Friday, May 30, 2008

Karen Hughes in McClellan's book

Kathryn Lopez at the Corner...

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Karen Hughes's Judgment? [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Karen Hughes to Scott McClellan, from page 161 of What Happened:
"You looked pretty comfortable at the podium," Karen replied.

Yeah, I was never much of a Karen Hughes fan either.

And the follow-up post from K-Lo:
I, of course, take everything in his book with a grain of salt. But someone thought having him there was a good idea.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Bush Conundrum

The Bush Conundrum - posted at TheNextRight.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

McClellan never to work again

... at least not for any employer who values discretion or loyalty. And that's the best case scenario. I think the whole Scott McClellan book thing smells funny.

First of all, to say that the administration took a " 'permanent campaign approach' to governing at the expense of candor and competence" is suspect. "Permanent campaign approach"? They didn't campaign on anything, at least not very well. Ok, competence... guilty as charged, but if anybody had simply opened a copy of the Weekly Standard, oh say, any time in the last six years, they would have found ample fodder for press briefings. But no, every half-cocked "Bush lied people died" squall against the war went almost completely unanswered. Bush even retracted his completely true statements in the State of the Union about British intelligence.

Here, McClellan points fingers at Libby and Rove about their roles in the Plame leak... that was innocently committed by Richard Armitage.
"The confidential meeting also occurred at a moment when I was being battered by the press for publicly vouching for the two by claiming they were not involved in leaking Plame’s identity, when recently revealed information was now indicating otherwise. … I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic? Like the whole truth of people’s involvement, we will likely never know with any degree of confidence."
I mean, come on buddy. The whole conspiracy behind this thing has already been debunked.

No doubt Press Secretary can be a lousy job to have. I have very little doubt that Mike McCurry had the hardest job on earth at the time he was trying to smooth over Bill Clinton's dalliances, but he did it with a grace second only to Clinton's. McClellan constantly looked like a squirrel caught in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler.

I miss Tony Snow. Heck, I miss Ari Fleischer.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cole doesn't get it

Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace asked NRCC Chair Tom Cole about the possibility of Republicans forswearing earmarks as a method of proving their seriousness to the electorate. Cole responded that they wouldn't "unilaterally" give up earmarks, and that they are waiting on a response from the Democrats on legislation that has been introduced.

Waiting for Nancy Pelosi? If this is the strategy then we are truly doomed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Big Picture vs Little Picture

Patrick Ruffini argues somewhat persuasively that "Unifying Narratives Work. Microtrends Fail."

As evidence of this, Ruffini points to how Hillary Clinton's strategy (run by Microtrends author Mark Penn) has failed while Obama's grand narrative of hope and change is winning.

I think Clinton's problems are a little more complicated than this, but I agree with the underlying premise that micro-targeting is not a sufficient strategy. (But I wouldn't want to overplay how Obama's substance-free macro campaign is doing since he and Clinton have almost evenly divided the Democrat electorate.)

In January of this year I attended a presentation given by some PAGOP operatives on campaign strategy and tactics. A large amount of time and money has been sunk into micro-targeting strategies, and it is clear that the Party folks are relying on their database to win. I later wrote this to my county chairperson in part of an email exchange (emphasis added):
I've read about the VoterVault-style voter profile databases and I recognize how remarkable the database is, but some of the questions at the session revealed that the party might be relying on voter targeting too much. Some of our losses in 2006 were unnecessary. The Melissa Hart loss came out of left field and never should have been allowed to happen. Since 2002 the party has also failed to recruit a good candidate to run against Tim Holden, who I think could be beaten by a strong candidate. Finding strong candidates is one of the primary functions of a party.

The shorter argument against over-reliance on VoterVault and turnout efforts is that they empirically haven't gotten the job done. We lost statewide in 2004 and very badly in 2006.
Ruffini only confirms something I think many of us know intuitively. Microtargeting is a tactic, not a strategy, and certainly not a brand-building activity. You miss the forest focusing on the trees. It doesn't matter how many personal relationships you forge at the local Applebee's or mega-church if you have no compelling narrative to sell them.

As for the "Contract With America"-sized agenda, Ruffini offers:

We’ll be discussing more of what these agenda items might be over at The Next Right (check this out - Joe), but I imagine it would be things on this scale:

  • A total ban on earmarks
  • Let the half of Federal workers due to retire in the next few years retire – and don’t replace them
  • Personal Social Security accounts
  • A 50% cut in farm subsidies (yeah, good luck on that after this week)
  • McCain’s idea of replacing supplementing the UN with a league of democracies
That's a good starting point on our way towards GOP-Premium Roast. But perhaps more importantly, an agenda like this helps define the debate. Make Obama defend the size of the bureaucracy. Make him explain why we're stuck with Social Security's abysmal return on "investment" that still seems to be bankrupting the nation.

Oooh. Don't want to touch the "third rail"? Tough. I want to have the debate. I want to see the socialists defend this monstrosity. We aren't going to out-democrat the Democrats, so why try? Bush's Medicare-Part-D program is probably the biggest expansion of the American welfare state ever, and the primary complaint from Democrats was that it didn't do enough! If we can't win a debate on our own terms then America was doomed to catastrophic error anyway. Debating on our own terms is the best case scenario.

The original Contract defined the agenda by promoting common-sense initiatives that drove the Left looney. This can be done again.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

GOP Premium Roast

Woe is the Republican Party! Our "brand" is tarnished.

If we're a brand, then maybe we should do what other brands do - establish a premium label.

Republican congressional candidates need a sub-brand. A distinctive label that sets them apart from the usual suspects, whether they be Bush, the feckless Congressional Republicans, or the de facto leader of the party John McCain.

Something that tells the voters that a Premium-Branded Republican is for, well, Republican thinking. Like limited government, meaningful entitlement reform, free trade, free speech, the right to bear arms, digging for coal, drilling for oil, killing ethanol subsidies, ... you get the picture.

GOP Premium Roast brand

Black Label, Premium Roast, Extra, Gold, Ultra, Preferred, Concentrated, Olde Time, Deluxe, Classic, USDA Grade-A, Special Edition... whatever! Heck, I'd take "Menthol" at this point.

The closest thing we have is a Club for Growth endorsement, but our party elders have found fit to sully the "Club for Greed".

Some are hoping that if 2008 is to be like 1976, then at least we might get a Reagan-esque conservative movement out of it. Conservatives have a palpable lust for Reaganite candidates, but the Reagan brand has been diluted through misappropriation and general overuse.

And there just isn't another Reagan out there. Sorry, we've looked.

But why should we wait quietly for our impending electoral slaughter? Why not start right now!

So the movement needs a distinctive name, a banner under which to fight. A label that means something.

The Republican Party: Digitally Remastered from the Original Recordings?

Ok, so I need some help on this.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Did they laugh at Huck's "joke"?

The Hill reports that "The line was met with laughter".

K-Lo seems "grateful" that the NRA crowd "didn't find Huckabee's joke funny."

I report, you decide (CNN video). There were a few chuckles, but they sounded rather sparse, nervous, and muted to me.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Book Review: Primary Mistake

At the urging of two comments left on my previous post about the Club for Growth, I ordered Steve Laffey’s tale of his ill-fated campaign, Primary Mistake - How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign).

To the best of my recollection, this is the first book I have read cover-to-cover in a single day. This distinction is tempered by its straightforward language and moderate 195 page length, but it is nonetheless a very engaging read. Any person thinking of challenging an entrenched incumbent would do well to read this book if only to get a sense of what tortures await those who dare to pose a serious challenge to the political establishment.

Primary Mistake has another distinction in my book collection. I typically dog-ear and annotate sections I agree with and wish to remember or revisit. Instead, I found myself agreeing with so much of what Laffey wrote that I ended up dog-earing mostly those pages where I had a sense that Laffey was either wrong or naive. Even still, these notations were few. Seven in fact, one of which was a policy disagreement unrelated to campaign machinations.

Before I go further, I want to say that Mayor Laffey was a better candidate than I had originally estimated. I was not very familiar with his private sector accomplishments, and his tenure as mayor was nothing to sneeze at either.

Since my negative observations were so few, I will go through them individually in their order of appearance.

On page 40, Laffey describes an ongoing theme of the book, the lack of substance on which Chafee was running:
My message to the people of Rhode Island was based on ideas. In the business world you don’t get promoted by telling your boss why the other guy shouldn’t get promoted. Promotions are granded on the merit of your ideas and your track record. But it was becoming increasingly clear that the NRSC didn’t have any ideas to run on.
Laffey has a good point. Chafee was indeed a bum and nobody had anything good to say about him. But politics isn’t business, and you can win an election with negative campaigning. Politics is a zero sum game, and the rules are different. If Pepsi could run ads saying Coke will give you liver cancer without getting sued they’d do it.

On page 59, Laffey gives his fourth qualification for hiring a paid campaign staffer:
This requirement may strike some people as odd, but to me, it was the most important one. I wasn’t interested in folks who hopped around from campaign to campaign, but someone who believed in the Laffey mission.
I can understand hiring a person despite inexperience, but to hold inexperience as an affirmative qualification is shortsighted. As I will get into in later points, Laffey’s campaign could have used a little experience.

On pages 83 and 84 Laffey recounts how opposition researchers dug up some old college newspaper articles he had written and gave them to reporters. Laffey’s naivete shows here:
What I can’t figure out is why the press so eagerly slapped this story on the front page of the Rhode Island section, on the day of the final debate no less.
This is no head-scratcher. Somebody handed the newspaper people a finished product, no work necessary. Why wouldn’t they run that? Timing be damned! It isn’t their keisters on the line.

Page 105 details one of the more sinister tactics used by politicos. His opponents sent mailers implying Laffey found Hillary Clinton’s position on abortion “reasonable”. Of course, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, and the mailer was sent to obscure the fact that Chafee had a 100% approval from NARAL. But this is an old tried-and-true tactic used by seasoned political operatives. I, a political nobody, first heard about this sort of thing in 2002, and as it was told to me campaigns have been doing this sort of thing for years. That doesn’t make it any more morally right, just a fact of life.

On page 107 Laffey wonders out loud what it would have been like if he had gotten “down in the mud”:
Imagine this creative ad on Rhode Island’s major TV stations:
Linc Chafee is throwing mud at Steve Laffey because he is afraid of the truth. The truth? Linc Chafee was an illegal alien himself. Can we trust a cocaine abuser to protect our children? Can we trust an illegal alien to protect our borders? The answer? No.
Laffey dismisses this sort of thing out of hand, but an experienced campaigner would have run something very much like that, and it would have worked. Reading this section I immediately thought back to my previous post and my analogy about bringing a knife to a gun fight.

On page 154, Laffey recounts election night and his 54-46 loss, and his apparent surprise. Surprise? That’s a pretty big loss to have been surprised by. I am left to wonder how grounded the campaign was to have missed by that big a margin. Again, experience on the campaign staff may have helped.

If only for completeness I will mention my only serious policy disagreement with Laffey. On page 183 he states his support for drug re-importation. He is right to say that fear mongering about drug quality was a bogus argument. Unfortunately, opponents of drug re-importation used safety because the real argument is above the heads of too many Americans. Drug re-importation is not really a free market decision because we would be importing drugs originally bought and priced by a socialist system. Drugs are cheaper from Canada because the Canadian government threatens pharmaceutical companies with the theft of their patents.

Not all of my dog-ears were on points of disagreement with Laffey. On page 41 the mayor tells an all too familiar tale that I think may be the undoing of the Republican party:
By attacking me for making money in the private sector, Liddy Dole and her cohorts were essentially attacking the capitalist system on which this country is based. They attacked the invisible hand of Adam Smith, the free enterprise system, and the guy who pulls himself up by his bootstraps to live the American Dream.
I recoiled as I read this, thinking back to McCain’s attacks on Romney, and Huckabee’s denunciation of corporate greed. These are not recognizably Republican sentiments. They are Democratic talking points, and they chip away at public opposition to creeping socialism.

Overall, Laffey makes many astute observations about how the Republican party elites have forsaken any semblance of principle in the hope of winning a few elections. But voters don’t care about a party without any identifiable platform, and this bargain has proved futile, just as it did in the era of Gerald Ford.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bad Candidate Equals GOP Loss

What have I been saying about the need to find good candidates?

From deep in the bowels of the Ace-O-Spades comments comes this:
As someone living in one of the two districts in question, people need to realize that losing the LA 6th District isn't a Republican thing as much as a shitty candidate thing...

The Republican nominee, Woody Jenkins, was not particularly well-liked for a number of reasons (doesn't play well with others, numerous shady business practices when running his TV station, etc.) and is a perennial loser at the polls.

(Jenkins has repeatedly lost elections for the House and Senate for almost 30 years now. His closest shot was in 1996, when he was within a small number of votes from defeating Mary Landrieu for a Senate seat.)

Dem nominee Don Cazayoux (pronounced "KAZ-yoo") likely won his narrow victory through Republican apathy with Jenkins rather than being a good candidate.

If the Republicans run a better candidate for this fall's election, they've got a chance of re-gaining this seat.

Posted by: BrandonInBatonRouge at May 12, 2008 05:03 PM (Tsv4y)

And a follow-up comment:
My all-time favorite Woody Jenkins moment came during a TV debate with Landrieu during that race.

At one point, Jenkins turns to her and says something like, "Why was your husband running around my yard last night scaring my children?"

He said it, then he looked straight into the camera like it was one of those dum-dum-DUM!!! moments. Like he was thinking ,"Now I've got you!"

It was surreal. She just said, "Uh, I don't know who was running around your yard, but it wasn't my husband."

And that was that. Woody Jenkins = crack-pot. Add another Donk to the Senate.

Posted by: Phinn at May 12, 2008 05:11 PM (NLtoU)

Well what do you know! A lousy candidate lost what should be an easy Republican seat. And Newt and the media and everybody else are all over these losses like ugly on a gorilla proclaiming the new permanent minority of the Republicans.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Getting through (?)

I write here mostly to vent. Occasionally what I post breaks through the noise, if only a little.

Apparently my post on the Club for Growth got to the eyeballs at somebody with a CFG email account:


Just remember, I want the Club to do well. I want to stop American socialism in its tracks. I want the GOP to grow a spine, and to utilize that spine against the Democrats once in a while instead of against conservatives.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Rendell Hissy Fit Over Stupid Energy Plan

Apparently PA Commissar Ed Rendell wants a billion dollars worth of clean energy grants in order to prevent utility “meltdown”.

What does Rendell have in mind?
One bill provides $850 million for rebates on solar cells, wind energy, home energy loans and “green buildings.” You could get a $1,200 grant on a $2,400 solar cell to power your home, the governor said.

The other bill sets energy conservation goals and requires electric companies to offer ratepayers a choice in how they pay for electricity. For example, customers could be billed less for using electric at certain hours of the day when the grid is not as stressed.
Legislative caps on utility bills will begin to expire in 2009 and the governor said he expects dramatic rate hikes that will pain residents and drive businesses out of the state.

By 2025, the United States simply won't have enough power plants to meet its needs. “It's either conservation, or we will face total meltdown,” he said.

Or, Ed, instead of meltdown, maybe as prices go up people will adjust their behavior, perhaps buying solar panels as they become economically sound.

The money shot:
This will not cost taxpayers anything,” he promised, alluding to bonds that the state could issue to pay for it all. “We would not need to raise taxes.”

By that logic, the war in Iraq is no burden at all to the US taxpayer. But somehow I don’t think Gov. Ed would agree. It’s different. Somehow. Errr.... Hope. Change. Yes we can.

So in summation, Ed the Red wants to borrow money to pay rich people to put solar panels on their homes, thus lowering electrical bills for said rich people. Sounds “progressive” to me! Totally worthy of your hissy fit.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Response to Toomey in WSJ

Pat Toomey, President of the Club for Growth, has written a lengthy defense of the CFG’s RINO-hunting activities in the Wall Street Journal. I agree with the righteousness of the Club’s goals, and most of their methods, but I also see room for improvement.

I completely agree with Toomey’s underlying premise that extreme cases of RINOism undermine the party, and are candidates ripe for purging. Lincoln Chafee was perhaps the most egregious example of a RINO, and now that he is an ex-senator he’s subsequently decided to drop the charade of his Republican registration. There was nothing wrong with going after Chafee, and it is a sad commentary that the Rhode Island Republican party did not do something sooner.

Toomey rightly touts the Club’s star Congressmen: Flake, Pense, Coburn, etc., but the CFG doesn’t always back or recruit good candidates. Steve Laffey was not a particularly good candidate. He was a check-the-box fiscal conservative, but not a good campaigner or speaker. Laffey is probably a good guy, but whether you’re hunting RINOs or rhinos you need to bring a big gun.

In my own district, the CFG backed Matt Shaner in a crowded primary field of mostly conservative candidates. Shaner had well-publicized personal negatives, and had badly lost a primary bid for the state house, and he wasn’t particularly more conservative than the others. To the contrary, I’d argue that despite having a history with Toomey and checking all the right issue boxes, he exposed his economic flaws when he bragged that his company sought subsidized loans to develop properties in downtrodden areas. If there’s any lesson Pennsylvanians should have learned by now, it is that central planning can not reinvigorate communities with a few band-aid beautification projects, or with massive corporate welfare paid for by the productive businesses that are leaving the state in droves for lower taxation.

Shaner ended up losing the primary to a man just as conservative as himself, if not more-so. The Club should now proudly support Glenn Thompson, as I do.

And there is something to the criticism that the Club spends most of its time in Republican primaries rather than scalping marginal Democrat seats. Rep. Tim Holden should have been gone several election cycles ago. The Republican establishment bears principal responsibility for this, but is often too consumed with playing defense on their own marginal seats rather than going on offense. Groups like the Club for Growth have the opportunity to play offense.

I most emphatically believe there is a place for extra-party organizations that try to keep the Republican Party intellectually honest. And I also agree with the goals of economic liberty espoused by the CFG. But the Club for Growth or other such organizations cannot be mere shadow parties bringing knives to the gun fight held with the establishment. They would do well to refocus on where the Club can potentially excel, and where the moderates who control the party are blind.

Firstly, we need to recruit good candidates. This can not be emphasized enough. Most of the Club’s failures to date have been because of this, and the state parties have done too little recruitment of quality candidates. Party-picked candidates tend either to be moderates who are thought to be electable, or cronies who will funnel state money to the appropriate places. Once a good candidate gets himself elected though, the state party has little choice but to support him in the future.

Secondly, we need to focus on changing public perceptions about conservative economic policy. The Newt Gingrich philosophy of getting as many Republicans elected as possible will be of no use if they do not have the backing of their constituencies to make tough votes. Cyclical swings in party control do not move political the center of gravity. Ironically, a big win for the Democrats makes both parties more conservative, as the bulk of the pick-up for the Democrats (and loss for the Republicans) will be people in the center and the spectrum. Oppositely, a big win for the Republicans shifts both parties to the left. It is imperative that we move the move the political fulcrum if we want more consistently conservative governance.

Thirdly, be sure to win the fights you pick. Republicans will stop calling you the “Club for Greed” if they are consistently stung by subsequent defeat. Be the 800 pound gorilla, not the screaming toddler. Once the Club’s weight has been felt, you can speak softly and carry a big stick.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Do Cats Get "Diabeetus"?

5 Cats That Look Like Wilford Brimley.

Sort of, anyway. I just couldn't resist the urge to make a "diabeetus" crack.

H/T Jonah at NRO.

Food Crisis Soon to be Over?

Wall-to-wall media reports of any economic event are widely thought to be a counter-trend indicator of said event.

In this case,"Traders -- and some notable agricultural experts -- are widely expecting the 2008-2009 growing season to provide a record harvest worldwide".

It's an example of capitalism in action: high prices being the cure for high prices.

"The high prices brought a lot of places into production," explains Jerry Norton, grains economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
So that would mean that global warming... uh... didn't cause anything at all. Climate change was the non-cause, and the market found a solution all by itself.

How 'bout that!

I'd still like to see some sensibility on the ethanol front though.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Clinton's Gas Tax Garbage

There's a lot of criticism of McCain's and Clinton's proposal to have a federal gasoline tax "holiday". Most of this criticism implies more demand elasticity than I believe exists, while also implying very little elasticity of supply, which is probably accurate.

If you're like me and think that lower gasoline prices won't have a large effect on consumption (at least over the period of a few months), then the gas tax holiday should substantially benefit the consumer. (Nifty graphic illustrating how taxes on goods with inelastic demand are largely borne by the consumer.) If you think this is the likely scenario, then a gas tax holiday is at least not a terrible idea, certainly no worse than the recent "tax rebate" that all the politicians seemed to like, if not all economists.

If you're like the critics and think people will want to drive a whole lot more without any meaningful increase in supply, then prices at the pump will not change much and the tax holiday will substantially benefit gasoline refiners. If you think this way, then McCain's plan is ill-conceived, and the worst plan out there.

However, Hillary's tax holiday is flat out demagoguing the issue. Because she plans to offset the loss of the tax revenue with a tax on oil companies, the price at the pump will not move much because the oil companies and/or refiners will merely pass the additional tax on to the consumers. It really doesn't matter how much elasticity exists in the gasoline market because Hillary's plan has a net zero effect on prices.


But she does get to say that she gave average folk a break and made the evil oil companies pay their "fair share".

Thursday, May 01, 2008

With friends like us...

With friends like us, the Canadians scarcely need any enemies.

What a brilliant idea! Screw over the Canadian oil-sand production to placate the Saudis. Oh, and reduce the overall oil supply while you're at it, will you Congressman Waxman? That should help prices...

On Divisiveness

Divisive: adj.
1. forming or expressing division or distribution.
2. creating dissension or discord.

I get irritated when politicians accuse others of being "divisive" or saying something "divisive". There seems to be an emphasis on the "forming" part of the definition rather than the "expressing" part. If I call Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton a pair of elitist Marxists who want the government to control virtually every aspect of our lives, that might be construed as "divisive". But it would also be true.

Calling someone's statements "divisive" says nothing about whether the accuser thinks the statements are true or false, it merely asserts that they have an effect on the public discourse that is not helpful to the cause.