Monday, July 26, 2010

Pawlenty reading the stage directions on the class issue

I've made no attempt to hide the fact that Tim Pawlenty is my early favorite for President in 2012, but this statement gives me pause.

Weekly Standard:

But in the end, Pawlenty said, there won't be much difference between GOP presidential candidates on the issues. He said it's important to have a presidential candidate who doesn't live up to the stereotype that Republicans are "all CEOs" who "play polo on the weekends." Pawlenty made the case that his background as the son of a truck driver who worked his way through college helps him reach out to working class voters, who are turned off by "country club elitists."

"In the end, there’s going to be five, ten, twelve candidates standing on the stage who, at least for now, all look kind of the same... And they’re going to say about the same thing" on the issues, he said. "But the real question’s going to be, as to tone and face and credibility, who is best situated to open the door to people that are not yet Republicans? To say, we understand what you’re going through and we can make a connection with you in ways that have some credibility?"

The thing is, there's quite a bit of truth to this assessment.  It's part of the reason I think Pawlenty has a decent shot at the Presidency.  However, I really don't think a candidate should be saying those things in quite that way.

Reading this reminded me of a recent National Review piece written by Rob Long that appeared in the July 5th issue.  It begins:
Rule One of great acting is, Do not read the stage directions.

You don’t, for instance, wrap up Hamlet’s big Act Two soliloquy — “ . . . the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” — and then say “Exit.”

Years ago, during the George H. W. Bush administration, public-opinion surveys began to register a troubling trend for a president campaigning for reelection: More and more people felt that Bush just didn’t care about people’s suffering during the (fairly shallow) recession of the early 1990s.

You’ve got to send them the message that you care, they told him. So, dutifully, in his next big public outing, he tried to send the message to the voters that he cared. He wound up a boilerplate stump speech by declaring, with as much passion as he could muster, “Message: I care!”

No, no, Mr. President, you could imagine his advisers saying. The “message” part is for us, it’s an internal thing. You’re supposed to give them the message that you care. By showing that you care.

There's a fine line here.  Be cautious, Governor Pawlenty.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Breitbart - Mote vs Beam (and some Frum)

Breitbart screwed up.  A bit.  But quite a few of his detractors are just as guilty as they claim Breitbart is.

Matthew 7:3 (KJV)
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Breitbart's initial video showed two things. (1) It showed Shirley Sherrod recounting an incident where she acted in a racist manner.  (2) It showed her NAACP audience reacting positively to Sherrod's recounting of her event.

What the video did not show was the rest of the story, the redemption of Shirley Sherrod.

Breitbart's claim that the story was never really about Sherrod doesn't wash.  It was always first and foremost about the woman speaking in the video and her confession of racially motivated (in)action.  The audience reaction was always secondary.

But I'm bothered by the claims that the video was "heavily edited".  It wasn't.  It was taken out of context,  but it wasn't heavily edited.  Sherrod spoke those words -- a firsthand (and presumably true) account of her previous behavior.  It was about 1:40 of Sherrod's uninterrupted narrative.  Anybody -- like for instance, the NAACP, or Tim Vilsak, or the Obama White House -- could have (and did) come to the conclusion that Ms. Sherrod was describing something morally repulsive when she "didn't give him the full force of what [she] could do". 

Blogger "Political Math":

Purported conservative David Frum says Andrew Breitbart is the Right's Dan Rather.  I don't think Frum's analysis works.

(1) Dan Rather had a fake document.  Breitbart has genuine source material.
(2) After Rather's document was outed as a fake, Rather continued to stand by it.  Breitbart has changed his angle on the source material, even if he has done so without quite owning up to his original error.
(3) Dan Rather worked for an ostensibly "straight" major media outlet, who for some time continued to allow him enough rope to hang his career with.  Breitbart runs a few websites with a plainly-stated conservative perspective.
(4) Rather continues to work in "straight" journalism (albeit in a more limited manner), and contra Frum, has not been drummed out of the biz.  He continues to land guest spots on mainstream programming, where he is still treated like a straight journalist.
(5) Dan Rather had a long history of offering propaganda as straight news.  Breitbart's reporting has been pretty darned good, if a little bombastic, and seeks to counter the nonsense coming from much of the traditional media.

But back to the motes and the beams -- already falsified reports of racist Tea Party misbehavior directed towards members of the Congressional Black Caucus still get cited as gospel truth.  Infiltrators and "Mobys" with racist signs get reported as genuine examples of conservative racism.  An uncomfortable phrase used by a black writer ("magical negro") gets tacked to a Rush Limbaugh when Limbaugh picks up the ball and runs with it.  A network purposely crops the photo of a black man carrying a gun at a protest in order to promote a narrative about racist white folks carrying guns at protests.

For these sins and several others, we're still waiting for our apologies, Lefties. 

The word "racist" has been thrown at conservatives so much it's become a free-standing punch line in conservative circles.  Dislike Obamacare? Racist.  Think the stimulus was counterproductive?  Obviously racist.  Don't care for arugula?  Blatant racism.  Those stubbornly high unemployment figures.  Also racist.

The dismissal of the Black Panther case?  Not at all racially motivated.  "Wise Latina" jurists.  Innocuous.  Jumping to conclusions about cops acting stupidly? Without any prejudice whatsoever.

I can't pretend that Andrew Breitbart is without fault here, but the reaction from the left and the Frum-ish Toady-Right is absurd.  The White House saw the same video Breitbart did and came to the same (wrong) conclusion.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Potent Quotables: Under-capitalized

I don't think Katrina VanDen Heuvel understands what it means for banks to be under-capitalized.

Under-capitalization, as it is typically understood, is about ratios, not absolute values.  If a bank has too many loans on its balance sheet versus reserves, it is undercapitalized.

As an alternate interpretation, Katrina might have meant that community banks aren't big enough, which is sort of a silly statement.

What she probably means is that she thinks hedge funds are too big.  That's entirely unrelated to how much capital community banks have. She has made the typical mistake of comparing one thing to another and imagining some inequity that somebody (i.e. government) needs to correct through state force.


In other news, I have discovered Matt Lewis' list of influential liberals on Twitter and will be using it as blog fodder.

Friday, July 16, 2010

ACU Scores Not Currently Informative

The pundits are up in arms.  How could Congressman Bob Inglis, with a lifetime ACU score of 93+, possibly lose his primary?  (And by 42 points no less!) How could Senator Bennett, with a life ACU of 83+, have been sunk at the Utah GOP convention?  What are these crazy tea-baggers thinking?

The ACU score is sometimes a useful yard stick.  I've used it myself to guesstimate which Congressional districts might be up for grabs, and to see how far a Republican can go in the moderate-to-liberal direction before he or she makes serious waves among the Republican base.  (Broadly speaking, 60's is squishy but generally tolerable, 50-ish is the danger zone, and anything below 50 means serious heartburn of the Specter and Chafee variety.)

But fundamentally, the ACU score is based on a flawed model, and we should be careful not to misapply ACU scores.  Politics is not uni-dimensional.  It's not bi-dimensional.  It is not even entirely rational from a technical perspective, so any model relying on simple distributions is going to fail from time to time.

This is one of those times.

Let's look at Inglis.  Since losing, Inglis has thrown a temper tantrum against tea partiers, accusing them of racism and demagoguery, and going on Chris Matthews' show as a stooge so Matthews could beat up on conservatives.  If this is any indication of how he behaved before the election, then his constituents were right to give him the boot.  Inglis voted to ban standard incandescent light bulbs -- hardly a conservative sentiment, and an issue that literally reaches into every home in America and tells people how to live.  He voted for TARP, and against a troop surge in Iraq.  (Both of those latter issues are debatable on the merits, but one can see where Inglis has transgressed the party line.)  And he ran a decidedly negative campaign, which certainly didn't improve his image.  In short, Inglis went DC-native, so to speak.

Now, by National Journal's reckoning, Inglis is a 76% Republican, which is still pretty Republican by most standards.  But it isn't 93. 

And really, that's not even the point.  The point is that the ideological distribution curve has broken down in a serious way.  Voters, base voters and swing voters, are heavily discounting ideological considerations in favor of candidates who say appealing things about how to address the nation's problems. What people normally think of as "conservative" and "liberal" carries much less weight than it has in previous years.

When politicians lose touch with what the electorate wants, they get axed.  That has almost nothing to do with ideology.

So when I see proclamations of everlasting doom because the Republicans nominated some "tea party candidates" here and there, I've got to take that with a grain of salt.  Strike that -- a huge, industrial sized salt-lick.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rove faces reality. Finally.

Karl Rove has finally discovered and admitted his "biggest mistake", which was "failing to refute charges that Bush lied us into war".

Tell me something I didn't know, Karl. Everybody with a pulse knew this.  It was painful to watch the White House briefings every day as nobody (and particularly not Scott McClellan) ever bothered to counter the narrative.  It was simply maddening.  How could you not have seen that you were being destroyed in the media every single day without ever lifting a finger to defend yourselves?

Does this mean Rove is going back on his previous assessment of 2006, that it had to do with scandal more than Iraq?  At what point did Rove have this epiphany?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Potent Quotables: Erskine disses Obamacare

Erskine Bowles on the impact of Obamacare on the long term fiscal situation:

It didn’t do a lot to address cost factors in health care. So we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, speaking about the new health law, which was signed into law by Obama this past spring after a nearly year-long fight in Congress.

Bowles, speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that even with the passage of Obama’s legislation, health care costs are still going to “really eat us alive” unless dramatic changes are made. The commission will submit recommendations on how to fix America’s long term fiscal problems to Congress in December.

Now they tell us.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trololo redux

Trololo is the perfect Soviet song -- it has no content.

It's been some time since the "Trololo" video started going viral, but for some reason I was drawn back to it recently.

When I first saw this some months ago, I was of course jarred by the strange aesthetics, both dated and foreign, and the stiffness of the singer's physical presence.

But it is sort of a catchy melody, and the guy does have a good voice. So for whatever reason I watched it again recently, and rather enjoyed it.

And then it occurred to me that this makes an interesting statement about what life was like in the Soviet Union. The song has no lyrics. Nothing to censor. Nothing counter-revolutionary. Nothing to fear. Just a pleasant ditty, performed with a nervous and sterile rigidity.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Steele should resign

I liked Michael Steele.  I really did.  But that was then, and this is now.

Commentators like Rush Limbaugh are correct in saying that if Steele were a Democrat, he’d have been afforded some indeterminate number of rhetorical mulligans for his all-too-frequent idiotic remarks.  Sorta like the walking gaffe-machine Joe “Big F’ing Deal” Biden, visitor of Indian-accented convenience stores, who for some reason gets to be one heartbeat away from the Presidency without giving anybody in the media too much heartburn.  Or Obama, who visited all 57 states during the primary elections, and wants to “spread the wealth around”.  Or the late Ted Kennedy’s “Osama Obama” remark (which somehow bizarrely got blamed on Rush Limbaugh) – or that time he killed that lady.  Or Murtha.  Or Kanjorski.  And in those cases (and others), we’re talking about people in actual positions of elective power.  Steele, on the other hand, has no power over anybody save RNC employees, and has only the money that private donors afford him. 

So the attention being placed on Steele is disproportionate to his actual influence on events.  Fair enough.

But I hold Republicans to a higher standard.  I think that’s the whole idea behind thinking one political party is better than another.  If we routinely overlook remarks by Steele, or Trent Lott’s comment about Strom Thurmond, etc., we lose the moral standing to criticize Democrats.  I don’t want to play a hypocritical game of “they did it (too)”.  I want clarity and certitude.  Politics is not a sport, with team loyalty determined by chance and ephemera.  Words and character matter.

As to the actual content of Steele’s remarks, I am appalled at the support he is getting from the likes of Ann Coulter, who previously would not have been caught dead supporting any aspect of  Ron Paul’s foreign policy.  The war in Afghanistan was no more “Obama’s war” than Iraq was “Bush’s war”.  Both wars initially received broadly bipartisan support, and I believe Afghanistan continues to enjoy the support of at least most Republicans.  Obama was not even yet a Senator when the US invaded Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is even less Obama’s war than Iraq was Bush’s.

So in crucial respects, Steele’s comments were flat wrong.  Moreover, they echo the idiotic rhetoric that came from the Left during the Bush years, making them sound all the more nakedly politicized and disingenuous.

Questions about whether we ought to be in Afghanistan – whether we should have gone in the first place, whether it’s still worth it to be there – do represent a legitimate point of view (one with which I vehemently disagree), but Steele is not in a policy making position.  As a party leader he ought to stay clear of policy debates, particularly when he strays from the consensus Republican position.

And of course, Steele has made a number of asinine comments, the most ridiculous of which was the idea that he has been treated harshly for his gaffes because he was black. 

I can only offer a partial rebuttal of Cynthia Tucker’s recent accusation made on ABC’s This Week that Steele was an affirmative action chairman.  It is hardly worth denying that Steele’s race was a plus for his candidacy, but two things must be said about that. 

Firstly, the controversy surrounding rival Katon Dawson’s previous membership in a racially exclusive country club surely weighed heavily on the minds of the RNC membership when the contest narrowed to the last run-off.  How could Republicans elect a person with such a history (unknowing or not) over somebody who would not have been allowed to join Dawson’s country club because of the color of his skin?  Dawson, regardless of his merits, should have disqualified himself early on.  Perhaps Saul Anuzis might have been elected.

Secondly, it’s not as though Steele was without his own qualifications.  He had been Maryland’s elected Lt. Governor.  He had run a law practice.  And he had been chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.  In short, he had more executive experience than Barack Obama.  Steele wasn’t plucked from obscurity because he gave a good speech once or twice and happened to be black – he had come up through the GOP farm system and paid a lot of dues along the way.

But he hasn’t done the job he was elected to do, and worse yet, he makes excuses for his own incompetence.  Steele’s continued presence at the RNC is bad for the RNC.  For that reason, if for no other, he should resign.

Quote of the Day: 1099

 What crippling bureaucracy?

"For example, if a self-employed individual makes numerous small purchases from an office supply store during a calendar year that total at least $600, the individual must issue a Form 1099 to the vendor and the IRS showing the exact amount of total purchases."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Quote of the Day: Not a Good Trade

Larry Kudlow:
In a watershed study, former Treasury economists Gary and Aldona Robbins argued a few years ago that tax cuts aimed at capital and business produced the biggest economic benefits. For example, for every tax-cut dollar on capital gains, $10.61 of new GDP is created. For every dollar of accelerated business-investment tax write-offs, $9 of new GDP is created. And for every dollar of corporate tax cuts, $2.76 of new GDP is created.

This bang-for-the-buck analysis contrasts sharply with estimates for increased government spending. According to the White House, every dollar of new government spending creates about $1.50 of new GDP — much weaker than the effects of business tax cuts. And the White House analysis looks like a stretch. The IMF has a model that says every additional dollar of government spending creates only $0.70 of new GDP. So you have to borrow a buck to get 70 cents back. Not a good trade.

Monday, July 05, 2010

More Perot Stuff - Cotton Eye Joe

Where did they come from, where did they go?

Some random-ish findings about Perot voters...

Here's a better graph of the ideological distributions of 1992 Presidential voters:
You can see the right skew of the Bushies, the left skew/hump of the Clinton voters, and the Perot voters are pretty much right down the center, lining up almost perfectly with the electorate at large.

Where did they come from?  The sample size was small for this cross, but basically they were 2-to-1 Bush over Dukakis in 1988:

But, contrary to popular legend that Perot cost papa-Bush the election, Perot voters were very much of the "wrong track" persuasion, and wouldn't have voted for Bush anyway:

Where did they go?  The crosses were extremely small for 1996 voters in the ANES who recalled voting for Perot in 1992, but generally speaking they dispersed relatively evenly between Clinton and Dole in 1996, and of course some voted for that old coot Perot again.

(All data from the 1992 and 1996 ANES, weighted to reflect actual Presidential outcomes in those elections.)

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tea Partiers are not Perot-istas

Despite what Ben Domenech, Ed Gillespie, or anyone else says, the Tea Party is not H. Ross Perot: The Sequel.

It's a tempting thought, but an incorrect one, as WaPo's Dan Balz explored back in April.

Balz cites a lot of figures, but really the argument can really be boiled down to ideology, and it's an open-and-shut case on that front.  I went back to the ANES-1992 study* and compared the ideological distribution of the voting population with the Perotistas, and found that they were startlingly similar. 

(* - I selected only those respondents who had voted in the 1992 Presidential election, and weighted the Presidential vote variable to reflect the actual result.)

Ideology Perot Voters All Voters
1.45 1.88
Liberal 7.25 9.81
15.94 13.42
Moderate 34.78 34.59
25.36 22.2
Conservative 14.49 15.53
0.72 2.58