpredictable press interpretation of unpredictable events).

There's also a politician piece to that. Politicians "evolving" on marriage were only worried, really, about current opinion. I'm pretty sure they didn't worry about a backlash if marriage equality was enacted, and certainly not that if marriage equality took place that newspapers might start running gay marriage horror stories (has even the GOP-aligned press ever run gay marriage horror stories? What would they look like?).

But politicians will worry that if they support legalization that they could be held responsible for any weed horror stories that emerge -- and everyone knows that the press is capable for concocting those, true or not.

Supporters of legalization can argue that horror stories are not particularly likely to show up because (1) they're not apt to be true, and (2) given public opinion, the press won't find them appealing. That might be true! I'm only suggesting there's a lot more uncertainty here than one might think, especially if one believes in the marriage analogy.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bradley Pierce, 31.

Plenty of good stuff:

1. Timothy Lee on why the the problems may take plenty of time to solve.

2. But I agree with Josh Barro: if it's correct that the "backend" problems have been solved, that's a very big deal.

3. Jamelle Bouie on "Many Rivers to Cross."

4. A good rundown of post-shutdown polling and recent ACA polling from the HuffPollster team.

5. Ross Douthat on what (some) conservatives would like to see if ACA fails.

6. Republicans fighting back against Tea Partiers, from Jessica Taylor and Suzy Khimm.

7. And Marin Cogan tracks what the press expected of Ted Cruz vs. the actual Tail Gunner Ted we got.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 22, 1973

On Sunday, the president and his staff could still pretend that they were going to win the battle with Cox; after all, even if some were squawking, if they really had rid themselves of not only Cox and retained the tapes but also disbanded the entire office of the Special Prosecutor, it would probably be a win.

Catch of the Day

Great post from Dan Hopkins about how a belief that "messaging" works gets politicians into trouble.

What I've become interested in are the incentives for politicians to believe the myth. There are a couple of things going on here, I think.

One is to recognize the distinction between candidates and candidacies and the analogous distinction between elected officials and their full operation, their offices (we don't really even have a proper word for that one). Within those candidacies/offices, there are a number of people -- the communications operation, probably polling, media, maybe more) who have a direct interest in believing that the words that politicians say have a direct effect on public opinion in a way that really matters.

The other one is about efficacy.

In some situations -- campaigns, in particular -- "messaging" actually does have some marginal utility, and while it's only on the margins, it's one thing that is actually within the control of the candidates, so they might as well do it as well as possible.

But even when it has no effect whatsoever on  public opinion, it's likely to produce tangible results. Take for example the House mini-CRs during the shutdown, or the First and Second Battles of the World War II Memorial. We know that they were utterly unsuccessful at moving public opinion. However, they also were heavily reported, especially within the GOP-aligned press. In other words, they had tangible effects, even if they didn't actually have meaningful effects. And within most organizations (and remember, House offices, Senate offices, political parties, the White House, campaigns, and federal agencies are all organizations), tangible accomplishments tend to be rewarded. Even if tangible may not, at the end of the day, be as substantive as something else which doesn't have any visible gain that one can point to.

And as I've said, I think this is particularly a problem for Republicans, both because their party-aligned press is a bigger deal, and because it is generally even more accepting of GOP spin than the Democratic-aligned press is. Which means that GOP spin becomes tangible more easily, which should mean, all else equal, that Republicans will be even more susceptible to the trouble that Hopkins talks about than Democrats will be.

Also: Nice catch!

Here Comes the "Special" Hype

The death last week of long-time Member of the House C.W. Bill Young last week means we're going to get something that this Congress has managed to put off so far: outrageous hype over a special election.

All House elections are important, and this Tampa-area one will be in one of the relatively rare competitive seats. So it will be an important election.

However, whenever it winds up being scheduled (with March 11 apparently the best guess so far) it will tell us nothing about the November 2014 elections, other than perhaps indicating what will happen in that district. It is not an early warning sign, or anything else. It's just one election.

Does it matter at all beyond the one election? Only to the extent that expectations of electoral swings can, in the right circumstances, become self-fulfilling prophesies. However, if this one does happen in March, then it's a little late to affect candidate recruitment (not all state filing deadlines are by then, but many are). And candidate recruitment is the biggest factor when it comes to "waves" created by elite-level self-fulfilling prophesies. Availability of other campaign resources can matter some, as can press coverage, probably, but those can change over the course of the year, so a single well-timed event is a lot less likely to affect them much.

Mostly, however, expect plenty of unjustified hype. Hey, reporters! Any chance you can avoid it this time?

Apples and Oranges

Nelson W. Polsby used to be very upset at the cliche about apples and oranges: Of course you can compare them! They're both fruit!

Which is pretty much how I feel about liberal outrage about comparisons between and Bush-era fiascos including Iraq and Katrina that have been making the rounds this week -- here's Oliver Willis tweeting a graph showing deaths from the three while saying "why you shouldnt compare obamacare to katrina or iraq, in one chart. cc: all pundits"

Well, no, not really. And not just because, in fact, this is a self-refusing argument; posting the graph is in fact making the comparison -- just that it's basing the comparison on one particular variable. An important one, to be sure, and one where the launch of looks good. But a comparison, nonetheless. (And a silly one: was Iraq really a much better policy than WWII? Were Watergate and various Red Scares no big deal?)

Regardless: my real point here is that of course you can and should compare presidential decisions, and government execution of policy, with other presidential decisions and government execution of policy.

Now, there's also a lot of foolish talk among Republicans about how Barack Obama's popularity is going to be destroyed by, just as Bush's was destroyed by Iraq and Katrina. That's probably wrong, but it's not a wrong question to ask. Just as it isn't wrong to question whether as policy implementation could turn out to be similar to other fiascoes, even if failure in this case won't (directly at least) lead to death.

In other words: yeah, there's a lot of junk out there. But "people died" is no reason to shut down careful thought. For the most part liberals seem to be handling this fairly well, but just remember: The antidote for junk analysis is better analysis. Not more junk.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bob Odenkirk, 51.

Good stuff:

1. Seth Masket with a good point about voters and the shutdown.

2. Agree with Ezra Klein: what matters for both Obama and for ACA is to get the thing working; his speeches don't really matter much (Note: Philip Klein made the same point on twitter at some point today, too. Good).

3. Sarah Kliff is on the ACA hotline.

4. Rand Paul and the truth, from Jill Lawrence.

5. And Dan Drezner on Prince Fielder and foreign policy think tanks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Elsewhere: Broken GOP, Showdown Future, AutoCR

Column time. At TAP today, I argued that we're unlikely to have a second shutdown when the current CR expires in January. The big point I've been making is that shutdowns are the result of a deliberate strategy, not the accidental effect of difficulty reaching a deal.

At Salon, I talked about the broken GOP and why that's the problem, and not institutional design.

Going with both of those: a PP post today in which I complained about one specific reform proposal: a fail-safe automatic CR at current levels. Terrible idea!

And way back on Friday I took note of one of the big issues in the TX Lt. Gov. Republican primary: the 17th Amendment.

The Saturday Night Massacre and the Presidency

"The recall of MacArthur, the steel seizure, and the dispatch of troops to Little Rock share still another notable characteristic: In each case, the decisive order was a painful last resort, a forced response to the exhaustion of all other remedies, suggestive less of mastery than failure -- the failure of attempts to gain an end by softer means" (Neustadt, Presidential Power, 24).

The Saturday Night Massacre, forty years ago yesterday, was critical in the public story of Watergate; it marked the point at which impeachment of the President of the United States became part of the normal political conversation. Indeed, one might say that it marks the point where the standard for a major presidential scandal became impeachment; ever since, from Iran-Contra to Lewinsky to, I don't know, whatever they're talking up on Fox News these days, everyone has been a lot quicker to bring up impeachment than they ever were before Richard Nixon needed three Attorneys General to fire a special prosecutor.

The Massacre was also one of the best illustrations of Richard Neustadt's key point about presidential power: that presidents do not, and can not, govern by command as a normal way of going about their business.

The problem for Nixon was that he was saddled with a special prosecutor who was, in his view, overreaching his mandate (and, at any rate, threatened the presidency by attempting to obtain White House tapes which would prove Nixon guilty of offenses he would surely be impeached and convicted for if they became public). Now, Archibald Cox was supposed to be independent, but he was still part of the Department of Justice. Could Nixon either get him to back off, or, even better, get rid of him?

In the event, the answer was: only by command. Persuasion utterly failed. Which ultimately meant that Nixon couldn't get what he wanted -- relief from a truly independent prosecutor.

Remember, "persuasion" for Neustadt doesn't really mean convincing someone that the president's preferences are good in some abstract way; it merely means convincing someone that to do what the president wants is in his or her own self-interest at that moment. That could involve an appeal to the good of the nation, but it's more likely to be done by some combination of bargaining and the sort of influence that the president's scope gives him. That is, the head of an agency might do what the president wants in order to receive budget support in the future, or the promise of a promotion to a bigger job, or perhaps threats to a political ally. Whatever is available; and while presidents have very limited powers of command, they have nearly limitless tools to use for this kind of persuasion. If, that is, they know how to use their office.

What Neustadt tells us is that the structure of the presidency and the executive branch is set up that way. Part of that is because command only works in particular circumstances; without fairly unusual conditions (Neustadt identifies five), it doesn't work at all. Part of it is that executive branch officials must obey multiple masters -- even when the president can technically fire them (as was the case for the Attorney General), they can often nevertheless ignore what he wants. Indeed, that's part of what happened here. Elliot Richardson simply refused to do what Nixon wanted, meaning that eventually Nixon needed to turn his lower-case order into a proper Presidential Order that Richardson could no longer ignore. And yet even here, Richardson resisted and resigned.

Why? Because Richardson had made a promise to the Senate -- that he would appoint a special prosecutor and let him do his work. Why? Because the Senate insisted; they would not confirm him otherwise. Why did Richardson keep his word to the Senate over his loyalty to the president? Because he was the sort of man who would do that. And why did Nixon appoint such a man to such a post, anyway? Because the politics of the situation required it during a time that spring when the outgoing Attorney General and the previous one were both implicated in wrongdoing, and during a time when the independence of Justice Department investigations of White House wrongdoing was under fire.

Nor is this the only time when executive branch refusal to go along with presidential plans mattered in the Watergate saga. Indeed: the whole thing started when Nixon's ("Huston") plan for domestic surveillance was shot down by the FBI, leading Nixon to bring an alternate version of that plan inside the White House. And while presidents generally can get their orders followed within the White House, it's the regular executive branch departments and agencies which have the expertise to carry out policy successfully.

Neustadt calls command -- director orders, rather than persuasion -- a "last resort" for a president:
Not only are these "last" resorts less than conclusive, but they are also costly...[D]rastic action rarely comes at bargain rates. It can be costly to the aims in whose defense it is employed. It can be costly, also, to objectives far afield (27).  
So he wrote, over a decade before Nixon's attempt at command was successful at ridding him of Archibald Cox, but at a terrible price indeed.

The Senate Isn't Really an "Old Boys Club" Any More

I can understand why Mark Tracy was annoyed by the hype about the role of Susan Collins in settling the shutdown, but his takedown is really an overreaction.

Tracy notes that there are still only 20 women in the Seante. True! On the other hand, he claims that "11 of the top 12 Senate officials are men." But he's apparently counting (his link) the VP and the president pro tempore; the latter is a symbolic designation, while the VP isn't even a Senator, and really doesn't have a role in the Senate at all most of the time. I think he's also counting Harry Reid twice, for whatever that's worth. So it's really one of nine in party leadership positions. I suppose whether that's different than one of 12 is a judgement call, but might as well start with the right number.

Moreover, it's not really clear that the extended party leadership is the right place to look, anyways. That same page Tracy cites shows that women are chairs of the Senate committees on Appropriations, Budget, Agriculture, Environment and Public Works, Small Business, and Intelligence (also Ethics, Indian Affairs, and Joint Economics). Those are important, substantive, positions; women aren't quite chairs of half the Senate committees, but it's a third of the regular standing committees plus the most important (Intelligence) of the others.

Indeed, while Tracy's initial version of the shutdown story is about how "all the important players" were men, he acknowledges at the tail end that Patty Murray and Barbara Mikuski were in fact key figures.

One more point. What's missing in Tracy's account is the most important factor: party. It's pretty straightforward; when Democrats are in the majority, women are going to be important. After all, 16 of the (about to be) 55 Democrats are women.

Which gets to what's really important: the reason that the key players on the Republican side were men is because all but four Republican Senators are men. And since women are also overrepresented among the relatively moderate Republicans, it's even less likely that they'll be involved in cutting a deal which needed mainstream conservatives on board.

It's true that the Collins compromise was pretty much irrelevant to resolving the shutdown. But while there's still a long way to go to parity, it's really not fair to say that the Senate is still an old boys' club. It's not 1990 any more.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Carrie Fisher, 57.

Plenty of good stuff for the new week:

1. Seth Masket on top-two.

2. John Sides on primary reform.

3. Robert Costa interviews Ted Cruz.

4. Nice Adam Serwer item about what a mess DHS is.

5. Danny Vinik pushes back against my case for blaming mainstream conservatives for the shutdown; he says the Tea Partiers were at fault.

6. Amanda Hess on privacy and young people.

7. Off my normal track, but: a good series about specialization in high school sports, from Tom FitzGerald. My experience has been that not only is this true and a real shame, but that it's not restricted to sports; at least in Texas, it seems to be common to all extracurriculars.

8. And I don't like Eddie Vedder and I'm partial to APBA, but still, this one.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20, 1973

The Saturday Night Massacre

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question: what, if anything, did you learn from the shutdown showdown?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What, if anything, did you learn from the shutdown showdown?

October 19, 1973

On a day in which the focus is far from him (although not too far, given that the tapes issue is in large part at that point about proving him right), John Dean finally gives up his effort to avoid prison. He pleads guilty to obstructing justice, accepting a prison term while promising continued complete cooperation.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I'll be boring and just go with the end of the shutdown, along with the end of the debt limit threat.

Not sure what I have that didn't matter...I suppose I don't really think that the specific votes among mainstream Republicans on ending the shutdown mattered all that much. That is, it mattered a lot that it ended, but it's relatively unlikely that anyone will draw a primary (or a more significant primary) only because of a "yes" vote, or take a hit in the general because of a "no" vote, all else equal. It's possible, but unlikely.

That's what I have, but there was a lot going on. What did you notice? What do you think mattered this week?

October 18, 1973

Negotiations continue all week: Nixon, Haig, Richardson, Cox.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

Of course I've known that the Dodgers have not reached the World Series since 1988. I mean, everyone knows that. And I knew that it's been a while, of course. But the time gets away from you (or at least from me)...I hadn't quite realized how long it's been.

What I realized just now is that they're getting real, real, close to the gap the Giants had between 1962 and 1989.

Fine, Dodgers fans; I'm quite aware that there are differences involved, beginning with the outcomes of 1962 and 1988. I'm aware that the Dodgers never went through anything similar to what the Giants did in 1972-1985. I'm aware that the 1989 World Series was less than a complete triumph.

Still, I'm also aware -- that's an understatement -- that not only have the Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, but also that the Giants have been to the World Series four times since 1988.

Hey: I was born after that 1962 series, and while I do remember 1971 and the Hall of Famers, I mostly grew up with the embarrassment of a franchise they were after that, until Will Clark and all showed up.  While the Dodgers were winning often, and good the rest of the time. So I'll still take my enjoyment where I can.

Nothing to add, other than that the Cardinals are really quite a team and quite an organization.

Tom Foley

Tom Foley, Speaker of the House 1989-1995, died today.

Foley was enormously popular within the House during the 1980s, at least among Democrats, as he moved from Ag Committee Chair to Whip to Majority Leader to Speaker. He was an excellent Member of Congress, and as far as I know was quite effective at those jobs.

As Speaker, he acquired a reputation of being more liked than effective, and I think that was generally fair. The rise of Newt Gingrich wasn't his fault; if anything, he at least slightly opened up opportunities for the minority party in the House to participate meaningfully. And moving power back from the Speaker's office to the committees was good. Still, however, the general sense was that he didn't co-ordinate the Democratic majority as well as he should have.

(I was a young'n House staffer when Foley was Whip, and I can definitely attest to his reputation on the Hill at that point; I met Foley after he had left office, and I found him both a very nice man and very generous with his willingness to talk to grad students as if we were real people.)

Whatever his problems as Speaker, Foley deserves to be remembered as a patriot who worked hard to make his nation better as he saw it. US political culture, alas, undervalues Congress in general and important Congressional leaders in particular. Foley was an excellent Member of the House for many years; that's actually a big deal, and worth celebrating.

Why We Have Campaigns

Alex Roarty called Ted Cruz the 2016 Republican "frontrunner" today:
The Republican establishment despises Ted Cruz. And that’s great news for the senator from Texas: It’s the most prominent sign that he’s the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.
He also gets one good quote from Iowa conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats: “I really believe if the Iowa caucuses were held today, I don’t even think it’d be close. Ted Cruz would walk away with it.”

But here's the thing: it's not just a quirk of timing that the Iowa caucuses aren't being held today. What it means is that we're only at the beginning of a very long campaign.

And campaigns matter. Even general election campaigns matter; what they mainly do is remind people which party they belong to, and inform them that the nominee of that party is a perfectly acceptable representative of that party. That's a big party of why if you ask before the campaign you'll find all sorts of people ready to jump to a third party candidate, or in some circumstances even cross over to vote for the other party's candidate, but by November most people are back where they "belong."

In primary elections, the information environment is more complicated, because there are fewer obvious cues. Tail Gunner Ted is taking advantage of one of those cues right now -- he's been the most visible, recently, of the radical Republicans, so those who basically look for the representative of that strain of the party are moving to him.

Whether that lasts, however, is another story, as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain could tell you.

What's going to happen is that Iowa voters will learn more about the various candidates. Recently they've had more exposure to Cruz; later, all the fully-funded candidates will get their own messages out. And, meanwhile, the press coverage will increase, both in the neutral press and the GOP-aligned media. And here's the thing: to the extent that GOP opinion leaders either hate Ted Cruz or, now, think that Ted Cruz is a loser, that's going to show up on the coverage that Cruz gets. Sure, not in all the coverage; there were, I'm sure, plenty of conservative blogs that were with Bachmann or Cain (or the Newtster for that matter) to the bitter end). But clearly enough to get the proper cues to a sufficient number of primary and caucus goers that they figured out: hey, that's not our candidate.

To the extent that those future negative cues are already baked in -- and I'm fairly confident that's the case for Ted Cruz -- no, he's not the frontrunner. Not at all.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Erin Moran, 53.

Good stuff

1. I absolutely agree with the premise of Ezra Klein's post: Democrats should give up on the goal of raising revenues. Trickier, however, is how to do that. But he's exactly right about this.

2. The latest on 2014, from David Wasserman. Very reasonable.

3. Sarah Binder's postmortem on the shutdown deal.

4. Paul Waldman is very good on the Robert Costa phenomenon.

5. And another good one from Ross Douthat on Boehner.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Elsewhere: Boehner, Cruz, more

Over at the Post this week...I think I'll pull a quote from today's PP post:
We can’t know for sure, at least on the evidence we have right now, whether Boehner was following the wishes of the majority of his conference on October 1 or on October 16. But what evidence we have strongly suggests he was. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the shutdown and debt-limit fiasco, but any account which focuses mainly on Boehner is probably letting both the moderates and the mainstream conservatives — in other words, most House Republicans — off far too easy.

More on extortion for the sake of extortion

Why this is bad for Ted Cruz's nomination hopes

And looking ahead to January

Catch of the Day

Please, bloggers who write about democracy and institutions, read this from Andrew Rudalevige:
Now, for the record, we do not actually have an executive-centered presidential system, or even a presidential system. At least, if we do, that’s not the Constitution’s fault. Congress is Article I, and for a reason: Congress is a hugely powerful legislative institution. It can act in almost all areas of governance, overruling the president — given sufficient unity. Indeed, Congress can get rid of the president — again, given sufficient unity.
I have plenty more to say about all of this, but I think I'm going to stop right there, other than referring you to the rest of the post, because this is really, really, important. The US system is one of separated institutions sharing powers. It is not a "presidential" system.

Great catch!

Pelosi Had an Easy Job This Time

During and after the vote last night, numerous pundits and passers-by were praising Nancy Pelosi, contrasting her "ability" to keep her caucus unified with the chaos on John Boehner's side of the aisle. Here, for example, is Ian Millhiser:
Nancy Pelosi controls 198 votes in the House.
John Boehner controls 87.

Nancy Pelosi was an excellent Speaker -- as I've said, I rank her second only to Tip O'Neill in the modern era, and that's giving him points because he had to figure it out for the first time (since he was the first of the true modern Speakers; the reform era ran from 1959 to 1975). So this isn't anything against her.

But really: House Minority Leader is one of the easiest jobs in Washington. Keeping her party unified against an obviously losing strategy by a small minority of the most unpopular Republicans? C'mon, that's no achievement. You know who was able to lead an absolutely unified party? John Boehner, in 2009 and 2010. He hasn't suddenly lost his touch; it's just a different, and much harder, job.

And I apologize for taking the wording of a tweet too seriously, but neither Pelosi or Boehner or any other leader "controls" votes in Congress. Not in any kind of strong sense. We're talking about 435 independent, autonomous actors. Yes, Speakers have some influence on what individual Members do (far more than Senate party leaders do), but it only goes so far. They start to go very far from what the party wants, and..well, ask Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich how long a Speaker lasts who tries to "control" too much. Indeed: one of the reasons Pelosi was highly successful as Speaker is that she didn't attempt to be the dictator of the House.

Again: nothing against Pelosi. She was excellent when it counted. But this is all evidence not for Pelosi's skills and Boehner's lack of skills, but that structural things matter more than individual skills in many cases.

Boehner's problem isn't that he's a poor Speaker. His problem is that he has 232 Republicans, and a good 50 to 100 of them want no distance between themselves and Louie Gohmert. If Nancy Pelosi had been forced to deal with 50 to 100 Members who wanted no distance between themselves and Dennis Kucinich (or Cynthia McKinney), and if Kucinich and McKinney defined themselves in large part by establishing a distance between themselves and the "Democratic establishment"...well, that's a much harder job than she actually had. And that's only the beginning of the structural differences.

One more time: Pelosi was an excellent Speaker. But her skills just don't explain much of what's been happening in the House this month.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Michael McKean, 66.

Good stuff; not too much, since some of you are going back to work today:

1. I've said that Ross Douthat has the hardest job in America: his job is to be a representative of real conservatives but also to tell the truth as he sees it, and even in the best of times those are going to clash, and these are not the best of times for the GOP (no NYT columnist is charged with being a real liberal; the point of having Tom Friedman on the op-ed page isn't lost if liberals disown him). Keep that in mind, and this one is extremely impressive. Also this one is correct, regardless of context.

2. Scott Monje's deep dive into the shutdown game.

3. And Sarah Kliff is counting ACA applications.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

And Now, Humorous Credit-Taking

Earlier I watched a truly great politician moment: "Gang of 14" Senators going to the Senate floor and congratulating themselves for working out an agreement to re-open the government and raise the debt limit. Not the agreement; the actual deal was apparently only tangentially related to the Gang's. But an agreement, nonetheless. They are immensely proud of having participated in a process which had little or nothing to do with ending a shutdown almost three weeks in, and raising the debt limit at the last minute.

There are basically two ways to take this.

One of them, and the one I try to be in favor of most of the time, is to just enjoy the spectacle of politicians being politicians. Of course they want to present themselves as full of spirit of bipartisanship, not to mention can-do efficacy. Of course they want to present themselves as part of the Good Washington. It's silly, but it's what politicians do, and we need politicians, so why complain?

The other one, when I'm in a less charitable mood...start with the Republicans. Some of them (John McCain, in particular, whatever his petty, personal motives; sorry, can't help that) have been pretty good about fighting back against the radicals. Others? Not so much. And while obviously the first blame for all of this has to go to the radicals, the truth by all accounts is that the radicals were dramatically outnumbered in both the House and Senate Republican conferences. And yet those sane Republicans too often hid their beliefs, voting to go along with most, if not all, of the craziness that they themselves said was doomed. Don't forget: these seven Gang-sters voted unanimously over the weekend, with the rest of the Republicans, to kill a clean debt limit bill by filibuster. Granted, what the Senate did wasn't very important in the grand scheme of things, but they could have provided a bit of cover House Republicans. They did not.

Then there are the Democrats. Maybe they deserve a break; one way of reading the entire thing (and Brian Beutler has been good on this) is as a process of producing tough votes for Democrats to take. Still: these moderate Democrats, by predictably clinging to whatever Republicans they can find in order to constantly prove their distance from Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and all, help to enable those sane Republicans to actually act as irresponsibly as Tail Gunner Ted and his group.

The true humor in all of this was that the Senators actually finishing up the deal and how it was going to be handled were off the Senate floor because they were busy working on it; the Gangsters were congratulating each other for working together to reach a deal precisely because they had time on their hands while the real work was going on.

At any rate, as I said, pretty much this is just what politicians do, and if you want to have a functioning democracy, you're going to need some politicians, and no question about it but that even the best of the workhorses will still take the opportunity when available to show off in the winner's circle.

Counting Hard

Some foolish liberals, back in 2009-2010, used to blame Barack Obama for things when the actual problem (from their perspective) was that they just didn't have the votes in the Senate. But, to be fair, that was somewhat complicated: Democrats had a large majority, and I can definitely understand the frustration when that large party majority didn't actually work out to a policy majority (in some cases a supermajority, but often just any regular majority) for some specific liberal policies. 

So if I called them out on it then, I should probably make note of this utter nonsense from shutdown advocate Erick Erickson:
Throughout this fight, Harry Reid has outsmarted Mitch McConnell. Repeatedly, Reid used the Senate’s rules to toss aside numerous proposals from the House while McConnell looked on not knowing how to fight back.

Reid knows how to beat McConnell. If Reid fights hard, McConnell backs down and tries to blame others. McConnell’s lieutenants attack Ted Cruz so “the Leader” can deflect from his own legislative impotence. And he continually is one step behind Reid in his knowledge of how to use the Senate’s complicated rules to win a fight.
Senate rules are in fact complicated. In this particular case, however, the obscure rule Harry Reid relied upon was...take a vote, and the side with the most votes wins.

If you want to get into technicalities, I suppose you can, but none of them mattered. I mean, the Senate was able to pass a clean CR thanks to complicated manipulation of the rules while the Senate failed to pass a clean debt limit increase because Republicans mounted a successful filibuster, but it didn't matter at all -- not at all -- whether those things passed or not. All that mattered was that...well, I was going to say that all that mattered was that McConnell didn't have the votes to pass a "defund" CR, but that's not even true; what mattered was that neither the House nor the Senate had the votes to override a veto on a "defund' CR.

Yes, yes, everyone who understands anything about Congress knows all of that. But Erickson either doesn't know it, or is pretending he doesn't. After all, his remedy is to declare war not on Democratic Senators in marginal seats who voted with their party in this fight, but on McConnell and the other squishes.

The real question is whether sane Republicans are going to fight back against this malarkey. I doubt it; I don't think a couple of weeks of lousy polling is going to be anywhere near enough to overcome what's broken about the GOP.

The perverse incentives for folks like Erickson are still there -- I'm sure he's done quite well from the shutdown. And it's still the case that Republicans see Tea Partiers as a positive force in their 2010 win, just as they saw Newt as responsible for 1994, so even the electoral effects appear far murkier than they actually are.

But at least there's a chance -- no certainty, but a chance -- that we won't go through one of these again for a while.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to David Greenwalt, 64.

Some good stuff:

1. Joshua Huder with the case that it's internal Congressional incentives, rules, and procedures that produce the extreme polarization we're seeing. I have no argument with that; however, I'll note that the presidency, too, has become far more partisan than it has been. Regulars know what I think: strong parties, including strong party networks, are a significant factors in all of this.

2. I don't think that Ross Douthat's argument about the radicals and policy really holds up...but it's worth taking seriously.

3. Medicare Advantage is doing just fine? That's what Kate Pickert reports.

4. More from Ray La Raja on campaign finance.

5. And Dan Drezner on a potential Marx comeback in political economy. I can't really speak to that, I guess; I think of Marx as an important political theorist, but weak on economics.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15, 1973

The Appeals Court had ruled against Richard Nixon in the battle over the tapes, but it left him an out: instead of appealing up to the Supreme Court, he could try to work out a deal. That's what begins now: the attempted Stennis compromise.

House CR/Debt Limit BIll Pulled

The news this evening is that John Boehner had to pull the bill Republicans had been scrambling to put together all day.

My general sense is that it's progress. If a GOP CR/debt limit bill passes the House, we're back to where we were, really; both sides have a position, with Democrats insisting that a deal amounts to paying a ransom, and so there's no deal to be had.

However, with House Republicans in disarray, the only game in town is the Reid/McConnell "deal," which is really just a GOP surrender with a minor fig leaf. Or maybe not even; there was talk at one point in the last day or so of it winding up as just a clean bill.

Or, to put it another way. From the very beginning, it's been clear that any bill to pass would need to be acceptable to both Barack Obama and Senate Democrats and also to most House Republicans. House Republicans mostly wouldn't have to vote for it, but they probably would have to accept it. So one way to look at it is that the whole game has been to get mainstream House Republicans to the point where they're willing to accept surrender, even if it means getting blamed for it by the radicals.

I'm no reporter; I only know what I read, and can guess at what seems likely. But I think it's extremely likely that most House Republicans blame the radicals, Ted Cruz, and Jim DeMint a lot more than they blame John Boehner. And I tend to agree with those who think that perhaps today was just about demonstrating to them, one more time, that the radicals who are a problem that they actually have to confront. If only by accepting a mostly-Democrats bill to re-open the government and extend the debt limit.

Maybe not! But whether Boehner actually plotted this all out this way or not, that's my best guess about where we are tonight.

The Brilliant "Leave Town" Option?

So far today, over in no-we're- not-completely-bonkers House news, the House Republicans prepared a debt limit/funding bill, took it to a conference meeting, sang "Amazing Grace" (presumably more of a Diane Chambers version than you would find in the House Democrats' caucus, no?), found out they didn't have the votes, and then threatened to pass something and then leave town -- so the Senate and Barack Obama would have to choose to go along or go passed the Thursday-ish deadline.

I'll be writing more about this later, but it sounds to me like a brilliant Boehner strategy! After all, he has two problems right now: it doesn't appear that any debt limit/funding bill can pass with only Republican votes, and he really wants to pass one prior to total surrender; and, then, he has to do the total surrender part of it with as much cover as possible (of which passing the first bill is a key part, apparently).

A brilliant strategy? See it? Here goes:

1. Get reluctant House Republicans to vote for a debt limit/CR bill as part of the "leave town" strategy. Bill passes.

2. Head to airports.

3. Wait until the 30-60 or so crazy caucus boards planes.

4. Sneak back to Capitol, pass whatever the Senate sends over -- with any luck, unanimously, now that voting that way won't separate them from the not-present radicals.

5. Everyone pretend it's a great victory for Republicans -- that Harry Reid and Barack Obama caved and accepted exactly what Republicans wanted, a short-term debt limit and a sequester-level CR.

Hey, it almost worked for Johnny Cash! And it's not as if Louie Gohmert is as smart as Columbo, right?
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