« Bling Bling? Bling Bling???!!! | Main | The Fine Art of Misrepresentation »

January 22, 2008

Comments

sorry - didn't see this before i posted. but, i'm glad you cited chait. i think it supports your point -- and i think it's a strong argument. it's all probability right now, but probability matters. ask a poker player

publius: not to worry. This time, for once, I did check to see whether you had posted on the same topic before hitting publish -- and I'm glad you wrote about the slugfest, so I wont have to. :)

The only thing I disagree with is when it comes to guesses about the scope of Republican attacks. It wasn't just the Swift Boaters some of us were and are looking at, but Rove's entire history back to the compassionate judge he painted as a pedophile early on, and the culture of attack around the RNC and the Young Republicans. I still think it's sensible to expect that every major Democratic candidate will be attacked in ways that turn their strengths into weaknesses.

I think the unfavorables issue is still worth considering, but I think that nobody's going to be safe from the slime.

In 1952, the most electable man in America was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Both parties knew it, and both parties tried to enlist him. The Republicans got him. I'm not sure they were thrilled about it, later. They certainly seem more worshipful of the nominee they elected in 1980.

Reagan certainly proved "electable" -- in retrospect. But what made him more electable, prospectively, than George H.W. Bush? Did the G.O.P. of 1980 worry about "swing voters" considering the Gipper "too divisive"? No: they picked Ronnie because he was an unapologetic Democrat-basher. Did his Democrat-bashing put off those oh-so-genteel "independents" who (even then, believe it or not) were reputed to long for "coming together" and "getting things done"? No again: it made many of them Republicans.

I don't know what Saint Ronnie's "negatives" were, in January of 1980, but I do remember a couple of things:
1) He had been around presidential politics, then, quite as long as Hillary, today; and
2) He was viewed as kind of dumb by lots of people -- not endearingly goofy, but actually stupid.
So how the hell did he become a "transformative" president, as Barack rightly called him?

First, he got lucky: he lost the nomination in the bad-for-Republicans year 1976, and he won it in the good-for-Republicans year 1980. Second, he took advantage of that fortunate timing and ran AS A REPUBLICAN. Third, he took as his running-mate the man who, in the primaries, attacked his proposals as "voodoo economics". I'm not suggesting George H.W. Bush was a big asset in the general election, merely that they were both smart enough to kiss and make up before taking on the Democrats.

I think Barack Obama will make a fine President. I suspect he has it in him to be a formidable Democratic nominee. But I worry that he's not laying the groundwork to be, for the Democrats in 2008, what Ronald Reagan was for the Republicans in 1980. I'm not sold on Hillary, either, but I know this: if she gets elected, even in a squeaker, her victory will represent a bigger blow to Ronald Reagan's execrable legacy than Obama's will.

-- TP

In comments on Clinton's negatives and their implications for the general election, someone will usually say: well, the Republicans will slime anyone; they can convince the electorate that anyone is a scumbag; and if you think they can't, you're just being naive. I think this is also a very serious misreading of what happened.

The point I keep making to liberal friends about this is that this just ain't how human psychology works. If you are predisposed to like someone, you will be disinclined to believe negative statements about him or her, particularly factually questionable ones of the he said/she said variety. If, on the other hand, you are not predisposed to like someone, such attacks will be more credible. Obama is incredibly likable. Kerry and Hillary are not. Thus, while mud sticks like glue to them, I don't think it will stick to Obama. I have no doubt the some in the Republican fold will try to slime him (though it's hard to see how they'll top intimating that he's a jive-talkin' crack dealin' Muslim Manchurian candidate named Hussein), but it won't work, not because the electorate is more likely to discern that it's not true but because people - at least enough people, fair-minded Republicans, independents, and the like - won't want to believe it. Think of how frustrated liberals got about Reagan's teflon ability to withstand scandal - it'll be the same thing, in reverse.

Kerry had served in battle, and been decorated for his service. But there was also a fair amount of lingering hostility towards him in the military, and in some conservative circles, over the Winter Soldier hearings

I think that's beside the point. The fact that he's a patrician stiff who projects no warmth or sense of humor and comes across as a condescending bore when he speaks to voters is as big or bigger a factor - see his likability, above.

Bruce: I still think it's sensible to expect that every major Democratic candidate will be attacked in ways that turn their strengths into weaknesses.

Yeah. Xeymon's comment above is a good example: Kerry (especially standing next to Bush) came across as dignified, intelligent, well-informed, and able: Bush came across as shifty, ignorant, kinda dumb, incapable. So, tell the voters that what they saw was a "patrician stiff" versus "the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with": and several million Xeymons will repeat it.

Jesurgislac - I don't know who "Xeymon" is, but for your information, I loathe Bush and voted for the patrician stiff, who yes, I felt was much more intelligent and much more qualified for the office. But that doesn't stop me from recognizing what happened in the 2004 election (a lot of voters didn't agree with my calculus), or stop me from seeing the fact that despite his intelligence and qualifications, Kerry, shall we say, lacks the common touch that makes for a successful politician in modern America. As far as what I said about personal likability, it's a well-established fact in the field of psychology. But hey, don't let ignorance stop you from making an argument - it seems you never do.

it's hard to see how they'll top intimating that he's a jive-talkin' crack dealin' Muslim Manchurian candidate named Hussein

They'll say he's a jive-talkin' crack dealin' Muslim Manchurian candidate *who will raise your taxes*. That'll drive a stake through his heart.

Re: Kerry -- I don't think there's any need to pick between the Winter Soldier, friend of Jane Fonda stuff and the east coast elite thing as the source of his negatives. Both are true.

Although I have to say that, outside of blaming Xeynon for it, Jes' comments about Kerry's and Bush's relative performances in the debates are right on. How anyone could watch them and then go vote for Bush is beyond me, frankly. But, there you have it.

To the larger point, I think it's pretty clear that Obama has a much better chance of drawing independent and even moderate Republican votes away from whoever the Republican candidate is. Less so if McCain gets the nod, but to some degree even then.

If it's McCain vs Obama, it will probably be close. If it's Clinton vs McCain, we could be looking at a Republican president in '08. Not the worst possible one, but that is called "damning with faint praise".

I honestly don't know who I prefer among the Dems. They're all pretty good, and they all have their flaws. But I think the plain, pragmatic electoral facts are pretty clear. Folks who are not predisposed to vote Democratic find Obama more appealing. Maybe it shouldn't be that way, but it is.

We all have to make what we will of that. I voted for Barry Commoner in '80, so trust me when I say I'm not opposed in principle to a symbolic vote. But the stakes are pretty high this time around.

Thanks -

Xeynon: I don't know who "Xeymon" is, but for your information, I loathe Bush and voted for the patrician stiff, who yes, I felt was much more intelligent and much more qualified for the office.

I apologize for getting your handle wrong - and also for personalizing the issue of how people reacted to Kerry, and then how the media instructed them they felt about Kerry. But there was a substantial difference: Kerry came over brilliantly in the debates; the media reports within a few days were saying he was a patrician stiff and Bush was a personable fellow: and very shortly afterwards, so were most impressionable Americans who believe what the media tells them rather than their lyin' eyes.

I apologize for getting your handle wrong - and also for personalizing the issue of how people reacted to Kerry

Apology accepted. I, in turn, apologize for the "ignorance" crack - as you don't know me, I can hardly expect you to know my voting patterns. Not all people of conservative inclinations fit leftist stereotypes of slobbering authority lovin' Bush votin' America firsters, and I'm just a bit sensitive about being stereotyped as such. I honestly feel that we don't disagree quite as much on substance as some of our exchanges would indicate, but I have at times felt as if you are labeling rightist straw man arguments as mine, and engaging them rather than what I've actually said.

As I said, I agree with you about the 2004 debates. I do think Kerry was much better on substance, despite my disagreements with him on many issues. I think there's a certain chicken-egg aspect to how media narratives and public perceptions interact, though, so I'm not sure I buy your theory that the media's appraisal of his performances is what shaped his image as a patrician stiff. His personality, the Swiss boarding school background, his torturous, overcomplicated speaking style, and the awkward, Romney-esque attempts to pander to the gun rack crowd really did more to do him in than anything the media did IMO. Of course, the idea of Bush as some kind of folksy frontier cowboy is absurd, but he was much better at playing the part of a guy you could have a beer with. That's not necessarily a good thing - and in this case it most definitely was not - but my ultimate point was that that's the political reality, whether Democrats like it or not. Likability matters, and they'd be foolish to nominate Hillary on the thinking that a marginal advantage in experience or minor differences on policy make up for the vast gap she has on that score.

I agree with the main points of the post, but cannot agree about Kerry. The fact that he lost doesn't show 'unelectability' or that he was any less 'electable' than any of his rivals for the nomination. It was a fairly narrow win, helped substantially by Osama's last minute intervention, registration & machine availability shenanigans in Ohio, and a general sense, among independents, that Bush wasn't as bad as all that. I frankly doubt that Kerry lost any particular state he would otherwise have won, but for the Swift Boat ads/controversy. It was unfortunate to give the 'Dems Are Weak' proponents something to point at -- the failure to fight back right away -- but I don't think any actual votes were lost over it.

I agree with Charley. I think Kerry was very electable. Two things went wrong.

One was, as Jes did point out, the media love affair with Bush. The same thing that was done to Gore in 2000 was done to Kerry.

The second was more self-inflicted. The 2004 Republican convention was just about the biggest example of immature, childish, petulant, narcissistic, condescending behavior I have ever seen form any convention. Yet the Dems, Kerry included, did nothing about that.

In addition, all the purple heart knocing, other medal knocking and swift-boating was, in reality, a slap in the face of every veteran of Vietnam. Again, the Dems did not make an issue of this. Instead of trying to show how wrong the attacks were, which wasn't tried very hard, there should have been a connection between what was being saidf about Kerry and how it applied to every serviceman in Vietnam.

To echo what CharleyCarp said, I'm sick of repeatedly running into the logical fallacy in which it is assumed that, because Kerry didn't win, he was not the most electable.

Right. Do you really think Dean, after the scream, would have had a better chance? Or maybe Al Sharpton? And I'm afraid that the Republicans have Edwards' number, portraying him as a lightweight pretty-boy.

About this: "he's a patrician stiff who projects no warmth or sense of humor and comes across as a condescending bore when he speaks to voters": as those of you who were reading this blog will recall, I was for Kerry, for all the obvious reasons (competence, intelligence, general sanity and attachment to the actual world, plus not having the million and one awfulnesses of GWBush.)

That said, I agree with Xeynon. And I am pretty confident that my view of Kerry does not just reflect the Republican attacks or the press narratives: I'm from MA, and had thus been following him for decades. When he locked up the nomination, I thought: oh God, it's Dukakis all over again.

Again: this in no way prevented me from preferring him by miles and miles and miles over Bush. But his personality was, I thought, an obvious electoral disadvantage.

I should also say: when I said Kerry had electability problems, I didn't mean to infer them from the fact (if it is a fact; added to forestall arguments I don't want to have) that he lost. I think that his more or less total lack of -- charm? anything resembling an appealing personality? -- was always a problem. (I wish it wasn't. I wish everyone was as wonky as me. :) ) Had he won, it would have been a problem he overcame. As it was, it was a problem he did not overcome.

I also don't think this judgment depends on the existence of better alternatives. Personally, though, I preferred Clark.

[Kerry's] personality, the Swiss boarding school background, his torturous, overcomplicated speaking style, and the awkward, Romney-esque attempts to pander to the gun rack crowd really did more to do him in than anything the media did IMO.

This nails Kerry's problem, as I saw it. He did the same thing Gore did, thinking that people wouldn't listen to them unless he could "act normal" -- they both have that pathology of very smart people who think that people won't listen to them unless they act like "one of the guys." IMHO, Kerry would have been much better off just biting the bullet and acting like himself, "patrician" attitude and all.

(Frankly, I think that Dean was more electable for exactly this reason -- or at least he would have been, had he not been torpedoed by his own party. But this is all water under the bridge. Just as Kerry's "electability" is unrelated to the fact that he ultimately lost, neither is Dean's "electability" related to the fact that he wasn't the Dem nominee.)

Back to Kerry --

Watching the Spike Jonze video of Gore before the election, my feeling is that Gore hasn't changed at all, but he's simply become comfortable acting like himself, and people like that. He's a bit of a geek, but wouldn't be a liability if he just owned his dorkiness. It's part of him; in fact, it gives him a great sense of humility and normality when he lets it shine through. But somewhere along the line, Gore got convinced by someone like Mark Penn that his real personality wouldn't "sell."

Look voters can smell inauthenticity a mile away, and Hillary has always radiated it (Bill, for the record, does not). Bush isn't, I think, all that inauthentic. He's a dolt, but he doesn't really try to hide it, and that's his big secret. People are to some degree OK with that, because at least they don't feel like he's patronizing them. That's what that whole "have a beer with him" thing is really about.

Gore and Kerry seemed to see all that and take the lesson as, "I need to act more like Bush" -- i.e., like an idiot -- rather than, "I need to act more like a human being and not constantly think about how the voters 'want' me to look." Hillary seemed to sort of get that in NH, but since then I think she's reverted to form (though she's still a bit better than Kerry, on balance). Obama gets it in spades. He's sickeningly good at it.

Of course, the flip side to that is that you have to know how to temper yourself, which Dean clearly didn't -- but I don't see that as a problem for either Hillary or Obama; they might get testy at times, but they've never come anywhere close to going overboard. They've both got more than enough discipline to grit their teeth and laugh it off.

One last note -- I don't think it's wise to underestimate the anti-Kerry hatred over Vietnam. I don't think I got it at all until it came up with a relatively moderate/libertarian friend of mine whose dad had served in Vietnam -- when he just unleashed this flood of vitriol like nothing I've ever heard from him before.

It's hard for many of us on the left to appreciate, I think, just how much resentment there was and is for John Kerry, Jane Fonda, and a few others -- they're like the living embodiment of the "people who spit on us when we came home." I think that, for many vets, it's not Kerry's position on the war that's the issue per se, but that he's a living avatar for the perceived betrayal by the country of its soldiers -- the feeling that, whether they supported the war or not, they were unfairly scorned when they returned home, and Kerry was one of those who was seen as leading the backstabbing.

To hype the fact that Kerry is a veteran -- in fact, to base much of the campaign on it, what with all the "reporting for duty" nonsense, etc. -- didn't just reek of pandering to "the military vote," it was an egregious strategic error of the worst possible sort. To many, it was an insult, a lie, it was patronizing, and a crystal-clear confirmation that the left still just didn't understand conservative feelings about Vietnam.

Just thinking about how unfathomably stupid all that was makes me want to scream. That error, too, is akin to the error that the Party seems about to make with Hillary -- trying to simulate what it thinks the voters want to see rather than bothering to attempt to understand them and the foundations of their beliefs, however much we might disagree with them. People know when they're not being taken seriously.

The first is just that a lot of Democrats nominated John Kerry based on the thought that he was electable, and they were wrong.

Publius: judging from some of the comments here, you still have your work cut out for you on your two lessons. Many here seem to think Kerry was electable.

Not that I am representative of the Republican mind (or the "COLLECTIVE"), but here are my observations (I mean our observations):

Kerry was condescending and played the smart card even when his grades at Yale were below those of Bush (heaven forbid). Xeynon is right: he was stiff and patrician. He came across as a phony and a "wanna be." That people are still debating his electability proves your point. (Noooooo!!! He really was cool!! He could WINDSURF!!))

Second, also relying on memory, I think a lot of people concluded from the Swift Boats controversy that the Republicans can attack anyone, even on that person's area of greatest strength, and prevail.

The surprise to me here is that the Dems would be shell-shocked on the Swift Boat ads. It must come from having been truly blind to a glaring weakness in Kerry. Regardless of how he served (i.e. regardless of the truth of the Swift Boat ads regarding his actual service), the Winter Soldier hearings alone would have been enough (repeat after me: . . . reminicent of Jenjis Kaaaahn . . .).

There was no magic machine here, just a candidate that had a glaring weakness (or two). Point well made, Publius.

The first is just that a lot of Democrats nominated John Kerry based on the thought that he was electable, and they were wrong.

Publius: judging from some of the comments here, you still have your work cut out for you on your two lessons. Many here seem to think Kerry was electable.

Not that I am representative of the Republican mind (or the "COLLECTIVE"), but here are my observations (I mean our observations):

Kerry was condescending and played the smart card even when his grades at Yale were below those of Bush (heaven forbid). Xeynon is right: he was stiff and patrician. He came across as a phony and a "wanna be." That people are still debating his electability proves your point. (Noooooo!!! He really was cool!! He could WINDSURF!!))

Second, also relying on memory, I think a lot of people concluded from the Swift Boats controversy that the Republicans can attack anyone, even on that person's area of greatest strength, and prevail.

The surprise to me here is that the Dems would be shell-shocked on the Swift Boat ads. It must come from having been truly blind to a glaring weakness in Kerry. Regardless of how he served (i.e. regardless of the truth of the Swift Boat ads regarding his actual service), the Winter Soldier hearings alone would have been enough (repeat after me: . . . reminicent of Jenjis Kaaaahn . . .).

There was no magic machine here, just a candidate that had a glaring weakness (or two). Point well made, Publius.

Hilzoy, about H. Clinton's legislative record---

WNYC's local politics show just did a long segment on it (should be available soonish here). I didn't listen, having become since last night thoroughly cranky with the Clintons and their works.

Look voters can smell inauthenticity a mile away, and Hillary has always radiated it

Just an aside here...

Hillary comes off like a smart, tough, ambitious, life-long political nerd. I think that's exactly who she is.

Similarly, she has a relatively hawkish voting record on national security. I don't think she's "triangulating" or trying to look tough. I think she's hawkish on national security.

I don't see her as inauthentic. I think, with HRC, what you see is what you get.

Whether folks like that or not is another question.

he was stiff and patrician. He came across as a phony and a "wanna be."

"Wanna be" what? Kerry *is* stiff and patrician. Nothing phony about it. As with HRC, the problem with his "image" is that lots of folks just don't like who he is.

Aside from the obvious ill consequences for the nation (which is a pretty big "aside"), that sounds like their problem, not his.

Thanks -

Just wanted to recount a recent conversation with a neocon Washington bureaucrat who attended a family event. He told me that he had never voted for a Democrat in his life, but would be voting for HRC this time, if she were the candidate, or staying home if any other Democrat got the nomination, except possibly if McCain is the Republican nominee.

So there is a class of Republicans who is more likely to support HRC than Obama, and it speaks volumes about her foreign policy and national defense views and likely behavior if elected.

Hilzoy, Ezra responded to Chait's post. I'd be interested in what you'd say about what Ezra said.

Hilzoy:

Don't know why I attributed this post to Publius in my earlier comment. Sorry! Points well made, Hilzoy.

Russell: I agree. He was stiff and patrician. The "wanna be" is the wanting to be President a bit too much.

HRC reinforced the electability issue with me after watching parts of the debate. I really don't respond to her personality. I do to Obama's.

Hilzoy- Usually I find your posts to be very reasonable, but here I think you are going after a straw man. Nobody I know of is claiming the Republicans can destroy anyone. If someone were making that argument it wouldn't be an argument for Hillary.

Most people can't stand up to Republican attacks. Even seasoned politicians who are used to harsh critisism, and who make comments knowing the Republicans will go after them usually end up apologizing in tears. (Dick Durban et al)

We have no way of knowing if Obama can take that heat.

Frank, we have no way of knowing whether Clinton can take the heat either. We do know that Republican attacks on her as a secondary target during the Clinton years have damaged her quite a bit. It remains to be seen how much more damage she would suffer as a primary target.

KCinDC- Even as a secondary target Hil has proven her toughness a lot more thoroughly than Obama.

Actually I was thinking of replying in the Publius post above that I wish she'd fight a lot more dirty. It'll hurt her, but I'd really like to have a better idea how Obama will respond to really slanderous unfair attacks.

TP--I think your analysis of whhyReagan got elelcted is wrong. HHe ran as an unapologetic Republican, yes, but he got thhe votes of the idependents because an awful lot of inndependents don't pay attenntion to thhe issuues. They vote for p[ersonality. Reagan had what for many people was an appealing personality. many many people voted for him withhout having a clue what his policies were and many many continued to say he was a great Presidennt even if they knnew his policies annd disagreed with thhem.

Personality is a very strong factor in winning a race in America. Democrats have a pattern of underestimating this.

AS for Clinton being able to take the heat--well shhe's still alive, but that's all. The righhtwingattacks on her have been successful. And will continue to be successful. If thhe attacks had not been successful, withher shhe would have a good reputatin now or the attacks would hhave stopped. Shhe has a lousy reputation and thhe attacks continue, so I donn't know how someone canconnclude that shhe has successfully withhstood them.

Obama onthhe othher hannd! When Faux pushed thhe madrassa lie Obama pushed back by cutting of all relations withh Faux. ABC annd CNN thhen helped Obama bu debunking the madrass myth. WWhen did the corporaate mdeia ever debunk a righhtwing lie about Clinton?

The Chicago newspapaerr ahs been pushing the imaginary corruptin thing for months annd so far the corporate media had not picked it up.

Wapo published the madrassa smear annd got so slammed for it that thheir wimpy ombudsman actually had to write a criticism of the article.

Wapo tried another smear--publishined annd article thhat implied that Obama was prejudeiced against JJews. Tthe result of that was that six or sevenn Jewishh organizatioons including thhe Anti-Defamation League wrote an open leter which harshly criticized WaPo for attempting to drive a wedge between black Americanns annd Jewishh Americans.

So who cann stand up to righhtwing attacks? Obama. He's our telflon man, annd yes, that's a reference to Bonzo the Brainless.

And another thing! It is a Rovian ploy to smear the enemy withh one's own weaknesses. Clinton is trying to makeObama out as thhe collaborator who will sell out thhe Democtats. As if she didn't ssell out over and ovder annd over. And she can't site one singletime that he has.

Frank: I only mentioned the people who think the Republicans can destroy anything because I've found that there are almost always a number of people commenting on any blog post on this topic who say something like that.

About Ezra: He was responding to Chait, who basically just said: look, favorable/unfavorable ratings mean something. I think Chait is right, but I think he's right with a few modifications, and in the context of a somewhat broader argument.

First: the point about Kerry and the Winter Soldier hearings was meant to be: actually, besides fav/unfav ratings, you also need to look at what people actually already think about a particular candidate. The idea that Kerry's military service would somehow immunize him from attacks on national security issues, or even just on e.g. treason, always seemed to me to be desperately simplistic. But it also overlooked this crucial fact: that the very people on whom that immunization ought to have been most likely to work -- military people who might be expected to respect someone's service, and to hate the sight of a combat vet being slandered in this way -- already hated Kerry's guts, and thought he had been willing to sell out his fellow soldiers for political gain. (Like Adam, I picked this up from conversations with people in the military.) I think that beyond fav/unfav ratings, you need to look for stuff like that. I don't think Obama has any of it. Clinton, of course, does.

I also meant to put the fav/unfav stuff in the context of my earlier arguments, about people being prepared to see through this, and the resulting need to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. (Or: making it as hard as possible for the Republicans to demonize our candidates: the harder they have to work, the more likely it is that people will see them as overreaching.) Ezra's response didn't incorporate that, nor should it have, since it's a point Chait didn't make.

I agree that we need to pick candidates that are hard to demonize if we can. I don't think we can know in advance for sure.

I'm just afraid that we will nominate Obama, he will go on to a landslide defeat in the general. And everyone will ask us how stoned we had to be to think we could elect a black man president in America.

Mark Schmitt on the big ideas debate:

at Tapped.

Frank, what basis do you have for that fear? I could just as well say "I'm just afraid that we will nominate Clinton, and she will go on to a landslide defeat in the general. And everyone will ask us how stoned we had to be to think we could elect a woman president in America." But I'm not saying that, and I don't believe it.

I don't think there's any chance of a Republican landslide, barring a well-timed terrorist attack, and in that case the race of the Democratic candidate won't be the cause.

KCinDC- You could say that, but women have generaly gotten acceptance faster than black. I hope you are right about any Dem beating any Rep, but I've met a lot of racists in my time.

I think there are about 2 million rednecks in wifebeaters with confederate flags on their trailer walls who don't usually bother to vote, but who will show up to stop a black man from becoming president.

In context, 2 million almost certainly isn't enough to be a big problem. It sounds like a big number, but considering the concentration in states that haven't voted for a Democrat in quite a while, and considering that the voting population is more than 200 million it just isn't a huge of deal. And if you are going to use WAG numbers, how about 10-20 million who aren't likely to vote except against Clinton?

My WAG numbers have a basis in my experience and thinking thats why they create fears. You are perfectly free to have your own WAG numbers and fears created by them.

Oh yah the last couple of election were settled by differences of less than 2 million voters. I would hate to have to count on this one being different.

And how about a WAG for the number of blacks who might be energized to come out (perhaps as first-time voters) for Obama but might not bother to vote if Clinton is the candidate?

We're getting into a complete fantasy world here. I don't doubt that you've met nonvoting racists who will vote if Obama is on the ballot, Frank, but I don't believe you've met a statistically significant sample.

I'm not sure Obama's race works against him. Yes, there are some racists who will turn out to vote against a black man. But there are also a lot of blacks who don't vote much because they feel (with justification!) that they're disenfranchised. They will turn out for Obama. There are also people who think blacks still don't get fair treatment in this country and who would actively prefer a black as president because it would probably make things a little more fair. There are even racists who like to pretend or think they're not racist and will support a non-threatening black like Obama to support the facade. So, net, I think it's possible that Obama's race will attract as many votes as it will lose or perhaps even more.

KCinDC: It remains to be seen how much more damage she would suffer as a primary target.

I mentioned this in another thread but I’ll throw it out again here. Anyone who thinks that HRC comes pre-demonized and Republicans won’t have anything new to throw at her is mistaken IMO.

She’s relying on her experience as First Lady, which makes that a fair avenue of attack (and of course it would be attacked in any case).

FOI Act requests are starting to come in. So far they have a memo from Rockefeller suggesting she use “classic opposition research” to smear opponents of her health plan, to “expose lifestyles, tactics and motives of lobbyists” opposed to the plan. Another memo suggests that the HCTF enlist the DNC for “intelligence gathering and opposition research”. These aren’t earth shattering, but these are two memos out of 3 million documents. There are 300 something FOI Act requests outstanding. Even if her campaign is doing nothing to impede the release of the documents the perception that someone is will come back to her. (Commercial: What is Senator Clinton trying to hide?)

“These documents paint a disturbing picture of how Hillary Clinton and the Clinton administration approached health care reform – secrecy, smears, and the misuse of government computers to track private and political information on citizens,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “There are millions more documents that the Library has yet to release. The Clintons continue to play games and pretend they have nothing to do with this delay. The Clintons should get out of the way and authorize the release of these records now.”

The National Archives has told the judge in one lawsuit that they will have a portion of her records (including her daily schedule) ready for release by the end of this month. Bill then has 30 days to review the records. Someday in early March those records will be released and/or Bill will have to talk about what he blocks from being released. This potential treasure trove will become available just about the time the Democratic nomination is locked up.


hilzoy: I am trying to assess Hillary Clinton's legislative record.

I’m not sure at the federal level beyond her controversial votes. But there is plenty of hay to be made about her job as the junior Senator for NY and her campaign promises to Upstate NY. She promised 200,000 more jobs, they’ve lost jobs since she took office (including 1 in 5 blue-collar manufacturing jobs). People are leaving in droves, which puts more tax burden on those who stay. She promised to lower their tax burden, it’s now the second highest in the country. It won’t be difficult at all for the RNC to line up plenty of sob stories – people whose lives have been ruined by the economy getting worse up there since she took office. As the war becomes less of a campaign issue, and the economy heats up as an issue this becomes a lot more relevant I think.

(Commercial: Why should we believe Senator Clinton when she says she can create more jobs for all of America when she failed to deliver on her promise to do it for NY?)

I'm sure there will be more black voters for Obama. I think you guys are wildly polyannish about the number of racists in this country. I know I've met way more people than needed for a statisticly relevant sample of americans. I also know that whenever I thought I was being cynical I found out I wasn't being cynical enough.

Just a note to remind everyone that the Dean "scream" was fabricated by the media: the first reporting of it, and the one that was picked up by everyone else, filtered out ALL the crowd noise. In context, it wasn't a "scream" at all.

"I know I've met way more people than needed for a statisticly relevant sample of americans."

I can believe that.

Of course, that doesn't mean you've met a statistically relevant sample of Americans, or that you'd be able to recognize that you had if you somehow did.

One set of a particular number is not, in fact, identical to all other sets of that number.

If it takes, hypothetically, say, 1200 specifically chosen Americans, out of 300,000,000, to be a statistically representative sample, than the fact that you have met 1200 Americans, or 2400, or 12,000, doesn't mean that you've met a statistically representative sample.

Because, you know, they weren't chosen to be statistically representative.

It's kinda an important step to leave out.

So it's one of those interesting sounding claims that's absolutely meaningless and logically fallacious.

It's worth pointing out that your memories of 2004 are wrong. Kerry was in fact very electable. Indeed he very nearly beat an incumbent President during an economic expansion and with American troops heavily involved in the occupation of a foreign country. He didn't lose because of the Swift Boat attacks. He lost because he was for the Iraq war before he was against it. Maybe John Edwards or Howard Dean would have won Ohio and/or New Mexico and thus the Presidency, but that's really unknowable.

I find the fear of a purported anti-Black vote unpersuasive, largely because my feeling is that many of the people who won't vote for a Black candidate are not particularly pro-Democrat, either. Regardless, I think that Obama's performance in Iowa indicates that he can win in largely-white states, and I don't see which swing states which seem likely to turn against Obama on this basis.

On the contrary, the evidence to date suggests to me that Obama does very well with rural, blue-collar white voters, which is probably the most crucial voting bloc for Democrats right now. He could lose a lot of support in a lot of places as long as he picks up votes in rural Ohio, which strikes me as likely based on his record in Illinois and the primary voting thus far.

It's worth pointing out that your memories of 2004 are wrong. Kerry was in fact very electable. Indeed he very nearly beat an incumbent President during an economic expansion and with American troops heavily involved in the occupation of a foreign country. He didn't lose because of the Swift Boat attacks. He lost because he was for the Iraq war before he was against it. Maybe John Edwards or Howard Dean would have won Ohio and/or New Mexico and thus the Presidency, but that's really unknowable.
This argument assertion completely misses the point. We were discussing why Kerry was perceived by Democrats as "electable," not why could have won the election or how close it was.

In fact, your point incorrect by 180 degrees -- Kerry's position on the war was widely regarded as a plus during the primaries (contra Dean's position), whereas the "flip-flopper" narrative was a Rove product for the general election. To the extent that you're correct, you're actually highlighting yet another reason why the "electability" assessment was completely off-base.

*Your point is incorrect

-- nothing worse than a typo when you're trying to be pedantic.

In fact, your point incorrect by 180 degrees -- Kerry's position on the war was widely regarded as a plus during the primaries (contra Dean's position), whereas the "flip-flopper" narrative was a Rove product for the general election. To the extent that you're correct, you're actually highlighting yet another reason why the "electability" assessment was completely off-base.

Emphasizing "electability" seems, to me, like trying to second guess the American voting public. GIven the recent track record of the same people who are running the Democratic party now, I would go easy on that "quality."

Frank, it's not important how many racists there are. What's important is how many racists there are who would vote for the Democrat (or at least would fail to vote for the Republican) if and only if Obama weren't on the ballot and who live in swing states, and how that number compares with the number of people in those states who would vote for the Republican (or fail to vote for the Democrat) if and only if Obama weren't on the ballot.

I'm so depressed about all this.

(1) Now you're seeing why progress and reform is so difficult in America. I earnestly believe Obama would be a *good thing* for the country, and you are seeing how our messed up institutions prevent that from happening.

(2) Kiss Roe v Wade goodbye.

Help us, Michael Bloomberg, you're our only hope.

Oh well, maybe if she loses pitifully, that will finally exorcise us of the Clintons and their mystique.

The problem with a centrist spoiler, Ara, is that you can't be sure who he'll spoil.

One thing about Hillary:
Her negatives have long hovered in the range of mid-40's to low-50's, and they're not likely to improve if she gets the nomination. This means that in a general election, she needs to get the support of virtually everyone who doesn't have a negative opinion of her. In other words, she has a potential voter base of only about half the electorate and starts out with absolutely no room for error against virtually any Republican candidate (except perhaps Romney or Giuliani, whose negatives are really high as well).

While Obama's negative ratings are likely to rise no matter what he does, he is still starting out with less than a third of the potential voter pool completely turned off of him. This means he's starting off with a pretty big pie, which leaves him a pretty sizable margin for error against anyone but McCain.

In order for Hillary to win a general election, she will have to both mobilize the "base" (less likely now that she's so annoyed the African-American community) and hope that independents stay home. On the other hand, Obama can win in several ways: he can win by mobilizing the base, by appealing to independents, or by stealing Republicans who are angry that their party just nominated (insert deeply flawed Republican candidate here).

The third of those scenarios relies on the fact that each potential Republican nominee is likely to be unacceptable to a huge swath of Republican voters; that swath of voters will suddenly find their nominee much more acceptable if they see that Hillary is the competition. On the other hand, if Obama is the competition, they'll either stay home or cross party lines.

Emphasizing "electability" seems, to me, like trying to second guess the American voting public.
Well, yeah, this sort of strikes me as exactly the point -- it seems to me that the Democratic party has long been obsessed with trying to dumb-down their ideas for the public, as if people are too stupid to understand things on their own, whereas the GOP leadership has the advantage of knowing from the get-go that their policies are lies, so all they have to do is think about how to sell them. It's a nice clean slate.

In all seriousness, though, I do want to soapbox on this. All that said, you could have run the same analysis hilzoy's been outlining on Kerry in 2004 and it would have suggested similar problems -- weakness among rural voters, weakness among independents, low crossover appeal, etc. You can run the rubric over Gore, Dole, Bush I, Dukakis, Mondale, Carter, etc., etc. These problems are not novel, and, weirder still, they get discussed to death during the off-years, but as soon as an election rolls around we all just start hammering that square peg into the round hole again.

Stranger still, in the last two Presidential primaries, the bulk of the "electability" justifications that appear seem to have no basis in history or reality.

At best, they're interesting arguments that are nevertheless woven out of whole cloth -- for example. there is no historical evidence indicating the the presence of a long, negative political history demonstrates a candidate's ability to absorb or deflect partisan attacks, nor that a history of partisan scrutiny insulates a candidate from the "shock potential" of skeletons in their closet. I have literally never heard those arguments made before they were advanced as reasons to vote for Hillary. Likewise, subjective assessments of "aggressiveness" or a better-than-average grasp of policies in debates hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, been a net positive short of a baseline requirement of competence, and sometimes not even then (see, e.g., George W. Bush).

At their worst, though, the "electability" arguments often take the form of "do whatever the Republicans do, but more," without regard to the substance or reason as opposed to the form of what's being done. For example, voting for a war or for freaking torture so as not to "look soft," as opposed to voting for or against on principle. Or landing on a carrier in a jet because you think you're a tough guy (and not a National Guard washout), as opposed to riding around in a tank or posing on a motorcycle just to show everybody that, gosh darnit, you're not a wuss. Or, assuming that because the other party is mean and aggressive and plays dirty, you're just not being mean enough (as opposed to lacking a base made of fanatical nutjobs), and need to nominate a candidate who will "hit back," or "play politics" better, whatever that means. Or, assuming that a candidate who's a veteran will bolster your "security cred" without bothering to consider that actual veterans loathe him with the passion of a thousand suns.

Now, I don't know why Democrats do this or why they seem to think that their attempts to be something they're not aren't totally transparent. The best I've come up with is that they've bought into the media's framing of "soft on security" and "going negative" and so on as if these things are actually rules -- i.e. that people out there are keeping scorecards like the pundits do -- as opposed to proxies for actual things that actual people think, like "will this person make independent, courageous decisions about a war?" or "is this person a complete asshole?"

What we rarely stop to consider is that, unsurprisingly, it's precisely this sort of adjustment that suggests to most people that a candidate might be untrustworthy. While there will always be visible partisans, like the people who accuse Barack Obama of being an Islamic Manchurian Candidate, or Dubya of orchestrating 9/11, you don't win by pandering to those people, you don't win by taking them seriously, and Democrats will never win until they stop trying to make the Party look like what they think the world wants it to look like, and start trying to act in the world to fulfill the ideals that the Party stands for.

KCinDC: Yes, you're right. But we'll need to take our chances.

You know, I was ranting and raving about collective stupidity in the run-up to the war in '02-'03. I've always thought HRCs ascendancy was the same kind of thing: institutional logic steering us towards woeful choices.

Left-leaners had a certain smugness to them about how dumb the Red states were back in '04. I dislike smugness. So it's at least gratifying to see Dems acting stupid in exactly the sorts of ways (trusting what media types and politicians tell them in spite of the blatant facts, politicos hitching onto an obvious loser because it will help them advance in the party, etc).

I just doubt they'll make the right call come Election Night. They'll pin it on some last minute gaff, find some other nonsensical explanation like the NH misty-eyed moment, rather than recognizing that all along, they had made a stupid, stupid decision. Just like... just like Republicans tried to pin problems in Iraq on this or that way the Iraq reconstruction happened to shake out (pretending that they could never have anticipated such things with such a dumb administration), so that they didn't have to admit to themselves how precarious the whole enterprise was to begin with.

I guess one thing I dislike about American political life is that people are not often enough honest with themselves about how stupid their past decisions had been.

Adam: thank you, you point out another Bush-style tactic. Hillary argues that the fact that she has been attacked for so long so successfully is evidence that she can withstand attacks. If Bush or Rumsfeld said something like this, we would be blogging about the idiocy of it.

Left-leaners had a certain smugness to them about how dumb the Red states were back in '04. I dislike smugness.
I'd like to address this term "smugness," because though I think I know what you're saying and I agree about how it comes off, I think there's a whole lot behind that term.

It seems to me that there's a sense among Democrats that their policies and arguments can't win against the superior spin and salesmanship of Republican politics, which aren't as constrained by inconvenient things like truth. The Democratic Party clumsily attempts to "package" ideas in order to compete with Republicans, because the Democrats are convinced that if they actually take the time to explain and justify and so forth, people will stop paying attention, or they'll be nibbled to death by nitpicking and distortions (see, e.g., Kerry's Senate votes) and end up on the defensive, etc. etc. In other words, there's a sense that we can't compete with the Republicans on the merits.

To some extent, this is probably true, largely because of the way that the GOP has managed to frame the debates (small government, tough on terror, etc.). But the lesson we've learned, trying to compete on the opponent's terms, is wrong. Not only is that strategy way more transparent than the Party establishment seems to think it is, it actually does require a certain amount of arrogance, which is I think what you mean by "smugness." To some degree it requires assuming that people aren't smart enough to figure things out on their own, and need to have things dumbed down for them.

But the fact of the matter is: that's politics. The entire point of a republic is to mediate between the public and the technical minutiae of legislation. Not only is policy impossible to condense into politics, whenever we've tried it's been counterproductive -- see, e.g., California's referendums, which have consistently led to votes for lower taxes and more services, squeezing out the crucially important but largely invisible programs in the middle and destroying the budget of a state that should be rolling in cash.

It seems to me that the fundamental honesty of the Democratic Party is at the same time a source of hubris -- our impulse to be truthful about policies also contains a certain high-minded refusal to "debase" ourselves by distorting things for the proles. But since we can't decide whether good politics is a means or an end, we vacillate haphazardly between the two and end up coming off as manipulative and calculating when we do. The modern GOP, on the other hand, has for the most part made peace with the notion that politics is nothing but a means to an end, and hence they're able to behave quite consistently, though often disingenuously.

The central problem, it seems to me, isn't the attempt to persuade, because that's what politics is, but rather the apparent belief that "selling" a policy inevitably diminishes its worth -- and it shows. What people are picking up on, I think, is that ultimately there's no way to be politically genuine when you simultaneously believe that the political system is incapable of selecting the best policy on the merits. And as long as we continue to participate in politics while feeling that it's somehow below us, I think that'll continue to show. On the other hand, I often think that it's preferable to the cynicism and victimhood that the Republicans seem to embrace more fully with each passing year. So I'm not sure that there's any clean solution, but I do think it's important to pose the problem in those terms.

The central problem, it seems to me, isn't the attempt to persuade, because that's what politics is, but rather the apparent belief that "selling" a policy inevitably diminishes its worth -- and it shows.

I think we see this in the evolution vs. creationism debates and the endless round of discussion among science proponents about how best to combat creationist liars.

So, quick pool: will Fred Thompson's next role be:

a) District Attorney of NYC.

b) President of the U.S.

c) Secretary of Defense

d) Director of CIA/National Intelligence

e) an Admiral

f) a corrupt White House chief of staff

g) a Senator (corrupt or noble?)

h) a Governor

i) a super-villain

j) a robot/replicant/clone/alien

k) a loveable grandfather

l) a voice on The Simpsons

m) in the next remake of Weekend At Bernies, subtitled: The Campaign Months

n) several of the above at once

o) other.

To be clear, by "role," I meant "acting gig," which he's now at liberty to engage in again.

Gary:

You forgot "head of airport security."

"We're sorry, your comment has not been published because TypePad's antispam filter has flagged it as potential comment spam. It has been held for review by the blog's author."


"You forgot 'head of airport security.'"

True.

I wasn't being completist, though, or I'd have included General, racist con man, FBI agent, and more. (Ulysses S. Grant? Andrew Jackson?)

Pt. II:

My one regret that we won't have President Fred (for now, at least until the terrorists blow up the Republican convention, leaving only Fred standing to take the nomination) is that we would have had a president who presumably had learned the most important lesson of all: always trust Bruce Willis when he tells you something is wrong.

Well, trust John McClane. You probably don't want to trust Bo Weinberg, or Colonel Doug Masterson.

More Fred here.

I earnestly believe Obama would be a *good thing* for the country, and you are seeing how our messed up institutions prevent that from happening.

What, he lost already and nobody told us?

Left-leaners had a certain smugness to them about how dumb the Red states were back in '04. I dislike smugness.

Hey, you know, they don't like us either. We eat cheese. Imagine that.

People that live in different parts of the country are different, and some of them think the other folks are weird. Some folks, on both sides, are even smug about it.

Yes, *both* sides. Imagine *that*.

In other words, whatever. Isn't it time to get over it?

I guess one thing I dislike about American political life is that people are not often enough honest with themselves about how stupid their past decisions had been.

What was that you said about smugness?

So, quick pool: will Fred Thompson's next role be:

The voice of Huckleberry Hound in a feature length animation. Unless Lindsay Graham gets it first.

Thanks -

Adam: It seems to me that the fundamental honesty of the Democratic Party is at the same time a source of hubris -- our impulse to be truthful about policies also contains a certain high-minded refusal to "debase" ourselves by distorting things for the proles.

Huh? If you had said “Democrats I know”, or “some Democrats” or heck even “many Democrats” I’d accept that. But “fundamental honesty of the Democratic Party”? Er, no.

40 million uninsured…

Tax cuts for the wealthy…

Consistently calling those who are anti-illegal immigration anti-immigration…

Any attempt to restructure social security is depicted as grandma sitting alone in the dark eating cat food…

An increase less than the one expected is a cut…

That’s a few off the top of my head. I’m not disagreeing with how you characterized the GOP here, but I’m glad I was not drinking something carbonated when I read “fundamental honesty of the Democratic Party”. ;)


… there's no way to be politically genuine when you simultaneously believe that the political system is incapable of selecting the best policy on the merits.

This comment comes across to me as a different facet of smugness and arrogance: We know what’s best, if it wasn’t for the pesky voters – if we could just be in charge and enact what we know in our heart is best then everything would be just great. You let those voters have a referendum and just look what happens…

This road leads to Massachusetts (for starters), where the (D) state legislature repeatedly just simply refuses to act on voter approved referendums or refuses to put issues to a referendum even after the referendum has received enough voter support. You can’t have voters interfering with the working of government after all…

OCSteve,

This comment comes across to me as a different facet of smugness and arrogance: We know what’s best, if it wasn’t for the pesky voters – if we could just be in charge and enact what we know in our heart is best then everything would be just great.

I'm a Democrat and I think voters are often wrong. Moreover, I don't find that belief to be arrogant or smug.

Why on earth should I believe that representative democracy as implemented in the US should produce anything close to optimal policy results, for any definition of optimal? The benefit of elections is legitimacy, not optimality.

You let those voters have a referendum and just look what happens…

OK, let's look what happens. In California, you end up with unfunded mandates. So yeah, I do think that I'm smarter and make better policy decisions than the voters of California acting through referendums. I at least understand that budgets have to balance and that money can't be created out of thin air. Do you disagree with any of that?


Part of leadership means telling people that their preconceived notions are bunk. Sometimes people will accept that and sometimes they won't. But believing that people are wrong, even if it is a very large group of people, doesn't make you arrogant. That is doubly true if you think that the reason the people are wrong is that they have day jobs that prevent them from spending years of their life studying policy.

Sometimes I worry that the American culture of constitution worship encourages the notion that voters are somehow good at voting. The reality is that most people suck at rational decision making and lack the skills, time, and inclination to properly assess policy options. That might not guarantee crappy voting decisions if voters suffered the effects of their votes, but our system has sufficient delay and complexity to prevent feedback learning. If you really believe that tax cuts always increase revenues and vote accordingly, you're never going to get an unambiguous economic signal forcing you to suffer for that belief; either divided government will ensure that your tax policy is never fully enacted, or any economic harm that does befall you (and the country) will be attributable to lots of other factors. The Iraq War is the exception that proves the rule: for the first time, we've gotten to watch a massive policy failure unfold in real time, without any shielding from the opposition or much ambiguity as to the result.

The Iraq War is the exception that proves the rule: for the first time, we've gotten to watch a massive policy failure unfold in real time, without any shielding from the opposition or much ambiguity as to the result.

Do you really think that the majority of people will realize that? I bet in two decades, the neo-cons will revive and use Iraq as a cudgel to show how "strong" we need to be in 2030...

This road leads to Massachusetts

Ouch!

I've been living here in the Bay State for about half my life now, and I continue to be amazed at the ingrained, old school, back room, scratch my back and I'll scratch yours style of political horsetrading that is the norm here. And, before I lived here, I lived in NY and Philly, so that's saying something.

That said, I also have to say that there are far, far worse places to be than Massachusetts, and no small number of those are here in our good old USA. The wheels stay on pretty well hereabouts, one way or another.

Thanks -

Huh? If you had said “Democrats I know”, or “some Democrats” or heck even “many Democrats” I’d accept that. But “fundamental honesty of the Democratic Party”? Er, no.
Fair point. What I meant was, "The fundamental belief of the Democratic Party that they're telling the Truth, and that salesmanship is incompatible with telling the Truth."

(And even given that, I don't think they're all that consistent in following that precept, either -- in fact, I think that philosophy tends to lead to opportunistic fibbing rather than real persuasion, because if we're right, my my, why should we have to persuade anybody? We're right. But that approach never works, so the result is inevitably some ad hoc compromise of those oh-so-lofty principles.)

This comment comes across to me as a different facet of smugness and arrogance: We know what’s best, if it wasn’t for the pesky voters – if we could just be in charge and enact what we know in our heart is best then everything would be just great. You let those voters have a referendum and just look what happens…
Absolutely. But the choice isn't between totalitarianism and anarchy. That's why I said that I see the function of legislators as mediating between the public and the government; I do think that it creates an inevitable tension between "I know what's best" and "the people know what's best." Ultimately that does require a judgment call of some sort, but that's a legislator's job.

The unique problem of referendums, I think, is that the often questions asked in isolation -- Do you want this service? Yes! Do you want this tax? No! It's rarely: Do you want this service or do you want to get rid of the tax that pays for it? The result of the conflicting more services / less taxes mandates is often a bunch of politically-motivated stealth cuts.

This road leads to Massachusetts (for starters), where the (D) state legislature repeatedly just simply refuses to act on voter approved referendums or refuses to put issues to a referendum even after the referendum has received enough voter support. You can’t have voters interfering with the working of government after all…

OCSteve, would you mind explaining to what events you're referring to here? My guess is that you're talking about the recent gay marriage constitutional amendment petition, but I could be wrong. Assuming that I'm correct though...

I don't think your presentation is accurate. The legislature acted well within its constitutional powers. It did nothing wrong or illegal. Perhaps you dislike the MA constitution or perhaps you think it should work differently, but that's not the issue.

Do you really think that the majority of people will realize that? I bet in two decades, the neo-cons will revive and use Iraq as a cudgel to show how "strong" we need to be in 2030...

The future is...uncertain. I honestly can't guess what the landscape will look like in 30 years. I do think that right now, there is a strong sense that the President has failed pretty spectacularly in Iraq: the strongest defenses we now see are of the form "well, we sure screwed the pooch for the last 5 years because of unimportant detail foo, but this time, this time my friends, we've figured out a surefire fix-Iraq-for-good plan that will whiten your teeth and wash your dishes too!" That's not an argument you make from a position of strength.

The polling indicates that many people don't believe the war was worth doing and that many people believe the war has been mishandled. Compare that with supply side economics. Every republican presidential candidate can get away with hyping supply side economics because they know that most people either believe that's true or don't disbelieve it.

I'm not saying that there isn't a lot lying or distortion going on regarding Iraq; all I'm saying is that the notion that the war is a failure has penetrated the zeitgeist in a way that no other policy failure has.

I'm not sure it's penetrated that far; I actually think it's penetrated as far as the Vietnam failure was not our fault meme has penetrated. Neocons still haven't got it through their heads that their own hands and ideas are behind this failure; when the pendulum swings back, I'm afraid they'll bring back their methods and notions, with no change due to experience.

(And, of course, by that time, a whole new generation will have grown up without any of the context or information we now have, so they'll just lap up the neo-cons' ideas with no critical analysis, because it'll be all-new to them...and new stuff will attract them more than old orthodoxy...)

gwangung,

I agree with you that the neo-cons haven't accepted it, but that doesn't bother me so much because I don't think they can accept it; I'm much more worried about the public at large. In other words, it is too late to help Wolfowitz, but (I hope) there reputation has been tarnished enough in the public imagination so as to prevent any future administration from making Wolfowitz secretary of State. At least not without paying a very steep price.

That makes me happy since I don't think anything better is possible, but I could be wrong.

An increase less than the one expected is a cut…

An increase in income that doesn't match the increase in expense is a cut: a cut in benefits, staff, whatever -- somewhere there's one or more cuts.

gwangung,

I'm not terribly worried about young folks in the future uncritically latching on to the neocon brand. A few of them undoubtedly will, but a few of them would do that anyway regardless of any evidence because they want to believe neocon ideas. As for the rest, well, no one likes a loser. Consider what the neocons can boast of: "We took the most powerful military force the world has ever known, one that cost trillions of dollars to assemble and contains the bravest, best trained soldiers in history backed by the most powerful economy in the world and demonstrated that it was too weak to pacify a small third rate third world country suffering from a pathetic insurgency!"

At the end of the day, no matter what happens in Iraq in the future, the reality is that the we've failed. We couldn't secure this small country over the course of five years even though we pushed our army to the breaking point and blew literally unimaginable quantities of cash on the whole enterprise. I'm sure that neocons are already trying to rehabilitate their brand, but its going to be really really difficult for them: they were at the center of it all, and they got everything they wanted.

If victory has a hundred fathers while defeat is an orphan, then I'd add that failures on the scale of the Iraq War don't get laid. Ever. And never getting laid is a bad way to advertise for the ideological allegiance of young people.

Turb: Why on earth should I believe that representative democracy as implemented in the US should produce anything close to optimal policy results, for any definition of optimal?

Whose definition of optimal is the key point isn’t it? Your optimal and mine are obviously different, and neither of us will ever likely get our optimal. That’s the way the system works.

But what I took from Adam’s comment was: “the best policy on the merits” is (of course) Democrats’ policy, and Democrats come across as disingenuous because they have to lower themselves to sell it to the voters because the rubes just can’t comprehend that its obviously the best policy on the merits. It’s a shame we have to do the “politics” thing, it’s below us, and it’s debasing to have to actually convince voters that we’re right. Yes, I find that belief to be arrogant and smug. (If I misread you Adam please correct me.)


I at least understand that budgets have to balance and that money can't be created out of thin air. Do you disagree with any of that?

Not at all. And I certainly don’t believe that voters should get into detail about how to balance the budget. But when they say a) we want fewer taxes, and b) we want more of this service it’s pretty clearly implied that the politicos will have to cut somewhere else. Do you really think that people who see the tax withholdings in their paycheck every week believe that money is created from thin air?


Part of leadership means telling people that their preconceived notions are bunk.

Absolutely. And the leaders have the big megaphones to do just that. They have plenty of opportunity to explain to the voters just how foolish they are if they vote for Proposition X. Compared to most grass-roots referendum movements, the leaders have the heavy advantage here.

I mentioned Mass. There is a serious movement there to eliminate the state income tax. That’s 40% of state revenues. Do you really think those in favor have no idea that 40% of state revenues is a heck of a lot of services?

In 2002, with little promotion, 40% voted in favor, giving the state legislature collective heart failure because they had just assumed that voters wanted all those services and would easily reject it. That is not a case of bunk on the side of the voters. That’s a case of the politicians being out of touch with their constituents, assuming they knew what the voters really wanted, assuming they knew best and it should be clear to anyone what was best. They didn’t use their leadership position to attempt to explain to the peons why it might be a bad idea. But they have enough signatures to get it on the ballot again this year. And they plan to really sell it this year. We’ll see if the politicos woke up enough to lower and debase themselves to sell their side… Or not.


Russell: Ouch!

;)
Not to pick on your state, but I have followed your seemingly contrary (for a very blue state) referendums with interest from afar. Please correct me if I got any of that wrong. I’d be interested in your perspective of what will happen if it gets on the ballet again this year.

a) we want fewer taxes, and b) we want more of this service it’s pretty clearly implied that the politicos will have to cut somewhere else.

Most voters want lower taxes, but only if the necessary spending cuts come from programs that don't effect them. Similarly, most voters want more services, but only if they're not the ones who have to pay higher taxes to fund them. Both parties are disingenuous about this, particularly of late. The Republicans say "we'll cut your taxes!" without daring to cut popular programs (and even expanding them under Bush). The Democrats say "we'll give you more services!" without bringing up the fact that you'll be paying higher taxes to fund them. Referenda aren't necessary to get this dynamic of voting for lower taxes and more services simultaneously - all you need are politicians willing to pander and people dumb enough or selfish enough to believe them.

There is a serious movement there to eliminate the state income tax.

OK, here is what a dope I am -- this is the first I've heard of this, and I voted that year. It's obviously time to increase my meds.

There was also a referendum item in 2000 to roll the state income tax from the "temporary" level of 5.9% back to its original 5.0%. That was to have taken effect by 2003. It's now 2008 and we're still at 5.3% (with an option to pay 5.85% if you find that appealing).

I wonder if the complete rollback is a reaction to that.

Of course, I blame it all on those crazy rednecks up in New Hampshire, where there is neither an income tax (on earned income) or a sales tax. Those people are crazy. :)

Thanks -

and I voted that year

Hmm. I went looking for it and saw something else that said it was 2004 and 45% approval. Maybe I have the wrong year. Trying to find a better cite… But I have to hang it up for now.

Maybe I have the wrong year.

No, OC, you are right.

There was a referendum item in '00 to roll personal income tax back to 5%.

Then there was a second referendum item in '02 to abolish personal income tax altogether.

If at first you don't succeed...

Thanks!

OCSteve,

Thanks for the reply; that makes a lot more sense. Everyone would love to pay lower taxes; you'll find near complete agreement on that point. Almost everyone would like to see cuts in what they view as unnecessary programs. But there is no consensus on what those programs are.

Let's say that the referendum passes this year so MA loses 40% of incoming tax dollars. All programs see significant budget cuts. Presumably we'll lay off a bunch of police officers and fire fighters and maybe shut down a prison or two. UMass tuition will skyrocket. Do you really think that state of affairs will persist for more than a year? Do you really think the public will accept "gosh, we've got to release all these nonviolent criminals because we can't afford to keep them locked up"? Do you really think they'll tolerate a 40% cut to their pet program?

There is no consensus about what to cut and referendums can't create one. Which moves that decision back into the realm of politics. Do you ever wonder why legislators are never elected on platforms that consist of "I will cut the budget by 40% by eliminating the following programs..."?

I don't doubt that a referendum in MA could really screw things up for a while, but I can't see how that change could last. As Russell points out, NH has no income tax. But aside from tourism, NH also doesn't have much of an economy.

... but (I hope) there reputation has been tarnished enough in the public imagination so as to prevent any future administration from making Wolfowitz secretary of State. At least not without paying a very steep price.

Sure, just like those people tainted by Watergate and Iran-Contra were never heard from again.

It's pretty amusing to think that people who object to obviously phony politicians, or to smugness, could nonetheless have found themselves supporting our current President. Ever.

But what I took from Adam’s comment was: “the best policy on the merits” is (of course) Democrats’ policy, and Democrats come across as disingenuous because they have to lower themselves to sell it to the voters because the rubes just can’t comprehend that its obviously the best policy on the merits. It’s a shame we have to do the “politics” thing, it’s below us, and it’s debasing to have to actually convince voters that we’re right. Yes, I find that belief to be arrogant and smug. (If I misread you Adam please correct me.)
I think that's correct, except that I wasn't trying to say that it's a good thing. Or rather, I think that the Democratic Party is often torn between pride and pragmatism; on one level, the party cognoscenti seem to believe that their policies are merely correct and that spinning or tailoring their message for mass consumption is tantamount to "selling out." At the same time, many of the same people recognize that at the end of the day, what matters is to get things done. But those ends and means are often poorly coordinated, and the end result is a lot of second-guessing and clumsy, ad hoc, post-ex-facto maneuvering in an attempt to say what they think people want to hear.

The public perception of that is that the Democrats are disingenuous, and that they largely tell the public what they want to hear. And in a certain respect that's actually true -- while I don't think that the motives are bad, the current process means that the Party often comes up with policies and then tries to tell people what they think everyone wants to hear, rather than considering beforehand what people want and need, and then looking at how their policies can fulfill that.

The Republicans, on the other hand -- at least to my view -- have formulated their strategies from the position of underdogs, and that works to their advantage. Their policy apparatus is more vertically integrated, from the think tanks all the way up to the legislators, and they do a much better job at bringing themselves to the public rather than trying to bring the public to them. At the same time, their formulation of their policies in accessible terms (not meaning dumbed-down, just well-explained) has actually had the effect of aligning the public discourse with Republican policies and making the Democrats' jobs even harder.

And yet, with every setback, the Democratic response has been increasing frustration with the public that just won't see things their way, damnit, and I think that comes across to people in a subtle but very negative way.

Until the Democratic Party as a whole manages to accept that policies can be well-explained without being dumbed-down -- if you're willing to put in the effort -- and that politics is a process rather than an inconvenient hurdle to jump through, the left isn't going to make much progress.

As it stands, a Democratic Presidential candidate can't even say "Ronald Reagan" in non-insulting terms without being lambasted, let alone try to bridge the gap between Democratic policies and a "center" that, for the most part, doesn't exactly viscerally hate Reagan.

Four years ago, the Democratic Party was scared silly that any of the potential nominees might actually talk about Iraq straightforwardly -- in fact, not looking "weak on Iraq" was practically a litmus test for Democratic pols up until the War started to look bad before the '06 elections. This despite the fact that whenever those pols talked about their votes, it was in terms of "looking weak," not how they actually felt or thought. It's like they didn't think that the rest of the country was watching when they'd say they didn't want to "appear weak" and then weren't taken seriously. That's what the "flip-flopper" thing was about. (And let's not get started on the idiocy of selecting John Kerry as a war hero based on the fact that he's set foot in Vietnam -- "I'm John Kerry, reporting for duty" -- good lord.)

When I say that the Democratic Party doesn't believe they can win on the merits, what I'm saying is that they're for the most part terrified and confused -- they want politics to be a fair, predictable game, and it's not -- or at least they don't feel like they get the rules -- and they have zero confidence in their ability to win. So instead they end up trying to go through the motions without really knowing why or how, and, unsurprisingly, it's just not very effective.

To be a little more specific, I wasn't trying to say that I think that the Democratic Party has the best policies on the merits -- rather, I think that many Democratic politicians believe that policies aren't really judged on the merits, but they don't really understand why or how, so instead they sort of just do what, in their minds, they're "supposed" to do as part of what they treat as a tiresome and unfair political game -- and they fact that they're dissembling shows. The Republicans, for what it's worth, treat politics and public opinion with deadly seriousness, and so they tend to get results.

Personally, I think that a lot of the Democratic leadership has gotten entirely comfortable as permanent losers. There is, after all, no prospect that a third party could displace them anytime soon as the #2 party. They get all the perks of their offices, staffs, and so on, whether they're in the majority or not, whether they're popular or not, whether they get anything done or not. The press will say nasty things about them, and so will bloggers and the public at large, but so what? Their salaries aren't based on popularity, either. They will remain members of the political aristocracy and after-hours gatherings will continue to welcome them in and claim it's all just day-job games.

Under the circumstances, there's very little incentive to risk it all in pursuit of different policies, which won't improve their material and social conditions, unless one takes ideas quite a bit more seriously than most members of any governing elite do. Any more or less plausible effort will maintain their position.

I think that some or all of the presidential candidates actually do want more than that, even the ones I disagree with most and respect least. But it's very, very hard for them to shake free to the constant crowd that wants nothing but more of the same.

Compare and contrast this:

the Party often comes up with policies and then tries to tell people what they think everyone wants to hear, rather than considering beforehand what people want and need, and then looking at how their policies can fulfill that.

with this:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.

If there has ever been an American party, or an administration, more devoted to ramming their peculiar ideology down the throats of the rest of the nation and world than the Republicans of the last 7 years, I'm not aware of it. As I look at the available crop of Republican Presidential candidates, I don't see that changing much going forward.

To my mind, Democrats have a unique advantage at this particular point in time. They are actually interested in governing, and they actually see government as a useful and constructive institution. As opposed to current day Republicans, who appear to view government as blunt instrument, a mere source of power for imposing their will.

I don't want to hear a word about "small, responsible government", "fiscal prudence", or "traditional values". Not even a syllable.

So, there's another data point for you.

"Reality based community". That would be the Democrats.

Thanks -

Turb: No I don’t think the 40% cut would stand. I think there would be a scramble to make it up anywhere and everywhere they could: sales tax increase, fees, booze and cigarette taxes, etc. I don’t disagree with all your points on referendums either. I think they should primarily be used as device to really get politicians attention. The problem is that it never seems to…


CharleyCarp: Happy to provide the entertainment value.


Adam: Thanks for the follow-up comments. That does help me to better understand where you’re coming from and I think it’s a good analysis.

Do you really think that state of affairs will persist for more than a year? Do you really think the public will accept "gosh, we've got to release all these nonviolent criminals because we can't afford to keep them locked up"? Do you really think they'll tolerate a 40% cut to their pet program?

You could look to California. We'll have to release a lot of criminals; we'll have to have cuts "across the board" (as opposed to specific and strategic cuts) and this is the third or fourth year of the budget crunch. Yet there's been no effort to rework Prop 13, which killed more state funds than anythin else, and the Orange County yabbos still scream for fewer taxes.

You'd think that cut services would prompt people to see that some new taxes aren't a bad idea, but you would prob ably be wrong.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad